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Tuesday, 2 October 1906

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) .- It is quite true that the objectionable fea- ture of this Bill, as originally introduced, has been taken out of it. But still I am nol prepared to vote for its third reading. My first reason is that which was admirably stated just now by Senator Drake, and, secondly, I shall vote against it because the Bill is, to my mind, another sign of the slipshod and piecemeal way in, which Ministers deal with financial questions. Instead of coming to Parliament with a scheme for dealing with the whole of our finances, thev come forward with a proposal to enable them to .do something which, as Senator Drake has pointed out, instead of being a help to the country, will be a hindrance. The Senate should feel indebted to Senator Drake far the clear thought that he has expressed upon a subject about which many honorable senators appear to imagine that there is no room for thought at all. Whatever may have been our opinion of the Bill before hearing Senator Drake's speech, after hearing it we must see that there is a grave difference between the debts incurred by the States before Federation and1 those incurred subsequently. As Senator Drake has pointed out, there is an obligation upon the Federal Parliament under the Constitution to take over the pre-Federal debts to the extent of ^202,000,000. As they have surrendered their Customs and Excise revenue, to do so much is to give the States that consideration which they have always looked for. But we have 110 obligation whatever with regard to the ^35,000,000 of debt incurred since Federation, and I do not think that we need trouble ourselves about it. The States themselves are not troubling about it. It is a small burden to them. Some of the States, gaining wisdom by past experience, have been proceeding economically, and have not borrowed considerably since Federation. But the mother State has " plunged " to the tune of -£19,000,000. A rich State like New South Wales, with her vast possibilities and her huge assets, mav do that sort of thing, but if Tasmania had done the same I should have thought that she had taken a most dangerous and foolish course. It appears to me that what we ought to do is to relieve the States of the obligation for the debts incurred before Federation, which they have a right to expect us to do. and to leave them with the obligation for the ^35,000,000 incurred since. But the present Government has given us no solution of the problem which we have to face. We" shall make a great mistake in going in for piecemeal legislation which cannot be claimed to solve the financial problem. Suppose every State were for the next few years to follow the example of New South Wales, and to borrow largely for the construction of public works, to find employment for the working classes, and were to pay them 7 s. a day week after week, and month after month, even after it was shown that many of the men so paid would not work,' could not work, and were by no means worth the wages they received. We know perfectly well that in New South Wales those wages were paid to men who were not earning them,- and who were not capable of earning them.

The PRESIDENT - What has that to do with this Bill?

Senator DOBSON - It has to do with it in this way - that the Commonwealth has an obligation with regard to the £202,000,000 of debts, but has no obligation with regard to debt incurred since Federation.

The PRESIDENT - I do not think that the wages paid in one State have anything to do with the question.

Senator DOBSON - I am pointing out that if a State in the future were to have a boom, it might incur new loan obligations to an enormous extent, and that there is no obligation on our part to take over such debts. But my principal argument against the Bill is that when we take over the debts, we are entitled to know what position the States are to be in with regard to their future borrowing. It is an exceedingly complex problem, but I notice that the Premiers at the Hobart Conference came to an agreement about it.

Senator Playford - Of .course they did. They came to the agreement that we should continue the Braddon section for a good many years.

Senator DOBSON - Will this Parliament agree to its continuation? Will the present Administration ask Parliament to continue it?

Senator Playford - This 'Bill is the Treasurer's scheme.

Senator DOBSON - That remark convinces me that the financial problem has not yet been solved, and that Ministers are not prepared to say how it will be dealt with. I am not prepared to vote for taking over any portion of the debts of the States until we know how the financial problem is to be settled, especially with regard to future borrowing. The question of converting the debts is an exceedingly difficult one, and, to my mind, sufficient importance has not been given to it. When is the right time to convert ? It can only be done when the market is favorable.

Senator Playford - These are all petty details.

Senator DOBSON - In regard to financial problems, every detail is not petty, but important.

Senator Playford - But it has all been said half-a-dozen times. I am getting, tired of it.

Senator DOBSON - Another reason why I should like to see the Bill postponed is because I believe the States are really waking up to the dangers in front of them arising out of the reckless expenditure of the present Government. The Premiers and Treasurers have agreed to hold a meeting to consider the question. That, in itself, offers a good reason for postponing the Bill. It would be much better for us to go before the electors with only one constitutional amendment, instead of four, as my honorable friend desires.

Senator Playford - I never desired that four amendments should be submitted to the people.

Senator DOBSON - My honorable friend has submitted three proposed amendments on behalf of the Government, and he also gave special facilities to Senator Pearce to propose another.

Senator Playford - I said I would vote against that. How grossly unfair the honorable senator is !

Senator DOBSON - If the debate that we have had throws more light upon the subject, the time will not have been lost, there are so many ways of looking at a problem so complex as that which faces us with regard to finance, and there are so many dangers to be guarded against. We are justified in insisting upon the difference, pointed out by Senator Drake, between the £35,000,000 and the .£202, 000,000.

Senator Playford - We have heard all that before.

Senator DOBSON - I never heard it so well and clearly put, and I desire to thank Senator Drake for his speech.

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