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Thursday, 13 September 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - I very much resent what Senator Playford has said with regard to the motives of honorable senators in supporting the amendment. Sofar as I am concerned, it represents such a minimum of what is desirable, that I positively could not accept the measure on any terms unless some such provision were in it. But it appears to represent more than the maximum that Senator Playford is prepared to concede. I cannot imagine any reason why an amendment which may commend itself to the cool and impartial judgment of a majority of the Senate should be rejected, not on its merits, but apparently simply because it is an amendment. What is the reason ? Is it that the Government is so delighted with having carried the second reading of the Bill by a majority of one that it has determined not to run the slightest risk, even in respect of an amendment in Committee? Or is it that the Government is pursuing the course that I think they have invariably adopted throughout the session, of degrading the Senate? I have had to mention more than once that the Senate is rapidly becoming more or less of a registry office for another place.

Senator Playford - A majority of the Senate can insert any amendment it pleases; but I do not believe that this is a reasonable amendment, and what is more, there is no necessity for it.

Senator CLEMONS - If that is the Minister's objection, I will confine my remarks to it. I shall give reasons why the amendment should, in my opinion, be adopted. First of all, we cannot go on with the survey unless we obtain the consent of the South Australian Parliament ; that is to say, unless we are prepared to run the risk of being stopped when we have started the work. When the Federal Government wishes to institute a survey on any land, it should, first of all, make sure that it has power to do it. At present, we have no such security. If the Government were to start a survey without the consent of the South Australian Parliament, it might be stopped at any moment. Indeed, any private individual in South Australia would have the power to put us in a ridiculous position by saying, " You have now done a part of. your survey, but, in my opinion, you are not doing the work in a proper way, and, therefore, you must be stopped." These are absolute facts which no one can deny. I am now dealing solely with the merits of proposed amendment, without which the Federal Parliament will deliberately court humiliation. If the Bill were allowed to pass without this amendment, the South Australian Government might allow the survey to proceed to a certain point, and then decisively say, " Thank you very much ; we have extracted from the Commonwealth an expenditure of £8,000 or £10,000 in such directions as seem to us desirable, and we have no further use for you - outyou go !" Unless the South Australian Parliament consents in wide terms - and I shouldlike to have an opportunity to discuss the terms - to a survey by the Federal authorities, any one of the various positions I have tried to picture might be brought about. It is a serious reflection on the competence of this Chamber when we frame legislation without first inquiring what our power is in the intended direction; and that is precisely what we are now doing. We are giving all the sanction we possess, as a legislative body, to a Bill, with the full knowledge that the exercise of the power it seeks to confer may be stopped at any moment. In the case of an ordinary Bill that would be folly ; indeed, I should regard it as degrading. Every such Bill that we pass is one more sign-post of the gradual humiliation of the Senate since this Parliament was instituted.

The CHAIRMAN - The term "degrading" is hardly parliamentary.

Senator CLEMONS - I wish you, Mr. Chairman, would help me to describe the continual downfall - I suppose I may saythat - of this Senate in the estimation of, not only people outside, but of any senator who, like myself, has been a member for four or five years, and who calmly considers the trend of our legislation. I suppose that possibly it is due to the pernicious example which we set ourselves some time ago. At any rate, the present case is typical ; it is only one of a series. Continually it is proposed that we shall do something, with the full and admitted knowledge that we have not the power.

Senator Staniforth Smith - Was not a very similar Bill introduced by the Reid Government? No objection was then taken.

Senator CLEMONS - I was opposed to that Bill in every line and clause, and had I had the opportunity-, I should have treated it exactly as I propose to treat the Bill before us.

Senator Playford - Not quite so badly, I think.

Senator CLEMONS - As a matter of fact, I think I had more success in stopping that Bill than will accompany my efforts in connexion with this measure.

Senator Millen - Senator Keating was not then a Minister.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Keating, I am sorry to say, is not in a position to help me on the present occasion.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - There is no doubt3 that Senator Clemons was bitterly opposed to the Bill introduced by- the Reid Government.

Senator CLEMONS - If I did not say much in regard to that Bill, it was only because I was busy elsewhere; but I did all I could to defeat it.

Senator Turley - If that Bill had got into Committee amendments would have been moved.

Senator CLEMONS - Nothing would have stopped me from moving amendments ; but my object was, as on the present occasion, to defeat the Bill. It does not matter to me which Government introduces the Bill, I shall be opposed to it now and for all time.

Senator Findley - Do not say for all time.

Senator CLEMONS - I will take the risk of the statement. Even, if I change my mind - though I do not think that is at all probable-T-I should still vote against the Bill ; and I shall do everything I can in a fair and legitimate way to defeat it on the present occasion.

Senator Playford - After that statement how can you expect the supporters of the Bill to agree to any amendment which you propose?

Senator CLEMONS - I have been " side-tracked " ; but I can tell Senator Playford that, while he has been out of the chamber, I have devoted myself entirely to dealing with the question on its merits.

Senator Findley - The honorable and learned senator is not "side-tracked," but is acting under instructions.

Senator CLEMONS - Whose instructions ?

Senator Findley - The instructions of the Opposition caucus.

Senator CLEMONS - There is no combination on this side - call it " caucus " or what we will - which could produce such an effect as thirteen men compelling twelve men to turn topsy-turvey. There are many honorable senators on both sides of the Chamber who are opposing the Bill with the absolutely honest conviction that it is a wrong measure to pass. That remark applies to many worthy colleagues, as well as to many worthy opponents of Senator Findley.

Senator Millen - The supporters of the Bill stone-walled the measure yesterday afternoon, in order to give Senator Keating a chance to make up him. mind.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Playfordhas been careful to say that this amendment is not bad in itself, but that it is simply redundant. How is it that the position created by Western Australia for the. reception., so to speak, of this Bill in the Federal Parliament is so totally different from the position created by South Australia? I frankly recognise that Western Australia has to a considerable extent shown her bona fides in her efforts to obtain this railway.

Senator Styles - The honorable and learned senator refers to the Western Australian Parliament?

Senator CLEMONS - Yes; and no one would refuse to accord a proper recognition to Western Australia's legislative efforts in this connexion. Between what Western Australia has done, and what South Australia has not done, there is an enormous gap.

Senator Styles - There must be some reason.

Senator CLEMONS - I have no doubt ; and the amendment proposes a proper safeguard. It is not suggested that South Australia should be placed in precisely the same position as Western Australia ; and that is why I was careful to indicate my view that if I vote for the amendment I am certainly not going to be satisfied with it. The amendment, in my opinion, represents the minimum, and even if it meant the whole, South Australia would not be in anything like the same position as that in which Western Australia has voluntarily placed herself. I should like to know what is the attitude of the South Australian people to-day. I ask any South Australian senator why There has been this evidence of bona fides by Western Australia, while there has been practically none given by South Australia? I can see nothing in the attitude of the South Australian Parliament and people except a desire to get as much Commonwealth money spent in the territory as they can without committing themselves to the slightest possible extent. More than one South Australian senator frankly recognises that this Bill will almost satisfy their entire desires. It is a plain fact, which I am not going to disguise, that they recognise that the great advantage to be got out of the Bill is the spending of the money on the survey.

Senator Guthrie - The great advantage is to get information for the Commonwealth.

Senator CLEMONS - If the Commonwealth Parliament desire information from such surveys, there are many other places in connexion with which that information would be much more productive and valuable. If Senator Guthrie justifies the Bill simply on the ground of getting information, it is the same sort of miserable ground that the survey party would cover. If we have to spend £20,000 in acquiring information, let us spend it in regions which are likely to produce more desirable results' than could possibly be obtained in the South Australian desert.

Senator Dobson - We have no power to spend money in exploration.

Senator CLEMONS - But if this money is to be used for the purposes of exploration let us frankly say so. If Senator Guthrie, instead of being anxious to get as much Commonwealth money spent in South Australia as he can - I hope the honorable senator does not object to that statement

Senator Guthrie - I do, decidedly. I have not asked for half as much money for South Australia as the honorable and learned senator has for Tasmania.

Senator CLEMONS - I am not going to enter into a comparison between the greedy demands of South Australia and the sufferings of Tasmania. On the question of exploitation, it is just as well that I should say that honorable senators from South Australia expect to be able to get money out of the Commonwealth under this measure which they could not get out of private individuals under any possible circumstances. South Australia would appear to be firmly determined to secure the expenditure of as much of this £20,000 as possible within her own borders.

Senator Guthrie - And we are prepared to pay our own share.

Senator CLEMONS - That is so excellent a rejoinder that I think we should put it into figures. Senator Guthrie thinks that it is very laudable for South Australiato be prepared to spend , £1,200 of her own money in order that at least £10,000 of the money of other people should be spent within her territory. Anxious as South Australia is to secure that expenditure, sheis not even decent in what she does in order to bring it about. The attitude of South Australia generally with regard to this proposal is contemptible, because, while she is evidently greedy to have this money expended within her borders, she is extremely careful not to show her bona fides in this matter in the way Western Australia has done. Will Senator Guthrie say that the South Australian Parliament is prepared to pass a Bill to enable the Federal authorities to undertake this survey and to complete the proposed railway as they think fit?I regret that I see no indication on the part of the Ministry, or even on the part of the Committee, to insist that before any step is taken under this measure, South Australia shall be asked to do what Western Australia has done. Will Senator Guthrie deny that that is refused by South Australia.

Senator Guthrie - I do not say that it Will be refused.

Senator CLEMONS - It is refused by the Minister of Defence. Is Senator Guthrie going to vote for the amendment ?

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator will know when I vote.

Senator CLEMONS - I wish the Committee to tell South Australia that if she desires that money shall be spent on this survey, it is right that she should do what Western Australia is prepared to do.

Senator Guthrie - Why should the honorable senator dictate the policy of South Australia?

Senator CLEMONS - I arn not doing sc. I merely ask Senator Guthrie to recognise that if this amendment is not giveneffect, South Australia will not have moved one step in the direction of putting herself in the same position' as Western Australia. Even should the amendment be given effect, she will not have done as much as Western Australia has done. But the amendment will at least give South Australia the opportunity to do something in the same direction as her co-partner, Western Australia, to facilitate the useful expenditure of the ,-£20,000 proposed for the survey of this railway. With reference to Senator Playford's remark about the consent of the Premier of South Australia, it should not be necessary to say that we need not pay the slightest attention to the statement that in this matter the Premier of South Australia can do what the South Australian Parliament can do. That is an argument which on any other ocasion would be scouted as utterly ridiculous. Honorable senators would not agree to accept the if se dixit of a Premier of a State who is here to-day and gone to-morrow. Senator Playford has said " What does it matter whether this amendment is inserted in the Bill or not? If we find that we cannot spend the money as we wish, we will not spend it."

Senator Playford - If we find that it is necessary to get the consent of the Parliament of South Australia before we spend the money, we shall get it.

Senator CLEMONS - If the Government do not get it - what then?

Senator Playford - Then there will be no money spent. There is no necessity for the amendment. I think that the consent of the Premier of South Australia is sufficient, and I say that if it is found that it is not we can go to the South Australian Parliament.

Senator CLEMONS - I dismiss the reference to the consent of the Premier of South Australia, because Senator Playford must know that if he were to take a test vote of the Senate on that point he would be in a hopeless minority. The honorable senator has intimated that the amendment is unnecessary, because the Federal Executive would only spend the money if they thought fit. That observation places this proposal in the same category as the votes for the purchase of a trawler, and for experiments in connexion with wireless telegraphy, which we discussed in the Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill. On that occasion Senator Playford told us that we must trust the Executive. He now says that we must trust the Executive in this matter. He says, " If it is necessary to obtain the consent of South Australia the Executive will do that. They will make all the necessary arrangements, and we need not bother." I expressed my view of a request that we should abrogate the ordinary functions of Parliament when we discussed the trawler and wireless telegraphy. It is the function of Parliament to ascertain what the Executive are going to do. If Senator Playford's suggestion that all that is necessary is that we should trust the Executive is correct, it is not necessary to pass this Bill at all. I have said that I do not attach a great deal of importance to the amendment, and I have indicated that I propose to move other amendments, which I think will be more effective.

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