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Friday, 13 December 1912

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - At the last sitting, I was engaged in pointing out the change which has come over the nature of commerce the world over, and especially in Australia. I have said that commerce in Australia to-day is' not confined to particular States, but ranges over the whole area of the Commonwealth. Goods manufactured in the east and south find their market in the west and north. We send timber from Western Australia to the eastern States, and products of the eastern States - such as butter, bacon, and other foodstuffs - are sent to the west, and as far north as the State of Western Australia extends. In view of the fact that commerce to-day differs so very much from what it was a hundred years ago, it is quite illogical to contend that the laws which were sufficient to regulate it then suffice for to-day. People outside naturally look for guidance to members of this Parliament, because of their special opportunities to become acquainted with matters which the people generally have no means of knowing; but, when they find the opponents of these proposals insisting that a law made over one hundred years ago is sufficient for the requirements of to-day, the only conclusion to which they can come is that we must shut our eyes to the change which has ' come over events, and which especially has taken place in the nature of commerce in Australia.

An instance came under my notice recently of an attempt to compel commerce to run within certain definite channels without respect to the interests of the people. As honorable senators are aware, the Government of Western Australia recently started a line of steam-ships, and, during the short time since the establishment of that line, the residents of comparatively isolated and remote districts of the State have derived very great benefit from the service. It has led to a reduction of fares and freights, and the people have been placed in the position to contend better with the disadvantages of their isolated situation than they were able to do when served by private shipping companies. I am in a position to inform honorable senators that, in connexion with goods shipped from Melbourne to a port in Western Australia, there was written across the bill of lading the words, " Not to be shipped in the State steam-ships of Western Australia." It is very evident that the consignors of these goods were brought in some way or another under the influence of those engaged in the shipping business here. That is an instance of the kind of thing that is going on in Australia to-day. An endeavour has been clearly made to confine commerce within channels controlled by private enterprise, and to prevent it from being conducted by a State steam service established for the benefit of the people. This is a restraint of trade which places a burden upon the people of Western Australia.

It would appear, from this debate, that nothing done by the Ministerial party in this Parliament meets with the approval of the Opposition. They are carrying out the role assigned to them by Disraeli when he said that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. But it is not in the true interests of the community that they should carry out that role to the fullest extent. The result has been to place honorable members opposite in very contradictory positions at times. When the Maternity Allowance Bill was under consideration a few months ago, the Leader of the Opposition condemned it as a vote-catching measure. It was stated that the measure was introduced before an election merely as an electioneering placard and in order to catch votes.

Senator Shannon - Hear, hear !

Senator LYNCH - I find that that statement is cheered by a member of the Opposition who opposes the measures now under consideration on exactly opposite grounds. Senator Shannon has urged the rejection of these measures, because they are unpopular. He has told the Senate that, on a previous occasion, similar proposals were rejected by about 250,000 electors, and has contended that that was a reason why they should not be submitted to the people again. On the one hand, honorable senators opposite condemn measures because they are calculated to catch votes, and, on the other hand, they condemn measures which they assert are calculated to repel popular opinion. Whether we place before them allegedly popular or unpopular measures we cannot please the taste of the Opposition.

Senator Fraser - Honorable senators opposite should not try ; they should do what is right.

Senator LYNCH - That is just what we are doing. We go upon our own course in obedience to the dictates of our consciences, and we do not trouble ourselves as to whether what we propose meets with the approval of the Opposition or does not. Senator Fraser may laugh, but the history of the Labour party in politics in Australia supplies the best answer to the honorable senator It is the history of a militant party. We have stood up for measures which were unpopular. After years of struggling and endeavour measures which were unpopular years ago are accepted to-day by the people, as a result of the efforts of the Labour party and of the Labour party alone. We are in the proud position of having been able to convert a considerable minority into an overwhelming majority. The fact that measures which were regarded as unpopular have since been accepted by the people is due to the efforts of the Labour .party, assisted by one or two staunch friends of the movement who do not belong to the party. I make this statement in justice to those outside the Labour ranks who have helped us, but they have been very few in number. We are pursuing our own course, indifferent as to whether we meet with popular favour or arouse popular clamour. That is evident from the way In which the measures to which I have referred have been treated by the Opposition.

Senator Millenhas said that the Ministerial party in this Parliament are, in connexion -with these measures, flying in the face of the history of our own race. That is a high-sounding statement, but I wish to direct attention to its inaccuracy. First of all, the history of our race is not confined to the British Empire, or members of the Empire. If we consider Canada alone we shall find that the National Parliament of that Dominion possesses powers far in excess of those for which we are asking to-day. So far as the experience of Canada, therefore, is concerned we cannot be said to be flying in the face of the history of our own race. Senator Fraser, who comes from Canada, must acknowledge that the Dominion is one of the most prosperous portions of the British Empire. If there be any lack of 'prosperity in Canada the honorable senator will admit that it is not due to the character of the Canadian Constitution.

Senator Fraser - That is so.

Senator LYNCH - Then, I ask the honorable senator why he is found voting against measures submitted for the purpose of endowing the Commonwealth Parliament with the powers which vested in the Canadian Parliament have been attended with such beneficial results. It would appear that the honorable senator is being guided by the alleged jesuitical maxim that the end justifies the means. Is it because he desires to get in a blow at the Labour party that he refuses to endow the Australian people with the powers which he claims have been productive of so much benefit in Canada ? I ask the venerable old political jesuit whether that is his object?

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