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Friday, 15 July 1904

Mr REID (East Sydney) - I desire to say only a very few words on this matter. I still take the view that it is unfortunate that the Government should endeavour to intrude these particular clauses into the Bill. I think that they are really foreign to the scope of the measure, and that if they are inserted they will cause it to be hung up for an indefinite period, during which we may have the catastrophe of a maritime strike. The very dreadful consequences that would attend a maritime strike, to which the Prime Minister has referred, afford one of the strongest possible reasons for not inserting in this Bill anything which would render the Commonwealth helpless if such a disaster occurred. I do not think there can be any serious difference of opinion upon the point, that whatever the instructions to the Governor-General may be in point of form, a Bill which strikes at the merchant shipping of the Empire in a vital degree, which tears up all the agreements upon which the Imperial merchant shipping services are carried on whilst the vessels are in Australia, and substitutes another agreement under duress, must be reserved for the Royal Assent.

Mr Watson - It does not tear up the agreements.

Mr REID - It tears them up for the time being, and substitutes a new agreement under compulsion. If ever there was an aspect of a Bill which would call for serious consideration by the Crown officials in England this measure would present it.

Mr Watson - How long would that take - only about a month.

Mr REID - First of all, some months would elapse before the Bill could reach England.

Mr Watson - Only six weeks.

Mr REID - That is two weeks longer than the period mentioned by the Prime Minister.

Mr Watson - The Royal Assent could be communicated by cable, as has been done in. connexion with previous measures.

Mr REID - Why should a Bill which is intended to avert terrible evils be subject to the dangers of the delay with which we are familiar in connexion with measures reserved for the Royal Assent? We have had experience of such measures in the States, and we know that the moment a Bill is specially reserved it is regarded as hung up for an indefinite period. The Government yesterday brought in a Bill, which most conclusively points the argument to which I am now addressing myself. We are setting up a Government in New Guinea - a Legislative Council - and the measure which is now being submitted to us provides that if in that little dependency of the Commonwealth an Ordinance is introduced which affects shipping - even the few pearl-shelling vessels in the neighbourhood of New Guinea - it shall, unless it contains a special provision that it shall not become law until the GovernorGeneral's assent has been given, be suspended in its operation, and reserved foi the approval of the Governor-General. There is a case in point. Clause 40 of the Papua (British New Guinea) Bill provides that-

The Lieutenant-Governor shall not assent to any Ordinance of any of the following classes, unless the Ordinance contains a clause suspending its operation until the signification of the GovernorGeneral's pleasure thereon.

Then a number of measures are enumerated, but I need only refer to one, which is as follows : -

Any Ordinance of an extraordinary nature or importance, whereby the King's prerogative, or the rights or property of subjects of the King not residing in the Territory, or the trade or shipping of any part of the King's Dominions, may be prejudiced.

There is the very point to which I am referring. Here is a Bill, introduced by the present Government, which provides that if, in this miniature dependency, any such ordinance is passed by the Legislative Council, which is an official body principally, it must be reserved for the pleasure of the GovernorGeneral.

Mr Hughes - What does the right honorable gentleman deduce from that?

Mr REID - My first deduction is that the Ministry would not insert such a provision if it were not a proper one to make. The next deduction I draw is that if it is proper to provide, in reference to a twopennyhalfpenny dependency like Papua, that any Ordinance that may prejudice shipping interests in any part, not all parts, of the King's dominions, should be reserved for the pleasure of the GovernorGeneral, and that it cannot be assented to by the local Lieutenant-Governor, it is inevitable that legislation such as that before us which affects the vast shipping interests of the whole Empire, must be reserved for the Royal Assent. The Government lay down the principle in connexion with this miniature dependency, that any law which may prejudice the shipping of, say, Thursday Island, should be reserved for the assent of the Governor-General before it can become law. Here we are dealing with millions of tons of shipping - the shipping trade of the British Empire - and with the contracts upon which the whole of that trade is based, and surely a Bill' of this kind is of sufficient importance to reserve for the pleasure of the superior authorities. In connexion with this little place, this shred of New Guinea, the Government have laid down the principle that any Bill which may prejudice trade or shipping must not be assented to on the spot by the local Lieutenant-Governor, but must be referred to the superior authority of the Commonwealth.

Mr Carpenter - The case there is different.

Mr REID - It is different in this way, that the honorable member and I take opposite views of things. If my honorable friend were sitting on this side of the Chamber he would not see the slightest difference, except in favour of the view I take. If in connexion with an insignificant spot like that to which ships make the rarest visitations, where a three-masted ship is not seen from one end of the year to the other - if in that remote and savage spot it is necessary that the powers of the Commonwealth should be conserved by the reservation of the right to deal with shipping, how proper must be the attitude of any authority here which applies the same principle to a measure of this kind.

Mr Hughes - Has any one questioned that the Bill must be reserved?

Mr REID - Does not the Minister question it?

Mr Hughes - I do not question it myself.

Mr REID - That is one of the most fatal admissions ever made by a Minister.

Mr Hughes - Not at all. 'lt was practically laid down in the conferences -which were held that all Bills relating to shipping must be reserved for the Royal Assent.

Mr REID - My honorable friend is more than candid in making that statement. As a man with some experience of public affairs I merely wish to express my profound astonishment at it. If these provisions are not inserted in the Bill, does the Minister expect it to be reserved ?

Mr Hughes - Oh, no.'

Mr REID - The Minister admits that if these clauses are not inserted in the measure, it will not be reserved for the Royal Assent, but that if thev are it will be.

Mr Hughes - Unless the Bill contains these provisions, it will be valueless so far as the seamen are concerned.

Mr REID - I shall deal with that statement presently. Let me pause for a moment on the admission which the Minister has made. He admits that if the Bill contains these provisions it must be reserved for the Royal Assent.

Mr Hughes - Not only these provisions, but any provisions which affect shipping.

Mr REID - I am dealing only with the clauses which are now before the Committee. I cannot indulge in speculation as to other clauses. I do not know whether they have been drafted from the "corner" yet. The Minister admits - and I hope honorable members upon both sides of the Chamber will appreciate the gravity of his admission - that . if these clauses are inserted in the Bill - which is of such pressing importance that even this Government in beginning its Ministerial career was obliged to take it up - it will be " hung up " for an indefinite period whilst the Imperial Government are considering the very weighty questions affecting the integrity of the trade of the Empire which ' such provisions will raise wherever they may appear. This measure, which it was. supposed would confer immediately a security for industrial peace, is to be " hung up " in the legal rooms of the British Government for very mature and careful consideration if these clauses are inserted. If the Minister admits that, the exercise of the very commonest ability would suggest a very simple way of dealing with this matter without incurring any such risk. What possible difficulty is there in the way of the Ministry incorporating these clauses in a short measure which shall be complementary to this Bill? We should then get the whole of the Arbitration Bill extended immediately to every class save the seamen, and the question in regard to reservation for the Royal Assent need affect only one clause contained in a separate measure. How the common sense of the Minister cannot appreciate the difference between that method of managing public affairs, which puts a torpedo in a Bill that we are anxious to pass in order that it may explode, and that method which puts it in another measure, so that if it does explode it will not . destroy the Bill which is of pressing importance, passes my comprehension.

Mr Cameron - It is done for party purposes.

Mr REID - We owe a duty to the Commonwealth. I never feel more at ease with my own conscience than when I take a broad view of matters of this character without any reference to political parties. That is what I am endeavouring to do at the present time. I am attempting to state my own opinion without reference to any proposal affecting my own interests or the interests of honorable members. I have not endeavoured to " jump " upon the Ministry in connexion with this matter. On the contrary, I ask them in the friendliest way to " take my suggestion into their serious consideration. I have never attempted to drive them in the slightest degree. I am merely pointing out that the Minister of External Affairs has made an admission which places the Government in a most ridiculous position before the friends of this Bill ' throughout Australia. Here we have provisions, the insertion of which will admittedly result in the " hanging up "" of the measure. Those provisions can be inserted in another Bill, and this measure need not be " hung up" for a single moment. While the Bill complementary to this one might be reserved, the machinery connected with this great reform could be brought into operation without a day's delay. Surely we do not need to be members of a particular party to realize the common sense of adopting that course. I feel convinced that the more Ministers study this matter, the more they will see that they are drifting into a false. position from the want of a certain amount of business aptitude. The admission made by the Minister of External Affairs, is absolutely fatal to these clauses from my point of view. Is there anybody in this Chamber, who - after the admission of the honorable gentleman that if these clauses are not inserted in the Bill it can be immediately assented to - will say that the course proposed by the Government can commend itself to any reasonable man? At present I cannot discuss the merits of the clauses, because it is the wrong time to do that. I do not wish honorable members to express an opinion upon their merits-

Mr Hughes - Other honorable members have done so.

Mr REID - I cannot bind any other honorable member. I do not at present intend to discuss these controversial matters in any way. The admission of the Minister that the insertion of these clauses in the Bill will cause it to be "hung up " for an indefinite period, whereas, if they be not inserted, it will not be " hung up " for a single moment, is surely a substantial reason why this measure should not contain such provisions. If it is a matter of great urgency that they should be passed concurrently with the Bill, surely, during the period that the discussion of this measure will occupy in the Senate, which will require to consider it just as carefully as we have done, there will be ample time in which to pass a short Bill containing these controversial provisions, which if inserted in this measure will destroy its efficiency,' and may possibly prevent it becoming law: I have put before the Committee, upon a former occasion, the substance of what I am now saying. The strength of my objection lies in the danger which exists that this Bill may be reserved for the Royal Assent. That' is the pith of my objection.' Having . arrived at that conclusion, I think that no friend of the Bill can support the Ministry in the course which they propose to follow. I have no desire to complicate this issue by introducing other matters. I put it broadly to the Committee as a body of business men, "Is not this the wrong way to bring this great measure into operation?" Under the circumstances, I feel compelled to move -

That the words, "This Part of this Act shall come into operation," be leftout.

I do so simply with a view to test the opinion of the Committee, as to whether these particular proposals should be inserted in the Bill at this stage.

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