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Wednesday, 11 December 1912

Senator BARKER (Victoria) .- Ope would imagine from the remarks of Senator Sayers that Parliament was asking for something to which it had no right. In pre-Federation days I was a member of the Federal Council that endeavoured to democratize the people in the direction of securing Federation, and I remember clearly that those who took part in the debates at that time put it forward that Federation would give to the people of the whole of the States those powers which they could not effectively wield at that time, and which would be instrumental in benefiting the whole community. Furthermore, those who were the strongest advocates of the Constitution clearly indicated in their speeches from the platform that the State Parliaments would cease; that there would no longer be need tor them; and that the powers that could not be advantageously exercised by the Commonwealth Parliament would 'be intrusted to a few small local governing bodies. 1 remember addressing a meeting at Kilmore upon the Commonwealth Bill. My stand-point then was that it was not sufficiently democratic. I strongly objected to the powers conferred upon the High Court, and to the imperfect means of altering the Constitution. But I was told from several quarters that I did not know what I was talking about ; that the powers that I said ought to be contained in the Bill were in it already ; and that the Federal Parliament would have absolute control over trade ana commerce within States, outside States, and with foreign countries. I was assured that I was making the biggest mistake of my life when I alleged that there were restrictions upon the Federal control of trade and commerce. But time has shown that my interpretation was correct. By the proposed amendments of the Constitution now under consideration, the Government desire to confer increased powers upon the Federal Parliament. The Opposition oppose them- because they fear that the Labour party will be returned to power at the next election. If our opponents believe that we shall be no longer upon the Treasury benches, what reason have they for fearing that the people will grant these increased powers? Personally, I have no doubt as to what the verdict of the people will be. At the last referenda our opponents throughout the Commonwealth appealed to passion, prejudice, and ignorance. The people will not be so easily gulled on the next occasion. But if the Opposition are assured, not only that the Government will be defeated, but that the people will reject our policy, what reason have they for objecting so strenuously to these proposals?

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - We are not going to destroy the rights of the States if we can help it.

Senator BARKER - The attitude of the Opposition is exactly the same as was the attitude of the State Righters at the inception of the American Constitution. They feared that the Central Government were taking from the States powers which the States could exercise better for themselves. I would remind honorable senators that ir? the early days of Federation in Australia there was very little doubt that some of the powers for which we are now ask:ng could, under the Constitution, be exercised by the Federal Parliament. Legislation was actually enacted at the instance of previous Governments which the High Court overruled. It was assumed a few years ago that the Federal Parliament could1 place upon the statute-book any law relating to trade and commerce. It was not until the High Court commenced to interpret the Constitution that we discovered how very limited our powers were. What is the main argument of our opponents now ? It is that if these powers are granted to the Commonwealth they will be misused - that the party now in power is not to be trusted with such authority. A more degraded attitude I cannot 'imagine. It is astonishing to me that our opponents should suppose that we would be guilty of misusing powers conferred upon this Parliament for the purpose of carrying out the wishes of the people, to whom we are responsible. Is it conceivable that, upon national questions, we should be so false to our trust? But the same sort of misrepresentation as was used to defeat the last referenda proposals must be expected to be used in regard to these. I remember spending a month in Gippsland addressing meetings in advocacy of the proposals submitted to, the people in 1911. The electors were then told by persons paid by Liberal organizations that the effect of conferring those powers upon the Federal Parliament would be that not a: single parcel could be removed from a railway station platform unless it had a union label upon it.

Senator Shannon - - Did not the honorable senator- contradict the statement?

Senator BARKER - When a lie is once started, it is difficult to. overtake it. It was actually said up, and down the country that not a sack of potatoes, 01 a hencoop, with a few. fowls in it, or a carcass of pork-, could be removed from a railway station unless it bore a union label. It was impossible to follow all the statements, made as to what the effect of the proposed amendments of the Constitution would be.

Senator Findley - If was said that children would, lose their names, would all be numbered, and put into Socialistic institutions.

Senator BARKER -- The statement was made that if the powers asked for were granted to, the Federal Parliament, old-age pensions would be done away with. Women in this city receiving a little for the care of children were told that they would no longer, receive any money from the Government, because the Labour party would exercise- these powers to establish nationalnurseries.

Senator Vardon - Did the honorable senator tell the people that the Liberal party introduced' old-age pensions?

Senator BARKER - The Liberal party never did anything in that- direction except under pressure. It was the pressure of public opinion which compelled their recognition of the' right of old people to receive pensions. When, with other members of the party with, which. I am associated I advocated the payment- of old-age pensions, more than twenty years ago, no, member, of the Liberal- party then advocated1 them. They did not at any time entertain- the idea of the establishment of a> minimum wage- or Wages Boards to. regulate the wages paid in. factories.. It was. the- pressure of. public opinion,, inside and -outside of; Parliament, that forced the Liberals who were in power at the time to recognise- the necessity for passing such, legislation. ©wing' to misrepresentation these proposals were defeated when submitted to the electors on the last occasion. I would ask honorable senators to say from whom we propose to take these powers? Are not the electors of the States also electors of the Commonwealth, and will they not be able to exercise these powers in a broader and more comprehensive way through their representatives in the Parliament of the Commonwealth than they can ever hope to do through those who represent them in the Parliaments ot the States ? We are asking only for what is reasonable and right. The whole of these proposals were submitted to the electors on a previous occasion, but in a different form. It is now proposed that they shall be submitted as separate proposals for constitutional amendment, and the electors will be able to vote upon each separately. I have no doubt that if they are explained to the people without misrepresentation or appeals to prejudice and parochial considerations, they will be prepared to concede these powers to their National Parliament, because they will realize that they can be better exercised by this Parliament than by the- State Parliaments. They will realize that by conferring upon this Parliament the power to regulate industrial affairs the people of the larger States;, in which the population is scattered, will be benefited as much as the people of smaller States in which the population is more concentrated'. I believe that these proposals will be opposed only by persons animated by the parochial spirit. As was the case in the early days of the American Constitution,, the greater minds engaged in. advocating. Federation, in. Australia invited thepeople to believe that gradually the State Parliaments would be restricted in their operations,, and. the control of affairs of the Commonwealth would to a-, greater extent be undertaken by the Federal Parliament.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - No one ever said that.

Senator BARKER - I can assure thehonorable senator that members of the Federal Convention, made that statement. I heard such statements made from- hundreds of. platforms- in Victoria- by. advocates, of Federation. They declared' that when- Federation . was consummated the State Parliaments would- gradually dwindle in' importance. I. remembers that- at that time those who complained of what they consider^ to. be> defects; in1 the, proposed Constitution were- not called Unificationist^; but- something; much worse:. It know that". when I spoke upon some of the restrictions imposed upon the National Parliament by the proposed Constitution, I was told that I should be in gaol for opposing the proposals then before the people. That kind df thing was said at a time when people had no knowledge of what would be the result of Federation. No one then believed that the Senate would become democratized as it has been, or that the Labour party would ever occupy the Treasury benches in the Commonwealth Parliament. Our experience has been such that it will be useless, when these proposals are next submitted to the people, to tell them that if these powers are granted to this Parliament the Labour party will seek to wreck the. Constitution.

Debate (on motion by Senator E. J. Russel) adjourned.

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