Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 11 December 1912


Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - Whether one agrees with the opinions of Senator Millen or not, still one can congratulate him upon the able manner in which he has delivered his views' to the Senate to-day. I think that my colleagues on this side join with me in extending that compliment. I listened to his speech, and, whilst I compliment him upon the very able way in which it was delivered, I cannot see anything new which he has put forward, nor do I think that I am able to put forward anything, new in rebuttal. The tenor of his remarkshas been, first, that this Parliament is not. to be endowed with the powers it seeks because the Labour party is the predominant, party in the Commonwealth to-day ;. secondly, that workmen should not approach the Commonwealth Arbitration Court because there is a certain gentleman presiding, over that Court ; and, thirdly, that, because Dr. Wilson won the Presidency of the United States, that was tantamount to a verdict of the people as against the Federal Constitution in America and the Constitution of the Commonwealth. These were, I think, the three leading features of my honorable friend's speech. He said, and speakers in another branch of this Legislature have said, that because on the 26th April, 191 1, somewhat similar proposals were submitted to the people of Australia and rejected, we should not now resubmit them. My honorable friend, in answer to an- interjection by me, asked : Are you going to submit them every twelve months ? Personally, I would submit them every six months if it were necessary. Senator Millen knows perfectly well that in this National Parliament there are men who submitted themselves to the electors once, twice, thrice, and were rejected. Was it because they were rejected that they failed to re-submit themselves? No, they persevered. If those men had lost heart, and had not re-submitted themselves, we would not have had this afternoon a brilliant speech by Senator Millen ; he would not have been in public life.


Senator Guthrie - If he had been elected the first time he stood he would have been on this side. _


Senator NEEDHAM - Perhaps we might have had Senator Millen adorning this side of the House. Those who argue that, because the people of Australia rejected the proposals submitted to them on a former occasion, they should not be given another opportunity to vote on them are arguing on false premises. The proposals submitted on the last occasion were put forward in a form entirely different from that now proposed to be adopted.


Senator St Ledger - Are they different i


Senator NEEDHAM - The proposals differ only very slightly from those previously submitted, but the method of submission is entirely different.


Senator St Ledger - That is immaterial.


Senator NEEDHAM - To my mind it is material. One of the big factors that operated to defeat the proposals put forward on the last occasion was that all the eggs were placed in one basket. When the basket fell all the eggs were broken. Now we are submitting the same proposals, but we are giving the people of Australia six' chances, and are affording them an opportunity to discriminate between the proposals they will vote for and these they will oppose.


Senator Vardon - They may break some of the eggs and preserve the others.


Senator NEEDHAM - I hope they will preserve all the eggs, because all are good. We must remember that the Constitution was created by the people, and that they are entitled to revise it. If this Parliament passes the six proposals, the final decision will rest with the people. By interjection I asked Senator Millen whether he was afraid to give the people an opportunity of voting on these proposals, and he replied that he thought it was not necessary to do so. I think it is necessary, because, unless the powers now sought are given to the National Parliament, it will become an absolutely useless institution.


Senator St Ledger - What is the use of the referendum?


Senator NEEDHAM - What is the use of having an election? Even though he may not believe in elections, the honorable senator will have to submit himself to the electors next year, and he ought to be willing to give to the people the right to decide what powers shall be exercised by the representatives whom they return to the National Parliament. Members of the Op- position in another place have said, inside and outside the House, that some of the powers sought should be granted to the National Parliament, and have declared themselves to be in favour of such powers being conferred. But, because a Labour Government is in power, they will not vote in favour of granting such powers, nor will they advise the people to do so. The powers now sought are not intended to enrich this party or the Opposition, but are intended to endow and enrich the National Parliament.


Senator Fraser - And kill the States.


Senator NEEDHAM - No. Senator Millen, with all his eloquence, could not prove that if the Federal Parliament had its powers extended as proposed, the State Parliaments would be robbed of any of their powers. My point is that the powers are not being sought for the benefit of any party, but for the National Parliament.


Senator Vardon - Only one party is asking for them.


Senator NEEDHAM - There can be only one party in control of the Government, and these measures can be submitted to the people only through the Government and the Parliament. In the first place, we ought to ask ourselves whether the powers proposed to be given' are necessary. If we think they are, it will be only fair to pass these measures, and place them before the people, at the same time putting forward our views so that the people may have a thorough grasp of the situation. I contend that the public platform is the place for detailed statements. The first Bill we have to deal with relates to trade and commerce. lt is proposed to omit from the provision in the Constitution dealing with trade and commerce the words, " with other countries, and among the States." If this change be made, the Commonwealth Government will be able to exercise control over trade and commerce throughout Australia. I cannot see any difference between trade in one place and that in another. Trade and commerce in South Australia are the same as in Western Australia, and so on throughout the Commonwealth. Whilst under the Constitution we have control over trade and commerce among the States, we have no power over trade and commerce within the States, and" unless our powers are enlarged, we shall be helpless. Senator Millen contended that the States can exercise all the control necessary over trade and commerce within their own boundaries, but the States have not exercised their powers. I could point to many instances in which the States have been neglectful, and in which the Federal Government have found themselves powerless to act. For example, we have no power to follow up noxious drugs which may be introduced here.


Senator St Ledger - We can prevent the introduction of such goods.


Senator NEEDHAM - But we cannot follow them through the States once they are introduced. We do what we can to prevent their introduction, but once they are brought in, we are powerless.


Senator Vardon - If we cannot prevent them from coining in, how can we expect to follow them up?


Senator Findley - We can follow them up in a different way. When the goods come in, they must be labelled according to law, and we want that label to follow the goods throughout the States.


Senator NEEDHAM - Goods may be brought in under a certain label, and their real character may be disguised. Afterwards the labels may be changed, and the goods distributed throughout the States. In this way, poisons are being distributed broadcast.


Senator St Ledger - Why do not the authorities stop them from coming in ?


Senator NEEDHAM - We endeavour to do so, but the goods are introduced under the wrong labels. As regards the Railway Disputes Bill, great objection has been lodged against it; but I fail to see why the Commonwealth Parliament ought not to have control over railway men, as well as any other body of workers, so far as disputes are concerned.


Senator Sayers - Let the States deal with their own employes. Surely they are qualified f


Senator NEEDHAM - The States are certainly qualified to deal with their own employes ; but it has to be recognised that the railway employes ot Australia are federated lo-day, and in the event of an industrial dispute arising amongst one section there is the danger of that dispute spreading throughout Australia. This Bill seeks to give the Commonwealth power to deal with a dispute of that nature. I fail to see why railway men should be left out of parliamentary control.


Senator Sayers - They are under parliamentary control.


Senator NEEDHAM - But they are not under Commonwealth control. I see no difference between the human composition of a railway, man, and a postal man, or a Customs man.


Senator Sayers - A postal man is under the Commonwealth. If the States asked for leave to deal with him would you give them the power?


Senator NEEDHAM - I do not see why the railway men should be prevented from coming under the control of the Commonwealth in connexion with disputes. It is not proposed to interfere with the internal management of the State railways. The States will have full control of the railways as far as management and working are concerned.


Senator Guthrie - Railways managers say, according to a report in this morning's paper, that the sooner we have Unification the better.


Senator NEEDHAM - I am not speaking of Unification. I am contending that the railway servant ought to have the privilege which this Bill seeks to confer upon him, and which will not in any way interfere with the internal management of the State railways. There is no doubt that we have trusts and combines. It has been proved time and again that the cost of living has increased as a result of the operation of these trusts, and surely this Parliament ought to have power to control them. It is all very well for Senator Millen to say that in America a certain class of legislation has been in existence, and that we in Australia have passed certain legislation which, we do not use. But I want to point out that that legislation was simply a matter of regulation, and has been proved in America to be absolutely futile. We want power to determine what a trust and a combine is. The people of Australia were asked on the 26th April, 1911, to give Parliament this power. They did not do so on that occasion, but since then I think they have become sadder but wiser people. As regards industrial matters, I think Senator Millen rather strained the point respecting Mr. Justice Higgins. He said that there was a desire on the part of employes to go to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court because Mr. Justice Higgins was President of that Court. The honorable senator was not fair to Mr. Justice Higgins. He practically imputed that Mr. Justice Higgins would only give a verdict in favour of the employes as against the employer. I contend that if there has ever been a President of that Court who was absolutely just, it is

Mr. JusticeHiggins; and 1 would ask Senator Millen to be careful when he imputes partiality to that honorable and learned Judge.


Senator Millen - The only thing is that I did not make the statement.

An Honorable Senator. - By inference.


Senator Millen - Neither by inference nor in any other way.


Senator NEEDHAM - The burden of Senator Millen's song was that the workers of Australia are anxious to get to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court because Mr. Justice Higgins is President of it; and if any other inference can be drawn by the honorable senator from his remarks than that which I have drawn, he is a much cleverer man than I take him to be. Is it because Mr. Justice Higgins is President of the Court that the workers of Australia are desirous of going to that Court? I say "No," because the workers know perfectly well that Mr. Justice Higgins cannot last for ever. He must pay the debt of nature at some time or other, and it is absolutely foolish to say that that is the motive which actuates the employes in seeking justice in that Court. The real reason why they seek to go to that Court is because, under the Act, imperfect though it may be, they have a better chance of getting justice than they have before the State tribunals. Senator Millen laid great stress on the coal strike in New South Wales. Let me remind the honorable senator that that coal strike is a justification for seeking the powers that are proposed to be conferred by this Bill. Senator Millen and his party are advocates of industrial peace.


Senator Millen - We do not try to fan industrial war.


Senator NEEDHAM - No; but honorable senators opposite say that we on this side are in favour of industrial war. Both statements do not fit in. We, as a Labour party, are not in favour of industrial war, because we have advocated arbitration, and, as the result of that advocacy, we have the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. But whilst honorable senators opposite advocate industrial peace, they see an objection to this measure in such a crisis as occurred in connexion with the coal strike in New South Wales, and advocate that under such conditions as those this National Parliament should stand idly by. Let us review the position. That coal strike was certainly, as an industrial dispute, confined to the State of New South

Wales, so far as the employers and employes were concerned, but will Senator Millen, or any of his party, tell me that the effect of that dispute was not felt beyond the boundaries of that State? Was there not a danger of the trade and commerce of Australia being paralyzed through that strike? Whilst the National Parliament -was ready and willing to intervene, the constitutional powers which it possesses would not allow of its intervening. The State tribunal could do no good. The National Parliament was willing to offer its assistance through its industrial tribunal, but that assistance could not be availed of owing to the Constitution. Again, we had the Brisbane tramway strike, as a result of which there was a danger of the whole of the tramway services of Australia being held up. I know something of that strike. Whilst the State tribunal failed, the National tribunal could not be availed of, and I ask the advocates of industrial peace, when they are on the platform during the next referenda campaign, to place those facts before the people fairly and fearlessly.


Senator Shannon - Our leader put them before you to-day, and you cannot reply to them.


Senator NEEDHAM - But Senator Millen did not put forward the facts which I am now mentioning. I want him to put the other side of the case. Then we come to the next Bill, dealing with corporations. That involves the question of new Protection. The desire, I think, in Australia to-day is to see that the workman gets proper remuneration for his labour, and whether by means of the various tribunals, such as Wages Boards, State Arbitration Courts, or the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, the tendency has been to increase wages. What I want to know is this : Of what use will it be to a workman who gets an increase of 4s. a week in his wages, if the cost of living, as regulated by these corporations, increases to such an extent that he has to pay 6s. per week more for the necessities of life? Who gets the extra 2s. ? The workman does not ; the corporations do. It is the corporations that regulate the prices of every commodity in life.


Senator Shannon - Rubbish !


Senator NEEDHAM - The best way to reply to such an interjection is to ask the honorable senator to stand up and disprove my statement. This policy involves new Protection. We as a Parliament have given

Protection to the people of Australia. But Protection ought not to stop at the sea-board. I do not want the Government of this country to protect the manufacturer only. It should also protect the worker and the consumer. I want to see the worker in a protected industry get a living wage, which will enable him to live as a human being should. I also want to have it provided that the consumer shall only be charged a reasonable price for the commodities which he buys. The last Bill on the list is one for the nationalization of monopolies. There are monopolies in existence with which we need to contend. When the people were asked on the last occasion to give the Federal Parliament this power, they refused to do so. Since then the monopolies operating in this country have taken advantage of that vote of confidence by increasing the cost of living very rapidly. When the matter is submitted to the people again, I have no doubt as to how they will vote.


Senator Shannon - I suppose that a monopoly was responsible for a rise in the price of potatoes?


Senator NEEDHAM - Monopolies put up the price of several things. There is a Beef Combine.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - In imagination.


Senator NEEDHAM - The Meat Combine in Western Australia exists in actual fact, not in imagination. I could, if I chose, occupy time by quoting from articles which have been published in the Age in connexion with the Meat Trust. The Age is not a Labour organ, and I can, therefore, refer honorable senators to it without suspicion that I am alluding to one of the advocates of our party. The Western Australian Government have fought the Meat Ring.


Senator Millen - Is meat any cheaper now ?


Senator NEEDHAM - Yes.


Senator Sayers - Is the Western Australian Government still operating?


Senator NEEDHAM - Yes.


Senator Sayers - I heard the other day that they had stopped.


Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator should inquire again. The Federal Parliament is not the final arbiter in this matter. I know that these Bills will pass. It will then be for the people to say " Yes " or " No " with regard to them. When they are being advocated from the public platform, I should like to see the question lifted above the level of party politics.


Senator Millen - What is the good of saying that, when the Labour party made the question a test one? They did at the Hobart Labour Conference.


Senator NEEDHAM - They did nothing of the sort. They simply said that the present Government should re-submit to the people the same proposals as were submitted in1911, and should not depart in the slightest degree from the powers then sought.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Is that a plank in the Labour platform ?


Senator NEEDHAM - It is a plank of this Government.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Why is the Caucus trying to turn people out who do not believe in this policy?


Senator NEEDHAM - I know of no Labour Caucus that has turned anybody out because he does not believe in our referenda policy.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - How many Labour men will oppose it?


Senator NEEDHAM - I am not in a position to say. They can do so if they choose. I contend that it is not really a party proposal.


Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - I say that there is not a free man in the Labour party; not one who dare oppose the policy.


Senator McDougall - There is not a man in the honorable senator's party who dares support it.


Senator NEEDHAM - I think that that is a fair reply. But even if every Labour man in Australia were pledged to these proposals, it would not mean that it was a party question. Nor would it mean that the Government are necessarily going to be endowed with these powers. We are asking the people to endow the National Parliament with further authority. That is the sum and substance of the position ; and all the subtlety and wit of honorable senators opposite, no matter how they may try to twist the utterances of their opponents, will get away from that position. When these Bills are submitted to the people I have no doubt that their vote will reverse the position in1911, and will endow Parliament, not our party, with the power that is sought.







Suggest corrections