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4-424 (Original)

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addressee author,male,Kingston, Charles Cameron,48
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Federation Debates Melbourne, Jan 24
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I think we must recognise that we have arrived at a very important stage in our deliberations, and that the matter which is now under discussion threatens to divide us in a way which we would all desire to avoid. I rise for the purpose chiefly of suggesting that this is a matter on which we should take the sense of the Convention by division as a list resource only, when all hope of amicable agreement and compromise fails. I am the more strengthened in this suggestion, from the belief that the cause of the colonies interested which has been so ably put before the Convention by the various speakers who have preceded me, only requires that careful consideration which I feel sure the Convention will be desirous of giving to it to insure a concession to their requests of everything that is fair and right under the circumstances. I am sorry to some extent that my right honorable friend the Premier of New South Wales spoke in quite the tone which he adopted. It seems to me to some extent that he did not altogether realize the reasonableness and substantial nature of our requests, and I venture to put it that this is a matter to which it would be best to address our most serious consideration, and not in the slightest degree to attempt to dispose of it with badinage, sarcasm, or anything of that sort. Therefore, I shall purposely refrain from following some of the remarks in which he indulged. But I think that I ought to say, with regard to the criticisms he levelled against my honorable friend (Mr. Gordon), that the position which that honorable member took up in Sydney in 1891 has, by subsequent events, been shown to be absolutely right. He may have been, and very probably was, foremost in suggesting then that it was idle to provide for the removal [92] of inter-colonial barriers to commercial intercourse in the shape of customs duties if we did not at the same time provide for the removal of the war of railway tariffs. The same importance was not attached by all members of the Convention to his remarks as the honorable gentleman himself attached to them, but subsequent events have shown abundantly that he was right. I do not forget that one honorable gentleman who has been very emphatic in his denunciation of the proposals of the honorable member (Mr. Gordon) at the present time, at an early stage in our meeting in Adelaide rose in his place and put it that it was idle to adopt measures for abolishing the war of custom-houses if we were only going to transfer the seat of war to the railway stations. Similarly, I say here, it is idle for you to adopt measures for abolishing the war of custom-houses and the war at railway stations if you are going to transfer that war to the river-side. That is what seems to me likely to be done if we do not adopt some amendment of the sort suggested by the hon. Mr. Gordon. The honorable member (Mr. Carruthers) has told us, and rightly enough, that this is a question of the greatest importance to New South Wales. I say also that it is of the greatest importance to South Australia. Arid as the territory in New South Wales may be, the same remark applies with equal force to the territory of South Australia; and if by the action or enterprise of New South Wales we be deprived of those blessings in the shape of perennial streams flowing through two contiguous colonies which Providence has given us, and if they are to be absorbed for the benefit of one, or if the possibility of that be permitted, we shall be making a great mistake indeed. I trust all honorable members will do what they can for the purpose of laying down this principle That as regards our river system, where it can be properly termed of an inter-colonial character-important as it is in America, where the streams are great, and the necessities comparatively small; it is greater still in Australia, where the streams are comparatively small, and the necessities are indeed great-I do trust that we shall not separate on this occasion without having adopted a Federal Constitution which does provide that in the distribution of these natural bounties of Almighty Providence all must share and none must suffer. That, I venture to say, on behalf of South Australia, is all that we desire-that that which is naturally the property, advantage, and opportunity of different colonies should not be absorbed to the benefit of any one. I should like to say to my right honorable friend the Premier of New South Wales, that I am not attempting on this occasion to lay down any other principle more in detail than that which I have roughly indicated. What I am attempting is this: To act in furtherance of the resolution which was originally moved by the leader of the Convention in Adelaide; that is, to take to ourselves, as representatives of the people of Australia, the power of dealing with this question which is at present possessed by the Imperial Parliament. So far as I recollect, the resolution moved by the honorable member (Mr. Barton) was this:- That in order to enlarge the powers of self government of the people of Australia a Federal Government should be created with certain powers. What is the position to-day? On this matter New South Wales-to put it at its broadest, simply as a question of law, to say nothing of the equity-can exercise her rights in connexion with the waters of these rivers, subject to the control of the Imperial Parliament, which by legislation can provide what is necessary and fit on the subject. What we suggest now is that when we are calling into existence an Australian Parliament charged with the duty of dealing with this matter of inter-colonial concern-of Australian national concern-that the powers of the Imperial Parliament should be transferred to the federal authority which we propose to call [93] into existence. We de not suggest that they should be bound in the slightest degree as regards the mode in which these powers should be exercised. I would ask the Premier of New South Wales what does he object to in that? 
Mr. REID. -  
May I put to you this question. Even from your point of view, do you justify the basis of this amendment in taking over irrigation in order to preserve navigation? 
I do not attempt to deal with this question in detail. We have not got sufficient information for the purpose of enabling me to state definitely on what lines the legislation should proceed. What I do say is this: That we ought to give to the Federal Parliament which we propose to call into existence the power, when it deems fit, to legislate on this question (giving either the preference to navigation or to irrigation, I care not which, just according as its wisdom may decide in the future) in order to remove this fertile source of friction between colonies. I put it to my right honorable friend in this way: I have no desire to refer to recent history in connexion with this river trouble, but it is a live question; it is a subject which has already occupied the attention of several of the colonies interested. It is a matter on which we have addressed the Government of New South Wales with the utmost respect-and we shall be prepared to address them similarly in future-but without that fertility of result which we might have desired. Now, the question seems to me, are we, when laying the foundations of federation, with the necessary modifications, which we hope will endure for all time, to permit this question to remain beyond the possibility of being satisfactorily dealt with by that Federation and absolutely outside its jurisdiction, and to be a constant source of friction and irritation, which, under existing conditions, is has been found impossible to deal with? The Right Honorable the Premier of New South Wales has said that at various times and on various occasions the expression "Trust the Federation" has been used with more or less force. I confess that on a variety of occasions when I have used the expression I have used it most sincerely, believing that we are engaged in calling into existence a body in which the whole of Australia shall have confidence. I put it to the right honorable member what will be the position if this jurisdiction which we seek is given? Simply this, that if the Federation finds that it can interfere for the good of all concerned it will do so. If it comes to no such conclusion it will stay its hand. Which colony, I ask, has to run the greater risk? South Australia, with its comparatively small representation, or the senior colony of the group? But I put it on broader lines: Are we fearful of this Federation? For one, I am not. I have every belief in the wisdom of the body which we are proposing to call into existence. If we are fearful, that seems to me to be an argument for keeping out of it. My view is this, that there is no cause for fear, least of all on the part of colonies who will be so strongly represented in the house of Representatives as New South Wales naturally will be. I do ask honorable members not to pass by on the other side of this difficulty, which, if left unsettled and not referred to a tribunal of competent jurisdiction to be dealt with, must be a constant source of that destruction of the feeling of inter-colonial comity. which should prevail amongst the various colonies that we have the honour to represent, and a source of danger to the success of the Federation which we are here to constitute. 
Mr. REID. -  
Is not your only anxiety now to preserve the navigability of the river? 
I tell the right honorable gentleman this-that I would welcome any fair arrangement on the subject. 
Mr. REID. -  
Do you desire this power over New South Wales for irrigation purposes or for navigation purposes? [94] 
I desire it for the good of a 
Mr. WISE. -  
Is it navigation that you wish to preserve? 
If this water is useful for the purposes of irrigation, as I believe it will be, I think we ought to have our fair share of it, too. I do not want that New South Wales shall, under cover of an unlimited power of irrigation, be able to leave to us nothing more or less than a dry channel. 
Mr. REID. -  
Therefore, you want to take water for irrigation? 
I want New South Wales to concede to the people of South Australia and the people of Victoria, under this Federation, the same right, with reference to the use of these waters, as her courts would concede to the New South Welshman. Under this Federation, I hope it will not be a question of New South Wales, but of Australia-an extension, practically, for national purposes, of our various powers. The present legal position, on which I understand the Premier of New South Wales to insist with some degree of legal force, is this: That outside the boundaries of New South Wales no person has any right to complain of what use the waters of the River Murray are put to. 
Mr. HIGGINS. -  
We cannot have war, and we cannot have law. 
No, we cannot have war, because it is impossible for states which are component parts of the same empire to go to war; we cannot have law, because the New South Wales laws do not run for the protection of those who happen to live outside that colony. All we can have is Imperial legislation conferring rights on all. And we do not want-we do not desire to go-cap in hand, complaining to the mother country that our own fellow citizens of the British Empire-the people of New South Wales, which, properly enough, rejoices in the proud designation of the mother colony-claim the right to absorb all the waters of the River Murray, if it so pleases them. We are calling into existence a Federation within which we admit that custom houses should be abolished, that wars of railway tariffs should be stopped, and all I ask honorable members is to go one step further and say that, as respects the use of what are Australian rivers, Australian rights shall be regarded, and that those rights shall not be limited by any provincial jurisdiction. If it were necessary to encourage my honorable friends from New South Wales, I would ask them what have they to fear, with the magnificent representation that that colony will have in the House of Representatives, and equal representation of the states in the Senate? 
Mr. HIGGINS. -  
If you give to New South Wales the advantage of her larger population in both Houses I think the whole difficulty will be gone. 
As long as the existing law continues, the existing position will continue. If the Federation does not interfere, such rights as New South Wales claims at the present moment will remain untouched. A majority of the House of Representatives will be necessary to effect any alteration of the existing conditions, and surely in a matter of this sort, in which South Australia and Victoria are just as much interested as any other colony in obtaining a peaceful friendly solution of the question, and are willing to remit it to the decision of a tribunal in which New South Wales is to be so strongly represented, it is an unnatural apprehension on the part of the representatives of New South Wales to fear any direful results. 
What about the tributaries? 
The tributaries? All I wish to say is this: for my own part, I would be prepared to concede that, so long as the navigability of the rivers in question is not interfered with, I would not require any special reference to the question of irrigation, relying on [95] the supply of water which is necessary for the purposes of navigation as being sufficient also for the purposes of irrigation, although, at the same time, I do not omit to recognise that there may be a fine line drawn at a point at which the water may be sufficient for the one or the other of those purposes, and not for both. But the question which now chiefly interests me is this-Cannot we arrive at some unanimous friendly solution of the difficulty? I do trust that this Convention will not adopt any other means for a long, long time to come, except as a last resource, than an effort to secure, by amicable negotiation, that which we desire. I assure honorable members, on the part of the colony of which I have the honour to be one of the representatives, that we wish nothing more than is reasonable and fair. Embody any expression which may be desired by any honorable member of this Convention for the purpose of preventing us getting anything else, and we will cheerfully agree to it. And I put it to honorable members that, in framing a Constitution for Australia-a country in which, as has been well pointed out by Mr. O'Connor, water is a matter of absolute necessity, not only for the comfort of the individual, but also for the development of our resources-unless, as regards rivers which may be truly termed Australian, we make satisfactory provision for their use by the Australian people, and prevent the possibility at any time of their monopolization by one or other of the colonies interested, to the injury of the community, the Constitution will be lacking in one of the chief recommendations for its acceptance by the Australian people. 
Mr. LYNE (New South Wales). -  
I anticipated, from the remarks which had fallen from previous speakers, that the last speaker intended to have made some definite suggestion to vary somewhat the proposition that has already been made by Mr. Gordon. 
Well, you would not accept it, anyhow.