House of Representatives
27 April 1904

2nd Parliament · 1st Session



Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

page 1247

QUESTION

RESIGNATION OF DEAKIN MINISTRY: NEW ADMINISTRATION

Mr WATSON:
Treasurer · Bland · ALP

.- I have to announce to the House that, on Saturday last, I was sent for by His Excellency the Governor-General, and invited by him to undertake the formation of an Administration. I asked until to-day for the completion of the task, and my request was allowed; but I was able to put before His Excellency yesterday evening the names of those whom I have asked to assist me. His Excellency was good enough to approve of the names submitted for the administration of the various Departments, and I will read from to-day’s Gazette the list of the members of the new Administration, with the office allotted to each : -

The Honorable John Christian Watson, Treasurer and Prime Minister;

The Honorable William Morris Hughes, Minister of State for External Affairs ;

The Honorable Henry Bournes Higgins, K.C., Attorney-General ;

The Honorable Egerton Lee Batchelor, Minister of State for Home Affairs;

The Honorable Andrew Fisher, Minister of State for Trade and Customs ;

The Honorable Anderson Dawson, Minister of State for Defence ;

The Honorable Hugh Mahon, PostmasterGeneral.

In addition to the names mentioned, the Honorable Gregor McGregor has been called to the Executive Council as VicePresident of that body. I wish to add, on behalf of my colleagues and of those members with whom I have been so nearly associated, that we deeply deplore the fact that, owing to the severe illness of the right honorable member for Adelaide - an illness in which I know he has the sympathy of every member of the House - we have been deprived, unfortunately for Australia as well as for ourselves, of the ripe experience, statesmanship, and patriotism which he might otherwise have brought to the councils of the Ministry. I personally, and, I am sure, every member with whom I am associated, would have been extremely glad if it had been possible to avail ourselves of his services in the performance of the important duties which we have undertaken. We recognise that we are in a largemeasure destitute of the experience which is so necessary for the proper carrying on of the affairs of a great Commonwealth such as this ; but we are determined to apply to the task, in the interests of the whole people, whatever ability we may be possessed of. Our first proposition will be a motion for a short adjournment, to enable us to prepare measures for submission to the House for consideration during the remainder of the session. I cannot at this stage say what those measures will be; but our programme will certainly include the pushing on of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. Action in regard to other measures must await the consideration of the Cabinet. I think that we are justified, in view of the circumstance that we have taken office practically without notice, in asking for an adjournment of three weeks from to-day, to give us an opportunity to formulate a policy to lay before the House. I therefore move -

That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Wednesday, 18th May.

Mr DEAKIN:
Minister for External Affairs · Ballarat · Protectionist

– I presume, Mr. Speaker, that in discussing this motion to-day more latitude will be allowed than is usually given ; and, in the first place, I wish to thank the right honorable member for East Sydney for having proposed an arrangement which removes the possibility of any personal clash between us in addressing the House this afternoon. At his suggestion, I shall speak as the head of the late Government, while he is to speak as the head of the Opposition which he has so long led. I hope that, before the House resumes again, the novel questions which have arisen out of the distribution of power here, and the existence of two parties in opposition to the Government, will be solved so far as they affect matters of precedence. It is a happy augury that, however much we may differ on points of policy, we are able to avoid those interchanges of personal combat which, though made on behalf of a party, must appear in some measure due to personal ambitions. I take advantage of the opportunity extended to me to sincerely congratulate the Prime Minister upon the success which has attended his efforts to form an Administration. The task which the Ministry is about to essay is one of which he has exhibited a proper appreciation based upon his present knowledge, but his appreciation will be greater three weeks hence, and still greater within three months. He will feel that the work in which he and his colleagues are engaged must - as it does - appeal to the sympathy of those who have been so recently relieved of it. We at least, are conscious that, in addition to the great privileges with which office is surrounded, there are attached responsibilities, incessant, grave, sufficient to impress and to depress those who bear them. I wish the Ministry well through the process through which they must pass before they will feel that they have fully assumed the control of the many agencies which belong to the Commonwealth Government. Those agencies are not supposed to be numerous, but their area of operation is immense. They touch the continent in every part. They affect and are affected by every change in the circumstances of its population. Sleepless vigilance is demanded in the administration of the powers we have already assumed. The greatest possible care must be exercised in the application of legislation to a country which, by its mere size, presents so many difficulties and so many contrasts. Consequently, when I wish the Ministry well through their task, I do so in all good faith, and particularly wish them well through that part of it alluded to by the Prime Minister when he spoke of the promulgation of their policy. Of course, we are yet to hear defined exactly what that means. The Prime Minister and his colleagues are already associated with a policy of a very precise and far-reaching character. They must recognise, as every thoughtful man recognises, that in their policy they have looked very far ahead, perhaps beyond the regions of the possible. When they speak of promulgating a policy I do not understand them to mean an intention to replace that programme or part of it, but simply an intimation of how far they think it possible for them to go during this session. I hope that they will also tell .us how far they propose to go during this Parliament. They will equip us then as we are not equipped now for considering the general relation in which the House .should stand to them, quite irrespective of any particular decision at which they may arrive. Speaking for- those whom I have had the honour of consulting to-day and who, I should inform you, sir, have paid me the honour of electing me their leader, I am charged to extend to the Government the assurance that the Opposition propose to extend to them the utmost fair play. We feel that the tasks which they have shouldered merit forbearance, and we hope that they will receive it. We await with anxiety the statement of the proposals they intend to submit. When they are submitted, of course, the imperative duty of ar> Opposition - not necessarily to oppose, but:’ to criticise and examine - will be fearlessly exercised. It has been the practice tospeak of an Opposition as His Majesty’s, in order to remind us of the official part it .plays in all the transactions of Parliament. It is always a large and an important part. One needs only to look at this Opposition in order to see how exceptionally large and important it bidsfair to be in this Parliament. It is sometime since I ventured to call attention tothe parliamentary prospects in the Commonwealth, where three parties, practically equal, confront each other, called upon to conduct a system of government, thevery root principle of which is rule by a. majority. The obvious and sensible fact which stares us in the face when we look at these benches, and which stares the country in the face, is that honorable members opposite have no such majority. Thetwo parties who hold opinions differing, from them and from each other are necessarily by the circumstances of the situation, ranked on this side of the House in overwhelming numbers. The position of instability which existed when I spoke twoor three months ago exists to-day in are emphasized manner. While the lateMinistry lived, it was possible for honorable members to group themselves upon a. question which took honorable, members opposite outside their own direct programme, outside their strict party union. The disappearance of the fiscal question from thearena, at present, has recast the main issue, and brought about the transformation which, we witness to-day. I am sure that thecountry will see in this grouping of honorable members - necessitated by the very circumstances of the case - no indication of anyindividual changes of opinion, but unmistakable signs of a new development. The situation was bound to develop, thesituation could, not remain as it was, and’ I venture to think cannot remain long as it is. It is for my honorable friends who. now hold the reins of government to realize, as I believe they soon must, that there restsupon them to-day, with clearer perception than perhaps most of them have hitherto enjoyed, a conviction of the necessity for the constitutional rule of a majority in thisHouse, . and the necessity of. acquiring that majority, if they are to do justice to them-. selves and the measures of legislation which they propose to introduce. At the present moment the part numerically played by the Opposition or Oppositions in the business of the country will be actually greater than the part played by the Government. I do not think that any one will suppose that such a condition of things can be maintained. I think that we must all agree that it can only be maintained even temporarily by that honorable granting of fair play to which I have already alluded, by that extension of consideration from one side of the House to the other which enables us. to discharge our common duties to the public. I take it that the one talisman which we possess, and on which we must rely in order to lead us out of the unconstitutional position in which we at present find ourselves, is the recollection that, though we are three parties at the present time, the electors of Australia thought fit to return three parties on three distinct programmes. They returned those three parties with the obligation of conducting parliamentary government as best we can according to the practice followed for many years, and left to us the task of working out that new problem, so that it might result in practical advantage to the people. So long, therefore, as honorable members opposite, led by their Government, are moderate enough to afford us an opportunity of joining with them in that task, I take it that our duty to the electors will require us to lend them every assistance. When the practical sequence of the situation proves irresistible ; when the measures of legislation which the public look for are not forthcoming ; when the Administration shall cease to possess that force and energy which it requires, then, and only then, will the facts of the case bring us, whether we like it or not, face to face with a new situation. The Government lake up the thread of work where we laid it down, at a time when, because of our three parties, it had become extremely onerous. They will be confronted by problems with which they must cope, but with which it would be most unfair to ask them to attempt to cope all at once. I feel confident that the same tact and moderation which characterized the Prime Minister while he led his party on the opposite benches will be continued, that he will lay before this Chamber no chimerical or impossible schemes of work, but that he will invite us to joinhim in carrying out the policies on which we were both returned, and thus enable us to fulfil our duties to the people of this country.

Mr Watson:

– Hear, hear.

Mr DEAKIN:

– In that work I believe he will receive the earnest co-operation of honorable members in every part of the House. For my own part, sir, I view, as I think the whole community has viewed, the entrance of the honorable gentleman and his party into power without the slightest vestige of alarm. I still entertain the belief that I have always entertained - that the sobering responsibilities of office will enable them to quell any elements associated with them that may not be easily subject to restraint by bringing them to an appreciation of considerations of practical wisdom in meeting the demands of every day. I have every confidence that they will receive from those behind them a reasonable support which will enable them to do the work in hand, without seeking to grasp at shadows. I also feel that the community outside, while entertaining no apprehensions as to the. course which they are likely to take, will be strengthened in that confidence when it realizes that with those who sit on this side ofthe Chamber, after all, will lie the controlling voice in legislation and administration. I am reminded that one formal intimation should be conveyed to the House, which perhaps devolved upon the Prime Minister at an earlier stage, and that is to inform the House that the Administration of which I had the honour to be head has resigned, and that its resignation has been accepted by His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. That wasa comparatively trifling preliminary which, under existing conditions, had to take place; but it has occurred, I venture to say, without any feeling of bitterness on the part of those who have been released from their labours. We wish our successors well, and we wish those who support them well, too. because, after all, upon the maintenance of the dignity and independence, and, above all, of the high responsibilities of this Parliament depends its political future and achievements. Here we have common interests, from which none of us will seek to sever ourselves. In the session which is about to be re-opened, after an interregnum which appears none too long, taking into account the circumstances under which Ministers have taken office, we shall meet as heartily determined to devote ourselves to the policy to which we are pledged arid to the work of this country, as we were when we sat on the benches which we have just vacated.

Mr REID:
East Sydney

– Perhaps there may be some few individuals in Australia who will feel disappointed that the somewhat unprecedented circumstances in which we stand to-day have not furnished an opportunity for some more or less seemly or unseemly assertion of personal claim on the part either of my honorable friend the late Prime Minister or myself. I am happy to say that nothing of the sort has occurred. The position is a novel one, and it has been my melancholy duty to insist upon retaining the somewhat forlorn position which I have occupied for three years past. In the ordinary course of events in Parliaments of the British Empire, the retirement of the Ministers means simply an exchange of seats with honorable members sitting upon the other side of the House. Under such circumstances there is no very keen rush for the honour of leading His Majesty’s Opposition, the members of which are perfectly satisfied with the outcome of the situation, there being nothing- they wish less than to remain in the old seats to which they were accustomed. Unfortunately, on this occasion - and whether it is for good or evil will be a matter for subsequent consideration - a very novel situation has arisen. The late Prime Minister, upon a somewhat interesting occasion some months ago, described the parliamentary situation as one in which three elevens were playing a game of cricket. Well, as matters have turned out, my honorable friend the Prime Minister has courageously engaged to play any other twenty-two, and that is the contest to which he is committed. I indorse the statements made by the late Prime Minister to a very large extent. But I think that perfect frankness is infinitely better than polite assurances. Whilst personally I have real esteem for the new Ministry, both collectively and individually, and whilst I can never forget the generous support extended to me in New South Wales by two of its. leading members, we all know that in .the performance of our public duties we have to keep ourselves as free as possible from personal considerations. It would have been a calamity if in the present difficult state of public affairs any desire had- been exhibited to use mere force in order to inflict humiliation upon honorable men who have chosen to take up an honorable task. I am very happy to know that there is no such dispo sition on this side, and that the request which the Prime Minister has most reasonably made will be at once acceded to. The Prime Minister would be a much less sensible man than he is if he did not fully realize the responsibility which he has undertaken. It was not his fault that he was charged with the task of forming a Ministry. He was placed in that position entirely without self-seeking, or any sort of intrigue on his part. Therefore, when he was sent for by His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, his position was such that he was bound, at any rate, to consider the position which has been solved in the manner now evident to us to-day. But the Prime Minister is too sensible not to know that the present state of affairs is, if anything, worse, from n constitutional stand-point, than the unhappy condition of things .which existed when the recent Government was in power, because during the reign of the Ministry which has just left, office, they could with reason claim that, although their own party by itself was not strong enough to fulfil- the conditions of our system of government in this Chamber, they were practically supported throughout their career by another party. Therefore there was really an alliance of two parties, one in office £-.nd another acting a friendly part as general supporters against the Opposition. That was substantially the parliamentary situation during the past three years. The Government in itself .was not strong enough to justify its position, but was made so by the general support of another party in the House. I do not, of course, speak for any member of the party led by my honorable friend the late Prime Minister, but, so far as the Opposition are concerned, our position remains exactly as it was. We have most clearly perceived, and have even lamented, the unsound condition of affairs in this House. The Prime Minister made a remark which shows how even gentlemen professing the most radical views, when assuming a position .of power, insensibly employ the language of despots. I believe that all the despots who ever ruled the world in ancient times claimed that they did so in the interests of the whole people. I have heard that phrase to-day from the Prime Minister. I think that there never was any person in a position of power, either inside or outside the Parliament, who was not profoundly convinced that he was ordained by Providence to exercise his authority for the benefit of the people over whom he ruled.’

Mr Watson:

– I think I said that we should endeavour to carry, on the Government for the benefit of the whole of the people.

Mr REID:

– No one will suspect my honorable friend of any desire to do otherwise. But it was the phrase that caught my attention as one which has sanctified the exercise of authority in all ages and under ail conditions. The main question, however, under our system of government, is not the pious, well-meaning desires of persons who happen to be in positions of power, but whether they have been placed in their positions by the evolution of the will of the people of Australia as reflected by their representatives. That is the vital question. In the course of time my honorable friend may be able to justify his position by the grandest of all titles - the clear warrant and mandate of a majority of the electors of Australia. But I think he will admit - since we must at present be guided by the outcome of the appeal which was recently made to the people - ihat .the result- of the elections showed that a majority of the people of Australia did not wish for, ‘ and did not vote for, the establishment of an Administration such as is the present one. I cannot by any polite phrases disguise, the seriousness of the existing position. ,1 have spoken very strongly in reference to the position of the late Government, which was very much stronger than are the members of the present Adminisration, not in their own selves, but because of the support which they received from honorable members in other parts of the House. If the party and the Government which have taken up this responsibility are able to acquire from honorable members outside their own ranks ths same measure of support which the late Government secured, the situation will still be an unsatisfactory one, but the position of my honorable friend as Prime Minister will be absolutely justifiable. Having assumed an office of responsibility and trust, it is his bounden duty to exert his utmost energies to continue in that position and to accomplish all the good that he can. There is no element of personal ambition, or personal feeling, I am happy to say, in the present situation. There is no desire to expose any member of the Ministry to anything which will even seem to suggest humiliation. They have taken up a plucky attitude; they have filled the gap which existed, under circumstances which imply the possession of a desperate 2 u 2 courage, and with a lack of official experience which is no reproach to them, because every man must begin at that stage. I level no reproach at my honorable friends because they have not had any large measure of official experience. The greatest statesman in the world began precisely at that point. That is not an element in the view which I take of the present situation. My idea is that matters have not been improved by the recent evolution, that all the objections which I entertained to the state of things which previously existed have been intensified by the condition of affairs which obtains to-day. I wish, therefore, to be absolutely frank in my statement to honorable members opposite. They are in office, and if they can command the support of a majority of honorable members, they are entitled to remain there; but, if aftera careful view of the situation, honorable members conclude that they cannot support the present Administration, the reign of politeness must end. We must have an honest reflection of the actual convictions of honorable members in their political attitudes in this House. My friends opposite are cast in too frank a mould to fear any such development. However one may question their wisdom in undertaking this task without a sufficient degree of additional strength to make their position a more tolerable one, I feel sure that their good intentions, their honesty of purpose, and their high character in their public offices, will be equal to anything that has been shown bv their predecessors.

Sir JOHN FORREST:
Minister for Home Affairs · Swan · Protectionist

– I should like to congratulate my honorable friends opposite upon their accession to power, and I feel sure they will devote all. their energies and abilities to the administration of the public service. I should not have spoken upon this occasion, but that I wish to add one word to what has been said by the right honorable member for East Sydney concerning the constitutionality of the position occupied by honorable members opposite. I do not suppose there have been many instances in British, countries in which the members Of a party have exhibited so much -bravery as have those of the present Government. I do not think there is any instance upon record in which a minority in Parliament have formed a Government without first assuring themselves that they could command a fair measure of support from one section or another in the House.

Mr Watkins:

– What about the position of the recent Government ?

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I will reply to the question of the honorable member, notwithstanding that it has already been answered by the right honorable member for East Sydney. The position of the present Administration is very different from that which was occupied by the late Government. That Ministry assumed office before Parliament had been called into existence, and its members continuedto administer the affairs of this country as best they could from that time until a day or two ago, getting support, as the right honorable member for East Sydney said, “ from one section of the House or the other.”

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– Is not the right honorable member satisfied with the statement of his leader ?

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– When a per son is requested by the representative of the Sovereign to form an Administration, and undertakes that important and responsible duty, it is usual for him to assure the representative of His Majesty that he has promises of support which will enable him to carry on the work of government. He should be able to assure His Excellency that he has a fair chance of securing a working majority. Should he fail in obtaining promises of sufficient support, it is customary for him to return the commissionto the representative of the Sovereign andto suggest that some one else should be sent for.

Mr Hutchison:

– The right honorable member is using the exact words of a letter that appeared in the Argus.

Mr Page:

– Why does not the right honorable member take his gruel kindly?

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I have never heard or read of. a case in which the head of a party accepted Ministerial office without having first assured himself, and the representative of the Sovereign, that he had reasonable grounds for believing that he could command the support of a majority.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I rise to a point of order. I have no objection to the right honorable member for Swan delivering a lecture upon constitutional practice, at the conclusion of the remarks which have been made by the late Prime Minister and the right honorable member for East Sydney. My point of order is that the observations of the right honorable member are not relevant to the motion that is before the Chair. I raise this question for the purpose of ascertaining whether honorable members generally will be at liberty to discuss the constitutionality of the question when the right honorable member has resumed his seat. It is delightful to listen to the lecture ; but I wish to know whether we all are to be placed on the same footing.

Mr SPEAKER:

– It was open to the Prime Minister to make his statement as to his present position as a matter of privilege, and had he availed himself of that right a general discussion could not have taken place. I take it, however, that the honorable gentleman adopted the course of making the statement on the motion for the adjournment in order to permit such honorable members as desired to do so to address themselves to the subject. Holding that view, I have raised no objection to the remarks made by the right honorable member for Swan, who is entitled to speak. Other honorable members have an equal right, should they choose to exercise it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK:
PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917

– I am quite satisfied.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– The honorable member for Parramatta is continually interrupting. I am drawing attention to the present position of the Ministry, not from any desire to unnecessarily find fault, but as a matter of duty. I think I may say that the Prime Minister has not received any promise of support from any section of the House save that of which he is the leader, and therefore I consider that he occupies a unique position. It is unique to find an honorable member forming a Government, submitting the names of the members of that Government for the approval of the Governor-General, taking office, meeting this House and asking for. an adjournment of three weeks - to which, by the way, I do not propose to object - when he has not secured any promise to assure him that he will have a majority to support his Administration.

Mr Webster:

– He had a majority on the vital question which led to. the defeat of the late Government.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– Even if my argument does not appeal to the honorable member for Gwydir, I feel satisfied that its force will be recognised by. every honorable member who has a knowledge of constitutional usage. Is it in future to be the practice to allow any one who may be sent for by the Governor-General to form an Administration to submit the names of the members of his Government for the approval of the Governor-General, to take over the Departments, and then to ask Parliament for as long an adjournment as possible without assuring the representative of the Crown that he has reasonable grounds for the belief that he has a majority behind him?

Mr Webster:

– He has reasonable grounds.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– After surveying the position- of parties in the House to-day, I fail to see where the Government majority is.

Mr Reid:

– Did not the right honorable gentleman recommend that the honorable member for Bland should be sent for by the Governor-General ?

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I did’ not. Have we ever experienced such an incident as this? Have we ever known of a Ministry, after being sworn in and assuming control of the .Departments, meeting the House and asking for an adjournment when they and their supporters number only about twenty-five, as against forty-eight members sitting in opposition. Was there ever such a case as this?

Mr Higgins:

– Yes.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I have never heard of such a position.

Mr McDonald:

– It has been the position in this House ever since the first meeting of the Parliament.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I can only say that if the procedure adopted by the Government is to be recognised as a constitutional one, we shall never hear again of any one who has been invited to form an Administration returning his Commission to the Governor-General without having had at least a month’s experience of office.

Mr Maloney:

– The right honorable member should follow the example of his leader

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– The honorable member should mind his own business, and not interrupt. The Government should have a reasonable opportunity to prepare their policy,’ although we know that it is a cut-and-dried one. It has been printed months ago, and therefore a lengthy adjournment is unnecessary to enable them to formulate their policy.

Mr Webster:

– The right honorable member is wrong again.

Sir JOHN FORREST:

– I think they will be more particularly engaged during the adjournment in seeking that support which by constitutional usage they should have possessed before taking office. Honorable members are not justified in taking office unless they have received promises on which they could satisfy the GovernorGeneral that they have reasonable grounds to believe that they will have sufficient support to enable them to give effect to their policy, and in this case I have reason to know they have received no such promises. I protest against any Government being formed, taking over the administration of the Departments, and obtaining an adjournment of Parliament, unless they have been able to satisfy the Governor-General thar they have reasonable grounds for the belief that they will be able to carry on the conduct of public affairs. In the absence of any such reasonable grounds, their plain duty is to return their Commission. I have only to say, in conclusion, that although I shall probably not be one of their supporters, I trust that the Government will not find in me an unreasonable opponent.

Mr WATSON:
Treasurer · Bland · ALP

.I have to frankly acknowledge, on behalf of every member of the Ministry, the kind references made by the honorable gentlemen at the head of His Majesty’s Oppositions, and especially the generous reception, so far as we are individually concerned, which has been accorded us by the House. I acknowledge that we have nothing whatever of which to complain in that respect, nor in regard to the criticism which so far has been launched against us. But I think that there is some justification for my pointing out that there is another side to the existing position as put before us a few moments ago. In the first place, we were told by the right honorable member for Swan that we had no warrant for. assuming office in face of the fact that we have not the assurance of the support of a majority of this House. Then we were told ‘by the right honorable member for East Sydney that the result of the last election went to show that the people of Australia were not agreeable to the assumption of office by an Administration consisting of members of the party to which I belong. I would remind the House, however, that at the last elections an almost equal number of honorable members belonging to each of the three parties in this Chamber was returned, and that, therefore, we have as great a right to assume office as has any other party. If we make an analysis of the voting on that occasion, I think we shall see that the success of the Labour Party, so far as the number of members returned is concerned, compares favorably with the record of either of the leaders of the other two parties who then appealed to the electors.

Mr Johnson:

– But still the Labour Party is in a minority.

Mr WATSON:

– I am quite prepared to admit that that is so. Unfortunately we are not in a position to say that there is any party in this House which commands a majority of members on all questions of policy. That is the point. On the question of policy which is immediately at issue - the question of compulsory conciliation and arbitration, and the general details of the measure before Parliament - I claim to represent more nearly and accurately the opinion of the majority of members of this House than do any of the other gentlemen who are in the position of leaders of parties. So far as concerns any’ declaration of this House on the momentous matters which have so far affected the existence of the Government in the present Parliament, I claim we have a right to assume that we have a majority df honorable members behind us. We, of course, regret as much as any one that there are three parties in the House; but we hope before very long to increase our numbers in such a way that there may be only two parties. In reference to the remarks of the honorable gentleman who has lately resigned the office I now occupy, it seems to me only proper that honorable members, before coming to a decision as to the degree of generosity with which they will treat us, or the degree of confidence they will extend to us, have a right to know the immediate policy we intend to place before the country. I am hopeful - indeed, I can assure the House - that honorable members will be made fully aware of our intentions in this regard when this Chamber re-assembles. I only desire to say that personally I have the fullest possible appreciation of the great difficulties which attach to the position I have had the temerity to assume, and which have been alluded to by the late Prime Minister. I, too, quite understand that in attempting the work of the Treasury, after so able and trusted an administrator as the late Treasurer, the right honorable member for Balaclava, I am faced with a doubly difficult task. But I feel it important that the Treasurer should have a little power in regard to the direction of expenditure ; and in making an alteration in what has hitherto been regarded as the practice of the Commonwealth Government, I am following the example of various States Premiers, who have in the past also undertaken the administration of trie Trea sury. I again thank the House for the generous treatment which has been accorded to the Government so far; and I can assure honorable members that we shall be able to place before them a policy when we next re-assemble for the immediate work of Parliament.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

page 1254

PAPERS

MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers: -

Recommendations of Major-General Sir Edward Hutton about sending an Australian Rifle Team to Bisley.

Minute by the Right Honorable Sir John Forrest upon the Tumut and Southern Monaro Federal Capital Sites.

page 1254

ELECTION PETITION

Cameron v. Fysh.

The Clerk announced the receipt from the District Registrar at Hobart of the High Court of Australia, under section 202 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, of a letter informing him that the petition against the return of Sir P. O. Fysh as member for the electoral division of Denison, in the State of Tasmania, was, on the 1 8th inst., dismissed, with costs, and that it was improbable that an order in the matter would be taken out.

page 1254

ADJOURNMENT

Federal Capital Sites : Defence Department Correspondence : Title of “ Honorable

Motion (by Mr. Watson) proposed -

That the House do now adjourn.

Mr CHAPMAN:
Monaro · Eden · Protectionist

.- I desire to ask the Minister for Home Affairs if he will lay on the table a report prepared by his predecessor in connexion with the Federal Capital Sites.

Mr BATCHELOR:
Minister for Home Affairs · Boothby · ALP

– I shall do so with pleasure. I may add, however, that I have not had an opportunity of reading the report, and, therefore, I do not necessarily indorse the opinions contained therein.

Mr CROUCH:
Corio

– The Minister for Defence is not in the Chamber’, and I presume I must address my remarks to the Prime Minister, in reference to a matter to which I intended to call attention on the motion for adjournment last Wednesday, but which was lost sight of in the excitement fallowing the defeat of the Ministry. I have in my hand two forms of enlistment, as previously used in the Commonwealth, and also the form of enlistment issued by the Defence Department last Wednesday. The only difference between the previous forms and the new form is that in the latter, which applies to volunteers and members of the militia forces only, there is a question, the answer to which has to be sworn to- “ What is your religion?” This is a most unfortunate question to ask in connexion with the volunteers, militia, and senior cadets of the Commonwealth. It is a question which on no account should be sanctioned, and I do not know how it escaped the attention of the late Minister for Defence. I shall hand the forms of enlistment to the Prime Minister, and trust that he will hand them to the Minister for Defence, and see that sectarian bitterness is not introduced into the military forces, where it has previously been absolutely non-existent. ‘ Might I also ask the Prime Minister to see whether he cannot induce the Defence Department to give earlier answers to letters ? This is a matter in which I should like the new Minister for Defence to show some vigour. In January last a letter was addressed to the Defence Department in reference to payments due and promised to certain sergeants; and the military branch were at the time notified by. the civil branch, and requested to send a report. No report has yet come to hand ; and it would appear to be the custom of the civil branch to hand over all communications to the military branch, which is the graveyard for the correspondence to which the Defence Department does not like to reply. The new Government, if they are to succeed, must succeed in vigorous administration ; and I ask the. Prime Minister to see that reports asked for. are supplied within a reasonable time.

Mr BAMFORD:
Herbert

– Is the Prime Minister able to say at whose instigation the title “ honorable “ has been conferred on certain members of this Parliament? If not, will the Prime Minister endeavour to obtain the information at the earliest opportunity ?.

Mr WATSON:
Treasurer · Bland · ALP

.- In reply to the honorable and learned member for Corio, I have to say that I naturally have no knowledge of the military regulation to which he refers; but I shall bring the matter under the attention of my colleague the Minister for Defence. I shall also give attention to the’ expedition of. replies to military corres pondence. As to the question of the honorable member for Herbert, I have not had time to see any papers connected with the matter. I have merely seen, what I presume the honorable member himself has seen, the announcement in the newspapers.

Mr Deakin:

-The conferring of the title was recommended by me.

Mr WATSON:

– I dare say that if any honorable member does not desire to retain the title he is not compelled to do so; but the action of the late Prime Minister seems to me only a graceful recognition of the services of the first Commonwealth Parliament.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 3.29 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 April 1904, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19040427_reps_2_19/>.