2nd Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
SUPPLY BILL (No. 3).
Mr. REID laid upon the table the following paper : -
Report upon opium smoking in Queensland.
Mr. REID (East Sydney- Minister of External Affairs). - I wish to present, by command of His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, a
Copy of a despatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies with regard to the question of the adoption of the metric system of weights and measures within the Empire.
I move -
That the document be printed.
I shall take the opportunity afforded by this motion to make a Ministerial statement. In my opinion, the late Prime Minister set an excellent example to his successors by making his Ministerial statement in such a way as would enable, not only the leader of the Opposition, but the House generally, to discuss the programme which he put forward, and the whole state of public affairs. I felt that that course was a perfectly fair and wise one, and I am therefore imitating it. But before I outline the policy which the present Administration proposes to pursue with reference to matters of public business, I should like to say a few words in regard to the circumstances which led up to its formation.
Mr. Spence. - Hear hear ! It is time that we heard something about that.
Mr. REID. - It will be Temembered that the Administration headed by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat which appealed to the electors of the Commonwealth at the last general elections raised for their consideration a question which was embodied in the phrase “ fiscal peace,” and asked them to pronounce the opinion in reference to the existing Tariff that it should not be interfered with during the life of the approaching Parliament. That appeal to the people was successful. The electors of Australia, in response to the Ministerial proposal, did, so far as electors can, decree, in accordance with the policy of the then Government, that Tariff revision should not occupy the attention of the new Parliament. The fact that that decision was pronounced by the people was recognised by the leaders of the three parties in this House when the new Parliament met. The then- Prime Minister, the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, said that the fiscal issue was dead and buried - he, of course, meant by the electors - during this Parliament at all events. I have a weakness for interjecting which I hope will not characterize my official action, and when the statement which I have just quoted was made I interjected -
I recognise that that is the verdict of the con. stituencies.
So that at the opening of this Parliament the Head of the then Government said that the decision of the electors was what I have described it to be, and I immediately recognised in a most public way that that was so.
Mr. Carpenter. - But the right honorable member’s followers differed from him.
Mr.REID. - The then leader of the Labour Party - the present leader of the Opposition - speaking on the same occasion, said -
I share the feeling of gratification which has been expressed by the Prime Minister that with the last election the issue as between free-trade and protection has disappeared for some time to come …… at any rate so far as this
Tariff is concerned.
In another part of the same speech the honorable gentleman referred to the “ some time at any rate “ as the life time of the present . Parliament. I have to say at once Phat if that state of things had not existed when , the recent crisis occurred, it would have been impossible for the honorable members who form the present Administration to have come together, just as I suppose it would have been impossible, if the question of Tariff revision had been a matter for this House to deal with, for my honorable friends who formed the last Administration to come together. ‘ I recognise, as we all did at the time, that the late Prime Minister, in selecting four freetraders and four protectionists to form his Government, gave, and desired to give, full effect to the decision of the electors. It is obvious that it would have been impossible for men of such strong and opposite convictions on the Tariff question, such ardent free-traders as the honorable and learned member for West Sydney and the honorable member for Coolgardie, and such ardent protectionists as the honorable member for Boothby and Senator McGregor, to come together on any other understanding. I refer to this matter now because I candidly admit that if that state of things, which was recognised by the leaders of all parties, had not existed–
Mr. Watson. - It was never even considered by me when selecting a Ministry.
Mr. REID. - I do not know the motives in my honorable friend’s mind’ which led him to select particular Ministers, but it happened by a peculiar coincidence that the fact was as I have stated it to be. Without dwelling upon the subject, the position remains that if the Tariff had had to be dealt with this session, it would have been impossible, I believe, for the late Administration to be constituted or for the present Ministry to be formed to carry out that task. We stand here as the trustees of the people of Australia, to see that the decision which they arrived at, and which has been acknowledged by the leaders of the three parties in this House, and which was never repudiated by any honorable member at the time-
Mr. Mauger. - Things have changed.
Mr. REID. - Things have become quite different. The question is a possible torpedo now.
Mr. Mauger. - It is an ironclad.
Mr. REID. - Be that as it may, I wish to make our position perfectly clear. So long as we occupy the Government benches we shall see that the decision of the electors is honorably respected. Passing away from that matter, I wish to come to the crisis which occurred over one of the clauses of a measure still before this House - the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. The Ministry of the day chose to take a certain position with reference to a certain clause of the Bill, and had perfect liberty to do so. An Administration must always judge for itself as to the points it will regard as vital, and the points which it will not regard as vital. On the particular occasion to which I allude, the then Prime Minister, in a most public way, a considerable time before the matter was brought forward to be finally dealt with, stated his determination to accept the refusal of the House to reconsider a certain amendment inserted in clause 48 of the Bill-
Sir William Lyne. - No.
Mr. REID. - I have not concluded what I am going to say, so that a denial is premature
Mr. Poynton. - The late Prime Minister did not say that.
Mr. REID. - I cannot accept the honorable member as the official interpreter of what the late Prime Minister said. I am going by announcements which I have seen in the public prints of more than one State.
Mr. Poynton. - The right honorable member cannot produce them.
Mr. REID. - The honorable member need not make that remark. I hope that at the present rather important stage of a business statement, I shall not be met with interjections and contradictions which can be better dealt with at a later period. I saw reports of an interview with the late Prime Minister in the Sydney newspapers, and I also saw reports of the same interview in the Melbourne newspapers. The reports of that interview appeared on the same day as the reports of an interview with me appeared in the Sydney newspapers. The late Prime Minister, answering what I had said, made the statement - and I am quoting almost his exact words - . that if the House would not reconsider its decision, which had been arrived at some time before in Committee, when the Government obtained an adjournment to consider its position, he would take it as an intimation that his services were not required any longer. Those words appeared in both the Melbourne and the Sydney newspapers.
Mr. Watson, - Hear, hear. That is substantially correct.
Mr. REID. - My honorable friend, who is a better authority than the honorable member for Grey, admits that those words were used in the interview.
Mr. Watson. - Substantially.
Mr. REID.- That being so, I hope that the honorable member for Grey will withdraw the imputation which he levelled against me just now. I can be only substantially correct when quoting what appeared in the newspapers some months back, and I am fortunate in managing to be that’. I draw attention to the circumstances for this reason. The crisis was made at the deliberate choice of the Government of the day. It was not a crisis manufactured by the Opposition.
Honorable Members. - Oh !
Mr. REID. - Not at that time. Surely the Opposition did not dictate an official utterance by the Prime Minister. Surely honorable members do not wish to be quite so erratic as to suggest that when the Prime Minister made his statement to the press he was under the inspiration of any member of the Opposition. My honorable friend the late Prime Minister weighs his words, and acknowledges now that they were uttered. I am speaking’ at present only of the late Prime Minister’s own statement. In the most public way he stated that the . issue before the House was a vital one; that if the Bill were not altered - I do not say in any particular way at present in respect of that amendment - the Government would take a certain course. Therefore the House did not make the subject of the crisis; but the Government made it, and when the matter came on the House had made up its mind so clearly that it would not recede from the position it had taken up on a particular amendment that it found it unnecessary to take up any time further than that occupied in expressing its refusal to reconsider the clause. That was the shortest possible way for those who had made up their minds not to alter the clauseto express their opinion. It is not to be supposed that the Prime Minister, when he attached such significance to the position, was really so sure of winning that it did not matter what he said. I am sure that my honorable friend did not take up any such position at the time that he made the amendment vital. He knew that the result might be what it has actually been. Therefore, the fact must stand that the crisis arose through the deliberate choice of Ministers themselves. There was no snatch division. Every member of the House except the Speaker in the chair expressed his opinion upon a vital issue, the significance of which was fully understood. Thirty-six honorable members voted, or paired, with the Government, and 38 voted, or paired, against the Government, so that the full number of 74 members out of 75 deliberately recorded their opinions. Well, the Government acted consistently with the position taken up by the Prime Minister. After the vote,’ my honorable friend the Prime Minister considered his position, and. tendered certain advice to His Excellency the Governor-General. The decision of His Excellency upon that advice is a matter with which we have nothing to do. In exercising the Royal Prerogative His Excellency is not responsible to us, but to the Sovereign. Having been sent for by His Excellency I was placed in this position:
The: Prime Minister’ having advised the dissolution of the House, if I. considered the dissolution of the House at that time the proper course, and that all opportunities of further usefulness in this House had been destroyed, it would have been my duty to refuse to undertake the task of forming” an Administration, on the ground that I concurred, with the advice conveyed by the Prime Minister, and believed that this House was incapable of further useful work. Rightly or wrongly, however, I took a different view. I remembered that the House had been in existence for only eight or nine months. I remembered also that the subject upon which this difficulty had arisen was not a great question of national politics, but merely involved the difference in the working of a principle which the House had adopted. It was not a matter of principle at all, but a question as to the degree to which a principle which the House had adopted should be carried. Clearly it seemed to me that no useful object would be served by dissolving the House, unless I was satisfied that our opportunities for further usefulness had been exhausted. In assuming the task of forming an Administration I took the view that the time had not arrived for a dissolution of this House, and I take the full responsibility for the course which I adopted. I was not, of course, ignorant of the fact that the majority which had voted, as it had the right to vote, in accordance with its own convictions, was a small one. I am just as conscious of that fact now as I was then. I admit at once that if the thirty-six honorable members who voted with the Government on that occasion are determined to reduce this House into such a condition that there is no further prospect of useful legislation, they are in a position to do so. I admit that in a Chamber of this kind, the difference between thirty-eight and thirtysix members is such that it would be impossible for any Government to carry on useful legislation if a minority so closely approaching equality with the majority had made up their minds that the House was unfit to proceed any further with the transaction of public business. I meet that position at once, and I am prepared to stand by it, and I shall be prepared to admit that I was wrong in my expectations if-
Mr. Thomas. - The right honorable member will have to admit it.
Mr. REID. - I am not denying anything. I am simply stating my own individual view. I am prepared to admit that if a very large minority almost approaching equality with the majority are determined to bring about the termination of the existence of this House they can effect their object.
Sir William Lyne. - The right honorable gentleman cannot dictate to the GovernorGeneral when he is to dissolve the House.
Mr. REID. - I’ hope that honorable members will excuse me if I have not made my meaning clear. What I mean is that the Prime Minister having stated’ that the House ought to be dissolved, and having behind him a party strong enough to reduce the public business to such a state that the House will become impotent, surely no man, whether on this side of the Chamber or in Opposition, the1 House being reduced to that state, would consider that it should continue to exist. For some little time we were in a position of at least equality to the late Government in point of numbers, but we did not choose to take up the position of using our great strength in order to obstruct the business of the country.
Mr. Thomas. - That was no fault of the right honorable gentleman’s.
Mr. REID. - I should like my honorable friends to mention one occasion during the whole term of office of the late Government - ^unfortunately they occupied the Treasury benches for so short a time that memory may be perfect upon the point - upon which the Opposition obstructed public business. A singular complaint, and the only complaint against us, was of an opposite character - that we arrived at our decisions by too summary methods, that we said straight out that we would not recommit clause 48, because we did not intend to alter what we had done.
Mr. Crouch.- The right honorable gentleman admits that he gave the GovernorGeneral unreliable advice.
Mr. REID. - What I am saying is that by undertaking to form an Administration I took the responsibility of endeavouring to carry on the public business of this House - that is all.
Mr. Crouch. - Now the right honorable gentleman is whining for mercy.
Mr. REID. - The language of my honorable, and learned friend would almost disgrace a victorious Japanese General. I assure the honorable and learned member that, so far from whining for mercy, if I may say it with any propriety, my honorable friends opposite will find others quite as ready as they are to endeavour to, at any rate, face the people of this country.
Mr. Joseph Cook. - They do not like that.
Mr. REID. - I do not mind it. This is just the preliminary fusillade of a most enjoyable campaign. I may say that I hope I shall be able to imitate the courteous attitude of my honorable friend, the late Prime Minister, on all occasions. I candidly admit that it is highly unlikely that I shall succeed, but I shall do my best, at any rate - although he is a much younger leader than I am - to follow the good example which he has set to all leaders in public life. I hope that my honorable friend will understand that I feel it my duty at present to state fully and frankly my view of the circumstances which led up to the present change in the administration of public affairs. I desire to say that this, in my opinion, represents something more than a mere change between the occupants of one set of benches and the occupants of another set of benches. It represents something more than the mere shuffling . of the Ministerial cards.
Mr. Higgins. - It is a double shuffle.
Mr. REID. - My honorable friend did not take much part in the game. I think that it was only at the last moment of the dying Government’s existence that my honorable and learned friend became galvanized into even attendance in the House. I do not complain of that, because an opponent of his great ability is perhaps better away than here.
Mr. Hume Cook. - The right ‘honorable gentleman was frequently away himself.
Mr. REID. - Yes, and the honorable member ought to thank me for it. When I settled down to my task something happened. The people of Australia are entitled to a full explanation at the present time from both sides of the House, and I am anxious, therefore, to deal with one or two questions which cannot be decided here, but can only be fought out before the electors. I wish to point out in an unmistakable way the difference between the two parties in this House. I claim that” in some respects there are points of resemblance. I claim that the coalition which sits on this side of the House is just as democratic and as liberal as are those honorable members who claim the patent. I think we can point to honorable members on this side of the House - I need not select them - whose service’s in the cause of progressive politics may compare in some respects not unfavorably even with those of my honorable friends opposite. Just as my honorable friends of the1 Opposition, in forming their political tie, have to some extent to sink individual opinions - and I suppose that no member of the Labour Party will deny that that is one of the obligations of the alliance which has been forme’d - so in this Coalition Government, and in our Coalition Party, it has been necessary to some extent to sink individual views. In that respect I do not think that this side of the House compares unfavorably with the Opposition. But there are points on which we claim a vital difference between honorable members opposite and those on this side of the House. I speak, I think, in this respect for every member sitting on this side. In the first place, we offer the strongest possible objection to, and shall resist in the strongest possible way, the invasion of parliamentary government by means of a caucus.
Mr. Hutchison. - Have the Government abolished their caucus ?
Mr. REID. - The gentlemen who sit here have not yet had even one meeting.
Mr. Fisher. - Then the supporters of the Government have no voice at all in their policy ?
Mr. REID. - I am happy to say that my honorable friends on this side of the House have, not asked the Ministry to meet them in the vaults, and to outline the policy we interid to pursue before we have an opportunity to express . it in this Chamber, and to present it to the people of Australia.
Mr. Watson. - What Government had to do anything of the kind ?
Mr. REID. - My honorable friend knows.
Mr. Watson. - If the insinuation is that that was the position of the late Government it is absolutely incorrect.
Mr. REID. - If my honorable friend means to tell us that the labour caucus meets only to indulge in convivial relaxationi I have nothing more to say.
Mr. Watson. - The late Government were never asked by their supporters to make any such statement of policy to them as the right honorable member suggests.
Mr. REID. - I accept the honorable member’s statement.
Mr.Batchelor. - Then the right honorable gentleman should withdraw his assertion.
Mr. REID. - I accept the statement of the leader of the Opposition ; but my own impression is that we have been led to believe that the labour caucus meets at stated intervals to discuss public affairs, and to examine every Bill that is submitted to the House.
Mr. Watson. - That is absolutely incorrect.
Mr. REID. - I am very glad to hear it. Then I may accept the assurance of my honorable friend that there is no political significance associated with the meetings of the caucus.
Mr. Watson. - Oh yes, there is.
Mr. REID. - I wish;, so far as I can, to restore what has been for many centuries the system of parliamentary government. In parliamentary government every Ministry has a number of supporters, and, so far as I am aware, there is no Government in the British Empire which has lived under such a condition of affairs as existed whilst my honorable friends opposite were in office.
Mr. Watson. - But the right honorable gentleman evidently does not know what did exist at that time.
Mr. REID. - I certainly think that there must have been dense secrecy associated with the meetings of the Labour caucus, if no one outside it is able to say what transpired. I can only congratulate my honorable friends of the Opposition upon the successful secrecy with which they conduct their weekly or fortnightly meetings. I have never been connected with a political party which has held meetings a’t intervals of, perhaps, one or two years, without discovering that substantially everything which transpired at those meetings appeared next day in the press. But now we have to deal with a body of honorable members, thirty or forty strong, with very vigorous powers of expression, who meet a multitude of times, and conduct their political discussions with such absolute secrecy that no one outside their caucus really knows what they do at those meetings.
Mr. Watson. - That shows that nothing important can take place at those meetings.
Mr. REID. - That sort of successful secrecy in the discussion of the public affairs of the Commonwealth is foreign to the spirit of parliamentary institutions.
Mr. Watson. - It has never occurred.
Mr. REID. - When in the history-
Mr. Watson. - I rise to a point of order. I have stated on several occasions that the insinuation which the right honorable gentleman has just made is absolutely incorrect, and I think it only right that he should accept my assurance.
Mr. SPEAKER. - There is nothing in the Standing Orders which requires that such an assurance shall be received ; but among gentlemen a statement of that kind is always accepted, and I am sure that the right honorable gentleman will follow that rule.
Mr. REID. - Hear, hear; I desire to emulate the courtesy of my honorable friend. I immediately accepted the statement which he made, and also the further statement made by him that the meetings of the Labour Party were devoted not to convivial purposes, but to the consideration of political matters.
Mr. Watson. - No question of policy was ever put before a caucus of the Labour Party until it had been agreed to by the Cabinet. Even then it was merely mentioned to the meeting.
Mr. REID. - I am accepting my honorable friend’s assurance, and I suppose that I cannot do any more. I am accepting, first of all, the assurance that the labour caucus is not a convivial gathering, secondly, the assurance that it is a political meeting, and thirdly the statement that the party meets often. I say that a party of thirty or forty members of Parliament who often meet to discuss politics with such secrecy that even the city reporters cannot obtain any information with reference ito their proceedings, is about as secret a body as - is known to-day to the British people.
Mr. David Thomson. - Is the Prime Minister giving us a declaration of the Government policy?
Mr. REID. - My honorable friend with the earnest countenance must remember that I have been led a little astray by the exuberance of the Opposition. There is another view which we take, and in regard to which it may also be said that we ‘are wrong, although that is a matter for the people to decide. We take the view, I believe, that there is a despotic power exercised over representatives of the people by political labour leagues such as is wielded by no other body known to the political life of Australia. We may be wrong-
Mr. Batchelor. - The Government are wrong.
Mr. REID. - I know of the pledge which labour members have to sign. It cannot be denied that that pledge is given.
It cannot be denied that no avenue between my honorable friends opposite and the electors is open to them as candidates for the suffrages of the people, unless their application to appear in that capacity be stamped by a Labour League. I know of no such position which is occupied to-day by any other representative of the people in this House.
Mr. Watson. - The position is the same with the free-trade league.
Mr. REID.- Certainly not.
Mr. Watson. - What about the honorable member for Lang?
Mr. REID. - Might I refer to a case which happened only the other day in connexion with the State elections in New South Wales? In that instance the local league chose a certain candidate for one of the suburban electorates, and put aside the sitting member, who was an old friend and supporter of my own. But the sitting member was not in such a position that, when the league cast him aside, he was banished from public life, and dare not appear before the electors whom he had represented up to that time. He appeared before them, in spite of the vote given against him by the local league, and throughout the whole of that campaign no word was ever uttered that implied that in taking that line of action he had incurred the indelible disgrace which would attend a representative of the Labour Party who broke his pledges to a political Labour League.
Mr. Watson. - But the machine beat him.
Mr. REID.. - I think- that my honorable friend ought to respect the verdict of any body of electors.
Mr. Watson. - But the machine beat him, although, as the right honorable gentleman knows, he was a loyal man to his party.
Mr. REID. - I suppose that no one will deny that the electors are entitled to select whom they please. I have a further imputation to make, which my honorable friends opposite will doubtless deny. After all, it is something to obtain these denials from them, because by the time that we have had the last of them, we shall find that the Labour Party is not half so solid as has been popularly supposed. I believe that the Government and their supporters are just as honestly in favour, as are honorable members opposite, of using the whole national power to pass measures that will promote the national welfare to the highest possible point. On that point there is no difference of principle between the Opposition and honorable members on this side of the House. There is another principle, which, I believe, is supported by the Opposition which with us is equally an ideal, but an ideal which the views that prevail among honorable members opposite are calculated to destroy. I place side by side with the ideal of using to the furthest extent the national power to promote the national good, the ideal of -leaving every human being in a free country as free in the exercise of his individual rights and in the carrying on of his individual enterprise as is consistent with the legitimate use of the national power for national ends.
Mr. Batchelor. - We all agree to that.
Mr. REID. - My honorable friends opposite now say, “We all agree to that.” Of course, I attach some significance to the representative character of the newspapers of the labour unions. Will my honorable friends repudiate the organs of their party as being altogether foreign to their sympathies and policy?
An Honorable Member. - Yes.
Mr. REID.- Then they would throw over anything. Will those who represent the State Labour Party of Victoria, and who employ a gentleman at a salary of several hundred pounds a year to preach socialistic doctrines, now repudiate him? When a Labour League spends £500 a year to secure the services of a man for preaching purposes only, they must believe in the religion he expounds. The chosen missionary of the Labour Party is paid, and honorably paid, for his services. There is no stigma in the fact that he receives payment for his services; I mention it only as fixing official responsibility on those who employ him. This gentleman is sent all over Australia to preach the doctrines of an extreme Socialism, and the newspapers of the Labour Party preach those doctrines every day.
Mr. Tudor. - The gentleman in question has been doing good work.
Mr. REID. - My honorable friend knows of the method that was suggested in connexion with the recent May Day celebrations. There is a very distinguished and worthy member of the party opposite who made a speech on that occasion. He said that the time was not ripe to at once carry out to their fullest extent the socialistic ideas which they preached, but he added that there were some plums ripe for picking, and said, “ We are going to begin on the tobacco monopoly.” There are two cures for monopolies. One is to put them down, and in the application of that remedy there is no member on this side of the House who will not work as honestly as will any honorable member opposite. But there is another method which affords an opportunity to sneak in Socialism, and that is to take up what may seem to be a monopoly, and to make a State industry of it. That was the policy propounded by the late Prime Minister even in his moderate programme. He was going to begin by taking ^8,000,000 from the banks, and the manufacture and sale of tobacco - its manufacture certainly.
Mr. Watson. - Where is the right honorable gentleman’s Treasurer? I think that right honorable gentleman has said that he is in favour of taking the money from the banks.
Sir George Turner. - The honorable gentleman never heard me say it.
Mr. REID. - No such thing. I think I am in a position to correct the honorable member for Bland.
Mr. Watson. - I have it from Hansard. If the right honorable gentleman did not say it in so many words, he said so in effect.
Mr. REID. - I think I am in a position to correct the honorable gentleman. My honorable friends opposite must remember that they are merely the political puppets of men outside this House - in this sense only, that if one of them performs the most brilliant service for Australia in this House, when the House is dissolved, and he goes to the Political Labour League and asks for their nomination, if the members of the league are dissatisfied with him, and if he has not given effect to their views, they can efface him from politics in Australia. They can say to him, “You must stand down. You shall not even go before your electors to ask them whether they differ from us. You shall stand out of public life, because we do not like you, and do not believe in you.”
Mr. Hughes. - No. , “ You shall not stand under our auspices,” that is all. That is just what was done to Mr. Hawthorne, as the right honorable gentleman knows.
Mr. REID. - This is beautiful. We are now invited to believe that if a labour man, who has entered into an obligation to stand down if he is not selected by t?he Political Labour League, is not selected, refuses to stand down, and goes before his electors, he will not be called a political black-leg. We know that the man would be ostracised by every labour union in Australia.
Mr. Hughes. - I did not mean that.
Mr. REID. - We know that such a man would have a badge of social infamy put on him if he disobeyed that stern discipline which has made the Labour Party the solid party it is to-day.
Mr. Hughes. - What about Hawthorne in New South Wales?
Mr. REID. - I have already mentioned it.
Mr. Hughes. - What about E. M. Clarke, who was wiped out after prostrating himself under the honorable gentleman’s car ?
Mr. REID. - I hope the honorable and learned gentleman will reserve his remarks for another occasion. I am happy to say that I shall have an opportunity to reply to him this time. I shall leave any further observations on this matter until that more convenient season. I desire to emphasize the points upon which honorable members on this side differ from honorable members opposite. I admit that these are not matters which we can fight out here. We all have our views, and many of us have pledges to observe, and these are matters which can only be fought out before the electors of Australia.
Mr. Batchelor. - We make no complaint if this is the right honorable gentleman’s policy.
Mr. REID. - I am sure the honorable gentleman makes no complaint ; he has now recovered his philosophy. What I desire to say is that these are matters which cannot be fought .out here, and which must be fought out before the electors of Australia. I mentioned them only as points in connexion with which honorable members who sit on the right of the Speaker differ radically, as they believe, from honorable members sitting opposite.
Mr. Hume Cook. - Is the right honorable gentleman coming to his policy now ?
Mr. REID. - I desire to deal now with a much less imflammable subject. I propose to refer to the present state of public business, and to what the Government propose to do with reference to it.
Mr. Hume Cook. - At last !
Mr. REID. - I hope the honorable member has not suffered too much from what I have said ?
Mr. Hume Cook. - I thought the right honorable gentleman was never coming to his policy, that is all.
Mr. REID.- When I have had the experience of the honorable member, I shall endeavour to form a correct model of Ministerial statement. I am now coming to the practical question with reference to the business of the present session. In the first place, I am afraid that we are all too painfully aware that this session has already lasted more than six months. That is a cold fact which no human being can possibly ‘dispute.
Mr. Page. - That is the right honorable gentleman’s fault.
Mr. REID. - Of course. We met on the 2nd March, and as this is the 7th of September ; the House has consequently been in session for six months. I do not mention that as a reason for not doing a great deal of useful work; but only to remind honorable members, and the country, that we begin the practical administration of public affairs in a session that has already lasted six months.
Mr. Hume Cook. - That is because of what the “ wreckers “ in the right honorable gentleman’s party helped to bring about.
Mr. REID. - Every trace of wreckage has now disappeared from the serene face of a smiling ocean.
Mr. McDonald. - Does not the right honorable gentleman wish it had?
Mr. REID. - Even the cries of anguish have ceased.
Mr. Hume Cook. - And the whining has begun.
Mr. REID. - As I have now to deal with less controversial subjects, I hope I shall be allowed to make a very simple statement as to the course the Government intend to pursue in order to take as full advantage as they can of the remaining opportunities of this session. Before I address myself to those subjects, there is one question upon which I wish to say a word or two. The position which was taken up by the first Government that met this Parliament, and also by the late Government, with reference to the very great and important question of preferential trade is one which the present Government propose to take up. I see from honorable members’ smiles that we are now getting into good humour. It is only taken up by the present Government because it happens to have been a sensible policy, and it happens to have been the policy which was submitted by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, as Prime Minister, to the electors of Australia, and approved by them.
Sir William Lyne. - And opposed as strongly as it could be by the right honorable gentleman.
Mr. REID. - Exactly.
Sir William Lyne.-“ Yes-No.”
Mr. REID. - When will this soreness cease? I wish to say that the honorable member for Ballarat, as Prime Minister, announced the policy of waiting until a definite proposal was made by the Imperial Government to the Government of Australia. The late Government announced, very strongly, the policy of waiting until a definite proposal from the Imperial Govern, ment was made. I hope that the cause of the bitterest quarrel of my opponents will not be that I have imitated the wisdom of some of their proposals. I adopt that attitude, and my colleagues adopt the same attitude. I wish further to show what a sensible attitude it is. The British Government at the present time, and more than once, has officially declared to both Houses of Parliament that the Imperial Government is absolutely opposed on grounds having reference to the “interests of the British people to the establishment of a system of preference within the Empire or to the taxation of the food of the British people. That is not an announcement made by me. That is an announcement made by the Imperial Government.
Mr. Joseph Cook. - That has taken all the laugh out of honorable members opposite.
Mr. REID. - The announcement is one made by the Imperial Government, and whilst a great subject like this may occasionally be snatched at to serve the little purposes of strategy-
Honorable Members. - Hear, Hear !
Mr. REID. - There can be no sort of doubt that until the Government of Great Britain are prepared to consider the question of opening up negotiations ; until the British Government have changed their attitude of absolute refusal to do so, no sensible person outside of this House would alter the attitude adopted by the two preceding Governments. I wish to say that personally I have never concealed my opinion that from the British point of view - and I speak entirely from the British point of view - the Imperial Government are pursuing a course which may turn out, from that point of view, to be an absolutely just and statesmanlike policy. That is a matter they have to decide. But so far as this
Government is concerned, whenever the British -Government are prepared to approach us with any proposal asking us to consider this matter in any shape or form, they will not be met with a refusal. We shall be prepared to take this matter up, if the British Government wish us to do so, and to take it up in a perfectly fair and honest spirit. That is all that could be expected at the present time from any Government of the Commonwealth, whatever Government it might be.
Mr. Mauger. - The New Zealand Government did not wait for the British Government to take action.
Mr. REID. - I wish now to say a word or two on another subject, and the more displeased my honorable friends opposite show’ themselves to be, the better satisfied am I. I have my barometer, and it is always on the other side. I wish now to deal .with the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, which has been so long before this Chamber.
Mr.- Isaacs. - Before the right honorable gentleman passes from the question of preferential trade, I should like to know whether he means to say that he will not take up the question unless he receives a request from the British Government?
Mr. REID. - I mean to say that on that matter I take up precisely the same position as that taken up by the two previous Governments, that is all.
Mr. Hume Cook. - Does that mean that the right honorable gentleman will increase certain duties to foreigners ?
Mr. REID. - Since the honorable and learned member, for Indi so loyally supported both the previous Governments, I am sure that the honorable and learned gentleman’s high sense of political rectitude will incline him to take the same attitude upon a national question, even though it should be submitted by a Government constituted as is the present Administration. May I ask my honorable and learned friend a question - has the arrangement come off ?
Mr. Mauger. - It has ; on a sound protectionist basis, too.
Mr. Isaacs. - That is a very anxious question for the right honorable gentleman.
Mr. REID. - Has my friend the honorable and learned member for West Sydney come round to a sound protectionist basis? Have we forgotten that startling transition from the calm, philosophic repose of my distinguished friend, the late PostmasterGeneral, to the mad enthusiasm which prompted him to rush after the honorable members for Parramatta and Dalley to start an immediate free-trade crusade? Surely they will take the honorable member for Melbourne Ports with them as a guarantee of good faith. To return to the dry statement of public business, which I am endeavouring to make, as honorable members’ know, there is a motion before the House to recommit the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, for the . purpose of making a number of amendments. That motion was moved by the late Prime Minister, but one of the clauses to which it relates was struck out on a vote of the House. Taking the question as it now stands, the Government propose to invite the House to go into Committee to consider the amendments which have been suggested. So far as I at present know, of the twenty or thirty amendments suggested by the late Ministry, at least seventeen or eighteen will be accepted, and adopted by the present Ministry. Many of those amendments, I should explain, are merely formal or consequential. I do not wish it to be thought that there are a large number of vital amendments, because there are not. The great majority of (he amendments are small matters about which there will be no difficulty ; but when Ave come to deal with the measure, I shall indicate precisely the position which the Government will take up in regard to them.
Mr. Spence. - The Government will swallow the railway men then?
Mr. Robinson. - Which way would the honorable member for Bourke vote on that question ?
Mr. Hume Cook. - For them, as I did before.
Mr. REID. - We propose to endeavour to pass the Bill as it stands, with most of the amendments suggested by the late Administration.
Mr. Page. - Including clause 48?
Mr. REID. - I hope that honorable members will not ask me at this stage to deal with’ details.
Mr. Batchelor. - Clause 48 is a big matter. The late Government went out on that clause.
Mr. REID. - We are anxious to send the Conciliation and Arbitration Bil] to the Senate as soon as possible, in order to give them some useful and important work to proceed with, and we must all regret that we have ‘hitherto been unable to send important measures to that body, so that they have unhappily not had very much to do. The moment that that Bill is despatched to the Senate, we shall deal with a matter of very great importance, which has been delayed, not through any fault of Ministers, but because of the reclassification of the Public Service. As the late Treasurer knows, that work has caused an immense amount of difficulty to the Treasury in the preparation of the’ Estimates ; but the moment that the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill has been sent to the other Chamber, we shall be in a position to introduce the Budget and the Estimates. In the ordinary course of events, the Financial Statement should have been made somewhere towards the end of July, which is the first month of the financial year ; but, unfortunately, it cannot be made until probably somewhere near the end of this month. I hope that it will not be made so late as that, but, at any rate, we shall be able to make provision for the. annual services of the Commonwealth directly the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill has been despatched to the Senate. A Bill for the creation of the position of High Commissioner is on the noticepaper, and I believe that the late Government proposed to deal with it during the present session. In our view, however, it is utterly impossible to establish the position of High Commissioner until the various States have been consulted, in order that an opportunity may be given to make these changes as productive of economy and cooperation as is possible. We, therefore, do not propose to proceed with that Bill until we have had an opportunity in the recess, with the assistance and co-operation of the Governments of the States, to work out some harmonious system which will be mutually beneficial, and economical. Then there is the question which is so dear to the heart, not only of my right honorable and distinguished friend, the member for Swan, but of some honorable members opposite - the survey of the proposed Transcontinental Railway. We intend to pass a Bill providing for that survey this session.
Mr. Crouch. - What about the honorable member for Gippsland?
Mr. REID.- I am happy to say that the honorable member for Gippsland is perfectly agreeable to the survey being made.
Mr. Hume Cook. - The right honorable member will have a harder job with the honorable member for Moira.
Mr. REID. - As I have been associated with the work of Federation from the moment it took any practical shape, I wish 1 to say most earnestly that, although there : is no written contract in the Constitution in reference to the Transcontinental Railway, there was a state of feeling, an understanding amongst the Premiers of Australia, which would make the refusal to conduct a survey to ascertain whether the project is reasonably practical, something like a shameless breach of an undertaking. That is my deliberate opinion. I feel very strongly about this matter, because I have been a member of all the conferences of Premiers which have been held from first to last, and I have heard every word that has been spoken between the Ministers. If the House were to refuse the reasonable request for a proper survey, so as to have the proposal thoroughly tested in a practical way, it would be treating the great State of Western Australia in a manner which, I should think, was to be greatly regretted.
Mr. Higgins. - Was this a secret caucus of Premiers?
Mr. REID. - No, but we did not admit the honorable member to the Premiers’ Conferences. That time will come byandby.
Mr. Higgins. - The right honorable member takes great dejection to . caucuses being secret.
Mr. Joseph Cook. - But evidently no greater objection than the honorable and learned member takes.
Mr. REID. - All our deliberations _ in the Conferences of Premiers were reduced to black and white, and published for the information of the people of Australia. .
Mr. Higgins. - Where does the understanding of which the right honorable member has spoken appear?
Mr. REID. - If my honorable friends opposite would only issue a weekly gazette containing a report of their conferences in the vaults, we should all be greatly edified and instructed thereby. The late AttorneyGeneral, I am sure, had a more painful struggle in his mind over the question of these labour caucuses than any other public man in Australia has had.
Mr. Higgins. - The right honorable gentleman is quite wrong.
Mr. REID. - The honorable and learned member was like a fish which was half in and half out of the water. I hope that, now that he considers our friends opposite as engaged in a holy mission, he will avail himself of the opportunity to go with them.
Mr. Higgins. - Who used the words “ holy mission “ ?
Mr. REID. - I am, of course, in the hands of the newspapers. I dared not appear at a meeting which was being addressed by my honorable and learned friend. I am speaking from the newspaper reports.
Mr. Higgins. - Then the right honorable member is wrong.
Mr. REID. - I accept the honorable and learned member’s withdrawal.
Mr. Higgins. - I do not withdraw the statement, because I never made it, and the right honorable member knows that that is so.
Mr. REID. - How could I know it until I had’ received the honorable and learned member’s assurance? There is another matter which I think honorable members must feel to be in a most unsatisfactory state, and that is the electoral business of the Commonwealth. There is not a man in the Chamber who will say that the state of our Electoral Department is satisfactory. The Minister of Home Affairs, however, is using his utmost energy ,’to bring about an improved state of affairs, but that will probably need some slight amendment of the existing law.
Mr. Page. - They have all been trying to bring about an improved state of affairs, but the result has been a worse chaos than ever before.
Mr. .REID. - Well, we must try our best. I am sure that my honorable friends will give the Minister credit for being a good business man. He- will do his utmost to rescue that most important Department from the chaos in which it now exists. Then there is the Navigation Bill. Long ago I expressed the opinion that that Bill should be referred to a Royal Commission. At the time the proposal was to refer it to a Committee; but the late Government very wisely appointed a Royal Commission instead, and’ we are thoroughly in favour of that Commission proceeding with its labours. The Minister of Home Affairs, who is a member of the Commission, will remain on it, and will give his best services to it.
Mr. Joseph Cook. - And the Minister of Trade and Customs as well?
Mr. REID.- I am afraid that it will be impossible for two Ministers to give attention to the work of the Commission, because it is a very big piece of business. The Government propose to proceed with the Papua Bill, which is now before the House, and, if possible, to deal with the two measures concerning Trade Marks, one of which has been sent by the Senate to us, while the other is now being considered by that body. With regard to the very important measure which was passed just before the change of Government occurred - I refer to the measure providing for the Seat of Government - the Ministry have lost no time in communicating with the Government of New South Wales in the matter, and we intend to do our best to have it finally dealt with. I believe that no objection will be raised to the choice which has been made by this Parliament. Some people in New South Wales have spoken very strongly about the site chosen, as well as about other sites; but I think I may say that the Government of New South Wales will fairly accept the choice which has been made by this Parliament.
Mr. Chanter. - Are they going to ask the State Parliament to consider the matter?
Mr. REID. - It is, of course, a matter with which only the State Parliament can deal. The Government of the State cannot deal with it without legislation. I am afraid, however, from what I see, and from what I know, that there may be a very strong objection to the ceding of the area which it is proposed to take; but the Minister of Home Affairs, in whose Department the matter more immediately is, and I, will do our very best to carryout the wishes of this Parliament, both as to area and’ as to the very important matter raised by the honorable and learned member for Indi, as to access to the sea. I am very sanguine that some satisfactory arrangement will be arrived at. Now I wish to speak with reference to the Manufactures Encouragement Bill which is upon the business-paper. That is a measure, of course, upon which members of the Government hold different opinions. Some of us are in favour of the Bill, whilst others are opposed to it, and we have agreed to make it an open question in the Cabinet.
Honorable Members’. - Oh, oh !
Mr. REID. - I am rather amused at my honorable friends. If the question was not an open one in the late Cabinet, why did not the Government take up the Bill and go on with it? My honorable friends must be tyros in regard to the application of the rules for the conduct of Governments
Mr. Watson. - We must be tyros in comparison with the right honorable gentleman.
Mr. REID. - My honorable friends must have been tyros if they handed over a measure of that kind to a private individual, whilst as members of a Government they were united in their determination to support it.
Mr. Watson. - We have not been making professions about responsible Government such as have emanated from the right honorable gentleman.
Mr. REID. - I would ask my honorable friend whether his Government decided to vote for the Bill? I have read a certain solemn statement, under the hand of a Royal Commission, signed by the late Prime Minister. There were two reports, one signed by the right honorable member for Adelaide, whose illness we all so deeply regret, and the other by the honorable member for Bland. The members of the Royal Commission upon the Manufactures Encouragement Bill were equally divided. The same number of members were on opposite sides upon the important matter which I propose to mention. The Chairman, the right honorable member for Adelaide, by his casting vote, converted his supporters into a majority. He voted in order to make the number on one side six, and his casting vote converted that six into the majority who signed the majority report, whilst the other six members of the Commission, led by the late Prime Minister, brought up a minority report.
Mr. Johnson. - The minority report was unanimous, whilst the majority report was not.
Mr. REID. - The late Prime Minister deliberately reported, as a Royal Commissioner, after hearing evidence on oath, that no duty and no bonus was required.
Mr. McCay. - But for his action, the Bill would have been law now.
Mr. REID. - If the honorable member had voted with the other six, his action as the leader of the Labour Party, would have had very great significance. However, he and that other smiling genius, the honorable and learned member for West Sydney, joined other members of the Commission in presenting a minority report to the effect that no bonus was required. Now, would those honorable members, when they got into office, swallow their principles, and pass through a Bill involving a charge of ^250,000 upon the people of Australia which they, as Royal Commissioners, stated should not be imposed? That would be a wonderful position for them, as Royal Commissioners, to place themselves in, and I am sure they would not be guilty of any such thing. What was the result? The question was left an open one for the Cabinet.
Mr. Hughes. - Has the right honorable gentleman taken office with the object of restoring responsible Government - that is the question.
Mr. REID. - Certainly. But I never knew of any rule without an occasional exception. What amuses me is that when I take a practical common-sense view of matters, honorable gentlemen want to put me upon a pedestal, even higher than that which they occupy. My weight would not stand the elevation. Since the members of the Cabinet differed honestly in opinion upon the principle of the Bill, there was one of two courses for them to take. Either some of the members of the Cabinet would have to forego their principles in order to allow the Government to adopt a Bill to which some of their number were conscientiously opposed, or Ministers could deal with the matter in the manner we are doing, which happens also to be the method followed by the most pure-minded, fearless, and independent Government that ever lived for three or four months.
Mr. Isaacs. - Will the Manufactures Encouragement Bill be made a Government measure?
Mr. REID.- No. What I wish to say on behalf of the Government is that time is too valuable to waste over any subject that is not a practical issue. If there is any prospect of a practical issue in connexion with the Bill, the Government will give honorable members every reasonable opportunity for dealing with it this session.
Mr. Austin Chapman. - Will the Government afford honorable members an opportunity to vote upon my motion this session ?
Mr. REID. - Certainly. It is only fair to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro to say that his motion has been on the notice-paper for some time, and that, if the views of honorable members can be ascertained in some such short way, as by a discussion upon his motion, an opportunity for its consideration might be afforded.’
Mr. Mauger.- - Why should we waste time in dealing with a motion, instead of discussing the Bill straight out?
Mr. REID.- All I can say is that, if there is any reasonable prospect of the Bill being dealt with practically and effectually, we shall afford honorable members an opportunity to dispose of it this session. I have referred to the only matters with which the Government can reasonably expect the House to deal during the very short time that is left this session. Personally, I wish honorable members to understand that the Government are perfectly willing to give any amount of time, no matter how long the session may be, to any matter of urgency that we may have a reasonable chance of passing. That is a matter for the convenience of honorable members. There is a use to which I wish to put the recess, which I think will commend itself to the views of honorable members generally. In the first place I purpose, and the Government join cordially with me, to make every possible effort to establish cordial and friendly relations between the different Governments of the Australian States and the central Government.
Mr. Bamford. - Is that the reason that the right honorable gentleman proposes to dump Chinese into Queensland ?
Mr. REID. - Surely my honorable friend will permit me without interruption to make a statement with regard to a matter of great importance. .If my honorable friends have any questions to ask, I assure them that I, shall be regularly) in attendance here to deal with the daily business of the House. What I wish to do, if they will allow me, is to make1 this statement as briefly and concisely as I can. I regard it as a matter of the first importance - I do not for a moment suggest that other Governments have taken up any other position, but I am speaking for the only Government for which I have a right to speak - for the Commonwealth Government to establish relations of the most cordial and friendly nature with the States Governments.
Mr. Page. - Have the relations, been otherwise ?
Sir William Lyne. - Is there any friction now?
Mr. REID. - I have nothing to do with what has passed. I do not wish even to refer to the statements that have been made with reference to these matters in times past. I have no business with the past in that respect. If other Governments have done their best - and I do not say they have not - all I say is that I am going to imitate their good example, and to do my best with the same end in view. There are a number of Departments which have not yet been taken over ; but which ought to be administered by the Commonwealth.. It will be impossible to properly assume control of these Departments without the fullest consultation with the different State Governments, in order that the change may be brought about gradually, and in a spirit of co-operation. Honorable members know that a large number of questions are still open, as between the States Governments and the Commonwealth. Take, for instance, the question of the transferred properties - a matter of the utmost importance, which is riot yet settled.
Sir William Lyne. - No; but a strong attempt has been made to settle it.
Mr. REID. - I am not questioning that, but am simply stating that the question has not yet been settled. The basis upon which the valuation is to be made has not yet been decided. That matter may have to be submitted for legal determination. There is also the question of the public debts, and there are a number of subjects in which the interests of the States, and of the Commonwealth are identical, and upon which we shall confer with the States Governments during, the recess, in order to bring about a better understanding. Then there are a number of subjects upon which we should have uniform legislation, such as banking, insurance, copyright, and quarantine. I need not mention these and other matters at present, because’ they do not belong to the business of the present session ; but there are a number of highly-important subjects for Commonwealth legislation, which must be taken up at the first convenient opportunity. I think I have made a perfectly full, and candid statement of the course which Ministers intend to take with reference to the public business.
Sir William Lyne. - Before the right honorable gentleman sits down, I wish to ask him a question.
Mr. SPEAKER. - The honorable member must know that he cannot ask questions at this stage. He will have an opportunity later.
Mr. WATSON (Bland).- After the exhaustive speech of the right honorable gentleman, about the length of which, I am sure, none of us can complain, because when the right honorable gentleman came to the subject, he was commendably brief, I think that the Government might very well agree to allow honorable members a little time for considera’tion.
Mr. McDonald. - What, when the leader of the Opposition has a majority of five behind him?
Mr. WATSON.- There is nothing like being magnanimous in these matters.
Mr. McDonald. - After the insults which the Prime Minister has cast upon members of the Opposition, he is not entitled to any consideration.
Mr. WATSON. - I would ask for an adjournment until to-morrow, in order that some consideration may be given to the statement of the Prime Minister, and I, therefore, move -
That the debate be now adjourned.
Mr. McDONALD (Kennedy).- I am rather amused at the leniency which is being shown by the leader of the Opposition. Under ordinary circumstances, no doubt, it would have been quite right for the leader of the Opposition to allow the Government another day’s grace - I might, if I chose to follow the example of the Prime Minister, also add the words, “ and allow them to draw another day’s pay.” I shall not, however, be mean enough to make any reference to such a matter. When the Prime Minister talks about our being mere puppets, I think it is time for us to proceed to extremes. I do not wish to act contrary to the wishes of the leader of the Opposition, but I feel very strongly upon this matter. I think that we, at least, have the right to expect courtesy at the hands of the light honorable gentleman. I feel very much inclined to call for a division, and to defeat the Government on the very first day that they have met this House.
Mr. STORRER (Bass).- I am rather surprised that the leader of the Opposition should move the adjournment of the debate, because the Prime Minister has said nothing new. He has told us that we have been in session for six months, and that we have done little’ or no business, and yet it is now proposed to waste still further time. The delay which has taken place in carrying out the work of the House has been due to the protracted speeches which have been made when short ones would have sufficed. I have endeavoured to express my views on any subject as concisely as possible. The Prime Minister, in putting the policy of the Government before the House, has not told us of anything that is new, and those who desire to discuss his declaration should at once do so, so that the stigma cast on honorablemembers that with us “it is all talk and no business “ may be removed.
Motion (by Mr. Reid) put -
That the House do now adjourn.
The House divided -
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 September 1904, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1904/19040907_reps_2_21/>.