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Tuesday, 4 September 1906

Senator DRAKE (Queensland) - If I vote against this item, as I probably shall, I shall do so for reasons which differ from those expressed by a number of honorable senators. I have the greatest objection to any unnecessary expenditure at the present time, when I think that it is necessary that we should be very careful of the finances of the Commonwealth. I believe that this year the Government expenditure is within £300,000 of our constitutional spending limit, and there are several works which they propose to undertake which will increase our expenditure. Unless some action is taken to restore the financial equilibrium, we shall soon be jammed up against the Braddon section, and will have to consider reductions in expenditure which will be found to be very unsatisfactory and very unwelcome. In the circumstances, I think that we should do what we can, in dealing with these and other Estimates which come before us, to reduce the expenditure proposed where that can be done without a sacrifice of efficiency. This item does not appear to be the outcome of any thought-out scheme. Senator Keating has given the Committee a very interesting discourse on what has been done in other countries, and concerning what no doubt it would be desirable for us to do by-and-by. It seems to me that the enterprise involved in the particular vote under discussion is not one of urgent necessity at present. We have power over fisheries only outside the three-miles limit, and I assume that fishing outside that limit will not be essentially different from fishing within the limit. I believe that the same appliances as are required for exploring the bottom of the sea within the three-miles limit of the coast will be required to explore the bottom beyond that limit. At the present. time . the States have, and will continue to have, the exclusive right to deal with fisheries within the three-miles limit, and until the Commonwealth Parliament passes laws dealing with that subject, the States laws will apply to the waters outside the three-miles limit. The matter is therefore one which, I think, might very well be left to the States at the present time. If we vote this money for the purpose of an immediate experiment, we shall have power to carry out that experiment outside the three-miles limit, but we will not have power to explore the waters of the coast within the three-miles limit.

Senator Trenwith - We should have that power with the consent of the States.

Senator DRAKE - That is to say, they might raise no objection to our doing so. But it is probable that the people of the Commonwealth as a whole might object to trawling operations being carried on within the three-miles limit of the coast of any one particular State. It seems to me that the scheme is very imperfect. The question involved is not like that of meteorology or quarantine, one which car.' be very much better dealt with by a central authority than by a number of separate authorities, and when we take into consideration the fact that the States; have now the exclusive power to deal with fishing within the threemiles limit of their coasts, and with fishing outside that limit until the Federal Parliament takes action in the matter, we might very well leave the subject to be dealt with by the States Parliaments, and for the present save the proposed expenditure. Two sets of opinions are being submitted to the Committee, and, whilst I agree entirely with those who consider that it is justifiable for the States to spend money for the purpose of developing or exploring an industry in order that private enterprise may derive benefit from it, I disagree with those honorable senators who have taken up the position that if States moneyis to be expended at all it must be in the establishment of a Commonwealth industry, to be worked by profit by the Commonwealth Government. That, to my mind, would not be constitutional . I do not think that under the Constitution the Commonwealth Government are entitled to undertake the conduct of any industry except for the supply of Commonwealth wants.

Senator de Largie - -Then the Commonwealth Government could not undertake the conduct of this industry at all, and could not even prospect it?

Senator DRAKE - That is a very different matter. I see no reason for giving a vote in favour of the establishment , of a fishing industry to be carried on by the Commonwealth. I wish it to :be understood that in voting against this proposal I am not against the principle involved. I. think it is quite correct that pioneering work for the benefit of the whole community, and not for the benefit of any particular body or individual, should be carried on at the expense of the States. It is justifiable for the States to undertake whatever pioneering work may be necessary for the development of great industries, and I should look upon the proposed expenditure as being justifiable in other circumstances, and at seme other time. I hold that at present we have no money to spare for this work, and that as the conduct of fisheries within the three-miles limit off the coast, and until we enact legislation dealing with the subject beyond that limit, ls at present the absolute right of the States, we had better leave the work for the present to the States.

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