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Thursday, 10 October 1912

Senator WALKER (New South Wales) . - I have listened with much pleasure to some of the previous speeches, and desire to contribute a few remarks of my own to the debate. In regard to defence, I wonder whether the Government have thought of the wisdom of providing a fund from which to replace the vessels of our Fleet as they become obsolete. .An annual amount ought to be set aside, so that we may be able to purchase new war vessels without a tremendous amount of additional taxation, if they are to be paid for out of the annual revenue.

Senator Pearce - We .do that practically now, by means of a. Trust Fund-

Senator WALKER - But a .fixed proportionate amount ought to be set aside annually

Senator Pearce - Any surplus that is available we place to a Trust Account for that purpose.

Senator WALKER - I believe that war vessels become obsolete in about ten years.

Senator Pearce - Not so quickly as that.

Senator WALKER - I was in hopes that more would be said about a residence for the Governor-General in Sydney. 1 take it that the New South Wales Government are more to blame in the matter than the Federal Government, though our own Government have had an opportunity of rectifying a very serious mistake. To judge from the way some parliamentary people in Sydney speak, one would think that the GovernorGeneral ought to live only in the Federal Territory. I take it that he ought to have a choice of three residences, one in the Federal Territory, a second in Sydney, and a third in Melbourne. Apparently the New South Wales Government want the Federal Government to pay a rent of £3,500 a year for Government House, Sydney, and 10 to 12 acres of land. I think that, as a business matter, the Federal Government would be justified in acquiring Government House, with 12 acres of land. On the basis of a rental of £3,500 a year, they could probably obtain the property for £100,000. When we have erected a residence for the Governor- General in the Federal Territory, if Parliament saw fit to abandon the residence in Sydney they would find that the investment had been a very profitable one.

Senator Millen - Could we resume the property ?

Senator Pearce - We can resume State land.

Senator WALKER - Let me contrast what took place in 1900 with what has taken place in 1912. As soon as the Commonwealth Constitution Act was passed by the Imperial Parliament, the New South Wales Parliamentpassed an Act by which that State undertook to contribute annually towards an additional £10,000 to be paid to the Governor-General, making his total salary £20,000 a year, an amount similar to that paid at that time to the GovernorGeneral of Canada and the GovernorGeneral of India. The other States did not fall into line, but if they had done, the proportion paid by New South Wales would have been £3,600 a year on the basis of the present Commonwealth population. Yet the New South Wales Government now object to the GovernorGeneral occupying in Sydney a residence valued by them at a rental of £3,500. I consider that the Labour. Government in that State have disgraced their position. Let me remind the Senate of what happens in the little island of Ceylon. The island has an area of25,332 square miles, and in 1901 its population was 3,578,000. Its present estimated population is 4,294,000. In Australia we have a population of 4.500,000. Ceylon gives her Governor three residences, one in Colombo, a second in Kandy, and a third in Newara Eliya. There is evidenced a difference between an Imperiallygoverned Colony and Australia.

Senator Guthrie - The Governor of Ceylon wants three residences because of the climate.

Senator WALKER - The climate in Melbourne has been very trying during the last few days. I do not think that the salary of £10,000 a year which we pay to the Governor-General is sufficient. There are many private persons who, to my own knowledge, have larger incomes than that. The Governor-General has to travel around Australia, taking a suite with him, and his hand is continually in his pocket. The Commonwealth pays £4,000 a year to the Governor of its Bank, though the largest and oldest bank in Australia only pays £4,000 a year to its general manager, who, moreover, does not get four guineas a day for travelling expenses. We pay the Governor of our Bank a larger salary than we pay to the Chief Justice of Australia.

Senator Stewart - Is he worth it?

Senator WALKER - I hope he is. I like him personally.

I desire, also, to say that I think the Government are to blame for the way they are treating private members' business during this session. To-night private members' business has been set on one side for this Supply Bill, and next week, probably, something else will intervene. I can speak with some knowledge of the great difficulties under which private members' business is handled in this Parliament. Senator Pearce is the only member of the Senate who has ever succeeded in getting a private Bill through Parliament. I had the pleasure of cooperating with him. I have not been so fortunate on my own account. I brought in a Bill nearly three years ago, and it passed through the Senate. It was brought in again this session, and went to another place. Now we learn that all private members' business has been set aside. There seems to be no chance for a man with special knowledge to get a Bill passed. I shall not have the honour of being here in the next Parliament, and can speak freely on these matters now. I wish, also, to refer to legislation which has been passed in breach of the Constitution. We have continually passed measures which, on appeal to the i High Court, have been ruled ultra vires. There is not the slightest doubt that there is a constant endeavour on the part of some unificationist members of the party opposite to circumvent the Constitution.

Senator McGregor - It has been chiefly the Acts passed by a Liberal Government that have been ruled ultra vires.

Senator WALKER - But they were passed with the approval and strong support of honorable senators opposite. It is far from pleasant for me to refer to breaches of the Constitution, but I feel it to be my duty to place my views on record, because I feel very strongly about the matter. I was a member of the Convention that drafted our Constitution. We endeavoured then to provide that the Commonwealth Government should not unnecessarily interfere with State powers. The Convention appointed a Committee to draft certain resolutions, and I may as well read a portion of the preliminary motion submitted by Sir Edmund Barton at the meeting of the Convention in Adelaide. It provided -

That, in order to enlarge the powers of self government of the people of Australia, it is desirable to create a Federal Government which shall exercise authority throughout the Federated Colonies, subject to the following principal conditions : -

I.   That the powers, privileges, and territories of the several existing Colonies shall remain intact, except in respect of such surrenders as may be agreed upon to secure uniformity of law and administration in matters of common concern.

iii.   That the exclusive power to impose and collect duties of Customs and Excise, and to give bounties, shall be vested in the Federal Parliament.

Section 87 of the Constitution should also be quoted, because, in connexion with it, I shall show how the first breach of the Constitution took place.

During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, of the [iso] net revenue of the Commonwealth from duties of Customs and of Excise, not more than onefourth shall be applied annually by the Commonwealth towards its expenditure.

The balance shall, in accordance with this Constitution, be paid to the several States, or applied towards the payment of interest on debts of the several States taken over by the Commonwealth.

What occurred ? The ten years' period did not expire until the 31st December, 19 10, but the Government of the day brought in a Bill to give the States 25s. per head of their population as from the ist July, 1910, or six months before they had any right tomake such an alteration. During the first six months of 1910-1911, the Commonwealth Government nominally returned three-fourths of the net revenue from Customs and Excise to the States ; but in the latter half of the financial year they retained so much of the amount payable to the States as would be in excess of a payment of 25s. per head of population over the full twelve months.

Senator Rae - I rise to order. I wish to ask whether it is in order for an honorable senator to state that this Parliament has committed breaches of the Constitution in legislation passed by both Houses, and assented to by the Governor-General, and which has never been challenged in the High Court. I take it that that legislation must be assumed to be valid until it is successfully challenged in the High Court. It appears to me that it must be out of order for Senator Walker to accuse this Parliament of having committed breaches of the Constitution when no proof exists that that has been the case.

The PRESIDENT - I think that Senator Walker is in order. The honorable senator was referring to a number of Acts passed by the Federal Parliament, some of the provisions of which were subsequently declared to be ultra vires pf the Constitution. It is a common thing, when a Bill is introduced in another place, or in the Senate, for members of either House to take exception to it on the ground that, in their opinion, it contains provisions which are ultra vires of the Constitution. They may still adhere to that opinion, though the Bill may be passed, and subsequently be assented to by the Governor-General. They may continue to hold the view that if the question were tested before the High Court the measure would be declared to be outside the constitutional powers of this Parliament.

Senator WALKER - I am surprised that none of the State Governments has gone to the High Court on this question. I have not the slightest doubt that if they were to rake up that question, and have the matter referred to the High Court, the Court would say that the Act to which I have referred should not have come into operation before the ist January, ion; and that the States should have received 12s. 6d. per head of their population for the half-year ending 30th June, 1911, instead of about 6s. per head which they did receive, if so much.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator not think that the State Governments would take the advice of their Crown Law officers on a point like that?

Senator WALKER - I am not so sure that they would. As the honorable senator is aware, some of them were Labour Governments. The second breach to which I wish to refer was a more recent one. It was, in my opinion, a breach of section 119 of the Constitution, which reads -

The Commonwealth shall protect every State against invasion, and, on the application of the Executive Government of the State, against domestic violence.

I am not a man who believes in shooting down anybody. Far from it. But when the Government of Queensland applied to the Commonwealth Government for assistance, the Prime Minister had only to say that he would inform the local Forces that they were available, and the whole trouble would have been at an end. I think it will be admitted that on the occasion referred to, the Federal Government failed to comply with the first clause of the resolutions submitted to the Federal Convention -

That the powers, privileges, and territories of the several existing Colonies shall remain intact, except in respect of such surrenders as may he agreed upon to secure uniformity of law and administration in matters of common concern.

There was a surrender of the control of Military Forces, and it was because of that surrender the State Government of Queensland found it necessary to make their application for assistance.

Senator Rae - Can the honorable senator prove that there was any domestic violence in Queensland?

Senator WALKER - The constitutional provision is that assistance is to be rendered "on the application of the Executive Government of the State." The Executive Government of Queensland did make such an application. I understand that they have since expressed their intention to send in a bill to the Commonwealth for the costs to which they were put at the time, and, if it is not met, to appeal to the High Court. I have been interested to note the clever way in which the present Government and their friends have tried to get round the Constitution. Although the Constitution is not sacrosanct, the Government of the Commonwealth should be the first persons to prevent the slightest infringement of it, excepting by referenda. We have heard of an individual called Machiavelli, ' and there would appear to be some person / in the present Government possessed of a wonderful brain, a fertile imagination, and ! an acute intellect, and whether it be of the Machiavellian or of the Mephistophelean order, future Australian historians will perhaps be able to decide. Having been absent during the earlier part of the session, the Senate will excuse me for having taken up a little time on these matters.

My impression is that, once we get into Committee, this Bill will go through in about half-an-hour. As Senator Millen has said, it is simply impossible to find fault with items contained in it when there is no opportunity to compare the expenditure proposed with that voted for the corresponding period of last year. I may say that I had occasion to speak to a member of the Ministry regarding certain amendments of the Navigation Bill. I asked him whether, in another place, the Government occassionally accepted amendments from the Opposition? When he said they did, I told him that we could not succeed in getting any one' to accept amendments from us in the Senate yesterday.

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