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Thursday, 4 October 1906

Senator MULCAHY (Tasmania) . - The excellent speeches which have been made so far have been directed against the details of the Bill, and the great importance of the new principle which it seeks to enact has not been sufficiently dealt with. We are asked to pass a Bill for the imposition of Excise duties, not for the purpose of collecting revenue, but for a totally distinct purpose, and one which, I venture to say, is unconstitutional. That purpose is to enable the Government of the day, by such machinery as it can direct, to decide matters which have not been intrusted to the Commonwealth to decide. It is proposed to tell the people of the world that we in this agricultural country are going to put an embargo upon the manufacturers of agricultural machinery.

Senator Playford - No; we are only going to ask each manufacturer to pay a fair wage.

Senator MULCAHY - The Minister is candid. Why does he not bring in a Bill for the purpose of compelling the manufacturer to pay a fair wage, and call it by its proper name? He knows, very well that he has no right to do that. The Government in nearly everything that it has brought forward this session has been trying to encroach upon the rights of the States. I repudiate such legislation. I can hardly speak of it without a feeling of disgust. If this, Parliament has the right by imposing an Excise duty on agricultural implements to dictate what wages shall be paid in that particular industryit has an equal right to impose Excise duties upon the manufacture of boots and shoes, clothing, jams, and other commodities. It has a right to go to the people who are mining copper or tin in Tasmania and tell them that it will impose an Excise duty upon their products, not for the purpose of collecting revenue to carry on the functions of the Commonwealth, but in order, by indirect means, to impose industrial conditions, which, under the Constitution were left to the States. This is the sort of measure that we have thrust upon us in the last hours of the session - . forced down our throats by. what professes to be ai protectionist Government, which, I venture to say, is proposing these measures against its will. That is perfectly well known.

Senator Guthrie - That is a statement which the honorable senator has no justification for making, and he knows it.

Senator MULCAHY - My feelings, towards Senator Guthrie are too friendly to allow anything which he says to disturb me. But if any one ventures to tell the people of Australia that this Ministry is not governed by a power behind itself, and is not actuated by principles which are not its own, he will say what is not true.

Senator Playford - It does not look very much like it when we voted against Senator Pearce's Bill this afternoon.

Senator MULCAHY - Assuming that this Bill is constitutional - and I believe it is not - it is to be applied to manufactures to a very limited extent. It singles out one kind of manufacture and lays down conditions, in regard to it. See how it will operate. Take the case of an engineer who is carrying on a general business making steam engines, boilers, and similar things. Suppose that he takes up the manufacture of agricultural implements. Immediately the Minister of Trade and Customs comes, down upon him and says " Before I will allow you to make these machines I must be satisfied that your conditions of labour are such as I approve of."

Senator Pearce - That is not what the Bill says.

Senator Playford - The Bill simply says, " If you are going to get an advantage from extra duty you must conform to certain conditions."

Senator MULCAHY - The proviso, which is the effective part of the Bill, lays it down that the Excise duty is not to apply to goods manufactured under certain conditions as to remuneration of labour. Unless, therefore, the manufacturer pays certain wages he is, to be penalized.

Senator Playford - We do not interfere with his business at all, but we do not allow him to get an advantage unless he shares it with his workmen.

Senator MULCAHY - Has the Minister really any idea of what he is talking about? Suppose that an engineering firm employed half its staff in manufacturing a particular article mentioned in the schedule to this Bill. Does not the Minister see that the proprietor of that establishment could not continue to manufacture that article unless he complied with the conditions laid down regarding the other half of his employes?

Senator Pearce - He could by paying the Excise.

Senator MULCAHY - That is, by suffering a penalty. A neighbouring engineer in the same line of business, but not manufacturing an article mentioned in the schedule, and not governed by any law imposed by the State in which he carried on his business, could continue to pay his men according to a lower scale of remuneration. I view this kind of legislation with much alarm. We should standby the agreement made with the States, and protect their sovereign rights. We should be loyal to the first principle of Federation, which is. " Thus farshalt thou go, and no farther." We should rot be continually encroachingupon the functions and (privileges of the States. It is their business to pass industrial laws ifthey please to do so. Some States may be more progressive than others. The conditions of life differin different States. What right have we to place in the hands of the Minister power to dictate conditions of employment to any State. Some reference has been made to Mr. Kingston by way of parallel. I have always been an admirer of one action of his whilst he was Minister of Trade and Customs. He separated himself as a politician from work, which he regarded as the proper function of a judicial tribunal. He recognised that it was not fair for him as a politician to be called upon to decide upon the merits of a case which should be dealt with judicially. But under this Bill we are going to enable the Minister of Trade and Customs to issue his decree arbitrarily.

Senator Playford - There are such provisions in the Customs Act, and in the Defence Act.

Senator MULCAHY - I am well aware that it is sometimes necessary to give arbitrary power to a Minister, though it may occasionally be abused. But this is a power whichcertainly ought not to be given. I shall not hesitate in Committee to assist in every constitutionalway to prevent this Bill being passed.

Senator Lt.-Col.GOULD (New South Wales) [9.12]. - If we were asked to consider a Bill in which was plainly laid down the rates of wages to be paid . by the harvester manufacturers to their employes, the point would at once be raised that the proposal was unconstitutional. If honorable senators will take the trouble to consider the powers conferred upon this Parliament by the Constitution, they will find that there is no power whatever under which we can fix rates of wages in any industry. It is true that there is a section which enables us to constitute a Conciliation and Arbitration Court to deal with disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State. But beyond that I venture to say that no honorable senator can indicate any provision giving us the right to legislate respecting rates of wages or conditions of labour. If this had been introduced as a Bill to regulate wages and conditions of labour, the point could successfully have been taken that such legislation wasbeyond our powers : and if the President or Speaker had declined to interpret the Constitution, the High Court, if invoked, would undoubtedly have declared the Bill to be uncon- stitutional. If I am right in that contention, then the Bill before us, is equally unconstitutional, because we have no right to do indirectly what we have no right to do directly. We are proposing by this Bill to mould and change our powers, under the pretence that we are legislating for the purposes of Excise, but the measure might well be described as one to provide for the imposition of Excise duties which it is never intended to collect. This is a monstrous attempt to interfere with the rights and privileges of the States, and I am glad that Senator Mulcahy recognised its importance from that point of view. Some honorable senators may desire to magnify the power of the Commonwealth, and reduce the States to mere nonentities ; but we should be sadly neglecting our duty if we allowed any infringements of the rights of the States, which are specially intrusted to us. If we forget our duty in this respect, the sooner we receive the punishment we merit the better it will be for the States and the Commonwealth at large. Such a breach of engagement would be regarded as absolutely dishonest in private life, and how much greater is the obligation imposed when the parties are the trustees for the people ? I venture to say that it has never been the intention of the promoters of the Bill that any one of the provisions shall be exercised. An exorbitant price has been fixed for stripper-harvesters, so that there will be little incentive to manufacturers to go beyond it. The Commonwealth is actually stepping into Victoria and South Australia, and saving that the manufacturers of stripper-harvesters shall be fined £6 on each machine, if they do not observe certain conditions.

Senator Guthrie - There are twentyother articles which are made in other States.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That only makes my argument stronger, and shows how eager the Commonwealth is to entrench on the rights of the States. This Bill is for the express purpose of protecting and assisting manufacturers who are making good profits at the present time. Some honorable senators have talked of " boodle," and certainly this legislation is calculated to enable men to obtain that which might very fairly be so described. It would have been very much more straightforward to provide that persons engaged in manufacturing the goods men tioned in the schedule, shall, unless they observe certain conditions, which are declared, bv resolution of both Houses of Parliament, to be fair and reasonable, be liable to a penalty of £6; because that is really what the Bill means. If a man chooses to sweat his employes, Tie could do so; but that is not likely to occur, for the simple reason that the labour in a machine manufactured at ^38 or £40, amounts to something like £12 or £l3- However, if we passed such a law as I have suggested, it would certainly be declared to be absolutely beyond our powers, as I venture to say this Bill is.

Senator Trenwith - Then the evils of which the honorable senator speaks will not result.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Would it not be sufficiently degrading and dangerous for this Parliament to be told that this Bill was only a trick to get behind the Constitution? It is unjust to force the States and individuals into the High Court to vindicate their rights and privileges, when those rights and privileges ought to be defended in this Parliament, more especially the Senate. I am sorry that the President did not consider it his duty to interfere in connexion with the Customs Tariff (Agricultural Machinery) Bill when the point of order was raised - a point of order which applies even more strongly to the present Bill - but the President afterwards, in his capacity as senator, pointed to the great infringement of the Constitution which' was proposed, and implored the Senate, in defence of its own rights and privileges, to cast aside the clause which another place attempted to foist on us by means of a tack. If honorable senators are not prepared to resent such attempts the Senate will be regarded with the contempt it deserves. It seems to me that the Senate has no more regard for iti rights than an ordinary Legislative Council.

Senator Guthrie - What rights have we got?

Senator Lt Col GOULD - That interjection shows the contempt with which the honorable senator regards the Senate. If we have no rights and privileges, the sooner we are abolished the better; because such a Chamber is a farce and a menace to the interests of the country. While the Senate exists, some people will regard it as a Chamber where measures brought from another place will be intelligently considered. I do not believe in single Chambers, but if a second Chamber is to be merely a farce, then let it be abolished. I urge honorable senators, even at this late hour, to consider the fact that this is not a Bill simply to impose duties of Excise, but is a Bill to also impose conditions, of labour which it is quite beyond our power to do. If the desire be to regard this as an Excise Tariff Bill, let us get rid of all the unconstitutional conditions which are imposed, either by casting the Bill out bodily, or, if we have not the courage to vindicate our ' rights, by amending the proviso to clause 2. Whilst such amendment would not remove th<= objection which I have to the measure, it would reduce some of its undesirable features. If the Bill were constitutional, it -would require drastic^ amendment te make it suitable for our present requirements. What manufacturer or body of employes desires that their interests should be left solely in the hands of a Minister? The object of Arbitration Acts and Wages Boards is to insure that questions of this kind shall be settled by a judicial tribunal which will not be influenced by political passion or party feeling. Even in the Senate, which is attempting to sink so low, we recognise-

Senator Guthrie - Is the honorable senator in order in saying that the- Senate is attempting to sink low?

Senator Millen - Can you, sir, determine a point of order in the absence of a quorum ? - [Quorum formed'].

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Higgs). - I have been asked to rule whether Senator Gould is in order in saying that the Senate is " attempting to sink low." I do not think the honorable senator is strictly in order, and I hope that he will withdraw the expression.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I. withdraw it j but I wish honorable senators would realize the danger of the Senate putting itself into such a position as to lead people outside to believe that it is sinking low or has sunk low. If, by a very great stretch of imagination we assume, for the sake of argument, that this is a constitutional measure, it will be admitted that it is unwise to require Parliament to decide what are fair conditions of labour. A decision by a resolution of both Houses would involve a discussion of the question in each House, and as there would be no evidence before either House to enable its members to come to a decision, all the persons concerned would have to be brought to the bar, and would be liable to be examined- by every member of the House who chose to take part in the discussion.

Senator Stewart - A Royal Commission might be appointed.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The Bill makes no provision for the appointment of a Royal Commission. The provision for a reference to Parliament is an absurdity, and should never have appeared in the Bill. Paragraphs b and c are, in my opinion, reasonable provisions, but I remind honorable senators that they are open to the objection that the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court can take cognisance only of disputes which extend beyond the boundaries of a State. Under paragraph d the reference is to the Minister, and I ask whether this is not a monstrous power to place in the hands of any Minister. He is to be the sole judge, and there is to be no appeal from him. If the Government for the time being are under the domination of any section in Parliament, the Minister will be a mere puppet in the hands of irresponsible persons outside. They will pull the strings, and he will jump, and if any one finds fault they will stand behind him, to vindicate his action and maintain his position. The provision might give rise to all sorts of charges of corruption and malfeasance against the Minister. He might be immaculate, and yet he would still be open to suspicion in connexion with his decisions on these questions. Paragraph e provides a reasonable way of having such questions settled, and I assume that the industrial authority referred to would include the Wages Boards established in Victoria. I do. not realize at present the intention of the Government in making the provision with respect to goods manufactured, before the 31st day of March. 1907, and I think we should get some explanation of it. I should much prefer, however, to see the Bill thrown aside, because it is a farce and a fraud from beginning to end. I hope honorable senators will realize that this measure is not an honest attempt to deal with what is a difficult subject, but is an attempt by a side wind to assume a power which is not conferred upon us by the Constitution, and that, if we submit to it, we shall be false to the trust reposed in us as representatives of the States. Assum- ing for argument's sake that the power sought is constitutional, then, in agreeing to this measure we shall be allowing honorable members in another place to do what certain provisions of the Constitution were expressly designed to prevent, and that is to attach a tack to a taxation Bill sent, up to the Senate. The provisions of the Constitution to which I refer were designed for the protection of a weak Senate from imposition by another Chamber, which a strong and independent Senate would not countenance for a moment.

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