3rd Parliament · 4th Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Sir. JOHN QUICK laid upon the table the following paper : -
Telephone Accounts. - Progress Report of Committee of Accountants appointed to report on, together with remarks thereon by the ActingSecretary, Postmaster-General’s Department.
Ordered to be printed.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Home Affairs if he will be good enough to make arrangements for the fixing of bells throughout this building whereby honorable members may be informed, by differences in tone, whether a call is for a division, to make a quorum, or to apply the gag ?
– That part of the building which is used by the members of this House is under the control of Mr. Speaker, to whom the honorable member should address his question.
– I wish to know from the Postmaster-General whether the accountants who are investigating the affairs of the Telephone Branch say in their progress report when they will finish their work?
– There is no statement in the report, but from personal re- presentations made to me, I think that the period of investigation ought not to exceed another” two months.
– Can the Attorney-General say whether the Common: wealth will take over the control of quarantine from the States, so that Tasmania may have a chance against her bigger neighbours ?
– As the matter concerns the Department of Trade and Customs, it would be well for the honorable member to give notice of his question. We have passed a Quarantine Act, and it contains a power under which a proclamation may be issued for extending its operations in respect to certain matters now forming part of the jurisdiction of the States.
– In to-day’s Argus it is stated that the Labour party occupied the whole of the sitting last Tuesday, when the Supply Bill was introduced and passed, and that - the result of that obstruction has been that the wages of public servants authorized under the Bill have not been paid, and cannot be paid in some States until Monday next. For that hardship public servants have to thank the Labour Party.
I ask the Treasurer whether it is not a fact that the Supply Bill was passed through all its stages on the day on which it was introduced into this House, and again passed through all its stages on the day on which it was introduced into the Senate, and whether the statement in the Argus is not grossly inaccurate?
– I do not consider it grossly inaccurate.
– In consequence of the transfer of the Director of Artillery to the Military Board, and the appointment of two new State Commandants, when does the Minister of Defence propose to fill the vacancies thus created? The changes were made a month ago:
– It is not usual to fill an office until the leave of. the present occupant has expired, Colonel Mackenzie is now on leave for six months, during which time Colonel Parnell is Acting Commandant for Tasmania. At the end of the period, a permanent appointment will be made.
– Then we shall have no Chief of Ordnance for nearly six months.
– Major Dangar and Major Buckley are now acting in the performance of those duties.
– I have received from the Deputy Postmaster-General, Melbourne, information regarding the business of the Bungaree Post Office, about which the honorable member for Corio yesterday asked a question. It is as follows : -
– I wish to interpose at this stage to say with what deep regret the House has just learned of the death of Sir Thomas Bent this morning. Whatever our political differences may be, I hope that we shall always be ready to set them aside to pay a tribute of respect to one, high in position, who has passed beyond our ken.
– Sir Thomas Bent was a distinguished Victorian public man.
– He was a distinguished public man in every sense of the word, one marked by striking individuality, which he managed to impress upon his State.
– It is a pity that we have not more like him.
– The late Sir Thomas Bent rendered many remarkable services to Victoria. As Speaker of the Legislative Assembly ; later, as Premier for many years, and in various other ways, he did good work for his State and for Australia generally. We remember only those services to-day, and it is fitting that in the chamber where, for so long, he presided over the deliberations of the Victorian Legislative Assembly, we should pay this tribute to his memory, and acknowledge all he has done for the public weal. I venture to express, on behalf of honorable members generally, the deepest sympathy with those near and dear to him, who are left with us to mourn his loss.
– I am sure that it has come somewhat as a shock to us to learn that a man who was for so long a prominent figure in the life of this State has been removed. It was not my fortune to know the late Sir Thomas Bent intimately. His ideas and ideals . were altogether different from those of the party with which I am associated. But nobody can avoid paying the late honorable gentleman a. tribute of admiration for his courage and for that individuality which marked him from the ruck. Like other men, he has done good and evil things. That is the lot of all men who do things rather than have things done for them. Criticism fell upon him during his later years, perhaps, in overwhelming measure, but posterity will do him justice. He was a prominent figure in the history of Victoria for very many years. He seemed to meet every phase of fortune with courage and dignity. For a little while he was in the background, but I do not think that I am expressing my individual opinion when I say it was the confident belief of the people of this country that he would again emerge and take his place in the forefront. He has now passed away, and I join with the Acting Leader of the House in extending to his relatives and friends a tribute of sympathy and condolence. I feel very sure they may rest satisfied that there is no bitterness in the minds of those who called themselves, and were indeed, his public opponents. Rather do they feel that at the back of all his acts there was a desire to do that which he conceived to be hisduty to his country.
– As one who wasvery intimately associated with the late Sir Thomas Bent. I desire to say a few words on this occasion. The news of his sudden decease, which reached me only during the last few minutes, has left me without the means of expressing as fully as I should have liked to do my sentiments towards an old friend. Death has removed one of the most interesting and remarkable figures from the political life of Australia. I am glad that the Acting Leader of the Opposition has paid a well-deserved tribute to our deceased friend’s courage. Right or wrong, he was never deficient in that quality. Perhaps it may not be known to many honorable members that that quality was exhibited in a far more remarkable degree in connexion with his private misfortunes than it was in the public acts of his exceptional career. I need not say anything more, except that I always found him a loyal and warmhearted friend and colleague.
– With the permission of the House, I should like to say a word or two in regard to the late Sir Thomas Bent, whowas a very old personal friend. I have known him for thirty-three or thirty-four years, and I have always admired him for his courage. He did many things “in a rugged way, but everybody admitted his courage, which, as the honorable member for Flinders has observed, was exhibited in a remarkable fashion in connexion with his private troubles. In misfortune he was most courageous. It was then that he would pull himself together, with that singular courage which always marked his public career. I have followed his political history closely, and I know that he has been accused of all sorts of things. In this connexion I used to deeply sympathize with him, because I recognise that nobody can be courageous and outspoken without making many enemies. Numerous accusations were levelled against the late honorable gentleman without the slightest foundation, and whenever it was possible to have those accusations investigated he emerged from the ordeal with flying colours. He was a very warmhearted man and a true friend. He was certainly a formidable enemy, but nobody could fail to like him and more than like him for his courage and determination. I think that Victoria - and indeed Australia - has lost one of its best and foremost men. I regret it very much, and I am sure that all those who knew the late Sir Thomas Bent will echo my sentiments in regard to him.
– Perhaps it would not be out of place for me - occupying, as I do, the very seat which the late Sir Thomas Bent filled as Speaker of the Victorian Legislative Assembly - to express my deep sense of the loss which both the Commonwealth and the State of Victoria have sustained by his death. My chief recollections as a young member of the Victorian Parliament, of the late honorable gentleman, are of his great kindliness of heart and constant consideration for those who were new to political life. I join with others in deploring the too early pass- ing away of one who has done so much for Australia and for Victoria, and who, in the opinion of many, was capable of rendering still further service to the State.
Application of Closure to Question under Standing Order 241.
– I move -
That this House dissents from the ruling of Mr. Speaker - That the closure could be applied to the question under standing order 241, “That the Speaker do now leave the Chair.”
In submitting this motion to dissent from your ruling, sir, I am actuated by a desire to settle a point which I feel certain you will admit is at least arguable. The position is, I think, without precedent in this House, and in the very short time that has been available to me, I have been unable to discover any reference to it in May. The point which I take is that, where no precedent has been laid down, and where the practice is not clearlyestablished, you, sir, in the interpretation of our Standing Orders, must be guided by the general rule’s relating to the interpretation of laws, and that where there is a doubt you should give the benefit of that doubt to the House and in the direction of the most ample discussion. The principle of the closure is to prevent obstruction, and the very nature of the motion that “Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply,” takes it out of the operation of that standing order. The intention of the motion is that there should be from time to time an opportunity to discuss grievances before granting Supply. May says at page 611 of the nth edition that the Committee of Supply “must be kept on foot throughout the session until closed in due course.” The right of the House of Commons - the people’s House - to ventilate grievances before granting Supply is most ancient and valuable, and any invasion of it ought not to be permitted without the clearest and most direct mandate. The closure resolutions were adopted by this House for the sole purpose of preventing the obstruction of Government business. If you look, Mr. Speaker, at the circumstances surrounding their adoption you will see that they have relation only to an actual or contemplated attempt to prevent a majority proceeding with any business.
I submit that they have no relation to the ancient and invaluable right that we have to ventilate grievances on a formal motion of Supply. In its very nature the question before the Chair when the closure was applied in this case is differentiated from an ordinary motion. It was not moved by an honorable member ; it was simply put formally by yourself. That, I submit, takes it out of the operation of the closure standing order.
– How can the honorable member get away from the plain language of the standing order?
– I submit that the question of Supply does not come within the application of the closure standing order. As you said last night, Mr. Speaker, it is a mere cover under which we discuss grievances. Will you say, sir, that you have no discretion in this matter? If you hold that you have not, then a majority, sufficiently disciplined and resolute to apply the closure upon every occasion, could move its application as soon as you put the question, “That I do now leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply.” If a Minister moved at that stage, “ That the questionbe now put,” would you put it, and so strangle debate? If you would, then I say most emphatically that this House would cease to be a deliberative Assembly, and would become merely a place where the Ministry recorded their opinions, and alone had the right to express them. Apart altogether from the principle involved, and dealing with the merits of the question of Supply as though it were not a motion differentiated from others, I hold that the occasion in question was not one for the application of the closure, and that even assuming that you rule that the closure standing order does apply to such a question, you have discretionary power, and ought to have exercised it last night by declining to put the motion.
– There can be no question more important to the House than one relating to the ruling of the Chair. I hope, therefore, that honorable members will give to this matter the attention which is necessary in order that a proper conclusion may be arrived at. I ask the honorable member for West Sydney where in the Standing Orders it is shown that it is possible for me to exercise discretionary power in this matter.
– We are to assume that every standing order has relation not to an abstract but a concrete case, namely, the conduct of business in this House. Certainly no standing order can be taken so to apply to a condition of affairs as to render a deliberative assembly, which this House is, absolutely impotent and prevent deliberation and argument.
– The Speaker of the House of Commons has discretionary power.
– He has, and declines absolutely to put the closure or the guillotine unless he thinks it should be applied. I remember a Chairman of Committees declining to put the motion.
– A discretionary power is vested in the Speaker of the House of Commons by the Standing Orders.
– But the Speaker of this House has no discretionary . power vested in him.
– Every standing order must be interpreted in the light of its application to concrete facts. Supposing that directly the House meets it were possible to move “ That the question be now put,” on, for instance, the Order of the Day that a Governor-General’s message be considered in a Committee of the whole, and it is carried and the business ended, it is quite conceivable that the Standing Orders might be suspended on a similar motion. Was it contemplated for a moment that such a monstrous perversion of the ordinary and constitutional method of discussion in this House should be permitted? If you should rule that way, then we may at once abandon any pretence of conducting Parliament on the basis of a deliberative assembly. If we may not ventilate grievances and make our protests - if we are at all times to be subject to the caprice of a majority, who may, if they chose, trample every right under foot - and you have no discretion, then, for my part, I should question very much the expediency of remaining any longer in a chamber where one’s voice is at any time liable to be drowned in an unseemly roar from honorable members opposite, and where it is impossible for the minority to express their opinions on projected legislation in the time-honoured fashion of Parliamentary government since its inception. It would be a disastrous thing if you declared that you had no discretion. If you take the words of the standing order as if they meant that you are to put any motion that anybody moves, then I shall be able to demonstrate in this Chamber within a week from now, that, under the same standing order, we on this side can make debate absolutely impossible. If you are to have no discretion, and must put the motion, “That the question be now put,” every time it is moved, the fact of the question being put will make it impossible to carry on business in an orderly way in a deliberative assembly. I say, therefore, that you have discretion, and ought to exercise it - that you ought not to rule that you have no discretion until you have claimed discretion and been denied it. If you abandon that control which the Speaker of the House of Commons exercises, without claiming at least the right to exercise discretion, and submitting your view to the decision of the House-
– When the closure proposal was introduced the Speaker in the House of Commons objected to being authorized to exercise discretion - it was forced on him.
– I claim that you, sir, are clothed with every authority that the Speaker of the House of Commons has.
– I am very anxious not to restrict the scope of the debate unduly, but I point out that the question now before the House is, not whether there is discretion vested in the Speaker, but whether a certain ruling was correct or otherwise; and I ask the honorable member to direct his attention to that question.
– Mr. Speaker, I rise to a point of order. You, yourself, asked the honorable member for West Sydney a few minutes ago to point out where the standing order gave you any discretion.
– I do not think that that is a point of order, but rather an attempt to put the Chair in a false position ; and I hope the honorable member will not do that. The honorable member for West Sydney made an assertion, and I asked him to show me where it was supported in our Standing Orders. The honorable member did not deal with that question any further ; and he is now dealing with another part of the subject altogether. He is really taking the debate into an avenue into which I hold he is not competent to take it at this juncture; and I ask him, therefore, to confine his remarks to the question whether the ruling was correct or otherwise.
– I regard this as a fundamental question ; and it is quite impossible for me to argue it if I am not permitted to show that the closure motion ought not, and does not, apply to the motion under standing order 241, and that, in any case, you have discretion. With all deference, I submit that my remarks are perfectly relevant, and within the scope of the question before the Chair, which is that your ruling was not correct, in that you ruled that the closure motion did apply. Supposing, Mr. Speaker, you had said that the closure motion did not apply to the motion under standing order 241. would not that have been to exercise a discretion? And is it not conceivable that some other honorable member elected to the Chair might decide otherwise? It is conceivable, and, therefore, there must be room for discussion on that point. In the very nature of things the Speaker of a deliberative assembly must have discretion, as in the case of the Speaker of the House of Commons, on which the procedure of this Chamber is modelled; and that discretion you ought to exercise. I claim that this is an argument why you were wrong in your ruling - that if, by virtue of your exercising that discretion, you decided in a wrong way, I am justified in my present attitude. Do you say, Mr. Speaker, that, under all circumstances, and on every motion: - for the suspension of the Standing Orders, for the discussion of grievances and every other motion - the closure motion applies? If so, would you rule that it applied in the case where an honorable member, on rising to move “ That the question be now put,” was, before he could move the motion, met with another motion that he be no further heard ? I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you would not give any such absurd ruling. Yet, if you say that you have no discretion, then if the second member gets up in time, you must put the second motion first, and stop the first member from moving “That the question be now put.” But, you will probably say that you cannot do that, and must bring to the interpretation of the Standing Orders and apply to the business of the Chamber that common sense which is exercised by every judicial tribunal. You have exactly the same discretion as a. judge has. There is no mandate to you in the standing order to accept the closure motion in all circumstances. Standing order A says - “ After any question has been proposed . . . a motion may be made . ‘ . . ‘ that the question be now put, and themotion shall be put forthwith and decided without amendment or debate.”
– Is not that mandatory?
– I am willing to accept everything that that means, but it does not mean, Mr. Speaker, that you must put every motion in all circumstances, without exercising your discretion and deciding whether the subject is a fit and proper one. I therefore submit that your ruling was wrong, and I hope that the House will dissent from it, or, if that be not done, I hope, at any rate - for I should be the last to desire to do more than to prevent the repetition of the application of the closure to this class of motion - that the House will express the opinion, or that you will do so, that there is a limitation to the application of the closure. I am expressing no opinion as to whether the Government ought or ought not to have applied the closure later in the evening. Clearly, the closure does apply to all these other motions, and I express no opinion as to the expediency or policy of using it. But I claim that there is a clear line of distinction in regard to this class of motion, that the closure was never intended to apply to them, and that to apply it to them is an invasion of the primary privileges of the House.
– If the honorable member reads further on, he will find that under the Standing Orders the Speaker has a discretion.
– I submit that the Standing Orders should be interpreted by you with due regard to the conduct of business, and to the application of what is the first principle of this Chamber, namely, the right of honorable members to discuss every question that comes before them.
– I desire, before the matter goes any further, to draw theattention of honorable members to what actually occurred last evening. The question was submitted to the Chair as to whether the closure standing order should apply to the motion that was then before the House. In giving my decision, I quoted from both standing orders- the one which provided for the question to be placed before the House, and the other, which provided for the application of the closure. My decision was based upon the ordinary meaning attached to the words. The standing order providesthat the closure can be applied to any question which, had been proposed, and I showed that the question had been proposed under standing. order 241.
– Would you say by whom?
-By the Chair. In those circumstances, I ruled that, as any question which had been proposed could be closured, this question, which had been proposed, came under the operation of the rule. I submit to the House that that is really the only question which is now before us. . That is the only decision which was given, and it is the only decision which has been questioned. Supposititious cases, and the question of my discretion, are matters which do not come within the scope of the present discussion, and I would urge honorable members of experience to remember that the occupant of the Chair can do nothing more dangerous than to express an opinion upon some case that may happen. I have determined to refrain from doing so until it is absolutely necessary that an opinion should be expressed, and I think every honorable member of experience will see the wisdom of that course. I submit to honorable . members that any further discussion upon the matter should be confined to the question which is before the Chamber, and that is the question whether my ruling, that the question “ That the Speaker do now leave the Chair,” is covered by the closure standing order, is or is not correct.
– I think the very serious step of challenging the ruling of the Speaker in connexion with this particular matter comes with peculiarappropriateness from the honorable member for West Sydney. I am sorry the honorable member has seen fit to leave the chamber. Although it is undoubtedly the right and privilege of every member in this Chamber to challenge your decision under the Standing Orders, it is a right and privilege which it is unwise, in the interests, not of any party, but of the dignity of the House, to exercise, except upon real and substantial grounds. I have never heard any proposition of the kind brought forward, or attempted to be supported by more flimsy and inadequate arguments than those which have proceeded from the honorable member. That such arguments should emanate from a lawyer probably explains the somewhat timid and tentative way in which he brought them forward, and the mildness of his demeanour, because, as a lawyer, he cannot for a moment have really believed in the arguments which he was advancing. The case is so perfectly plain in the language of the standing order that I cannot believe that the honorable member did not perceive the true reading of it. .
– And the honorable member feels competent to diagnose his state of mind?
– I shall tell the honorable member another reason. It is, as I said, remarkable that the first challenge of the exercise of this power should come from the party which itself moulded the change of procedure. Will you permit me, sir, to submit, in regard to the portion of the argument of the honorable member for West Sydney which he addressed to your discretion, that in one aspect, and one aspect only, the honorable member was within his rights in referring to your discretion? The question of whether your ruling was or was not right involves two questions - first, whether motions under standing order 241 are covered by the closure standing order - and the words do cover them - and secondly, whether, if they do cover them, you did in fact exercise your discretion. With the question of how you should exercise your discretion we have nothing to do. That is not the point of order at all, but the question of whether you did in fact exercise your discretion is a matter which, I venture to submit, is open to the honorable members to discuss. Suppose that you, sir, said, “ I rule that I have no discre-. tion “ ; and suppose that the House came to the conclusion that you had wrongly ruled. Then your ruling could only be challenged in the way in which the honorable member for West Sydney has proposed to challenge it.
– I hope that the honorable member will not set up any more supposititious cases.
– I am not putting a supposititious case. As I understand the position, the honorable member for West Sydney says that your ruling was wrong for one of two reasons - first of all, because the closure provision does not apply, to a motion under standing order 241 ; and secondly, if it does so apply, that you. in fact, ruled that you had no discretion, and did not exercise any discretion. As you have pointed out, the matter is one the importance of which is not confined to the particular subject now before us. I have already said that inmy opinion, a formal challenge of your ruling ought only to be undertaken under a sense of the gravest responsibility, and for the clearest of reasons. But when your ruling is challenged, I believe it to be our duty to lay down the line which is to guide us in future with regard to the interpretation of this standing order. For that reason, I venture to submit that the only method of challenging your ruling is the method which the honorable member has adopted. But the point to which I wish to come is this : The honorable member for West Sydney wasa leading member of the party- although I think he was absent at the moment - which refused to give you discretion in this matter when it was suggested that you should have it. Not only was this very drastic weapon -because I admit that it is very drastic - forged by the honorable member and his party; but when it was suggested that it was too drastic, and ought to’ be coupled with some condition giving you a discretion in its application - when it was proposed that some such rule should be adopted as has been adopted in England - when it was proposed here that the English practice should be followed - every member of the party to which the honorable member for West Sydney belongs voted in favour of wiping away any condition or restriction.
– When was that done?
– On the 23rd November, 1905. The English rule, which was before the House at the time when we were dealing with the matter, was that -
After a question has been proposed a member rising in his place may claim to move “ That the question be now put “ ; and unless it shall appear to the Chair that such motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority, the question shall be put forthwith, and decided without amendment or debate.
Does it not seem perfectly ridiculous now, Mr. Speaker, that these honorable members who, when it was proposed that the rights of the House, or the rights of a minority of the House, should be protected by giving you a discretion in a matter of this sort, refused to give you that discretion, should be the very gentlemen who take the serious step of challenging your ruling that you have no discretion?
– What has this to do with the point of order?
– I have sat here day after day, week after week, saying nothing, listening to endless obstruction and endless abuse of the privileges of this House for the purpose of preventing the course of public business ; and I am going to brand this attempt of the honorable member for West Sydney to challenge your ruling as another endeavour . to obstruct business.
– I rise to order. My point is, that the proposal before the House is that your ruling be dissented from. Your ruling was that the closure could be applied to motions under standing order 241. I submit that what the honorable member for Flinders is now saying has nothing whatever to do with the question before the House, and that, therefore, his observations are out of order.
– As far as I have followed the honorable member for Flinders, he was dealing strictly with the motion of the honorable member for West Sydney, and was expressing his opinion about it. I trust that his expressions will be couched in such terms as will not cause irritation or offence.
– I shall certainly endeavour to comply with the spirit of your ruling. But I must ask leave to say that because some of us have, during this session of Parliament, refrained from expressing our opinions strongly with regard to the conduct of honorable members opposite, it must not be supposed that we are entirely free from the ordinary feelings that such conduct generates. Here we have the ridiculous and absurd position that the very party that would not permit the House to give you, Mr. Speaker, a discretion which was suggested to them at the time, in order to protect those sacred rights to which the honorable member for West Sydney has referred - the right of the minority, the right to criticise the Ministry, the right to challenge the grant of Supply ; that when the minority asked for this not at all unreasonable restriction on this drastic power, the party to which the honorable member belongs said: “No, we are going to sharpen this weapon in such a way that you will feel it.” Well, it so happens that the first to feel the sharpness of the weapon are the party to which the honorable member belongs. There is an old saying about “ biting the file.”” I shall not allude further to that.
– Does, the honorable member contend that Mr. Speaker has no discretion ?
– Yes.. I am coming to that point. I shall quote the amendment which was moved by Mr. Robinson, a member of the then Opposition.
– A good, smart chap ; one of the ablest men in the Opposition.
– I quite agree with the honorable member. Mr. Robinson was then endeavouring to invite the House - including the honorable member for West Sydney, and those who are now groaning under the first imposition of this weapon that they forged - to adopt the following amendment : -
That the words “with the consent of the
Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, as the case may be,” be inserted.
– I would not vote for that now.
– Perhaps the honorable member would not. But was it ever suggested by the honorable member, or by any member of his party, that the word’s in the House of Commons rule, from which this standing order was taken, to prevent the closure being used as an abuse of the power of the majority, or an unjust restriction of the rights of the minority should be adopted. Was there, I ask, one member of the party to which the honorable member belongs, who proposed or suggested that any such restriction should be made?
– I think there was; but there was no general agreement about the point.
– If the suggestion was made by one member of the honorable member’s party, it was evidently overruled by the majority. What I have read was the only attempt at a restriction which was proposed by any member of this House, so far as I have been able to observe. On the 23rd November, 1905, Mr. Robinson, having proposed to insert the words, “ with the consent of the Speaker or Chairman of Committees, as the case may be ‘ ‘ - I find that the House divided on the question with the result that there were thirty-one . ayes and nineteen noes. * Every member of the Labour party then present voted with the majority to do away with the only opportunity afforded by the House to give the Speaker the kind of discretion which they now think he should exercise. With the standing order stated in the express form then adopted, with the English rule before us, and in view of the fact that when a proposal was submitted by an honorable member to give the standing order a slightly different form it was rejected, how can it possibly be contended that it was intended that a discretion should rest with the Speaker? No man,much less a lawyer, could pretend to argue that the Speaker has any discretion in the matter.
– The honorable member never sees any more than one side. He is putting forward no argument of any sort.
– The honorable member said something about the right of honorable members to discuss grievances before voting Supply. I agree that this is one of the oldest and most sacred of the privileges of Parliament. What a remarkable thing it is that last evening, after the question was put, by the application of the closure, and a motion followed fixing the resumption of the Committee of Supply for to-day, honorable members opposite, having on that motion a full opportunity to bring forward any grievance, sat absolutely dumb, and did not take advantage of their opportunity.
– I suppose they did not know it was there.
– I think that the somewhat inconvenient candour of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie really supplies the reason - they did not know anything concerning their’ rights on that question. I feel sure that if they had known that the opportunity was open to them, we should not have risen yet, and should still be discussing grievances.
– The honorable member is very innocent.
– Let us consider these things reasonably. There may be a resort to obstruction in the exercise of the sacred right to discuss grievances before Supply, as in connexion with any other matter that comes before the House.
– Order ! I do not think that the honorable member will be justified in going into that matter on the question now before the House, as to whethermy ruling was correct or otherwise.
– It. was put forward as a cogent argument by the honorable member for West Sydney that, for some reason that has not yet been disclosed, the formal Supply motion, under cover of which grievances maybe discussed, does not fall within the standing order providing for the closure. I was endeavouring to show that there is nothing expressed in the standing order to show that such a motion does not fall within it, and that if we consider the matter we shall find that there is every reason why it should fall within the order, because such a motion could be more easily used as a weapon of obstruction than almost any other that could be mentioned.
– The late Speaker restricted the discussion of grievances when the
Estimates were before the House, and they are before us now.
– Honorable members are aware that much wider liberty of debate is permitted on such motions than is allowed upon ordinary motions, and consequently they afford an infinitely wider field for obstruction. When it is not so expressed, how can it be implied that the standing order providing for the closure does not cover motions of this kind? The closure is an extremely drastic power. I venture to say that in taking this power Parliament took it as it takes every power which it can take, subject to the effective check and control of public opinion. That public opinion is expressed on one side or on the other at the elections.
– And honorable members opposite would not seek that opinion.
– We shall, of course, be obliged to seek it. I am discussing the matter apart from party considerations. No matter which side may be right, the effective test of the propriety of the exercise of such a very drastic power as this must be whether it is sanctioned by public opinion.
– Whateffect would that have upon men who in this House violate their pledges to the electors?
– I am afraid the honorable member’s anger, rather than his reason, speaks in this matter. I have nothing further to say, except that the propriety of the exercise of this drastic power is not to be decided by the House determining to disagree with the Speaker’s ruling. It is for the country ultimately to determine whether the Government and the majority of this House were not right in exercising this drastic power for the purpose of putting an end to deliberate and continued attempts at obstruction.
– I have listened with interest to the remarks of the honorable member for Flinders, because I think there is no member of this House more competent to speak with authority on coercive proposals. The honorable member distinguished himself in that way some years ago, and, during the time that has since elapsed, he has apparently kept in close touch with coercive methods.
– To what proposals does the honorable member refer?
– The honorable member knows them. I should be out of order in specifying them, but he doubtless remembers the railway strike in Victoria, his association with it, and the Coercion Bill he submitted in the State Parliament of Victoria.
– And what Mr. Prendergast said about him also.
– Dealing with the matter under consideration, I wish to say that, yesterday afternoon, when you, sir, gave the ruling that the closure motion could be accepted, I think I was the first to take the point of order that it did not apply to a motion submitted from the Chair under standing order 241. I think the argument of the honorable member for West Sydney on that point is absolutely sound. If the formal Supply motion was properly before you, sir, it must have been moved by some one on the Government side. If it was a motion in the ordinary acceptance of the term, some honorable member opposite must have moved it. If any honorable member opposite did move it, he subsequently voted against it, and that should not have been allowed. But, as a matter of fact, it was not submitted in the form of an ordinary motion. From your position in the chair, Mr. Speaker, you assumed the responsibility of submitting the question without any motion “ That you do now leave the chair” having been moved.. The question having been presented to the House in that particular way, it was not a , question to which standing order 262A could properly be applied.
– The honorable member will note the language of the Standing Orders. In standing order 241, the words are, “The question shall be proposed,” and in standing order 2624, “.After any question has been proposed.”
– That is. correct. I wish now, sir, to ask you whether you think it is within your province as Speaker to put to the House a question on a motion that has not been submitted to you? If you, sir, as Speaker, have the right to submit a motion under such circumstances that is, in effect, altering the forms of the House. If an honorable member had moved the motion he would have been compelled to vote for the question that you leave the chair. But, as a matter of fact, all those who might have been expected to move the motion voted against your leaving the chair, and you have admitted that the question was never submitted to you by a member of the House.
– It is proposed from the Chairby authority of law.
– I should like the Post- master-General to say where the authority of law is given to the Speaker.
– Yes, by the standing order.
– The second part of standing order 241 reads -
Except that while the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means are open, the first Order of the Day on every third Thursday shall be either Supply or Ways and Means, and that on that Order of the Day being read the question shall be proposed-
– That is the authority of law.
– Is Mr. Speaker authorized to propose the question without a motion having been submitted to the House by an honorable member?
– Yes, by the standing order.
– The opinion of the honorable gentleman may carry considerable weight, but my interpretation of the standing order is, that when a question is submitted from the Chair without a motion having been moved, it does not come within the scope of the closure rule. I submit, sir, that if your ruling is accepted as a precedent, Ministers, if they have a majority, can deny to honorable members the right to discuss for even a moment the administration of their Departments. Every third Thursday is set apart as a day for the ventilation of grievances before the granting of Supply. Yesterday some honorable members who were anxious to obtain a Ministerial pronouncement on several important questions did not “get an opportunity to speak. I do not think that I have spoken more than a few times on grievance day. Yesterday I wanted to. refer to several matters, but I got no opportunity to do so. If the opportunity for ventilating grievances can be taken away by what I regard as an unreasonable interpretation of the language of the Standing Orders, that will seriously curtail the liberties of honorable members. On the question of discretion, that is, as to whether or not Ministers shall have the power, without the authority of the Chair, to conduct the business of the House, I am in agreement with the Standing Orders. I do not think that the question as to whether or not the majority shall have an opportunity to express their opinions ought to be subject to the veto of the Chair. Although we can reasonably assume that, as a rule, we shall get an impartial decision from the Chair, yet there may arise a set of conditions when an honorable member would not do so. I think that the majority ought to be able to conduct their business without throwing upon any person the responsibility of saying whether or not a motion of which they are in favour shall be submitted. I do not hold with the honorable member for West Sydney in regard to that particular question, and I think it would be unwise to follow the precedent of at least one other Parliament. In his endeavour to throw a certain amount of odium upon the Labour party, the honorable member for Flinders pointed out that we, as a party, were responsible for introducing the closure rule. That has nothing to do with the ruling under review, but, as the honorable gentleman referred to the matter at length. I think that if he had been a member of the House in 1905, and had witnessed the spectacle of a dozen members being able to hold up the business for a week without talking once on the subject under consideration, he would have been thoroughly convinced that there was a necessity for making some amendments of the Standing Orders, if not so rigid as those which were adopted.
– Is not history repeating itself?
– No. The Government have been loafing along. They have not been desirous of getting on with public business. They loafed away ten days when we could have been sitting, in order to attend the Premiers’ Conference, although pairs had been offered. After five hours’ discussion on the second reading of the High Commissioner Bill, and two hours’ discussion on an important clause of it, the closure was applied in each case.
– How many hours were spent on nothing?
– The honorable member refers to other matters. I understand that as the result of the position which was reached in connexion with the administration of old-age pensions yesterday by an honorable member-
– Order ! The. honorable member must not discuss that subject. I ask him to confine himself to the question before the Chair.
– I admit, sir, that I have got away from the question as to whether or not your ruling was in order.
– Let the honorable member keep to his book.
– My honorable friend is probably endeavouring to assist me, but
I contend that on grievance day an opportunity should be allowed to honorable members to ventilate any matters before Supply is granted. In my humble judgment, sir, when you interpreted the question which you submitted as being a motion-
– I interpreted it as a question.
– When you, sir, interpreted that as a question which had been proposed, although no honorable member can be named as having proposed or seconded a motion, and one which came under the closure rule, I think that your judgment was faulty; and I am prepared to vote in accordance with my views.
.- Having regard to the fact that standing order 241 was adopted for the express purpose of securing to honorable members a very great privilege - that of ventilating grievances without the leave of anybody - I do not think it was ever intended that it should be subject to the application of the closure rule. At the same time, unfortunately, we have nothing to do with the question of intention. According to my reading of the words of standing order 241 and the closure rule, there cannot be any doubt that technically your ruling was absolutely right. I agree with what appeared to be your own view on the question of discretion when you said to the honorable member for West Sydney, “ Show me where the Standing Orders give me a discretion.” I concur with the statement of the honorable member for Flinders, that under the rule you had no discretion whatever. I take this opportunity to put it on record that I indorse the opinion so expressed, for which the honorable member gave excellent reasons. He pointed out that when it was proposed to give Mr. Speaker discretion, the House refused to do so, and there can be no doubt that, as you have suggested, you possess no discretion in the matter. I agree with the honorable member, too, that the safeguard against improper use of the closure is the fear of public opinion. The majority of the day can apply the closure to any motion, whenever it pleases, but its action. in so doing will be judged by the public, sooner or later. I agree with the honorable member for Flinders in that, and I say, the sooner the better.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Gippsland. I do not think it right that the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, whoever may fill those offices, should be given discretion in a matter of this kind.
– It was absolutely refused when the standing order was framed.
– Yes, for the reason that it was felt that it would create a tendency to throw upon the presiding officers an onus which should be borne by the House itself. I hope that the time will never come when honorable members will shirk responsibility in that way. The honorable members for Flinders and Gippsland are right in stating that neither Mr. Speaker nor the Chairman of Committees has discretionary power in regard to the application of the closure. It is for the Government of the day to say how business shall be conducted, and to use that standing order as it thinks best for the expedition of business. The responsibility of saying when the closure shall be applied would be too heavy a burden for the shoulders of either Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees to bear.
.- Admitting what has been said by’ the two speakers who have preceded me, I would point out that a bigger question remains to be discussed. In a matter of this kind, where there is doubt, the ancient privileges of Parliament should be respected. It is a legal maxim that where there is a shadow of doubt as to the application of penal clauses, the benefit of it must be given to those who stand in danger of being injured. That applies to Standing Orders as well as to other rules. On grievance day there is no motion before the House. I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, consider that a question is before the House just as much as if a motion had been moved in the ordinary way by a representative of the people, and the PostmasterGeneral stated that there is a proposition before the House by virtue of the declaration of the Standing Orders. In my view it is not so. It is impossible for a proposition to be properly before the House unless it has the individuality of a mover behind it. The proper Parliamentary view is that the representative of a constituency must be responsible for every question submitted to the House, and the closure rule was framed to be applied whenever the majority had resolved that the proposition before the House had been sufficiently debated, or that the discussion taking place was useless, or preventing the consideration of more important business.
– The Standing Orders presume the putting of a motion.
– The closure rule applies to definite motions or amendments moved by a member. Those are not the words used, but that is the assumption.
– Surely where all the representatives have agreed to a certain course a question is regularly before the House?
– If the whole House, with one exception, wished to do a certain thing, and the member who was in the minority objected to its being done, the Standing Orders, if he were within his rights, would protect him. The soul and principle of the Standing Orders is expressed in an illustration such as that. While they are framed for a guidance of the majority, and the preservation ot order, they are primarily intended to protect the minority against the abuse of the majority.
– And to protect the majority against the tyranny of the minority.
– That is so. A closure rule is a very proper one for a democratic Parliament to have ; I complain not of its use, but of its abuse. But if it can be applied to a question which has not been put before the House by an. individual representative of the people, it can be applied in other similar cases, and we might have, under the Standing Orders, a number of questions, submitted without individual responsibility, though that would be most undesirable. Does the Minister of Defence think that it is advisable to apply the closure to the discussion of grievances before the granting of Supply to the Crown? I do not think that honorable members generally would admit that the closure should be applied to such a debate.
– I do not think that it should be applied to any debate until there has been reasonable discussion.
– The honorable member for Kalgoorlie said that he was pleased to hear the honorable member for Flinders speak as he did on the question, as he was capable of dealing with it. In my opinion, the speech was absolutely a political one. The reason given by the honorable member for Flinders for applying the closure to the discussion of grievances was practically that the right of the representatives of the people in Parliament to discuss grievances, in order to secure the taxpayers against wrong-doing by those in possession of Crown authority, might afford an opportunity for obstruction. Things have come to a fine pass if special pleading of that kind has to be indulged in. Are the Standing Orders to be strained so that the majority may not be inconvenienced? The idea underlying the granting of power to honorable members to ventilate grievances before going into Committee of Supply was not to provide the majority with an opportunity to enforce their will any more than it was to permit the minority to express their views.
– Under the decision which has been given, criticism of the Government might be entirely squelched.
– But we have been engaged a whole week in discussing grievances.
– We may well leave the consideration of that matter till another occasion.
– Unfortunately, we cannot.
– The point which I am now discussing is one of first-rate importance from my stand-point. It would be extremely . difficult for Mr. Speaker to take upon himself the onus of deciding that the proposal for the House to resolve itself into Committee of Supply is not covered by the closure. In the absence of specific words to the contrary, most persons would be apt to hold that the Standing Orders relating to the closure are applicable to every question which may come up for our consideration. But, if I occupied the position of Mr. Speaker, I think that I should say that the proposal that the House should resolve itself into Committee of Supply is not covered by the closure. It is not a question which is “before the Chair” in the sense that is meant by our Standing Orders. At the same time, the matter is one of extreme difficulty, and one which permits of a doubt being entertained. But in a case of this kind, I submit that unless the language of the Standing Orders is clear and unmistakable, the benefit of the doubt must be given to those who would otherwise be. inconvenienced. That is an axiom of law which is never departed from. It is an axiom which is respected wherever an attempt is made to restrict the liberty of the individual, and I contend that it should be equally applicable to any attempt to restrict the liberty of the representatives of the people. Even if - as urged by the honorable member for Flinders - the discussion of grievances would afford members of the Opposition an opportunity to obstruct business, the rule to which I have previously alluded ought not to be departed from. The circumstance that the procedure for which I am contending would afford an opportunity for obstruction has no bearing upon this matter whatever. It is a consideration which ought not to be taken into account. But I would point out that our Standing Orders provide that grievance day should come round only once in every three weeks. How then can an honorable member with any sense of proportion argue that the opportunity afforded for ventilating grievances can be regarded as a serious obstacle in the way of the Government proceeding with the business of the country ?
– The honorable member is assuming that the business proceeds with ordinary expedition on other days.
– I submit that consideration of the way in which business has been proceeding has nothing whatever to do with this question. Nobody is permitted to make a single allegation against an accused person before our criminal courts in respect of his previous career.
– That is a strange doctrine and one which I have never heard of before.
– I have heard of it. Until an accused person has been convicted it is not open to anybody to rake up his past record. If the honorable member attempted to do that in the case of an accused person, the Judge would soon correct him. It is only after the jury have recorded their verdict that the record of an accused person can be brought under the notice of the presiding Judge. What may have occurred in connexion with the conduct of business in this Chamber,- I submit, ought not to have any bearing upon your decision, sir. The Minister of Defence, -however, claims that your decision should be influenced by that consideration.
– I have claimed nothing of the kind.
– Then I can assure the Minister that I misunderstood his remark. The honorable member for Flinders made a political, rather than a judicial speech, for reasons which are best known to himself. I do not take any exception to that, because he did not exceed the bounds of legitimate criticism, although he sailed rather close to the wind when he affirmed that the motion which we are now consider ing is another deliberate attempt on the part of the Opposition to delay the transaction of business. »
– Does not the honorable member think that we have had enough of this?
– Does not the Minister of Defence recognise that I am addressing myself to a serious question? Since the present Government assumed office, it has become the practice for them to .wish to close discussion the moment members of the Opposition begin to debate their proposals.
.- It is, 1 think, incumbent upon Mr. Speaker to maintain the dignity of the House, so far as he is able, by insisting upon its business being conducted in an orderly way. We all recognise that the occupant of the Chair must be vested with certain discretionary power. But it is clear that that power is confined to certain limits, because Standing Orders have been laid down for his guidance. The history of the great mother of Parliaments offers an additional guide to Mr. Speaker, and the limitations are as wide as experience can suggest. It cannot be denied that occasions must arise when it will be necessary for you, sir, to exercise a certain measure of discretion. You hold that in this case you have no discretion, and a fairly strong case has certainly been made out for that ruling. The standing order is so framed that under it any honorable member may move the application of the closure. The honorable member for Flinders went a little out of his way to make an attack upon the Opposition because they were parties to the adoption of the closure resolution. He failed, however, to remind the House of the fact that, although it has been embodied in the Standing Orders for nearly four years, the party which adopted it has never applied it, and that it remained to those who had opposed its passing to first put it into operation.
—That shows that there was no necessity before to apply the closure.
– I do not think the honorable member will seriously raise that contention. I differ from the view expressed by the honorable member for Flinders as to obstruction having occurred; but that point ought to be excluded from this discussion. The application of the closure may be moved by any honorable member, and the decision as to whether or not it shall be enforced rests with the majority of the ‘House. This discussion will . not have been wasted, since it has exposed to the House an ‘ evident danger. The closure was moved in this case by a Minister, and its application was, therefore, made a party question. I agree with the honorable member for Wide Bay and others who have pointed out that in applying the closure to a debate on a formal Supply motion, we are treading upon dangerous ground, and that the result may be far more serious than any ‘so-called obstruction. Grievance day has ‘been looked upon in the House of Commons, as well as in State Legislatures, as that on which any citizen has a right to have his grievance stated in Parliament. If every one of the seventy-five members of this House chose to exercise the right to ventilate grievances, there would still be no justification for the application of the closure to a motion specially framed to enable them to do so. The right to have grievances ventilated in Parliament is undoubtedly a most important one. The House may think that an honorable member is speaking too long in voicing a grievance, but there is something more important and sacred to be considered, and I hold that it is wrong to apply the closure to such a motion. I do not think it has been clearly shown, Mr. Speaker, that the ruling you gave is wrong; but a wrong has been done by those who framed the closure resolution in failing to give you the right to refuse to apply it to a particular motion. The delay that has taken place in dealing with public business has been due, not to the Opposition, but to the failure of the Government to bring forward their measures in a proper way. During recent discussions it has been clearly shown that the constant application of the “gag” is likely to lead to greater delay than would arise if it were not applied, and deliberate obstruction were indulged in. I hope that this discussion will have a wholesome effect upon Ministers, for I have felt from the first that if they would display a little more tact, more business would be done. At the same time, I deny that there has been any obstruction. Now that the whole question has been thoroughly ventilated, I think that it would be wise, perhaps, for the mover of this motion to withdraw it. I am strongly of opinion that the closure should not be applied on grievance day, and that just as the great Supreme Court of ‘ the United States of America has recognised the importance of placing a liberal interpretation upon the Constitution, so you, Mr.
Speaker, should so interpret our Standing Orders as to protect the right of honorable members to ventilate grievances. There is a great deal in the point that has been made that the formal motion that Mr. Speaker do . now leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into a -Committee of Supply, is not moved by any honorable member, but is simply put by you, sir, and 1 think the Government were wanting in tact in applying the closure to such a motion. This discussion must satisfy honorable members that it is time that we dealt with our Standing Orders. Standing Orders have not yet been adopted by the House, and when we proceed, as we ought to do as soon as possible, to revise the temporary set, the discussion that has taken place upon this motion ought certainly to be of value to’ us.
.- This is a motion of great importance, and before a vote is taken, I wish to express my views in regard to it. The standing order relating to the formal motion of Supply is designed to give honorable members an opportunity to ventilate grievances, irrespective of whether or not such ventilation is approved by the Government of the day. If it is possible for the Government to say that, because they do not appreciate the criticism, they will stifle it, and, having the numbers behind them, will carry out their own sweet will, the position is a most invidious one. This is a matter which does not affect members personally, but affects the interests they represent ; and, in this great Commonwealth, where the electorates are large, and members on the average, represent 30,000 electors each, it is of vital concern that they should not be restricted in the exercise of their rights at the captious will of a tyrannical majority. I have no wish to charge the Speaker with having given a ruling which’ he is not perfectly satisfied is correct ; but we are in the unfortunate position that’ our only appeal is to the same tyrannical majority ; and, therefore, we cannot hope for any. successful issue from this debate. All we can do is to place our views before the country, and let the people outside see-
– I wish the country could see !
– There has been ample opportunity to appeal to the country ; we on this side are prepared at any time.
– That is not the question before the Chair.
– The Minister of Defence, is interrupting with irrelevant matter.
– That is no excuse for an honorable member departing from the question before the Chair.
-I have noticed that in the High ‘Court the rule is followed that where two interpretations can be placed on a Statute the interpretation which fits in with the general scheme is the one accepted; and I submit that the whole scheme under the standing order, is to guarantee to honorable members, irrespective of the Ministry, the right to ventilate their grievances. Of what use is the right of criticism, if the Ministry, with a majority behind them, can apply the “ gag “? Such a rulingnegatives the whole object of the standing order, and, therefore, should be dissented from. The honorable member for Flinders exercised his arts as an advocate this morning, when he urged that the Ministry are justified in their action because of the obstruction of business. The Prime Minister a few days ago, when he moved to deprive honorable members of the time now devoted to private business, expressly stated that it was the desire not to interfere with grievance day. Prior to the grievance motion being proposed, the adjournment of the House was moved on the question of oldage pensions, and the debate occupied us until half-past 4 o’clock. Allowing for the dinner adjournment of an hour and a quarter, only two and a half hours, between then and aquarter past 8 o’clock, were allowed for the discussion of grievances.
– That is not the question before the Chair.
– The honorable member for Flinders was allowed to charge the Opposition with obstruction.
– I point out that even if the honorable member for Flinders transgresses the rules - though, I may say, I have no recollection of his doing so - that does not justify another honorable member in doing the samething.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided.
Majority … 13
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That this House dissents from the ruling of Mr. Speaker, That the closure could be applied to the question under standing order 241, “That the Speaker do now leave the Chair “ (Mr. Hughes motion) - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 16
Question so resolved in the negative.
In Committee (Consideration of GovenorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to provide for the office of High Commissioner of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom.
– I take this opportunity of reading a telegram which I have just received from Adelaide, stating that it is reported there that the Government are disseminating information to the effect that the reason why they cannot pay salaries to the public servants is because they were unable to get their Supply Bill through on account of obstruction.
– The motion before the Chair relates strictly to the High Commissioner Bill.
– The motion involves a grant of Supply.
– It involves a grant of Supply for a specific purpose, but the honorable member will not be in order in discussing the whole range of financial affairs.
– Do you rule, sir, that a motion covering an appropriation for the purposes of the High Commissioner and his officials does not enable me to deal with a question relating to theexpenditure of public money ?
– The motion submitted by the Minister of External Affairs simply expresses the opinion that it is expedient that an appropriation be made for the purposes of the High Commissioner Bill. The expenditure involved is purely to cover the purposes of the office about to be created.
– If you rule, sir, that the discussion must be limited to that motion, it will be the first ruling of the kind of which I have ever heard on such an occasion.”
Honorable Members. - Chair !
– Honorable members should have a little patience.
– We are indignant at the honorable member’s attitude.
– I should like to ask whether the Government are prepared to say when the appointment of High Commissioner will be made? This matter has a history, which is, perhaps, better known to me than to any one else. I told the Government that I would aid them in every possible manner to get this Bill put through.
– And the honorable member has done so !
– I did not speak on the motion for the second reading at all.
– But the honorable member took good care that others should speak.
– That insinuation is unwarranted, and what it implies is not a fact. Apparently, the Minister of Defence does not know what honour is when he makes such a charge.
– I would point out that if honorable members make interjections of a personal character, it is hardly possible for me to maintain strict order.
– When I first entered this Parliament, I stated that I was in favour of the appointment of a High Commissioner. In every possible way I have assisted to bring the question forward. I had no idea that any trouble would arise when the Bill was laid before the Chamber. I trust that the Government will, at the earliest possible moment, proceed to appoint the High Commissioner.
– We made that promise in Committee on the Bill.
– Very well; but I have heard nothing from the Prime Minister on the subject.
– I said that the High Commissioner would be appointed at the earliest possible opportunity. As soon as it is possible for the man to be found, the appointment will be made.
– The appointment ought to be made before the session closes. Under ordinary circumstances, before an appropriation of revenue is made, some idea should be given to Parliament as to what is in the mind of the Government.
– The Government certainly ought not to sav whom thev are going to appoint before the Bill is passed.
– The honorable member is sufficiently acquainted with Parliamentary procedure to know that there is usually an understanding before a final determination is arrived at by Parliament as to a measure of this kind. I do not claim that we have a right to know whom the Government intend to appoint. But I consider that it is my duty and my right to ask whether the Government are readyto proceed to an appointment. It is of no use for them toask for money unlessthey are ready to appoint the High Com- missioner forthwith. I shall strongly protest if it is the intention of the Government to pass this Bill through and then to delay further action.
– It would embarrass the Government if they had to make an appointment.
– I do not care whether it would embarrass them or not. The appointment ought to be made early; and when it is made I trust that it will lead to what we all hope for - the better representation of the Commonwealth in London, at the centre of the Empire.
– I made a few remarks upon this Bill last night, but I should like to say a few words more with reference to the proposed appointment. I hold that it should be made as early as possible.
– The honorable member would not make a bad High Commissioner himself.
– I would not have it. The gentleman appointed should be one who thoroughly understands and knows Australia, and is imbued with the Australian sentiment.
– And one who keeps in remembrance what the Australian sentiment is.
– Quite so. I also think that in making the appointment the Government should hold in their hands the power of recall, in case the High Commissioner does anything which is considered to be detrimental to Australia. I would not allow any one to hold such an office for a term of years without being subject to control by the Government. There should be power to recall the High Commissioner if he does anything anti-Australian, or anything that may be objected to by Parliament itself: When I was speaking last night and mentioned this idea, some one interjected, “ It could not be done.” But some honorable members know what Sir Henry Parkes did when Mr. William Forster was Agent-General for that State. He did something which Sir Henry Parkes and his Government did not consider to be in the interests of New South Wales, and he was recalled. I forget who was appointed in his place, but I think it was Sir Saul Samuel.
– We had a Victorian Agent-General who cleared out before he could be recalled.
– Seeing that the Victorian Agent-General was paid only £1,000 a year, I . do not wonder that he did clear out. Whoever is appointed to this position should be in touch with the Australian people , andsentiment. Probably one great objection which a person getting on in years would have to accepting this position, if he were a public man. would be that after five years in London he would find when he got back to Australia that he had lost touch with the people. That is an objection which would weigh with me if I were considering the acceptance of the position. It is almost impossible for a man who has spent a few years amid the associations and surroundings of London to avoid losing touch with Australian sentiment. For this reason I urge that the Government would do well to take up a strong position in this matter, and retain the power to recall a High Commissioner who, after three or four years’ occupancy of the office, showed that he was no longer in touch with Australian sentiment.
Mr.Fisher. - If the High Commissioner were recalled before the close of his term of office, would he receive salary for the full five years?
– That is a matter which I wish to- have made quite clear.
– He would not get salary for the five years if he were recalled.
– We have in New South Wales a Railway Commissioner who was introduced from abroad under an engagement guaranteeing the position to him for seven years.
– That would be under a different arrangement from that proposed in the Bill.
– The difference would not be very great, and I know that it would be very difficult to get rid of the New South Wales Railway Commissioner to whom I refer without having to pay his salary for the seven years, unless he had done something very seriously wrong.
– He would be in the position of the late Director of Education in Tasmania.
– Just so.
– What about a Judge of the High Court? How would he be dealt with?
– I do not wish to go too farafield in discussing the matter. The Judges of the High Court occupy a very important position.
– What entertaining have they to do compared with what would be expected of .the High Commissioner ?
– I shall have a word to say on that subject also. In my opinion the High Commissioner will occupy a more important position than will any other representative of the Commonwealth. When he opens his mouth he should speak with no uncertain sound the feelings and wishes of the people of Australia.
– He should have a sovereign to jingle in his pocket.
– I said last night I should be prepared to give the High Commissioner a salary of £10,000 a year, not in order that he might pocket the money, but in order that he might properly represent the Commonwealth. I was surprised to see the way in which some honorable members voted last night, after the speeches to which I had listened.
– I ask the honorable member not to traverse the votes given by honorable members. We are dealing with the necessary appropriation for the purposes of the Bill.
– That is the very matter with which I am dealing. I was surprised that the amendment which was submitted last night was not carried. T should like very much to see the proposed salary increased.
– Let the honorable gentleman move that it be increased.
– The honorable member for Lang would not support the honorable gentleman if he did.
– If the honorable member for Lang says that he will support an increase, I believe him. I do not wish to submit any motion of the kind, because it would at once be said that I was taking the matter out of the hands of the Government. This is not a party matter. From my experience in London, I feel that no man can do justice to this position unless he is given a good salary. Holding this position, he will be entertained by wealthy people, and he should be able to return the hospitalities extended to him.
– The honorable gentleman is now making a second-reading speech. The question before the Committee is that it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purpose of the Bill.
– I think that I am in order in., giving my views on the financial position which ought to be held by the High Commissioner. Unless honorable members state their views on the matter, the Government will not know what is in their minds. It is their duty to see that a message is brought down which will cover the amount of money to meet the reasonable expenses of, and provide an adequate salary for, this officer. I think it would be very much better to give the High Commissioner a salary instead of having to investigate and catechize him upon every little item of expenditure. We should give him an adequate salary, and let him make the best arrangements he can. The Minister, or Ministers in another place, if it is not convenient to do it now, might make some suggestion on the subject. I have in mind in this matter what is due to Australia. I am not particularly concerned about the individual, though I should not like the High Commissioner of the Commonwealth to become bankrupt.
– We do not want him to be stranded in London.
– I was going to say that I once sent a gentleman to London in a representative capacity. I found money for him, but I did not find enough, and the press was full of notices that he was stranded in London. It would be very much worse to have the High Commissioner of the Commonwealth stranded in London.
Sitting suspended from x to 2.15 -p.m.
– I beg to call attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.”]
– I had not an opportunity of addressing myself to the Bill before, but I think that I have made the fact very apparent that I am against the appointment of a High Commissioner; not because I am against the Commonwealth being represented in London by a High Commissioner, but because the proposed salary is wholly inadequate. I intend te vote, not against the creation of a High Commissionership, but against the Bill itself.
– For many ‘ reasons.
– Order .’ The honorable member cannot make a second-reading speech.
– I do not wish to enter into details, sir. I think that in many ways the Bill is faulty.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the question of appropriating the necessary money.
– To my mind, sir, the intendedappropriation for this office is altogether inadequate. I am aware that on an earlier occasion I was not able to raise this question. There is already a big charge upon the States for representation in London. There has been an endeavour to curtail the expenditure on the High Commissioner, but I hold that the proposed salary is quite inadequate to induce any gentleman to accept the position.
– The honorable member made that statement in a previous speech.
– I admit that, but even at this stage I think that some step might be taken to provide an adequate remuneration. Whenthe Prime Minister met the Premiers in Conference he might have made a financial arrangement with the States
– Order ! Is the honorable member going to connect his remarks with the question before the Committee ?
– I thought, sir, that I would be in order in dealing with the subject at this stage.
– The question before the Committee is the necessary appropriation for the High Commissioner, and not the general proposal.
– I desire to say a few” words about the time at which messages covering appropriations are submitted. I have raised this question on many occasions, because, in my opinion, the Government always choose a most inappropriate time for bringing forward proposed appropriations. The custom has been for the Government to throw a Money Bill or a Bill leading to an appropriation upon the table, discover the opinions of honorable members, and base their policy upon the action of the House. This leads to excessive expenditure and the absence of that care which responsible Ministers ought to exercise in the interests of the general public. I notice that the Attorney- General is looking up the provision in the Constitution Act. Of course I am aware that the Government have the right to bring forward a message of this kind at any time. But I was trained in a Parliament where a message involving an appropriation is not permitted to be considered at this late stage, and no doubt the Treasurer had a similar training in the Parliament of Western Australia. In the State Parliaments the Ministers are bound to bring down the message with the Bill. That is a very good rule, which I appeal to the Government to adopt. It is the best and safest course to pursue, and undoubtedly it leads to the Government coming down with a policy which they approve and intend to carry out. This expedient of delaying the consideration of the message until the Bill itself is about to be read a third time is an unwise one.
– It is always a formal matter, as the honorable member knows very well.
– Evidently the honorable member has not been following my argument.
-I know that the honorable member is wasting time.
– Apparently it is of no use for an honorable member to give the reasons for any view which he holds.
– That is so.
– I believe that.
– The honorable member has sickened us all.
– In three Parliaments I have raised this question, and will raise it again. I hope that if ever I have a say in the control of business, I shall act differently from the present Government. The submission of a message at this late stage in the passage of a Bill is an abuse of parliamentary privilege, and leads to loose administration, no matter what Government may be in office.
– I am in favour of the proposed appropriation, because I am in favour of the Bill being passed. I supported its second reading, but I have no sympathy with those who argue that it will be necessary for the High Commissioner to spend a great deal of money in entertainments. I know that some honorable members consider that a certain sum should be voted for that purpose, because, in their opinion, the High Commissioner will not be able to make a proper impression in London unless he attends a large number of banquets and gives dinners. I do not think it will be necessary for a man of ability to advertise himself simply by going to banquets or giving dinners. We have men who would make a great impression in London by delivering some speeches, by the way, in which they could present Australia to the public.
– Order ! I must ask the honorable member to confine himself to the message recommending that a certain sum be appropriated for the High Commissioner.
– What I am arguing, sir, is that a certain vote is required for the High Commissioner. Some honorablemembers contend that it is necessary to vote a very large sum, in order to provide that officer, not only with a salary, but with an amount for entertaining. Whilst I think it is necessary to appoint a High Commissioner, and am here to support the Bill, at the same time I do not consider that it is necessary to vote money to cover entertainments and dinners. It seems to me that in taking that line of argument I am in order.
– The honorable member would be in order if we were discussing the general financial aspect of the Bill ; but the question before the Committee is a proposed vote for the salary of the High Commissioner, not for his establishment.
– It seems to me, sir, that there are two questions before the Committee, namely, whether the amount to be paid to the High Commissioner shall cover salary and out-of-pocket expenses, or whether it shall be allocated to certain purposes. The honorable member for Hume was one of those who argued that a lump sum should be paid to the High Commissioner. It has been contended that he will have to give grand dinners and other costly entertainments. No doubt such expenditure will be considered necessary by men of a certain type.
– Is the honorable member in order, seeing that the question before the Committee is whether the proposed appropriation should be made?
– The honorable member is quite in order.
– If a gentleman like the right honorable member for East Sydney were made High Commissioner, he would not find it necessary to give large banquets in order to impress his individuality upon the people of London.
– Why does the honorable member single him out from among the other candidates?
– I am not discussing his general fitness for the post. I merely say that he would be able to obtain publicity for Australian views without large expenditure on entertaining. On the other hand, I think that the right honorable member for Swan, if he were sent, would have to give big banquets.
-Is it necessary to discuss this matter now?
– We are divided in respect to the Bill only on the question of salary and expenses.
– But the Bill has been passed.
– And the honorable member expressed his views last night in a very good speech.
– That is such a rare thing that I should like to do it again today.
– Any reason is good enough for occupying time.
– I do not think that any one will complain that I have occupied much time.
– I make the complaint now.
– It is very unkind of the right honorable member to do so, because I have probably not spoken for fifteen minutes during the last three weeks. The Minister of External Affairs last night asked for a direction, stating that the Government was not bound to its proposal to fix the salary of the High Commissioner at £3,000 a year, allowing him £2,000 for an official residence.
– I said that it was the view of the Government that the emoluments of the office should be fixed in that way.
– But I understood that the Government was prepared to accept the decision of honorable members on the matter.
– The Government stood by its Bill.
– Then I am pleased to support it. The honorable member for’ Darwin made a powerful speech last night in favour of increasing the salary of the High Commissioner; but I am opposed to extravagance in that direction.
– We are now dealing only with the Governor-General’s message.
– The matter to which I am referring can be discussed on the motion before the Chair.
– Such a discussion on this motion is most unusual.
– Why is the GovernorGeneral’s message recommending appropriation considered in Committee if . it is not to be discussed ? I left a little before midnight yesterday, and understood then that the Ministers had an open mind regarding the salary which the High Commissioner should receive, but since luncheon to-day a different complexion has been put on the matter.
– I said all through that we would stand by the Bill : but last night, as a technical difficulty had presented itself, I explained how it could be got over, and the views of the Committee expressed.
– I understood that the Government was prepared to accept the view of the Committee in the matter. However, as Ministers intend to stand by the Bill, itis not necessary to say much more on the subject of salary. There is another matter that . I should like to discuss - I refer to the qualifications of candidates for this office.
– I must ask the honorable member not to debate that question.
– What I wish to argue is that no member of Parliament should be eligible for appointment to the office of High Commissioner.
– The honorable member will not be in order in doing that. Mr. THOMAS.- Then I shall take another opportunity of raising the question.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
– I move -
That the Bill be recommitted for the purpose of reconsidering clause 6.
I do so with a view to subsequently moving that the salary of the High Commissioner shall be fixed at £6,000 annually, in lieu of£3,000.
– I am one of those who think that the salary payable under this Bill to the occupant of the distinguished office which we are to create is altogether inadequate. But there is a time in Parliamentary procedure when it becomes the duty of the minority to bow to the will of the majority. I have advocated the payment of a larger salary than £3,000 to the High Commissioner for the purpose of enabling the Government to select the best man available for the position, irrespective of his private means. My opinion has not changed in the least, but I do not see what useful purpose can be served by reconsidering clause 6; for we tested the question of the salary which should be payable to the High Commissioner last night, and were soundly defeated. It seems to me that we can be afforded an opportunity of satisfactorily reconsidering that matter only in the event of the Senate reversing the decision at which this Committee arrived last night. Unless such an opportunity be presented to us, it would be a mere waste of time for the Committee to again deal with it. It is within the recollection of all that most of the members of the Labour party who spoke against the salary fixed in this Bill voted with the Government when the pinch came. That fact in itself evidences that they were chiefly concerned with delaying the passage of this Bill.
– The honorable member for Darwin has stated that he has sub-‘ mitted this motion with a specific object in view. I wish, therefore, to point out that it would not be competent for him to effect his declared purpose even if the House again referred this Bill to Committee. In point of fact, I do not know whether I ought not to at once accept the responsibility of ruling the honorable member’s motion out of order, seeing that he has already stated his reason for bringing it forward. Under the circumstances I would suggest that he should withdraw it.
.’ - I have no desire to fight this battle again if there be no chance of winning it. But it seems “to me too bad that in the very cradle of this Commonwealth we should be’ afraid to offer a reasonable ‘salary to the High Commissioner, in order to enable us to command the services of the best man available for the office. Under the circumstances, I ask leave to withdraw my proposal.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Report (from the Committee on the Bill) adopted.
Debate resumed from 10th September (vide page 3357), on motion by Mr.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution relating to finance.
– When the debate upon this motion was adjourned on Friday last, I was pointing out that the question which it raises is not a party one. There is nothing to prevent the supporters of the Government from voting against any amendment of the Constitution for the purpose of adjusting the future financial relations of theCommonwealth and the States. The electors ought to be permitted to consider this question strictly upon its merits.
– The Prime Minister made the same statement.
– I hope that all candidates at the forthcoming election will adopt a similar attitude. I am sure that it is not the intention of the Government any more than it is the desire of the Opposition to deceive the people. . The Prime Minister accepted this agreement as the best that he could obtain from the State Premiers.
– And they accepted it as the best that they could obtain from the Prime Minister.
– Exactly. I fail to see why the Government should make the passing of this Bill vital to their existence.
– It will not be passed unless thev do.
– That is my belief, and it is for that reason that I urge honorable members when before their constituents to express their own individual opinions as to the wisdom of the proposed amendment in the Constitution. My objection to the agreement is not based on the amount which it provides shall be returned to the States. Indeed, if it were only temporary, I should oppose it on the ground that the amount proposed to be returned is too small. By accepting this payment of 25s. per annum per head of the population the States will dislocate the whole of their finances. The Premier of New South Wales made that plain a few days ago, and the Premier of Queensland also did so.
– New South Wales for the first year or two will lose £1,250,000 per annum.
– That is so. Mr. Watt, the Treasurer of Victoria, has also expressed the opinion that the finances of this State will be dislocated under the new arrangement. The Conference should have drawn up a temporary agreement under which a larger sum would have been returnable to the States. I approach the consideration of this question from the point of view, not of the Commonwealth versus the States, but of what is best in the interests of the people. This Parliament represents the people of all the States, and we should, if possible, arrive at an agreement that will be beneficial to them, and avoid the imposition of unnecessary taxation. If new taxation is to be imposed it should be levied, not by the States, but by the Commonwealth. The functions of the States should be reduced, and as those of theCommonwealth increase, its expenditure must grow, and any additional taxation that may be necessary should therefore be imposed by the Commonwealth. I deplore this agreement chiefly for the reason that its acceptance will mean that we shall never be ableto bring about the consolidation of the State debts. The Prime Minister will doubtless disagree with that view, and will tell us, when he introduces the Bill relating to State debts, that under it he will be able to make arrangements for their transfer. Although I have never known the honorable gentleman to pose as a financial authority - and he has not held office as Treasurer of the Commonwealth or of a State - it would be foolish for me to attempt to pit my views against his. In doing so I might lay myself open to a charge of being extremely self-satisfied when in realityI am not. But it would have been far better had an arrangement been made whereby the States would have been relieved of the necessity of imposing further taxation.
– That was the Prime Minister’s own proposition about four months ago.
– Quite so. The Treasurer of Victoria recently stated in the Legislative Assembly that this agreement made it necessary for the Government to propose further State taxation, and he referred to it as one of the reasons fr,r the proposal of the Victorian Government to impose a land tax. Whilst I admit that we ought to obtain revenue from a tax on land, my desire is that such a tax shall be imposed bv the Commonwealth, not so much for the purpose of obtaining revenue, as to bring about the subdivision of large estates. I believe that fresh taxation is necessary, but that it should be imposed only by this Parliament. If the States are not to impose more taxation, it will be necessary to return to them more than 25s. per annum per head of their population; but the State Parliaments are so tenacious of their sovereign rights that they are not prepared to relax in the slightest degree the hold they have upon the people.
– If they allowed the Commonwealth to take over their debts, they would not transfer their assets at the same time.
– My surprise is that, in the interests of the people, an arrangement was not made for the transfer of the debts of the States to the Commonwealth. If we had arranged for their transfer, and for the return to the States of a larger sum, to be used wholly in paying interest on their debts, as at the time of transfer, and in providing for necessary sinking funds, those debts would have been wiped out in due time, and the States would still have retained possession of the works in respect of which a large proportion of their indebtedness was incurred. The people themselves have always looked forward to the growth of a broad national feeling, and I regret that this agreement will perpetuate the individuality of the States, and impress upon the people for all time the stamp of provincialism. Those who favour the agreement say that if the people can provide for its embodiment in the Constitution now, they will have power later on, if they so desire, to eliminate it from the Constitution.
– But the three smaller States could block such an amendment of the Constitution.
– That is the trouble. I fear that the majority of honorable members of this House, aided by the State Premiers, and those who cry aloud for State Rights, will be able to secure the amendment of the Constitution as proposed ; but that it will be much more difficult to eliminate these provisions from it later on, if they prove to be unsatisfactory. This Parliament is elected on the broadest possible franchise, but that is not the position with regard to the Parliaments of the States. Adult suffrage exists in connexion with the Legislative Assembly of Victoria, but we must not lose sight of the fact that most of the Upper Houses of the State Parliaments are elected on a limited franchise. The Legislative Council of New South Wales is a nominee Chamber.
– The franchise is not very limited in the case of the Legislative Council of Victoria.
– I can hardly expect the honorable member for Mernda to agree with me on that point, because, while I have been fighting for some twenty-one years to reduce the property qualification for the Victorian Legislative Council, the honorable member has been working in the other direction; and he is quite justified in doing so from his stand-point in poli tics. I agree that the nominee Legislative Council of New South Wales may be just as democratic as the elective Upper Houses in the other States, and possibly more so, because nominee Houses can, as vacancies occur, be recruited from the democratic representatives in another place. In Victoria, however, with a limited franchise, there is no chance to democratize the Upper House; and anything done by that Chamber must have the taint of Conservatism. Aper capita basis is the only one on which Tasmania can ever get a fair share of the Customs and Excise revenue, though I know that an arrangement has been made to give that State a certain amount when Victoria disgorges what she has received over and above her fair share. While the per capita arrangement may not be perfect, it is the.best available ; and Victoria will always be the distributing centre for Tasmania. Under the proposed agreement, we should still have six States borrowing at their own sweet will ; and if the Conservative section of this House continues to predominate, the Commonwealth will also adopt a borrowing policy.
-All on this side are not in favour of borrowing.
– I know; but when the whip is cracked, honorable members opposite will vote as directed. The honorable members behind the Government do not agree with much that has been done here during the last few days, although they are of the Government party.
– The honorable member has no right to say that.
– Honorable members have so expressed themselves in the House. Recognising that the Prime Minister has made the best arrangement he could, according to his lights, those honorable members are supporting the agreement, even though they do not approve of it. The strongest reason I have for opposing the agreement is that I am an industrial Protectionist, and would prohibit the importation of all goods that can be manufactured here, while admitting free all that we cannot ourselves produce. The proposed agreement, if carried out, will prevent our ever having a scientific Tariff or a real industrial fiscal policy, and will, for revenue reasons, necessitate the reduction of high duties, and the imposition of duties on commodities which are at present admitted free. My object, as a Protectionist, is to prevent goods from coming here; but if we are to have revenue there must be importation.
– The honorable member does not desire that we shall have any revenue from Customs?
– No doubt we require revenue, in order to make the payment to the States, and to finance Commonwealth affairs.
– If we do not pay the States, where are they to get revenue?
– I agree that the payment to the States is not enough ; and my objection to the arrangement is that it is permanent, instead of temporary. One of the best things we ever did was the abolition of revenue duties representing some £400,000, in connexion with the cotton items on the Tariff ; but honorable members will remember how the honorable member for Hume, who was then Treasurer, almost cried when that step was taken. If the agreement with the Premiers is carried out, these duties will have to be reimposed.
– Their removal was simply a present to the merchants, because cotton is not a bit cheaper.
– We cannot go into that question now; but the honorable mem - der knows that the price of cotton has increased all over the world during the last two cr three years, and that is why we got no immediate benefit from the abolition of the duties. The application of a duty must always make a commodity dearer, unless we have local manufacture; and, in proof of that, I could, if permitted, cite many instances. Under the proposed agreement, it will be necessary to obtain revenue from Customs duties, andthe free list will have to be entirely suspended, and duties of 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. collected, with the result of wiping out manufactures in Australia. The honorable member for Capricornia is of opinion that it would be just as well if the duties on cotton goods were reimposed, seeing that the people are getting the commodities no cheaper under a free list ; but I know the honorable member to be a Revenue Tariffst. The honorable member for Robertson, the honorable member for Lang, or the honorable member for North Sydney would not, I am sure, be willing to see duties imposed on these goods for revenue purposes, or, they must have changed their opinions very much during the last twelve months. I do not wish to labour the question, but merely to place my protest on record. I shall take the opportunity during the coming election to place my opinions before the people of Victoria, and I am sure that all those on this side will do the same. But I should like honorable members on the other side, who in their hearts do not believe in this Bill, but who are going to support it- I do not say for party purposes so much as because they feel that they must stand by the Government in the present state of affairs - to advise the people during the election campaign as to the grave danger of altering the Constitution to give effect to the arrangement arrived at by the Prime Minister and other Federal Ministers with the State Premiers at the recent Melbourne Conference. There will be no disloyalty on their part if they do that. I also hope that the newspapers of Australia will be true to the Australian sentiment which they profess to share, and not be influenced by narrow parochial considerations of what is best at present for their own particular States. I trust that they will take a broad view of the question as it affects the future of Australia. In fact, I feel certain that, while they may be strongly in favour of the Government proposal themselves, they will lay before the public clearly and truly the dangers that will arise from the consummation of the agreement. As an industrial Protectionist,I enter my protest against the Bill, and utter a warning to my fellow Protectionists - not that they need any warning from me - that the moment the arrangement is perpetuated, it will sound the death-knell ofthe manufacture of Australian goods for consumption by the Australian people.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harper) adjourned.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) pro posed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I do not know what the Government really think about the position in which they are placing themselves, but their action in proposing the adjournment of the House at 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon, when members who have to travel cannot get their trains until about 5 o’clock, shows the hypocrisy of their professions of a desire to get on with public business. The Government have been using the gag this morning, and used it last night with loud protestations that they desired to get on with the business of the country, but they refuse to take this opportunity to go on with business in the middle of the afternoon. Honorable members who wish to go to Adelaide cannot leave Melbourne before 4.30, while those who are going to Sydney cannot leave until 5 o’clock. There is time for a member to deliver a speech of one hour and a half on the important question of the financial relations, of the Commonwealth and States, and I take it that the honorable member for Mernda believes that he will deliver an important speech ; yet the Government at this hour actually move the adjournment of the debate and the adjournment of the House, for I take it that the honorable member for Mernda did not move the adjournment of the debate without the concurrence of the Government.
– I informed the Government that I intended to do so.
– The honorable member must have moved it with the concurrence of the Government, or he could not have secured the adjournment. I point out the inconsistency, if I cannot call it hypocrisy, of the Government, in pretending that they desire to proceed with public business, and at the same time agreeing to the request of one of their supporters to adjourn the debate at so unreasonably early an hour. When a point of order of the highest importance to the privileges and safety of honorable members was being discussed this morning, the Government were so anxious to conclude the debate that they applied the closure. Yet now, when we have an opportunity to continue the debate on the financial relationship of the Commonwealth and the States - a matter of the utmost importance to the people of the Commonwealth
– Does the honorable member refer to the High Commissioner Bill, the completion of which the Opposition has just blocked ?
– Does the honorable member think that, in face of the unreasonable attitude which the Government adopted towards those who wanted to discuss that Bill, we were called upon to allow the Standing Orders to be infringed to let them pass it through ?
– We might have got it to the Senate on Tuesday.
– Does not that interjection show the hollowness of the Government’s pretence that they desire to proceed with business? The Minister would know, if he were acquainted with the proceedings of Parliament, that the Senate stands adjourned for a fortnight. Apparently he wants the High Commissioner Bill sent up ten days before the Senate reassembles. The question of the financial relationship of the Commonwealth and the States ought to be fully debated, and every honorable member who wishes to address himself to it ought to have the fullest opportunity of being heard, because the public desire the most ample information upon it. It is certainly the most important question that has come before honorable members during this Parliament, because the decision on that Bill will settle whether or not the Commonwealth will have financial freedom in the future, and yet the Government allow the debate on it to be adjourned at 3 o’clock in the afternoon ! The Prime Minister, in introducing the subject the other day, said - “ Finance is government, and government is finance.” That was not an original observation, but it was new enough for the Prime Minister. At all events, it was a good statement.
– One that the honorable member has recollected.
– Yes, and one with which I was well acquainted long before I heard the Prime Minister use it. When we are considering financial proposals that will make or mar the progress of the Commonwealth for years to come, and when every honorable member should have an opportunity of expressing his opinions, how are we treated by the Government? We have the adjournment of the House moved at ten minutes past 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon at the request of a Government supporter, and I suppose that the Opposition will be gagged on Tues.day. The honorable member for Corio will, of course, address himself to the question, and then I suppose he will move the gag upon those who wish to follow him. This Government have taken a particular fancy to the gag. They seem to think that honorable members on this side should be gagged whenever they endeavour to speak. Before the gag is moved to-day, however, there are two or three things to which I wish to refer. While grievances were being debated yesterday, I was prevented from expressing myself. I -shall therefore take the present opportunity, unless the Government gag me before I have said what I desire.
– It seems that the honorable member wants to be gagged. He keeps on asking for it.
– The Minister for Defence can accept my assurance that he will never hear me squeal about being gagged.
– I quite believe that.
– Furthermore, the honorable gentleman can take it from me that he will get the gag jammed down his throat as soon as I get my way with a majority. I promise him that: This Government has done a thing which I do not hesitate to say is beneath contempt. The other day the Treasurer took the meanest possible way of trying to throw on to the Opposition the responsibility for the fact that the public servants throughout the Commonwealth were not paid their salaries on the day when they were due. Does the Treasurer say now that he believes we were responsible for the delay ?
– Yes, I do.
– Not only has the right honorable member made the statement, but he now says that he believes it. I am prepared to admit that a man in his present frame of mind can believe anything. During the last five minutes he has been enduring the denunciation of his colleagues for having dared to move the adjournment. Now, the Supply Bill was presented on the 14th of the present month. The Bill was passed through all its stages inside of four hours. It was sent to the other Chamber, and passed through all its stages there on the same day, 15th September.
– It ought to have gone through in five minutes.
– The right honorable member, with his twenty-five years’ Parliamentary experience, knows very well that four hours is not an unduly long time to spend upon a Supply Bill. The following telegram, however, has been received today from Adelaide : -
Federal salaries -usually paid on 14th and 15th each month not paid yet. No instructions yet received from Treasury to pay. Delay attributed to obstruction of Supply Bill.
– Hear, hear; the blame has got on to the right shoulders this time.
– The Minister who will assume responsibility for that statement will say anything, and has absolutely no consideration for veracity if he repeats it.
– Order ! The honorable member must not make a statement of that kind. I ask him to withdraw it.
– Well, Mr. Speaker, if the statement which I have made is out of order I do withdraw it.
– Will the honorable member inform us who sent the telegram?
– Yes. It was sent by the honorable member for Adelaide to the Leader of the Opposition. He concludes his messages in these terms -
Call attention to this matter and check Ministerial machinations.
Well may the honorable member ask that attention should be drawn to such an outrageous statement. The facts of the case are well known to all honorable members. The Supply Bill was passed in this House on the very day when it was presented. The Standing Orders were suspended in order to enable it to be passed.
– We had to send the Bill. for the Royal assent, the honorable member must recollect.
– The right honorable member now wishes to blame the GovernorGeneral.
– I do not.
– This is rank disloyalty.
– I point out to the Treasurer that he has moved the motion for the adjournment of the House. If he continues to speak he will close the debate. I must ask him not to interrupt so frequently.
– In the first instance the Treasurer endeavoured to throw the blame upon the members of the Opposition. Now he wants to shelter himself by blaming the Governor-General.
– It is an outrage. This is the first time I have ever heard such a thing said.
– The Treasurer seems to indicate that the Governor- General’s assent to the Bill has not been forthcoming within a reasonable time.
Mr.FRAZER. - On several occasions this session Ministers have come down and asked the leave of the House to do certain things which ought to have been done before. Now, what is the position with; regard to the payment of the salaries of public servants throughout the Commonwealth. I see the Minister of Defence looking at me. Let him move that the question be now put if he likes.
– I never thought of it.
– I have not the slightest objection if the Government think it well to applythe gag, and conclude the business of the day at 10 minutes past 3 o’clock. If they think they can mislead the public by applying the gag, they are at liberty, so far as I am concerned to do so as often as they please. They may hear some objections to its use, but they will not hear any squealing from this side.
– I quite believe that.
-We appear now to have reached such a stage in the transaction of public business that the Treasurer, knowing that payments must be made on the 15th of the month, brings down a SupplyBill to meet them on the 14th. The Government were aware that the Senate would not be sitting until the 15th, and they delayed the introduction of the Bill until it became impossible to pass it before the salaries of the public servants became due. Then they adopted the miserable pretence of blaming the Opposition, and now we have the Treasurer attempting to cast a veiled responsibility for the delay upon the Governor-General.
– Who cannot protect himself.
– The last Supply Bill was brought down on the 29th of June - before the month had run out.
– So it ought to have been.. If a man has to meet obligations on the first of the month, surely he will not wait until then to make the necessary financial arrangements for the purpose?
– Let the honorable member continue his speech on Tuesday.
– The honorable member will hear all I desire to say to-day.
– I want to leave.
– The dignity and intellectual standard of the House would not suffer if the honorable member were to leave for ever. I think it is probable that he will leave for a term when an opportunity is presented to his constituents to deal with him.
– I think the honorable member has said that of every honorable member on this side.
– I have said it of five honorable members, whom I do not expect to see again returned to this House.
– It has been said by various honorable members opposite of every honorable member on this side.
– If honorable members on the Government side got their deserts it would be true of them all. As we have to deal with probabilities, the statement can be applied only to a limited number, of whom the honorable member for Corio is one. I wish to refer to the administration of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act. Honorable members opposite laugh when the necessities of old-age pensioners are referred to. They gagged the honorable member for Melbourne when he was trying to put forward the case of some of the old-age pensioners. If the pension of a Judge were in question, we should find the gold medallist of the Royal Geographical Society taking a very keen interest in it. When we find that many of the aged people of Australia are being denied the old-age pensions to which they are entitled, because they have been thrifty, and have paid something into a miners’ provident fund, some explanation should be afforded by those responsible for the administration of the Act. The Treasurer is aware that its administration in Western Australia has been anything but satisfactory. Very few of the applicants for pensions in that State have been able to secure a satisfactory adjustment of their claims.
– How many have not been attended to?
– Quite a large number. By every mail we learn that applicants have been unable to satisfy those who are taking too stringent a view of the provisions of the law.
– I would not use the same telegram for all the Departments.
– I do not wish to have anything at all to say to the Government Whip. I am addressing the Treasurer in connexion with a matter which seriously affects a number of electors in Western Australia. It is a matter of much greater importance than whether the clock points to half-past 3 or half-past 4. Instructions should be given to those who are responsible for the administration of the Old-age Pensions Act in Western Australia, that proof of the age of applicants need not be submitted by formal document. A person seventy years of age, who is a native of another country, and has lived in Australia for a number of years, separated from his relatives, has the greatest possible difficulty in producing the documentary proof that he was born on a certain day. The neglect to do so is being used against eligible claimants for old-age pensions in Western Australia at the present time.
– The honorable member might mention some cases.
– I mentioned a case to the Commissioner yesterday, and communications regarding two or three other’s have come to hand to-day. I desire to direct public attention to the matter, because there is a growing suspicion that the Treasurer is not sympathetic in his administration of the Act.
– I have found the right honorable gentleman very sympathetic.
– Then the honorable member has had an unusual experience. There are many on this side who are prepared to say that they have found him extremely unsympathetic.
– Who are they? Let us have their names.
– The honorable member for Newcastle is one.
– I have said a good many times that I have done all I could for the honorable member.
– I donot accuse the right honorable gentleman of being personally interested in the robbing of these people of their just rights under Commonwealth legislation. I contend that it is important that the Act should be liberally interpreted and administered. I wished to say something about the mail services on the south-east coast of Western Australia. There is much justification for the resentment felt by people living on that coast at the manner in which the mail service between Albany and Eucla is being conducted. A steamer was provided, towards the cost of which a certain sum of money was contributed by the Western Australian Government. Unfortunately, the vessel was disabled, and one quite unsuitable for the service has been put on temporarily to take her place If the Postmaster-General were present, I should like to have heard him on the matter. I suppose that, in anticipation of an early adjournment, the honorable gentleman has gone home. I do not care to refer to the matter in his absence, but it is one of the questions which I intended to bring forward yesterday afternoon, if honorable members on this side had not been; gagged in their efforts to ventilate grievances. I ask the Government whether they feel satisfied with their achievement of to-day. They professed a desire to get on with public business. They got rid of the most important question in connexion with the Standing Orders which has been before the House for many months. They closed a debate by applying the gag. But as soon as they got . to the serious business of the day - the adjustment of the financial relations - they asked for leave to go home at 10 minutes past 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon. We have been sitting since halfpast 10 o’clock with an adjournment of an hour and a-quarter for lunch. One hour of arduous labour tired a Government which wants to get on with business, and then they moved the adjournment of the House.
– We were at work late last night.
– The honorable gentleman was at work late last night, but he would have been at a more advanced stage with business to-day, if he had not kept the House sitting so late. I believe that if the Government were to adopt a more reasonable attitude in regard to suggestions from this side, business would be proceeded with very much earlier than it is. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that the High Commissioner Bill should be brought forward. On his special request it was made one of the prominent planks of the Government programme for the session.
– Then the honorable member admits that he has been obstructing business?
– I do not admit or suggest anything of the kind.
– It looks as though the honorable member does.
– The honorable gentleman can draw any inference he likes, and no one is more competent to draw inferences to suit himself than he is. There was a unanimous desire on this side of the Chamber to assist the passage of the High Commissioner Bill, of course with reasonable discussion as to the merits of the clauses.
– For how many hours was it discussed?
– The Minister knows that it was not discussed for more than eight or nine hours altogether.
– The honorable member is entirely wrong.
– Will the honorable gentleman look up the facts and see whether my statement is wrong or not?
– It is wrong.
– No. The Opposition, I repeat, were desirous of passing the measure after reasonable discussion. Further than that, we wanted an appointment to be made when it was passed, but the Government did not want that.
– I do not dispute that. I only disagree with the honorable member as to what is reasonable discussion.
– The honorable gentleman talked for so many_hours when he was in Opposition that if he hears an honorable member speaking now for five -minutes from this side he thinks that his old game is being played; but we have no desire to do that. We passed the Bill within a reasonable time. We were gagged to-day by a Government which professes a desire to go on with business, but their professions can only be taken as rank hypocrisy when they are presented to the people of this country.
– I agree with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie respecting the question of old-age pensions, because the regulations must have been drawn up by a Ministry formed from the members of the Legislative Council of Victoria in its most Conservative time.
– What Ministry brought in the regulations?
– The Fisher Ministry. The regulations were drawn up, in my .opinion, with a view to prohibit persons from getting pensions, and there is no liberal interpretation of them. I venture to say that a Ministry composed of the rankest Conservatives in Australia would not have drawn up such regulations. On nearly every day they are condemned by the party which was responsible for their adoption. The party which was in power for the purpose of assisting the aged and the poor were responsible for framing regulations for which a parallel cannot be found in any part of the world. On that point I am at one with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. I think that the earliest opportunity should be taken to amend the regulations in a liberal fashion, so that they shall be less complicated than they are. I shall gladly give my vote in that direction. I trust that the Government will soon bring into force regulations of a more liberal character. I desire to bring under the notice of the Acting Leader of the House, in the absence of the Postmaster-General, the case of a number of men who are registered at the Commonwealth office for employment in Victoria. It has been asserted that a member of the Opposition has been endeavouring to get the Postmaster-General to insert a new clause respecting the wages to be paid for contract labour. I trust that the Ministry will not agree to the employment of that kind of labour. I think that the work should be done by day labour. If it is done by contract the result will be that the 300 men who are now registered for employment will have no opportunity of getting work, because very likely the contractor will select his own men. In order to give the men an opportunity of obtaining employment, I ask the Acting Leader of the House to convey to the PostmasterGeneral or the head of his Department the wish that, if possible, this work shall x done by day labour, because that will be a means cf affording all these men an opportunity of getting employment.
.- The Government have taken an unusual course to-day, first in suppressing the discussion of business and then in declining to proceed with business. It is most unusual that gentlemen who assemble here to conduct business should be treated in that fashion. But that is nothing compared with the unusual lapse of the Treasurer regarding the payment of public officers. Through their agencies - press and other - the Government have attempted to make the grossest misrepresentation as regards the position of the Opposition. They have been successful, so far, in the dissemination of false information, undoubtedly to the detriment of the public interests. It has been clearly proved from the records that the Bill for the payment of the salaries of public officers was introduced late. It was passed through this House within four hours, and, even if those hours had been saved, the Government would have gained nothing, because the Senate was not sitting, and therefore the Bill could not have become law on that day. These are the absolute facts.
– It was delayed in the Senate.
– It went through in one day in the Senate.
– The outrageous misrepresentations of the press, supported by honorable members opposite, are as nothing to the statement of the Treasurer to-day that the representative of His Majesty the King is the cause of the delay which has occurred.
– I did not say anything of the kind, and the honorable member knows it. He is misrepresenting me.
– In reply to a question by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, the Treasurer clearly stated that the reason why the wages of the public servants could not be paid was that the Bill had not received the Royal Assent.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– The right honorable gentleman said that he had to get the Royal Assent.
– What is the Royal Assent but the signature of the GovernorGeneral ?
– The right honorable gentleman did not say that that was the reason why there has been delay.
– If he had any purpose in making the statement which he made, it was, first, to show that the Opposition delayed the passing of the Bill - not by blocking it, but by merely discussing its provisions - and, secondly, that there has been further delay through the Royal Assent not being obtained.
– The object was to show that the delay between the passing of the measure through both Houses and the securing of the Royal Assent was unavoidable.
– The Ministry was responsible for it. Ministers should know exactly what the financial requirements of the Commonwealth are, when they must be met, and where the representative of the King is to be found, and they should provide for all contingencies. They are paid to do so.
– The mail train leaves at 5 o’clock every day.
– I am inclined to think that the Governor-General’s assent to the Supply Bill might have been obtained by telegram. I do not propose to dogmatize regarding a constitutional point which I have not considered, but Ministers certainly know where the representative of the Crown is, so that the Bill could have been sent to him without delay, and, if necessary, could have been introduced a day earlier. If the facts were put before an honest jury of citizens, to what conclusion would they come ? Only that the Government has no foundation for its charges against the Opposition. Why is not that admitted? It was my good fortune, in my early public life, to oppose a Government whose Ministers would have scorned to use subterfuge to shelter themselves from charges of maladministration or want of foresight. They accepted the responsibilities attaching to- their offices ; and I hope that we shall soon have in power here men who will observe the same standards of conduct. I wish now to refer to the statement of the honorable member for Batman, who created a good deal of laughter by asking, “ What Government drafted the old-age pensions regulations?” They were drafted by the Go’vernment of which I was the head, and, I admit, are strict, but they do not reflect in any way on any applicant. The desire was to obtain the fullest information regarding the claims of applicants. I knew when I assented to them that they were severe, but as a strong supporter of the principle of old-age pensions I wished to prevent the slightest abuse at its initiation. No worse service could be done to the people than by allowing abuses to creep in under loose administration.
– Honorable members opposite have complained that the regulations are not just.
– Who has done so?
-The honorable member for Melbourne, for one.
– He has complained about the number of questions to be answered, and the difficulty of filling up the forms. I anticipated such complaints, and have been surprised that there have not been many more. The honorable member for Batman said that if an honorable member on this side moved to have the regulations altered, he would support the motion. The honorable gentleman either lacks knowledge of what is necessary to secure the alteration of the regulations, or seeks to misrepresent the position. If the regulations are too stringent, they can be altered by Executive act, and the alteration could take place to-morrow. After three months’ experience of the working of the Act, the Treasurer should know better than any member of the Opposition whether the regulations should be altered. Did honorable members think that a Labour Government would allow abuses to creep into the administration of a measure of this kind, when it was their bounden duty to protect the interests of the public, and of pensioners? It was best to have the regulations severe in the first instance. They can be modified as experience suggests. As a matter of fact, they are not so severe as to prevent the number of ‘ pensioners in every State from having increased, though, happily, the number has not largely increased.
– Surely the honorable member does not regard it as a happy thing that the aged poor are increasing in numbers?
– No, but we are happy that more of those who need pensions are able to get them.
– I take full responsibility for the regulations. The statistics show that under them the number of pensioners has largely increased in all the States.
– In Victoria the increase numbers 4,200 pensioners.
– I think it is really greater than that. The most liberal State Old-age Pensions Act was that of Queensland, but even there the number of pensioners has considerably increased under Commonwealth administration. If, however, the regulations need altering, the Treasurer can alter them in a day. In addition to framing these regulations, which are considerably stricter than one might desire them to be under other circumstances, the Government of which I had the honour to be the head instructed all the public officers of the Commonwealth to assist old-age pensioners in filling in their claims, and even went so far as to pay half-a-dozen clerks in Victoria to undertake this class of work. I am glad that the honorable gentleman for Batman has returned to the chamber. I wish to say that the authorship of the regulations is not in doubt. They were drafted by the late Government in a strict form for the protection of the pensioners themselves.
– But the regulations forget the pensioners.
– They were drafted in a strict form so as to prevent the possibility of abuse at the initiation of a great undertaking.
– If the regulations have been proved to be faulty, why do not the Government alter them?
– The Treasurer can alter them in a day if he so desires. The honorable member for Batman has spoken about the necessity for submitting motions to that end. Such a course of procedure is entirely unnecessary. When the Sugar Bounty Act became operative very severe regulations were framed in order to prevent the undeserving from profiting by that legislation. That was the sole object in view. I shall be glad if the Treasurer can devise any method of reducing the number of questions that are put to applicants whilst simultaneously conserving the interests of the country. We must not lose sight of the fact that if these regulations are drawn loosely persons may obtain pensions who are not entitled to them. We might thus create a public feeling against the payment of pensions. I am glad to know that in every State, and particularly in Victoria, there has been a largeincrease in the number of successful applications.
– Does the honorable member think that the regulations should be altered ?
– I am not in possession of any information that would enable me to answer the honorable member’s question. The Treasurer ought to be in possession of that information. So far as I know, the regulations have not prevented the recognition of any legitimate claim. Of course I cannot defend the administration of the Act, because that has been entirely in the hands of the Government. The Ministry of which I was the head vacated office before the Act became operative, so that if any fault is to be found with its administration it belongs solely to the Government of which the honorable member for Batman is a supporter.
– I should like to ask the Minister of Defence, who is now leading the House, how long the majority of honorable members are to allow the sufferings of the aged poor of Australia to be made a subject for political advertisement by a certain section.
– Does not the honorable member think that that insinuation is uncharitable as well as mean?
– I think that the tactics which are being resorted to by honorable members opposite are both mean and uncharitable. The Leader of the Opposition has admitted the authorship of the regulations under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act - regulations which have been the subject of attack by the Opposition day after day. Yet the Treasurer has been held up to public hatred and ridiculed as the administrator of a set of inhuman regulations which no loyal Labour Government would dream of framing 1 We now at last have the confession of the honorable member for Wide Bay that he himself is responsible for the drafting of those regulations. I am justified in asking the Minister of Defence how long we are to be subjected to this sort of tactics. It is well known that a new state of affairs has arisen in the conduct of the business of this House. One method that is adopted by my honorable friends opposite, and which strikes me as being a singularly petty one, is to endeavour to subject the Government to humiliation and difficulty by discussing motions for adjournment about the time that the trains leave for the adjacent States, and Ministerial supporters desire to quit this building for their homes. In the view of the fact that the Government know what is going on-
-Does not everybody know it?
– Everybody knows it, in cluding the honorable member who is a prime mover in these tactics. The time has arrived when the Government should see that within a reasonable time after the motion for the adjournment of the House being moved, debate upon it shall be closured, so that the business of this Chamber may be brought to an end with fitting decorum and despatch. I make this suggestion in regard to future action. I do not say that it should be adopted on the present occasion. My honorable friends have already talked at considerable length, thereby hoping to submit the Government to a certain amount of inconvenience. But I may tell them that they cannot succeed in their endeavours this afternoon. I make them a gift of that information. If the Government have any regard for the proper conduct of business, they will see that’ this new method of conducting political warfare is properly countered by an arrangement for. the closuring of debate upon the motion for adjournment after a reasonable time has elapsed.
– I desire to bring under the notice of the House a matter of. considerable importance. I had arranged to bring it forward yesterday, but as the Government saw fit, in accordance with the policy which lias been advocated by the honorable member for Wentworth, of closuring the discussion upon grievances I was prevented from doing so. Consequently I have no option but to mention it at this late and inconvenient hour. I regret that the Minister of . Home Affairs is not present, because the matter is one which relates to his Department.
– I beg to call attention to the state of the House.
A quorum not being present,
Mr. Speaker adjourned the House at 4.9 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 17 September 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1909/19090917_reps_3_51/>.