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Tuesday, 5 August 1930

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I desire to say a few words in connexion with the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) concerning Cockatoo Island. I have taken a considerable interest in Cockatoo Island and feel that the Senate is indebted to Senator Dunn for the particulars he gave u3 of the activities of the dockyard. It has always seemed to me that the leasing of a dockyard primarily established for defence purposes might lead to complications in the event of the dockyard being suddenly resumed for defence purposes. So far as the electors expressed their will when electing their representatives in this Parliament, a majority of the people of Australia decided that the Constitution requires amending. We may differ as to the method by which it should be amended, but there is a general consensus of opinion that the Constitution places some absurd restrictions on the Commonwealth. Both at the Cockatoo Island Dockyard and the Lithgow Small Arms Factory there are considerable quantities of costly and up-to-date machinery which for a considerable portion of each year lie idle because of the restrictions placed on the powers of the Commonwealth. While it would be better to adopt the suggestion of Senator Pearce than to allow the present state of affairs to continue indefinitely, I suggest there is another way out of the difficulty. If we can evade the provisions of the Constitution by leasing the dockyard to a private firm, while still retaining our right to resume it for defence purposes, we can evade them, and at the same time retain to this Parliament the control of the dockyard. What legal objection could there be to granting a nominal lease of the dockyard to the Prime Minister for the time being, or some other " dummy ", at a pepper-corn rental? I do not see why we should, allow constitutional limitations to prevent us from devising ways and means to overcome the difficulties that present themselves. Some time ago it was decided to authorize the dockyard to manufacture certain articles which were not made by other Australian manufacturers. The same principle was applied to the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, and in that way a fair amount of work has already been done in both establishments. It is most humiliating that a Parliament which claims to control the nation, and to have sovereign .powers in almost every other direction, should be so crippled because of a faultily constructed Constitution that it cannot do what all political parties believe it should be able to do. Although we may not agree regarding the nationalization of industry, we are all of the opinion that there are certain powers which the Commonwealth Government should possess, especially in the direction of manufacturing articles necessary for defence purposes. It must strike every honorable senator as absurd and wasteful to establish factories and equip them with machinery costing approximately £1,500,000, and then to permit them to operate only for a portion of the year. I trust that the 'concrete examples that I have given of the evils that accrue to us by reason of existing constitutional limitations will stimulate our endeavours to evolve a remedy in the near future. That should be possible if we eschew academic and abstract problems and concentrate on matters definitely affecting the economic welfare of the country.

SenatorH. E. Elliott referred to Canberra. While I happen to be in the peculiar position of having been the only dissentient New South Wales member at the time when Canberra was chosen as the site for the Federal Capital, I am of the opinion that as the majority, decided on that course of action and the Federal Capital has been established here, we should not starve or cripple it, notwithstanding the necessity to effect economies and to avoid unnecessary and wasteful expenditure. We should not adopt a mean and niggardly spirit with regard to the maintenance that is necessary to continue the Federal Capital, or to add to the comfort of those who have to reside here permanently. It would be quite another matter if a feasible plan were advanced by means of which Canberra could be satisfactorily disposed of.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill - The honorable senator is straying somewhat from the subjectmatter of the debate.

Senator RAE - I have no desire to do so, sir. We should willingly assent to any expenditure that is necessary for maintenance of the Federal Capital, and the surrounding territory, to prevent it from deteriorating in value. Such expenditure should not be viewed in a grudging spirit, engendered by brooding upon abstract matters.

It has been conclusively proved that this Government has effected substantial economies in various directions. This should put an end to the reckless charges that were referred to by Senator O'Halloran.

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