House of Representatives
5 July 1905

2nd Parliament · 2nd Session



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

page 134

PETITIONS.

Mr. WILSON presented a petition from certain residents of .Darlington, in the electorate of Corangamite; praying that stringent legislation be enacted to prevent the importation of opium for smoking purposes into the Commonwealth.

Petition received and read.

Mr. CROUCH presented a similar petition from certain residents of the Sunbury and Bulla districts, in the electorate of Corio.

Mr. McLEAN presented a similar petition from certain residents of the electorate of Gippsland.

Mr. KNOX presented a similar petition from certain resident’s of the electorate of Kooyong.

Mr. ISAACS presented two similar petitions from certain residents in the districts of Palmerston and Wangaratta in the electorate of Indi.

Mr. SKENE presented three similar petitions from certain residents of Beaufort, Tarnagulla, and Bet Bet, in the electorate of Grampians.

Mr. R. EDWARDS’ presenter! a similar, petition from certain Chinese merchants and importers resident and carrying onbusiness in Brisbane.. 1

Mr. PHILLIPS (for Mr. Kennedy) presented a similar petition from certain . residents of the electorate of Moira.

Mr. SALMON presented a similar petition from certain residents of Captain Gully and Learmonth, in the electorate of Laanecoorie.

Petitions received.

page 134

RESIGNATION OF MINISTERS

Mr REID:
Minister of External Affairs · East Sydney · Free Trade

– I wish to state, for the information of honorable members, that, after the division -which was arrived at in this Chamber on Friday last, Ministers considered the position of affairs which had arisen, and decided to tender, to His; Excellency the Governor-General advice- for the dissolution of this House. His Excellency did not see fit to accept thai advice, and

Ministers thereupon tendered to him their resignations. They now hold office only until their successors can be appointed. I intend, at a later period of the day, to move, with the concurrence of honorable members, that the ‘House at its rising adjourn until Friday next, at half-past 2 p.m. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat - my late ally - has undertaken the task of forming an Administration, and is engaged in that duty, kind it will be at his request that I shall move the special adjournment I speak of. I wish, in .parting company with the House as Minister - and I think I can speak on behalf of my colleagues - to say that, whilst we have endeavoured to fight our political fights strenuously, we have also endeavoured - and I hope with success - to cultivate feelings of friendship and goodwill without party distinctions. I desire, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to thank the House for many acts of kindness and consideration.

page 135

PERSONAL EXPLANATION

Sir GEORGE TURNER:
Treasurer · Balaclava · Protectionist

– By leave of the House I desire to say a few words in the nature of a personal explanation. This is the first time in my political career that I can recollect any necessity for making such a statement ; but my honorable and learned friend, the member for Ballarat, feels that 1 have done him a grave injustice, and I certainly would not willingly do an injustice to any member of Parliament, but would rather err on the other side. In speaking the other night, I drew attention to certain communications which, apparently, from the report of his speech at Ballarat, had been made by him to a large number of ‘his friends throughout the Commonwealth. He said that, in consequence of these communications, he had had to delay making his speech until just before the opening of the session. I have re-read carefully the whole of the speech, and I think that the honorable and learned member will now feel inclined to agree with me that his remarks on this subject were rather unfortunately worded, and that it is indeed unfortunate that they were put into the speech at all. I stated that I thought that, as he .was communicating with his friends, he should also have communicated with me. As he has said, and as I have already mentioned, he did on one occasion see me at the Treasury for a little while, and we talked about the effect of a report from the Tariff Commission coming before Parliament during the then ensuing session. I said that I could not see how such a report could be made, and pointed out what I had said when the Commission was originally mooted, with regard to my view that if a report were presented I could take no part in doing anything to break the pledge which I had made to my constituents. My honorable and learned friend assures me that he ,has had no more communication, and indeed that he had not as much communication with any other honorable member as he had with me on that occasion. I willingly accept his assurance. If the communications he made to others were no greater than that he made to me, they were not very great. I cannot, however, get away from my opinion that my honorable and learned friend should, before speaking at Ballarat, have discussed more fully with me what he was going to say, seeing that I have occupied a position which I think he ought to have occupied. On his assurance that I was mistaken with regard to the communications ,he spoke of, and that he had no greater communication with other honorable members, or with other persons who were not members, than he had with me, I withdraw any imputation which I may have made in regard to this matter. I accept without hesitation his assurance, but I say that the wording of his speech was very unfortunate. I could draw no other conclusion than that I drew from his remarks. At the same time, since he feels that I have done him an injustice, although I still hold the view that I was entitled to a greater communication in connexion with his speech than I received, I willingly accept his assurance, and hope that any wrong impression which may have gone forth and injured his reputation will cease.

page 135

SPECIAL ADJOURNMENT

Resolved (on motion by Mr. Reid) - That the House at its rising adjourn until Friday, next at half -past two o’clock p.m.

page 135

ADJOURNMENT

Resignation of Ministers : Case of Gunner Sheehan : Public Service Classification : Personal Explanations

Motion (by Mr. Reid) proposed -

That the House do now adjourn.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– As this may be the last opportunity I shall have for a little while to speak from this bench. I should like” to convey to the Prime Minister and his colleagues, on behalf of the members of the direct Opposition, our reciprocation of the most generous feeling that he has evinced during the time that he has been in office. I am sure that for every one of the members of the Ministry we. on this side, have the highest personal respect. We have had to differ very materially from them, and welcome their disappearance from office; but that is quite another matter from our personal feelings in regard to them. As we might have expected from the long political experience of most of them, there is nothing to which exception could be taken in regard to anything but their policy, to which we decidedly object.

Mr CROUCH:
Corio

-I should not have obtruded at this time a subject foreign to the business on hand were it not that the liberty of a man is in question, and I wish to put his case as clearly as I can before the gentleman who is to be chosen Minister of Defence, because the present Minister has refused to recognise his claim for consideration.

Mr Wilks:

– The honorable and learned member may himself become the new Minister of Defence.

Mr CROUCH:

– The portfolio might be in worse hands. A man named William Thomas Sheehan has been detained at Queenscliff by the military authorities, in my opinion altogether against the law, and certainly in violation of the rights which every man in the Commonwealth should enjoy as a British citizen. Sheehan enlisted a few months ago at the Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, in response to an advertisement for recruits. He assures me - and his statement is confirmed by three other men who were recruited at the same time - that he was told that if he did not like the service he could obtain his discharge upon applying to the proper authorities within three months, and paying the release fee of £2. He states that this information was conveyed to him by the enlisting officer, Sergeant-major Paul. I have taken the trouble to verify the statements, and I find that a similar promise was held out to other recruits who were enlisted at about the same time. For reasons that were good or bad, Sheehan did not like the service, and within the prescribed period tendered his release fee of£2 and applied for his discharge. He now finds, however, after having been three months in the service, that he cannot obtain his discharge, and he is threatened with punishment if he deserts. I wrote to the Minister conveying the statements communicated to me by Sheehan, and I have received a reply which reads as follows : -

Melbourne, 1st July, 1905.

Dear Sir,

In reply to your letter of the 29th ult., I desire to inform you as follows, in regard to the statements made in the inclosure thereto : -

  1. It is the practice in connexion with enlistments for the Royal Australian Artillery for the conditions of service to be read to the men offering to enlist.
  2. Re discharges under Part X., para. 18, of the Regulations, as you know, no soldier in the Permanent Forces can claim his discharge until the expiration of his term of service; but he may, at any time within three months after enrolment, obtain his discharge free, if approved by the District Commandant. I understand that in the case under notice the Commandant did not so approve. Sheehan, it is stated, did apply to see the Commandant, who, however, did not see him, but gave a decision as before mentioned. Sheehan does not appear to have made any request for his application to be referred beyond the Commandant.

Yours truly,

  1. W. McCAY.

Captain the Hon. R. A. Crouch, M.P.,

Federal Parliament House, Melbourne.

The regulations provide that a man cannot leave the service unless the District Commandant approves. I desire honorable members to recognise that Sheehan was not told at the time of enlistment that the approval of the Commandant would be required before he could obtain his discharge, nor were any regulations read over to him.

Mr CROUCH:

– That is not stated in the letter, which merely says -

It is the practice in connexion with enlistments for the Royal Australian Artillery for the conditions of service to be read to the men offering to enlist.

Mr McCay:

– Exactly, and they were so read over to Sheehan.

Mr CROUCH:

– Sheehan denies it, and his statement is confirmed by several others. I know that Sheehan was not permitted to forward to the District Commandant his reasons for wishing to resign. When he applied to see the District Commandant, he was told he would have to wait until he could go to Melbourne, or until the District Commandant came to Queenscliff.

Mr Johnson:

– Would it not be better to bring the matter before the incoming Minister of Defence?

Mr CROUCH:

– I am certain to do that also ; but I contend that it is not fair that Sheehan should be detained, even until Friday next. If he deserts, he will be cast into gaol at Queenscliff for seven days with hard labour, ‘and will be detained in barracks for a further similar period. It may be a mere trifle to the Minister that a man should be detained contrary to the terms of enlistment as explained to him by the sergeant-major-

Mr McCay:

– That is incorrect.

Mr CROUCH:

– I am not mentioning this case because Sheehan is one of my constituents. He comes from that part of the State represented by the honorable member for Corangamite, and his people are farmers in prosperous circumstances. It does not matter to me, however, whether or not the man has relatives or friends ; he has rights, and one of those is an honorable carrying out of the conditions under which he is engaged.

Mr McCay:

– If the honorable and learned member had given me notice of his intention to bring this matter before the House, I should have brought the papers with me.

Mr CROUCH:

– I received the Minister’s letter only a few minutes ago.

Mr McCay:

– That is not my fault.

Mr CROUCH:

– As the Minister’s letter was written on the 1st inst. he should have a clear recollection of the circumstances. Sheehan denies, that the regulations were read over to him, and his statement is confirmed by five others, three of whom were enlisted at the same time. All these men were promised, by the only noncommissioned officer whom they saw prior to enlistment, that they would have the right of discharge at the end of three months, and it seems unfair that they should be now denied an opportunity to leave the service if they so desire. Sheehan is now virtually confined to barracks, and is not permitted to see the Commandant to make his complaint. If he makes his escape he will be punished as a deserter, and he is unable to see the District Commandant. ‘ In the communications sent to the Commandant the reasons given by Sheehan for wishing to obtain his discharge are not properly or fully stated by the Commanding Officer, and I contend that he has been most unjustly dealt with.

An Honorable Member. - The honorable and learned member is now making a charge against the Commanding Officer.

Mr CROUCH:

– I am, and, moreover, I am ready to stand by it. I have made full inquiries, and I know that Sheehan’s representations were not properly conveyed to the District Commandant. The Commanding Officer, instead of allowing Sheehan to see the District Commandant, and to make his complaints, forwarded an incomplete statement of his own.- The Minister has a statement of what Sheehan’s complaints were, and also of what was sent along by Major Hawker. It is the right of every man, whether he be a soldier or a citizen, to state his own case, and not to have some one else’s words put into his mouth. He should have the right which he now has not got to put his own complaints in writing. I think that the Minister even, during the short time for which he may remain in office, should make further inquiries into this matter.

Mr McCay:

– I shall direct the attention of the incoming Minister to the honorable and learned member’s statement, as reported in Hansard; that is all I can do.

Mr CROUCH:

– The Minister might make further inquiries this afternoon. The man should not suffer this injustice another hour.

Mr McCay:

– How could I do that, in view of the fact that all the persons concerned are at Queenscliff.

Mr ROBINSON:
Wannon

– I crave the indulgence of the House to bring under notice a matter of some importance. Information which has been conveyed to me tends to show that a promise made to honorable members by the Treasurer is in danger of being broken. When the last Estimates were under discussion, he told us that the Public Service classification would be subject to the review of this House before any action was taken. I am informed that a number of postmasters who have hitherto been classified as senior to certain telegraph operators have been reduced to the position of juniors. I am informed, further, that the Public Service Commissioner has directed these telegraph operators to at once take up the senior positions. If that course be pursued, the postmasters will practically lose their rights, and the hands of the House will be so tied that it will be impossible to remedy any injustice that may have been done. I would, therefore, ask the Minister for Home Affairs to make inquiries with a view to insuring that no steps shall be taken to carry out the classification scheme until honorable members have had full opportunities to discuss it.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON:
Minister for Home Affairs · NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT; ANTI-SOC from 1906

– The matter referred to by the honorable and learned member for Wannon now comes under my notice for the first time. I shall make the desired inquiries.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I merely wish to indorse the remarks of the honorable and learned member for Wannon, and to ask the Minister to also consider the case of those officers in the mail branch, whom it is proposed to remove from the clerical to the general division. A large number of officers will be placed at a great disadvantage by the proposed change^ and I hope that the Minister will give honorable members an opportunity of considering the classification scheme before thev are asked to vote supplies for the current year. It is highly important that the rights of these officers should be protected and legally defined before supplies are voted.

Mr DEAKIN:
Minister for External Affairs · Ballarat · Protectionist

– I desire to take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the remarks which my old friend and former colleague, the right honorable member for Balaclava, has made this afternoon.

Sir George Turner:

– We are still friends.

Mr DEAKIN:

– Certainly. I am sure that had we been capable, in the emotional circumstances of last Thursday, of following one another’s remarks as closely as would be possible under normal conditions, no misunderstanding would have arisen, because, prior to the speech of the right honorable gentleman, I had already mentioned to the House that the words I had used with reference to the communications which had passed between myself and other honorable members and persons with regard to the political situation had been enlarged very much beyond the meaning I had intended to convey. The communications referred to were mainly by letter, and were replied to in ‘my customary way, which, as honorable members know, is, even for correspondence, rather brief. The comments were almost invariably made by my correspondents, and my replies related only to the two general questions mentioned by me to Ministers, and in no way to the position of the Ministry. I felt sure that, after having called attention to these remarks, and having given him an opportunity to read them, the right honorable gentleman would see that his inference that I had in any respect treated him less considerately than others, was unjust, and that, on the contrary, I had expressed my views to him far more fully than to any one else, except his leader, the Prime Minister. With reference to the feelings which have existed between honorable members and- Ministers, I may say that the pleasant relations between myself and Ministers have remained unbroken during the whole term of office of the present Government, and that in any communications they have had with me they have in every instance observed the most strictly constitutional and proper procedure.

Mr MALONEY:
Melbourne

– I think that the case brought under notice by the honorable and learned member, for Corio is deserving of more attention than, has been given to it by the Minister. If it could be shown that any man had been unjustly detained in barracks at Queenscliff, this House would willingly see that the wrong was righted. The Minister may assume that he has no further responsibility, but I would remind him that he has failed to abolish; the infamous rule that a member of the rank and file of the Royal AustralianArtillery should not be permitted to submit himself for examination with a view to qualifying for a commission.

Mr McCay:

– There is no such regulation in existence.

Mr MALONEY:

– Can a member of the Royal Australian Artillery rise to the position of an officer without resigning from the force?

Mr McCay:

– Certainly.

Mr MALONEY:

– Then the information given to me some time ago is absolutely at variance with the facts. I know of an Australian who served in South Africa and was honoured by promotion to a position of commissioned rank in the British Army, but who, upon his return to Australia, was not allowed to retain the title which he had earned on active service. The Minister was written to on this subject, and the reply received from him was a tissue of absurdities.

Mr McCay:

– What case was that?

Mr MALONEY:

– It was the case of a man who retired from the force because he was not permitted to retain the rank conferred upon him.

Mr McCay:

– What was his name?-

Mr Crouch:

– Wafts.

Mr MALONEY:

– The Minister caused a very long letter to be written to me before I proceeded on my trip to Japan, but it was a tissue of absurdities. The man is an Australian, but probably because he did not suit the Minister of Defence, or some of his special friends, or perhaps because he did not belong lo a “ toffy “ family, he has been unjustly treated.

Mr Johnson:

– What was his name?

Mr MALONEY:

– I cannot give it at the moment. I should not have spoken, but for remarks made by the Minister which appeared to me to show an utter disregard for the position of this unfortunate man. I hope that the incoming Minister of Defence, whoever he may be, will remove the ignominy under which the man is labouring.

Mr McCAY:
Minister of Defence · Corinella · Protectionist

– I can only say that I have no recollection of the matter to which the honorable member for Melbourne has referred, nor of any letter coming from my Department which was a tissue of absurdities. With regard to the complaint made by the honorable and learned member for Corio, I would say that he alleges this afternoon for the first time that the facts as submitted by the man in question are not the facts which reached me for consideration.

Mr Crouch:

– I made no such allegation. The honorable and learned gentleman has utterly misunderstood me.

Mr McCAY:

– I apologize to the honorable and learned member if I have misunderstood him. On receiving a letter from him relative to the case of Sheehan, I immediately sent for the papers, and obtained all the information that I could1 in reference to it. I confess that I do not remember all the details set forth in the papers, although it is only a week since I saw them. One deals with so many matters as a Minister that one cannot always recall all the facts of a particular case ; but my recollection is that, so far as I could understand from the papers, Sheehan was fully advised of the regulations under which he was enlisting; that he enlisted voluntarily, and that on the facts before me, he had no just ground for complaint. The honorable and learned member for Corio now makes a number of statements as to the general course of procedure *in the Permanent Artillery.

Mr Page:

– Was not the man sworn in ?

Mr McCAY:

– Yes.

Mr Page:

– Then the regulations must have been read out to him.

Mr Crouch:

– They ought to have been.

Mr McCAY:

– I am emphatically informed that they were. I have not treated this or any, other matter lightly. It is true that I did not personally make inquiries in regard to it. I could not go to Queenscliff in search of the officer who swore these men, but I was informed that he stated personally that he read the regulations to them, and that they knew the terms on which they were enlisted. Sheehan objects to certain regulations in regard to food and clothing - he does not like wearing a white helmet, nor does he care for paying for vegetables.

Mr Crouch:

– Nothing of the sort. That is not his complaint.

Mr McCAY:

– I have just recalled to mind the fact -that he objects to contribute id. per day for vegetables, for the mess, out of his pay, although this requirement is one with which all the other men have to comply.

Mr Crouch:

– Nothing of the sort.

Mr McCAY:

– It was so stated in the papers that were submitted to mc.

Mr Crouch:

– Does ‘the Minister say that that was the man’s complaint to him?

Mr McCAY:

– I say that the statement I have just made appears in the papers that were submitted to me. For the mr> ment, I was inclined to believe that it was also to be found in the letter on the subject which the honorable and learned member addressed to me. So far as I can recollect, one of the man’s complaints was that he had to pay id. per day for vegetables for the mess.

Mr Crouch:

– His complaint is thai he is illegally detained.

Mr McCAY:

– I was informed that the regulations were read over to Sheehan, and that he appeared to fully understand the terms upon which he was enlisted. He has never asked to have his complaint forwarded on to the Minister.

Mr Crouch:

– He says that he has.

Mr McCAY:

– I shall see that the further allegations that have been made are inquired into, but I must certainly object to the assertion that I have disregarded this man’s rights. I have done all within my power to inquire into the matter, but unfortunately I shall not be permitted to remain long enough in office to fully investigate it. That is not my fault, although it may be Sheehan’s misfortune. The liberty of the subject is just as dear to me as it is to any one else. I have done all that I can in regard to the complaint, but the fresh facts which have been brought forward must be investigated. I cannot accept the unsupported statements of the honorable and learned member for Corio, because they are merely based on hearsay ; they must be investigated before action is taken upon the assumption that they are correct. I have only to say in conclusion that I will leave a minute on record directing attention to the matter, and that so far as I am concerned, it shall be inquired into.

Mr Crouch:

– That is all I ask.

Mr.McCAY. - It will then rest with others to decide what shall be done.

Mr WEBSTER:
Gwydir

– I rise to correct a misapprehension that has arisen in regard to my failure to vote in the division upon the amendment to the AddressinReply. Owing to my keen regard for cleanliness and to the primitive methods in this modern structure whereby honorable members may satisfy their desires in that respect - as well as to the tactics of honorable members on the Government side who allowed a most important debate to suddenly collapse - I was unable to be in my place in the House on Friday when the division took place. I was thus prevented from recording a vote which I should have cast with very great pleasure. I realize that had I been able to record my vote on that ocasion I should have done a service to the country.I should have assisted also in the effort to give the Prime Minister of the day an opportunity to study the Socialism of the Labour Party so that he might not further trench on ground with which he was unfamiliar. Before a general election takes place the right honorable gentleman will have an opportunity to fully study the question and at least to do justice to the party which has given him this opportunity for reflection and repentance.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 3.7 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 July 1905, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19050705_reps_2_25/>.