6th Parliament · 1st Session
The Clerk having informed the House of the unavoidable absence of Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy, in the absence of the Prime Minister, if he will use his influence to obtain for me, as the representative of Capricornia, a reply to my repeated questions regarding the making of Rockhampton a centre for the appraisement of the wool coming from the central district of Queensland. I have endeavoured to obtain from the Prime Minister, and from the Wool Board, full and’ complete reasons for the refusal to make what is really the capital city of Central Queensland a wool appraising centre. Is the right honorable member aware that a great deal of dissatisfaction exists in Rockhampton which might be allayed if an opportunity were afforded for the appraisement there of wool from the central district of Queensland ?
– I do not know why the Wool Board has not made Rockhampton a wool appraising centre; but, in the train last week, I was convinced, in the course of a conversation with some of its members, that to do what is asked would not benefit the sellers of wool in Central Queensland, but would enable another profit to be taken from them by middlemen.
– Sixty per cent, of the wool from Queensland goes through Rockhampton.
– Will the right honorable, gentleman let the House know in detail the reasons that convinced him ? Surely the people are entitled to know what arguments are advanced by the members of the- Wool Board in opposition to their request.
– I am not sure that I remember all the reasons advanced, but the impression left on my mind waa that to do what the honorable member suggests would enable the middlemen to take another profit out of the wool appraised at Rockhampton. However, I shall ascertain for him the views of the Wool Board on the question.
– Cannot the Minister give the wool-sellers in the central districts of Queensland any reason why their wool should not be appraised at Rockhampton 1 Is it because of the vested interests of the wool brokers in . Brisbane? There is plenty of accommodation at Rockhampton for the appraisement of wool there.
– I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Wool Board.
– I ask theright honorable gentleman if when Rockhampton is proclaimed a wool appraising centre, Stanley, Tasmania, may also bemade a wool appraising centre.
– The matter will . be considered.
– When dealing with the question of wool appraisement, will the right honorable gentleman ascertain whether it is not possible for the Boards of appraisers in the other States to receive replies to urgent telegrams in less than two or three days; and why they should be treated with the utmost indignity ?
– I regret any delays that may have occurred, and shall bring the matter under the notice of the Wool Board.
– Can the Minister for the Navy say whether the Prime Minister will be in attendance here this morning ?
– I expect him every minute.
Railway Unit-Motor Drivers - Enlistments
– Is the Assistant Minister for Defence in a position to answer the question that I asked yesterday respecting the formation of a second railway unit for service abroad?
– I have not yet had time to get a reply to the question, but I promise to answer it on Wednesday next. On Friday last, the honorable member for Illawarra asked a question regarding the transfer of certain motor drivers from the Transport Corps to the Army Medical Corps. I have been furnished with the following reply:-
It was found that contrary to the methods followed in all other districts the motor ambulance drivers in the 2nd Military District had “been transferred to the Army Service Corps as drivers of motor lorries at 8s. per diem, instead ‘of being Home Service motor ambulance drivers at 6s. per diem. The option was given to them of taking up Army Service Corps work of the Australian Imperial Force or being re-transferred to their proper corps. For obvious reasons motor lorry drivers receive higher pay than ambulance drivers. These men are not motor mechanics - they are ambulance drivers. There are no motor mechanics in the Army Medical Corps.
The honorable member for Dampier asked for the preparation of a return showing the percentage of youths under twentyone years of age, and married men, who have enlisted in the Expeditionary Force during the last six months? The reply furnished to me is -
The information is not readily available, and the compilation of such a return would entail some expense, and would take up the time of a portion of the staff engaged on other duties. In view of these facts does the honorable member think that itis essential that the return be compiled?
I wish to know whether the honorable member still presses for the return?
– There need be no haste in its compilation; but we should have the. information. It is most important that we should know what I have asked for.
– Then Ishall try to get the return prepared.
– Will the Minister for the Navy, at his earliest convenience, lay on the table a paper, or make a statement, throwing more light than we have at present upon the expenditure of over £2,000,000 on the purchase by the Commonwealth of steamers - for mercantile purposes? Will he also let us know when the purchase was. made, how the purchase money was allocated, what the steamers have been doing since, and what they are doing at the present time ?
– I shall speak to the Prime Minister about the matter. Personally, I think that all the facts should be placed before Parliament.
-I ask the Minister for -the Navy whether the Government have yet decided to re-arrange the duties of Ministers? At the present time, the Prime Minister seems to have charge of nearly every important matter, with the result that there are serious delays. Will the right honorable gentleman see that a more even distribution of work between the members of the Cabinet is made ?
– I have not been long in office this time; but it seems to me that every Minister is overworked, probably because of the disturbance caused by the war. The Prime Minister is doing the work of three Ministers, and might well have some relief; but just how relief can be givento him, I do not know.
– In view of the great expenditure incurred by the Commonwealth in renting offices in various parts of Melbourne - and the same thing occurs in other cities - will the Treasurer take into consideration the advisability of obtaining a site here, and of erecting upon it a building sufficiently commodious to house all the officers of the Commonwealth now distributed about the city?
– I have not had time to consider the matter. My honorable friend held this office for some months, and I wonder that, if he desired it, he did not do more in the direction he now suggests.
– The Secretary to the Department will inform the Treasurer that I had the matter in hand.- The papers are available to him.
– I do not think that this is a time when we should launch out into any heavy expenditure ; and when the Estimates come under review, the honorable member is not likely to desire any large increase of expenditure of public revenue.
Cinematograph Films - Revising Committee
– Does the Minister for Trade and Customs intend to rectify the mistake that was made with regard to the duty on cinematograph films when the Tariff schedule was submitted in 1914?
– Very strong representations on the subject were made to me last week by deputations from Sydney and Melbourne, and I have decided to submit the matter to Cabinet.
– In view of the possibility of this Parliament meeting later in the year, will the right honorable member for Parramatta bring before the Cabinet the necessity of appointing a Committee, consisting of members of both sides, to prepare a Tariff, so that time may be saved when the opportunity for Tariff re vision arrives?
– My own opinion is that we have any amount of preparation already. What is troubling us is a suitable and favorable opportunity for bringing the recommendations before the House and considering them.
– A wet blanket.
– The honorable member has been “ wet blanketing.” this matter for six years, and I am afraid the “ blanket “ is not dry yet. However, we are trying to dry it as best we can, and I hope sincerely that the time will come when the whole matter may be reviewed, reconsidered, and re-adjusted by Parliament. As to a Committee to pre pare a Tariff, I think, as I have already said, that there is abundance of preparation. The whole thing has been considered in every way; and all we have to trouble about is giving effect to the recommendations already made, and such others as I have no doubt my honorable friend has in his mind.
– As the appointment of professional men in charge of the cooking arrangements of the’ various camps in New South Wales is giving such great satisfaction, will the Minister extend the system to Victoria and the other States? Will he dismiss the amateur cooks who are spoiling good food, and, by putting professional men in their places, remove one of the chief grievances amongst the men ?
– I shall bring the matter before the Minister for Defence.
Appointment of Commander Creswell
– Will the Minister for the Navy have the papers leading up to the retirement of Mr. J. G. Balsillie, late Engineer of Radiotelegraphy, placed on the table ofthe House. Has Commander Creswell been appointed permanently as Director of Wireless Telegraphy ? What qualifications and experience in the working of wireless telegraphy does Commander Creswell hold that are calculated to fit him for the position ? Will the Minister have the matter made one of the subjects of the proposed inquiry into the administration of the Navy Department?
– I shall be very glad to do that.
– Has the Treasurer had time to consider, and, if not, will he consider, the advisability of appointing a Board to control the Commonwealth Bank?
– I have not had time as yet to consider that very important matter.
Repatriation and Relief
– Seeing that there are many cases of cruel hardship endured by relatives of men who have fallen at the front, and who do not come within the scope of the War Pensions Act, will the Minister for the Navy inform the House where these people may go to get redress for their grievances and relief in their distress - to the Repatriation Board or to the War Council?
– The honorable member raises a very proper question, and one which I had brought under my notice, in a most painful instance, only last week in Sydney. This seems to me to be a matter of repatriation, and the sooner something is done to establish the Repatriation Board on a proper footing, and establish an adequate network of agencies throughout the country to deal with cases of the kind, the better. I do not think that this is a matter that can be dealt with directly by the Treasurer or by the Government. However, I am only too painfully aware of what the trouble is, and I shall take steps to see if some remedy cannot be applied in the near future.
– In view of the many unjust things that are done by the Defence Department, will the Minister for the Navy consider the advisability of bringing before the Cabinet the suggestion of the honorable member for Franklin that a Select Committee of seven members of the House be appointed to investigate and report on the administration.
– This matter is already receiving the attention of the Government, and I hope that we shall soon be able to announce that some form of inquiry into the business side of the Department is to be undertaken.
– Not only the business side, but the humanitarian side, also.
– That is involved, surely ?
– Is it the policy of the Government, in the case of a person whose breadwinner has been killed at the front, and who previously was in receipt of an old-age pension, to reduce the oldage pension by one-half when a pension is given in consideration of the loss of the relative ? I have had a case of the kind brought under my notice in Western Australia, and I think it needs only to be mentioned to the Treasurer to have an end put to this abominable disqualification, which goes beyond the intentions of Parliament.
– I shall be glad if the honorable member will give notice of the question. The case to which he refers came under my notice even before I was Treasurer. It is the case of, I think, the mother or some near relative who was in receipt of an old-age pension when the soldier was killed. She became the recipient of a war pension to about double the amount of the old-age pension, and the latter ceased. I do not know that the honorable member for Perth desires that two pensions shall be paid to the same person, and I do not think that that could be allowed as the law now stands.
– Will the Treasurer take an early opportunity to consider the propriety of amending the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, with a view to removing disabilities under which old-age pensioners at present labour in being penalized in consequence of their occasionally supplementing their pensions by other earnings?. I have in mind a case of great hardship, in which an oldage pensioner has been offered a temporary job as a watchman, but knows that if he accepts the job, even if only for a little while, he will lose all, or a portion, of his pension rights until such time as he ceases to earn money in this way.
– If the honor able member will put the question on the notice-paper, I shall have it considered. My duty aa Treasurer is to guard the revenue, and I point out that only the other day the old-age pensions was increased by half-a-crown a week.
– Will the right honorable gentleman introduce an amending Bill similar to that he introduced on a former occasion ?
– I do not think . that would meet the case mentioned by the honorable’ member for Lang.
– It would meet most of the cases.
– In any event, I think that what is suggested is already the law, or nearly so. I shall have the matter considered.
– In view of statements made that in New Zealand private soldiers with large families are paid as much as £5 2s. a week, will the Honorary Minister telegraph immediatelyto the Dominion for the data with which he was unable to supply me yesterday ?
– I shall see if it is possible to obtain the desired information from New Zealand.
– Can the Prime Minister give us any information regarding the Maltese who are at present on board a hulk in Sydney Harbor?
– All the information I can give the honorable member is that these are the Maltese who were brought to Australia on the Messageries-Maritime steamer at or about the time of the referendum, and who were carried on, by arrangement with the French Government, to New Caledonia. I have informed the British Government that the Commonwealth cannot admit these Maltese. Prior to that, I may say, we had advised the British Government that we did not intend to permit the importation of any further Maltese during the war; but these Maltese had left Malta before that advice was given. Under the circumstances, which are perfectly well known to honorable members, I told the British Government that these Maltese could not be admitted. Some of these Maltese have come from New Caledonia, and have been transferred to a hulk. They are not in this country by the will of the Government. We are considering the whole question, and have made some suggestions in regard to them.
– Is it not a fact that these Maltese, who are British subjects, are at present imprisoned on a hulk within the three-mile limit of the Austraiian coast”? Will the Prime Minister state to the House what legal justification there is for placing an embargo upon them ?
One of their countrymen is at the present time a Governor of one of the States.
– In this respect, as in all otners, we have to decide what is best to be done for Australia. The legal justification for the exclusion of Maltese, or anybody else, is vested exclusively in this Parliament; and the laws are administered, and will be exercised by the Government. The reasons for the exclusion are sufficiently well known, and I have in part declared them. The Government are now considering the question, and will shortly, I hope, submit a proposition to the House in regard thereto’.
– Will the Government take into consideration the fact that these people paid their own fares, and were not stopped by the Government from coming in the early stages? Will the Government consider the question of compensating these people for the expense they have been put to, and the time they have lost while in Australia ?
– I cannot admit that the Government is under any obligation to these men. They did not come out here’ at the invitation of the Government. Having come herethey are subject, of course, as all others are, to the laws of the country, and one of these laws imposes a test for admission. I admit that the circumstances surounding this case are far from usual. The Government so far has borne the entire cost of the maintenance of these men, and has offered to take them back to the place whence they came. It has also made the further proposition to place them on the same footing as Australian citizens who are enlisting in the navvies brigade for service in the war - to enrol them in that brigade just as Australian citizens are being enrolled. In the whole of the circumstances I do not think they can complain. They have been treated quite fairly.
– Following up the questions that have been addressed to the Prime Minister in regard to the Maltese immigrants, I wish to ask the right honorable gentleman whether he can inform the House why these men, who are British subjects, living close to the firing line, left to come out here thousands of miles from their homes?
– I cannot answer anymore questions on the subject.
– I -wish, to ask the Treasurer, in view of his approaching visit to England, whether he thinks that the efficiency of the Treasury will be at all impaired by his absence from Australia at such a time as this?
– I should say that the Department’s efficiency will not be impaired. Ib will be managed very well.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Defence made inquiries, as promised by him yesterday, regarding my complaint that the Signalling Corps at War Point, Cheviot Hill, is not receiving a sufficient food supply ?
– I have not yet had time to obtain the information sought by the honorable member. I shall endeavour to secure it by Wednesday next.
– Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether there is any truth in the statement appearing in the Queensland press that the Commonwealth Government intend to take over the sugar industry ?
– I know nothing of any such intention.
– In view of the fact that- honorable members have to-day to give a vote with regard to the extension of the life of this Parliament, has the Prime Minister any statement ito make regarding the alarming reports in the press as to the political situation?
– No. What statement does the honorable member desire me to make? If any honorable member will make m the House a statement that will permit of a definite answer, I shall be ready to supply that answer. But when an honorable member comes to this House, his object being perfectly well-known since he is a candidate for selection by the league, and follows up his declaration of a few days ago - that we ought to emulate the example of the American colonists who threw the shipment of tea into Boston Harbor - with a statement such as he made yesterday, no answer is necessary. The statement is its own answer.
– By way of personal explanation, I can assure the Prime Minister and the House that I should have been the last to put this question but for statements made during the debate last night. ‘ I refer to statements which I personally deprecate and abhor, but which were made last evening by an honorable member. In view of the fact that they were made, I asked the Prime Minister courteously and in all good faith, whether he had any answer to make to the honorable member in question.
– What was that statement? I heard only a part of the honorable member’s speech, and I have not read the newspaper report of it. Let) a statement be made in this House. Now is the time and here . is the place. Let these honorable members make the statement while I am here to- answer it.
– In view of the calls on members in connexion with the recruiting campaign, can the Prime Minister give us any idea as to the sittings of this House, so that honorable members who desire to assist in the recruiting campaign may place their services at the disposal of the recruiting committee ?
– I am quite unable to do so. In the first place, I do not know whether the House will go into recess. In the circumstances of to-day it would appear far more probable that we shall be engaged in a very few weeks in a very different thing.
Sale and Disposal of Live Stock and Meat: Statutory Rule No. 38 of 1917.
– I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Brisbane that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “the issue of a regulation under the War Precautions Act dealing with the sale or disposal of any live stock or .meat.”
Five honorable members having risen in their places,
– The regulation to which I shall this morning take objection is StatutoryRule 1917, Wo. 38, which sets out that -
Whereas by reason of circumstances arising out of the present state of war, it is expedient, for the better conservation of live stock and meat, and for the better supply of meat to the Imperial Government and to the people of the Commonwealth, and for the better defence of the Empire and of the Commonwealth, and for the more effectual prosecution of the war, that control of the disposal of live stock and meat should be exercisable by the Government of the Commonwealth…..
The two sections of this statutory rule to which I wish to take particular exception are sections 4 and 5, which read as follows : -
The Minister may, by notice in writing, forbid, with such limitations or exceptions, or except subject to such conditions, as he may specify, the sale or disposal by or to any persons or class of persons, or by or to any State or any authority constituted under a State, of any live stock or meat.
The Minister may, by notice in writing, direct or permit, under such conditions as he may specify, the removal of any live stock or meat, whether owned or possessed by any person, or by any State, or by any authority constituted under a State, from any part of the Commonwealth to any other part of the Commonwealth.
The position with which I intend to deal has been brought about largely by the request of the Imperial Government for a continuous and reliable supply of meat for the use of the troops during the war. In order to meet that request, the Liberal Government in Queensland in 1914 passed the Meat for Imperial Uses Act, which practically gave them authority to commandeer for Imperial uses a sufficient supply of meat for the requirements of the Imperial Government. ‘ine price was fixed, arrangements were made, and they have been going on ever since fairly satisfactorily.
– The Government that passed the Act was bumped out.
– The Liberal Government, at the elections, a few months later, was displaced by a Labour Government, which has continued loyally and conscientiously to observe the principles of that Act, and to guarantee to the Imperial Government a continuous supply of the meat necessary for the troops. The Queensland Government were faced with practically three propositions. Queensland, holding, as it does, practically threefourths of the available supply of live stock in Australia, had, consequently, a prior hold over the supply of meat. The Government was faced, first of all, with the question of supplying meat for Imperial uses. That was its first consideration. Its second duty was obviously to the people of its own State; while its third duty was undoubtedly to the people of Australia. In carrying out its obligations to the Imperial Government, the State Ministry made a certain arrangement with the pastoralists and the meatproducing companies of Queensland which have maintained that supply, and, so far as that Department is concerned, I do not think any complaint has been made, or can be substantiated, against either the Liberal Government, who passed the Act, or the Labour Government, who have had practically the administration of it.
– The administration has not been good. There has been differentiation between the meat for Imperial uses and that for the local butchers’ shops.
– That is no answer to my statement. As to the first consideration, the supply of meat for Imperial uses, the action of the Liberal Government in passing the Bill and the administration of the Act by the Labour Government have been quite satisfactory. There have been no complaints, and no one, I think, objects to the contention that the Imperial Government has the first claim on the live stock and the meat supply of Australia, from whatever State, for Imperial uses. That requirement having been considered, and satisfactorily arranged, the second consideration - the duty . of the Queensland Government to its own people within the State - arose. In consideration of that duty, the Queensland Labour Government thought it necessary to secure, by arrangement with the pastoralists, a permanent, regular supply of meat for the people of the State. That arrangement was made, the price was fixed, and retail shops were opened.
– Is the honorable member now referring only to the State-owned shops or to the supply to all the butchers of Queensland? Does he say that the Labour Government in Queensland made arrangements to supply the whole of the butchers’ shops?
– Yes. The State Government, in the exercise of what it conceived to be its duty to the people of
Queensland - to provide them -with a supply of meat at reasonable prices - opened retail shops, first in Brisbane, and subsequently in other large centres of population, and made arrangements, by fixing prices with the pastoralists, for a supply of meat to keep the shops going.
– Where have shops been opened outside of Brisbane?
– In Maryborough, Rockhampton, and several other places. Arrangements are in progress for the extension of the State butcher shops to other towns. The Queensland Government fixed the price of meat on the hoof, and by their action roused the antagonism of those whose interest in the business was purely one of pecuniary advantage. The Queensland Government found, as every other Government of the allied and enemy countries has found during the course of the war, that it is necessary to determine the price at which food shall be supplied to the people. Digressing for a moment, I would call the attention of honorable members to the following passage in Current History, the monthly magazine of the New York Times : -
But a time came when the country suddenly found itself without bread. A famine was threatening the nation in the fall, and this in spite of the fact that Russia had hundreds of millions of surplus bu&hels of grain ? Where was that vast surplus? It was not for sale. The peasants, the landlords, and especially speculators held it back.
Practically the same thing has occurred in Australia in regard to wheat, but I shall not deal with that other than to say that it is one of the standing scandals of Australia at the present time that there are millions of bags of wheat lying at railway stations in New South Walesand Victoria, rotting and food for mice and rats, while the people are paying an extortionate price for bread. With the enormous reserves we have, on account of the carry-over from last season’s crop and the potentially good crop of the present season, bread in Australia ought to be half the price at which it is being sold to-day. Practically the same state of things existed in Queensland in regard to meat. Queensland had an enormous reserve supply of meat, but the people of that State were starving in the midst of plenty. Meat was at a price hitherto unknown, and there was no justification for the extortionate prices that were being charged. Allowing for all exigencies of the situation, and for every possible diffi culty that the pastoralists may have had to face during the war, there was no reason why meat should have reached the extortionate price which was being charged. The Government of Queensland stepped in, therefore, with the justification that its business was to look after the interests of the people, and supply them with meat at a reasonable price. The result is that the retail price of meat in Brisbane is half the price in Melbourne. Naturally, the Queensland Governmenthas met with considerable opposition from certain vested interests. The Federal Government some time ago tried to get the Imperial Government to transfer to it the contract for the supply of meat, and it is significant that the Imperial Government said that it preferred to continue its relations with the Queensland Government, which were quite satisfactory. In establishing State butcher shops for the supply of suitable meat to the people at a reasonable price, the State Government had to consider the insuring of a regular supply of meat. The stock was in the hands of people whose business it was to defeat the Government administration if they could. For political reasons they were prepared to oppose and defeat every action of the Government in this respect.
– Can the honorable member substantiate that statement?
– I can. The Queensland Government, therefore, had to make some such arrangement as would secure a regular supply for the shops, so that the people would not be supplied from State shops this week at a low rate, and next week be buying from other shops at the extortionate rates previously charged. Let me make ‘it clear that the price being charged to the people by the retail butchers was not due to any action or combination on their part with a view to making an exorbitant profit. They were in the hands of the wholesale suppliers, and the price of meat on the hoof compelled them to put up the retail rates. The same condition applies to most other commodities to-day. It is nob the retail men in close touch with the public who are raising the price of food, but the wholesale men behind them who have organized monopolies. The Queensland Government wisely, I think, bought country and cattle stations so that it might raise stock for itself, and thus secure a regular supply of meat for the State butcher shops. It has been stated that the Queensland Government in taking that action was acting illegally, particularly when it refused to allow the pastoralists to send live cattle out of Queensland to other States. We have been told that that action was in contravention of section 92 of the Constitution, which provides for Inter-State free trade. I am strongly in favour of Inter-State free trade, which is a necessary concomitant of Federation. The Queensland Government refused to allow the pastoralists to transport cattle from Queensland to other States, and it commandeered the cattle. A case was argued before the High Court, which held that notwithstanding the provisions of section 92, the Queensland Government had acted legally and within its constitutional rights. All the talk about , t.he action of the Queensland Government being a violation of the Constitution is disproved by the High Court’s decision.
– The Queensland Government’s action was wholly against the spirit of the Constitution, and the honorable member knows that.
– That does not matter. The business of a Government is to get cheap food for the people. The argument is put forward that that policy may be all right for the people of Queensland or Brisbane who are able to get cheap meat, but it affects adversely the people of other States. That brings me to the point that the Government’s third responsibility was to secure- a suitable supply of meat at a reasonable price to the people of the other States. We are told that the Queensland Government placed such an embargo on the export of meat to other States as to prevent the rest of Australia from getting cheap meat. That statement is not in accordance with facts. As a matter of fact the Queensland Government made an offer of meat alive or dressed to the Government of South Australia.
– Upon what conditions!
– The conditions are immaterial. The offer was rejected for reasons which may be excellent from a South Australian point of view. A similar offer was made to the Government of Victoria, and was again refused. Neither of those States had any reason, therefore, for saying that the Queensland embargo on the export of cattle affected their people. It is said that the Queensland Go vernment imposed such a prohibitive condition in regard to the price as to make it practically impossible for Victoria or South Australia to accept the offer. When Mr.. Ryan was in Melbourne last week I asked him on what terms he had made the offer, and he told me that the offer is open to-day to the Governmentsof Victoria and South Australia, and any other State, to get meat from Queensland at the same price, plus handling and;’ transport charges, as the Queensland Government is paying for the meat.
– Was that a condition of the original offer ?
– Yes. I believe that there were some negotiations with the State of Victoria in regard to special lines of meat, but so far as South Australia is concerned the original offer - and it remains - was that it could have meat at the same price as the Queensland Government is paying for it, plus ordinary handling and transport charges. It is clearly evident that the Queensland Government is not out to aggrandize itself at the expense of the other States. It has realized its duty not only to its own people but also to the people of other States, and it is impossible for anybody to say justly that the Queensland Government exercised any prohibitive conditions in regard to the export of meat ito other portions of Australia.
– Was there not a condition that the Victorian Government should sell the meat in State shops ?
– I believe there was such a condition in regard to one shipment. I will tell honorable members the cause of the whole trouble. There was a scarcity of stock in New South Wales and Victoria and a surplus of feed. Owing to most beneficial rains the country was in splendid condition, but the herds had been depleted, and what raised the ire of those interested in the stock business was that they were unable to get cattle at their own prices for fattening in order to sell at a profit. They were seeking personal pecuniary advantages. Their only consideration was as to how they could, make money out of the people. Those are the great patriots who refused an offer of a 35 per cent, increase in the price for their wool, and insisted on an increase of 50 per cent. They are the same people ; their concern for the people of Australia is secondary to their own selfish considerations : but I can point out what the trouble is. Some months ago, when the right honorable member for Parramatta was Leader of the Opposition, he said, “ We will have to stop these Socialistic enterprises. This buying of cattle stations in Queensland Has to stop.” That is the secret of the whole trouble. Mr. Corser. - It would be a good thing for the whole State if it were stopped.
– No doubt it would be a good thing from the honorable member’s point of view. It is remarkable that while the Prime Minister had behind him a majority of the Labour party in sympathy with the actions of the Queensland Labour Government in their endeavour to secure cheap meat for the people, he was adamant to any requests that came from the right honorable member for Parramatta, and he would not listen to the demand for stopping the action of the Queensland Government; but immediately he lost his majority in this House and in the Senate, and it became necessary for him to come to a friendly arrangement with the right honorable member for Parramatta, he became kindly disposed to the requests made from the Liberal party that action should be taken against the Queensland Government.
– That statement is not correct.
– I draw attention to the state of the House. There are only six Ministerialists present. I think that we should have a quorum. [Quorum formed.)
– I object most strongly to the misuse of the War Precautions Act in this regard. This measure was passed to enable the GovernorGeneral to make regulations and orders for the safety of the Commonwealth during the present state of war, but no one can contend that the regulation dealing with the meat embargo affects the safety, of the realm during the war to the slightest extent. In fact, it is a misuse of the Government’s power. On their own volition, the Ministry, without the consent of Parliament then in session or consideration of “the matter by Parliament, have brought’ a regulation into force which practically wipes out Parliament and parliamentary authority, abrogates the Constitution, flouts the decision of the High Court, and nullifies everything that may be done by Parliament in connexion with this particular matter. Government by regulation is always dangerous, but it is particularly so during a time of war. There is no time in our parliamentary history when we should be more careful about the protection of our rights and privileges than during war time, especially when there is in force a measure such as the War Precautions Act, which was never intended for any such purpose as that to which it has been applied in this connexion.
– What injury is the issue of the regulation likely to inflict?
– The Queensland Government, which has been carrying on this business for the purpose of supplying meat for Imperial purposes and for the purpose of supplying the people of the State with cheap meat, and affording the people of Australia the opportunity of- getting cheap meat, is in danger of having all its efforts nullified. The issue of such a regulation while Parliament is in session is particularly obnoxious. Had Parliament not been in session, the Government would have been perfectly justified, if they thought it fit to do so, in issuing such a regulation; but, apart altogether from the merits of the matter, I ask honorable members to consider the condition of responsible government with which we are faced when, during the sitting of Parliament, and when honorable members are in the House prepared to consider important matters of this kind, and to deal with affaire in a constitutional way, they are simply ignored, and their ideas on such important matters are considered of no account. The relationship between a State Government and the Commonwealth should be a matter for the consideration of honorable members in this House; but the Government have taken upon themselves the whole responsibility of abrogating the Constitution. The High Court has said that the Queensland’ Government were right. The Prime Minister says that they were wrong. Mr. Corser. - Under what Act were they right?
– Under the Commonwealth Constitution Act and under the Meat for Imperial Uses Act. I protest most earnestly against this deliberate, regrettable misuse of the powers of responsible government, so far-reaching in its effects. Quite apart from the merits of the case to which I have previously referred, the action of the Commonwealth Government in this regard has been most reprehensible. Why have they so acted ? They claim that they have issued this regulation in order to meet the reasonable requirements of the people of the Commonwealth, and so that the matter of the disposal of live stock and meat may be exercisable by the Federal Parliament It may be news to honorable members, but it. is an actual fact, that the Queensland Government have repeatedly made the offer, and are making it now, that the embargo can be removed, and an arrangement come to in regard to the supply of meat for the Commonwealth, if the Commonwealth Government will only do what they say they wish to do, and that is, fix the price of meat for Australia. But the Federal Government have no such intention. They dare not do it. Honorable members of the Liberal party, who are now supporting them and keeping them in office, are opposed to the fixation of prices.
– That statement is absolutely inaccurate.
– What statement? The statement that the Liberal party are against the fixing of prices ?
– They are opposed to the fixing of prices in regard to this commodity, but not against the fixing of prices generally, and the honorable member knows it.
– Order ! The honorable member’s allotted time has expired.
– I did not know that the honorable member was going to bring forward this matter this morning. I was not informed of his intention. I merely wish to say one or two words in connexion with it. The honorable member is hardly doing justice to the Prime Minister. He seeks to make out that this regulation was only issued after the alleged Fusion took place.
– Does the Honorary Minister mean to say that it is only an alleged Fusion ?
– I use the term “ alleged Fusion,” as honorable members opposite use the expression as a term of opprobrium. The honorable member for Brisbane knows quite well that the objection to the course of action taken by the Queensland Government was not confined to honorable members of the Liberal party. Several honorable members of the Official Labour party, also objected to it.
– I think it will be found that the ex-Minister for Trade and Customs and the honorable member for Maranoa objected to it. I believe that they are not in harmony with the honorable member, bub at any rate the matter was not looked upon in any party aspect. Speaking personally, and not officially, the matter came under my notice first in this way: When the Queensland drought was raging in its greatest severity large numbers of stock-holders - and the number of stock-holders in Queensland is something like 30,000, they are not a few beef barons as has been alleged : many of them are poor farmers stock dying, and they were anxious to get their herds removed across the border in order to get relief, but the Queensland Government issued a regulation preventing stock from crossing the border into another State unless the stock-owner entered into an agreement to pav down in cash 10s. per head for every head of cattle he took across the border, and signed an undertaking that he would return each animal or forfeit the sum deposited by him. The same conditions applied .to sheep. The absurdity of the position was that men had stock starving on the Queensland side of the border on one holding, and had ample grass on another holding on the other side of the border which they could not utilize. The Queensland Government attempted to collect what was in reality an export tax from them before they could get the necessary relief for their cattle. On. the understanding tha there would be Inter-State Free Trade pastoralists bought property on both sides of the border of Queensland and New South Wales, believing that they would be free to go from one holding to the other, but the Queensland Government prevented them from doing so. One man, a small proprietor in the western district of Queensland, who at a very heavy cost had carried his sheep through the drought, had an opportunity of selling so many head across the border, but the Queensland Government intervened, and would not allow him to take his sheep into New South Wales except under certain conditions, and the consequence was that after preserving these sheep all through the drought, he was not able to earn on them a profit of £2,000 which he might have otherwise secured.
– What is the objection to the action taken by the Queensland Government?
– My principal objection is that it is a direct violation of the spirit and purposes of the Constitution, and an attempt to set up what the people of Australia thought they had set aside.
– But the High Court has not said so.
– I admit that the High Court has sustained the attitude taken up by the Queensland Government, at least the legal aspect of it, but I do not think that the people of Australia will approve of the moral aspect of the action of the State Government.
– I do not think that there was one man in Australia at the time the Federation was accomplished who did not believe (that the adoption of Federation means absolute Free Trade.
– The honorable member is quite right, and, if he will permit me, I shall quote from the minority judgment of the High Court in the recent Meat case. Mr. Justice Barton said -
The decision of the present case, if followed hereafter, will be of grievous effect upon the future of the Commonwealth, for it tends to. keep up the separation of its people upon State lines by imputing to the Constitution a meaning which I venture to say was never dreamed of by its framers, a meaning which will probably result in the very dangers and dislocations which its provisions are intended, and, tin my judgment, aptly framed, to prevent.
Then Mr. Justice Isaacs, who was also a member of the Federal Convention, said that the interpretation sought to be put upon it - obviously leaves section 92 a mere husk, a vain and empty form of words, the sport of each and every State. The States have it in their clear power under this decision to make themselves as they were before Federation, watertight compartments for the purposes of trade. They may, it is held, forbid holders of stock to sell to any one but a single individual named ; that individual need not be resident in Queensland; it happens in this case to be the Imperial Government; it might as well, for all legal effect, be the American Government, or a Queensland meat exporter. If the State can, then, forbid the export from Queensland of the commodity absolutely, it can do so conditionally, and that condition may be the payment of a sum of money - which in pre-Federa- tion days was called a tax. There is scarcely any limit to the State power of overcoming the fine-sounding words of section 92. Never was there a clearer instance of keeping the word of promise to the ear and breaking it to the hope.
Those are the opinions of the Judges who delivered the minority judgment. Undoubtedly the decision of the High Court was most unfortunate for Australia, because it throws us back almost to the position in which we were in pre-Federation days. The honorable member for Brisbane has not supported his attack upon the regulations with very strong reasons. He says that the Queensland Government has established State butchers’ shops. But it is putting into operation the Meat for Imperial Uses Act; and it says to the meat owners, “We will make a contract with you. You can charge a certain price for meat for Imperial uses, but you must give us cheaper meat for our State shops.”
– The Queensland Government is playing into the hands of the American Meat Trust.
– Possibly. No one on this side desires that advantage shall be taken of war conditions to extort unfair prices, but the Queensland Government, by its restrictions upon the exportation of stock, has forced up the price of meat throughout the eastern States. That is an injustice to the citizens of the Commonwealth at large. The intention of the regulations is to use the powers of the Constitution to regulate exports, and to deal with Inter-State Free Trade and the defence powers so that justice may be done to the whole people in the time of war. The only persons who benefit from the action of the Queensland Government in starting butchers’ shops are those living in Brisbane and Rockhampton and in a small area surrounding those cities. The stock-owners of the State and the residents of the country towns and districts, as well as the people of New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria, are being injured. The Government has tried, therefore, to restore the balance of justice. The original intention of the Meat’ for Imperial Uses Act commands sympathy, and not one stock-owner in Queensland, nor one consumer there, has protested against the measure, all being desirous to place the resources of Australia at the disposal of the Imperial Government for the successful prosecution of the war. It was not contemplated by the Queensland Parliament, nor by the Imperial Government, that the Act would be used for any other purpose than to obtain meat for Imperial uses, and the Act was not administered by the Liberal
Government that framed it for ‘any other purpose. It was only when the Labour Government came into office in Queensland that the power under the Act was used, to the detriment of the Australian people, to interfere with the freedom of Inter-State trade. The honorable member for Brisbane has taken exception to paragraphs 4 and 5 of the regulations. Paragraph 4 reads as follows: -
The Minister may, by notice in writing, forbid, with such limitations or exceptions, or except subject to such conditions as he may specify, the sale or disposal by or to any persons or class of persons, or by or to any State or any authority constituted under a State, of any live stock or meat.
Were Queensland stock-owners to make an agreement with a Trust to- sell their meat to it, this paragraph would apply. Surely the honorable member for Brisbane does not object to the Commonwealth exercising its powers to prevent such a contract being made. Nor, I think, can he properly object to the Commonwealth exercising its powers to secure justice for the whole people, should any proposed action of a State Government be likely to operate unjustly upon large sections of the people of Australia. Paragraph 5 of the regulations says -
The Minister may, by notice in writing, direct or permit, under such conditions as he may specify, the removal of any live stock or meat, whether owned or possessed by any person, or by any State, or by any authority constituted under a State, from any part of the Commonwealth to any other part of the Commonwealth.
That is a permissive power. Does the honorable member for Brisbane desire to go back to the old conditions, and make it impossible for a stock-owner, when his stock are starving in Queensland, to remove them to good country in New South Wales, or to take store cattle from Queensland to be fattened in the other States! The object of section 92 of the Constitution was to remove the barriers between the States. It was never anticipated that a State Government would try to set up those barriers again. Yet that is what the Queensland Government has done.
– What would be the position if all the States acted as Queensland has acted ?
– The New South Wales Government acted similarly, but suddenly found itself in collision with the Queensland Government, and asked the latter not to proceed.
– The Government of Western Australia tried to prohibit the importation of fruit from Tasmania, until the honorable gentleman, on behalf of the Commonwealth, prevented that.
– Yes. Heavy inspection fees were charged by the Government of Western Australia to keep out fruit and potatoes exported from other States, and as Minister I had to take action in each instance. The object of the Commonwealth Parliament ‘has been to make Australia one country, so far as trade and commerce are concerned. The honorable member for Brisbane spoke of the generous action of the Government of Queensland, as evidenced by its . willingness to supply meat to New South Wales andi Victoria. But I am informed it is only a limited quantity that it was willing tosupply, and that on its own terms. It acquires stock from the stock-owners onits own terms, and seeks to impose itsterms on the Governments of the other States. The regulations will not be administered so as to interfere with the supply of meat for Imperial uses, nor is it intended to enable persons to take advantage of the war conditions and to cornerstock or meat, and thus to interfere with prices. But, as it is a necessity arising; out of the war that the people of Australia should be properly fed, and obtain food at reasonable rates, and as the High’ Court has held that the Commonwealth Government has powers of action in this regard, it has determined to restore freedom of trade, as far as is legally possible, and thus enable more strenuous efforts to be made for the carrying on of the war to the hoped-for successful end.
.- The Minister, has covered the ground so well that I have not much to add ; but, as I was a member of the Queensland Parliament when the Meat for Imperial Uses Act was passed, I wish to say that it was never contemplated that the power given to the State Government to deal with stock would be used to show undue preference to a section of the community. During the late drought very many country butchers of Queensland were not able to get meat through the ordinary channels, and were forced to obtain supplies largely from the meat works at Redbank; but the Labour Government, when it started its State butcher shops in Brisbane, commandeered the whole of that meat, and would not allow the butchers in many other parts of the State to get any of it. Butchers in my own electorate, as well as other butchers who- had been actustomed to obtain their supplies of meat in casks from the Redbank meat works for the needs of farmers, selectors, timber getters, miners, . and others, found themselves suddenly cut off from that source of supply. When a protest was made, the reply was given that the meat was required for the State . butchers’ shops in Brisbane. Although the Labour Government now in power in Queensland has been in office since May twelve months - one year and ten months - I know of only one State butcher’s shop outside Brisbane itself. Does ‘ the honorable member for Brisbane claim that the supplying of cheap meat to the people of Brisbane is the supplying of cheap meat to the people of Queensland? The people of Queensland are absolutely against what has been done, and at the first opportunity, which probably will be afforded before very long, will show their objection to it in no unmistakable way. What justification has the honorable member for Brisbane for saying that persons who hold properties in the two States should be debarred from moving their stock from Queensland to New South Wales without depositing 10s. per head, guaranteeing to bring them back to Queensland, so that they may not be used to satisfy the requirements of other parts of Australia ? I do not know how any one can say that we have Inter-State Free Trade under the restrictions imposed by the Queensland Government.
– Unification is your only salvation.
– The honorable member would have a very hot time were he to advocate Unification in some parts of the Commonwealth. The people of the’ Commonwealth should be protected against actions like that of the Government of Queensland. The Liberal Government of the State made arrangements to supply the Imperial Government with meat for war purposes at 4½d. per lb., but when the Labour Government came into power it proposed to charge 47/8d. per lb. for meat, for Imperial uses, taking 12,000 tons at 3¾d. per lb. for the State butchers’ shops in Brisbane. Was that playing the game? Those engaged in fighting for the defence of the country, and the people of the country towns and districts of Queensland, were to be charged a higher price for their meat than the slackers in Brisbane who would not fight. That is the kind of thing people cry out against, and it is time this Government took a hand.
.- I am very anxious to know from the Minister representing the Attorney-General why the Government seek to interfere with the Queensland Government in carrying out public ownership and control. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Government have found it necessary to issue a war regulation to prevent the State purchasing cattle or meat and selling it to the people of their State. What is the reason for that part of the regulation? However, I understand that the Leader of the Opposition desires to raise a matter of privilege affecting the honour of the House, and I shall avail myself of a further opportunity to refer to the subject now before us.
Question resolved in the negative.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker-
– I desire to call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– I rise to a question of privilege, and I shall conclude with a motion. A most important statement has been made in another place this morning reflecting on the honour and integrity of several members of Parliament, andthe name of, at least, one member of this House was brought into the discussion. It is alleged by Senator Watson that about three weeks ago he was sent for by the President of the Senate, and that in the ensuing conversation it was suggested to Senator Watson that he was not in the right company at present - that a way might be found for him to get out, or rather for him to vote for the Government proposal to extend the life of Parliament. Subsequently - I am giving, as nearly as I can, the honorable. senator’s statement - Senator Watson asserts that he was seen by the Minister for Defence - whom he was interviewing on public matters - and that statements were made similar to those made in the conversation with the President of the Senate. On his return to Newcastle, Senator “Watson received two telegrams from the Minister for Defence, one asking him to see the Prime Minister in Sydney, and the other cancelling the first, the Prime Minister not having gone to Sydney that week. When he returned to Melbourne, Senator Watson had occasion to again see the Minister for Defence on military matters, and the Minister for Defence observed that Senator Watson had probably got confused by the two wires sent to him. To this Senator Watson replied in the negative, observing that the telegrams explained themselves, and he asked Senator Pearce what it was that the Prime Minister desired to see him about. “ Oh,” said the Minister for Defence, “ it is a most important matter, and Mr. Hughes could see you now.” To this Senator Watson replied, “As I am here, I can see him.” An appointment was made by telephone, and Senator Watson saw the Prime Minister. Senator Watson alleges, in the statement he made this morning in the Senate, that, at that interview, the Prime Minister asked him to leave the party of which he was a member, and promised, practically, that he would make it “worth while” to Senator Watson if he retired from the Senate.
– /Would find him a job!
- Senator Watson further says that the Prime Minister told him that, if he found it difficult to live in Newcastle, where he had been brought up, a place for him could be found elsewhere. In his interview with the President of the Senate, Senator Watson had told that gentleman that he would not be able to face the men at Newcastle if he “ ratted “ on them in the way suggested, and the President, in reply, had made a remark similar to that used by the Prime Minister. That portion of Senator Watson’s statement, in my opinion, is sufficient, in itself, to demand inquiry. Honorable members opposite- are as much interested in the honour and integrity of this Parliament as are the honorable members on this side ; and I repeat that that one statement, in itself, is strong enough to demand inquiry. But with that statement by Senator Watson, we have coupled the resignation of Senator Ready; and I say distinctly that some action must be taken by this Parliament in order to clear its name. We have the events in chronological order, and the facts following each other like marbles into a hole, may be read as clearly as can the notice-paper of the House. We read that last week the Premier of- Tasmania was hurriedly called to meet the Prime Minister in Sydney, or somewhere else in New South Wales, and that he left the east coast of Tasmania, where he was staying, for Hobart to catch a boat to Sydney. I repeat that it is for some competent tribunal to ascertain the whole of the facts in connexion with this resignation of a senator. The President told the Senate last night that the resignation did not take place until one minute past 6 o’clock; and the new senator has been sworn in this morning. It has been my privilege to be a member of a Ministry for five years or. more, and I cannot call to mind on any occasion an Executive Council held at night. There are honorable members opposite who have had experience in both State and Federal Ministries, and I doubt whether, any could call to mind an instance of the kind. Yet we learn from the newspapers this morning that, following on the resignation of Senator Ready, an Executive Council was held. The resignation was wired to the Governor of the State by the President, and rightly so; and everything was found to be convenient, and Mr. Earle is now here to take his place in the Senate as Mr. Ready’s successor. As I have said, both the President of the Senate and the Minister for Defence are concerned in this matter of Senator Watson. This morning I heard the President speak in reply to Senator Watson, and the President did not deny one single word that was used by the honorable senator. The President did say that he considered that everything that took place in his room was private and confidential. But there are things which cease to be private and confidential when they affect the honour of the country. We may be asked to take no notice of these statements because they are uncorroborated ; but it is quite possible that there may be corroborative evidence if a tribunal is appointed. I have no desire to deal with this matter at any great length ; and I never made a speech in this House with more reluctance. But when we see even the slightest taint of bribery and corruption entering into public life, it is the duty of every honorable member, no matter on which side he sits, to “ scotch “ it - at the outset. I am anxious that we should not indulge in any vituperative statements, and I am keeping as closely as possible to the matter before the Chair. I move -
That the statements which have been made in another place relating to attempted bribery and corruption, also the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Senator Bead)’, be referred to a Royal Commission, preferably Justices of the High Court of Austrafia.
.- The honorable gentleman has made what, in effect, are charges against myself, the Government, and the members of our party, charges which, in their nature, are grave, the gravest possibly that could be made against public men. I am called upon, on the -spur of the moment, to deal with those charges, and I can only deal with them on the statement as put forward by my honorable friend. I have not had an opportunity to read the speech of the gentleman in another place ; but I shall recount the facts, and leave honorable members to draw their own conclusions. Honorable members know perfectly well that, in order to understand the position, they must immerse themselves in the atmosphere - in the political and party environment - out of which, and in which, these charges have been generated. The Leader of the Opposition has said that an attempt has been made to bribe Senator Watson - in so many words, that is what the charge amounts to. Sir, I say that an attempt has been made - several attempts have been made - to persuade Senator Watson to vote the way in which his conscience and his convictions would lead him. Let me now state my own part in this matter, and state it clearly. I have known Senator Watson these twenty-five years; he is a man with whom I have worked, and with whom I am, or was, on the terms of close personal friendship ; but I have spoken to him only once since that afternoon when I vacated the chair in the party room of the Official Labour party. On that occasion, because I had been told from a dozen sources what Senator Watson wished to do - as I knew him perfectly well, knew the kind of man he was, knew his convictions and his opinions, knew which way he wanted to go - I expressed a wish- that he should see me. He saw me. I said to him, “ I want to ask you what you propose to do in regard to supporting our Government.” After some little conver sation he said to me, “ You are right and we are wrong. I wish I had the courages to do what you have done.” I said, “ Unless you do what I have done you. will never have an easy moment in. your life. You are a man born and bred in. an environment which makes your present company intolerable to you, and you. know it. You know the kind of men by whom you are surrounded. You know the kind of men who lead the Labour movement in New South Wales to-day;, you know that type of men, and you know that every breath you draw in their company is an agony to you.” He said, ‘ I do.” I then said to him, “ I ask you tothrow in your lot with us - to vote asyour convictions and your conscience guide you.” He said again, “ I wish that I were able to do it.” I said, “Why cannot you do it?” He said, “I cannot, I dare not.” He spoke about thecoming elections. He spoke about, the men with whom he was going, to stand. He spoke about his codelegates, the selected men who aregoing to stand with him, and whom he despises and detests. He said so much. He said, “ I know we shall be beaten out of sight.” I said, “ Have you not the courage to do what conscience and commonsense alike tell you is right.” Hesaid, “ No, I have not.” He went on tosay, “ How could I live in .Newcastle.” I said, “Why don’t you do as I do ? I represent West Sydney; but I live in Melbourne. Why cannot you live in Sydney anyhow.” He said, “ No, I cannot do it. I cannot manage it. I wish ‘to God I could.” There the matter ended. I utterly deny that Senator Watson was; approached in any other way than by an appeal to his conscience and his convictions. I utterly deny it, and what issaid by the other side to the contrary isa miserable and contemptible lie. The predilections of this man Watson are perfectly well-known to every member of theLabour party. There is not a man in the Australian Labour party who doesnot know that what I say is right: that between the convictions of Senator Watson, his opinions about the war, about the Empire, about Britain, and the kind of” men who are running the political Labourmachine in New South Wales there is a chasm as wide as hell. Every one knows that. These men opposite know the circumstances under which Senator Watson first came into public life - under whose* auspices he stood - and they know who today is running the political machine in New South Wales. They know what I say is right; they know that had he been free to do so he would have advocated strongly the cause for which this Government stands. They know that perfectly well. Senator Watson has been interviewed by the President of the Senate, it appears; he has been interviewed by Senator Pearce; he has been interviewed by me. On each occasion it would now appear from the remarks of the honorable member for Yarra, he professes profound ignorance of their intention to discuss the political situation in the Senate; he cannot understand what it is these men want to see him about. He sees the Minister three times - each time about military matters. That is the explanation of this gentleman whose probity is such that it is proof against a series of attempts to sap it. He goes again and again into temptation. Why? Why does he do this thing? Why does he come to see Minister after Minister? He does not deny that he did so. He does not deny what, according to the honorable member for Yarra, the Minister for Defence said as to what took place; that he was asked to come over and stand by us. What is there wrong in asking a member of the Opposition to do that? There are in the Official Labour party to-day halfadozen men who, since I left the chamber upstairs, have come to me and have said, “ Why did you not tell us that you were going to leave the chamber and we would have gone with you “-
Opposition Members. - Name them.
– Do you deny it?
– Yes, I deny it anyhow.
– No, I will not name them.
– You coward to say such a thing.
– I call upon the honorable member for Brisbane to withdraw that remark and to apologize.
– I withdraw it and apologize.
– I would remind the House of the gravity of the position. An honorable member of this House is charged with one of the gravest offences with which a public man could be charged. The Standing Orders make it imperative that an honorable member at all times shall be heard in silence, and if there is one time more than another when that rule should be observed it is now. I respectfully demand that honorable members shall listen with patience and in silence to the remarks of the Prime Minister.
– I shall not name these men, but I shall invite them to answer me. Let each one of the Official Labour party opposite stand up and say that it is a lie.
Opposition members rising in their places -
– There were some who did not rise.
– There is no need for me to rise. Every one of you know where I am.
– Then let us have it over again.
Opposition members again rising:
– Well, I can only say that amongst those who have now risen there is one who has risen who ought to have remained in his seat.
– Only one ! The Prime Minister said there were halfadozen.
– Fortunately for me, the evidence does not rest on my bare word. Honorable members of the Opposition now present do not represent the whole of the Official Labour party. There are others who are not here this morning; there are others in another place. However, I pass that matter by. We have as much right to approach honorable members of our old party, and to appeal to them to do that which we believe to be right, as have those leagues of theirs, who tyrannize over them, who have compelled them to abandon their convictions and their conscience, and to vote strictly as they demand. Why are they where they are to-day ? They are there because they have not the courage to stand up for what they know to be right. What are they now? What is the thumbscrew that is now turned upon them ? It is that if they dare to vote as they believe they should, their leagues will strike them off the ticket. If that is not bribery and corruption, what is it? Honorable members opposite know very well what it is. Did not every one of them appeal to me - was there not a resolution asking me - to go to the Labour organizations throughout Australia, and beg them to give the party a free hand in this matter ?
– Yes; there was such a resolution, and honorable members opposite know that my statement is correct.
Several Opposition members interjecting,
– Order !
– Are you going to shout me down?
– He defends himself-
– Order ! I shall not again ask honorable members to cease interjecting.
– He does not touch the question.
– He defends himself by proving that others are as rotten as himself.
– Will the honorable member for Bourke cease interjecting ? This is no laughing matter, and I shall not allow it to be treated as such. I am going to preserve the dignity of the Chair as long as I have the honour to occupy it. I appeal to honorable members on a grave occasion such as this - and the Leader of the Opposition supports me - to remain absolutely silent. The Prime Minister is charged with the gravest offence with which any man could be charged. He is making his reply in his own way, and is entitled to be heard. If honorable members feel aggrieved by reason of any statement made by him, they may reply, but certainly not while the Prime Minister is answering the charge made against him.
– I was remarking when interrupted that these honorable gentlemen, who are now so zealous for the honour of the House, who are so eager that conviction may find no bar to expression on the floor of this chamber, actually found themselves so entangled in the fetters of their organization - their consciences and convictions were leading them in the one direction, and they were being so fettered by their organization - that they asked me to go to the various organizations throughout Australia, and to appeal to them to give them a free hand, so that they .could support me. Do they deny that?
– If they deny it, then - but there I will leave it. It is a fact. I did go round to these organizations. The members of the Official Labour party all know it to be so. The facts speak for themselves. I went at the request of honorable members of the Official Labour party. I went with the object of endeavouring to get the executives to give these members a free hand so that they could vote and speak as their conscience guided them. There are on this side of the House honorable members of the Labour party - members who have followed me - who can bear out what I say. An honorable member who was prominent in asking me to do so - in exacting from me, on the floor of the Caucus, the promise that I would - is in this chamber now. He knows that I visited these organizations. I went to Adelaide, I went to Sydney; I addressed them here in Melbourne. I endeavoured to carry out my part of the pact to induce the. Labour organizations to give them a free hand in this matter. What was that for? If a free hand left them where they were, for what did they ask a free hand ? I went, as I have said, to try to get honorable members permission to vote as they felt they ought to do. It was necessary to cut the bonds which prevented expression being given to their convictions. But I failed. The organizations held over every honorable member the threat of expulsion, of losing the nomination, and of losing their seats. These organizations used every means - and still use them - to induce men to vote against their conscience. The honorable member for Maribyrnong, who happened to follow those who followed me out of the room upstairs
– That is not so.
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong happened to come out of the room upstairs at the same time as I did, but for quite another purpose. Because he did so, he was arraigned before these men, and asked to explain why he dared to leave the room at the same time that I did. Does the honorable member deny that? There is a reign of terror abroad. No man in the Official Labour party dare move or speak except as the gentlemen of their organization dictate! I have been the victim of the vilest charges ever since I dared to advocate that in which I believe. And this is the culminating point: I speak to a man, whom I have known for twenty-five years, who I know absolutely detests the course he is compelled to pursue, and is pursuing it only because it is bringing in £600 a year. I say to him, “ Come over with us. Take your fortune with us.
Join this party, which contains twentyfive or twenty-six of the men you have been working with for years.” What is wrong with that? Does any one deny that I have the right to offer such an invitation? Does any one deny that honorable members opposite have’ used every means at their disposal to detach men from my party ? There are means at the disposal of those men, and the organizations behind them, which they use without scruple. And now, when one man finds himself suspect, and rightly suspect, because his associates know how he feels, and he knows how he feels, compelled, as he is, to remain in company which he detests, he endeavours, by abusing me, as the honorable member for Melbourne Ports did last night, to make himself right with the men who will wipe him out. The Jacobins found that the only way to secure immunity from the guillotine was to be more extreme, more bloodthirsty, and more unscrupulous than those who sought to terrorize them. Honorable members opposite bring this charge against me. I have been, their friend, supporter, leader, since the day the Labour movement came into being. Where the fight for the cause of Labour has been thickest I have been always found. Say what they will of me, they can never say that I shirked a fight. But how have they treated me, their old comrade, their friend, their leader? Ever since I dared to apply - for the first time in the history of the world - that fundamental plank of Democracy, the referendum, to enable the voice of the people to be heard on peace and war, voluntary or compulsory service, they have never ceased to hurl at’ me every vile epithet of abuse. What have I done, except to insist that when the greatest of great questions - compulsory military service - was to be determined, the people should have an opportunity of expressing their views ? What other crime have I committed ? My accusers cannot put a name to it. These honorable gentlemen feel their position very keenly. They realize that their masters are, in effect, their rivals; they serve men whom not even the most servile obedience will placate, because their masters covet that which they have. I do not tar all of the honorable members opposite with the same brush. There are men sitting in Opposition who passed through that bitter referendum campaign without saying a word against me, and I never said a word against any honorable member, except the honorable member for Bourke, because of his association with the Industrial Workers of the World. But I said everything about that organization; I said everything about the pernicious influence that is now working in and directing the Official Labour party; and there is not a member of the party who does not know that every word I said is absolutely true. I leave that matter, I have recounted the substance of the conversation with Senator Watson. I ask any man to consider the circumstances as a whole, to remember that the man who makes this statement is one who notoriously is not sympathetic with the policy of that section of the Labour party which sits in Opposition to-day ; that he is suspect because of that lack of sympathy. The President, the Minister for Defence, and I, all say that Senator Watson stated that his convictions and his conscience led him in our direction. There are honorable members on the Opposition side who know that to be a fact. I asked him to vote as his conscience and convictions dictated. Is that a crime? I told him - and he cannot deny it - “ You will never have an easy moment in your life if you turn your conscience down.” Is that a crime? I appealed to his conscience, his convictions, and his courage. He did not lack conviction, he did not lack conscience; but he did lack courage. Beyond asking him to throw in his lot with the party that supports me, and to accept its fortunes, good or bad, I absolutely deny that there is a word of truth in what the honorable member for Yarra has stated. I come now to what the honorable member has alleged about the resignation that took place in the Senate yesterday. The honorable member is unable to say more than that the circumstantial evidence supports the charge at which he has hinted. All I have to say on that point is this: Because, in my opinion, it is vitally important that Australia should be represented at the Imperial Conference, because it is absolutely impossible that Australia can be represented effectively unless the delegates leave next week, and because I will never leave Australia unless one of two things happens - either that there is an election or a postponement of the election - I hold that I am perfectly justified in taking every opportunity, when a resignation is rumoured, or likely to be made, to make all arrangements so that, if possible, a majority for the Government may be secured. I absolutely deny having done anything beyond that. I heard that there was a. probability of a senator resigning. I did not know at the time who that senator was, but I was told that it would probably be a senator representing a certain State. On that information I acted. There the matter stands. I absolutely deny having had anything further to do with the resignation. If honorable members require a Royal Commission, or any other inquiry, into the matter, in God’s name let them have it. I have related the facts as I know them. There has been sworn in in the Senate to-day a man who was leader of the Tasmanian Labour party, and who is as good a Labour man as sits on either side of this House. A senator has resigned. Of the circumstances that led up to his resignation, other than those which are set out in the newspapers in regard to his ill-health, I know nothing. I positively deny any knowledge, good, bad, or indifferent, of the whole matter. If the honorable member for Yarra makes a definite charge, let it be met, as I have met the one in regard to Senator “Watson, in a definite manner. But of this accusation, and every other of a like kind, I say that the Government and I have done nothing except to appeal to men’s convictions and courage, to endeavour to persuade the&- to stand up for that which they believe to be right, and to tear themselves from an organization that is bent on destroying them, that has declared its purposes clearly, and is proceeding every day to effect them. I have appealed to men on those grounds, and I will appeal to them again. Honorable members opposite know perfectly well the kind of. man I am. I will always fight for what I believe to be right, come what may. I have fought always for my convictions with all my heart, soul, and strength. But honorable members opposite, after having, in the party meeting, resolved by a majority that the course I advocated, namely, the taking of a referendum, was right, have since pursued me with a malignity born, not of honest motives, but of the knowledge that there was no way by which they could live except by denouncing me, whom the organizations, their masters, had ordered them to denounce. It is an infamous thing that I, who have stood with them for years, against whom they can bring no charge, should be singled out by these men for bitter personal attack, and I feel it keenly. But if they want a fight, they can have it. I, personally, have never been strongly in favour of either holding the elections for the two Chambers separately, or of postponing the elections. If honorable members opposite say they want an election, and they mean what they say, then, by God ! they can have it.
– The honorable member for Bourke.
– I thought it was the custom in the House that when an exMinister of the Crown rose to his feet, he should have precedence.
– There is no rule or practice to that effect. The Chair usually takes notice of the member who first rises in his place. I noticed that the honorable member for Bourke had risen before he attempted to catch my eye, and I gave him the call.
– I am agreeable that the honorable member for Capricornia shall speak now.
.- The scene we have just witnessed must be to most honorable members very distressing. I am very pleased that, generally speaking, the Prime Minister was heard in silence.^ A very grave charge has been made against him, and he was entitled to be heard in silence. I gleaned from the latter portion of his remarks that he was agreeable to the appointment of a Royal Commission. He said, “ If they want a Royal Commission they may have it.” The Minister for the Navy, the Treasurer, the honorable member for Flinders, the honorable member for Kooyong, and a number of other honorable members whom I need not name, cannot rest until ‘ the whole of this matter is cleared up, not only the charges made by Senator Watson, but also the circumstances attending the resignation of Senator Ready.
We cannot blind ourselves to the fact that Senator Ready was the Whip of the Labour party in the Senate. He was a trusted member of our party; in the absence of the secretary he frequently took the minutes at our meetings ; he was a member of the executive of our party; yet, from what I learn, he never even hinted to the honorable member for Yarra, the Leader of the Official Labour party in this House, or Senator Gardiner, the Leader of the party in the Senate, that he proposed to resign his position in the Senate. I hope that the Minister for the Navy will make some reply to the observations that I am about to make. He impressed upon us the necessity for dealing with the motion for the prolongation of the life of this Parliament as soon as possible, and the Prime Minister said that it was imperatively necessary that the delegates should go to London as soon as possible, and that it was necessary to get a decision in the House. What has happened? As the motion must be moved in both Houses, it was given notice of in both Houses, and it was moved in this House, but it was delayed in the Senate. As a matter of fact, it was not moved in the Senate on the same day that it was moved in this House, and other business - the consideration of the statement by the Vice-President of the Executive Council - was brought on for discussion, .and that discussion was kept on from day to day? Why? If the Government wanted a decision as to their fate, why did they not bring on the matter at once in the Senate, and allow honorable members an opportunity of discussing it?
– They had an opportunity of discussing it.
– They did not have the opportunity of discussing the motion for the prolongation of the life of this Parliament. The Government would not bring on the motion. Why did they not do so ? All the circumstances go to show that the Government were postponing its consideration in the Senate until such time as they felt they had the numbers there with which to carry it.
Do the honorable member for Flinders or the Treasurer feel that they can go to London before this matter is cleared u,p? The Prime Minister may please himself as to what he does, but they cannot. But I am not prepared at this stage to say a word against the Prime Minister on this matter. Things have reached such a stage that no honorable member should say a single word against a man who is on his trial. The gravest charge that has ever been made against a public man in any Parliament of the Commonwealth, or of the world, has been made against him, and I shall not utter one word against him, for he is on his trial. When the verdict of the Royal Commission is given it will be time enough for us to offer any criticism against him. I am dealing with the Government, and I say that some explanation is due from them as to why they did not bring on that motion in the Senate. We are informed by the press that there was a trial of strength in the Senate yesterday. Senator Millen, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, moved to postpone the consideration of the motion for the prolongation of the life of this Parliament, which, we were informed, it was .imperatively necessary to have discussed as soon as possible.
– Which he had done several times before.
– That may be true; but it only supports my statement that the Government were evidently delaying the consideration of the motion for some reason. What was that reason ? Yesterday, a vote wag taken in the other Chamber, and the Senate was equally divided. As we are aware, all members of the Senate have an equal vote, and consequently, the question was decided in the negative. What happened? According to the press report, the President of the Senate looked to the Leader of the Government in that Chamber to move the motion having reference to the extension of the life of this Parliament, and the sending of delegates to the Imperial Conference; but Senator Millen allowed it to fall off the business-paper. He declined to rise and move it, and naturally the motion lapsed, and it was necessary for him to again give notice this morning of his intention to move it. Let me say - and I do not say it in the way of flattery ;. but there are occasions in which one must express these views - I have been opposed to the honorable member for Parramatta, and other honorable members in thisHouse, strongly opposed to them politically, and I do not suppose we shall ever agree on political matters, because we seemto take different views; but I believe the country can expect an honorable deal from those honorable members with whom I am in opposition. I regard them as honorable men, and I put it to these honorable men whether the circumstances in the Senate, in dealing with the motion forthe prolongation of the life of this Parliament, do not lend colour to the assertions which have been made that underhand work has been going on in connexion: with the voting in the Senate ? As I waa saying, Senator Ready was a trusted member of our party.
– And now the honorable member is damning him for all time.
– Senator Ready has damned himself for all time.
– We will allow the question of whether Senator Ready has damned himself for all time to be decided by the proposed Royal Commission.
– The honorable member is doing it by making these imputations.
– I would ask the Royal Commission to ascertain from Senator Ready why he did not communicate with the leaders of his party, with whom he had been in such close contact, as to his intention with regard to his resignation.
– Senator Ready was walking about the streets of Melbourne yesterday.
– How can the Government explain away the fact that Senator Ready resigned, apparently, yesterday afternoon, and that on the very same day the Tasmanian Government were informed of the matter; and the same evening another man was selected to take his place - a man who will support the Government view, and whose vote will turn the majority which our party had in the Senate into a minority?
– It must be admitted that it was quick work.
– However much we may desire to look upon this matter in the best possible light, we have to remember that, in the ordinary course, if any man proposes to resign, or to take a similar prominent action, full notice of it is generally given to the public ; every one knows about it for days beforehand. What would happen ordinarily in a similar case? Would not the Government of Tasmania be notified of the resignation of a senator in ample time to enable them to call together Parliament, or the members of the Ministry, in order that they might consider who should be appointed to fill the position ? Was it possible for Mr. Earle to have been informed in the afternoon ? First of all, was it possible for the Tasmanian Government to have held a Cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon, and decide to appoint Mr. Earle, who, it appears, was in Melbourne for some days before, and in consultation with the Prime Minister ?
– I passed him on Wednesday afternoon at the Prime Minister’s door.
– How was Mr. Earle made acquainted with the decision of the Tasmanian Government that they desired that he should be appointed to take the place of Senator Ready? These are matters which, I venture to say, the Royal Commission, when appointed, must go into. They must ascertain the exact time at which Senator Ready’s resignation was handed to the President of the Senate, and who handed it to the President - whether it was Senator Ready, or some member of the Ministry, That point is important, because it is said that Senator Ready - this man who is supposed to be ill - was in the office of the Minister for Trade and Customs at midday on Thursday.
Sitting suspended from 1.0 to 2.15 p.m.
– The Royal Commission should ascertain at what time exactly Mr. Ready’s resignation was handed to the President of the Senate, and by whom. The President was asked by Senator’ Gardiner whether he was ‘in receipt of the resignation, and received the reply that he could rely upon the President to make a statement at the. proper time. The President is quite aware of the terms of the Constitution governing this matter, because he quoted section 19, which declares that when a senator resigns his seat by notice in writing, and communicates the resignation to the President of the Senate or to the Governor-General, his seat shall thereupon become vacant. It appears to me that the President should have acquainted the Senate with Mr. Ready’s resignation immediately he received it. The Royal Commission should also ascertain when the Governor of Tasmania received, by cablegram, . or otherwise, information concerning the resignation. I understand that the President of the Senate says that the resignation was put into his hands at 6 p.m. last night. The Prime Minister, replying this morning to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition on the subject, said that he was aware that the resignation of a Tasmanian senator was contemplated, and that, as was his custom, he took action immediately. It will be news to all of us that it is customary for a Government to take action with a view to filling the place of a senator who has resigned before it knows the name of that senator. Is it not moreover extraordinary that the resignation of Mr. Ready should have been placed in the hands of the President of the Senate at 6 p.m. last night, and that at 11 a.m. this morning Mr. Earle should present himself in the Senate to be sworn in as a representative of Tasmania ? We wish to know before this debate closes whether it is the intention of the Government to appoint a Royal Commission.
– The Prime Minister said that we should have a Royal Commission and an election.
– The Prime Minister made a very heated speech, for which we ought to make allowance, as he was, no doubt, smarting under a very grave charge. At page 83 of May’s Parliamentary Practice it is stated -
The House resolved that “ the offer of money or other advantage to a member of Parliament for the promoting of any matter whatsoever, depending or to be transacted in Parliament, is a high crime and misdemeanour,” And, in the spirit of this resolution, the offer of a bribe, in order to influence a member in any of the proceedings of the House, or of a Committee, has been treated as a breach of privilege, being an insult not only to the member himself, but to the House. So, also, the acceptance of a bribe by a member has ever, by the law of Parliament, been a grave offence, which has been visited by the severest punishments.
I understand that Senator Watson has made this statement: -
He [Mr. Hughes] asked me did money stand in my way, as I would lose nothing by coming over to them, and stated that he had never deserted any man who stood to him. I replied that I had too much regard for the movement to act in any way in opposition to its interests or betray its confidence. I said, “ What would the men of Newcastle think of me were I to do anything contrary to the wishes of the party to which I belong?” He said, “If you don’t like to live in Newcastle, we can find you another place.” I knew then that Givens had told Hughes what I said. I replied, “ Oh, I could not think of that.” He then suggested that I should resign my seat and allow the vacancy to be filled, promising that a position would be found for me.
The Prime Minister this morning attacked honorable members on this side individually and collectively, saying that we were under the orders of persons outside, and making other statements which had nothing to do with the question at issue. I hope that none will follow his example. Allowance will be made for the fact that the right honorable gentlemen was smarting under the charge brought against him. I hope, as he did not say that the Government would agree to the motion, that the Minister for the Navy will tell us that, in view of the gravity of the charge made by Senator Watson, the Government has decided to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate it. The making of that promise may shorten the debate. I cannot see how honorable members, in view of the statements which have been made, can decline to vote for the motion.
.- The Prime Minister, in his speech this morning, indicated that he was agreeable to the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the statements of Senator Watson and the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Mr. Ready, and that if a general election were required he would be agreeable to that too.
Members oh this side desire both the appointment of a Royal Commission and the holding of a general election, and are prepared to accept both offers. The circumstances surrounding the resignation of Mr. Ready must be thoroughly investigated by the Royal Commission.
When the members of the party to which I belong met last Wednesday, at 2 p.m., I stated that there was talk generally in the Ministerial offices that efforts were ‘being made, and inducements offered to some members of the Senate to desert their party, and to go over to the Government. At that meeting on Wednesday a discussion took place amongst the members of the party, before any of the later developments had transpired. It was then decided that, as Senator Ready, although ill, was not totally disabled, an effort should be made to have a vote on the motion of which Senator Millen had given notice, before Senator Ready became any more seriously indisposed.
Following on that, the matter was again considered yesterday (Thursday). After the adjournment of the party meeting at midday on Thursday it was arranged that Senator Gardiner should go and see Senator Ready to ascertain whether he was well enough to come to the House and vote during the afternoon.
– How did you get the information in the first instance that he was going to resign ?
– I shall tell the honorable member how we got the information.
– The doctor has not yet said that Senator Ready was unable to be present.
-I shall later come to the extent of Senator Ready’s incapacity. Senator Gardiner and Senator O’Keefe went down to see Senator Ready at the Commercial Travellers’ Club, where he was staying. At first, Senator Ready was out - was not in his room. Later, he returned to his room, and an interview took place between him and Senator Gardiner, about 2 o’clock. Senator Ready stated then that he had sent his resignation to the President of the Senate. Senator Ready had been out during the morning, and it is currently reported that he was at the office of the Minister of Trade and Customs; at any rate, he was able to «ro about the city and transact his ordinary business.
Senator Ready knew that the party to which he belonged was, on the Thursday, having its regular meeting, and if he was able to go about the city he was able to come to that meeting and inform his colleagues of the position in which he found himself, and of his determination to send in his resignation. This he did not do, and that fact stamps the whole thing with suspicion from the start; the circumstances are very suspicious.
Senator Gardiner came back to the Senate, and- asked the President whether Senator Ready’s resignation had been received. The President would not admit whether or not he had received the resignation, but said that when the proper time came he would make the necessary announcement, or words to that effect.
Senator Ready stated that he had sent his resignation to the President about 2 o’clock; and the President of the Senate last night stated that he did not receive the resignation until one minute past 6 o’clock. Where was the resignation during those four hours? In whose hands was it ? -Senator Ready had been to .the office of the Minister for Trade and Customs. Was it there that the resignation was written out? Was it from that office that the resignation was sent to the President of the Senate? Was there any conference going on in the meantime, and was it arranged that the resignation should at that time reach the President of the Senate ? These are matters to be inquired into.
When Senator Gardiner reported what had taken place, I went to the Commercial Travellers’ Club to see Senator Ready if I could. I thought that, as we found that the resignation had not reached the President, there might have been some mistake. The housekeeper at the club looked into Senator Ready’s room, but Senator Ready was not there. I found out from a porter downstairs that Senator Ready had been in and out several times, and had received a number of telegrams - that, although he had not been very well, he was apparently going about his ordinary business. So much as to Senator Ready.
– Is that what the porter said - that Senator Ready was doing his usual business?
– I said that Senator Ready had been passing in and out of the club, and appeared to be going about his usual business; the porter said that, although Senator Ready had not been very well, he was looking fairly well.
Now we come to other suspicious circumstances surrounding the visit of the Tasmanian Premier to Sydney. The Prime Minister left Melbourne for Sydney on Saturday last, and on Monday, the 26th, the following appeared in the Daily Telegraph -
Hobart, Sunday. - Some mystery surrounds tlie hurried departure of the Premier (Mr. Lee) for Sydney by the Moeraki early on Saturday morning. On Friday an urgent message was received from the Prime Minister, asking Mr. Lee to meet him in Sydney on Monday morning. The Premier was at Swansea, completing his eastern tour, and the message was repeated to him there. He at once came on to Hobart, reaching the city at about 1 o’clock in the morning, and left at 10 o’clock for Sydney.
The message contained no inkling of the business necessitating Mr. Lee’s visit to New South Wales.
So that, apparently, on the Saturday, the Prime Minister communicated with Mr. Lee in Tasmania.
– It was on the Friday he did that. He left on the Saturday.
– Yes, apparently that is so. In the Daily Telegraph of the next day, the 27th, there was the following: -
Mr. Lee (Premier of Tasmania) arrived in Sydney yesterday, in answer to an urgent request from the Prime Minister. The object of his visit, however, was not disclosed.
In the Daily Telegraph of the 28th there is a statement by Mr. Lee. The newspaper representatives had been chasing him in reference to the mystery surrounding his presence in Sydney, and he then stated, as appeared in the newspaper, that he was over to see the Prime Minister in connexion with the wheat and fruit crops. What is there in connexion with the wheat and fruit crops of Tasmania that could take Mr. Lee post-haste from his eastern tour all that way to Sydney to see the Prime Minister ?
– Ask Senator Ready !
– I think we ought to ask the Prime Minister. The Premier of Tasmania saw the Prime Minister in Sydney on the Monday, and then the Prime Minister came straight back to Melbourne, evidently accompanied, on th© same train, by the Premier of Tasmania. The Prime Minister could have consulted the Premier of Tasmania in Melbourne without taking him all the way to Sydney, and there is the suspicion attached to the interview with Mr. Lee which appeared in the Daily Telegraph. As I say, Mr. Lee had been pressed as to the mystery surrounding his visit, and then he came out with the statement about the wheat and fruit crops, for the purpose of deceiving the people as to the real nature of his visit. It was not the fruit crop or the wheat crop - it was the Senate crop or the Senate coup !
– Have you many more members in your party of whom you are so suspicious ?
– If, under the circumstances I have related, a member belonging to the party of the honorable member for Wannon was walking about the streets of Melbourne while his party was meeting, would he not have similar suspicions ?
– I was talking about another individual, and about the crops.
– It is as mysterious as the visit of the honorable member, for Cook to America ! The honorable member never told the leader of his party of that visit.
– The honorable member knows nothing about the matter, and he is absolutely wrong. I saw the leader of my party some considerable time before I went away; further, I obtained leave of absence from my electoral council in Sydney, and also got a written pair from an honorable member opposite.
– I must ask the honorable member to confine himself to the motion, and avoid these personalities.
– The next point is in connexion with the motion in the Senate. When the Senate met on Wed nesday the first item on the notice-paper was a similar motion to that which has been under discussion here relating to the Imperial Conference and the postponing of the elections. The Government, however, refused to proceed with that business, and went on to the second item; so that the Government, or somebody in connexion with the Government, must have known on the Wednesday, before the House met, what was going to transpire later in the afternoon.
When the Senate met yesterday (Thursday), and the motion was called on in the ordinary way, Senator Millen sat dumb and refused to move it, although he had given notice of it. The President of the Senate then said that as the mover was not prepared to go on, the motion would lapse and be taken off the business-paper.
To-day (Friday), after the resignation of Senator Ready and the appointment of Mr. Earle as senator, Senator Millen gave notice again that he would move the resolution.
The next matter for consideration is that when the Prime Minister arrived in Melbourne from Sydney on Wednesday at mid-day there was a motor waiting for him at the station, and he was brought direct to Parliament House, where Mr. Earle, since the newlyappointed senator, was waiting for him.
– I have seen that done hundreds of times; there is always a motor waiting.
– The honorable member may have seen this sort of thing happen a number of times, though it is something new to the majority of us over here. As a fact, the Prime Minister very seldom comes direct from the railway station to the House.
I am informed just now by the honorable member for South Sydney that the Prime Minister had lunch with Mr. Earle on his arrival. How does it happen that Mr. Earle, above all other men, happened to be in Melbourne awaiting the arrival of the Prime Minister? The resignation of Senator Ready, according to the President, was received at one minute past 6 o’clock last night. The President telegraphed to the State Governor of Tasmania, and, apparently, there was an Executive Council waiting for the telegram to arrive. How was Senator Earle communicated with during last night ? In what terms did he give his consent to become a candidate for a seat in the Senate ?
– He had to resign his seat in the State Parliament.
– He had to resign his seat in the State Parliament; he had to give his consent to become a member of the Senate, and he had to be appointed by the Tasmanian Executive to that position. All this had to occur last night; so that when Senator Givens arrived at his office this (Friday) morning, the GovernorGeneral’s certificate was awaiting him, and when the sitting of the Senate commenced, the new senator was standing on the doormat ready to go in. As he went in, Senator Millen gave notice of his intention to restore to the noticepaper the motion which he had allowed to lapse, and with which he had refused to proceed on Wednesday last.
– Good business.
– It was fairly slick business. All these circumstances need to be thoroughly inquired into. They are certainly very suspicious.
I come now. to Senator Watson. As soon as that honorable senator heard of what had occurred in regard to Senator Ready, he attended a meeting of our party, and made a statement. I took a note of that statement, which I shall read to the House. It does not agree, word for word, with the statement which he subsequently prepared and read to the Senate; but it will be seen that the essential points are exactly the same in each case -
At a meeting of the Australian Labour party, held on 1st March, 1917, SenatorReady’s action was reported. Statement by Senator Watson. - I have been unwittingly drawn into the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the happenings reported to us. While temptations were placed in my way to do wrong, I could resist them. I had confided in my New South Wales senator colleagues, as well as the Leader of the party, but did not feel called upon to make any public statement. I am no lover of sensationalism. But the same thing has apparently been tried on a promising young man and brought him to ruin. It now appears to be my imperative public duty to expose what has taken place in regard to myself.
About two weeks ago Senator Givens asked me to see him in his room. When I arrived, he sent out an officer who was there.
He said, “ How will you get on at the elections?”
I said, “ That is a matter no man can tell.”
He said, “ You haven’t a ghost of a show with Bae and Bowling.”
I said, “ That remains to be seen.”
He said, “ It is not in the interests of Labour that we should have an election. I wouldn’t ask you to vote for the Government, but I would like you to vote to extend the life of Parliament.”
I said, “ You cannot ask me to vote against my party.”
He said, “ It’s not very nice to go back to the mines.”
I said, “No; but you would not ask me, Tom, to. do a thing like that.”
He said, “ You think it over.”
Later on he met, me, and said : - “ Well, have you thought that matter over ? “
I said, “I could not think of such a thing.”
Last Friday afternoon week, 15th February, just before we were to leave to catch our trains for Sydney, having just received correspondence relating to the Defence Department, I walked across the chamber to the Minister’s table and handed him the correspondence. I said, “ You look a bit worried, George.”
He said, “ Yes, I am. How are you going to get one “
I said, “ I don’t know.”
He said, “ You wouldn’t have a show with Bowling and Bae. The movement has gone wrong.”
I said, “We must try to put the movement right.’
The conversation then ended.
When I arrived home this telegraphic message awaited me. It was telephoned to my house in Newcastle from Commonwealth Offices, Sydney : -
Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, 3.32 p.m., 16th February, 1917.
Please call on Prime Minister in Sydney Monday or Tuesday next.
An hour or so after, I received another wire from Senator Pearce, saying the Prime Minis ter was not going to Sydney, and the arrangement was cancelled. I did not reply, as one telegram was a contradiction of the other.
The following Wednesday, 21st February, Senator McDougall having told me there was a party meeting on Thursday morning, upon arriving in Melbourne, I met Senator Pearce.
He said, “ I suppose you got a bit confused over those two telegrams.”
I said, “ Oh, no,” and passed on.
Later I had occasion to see Senator Pearce at his office about defence matters. He sent his clerk out of the room, and said, “ The Prime Minister wishes to see you.”
I said, “ Well, I could see him now.”
He then rang up the Prime Minister’s office, and Mr. Hughes replied to send me over. I then went to the Prime Minister’s office, and, after waiting for a little time, was called in. I walked in. Mr. Hughes sent bis clerk out, locked the door, and lit a cigarette.
He said, “ Of course, I know your position. You and I ore out of the one mould.”
I did not answer.
He said, “ What’s standing in your way? Why can you not come over?”
I said, “ The Labour movement.”
He said, “Why you more than others? Myself, Chris. Watson, Spence, Pearce, and others all belonged to the movement. You see who is running the movement. It is a crowd with whom you have nothing in common.” He tried to show me I was in very bad company.
He said, “You have a poor show with Rae and Bowling. We can rake up things against Bae and Bowling.”
I said, “ They are my colleagues.”
He said, “ If you don’t like to live in Newcastle, we can find you another place to live.”
I then knew Givens had told him what I had said to him about living in Newcastle, and not being able to hold up my head if I did anything dishonorable.
He said, “Does money stand in your way? I never turn on a friend. What about getting out? We’ll find you a job.”
I said, “ I could never scab on my mates.”
There the matter ends.
– According to his statement it took place on 15th February.
– And he waited for a week before he disclosed what had taken place ?
– No. Senator Watson points out in his statement that he immediately confided in his colleagues from New South Wales and in the leader of his party, but did not feel that he was called upon to make any public statement.
– Why did he wait for the resignation of Senator Ready before disclosing what had taken place ?
– It is not for me to explain. The honorable senator himself said that he could withstand temptation of this kind; that it had no effect upon him, but as, apparently, judging by circumstantial evidence, the same thing had been tried on a young senator, and had brought him to ruin, he felt it his duty to make public the facts. As to whether he followed the correct procedure or not it is not for me to say.
I have followed up this matter very closely in the party. It had been publicly rumoured for some time that efforts were being made to “ get at” some of the senators, but none of us felt that we could doubt any of our party. Apparently, however, these rumours, which came from a source that lent a certain degree of credence to them, had had a considerable amount of justification. The strongest possible case has been made out for a searching inquiry.
– What is your charge ?
– That the statement made by Senator Watson in the Senate discloses on the part of the Prime Minister an attempt at bribery and corruption.
– Why do you not formulate your charge?
– I do not know how the honorable member would have it formulated. The whole thing is very plain. The leader of our party hasmoved for the appointment of a Royal Commission, consisting of one or more Justices of the High Court, to investigate the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Senator Ready, and also to investigate the statement made by Senator Watson in the Senate -this morning.
– That motion contains no charge of corruption whatever.
– But the speeches do.
– If you have any definite charges, why do you not take the responsibility of making them?
– The honorable member has the statement made by Senator Watson, and the circumstantial evidence associated with the resignation of Senator Ready. He is as well able to formulate a charge in connexion with this matter as is any member of the House. It does not fall to the responsibility of a member of any particular side to formulate the charge.
– They are going to smother it up.
– I do not think for one moment that it will be smothered up. The honorable member for Flinders, and those associated with him, will insist upon a public inquiry. For tactical reasons the honorable member for Flinders would very much like us to submit a charge in some restricted form which would keep the inquiry within the narrowest confines.
– No; all that I say is that if you are going to charge the Leader of the Government of the country with parliamentary corruption, you had better do it in plain terms, so that the people may know it.
– The circumstantial evidence which has been put before the House in connexion with Senator Ready’s resignation fits in with the probability that the tactics employed in dealing with Senator Watson were applied to him. There is no . need to formulate a charge which would be, in effect, a judgment upon the man concerned. We cannot say absolutely that there has been bribery and corruption, but we can say that there are suspicious circumstances, pointing very much to it, which ought to be investigated. IE is for the Royal Commission to say whether there has been bribery and corruption.
As it is, the honorable member for Flinders wishes us to pass judgment before” there has been any inquiry, whereas we have purposely refrained from giving any verdict before the case has been heard. I hope no statement has been made from this side of the House which definitely seeks to convict the Prime Minister of bribery and corruption; but what we do say is that a prime facie case has been made out for a thorough and searching inquiry.
Towards the close of his speech the Prime Minister said, “You can have a Royal Commission, and also an election.” He now professes that he does not wish to avoid an election. We are prepared to accept him at his word. Let him give us both. ‘ Let him give us this Royal Commission and have a general election. If there is nothing surrounding this case that will be any detriment to himself or his Government - I will not say the Government; I will not say that mem.Dere of the Liberal party are associated with it - then so much the better for him and his party. Apparently Senator Pearce and Senator Givens, with the Prime Minister, know something about the matter. I will not say that Senator Millen knows anything about it. His attitude in connexion with the motion in the Senate for the prolongation of the life of the Parliament looks very peculiar; but I have not said anything that would connect him definitely with this matter.
I do not think any of the members of the Liberal party know anything about it. If upon investigation it is shown that all this talk is so much blank cartridge, then so much the better for the Prime Minister, and those with him, in the election which he professes to be anxious to hold.
I hope this will be done. I feel confident that the good judgment of members of the Liberal party will lead them to determine that there must be a thorough and searching inquiry into this matter.
.- Every honorable member of the House recognises the importance and seriousness of the statements made by Senator Watson in another place to-day, and also the seriousness of the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition in this House. The urgency of the business to be transacted in Parliament during this week was. appreciated by, not only members of both Houses, but also by the press of Australia. Members of the Labour party regarded the carrying of the motion in reference to the prolongation of the life of Parliament as a foregone conclusion, so far as this House was concerned; but we believed that we had the numbers in the Senate to defeat the proposal there, and so bring about an appeal to the people, which we regarded as the wisest course to follow in order to find a way out of the difficult position in which the Parliament finds itself to-day. As was stated by the honorable member for Cook, strange rumours have been in circulation for a week past. Those rumours were heard by members of the Labour party, and probably reached the ears of several honorable members on the Government side. Naturally, we were anxious to ascertain if they had any foundation in truth. On the meeting of the Senate yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition asked whether the President had received the resignation of Senator Ready, and the President replied that any announcement in regard to Senator Ready’s resignation would be made at the proper time. We have heard of the inquiries that were then made by Senators Gardiner and O’Keefe, and of the interview between Senator Gardiner and Senator Ready. After the tea adjournment, the President announced that Senator Ready’s resignation had been received by him at exactly one minute past 6 o’clock. In this morning’s Argus appears this telegram -
Mr. Earle Appointed
Hobart (Tas.), Thursday.- The Premier (Mr. Lee), on his return from the mainland tonight, received a communication from the State Governor (Sir William Ellison-Macartney) that Senator Ready had resigned his seat in the Senate. As it waa desirable that the vacancy should be filled as soon as possible, an Executive Council meeting was held at Government House to-night, and Mr. John Earle, M.H.A., formerly Leader of the Tasmanian Labour party, was appointed to represent Tasmania in place of Mr. Ready.
Prior to his appointment Mr. Earle handed in his resignation as the member for Franklin in the House of Assembly.
All those proceedings took place last night. Senator Ready was a responsible officer of the Labour party, being the Opposition Whip in the Senate, as well as occasionally acting as Minute Secretary to the party. He was regular in his attendance at party meetings, and I ask honorable members on the Government side, if a member of their party contemplated resigning his seat, would they not consider it at least decent on his part to inform his fellow members of the party, or his leader, of his intentions? We are told that Senator Ready is indisposed; but is it within the recollection of any honorable member present that a member of Parliament resigned immediately upon becoming ill? Such an action might be understood if taken by a man of independent means, but it is difficult to explain when taken by a man who depends on his parliamentary salary for his livelihood. That resignation will require a good deal of explanation to members of this House and to the people. There was another remarkable spectacle in connexion with, the nomination of Mr. Earle by the State Government. There are parties in the Tasmanian Parliament, just as there are in this Parliament; and if our system were to nil extraordinary vacancies in the Senate by this House appointing a successor, is it likely that the Prime Minister, or the right honorable member for Parramatta, would take the responsibility of making an appointment without first consulting his party ? The Liberal Government in Tasmania had this matter under consideration for days, and had decided upon the nomination of Mr. Earle. Who informed the State Government that this vacancy would occur? The Prime Minister admitted that some days ago he anticipated that this extraordinary vacancy would occur in the Senate, and acting upon the information he possessed, he communicated with certain authorities. The result was that this morning honorable members had the humiliation of seeing the creature of bribery and corruption walking the Queen’s Hall, im,patiently waiting to be called to the Senate to take his oath of allegiance. If ever there was anything in the history of any Australian Parliament that called for inquiry by a Royal Commission, it is the resignation of Senator Ready, and the inducement in the form of bribery held out by the Prime Minister to Senator Watson.
– Order ! The honorable member is now judging the case. That is outside the motion.
– I am alluding to the statement made by Senator Watson as to the inducements held out to him, first by the President, later by Senator Pearce, and finally by the Prime Minister. If I ask a man whether monetary considerations are deterring - him from taking a certain course of action, what does my action amount to? Bribery may be an ugly word, but I should certainly be offering that man a monetary inducement. The Prime Minister referred to-day to the previous honorable character of .Senator Watson. It was the honorable nature of the man that stood by him in the moment of temptation. If he had not been an honorable man, he could have been induced to sell his party and his country, and this motion would not have been before the House, because, although Senator Ready’s extraordinary resignation might have evoked a certain amount of comment, it was only the statement made by Senator Watson that provided tangible evidence that some one was trying to pollute our system of government. I believe that the Leader of the Opposition is justified in moving this motion, and that his action will be approved by the people. The Prime Minister, in defending himself against the statements made by Senator Watson and the Leader of the Opposition endeavoured to justify his actions because of the attacks which are being constantly made upon him by members on this side, and those connected with the Labour movement outside of Parliament. He referred to the good work he has done in the Labour movement in the past, and urged that, because of that work, he should be free of criticism by the members who now sit in Opposition. I shall not deal with the right honorable gentleman’s past. My disagreement from him dates from the time he returned from the Old World, and resolved to take a certain course of action. Men have had honest differences in this Parliament, and feeling between them has run high, as it is doing to-day. Our opposition to the Prime Minister is not because of the policy he enunciated on a certain matter, but because we believe that a dishonest attempt has been made to interfere with the rights of the representatives of the people in this Parliament, and to bring about a certain result in the interests of a party, and particularly in the interests of an individual. We cannot get away from the possibility that an adverse vote in the Senate means an election, and probably the postponement of the visit of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and the honorable member for Flinders to the Mother Country, and because of the importance of these things one can- readily understand the great incentive there was for this form of corruption to be displayed by certain individuals who were not desirous that their future policy should be interrupted. When a young man ‘in ill health to a certain degree and not possessed of a strong will, was suddenly brought into contact with a person of strong individuality and dominating personality, he gave way to temptation, and has passed out of public life, and another person prepared to act at the behest of the same individual has taken his place in the Senate. All this has been brought to light because one man at least has proved himself strong enough and honest enough to resist the offers of the tempter.
– When was Senator Watson approached by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence?
– It has all taken place within the last two weeks. The chronological sequence of events is contained in the statement submitted by Senator Watson, and in addition we have on record in Hansard admissions by the Minister for Defence and the President of the Senate, and also an admission by the Prime Minister in this House to-day of the truth of the statements.
– It is not fair to say that of the Prime Minister, because the whole sting in the matter was absolutely denied by him.
– The Prime Minister said : “ Here is a junta outside “ - he was referring to the Labour movement - “ that is bringing pressure to bear on these men “ - referring to members of the Labour party in this Parliament - “ who have not wills or consciences of their own. If that movement outside is justified in bringing this influence to bear on its representatives in this Parliament, then I, as Prime Minister, feel justified in using any inducement to get one of its sup porters in the Senate to come over to our side.”
– The Prime Minister did not use the word “ inducement.”
– The Prime Minister said that he had a right to ask any honest man who agreed with him, and who had been roped-in against his will, to come over here.
– He claimed the right to ask any honest man to do so, and it was because he met an honest man he failed in his project. When he reminded Senator Watson that he was face to face with political defeat at the next election, when he made inquiries as to the senator’s condition in life, and asked him if it was money that prevented him from accepting the offers made to him, was not that inducement ?
– Order ! The honorable member’s remarks are quite outside the scope of the motion. The question is the appointment of a Royal Commission.
– The honorable member is asking for a Royal Commission, and at the same” time prejudging the case.
– I have heard no statement from the Prime Minister or any member of the Government that Ministers propose to agree to our request. If I am assured that a Royal Commission is to be appointed, and that the matter will be carefully investigated, I am prepared not to utter another word, but at the same time I am determined that certain influential gentlemen shall not leave Aus-, tralia while the people remain in ignorance of what has transpired during the last week or two. I do not wish to prejudge those who are likely to be concerned in the Royal Commission, but honorable members are justified in bringing forward certain facts with a view to pressing honorable members who follow the Government to support the motion moved by the honorable member for Yarra. There are honorable members sitting on the Government side of the House who are as wide apart from members on this side of the House on political questions as the poles, and though I have fought them, and will continue to fight them on the public platform on political differences, I have never accused them of dishonesty or of stooping to corrupt practices. While they are prepared to support the Prime Minister and his Government in legislation that may appeal to them politically or in legislation that may be considered necessary for, the prosecution of the war, the majority of those who support the Prime Minister would not be parties to anything having the taint of suspicious practices about it. Senator Ready’s resignation, following on the information we have received, is more than suspicious; the negotiations with the Tasmanian Premier and the members of the Tasmanian Government and Mr. Earle’s attendance here this morning to step into the vacancy created by a man whose resignation was only handed in last night are more than suspicious; but the interview between Senator Watson and the Prime Minister following his interviews with the President of the Senate and the Minister for Defence is still more suspicious. This Parliament and the public should insist upon an inquiry. Whatever the faults of this Parliament may have been in the past, it can claim, at least, that it has never permitted anything in the nature of bribery. or corruption to be spoken of without challenging it; and while there may have been considerable opposition to men who have been Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth, and have passed out of public life, it can be said of them that not one person in the community ever held the slightest suspicion against them in so far as dishonest practices are concerned. For the good name and honour and dignity of this Parliament I trust that a Royal Commission will be appointed. Parliament demands it, and the people demand it. In the circumstances I hope that the motion will be carried.
– I do not yield to the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, or to any other honorable member, in the importance that I attribute to any attack upon the integrity of parliamentary government. I have lived enough in public life both in the State and in the Federal spheres to recognise that parties may come and parties may go, and that public and political differences are continually changing colour, but that there is one thing which is the basis of all parties, and nil public life in Australia, and that is the maintenance of the parliamentary integrity of honorable members and of the institution itself. Therefore when we find ourselves suddenly plunged into the consideration of an attack on the Government of the day, which, however it is framed, I cannot take as anything but a direct attack upon its integrity, honorable members on both sides should be extremely careful that the consideration of the matter is gone into in a way that is likely, not only to get at the truth, but also to maintain the honour and dignity of the House. The motion which the honorable member for Yarra has put before the House is a singularly illadvised one, no matter whether the allegations have any foundation or not. It is one which under no circumstances ought this House to pass. If we did pass it, we should, to get rid of an alleged evil, strike at the very basis of responsible government. No Administration could remain on the Treasury bench for a single day after consenting to the appointment of a Royal Commission such as this now moved for.
An Honorable Member. - Unless they made the appointment themselves.
– The appointment of a Royal Commission is the act of the Governor-General in Council, and is taken on the advice of Ministers. Imagine the absurdity of the position were Ministers to say, “ At the request of Parliament, we advise your Excellency to appoint a Commission to determine whether we are or are not guilty of corrupt practices 1 “ Such a thing has not been heard of. Whether this House desired it or not, no Government could ask the GovernorGeneral to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into its political integrity. Its form is such that under no circumstances should the motion obtain the support of honorable members on either side. When the honorable member for Cook was speaking, I asked him, by interjection, what were the charges, and he replied that I was endeavouring to make him the judge: I was not endeavouring to do so. When an accusation is brought against a man, in either a high or a low position, it is the right of the accused person to know exactly what is the charge that is brought against him.
– Surely Senator Watson’s statement furnishes the charge I Sir WILLIAM IRVINE.- Never mind Senator- Watson. I wish to know what it is that you say the Prime Minister has done. Do you - say that ho promised to give Senator Watson a sum of money? Does the honorable member for Yarra say that? If he does, let him say it boldly and distinctly, so that we may deal with the charge. If you are going to deal with this vital matter as it should be dealt with, the first step is, not to refer to what an honorable senator may have said in another place-
– Mr. Deputy Speaker told me that I should not be in order in saying what I wished to say.
– Because the form of the motion precluded you from saying it. The motion should have been a motion of want of confidence, and nothing else. When charges of corruption, malversation, or maladministration are made against the members of a Government, they cannot be determined by any tribunal other than this House, subject always to the ultimate appeal to the country.
– Then there would be a party vote.
– What would be the position of the Government if the course proposed by the honorable member for Yarra were, adopted ? If their supporters allowed them to humiliate themselves by advising the GovernorGeneral to appoint a Royal Commission, the Commission would commence with the usual formalities, stating that, having full confidence in his integrity, and so on, the Governor-General had appointed Mr. Justice So-and-so a commissioner to decide whether Ministers had or had not been guilty of direct parliamentary bribery. Could the Prime Minister keep his seat for a fraction of a day after the appointment of such a Commission?
– He should not be there now.
– Your game is to get rid of him.
– I shall say something about the charge in a moment. I presume that honorable members opposite have something more than mere spite and malignancy as a basis for the action they have taken. They propose a course which no Government could take and remain in office. No Government could be responsible for one act of administration while a Royal Commission was determining whether it had been guilty of parliamentary corruption.
– The Prime Minister promised a Royal Commission.
– He did not. There can be no Royal Commission.
– He said, “ You can have it if you want it.”
– The question under discussion is too grave to permit of the interruption of speakers by interjection, and I ask honorable members not to make it necessary for me to enforce my calls for order.
– A Government could not continue to meet the Mouse, to bring forward Bills, and ito perform the ordinary work of administration, while a Royal Commission was inquiring whether its members were rogues and vagabonds, guilty of corrupt practices, and of the worst offences that could be laid to the charge of public men. In one way only can allegations such as have been made be met by a Government. It is for the House to determine whether such allegations have foundation. 1 have said so much on the assumption that these socalled charges have some basis. They are not charges, however. The honorable member for Yarra has shrunk from the responsibility which lies on him as Leader of the Opposition. He made no charge. He is afraid to do so. if
– I am nob.
– Then why has not the honorable member done so? Why has he not framed a motion of want of confidence on the ground that the Prime Minister has offered pecuniary bribes to members in another place with a view to inducing them to resign? Had he done that, there would be a clear-cut issue for the House to determine.
– It seems to me that you are going to get away.
– Does the honorable member intend to defy the Chair? I give one more warning.
– What the Leader of the Opposition has said is that, because some statements have been made in another place, of which we are not in possession except so far that he has told us what they are, he will not take the responsibility of making any direct charge against the Government, but asks the Goverment to adopt what, having himself been a Minister of the Crown, he knows to be a ridiculous and impossible course. No Government for a moment could take it. The Leader of the Opposition shelters himself from the responsibility of making a downright, clear-cut case for the House to consider. I shall not take up much time, because we have nothing to deal with, nothing that we can catch hold of, nothing but suspicion and insinuation, with a cloud of noxious gas thrown out in an endeavour, apparently, to destroy the man who now leads the Government. When we come to inquire into the real basis of the allegations there are one or two circumstances of rather peculiar suspicion connected with the gentlemen who make them. When did this mysterious conversation, alleged by Senator Watson, take place between himself and the Prime Minister? How long ago?
– Wednesday week.
An Honorable Member. - A fortnight ago.
– Another member says that it was a fortnight ago. Why, if there is a word of truth in what Senator Watson says - and honorable members swallow it as though it were gospel - though it is denied explicitly by the Prime Minister-
Honorable Members. - No, no.
– Why nas Senator Watson for a fortnight or so kept this matter in the background? Why should he wait until this other matter of Senator Ready’s resignation seemed to afford an opportunity to fortify a case that he desires to make against the Prime Minister ? Gentlemen opposite are so keen to find a weapon of any kind poisoned with any poison to use against the Prime Minister that they grasp this statement, absolutely contradicted as it is, as if it were gospel truth from end to end. I did not rise to make a speech, for the matter is not in a condition at present in which it is possible for the House to deal with any definite charges. Honorable members opposite do not make any charge. They do not know what the charge is.
– Do they not?
– Then why not come forward and make a charge?
– What does the honor- ablemember -
– If these interjections continue, I shall have to name the honorable member.
– Oh, go on,, and name somebody !
– I name the honorable member for Maribyrnong for wilfully disobeying the Chair.
– You are a lovely impartial gentleman, you are ! What do you name me for?
– I did not, of course, catch what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, nor do I know what the honorable member for Maribyrnong has done, but whatever hu has done which has brought this on him, I ask him to make the usual apology to the Chair, and submit himself to the House, as is customary in these cases.
– What for ?
– I do not know what you have done.
– I should like to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why you name me?
– Because you defied the Chair.
– Hold your tongue! You are not Speaker yet!
– On two or three occasions - particularly this afternoon - I have called the attention of honorable members on both’ sides to the grave position in which we find ourselves, and to “the necessity for the rules to be strictly adhered to. Every member, no matter from what part of the House he is speaking, should be heard in absolute silence. I have made an appeal for silence on two or three occasions, and on more than one occasion I have warned honorable members that if they did not obey the Chair, I should be forced to take some action. The honorable member for Bendigo persisted, and I intimated to him that if he did not desist, I should name him. Then the honorable member for Maribyrnong defied the Chair, and said, “ Go on, and name all.”
– I did not. I said,” Name one.”
– The honorable member was distinctly disorderly, and I ask him if he is prepared to apologize to the House?
– All right, I agree to withdraw.
– In rising to this motion, I do not intend to be drawn into any consideration of the grounds which induced honorable members opposite to make the charges, because these charges are so vague, so indefinite, and without point, that I feel incapable of doing so. I rose specially, to point out that whatever grounds they may have had, or may think they have, for such charges, the position can only be met, not by a request for a Royal Commission, to which in no circumstances could this House consent, but by a charge in direct form with which the House, and the House only, could deal. For ray part I say that, so vast and important is the matter raised now, that the House ought not to rise until it is disposed of. No matter how long we are kept here, we ought to sit continuously until we dispose of the charges. I invite the Leader of the Opposition now to place in concrete form a definite charge of corruption - which he impliedly makes, but not expressly - in order to enable the House to deal with it.
– I understood, when the Prime Minister was answering the honorable member for Yarra in reference to the charge, particularly levelled against himself, that if we desired we could have a Royal Commission. Indeed, the Prime Minister went further and said dramatically, “ By God ! if you want an election, you can have it.” Instead of the Government standing up to the declaration that they are willing to have a Royal Commission, we have the special pleader, thehonorable member for Flinders, giving all sorts of excuses why that course should not be taken. That honorable member said that the proper way is not to have some independent tribunal to sift the evidence and bring in a verdict. I suppose that because three gentlemen are going to an Imperial Conference, and berths for them and eight attendants are booked by the Euripides on Wednesday next, it is very inconvenient
– Will the honorable member confine himself to the motion ?
– I shall adhere strictly to the motion. The honorable member for Flinders wishes to make out that this is an attack on the Government. It is nothing of the kind; it is a serious charge against the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence. The honorable member for Flinders asked for a specific and. definite charge in reference to the offering or an inducement to one of our members to go on the other side and thus place the Labour party in a minority in the Senate. But the honorable member for Flinders had a copy of the statement by Mr. Watson in his hand. It did not suit that honorable gentleman’s purpose, however, to quote that statement and therefore I shall take the liberty of drawing attention to where there is a definite charge made therein.
– We are not dealing with Senator Watson’s statement.
– We are dealing with the charge made by Senator Watson against the Prime Minister and Senator Pearce, linked up with the President of the Senate, in reference to the offering of an inducement to vote on the Government side. In the public interest, and for the honour of this Parliament, there should be an independent body like a Royal Commission to sift the evidence and say whether the charges made are true or not. What have honorable members opposite to fear? If this is something that will not stand investigation - that will not stand the light of a Royal Commission - why does the honorable member for Flinders say that we should deal with it in the House to-night? He knows that if we were to deal with this motion as a charge against the Government there would be a majority of two to one against us, because we should have a purely party vote. The honorable member asked why Senator Watson kept this information back for nearly a fortnight. Senator Watson himself explains the reason in the statement which he read to the Senate this morning. He says -
In view of the statement made by the President yesterday concerning the resignation of Senator Ready, I feel impelled to make a statement to this honorable House and to the country concerning certain conversations that I have had with the President of the Senate (Senator Pearce) and the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). I should have certainly regarded these matters as purely confidential, and of a private character, but for the suspicion that has been created in my mind that an act of political treachery has been perpetrated for the purpose of allowing the present Government to continue in office, and to defeat the people in their determination to prevent the conscription of manhood for compulsory military service abroad. .
There are three persons named - the President of the Senate, the Minister for Defence, and the Prime Minister. The President and the Minister for Defence both say, practically, that Senator Watson’s statement is correct. The attitude which the President took up was that anything said in his room was spoken in confidence, that Senator Watson was violating that confidence, and that he could not accept any responsibility.
– He said more than that.
– I heard what the President of the Senate said. He practically admitted that what Senator Watson had said regarding himself was true. He did not contradict it. His only complaint was that the matter should not have been divulged either in the Senate or to the public outside.
– He did not say a word about that.
– Order ! The honorable member must be allowed to proceed without interruption.
– The Minister for Defence did not contradict Senator Watson on any material point. He took exception to his saying that he came over on Wednesday to attend the Senate. As a matter of fact it was the day before the Senate met - the 22nd February - and he said that he knew Senator Watson had a desire .to go over to their side. Senator Watson went on to say -
About three weeks ago I was asked by the messenger to meet the President of the Senate in his room, and I complied with the request. He began a conversation by asking me what I thought of my chances at the coming Senate election. I said that I did not know what was likely to occur. He said, “ I do not think that you have a hope of getting back here with Bowling and Bae ns your colleagues.” I said, “Well, we will have to take our chances.”He said, “ Now, I do not .want to influence you by asking you to vote for the Government, but I think, in your ow.n interests, you would be well advised to vote for an extension of the life of Parliament. It would not be very nice for you to go back to the mines again.” I said, “No; but you could not ask me to do anything like that, Tom.”
That is the only reference to any inducement held out by the President. Coming to the Minister for Defence, Senator Watson said -
On 15th February last, just prior to my departure for Newcastle, I interviewed Senator Pearce in the Senate in connection with some correspondence on military matters which had just come to hand, after which we entered into a conversation. During our talk he asked me a similar question asked by Senator Givens in regard to the next Senate election.
He makes this statement with the object of showing that there was evidently collusion between Senator Givens and Senator Pearce in that they asked similar questions regarding his position. I come now to that part of Senator Watson’s statement in which he links up the Prime Minister with the Minister for Defence and the President -
The following Wednesday, when I returned to the Senate, I met Senator Pearce, and he smilingly said, “I suppose you were a bit confused with the wires I sent you.” I said, “ No, I took in the situation, and did not think it necessary to reply.” He made no further comment at that time. Shortly afterwards I had occasion to consult him concerning correspondence I had received on military matters, when the question of the wires was again mentioned. I asked him what Mr. Hughes wished to see me about. He said, “He wishes to see you on important business.” I stated I was at his disposal now, if it were convenient for him. He then rang up Mr. Hughes, and stated that I was available if he wished to see me. Mr. Hughes requested that I should come over straight away, which I did. I met Mr. Hughes in his Ministerial room at the Treasury.
He does not add here that Mr. Hughes locked the door.
– The honorable member wants to add that, does he?
– No. I heard Senator Watson say he did, and that fact will come out if this inquiry is held. In bis written statement to the Senate he went on to say -
He began a conversation by stating that he knew the difficulties surrounding my position, as we had both come out of the one mould - referring, of course, to our long connexion with the Labour movement. He then asked me what stood in my way in coming over with them. ‘I replied, “The Labour movement.” He said, “ Why more you than myself, Chris. Watson, George Pearce, and others, who are equally attached to the Labour movement?” I said I could not discriminate in that way, as it was within their rights to act as they thought fit. They had been resting for many years in the lap of the Labour movement, and had seen many years of public service, whilst I stood at the threshold of my public career. The honorable member for Flinders, who is a shrewd lawyer, with a keen analytical mind, wants to know where this definite charge against the Prime Minister comes in. It comes in here -
He, Mr. Hughes, asked me did money stand in my way, as I would lose nothing by coming over to them, and stated that he had never deserted any man who stood to him.
If the Government wants any more direct charge than that I do not know what they are looking for.
I replied that I had too much regard for the movement to act in any way in opposition to its interests or betray its confidence. I said, “ What would the men of Newcastle think of me were I to do anything contrary to the wishes of the party to which I belong?” He said, “ If you do not like to live in Newcastle we can find you another place.”
Are these not direct charges of undue influence on the part of the Prime Minister, with the object of inducing Senator Watson to support the Government ? Senator Watson continued -
I knew then that Givens had told Hughes what I said.
That is where he links the Prime Minister up with the President of the Senate, and shows that there was a conspiracy to get him over to the Government side -
I replied, “ Oh, I could not think of that.” He then suggested that I should resign my seat and allow the vacancy to be filled, promising that a position would be found for me.
When the honorable member for Flinders asks for specific charges, I direct him to these statements. What more could he want? There must be an independent tribunal to deal with them. I understood that the Prime Minister promised an inquiry. He said: “If you wish it you can have it.” Why is it that honorable members on the Government side now offer all sorts of excuses to dodge that inquiry ? .
.- Yesterday, when walking along Elizabethstreet in company with Mr. Prendergast, I was stopped by an important gentleman in the city, who said : “ Doctor, I hear that two of your Tasmanian members’ are ill.” I said : “ Yes ; but possibly we will be able to get pairs.” He said : “Iam told that the Government have two other members in the bag.” I replied : “ It is a damned lie; I do not believe it.” Later in the day we discovered that one senator had resigned. Loving that young man as I do, and looking upon him as one of the brightest men in our young brigade, I say I would rather see him dead and in his coffin than occupying the dishonorable position which he is in to-day. I wish to say a word in defence of the doctor concerned in this matter. No medical man will say that a man who is troubled with his heart cannot stay quietly resting on a sofa in this House if he is able to walk about the streets of the city. Some have said that the doctor was bribed. I have not heard that the doctor has said that Senator Ready is not fit to retain his position as a member of another place. I do not believe for a moment that that has been said. I do not know any doctor who will say that a man able to walk about the streets of Melbourne, with trams and motor cars passing by every moment, is not able to lie comfortably on a sofa. There have been men in this Parliament who have died in harness. I allude particularly to the late Mr. E. A. Roberts, who fell dead at the foot of the statue in the Queen’s Hall. Some malign influence is at work. Last night after I left this building a member of the press said to me: “We knew over a week ago that this would happen, but we did not know that it would be the man who has now resigned. There is another man concerned, and we wish to know who he is.” How do these rumours arise if there is nothing in them? We know the record of the honorable member for Flinders in the State Parliament, and that in his profession he is willing to take the part of any trust or combine against the country of his birth. He spoke to-day as he speaks in the Court - for whichever side employs him. He is going to England; but not by the vote of the people, and he will do anything to prevent that vote being given. When I listened to those splendid words which left his lips at the commencement of his remarks, I though I was to hear a speech such as I have heard . from members of the old Victorian Liberal party, of which the honorable member for Gippsland is the sole remaining member. The honorable member for Flinders asks us to formulate an exact charge as if this matter were being dealt with in a criminal Court. Let the honorable member call a meeting in the city, and I will meet him on the platform, and then we shall see where he is. The Prime Minister to-day accused six of us of a dishonorable and disgraceful action. He invited those who could deny it to stand up. There were seventeen members of the Opposition present, and every one stood up. Four were absent, two are at the front, and one is ill in bed . As the allegation was denied by those present, it could only apply to those who are absent, and he dare not mention one of them. Then the right honorable gentleman spoke of his conscience. May the Lord love me. I think of Justice Hodges and his decision, and of the use to which the Moratorium Act is being put, and I conclude that his conscience must be of the most elastic kind, when a man who dined at his table and waits for money which is due to him cannot get payment from the Prime Minister, and the Courts will not order payment to be made. I leave him to his conscience. He seems to be almost a case of paranoia, and I tell honorable members on the Government side that he will use them as long as he can, and when they are of no further use he will throw them aside like a squeezed lemon.
.- I certainly understood the Prime Minister to say that he would welcome an inquiry by a
Royal Commission, and that if we desire an election we can have it. We are ready to take up that challenge and have both the Royal Commision and the general election. The party on this side has nothing to be afraid of. The honorable member for Flinders says that the action we propose is wrong - that satisfies me that it is right, because he is the last man to whom 1 would go for advice as to what the Labour party ‘should do. The honorable member said that no charge had been made. I did not read to the House Senator Watson’s statement, but I believe it, and Senator Watson will be willing to repeat it on oath. Let the Government grant an inquiry. I warn them that this matter wiil not terminate with the vote this afternoon. This is not the last the House will hear of the bribery and corruption which is absolutely rampant. I say that advisedly.
– Make a charge.
– I make the charge that the Government approached Senator Watson and offered him money to either retire or vote with them. The Prime Minister does not deny that he sent for Senator Watson and in his room tried to persuade him to support the Government. He asked those honorable members to stand up who had not said to him that they would have stood by him had they known that he intended to leave the caucus chair. I did not stand up. Everybody knows what my position was on this question. I want an election as soon as possible. The Prime Minister knows that I was one of the first to see him on his return from England, and I made my attitude perfectly plain. Now that the Prime Minister has returned to the chamber, I ask him if he did not say that he was willing to grant a Royal Commission to inquire into this matter.
– If you make a definite charge.
– I make the charge which Senator Watson made.
– I answered that. I said there is absolutely no foundation for that charge other than that I invited him to come where his conscience and convictions led him.
– I am willing that that should be determined by an outside, tribunal. I welcome the Prime Minister’s offer of a Royal Commission to deal with this charge and to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Senator Ready. If the Government prefer to follow up their statement of this, morning, their willingness to grant a Royal Commission, and hold a general election also, we are prepared to accept both offers right away . There will bea sickly smile on the face of honorable members opposite if an election is fought on this issue. Whether it is defeated this afternoon by a party vote or not it will, not be the last that is heard of it. Honorable members may be anxious to have the vote on the motion for the prolongation of the life of Parliament taken so that the delegates to the Imperial Conference may get away before the general public have an opportunity through the press of judging as to the gravity of these charges that have been levelled, but I warn them that when the public do learn of what has transpired its future action will not be in the interests of the Ministry, or of those who oppose the motion that I have submitted.
Question put. The House divided.
Majority … … 17
Question so resolved in the negative.
The following papers were presented: -
Armenians - The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, 1915-16 - Documents presented to Viscount Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, by Viscount Bryce. (Paper presented to the British Parliament.)
Audit Act - Transfers of Amounts approved by the Governor-General in Council - Financial Year, 1915-16- Dated 28th February, 1917.
Public Service Act - Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1917, Nos. 20, 21.
War Precautions Act -
Regulations (Passports) 1916.
Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1917, No. 22.
– I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition that questions on notice might he postponed until Tuesday.
– I am agreeable to that course.
– I cannot consent to that. I have a very important question on the notice-paper, and I would like to have it answered to-day. The predecessor of the Minister for the Navy promised to tell the House the names of the men who were poisoning the people of Australia, and I wish to ask the Minister if he can give the names of those who have tried to poison the soldiers and the people of Australia.
– I have not the information with me.
– I again ask whether the Minister will give the names promised by his predecessor of those who are poisoning the people of Australia and the soldiers with diseased meat?
Questions, by leave, postponed.
.- By way of personal explanation, I wish to say, in regard to statements and dates made and given by me last night, that I inadvertently fell into error, for which I now apologize to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House. I find that Mr. Hughes was expelled on the 15th of September, the date upon which I signed the joint protest. Our meeting was the day before, not, as I wrongly stated, the day after, that event. I confused in my mind the fact of the State executives and councils turning down Mr. Hughes’ referendum proposals with the final act of hostility shown in his expulsion by the Political Labour League executive on 15th September.
The acceptance or rejection of the proposals by the Political Labour League and councils was a vital matter to the majority of the party. My error, though regretted very much, does not in the slightest degree destroy the point my speech aimed at, namely, that the great Australian Labour party resented the attempt of State conferences to at any time interpose and control its actions, and to punish its members, and that the party made joint and emphatic protest.
Consideration resumed from 1st March (vide page 10844) of motion by Mr. Hughes -
Whereas, by reason of the existence of a state of war, and by reason of the immediate meeting of an Imperial Conference for the discussion of questions of paramount importance to the Commonwealth and to the British Empire, it is imperatively necessary that the forthcoming elections for both Houses of the Parliament of the Commonwealth should be postponed: And whereas, in the existing circumstances, this can only be effected by an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom: Now therefore this House resolves: That the Imperial Government be requested to provide by legislation for the extension of the duration of the present House of Representatives until the expiration of six months after the final declaration of peace, or until the 8th day of October, 1918, whichever is the shorter period, and for such provision in relation to the terms of senators and the holding of Senate elections as will enable the next elections for the Senatn to be held at the same time as the next general election for the House of Representatives, and consequential adjustments to be mode regarding subsequent elections.
Question put. Tie House divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr.Hughes) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until
Tuesday next, at 3 p.m.
OrderofBusiness - Supply of Diseased Meat to Soldiers.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That the Housedo now adjourn.
.- I ask the Prime Minister what will be the business forthe House when we meet on Tuesday next? I observe that the notice-paper contains the debate upon the Ministerial Statement, hut I do not know what the . Government propose to do with one or two other matters.
– The first business on Tuesday will be the debate upon the Ministerial Statement, but if there is no discussion on that-
– There will be a discussion on that, because I shall have a few remarks to make.
Dr.MALONEY (Melbourne) [4.32].- I desire to protest while I can that diseased meat is being sold throughout Australia, and is being supplied to soldiersin our camps. It was supplied to transports, and was only refused because it was first examined. Several thousand pounds weight of liver, which was covered with hydatids and fluke, was condemned. When I asked the Minister for the names of the scoundrels who were responsible, I got no satisfaction. Up to the present I have not succeeded in getting a reply to my inquiry, and I intend to announce in the biggest town hall that Victoria possesses that this Government are supporting the infamy of . diseased meat being supplied to the community. I accuse the Government, if they do not take some action, of possibly causing the death of many of those who are operated on in our hospitals for the disease of hydatids on the liver, heart, and lungs.If the Government do not take some steps to check this wrong a terrible curse will be upon them, individually and collectively, as long as they live.
– I call your attention, Mr: Deputy Speaker, to the state of the House.
.- I am interested in this subject, and-
– Attention having been called to the state of the House the Minister may not speak until a quorum is formed.
A quorum not being present,
Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House at 4.37 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 March 1917, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1917/19170302_reps_6_81/>.