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Thursday, 4 October 1906

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) .- I have listened with great attention, and much interest, to the criticism which has been levelled against the Bill, The action of some honorable senators who have vigorously, and at times violently, opposed its principles, is somewhat paradoxical. Senator Drake, for instance, went to a lot of pains to point out the unconstitutionality of clause 2. Evidently he is unmindful of the position which he took up when a similar Bill was under consideration a week or two ago.

Senator Drake - No; I referred to that at some length.

Senator FINDLEY - I did not hear the honorable senator. On that occasion I succeeded in getting embodied in the Excise Tariff (Spirits) Bill a principle giving to the employes in the distilling industry fair working conditions, and stipulating that an undue proportion of youths should not be employed. On that occasion every constitutional authority in the Senate, including the members of the Government, pointed out that the proposal was unconstitutional, and that, if carried, it would be ultra vires.Senator Drake himself pointed out that, in his opinion,my amendment was unfair, because he said that, in the event of only one distiller not observing the conditions specified, all the other distillers would be penalized. I recognised that there was something, in that objection, but the difficulty was to get over it ; because I was under the impression that taxation of that kind had to be uniform. But I am now of opinion that while we cannot discriminate between State and State in regard to taxation, there is no doubt that we can discriminatebetween persons within States. On that occasion my amendment was carried by fifteen votes to eight. The Bill was sent to another place, and the points argued in the Senate on the occasion referred to were brought to bear on the measure in the House of Representatives last night. According to the reports that I have been enabled to peruse in the newspapers,all the constitutional authorities to whom the points were submitted are agreed that the amendment embodied at mv instance in the Excise Tariff (Spirits) Bill are consti- tutional, and will have full force and effect.

Senator Drake - That is one score to us !

Senator FINDLEY - It proves to me that all the constitutional authorities in the Senate at that time were wrong; and I am inclined to think that they are wrong on the present occasion also. I have endeavoured to ascertain the true constitutional position concerning the point now in dispute. Last night the issue was raised whether a clause in the Bill with which, we were dealing was constitutional. The President, consistently with his ruling on previous occasions, held that it was not for him to interpret the Constitution, but that it was for theHigh Court to discharge that function. But, subsequently, after vacating the chair, and speaking as a senator, he implored us not to pass the clause on the ground that it was a tack. According to the highest constitutional authorities, however, it is not a tack. It merely stipulates conditions.

Senator Drake - According to whom?

Senator FINDLEY - The highest constitutional authorities in another place - gentlemen who helped to frame the Federal Constitution, and who, in my opinion, are most competent to interpret it. They say that it is quite competent for this Parliament to impose any conditions it likes in regard to duties of Excise. I am inclined to think that the objection raised to this measure by honorable senators opposite is not so much becauseof its. unconstitutionality, but because they are opposed to the principle of protection to the workers being applied to the makers of stripperharvesters.

Senator Clemons - The objection is not to the principle on its merits. Not one senator on this side of theChamber has taken such an objection.

Senator FINDLEY - They object to it because they say it is unconstitutional.

Senator Clemons - That is another matter.

Senator FINDLEY - The constitutional authorities, however, are against the honorable senator.

Senator Clemons - Who are the " constitutional authorities " ?

Senator FINDLEY - Mr. Isaacs,the Attorney-General, is one.

Senator Clemons - I would not give twopence for him !

Senator FINDLEY - I regard Mr. Isaacs as a gentleman whose opinion on such a point is extremely valuable. He stands high amongst lawyers in this country on account of his legal knowledge and capacity.

Senator O'Keefe - His opinion generally costs more than twopence !

Senator FINDLEY - In all probability, if rumour be correct, he will be one of the High Court Judges.

Senator Pearce - Senator Dobson attached great importance this afternoon to Mr. Mitchell's opinion in regard to the tobacco monopoly.

Senator Dobson - That is politics !

Senator FINDLEY - Yes, combine politics ! Mr. Isaacs has expressed an opinion, as I have said, favorable to the constitutionality of the provision. So also have Mr. Higgins and Mr. Deakin.

Senator Drake - Were they speaking of the provision in the Excise Tariff (Agricultural Machinery) Bill or the Excise Tariff (Spirits) Bill ? '

Senator FINDLEY - In regard to both. I have had a conversation with Mr. Higgins in reference to the Bill now before us. We also know that Mr. Isaacs was mainly responsible for drafting it, and naturally he knows exactly what he is doing regarding it. Mr. Deakin also necessarily considered the measure when it came before his own Cabinet.

Senator Clemons - The unfortunate thing is that all the gentlemen the honorable senator has mentioned are prejudiced against the constitutional rights of the Senate.

Senator FINDLEY - I do not believe that.

Senator Millen - Let the honorable senator read Mr. Isaacs' opinion on section 55 of the Constitution, as expressed in the Convention.

Senator O'Keefe - But the section having been inserted in the Constitution, does Senator Millen believe that Mr. Isaacs would use his position to bring the Senate into disrepute?

Senator FINDLEY - Section 55 of the Constitution has been quoted several times during the debate, but I shall quote it again in order to ask honorable senators oppositeto tell meexactly how it conflicts with this Bill -

Laws imposing taxation shall deal only with the imposition of taxation, and any provision therein dealing with any other matter shall be of no effect.

Laws imposing taxation, except laws imposing duties of Customs or of Excise, shall deal with one subject of taxation only ; but laws imposing duties of Customs shall deal with duties of Customs only, and laws imposing duties of Excise shall deal with' duties of Excise only.

In my opinion we are not dealing with any other matter ; we are simply imposing conditions.. According to better minds than my own, we can impose any conditions we like in such measures as we have beforeus. Having established, as we did in connexion with the Spirits Bill, the principle that we can include in an Excise Tariff Bill conditions affecting the working classes, what have honorable senators to lose by supporting this Bill? Honorable senators opposite point out, in vague and ambiguous terms, that there are other ways by which the working men may be advantaged. But we have an opportunity here and now ; and, no matter how long a time it may take, the members of the Labour Party are prepared to stand by the Government. The working classes, have for years been trying to find a way to obtain that measure of protection to which they are entitled. We believe the Opposition is not so much against any fancied unconstitutionality, as against the principle which we have established, and the operation of which we think will be further extended in connexion with other industries throughout theCommonwealth.

Motion (by Senator Dobson) put -

That the debate be now adjourned.

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