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Thursday, 12 December 1912

Debate resumed from nth December (vide page 6798), on motion by Senator McGregor -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

Senator E.j. RUSSELL (Victoria) [10.35]. - Owing to the speeches delivered here in opposition to these proposals, and the speeches which we have to meet outside, differing so entirely, it is almost necessary to look at the A B C of the question. First, I wish to take the question which was dealt with so eloquently, and, might I say, so cleverly by Senator Millen, which seems to be the basis of Federation. He impressed upon the Senate, and this is repeatedly done by other honorable senators, that Federation is a contract between the States and the Commonwealth. Now, it is necessary to ask what brought about Federation in order to see where a contract lies ; in fact, whether one really exists between the States and the Commonwealth. I take it that there is not a contract between the States and the Commonwealth, as the term is used by very many honorable senators opposite. They speak as if the States and the Commonwealth were institutions which existed entirely apart from the people.

Senator Vardon - You have never heard any one on this side use the term " the contract."

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - It was used by Senator Millen yesterday.

Senator Vardon - Not in that sense.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If there is a contract existing it can only be between the same people who are represented both in the States and in the Commonwealth. The fact that a unit in a State found that the Constitution was too limited, or did not enable him by means of his citizenship or his vote to effectively exercise certain powers was one of the reasons which brought about the Federation. The unit simply considers whether certain powers which he desires to see effectively used can be better used by the State or by the Comwealth. The unit is the same the community is the same; the citizenship is the same. Therefore, rather than being a contract it is merely an arrangement - to bring it down to the individual, a personal arrangement - to see which is the most convenient form of governing the community composed of individuals. Take myself as a case. As a citizen of the Commonwealth I believe that certain legislation should be enacted, and the first question I naturally ask is, " Where should this power be placed ; where can it be most effectively used in the interests of my country?" If it can be dealt with effectively by the States I would certainly wish the power to be left with the States, because I believe that the more closely the government is brought to the people the more effective will it he. But the moment that I am satisfied that there are certain limitations, whether geographical or otherwise, which prevent the State from effectively carrying certain principles into operation in a manner which I believe will be best for the Commonwealth as a whole, from that moment I look round for a superior, more effective, and enlarged power to carry out the object I have in view. That being the general position of the people as a community, it leads them to seek wider power in order that they may give fuller expression to their views, and that its operation may be over a larger field. Federation, I take it, had that as its basis. Senator Millen said yesterday that this will not add one additional self-governing power to the people. Furthermore, he said that Mr. Hughes had made the same statement. While it is true, theoretically, that we cannot add a single power to the self-governing powers of the people because the State Parliaments were, wilh certain reservations, prior to Federation, almost absolute, and it is also true that it is possible, theoretically, for a community or a State Parliament to be possessed of a power, and yet not to be able to effectively exercise it. If there be a power theoretically in the hands of the State Parliaments which they are unable to effectively exercise, and by the transfer of those powers to the wider sphere of the Commonwealth Parliament they may be effectively exercised, then to the extent to which they can so be given effect the self-governing powers of the community are practically enlarged. Therefore, under our form of Federation, it is not only possible, but practicable, to increase the self-governing powers of the people of Australia. Federation was not brought about lightly. It was considered seriously by the best intellects of Australia, and when first summitted to the people was not unanimously accepted by them. The great appeal at that time by the leaders of the movement was that we should trust the people. Mr. Deakin, who was one of the leading advocates of Federation, in effect, put the position in these words, " This Federal Constitution does not embrace all we desire, and is not likely to be an effective political machine for the people of Australia for all time, but we may trust the people. There is a power of amendment of the Constitution, and whenever the people desire that greater powers should be given to the Federal authority they have only to express that desire, and the Constitution will respond to their wish." If it be true that the Constitution is so framed as to be responsive to the expressed desires of the people its amendment in any particular direction is entirely a question for the people. We have only the responsibility in this Parliament of setting the machinery of amendment in motion. This is not a party question, and should not be so regarded, but I would say that, in the consideration of these measures proposing to the people certain amendments of the Constitution we should be consistent in the statements which we make inside and outside this chamber. It is not reasonable or just that honorable senators should, in this chamber, confine their criticism to the measures submitted, and when they go before the people to promote opposition to the proposed amendments of the Constitution depend, not upon the proposals contained in these measures, but upon the exercise of their imagination with a view to misrepresent, not merely the proposed amendments of the Constitution, but what the Labour party desire to accomplish under them. As the present leader of the Fusion party said, the existing Constitution was not to be supposed to be an effective machine for the permanent government of Australia. We have, since Federation was accomplished, been going through a transition period in the economic sense. In regulating trade and commerce and industrial affairs Governments in the past had to deal with very different conditions from those with which we have to deal to-day. We have seen the rise of the present system of collective bargaining and organization on the part, not only of . capitalists, the kings of trade and commerce, and employers generally, but on the part of the workers. This has brought about almost a complete revolution in our social and industrial conditions. Laws applicable to trade and commerce, twenty years ago, would merely be laughed at by the captains of industry to-day. We no longer have the small trader competing with his fellow, and carrying on his industry mainly by the use of hand tools. No one would think to-day of writing poems about " The Village Blacksmith," when we are face to face with the gigantic operations of steel trusts and combines. We have to-day ever-increasing aggregations of capital invested in different industries whose influence embraces, not merely a town, a State, or even a country. The vast aggregations of wealth employed in trade and commerce operate today so effectively that those controlling them are able, not only to say who shall tender for a particular contract, but to dominate the markets, and determine the prices of the commodities in which they deal. On the other hand, the worker of to-day is no longer in the position of close relationship to his employer which he occupied years ago, when he frequently worked side by side with him. To-day he knows not who his employer may be. The employer may reside 1,000 miles away from the place where his industry is carried on, and the employes in his factories .merely represent a number of hands to him. Consequently, labour has been obliged today to recognise the power of organization, and has had to resort to it to improve its own position. We are confronted with a new organization of industrial society, and it is to grapple with the changed conditions that we are now considering the necessity of amending our Constitution. Does the Constitution, as it stands, enable us to deal with industrial questions under the altered conditions? We say, unhesitatingly, that it does not give us any effective control over the new forms that have arisen for the conduct, of commerce and industry. If our powers in this respect are defective, are the powers of the State Parliament effective for the purpose? We are told by those who oppose these proposals that the powers for which we are seeking are possessed by the State Parliaments, and that they are able to effectively exercise them in the interests of the people.

Senator Findley - How can they exercise them in regard to Inter-State commerce?

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