2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers,
– I wish to know from the Postmaster-General, as he is chairman of the Old-Age Pensions Commission, when the report of that body is likely to be presented to Parliament ? Seeing that some of the States have made no provision for the granting of old-age pensions to their citizens, and are delaying action in the matter until if is seen what this Parliament will do, will the honorable gentleman and his fellow Commissioners treat the subject of their inquiry as a matter of urgency, so that Parliament may have an early opportunity to consider some practical scheme?
– The taking of evidence has been completed by the Commission in four of the States,and has been nearly completed in Victoria and New South Wales, but I am unable to say when the report of the Commission will be presented to Parliament. The Commissioners are desirous of reporting as early as possible, though they do not wish to present a report until they have obtained the fullest information on the subject.
– Will the report be presented this session?
– If the Commission can manage it, it will be presented this session.
– I wish to know from the Prime Minister if his attention has been directed to the following statement which appears in this morning’sAge -
Japan and Australia. a bishop on federal legislation.
The Bishop of Carpentaria, in the course of a lecture last night, said that mission work among the South Sea Islanders and the Japanese at Thursday Island was. much interfered with by Federal legislation. There were 1,500 Japanese at Thursday Island engaged in pearling, but recently 150 boats left for Dutch New Guinea, the legislation haying made it impossible for them to carry on in Australian waters.
Is the honorable and learned gentleman prepared to give that statement an em phatic and unqualified contradiction? Is it not a fact that the boats engaged in the pearl-shelling industry have left Thursday Island, not because of our legislation, but because the beds near by have been depleted of shell, and operations are now being proceeded with at too great a distance from Thursday Island’ to make that place a centre? Is not this another of the fabrications which are spread abroad with the intention of slandering. Commonwealth legislation ?
– I hesitate’ to believe that the report is a full or correct one. During his recent visit to Thursday Island, the Secretary to the Department of External Affairs made special inquiries of all thechief persons engaged in pearl-shelling: there as to the state of the industry. They told. him that it was suffering very severely, as all the world knows, because of the great drop in prices which has’ ruled for many months, and has rendered pearl-shelling unprofitable.
– The price of pearl-shell has recently risen £20 a ton.
– There must be a stilt further rise before it will be remunerativeto work most of the beds which are accessible from Thursday Island. A great many, of these beds have been more orless exhausted, so that the. returns in shell arevery much smaller than they were. TheSecretary was satisfiedfromthe information he received from the persons affected, thatour legislation has had nothing to do with the recentdeparture of the boats from Thursday Island. The reasons given to him why the boatswere leaving were the drop in the price of shell, and the intention to try new banks in the neighbourhood of the Dutch Settler ments, some of which have not yet been thoroughly investigated. This is a speculative venture, due to the scarcity of shelf near Thursday Island. So far as I am informed, there is no justification for the statement which the honorable member h asread, if the Bishop’s utterance is correctly reported.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Assuming the honorable member’s questions to be serious, the answers are as follow: -
asked -the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether he is in a position to answer the question asked on 16th August last, viz. : - “What action is proposed to be taken regarding the repeated, requests of the residents of Portland, Victoria, that some arm of the Defence Force should be established in that town?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
The Military Commandant of Victoria does not recommend raising volunteers at Portland at present, as the expense of bringing them to Queenscliff, where under present conditions they would require to be used as fortress troops would not be justified.
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
What is the estimated cost of -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
There is no agreement. 3. (a) One shillingand fourpence halfpenny.
Sir WILLIAM LYNE laid upon the table the following paper : -
Regulations under the Beer Excise Act 1901.
Debate resumed from 17th August(vide page 1 1 19), on motion by Mr. Fowler -
That the present methods of constituting Ministerial Cabinets, together with the powers exercised by these bodies, amount in many respects to the usurpation of the rights and duties of Parliameht as a whole, tend to foment unnecessary party strife, impede the work of legislation, and precipitate artificial crises; and, therefore, in the opinion of this House, such legislation as may be necessary should be introduced to provide for the election of Ministers by Parliament.
– One of the disabilities under which a member labours in regard to private motions is that they come on for consideration only at rare intervals. After considerable delay, a motion is moved, and the debate upon it adjourned. Other adjournments follow, and so interest in the subject naturally flags, while a still worse result is that it is difficult to obtain the decision of the House on the question at issue, because of the limited time available for private members’ business. The Prime Minister has promised to give up some portion of the time set aside for Government business in order that a decision may be arrived at in regard to the motion affirming the desirability of Home Rule for Ireland.
– And other motions.
– If this concession is to be made in regard to a motion affirming the desirability of Home Rule for Ireland, I think that similar consideration should be given to the subject of Home Rule for Australia before the session terminates, so that next session Parliament may have available as much information as possible in regard to the subject. The question is one which should be thoroughly thrashed out, and if there is a majority against the proposal, I shall be one of the first to let it drop. I have brought it forward, how ever, hoping that we may get somefruit from it, by securing a system of governmen under which we shall have less friction trouble, and expense, less waste of energy time, and temper, than we have under the present system. When last this question was before the House, I endeavoured to show that, not only in this Parliament, but in all the other Parliaments of the world, has the Cabinet system of party “government resulted in unnecessary waste of time. Under it, indirect means are adopted to achieve certain ends, and they involve heavy expenditure and great loss of time. Other Legisla- tures, as well as this, have, therefore, been brought face to face with the consideration whether some reform of procedure is not necessary. Efforts have been made to achieve better results by curtailing the speeches of members, and by shortening debates, through the institution of the guillotine or closure process, under which a debate is automatically closed at the end of a certain period. I think, however, that a more thorough reform is required than such expedients for dealing with what has been termed the paralysis of Parliament, because the time thus saved is as nothing compared with what might be saved if we got rid of the party system of government which now dominates our politics. That would put an end to half of the useless discussion which now takes place, and work would be performed more speedily and to better purpose without it being necessary to pass further stringent standing or sessional orders for regulating our procedure. This statement is borne out by what happens in Switzerland. The system of government which prevails in that country has already been referred to in this discussion, and no doubt will be referred to again and again before it is finished. In Switzerland there is not the awful waste of time wh’ich we have as a consequence of the friction of party divisions. There are in that country political parties which are ready to uphold their various principles, and to advocate them as -warmly and as vehemently as we advocate ours; but party divisions are not allowed to interfere with the ordinary working of the engine of government. While the relative strength of parties may alter, and their outlook upon the questions of the day cchange, the great engine of government works smoothly, without needless waste of time or friction. The science of government must be recognised as experimental, and as such it should be progressive. Any standstill in such a science must mean stagnation, and consequently we must recognise the necessity from time to time for reform, in order that the engine of government may be accommodated to the altered circumstances and the widened intelligence of the people.. The more we consider this aspect of the question, the more .we shall realize that, in politics, just as in any other experimental science, such as astronomy or chemistry, alterations have to bemade from time to time in order to accommodate the conditions to new sets of ascertained facts. I think that, if we give this question our calm and dispassionate consideration, we shall be forced* to admit that many of the conditions have altered since the system of Cabinet and’ party government was first adopted. Wehave progressed in many directions, and chiefly in the direction of making the wholebasis of our system of government much more popular, or democratic, than it was ever expected to become. The changes thaitake place are often difficult to predict.. While ordinary minds can trace the silent, slow revolution of the past into the present - the evolution of the ideal - even the most gifted minds and highly trained intellects can only vaguely feel the trend of future development. That a changeis in progress is recognised by all the ablest minds that have investigated’ the subject. We recognise the fact that even the Cabinet itself has been undergoing a slow and gradual change, and weknow not what it will develop into. But, following the line of development, we canpredict that if the same relative amount of change takes place in the future that has taken place during the last fifty years, thepower that will be assumed by an Executive Government, like that of our own, or “that. of Great Britain, will be such as to> create an executive autocracy, second in its capacity . for evil only to the old autocratic kingly power which it was thought our democratic institutions had replaced. The institutions arid ideals with which webegin are frequently carried beyond theprinciples upon which they were originally based. If we could transport our minds back to the time of the Revolution when the first Ministry was created, and examinethe conditions under which our system of government has slowly matured, we should . probably think that we had then at last solved the difficulty of enabling the people to exercise a check onthe Crown, and of placing them in the position to dominate the Government; inother words, of giving free expression to- the popular will. Our institutions, however, depart, in many instances, from the very principles on which they were founded, and the Cabinetalso is widely departing from the principles underlying it, and which led to its adoption in England. Therefore, the time has come for us to consider whether something cannot be clone to bring it back into its natural relative position as an engine of government, under which we can more readily give expression to the will of the people. The division of government into the three branches of the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary is probably one of the oldest adopted in connexion with any science in the world. It is, at any rate, as old as Aristotle, and I think it will be granted at once that one of these branches must be paramount. All the systems of checks and balances that the most highly - gifted men, who have sat in Conventions to frame Constitutions, can devise, can result only in giving one of the three engines superior, if not paramount force in the working out of the Constitution. Whilst legislative and judicial systems may vary in their details, the difference between executive systems is still greater. We need not deal with the absolutely despotic Governments under which an autocrat does as he likes, and creates his own legislature and judiciary; but if we look at the executive systems of the world we shall see that, whilst there is a striking family likeness between the legislative and judiciary systems, there is a strong dissimilarity in the executive systems. Without any compulsion of law, we have merely followed the systems of government that have been adopted in the several constituent States of the Commonwealth. These systems have been formulated upon the English model, under which the Executive is electedby the majority for the time being in what is commonly called the more popular branch of the Parliament. In our case the House of Representatives is supposed to be the more popular branch ; but, in bringing this principle into operation under our Constitution, the fact was, I will not say lost sight of, but swept on one side, that ours was a Federal Constitution, and that the Senate was elected upon an even wider franchise, so that it could not be definitely said which of the twoHouses in this Parliament should be regarded as the more popular. Consequently, the English systemwas not wholly applicable to our conditions. There are other systems of government in which provision is made for a totally different executive system. Whilst the systems of voting for representatives in certain districts or in certain States bear a very strong likeness throughout the Constitutions with which we are most familiar, there are striking differences in regard to the Executives. The United States Executive is constituted entirely separate and apart from the legislative power by the election by the whole body of the people, indirectly through their colleges of electors, of a President, who is at once constituted the executive power, and who selects other men to assist him in exercising his executive authority. In that case we have an absolute separation of the executive fromthe legislative functions, and that system, with all the checks and balances adopted by the fathers of that great Constitution, has not given the entire satisfaction that was predicted. It is now felt that the power given to the Senate to veto and oppose many acts of the Executive is somewhat greater in its effects than was first anticipated, and the system is possibly not working out any better than our own. Passing from the English and the American systems, which are perhaps the most widely different of all the systems of executiveunder modern Constitutions, we come to the case of Switzerland, in which the Executive is chosen practically from members of the Legislature, and, having been so chosen, occupies a position in which it is practically independent of the accidental changes in the Legislature, and carries on the machinery of government irrespective of the change of personnel or opinions of the Legislature itself. I dare say that in this discussion some honorable members will discover some authority for saying that the Swiss system is not a great success, but the testimony of all the highest authorities, and of the Switzers themselves, who have lived under the Constitution, and have been acting as members of the Legislature or Executive, is entirely in its favour. They see no reason for amending it, but declare that it has given general satisfaction, that it works out the purpose for which it was created, and fulfils all that was expected of it. The ideal underlying the British system of government is that the will of the people shall prevail. I might almost make that the text of my political sermon, and if I did soI would undertake to say that it would be possible, whilst adhering very closely to the text, to prove that,’ within our own experience in this Federal Parliament, instances have occurred in which the machinery of government has time after time prevented the will of the people from prevailing. If the Cabinet have not utterly opposed and set aside the will of the people, they have, at any rate, in numerous instances delayed its final expression upon our statute-book. Any machinery that operates in such a manner must be declared to have already broken down, and I contend that it is time to consider in what ‘ way we can improve it. I contend that, from the first, the ideal of the British Constitution was that the will of the people should prevail. The first glimmering symptoms of a movement in the direction of reform show that the effort on the part of the people of Great Britain to evolve a Constitution was based upon the ideal that the will of the people should prevail. On referring to The Law and Custom of the Constitution, by W. R. Anson, I find that the writer, at page 17, in dealing with the Commons and the Executive, after setting forth the difficulty of making the check upon the Crown effective, once a grant has been made, says -
Their efforts to keep a hold upon the King’s Ministers show that they knew their weakness in this respect. The oath of office, and the practice of impeachment, were attempts to impose upon the servants of the Crown a sense of duty by more or less remote contingencies. The demand sometimes made that the officers of State should not be chosen by the Crown, but should be elected by the Commons, is a curious anticipation of modern practice, only the Commons desired in the middle ages to do directly and formally what in the modern constitution they do indirectly. The mediaeval Parliament wanted to be able to elect for the Crown the Ministers of its choice. The modern Parliament is content with the power of making it impossible for the Crown to employ others than those whom Parliament favours for the time.
Here we see the first dawn of this effort on the part of Parliament to secure to itself the only power under which I contend the will of the people can be readily and properly enforced - the power of directly electing the Ministers who are to exercise the functions of the Executive. Anson himself refers to Stubbs, perhaps a more eminent authority in this connexion. In The Constitutional History of England, Vol. II., page 558, Professor Stubbs says -
The idea of controlling expenditure and securing the redress of all administrative abuses by maintaining a hold upon the King’s Ministers, and even upon the King himself, appears in our history as soon as the nation begins to assert its constitutional right in the. executory clauses of the Great Charter. Three methods of attaining the end proposed recommended themselves at different periods : these are analogous in the case of Ministers to the different methods by which under various systems the nation has attempted to restrain the exercise of Royal power, the rule of election, the tie of the coronation oath, and the threats of deposition; and they are all liable to the same abuses. The scheme of limiting the irresponsible power of the King by the election of the great officers of State in Parliament has been already referred to as one of the results of the long minority of Henry III. (1226). It was in close analogy with the practice of electing the bishoprics and abbacies, and to the theory of Royal election itself. When, in 1224, and several succeeding years, the barons claimed the right of choosing the justiciary, chancellor, and treasurer, they probably intended that the most capable man should be chosen, and that his appointment should be, if not for life, at least revocable only by the consent of the nation in Parliament. The King saw more clearly, perhaps, than the barons, that his power thus limited would be a burden rather than a dignity, and that no King worthy of the name could consent to be deprived of all freedom of action. Henry III. pertinaciously resisted the proposal, and it was never even made to Edward I., although in one instance he was requested to dismiss an improper treasurer. Revived under Edward II. in the 13th and following articles of the ordinances, it was defeated or dropped under Edward III., and again brought forward under Richard II. The Commons petitioned, in his first Parliament, that the chancellor, treasurer, chief justices, and chief baron, the steward and treasurer of the household, the chamberlain, privy seal, and warden of the forests on each side of the Trent might be appointed in Parliament, and the petition was granted and embodied in an ordinance for the period of the King’s minority. In 1380 the Commons again urged that the five principal Ministers should be ejected in Parliament. . . The ultimate failure of a pretension maintained on every opportunity for a century and a half would seem to prove that, however in theory it moy have been compatible with the idea of a limited monarchy, it was found practically impossible to maintain it, the personal influence of the King would overbear the authority of any ordinary Minister, and the Minister who could overawe the Kin? would be too dangerous for the peace of the realm.
Thus in the earliest dawn of the movement towards a free Constitution, it is seen that the ideal was that the Parliament should exercise a free choice of these arms of the Executive, and that it should elect Ministers in charge of Departments, not only as a check upon the King, but as an absolute check upon all the functions of the Ministry. Of course, it was quite possible under this old system that. the men so elected might subsequently become Court favorites, and that Ministers so elected might prove to be just as tyrannous and troublesome as the Kings themselves. In fact, the .” new presbyter ‘ ‘ might be found to be the “old priest writ large.” To me it seems quite clear that the original ideal is the one to which effect will ultimately be given, and that Parliament, which consists of the direct representatives of the people, will take to itself the power to elect those who shall discharge executive functions. Originally, of course, the only Executive was the Crown, and favorites of the Crown of .more or less ability were found by a Plantagenet, a Tudor, or a Stuart to .enable him to get or hold his will. The struggle on the part of the Parliaments against these minions of the Crown represents the trend of the whole of English history. The aim of Parliament has always been to get this power into its own hands, and to exercise it directly in its choice of Ministers. When we come to the age of Elizabeth, we find that that noble woman - imperious and autocratic as she almost invariably was - took probably a more common-sense view of the English Constitution than could reasonably be expected to be taken for several centuries. Although Elizabeth was an autocrat of the Tudor breed, whenever she found that the will of the nation was opposed to her own - imperious as she was - she immediately gave way. In fact, she had a finger upon the national pulse, which was quite as sensitive to the touch as is that of the most astute modern party leader or Prime Minister, who trims’ ‘his sail to every wind that blows. In the matter of monopolies, and upon several other questions, where Elizabeth saw that the will of the mass of the people was opposed to her own. she knew when and how to give way, because she recognised that the ideal of the English Constitution was that the popular will- when once it had been ascertained - should prevail. As time went on we entered into probably the most terrific conflict in our history with the Stuarts with no other object than to regain this power. What was sought was that the will of Parliament should* be effective as against that of the King in conducting the affairs of the nation.
– It was the power of the purse which Parliament sought to obtain.
– Parliament wished to obtain control of the purse in order that it might be in a position to secure the redress of grievances. That power was only made use of in order to acquire the other powers of the Executive. I say that the kingcraft of James I., Strafford’s policv of thorough administration, the Cabal, and. Temple’s plan, were all directed against this aim. It was to achieve this power that Pym and Hampden, Sidney and Vane fought. From that day to the present we have been striving to realize the ideal under which the power of the Executive is exercised in conformity with the will of the people. In the great struggle of the Stuarts against the Parliament, Parliament triumphed. But whilst Parliament gained the victory, it lost the substance of it. It lost what it had really aimed at securing, and Charles II. re-established the old bad system amidst the ringing of merry bells -
Then came those days, never to be recalled without ;i blush, the days of servitude without loyalty, and sensuality without love, of dwarfish talents and gigantic vices, the paradise of cold hearts and narrow minds, the golden age of the coward, the bigot, and the slave. The King cringed Lo his rival that he might trample on his people, sank into a viceroy of France, and pocketed with complacent infamy her degrading insults and her more degrading gold. The caresses of harlots, and the jests of buffoons, regulated the policy of the State. The Government had just ability enough to deceive, and just religion enough to persecute. The principles of liberty were the scoff of every grinning courtier, and the Anathema Maranatha of every fawning dean. In every high place worship was paid to Charles and James, Belial and Moloch j and England propitiated those obscene and cruel idols with the blood of her best and bravest children. Crime succeeded crime, and disgrace to disgrace, till the race, accursed of God and man, was a second time driven forth to wander on the face of the earth, and to be a byword and a shaking of the head to the nations.
I have quoted the above passage from Macaulay’s essay on Milton, not because of its elaborate embroidery, or because of that wonderful trick of antithesis, which is Macaulay’s characteristic style, but because I believe that with all its seeming exaggerations it adequately describes a condition of affairs in our history under which we dropped to probably our lowest status. It is from that period in our pictorial histories, that the sinister portraits of our worst statesmen and biggest rascals look out upon us to-day. That was the period of the lowest degradation which the English people have ever known. It was during that period that the Cabinet system of .. Government found its initiation. I grant that it was not just then that the Cabinet was created, but I contend that in the Cabal we see the immediate progenitor of the Cabinet - the immediate deviation from what, I am contending, has been the ideal of our development throughout. At that time, as I have shown, the King had sunk into the position of a vassal of France, and was - as is known - receiving bribes from that Power. This fact was not known to his own subjects at the time, but it came to the knowledge of one of the craftiest of his statesmen - I refer to Shaftesbury. The latter used the power which he obtained as the result of that knowledge to give to a coterie of statesmen, who were then ruling the country., a power not only over the Crown, but over the people, which has never since been exercised. This little quintette, Clifford, Arlington, Buckingham, Ashley, and Lauderdale, making by the initials of their names the word “cabal,” was. I contend, despite its differentiation, the very initiation of the Cabinet system. The British statesmen of this period are those of whom we have least reason to be proud, as the rascals of” the same period are those of whom we have most reason to be ashamed. The system was so bad that it was apparent that it could not, and must not, continue much longer. It was then that Temple’s plan was brought under] the notice of the King. Temple had been Minister at the United Provinces of Holland, and had seen there a combination of Governments having an Executive power somewhat different from that which was known in England, and which seemed to work well in the circumstances of those provinces. Before any action could be taken by that Executive, the consent of every one of the provinces had to be obtained. Under such a system, it was necessary to have a very powerful Executive which could authorize all acts required to be taken suddenly. As the provinces had been living for centuries in a state of almost incessant warfare, it was necessary for the Executive to have full power to act in any emergency. Temple had had full experience of this system, and he was consulted by the King as to the action which he should take to increase the kingly power without irritating the Commons. His plan was that the King should give a semblance of popular authority to the Executive by selecting fifteen of its members from the Parliament, and the remaining fifteen from outside, and there was a stimulation that the fifteen members selected from the Par- liament should have a sum of .£300,000 annual income between them by way of qualification. There is a. great difference of opinion as to what Temple had in his mind in suggesting this scheme of Executive Government, but it seems apparent now that the proposal was one of the ordinary courtier - a proposal ‘to give the King his way whilst seeming to give the great body of the people a voice in the exercise of Executive authority, theoretically opposed to the power of the King. Temple’s plan, for various reasons, did not succeed, and the Stuarts passed away a second time. William III. then came to England. He came at a time when the discordant elements in the British Parliament were at their worst. Whatever .may be said of William III. - and I certainly entertain a sincere admiration for that great historic character -he never understood Englishmen, or English institutions. The only way in which he could deal with a somewhat turbulent Parliament, and with a national character which he did not understand, was to select his Ministers indiscriminately from the two parties then existing in the House of Commons. He adopted this course, and the consequence was that he brought together a perfectly discordant Ministry, the .members of which were always endeavouring to get the best of each other, as well as of their opponents. It will be readily recognised that such a system of Executive Government could not produce results to justify its existence. It happened that when William ITI. was brought almost to the verge of ‘despair in dealing with the turbulent Commons, Sunderland, one of the greatest rascals in British history - he was probably second only to Jeffreys - volunteered a plan by which the King could secure a stable Government, and still give satisfaction to the people of England. Sunderland was a double traitor. He was a double apostate, and had committed every political and religious crime - such as religious crimes were in those days - that could be imagined. This man, who was probably the most contempible of all the prominent characters of a somewhat contemptible period, brought before William III. a plan bv which it was suggested a stable Government might be created, and the work of government so carried on as to give the King the necessary supplies for his European wars, and at the same time ease him of the trouble of managing the turbulent Commons. This “was the system which we know to-day as the Cabinet responsible government. It is probably best described by Macaulay. I propose to quote now from a very old edition of his History of England, which I purchased as a boy, and which is as dear to me as an old friend and almost as familiar to my hand as a glove. I think I can answer for the text of the passage which I am about to quote, and which really puts the whole case for Cabinet government into the shortest possible compass. After detailing some of the circumstances to which I have already referred, Macaulay says at page 452 -
The Ministry is, in fact, a Committee of leading members of the two Houses. It is nominated by the Crown ; but it consists exclusively of statesmen whose opinions on the pressing questions of the time agree, in the main, with the opinions of the majority of the House of Commons. Among the members of this Committee are distributed the great departments of the administration. Each Minister conducts the ordinary business of his own office without reference to his colleagues. But the most important business of every office, and especially such business as is likely to be the subject of discussion in Parliament, is brought under the consideration of the whole Ministry. In Parliament the Ministers are bound to act as one man on all questions relating to the executive government. If one of them dissents from the rest on a question too important to admit of compromise, it is his duty to retire. While the Ministers retain the confidence of the parliamentary majority, that majority supports them against opposition, and rejects every motion which reflects on them, or is likely to embarrass them. If they forfeit that confidence, if the parliamentary majority is dissatisfied with the way in which patronage is distributed, with the way in which the prerogative of mercy is used, with the conduct of foreign affairs, with the conduct of a war, the remedy is simple. It is not necessary that the Commons should take on themselves the business of administration, that they should request the Crown to make this man a bishop and that man a judge, to pardon one criminal and to execute another, to negotiate a treaty on a particular basis, or to send an expedition to a particular place. They have merely 10 declare that they have ceased to trust the Ministry, and to ask for a Ministry which they can trust.
It is- by means of Ministries thus constituted, and thus changed, that the English Government has long been conducted in general conformity with the deliberate sense of the House of Commons, and yet has been wonderfully free from the vices which are characteristic of governments administered by large, tumultuous, and divided assemblies. A few distinguished persons,
Agreeing in their general opinions, are the confidential advisers at once of the Sovereign and of the Estates of the. Realm. In the closet they speak with the authority of men who stand high in the estimation of the representatives of the people. In Parliament they speak with the authority of men versed in great affairs, and acquainted with all the secrets of the State. Thus the Cabinet has something of the popular character of a representative body ; and the representative body has something of the gravity of a Cabinet. ,
This is a description by one who probably studied that period of history which saw the creation of the system more closely than did any other authority. He may be said to have practically lived in the age of which he wrote, and what he says in the passage I have quoted’ is all that can be said for the system. When we examine it in the light of the sordid, wretched experience of .those who, have worked it, and have seen it at work, we must brush it aside as having no force whatever. Macaulay goes on to say at page 453 of this edi- tion -
No writer has yet attempted to trace the progress of this institution, an institution indispensable to the harmonious working of our other institutions. The first Ministry was the work, partly of mere chance, and partly of wisdom ; not, however, of that highest wisdom which is conversant with great principles of political philosophy, but of that lower wisdom which meets daily exigencies by daily expedients.
That is what I hold the Cabinet system to be. It was introduced as an expedient, and’ probably remained a more or less successful expedient up to the days within our own memory. But the time has come when we have to look round for a different system. The present one has outlived its usefulness, and is producing nothing but loss, waste, and irritation. In other works, Macaulay, who was probably one of the greatest’ admirers of the statesmen of the revolution, admits that the mechanism of the Cabinet system has been defective. He says that it has given rise to a class of men who have developed the gift of “ working “ Parliaments - to the man who is known both in England and Australia as “ the old parliamentary hand.” He points out, further, that it has developed men having no special aptitude for devising or administering laws, or for taking charge of a Department ; but so long as they can work the machine, so long as they can hold a party together, so long as- they can, by more or less underground engineering, control the votes of the House and secure the passing of measures, they succeed under the system. To suffer defeat, as Macaulay says, in one of his essays, is nothing if you can make a big speech and win the votes. This is a system, he says, in still another of his essays, which has sent men to the India Board who do not know a rupee from a pagoda, and which has sent to the Admiralty Board men who do not know the bowsprit of a ship from her stern. It has made a foreign Minister of Pitt, who, a* George II. said, had never opened Vatel, who was then regarded as an authority on foreign complications. It is a system which nearly made a Chancellor of the Exchequer of Sheridan, a man who could not work a sum in long division. In our own experience this system has continuously put inferior men info office. That probably is not its worst feature. It has constantly placed round ?nen in square holes, and square men in round holes. It results in a loss of the whole force and vitality of one-half of the Legislature, while the other half is seeking . to govern. Let me quote another authority on this system - Sir Henry Maine, the very talented author of Ancient Law, who, by the way, is, so far as I can judge from his writings, a Conservative. At page 114 of Popular’ Government, one of his more recent works, he writes -
The Cabinet, which, through a series of constitutional fictions, has succeeded to all the powers of the Crown, has drawn to itself all, and more than all, of the royal power over legislation. It can dissolve Parliament, and if it were to advise the Crown to veto a Bill which had been passed through both Houses, there is no certainty that the proceeding would be seriously objected to. That it can arrest a measure at any stage of its progress through either House of Parliament is conceded on all hands; and, indeed, the exercise of this power was exemplified at the end of the session of 1884, when a large number of Bills of the highest importance were abandoned in deference to a Cabinet decision. The Cabinet has further become the sole source of all important legislation, and therefore by the necessity of the case, of all constitutional legislation; and as a measure amending the constitution passes through the House of Commons, the modification or maintenance of its details depends entirely on the fiat of the Ministers of the day. Although the Cabinet is quite unknown to the law, it is manifestly the English institution, which is ever more and more growing in authority and influence, and already, besides wielding more than the legislative powers of the Crown, it has taken to itself nearly all the legislative powers of Parliament, depriving it in particular of the whole right of initiation. The long familiarity of Englishmen with this institution, and with the copies of it made in the European countries which possess constitutions, has blinded them to its extreme singularity. There is a fashion among historians of expressing wonder not unmixed with dislike at the secret bodies and councils which they occasionally find invested with authority in famous States. In ancient history the Spartan Ephors- in modern_ history the Venetian Council of Ten, are criticised in this spirit. Many of these writers are Englishmen, and vet they seem quite unconscious that their own country is governed by a secret council.
One of the special objections to this systems, of government is that it is government by a secret council. ‘The decisions of a Cabinet are always come to behind the curtain, and it is only at rare intervals - aswhen certain honorable gentlemen who recently occupied the Treasury benches were’ forced to remove to this side ‘of the Chamber - that there is a little rift in thecurtain, and we are entertained with reminiscences of what has been taking place behind it. That sort of thing is not healthy. It is not in accordance with, what is done in connexion with the other branches of our system of government, that decisions in regard to amendments of the Jaw and of the Constitution should become to in secret. It would be far better if these things were done in the open* light of day, so that we could know what was proposed, and who supported and whoopposed it. If we knew that, we should cease to believe in the vaunted homogeneity of Cabinets. We should recognise the fact that has been revealed to us by the memoirsof many celebrated politicians, that, while to the world Cabinets are seemingly compact bodies, welded together to achieve, a common object, Ministers behind the scenes often squabble, and reconcile their differences only in order that they may continue to hold their positions. The climax of wonder is reached if we set to work to consider how a sensible, practical people, such as we are, can view the continuance of this systemwith patience. The operations of party government have failed throughout the body politic, and it is one of the most remarkablefacts of modern times that that system should continue to exist. No force hasbeen less carefully examined. To use a comparison of Sir Henry Maine, as we are hardly conscious of the pressure of the atmosphere on every square inch of our bodies, so we are hardly conscious of the effects of the party system. When we” rigidly and closely analyze and examine the matter, we must admit that, on whichever side we may sit, we are, consciously or unconsciously, biased by the fact that webelong to one party or another.
– Does the honorablemember see any disadvantages in this new proposal ?
– I do not seehalf as many disadvantages in it as I seein -the present system. Before I have concluded my remarks, I hope to show the House how far I agree with the Swiss sys- tern which abolishes the party strength underlying and supporting the Ministry, and the American system under which a party elects, upholds, supports, and keeps its nominees in office. If I were to tell the honorable member that I see no blemishes in the proposal which I am putting before the House, I should say what is untrue, because human wit and ingenuity cannot propose anything which “will be free from defects. But having looked into this matter very closely for seven or eight years past, I see fewer defects in the system which I suggest than have been demonstrated in the system under which we live. Sir Henry Maine has suggested that we should look at this question as an intelligent foreigner or a denizen of another part of the world, unaccustomed to our party divisions, would view it. Suppose, he says, that in one of the apologues so dear to the hearts of readers of the last century - some trifle by Montesquieu, Voltaire, or our own Goldsmith - an intelligent Huron Indian, an unsophisticated Mandarin, or some other visitor from far Eastern Asia, came to view our English civilization, and to witness the working of our institutions, what account would this traveller give of a cultivated and powerful European country whose political system consisted in half of the cleverest men in the land taking the utmost pains to prevent the other half from governing. Or, he says, taking the case of a Machiavelli analyzing a great party hero -
Many party heroes have been imagined who were never known to exist in reality. But he would describe them as they really were. Allowing them every sort of private virtue, he would deny that their virtues had had any effect upon their public conduct, except so far as they helped to make men believe their public conduct virtuous. But this public conduct he would find to be not so much immoral as nonmoral. He would infer from actual observation that the party hero was debarred by his position from the full practice of the great virtues of veracity, justice, and moral intrepidity. He could seldom tell the full truth: he could never be fair to persons other than his followers and associates. The picture drawn of him would be one which few living men would deny to be correct, though they might excuse its occurrence in nature on the score of moral necessity. And then, a century tor two later, when democracies were as much forgotten as the Italian Princedoms, our modern Machiavelli would perhaps be infamous, and his work a proverb of immorality.
In a previous motion of which I gave notice, but which I withdrew in order that we might have one discussion on the subject, I referred particularly to what I consi dered to be the effect of the party system on our political ethics. This effect is summed up in that extract from Sir Henry Maine in a way which should carry more conviction than any argument I could use. It is undeniably the fact that we all of us do for our party what we would not do for ourselves. When we are at variance with our party on some minor point, we say, “ I do not agree with this ; but what can I do in the matter ? One must go with the crowd “ ; and we stick to our party. It is also undeniable that frequently proposals which are brought forward by Ministers are submitted by that Minister who, by the irony of fate, is least in sympathy with them. They are the proposals of the majority of the Cabinet of which he is a member, but he, personally, disapproves of them. Such a system must be bad for a community. If a man honestly entertains certain views, and expresses them howsoever lamely, and with whatsoever feebleness of diction, he will do some good in the world, from the bare reason that he believes in them. But we often see - the fact is so well known as not to need the support of particular instances - measure after measure introduced into Parliaments by. men who are the first to speak in support of them, but probably least believe in them. A system which brings about such occurrences must have a demoralizing influence on the ethics of public life. A celebrated bishop, who has only recently died, refers to this effect of the Cabinet system as degrading and undermining the truth and honesty of the public life of Great Britain, and, as I have recently had occasion to learn, in reading Morley’s Life of Gladstone, our noblest and most exemplary public men are affected by it. The Cabinet system is, as I have already said, an instance of arrested development. Its creation was progress at one stage of our development, but, as Macaulay has said, it was the product of a lower wisdom, an expedient for the time being. As years have passed by, and we have seen it working, we have found it to be not so efficient as it was expected to be, and more productive of evil results than was anticipated. While we have developed in other directions, while we have extended the basis of government by granting the franchise, first to all men owning property, then to all men occupying property, then to all men who were of age, and now to all adults; while we have removed disability after disability from various classes and sects, we have left alone a system which was created to fit quite a different set of circumstances from that of the present time. One of these circumstances does not operate in our case. The conditions in England almost demanded that a party system of government should be adopted, owing to the existence of a National Church and the influence exercised by those connected with it. The Executive had the sole right to exercise patronage in connexion with appointments to offices in the Church, and under a system by which Parliament would have the right to separately elect each person to exercise the functions connected with a particular Department, it would have been difficult for the National Church to survive. If might have been possible, for instance, to appoint as Prime Minister a Jew in fact as well as by birth - as distinguished from Disraeli, who was a Jew by birth only. How under such a system could such a man be intrusted to exercise all the patronage of the Church? Not only was there necessity for the system of party government in connexion with the patronage of the Church, but the Church party itself exercised such a strong influence in politics that, in connexion with the formation of each Government, consideration had to be given to the question whether such and such a Minister would prove acceptable to the Church. We have nothing whatever to do with that factor in our politics, but we have still followed the system of government which was adopted in England to meet very different circumstances. Sir Samuel Griffith, whom I recognise as one of the ablest of the founders of our Federal Constitution, in his Notes on Federation, pages 17 and 18, says -
There are, perhaps, few political or historical subjects with respect to which so much misconception has arisen in Australia as that of responsible government. It is, of course, an elementary principle, that the person at whose volition an act is done, is the proper person to be held responsible for it. So long as acts of State are done at volition of the head of the State, he alone is responsible for them. But if he owns no superior who can call him to account, the only remedy against intolerable acts is revolution. The system called responsible government is based on the notion that the head of the State can himself do no wrong, that he does not do any act of State of his own motion, but follows the advice of his Ministers, on whom the responsibility for acts done, in order to give effect to their volition, naturally falls. They are therefore called responsible Ministers. If they do wrong, they can be punished or dismissed from office, without effecting any change in the headship of the State. Revolution is there- fore no longer a necessary possibility ; for rt change of Ministers effects peacefully the desired result. The system is in practice so intimately connected with parliamentary government and’ party government that the terms are often used’ as convertible. The present form of development of responsible government is that, when thebranch of the Legislature which more immediately represents the people, disapproves of the actions of Ministers, or ceases to have confidence in them, the head of the State dismisses them, or acceptstheir resignation, and appoints new ones. The effect is that the actual government of the State is conducted by officers who enjoy the confidenceof the people. In practice they are themselves members of the Legislature. . . The “ sanction “ of this unwritten law is found in the power of Parliament to withhold the necessary supplies for carrying on the business of the Government, until the Ministers appointed by the head of the State command their confidence. In practice alsothe Ministers work together as one body, and are appointed on the recommendation of one of them, called the Prime Minister. And, usually, the expression of want of confidence in one is accepted as a censure of all. This is not, however, the invariable rule; and it is evidently an accidental and not a fundamental feature of responsiblegovernment.
I am now drawing near to what I conceive to be the solution of the difficulty. When people speak of responsible government, as if that embodied all the features of our present system of selecting and forming Executives, a wrong impression is created, because the contrary of what they suggest cannot exist. An irresponsible system of government is impossible. Every system of government is responsible. Even an autocracy is subject to the responsibility to pay the penalty of a successful revolution. We should limit the definition of the system under which we live to parliamentary government - responsibility to one branch of the Legislature, which is also a Cabinet system of government. I think that we could still retain the Cabinet, but that we should further develop our Executive Council in the manner that is amply provided for under the Constitution. At present an Executive Council, which ought to be something greater than the Ministry - although it may include Ministers - and something created for greater purposes, does not ., exist for the reason that under our present working out of the Constitution the Ministry and the Executive Council are One and the same. I think that this question is to be solved bv appointing Ministers individually at the will of this House, dealing with each man separately, and, having regard to his especial abilities, appointing him to exercise the functions relating to one Department. If the amendment I intend to move be agreed to, I hope that some honorable members better skilled than I am will be able to elicit information that will guide us to a wise decision. After thinking over the matter foa a considerable time, I have come to the conclusion that at the outset of our reform we should call into being an Executive Council which would be something more than a Ministry - which would embody what we believe to be the ideal underlying all our political progress. The Executive Council should be a miniature Parliament; and it should be fully representative pf the Parliament. As has been frequently pointed out, no Ministry can be responsible to two Houses, and consequently no Minister can be responsible to two Houses. In view of the fact that under the Constitution this House has had conferred upon it certain powers over the finances, and certain powers of initiation in regard to financial legislation, it should have the control and appointment of Ministers who are to discharge the Executive functions in connexion with the great spending Departments. -This House could not give up that position, nor could there be any claim on the part of the Senate based upon reasonableness to interfere with the right of this House to appoint Ministers, which, up to the present time, has remained unchallenged. I “must confess that when the first change of Government took place, I thought that some trouble would arise with regard to this matter. If we had had in the Senate strong statesmen of the type that we can remember in the pre-Federation days, there would have been considerable trouble with regard to the constitution of the second Federal Ministry. In any case, however, it would be difficult for the Senate to seriously question the_ right of this House to appoint Ministers to discharge executive functions in connexion with the great spending Departments whilst this House has the control of the finances. With regard to another point, however, the Senate will be fairly entitled to put in its claim’. It might fairly ask us to do what the Constitution provides for, namely, to constitute the Executive Council upon a wider basis. I would suggest that whilst we reserve to this House the power - by resolution conveying an address to the Crown’, recommending such appointments -to appoint Ministers to the seven portfolios already provided for, we should add to the then number, in order to con stitute an Executive Council which would reflect the opinions, hopes, ambitions, and aims of the whole of the Legislature, the Speaker of this House, the President of the Senate, and three other members of the Senate to be selected as membersof the Executive. That would give us* twelve members of an Executive, elected possibly at different times, who, at the time of their election, would represent the prevailing opinion with respect to their fitness’ for any particular office, or for the position of Executive Councillor. To a very large extent the Executive would be a body subject to few changes, because, if an honorable member discharged the functions appertaining to his Ministerial office with general satisfaction to this House, I take it that there would be -no desire on the part of this House, and much less excuse than exists at present, to turn him out of the office. We turn out a Ministry frequently because it has made a ‘blunder, or has taken a course at variance with the views of the House, on a question of finance. We get rid of an able Defence Minister because the Treasurer has failed to secure the approval of the House in regard to some details of his financial scheme, or if the Minister of Home Affairs, with” the concurrence of the Cabinet, makes some blundering proposal, having relation to the electoral system, or some other branch of the work of his Department, we may, in the process of getting rid of the Ministry, turn out of office the most efficient man who could be selected for the position of Treasurer. Over and over again this happens, and the climax of wonder is reached when it is conceded that we, as common sense, intelligent people, have put up for so many years with a system which gives such damnable results, which yields the least possible good from the Executive, and which, as Maine says, occupies one-half of the ablest men on one side of the House in endeavours to prevent the other half from ruling the country. I do not wish (o occupy too much time; in reading the large number of extracts that I have with me, but I desire to place this matter verv fully before’ the House, and I should like to .point out some of the difficulties which have arisen in able minds with regard to our Constitution. The honorable member for Perth apparently at one time - I believe he has since changed his opinion - was under the impression that in order to bring about the change he seeks to effect it would be necessary to introduce legislation into this House. From the outset, I have taken up the position that, under the Constitution, no such step is required, and I am supported in that view by some authorities whom I shall presently quote. . Before doing so, however, and in order that honorable members may understand the modern genesis of this idea, I should like to refer to the manner in which the question was viewed by the members of the Convention. I desire to assure honorable members that it was not by any means a foregone conclusionthat the Convention would adopt the old system of Executive Government existing in ‘the separate States. It was pointed out by many experienced men that we should depart from this old system of party government. The original motion submitted by the late Sir Henry Parkes at the Federal Convention in 1891 concluded with these words -
An Executive, consisting of a GovernorGeneral, and such persons as may from time to time be appointed as his advisers, such persons sitting in Parliament, and whose term of office shall depend upon their possessing the confidence of the House of Representatives, expressed by the support of the majority.
It is quite plain, from the form in which that experienced statesman put the matter, that it was intended to adopt in its entirety theparty system of government. But in the general discussion which followed, Sir Samuel Griffith laid down the principle - I have already quoted it from his Notes on Australian Federation - that under a system of Federal Government it was at any rate necessary to consider how far we should be able to depart from that system. With the fathers of our Constitution, it was not a question as to whether or not they should depart from the party system of government, but of how far they should depart from it. Summing up the general view entertained by members of the Conventions, I say that what was ultimately agreed to, was a form of wording which does not prevent the adoption of the party system of government - which does not altogether disallow it. In the language used by Mr. Speaker, who put the matter better than did most members of the Contention -
There must be a ready and easy way to make amendments in the Constitution. It must be elastic, and susceptible, not to a wave of public feeling which may be purely temporary, but where there is a growth of public conviction, it must be possible to alter the Constitution when we have framed it. What I amafraidof now is that, in providing definitely for responsible government, we may find that clinging to responsible government may lead us. to a greater sacrifice than it would be to surrender it.
Though it was taken for granted that the first Commonwealth Ministry - and probably the second - would be formed under the system of responsible government, as it is known to us, I claim that the Constitution is sufficiently elastic to enable many variations of that system to be adopted if it is found expedient to do so. At the first Federal Convention, Dr. Hackett boldly declared that either responsible government would kill Federation, or that Federation would kill responsible government. What he meant by that statement was that Federation would probably kill responsible government by substituting for it some other form of Executive. That opinion was also entertained by the President of the Senate, who wrote a full explanation of his views regarding the Executive in the Federation. His idea was that, in the proposed Federation, we could not logically adopt the old system of making the Cabinet responsible to the Legislature. Though it is notpart of my province - or of that of any other honorable member - to argue as to the rights of the Senate, it seems to me absurd that under our Constitution a Ministry may live or die at the dictation of thisHouse without reference to the other Chamber. “Section 64 of the Constitution provides -
The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such Departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.
Such officers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General. They shall be members of the Federal Executive Council, and shall be Queen’s Ministers of State for the Commonwealth.
After the first general election no Minister of State shall hold office for a longer period than three months, unless he is, or becomes, a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
The following section sets out -
Until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Ministers of State shall not exceed seven in number, and shall hold such offices as the Parliament prescribes, or, in the absence of provision, as the Governor-General directs.
Professor Harrison Moore, one of our most eminent authorities on this subject, after referring at length to these sections, proceeds - vide page 226 of his work on The Australian Constitution:-
The other provisions regarding the Ministers of State, though they are made with a view to the Cabinet system, do not preclude very extensive modifications of that system. There is no recognition of the Cabinet, for, as pointed out, the Federal Executive Council is not necessarily identical in constitution or function with a Cabinet. There is no recognition of the collective responsibility of the Ministers of State ; section 64 treats them as separate administrative officials, and there is no hint of a Prime Minister. There is nothing to prevent the virtual establishment of Ministries elected by Parliament, which at one time found some favour in Australia, though they cannot be given the fixity of tenure which the instability of political parties has recommended to many persons. All that has been done is to establish a Parliamentary Executive ; the rest is left as in England and the colonies generally, to custom and convention.
In a note to this passage the same writer states -
The curiously worded section 65 may be found to have some bearing on this subject.
The writer is hardly justified in using the expression “ is left as in England,” seeing that the British Constitution is an unwritten one, and he might have gone further with regard to our own Constitution, and have said that ail that has been done is to establish a parliamentary Executive of a certain character for purposes of initiation, and pending the creation by Parliament of an Executive. It was necessary to establish a parliamentary Executive to start the mechanism of Federation, and the Constitution, created a form of executive which the GovernorGeneral could call into being before the Parliament was in existence. All that our Constitution does is to create the possibility of calling such an Executive into being. It is then left to this Parliament to decide upon any modification of that system within the ambit of the Constitution. The same writer, on page 90, dealing with the preponderance of Parliament in the Commonwealth, says -
The organization and regulation of the Executive is almost exclusively in the hands of Parliament. though he adds -
Cabinet Government is everywhere a matter of convention rather than of law, but it is more clearly adverted to in the Commonwealth Constitution than in the Constitution Act of any of the Colonies.
Then-, again, upon page 531, he says, in mitigation of the quotation which I have just made, and which is somewhat against my contention -
Doubtless the Cabinet system, as applied to Federal Government, will develop new conventions and understandings, affecting both the Constitution of Ministries, and the relations of the Houses of Parliament. (
I take it that in our modern Constitution we have more than ever made up our minds as a nation to achieve the ideal that the will of the people alone must prevail.. That is what we are approaching. I say that if this Parliament chooses to doso, it can, under the Constitution, appoint any man whom it may select to any office, and that its will in that respect is paramount, and would be accepted by the GovernorGeneral. In 1873 Lord Dufferin, who was then Governor-General of Canada, put quite clearly, at Halifax, the relationswhich should and must exist between the Crown and the Parliament. He said : -
My only guiding star in the conduct and maintenance of my official relations with your publicmen is the Parliament of Canada. I believe in Parliament, no matter which way it votes; and to those men alone whom the deliberate will of the Confederate Parliament of Canada mayassign to me as my responsible advisers, can I give my confidence. .Whether they are the headsof this party or of that party, must be a matter of indifference to the Governor-General; so longas they are maintained, he is bound to give them, his unreserved confidence, to defer to their advice,, and to loyally assist’ them with his counsels. As a reasonable being, he cannot help having convictions on the merits qf different policies, but. these considerations are abstract and speculative,., and devoid of practical effect in his official relations. As the head of a Constitutional State, engaged in the administration of Parliamentary Government, the Governor-General has no politicals friends - still less can he have political enemies.
I should like to use a homely illustration to* show what I consider are the effects of party government upon our practical politics… I was acquainted some years ago with a. gentleman who was interested in a Melbourne pickle factory, which was turning: out excellent goods, and doing far betterwork of its kind than is now being doneby this Parliament. The establishment wasunder the care of an overseer, in whom theproprietor had full confidence. As time went on, however, the manager in chargeof the business met another overseer who was looking for a billet, and he was fool enough to think that it would be wise to have a second overseer sitting, so to speak,, in opposition, and watching overseer No… 1, so as to make sure that the business wasbeing conducted on proper lines. This seemed a very ingenious plan. It would, of course, involve a little extra expense, but the result, it was felt, would be the production of pickles that would suit the publictaste, and lead to increased profits. Butwhat was the outcome of this innovation ? Pickle overseer No. 2 set to work - just as a leader of the Opposition in this Parliament must conscientiously do - to undermine his rival. He was determined that pickle- maker No. i’s “Picalilli” should not be half as good as it ought to be, that his “ Chow Chow “ should be of very inferior quality, and that his “ mixed pickles “ should be a very mixed lot. He succeeded admirably, and there was a change of government in that factory. The leader of the opposition went over to the government benches, and his honorable friend went into opposition. The owner of the factory, however, did not benefit by the change, for the original overseer, who could make first class pickles, took care that the new overseer should not turn out a good article. This is a very humble illustration - such an illustration as Abraham Lincoln might have introduced with much better effect , than I have done - but to my mind it shows conclusively the effect of our present system of party government. We have a highly gifted man on one side of the House trying, probably, to prevent an equally gifted man on the other side from accomplishing any good work. That is the position from a plain business point of view, and that is the way in which we ought to look at this matter. We need results. The Constitution of the Commonwealth is a healthy tree. It is well rooted ; it has a sound trunk and good limbs, but it is not bearing fruit. What we require to do is not to root it out, but to graft a better system of executive on to it, so that we may expect to secure fruit instead of the mere empty discussions and waste of time which it is at present producing. What have we done? I see before me the Treasurer, whose hospitality I have enjoyed on many occasions, and of whom I should be the last to say an unkind word. Amongst the few amenities of life in this Parliament I recognise that the opportunity which it affords one to enjoy almost daily intercourse with such a man as the right honorable gentleman, is one to be highly prized. My right honorable friend crossed Australia on foot, and now he wishes to cross it again on the iron track. On the occasion of his great overland trip he carried in his knapsack the Bible, and the works of Shakspeare and Gibbon, and transferred’ them on the march from his knapsack ‘ to his immortal mind. Surely one may feel some pride in knowing such a man. But high as is my appreciation, of him, he is not the Admirable Crichton which his career in this Parliament would lead one to believe. Like Lord Brougham, if he had known a little law he might have been expected to know a little of everything. He lias occupied’ nearly every office in the Federal MinistryHe has undoubtedly the ability to fill some public office and that office having been determined upon, he should be kept there so that his distinguished gifts might be devoted in a proper direction to the service of the country. But what is the position ? Take the other Ministerial offices. There is for instance, the Department of Defence, over which the right honorable member for Swan once presided. That Department has been administered by no less than five different members during the last five years, and it is to-day even more disorganized than it was in the first year of Federation. Then, again, let us turn to the Post and Telegraph Department, the administration of which has been marked by a measure of success because it comes more within the scope of the practical experience and ability of those members of the Parliament who can be selected to exercise executive functions. We have had men appointed to the .office of Postmaster- General, who, with the abilities they possess, have developed a certain degree of executive skill, and have made themselves so well acquainted with the requirements of their office as to be able to do good work. But as fast as each of these honorable members has become thoroughly qualified to discharge “the duties of that office, he has been hurled from power for no other reason than that the head of the Government has made up his mind with regard to some trumpery clause in a Bill, or in respect to the position of his eminent friend the leader of the Opposition. Are these sound reasons for bringing the practical business and work of the nation to a standstill ? Is the punctilious’ regard of the head of the Government for his personal honour in reference to a speech made by the honorable member for Brown Hill or Baker’s Flat to be a sufficient reason for his resigning office, and so hurling his colleagues from power, and disorganizing the whole administration of the several Departments of State? The action taken by the late Prime Minister, which resulted in the defeat of his Government, was right in the circumstances; but I wish to remove the possibility of such circumstances arising in future. My desire is to bring about such a state of affairs that the leader of a Government will not in such circumstances be called upon to resign, or to accept the alternative of being regarded as one prepared to cling ignobly to office. If the right honorable member for East Sydney had had his way, he would have sent the House to the country. Speaking personally, I had no fear of a dissolution, but I felt that the only result would be the return of the three parties in the House with very much the same strength as before. If any honorable member analyzes existing parties, as I have done, he will find that we are differently divided on different questions. On the question of free-trade and protection, the protectionist majority is a small one, while on the question of nationalism against State rights we have an overwhelming majority in favour of what I consider to be nationalism. Honorable members on this side of the House are often referred to as “crusted Tories.” I am always amused to hear myself so described, and I would point out that we have among the Opposition democrats, who, united with the democrats opposite, would form an overwhelming, majority against anything like conservatism. Then, again, the question of whether we should have a navy of our own, or a system of defence, having some regard for our relation to the rest of the Empire, is one on which Tories and Democrats, Protectionists, Free-traders, Nationalists, and States-rights men are also much divided. Where are we to draw the line of cleavage for the purposes of party government in this Parliament? Such a line cannot be drawn. The system is kept alive only by accidental circumstances, and by legitimate personal ambition. There are times when the people of every country are called upon to consider the extent to which their political systems shall be reformed. It was at such a time that the Cabinet system was adopted in England, and a like state of affairs has again arisen. This system of parliamentary government, which might almost be said to have reached its full development, is declared by stern inexorable facts to be on its trial - the trial that comes to all institutions whosestagnant maturity demands a reformation - always more or less a reversion to first principles. We have to meet a crisis similar to that which our ancestors faced in the time of James I., or that which our fathers had to face just prior to the passing of the Reform Bill. It will soon again be necessary to reform the system in order that we may preserve the fundamental principles of popular government. To do this, it may be necessary to amend some of the subordinate parts of the system. By introducing some improvements in the political machine, we may give fuller and more perfect effect to the principles upon which it is constructed, while preserving all that is essential. Consider, then, the position of this young nation, the latest off-shoot of a race inferior to none in the long, wide story of the world for its capacity to devise means whereby a free people shall govern itself according to the dual lights of conscience and reason. This race has given the world the Mother of Parliaments, with its unwritten Constitution, which is the admiration of civilized mankind, and is incomparable to anything, unless it be the operations of nature, the creation of a world -
Slow grows the splendid pattern that it plans,
Its wistful hands between.
This race has given to’ us the noble Constitution of the United States of America, begotten of that mighty mother, a charter under which 80,000,000 people enjoy political freedom.; it has also produced our own no less noble Constitution, of which the right honorable member for Adelaide, at the conclusion of the Convention, so eloquently said -
Mine will be no Laodicean advocacy. I welcome it as the most magnificent Constitution into which the chosen representatives of a free and enlightened people ever breathed the life of popular sentiment and national hope.
Shall we, thus endowed - feeling, experiencing, and knowing the defects that have arisen - pusillanimously declare that political development is extinct ? Shall we declare that perfection was achieved in this or that period of modern history, and refuse, for no better reason than a timid reverence for that which is, to depart from effete forms and obsolete methods which have carried us so far away from the principles upon which they were founded ? Not so those great ones whom we venerate in our nation’s story, who made our England the land she is -
Where freedom slowly broadens down
From precedent to precedent - and established that Greater Britain beyond the four seas. These men made precedents when it might well be thought to be unreasonable to follow them. If the evils of our political system can be remedied or abated, practical common sense, of which we have shown no deficiency, should prompt us to take this step, in full reliance upon our powers under the Constitution to govern ourselves, with full faith in our loyalty to law and order, with every confidence in the spirit of patriotism amongst us. and with a laudable desire to carry one step further the practical working out of democracy. If, in the administration of national affairs, we find that Hobbes was right in saying that ‘ ‘ Liberty is power cut into fragments,” then the aim of political scientists should be to gather up these fragments, and to consolidate them into an intelligent expression of the national will, operating for the commonweal of the Commonwealth, without unnecessary friction and delay. I ask leave to continue my remarks this day week, not because I intend to do so, but in order to secure the adjournment of the debate.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
– I move -
Notwithstanding the eloquent speech to which the House has just listened, I trust that I may succeed in securing for a few minutes the attention of honorable members to the practical proposal which I am submitting. I earnestly hope that it will not be necessary for me to say much to convince them that the appointment of the proposed Select Committee is a desirable step to take. Indeed, I had hoped that the motion would commend itself to so many honorable members that the Government would allow it to go unopposed. The Committee will be a non-party body. At the suggestion of the honorable member for Wide Bay, representatives are nominated for each of the States, three of the proposed members having been Treasurers of the Commonwealth. If it is thought that Victoria has too large a representation, I hope that the House will have no hesitation in omitting my name, which has been inserted because it is customary for the mover of a Select Committee to nominate himself as a member of it. The consolidation and conversion of the debts of the States was regarded as the most important of the objects of Federation, not only because it was thought desirable to obtain a simplification of control and to acquire more complete security, but because of the financial advantages to be obtained thereby for all the States. It may be properly urged that this benefit will not be secured immediately, but I confidentlv believe that it will be secured within a reasonable period of time. It seems idle, however, for the Commonwealth Parliament to simply remain open to receive suggestions and proposals on this subject. What the people of Australia ask for is a definite and concrete business proposition, and that can be secured only in the manner I suggest. The object of the Committee will be to recommend the scheme which will best serve the interests of all the States. In proposing the motion, it is not necessary to deal with the merits of the situation per se. The right honorable member for Balaclava, whose absence from Australia at the present time I regard as a great misfortune, showed, in the speeches which he made at the two Conferences held, one at Melbourne and the second at Hobart, a thorough appreciation of the difficulties of this question, based on long association with Commonwealth and States finance. The operation in view is inferior in magnitude only to the great Goschen conversion, involving as it does £233.000,000, though the whole of that amount has not to be dealt with immediately, because the loans are for varying terms, and contracted under varying conditions. The Goschen conversion had nothing like the difficulties surrounding it which attach to this conversion, inasmuch as the Administration of which Mr. Goschen was a Minister, were close to the source of the financial wealth of the world, and were advised by the greatest financial experts, while they had not to deal with the complicated States interests whichsurround this proposal. I take it that honorable members are unanimous in the opinion that the debts of the States should be converted and consolidated with the least possible delay, and I desire to enumerate the various fundamental and vital questions of policy which must engage the best attention of the Committee. The first question for the Committee to consider is : Shall the Commonwealth confine itself to the exercise of the first power given to it by section 105 of the
Constitution, and take over the whole of the debts of the States incurred at the date of the inauguration of Federation? These debts amount to ,£202,303,127. The next question is: Shall the Commonwealth exercise the alternative power which is given to it in that section, and take over the debts of the States pro rata, according ito population? This would reduce the transfer to £1 72,000,000, and leave the States with an indebtedness of over £60,000,000? The third question is: Shall the Commonwealth take over all the debts of the States, including those incurred since the inauguration of Federation, amounting to £233,000,000? The next set of considerations contains the question : How is this to lae done? Is it to be effected by joint State and Commonwealth legislation, or by a change of the Constitution ? If bv the latter, what is to be the extent of the change? The Committee must then consider what steps are necessary to prevent the dislocation of the finances of the States, and to save time. In this connexion they must deal with the question : Shall the Braddon clause be extended, as the States have indicated the wish that it shall be extended, or shall the Commonwealth alternatively agree to return to the States fixed amounts, based on their respective past receipts ? Then comes the question : What indemnity shall the States give to the Commonwealth for the payment of shortages in interest? The right honorable member for Balaclava pointed out at the last Hobart Conference that the New South Wales shortage would be £527,000 ; the Victorian shortage, £200,000 ; the Queensland shortage, £825,000 ; the South Australian shortage, £576,000, and the Tasmanian shortage, £98,000. while Western Australia alone would have a surplus of £203,000. Another question is : Shall the gross or net revenue from the railways of the States be hypothecated to the Commonwealth ? What steps are necessary to effect ‘all these changes, and to provide the requisite security, which is an absolutely necessary condition precedent to any operation for the conversion or consolidation of the debts’ of the States? Then there is the policv of future Borrowing : Shall future borrowing be done by the Commonwealth or by the States ? This will have to be made the subject of agreement between the States and the Commonwealth. Then there is the question of the sinking fund to be established, and the funds for the purpose of repurchasing stocks, for which special provision will have to be made by the States. Further, a decision will have to be arrived at as tothe character and value of Commonwealth bonds, as to how consolidated funds shall be established, and as to the rate of interest to be offered, the rate of premium charged, or discount allowed in connexion with the issue of Commonwealth stock. These and many other questions, and manyother matters of subsequent administration, which are indissolubly mixed up with great questions of .policy, will have to be considered. Upon all these :points it is desirable that we should obtain expert information. Any mistakes that may be made at the outset, owing to want of proper understanding, or full consideration, will involve the Commonwealth in losses amounting to probably hundreds of thousands of pounds. The public interests can be properly conserved only by the exercise of care in the initial transactions, and by the submission of a complete scheme which will’ commend itself to the financiers of Great Britain. The mere recital of the various matters which require attention should be sufficient to indicate the magnitude of the task that would lie before a Select Committee or before any Treasurer,, and I submit, therefore, that I am justified in submitting the motion. It should be the object of the1 Committee, among other things, to secure the co-operation of the States, because I do not think that any scheme would prove satisfactory if it were adopted in opposition to. their views. The arrangements made must toe, as far aspossible, of a mutual character. I do not think that the late Treasurer was fairly treated at the Hobart Conference, wherehis very sound and valuable proposals met with so much opposition. I hope that more reasonable counsels will prevail, particularly if the proposals put forward by the Commonwealth are backed up ‘bv the advice of leading financial experts. The appointment of the proposed Committee, would constitute the first practical step taken in the direction of the settlement of this great question. The Committee would not be likely to incur any great expense, nor doI think that any great delay would occur in the .preparation of their report. . The honorable members to whom I have spoken> desire to dispose of the matter as speedily as possible. I am perfectly aware that there is a feeling among honorable members against the appointment of too manyCommittees, but in view of the important interests at stake, I earnestly hope that no objection will be raised in this case. The subject to be dealt with is highly technical, and we should obtain the very best advice obtainable with regard to it.
– I desire to say that when I observed that my name was included among those of whom it was proposed to constitute the Committee. I had some little doubt as to the course I ought to follow; but I have come to the conclusion that, unless in the course of the debate it appears that any party issues are involved, I should place myself at the <lisDosal of the House. If a general desire is expressed that I should act as a member of the Committee, I shall not refuse to do so.
I directed attention to the stateof the House, because in the absence of honorable members the honorable member for Kooyong has just made a very interesting speech, and you, Mr. Speaker, have made a most important declaration with regard to one of the most important matters with which the Executive have to deal. It is proposed that a Select Committee shall be appointed to discharge one of the most important functions of Government, and I ask honorable members to oppose the motion. The conplexity of theproblem which has to be solved does not afford sufficient justification for the appointment of a Select Committee. I desire to know whether tne Prime Minister intends to support the motion ?
– I shall not oppose it.
– Then the Prime Minister is prepared tosurrender to the Committee one of the most important functions of Government. The Treasurer should be held responsible in regard to all matters of finance. He is drawing a handsome salary, and has the honour of appearing before the country as the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, and he should be called upon to discharge the responsibilities attaching to his office. Either the Treasurer is capable, or he is not. It appears to me that by consenting to the appointment of the Committee, the Treasurer is admitting his own incapacity. Select Committees, or Commissions, should be appointed only in extreme cases, and Ministers should most jealously protect Parliament against any encroachment upon its domain. It is proposed to appoint a Select Committee to investigate what is admitted by the honorable member for Kooyong to be a matter of policy. Am I to understand that questions of policy are to be remitted to bodies of this character, so that Ministers may evade their responsibility? If the Treasurer had submitted a scheme for the transfer of the States debts, and if it had been found that we had not sufficient information to justify us in adopting that scheme, I could easily understand a Select Committee being appointed to make inquiries. But in the present instance it is proposed to appoint a Select Committee to formulate a scheme for the transfer of the States debts. This afternoon the honorable member for South Sydney delivered one of the most eloquent speeches upon a constitutional question that has been heard in this Chamber, and it seems to me a pity that more attention was not paid to his remarks. Apparently the Treasurer is prepared to surrender the responsibilities of his office to a Select Committee. In effect, he admits that he is unable to deal with this question. Surely to formulate a scheme for the transfer of the States debts is not beyond the capacity of the right honorable gentleman. In the mother country matters of this kind are never referred to Select Committees. Our present system of government is either good or bad. If Parliament consents to refer the debts problem to a Committee, that body must accept responsibility for dealing with it. The Treasurer is prepared to abandon alike his duty and his responsibility. In effect he says, “ Here is an important matter. Let us delegate it to a Select Committee.”
– It is nonsense for the right honorable gentleman to accept a salary of £2,000 per annum, and to evade his responsibility in this connexion.
– That is a mean, paltry way of dealing with a public question.
– The right honorable gentleman is adopting a mean, paltry way of escaping from his responsibility, whilst gasconading before the Commonwealth as its Treasurer.
– Order ! The honorable member is scarcely in order in making that remark.
– The honorable member) should not be rude. He should behave himself.
– The Treasurer’s idea of good behaviour is that we should prostrate ourselves before him as if he were a monarch.
– Order. The question before the Chair has reference to the appointment of a Select Committee, and not to the behaviour of the Treasurer. I called the attention of the honorable member to the improper remark which he made, and which provoked the rejoinder from the Treasurer. Both remarks were out of order.
– Nobody regrets more than I do that we should indulge in personalities, but the only way in which we can effectually call attention to a matter of this kind is by making our remarks as caustic as possible. By referring the question of the transfer of the States debts to a Select Committee, the Government are permitting a usurpation of Executive authority.
– Do not use the word “ Executive,” because the honorable member must know that that statement is incorrect.
– I maintain that the States debts question, the operation of the provision in our Constitution relating to the bookkeeping period, and of the Braddon section, are matters which come within the scope of the Treasurer’s Department. By consenting to the relegation of such matters to a Select Committee, the right honorable gentleman is lowering the standard of the administration of his office. The information which such a body could obtain is easily accessible to the Treasurer, and he should be the last person to surrender his power in a matter of this kind. I opposed the proposal which was submitted by the honorable member for Barrier in favour of the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the question of the desirability of establishing, a State-owned line of mail steamers, because I regarded it as a usurpation of the responsibilities of the Postmaster-General. Similarly I opposed the motion of the honorable and learned member for Corio for the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the Defence regulations. I believe that Select Committees should be appointed only in the most extreme cases, and that they should never be created to consider questions of principle. To-day we are asked to appoint a committee to inquire into a matter of principle upon which this House has not yet decided’ to legislate. Surely the fact that members may be called upon to sit) upon these bodies does’ not close their eyes to the danger of unduly multiplying them. The Prime Minister has indicated his willingness to agree to this proposal. Is it not the duty of the Treasurer to deal with matters affecting the finances of the States ? It is proposed, Mr. Speaker, that you shall be a member of the Select Committee. I know that you have the reputation of being one of the ablest financiers in Australia, but I cannot say of my own knowledge that that reputation is well founded. I should be the last to say that the Parliament should not have the benefit of your experience in these matters, but I hold that if you possess these special qualifications, you should really hold office as Treasurer. I hare often regretted that you are precluded by your position from taking part in our debates, and so affording the House the benefit of your ripe parliamentary experience, but I feel satisfied that if you occupied the office of Treasurer you would be the first to resent a proposal to appoint a Select Committee to deal with the administration of your Department. Your answer to such a proposition :would be that those honorable members who profess to be experts in finance should by means of the debates in the House itself, give the country the full benefit of their experience instead of asking for the appointment of a Select Committee to enable them to do so. By yielding to1 the request for the appointment of various Select Committees, the Ministry are surrendering the principles of responsible government. If this is to be the attitude of responsible administrators, I shall have no hesitation in supporting the motion for the appointment of elective Ministries. I intend to resist every proposal for the appointment of a Select Committee to discharge duties Which should be performed by the Government of the day. By consenting to the appointment of this Committee the Treasurer will lower himself in the eyes of the permanent officers of his Department.
– I have not said anything in reference to the motion.
– The Prime Minister has said that he will not oppose the motion, and I should like to know what position the
Treasurer takes up. If he agrees to the appointment of this Committee, he will confess his inability to discharge the duties of his office. It is undesirable that we should too readily acquiesce in the appointment of Select Committees to interfere with the functions of government. I know that in taking up this attitude, I am becoming the Ishmaelite of the House. One must have due regard to the policy of “ smoodge,” if he wishes to make any progress in the world of politics, and if I wished to become unpopular, I could not do better than oppose the appointment of all Select Committees. I feel, however, that the Government are seeking to evade their Ministerial responsibilities. One of my strong objections to the Labour Party is that its policy has killed individual responsibility, and placed collective decision in its stead. It is largely because of that belief that I am not allied with the party to which I refer. I remember an occasion when the Minister of Trade and Customs resisted a proposal to appoint a Select Committee.
– I am not in favour of the appointment of too many Select Committees.
– I am glad to hear it. The honorable gentleman opposed the appointment of a Select Committee to dealwith a certain measure.
– The chances are that I may vote against the motion now before the Chair. In fact, I have already paired against it.
– I trust that the honorable gentleman will record his vote against the motion. What has been the result of the labours of the several Select Committees that have been appointed by this Parliament? Can any one point to a recommendation by a Select Committee that has been adopted by the House, on the motion of a member of that Committee? As a matter of fact, I do not think that action has been taken on the report of any of these Committees, save at the instance of the Government of the day. Inquiries are made by these bodies, and reports are prepared at great expense, but it rarely happens that those reports are read by honorable members.
– Some parts of the report of the Iron Bonus Commission have beenvery widely read.
– That is so. But it generally remains for the Government of the day to introduce measures based on the re commendations of Select Committees. There is a danger that the Committee now proposed to be appointed will seek to exercise legislative as well as administrative powers, and that is another reason why its appointment should be opposed. If it: be appointed, it will rest with the Government of the day to take action upon its report, but I feel satisfied that the only result will be a waste of time and money. The Treasurer will now recognise that I do not oppose the appointment of Select Committees simply because they involve the payment of allowances. I would ask the Attorney-General to say whether he thinks a Committee should be appointed to deal with matters that should receive the consideration of the Government itself. The honorable and learned gentleman submitted a celebrated motion which resulted in the appointment of the Tariff Commission, and I think he admits that that motion was launched with the object of destroying the late Ministry.
– No; I could not be held responsible if the late Ministry chose to commit hari-kari.
– The Tariff Commissionhas given satisfaction to neither the protectionist nor the free-trade party. We find the leading protectionist newspaper in this State referring to it in terms of contempt, and evincing great dissatisfaction with its proceedings. This shows how ineffective its labours are likely to be. I am anxiousto convince honorable members of the absolute futility of appointing Select Committees or Commissions, and i think the results so far achieved by the appointment of the Tariff Commission and various Select Committees amply support my case.
– Did the honorablemember vote for the appointment of theTariff Commission ?
– No vote was taken on the question ; but I have opposed’ the appointment of Select Comrnittees, first, in regard to the PostmasterGeneral’VDepartment ; next, in regard to the Department of Defence; and, lastly, in regard to the Department of the Treasury.
– The honorablemember did not take this stand before.
– I regret that I have not clone so.
– What is to be the scope of the Committee’s inquiry?
– The Committee is to have power to send for persons, papers, and re- cords, and to consider and report upon the best mode of dealing with the States debts, and the constitutional changes which maybe necessary to give effect to its recommendations.
– Will its consideration extend to the continuation of the Braddon provision of the Constitution?
– Of course, it will.
– What is to become of Parliament?
– The honorable member for Kooyong anticipates the findings of the proposed Committee by his notice of motion for the establishment of a Council of Finance.
– The appointment of the proposed Committee is a non-party question.
– The extension of the Braddon provision is not.
– Surely the Government have some opinion on that subject ?
– I believe that if Mr. Speaker were on the floor of the House, he would oppose the motion.
– Judging by what he said at the Convention, I think’ that he would support it.
– I think that he would be the last to give up the rights of Parliament.
– That is another question.
– That is the direction in which we are drifting.
– The question is, Shall we leave an essential thing undone, if the Treasurer is not capable of doing it, or shall we do it ourselves?
– The Treasurer is either able or unable to formulate a scheme for the conversion of the debts of the States. If he is unable to do so, he should vacate his position, and the Ministry, if they persist in shielding him by supporting the appointment of Select Committees, should be put out of office. The right honorable gentleman has had his eye glued to the official window of public life for twenty years past, and is so accustomed to persons going down on their bended knees before him that he thinks that every one should do so.
– During that time he has been all things to all men.
– It would be very easy to block this proposal by talking it out, but I do not intend to do that. I ask the Government to resist it. The experience of the Hobart Conference should blunt the desire for this Select Committee. That Conference was composed of experts, consisting, as it did, of the Premiers and Treasurers of the States and the Prime Minister and Treasurer of the Commonwealth; but its proceedings produced no result, and the Prime Minister and Treasurer of the Commonwealth were flaunted and insultedby the other members of the Conference. Surely the Cabinet constitutes the best Committee for dealing with this matter. The Treasurer might formulate a scheme, and put it before his colleagues for approval, finally placing it before Parliament for ratification. But under the proposal of the honorable member for Kooyong, all the Ministers, except the Treasurer, will be absolute ciphers in regard to this matter; or, if the report of the Committee must go before the Cabinet before action can be taken, needless expense will have been incurred. That report should be at once followed by action. The Treasurer should formulate a policy, and when it has been considered and approved by the Government, should bring it before Parliament. Do the Government admit their inability to deal with the subject, and plead that the problem is so important and complex that they must have the assistance of a Select Committee? Future Ministries will copy this example. There is too ready an acquiescence on the part of Ministers to proposals for the appointment of Select Committees, and Governments are too ready to shift the responsibilities of office on to other shoulders. Another question which deserves consideration in this connexion, though it is a minor one, is the cost of these inquiries. I have asked for the preparation of a return showing the cost of the Royal Commissions and Select Committees of the Commonwealth appointed since Federation, and I think that when it is laid on the table the information it will contain will stagger the community.
– It is the printing of evidence that costs so much.
– It is not only the printing, but the fees paid to members of Parliament.
– They do not get fees.
– They get travelling allowances.
– The members of the proposed Select Committee will not travel.
– So many Commissions and Committees have been appointed that nearly every honorable gentleman is, or has been, a member of one or the other, and it is quite an honour to be an exception in that respect. I wish to see things conducted differently. It is useless for honorable members to refer by way of comparison to the Standing Committees of the old country. I regret that you, Mr. Speaker, have allowed yourself to be nominated to the Committee. While its investigation may result in obtaining useful information, I cannot see why the Treasurer cannot secure this information without such assistance. The readiness of honorable members to acquiesce in the appointment of Select Committees will be used as a weapon against them, because they will be charged with neglect of their duties and evasion of their responsibilities. Our ancestors were men who stuck to their convictions. That seems the last thing that some parliamentarians will do. Although I may be a feeble parliamentarian. I trust that I do not evade my responsibilities in order to make myself a successful delegate, because I abhor the system- of delegation, and respect the system of parliamentary representation. I regret that the Opposition is not strongly, opposing the motion. It is only in extreme cases that the appointment of Select Committees should be allowed. In comparison with the House of Commons, with its membership of over 600, the House of Representatives, with its membership of only seventy-five, and a working attendance of not more than forty, is itself only a Select Committee. The readiness of the Government to agree to the motion is an admission of their incompetence, and if referred to in the speech of the honorable member for South Sydney would have been a strong illustration of the uselessness of the Cabinet system. If the members of the proposed Committee are more capable of dealing with this matter than are the members of the Cabinet, they should change places.
– The motion of the honorable member for Kooyong was not instigated by me, and I am not anxious to have the assistance of a Select Committee in dealing with the States debts question. The statement of the Prime Minister that the Government will not oppose the motion does not in the slightest degree infer that we are unable to deal with the subject.
– The question is not whether the Government are unable, but whether they are unwilling to deal with the subject.
– We are neither unable nor unwilling to do so. I agree with a great deal that the honorable member for Dalley has said with regard to the propriety of the Government taking the full responsibility for the finances. I do not believe in a Government sheltering itself behind any Select Committee. The object for which Select Committees are appointed is to obtain information from those who are supposed to be well acquainted with the subject of the inquiry. If there is one important matter upon which the fullest light should be thrown it is the question as to how we can best effect the transfer of the States debts to the Commonwealth. The Constitution confers upon this Parliament the power to take over £203,000,000 of States debts, and possibly some slight alteration of the Constitution - I hope it will not be anything serious - will be necessary. This matter has already been discussed to some extent at two Conferences, and persons outside who are accustomed to deal with financial matters are taking a deep interest in it. I believe that the majority of honorable members favour the idea of referring the whole question to a Select Committee. Their report would not bind either the Government or this House. I do not suppose that the appointment of the Committee would involve any great expense, or that any great length of time would be occupied by its inquiries.
– Every State Treasurer would insist upon being consulted.
– I do not think so.
– The States Treasurershave blocked everv proposal made so far.
– That was because attempts were made to arrive at some common understanding. We are not called upon by the Constitution to consult the States Treasurers ; but, of course, if we can arrive at an amicable agreement, it will be all the more satisfactory. I donot regard this as a party matter, although it is possible that when the Government, after having obtained all the information available, bring down definite proposals, the Opposition may take exception tothem.
– It is inevitable that this will develop into a party question.
– That is very likely. Although I look upon this question as a very difficult one, requiring a great deal of consideration and management, I am not afraid - and I am sure that I can speak also for my honorable colleagues - to face it. We are prepared to deal with it, and if honorable members do not approve of the appointment of the proposed Select Committee, we shall proceed in our own way. I am not going to reject the assistance of a Select Committee, or’ of honorable members who have had experience .in financial questions. I want their assistance, and I .desire that as much light as possible shall be brought to bear upon the question, in order that the Government may be in a position to decide as to the best course to pursue.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).I listened with a great deal of interest to the remarks of the Treasurer, and I could not help making some comparisons in my own mind between the methods and ideals of the Government, and those of Governments in the great mother of Parliaments, of which we have heard so much this afternoon, and towards which the Treasurer entertains such feelings of loyalty and love. They do not do things like this in England. I venture to say that the Treasurer never heard of a British Government referring to a Select Committee for inquiry a question bearing upon the relations of the Imperial Government to, say, the Indian Government. He never heard of the British Government surrendering its rights in such a matter.
– They have a standing Council for India.
– I know they have, but that body reports direct to the Government. The members of the House of Commons are - not permitted to know what relations exist between the Government and the great Indian Empire, particularly regarding matters of finance, until the whole matter has been disposed of and a Blue Book is issued. It is a leading principle of responsible government in the British Parliament that there must be no interference of any kind with the Government, and in many cases no information is given whilst matters are in progress towards settlement. Therefore, according to British precedent, the surrender of the Government in this matter involves a clear departure from the principles of responsible government as practised at the heart of the Empire. I do not know that I ought to oppose the motion, and I do not propose to do so. If the Government are prepared to” allow us to take over their work, and do it for them in this way, we should not complain. It is for honorable members who are supporting the Ministry, and who believe in responsible government, to do that. I am sorry to say that great slackness is being exhibited in this House in regard to the main principles of parliamentary government, and if this kind of thing is to continue, the honorable member for South Sydney and those associated with him must succeed in their attempt to completely overthrow our present system of parliamentary government, and set up another. We are surrendering quietly and weakly the principles of responsible ‘government as it has been worked in British communities up to date; and when the mischief is done - if mischief it be; and so far we have not evolved any scheme to take the place of our present system of parliamentary government - it will not be because the present system is faulty, but because we have not worked it as we ought to have done, and as it has been worked in other parts of the world. I believe the honorable member for Kooyong will do this work quite, as well as the Government could, and I have no objection to his taking a hand in it. But, at the same time, I say that it is equivalent to saying “good-bye” to government responsibility if this kind of -thing is to be permitted to go on indefinitely. Recently, when honorable members on this side of the House desired to refer a matter of importance to a Select Committee, honorable members on the Government benches objected* Now that one of the most important function’s of government, extending to the’ very foundation of our constitutional powers, is involved, they propose to weakly surrender the whole question to a Select Committee, constituted of members representing all parties in .this House. What does the Treasurer hope to gain from this Committee in addition to the knowledge that has already been acquired ? There have already been conferences and consultations with regard to this matter, and at the last gathering in Hobart definite proposals were made, to which four of the States Treasurers have since agreed. I understand that if the late Treasurer had remained in power he proposed, without waiting for any further Committees or information, to have brought down a definite scheme. Therefore, it appears to me that we have reached a point of agreement with the States.
– Only three of the States have agreed, and then only upon some points.
– I know mat the question of the reservations made by the States Governments has still to be considered. Those reservations are in their very essence party matters. For instance, all the States are clamouring for the perpetuation of the Braddon clause. Some of them desire that it shall remain in perpetuity, and others that it shall be extended for a long period; whereas some of the parties in this House have declared that the clause must cease to operate at the end of the term fixed in the Constitution. Therefore, a declaration of party warfare has already been made in reference to this very important matter. It is evident that parties will be divided very keenly upon the supreme question of the relation of the finances of the States to those of the Commonwealth. To say, therefore, that this is a non-party question is simply to ignore the basic facts of the position. It cannot be a non-party question when we come to deal with it finally, and action upon ! any matter which must inevitably evolve into a party question ought surely to be undertaken upon the initiative of the Government of the day, and ought not to be held in abeyance until an outside nonparty body has submitted its mandate to them. If the Government agree to the appointment of the Select Committee proposed, and if they consent to some of their number sitting upon it, how can they afterwards treat the question as if the Committee had never been called into being? The very object of consenting to the appointment of the Committee is that its conclusions may subsequently be adopted by the Government. This matter, which goes right to the foundation of the relations between the States and the Commonwealth, is one which tests the question of party government more keenly and vitally than does any other subject with which we shall have to deal in this Parliament. I should like to put another consideration to the honorable member for Kooyong. I wish to know what the Senate is likely to think of his .proposal. If the Government and those who agree with them wish to secure a smooth and nonparty result, are they likely to achieve it by totally ignoring the House which is specially created to safeguard the rights of the States?
– Does the honorable member think that the Senate does that to any material extent?
– It is established for that purpose. The Senate is the States House, and if it is to be ignored in this matter - which profoundly affects the relations of the States and the Commonwealth - it does not augur a smooth and safe passage to whatever proposals may be formulated by the Government as the result of the appointment of the proposed Committee. If the honorable member for Kooyong intends to persist in his proposal, I would strongly advise him to get the Senate represented upon the Committee. Otherwise, I fear that the other Chamber, with some justification, will hold that its position as the guardian of States rights is being ignored. I do not think there would be any trouble experienced in connexion with the transfer of the States debts, if only the necessary political conditions obtained to allow the machinery to work smoothly. What is the serious trouble in connexion with taking over the debts? Clearly it is the want of Commonwealth credit. That is the principal difficulty with which we are faced. If we could show the States to-morrow that we can obtain better credit than they can, they, instead of ourselves, would be formulating proposals of this kind. They would be anxious to have their debts taken over if only in order that they might receive better terms than thev are now obtaining. They would be knocking at the Commonwealth door, and we should not be anxiously soliciting their approval to any scheme which we might formulate. The whole trouble connected with the problem of Federal finance is traceable to the political conditions under which we live. If those conditions were such as to secure to us a better credit than the States have the difficulties of this question would vanish like mist before the rising sun. They would rush to secure the advantages which would be so patent. We have heard a great deal recently in reference to Canada. Attempts have been made to institute a comparison between Canada and Australia. That always seems to me to be an idle thing to do, because the conditions which obtain in the two countries are not the same. I fear that for many years we cannot hope to secure a credit in the London money market equal to that of Canada.
– The credit of New South Wales in the London money market stood as high as that of Canada before she joined the Federation.
– I would remind the honorable member that boom-time is not the proper period to test the credit of a country.
– After the depression, the credit of New South Wales stood higher than did that of Canada.
– One factor which assisted to send up the credit of that State was the prosperity induced by the constant borrowing and spending of money. Another was good government. Our credit can be tested only under normal conditions. There is a very great difference between Canadian and Australian credit. For instance, our Federation does not resemble that of Canada. We raise a very small amount of revenue compared with the total sum raisedby the States, whereas in Canada the States collect only a very small revenue. In Canada the Federation has taken over the control of the lands, but here ‘ the Commonwealth does not own a yard of land. The plain fact is that Canada, which possesses a very much larger population than Australia, has a prosperous community, and a better security to offer to the money lenders in London than we can possibly have. I know that, as a last resort, our security is not the land, but the taxation resources which we possess. But the control of our taxation has a great deal to do with the establishment or otherwise of our credit in the money markets of the world. If we were able to do as Canada does - namely, to control all our debt; and that debt were a small one, based upon a solid security and an elastic revenue - we should doubtless obtain the same credit as does the Dominion. It all comes back in the last resort to the condition of politics. It is our politics in Australia to-day which are affecting our credit abroad.
– How long has that been so? Is it only during the past six months?
– Let me remind the honorable member that in Canada the Governments which control its affairs remain in office for ten, twelve, and fifteen years.
– Suppose that we begin in the same way.
– I see.no hope for it ; but I may tell my honorable friend that if he will refrain from doing mischief he may continue on the Treasury benches for ever. My trouble is that the longer he remains there the more mischief does he accomplish, as we shall see when we resume the consideration of the Commerce Bill which so profoundly affects the whole trading relations of Australia. If the honorable and learned gentleman will refrain from doing mischief, I am quite prepared to allow him to remain in office as long as do the Ministers in Canada. I need scarcely refer to the fact that in the Commonwealth we have had five Governments in five years. If honorable members do not see that that circumstance alone is bound to smash up any little credit that’ wemay have had in London - where people study these matters as keenly as we do - they must be shutting their eyes to the facts. An era of safe,steady, responsible, and strong government will do more to reestablish our credit abroad than anything else. It is owing to the weakness of the Government that a Select Committee requires to beappointed to deal with the question of the transfer of the States debts. I venture to say that if the Government were not dependent upon honorable members occupying the corner benches for their support, we should not have the legislation that we are getting, and we should not have so many Select Committees appointed.
– The honorable member is supporting the motion.
– But I am opposing the Government. I wish to end the game of see-saw that is going on. I do not desire to see a Government driven and harried as the present Ministry are being driven and harried by those who support them. For that support they pay a very high price indeed.
An Honorable Member. - The honorable member, while supporting the motion, is condemning the Government.
– I am condemning the composition of this House, and I am condemning the Government for holding office under existing conditions, since they must necessarily surrender that effective control of the House which, above all things, is necessary in carrying through a measure of this heroic character. Only a strong, compact Government, whose members are secure in their seats, can carry through huge financial proposals.
Therefore, I say that our trouble is not to devise new schemes. What can a Select Com.mittee accomplish more than has already been accomplished bythe ex-Treasurer?
– Why does the honorable member support the appointment of the Committee ?
– I am not supporting it very wildly. If the Government chooses to surrender the control of its business to this side of the House, I have no objection to the honorable member for Kooyong taking advantage of it. I am not anxious for the appointment of the Select Committee proposed, but I shall vote for the motion if only to emphasize the ineptitude of the Government, and its abdication of responsibility. A Select Committee to inquire into this matter may accomplish a little good. At any rate, it cannot do very much harm.
– I would not urge that as a reason in favour of its appointment.
– That is my main reason. If the Government would oppose the motion, I might be prepared to vote with them. If they will do that, and will accept full responsibility for their financial proposals, I might be ready to support them in a claim to do so. Why should I oppose the appointment of this committee., when the Government themselves are prepared to surrender their functions and responsibilities to it? One of my complaints is that they are not taking up their proper position as a Government. We should have had the view of the Cabinet respecting this important financial matter. It seems, however, that we are not to have anything of the kind. We have learned that the Prime Minister is prepared to accept the motion, and we have been told by another prominent member of the Administration that he consents to it. One Minister has admitted that he regards the motion as a surrender of Parliamentary responsibility to a committee. That ispractically what the Minister of Trade and ‘ Customs has said. The Attorney-General has told us that this is an absolutely nonparty question. I should have thought that upon a question of this kind, profoundly affecting, as it does, the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States, we should have had at least the matured reasoned Cabinet view presented to the House. It appears that that is not to be done, and I must congratulate the honor able member for Kooyong upon the power that he has acquired, and upon the total surrender of the prime functions of government to the control of the proposed committee. I have only to say, in conclusion, that before we can hope to satisfactorily settle the question of the taking over of the States debts, we shallhave to put our political house in order. Before we shall be able to obtain the consent of the States - and without that consent we can never do the work satisfactorily - to the taking over of their debts, we must show them that we are better able to conduct their financial operations than they are themselves. I presume that the supreme effort of the Committee will be to secure the consent of the States to the Commonwealth taking over their debts. We have a certain degree of constitutional power to over-ride the States Legislatures, but I contend that that is a power which should be exercised only in the last resort. If we are to succeed in our efforts in this direction, we must have the States with us, and we shall only induce them to act with us when we are able to show that we are better fitted to control these financial matters than they are. As a matter of fact, however, they are disputing our claims in this respect. Only the other day a challenge was thrown out by the ex-Treasurer of South Australia, and similar challenges are being made in nearly every speech delivered by the Premiers of the different States. They complain that their operations are jeopardized and endangered by reason of the financial methods adopted by the Commonwealth. The financial position of the Commonwealth in its relation to the States appears to me to be a matter of the gravest possible moment, and one that is full of menace. I feel that the Government is simply blinking at the difficulties immediately ahead. What are those difficulties? We are spending the whole of our onefourth of the Customs and Excise revenue. Sir John Forrest. - We have not spent it.
– We have practically done so.
– If we were paying interest on the transferred properties to-day, we should have nothing beyond the one-fourth-
– I am afraid that the honorable member is proceeding beyond the question immediately before the Chair.
– I am pointing to the difficulties that will confront the Committee.
– Up to the present the honorable member has been in order, but I ask him to keep closely to the question.
– I say that the principal reason why the States are so reluctant to hand over their debts to the Commonwealth Government is that they see and object to the trend of Federal financing. We are now spending every penny that we are entitled to disburse from a just and reasonable view of our position. If we paid interest on the transferred properties, and provided a sinking fund in respect of them, we should not have a penny left for other purposes. And yet on the top o’f all this, proposals are contemplated by the Government, and by the House itself, involving, as the honorable member for Hunter showed the other night, an extra expenditure of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 during the next five or six years. If the outlook is not a serious one, I should like to know what more is necessary to make it so. These are facts that occasion anxiety on the part of the States authorities, and compel them in matters of finance to take up an attitude antagonistic to the Federal Government. Before we can carry the scheme for the’ taking over of the States debts to a satisfactory -conclusion, we shall have to readjust our politics in the Federal Parliament, with a view of showing that we can husband the resources of the States better than they can. As soon as) we are able to do that, we shall no longer need to be suppliants at their doors. They, in turn, will be glad to knock at the door of the Commonwealth, and ask for the privileges which we can give them.
– There is abundant material, if time permitted, for a searching criticism of the inconsistencies of the deputy leader of the Opposition. But I do not rise to contrast the conflicting views upon this subject which the honorable member has just submitted to the House. I speak with’ some reluctance, though it appears to me that the honorable member was much at fault in his references both to what the constitutional practice is in the mother country, according to my reading, and to what it certainly is, to my own knowledge, in the States of Australia. If he turns to Todd, and May, he will find both stating what we know as a matter of common knowledge”: That during the last century or so, the use of Select Committees and of Committees in general has extended very largely in the mother country. The1 system has been so extended that the appointment of Standing Committees, which take the- place of the Grand Committees, to deal with important classes of Bills, is becoming a regular function of the House of Commons. Among the criticisms which have been directed at our parliamentary institutions by critics of the stamp of the honorable member for South Sydney, none have been more severe than those which have asked why a Parliament, composed of the representatives of the people, should consider itself bound not even to make systematic inquiries of its own with regard to any question until the Ministry - which it intrusts with the executive control of its affairs and the leadership of the House - has examined into and dealt with it. There has been developed a school of constitutional thinkers, who maintain that the pressure of modern life, and the increase of the demands, more particularly upon the Legislature, but also upon the Executive, are such that they can be met only by the more frequent subdivision of Parliament into Committees for the purpose of coping with practical issues in a practical way.
– That may be all right in a House having over 600 members, but it should not be necessary in a House of seventy-five representatives.
– It is becoming necessary in. a House of any number. The difficulty doss not arise merely from the number of members. If there were the same proportion of silent members in this House as there is in the House of Commons, we should have no trouble in this regard. My point is that the questions which arise out of our modern social conditions, are so technical and complex, and demand such intimate knowledge of trade, shipping, commerce, finance, and other matters with which we are compelled to deal, that they call for the concentrated attention of a body of men who will thoroughly sift the evidence, and survey the whole subject so as to prepare the way for the Legislature. In relation to such matters it will be necessary to make more and more use of Committees as Parliament endeavours to expand the sphere of its functions. That will have to be done simply because of the demands which the increasing intricacies of modern life make upon Parliament - because of the fact that our constituents require us to cope with problems that can be dealt with only by experts, or after they have been heard. To intrust the collection of information, and the classification and preliminary review of the subject to Ministers charged with the heavy responsibility of Executive Government means that we must not only limit the number of subjects dealt with, but greatly extend the time for dealing with them. The only means found in France and elsewhere of dealing satisfactorily with this difficulty has been the creation of a number of committees, who take the first survey, collect information, and lay it before Parliament, which then shapes its decrees as it deems fit.
– That has been carried to an extreme in America.
– That is so. There government by committee sometimes, in a sense, takes the place of government by legislation.
– That is because the Executive is kept quite distinct from the Legislature.
– That is only partly the reason. The real reason may be found in the conditions of modern life and politics. If Parliament is to do its work in the future, and the Executive is to be free to do its duty - because, after all, the duties of an Executive consist notmerely in preparing new measures; above all things, it has to act, and to act promptly in frequent emergencies, and constant administrative activity - it can deal only with those legislative measures upon which immediate action is required, and upon which it is already advised. When we find such a question as. that of taking over the States debts stretching into the years before us, all must recognise that we require a scheme that must be gradually evolved and applied to the circumstances we have to confront. It is not too much to say that if there is one problem with respect to which the Commonwealth Government should welcome every opportunity to obtain further knowledge, research, and consideration, it is the very proposal with which this Committee will be called upon to deal. So far from relieving the Executive Government from any responsibility, this Committee, even if it exhausts not only the knowledge of the experts of which it will be composed, but all the expert knowledge obtainable in Australia, will not do more than pave the way to the necessary acceptance of a responsibility which must fall on whatever Government is in power to come down with a definite scheme.
– Can the Committee do anything which the Treasurer himself could not do?
– Certainly. Through its agency, not only the Treasurer, but exTreasurers and others of financial experience, will be able to give more consideration to the question than they would be able to do in the House itself. The Committee will be able to deal with it at greater leisure, and will produce for us, Ihope, the opinions of the best financial experts that the country possesses. Their findings will then be closely examined by expert authorities in London and elsewhere, and we shall have the benefit of both. At every step we take in connexion with this matter, we are faced by two considerations - first of all, the agreement to be arrived at by the States and the Commonwealth as to what would be fair terms on which to take over the debts of the States, and secondly, a set of questions which can be dealt with only by financial experts, possessing the capacity and knowledge to determine the way in which we are to deal with the£200,000,000 or . £300,000,000 which are eventuallv to be handled. The mere mechanism of these operations calls for close study. We shall have to consider how loans can best be put upon the market, how best they can be redeemed or disposed of from time to time, and by whom and how current loans can best be taken up. These are all matters for expert opinion, and that expert opinion will be secured most quickly by means of the proposed Committee. When the Committee has collected such knowledge as will be valuable to the Parliament in dealing with this immense monetary undertaking, its report will be subjected to searching public criticism.
– The time allotted to private members’ business has expired. Does the honorable and learned gentleman wish leave to continue his remarks on another day ?
– I do, sir.
Leave granted ; debate adjourned.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 20th September, vide page 2558) :
Clause 7 as amended -
The regulations may prohibit the importation* or introduction into Australia of any specified goods, unless there is applied to them a trade description of such character, relating to such matters, and applied in such manner, as is prescribed by the proclamation or by the regulations.
All goods imported in contravention of any proclamation under this section shall be forfeited to the King.
Subject to the regulations, the ComptrollerGeneral, or on appeal from him the Minister, may permit any goods which are liable to be or have been seized as forfeited under this section to be delivered to the owner or importer upon security being given to the satisfaction of the ComptrollerGeneral that the prescribed trade description will “be applied to the goods or that they will be forthwith exported.
– I move -
That the words, “of such character,” line 4, bc left out.
The trade description provided for by the Bill is to be applied as required by regulation, and must furnish certain particulars as to the contents of the goods to which it is applied, their country of origin, and so forth. I submit that so long as the goods are true to name, and properly described, we shall achieve all that is aimed at. But if the Minister takes power to prescribe the exact words which .must .be used in connexion with any description, it may lead to no end of confusion and trouble in the handling of goods. The amendment is a very reasonable one, and I hope that the Minister will see his way to accept it.
– I do not consider the amendment a reasonable one. If we allow every one to adopt such descriptions as he may choose to apply, there will be no such thing as regularity. One part of the clause depends on another, and I do not think that I can restrict the powers of the Department in the manner desired.
– Is it necessary to prescribe the precise wording of a description?
– I think that the Department should have power to do so. It will not be done in every case. As I have already said, trade descriptions will be decided upon only after consultation with those connected with the various trades but the Department should have power, if a reasonable arrangement cannot be come to in this way, to prescribe the descriptions which shall be used.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).- I submit that it is not necessary for the Department to prescribe the exact wording of any trade description. If the trade description is true, arid contains the particulars required by clause 3, that is all that is needed. The mere verbiage to be used might very well be left to the importers and exporters of the goods.
– I think that the amendment should be made. There is no sense in the provision which the Minister wishes to stand by. He asked last night that the Bill should not be overloaded, and when certain honorable members wished to provide for certain matters by specific enactment, promised to deal with them by regulation. Now, however, he wishes to load up the clause by encumbering it with detail. This is an amendment suggested by the honorable member for North Sydney, whose mercantile experience, and desire to make the Bill as effective as possible, should secure its consideration. If the words are left out, the Minister will. still have power to compel the use of proper trade descriptions. I hope that the honorable gentleman will show a spirit of conciliation, and assist in preventing the Bill from becoming a measure to harass the traders of the Commonwealth.
– I regard the amendment as a most reasonable one. It does not affect the vital principles of the measure, but seeks to insure that traders shall be reasonably dealt with by the Department. If the words proposed to be omitted are left out, the Minister will still have sufficiently wide powers ; but it is monstrous to provide that the Department shall prescribe the very wording of the description on a label. The officials may not have sufficient knowledge to do this properly, and, if the task is cast on them, pressure may be brought to bear by interested parties to secure the prescribing of trade descriptions which will harass their business competitors.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England). - I would point out that the great object of manufacturers nowadays is to place their goods before probable purchasers as attractively as possible, and the Americans have gained their position in the markets of the world largely by the beauty of their labels, and the pleasing manner in which their goods are got up. The Minister, however, is asking for power which would allow him to fix, not only the wording of descriptions, but the colour of labels. If it is the honest intention of the framers of the Bill not to give trouble to business people, but simply to insure the placing of honest descriptions on goods, the words proposed to be left out are not needed. Without these words, the Minister will have sufficient power to prevent fraudulent description. In my opinion, the real object of the Bill is altogether different from that professed by its supporters, and what is aimed at is to give the merchant inside the Commonwealth an advantage over the person who sends goods here from abroad. The clause as worded will enable the Minister to enforce a still stronger protectionist policy than is being administered to-day. We should not allow such a provision as this to be placed on the statute-book. We know that the intention is to make the Bill a measure for the restriction of importation. I am ready to vote for the prohibition of importations which are not truly described. In that matter I go further than the Minister or the supporters of the Bill will go.
– The honorable member must not discuss the Bill.
– My point is that the words proposed to be omitted will enable the Bill to be applied in a manner to which I am opposed.
Mr.Mauger. - The honorable member’s experience and mine in this matter differ very greatly.
– We look at the subject from different stand-points. We know what has been done by the Department.
– What has been done?
– We know what was done inthe harvester case, and in many other cases.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta). - The simple question before the Committee is whether the Department should prescribe the exact wording of trade descriptions. If goods are called by their proper names, and marked to indicate their measure, quality, and so forth, what more is wanted? If, however, the Department insists on framing the wording of descriptions, over-zealous officers, by applying the rule with absolute strictness, may act in such a way as to absolutely ruin honest traders.
– I hope the’ Minister will agree to the amendment.
He must not complain if we find it necessary to discuss a number of the minor details of the Bill. A great deal of this discussion would have been avoided if the Bill had been referred to a Select Committee, as I proposed,and, moreover, we should have had the advantage of expert advice in framing a thoroughly workable measure. The object of the Bill is to insure that correct trade descriptions shall be applied, and surely that end can be achieved withoutretainingthewords to which exception has been taken. The expression which it is suggested shall be excised is redundant, and it is of no use to overload the Bill with a number of terms, which might be so construed as to hamper trade and commerce at everv term.
– I really cannot understand the reluctance of theMinister to accept the amendment. The onlyeffect of retaining the words proposed to be omittedwill be to overweight: the Bill unless they were inserted with adesire to afford the Minister and his officials means of harassing those who have to transact business with the Department.
– Does the honorablemember suppose that the Customs Department exists for the purpose of harassingpeople ?
– It has been used for that purpose, and it will probably be so used again. The harvester ease presentsone of the worst examples of the extent to which importers are sometimes harassed. The Melbourne manufacturers appear to be the only persons who can secure decent treatment at the hands of the Customs officials in Victoria.
– I desire to know whether the honorable member is in order in stating that the Customs officials favour Victorian manufacturers.
– I think that any reference to gentlemen who are not present is purely a matter of taste. I would ask honorable members to strictly confine their remarks to amendments before the Chair, and to abstain from interruptions.
– The papers relating to the matter to which I have referred, have been laid on the table of this House, and I have merely referred to the facts as disclosed in those documents.
– Has that matter anything to do with this clause?
– Unquestionably, because I maintain that, unless the Minister can advance some sound reason why the words objected to should be retained in the clause we are justified in assuming that they are intended to enable him to adopt a course similar to that followed in the case of the imported harvesters. If the Minister continues to treat suggestions made by members of the Opposition with the arrogance that has characterized his attitude throughout this debate, he can blame only himself for any delay that may occur in proceeding with the measure. Honorable members opposite have complained that attempts are being made to overload the Bill, but now that we desire to omit unnecessary words they are equally dissatisfied. I shall support the amendment.
– I deprecate the trend of this discussion in the direction of a fiscal controversy. I think all honorable members are anxious to make the Bill a workable measure, and the amendment is intended to operate in that direction. If the words “of such character “ are retained in the clause, Customs officials who may be suffering from swelled head, or who are recalcitrant, obstinate, or over-zealous, may make things very uncomfortable for those who have to transact business with the Department. They may harass persons who are endeavouring to comply with every reasonable requirement, and punishment may be visited upon those who are innocent of any attempt to defraud the Department. Even if the clause be amended in the manner suggested, the Minister would still have full discretion and control in regard to all matters relating to prescribed trade descriptions. I trust that the Minister will agree to the amendment.
– I trust that honorable members of the Opposition will not quarrel over the retention of the words referred to. At a later stage I shall move the insertion of a new clause 7A, which will contain provisions far more important than any now embraced in the Bill. I propose that this Parliament, and not the Governor-General, shall be the paramount power. The proposed new clause provides -
Any manufactured or prepared article of food -
In this section -
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).There are some matters connected with this clause which demand careful consideration. I hold that a mere substitution of words for others which mean the same thing may lead to trouble. We ought not to leave the clause open to any such abuse as that. So long as the Minister gets theprovision carried out substantially, he ought not to quibble about its verbiage.By the mere transposition, omission, or addition of a word, it ought not to be possible to involve an importer or exporter in any serious consequences.
– I am sorrythat the Minister has not seen fit to meet the arguments which have been used in connexion with this amendment. I quite agree thatthe matter of this kind has nothing whatever to do with the question of free-trade or protection. At the same time. I think that the words are wider than the Minister really requires. The words, “ a trade description of such character,” cover almost everything. They cover the form of the description - as has been pointed out by the deputy leader of- the Opposition - and in my judgment they also cover the exact verbiage. All that the Minister desires, I imagine, is to obtain Legislative authority to enable the Department to prescribe that sufficient particulars shall be given. I see no objection to inserting some other words in lieu of the words “ of such character “ if those which remain are not sufficient for the purpose. I do not think that the Customs Department would intentionally err, but even that Department may fall into error.
– Does not the honorable and learned member think that it would be likely to err in the other direction?
– I wish this Bill to go far enough, but not farther than is necessary. In a measure of this character, which imposes restrictions, and which gives the Customs Department arbitrary powers, it is our duty to see that we do not give that Department larger powers than are necessary. If the Minister will consent to the omission of these words, I am quite prepared to agree to the insertion of others which will accomplish his object without going too far. I suggest to the Minister that he might substitute for them the words “ giving such particulars.” I heard what the honorable gentleman had to say, but I do not think that he made out a case in defence of the retention of the words “of such character,” in reply to the attack which has been made upon them. His own statements induced me to conclude that the words are larger than are required. Personally, I do not think that the clause is well drafted, and I should like to know if the Minister can see his way to adopt my suggestion.
Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume- Minister of Trade and Customs). - I regret that I cannot accept the amendment. The same words, I would point out, are contained in clause 10, and the’v have been inserted after due consideration.
– Do they not cover more ground than is desired by the Minister?
– I do not think so. The object is to give the Department a reserve power to adopt a certain course of action in those cases where we cannot arrive at some understanding with people engaged in any trade. I deprecate the statement which has been made that the Bill is intended to sneak in protection. It is intended to do ‘ nothing of the kind. In regard to the Customs officers, I merely wish to say that my experience of them - 1 admit that I have only come into contact with the highest of them - is that they are some of the best and fairest officers I have ever met. Under the powers conferred by the Customs Act, it might be possible, in certain conditions, to harass the importers.
– The Customs authorities have harassed them already.
– That is not so. The honorable member has a bee in his bonnet on this question . He has made an assertion which is absolutely incorrect. I have never known an officer of the Customs Department to take sides in any way. My experience is that they lay matters before the Minister in an absolutely fair manner. I repeat that these words were inserted after consultation between the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs, the Attorney-General, the Parliamentary Draftsman and his assistant. Under these circumstances, it is not for me to allow words which have been so carefully considered to be mutilated, probably with an effect that I do not desire.
– Will the Minister promise to have the matter again looked into?
– Certainly I will. I will bring it under the attention of the Attorney-General.
– Will the honorable gentleman agree to recommit the clause if requested to do so?
– I will, if any reasonable cause can be given for the adoption of that course. I cannot promise to recommit every clause. I will bring the matter under the attention of the AttorneyGeneral and of the Parliamentary Draftsman, and I shall explain what members of the Opposition have said, and particularly what the honorable and learned member himself has stated in regard to it. Should it then appear to them that any other words will compass the desired object, I shall be quite prepared to recommit the clause, with a view to inserting them.
– I do not wish to vote for the omission of the words now if nothing else is to be inserted in their place.
– I have gone as far as I can by promising to bring these words under the attention of those who are responsible for the drafting of the clause. If it appears to them that other words can be substituted, without affecting the inten tion of the clause, I shall be quite prepared to recommit it.
– I am very pleased with the stand which the Minister has taken in regard to this amendment. I do not understand the drift of the discussion upon this clause.
– That is the honorable member’s misfortune.
– With all due respect to the honorable and learned member, I wish to say that the onlypoint upon which some members of the Opposition are clear is that it is desirable todelay the passing of the Bill, or to mutilate its provisions as much as possible. The honorable and learned member for Corinella himself gave away the whole position. He admitted that the elimination of these words would leave the clause inadequate for the purposes of effective administration.
– That is not an admission ; it is a statement ofmy opinion.
-The honorable and learned member acknowledged that if these words were struck out, some others would require to be substituted. When the honorable member for Corinella wishes to omit certain words from a clause, he generally indicates very clearly what he proposes to insert in their stead.
– I have indicated the words that I think ought to be inserted.
– The honorable and learned member did not clearly inform the Committee what he desired to substitute for these words. He suggested that the word “ particulars “ should take the place of “character,” but it seems to me that that is simply a quibble.
– Surely there is some difference between the two words.
– I fail to detect any material difference between the two, and I think that if these words were omitted the Bill would really be rendered inoperative.
Amendment (by Sir William Lyne) agreed to -
That the words “by the proclamation, or by the regulations,” line 6, be omitted.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).Honorable members are well aware of the drastic nature of this Bill - of the powers of inspection which it is proposed to vest in officers of the Department, and of the obligations to be imposed on traders in respect to the marking of goods, and the description of their ingredients. The Bill gives the Minister power to make inquiries into all sorts of secrets relating to the manufacture of various articles, and particularly of food stuffs and patent medicines. I propose to move an amendment that will secure to a trader the secrets which he may have discovered for himself, and which may be the cause of the success of his business. If the Minister is able to insure that the public are not deceived as to the make-up of goods’ that is all that he has set out to accomplish, and there is no need to make inquiries as to the secret methods of preparing various articles, except it be necessary for the purposes of their description. I therefore propose to move -
That the following new sub-clause be inserted - 1a. No trade description under this section shall be such as will reveal trade secrets or means or methods of preparation to the detriment of producers, manufacturers, or owners thereof, unless such revelations be necessary, in order to apprise users that the goods are deleterious, false, or defective.
The least we can do is to take care that a man’s business secrets are preserved. There is no reason why his rivals should be put in possession of his trade secrets, unless it is absolutely necessary in the interests of the health of the community.
– Would it not be better to embody the honorable member’s proposal in a new clause? That would give me an opportunity to thoroughly examine it.
– The amendment recognises that the health of the public is of supreme importance. If it be found that trade secrets must be investigated in order to protect the public from deleterious or defective goods, the Minister will still have power to make those secrets public.
– Why apply the provision to importsonly ?
– We can apply it to imports and exports.
– Not if it be inserted at the point proposed. It will be governed by the cross-heading.
– Order !
– I think, Mr. Chairman, that I am making a reasonable inquiry.
– The Standing Orders distinctly provide that all interruptions are disorderly, and even a pertinent question may be regarded as an interruption.
– If the Minister finds that it is necessary to expose fraud in connexion with a medicine, he should certainly have the power to do so. But if there be a certain patent medicine which is not fraudulent and in respect of which the manufacturer has a trade secret, why should that secret be divulged unless it is absolutely necessary in the interests of the health of the community ? The amendment will safeguard the health of the people ; but it recognises that that having been secured, trade secrets should be preserved inviolate.
Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume- Minister of Trade and Customs). - Before the honorable member submits his amendment, I should like to suggest that he move that k be inserted as a new clause. I am disposed to accept it. If it can be so worded as to carry out the object stated by the honorable member, I think that it may well be inserted as a new clause. But, as the honorable and learned member for Corio has suggested, there is no reason why it should be applied to one class of goods and not to another. The matter could be dealt with much more completely in a new clause, and if the provision does not contain more than the honorable member has indicated, I shall be prepared to accept it. If the Department is empowered to prevent the public health from being injured by the importation of injurious compounds, I think that the makers of harmless compounds, who do not desire to publish the nature of their compositions, should be protected.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta),- I move -
That the following paragraph be inserted, to follow sub-clause 1 : -
No trade description specified shall require, as regards the country or place where the goods were made or produced, the name of a country, in addition to that of a place or town, even if there be a place or town similarly named in Australia, if the place or town stated in the trade description sufficiently indicates the country in which these goods were made or produced.
To know the intention of the Department in this matter it is necessary to consult the provisions of the Merchandise Marks Bill passed through the Senate last year by the Watson Government, that being the measure for which the present Bill was substituted. Part III. deals with the importation of fraudulently marked goods, and clause 18 enacts -
The following goods are prohibited to be imported, and shall, if imported, be forfeited to the King : - (£) All roods manufactured at any place outside Australia, and having applied to them any name or trade mark or mark being or purporting to be the name or trade mark or mark of any manufacturer dealer or trader in Australia, unless that name or trade mark or mark is accompanied by a definite indication of the country in which the goods were made or produced.
While clause 19 provides that -
Where there is on any goods the name of a place, which name is identical with or a colourable imitation of the name of a place in Australia, that name, unless accompanied by the name of the country in which the place is situate, shall be treated for the purposes of this Part of this Act as if it were the name of a place in Australia.
There are other provisions similarly worded. Under such an administration as is there provided for, if goods were imported, branded “ Liverpool “ only, the importer would be liable to a heavy penalty for misdescription, because there is a Liverpool in Australia, although the very nature of the goods might guarantee their manufacture or production in Liverpool, England. I take it that all that the Department should demand to know is where goods come from, and if their origin can be traced by the name of a city, it is not necessary to insist that they shall be branded with the name of the country in which that city is situated.
– The Bill says “ country or place.”
– What the honorable member seeks to provide can be done under the Bill as it stands.
– The provisions I have read are the best indication of what is likely to be required by regulation, because they give us the mind of the Department in this matter. Although hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of goods are annually imported into Australia from Sheffield, England, it might happen under the Bill that such goods, being merely marked “ Sheffield,” would be confiscated because there is in Australia some nook called Sheffield. I regard the amendment as necessary to prevent endlesstrouble being given to honest traders.
Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume- Minister of Trade and Customs). - I regard the amendment as unnecessary. Clause 3 provides that trade descriptions shall specify, amongst other things, the country or place in’ or at which the goods to which it applies were made or produced, and it is ridiculous to suppose that the Department would forfeit goods coming from a place so well known as Sheffield, England, merely because the country of origin was not named in the description, and there was in Australia a place called Sheffield. I had nothing to do with the drafting of the Merchandise Marks Bill.
– But the officers of the Department had to do with the framing of that Bill.
– I can deal only with the Bill before the Committee. If the amendment were passed, the Department could not compel the name of the country of origin to be placed on the goods, although that might be absolutely necessary.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth).- The amendment gives some elasticity to an otherwise hide-bound Bill.
– The Bill is not hide-bound. It says “country or place.” Something must be left to the discretion of the Department.
– The amendment is only an amplification of that phrase.
– It would hamper the Department very much.
– I do not think so. I am the last to wish to give the Minister unnecessarily wide powers, but I think that in this case his power should be extended.
– Under the Bill, as it stands, the Minister has all the necessary power.
– There may be a doubt as to the exact meaning of the word “place.” If the mention of the town of origin only may misrepresent the place of origin, the Minister under this amendment, can say. that the country of origin shall also be named. If certain English goods intended for export to America were at the last moment diverted to Australia, they would probably not bear a trade description including particulars as to the country and place of origin, as required under this Bill, and might, therefore, be forfeited, unless some such amendment is made in the Bill. The Minister has told us that the Bill already makes provision for the admission of goods bearing only the name of the town in which they were manufactured, and not the name of the country of origin, and, therefore, I cannot understand why he should object to the amendment, which would merely make the position perfectly clear.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).- It appears to me that the suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta might reasonably be agreed to. He contends that if the name of the place of manufacture indicates the country of origin, that should be sufficient. The placing of the name of the country of origin on the goods will not protect the consumer. It has been shown that the requirement in England that “ made in Germany “ should be stamped upon all goods sent from that country to England has operated to the advantage of Germany, and, instead of our advertising foreign manufacturers, we should be content to assure ourselves that the goods are of good quality. It should not matter to us where goods are produced, so long as we have assurance that they are pure. To endeavour to prevent the use of German goods by branding them “ made in Germany “ will never succeed. The public do not care where goods are made, so long as they are what they require, and represent fair value for the money paid for them. The provision that was made some time ago in Victoria for indicating that certain furniture was made by Chinese labour, has not helped the European cabinet-makers, but has operated in a contrary direction. We are not objecting to the name of- the place of manufacture being marked on the goods imported here, although personally I think that it is absurd to lay down any such condition. If it were necessary to specify all the particulars required under the provisions of the Bill upon the label of, say, a pot of jam, the printing would be so small that a magnifying glass would be required to enable persons to decipher it. This attempt to prescribe conditions with which it is really impracticable to comply, must fail. If the Minister desires to prevent goods of bad quality from being introduced into the Commonwealth, he should prohibit their importation. The Bill at present does not provide for any such thing. So long as a true trade description is furnished, the goods, however deleterious they may be, will be admitted, and allowed to pass into consumption.
Mr. WEBSTER (Gwydir). - I really cannot grasp the motive of the mover of the amendment, unless he desires to eliminate from the trade description all reference to the country of origin. The honorable member for New England stated that so long as goods are of fair quality, the consumers do not care whence they come. Unfortunately, that is to. a certain extent true ; but at least we should afford those who do not desire to patronize the products of cheap labour countries an opportunity of exercising their choice in favour of articles produced under reasonable labour conditions. The honorable member for Parramatta has pointed out that there is a Liverpool in England and a Liverpool in New South Wales, and that it should not be necessary to couple “England” with “Liverpool” in the event of goods being sent out here from the Lancashire port. It appears to me, however, that in such a case it would be absolutely necessary, in order to avoid confusion, to state the country as well as the place of origin. The names of many European towns have been adopted in the American nomenclature, and it would be unfair to many traders in America if the name only of the place of manufacture were mentioned j because there would be no means of distinguishing between a certain town in Germany and a town of the same name in America.
– My amendment provides for that.
– I do not see any necessity for the amendment. In my judgment it is unwise to load the measure with a number of amendments which can only create confusion, if they are not intended to produce some worse result. Amongst some people of the Commonwealth, there is sufficient patriotism to induce them to purchase goods made in Australia in preference to goods which are manufactured abroad. The members of our race are also imbued with sufficient patriotism’ to prompt them to purchase goods made within the Empire, in preference to commodities which are made outside of it. Whilst I recognise that this patriotism has not yet attained its full development, the fact remains that it is growing in the Empire, as it is growing in the Commonwealth. One way in which we can assist its growth is by informing the public of the source of origin of the various goods which they consume. The honorable member for Parramatta has no feeling so far as Australia or the Empire are concerned. He wishes to leave in this Bill loopholes which will enable the foreign competitor to send goods into the Commonwealth without clearly stating upon them the source of their origin. I am glad that the Minister has refused to accept the amendment. If he desires to see the measure effective, he will hesitate to accept the proposals which are emanating from the
Opposition. I fail to see any virtue in the amendment.
– The honorable member does not understand it.
– I can only say that such expressions do not reflect much credit upon the deputy leader of the Opposition. I do not accept his judgment as to my understanding of the clause. I understand a little more of the drift of his amendment than he desires I should, and probably that is what troubles him. I protest against this amendment being thrust upon the Committee practically without notice. Even if there were no other reason for objecting to it, I claim that, in view of the methods which have characterized honorable members opposite, we have a right to oppose any amendment which emanates from them. I commend the Minister for the stand he has taken up.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta). - The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has been discoursing on patriotism, and has delivered a homily on proper parliamentary conduct and manners. Of course he supported the Minister of Trade and Customs. All I have to say in regard to my patriotism is that I hope it is not of the same brand as that of the honorable member. If the Empire is to rest upon the substratum of intelligence indicated to us by his recent remarks, I say, “God help the Empire!”
– It is not an article of commerce.
– I am afraid not. I am sure that all his remarks served the most useful purpose of improving the Bill, and they were about as sensible as the criticism of the Minister. All he says is, “ I will not agree to it.” There is no doubt about the standard of intelligence which is revealed there. We cannot do much against that kind of argument. It seems almost like a waste of time to talk to a Minister who so deals with an important matter of this kind. But even at the risk of incurring odious charges at the hands of the honorable member for Gwydir, I must persist in endeavouring to get my amendment understood. The clause under consideration preserves the right of the Minister to require the country of origin to be indicated in a possibly vexatious way. My amendment declares that the country of origin shall require to be indicated upon the goods, unless the place indicates the country. If the place indicates the country, why should we visit these penal consequences upon an honest trader who, through an inadvertence, omits to state the country of origin?
– There is nothing in the Bill which compels that to be done.
– But there is power in the measure to allow the Minister to declare that it shall be done.
– Then Parliament will have an opportunity of dealing with the regulations.
– The probability is that Parliament will not know much about the regulations. When the Minister lays papers upon the table we can never near what he says.
– The honorable member heard him refuse to acceot the amendment.
– I heard his refusal grunted across the table, and I would much prefer to hear it stated in an intelligible way. If he would indicate why he declines to accept my proposal, I might have no more to say. It is the attitude which he has adopted throughout the consideration of this Bill which has led to the prolongation of its discussion. Instead of grunting his refusals across the table, he ought to tell us why he declines to accept a reasonable amendment which while safeguarding the object of the Bill in every way, provides that if an honest trader makes a mistake his goods shall not be forfeited, so long as the place sufficiently indicates the country of their origin. The Minister thinks it is fair to allow his officials to hold up a man’s business, and to confiscate a shipment of goods, simply because an individual at the other end of the world does not know that in Australia there is a Liverpool or a Sheffield.
– It is difficult to imagine that such a thing can take place.
– It is fair to assume that it will take place, because it has been provided for by the Minister’s own officers in a Bill which has already passed through the Senate.
– Is there not a clear distinction between the purposes of the two measures ?
– Not as to this matter. The Minister has indicated that he intends to confine the operation of this Bill to foodstuffs, medicines, and manures. Con sequently there is not a wide difference between the two measures in the matter of a trade description. We are as anxious as is the Minister that the country of origin should be indicated. All that we desire to do is to prevent the possibility of a man’s goods being held up and confiscated, because of a simple mistake that may have been made at the other end of the world.
Mr. JOHNSON (Lang). - It seems tome that in dealing with the Bill, and the various amendments proposed, the Minister displays far more regard for the interests of the officers of the Department than for those of the public generally. As representatives of the people, it is our duty to consider the public first and the Department afterwards. I am not prepared to vest officialdom with extreme power. There is always a tendency on the part of some public officers to exercise the powers vested in them in such a manner as to tyrannize over those importers with whom they are brought into contactin the discharge of their duties, and while it is necessary to arm them with sufficient authority to discharge the functions of their office, they certainly ought not to be intrusted with powers which may be, and have been, used in a wholly unjustifiable manner. I would favour the curtailment rather than the extension of these powers. The Minister appears to think that every facility must be given to officials, not only to discharge their departmental duties, but really to exercise, behind its back, the powers of the Parliament itself. It is true that section 16 of the English Merchandise Marks Act of 1887 provides that the country as well as the place of origin of various goods shall be. defined. That provision was inserted to meet the practice of continental manufacturers who placed English names upon goods which they put on the local market, to mislead the public into believing that they had been made in England instead of on the Continent. Instead of checking the importation of such goods, however, this provision had the opposite effect. The peorle of Great Britain became accustomed to the label “ Made in Germany,” and so forth, and as long as they suited them, were prepared to purchase goods so marked, whether thev were made in Germany or Timbuctoo. Germany obtained a splendid advertisement as the result of this system., and I am satisfied that that will be the outcome of anything we may attempt in the same way. The criticism offered by the honorable member for
Gwydir shows that he does not understand the purport of the amendment.
– The amendment is that if the place indicates the country it shall not be an offence to omit from the label the name of the country.
– That is so. If a label does not indicate the country of origin, the officers of the Department will have power to require a fuller description. It is evident that the purport of the amendment has not been grasped bv some honorable members opposite. If it has, it is difficult to understand what objection they can have to it.
– The controversy which has arisen in regard to the amendment is rather interesting. I take it that the amendment contains nothing for which provision has not already been made in the Bill.
– The amendment is designed to embody the principle in the Bill itself.
– It is already in the” Bill, but honorable members opposite appear to be anxious to load up the measure with innumerable details. There is an impression in the minds of some honorable members that it is dangerous to intrust much power to Government officials. I would ask them, however, to name any Act of Parliament for the administration of which we have not to rely on public officials.
– I would instantly withdraw the amendment if the very words it contains were not to be found in another Bill that has been brought before us.
– I shall deal with that point presently. I wish first of all to review the statement so frequently made that it is dangerous to give public officials much power. I would point out “that the officers of the Commonwealth have no party purpose to serve, and that as they have to maintain their reputation as administrators, there is nothing to be feared in this regard. We know that a Minister who goes beyond the scope of the law he is administering can be “dealt with, by the Parliament itself, and I do not think that any official would venture to go outside an Act of Parliament or regulations made under it. That being so, all that we require to provide, so far as the question now before us is concerned, is that the goods shall bear the name of the country or the place of origin, so that they may be readily identified. That is already provided, and the amendment goes no further. The honorable member for Parra matta fears that the Minister, or his officials, might be able under the Bill to harass importers or traders. There is really no ground for such a fear.
– Not in view of the clause to which I have referred ?
– That deals with an entirely different set of circumstances. It was embodied in a Bill to prevent fraud in connexion with trade marks, and was designed to prevent an officer of the Department being misled as to the place in which a trade mark had been registered. The honorable member for Lang stated that the provision in the English1 Act, requiring that all goods shall bear a label showing their place of origin, was inserted because continental traders found it advantageous to .place on the British market goods bearing labels giving British towns as the place of origin. Having regard to all these facts, it is absolutely necessary that extensive powers should be conferred on the Department, and I hold that “those which it is proposed to confer are certainly not too wide. We must assume that, if mention of the place where they were produced or manufactured will identify the origin of goods, the Department will not impose restrictions hampering their importation.
Amendment (by Sir William Lyne) agreed to -
That the word “ proclamation,” line 8, be left out, with a view to inserting in lieu thereof the word “ regulation.”
Mr. KNOX (Kooyong). - I move -
That after the word “ Kine,” line 9, the following words be inserted : - “ Unless the owner or importer gives security to the satisfaction of the Comptroller-General that a true trade description will bc applied to the goods, or that they will be forthwith exported.”
The amendment would have been moved by the honorable member for North Sydney had he been present, and he would perhaps have given a more complete explanation of its intention than I can make. The clause as it stands makes the forfeiting of all goods imported in contravention of a proclamation mandatory.
– Subject to the limitation in sub-clause 3.
– The Minister must be aware that goods are frequently sent out without the consignees knowing verv much about them, until they receive advices relating to them. Of course, where there is a fraudulent attempt to introduce goods in contravention of the proclamation, the Department must possess the power to forfeit ; but where goods are sent out without the knowledge of the consignee, he should be allowed to export them, or to apply the prescribed trade description to the satisfaction of the Comptroller-General. The amendment will make the clause less arbitrary, but will not take away, the power of the Department to forfeit.
Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume- Minister of Trade and Customs). - I do not see much difference between the amendment and sub-clause 3, which provides that -
Subject to the regulations, the ComptrollerGeneral, or, on appeal from him, the Minister, may permit any goods which are liable to be, or have been seized as forfeited under this section, to be delivered to the owner or importer, upon security being given to the satisfaction of the Comptroller-General that the prescribed trade description will be applied to the goods, or that they will be forthwith exported.
– “ Subject to the regulations.”
– The regulations cannot override the sub-clause. The forfeiture may be only a technical matter, and if the owner of the goods says, “ There has been a mistake. I will give security that the prescribed trade description will be applied, or the goods will be exported,” the Comptroller may permit them to be delivered to him. If the Comptroller refuses to do so, the owner or importer may appeal to the Minister. The regulations will deal only with the method of procedure in these cases.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).There is a very vital difference between the amendment and sub-clause 3, inasmuch as the amendment makes the return of the goods a matter of right, whereas under subclause 3 it is an act of grace on the part of the Minister. Whereas under subclause 3 the Minister may or may not allow a consignee to apply the prescribed trade description, or export, the amendment gives the owner or importer the right to do so, in cases where a mistake has been made. Is it not a sufficient punishment to make the owner or importer export the goods again ?
– The provision will not affect the honest trader.
– It is the honest trader who will be affected, and we are trying to protect him. If the penalty of exportation will not be effective to prevent importation in contravention of a procla mation, the larger penalty of forfeiture will not be effective. We wish to give thetrader who has made an honest mistakethe right to rectify that mistake, instead of compelling him to go cap-in-hand to the Minister to ask as an act of grace that he may be allowed to rectify it. There willbe sufficient penalties in the Bill, ever if the amendment is agreed to.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth).- There is. another point besides that which has been: so well put by the honorable member for Parramatta. If sub-clause 2 remains unaltered all goods imported in contravention of a proclamation must be forfeited. Forfeiture must take place before sub-clause 3 can come into operation to return to the trader his goods. But why should this devious course be followed? The effect will -be to require the employment of more Customs officials, but no good will be achieved by it. If the importer or owner is to be allowed to receive back his goods on giving security that the prescribed trade description will be applied, or that they will be forthwith exported, why should he not receive them back at once, instead of having them forfeited first? I hope that the Minister will accept an amendment that is obviously designed to facilitate the proper working of the measure.
– We cannot accept the amendment. The clause provides that the goods that are specified in the regulations must have applied to them a trade description of such a character, relating to such matters, and applied in such manner as is prescribed ; otherwise they will be forfeited, the forfeiture, however, being subject to remission. It is now proposed that the goods shall be forfeited, unless the owner or importer gives security to the satisfaction of the Comptroller-General that a true trade description will be applied to them. It . would seem, according to the amendment, that the trade description is not to be as prescribed or to be applied in the manner required by the regulations ; but as the importer himself may choose. That would be quite foreign to the intention of the clause.
Mr. McCAY (Corinella). - I understand that the intention of the amendment is to give the importer the right to his goods if he applies a true trade description to them after it has been discovered that they do not bear the trade description required by law. I think that that goes too far, because goods might come in, and the importer might go on importing, in contravention of the law, until he was found out. At the same time, absolute forfeiture, conditional only upon the Ministerial discretion to waive it, is rather too severe a penalty. It is not desirable that the Minister should have to decide these matters to any extent more than is necessary, and I would suggest that the importer should have the right to his goods on the same terms as those operating in a case in which he successfully defended himself against a prosecution for applying a false trade description, namely, if he could show that he had not acted knowingly. In other words, it should be provided that the goods should be forfeited to the King, unless the owner or importer could satisfy the Comptroller-General cr, on appeal, the Minister, that he did not knowingly import the goods in contravention of the law. He should then have a right to his goods upon applying a proper trade description. The matter would not then be left entirely to the discretion of the Comptroller-General or the Minister. I do not expect that the Minister or the Comptroller-General would refuse to release the goods under such circumstances.
– Certainly not.
– Then there can be no impropriety in declaring that the goods shall be released.
– If the provision were framed in- the way suggested by the honorable and learned member, the Courts might be asked to decide, upon extensive evidence, whether the Comptroller-General ought to have been satisfied in certain cases that the importer did not knowingly contravene the section.
– I do not think that that is likely to occur, because, unless the ComptrollerGeneral arrived at an obviously unreasonable decision, it would be sufficient for him to say that he was not satisfied.
– A provision of that kind would open the Courts at once.
– I do not think so. If an importer acts unwittingly he should be able to claim his goods as a right.
– Clause 12 provides for that.
– Even in clause 12 the matter still rests upon the discretion of the Minister. I desire to provide that where the Minister is satisfied that an importer did not knowingly act in contravention of the law he shali have the right to his goods. Under the clause as it stands, even though the Minister might be satisfied that the importer had acted unwittingly, he cculd refuse to release the goods, and I contend that we have no right to leave these matters to the sense of justice of the Minister. I do not see the slightest unfairness in providing that, in the event of an importer being able to satisfy the Minister that he committed an offence unknowingly, he should be entitled to his goods.
– That would leave the door open, to negligence..
– The importer would still haveto satisfy the Minister that he- had acted unknowingly. Does the AttorneyGeneral mean to say that if a man, owing to negligence, failed to place a proper description on his goods, he should be punished by the forfeiture of his property? The punishment to which he would be liable would be greater than that provided for wilful wrongdoing. I would suggest to the honorable member for Kooyong that he should alter his amendment in the way I have mentioned.
Mr.. KNOX (Kooyong). - I do not wish to leave the door open for importers who are disposed to systematically evade the law, or to introduce inferior goods, and I am willing to alter the amendment by substituting for the words “ a true “ the words “ the prescribed.”
Amendment amended accordingly.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England.).- Will the Minister accept the amendment in its altered form?
– I think it should be accepted. We should not regard every man as a rogue and a vagabond, but should safeguard those who may, through ignorance, act. in contravention of the law.
– Under the amendment an importer might obtain possession of his goods, no matter how deliberately he might have tried to evade the Act.
– I think that we should afford some means of redress to persons who consider that they are unjustly treated by the Customs authorities. Every citizen should have a right to appeal to a judicial tribunal to decide whether he has committed an ‘offence against the law. The Customs authorities should not be the sole arbiters in such matters. It appears to me that this clause is an ex- tremely drastic one. We ought to insert a provision which will effectually protect the rights of unoffending citizens, or of citizens who innocently infringe the law.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).- I would point out that even if weadopt the amendment, a very severe penalty will still attach to any negligent importer - a penalty which will surely be sufficient to cover any negligence of which he may be guilty. The amendment provides that he may be compelled to reexport his goods. In most cases the adoption of that course would be sufficient to ruin a man. If that penalty is not severe enough to cover cases of negligence, I think that the Customs officials must be gluttons for power.
Mr. McCAY (Corinella).- I move-
That the following words be added to subclause 2 : - “ unless the owner or importer satisfies the Comptroller-General, or, on appeal from him, the Minister, that he did not knowingly so import the goods.”
Under the clause, even though an importer may satisfy the Minister that he has unwittingly acted in contravention of the Act, the Minister is vested with a discretionary power to say whether or not the goods shall be forfeited. It is all very well to urge that we should trust to the discretion of the Minister. I hold that, where we can settle these matters by legislation, instead of trusting to any Minister’s discretion, we should do so. When once the owner of any goods has satisfied the Comptroller-General or the Minister that he did not knowingly import such goods in contravention of the Act, I think that he should be entitled to their release as of right. They should not be liable to seizure. To my mind, that is only an act of the barest justice, and consequently I am unable to understand why the Attorney-General should have any hesitation in accepting the amendment.
– I will not accept it. I said so from the first.
– My proposal is altogether different from that which was submitted by the honorable member for Kooyong.
– It would have very much the same effect.
– It would not have anything like the same effect. No Minister should ask for a power such as is contained in this clause. After an exporter has established his innocence he should be entitled to his goods as of right I shall certainly press my amendment to a division.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England). - I regard the amendment as a very reasonable one, and, after hearing the explanation of the honorable and learned member for Corinella I cannot understand why the Minister opposesit. If an importer can establish the fact that he has transgressed the law through ignorance, surely he should be entitled to the release of his goods. In the absence of some definite provision of that character what remedy does he possess?
– His only remedy is by the grace of the Minister.
– I would not trust the Minister. Why not give any person who is accused of having done wrong the right to appeal to the Courts?
– Let us get to a division.
– The honorable gentleman has a majority behind him, and consequently exclaims “ Let us get to a division.” The resistance which he offers to this amendment shows that he is prepared to act in the way that has been suggested. We have had some experience of what he is capable of doing during the current session. I say that an outrage was committed by him, and is still being committed, in the matter of the valuation of certain imports. No innocent man should be placed at the mercy of Government officials or of any Minister. If the honorable gentleman will insert a clause giving to any one whose goods have been forfeited the right to appeal to the Courts, I shall be content to allow to pass a number of provisions in this Bill in which I do not believe. It would appear that with his majority behind him the Minister is determined to pass a drastic measure which will accomplish more than appears in the Bill itself. Surely the honorable gentleman can have no objection to the insertion of a clause which will give the right, which I claim that every man should have, to appeal to the Courts? Under this Bill an importer may be adjudged guilty by a Customs official, and his only appeal is to the Minister, who will naturally stand by an officer of his Department. If honorable members have any sense of the rights of individuals, they will not permit this Bill to go one step further until the amendment now proposed is accepted by the Government or some right of appeal is given to the Courts.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth). - I understand that the Minister’s only objection to the amendment is that if it were inserted a loop-hole might possibly be opened to fraud on the part of importers.
– That is not the only objection, but it is one very serious objection to the amendment.
– That is one objection on which much stress has been laid. If this Department is so suspicious of the people with whom it has to deal, is it not reasonable to suppose that importers may be equally suspicious of the Department? By the amendment all that is asked is that if an importer haserred unknowingly he shall have the ordinary right of a British citizen to be declared not guilty of any serious offence. Under the Bill as it stands a man might have his goods purposely seized in order that they might be given back to him under sub-clause 3.
– They will not be seized if he has not broken the law.
– He might have broken the law technically only.
– An offence under this clause would not be a technical breach 01 the law.
– I believe that the AttorneyGeneral makes a very good living out of technical breaches of the law, and we know that a technical breach of the law might be committed by an importer under this Bill as it stands. As a consequence, his goods might possibly be seized, in order that afterwards, under sub-clause 3, they might be returned to him - perhaps, for a consideration. I repeat that, if importers are the subjects of such suspicions by the Department, it is only reasonable to think thatthey might have some suspicions, of the Department, although I do not say that they would be well founded. I am sure they would not, but I think that the suspicions entertained of importers by the Department would be equally ill-founded. For that reason, I cannot understand the objection to the amendment now proposed.
Question. - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted - put. The- Committee divided.
Ayes … … … 12
Noes … … … 24
Majority …. … 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).A great deal has been said during, the debate on this Bill as to the protection of the public, especially infants, against certain deleterious foods. It has been pointed out, too, that the Bill unnecessarily differentiates the person who produces deleterious foods outside the Commonwealth from the person who may produce them within the Commonwealth. Therefore, I propose to move an amendment which will put the two classes of producers on the same footing. I have to put the proposal in a negative way, because that is the only one which is left open to me now. I move -
That after the word “ King,” line g, the following words be inserted : - “ unless the owner or importer prove that goods of the same character produced, manufactured, made, prepared, or packed in Australia are permitted to be sold in the State into which the goods are imported without the prescribed trade description.”
– The honorable member would kill the Bill if he carried that amendment.
– Does the Minister wish to differentiate between the two classes of producers? If that is his purpose, the Bill ought to be killed.
– The honorable member is , trying his best to kill it.
– All this growling will not get us any further. .We are prepared to reason with the Minister if there is any reason in him, but I have heard none to-night, and all this kind of humbug will not go down here. This amendment will test whether we really believe what we have .been saying all through the debate, and whether we mean to put the outside producer of deleterious drugs on the same footing as the Australian “producer ‘of such articles.
– So far as I could gather from hearing the amendment read. I do not think it is constitutional. Certainly it is the most deliberate attempt I have yet heard any honorable member make to destroy the Bill. What has been said by the honorable member and his supporters all through the debate? They have urged that deleterious drugs and goods would be made in the States because the Commonwealth had no power over them in that regard. It has been acknowledged that it is not constitutional for the Commonwealth to deal with the internal affairs, “of any particular State. So that the honorable member wishes to allow those persons who, in their States, do some things which the laws do not prevent them from doing, and which’ are to the injury of its people to continue doing those things, and, at the same -time, to permit those persons who have done -improper things outside’ the Commonwealth to send into that State improper foods: It is one of the most extra-, ordinary proposals I ever heard if it be honestly intended to improve the Bill. But to my mind it is-;made with a view to try to destroy the Bill. I .ask you, sir, whether the amendment is in order. I submit that it infringes a right of the States, and therefore is not constitutional..
– It is not within the province of the Chair to give an opinion on a point of constitutional law. That is the function of the responsible officers of the Crown, and it would be improper for me to express such an opinion.
– With unusual fervour the Minister has told us that this is a proposal to kill the Bill. These words come with singularly bad grace from him. For if anything has tended to delay the progress of this measure, it has been the conduct of the Minister in charge of it. Instead of giving explanations to which the Committee have been, from time to time, entitled, the honorable gentleman has treated any inquiry from the Opposition with contempt, and, when in a quandary, has not relied on his own intelligence, but has hurriedly ‘conferred with the officers of the Department, who have drafted and called this Bill into being. The Minister claims that the amendment is unconstitutional, and has based all his argument on the ground that we have not power to differentiate between State and State. Another clause of the Constitution provides that after the institution of a uniform Tariff all trade between the States shall be absolutely free.
– Where there is no roguery.
– Where there is no roguery, although that fact is not specifically stated. Certain honorable members endeavoured to insert a provision against the passing from State to State of goods likely to deceive consumers; but the Constitution was again quoted against them. It is contended now that if we endeavour to prevent the protection of any bogus manufacture within a State, we are infringing the Constitution; but in advancing that argument the supporters of the Bill forget the section of the Constitution relating to Inter-State free-trade, which they quoted against the other amendment. If goods can be sold in Sydney.- under that interpretation, they may be sold in any corner of the Commonwealth, and this constitutional objection must necessarily fall to the ground. The only reasonable objection to the proposal was .that made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh, who asked, by interjection, why, because one rogue exists, we should permit two Of them to impose upon the public. But I ask the honorable member, who, I understand, is a keen believer in protection, whether, if the products of rogues are kept out of the Commonwealth, there will not be infinitely greater opportunity for the products of rogues inside? Is it not for ‘the Committee to consider whether any action we take at thepresent time may not possibly so act as to foster bogus industries in any one State ?
– That is the danger.
– That is the danger which I understand the present amendment is intended to meet.
– The amendment will encourage roguery.
– The clause, unless amended, will encourage roguery in giving protection to the local rogue, because it will not allow the outside rogue to interfere with the business of the inside rogue. Piece-goods are allowed to be introduced, if properly described ; and as paper may be imported as piece-goods, it might, after it has passed the Customs barrier, be made up and sold as boots. If the importation of paper boots is prohibited, an industry will spring up in the Commonwealth for the making of similar boots in order to cheat the public. I hope that the honorable member for Parramatta will persist with this amendment, which, while it may perhaps not be so efficacious as the other amendment, is one which will prevent protection being afforded to the roguish manufacturer within the confines of Australia.
Mr. LONSDALE (New England).While I am not very strongly in favour of theamendment, I think it ought to be carried, because it will, at any rate, prevent the possibility of protection being afforded to the dishonest manufacturer within the Commonwealth. The supporters of the amendment are charged with being desirous of allowing deleterious goods to be imported ; but it most not be forgotten that the Bill will not keep such goods out, except with the consent of the Minister. If the Bill distinctly stated that goods of dishonest manufacture should be invariably prohibited I could understand honorable members voting for the provision ; but, as a matter of fact, the Minister may absolutely refuse to allow one importer to affix a proper trade description,’ thus prohibiting the goods, while he may allow another to affix a trade description, and import the same class of goods. I am prepared to support a proposal to prohibit all goods which may be injurious to humanity; but I decline to be a party to leave the matter entirely in the Minister’s hands.
– The honorable member should have voted for my amendment yesterday.
– That amendment I regarded as unconstitutional, and, therefore, I voted with the Government.
– The present amendment is absolutely unconstitutional, being in contravention of section 99 of the Constitution.
– That is not the view I take, because it simply proposes to admit into the Commonwealth goods of the same quality as those made within the Commonwealth.
– The amendment speaks of any particular State.
– If it is merely the use of the word. “ State “ instead of “ Commonwealth “ that makes the amendment unconstitutional, that can be rectified. Will the Attorney-General, with all his legal erudition, tell me that we cannot provide that imports shall be of the same quality as similar articles made within the Commonwealth ?
– It is unconstitutional to distinguish between the States.
– Although the Minister professes a desire to improve the Bill, it seems that his only object is to secure to himself the widest powers. If he is prepared to say that he will draft a new clause giving effect to the principle embodied in this amendment, I shall be satisfied.
– It seemed to me that our proceedings were being reduced to a burlesque when the Chairman was called uponto rule whether or not the amendment was constitutional. I have on several occasions supported the Government’s attitude in regard to this Bill, because of my desire that Australia shall have pure food supplies. When the honorable member for Hindmarsh submitted an amendment with that object in view, I supported him, and I intend for the reason stated to vote* for the amendment now before the’ ‘Chair. The Minister declares that, if passed, it would kill the Bill. To my mind, ‘that is a declaration that, in the opinion of the Minister and his colleagues, local manufacturers are in the habit of producing deleterious goods. It seems to me that the Governmentdesire to use this measure as a veiled system of protection. If they are not prepared to place the local producer on equal terms with the foreign manufacturer, they are probably of opinion that the former manufactures deleterious goods. It seems that while honorable members object to their children being poisoned by deleterious foods ‘from foreign countries, they are quite prepared to allow them to be poisoned by local productions. If the local productions are satisfactory, why should the Government object to the amendment?
– Because the manufacture of goods. in a State is controlled by the Parliament of that State.
– I am now preparedto share the view expressed last night by the honorable member for Capricornia, that the Bill should be thrown under the table. The honorable member for Parramatta has made several attempts to improve it, but the Government are disposed to resist all our efforts in that- direction, arid there is no reason, therefore, why I should continue to support it. I shall be compelled to do that which I believe the honorable member for Hindmarsh will do - to vote against she third reading of the Bill, on the ground that it will be nothing better than a placard, and will not carry out the object that we all profess to have in view. Although I am a free-trader, I fully believe that our local manufacturers are producing sound and healthy goods. It is because of that belief that I atn prepared to vote for an amendment which will place them on an equal footing with the foreigner, arid because also it is my desire to see the health of the community preserved.
– I understand from the statement made by the Minister that the Commonwealth has.no control over deleterious foods manufactured in any one State.
– Not in one State.
– Then the sooner we improve the Bill, or else throw it into the wastepaper basket, the better. I think the amendment is a reasonable one, and that it is only right that we should refuse to differentiate between imported and locally-manufactured goods.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 8 and 9 agreed to.
House adjourned at 10.57 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 September 1905, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19050921_reps_2_27/>.