6th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral if he will take into consideration the present high cost of living, and increase the poor remuneration now received by the temporary hands in the Post Office, namely, 8s. 6d. a day, to 10s. a day?
– The matter is one which comes under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commissioner.
– I ask the honorable gentleman if it is not a fact that in 1911 the then Postmaster-General increased the wages of postal officials - temporary storemen and others - on his own initiative?
– Yes, but the regulations have been altered since that time.
– Is the House to understand that the Postmaster-General has handed over his authority in financial affairs to the Public Service Commissioner, and that he has no powers in con nexion with the financial administration of his Department?
– The honorable member’s question is so much like a conundrum that I ask for notice of it.
- Mr. William Lane, of Clarence-street, Caulfield, a constituent of mine, has written to the Argus this morning in the following terms : -
Sir, - Some eight months ago my second son enlisted in the A.I.F. for active service abroad, and when in camp at Seymour contrasted cold in the eyes, for which he underwent treatment at the Base Hospital. Some five weeks ago he received his discharge from the Forces as medically unfit. Judge of my surprise, when, at half-past 2 a.m. this morning, we received a visit from two persons, who stated they were military police, armed with a warrant for his arrest as a deserter. It is needless to say that the household was. very muoh upset at the intrusion of these men, who, I am sorry to say, made themselves very officious. Surely, with a little common sense and inquiry, they might have savedthemselves a motor trip from Seymour on a wild-goose chase? The records of the Department should show the whole of the facts of the above case.
I trust you will expose the above, and that a searching inquiry will be made as to who is to blame for such an unwarrantable intrusion at my house in the early hours of the morning.
I ask the Assistant Minister for Defence if he will inquire into this matter?
– I shall be glad . if the honorable member will put the question on the notice-paper, so that I may have an opportunity to consult with the Minister for Defence regarding the case.
– Will the Assistant Minister also look into the case of a Mr. Bird, at Abbotsford, who, although he had enlisted, and had been sent to France, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment for not reporting under the Proclamation, and into the case of Private Bent, of Richmond, who, after he had been in camp for five weeks, received a sentence of three weeks for not reporting?
– I shall bring those cases under the notice of the Minister for. Defence.
– Has the Prime Minister a statement to make regarding the alleged purchase by the Imperial Government of the 1916-17 surplus ‘ wheat crop ?
– I have not the information that the honorable member deeireB, but I may receive it during the day, and, if so, I shall communicate it to him.
– Has the Government, in view of the settlement of the coal strike, yet considered the withdrawal of the regulations curtailing city lighting ?
– Although it is to be assumed that the stocks of coal will be speedily replenished, the regulations must continue to have force until the community can freely exercise its discretion in regard to tbe consumption of coal. We shall, however, consider without delay the possibility of relaxing the conditions that now apply.
– Has an arrangement been made, or can it be made, so that men who have enlisted for service abroad, but are needed for harvesting operations, may get leave for a few weeks ?
– An intending recruit is at liberty to postpone the date of his enlistment for such a purpose as the getting in of the harvest, but when a man has joined without any stipulation, how far has services may be availed of for other than military purposes is a question that must be dealt with in relation to the need for reinforcements for the men at the front. So far as it may be possible to release men for harvesting, it will be done. I cannot say more than that.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been calledto the report of a speech made at Broken Hill a few days ago by a person named W. Coombes, who, at a licensed victuallers’ picnic, informed the public how they could destroy farmers’ haystacks and wheat-stacks, agricultural machinery, and so on? Does not the right honorable gentleman think that the War Precautions Act should be applied to a man who uses such language?
– The honorable member has supplied me with a newspaper cutting containing the report of a speech.
– It is a cutting from the South Australian Register, reprinting a report which appeared in the Barrier Miner.
– The report is that of a speech by Mr. Coombes at a meeting of the Labour Volunteer Army, in which there are references to sabotage, and directions for destroying haystacks, strawstacks, farming machinery, and other property, together with blasphemous remarks about the Deity, and some doggerel rhymes. I think that there is a law which relates to utterances of this kind. If there is not, there should be. Tbe speaker incited his hearers to commit arson and to destroy property. I shall ascertain how far the existing law is capable of dealing with such utterances. If they cannot be punished under the. law as it stands, I shall ask Parliament to consider legislation for the purpose of dealing with them.
– Yesterday Senator Millen, Bpeaking. of. the regulations providing for the putting of questions to electors at the recent referendum, said, “ Let there be no mistake. The regulations were issued and acted upon.” Has the Prime Minister noticed that statement, and Senator Millen’s condemnation of what was done?
– I rise to order. I submit that it is a rule invariably acted upon in this Chamber that direct reference may not be made to the utterances in another place. The honorable member for Indi has been telling us what was stated in another place yesterday.
– I must, first of all, remind the right honorable member for Parramatta that it is for me to judge of the propriety of a question asked by any honorable member.
– And it is within my right to ask you to rule on any question of order.
– I trust that honorable members will at least conduct themselves in a dignified way. The proceedings of late have been of a nature which, if continued, will necessitate my taking drastic steps. That remark applies particularly to the right honorable member for Parramatta.
– You may take what action you please.
– I do not intend to take any extreme action. I do not think that the right honorable member for Parramatta acted out of disrespect.
– I have not done anything yet.
– The right honorable member knows that when the Speaker is on his feet it is the duty of every honorable member to remain silent. The right honorable member has interrupted me several times. I do not think he did it out of any disrespect to the Chair or to me personally, but rather out of excitement. As to the point of order raised by the right honorable member, I cannot see anything to prevent the asking of the question stated by the honorable member for Indi. If I thought the question -was not in order I should prevent it being asked. If, however, the honorable member attempts to make any comment in connexion with his statement, he will be distinctly out of order. It would be suicidal for this House to rule that no reference may be made in any way to a statement made in another place. It would not be right and proper for the House to stultify itself in that way. Therefore, I rule that, while the honorable member for Indi will not be in order in commenting upon what was done in another place, he is entitled to ask a question as to a statement made in another place.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I rose to a point of order a few moments ago, and I submit very respectfully that I said nothing which I should not have said. May I ask, sir, what I did that you should begin immediately to read me a “lecture? If I have done anything wrong I am sorry, but for the life of me I can see nothing improper in the manner in which I raised that point of order. Your first sentence was a reminder to me that you knew what was in order. I have no wish to come into conflict with you, and I submit thatI said nothing in stating my point of order which should have called forth any rebuke from you.
– I took exception to the right honorable member stating that I should rule the question out of order.
– I did not say that.
– If the right honorable member did not make that statement, I apologize to him for having said anything that would hurt his reelings. I have no wish to come into conflict with him or any other honorable member of the House. It is my policy to endeavour to have the proceedings conducted as smoothly as possible under the Standing Orders. I wish to say again, however, that I take strong exception to the fact that when I rise to speak, a number of honorable members in all quarters of the House immediately interject in the endeavour to give me some advice. It is my duty to interpret the Standing Orders according to my own judgment, and if I do wrong it is for the House to correct me.
– On a point of order, may I direct your attention, sir, to standing order No. 270, which reads - “ No member shall allude to any debate of the current session in the Senate.” If the question asked by the honorable member for Indi is not a direct reference to the Senate debate of yesterday, what is it? I submit that, according to that standing order, the question is clearly out of order.
– I adhere to my decision of a moment ago. The asking of the question must be permitted by this House. But if the honorable member for Indi attempts to debate the question, or offer comment upon it, I shall call him to order.
– I again ask the Prime Minister if he has noticed in this morning’s newspapers the report of the statement made by the Leader of the Liberal party in another place, namely, “ Let there be no mistake, the regulations were issued and acted upon “ ?
– The statement is incorrect. The facts are as I stated them yesterday. The regulations were not issued.
– Is the Minister for Home Affairs in a position to inform the House whether the Chief Electoral Officer issued any instructions to the Returning Officers and Presiding Officers to ask certain military questions? If the Chief Electoral Officer did issue those instructions, on whose order was he acting?
– I am not in a position to answer the question off-hand; I ask the honorable member to give notice of it.
– In connexion with the acquisition of the wool clip, I understand that a flat rate is being fixed as between the Commonwealth and Imperial Governments which will necessitate an arrangement in the trade in Australia for the separate appraisement of each clip. For the benefit of the growers, who know nothing at present, will the Prime Minister make a statement as to the mode of appraisement ?
– The details in connexion with the proposed acquisition of the wool clip by the Commonwealth on behalf of the British Government have been placed in the hands of a Committee elected at a conference of the growers, buyers, sellers, manufacturers, scourers, and fellmongers, at the Commonwealth offices, about a week or ten days ago. The Committee has drawn up rules for governing the whole transaction, including the method of appraisement. As soon as the matter is definitely settled by the receipt of a cable from the British Government accepting our offer, I. shall make available for public information the whole of the rules, including those dealing with the matter to which the honorable member’s question particularly refers.
– As under the State law of Victoria it is now illegal to sell intoxicating liquors after 6 p.m., will you, Mr. Speaker, see that that law is observed so far as this Parliament House is concerned?
– That matter is entirely in the hands of the House Committee.
– Is it the intention of the Government, by way of a particular decoration, to make any special recognition of the feat of the troops who took part in the first landing at Gallipoli ?
– I do not profess to know what my colleague the Minister for Defence has in his mind in regard to the matter, but I certainly think that as it was the first important military operation in which this country has engaged as a nation, and as it covered the troops taking part in it with immortal glory, it should be recognised. I am strongly in favour of this being done.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
Will he place on the table the instructions issued to the gentlemen authorized to advise him in regard to the formation of companies so far as they apply to such formation?
– The following verbal instructions, I am informed, were issued : -
That the desire of the Government was -
To conserve the capital of the Commonwealth in every reasonable way for the purpose of the war.
To stop the issue of all purely speculative, wild-cat, and unnecessary schemes.
In carrying out (a) not to interfere with any proposals which will legitimately increase production, manufacture, and the mining of gold and other minerals in Australia.
To refuse applications for permission to raise capital for amusements, picture shows, and such like, except under very special circumstances.
To scrutinize carefully any application for capital for ventures outside Australia, but to protect existing Australian interests as far as possible.
) In addition to the issue of capital, the registration of firm names is also being controlled, but, to a large extent that duty has been delegated to the Registrars of the State Governments.
I may state that between 26th January and 3rd August, 1916, applications for consent to form new companies were dealt with as follow: -
The foregoing details may be analyzed as follow: -
I shall take an early opportunity of presenting further statistics to the House in relation to thismatter.
asked the Assistant Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The Minister for Defence supplies the following replies : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. Regulation 20 -
No person shall publicly announce, publish, or exhibit any figures or alleged facts as to the results of the voting by -
members of the Forces serving beyond Australia or having returned from such service; or
members of the crews of Australian transport vessels employed in the conveyance of members of the Forces to or from Australia.
The Returning Officer, Brigadier-General Anderson, advised the Chief Electoral Officer for the Commonwealth subsequent to polling day, in accordance with the requirements of the Regulations.
No. The Regulations require the Returning Officer to retain the ballot-papers in safe custody until he receives the authority of the Chief Electoral Officer for their destruction.
Mr.WEST asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
Is it the intention of the Government to place Lord Howe Island under the system of wireless communication of the Commonwealth?
If so, when?
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Debate resumed from 30th November (vide page 9324), on question -
That the Governor-General’s messages, Nos. 174 and 175 (Supply Bills (No. 3) 1916-17), be referred to the Committee of Supply.
Upon which Mr. Tudor had moved -
That after the word “That” the following words be inserted: - “the Prime Minister (the Honorable W. M. Hughes) no longer possesses the confidence of this House, for the following reasons: -
That the Prime Minister secretly prepared regulations for the purpose of intimidating intending voters at the polling booths on the 28th of October (Referendum Day).
That though the said regulations were rejected at a duly constituted Executive Council meeting held at Melbourne on Wednesday, the 25th of October, and attended by Senator the Honorable Albert Gardiner (Vice-President of the Executive Council), the Honorable J. A. Jensen (Minister for the Navy), the Honorable W. G. Higgs (Treasurer), and Senator the Honorable E. J. Russell (Assistant Minister), the Prime Minister persisted in his reprehensible endeavour to tack on to the referendum an unnecessary and irritating procedure designed to add penalties for military offences already provided for in the Commonwealth Defence Act.
That the Prime Minister succeeded in getting the objectionable regulations passed on Friday, the 27th of October, at an Executive Coun- . cil meeting held at Sydney, and attended by His Excellency the Governor-General, the Honorable J. A. Jensen, and himself, although the said regulations had been rejected at an Executive Council meeting held two days before.
That the Prime Minister then issued the said regulations, and ordered the Chief Electoral Officer (Mr. Oldham) to give effect to them.
That the regulations were withdrawn only after Senator Gardiner, Mr. Higgs, and Senator Russell resigned from the Ministry.
That though the Prime Minister issued the discreditable regulations above referred to on the morning of Friday, the 27th of October, he attempted to and did deceive a large section of the public of Australia by stating in the newspaper press on Saturday, the 28th of October, that ‘no such regulations had been issued.’
That the foregoing resolutions be communicated to His Excellency the Governor-General.”
.- The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Liberal party are in agreement to this extents - that the Prime Minister says that the amendment which has been submitted by the honorable member for Yarra is a pretext, and the Leader of the Liberal party says it bears on the face of it the stamp of insincerity. I maintain that it bears on the face of it the fact that we desire this House to express the opinion that it has lost confidence in Mr. W. M. Hughes and in the Government which now controls it.
– It is the custom of the House to refer to honorable members by the names of their constituencies.
– I was referring to the right honorable member for West Sydney as the head of the Hughes Government. The head of the torpedo which has been launched carries all the sincerity that is necessary. By it the members of the Australian Labour party ask the House to express the opinion that the present Government have lost the confidence of the House, as they have lost the confidence of the country.
– On the grounds as set forth in the amendment?
– That issue is sufficient in itself, but, as the right honorable gentleman knows, there are plenty of other reasons.
– Then why are they not set out ?
– One at a time is very good fishing, we are told. The right honorable gentleman claimed that the amendment was insincere, whereas in truth, if there be any insincerity, it comes from both the Prime Minister and the right honorable gentleman. The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that the regulations over which all this trouble has occurred were never issued, but there are some honorable members who know very well that they were proposed and assented to, and when the Prime Minister claims that they were not issued he simply means that they were not published in the Government Gazette. In order to have on record what was proposed to be put into force and gazetted for the purpose of giving certain electors the shock of their lives on the day of the referendum poll, I shall read the regulations that the Prime Minister says were not issued. They were as follow : -
These regulations may be cited as the War Precautions (Referendum) Regulations. 2. (1) At the polling at the referendum under the Military Service Referendum Act 1916, to be held on the twenty-eighth day of October, 1916, the presiding officer may put to any male person claiming to vote, who, in his opinion, is under thirty-five years of age, the following question, in addition to any or all of the questions prescribed by the Military Service Referendum Act 1916: - “Are you a person to whom the Proclamation of 29th September, 1916, calling upon single men under thirty-five to present themselves for enlistment, applies?”
Any person who refuses or fails to answer any question put to him under these Regulations, or who makes an untrue statement in any answer to any such question, shall be guilty of nn offence against the War Precautions Act 1914-1916.
What will the public think of the Prime Minister’s denial that these regulations were issued? If the Minister for the Navy were present he would be able to say whether it is true that he attended the meeting of the Executive Council at which they were passed, and that the Government were holding back these regulations until referendum day. Neither the Government nor their apologists in the Liberal party can answer the charge that the proposed regulations were passed at a meeting of the Executive. The public, I am satisfied, will believe Senator Millen-
– The honorable member must not refer to a senator.
– The public will believe the statements made in another place and on this side of the House, as well as the assertions made from time to time on public platforms, that these regulations were passed and circulated, and that in certain polling booths the questions for which they provided were actually putto electors. It is useless for the Liberal party to try to whitewash the Government so far as this issue is concerned, since the facts stand out so clearly against them. The Liberal party are keeping in office the present Government, which is usurping the Treasury benches.
– The honorable member is not in order in saying that the Government are “usurping” the Treasury benches.
– I find it difficult to select a word that will properly describe the position they are taking up. They are but the remnant of a great party, and are in an absolute minority in this House. As a matter of honour and public decency they should have resigned, without waiting for a motion of want of confidence to he submitted. These proposed regulations, which the Prime Minister says were not issued, were framed with the object of obtaining for compulsory service men who had not come forward under the proclamation calling upon them to enroll. Their services were to be used ostensibly for home defence. But because this scheme miscarried on referendum day - because the Government of three had not the power to compel men to go into camp at the point of the bayonet - the Leader of the Liberal party says that our camps to-day are empty. I want to nail down that misstatement hard and fast. I have here a return which shows that it is not true. For the last thirteen months 147,066 men enlisted. In September 9,072, and in October 11,522 enlisted, whereas in October, 1915, only 10,789 volunteered. The figures for the thirteen months are as follows: - 1915: October, 10,789; November, 9,674; December, 9,307. 1916: January, 22,688; February, 18,665 ; March, 15,862; April, 9,908; May, 10,656; June, 6,592; July, 6,170; August, 6,161; September, 9,072; and October, 11,522. The enlistments for September and October last show an actual improvement compared with the enlistments for the corresponding months of the previous year. That being so, why was it necessary to bring in such regulations as these? A total of 147,066 men enlisted for the thirteen months, whereas the casualties, according to the Minister of Defence, during the whole war period were only 50,916. These figures disprove the statement of’ the Leader of the Liberal party that the camps are empty to-day because these regulations were not issued. It is idle to say that drastic regulations of this description, which would have interfered with the secrecy of the ballot, were necessary in order to get more men into the camps. I wish now to refer to the attitude taken up by two lawyers in the House - the honorable member for Flinders and the honorable member for Darling Downs - who assert that the ex-Treasurer has broken the oath that he took as a Minister, and has been guilty of an immoral action in submitting to the House documents which are supposed to be secret so far as the Executive is concerned.
– Hear, hear !
– The Liberal party stand by that statement. They try to make a very fine distinction between the action of the ex-Treasurer in this matter and that of the Prime Minister with regard to the ex-Minister for External Affairs. According to them, it was quite justifiable for the Prime Minister to reveal to the public what occurred in Cabinet with regard to the Minister for External Affairs, but they affect a righteous and moral indignation because the honorable member for Capricornia has come here - the best of all places - to present his case, and has endeavoured to show, by documentary evidence, that the Prime Minister sought to do something behind the backs of his colleagues and the people. The people would have known nothing of this had it not been revealed by the exTreasurer, but his action in reading certain documents in this House is declared by the Liberal party to be most improper. If a criminal were taken red-handed, with the evidence of his crime upon him, what would be said of the man who gave away that evidence? What would be said of the man who destroyed the finger-prints of the criminal whom he had taken redhanded, or who threw away the knife with which the crime had been committed ? But members of the Liberal party say that, as a matter of honour, the exTreasurer should not have disclosed what he has done, that he was bound by his oath of secrecy, and that he should have remained silent, and have allowed the Prime Minister to commit this crime against the Democracy of Australia, although he was in a position to produce this evidence against him in the House. I hold that the ex-Treasurer was justified in the stand that he took. But for his action we should, no doubt, have had a further denial on the part of the Prime Minister, just as we have had his denial as to the issue of the regulations. In the absence of the evidence which the ex-Treasurer has produced, it would have been simply a case of one man’s word against that of another. But when documents in support of the charge are produced, some members of the Liberal party pretend to view the production of those documents as highly improper and immoral. What was done in Sydney in connexion with the Dean case, where a lawyer sheltered himself behind the contention that evidence as to the man’s guilt had been given to him in confidence? Mr. R. D. Meagher knows something about that. The public condemned him for his action in that case, and the Prime Minister will be publicly condemned for endeavouring to destroy the secrecy of the ballot by means of these proposed regulations. Objection has been taken that we have only one complaint against the Prime Minister. What is to be said regarding the instruction which he issued to the censor, through Mr. Garran, that the newspapers should not be allowed to publish anything regarding the resignation of certain Ministers? What have the Liberal party to say to that? The Prime Minister told us yesterday that he had attempted to assume the rôle of dictator in the last Government. He told us frankly yesterday that if he considers it necessary to do all these things again he will not hesitate to do so, even if every member of his Cabinet resigns. He desires to treat the members of his Government as mere puppets. If they do not obey his every wish and whim, off will go their Ministerial heads.
– Who put that idea into the honorable member’s head ?
– It is quite true. Every man who deserts the Labour party is taken to the bosom of the great Liberal party.The Liberal newspapers and the official Liberal party welcome every Labour runaway. Those who twist and turn on Labour are hailed by the Liberal party and the Liberal press as the brainy men - the men of intelligence and independence in the party. But if they remain loyal to Labour, and stand true to the men and women who made sacrifices in order to give them an opportunity to enter public life, they are condemned. The issue is a very simple one. We have a Government with more Ministers than followers, and honorable members on, this side, who have been their life-long enemies, are supporting them. The present Government have lost the confidence of the people who put them where they are, and they have lost the confidence of honorable members from all parts of the . Continent. Further, “ the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of his own constituency ; and under all the circumstances, the only course is for the Ministry to resign. It is said that this motion has been submitted for selfish reasons; but we know very well that at the present time in this House no opportunity is presented to the Labour party of Australia to take the Treasury benches.
– What do you want?
– The Liberals tell us that they are supporting the present Government in the interests of the Empire and of Australia, and with a view to the vigorous and successful prosecution of the war. In view of the fact, however, that the present Government have lost the confidence of the great working class population of Australia, from whom the reinforcements must be recruited, it is the worst possible thing, considering the object in view, to keep them in power.
– Is this the way to meet the appeal for recruits?
– In Henty there is a majority of something like 30,000 for “Yes”; and I ask the .honorable member for that constituency to see that those who support him show practical faith in their convictions. I shall refuse to take part in the campaign with men who have stood on the platform and offered all the insults possible to others who were endeavouring to do their best. I say emphatically that Australia has done its part and share in this war. The first offer of 20,000 men was raised to ‘50,000, and then to 100,000, followed by further offers of 150,000 and 200,000. This -vhs not all, for there was a promise of 250,000, and another- promise in addition - for all the world like an auction - and Australia responded nobly. But by the attempt to Prussianize Australia, the labour world has been antagonised, and recruiting has been spoiled so far as this country is concerned. We have endeavoured to keep up the reinforcements, and the figures I have given to-day absolutely disprove the statements which have been made with regard to the position occupied by Australia. Quite recently, when some honorable members of this Parliament were in South Africa, we found the public men there simply amazed at what Australia had done, and it was the same in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Canada. No one was more enthusiastic on this score than the French generals; and Sir William Robertson, himself, said that we had enough men to win the war, and that what we required was enough men to win peace. His desire was to have a big reserve, so that we might be in a position to dictate terms to Germany; and yet we have these paltry methods and miserable regulations under the War Precautions Act. Men were to be asked at the polling-booth whether they were of military age, and had responded to the proclamation, and, if they had not, their ballot-papers were to be branded. Is not such a policy condemned in the eyes of all sensible men? The Prime Minister may be whitewashed as much as honorable members like, but there is no doubt that the Government have lost the confidence of the public of Australia. The honorable course, as I said, would be to ask the people to pronounce the verdict, and we are prepared to face our masters. Why should not the ragged regiment of the Labour party opposite be prepared to do the same?
.- I should not have interposed in what has largely become a wrangle between two sides of a party which was once great, but for the concluding words of the honorable member for Bendigo. These words earned the complete and unanimous applause of the members of his own party in this House, and they require some answer at once. The honorable member says that, so far as he is concerned - and the cheers of his associates show that it is the same so far as they are concerned - he is going to turn down the men who have so nobly served Australia during this war.
– It is a gross misstatement; I did not say anything of the sort.
– I have had to remind several honorable members that it is out of order to interrupt an honorable member in order to contradict statements he may make. Every honorable member has ample opportunity to put himself right the moment the honorable member addressing the Chair has finished his speech.
– The honorable member, in the clearest and most unmistakable way, said to the House and the country that, so far as he was concerned - and the cheers of his colleagues echoed the sentiment - he was not going to take part in the recruiting campaign.
– With you.
– But that he was going to ask the constituencies who did show by their votes that they stood by the men at the front to send all the recruits needed. I say that that is the meanest form of “black-legging” on one’s own people - the meanest way in which to desert men whom we pretend to praise every time we refer to their deeds. That phrase, and the cheers which greeted it, expose the real sentiments of the party which is being born in the motion we are now considering.
– Tell the truth !
– The honorable member must withdraw those words.
– I withdraw the words.
– I do not wish to bother with the honorable member, nor does any one else, I think.
– He has some friends here.
– And very appropriate friends, too, whose actions,complete understanding, and mutual appreciation have led to Germany being beflagged from end to end in the last few weeks.
– How do you know?
– Does not the honorable member’s intelligence tell him what must have been the result? Did he not know, when he started out on this campaign against the Prime Minister, exactly what would follow the defeat of the proposals?
– I wish you would come down into my electorate!
– I must ask the honorable member, who is the Leader of the new party, to allow me to proceed without interruption, for I desire to be brief, and not in any way to engender heat. What heat I have in me is due to a statement which, considering its source, I could have ignored but for the cheers which greeted it from the corner. If the Prime Minister’s present effort to repair the crime of 28th October is to be met in this spirit by honorable members in the comer, the sooner the loyal sections of this community realize whither we are trending the better it will be for ourselves and our safety.
Those gentlemen, who are now opposed to the Government, went around the country pleading with the people notto authorize compulsion in order to supply enoughrecruits. They implored us not to pull down the noble edifice of voluntary recruiting, and promised to find recruits if compulsion were not used. But hardly is the ink dry on the returned writ when we find these honorable members using a mere pretext and artifice to escape the carrying out of a solemn undertaking. And there was another thing said during the campaign which they now desire to cover up by means of this motion of no confidence ; and in my part of the world this carried the most weight of all the appeals made to popular prejudice. The honorable member for Cook, and some very appropriate supporters, went from meeting to meeting telling the people what they said had occurredat a secret Conference of Parliament. Confessing themselves to be breakers of their own honour, they told the meetings that. Australia was in dire peril, that not a single man should be allowed to leave the country, and that every one should be trained to meet the peril. These statements were made throughout the city of Sydney.
– At Randwick, for one place.
– Have you a report of the speeches?
– No ; and I shalltell you why. In order to prevent Mr. Catts, consciously or unconsciously, causing trouble with our Allies, and thus doing Germany a service, the censor prevented the newspapers from referring to his statements - statements which, in my opinion, are about the grossest in history thathave been made in a country at war, and which largely contributed to the enormous negative vote in New South Wales. The idea was that every Australian should be armed and placed in camp prepared to meet the local peril; but no sooner was the verdict obtained and the writ returned than, with the name of the honorable member for Cook at the head, a circular letter came to every member of the Federal Parliament demanding’ that the men in camp should be immediately released. The peril has passed ! No longer is it of any value as a bogey.
– I did not get a copy of such a circular.
– Nor did I.
– One came to me.
– I believe that the circular was sent to every member about whose opinion on the subject there could be any doubt. I got one, and the friends with whom I have discussed the matter also got copies. If the honorable member for Yarra did not get. a copy it is excellent testimony that the quarter from which the circular came recognises the absolute hold that it has over his conscience and judgment. Every person whose conscience is free in this matter, and who can exercise his judgment, received a copy of the circular demanding the release of these men.
– They knew that the members of the Australian Labour party would do what they were told.
– Exactly. Could there be a greater exposure of the pretences of the honorable member for Cook than this demand to have the men released ‘from camp? That is only one phase of the campaign. The amendment has been moved to cover up facta that will become abundantly clear to the people.
– What facts?
– The facts concerning the honorable member and the other architects of Australia’s shame !
– The honorable member should be in khaki.
– I would be if I could. I say this to the honorable member-
– I do not care what the honorable member says; it will make no difference to me. “
– I do not think that it would. I believe that the honorable member has reached a stage where it would be necessary to wring him out of hot water to make him decent.
– The Political Labour League will make him attend.
– The honorable member for Wentworth can make his speech without the assistance of the honorable member for Richmond.
– I did not wish to interpose in the debate, but I think that the amendment is one of the shallowest ever put forward in this Parliament. If members have a grievance against the Prime Minister, why do they not state fairly and squarely what it is? It is idle and ridiculous to suppose that these honorable members, who have earned of late the eternal gratitude of Germany, are so entirely upset about a “scrap of paper” which did not issue, although it forms the subject-matter of the amendment. Personally I have no reason for doubting the truth of the Prime Minister’s statement, and, if I had, I should be none the more inclined to put out of office one whose real fault is that he has been loyal to his fellows and to his constituents in order to put into office men who can be loyal only to their selfish interests and to those who are in a position to dictate to them from outside. The faces of those who are supporting the amendment betray their attitude of mind. The amendment is an attempt to cover up their participation in the great crime that was recently committed against our troops and country. They have deferred the termination of the war for months by encouraging the most important of our foes. They have done everything they can to make successful emergence from the war difficult. If honorable members are proud of what they have done and glory in it, I urge them to move a motion’ affirming their real opinions, in place of this subterfuge which they have put before the House.
– We have just had an illustration, in the explosive utterance of one of the junior members of the more numerous section of the Fusion party, of the old saying that “ When the cat’s away the mice will play.” He and others of his party have sufficiently keen perception to seize with avidity on every point that may distract attention from the question before the House. The leader of the more numerous section of the Fusion party yesterday made quite a long apology, reading a prepared statement, which probably had. been approved by the members of his Caucus, so that, in the event of future complications, he would be able to face the other section of the Fusion with it.
– It -was probably prepared by the Women’s National League.
Mr.FENTON. - There may have been suggestions from outside. I have seen figures, some in petticoats and some not, flitting about the place, and, no doubt, both sections of the Fusion party have been more or less under the influence of these individuals, who, I understand, have been paying visits to the Departments as well.
I wish to state what I know took place on polling day, 28th October, in the constituency of Maribyrnong. Like others who took part in the campaign, I addressed large meetings just before polling day, and inquiries were made on all sides as to whether the secrecy of the ballot was to be tampered with. I was asked what was the surprise that was in store for a certain section of the electors should they present themselves in the polling booth. My uniform reply was, “ You owe a duty to your country. Vote as your conscience dictates, and do not be afraid of any regulation that may be introduced at the eleventh hour.” On the polling day I went to the booth near to which I reside, and asked the presiding officer if he had’ been instructed that certain questions were to be put to the electors who wished to vote. He showed me two large sheets of foolscap, closely covered with typewriting, and said, “ Those are my instructions.” Having satisfied myself that the electoral officials had been instructed to put certain questions, I recorded my vote, and at the table next to me I heard the questions put to a youDg man, who, fortunately, was able to reply to them satisfactorily. I was informed that when a young man in another polling booth asked for a ballot-paper, and stated his age, the official in charge said, “ I have to read the Riot Act to you,” and put to him the questions about which there has been so much complaint. This young man, too, was able to answer those questions satisfactorily. I believe, however, that thousands abstained from voting, not because they were afraid to enlist, but because they feared they might be publicly arrested in or near the booths, and they wished to save themselves and their families the disgrace of such treatment.
Every member who votes against the amendment will have his name recorded on a division list which will be published far and wide, throughout Australia and beyond the Commonwealth, and will thus be open to the charge of having condoned one of the most serious offences that has ever been committed against the secrecy of the ballot. The honorable member for Flinders, lawyer-like, rose with well simulated indignation yesterday, but he was over-dramatic. In a passion, he threw on the table papers which had been courteously lent to him by the honorable member for Capricornia, and refused to hand them back. When the honorable member for Capricornia, with his usual quiet and gentlemanly demeanour, drew attention to the nature of his action, he - the honorable member for Flinders - seized the papers again, and humbly offered them to the honorable member. But, to the credit of his own dignity and honour, the honorable member for Capricornia did not allow himself to be caught, and refused to accept the papers, and in most cutting fashion humiliated the honorable member for Flinders as he has never been humiliated before in this House. It will take the honorable member a long time to recover from this humiliation, although he has a somewhat impervious skin.
It is merely an attempt to side-track to say that the regulations were never gazetted. We must look at the intent and effect. Undoubtedly they were put into effect, and hundreds of electors all over Australia were asked the questions set out in them. A young man told me at my private residence that he had presented himself twioe for enlistment, and had on each occasion been turned down by the medical authorities. He therefore thought it best to enter into a small business, and when the proclamation was issued, he naturally thought that it did not apply to him. Yet he was asked later on to leave the small business he had purchased, after having been turned down twice at the recruiting offices, and go into camp for a month. He was oneof the men to whom the military questions were put at the polling booth. I had been at the Essendon booth, and went to Moonee Ponds to see the Chief Returning Officer. I asked him if the military regulation was still in force, and he said “ No; I am engaging a special messenger to go round the whole of the booths in the Maribyrnong electorate to personally instruct the Presiding Officers that the questions are not to be put.” This proves that instructions had been given. It also proves that the intention was to put the questions to certain electors.
– Would you hang a man for that?
– If the honorable member were so enraged with me that he fired at me, but missed, would that not be with intent?
– Do you hang a man because he intends to commit murder?
– No; and we are not proposing to hang anybody to-day, but we are asking the Prime Minister to stand aside and allow somebody else to conduct the affairs of the country. The intent to .interfere with the ballotbox must have existed for some days before the poll was taken; otherwise, how could this regulation have found its way to a place so far distant as Longreach, in Queensland? ‘ The regulations could not have reached the Presiding Officer by post, unless they had been sent from the Central Office several days previously. Therefore, for a week beforehand, there must have been arrangements in train for putting these questions at the polling booth. Those who were guilty of this most serious offence did something which was actually a violation of the terms of the Act passed by this Parliament for the conduct of the referendum. Section 12 of the Military Service Referendum Act stated -
The Governor-General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing ali matters which are necessary or convenient to be prescribed for carrying out or giving effect to this Act.
Every honorable member, no matter ‘what his shade of politics, must recognise that the regulation proposed by the Prime Minister was inconsistent with the terms of that Act. An Executive Council, no matter by whom constituted, that attempted in any way to prevent effect being given to an Act of Parliament, was committing one of the most serious offences possible in any community. What right had any Executive Council to defy an Act of Parliament which instructed that any regulations issued should be in comformity with the terms of that Act? I say that the Executive Council flouted the will of Parliament itself, and Parliament would be a poor worm indeed if it acquiesced in such conduct.
– Does the honorable member mean to say that a regulation under the War Precautions Act must conform to every other Act?
– The honorable member when he supports a Bill in Parliament, and that Bill is passed, surely expects the provisions of the Act to be honoured. I know that in voting for that measure I was taking certain risks, but I understood that the referendum would be taken under the terms of the Act, and regulations made in conformity with it. When the Executive Council made an attempt to put into effect regulations inconsistent with that Act, it was flouting the will of Parliament. Subsection (2) of section 12 reads -
Subject to the regulations, the regulations under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902- 1911, and under the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act 1906-1915, shall, so far as they are applicable, apply to the referendum held under this Act in like manner as if that referendum were an election within the meaning of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902- 1911, and a referendum within the meaning of the Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Act 1906-1915.
In section 12 we have the only power conferred by the Act for making regulations in connexion with the conduct of the referendum. What right, then, had any set of Ministers to step outside the provisions of the Act? I say that the Executive violated the trust reposed in them by Parliament, and that is one of the most serious offences that any body of Ministers could commit.-
– Thank God, I did not vote for the Military Service Referendum Act!
– I did, and for that reason I feel all the more concerned that the terms of the Act have been violated. Surely that action alone is sufficient ground for challenging the Government. I agree that it is about time the Government retired. There were strange rumours about as to the method by which the vote would be taken, and many members were particularly anxious in reference to the oversea vote. With a view to obtaining as much information as possible, I interrogated the Prime Minister on the 28th September, and he informed me -
The electors, wherever they may be, whether in Australia, on the water, or in Europe, will vote under the same conditions, subject to the particular circumstances in which they find themselves.
He added that a man in the front trenches in France could not be expected to proceed about the business of voting in the orderly and leisured way of an elector who voted in a polling booth in Australia, but,”subject to that qualification, the ballot will be secret, and conducted in the usual way.”
– How was it conducted ?
– I have given an illustration of what occurred at certain booths in the Maribyrnong electorate, and it has been stated in anotiher place, by one who is just as ardent a Liberal as is the honorable member for Franklin, that undoubtedly the objectionable regulation was given effect to, that the electors were plied with these questions, and that the whole procedure was a gross misuse of the polling booth and an unjustifiable interference with the elector. We were informed that the ballot wouldbe conducted in the usual way, but that was not done.
The Postmaster-General also tried in a peculiar way to influence the electors in different parts of the Commonwealth, and it is worth while placing on record some of the “cramograms” he sent. In the Age of the 23rd October appeared this “ cramogram “ from the PostmasterGeneral -
Addressed 2,000 in picture theatre, Cess nock; spoke for two hours, and answered questions for another hour. Splendid hearing. Nailed down “ anti “ delusions, letting light into dark places. The tide is turning. Civilization will survive. Australia will be there. After all this turning of the tide, the saving of civilization, and the beneficent reforms prognosticated by the PostmasterGeneral, we find that the Cessnock vote was- No, 2,473 ; Yes, 973.
Liberal party in another place has said that these Ministers were perfectly right in resigning, so that we have our case amply proved by what might be termed the evidence of an adverse witness. The honorable member for Flinders has said that while one is not permitted to take official documents from the Executive Council, he may take his own private memoranda. From that remark I take it that an Executive Councillor may make a note of the gist of regulations submitted for approval, and take that document away as his private property, though he may not take away any official papers.
– That is not what the honorable member for Flinders said. He said that a Minister, on leaving office, was entitled to take his private papers, but not anything that was the property of the Executive Council.
– These Ministers were leaving office.
– But they had no right to the property of the Executive Council.
– That point is too fine - so fine that people would not look at it. It only shows that there is a desire to hide the truth. If the honorable member forFlinders would retain certain evidence to prove his case at a future time, and do it by means of a subterfuge, is it not far better to have a document with a better face value to prove one’s case? I do not hold that these papers were official without signatures on them. Surely, no one will contend that unsigned papers with no covering note, duly signed, are official documents. All that could be construed into being anything like an official document was the paper which covered the type-written copies that were run off and presented to those who were members of the Executive Council, and even this was not signed. Senator Pearce, who was acting as Prime Minister during the absence of the Prime Minister, had gone to Western Australia, leaving the next senior member of the Executive Council in charge - I presume that the honorable member for Capricornia was the next senior member of the Executive Council; at any rate, he was in charge - and the intention was that he or Senator Gardiner would put his name to that diabolical set of regulations it was attempted to foist upon the people. Was it not time for men to take a stand, and tell the people that the Prime Minister and those associated with him in the Executive Council were violating an Act of Parliament by trying’ to do so? It was a distinct violation of their trust to_make such an attempt, and under the terms of the Act, it was illegal. I defy any one to prove the legality of the Prime Minister’s action. “We have had apologies and dramatic exhibitions in the chamber, and side issues raised to take one away from the main point at stake : but they will not go down with the public. The people of Australia are too well educated, and now that they have had a peep behind the scenes, and realize the subterfuges, dodges, and side-tracking employed to hoodwink them, they will, when they have the opportunity of doing so, inflict the penalty for what was attempted to be done. I realize that honorable members are talking to those who have made up their minds, but the argument has all been the one way, and our case has been proved to the hilt. That our stand is correct is admitted by the shamed faces of honorable members, and by their admissions that what was done was absolutely in the wrong. All I can say, in conclusion, is, “ Go along, you two sections of the Fusion, to your doom, and that will come as soon as you meet the people.”
.- I did not intend to make any observations during the debate until I heard the remarks of the honorable members for Darling Downs and Flinders; but while I am on my feet I may as well say a few words in regard to the Prime Minister. Few know him as well as I do. He and I have passed through many hard times and many hard struggles, very often with very little means at our disposal, in the early days in the fight to bring about a democratic form of government, and on this account I feel very keenly my position to-day in having to give my vote for the amendment. But one of the things that I most jealously guard is what we have fought for earnestly for very many years, and that is a proper electoral ballot system. No matter whether it were my father, or another relative dearer to me than the Prime Minister, who sought to interfere with the ballotbox, I would cast my vote against him. In the past I have thrown bouquets at the Prime Minister, because I believed he deserved them for the good work he bad done. Those who have been associated with him for years know the ability he possesses, and they know what yeoman service he has done to industrial circles in Australia by his knowledge of the law, especially industrial law. I have tried to unravel the present position. I cannot understand how it is that the Prime Minister should have sought to interfere with the ballot-box. I do not know whether his head has been so turned by his trip to England that he has abandoned the true road that he used to tread. There is no doubt that during the referendum campaign the man who was elected Leader of the Labour party a few months ago was not the man who afterwards made charges against those who did not agree with him. I am as loyal a citizen of Australia as the Prime Minister, and when he appealed to me to do what I thought was an injury to my adopted country, I had to take the course that appealed to my conscience. Australia has done magnificently. There is no doubt that whatever contributions in men were made to the British Government were made in a spirit that was in accordance with the ideals of the people of Australia, but the Imperial authorities did not recognise the- personal sacrifice that would be needed if Australia were to maintain the reinforcements for the number of divisions sent forward. That has been the source of the whole trouble. We should have kept to 100,000 men, and made up our minds to reinforce that number throughout the war. The end of the war is not yet in sight, it is a long way off, and one of the reasons that guided me in voting “ No,” and opposing the Prime Minister, was that, owing to the length of the war the reinforcements for the number of divisions sent forward would be so large that it would be necessary to drain Australia of every person capable. of bearing arms to keep our forces up to the standard. The Prime Minister was not in the Chamber when I commenced speaking. Whatever the consequences may be, and whatever my party may say about it, I say that I have the greatest admiration for him, and that it is regrettable that the Australian Labour party is divided. But he is answerable for that division. The honorable members for Flinders and Darling Downs referred to the action of the honorable member for Capricornia in having certain documents in his possession, and they spoke of the secrecy of the Cabinet. When the honorable member for Darling Downs was speaking, I interjected that in a true Democracy there should, be no secrets. All wars are caused by secret diplomacy. Nations employ large staffs of persons to act as spies in order to counter the secretiveness of diplomacy. I hope that when this war is ended one result will be the abolition of all secret diplomacy in regard to the actions of nations. It seems to me that if the acts of our administrators . are such that they should not be allowed to see the daylight, it is not true Democracy. Those who conduct the affairs of the nations in such a way cannot be acting in accordance with’ the will of the people. Every act of an Executive Council should be open to parliamentary criticism. No Executive Council should have the right to do behind the backs of the people what they are not prepared to lay before Parliament. Parliament should know what is done by the administrators. Therefore I hope that before any one is sent from the Commonwealth to represent us at the negotiations at the conclusion of the war, instructions will be given to him to insist that there shall be no more secret diplomacy between nations, and that everything shall be done in the light of day. I know that it is a big question to bring into a debate of this kind. As a Radical and a Democrat, I cannot do otherwise than cast my vote against the Prime Minister for his action in regard to the issue of these regulations. My attention was drawn to the matter five minutes after the polling booths opened. I reside in my own electorate, and a few minutes after 8 there were men at my house inquiring what they ought to do in regard to the asking of these questions. I was informed that two Government employees entered a’ certain booth to vote, and that when it was proposed to stamp their ballot-papers with the word “ Proc,” they forcibly took the papers out of the hands of the officers concerned, and dared them to stamp such a word upon them. At the same time, they produced their exemption papers. The Returning Officer said that he had received certain instructions, and that he had not been told whether the regulations had been withdrawn. I took a cab, and went from booth to booth in my electorate, with the object of advising the Returning Officers that the regulations had been withdrawn. To my surprise, they appeared to know nothing of this. Eventually they were withdrawn, and I was instrumental in securing many votes which, but for my action, would not have been recorded. This House would stultify itself, and would be condemned by the whole of Australia, if it did not censure this attempt to interfere with the ballot. In 1913 the honorable member for Wentworth, who was a sort of ‘rouseabout to the members of the Cook-Irvine Government, came forward, as Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, with a proposal that ballotpapers should be numbered, arid that, some fee should be charged for the registration of certain votes. That proposal was defeated, and it was of the greatest possible assistance to us in ousting the Cook-Irvine Government from office. At the general election in 1914 it was one of the best levers we could use to remove that Administration, and to return the Labour party to office. As politicians, we should have been fools if we had not exposed all the weaknesses of the Govern-, ment then in power. Nothing got more votes for the Fisher party than that attempt on the part of the Liberal Government to number the ballot-papers, so that it would be possible to identify votes. Great as my admiration for the Prime Minister may have been, my duty to the people and my love of a pure ballot come before my friendship for him, and I must vote against him.
.- At the outset of this discussion there was a good deal of heat and passion. This seemed to me quite natural in view of the campaign through which we have recently passed, when friendships and political associations of many years standing were severed and torn asunder. It is natural that men should feel deeply and keenly the alteration of relationships, apart altogether from the question of how it affects their particular interests in politics. In the last few hours of this debate, however, we appear to have been calming down, and I am hopeful that before the end we shall have some perspective of the real issue that we are engaged in testing. The question, as it presents itself to me, is whether the Government should be turned out for an alleged fault of the Prime Minister in a former Go- vernment who happens to be the Prime Minister in the present Administration.
– That is a nice way of putting it.
– That is the way the question suggests itself to my mind. 1 desire to discuss it without recrimination, because, after all the adjectives have been flung, the galleries amused, and Hansard filled, the minds of most of the solidthinking men in the community will boil down the real issue, and they will say, “ It was a hollow farce to take up the time of Parliament in discussing a purely academic and meaningless question when more urgent things remained to be done at this critical juncture.” In the consideration of this question, I am at once brought to a study of the attitude adopted by those honorable members who have brought the issue to the House. I speak now of the honorable member for Tarra and the honorable member for Capricornia. The honorable member for Yarra is relieved of a great deal of the responsibility that rests upon his late colleague, because he did leave the Government over the main conscription issue, and was not in any way associated with the alleged attempt of the Government to enforce these regulations.
– And I voted against their referendum proposal.
– I understand that the honorable member did. The honorable member for Capricornia, however, sat in the Executive Council at which they were considered, and brought to this House papers which were purloined improperly from that Council.
– Purloined ?
– They were stolen.
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Richmond has stated that certain papers produced by the honorable member for Capricornia were stolen by him. That is an offensive statement, and I suggest that it be immediately withdrawn.
– I did not hear the remark, but if it was made, it was most improper, and must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it.
– I used the word “purloined,” which is a permissible parliamentary term.
– That is only a whitewashing of “stealing.”
– The honorable member tried to do that just now in his apologia for the Prime Minister. I repeat that I desire to discuss this question without recrimination or abuse.- The honorable member for Capricornia comes to us with certain -papers alleged to have been brought from the Executive Council. It is difficult for those honorable members who have not sat in Cabinets and on Executive Councils to make the distinctions that some honorable members are able to do. There are many in both political parties in this House who know the responsibilities of Cabinet life, and particularly what the oath of Executive Councillorship means. The general conception of Cabinet solidarity and loyalty is an unwritten law which took its rise, as honorable members know, 200 years ago. In Britain it has been more or less faithfully observed - loyalty and secrecy with respect to one’s colleague’s utterances and intentions until the public announcement of them has been authoritatively made. But leaky Cabinets are common. It is extremely hard, in the fierce light that beats upon Cabinets in Australia, not to have “leaks-out” of information, either by lip or by pen. For example, when the honorable member for Darwin was a member of the Cabinet, it was a very common occurrence for us to learn that he was at loggerheads with his late leader. I have seen embarrassing differences in State Cabinets in Australia given publicity through the indiscretions of Ministers, and this has very frequently caused trouble to the Government and the Ministerial party.. That, however, is something which safeguards can cure.
– The information to which the honorable member has just referred did not come from me.
– I am glad to have that assurance. The fact remains that it was disclosed, but I am not at present blaming the honorable member. We may pass it over for the moment, because it was only illustrative. Leakages of Cabinet secrets are, unfortunately, common. But that is totally different from the action of a member of a late Executive who comes to Parliament, in its deliberative capacity, with documents which he has abstracted from the Executive, and of which he has retained personal possession. I take leave to say, without the slightest fear of contradiction, that the case as to the obligations surrounding the office of a member of the Executive Council, and the procedure adopted by the honorable member for Capricornia, was properly stated yesterday by the honorable member for Flinders. There can be no qualification that would lead honorable members to modify one word he uttered. Now, with respect to the conduct of the honorable member for Capricornia. From some points of view, that is his own business; but individual members of Parliament have only this opportunity of saying that they regard his action as an impropriety, subversive of the solemnity, and dignity, and effect of the oath one takes to one’s country on assuming Executive office. I believe you cannot fritter away and impair an important principle of this kind without feeling it kick you in some way or other. We take an oath on entering this Parliament, but. not the oath of secrecy, because Parliament has been opened, as a body, to the public. We are expected, however, to. observe the oaths that we take, and, insofar as we break them, so far is public life endangered. Just in the same way when we enter the service of the people, and call ourselves Ministers of the Crown, we determine under an oath - the holiest we could take, upon the Scriptures of our tongue - to do our duty faithfully and without fear, favour, or affection. That is part of our oath. Another part of it is that we shall observe secrecy. The honorable member for Capricornia, in my judgment, has violated that. This is the disadvantage in which he places the Prime Minister -
– It is a great pity to tell the truth, is it not?
– The honorable member seldom does so. As a result of this disclosure on the part of the honorable member for Capricornia, the Prime Minister has been placed in a curious position. Only two courses are open to him - to gi ve his negative assurance to the House, or to give away the secrets of the Executive Council. In other words, if he had done what honorable members in the Corner apparently wished him to do, he must similarly have violated his oath of office.
– Could he not have made a perfectly frank statement as to the regulations without a word about the Executive ?
– It could not be done, because all the transactions were supposed to be in Executive Council. I honour the Prime Minister for not following the example of the honorable member for Capricornia, though doubtless he could have replied to his charges with ease and success. The right honorable gentleman preferred to take a higher and stronger attitude, and say that those regulations were not issued.
– Bluff , pure bluff !
– My honorable friend is an expert.
– Were the regulations put into effect ?
– I shall deal with that in a moment; the question of whether the regulations were issued or not was the one on which the Prime Minister pronounced.
– It is so clearly a quibble that it is hardly worth discussing.
– That may be, but the honorable member will see that my description of the alternatives is correct when I say that the Prime Minister must either make the one emphatic statement which he has made, or throw open the doors of the Executive Council, and thus violate his oath to the King and his people. Although retiring Ministers have their option, I am glad that the head of the Government has followed the more dignified and the more safe constitutional course. When we are pelting mud and distributing abuse, in the stress of the period through which we are passing, let us be fair, and realize the situation in which men who are opposed to us are placed. I have not discussed the question of whether an attempt was made to issue the regulations, or what would have been the effect if they had been issued; but I should like to do so. I know absolutely nothing of the matter, except what I have heard in the House or have seen in the press. I take it from what the ex-Treasurer has demonstrated - perhaps honorable members will contradict me if they know better - that, it was the intention at some stage to issue such regulations as have been referred to. On this I speak with some knowledge of how Ministers behave in administering their Departments, because, as Premier of a State, I frequently had draft orders sent to the Executive Council, and, on second thought, withdrew them in the same way as every Minister of the Crown has had to do. None of us is infallible, and, in the period through which the Prime Minister has passed, I would forgive many blunders of intention to him, or any other man, bearing - the responsibility he did. But the regulations were not carried into practical effect. I am just guessing when I say that, apparently, the Minister for Defence intended to submit these regulations to the Council, and have them passed. When we come to consider who is responsible for their eventual operation in distant and scattered parts of the country, we must recollect that the electoral system which Mr. Oldham and his officers control is indifferently linked. If the Minister for Defence sent word to the Electoral Office that he proposed to make such regulations, I think that Mr. Oldham would have been wanting in his duty if he had not made ready to comply with th’em, and sent out instructions accordingly to every one of the thousands of electoral offices throughout Australia. 1 dare say that if Mr. Oldham were brought to the bar of the House and asked exactly what took place, he would tell you that regulations of the kind were in contemplation, and that when he found that they were not to come into force, he sent out cancelling telegrams which had effect in the great bulk of cases, but which in a few others did not reach their destination in time. This, I believe, will be discovered to be the truth in the circumstances.
– What we regret is that instructions were sent out at all.
– That may be; but I cannot discuss every phase of the question at one moment.. Considering the probabilities of what took place, I think that honorable members familiar with departmental procedure will admit that what I have suggested is the most likely course of events. Whether the Prime Minister should carry full responsibility for the accidental application of the regulations, to which some honorable members object, is a totally different question.
– Was it accidental that the regulations were sent out?
– I know of no polling booth where these questions were put.
– I know a booth where they were put.
– I do not doubt the word of the honorable member.
– And they were sent principally to’ “No” strongholds.”
– In that utterance of the honorable member for Batman there is a very unfortunate reflection on a public officer, whom I do not know, and have never seen, but whom I believe to be a man of probity.
– You cannot take away the responsibility of the Prime Minister so easily !
– I am willing to put the responsibility on Ministers every time, but not on officers whose mouths are sealed; whatever responsibility or guilt may lie on the Prime Minister and his late colleagues, let them bear it.
– I hold the Prime Minister responsible, and not the Electoral Officers.
– The previous interjection of the honorable member seemed to imply that he did not relieve the Electoral Officer of his responsibility in sending these regulations specially to “No” centres. If such a thing were done by an electoral officer, ho would be unworthy of his office, because he is supposed to be quite impartial. I have been rather amused at the arguments’ of some honorable members who endeavour to erect this little mole-hill into a mountain. Assume that the Prime Minister did everything that has been said - assume that he intended to operate these regulations, and was only foiled by the craft of the ex-Treasurer and those ‘ with him - is there anything in the proposed questions against the sanctity, the secrecy, or the freedom of the ballot ? If so, what is it?
– They are a violation of ‘ the Act, for one thing.-
– I should not vote for the motion if they were not.
– The honorable member for East Sydney is uncomfortable. He is like a Zimri, who was deputed to slay his master; and the honorable member has now to apologize to his constituency for doing so. However, let us put the personal element on one side, and, for a moment, ask ourselves whether there was anything serious in the questions that were to be asked. I do not mind telling honorable members that, if I had been Prime Minister, and had intended to do this thing, I should have gone through with it, because I should not have regarded it as any injury to the ballot, or to the democratic system under which we live. In this I am speaking for myself, and no one else.
– Would you have gone against the members of your Cabinet?
– Yes; I would do that in a crisis. The sooner we recognise that democratic institutions are weak for war, the sooner we shall realize the value of a dictatorship, provided it be benevolent and wise.
Mr.- Burns. - We have a dictatorship now !
– I understood the honorable member for Illawarra to say that the Prime Minister was eating out of the hand of the Leader of the Opposition; and surely that is not the attitude of a dictator.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have been endeavouring to show, after an investigation of what I regard as the comparatively insignificant phases of the problem, that the regulations were not the assault on Democracy and the freedom of the ballot-box that honorable members in the Corner would have us believe. The regulations which the honorable member for Capricornia said were issued were laid on the table yesterday. They appeared to contain instructions to ‘the electoral officers to ask certain persons whether they were of a certain age, unmarried, and without dependants, and whether if they came within the proclamation calling up men for home service they had responded to it. Is there anything wrong in those questions ?
– Should not the military authorities have undertaken this duty ?
– I should have preferred to leave it to them. I think it would have been better to have had military men in the vicinity of the booths, with the object of prosecuting those who had not obeyed the proclamation.
– The military authorities know where those who had not obeyed the proclamation lived, and could have visited them in their own homes.
– If a defaulter had not filled in a census card, how could his place of residence be known?
– The census cards are filled in.
– There were men who did not fill in their cards, and in some cases they were advised by responsible trade unionists not to do so. Undoubtedly many men were misled by this advice. Then, an extraordinary document was issued, bearing the names of three members of the legal fraternity, one of them being the honorable member for Batman. In an incautious moment that honorable member subscribed to the opinion that the proclamation was illegal, and a large number of men accepted and acted on that opinion. Members in the Corner have spoken a lot of fustian and fudge, as if there were no war. They talk as if those who failed to obey the proclamation had not committed a crime, were innocent little darlings who must be protected. No one can say that the man who refuses to obey the laws of the country is worthy to be a law-maker during a great crisis like the present. The intention would appear to have been to have -the identity of the law-breakers disclosed without any violation of the secrecy or freedom of the ballot. Had I been in the Prime Minister’s place, and felt inclined to do what he is said to have done, I should have gone right through with it. Such action would not have damaged any of the cardinal principles surrounding the free exercise of the democratic franchise. What are those principles? There must be secrecy. The secrecy of the ballot would have been in no way infringed. The votes were to be placed in envelopes, which were to be sealed. How could any vote become known ?
– The ballot-papers were to be submitted to a tribunal.
– Precisely as the German votes from’ the quarantined areas were to be submitted to tribunals.
– We do not know the result of the indorsed votes under section 9.
– And we shall not know them. We could not know them without a violation of the secrecy of the ballot. The tribunals have done their work, and no one knows how individual votes were recorded. The secrecy of the ballot would have been unimpaired, even had the regulations been put into effect. As to the freedom of the ballot, could any duress have been placed on any of those to whom the questions might have been put. Having answered those questions, a man would have been free to record his vote in secret. No compulsion could have been exercised to make him vote “Yes” or “No.”
– If he did not answer the questions, he could not get a ballot-paper.
– The issue of the regulations kept a large number away from the polls.
– That is another matter. Any elector who does not answer the questions provided for in the Electoral Act is refused a ballot-paper. Had the regulations been issued, all that certain electors would have been required to say was whether they had complied with the proclamation requiring enrolment for home service. Having done that, they were free to vote in secrecy. We should not talk of the electoral law as though it were sacrosanct. A secret ballot is a good thing, because it protects both employers and employees from intimidation by antagonistic interests. The honorable member for East Sydney said to-day that he had struggled for many years to get a free ballot; but the secret ballot was used throughout Australia before his name was known in politics. All political parties have supported it ever since its invention in this country. I cannot help thinking that the protest of Corner members comes with singular impropriety from the men who abolished the postal vote.
– The Prime Minister was one of them.
– My concern now is with the chief assassins of the electoral rights of the sick and feeble.
– No doubt, the postal vote will be the next thing introduced by the Prime Minister.
– I hope so. I shall support it, being one of those who drafted the original postal provisions inserted in the Victorian electoral legislation in 1899.
– The honorable member has power now to compel the Prime Minister to do what he likes.
– Just before the luncheon adjournment we were told by a colleague of the honorable member for Capricornia that the Prime Minister is a dictator. Now we hear that we can compel him to do things. A philosopher has said that the truth seldom lies in extreme praise or blame, and, in my opinion, neither is the Prime Minister dictator nor does he feed tim idly out of the hand of the Leader of the Opposition. He is a manwho is trying to perform an extremely difficult duty in the face of the passionate opposition of impatient and jealous men, who are doing the bidding of outside organizations.
– That is the best bid for office that the honorable member has made.
– The honorable member for Brisbane knows a great deal about desiring office, but he will never see the fulfilment of his desire.
– Not under either the Prime Minister nor the honorable member.
– I am sure of that. I venture to think, too, that those who have revealed the secrets of the Executive Council will never again find colleagues to trust them. According to the electoral authorities, 80,000 men and women, qualified electors, were, by the abolition of the postal vote, deprived of the right to vote. These electors are invalids, old and incapacitated persons, women about to become or who have recently become mothers. The men who deprived them of their electoral privileges are now complaining of the intimidation of a body of young men whom, because they had failed to do their duty, we were trying by law to compel to do it. I prefer to take the side of the suffering sick. I say, restore the postal vote before you start prating about the violation of the ballot in regard to those who refused to obey the proclamation regarding enrolment for home service.
– The honorable member is not quite fair to the supporters of the amendment. They cannot help themselves; they are acting under instructions.
– The Prime Minister did the same thing for a long time, and would do so again to-morrow if he were taken back.
Other honorable members interjecting,
– I appeal for the discontinuance of these constant interjections, which make it almost impossible for me to follow, and even to hear, the speaker.
– It was the Prime Minister who issued the instructions which honorable members opposite obeyed. By virtue of his personality, brains, and statecraft he was boss of the machine, and must feel a profound contempt for those now gathered in that Corner who bowed the knee to him, and felt on their shuddering backs the rod. I do not know if honorable members have followed carefully the statement of the honorable member for Capricornia as to what he did when Mr. Garran presented the draft regulations to him, aud as to what he said about the record that he made, so ‘that his memory might riot fail. He has done what I have never known any other Executive Councillor to do. Apparently, he took a minute, circumstantial, and chronological record of everything that occurred in Council, and brought it away with him. He seems to have sat in Council throughout the referendum campaign, waiting with all vigilance for a chance to trap the Prime Minister, who was overloaded with responsibility, anxiety, and work. The honorable member for Capricornia said neither “ Yea “ nor “ Nay “ regarding the referendum proposition of the Government, but sat in the Treasury drawing his salary, and waiting to see on which side the big battalions were. He was preparing documentary evidence that would eventually kill the fair fame and honour of the Prime Minister, should the battle go against him. To-day I would sooner be the accused than the accuser, because the accused followed an -honorable, if mistaken, path, even according to the worst construction that could be placed on his actions. He was doing what he thought to be his duty to the country and the Empire, and at all political costs and regardless of party or personal consequences. The honorable member for Capricornia stands in a very invidious light, for, in addition to his betrayal of his chief, he has deliberately violated his oath to the representative of his Sovereign. God forbid that the honorable member should ever attain to office again. I trust that any Governor-General in future will treat lightly and as unworthy of trust the honour and oath of the honorable member.
– I will never refer to Jimmy Boyd the fact that I have a wife and children, and cannot go to the front.
– That statement does not pierce me.
– Your hide is too thick for anything like that.
– The honorable member, as a purveyor of pelts, is the worst example we have in this House.
– The honorable member for Balaclava made no reference to me in that matter.
– That is so; the honorable member for Capricornia is wrong as usual
– The honorable member for Henty took the honorable member for Balaclava to Mr. Fisher
– I did nothing of the kind.
– Well, the papers said so.
– The papers are liars.
– The cry of this wounded warrior shows how deep my sword has penetrated. I am gratified’ to find that the honorable member has at last exhibited the gnawings of a restless conscience in regard to what he did in connexion with these regulations, for I venture to hope that he did not understand he was violating not only the confidence of the Cabinet, but his oath of office as an Executive Councillor.
– My withers are unwrung.
– The honorable member has none.
– Did not the Prime Minister make disclosures with regard to the vote of the Minister for External Affairs in Cabinet
– I am trying to drive into the minds of honorable members, who have not yet been in office, the vital distinction between Executive and Cabinet deliberation’s. It is no violation of political ethics for a Minister to come from a Cabinet meeting and say that Ministers have done so and so, but I have never before heard of a late Minister publicly producing draft documents of the Executive Council which he had sworn to keep secret. Let honorable members observe that distinction between an unsworn man in Cabinet and one under oath of secrecy to his Sovereign in Executive Council.
– Do you say that this regulation is a document of the Executive?
– The honorable member for Capricornia said that he obtained the documents at the Executive meeting. I am taking his word for that. That is a risky thing to do, T know, but I am doing it. I have no desire to further detain the House, which has given me every latitude. But, boiled down, does not the position amount to this: That because of something which honorable members allege the head of a former Government attempted to do we are now to turn the present Government out of office? At this time it would need very serious crimes indeed to be committed by these very Ministers of the day to warrant their being hurled from office. I do not approve of everything that has fallen from the Prime Minister’s lips during the campaign, or even of everything contained in the declaration of policy which we have now before us, as I may state in fuller detail at another stage; but politics to-day, more than ever before, is a balancing of the relative advantages and disadvantages. There is not a party which has a majority in this Chamber, neither the honorable gentlemen who sit under the leadership of the right honorable member for Parramatta, or those who follow the leadership of the honorable member for Yarra, or those who support the Prime Minister. We are in a very unstable state. The country is passionate, and is not in a fit mood to cast a considered or deliberate judgment that would govern us for the rest of this war or the next three years.
– You are afraid to go to the country.
– My constituency takes no notice of rabid, loose-lipped men like the honorable member, and gave me a two to one majority. Therefore I am not at all afraid for myself or my party. But is this a time when we should turn the political machinery of this country into turmoil when no crime has been committed ? I say it is not, and wise men, who wish to see this country settle down until sound political conditions and a war policy are evolved, will show forbearance, and help one another. Even then, the position will not be a happy one. The Government have been refused the right to pursue what they considered, and doubtless still consider, the only course that would give sufficient reinforcements for our fighting forces abroad, and they have to adopt what must be regarded as a miserable substitute. This is not the time for us to be fighting among ourselves, and the responsibility for conducting that effort in aid of the Australian Army abroad rests on the launchers of this motion to a greater extent than upon any other men in the House. The men who believe in conscription, and throughout the country advocated it, have done their best to get reinforcements. The men who believed in anti-conscription, and advised the people to vote “ No,” gave, amongst other reasons, the allegation that sufficient reinforcements could be obtained by the voluntary system. I do not believe that. The experience in the past has proved, that it is doubtful, in fact, extremely improbable, that we shall be able to satisfy the Army Council’s demand for 16,500 men a month by voluntary enlistment. But the men who have a bounden duty to show that voluntarism is still alive are those who asked the people to say “ No,” and who, almost without exception, are to be found in the Labour Opposition corner. They ought to jump at the chance of assisting the Prime Minister and the Government by organizing their electorates, taking the platform, preaching, as they did not do during the conscription campaign, the true story of Australia’s responsibility and destiny, and urge the reinforcement of the Australian troops abroad. There are those connected with the party of which I am a member who will endeavour to help them, although feeling a doubt in their minds whether that help will be worth much. I intend to vote against the amendment, because I believe that the Government should have a chance to show whether their war policy is. capable of fruit, and wb should not, for things that are gone and cannot be helped at this stage by any process of political activity, throw this country into a turmoil that will endanger its best .interests.
.- I had no intention of taking any part in this debate. I was not sufficiently interested, and I thought the purpose I wished to achieve could best be secured by remaining silent, and biding my time. If I speak to-day, it is not because of the subject under discussion, but because of the peculiar arguments which have arisen out of it. The honorable member for Balaclava has stated that he intends to Vote against the amendment, and he also defends the policy which has been adopted. I do not propose to .make any denunciation of the Prime Minister or his colleagues, or of the particular action under review, but let us clearly understand what the position is. Men and women as citizens of the Commonwealth have the right to vote, and the procedure by which they may vote is laid down in the Electoral Act. In this case, a vote of the people was about .to be taken, and the Prime Minister formulated a regulation, not under the electoral law, but under an entirely new law, and imposed it upon the citizens. The honorable member for Balaclava says that he would have carried out the new regulation. By the same process, the referendum could have been carried, and the whole thing would have been a farce. The honorable member said that the obligation was there to carry the referendum. By that process of reasoning, ail that the Prime Minister had to do was to extend the regulation to provide that no man under thirty-five years .of age should be permitted to vote. When once you start out upon that course, there is no limit to the length you may go. The Prime Minister said that there was a great national emergency, and asked the people their opinion on it. That opinion ought to have been taken only according to the laws of the country, the system and methods which regulate every election, whether it be a contest between .individuals, or a referendum to ask public opinion upon- a particular question. Apart from considerations of individuals and parties, I ask where we are going to stop once we get past that principle. If what the Prime Minister endeavoured to do on this occasion was justified, some other man might adopt an equally iniquitous practice on another occasion. The Prime Minister said that no regulation had been issued; that is to say, that the regulation had not been gazetted. I am not going to quibble about that statement, but here is’ a document dated 27th October, 1916, and it states: - “The following is a copy of a telegram received at 7 p.m. to-night from the Commonwealth Electoral Officer, and is submitted for information.” That document instructed the polling clerk to ask certain voters a whole series of questions, and to subject them to some new rule which Parliament had never considered, but which one or two men sitting in Cabinet had made a regulation or law.
– Whether they answer “ yes” or “ no,” if they answer they get the vote.
– But once we admit the principle of interrogation at the poll, there is no end to it. Once we step aside from the electoral law, there is no limit to corruption. Every honorable member, no matter to what party he belongs, knows in his heart that it was an objectionable practice to introduce. No honorable member would indorse it. But honorable members of the Liberal party find themselves between two fires - between the party that is shivering and the party that has shivered itself to pieces on this point. They seek to know by what means they can defend their support of the Government, and they have found it more advisable to vote for Ministers.
– In order to help the nation.
– Every crime, every murder, could be covered by a cloak of that character. Every criminal covers himself with such a cloak. According to the honorable member for Flinders, the honorable member for Capricornia has violated his oath by divulging an Executive Council secret. According to the honorable member, once a Minister takes the oath of office, he must remain silent about any action on the part of his colleagues, no matter how criminal or detrimental it may be to the interests of the country, and no matter how he may violate his own honour, and prostitute his position as a Minister in so doing. The honorable member would have this country believe that there is an obligation on every member of a Cabinet to cloak crime and keep it secret. The honorable member quoted Sidney Low. I have taken the opportunity to peruse the same authority, and I find that there is a limitation to the principle the honorable member laid down. An old British constitutional authority says that the original oath was imposed on Cabinet Ministers to “ keep secret all matters committed and revealed to you, or that shall be treated secretly in Council.” That is the Privy Council. That is the oath which has been handed down from many centuries; but in later centuries we find this principle assented to -
No Act concerning the affairs of the Kingdom shall be esteemed of any validity as proceeding from royal authority unless done by the advice and consent of the major part of the Council attested under their hands.
What one man or what the minority of the Cabinet may do is apparently net binding when it is not agreed to by the major portion.
– Will the honorable member say to what period that condition applies, because it does not apply now? A single Minister signs orders now.
– Except that they must be passed by a majority of the Executive Council.
– Just so. An act can have no validity, and cannot be binding, without the consent of the majority. The regulations in question were not carried or indorsed by a majority of the Executive Council. But let it go at that. Sidney Low says -
Privy Councillors take a pledge. There is no such thing as the Cabinet Minister’s oath of office.
According to some honorable members, the country may be covered by crime, yet no Minister can disclose it; all Ministers must conspire to hide it. If that is the practice and the law, then the sooner it is abolished the better.
– Argument in favour of the abolition of the oath is not justification for the breaking of the oath while it does exist.
– The oath is conditioned, and it must necessarily be conditioned, unless there is to be conspiracy to cover any crime on the part of the minority. A minority in the Executive Council might pursue most treasonable practices against the country. Are members of that Council to be bound by their oath to conceal it?
– Does the honorable member say that each Minister is to make himself a judge of how far he is entitled to break his oath?
– No; but I say that the action of the minority must not be binding on the majority, for we have the definite doctrine that an act cannot be done by a Council unless it is done by the advice and with the consent of the major part of the Council, attested by their hand. To contend that a minority of the Cabinet may get together and push regulations through the Executive Council on to their colleagues and the country is preposterous. Lord Rosebery says -
Nothing can seem more extraordinary in a country professing Democracy than the spectacle of a secret Council sworn to silence and conducting the business of a nation which insists on publicity.
Low says, “ It is the Venetian Council of ten.” He says that the British Cabinet is a violation of all British traditions introduced at a particular period when, because the German monarchs of Great Britain could not talk English, the proceedings had to be taken without them. He says -
There is nowhere imposed an obligation to protect a country against the treasonable practices of a colleague.
– What do you mean by “ treasonable practices “ ? There was no treason in this matter.
– It may be treason, or felony, or anything. Sidney Low continues -
The responsibility of the Minister remains a dead letter. He offers in its place the responsibility of the Cabinet.
In indorsement of the proposition of Sidney Low, honorable members will not claim for one moment that the conduct of the Prime Minister was proper, or in the interests of the country. They know that it was absolutely improper, and that if the principle were extended it would bring Democracy to ruin and destruction. But they seek to shelter him by what they call the practice, but which I call an odious and improper practice, and a violation of all the traditions of the British race, and one by which the country could not be protected against treasonable conduct on the part of one of its Ministers. In Anstey’s Laws and Constitution of England is the following passage: -
By the daring substitution of an unlawful Cabinet Council for the lawful Privy Council, no adviser, unless his participation be legally proved by extrinsic evidence, can be made liable to impeachment.
That is to say, the criminal is sheltered, wherever he may be, and whatever he may do; the country cannot be safeguarded, nor can he be removed from office, because the evidence that might be employed against him cannot be used. It is time parliamentary procedure and methods were altered, if that is the law, so that the people and the country may be protected. On the other matters I have nothing to say. I have occupied the time that I intended to take up. It is true that we are confronted by the war, and under the pretext of the war honorable members propose to indorse the action of the Prime Minister. Seeing that the majority of honorable members propose to do this, there is no need for further argument. I simply say to my friends, “ Say nothing; saw wood. Wait until we see what develops.” It is very nice for honorable members of the Opposition to support the Prime Minister and his policy, and say, “ So far as it develops, we will support what is good, and say very little about it beyond indorsing it. ‘ ‘ Let Ministers carry out their policy, and see what happens. It is a policy of division. What the Prime Minister said- a moment ago by way of interjection about a number of honorable members who were mere jumping-jacks of organizations was very interesting, especially when we remember that for twenty long years he himself was also on the string. How indignant members of the Ministry used to be when members of the Opposition began to talk about “ Caucusbound men,” and how earnestly they claimed that they were free men. Yetnow they proclaim that they have at last secured their liberty, and are once more free. I laugh, especially when I remember that, eighteen months ago, they were trying to get the organizations to smother me up, and were working under the lap in an endeavour to get the organizations to shut me up, and bring me to heel. I remember Mr. Andrew Fisher pointing to me and saying, “ I will get you fixed up.” That was just a few days before I tendered my resignation.
– What really happened on that occasion ?
– The honorable member knows what happened. As a matter of fact, some of them told me to leave the party, and go over to the Opposition, but. as the company of honorable members of the Opposition at that time was not so congenial, I did not join them. Now it is more congenial, and I am over here, hand-in-hand with my brothers, the Liberals. Some one has to speak, and run the show. For a long time in this Parliament there was only one man doing it. I may say at once that, if I must be a jumpingjack, I prefer to be one on the string of the organizations which I can handle rather than on the string of one man. What are the methods of the Labour party ? The organizations get to work and lay down certain principles. Then they ask for candidates among those who believe in those principles, and they make their selection, and the selected men are sent to Parliament. When they come to Parliament, these men hold a meeting, or Caucus. I understand that “meeting” is the word used by the Government party, and that the “ Caucus “ remains with us. I do not know what the Liberals call their “ show.” They cannot descend to the level of the great Australian Labour party and have a Caucus; and they cannot do what the National Labour party on the Government benches do - call their gathering a meeting - so that they must secure another name for it. Sixty or seventy men are supposed to be called together to frame a policy. Do honorable members believe it? It is not true. Every man is but a mere instrument or tool - a mere jumping-jack at the will of one. Who “is it that dominates the position ? The man at the head - the Prime Minister in name. Is he a Democrat ? No ; he is an autocrat. He gets a number of Cabinet Ministers around him, representing nine or ten solid votes, and each secures a ring of political influence. The probability is that a private member never sees proposed legislation until he comes into the chamber. If Ministers see fit to consult Caucus, they do so. If they do not see fit to consult Caucus, they put private members on the gridiron in the chamber. That is what is called responsible government, and the method of consideration of things by the majority of members in Caucus, or meeting assembled. But there is no such thing as responsible government. A’ member of Parliament is either at the bidding of organizations outside or in the equally degrading position of being at the bidding of some one in Parliament. It does not matter what is the actual process, the degradation exists, and if I have to make a choice, T prefer to be part and parcel of the organizations outside, where I can speak or exercise some influence, rather than be a mere machine here. What is the position of a private member? He enters the House, picks up the notice-paper, and asks, “What is the business for to-day?” He is told, “ Wait and see.” You are expected to support and indorse the programme of business whatever it is. This is responsible Government. It is mere degradation - a sham, a farce, and a delusion. Under the guise of a Democracy you have an absolute Autocracy.
– The honorable member had better become a Liberal. He is apparently sick of both systems on that side.
– I am let loose to-day. I had no intention of speaking, and am usually the most silent and obedient member of the party. The House probably will not hear from me again until members of the Liberal party have made up their minds to shift the Government. If the right honorable member for Parramatta desires the Prime Ministership - the honorable member for Flinders would make an excellent Attorney-General - he can have it. If he takes it, I declare that the honorable member for Balaclava shall have the office of Treasurer. Whenever the members of the Liberal party make up their minds to oust the present Go- vernment, they can have my vote. I am not going to waste time in denouncing the crowd on the Government benches, but I shall be glad to do anything I can to induce the Liberal party to put out the Government. Meantime I advise them not to say too much in favour of the Prime Minister, because what they do say in his favour will be quoted against them by the right ‘honorable gentleman himself. My advice to them is to be careful, wise and judicious. Do not soap up the Prime Minister too much, and do not denounce us too strongly, because the day will come when you will want our help and our votes.
.- Having listened to this debate, I am prouder than ever of the stand I took up in this House in opposition to the Referendum Bill a few months ago. Throughout the campaign I fought the referendum as hard as any one could fight it, and in the State of which I have the honour to be a representative we scored a very substantial majority for the “ Noes.” The regulations that were issued were, to my knowledge, responsible for the absence of a large number of men from the polling booths. If the Prime Minister had pressed on with his referendum proposals last year, and had submitted the proposed alterations of the Constitution to the people, and if at the same time he had drafted regulations of this kind, calling upon the Colonial Sugar Refining Co., the Shipping Ring, the Coal Vend, and others to answer certain questions before being permitted to vote, there would have been a howl of indignation from the very members of the Liberal party who to-day are supporting the Prime Minister. In many polling booths remote from telegraph offices, these regulations were never cancelled, and were in operation throughout the day. The Prime Minister has thus laid down a precedent which some future Government, on submitting a referendum to the people, may follow. If it is followed then we shall have a howl from the very gentlemen who to-day have been lauding the Government to the skies. The honorable member for Balaclava said that the Prime Minister had noc gone far enough in regard to these regulations, and that if he had been in his place he would have gone much further. The charge levelled against the Prime Minister is a serious one. I understood from the press that the four Ministers who attended the first Executive Council meeting at which these regulations were submitted were opposed to them. But for some reason or other one of those Ministers proceeded to Sydney and attended an Executive meeting at which the regulations were passed. When there was published a statement to the effect that the Postmaster-General was among the Ministers present at the Executive meeting at which the regulations were agreed to, the honorable gentleman was so disgusted that he wrote at once to the press denying that he was present, and stating that at the time he was addressing a conscription meeting at Mudgee. The charge is a serious one, and should be inquired into by a Select Committee or a Royal Commission. There are honorable members who say that the regulations were never issued; whereas the honorable member for Capricornia asserts that they were handed to him. We hav,e it that at the meeting of the Executive in Sydney, which was attended by the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Navy, and another gentleman, the regulations were approved. We have it from presiding officers that the regulations were seen by them. Let us call these people as witnesses, together with Mr. Oldham and the Divisional Returning Officers and presiding officers, so that we may know how far they did go. Let us have also the evidence of men who have written to the press that they were questioned by presiding- officers and their votes challenged. It is a serious thing to prevent any man from recording his vote especially by such a dastardly method as this. The honorable member for Balaclava had a lot to say regarding the 80,000 who were unable to go to a polling booth to record their votes, but here we have men who who were able to go to the polling booths, and who were told by the Prime Minister at Albury that they would get the surprise of their lives when they went there. I was wondering what form that surprise would take, and it was only when I heard of the resignations of Senator Gardiner, Senator Russell, and the honorable member for Capricornia, the day before the referendum was taken, that I learned what it was. Much has been said this afternoon about abuses of the campaign. During that campaign the Prime Minister himself stooped as low as he could. He said, for instance, the anti-conscriptionists were receiving German money. I kuri that lie back in his teeth. He said also that we were members of the I.W.W. That is another lie which I hurl back at him. He said further that we were disloyal and everything that was bad. Twelve months ago I spent three weeks in a recruiting campaign in this State, and six months ago I took part for a fortnight in another campaign. I did all I could to secure volunteer recruits, and the failure of the voluntary system, if there has been any failure, was due to those who did all they could to injure it because they favored conscription. I am going this afternoon to record my vote against this Government and I shall avail myself of every opportunity that offers to put them out of office. It has been said that we are anxious to obtain possession of the Government benches. We do not want to go there. If the Opposition will challenge the Ministry every man in this corner will vote with them to remove the Government from office. Both the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Balaclava have said that we are subject to the dictation of the Political Labour League. I was present at a meeting of the executive of the Political Labour League in Sydney, at which the Prime Minister almost went down on his knees to the members in an endeavour to secure the indorsement of his proposals. Did he not go to the Political Labour League executive in Victoria and ask them to indorse his proposals? Did he not crawl on his stomach, as it were, to the Sydney executive and ask that his proposals be indorsed? Did he not go to the Adelaide Labour Convention for the same purpose, and issue regulations under the War Precautions Act providing that no mention should be made in the press of his attendance at those conferences, or of the decisions arrived at? The first decision of any conference that I saw published was the vote of confidence in the Prime Minister, carried at the Adelaide Convention. The right honorable member did not allow the publication of the further resolution of the Convention in opposition to conscription. To its credit be it said, the Sydney Daily Telegraph refused to have anything to do with the reports from the Adelaide Convention, because of the refusal of the Prime Minister to allow the publication of news concerning the convention and other meetings in Sydney and Melbourne which he attended.- I shall have more to say when the Estimates come up for consideration. I shall have something to say then concerning the treatment of the returned soldiers, and also something to say regarding the treatment of some of the wives and children of those who are in the firing line to-day. My vote will go this afternoon in support of this amendment, and whenever the Leader of the Opposition submits a vote of censure on the Government, my vote will go with him to turn out this Administration.
.- There are one or two aspects of this debate upon which I should like very briefly to touch. It seems to me that we have before us the most unusual spectacle of a Government being challenged and the whole of its defence being put up by its traditional enemy. Not one member of the Ministry has seen fit to attempt to justify the action of the Prime Minister in endeavouring to interfere with the purity of the ballot. We have had leading members of what I might describe as the left wing of the Fusion party using the whitewash brush very freely on the Government, but they are too shrewd to attempt to justify the issue of these regulations. They seek to make out a case against the publication of the information which has been given to us by the honorable member for Capricornia. They would have us believe that the public do not count in these matters, and that the policy to be adopted in Parliament to-day should be one of “ hushing up” and keeping all these things from the people. The Argus, which is one of the great supporters and masters of the Liberal party - a newspaper which dictates their policy to them - said only this morning that the fact is notorious that the regulations were sent out to Returning Officers; but, owing to subsequent orders, were not applied. The Argus, and even Senator Millen, admits that the regulations were put into operation by the Government. There is no doubt that the Liberal party is playing a shrewd game of their own. Evidently the fruit is not ripe for plucking to-day; but in about a month’s time, when the bloom is nicely on the cherry, we shall find them ready to eat it. Then, again, the Argus to-day said -
The career of the Ministry, however, will not be cut short by the amendment -
– The honorable member must not read a newspaper article commenting on the proceedings of Parliament.
– Those outside who hold the whip over the Liberal party urged them not to destroy the Government on this amendment, but to wait a more favorable opportunity that may arise in matters connected with the conduct of the war or with finance. Then, it is pointed out, there may be a readjustment of the present anomalous parliamentary position. It will be seen that the Government have hanging over them the sword of Damocles, and, at any moment, the slender thread may be cut, when off will go the political head of the Ministry ! It will not be very long before that occurs, for no one can persuade me that the Liberal party can for any protracted period continue to swallow the present Government. No doubt somebody is being swallowed, though I do not know whether it is a case of the whale swallowing Jonah or Jonah swallowing the whale. Whichever way at is, the party which has indulged in. the swallowing act is going to have a very bad attack of indigestion, and something must come away very quickly. The honorable member for Balaclava made a great point of his contention that there was nothing in these regulations to which objection could be taken. .He represented them as quite harmless even if applied - as no infringement of the sanctity or secrecy of the ballot. I propose to show, however, that there was a great danger to the secrecy and purity of the ballot-box in these regulations. In one of them we find the following: -
Provided that for the purposes of this regulation, “ the . prescribed envelope “ means an envelope similar to that prescribed for the purpose of section 9 of the Military Service Referendum Act 1916, but with the word “ Proclamation “ or the abbreviation “ Proc.” written or stamped thereon, and if the vote has not been challenged under section 9 of that Act, the words “ Sec. 9 “ shall be struck out. ‘
That means clearly that the Returning Officer had it in his power to put either the word or the abbreviation, on the envelope. If a person known to be, perhaps, a supporter of the Labour party came along, the word “Proclamation” would be placed on the envelope, whereas in the case of an out-and-out Conservative the abbreviation “ Proc.” would be used, and in this way it could be found how people had voted. This sort of thing, of course, opens the door to interference with the secrecy of the ballot; the moment it is allowed, away goes the whole sanctity of the system. I cannot understand how any party which pretends to believe in the free and full exercise of the franchise can for a moment indorse the issue of such regulations. The Liberal party either believe or do not believe in these regulations. If they believe in them they will vote with the Government on this occasion; on the other hand, if they do not believe in the regulations, but regard them as an infringement of the electoral law, they will vote with us. In any case, they cannot evade their responsibility. It is no use their urging that the honorable member for Capricornia had no right to divulge these matters; they either believe or they do not believe in this interference with the ballot, and their votes on the motion before us will show on which side they stand. After all, I do not think we need worry about the votes of the Liberals. Democracy has known too long what it is to fight for the great principle of a free franchise such as we enjoy to-day.
– You had no freedom on the 28th October.
– I had more freedom than had the honorable member, who does not even represent his own electorate on this question. A free franchise is our bulwark of freedom, and any interference with it is a step backwards. The moment anything is done, in however slight a degree, to weaken the exercise of the franchise, it is a direct stab at the progress nf this country. What becomes of our Democracy if we permit any interference with the ballot? It means that everything that Democracy holds most dear is in extreme danger. If one thing can be clone in this direction, anything can be done ; and if such questions could be asked the electors, then they might be asked to say whether they were voting for the Liberal party or the Labour party. It is about time that this Parliament protested against the government of the country by regulation. People talk a great deal about responsible government; but we have no responsible government to-day. We ought to be ruled by enactment, and not by regulation. The
Imperial Parliament itself does not come down to governing by regulation.
– Does it not?
– Not nearly to the same extent as is done in Australia. We have an illustration of this in relation to the use of the word “ Anzac.” The Commonwealth Government, in an autocratic manner, decided by regulation what should be done, whereas the Imperial Parliament passed an Act. If the Government desire to interfere with the ballot-box, let them propose to do so in this House, and see whether they can get any to agree to such legislation. The mere issuing of the regulations is a prostitution of responsible government, and I hope that the House will jealously guard its rights and privileges in this connexion.
.- Not much has been left to say on the question before us; but I find it necessary to touch on one or two points which have escaped honorable members on this side. The exTreasurer has been accused of almost a criminal act in bringing away the papers from the Executive meeting; but we find that those who criticised him are confined to the Liberal party. Not one member of the Cabinet has said a word; and I am sorry that the Minister for the Navy, who was present at a meeting, has not justified his action in any way whatever. That honorable gentleman has still an opportunity; and a feeling of honour ought to lead him to clear his late colleague of the charges which have been levied. Although there are other Ministers involved, he has sat silent throughout the debate, but I hope that before the division is taken we shall hear from him on this matter. The members of the Liberal party accept the statement of the Prime Minister, and wish the House and the country to believe that these regulations were not issued. ‘ Before I resume my seat I shall read the instructions that were sent to the electoral officers in pursuance of the regulations. I know that the questions therein provided for were asked in the Taringa and Fortitude Valley polling booths in the Brisbane electorate, and throughout the whole day in the Junction Park polling booth in my electorate. The Government has made an announcement regarding expenditure. Money was spent lavishly in connexion with the referendum, and I am of opinion that no election or referendum has ever been conducted in this country in regard to which corruption was more prevalent. I take it that men were called up in the hope that it might be demonstrated that there was a large number of available eligibles who had not volunteered, and I am of the opinion, that many men were sent’ into camp who were medically unfit. I know that a doctor, at a military office in Brisbane, said, “ I pass them through if they can walk.”
– What was his name?
– I shall give it to the Minister. I think that men were similarly treated throughout Australia. If they were re-examined we should know how many were unfit. The Government proposes to reduce expenditure. We are faced with commercial stagnation, and have not yet begun to feel the full effects of the increase of taxation. But in the near future those effects, will be felt. Those who advocated conscription are now trying to Teestablish voluntarism. Over 1,000,000 electors voted for conscription, and it remains to be seen what will be the result of appeals to them for voluntary action. It has been stated that this party was prepared to come to the House without a war policy. But previous to the Prime Minister’s return to Australia we asked him to introduce a policy similar to that which he has recently announced. We asked him to tell the (People the facts as he knew them, and to appeal for reinforcements under the voluntary system. Had he done so, the response would have been greater than any results that could have been got under the compulsory system. Now that he has embittered many of those who were eligible, I am confident that they will refuse to serve under this Government. He proposes to establish a political organization in every electorate, to stimulate voluntary enlistment. Does he think that those on this side, whom he has abused ever since his return to Australia, whom he has associated with the Industrial Workers of the World, and has accused of receiving German money, will serve under him ?
– Is not the honorable member prepared to help?
– Yes; but not under the present Government. I am of opinion that it i9 useless for this Government to embark on any sort of voluntary recruiting campaign. We must wait until the bitter feelings entertained by the people, in regard to the Government, die away. Ministers, having failed to coerce the people, have announced a policy which we originally tried to get them to carry out.
– Is it the decision of the honorable member’s party that they will not help?
– We will help, but not under the present Government. The Recruiting Committee in Queensland, that has been in existence since the outbreak of the war, has been only a political committee. No member of either party of this House has been asked by it to assist in the work of recruiting.
– Was not the honorable member asked by the. War Committee here to assist?
– Certainly we were asked to assist, but we were controlled by the Recruiting . Committees of the States, and the Brisbane Committee, because its object was to bring about conscription, did not ask any member of this Parliament for assistance. The following are the instructions which were sent to the various presiding officers. Many electors were prevented from voting for fear of what might happen in case they did not answer these questions to the satisfaction of the officials -
Memorandum to all Presiding and Assistant Presiding Officers.
The following is a copy of telegram received at 7 p.m. to-night from Commonwealth Electoral Officer, and is submitted for information of all presiding officers, who are requested to carefully note and instruct the assistant presiding officers under their supervision, with a view to having the instructions carried out.
The matter is very important and urgent. “Please direct each presiding officer in your division, as far as reasonably practicable, having regard to time and equipment, that regulations under the War Precautions Act provide - (1) That at the polling on Saturday next be may put to any male person claiming to vote, who, in his opinion, is under thirty-five years of agc, the following question in addition to all or any of the questions prescribed by the Military Service Referendum 1916, or the Commonwealth Electoral Act, viz.:-
Question 1. - Are you a person to whom the Proclamation of the 29th September, 1916, calling upon single men under thirty-five to present themselves for enlistment applies?
Question 2. - If the answer of the person claiming to vote is in the affirmative, the presiding officer shall put to the peraon the following further question: - Have you presented yourself for enlistment accordingly, or been exempted?
Question 3. - If the answer to the last mentioned question is in the negative, or if the pre siding officer has reason to believe that the person is a person to whom the Proclamation applies, and that he has failed to obey it, the presiding officer, before permitting him to vote, shall indorse the ballot-paper with the word “ Proclamation” or the abbreviation “ Proc.”
Anyballot-paper so indorsed when completed by the elector shall be folded by him and handedto the presiding officer, who, without unfolding it, shall, in the presence of the elector, place it in the prescribed envelope, indorse on the envelope all the required particulars of the elector’s enrolment, including the name of the division and subdivision, fasten the envelope, and place it in the ballot box.
Also inform the presiding officer at each place affected that the prescribed envelope abovementioned means an envelope prescribed for a purpose of section 9 of the Military Service Referendum Act, but with the abbreviation “Proc.” But if the vote has not been challenged under sectipn 9, that the word “ Section 9 must bestruck out.
Further instruct each Assistant Returning Officer acting in any part of the division in which effect can be given to this regulation -
That if upon opening a ballot-box the Assistant Returning Officer finds therein a ballot-paper indorsed with the word “Proc.” not inclosed in a prescribed envelope, the ballot-paper shall be disallowed at the scrutiny.
That ballot-papers inclosed in prescribed envelopes shall not be opened by the Assistant Returning Officer, but shall in the form of an ordinary ballot-paper “ FormC,” be forwarded by him by registered post to the Divisional Returning Officer for the division in which he (the Assistant Returning Officer) holds office, and in case of an absentee voters ballotpaper to the Divisional Returning Officer for the division for which the elector claims to be enrolled.
Also advise presiding officers that any person who refuses to, or fails to, answer any question put to him as aforesaid, or makes any untrue statement to any such question, shall beguilty of an offence against the War Precautiona Act.
I will be glad if the presiding officers will do their best to have these instructions carried out, although the time for preparing this matter is veryshort.
Those instructions were issued to each Presiding Officer in every polling booth in the Commonwealth. The peculiar feature of this debate is that the only prominent men on the Liberal side of the House who discussed the constitutional aspect of the issue of these regulations condemned an ex-Minister of the Crown for an action which, in our opinion, was quite justified. There are many features of the recent campaign which could be brought under the notice of the House, but as we have agreed to take a vote this afternoon, I shall conclude by expressing the hope that the Government will have cause to regret theiraction, and if the Opposition are so solidly in support of the Government in connexion with such a gross attempt to destroy the secrecy of the ballot, I think the time is not distant when they, too, will regret the procedure they are adopting.
Question - That the words proposed to be inserted be so inserted (Mr. Tudor’s amendment) - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 24
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question - That the GovernorGeneral’s messages be referred to the Committee of Supply - resolved in the affirmative.
The following paper was presented: -
Australian Soldiers Repatriation Fund Act - Regulation Amended - Statutory Rules 1916, No. 288.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
The Treasurer proposes to deliver his financial statement on Wednesday.
– May I ask the Prime Minister whether, after the delivery of the financial statement, the Government propose to proceed with the discussion on Supply or the discussion on the statement of policy which he has made?
– In order that the Government policy in regard to finance and other matters may be completely before the House, it is proposed that the Treasurer shall make his financial statement, after which a general discussion may take place in Committee of Supply.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 December 1916, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1916/19161201_reps_6_80/>.