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Wednesday, 16 November 1910

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - I re-echo the sentiments expressed by Senator Gardiner when he declared that he would never attempt to belittle the great men who framed our Federal Constitution. I feel proud of their work, and I believe that they were as able a body of men as could be found at the time Tor the task which they undertook. But I do not wish it to be understood that ideas were not prevalent in the community which did not secure representation in the Federal Convention. The various franchises which existed in the different States prevented them from receiving that representation.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - The same thing occurred in America.

Senator DE LARGIE - Yes. My own reading and experience have convinced me that it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to keep up-to-date in the matter of the science of government. We are accustomed to credit those who travel in advance of ourselves with being possessed of very little knowledge. When we have made up our minds upon certain questions we imagine that the last word has been said upon the science of government. That Ls the starting-point of Conservatism, no matter to what school of political thought we may belong. Consequently I decline to accept the theory that when our Commonwealth Constitution was framed the last word was uttered upon the question of Constitutionbuilding, whilst I do not think for a moment that we have produced as great political economists as have other lands. It would be almost impossible for a small community like Australia to produce the intellectual giants who have been produced by other countries through all generations. We can boast of no political economists like Adam Smith, or Karl Marx. But we have an opportunity of reading their works and of putting their theories into practice, and as a result I think we have reached a higher average of political intellectuality, than has any other people in the world. Yet we are far from having a perfect Constitution. That being so, we should be very chary about accepting any doctrine as the last word on the science of government. We all know that cherished theories to which we have clung so tenaciously for years, have frequently proved to be faulty. For that reason we should not bind ourselves hard and fast to any particular principle. There is one great question, however, which has obtruded itself very prominently during recent years, and which I think will become even more prominent in the future. It is the question, " Which is to be the supreme Government in Australia?" We all know that in the Commonwealth there are State Governments which .we are constantly reminded ought to be sovereign within their own ambits. But I hold that there can be only one supreme authority in any nation. Ours is a nation from sea to sea. The Australian States comprise one great people, controlled by one Government; and that Government, when a difference arises, should have supreme control. Indeed, our present Constitution provides for that in some cases. It is laid down that when there is a conflict between the laws of the Commonwealth and the laws of a State, the supremacy must lie with the laws of the Commonwealth. If we apply that principle to the present circumstances, we shall find a solution of the whole difficulty.

Conflicts of jurisdiction will increase as time goes on, and I am satisfied that the people of Australia recognise that there is danger in having a divided authority. We may talk as we like about State rights; but there are certain things in which the Commonwealth must be supreme. I recognise, of course, that there are matters within a State which the Government of a State can control much better than can the Central Government. Local requirements are much better known to members of a State Parliament than they can be known to members of a Central Parliament. The Federal Parliament does not possess the same intimate local knowledge as do the State Parliaments. Consequently the local Parliaments should have control over such affair*. 'But unless in other things the Central Parliament has supreme power, the whole Federal structure falls to the ground. Many instances may be quoted, in which a State right, as affecting a particular State of the Commonwealth, may become a State wrong, as affecting the other five States. We saw that illustrated in a marked degree in connexion with the coal strike about twelve months ago. There was a dispute that paralyzed the industries of Australia; and simply because of a trifling flaw in our Arbitration Act the Commonwealth was not able to interfere. There is no denying the fact that every State was suffering on that occasion. The same thing may arise again. Senator Symon referred to that point when he said that there are certain things that both sides can agree upon, as far as State Socialism is concerned. He argued, however, that surely the States are entitled to retain the power of spreading the principle of State Socialism. With that doctrine I quite concur; but up to a certain point only, because State Socialism, in any one State, may turn out to- inflict a wrong upon the other States. I like to take a concrete case rather than to talk in generalities. Let us take what is likely to become a State monopoly in respect of one particular commodity. In New South Wales at the present time we have a Government in power which yesterday made a declaration of policy to the effect that it intends to establish the iron industry as a State concern. Whilst I agree with that policy up to a certain point, I can see quite easily that it may have grave effects on other States. One has only to familiarize himself with the position of the iron industry to realize that other considerations must be kept in view. There is not in Australia a. suffi- ciently large market to justify the establishment of more than one up-to-date iron works. The principal customers will be the State Governments, whose railways require iron for their engines, for their rails, for their bridges, and so forth. By the establishment of a State monopoly in New South Wales, controlling this particular industry, the railways in the other five States will be affected. Consequently, although it i? right of the State of New South Wales to create a monopoly in the iron industry, what is a- State right in that instance may become a State wrong, as affecting the other five States. It is quite possible that the State Governments generally will be, at some time, at the mercy of one State Government - New South Wales - for commodities which are required for the working of their railways. Notwithstanding the fact that it is a Labour Premier, Mr. McGowen, who is initiating this policy, I decline to hand over to him, or to any other State Minister, power over the railways of the other States, I hold, therefore, that we should be shortsighted indeed if we said that, because it is the right of one State to establish a monopoly, that is the last word to be said on the question.

Senator Rae - But there is no proposal to make the iron industry a State monopoly.

Senator DE LARGIE - I understand that the policy initiated by Mr. McGowen at a public meeting this week, and which has been embodied in the Governor's speech to Parliament, is that of the establishment ot a monopoly in the iron industry.

Senator Rae - That will not affect the whole Commonwealth.

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