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Friday, 9 May 1930


The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - The honorable gentleman would not be in order in quoting from the debates of the current session in another place, but it is permissible to refer to them, and summarize their import.


Senator LYNCH - That, Mr. President, will suit my purpose. Mr. McTiernan, speaking on this bill in another place, said this : " The bill does not contain a principle repugnant to a federal system of government." Here we have this queer kettle of fish in the shape of logic : " Unification does not imply a denial of local autonomy," and " Federation does not imply the existence of a proper measure of local government." So that unification and federation change places. Black becomes white. Darkness becomes light and an ill feeling is burned down through spontaneous combustion! But this jumble of logic i3 like Mark Twain's bottle of wine that showed a world of difference between the label and the contents. It is an example of using bad logic to bolster up a worse case. Can any statement be more contradictory than that made by this luminary of the Labour party in another place? To say that unification will not jeopardize the powers of State Parliaments, is tantamount to saying that a sheet of white paper is black, or that an ebony ruler is a white stick. Before the introduction of this proposal, the avowed objective of the Labour party was unification. The sponsors of this move realize now that, if the objective is placed before the people clearly, it will not be so easily attained, and so are endeavouring to befog the issue. But we may be sure that in duc time they will again hoist the banner of unification and when they have secured full control they will introduce legislation which will destroy the State Parliaments. That, undoubtedly, is the object of the bill, and of the party which sponsors it. The people of Australia should be fully informed on this point. They have a right to know the whole truth, to know the worst, so that they may provide for it. They should know what lies behind this proposal, and what is in the mind of this Government. Again, I turn to the official record of the Labour party's conference in Perth for substantiation of my statement. The information is to lie found on page 21 in the report of a committee, appointed on the motion of Mr. McCormack, and consisting of Mr. Mcnamara, a member of the Legislative Council of Victoria; Mr. Blackburn, a member of the Legislative Assembly in that State, and two others. Mr. Blackburn, as we all know, is a leading lawyer with a full knowledge of the objective of the Labour party. He is the standard authority. This is what he said with regard to this proposal to destroy the Constitution and substitute unification for federation -

Mr. Cameron'sdesire that the Parliaments should be controlled by the people was met by the plank in the Labour party platform which provided for the initiative and the referendum.

I wish honorable senators to mark well and digest the words that followed, because they reveal the real intention of the Labour party -

The idea in the mind of the committee was that Labour should be able to go after the common enemy with one axe and not several different ones. The Federal Parliament at the present time had very much greater powers than usual, but that was solely owing to the war.

Now we see that the cat is out of the bag. Mr. Blackburn is the gentleman responsible for laying bare the plan. He tells us that when the Labour party gets the necessary authority it will go with one axe after the " common enemy," as he called a section of people in this country. The Labour movement wants unification, because it will make the job easier; it will be able to go after the " common enemy " in the Federal Parliament with one axe instead of seven.

But we have yet another sample of Labour duplicity. Mr. Curtin, in his speech on this subject at the Perth conference, disclosed Labour's aspiration and high purpose! Mr. Curtin, I may add, is considered the rising hope of the Labour party in Western Australia. He is the member for Fremantle, and can speak with two voices - one in the west and one in the east. The meridian of political longitude is at some point in the Great Australian Bight. When he is west of that meridian, he gives expression to certain political views, which he considers will find favour with the people there, and when he is east of it, he speaks with another- voice as philosopher and guide. The supporters of this destructive proposal, I remind the Senate, were talking to an audience of the same age and experience as themselves. Opinions, which may be acceptable to a crowd on the' Yarra bank, or any other forum in Australia, will not go down in this Parliamnt, because some of us, at all events, prefer to jealously guard the foundations of the Constitution under which the Commonwealth is governed. We, therefore, welcome every opportunity to lift the veil of secrecy and mystery which surrounds this nefarious proposal to destroy the Constitution. I take the following from the report of the Perth Labour Conference: -

Mr. Curtinthought that the Federal Labour party could be asked to draw up a bill to provide necessary amendments of the Constitution. The objection to a special Labour conference was the great expense, and at a people's convention labour might fare worse from a point of view of results obtained.

I emphasize the concluding sentence of the remarks made by this newly arrived wiseacre. The meaning of his words is clear. He is another witness in the field to prove that the Labour party of to-day does not trust the people. Then we have Mr. Gunn, a former Labour Premier of South Australia, at the same conference supporting the plot, because it would enable Labour to go forward with national works on the lines of unification.

What sort of ingredients were these for the preparation ' of a scheme to amend the Constitution, which the

Government now contemplates submitting co the people of Australia ? This measure was conceived in miserable class consciousness and narrow and bitter sectionalism, gestated in mystery and darkness, and brought forth in shuffling and pretence. Labour leaders now pretend that it does not mean unification, when as a fact it does. But the people of Australia are not so gullible or credulous as to be unaware of Labour's objective. When this proposal was debated at the Perth Conference the people of Australia, whose interests should have been considered, were outside the door. The press even were not invited. A representative of the press or public would not have been allowed even to sneeze inside this cave of Adullam. where these proposals were hatched. Should a movement for the amendment ( of the Constitution of a free people be started in the black murkiness of intolerant political partisanship? The thing is too unreasonable. The attitude of delegates at that conference reminds me of a story which I heard down in the South Sea Islands, that when cannibal kings were performing their sacred rites, they would not allow a white man within 50 miles of the meeting place. In the same manner these representatives of Labour, who pretend that they trust the people, carried on their deliberations behind closed doors. The official report of the proceedings at that conference shows that they would not then trust the people whom they now say they are so much affected about.


Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - They cannot 3ay that they were misreported at that conference.


Senator LYNCH - No. This is their own official report. An amendment of the Constitution in the direction proposed will not have the slightest effect upon the welfare of the citizens of this country, nor in the solution of those major pressing problems that confront the people to-day. It has nothing whatever to do with the points raised by the Prime Minister in another place or by the Vice-President of the Executive Council in this chamber. We have only to give a cursory glance at the reasons which the Government has submitted in support of this proposal to see how empty they are. {Extension of time granted!}

What is the object of the Government in submitting this measure to Parliament ? I have already quoted the opinions expressed at a certain conference of the Labour party and I shall now endeavour, in the limited time at my disposal, to tear away the secrecy and make-believe which have enshrouded the Government's proposition up to the present. I repeat that the reasons for an amendment of the Constitution mentioned by the principal Minister of the Cabinet are mere moonshine. It would have no material effect on the things that are of vital concern to the people of this country at this very moment. My time is precious and I shall therefore quote only four. What is the position of Australia's credit? We have to pay nearly £500,000,000 more on our indebtedness than the Dominion of Canada, £300,000,000 more than the Dominion of New Zealand and £200,000,000 more than South Africa. And all this because our credit is so much worse than that of those countries. What has the Constitution to do with improving thai situation? Will an amendment in the direction desired assist in a solution of that problem? Let us now take our adverse trade balance. What has the Constitution to do with rectifying our trade balance ? It has as little to do with it as the man in the moon. A further point is 'one which has arisen in connexion with the industrial life of this country. I refer to the attitude of Mr. McKay, a manufacturer of agricultural implements on an extensive scale in Australia, who has been obliged to transfer a portion of his manufacturing activities from Australia to Canada in order to give full vent to his powers of organizing and to obtain that advantage to which he, and those with whom he is associated, are entitled. How will any such amendment cure that painful and losing situation? In this country he could not give full play to those organizing abilities in the industrial arena which he possesses, and has therefore been compelled to transfer his plant and staff and valuable experience to a sister dominion where the conditions are more favourable than they are in Australia. How can any Constitution amended or unamended cure the evils that occasion "such a heavy loss in money and employment to Australia? First things first. Let us tackle these and abstain from tinkering. Will an amendment of the Constitution assist in removing this and other disabilities under which we are labouring?


Senator Rae - Why should the honorable senator become excited.


Senator LYNCH - I am not excited. I am stating my case clearly - I am as cool as a cucumber. If I speak with some apparent heat, I am following the advice of Bacon who said that we cannot coolly contend for what we earnestly believe. That is why I should like-, an indication of some heat from honorable senators opposite. They are speaking with their tongues in their cheeks; they cannot speak with heat because their hearts are not in their job.

I have directed attention to some of the outstanding economic problems that are facing this country, and I again ask in what way can an amendment of the Constitution solve these problems ? They are so grave, so intense and so far-reaching that they are shackling the liberty and prosperity of our people, stifling energy and worthy ambition and preventing the development of industry at a time when there are thousands of men unemployed. An amendment of the Constitution has as much to do with these problems as has the ash of a cigarette. Instead of devoting its time to proposals of this kind, the Government should be settling down to work and facing major problems, the solution of which will lead this country out of the morass in which it is at present floundering.

Some so-called reasons have been given for the submission of this measure. Let us study some of them. The first one mentioned was the inability of the Federal Arbitration Court under its present powers to make a common rule. If the Federal Arbitration Court has not the power to make a common rule, every State industrial tribunal has, and experience has shown that State tribunals are more popular with the trade unionists of this country. An overwhelming majority of unionists has decided to work under the awards of State courts rather than under those of the Federal Arbitration Court. On the other hand if State Arbitration Courts can make a common rule, and the Commonwealth Court cannot, how is it thai this defect has not prevented a huge number from going to that court? The position is that this cause like others has been unduly magnified.

The absence of pow.er to fix prices has also been advanced as reason for amending the Constitution. If the Federal authorities cannot fix prices, every State has the power to do so. Pricefixing was tried in Queensland and in New South Wales where, when the price of butter was fixed at ls. 6d. per lb., dairymen in the north of that State quickly fattened their cows and drove them to market. That is how price- fixing worked in that State and it will work in. the same way anywhere, for the simple reason that you cannot compel a man to make or sell a thing at a loss. A similar policy was followed in Western Australia, with the result that the Labour party itself eventually supported its abolition. Those are the sort of tarradiddles used by responsible Ministers ! It has also been said that under the present Constitution profiteering cannot be prevented; but it is time those in authority openly admitted that the policy which they advocated is mere moonshine, and has been brought forward merely to delude the electors. Some State authorities have tried price-fixing and other such schemes, and have eventually abandoned them because they were found to be totally unworkable. That is an answer to the further bogey that has been pressed into service by those who favour an amendment of the Constitution. The right honorable the Prime Minister also referred to the difficulty under the Constitution of ceding to the State of New South Wales a tract of land on the border of the Federal Capital Territory in the vicinity of Queanbeyan. It is the first time I ever heard such a trivial argument brought forward in the National Parliament as a reason for the amendment of the Constitution. T always understood that the Commonwealth could sell land over which it has uncontested authority to any State, and to me it is clear' that if the Commonwealth wishes to dispose of territory under its control, to New South Wales ot to any State, it has a right to do so.


Senator Daly - It cannot do so.


Senator LYNCH - If there are legal or technical difficulties in the way, I shall leave them to the lawyers; but surely an amendment of the Constitution is not necessary for a little thing like that. Another argument advanced in support of this proposal is that our Constitution is the weakest in the world. That contention, we have been informed, has had the support of Sir "William Irvine, whom the members of the Labour party studiously refrain from quoting in any other connexion. If that gentleman lias asserted that our Constitution is weak, I flatly contradict him. If it is weak it means that it is easy to amend.


Senator Daly - No.


Senator LYNCH - Then what does it mean? What is meant by a weak constitution? A weak constitution, if it is anything at all, is one that is flexible.


Senator Daly - That is not weakness.


Senator LYNCH - Opinions may differ as to what weakness in this connexion means. But if the contention is that our Constitution is weak, will this proposal strengthen it? Let some one answer that question. The answer is that if it is a weak Constitution to-day, it will be still weaker if the Parliament has the power to amend it in the way proposed - it will be so weak that it will be constantly struggling between life and death. How can our Constitution be strengthened by giving the Parliament the power to alter it at will ?

This is a specious argument used by responsible Ministers which they themselves cannot explain. They contend that our Constitution is weak and, therefore, ought to be amended, and then propose to weaken it still further by introducing a measure under which, if adopted, it could be altered on any day on which Parliament was sitting. Ministers know that if this bill is passed by both Houses, and is accepted by the people, a measure could be introduced to amend the Constitution, and could he passed as readily as could a bill providing for 'the payment of a bounty on the production of peanuts or to increase the fees for the licensing of dogs. With the acceptance of this proposal by tho Parliament and the people we can : imagine a notice-paper in the future being distributed in this chamber, a copy of which would be laid before you, sir, and on which would appear, Order of the Day, No. 1: "Bill to amend the Dog Act"; and No. 2 : "A bill to amend the Constitution." That is the position with which we should be faced. An amendment of the Constitution would be regarded as of no more importance than the most trivial measure. The Constitution, which is the groundwork and safeguard of . the federal system, is to maintain the balance between the self-governing States and the central authority.

Reference has also been made by the Prime Minister to the policy of new protection. The workers to-day have the right of approaching the Federal Arbitration Court or a State Court - a right of which they readily avail themselves. What is meant by the "fluctuating needs of the community"? The fluctuating needs of the community, without reference to any period, does not mean anything. The needs of the community this year may differ from those of any other period. The "fluctuating needs of the community " are said to be wrapped up with the rapidly developing means of communication by air, wireless telegraphy, and so forth. Here we have again that blessed word Mesopotamia. We have words sprung on us with no attempt to point out their significance, and in supreme contempt and ignorance of the lessons of the past. What between double-headed exaggeration, unmeaning flowery phrases and emphasized ambiguities, the case for amending our Constitution presents a pitiable spectacle. We are told now that because wireless has been discovered, because films are in use for the education or otherwise of our people, and because aeroplanes have been invented since the Constitution has been framed, there is need for amending it.


Senator Daly - I did not say that.


Senator LYNCH - At any rate the honorable senator meant that, and his colleague said it over and over again. We must get this question out of fairyland; we must divest it of all the fairy tales hanging over it. Developments in science have reached far beyond the experimental s'tage. They are now in commercial use. Let us be guided by the experience of the past. What developments in science have taken place since the American Constitution was got together in 1781? Was electricity known before Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence? It was not until 1799 that Volta first discovered the art of measuring the intensity of electricity, nor until 1820 that Ampere found how to measure its flow, nor until 1821 that Faraday discovered electro-magnetic rotation, or in other words, found how electricity could be made to operate independent agencies. The first electric station in all America was put together in 1881 in Pearl-street, New York. But was the American Constitution changed to meet these "fluctuating needs of the community" in all the previous periods ? Take telegraphy for instance. Morse Brothers built the first telegraph line in America in 1837, and Brett laid the first submarine cable across the English Channel in 1845. Was the American Constitution altered because of the discoveries in regard to telegraphy ? It was not until 1876 that Dr. Bell invented the telephone, and it was not until 1879 that it made its first commercial appearance in England, America and other conntries. The first steam railway was not laid in America until 1829. It was not then operated by a locomotive but was merely a gravitation railway which was afterwards operated by locomotives. The American Constitution, therefore, was written long before the first railway was laid in America.

Electricity, telegraphy, telephony and steam railways all came into being long after the Constitution of the United States of America was written, but not a syllable of that Constitution, nor of the Constitution of Canada alongside, has been altered to minister to the " fluctuating needs of the community". All references, therefore, to the need for an alteration of our Constitution to meet the " fluctuating requirements of the community " because of recent developments of science in aviation, wireless and films are pure bunkum. As a matter of fact in the last century, time and space have been annihilated in man's onward march in the realms of knowledge. The very sea itself has been made to surrender its power to man's necessities. Yet the constitutions mentioned during all this time have not been altered by so much as a line or even a comma to meet the "fluctuating needs of the country."

I have further evidence about the unification bogy, for which the supporters of the present proposals are now afraid to say straight out they stand. I have with me a pamphlet entitled Unification written by Warren Denning, Federal Parliamentary Correspondent of the Labor Daily, and published by the Labor Daily Limited, Sydney, in January, 1930, which surely can be regarded as fairly representative of the opinion of Labour. In a leading article on the import of the proposed changes in the Constitution, Mr'. Denning writes -

An approximate subdivision of powers on these lines would give us: - Commonwealth - defence, external affairs, postage, national health matters, radio, navigation, industrial law, arbitration, police, aborigines, law (criminal, equity, matrimonial, &c), railways, roads (main arterial, as against purely local), overseas markets, customs, finance, (including national taxation), repatriation, education, land settlement as a national policy.

Some of the functions he proposes to dole out to the provinces are " Hospitals." There is not a progress association in any hamlet in the land that has not already that high function to perform. But there is more laughter in store. Another function is " ambulances." That is a high-sounding function to call upon the States to take care of. What a glorified authority it would be for the Premier of a State to be entrusted with the task of arranging for stretcher-bearers and allotting the number of bearers to each stretcher! Yet another function suggested for the State or provincial authorities is " control of maladies." Presumably influenza, measles, meningitis, malaria and yellow jaundice would come under that heading. The States should swell with pride and glory to learn that they are to be entrusted with the control of yellow jaundice, meningitis, and microbes! Mr. Warren Denning suggests that the States should also be entrusted with control of " electric and gas supplies " and " buildings." There are, of course, many buildings in municipal areas that need to be looked after closely for the sake of the health of the community, and it is certainly a most high-minded and exalted suggestion that a matter so closely affecting the health of the community can be properly cared for by a State authority.

Mr. WarrenDenning also concedes to the State authorities supervision of " factories " as a' delegated power from the Commonwealth Industrial Department, and the control of a developmental policy generally in line with the economic needs of the State. The "grandeur that was Greece and the glory that was Rome " will not be a patch on the exalted dignity of the States when they are entrusted with these high offices. I have already indicated what a suicidal policy it would be to multiply the work of this Parliament seven times over. Mr. Warren Denning writes - 1

State governments as decentralized units of control are a fallacy. They represent the very essence of centralization. Arguments against centralizing all control in Canberra, however valid they may be, cannot be used as arguments for the retention of the present State system. From one tiny peep-hole in Sydney, the New South Wales Government vainly strive to see the outermost boundaries of a State larger than some of the countries of Europe. From one tiny building in the heart of a great metropolis it strives vainly to understand what each separate district wants.

He then draws attention to this significant fact; -

The simple fact of the matter is that the State Governments have too much to do - too wide an area to cover. The ears of Ministers are dulled by the insistent clamour of a dozen sections. Their outlook is confused by an overplus of demands. They rush here to give help - drop it to rush somewhere else - dash back again, then hither and thither all over the map, playing blind man's bluff with forces which call for stern action,, for they represent the developing pages of a nation's destiny. From every district there come cries for help. Such help as is given is rarely adequate, partly because financial ' resources are not large enough, but chiefly because of the lack of understanding of the real needs of the situation.

The reasoning of that is that if the State Governments cannot cope with the requirements of the people of a State, a central government, sitting in Canberra, the "peep-hole" of a continent, can. Beautiful logic, is it not ? Yet honorable senators opposite would abolish the, State Parliaments in the name of liberty and progress, and claim at the same time that in so doing they were ministering to the true welfare of the people and giving them a chance to thrive and prosper. I could continue to read quotations to show that the Government's proposals are inherently defective and could only end in one thing - national disaster. . What would honorable senators say if it were seriously proposed that Europe should be governed from one centre? But is that more than is proposed here, when it is suggested that this vast continent should be governed from one " peep-hole " in one corner of its vastness? '







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