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Thursday, 14 June 1906

Senator MILLEN - I admit that some paraphrazing has taken place. Circumstances have necessitated a reference to one or two new matters, and the omission of one or two old ones, but to all intents and purposes we have before us to-day the same document that was placed in our hands twelve months ago.

Senator Best - What is wrong with that?

Senator Playford - It shows a continuity of policy.

Senator MILLEN - Exactly.

Senator Best - And the consistency with which that policy is pursued.

Senator MILLEN - It shows the consistency with which the Government are pursuing an object that they are never likely to reach. Three years ago, the Deakin Government put forward - or pretended to do so - certain measures for the consideration of this Parliament. They renewed the list twelve months ago, and they bring it here again to-day. I mention this to show how utterly ridiculous is a document that pretends to put before the Senate a great deal more business than the Government intend to proceed with - a great deal more than could possibly be dealt with.

Senator Playford - If one wants to hit the moon one should aim at the sun.

Senator MILLEN - So far as I am concerned, it is not a question of hitting anything, but I think we have a right to expect the Ministry - although with me the expectation has long since disappeared - to recognise its obligation to put before Parliament business-like proposals for a businesslike session. Can it be said that those again brought before us are business-like proposals? Two years ago the Ministry brought forward an interminable list. A very small percentage of the measures enumerated in that list were dealt with, and, as a matter of fact, avery small percentage was intended to be dealt with. The Government now come forward once more with the same list.

Senator Best - 'Twas ever thus in the history of responsible government.

Senator MILLEN - If the honorable and learned senator will search the records of Parliament all overthe world he will not find a document equal to the marvellous one now before us. In the course of the statement he made twelve months ago, Senator Playford told us that it might not be possible to complete all the legislation that he had outlined during the session then opened. Surely a paragraph to that effect should have been included in the present address. If the prophecy were applicable to the Ministerial statement of twelve months ago, it is still more applicable to a speech giving a list something like a third longer than the one then outlined.

Senator Henderson - It is always a wise reservation to make.

Senator MILLEN - My complaint is that there has been an omission in this regard. After predicting that it was not reasonable to expect that the business then outlined could be completed during the session, the Minister said that we might hope, by means of a business-like session this year and a longer session nextyear. to make good progress in the right direction. That statement, if capable of interpretation, was to be accepted as an assurance that the Government would take care that we had a longer session this year - that, as we had so much work to do, Parliament should be brought together earlier in the year, and a reasonable opportunity afforded it to deal with some of the more important work submitted by the Ministry. It is obvious, however, that the present session must be shorter than the last. That being so, if, for want of time, we fail to pass any of the measures outlined in the GovernorGeneral's address, the responsibility must rest with the Government, for having allowed us to remain in recess when we ought to have been at work.

Senator Best - I have never seen a Vice-Regal speech which did not contain promises that were not capable of being fulfilled.

Senator MILLEN - I am not questioning the honorable and learned senator's statement, made with the authority of an ex-Minister, that Governments are in the habit of making promises which they cannot redeem.

Senator Best - I did not say that. Senator MILLEN. - My point is that twelve months ago the Minister told us that we should be called together earlier this year.

Senator Henderson - So we were.

Senator MILLEN - Why quibble with words? The statement was that we should have a longer session.

Senator McGregor - We were called together a fortnight earlier than we were last year.

Senator MILLEN - But the present session must necessarily be shorter than the last.

Senator McGregor - It is longer at this end.

Senator MILLEN - I do not expect for one moment that honorable senators opposite are going, to find fault with the Ministry for this neglect. It matters not to me whether they do or not; but it is singular that those who profess such eagerness to proceed with legislation - who are continually affirming their desire to proceed with business which they allege the public demand - should remain quiescent, having regard to the fact that the Government gave Parliament an assurance that we should be called together earlier this year, and have a better opportunity this session than we had last of transacting public business.

Senator McGregor - We shall talk less, and therefore the time at our disposal will be longer.

Senator MILLEN - In paragraph 17 of the Governor-General's speech we have revived what are obviously the vague generalities in which Mr. Deakin has indulged! in regard to attracting population to Australia. I am as anxious as is any one to see a steady stream of desirable population turning towards Australia; but I am unable, under existing circumstances, to work up any enthusiasm. In the first place, the class that we desire primarily to attract to our shores are those who will settle on the land. Our efforts in the firstinstance would not be directed towards attracting to Australia what I may term city labourers. I do not mean to infer that we desire to bar those of other occupations, but we certainly wish more particularly to encourage immigrants who will settle on the soil and become producers. There are two great difficulties in the way of this class of immigration. In the first place, there is the unsatisfactory position of our lands for closer settlement ; whilst, in the second, we have the threatened legislation with regard to the lands of the Commonwealth. It would not be honest to invite people to come to Australia and acquire land here unless we made it clear to them that there is in practical politics a serious proposal for the nationalization of the very land we ask them to buy.

Senator Henderson - It would be well if we could tell them that we were going to wipe out all land agents.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator may tell them that, if he pleases. I cannot become enthusiastic over any proposal to invite people to come to our shores with the knowledge that there is in politics an active, dominant party which has for one of its objects the nationalization, at the earliest opportunity, of the very land which they are to take up. If the Commonwealth is to invite people to come to Australia, the requirements of honesty demand that it shall explain the position to them.

Senator McGregor - What is land nationalization ?

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator should ask the caucus.

Senator Higgs - No doubt Senator Millen is referring to a progressive land tax.

Senator MILLEN - I am referring to the land nationalization winch is to follow that tax. Having by means of a progressive land tax, caused the division of land now held in "large areas, we are to take that land from the people by means of a scheme of nationalization.

Senator McGregor - The States are nationalizing land at the present time.

Senator MILLEN - It is idle to say that, when a State purchases an estate, and subdivides and resells it, it is nationalizing the land.

Senator McGregor - If they resell it, they certainly do not nationalize it.

Senator MILLEN - Every one of the States that has attempted to purchase land has practically resold it again. Even in New Zealand, where the leasehold system was adopted, proposals were being made by the late Mr. Seddon and the Ministry of which he was the head to enable those who had acquired land on leasehold to secure the freehold.

Senator Pearce - Not on the purchased estates !

Senator MILLEN - On them too. One of the latest public declarations, made by the late Mr. Seddon was to the effect that he was going to give an option.

Senator Pearce - I think that the honorable senator is wrong.

Senator MILLEN - The difference of opinion can easily be settled. Of course, I am only quoting from newspaper reports, which, I assume, are fairly accurate.

Senator Best - There is not the slightest doubt that, throughout the farming community in New Zealand, there has been a strong agitation to secure an option.

Senator MILLEN - That is the mere working of human nature. In New South Wales, in 1894, when, as I have already admitted, I was very much taken up with the idea of the State retaining the ownership of the land, and establishing a leasehold system, we passed a law which provided for leasehold tenures of Crown land. What happened? For a year or two nothing was said ; but as the small leaseholders commenced to multiply, there arose a demand that they should have a right to freehold their lands, and the Farmers' and Settlers' Association, which included a large number of men of this class, were gradually brought round. For the first year or two, at their conference, they utterly scouted the idea. The opposition, however, only lasted for a few years, because with the multiplication of small leaseholders, each being animated with a desire to secure a freehold, it Was only a question of . time when the association should advocate a system of free hold tenures, and for the last three or four years they have affirmed that principle by an increasing majority.

Senator Best - In New Zealand it was exactly the same.

Senator Playford - And in South Australia the lessees secured the passage of a Bill to enable them to purchase freeholds.

Senator MILLEN - Exactly. You may talk of nationalizing the land as much as you like ; you may put men on leasehold tenures ; but in human nature there is something which will always cause a man to desire the absolute ownership of the land which: he occupies, and the more you multiply the leaseholders the more you multiply those who will become claimants to the right to freehold tenures.

Senator Pearce - Does not the honorable senator see that his statement destroys his own argument, because, according to him, there is no danger of land nationalization?

Senator MILLEN - Senator Styles read here to-day some figures showing that the men in employment in the city outnumber the men on the land. If it were left merely to those who were occupied on the land to decide the question, we could make a prediction. But as every man and every woman in the country, whether working upon the land or in a factory, have an equal voice in determining what its land policy shall be, it seems to me quite obvious what the decision of the majority would be.

Senator Pearce - A progressive land tax will reverse the figures. It will put a larger population in the country.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator can venture on such a prediction, but I am not prepared to think that it will be the case.

Senator Best - And the honorable senator is not dealing with the question of a land tax.

Senator MILLEN - No. I do not wish to discuss the question of the nationalization of land or the imposition of a land tax, I merely mention it as one of the reasons why I could not view with enthusiasm these proposals for attracting population. I desire to refer now to the next paragraph in the speech, dealing with the transfer of the State debts. I am utterly unable to understand the enthusiasm and eagerness with which a large number of persons connected with Federal politics are rushing round and seeking for an opportunity to take over the liabilities of other people. I have never found anybody rushing round and trying to take over my liabilities, and if I did, I should suspect him. I should say that there was something in his desire which I could not understand. Why this feverish anxiety for the Commonwealth to take over anybody's debts? No one can advance a sound reason for the proposal.

Senator Playford - The option is provided for in the Constitution.

Senator MILLEN - But why are some persons so eager for the Commonwealth tx> exercise the option?

Senator Playford - Because of the advantage which would eventually accrue ro the Commonwealth as a whole from the lowering of the rate of interest.

Senator MILLEN - That was one of the things which were predicted in preFederation days, but I venture to assert that there is no man with a knowledge of finance who will say that if the whole of the States debts were converted and handed over to the Commonwealth, there would be a saving of i,cf. in interest! for many years to come.

Senator Best - There would be a gradual conversion.

Senator MILLEN - Does the honorable senator, when he speaks of a gradual saving, mean that if there is to be any scheme submitted', it can be other than an immediate one?

Senator Best - Yes. That is the onlyhope for economy.

Senator MILLEN - What the honorable senator really means to suggest is, that a Commonwealth loan could be floated at a lower rate than a State loan ?

Senator Best - Hear,, hear.

Senator MILLEN - I venture to dispute that statement. And the saving in interest which could be effected would be more than absorbed by the charges; which we should be called upon to pay in London for the financial operations. We do not float our loans without expense; it amounts to a very considerable sum. No financier will affirm that there would be anyimmediate saving from the exercise of this option. Iti is all in the future. Bvandbv, there is to be sortie imaginary saving effected, and in anticipation of that event, we are asked to relieve the States1 of heavyfinancial responsibilities, and incur the immediate cost of transferring these debts.

Senator Playford - No ; we would take over the debts just before they fell due.

Senator Mulcahy - But the Government have not told us what they are going to do.

Senator MILLEN - - Exactly, and the State Premiers cannot tell the Government what they want them to do. As a matter of fact, the whole thing is "in the air," with this exception, that a number of persons connected with Federal politics are rushing round and trying to persuade themselves and every one else that it would be a mighty good thing if the Commonwealth took over these debts. Those who would gain the chief advantage would be the States. Of course, the final decision would rest with the Federal Parliament. The States have not displayed half the anxiety to get rid of these debts which the Commonwealth Ministers have shown to take them over. Let the States put forward a business proposition which we can consider. But that we should concern ourselves about relieving them of liabilities if they do not wish to be relieved of them seems to me to be a reversal of everything which I have ever recognised as business-like. The establishment of a Meteorological Department is a matter which might well occupy the attention of the Commonwealth Government. I am extremely pleased to learn from the speech that at last they have decided to consider a proposal for adopting a general system throughout Australia. A large number of persons living in the cities, perhaps, are not concerned1 about the weather except on -the eve of a public holiday ; but there are a large number of persons throughout the country and a large number of shipping people on the coast to whom it is a matter of vital importance. With certain States carrying on meteorological observations and other States acting with a difference of method, and, perhaps, disjointed communication, our present system is, entirely ineffective, and I shall be very pleased when steps can be taken to place this Department on a Federal basis. I now come to what, in my opinion, is a most' important matter, and that is the question of the proper recognition of the rights of the Senate as set out in the Constitution. It has been brought before the Chamber in various ways. If honorable senators will refer t'o that portion of the speech which commences with the words, " Gentlemen of the House of Representatives," they will see that at that stage the following two paragraphs were addressed to them exclusively by the GovernorGeneral :-

12.   The Estimates of Expenditure originating from you will bc framed with economy, having due regard to the magnitude of the area and interests under control.

13.   Plans for the redistribution of your electorates throughout the Commonwealth have been prepared by Commissioners appointed in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act, and resolutions for the purpose of giving effect to the Commissioners' recommendations will be promptly submitted to Parliament for ratification.

I think I can ask honorable senators to approach this matter without any regard to party interests, or even to personal feelings. I desire to approach it in that way, and as evidence of my good faith, I shall refrain from moving an amendment on the subject. I cannot refrain, however, from asking honorable senators to seriously consider whether the time has not arrived for the Senate to take some more definite and pronounced action than it has done to secure a proper recognition of its rights. Let me briefly refer to the various, occasions on which this question has been raised here. It will be remembered that in the first Parliament, with Mr. Barton as Prime Minister, the first Supply Bill which came to the Senate was altered so as to acknowledge that Supply was granted not merely by the House of Representatives, but by both Houses; because the preamble would make it appear that it was simply the act of the other House. It was, I believe, sir, through your act in drawing attention to the form of the preamble that an honorable senator submitted a motion, with the result that it was altered. I believe that it was altered first in a way which did not meet with the approval of the Senate, and that a further alteration was secured. At any rate, it was altered until due recognition was given of the constitutional standing of the Senate. "In the speech delivered at the opening of that' session the reference to the Estimates was made in the same way ais, it is made in the speech under consideration to-day, that is to say, the paragraph was addressed to the House of Representatives only.

Senator Best - But did it make use of the term "originating?"

Senator MILLEN - I do not think that it did.

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