Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN: EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES
– There are a number of notices of motion on the business-paper in the names of private members. I have one concerning the Commonwealth Bank. “Will the Government afford honorable members an opportunity, which was promised, to deal with these motions before we adjourn over Easter ?
Sir JOHN FORREST: Treasurer · SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA · NAT
– I am afraid that there will not be time for the consideration of these motions before the adjournment.
Mr WALLACE: WEST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES
– Has the attention of the Minister in charge of shipping been drawn to a newspaper paragraph in which it is stated that an Inter-State steamer, the Victoria, is about to be sold to the Chinese Government?
Sir JOHN FORREST: NAT
– I ask the honorable member to postpone the question until the motion of no confidence has been disposed of.
– The Prime Minister has intimated that no question will be answered while the motion of no confidence remains on the business-paper.
MOTION OF NO CONFIDENCE
Debate resumed from 16th January(vide page 3096), on motion ‘by Mr. Tudor -
That the House protests against -
the repudiation of the pledges of the Prime Minister and otherMinisters;
the political persecution of public men and other citizens and the pressunder the War Precautions Regulations during the recent Referendumcampaign ;
the deprivation of statutory electoralrights of Australian-born citizens byregulation behind the back of Parliament;
the general administration of public affairs, and wishes to inform His Excellency theGovernorGeneral that the Government does not possess the confidence of the people of Australia.
Mr McWILLIAMS: Franklin
.- I think that every honorable member realizes the seriousness of the present position and the responsibility that rests upon us all. This responsibilityisnot confined to Ministers and party- leaders; every honorable member must’ shoulder his share of it. The recent voteon conscription has created a most serious political situation. The few remarks that I have to offer now will be arranged underthree heads. These are - (1) the failure tosecure by conscription the necessary reinforcements for our men at the Front; (2) the “extent to which Australia’s relations’with other portions of the Empire and the Allies are affected by the vote; (3) theeffect of recent events on the public life of” Australia. I am one of those who-‘ thought the holding of the first referendum on conscription a mistake. Theholding of the second referendum was ablunder. Although I advocated conscription to the utmost of my ability,I never addressed a meeting asking the electors to. vote “Yes” without feeling the impropriety of calling on women to vote tosend men to the war. The proposition was not a fair one. Parliament should have taken the responsibility. I have never been able to follow the somewhat conflicting figures that have been published; but we know that the voluntary system in Australia has given magnificent results - results, it can be safely said, as good as, if not better than, those obtained by that system in any other country. Had any one, when, at the commencement of the war Mr. Fisher offered 50,000 men for service abroad, declared that within three years there would be over 300,000 Australian volunteers under arms, he would have been regarded as an. exceedingly rash prophet. But the voluntary system failed in Canada, in New Zealand, and in England to givethe necessary reinforcements, and it has failed also in Australia in that respect. When Great Britain found that she could notget voluntarily the men which her authorities deemed necessary, she adopted the compulsory system.
– How many men has she got by compulsion?
Mr McWILLIAMS: FRANKLIN, TASMANIA · REV TAR; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; CP from 1920; IND from 1928
-Over 6,000,000 men have been raised in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, of whom over 1,0130,000 men have been obtained under the compulsory system. When the voluntary system failed in New Zealand, compulsion was adopted there also, and so, too, in Canada. The United States of America, I am reminded, took no chance. Australia alone of the belligerents has not adopted compulsion. To my mind, conscription is eminently a fairer way than the voluntary system of obtaining the men needed for a country’s defence, and it is infinitely the more democratic way
– Conscription is opposed toDemocracy.
Mr McWILLIAMS: FRANKLIN, TASMANIA · REV TAR; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; CP from 1920; IND from 1928
– The foundation stone of Democracy is equality of sacrifice. During two electoral campaigns, at least, preference to unionists was a prominent issue, and in visitingthe timber districts of my electorate, where most of the mill hands are unionists, I found it difficult to answer a question which they put to me, embodying an argument which members of the Labour party have used with effect on every platform in Australia. They said, “Is it fair that when we have taken the risks of. dismissal and victimisation in striking to better our conditions, men who have stood outside and made no sacrifice should obtain the full benefits of unionism?” That is the argument on whichthe claims to preference to unionist’s have been based. It is contended that it is not fair for men to remain outside of unions, and then to enjoy the benefits that unionism has won for unionists at their own risk. I now ask, Is it fair for families to remain outside the military movement, and to accept the benefits conferred by the sacrifice of others? The best argument I have heardfor conscription came from an old lady, the wife of a worker, during my first referendum campaign. Some one had asked, “Do you think conscription fair? Do you think that a man should be sent to the war without his consent? “ This old lady said, “ I have three boys, one of whom is in the trenches, another in the hospital, and a third just gone into camp, while my neighbour here has five big boys, none of whom has enlisted. Do you call that fair? “ Can any one say that it is fair, democratic, or honest, that whole families should take no part in the war while others are sacrificing all their available men? There are families of three, four, and five eligible boys not one of whom has enlisted.
Mr LAIRD SMITH: DENISON, TASMANIA · ALP; NAT from 1917
– I know a family of eight eligibles not one of whom has enlisted.
Mr McWILLIAMS: FRANKLIN, TASMANIA · REV TAR; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; CP from 1920; IND from 1928
– Those who remain here are reaping the benefits of the sacrifices made by those who have gone to fight for freedom and liberty. My friends oppositecall those “ scabs “ who, refusing to join unions,enjoy the benefits which the unions have won.
– What are you going to do about it ?
– It is for those who have prevented the Government from getting necessary reinforcements to say what they are going to do. What remedy will they apply?
– Did the honorable member vote to keep; this party out of office, and thus prevent it from having an opportunity, to do something?
– Ishall deal with that matter when I come to the third part of my speech. Those who prevented an affirmative vote on the referendum by exerting all their influence in every electorate of Australia have won. They have beaten us badly.
Sir John Forrest:
– Not very badly.
Mr McWILLIAMS: FRANKLIN, TASMANIA · REV TAR; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; CP from 1920; IND from 1928
– I never argue against facts. They won by a very large majority. Australia is therefore entitled to know what system they propose to substitute for the compulsory system. The offer made by the Prime Minister, and supported by the Minister for the Navy demands an answer. The Prime Minister has deliberately said, “ We want the help of honorable members on the other side, and if I am the man who stands in their way I will get out.” The Minister for the Navy, the Leader of the Liberal wing of the Nationalist Government said yesterday, “ Come in and help us ; if I am standing in the way I will get out.” My honorable friends opposite cannot escape their full share of responsibility. Does any one say that men are not required to reinforce the Australians at the Front? An event happened at Hobart two days after the last referendum, which, if it had happened two days before the vote was taken, would have turned thousands of votes. A large transport put into Hobart with New Zealand troops. They were not wounded or disabled men, but men being sent back to New Zealand on six months’ furlough, to enjoy a well-earned rest. Why ? Because there were other ‘New Zealanders to take their places. Not one man can leave the Australian trenches or Australian hospitals in England to come to Australia for a rest, because there is no one to take his place. I know men who have been at the Front for three years. They have been wounded, sent back to England, patched up, and then sent back to the trenches. They have been patched up three times, and are again back in the trenches. Do not honorable members think that those men require a rest, and have well earned it? Honorable members opposite cannot on any political ground relieve themselves of their responsibility in this matter. Having defeated the reinforcements referendum it is up to them to do something to assist in order that our men at the Front, who are war weary, may be given a rest.
Mr J H Catts:
– Why do not honorable members on the other side give them a rest instead of trying to form a sixth division ?
–I do not admit that a sixth division was created. I have it on authority that I accept that the sixth division was formed only for training. It was never an actual fighting force, and was never in France. There was not one man of the sixth division who ought to be in the fighting line. . I repeat that my honorable friends opposite cannot relieve themselves of their responsibility in this matter.
– Is the honorable member aware that the Prime Minister. definitely stated that if the proposal were carriedhe would not call up more men under it than would be necessary to fill up the gaps caused by casualties? How could men be broughtback if that course were followed ? .
Mr McWILLIAMS: FRANKLIN, TASMANIA · REV TAR; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; CP from 1920; IND from 1928
– Men whose word no one will challenge tell us thatmore men are required. I have said that there are New Zealanders back in their own country enjoying a well-earned rest in their own homes and among their friends. They have been able to obtain six months’ furlough, because New Zealand, having adopted conscription, there are other men to take their place.
– I do not believe that any of them are home on furlough.
– The honorable member will believe me when I tell him that two or three days before Christmas I saw many hundreds of New Zealanders in Hobart on the way to their own country on furlough.
– Those men were sick. I do not believe they were men on furlough.
– I saw the men at Hobart. The honorable member has only to take up any of the New Zealand newspapers to find out that what I am saying is correct. Those men have returned to enjoy what every one admits is a well-earned rest from the trenches, and they will be given a chance for their lives when they go back there. Not one Australian soldier can come home for a rest, because there is no one to take his place. That is an aspect of the matter which cannot be overlooked.
What will be the effect of the referendum vote? With one exception, other portions of the British Dominions have accepted conscription.We know that South Africa has put up as good a fight as any other portion of the Empire in Africa itself. No men fighting under the British flag in this war have endured greater hardships or done better work than the South Africans. We are proud to knew that a. very considerable number of the men engaged with the South African Forces are Australians. In. view of the fact that South. Africa was practically surrounded by a hostile country and by millions of natives ready to take advantage of the first opportunity to revolt,every one will admit thatshe has done, and is doing, her full share in the present war.
– That is another argument for the voluntary system.
– There are rumblings, and if the censorship were relaxed we should hear a great deal more -than we have heard, as to the effect of the referendum vote on our Allies. It has already been referred! to in the French Chamber of Deputies in connexion with -the retention of former German possessions, which will be a. most important subject for Australia when peace terms are being considered.
– They are no good to us.
– The. first portion of the German possessions that was conquered was taken inNew Guinea by Australians. We have taken some of the colonial possessions of Germany, and when the terms of peace come to. be settled the question of the retention of German colonies will be a matter of the first importance to Australia.
-. - No annexations and no indemnities.
– They would be “white elephants.”
– I am afraid that some of my honorable friends opposite are rainbow chasing. Without desiring to use the expression offensively, I am afraid that they are living in a fool’s paradise. They are passing resolutions on Sunday afternoons - a very harmless way, no doubt, of passing the Sunday afternoon - which they think are going to revolutionize the world.
– Better a fool’s paradise than a jingo’s hell.
– I ask the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) to cease interjecting.
– It has already been stated in the French Chamber of Deputies that if Australia desires to have a sayin the final settlement of the terms of peace she must take her full part in the war. After all, is not that a fair proposition? If the war should continue, and if the Australian. Forces at the Front are steadily and continuously reduced because there are not sufficient men to take their place, we must reduce the number of our divisions or our men must be incorporated with other portions of the British fighting forces. What will be our position when the Canadians, New Zealanders, British, French, and Italians realize that by compulsion they have been, securing the number of. men they required to keep their forces up to their full fighting strength to the close of the war; and that Australia is the one portion of the British Empire that has cried “ quit “ ? It will not strengthen the claims of Australia when the final settlement comes to be determined.
I make a final appeal to honorable members opposite. I am not appealing to one or two men on the other side who do not believe even in voluntary recruiting, and would not let one man go from Australia if they could help it.
– Who are they?
– The honorable member is one of them.
– Does the honorable member say that I would prevent men going to the war ?
Mr McWILLIAMS: FRANKLIN, TASMANIA · REV TAR; ANTI-SOC from 1906; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; CP from 1920; IND from 1928
– The honorable member said so last night, and he said more than that.
– I rise to a point of order.- I desire to correct the honorable member’s statement. I never at any time made the statement he has attributed to me.
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat. He has not raised a point of order. He may make a personal explanation if he thinks it necessary after the honorable member for Franklin has spoken.
– I rise to another point of order. I ask that the honorable member for Franklin be made to withdraw the statement that I would prevent men from going out of this country to fight. I never made that statement.
– Order! The honorable member will have an opportunity, if he has been misrepresented, to make a personal explanation after the honorable member for Franklin has resumed his seat. It is not in order to interrupt an honorable member while speaking in order to correct a misrepresentation.
– I rise to a point of order.
– What is the honorable member’s point of order?
– I submit that it is the right of any honorable member to call for the withdrawal of what he regards as an offensive statement. A statement has been made by the honorable member for Franklin which is regarded as offensive by the honorable member for Barrier, and I submit that the honorable member for Barrier has the right to call for the withdrawal of that statement.
Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson: LANG, NEW SOUTH WALES
– I heard no offensive words used by the honorable member for Franklin. As I have already said, if there has been misrepresentation, it is not in order for an honorable member to interrupt a speech in order to make a correction. The proper course is for the honorable member, immediately after the honorable member in possession of the floor has resumed his seat, to make whatever correction he deems necessary.
– The words were offensive to the honorable member for Barrier, anyhow !
-The honorable member is out of order in interrupting the Speaker.
– This is a new practice !
– I must ask the honorable member to cease his interjections.
– I only say that it is a new practice!
– I name the honororable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) for disobeying the order of the Chair.
– It is a new practice!
-Order ! I wish to inform the House that it is the business of the Chair to see that order is maintained, and I call attention to the following standing orders: -
If any member shall wilfully disobey any lawful order of the House, he may be ordered to attend in his place to answer for his conduct. …
No member shall converse aloud or make any noise or disturbance whilst any member is speaking, or whilst any Bill, Order, or other matter is being read or opened ; and, in case of such noise and disturbance being persisted in after the Speaker has called to order, the Speaker shall call upon the member making such disturbance by name, and such member will incur the displeasure and censure of theHouse.
In this case the honorable member for Maribyrnong has offended against another standing order in repeatedly interjecting after being called to order. I have warned honorable members that thepractice will not be permitted; and I, therefore, call on the Prime Minister to take the necessary action under the standing order.
– May I be permitted totake a point of order?
– There can be nopoint of order until this matter is settled.
– But I wish to call your attention-
– There can he no point of order until the matter before the* House is settled. A point of order may be raised after that.
Mr HUGHES: Prime Minister · BENDIGO, VICTORIA · NAT
– I was not in the chamber when the matter arose of which you, sir, have spoken. I assume- that I havenothing to do but submit the customary motion. I venture, however, to ask thehonorable member for Maribyrnong toput himself right with the Chair.
– What am I required to do?
– Apologize to the Chair.
– Is this another Speakeror another czar? I withdraw, Mr. Speaker.
– When the Prime Ministerwas entering the chamber, a moment ortwo ago, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) referred to him inthe words, “Here comes the executioner.”
– That’s right ! Tell talesout of school!
– The honorable member for Maribyrnong is offending again.
– Theremark of the honorable member for Batman appears to meoffensive, and I wish to know whether it is in order.
– The honorable member for Batman was certainly notin order- if he made an offensive reference to anyhonorable member. If he did so, I ask him to withdraw:
– Certainly; I withdraw. ,
– <I can assure the , honorable member for Barrier that I had not the slightest intention to misrepresent him; but if I understood him aright last night, I cannot regard him as representing the great majority of honorable members sitting opposite, or the workers of Australia. What I understood was that the honorable member said he would not ask any one to leave Australia to fight, and that, when some honorable member interjected, “ Would you fight if the enemy came here?” he replied, “ I would, if we first had the land divided between us, and we had something to fight for.” -If that be correct, I can only regard the honorable member, when he says he represents the workers of Australia, to be slandering those workers to an extent that no other public man in Australia has ever ventured upon. Where is’ Australia being defended today? I remind honorable members opposite that in 1903 the first Commonwealth Parliament passed a Conscription Act for Australia.
– The honorable member has the record there, and he may refer to it.
Mr J H Catts:
– That was for home service.
Mr Joseph Cook:
– And, in the case of the Navy, for service overseas.
Mr J H Catts:
– The Navy men volunteer.
-In 1903, as I say, a Defence Act was passed which secured the full and complete approval of the then Labour party. That Act provides that the Citizen Forces shall be liable to be employed on active service whenever called out by proclamation, and, with certain exemptions, it conscripts every man from eighteen to sixty years of age for the Citizen Forces. A proviso was inserted afterwards to the effect that the Military Forces, unless they volunteer, shall not be required to serve abroad beyond the limits of the Commonwealth or Territories under the Commonwealth.
– Whose pet scheme was that?
Mi-. McWilliams-Speaking from memory, I say that that Act had the full and complete approval of every member of the Labour party in this House. In that same Act provision is made for full and complete conscription for the Navy. And what does that Act mean? It means that if one shot were fired at Norfolk Island, 1,000 miles away, or in New Guinea, every man between the age of eighteen and sixty would be liable to be called into camp.
Mr J H Catts:
– These are our own Territories.
– They are- 1,000 miles away; and yet, in the face of that Act, we are told that, if we adopt conscription, we are enslaving the people, ringing the death-knell of Democracy, and smashing trade unionism.
– That is the object.
– If conscription shackles the people, they have been wearing shackles since the life of the first Parliament. Is there one honorable member opposite, excepting, perhaps, the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine), who, if an enemy landed in Australia, would not be prepared to call out the whole fighting force of the country? If it is right to have conscription for the defence of Australia, what argument can there be against conscription when Australia is being defended far more effectively in Flanders, the North Sea, and Italy than it could be here? So long as Australia has to fight for her freedom and independence, I pray God, night and day, that the fight may always be 12,000 miles away from our shores. Does any honorable member think that we could serve Australia better by waiting until the enemy came to Sydney Harbor, Port Phillip, or any other part of the coastline ? Do honorable- members think that the real liberty and the real freedom of Australia could be better fought for here than it is being fought for to-day in Flanders?
– It is being fought for in Australia, though it is rapidly vanishing under your Government.
– I ask the honorable member to read the newspapers of to-day, and see what his latest heroes, the Bolsheviks, are doing in Russia to-day - those men who, he hopes, are going to spread all over the world.
– These are charges made by German J Jews
– What are the Bolsheviks doing in Russia to-day? The honorable member, of all the public men s of Australia, is safer in Australia to-day than he would be in Russia. I wish to impress on the people of Australia, and through you, Mr. Speaker, on this House, that the bogy about conscription, the prophecies of what it is going to do to the Democracy, and trade unionism of the country are fifteen years too l’ate. The law was passed in 1903, and we are living under it to-day. Are there any honorable members opposite, with, perhaps, the exception’ of two, who would care to repeal that Defence Act? I do not think there are. I wish to address myself for a few moments to the third section of my speech, and to say . that I cannot regard the situation as it exists to-day as in any way satisfactory. The Government, in my opinion, made a mistake in entering into the pledge they gave at Bendigo. The real object of a referendum is that people may give an unbiased vote, free from party influences, and without having to select any particular candidates or Government. That is the theory which caused many of us to favour the referendum, but our experience has proved quite the reverse. I say deliberately that there has been more illfeeling and bad blood engendered by the last referendum than by all the previous elections since we became a Commonwealth. It is impossible to deny that, because the fact can be realized everywhere. The Government, in pledging themselves to stand or fall on the result of the re- ‘ferendum were defeating the very object of the referendum.
– Defeating the principle of it.
– Quite so; but the pledge was given, and I am one of many who think that the pledge should be honoured. The Commonwealth Parliament has, I think, stood as high in the estimation of the public as, perhaps, any Parliament in the world; it has set up a high standard, and has fairly well lived up to it ; and I am old-fashioned enough to think that, when a Government pledges itself to a particular line of policy, and declares that without that policy it will not continue to govern, it ought, when defeated, to honour its word.
– What of the pledge of the 5th May?
– i do not wish to be led astray in considering these serious and important matters, and I ask to be permitted to state my case in my own way. The pledge at Bendigo was given as distinctly and as clearly as any public pledge could be. The Prime Minister, speaking for his Cabinet, declared that if the referendum were not carried the Government would not, and could not, govern Australia, and some of the members of the Cabinet went even further. The referendum was not carried; and I say, straightout, that I think the Government ought to have honoured the pledge. It is a serious thing in the public life of a country, if public men give a distinct pledge as to the adoption of certain principles, and, when defeated, abandon those principles. No Government can offend the susceptibilities of public opinion and escape unscathed. I agree. with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Leckie) that the great majority of lie people of Australia do not think that tendering a resignation for a few mintues or a few hours, taking it back and coming in again, is carrying out the pledge in the faintest degree. I shall vote just as I think I ought to vote, and mean to state my position clearly and distinctly. I think - and I shall not dilate on this matter, because it is a subject that should never have come before the House at all - that the GovernorGeneral made a great and serious mistake in sending that memorandum to- the House.
– Order !
– I am not going to discuss it, but a word of warning should be given to this extent - that it will not be possible for any Governor-General to send a memorandum to this House without that memorandum being open to full and ‘ complete criticism. It was a proper memorandum to send to the Colonial Office, but it should never have been sent to this Parliament, and it must be clearly and distinctly understood that in not discussing it the members of this House are placing on themselves a very deliberate restriction. It must be understood, also, that if political memoranda are sent to the House by any one, and incorporated in the records of the House, they must be open to full discussion and criticism by the House.
Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson:
– To make the position perfectly clear, I would point out that there is no objection to reference to the memorandum, but reflections on the Governor-General must not be made in doing so; that is distinctly laid down in our Standing Orders: it is also in accordance with parliamentary practice and procedure.
– I had no intention to reflect on the Governor-General, and tried to avoid doing so, but I thought it necessary that that word of warning should be given. I do not’ think the result of the referenda showed that the people had confidence in the party that was so badly beaten on the 5th May last. My honorable friends opposite carried two important referenda to the people, and told them that it was impossible to carry on without the powers asked for.
– I have rather a good memory. My recollection is that the then Labour party took the referenda to the country asking for additional powers, and stating distinctly that they could not give effect to the Constitution without them.
– That they could not give effect to the platform.
– If they said they could not give effect to their platform without those powers, what did they do? They are sent here to give effect to their platform. If they appealed to. the people saying, “We cannot carry out our platform unless you give us these additional powers” - and on those occasions they went a good deal further - and if the people deliberately, on two occasions, refused to give them those powers, then, if it is right that honorable members on this side should now resign and allow the Opposition to come into power, they themselves should have walked out of office and allowed the other side to come in on the defeat of their referenda. But they did not.
– That was different altogether.
– It is the difference between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. One is ours and the other is the other fellow’s.
– It is the difference between one man’s meat and another man’spoison.
– Apparently what is right for us is quite wrong for the other fellow. Yet, on this occasion, the party of twenty-two members opposite are making the claim to be allowed to violate every principle of responsible government and to ‘go behind the distinct direction’ given by the people in May last after a fair fight - and no fight was ever carried on more vigorously from one end of Australia to the other. The people were asked to make a choice between the Liberal or National party on the one side, and theLabour party on the other, and by the greatest majority that has ever been given in the Commonwealth, with a clean sweepof eighteen seats in the Senate and twothirds of the members of this Chamber, the National party was sent in by theelectors, who decided that they should govern Australia for three years, and that those holding the views of the Labour party should not govern Australia forthree years. There is no getting away from that position.
– You have forgottenthe promise that you would not re-intro duce the referendum.
– No such promise was given, but a distinct promisewas given that conscription would not be enforced either by regulation or legislation until the people had had another opportunity of dealing with the matter.
The one thing that overshadows everything else, to my mind, is the obtaining of reinforcements for the men at the Front. In view of the fact that the greatest bitterness that has ever existed in this country was created by the late referendum, and that there is a personal hostility to an extent that has never previously existed against any Government in Australia against the present occupants of the Ministerial bench, I have been thinking for a considerable time that it would be in the best interests of obtaining reinforcements if another Government occupied the Treasury bench.
– Hear, hear! From that side of the House, and we are prepared to assist them.
– It is of no use toclose our eyes to the fact, for it is impossible for any man to go into any por- tion of Australia and not find, that the hostility existing between the Labour1 organizations and the present occupantsof the Treasury bench is so intense that it is having a very serious effect on the obtaining of recruits under the voluntary system. , Holding that view it is my duty - and I take the responsibility, whatever happens - to give expression to it.
Nothing matters but winning this war, and nothing is so important to me as that the men who have been in the trenches for three years, many of them patched up and sent back again from time to time, should be given a rest and a fighting chance for their lives. Whatever means will give reinforcements, whatever means will enable us to see that those men get the assistance which, God knows, they want, and which every man in this Parliament and in. every party in Australia stands pledged to give them, should be taken. We pledged ourselves to help them when we sent them away, cheering them, singing “Australia will be there,” and showering honours on them. We must not let them rot unaided in the trenches. Are we going to see them wounded and patched up and sent back time after time, when we know that the New Zealanders are coming back, and getting a well-earned rest, because there are men to take their places? Not one Australian can. bo allowed out of the trenches to-day, because there is no one to take his place. Those of us who are getting letters from friends at Home know that men who have been wounded are leaving England again, all honour to. them, and going back when they are not fit to go. There is a shocking responsibility on every honorable member of the House, and on any party that refuses to insist that these men should get the help that some of them are dying for tor -day, and dying, too,, without a quiver.
The only thing Australia has to do is to see that reinforcements -are obtained to back up her men. We are responsible. Some one said that we did not send them, there. But we did send them there, and we must take the full responsibility for having done so. The great responsibility, therefore, rests upon us to see that reinforcements are sent to help them. I think we can get reinforcements by the way I have,, perhaps- feebly, outlined. I have tried to speak without bringing into the debate the slightest ill-feeling, and have studiously avoided hurting the feelings of any man in the House. This is not a time for personalities.. It is a time in which all must accept their responsibilities. I ask my honorable friends sitting on the opposite -side, the men , .’… defeated the referendum, who. have prevented honorable members- on this side from getting reinforcements in the way which we thought the best and most, proper - I appeal to them as- men of honour, having sent those men there, to come aud assist us in every possible way to get recruits. The only thing that matters is help for the men in the trenches.
– I wish to ‘make a personal explanation. Seeing that the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) has disclaimed, any intention to misrepresent either myself or the Governor-General, I simply desire to say that. I have never at any time stated that I would endeavour to prevent men from leaving this country who wished to go to fight across the seas. My attitude since the inception of the war with regard to the volunteers has been : “ Good luck to every man who goes ; the only harm I wish him is that he comes back the same as he went,” but my quarrel’ is with the man who says that because he volunteered I shall be forced to go.
Mr HIGGS: Capricornia
– I do not propose to attempt to reply to the greater portion of the impressive speech of the honorable member for Franklin, because, if he will pardon me for saying so, I do not think a great deal of what he has said has very much to do with the question before the Chair, which is the political character and capacity of the honorable members who occupy the Treasury bench. The Prime Minister has no regard whatever for public opinion, if we may judge by his action when the Leader of the Opposition moved his motion of censure. The Prime Minister then endeavoured to stifle all criticism of himself and his colleagues, except such as might take place during the discussion of a Supply Bill, when, in the midst of a debate about the Ministry, a member on the Ministerial side .might easily intervene to put the House off the track by discussing the administration of the Northern Territory, or Papua, or some other question.
The plain duty of the Prime Minister was not to allow any questions to be answered; not to permit a Supply Bill to go through, but to follow the invariable practice adopted by Prime Ministers since the inauguration of the Commonwealth. The practice was laid down by Sir Edmund Barton. When Sir George (then Mr.) Reid gave notice of the first motion of censure in the Federal Parliament, Sir Edmund Barton immediately rose and moved, “ That the House do now adjourn.” The House accordingly adjourned, and on the next day of sitting, when the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) desired to ask a question without notice, Sir Edmund Barton at once replied, “ May I explain to my honorable friend that with a motion of censure pending it is the constitutional practice to suspend the answering of questions.” No business whatever was done until that motion of censure, the debate on which extended over a fortnight, had been disposed of. We can gather from the action of the present Prime Minister that he and his colleagues wish to curtail this debate as much as possible.
There’ is no reason why we should go into recess other than that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Watt), both old political hands, no doubt recognise that if they can crowd the debate into a few days the press will have but little opportunity to report the speeches of honorable members. We had last night a splendid speech by the honorable member for Barrier (Mr.« Considine), and I think the press this morning devote just about twenty lines to it.
The Prime Minister, in replying to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), after certain members sitting on the Ministerial cross-benches had informed the Government that if they persisted in the course they were taking they would wreck the purple adjective party, endeavoured to draw us off the track by saying
There has been no reference to the great war. …… We stand on the brink of a precipice, over which we may topple to-morrow. …… Nothing was said of the great and tragic situation as it presents itself to the world to-day…… By a hair’s breadth we stand on the edge of a precipice…..
Millions of Germans are said to have gone from the Eastern frontier, and strong forces are concentrating at Cambrai.
In his endeavour to answer the Leader of the Opposition he was only repeating his referendum speeches. We had heard these statements from a dozen different platforms, but we had heard also, at the end of such remarks, a further statement to the effect that, in order -
To meet this situation, filled with the portents of evil, we require compulsory powers to send men abroad to light, and if you do not give us those powers we decline to govern this country; we will not attempt to govern it.
If Ministers wish us to discuss the war, let them set apart a day, or several days, for its consideration. I should have liked to follow the example of the honorable member for Barrier, but I submit that we ought to discuss the war apart from any motion of this kind.- I propose to discuss the sins of the Government and the political crimes of the Prime Minister.
The right honorable gentleman . offers to retire from his present position if he stands in the way of the formation of a National Government. That offer is palpably insincere. Did he not tell the country that he would not attempt to govern unless conscription were agreed to? The time for him to have effaced himself, as he now says he is prepared to do, was when the Governor-General asked him to form a second Administration. He should then have refused. I notice, too, that the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Joseph Cook) states that he also is prepared to retire if he stands in the way. Do these two right honorable gentlemen speak for the.whole of the Ministry? I am anxious to hear other members of the Government in that regard.
No one will believe the Prime Minister when he says that he is willing to efface himself. I well remember the time when, in 1904, there- were three parties in this House, and I proposed a Coalition between the Labour party and the members of the Deakin party. The matter was brought up at our Caucus meeting, and the present Prime Minister, at that time a private member, bitterly and tearfully resented the suggestion. “ Supposing,” said he, “ we do have to remain, as Mr. Higgs suggests, on the Opposition side of the. House! What better could we wish for? Have we not won our way fighting strongly in Opposition ?”
Mr J H Catts:
– He made a public statement to that effect.
– I am speaking of what took place in Caucus in 1904.
– I remember the incident well.
– I am sure that the honorable member does.
Mr J H Catts:
– He made the same statement in this House and in the Case for Labour.
– He said, “What better could we wish than to be in Opposition? Have we not won our name by fighting fearful odds ?” The right honorable gentleman was so affected by the suggestion of a Coalition that tears choked his utterances, and he asked to be permitted to sit down until he had recovered himself. He did sit down, and was allowed to proceed with his speech as soon as he had overcome his emotion. Honorable members can well imagine how those members of our party who were opposed to a Coalition with the Deakin party were impressed by this speech, and the suggestion that we should coalesce was defeated by a large majority. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler), who was then a member of the Labour party, will bear out my statement as to what took place at that Caucus meeting. The objection which the right honorable member (Mr. Hughes) had to the proposed Coalition, at that time may be put in a nutshell. He said, “ Sir William Lyne must be in such a Coalition, and Mr. Watson must be a member of it. We cannot have in that Government three representatives of New South Wales.” That was the reason he opposed the Coalition. The Watson Government was formed, and the right honorable gentleman was a member of it. It was formed on 27th April, 1904, and remained in office for about three and a half months.
– Now tell us the. sequel.
– It will be open to the honorable member to supplement my remarks later on. When Mr. Hughes knew that the Watson Government would shortly have to go since the numbers were nearly up, he came to our Caucus meeting and actually proposed a Coalition. The members of our party were so disgusted with this change of front on his part that it was many months before he got back his influence over them.
I feel assured that the right honorable gentleman will never efface himself from the Prime Ministership unless he feels that he is about to be kicked out, or is to be appointed to a position such as that suggested in this morning’s newspapers - the position of High Commissioner or some other office in the Old Country. Australia, I believe, is getting too hot for him, and I should not be surprised if such an arrangement were made. Should the Prime Minister be sent abroad by this Government, he should not go in any representative capacity, because he does not, and cannot, represent Australian public opinion.
– I think that Britain is pretty well informed on that point now.
– The British people may have come to learn that the Prime Minister is nothing but talk! A great deal of his talk is both dangerous and absurd. Take, for example, his attitude while in the Old Country in regard to the Paris Conference and the Paris Conference resolutions. Those resolutions, no . doubt, stimulated the Jingo party in Germany; no doubt they led them to go to their Government, and say, “ You can see what our enemies are prepared to do. They are prepared to deny us all trade relations ! They say they will cut out ‘ the German cancer’ and therefore we must fight on.” They were futile resolutions, and could not be carried out; but the Prime Minister, no doubt, by his eloquence, was able to do a great deal to induce the British Government to agree to those resolutions. I hope that the Minister for the Navy, who I thought at one time possessed much more backbone than he has exhibited lately, will take these facts into consideration when it is proposed to send the Prime Minister, abroad. The Prime Minister’s name has come to be a by-word in Australia, and is detested by three-fourths of the people.
– Because of his words and his actions.
Mr J H Catts:
– Because of his slanders.
– Because of his slanders, some of which I hope to put before the House. It would be wrong of the Government to send the Prime Minister away in a representative capacity during the approaching recess. Before he ia allowed to go, the whole question of his going should he submitted to the House for discussion.
Honorable members will forgive me if I remind them of statements made by the Prime Minister in the Bendigo speech -
The Government, elected on a win-the-war policy, confronted with a situation that makes the reinforcement of our armies vital to our existence and to that of the Empire, comes before the people and declares plainly that it cannot give effect to a win-the-war policy unless it is clothed by the electors with power to act as the circumstances demand. Fellowcitizens, it is useless to palter with this matter. …..
Then followed the pledge -
Fellow-electors, the Government’s proposal is before you. We who were elected on a winthewar policy, tell you plainly that the situation in Russia and Italy is such that without the power to insure reinforcements we cannot give effect to the policy which you approved with such enthusiasm last May. I tell you plainly that the Government must have this power. It cannot govern the country without it, and will not attempt to do so……
The Minister for the Navy was on the train, we are told, when the final proofs of this speech were looked through, and he is also reported, in the course of a short speech, to have denied that then was any dissension in the Federal Cabinet over the conscription proposals, as had been asserted by a certain gentleman in a speech reported in .that morning’s daily press. I think he was referring to a speech made by Dr. Mannix, who had got word of some little dissension in the Cabinet. Some one had told him that Sir John Forrest was not in favour of the Government proposal.
Mr Joseph Cook:
– Where am I supposed to have made this statement?
– At Bendigo. Does the honorable member deny it? If he does, let him prosecute the Argus for having attributed it to him.
Mr Joseph Cook:
– But I did not speak after the Prime Minister at Bendigo.
– It is stated in the introduction of the report of the meeting -
The Minister for the Navy (Mr. Cook), in the course of a short speech”, denied that there was any dissension in the Federal Cabinet over the conscription proposals, as has been asserted by a certain gentleman in a speech reported in that morning’s daily press.
Mr Joseph Cook:
– But I did, not speak after the Prime Minister at” Bendigo.
– I am not saying that the ‘Minister did speak after the Prime Minister. I am merely quoting a report of the meeting1 -
Mr. Cook said that the Federal Cabinet was unanimously behind the Prime Minister, and would adhere as one man to the scheme for reinforcing the Australian troops at the Front, as outlined by Mr. Hughes.
That scheme for reinforcing the troops carried with it a pledge made by the Prime Minister that unless the powers asked for were given, the Ministry would resign and stay out of office. Other Ministers were involved in that pledge. Mr. Jensen, the Minister for Trade and Customs, speaking at Moonee Ponds on 28th November, said -
The Ministry felt that, in view of the situation in Europe, it could not hold office if twice defeated on the question.
They have been twice defeated, and onthe second time more heavily than on the first. Mr. Watt, the Minister for Works and Railways, also, in a speech at Kyneton, said -
The Government would stand or fall by the result. ‘
And the Prime Minister, speaking at Brisbane, said -
The pledge he gave to the people was that he would bring conscription forward again if the national safety demanded it. (Cheers.) It did demand it, and he asked them now to give him that power. If they did not do so, he, for ope, would not attempt to govern the country. (Loud cheers:) Without that power it was impossible to govern the country.
We all know, also, that Mr. Webster said that the Ministry would not stay in office twenty-four hours in the event of the conscription referendum being defeated.
I want now to put on record in Hansard the opinion of the Melbourne Argus before the National party came to the conclusion that for their own safety they ought to stick together and put up with the Prime Minister and his colleagues for a little while longer. On 4th January, the Argus said -
To resign and within a short time to take up the reins of government is plainly an evasion of Mr. Hughes’ undertaking not to attempt to govern, and is a negation of Mr. Watt’s declaration” You must get some other men to govern YOU; we cannot.”
I might add that I have not very much respect for the Argus, and that that paper has none for me, although the editor says he has, as I will probably tell the House a little later on. The Argus continues-
Resignation and subsequent resumption of office, supposing the Governor-General concurs, are not even a keeping of the letter of the pledge, and they are an unmistakeable violation of its spirit.
The Melbourne Age, on the same date, referring to the pledge, stated -
This declaration binds honest men as firmly as an oath. It has only one meaning…..
He cannot be held responsible for the suggestions that have been made for evading his word of honour, but they suggest so great a depth of moral infamy in our political life that it is impossible to pass them by in silence. ….. It would be a fraudulent design to deceive and betray. Honest men do not forswear themselves by subterfuges like this. When a Government stakes its honour on the statement that it will not “ govern the country “ in a certain event, every commonsense person of decent instincts understands that the members of that Government will surrender their portfolios absolutely……
Were the dishonorable “ re-election “ or “ reconstruction “ subterfuge to find favour with a majority of the Hughes party, parliamentary government in this country would be befouled by a stain from which it could not be cleansed for many years. Political life would not longer bc possible to the man of honour……
A Prime Minister who would seriously consider the hints thrown out to Mr. Hughes to enable him to continue in power could not escape being ultimately hounded out of political life as a dishonored and degraded man. ….. His most sententious and solemn assertions would be mocked and given no credence. The charges of bad faith would be true, and there could be no answer. Tho party dishonorable enough to aid and abet him in his falsity could not hope to retain its repute amongst decent men…… The honour of the Liberal party means too much to Australia at this time to allow of its being compromised, even by representations that it is capable of the dishonor contemplated by the vicious advice to construct under the same leadership.
Honorable members may think, while they are in the Caucus room or in this House, that they can escape the influence of public opinion, but eventually they will realize that this is impossible. The views of the Argus and the Age, as stated on 4th January, accurately expressed the opinion of’ the people of Australia.
Mr.- Brennan. - On this subject, you mean.
– Yes; and I thank the honorable member for his interjection.
– Subsequently, was any modification of that view expressed; and, if so, did it also represent public opinion?
– On 4th January, the Argus and the Age were trying, by way of protest, no doubt, to awaken members of the Win-the-war Government to a sense of their public duty, but, having failed, it appears that they were so afraid of the Labour party that they have decided, for the time being at least, to stand behind the Government and the honorable members who are supporting the Ministry.
When the Win-the-war party came into office they did a most unusual thing. Instructions were issued to Hansard to describe the Government not, as was customary up to that time, by the name, of the leader, such as “ The Deakin Ministry,” “ The Barton Ministry,” or ‘ the “ Reid-McLean Ministry,” but as the “ Australian National Wai- Government,” which, in their opinion, was evidently the name to which they were entitled. I am wondering now what title they propose to claim and insert in Hansard to indicate this reformed and new Government. What are they going to call the Ministry?
– We are open to suggestions.
– The Minister for Works and Railways says they are open to accept suggestions. That being so, I would advise them to adopt the title given to the Ministry by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, which describes them as the “ Limpet Ministry,” the limpet, as honorable members are aware, being a mollusc, without backbone, but with a tremendous capacity for adhering firmly to the rock upon which it makes its resting place. The Daily Telegraph, speaking of this “ Limpet Ministry,” said -
The pledge stands, in its own words, as one which explicitly declares that the Government will not attempt to govern. That section of the obligation has long been discarded, for from the date when the referendum figures left it beyond question that the Government’s proposals had been beaten, Ministers have exhausted their ingenuity in searching for means to evade it.
Referring again to the Prime Minister’s speeches, I want to remind honorable members of one of his texts -
Greater love hath no man than this : that he lay down his life for his friend.
– Not his own life, but some one else’s life.
– That was when he was inducing the young men of Australia to go to the Front, but there has never been a suggestion that the Prime Minister himself should give up his own political life. “Enlist,” he said, “and save your honour “ ; but would the Prime Minister sacrifice his political life?
– Not on your life.
– It has been said that the Prime Minister has held out the olive branch to the Labour party, and honorable members may wonder why we cannot work with him. It is impossible for me, at any rate, to work with him.
– But he has offered to resign.
– It is impossible for me to work with the Prime Minister, because, among other things, in his manifesto to Queensland and the other States, he said -
Unless you are wilfully blind, you must know that those who are the real, not the nominal, leaders of the campaign against the Government are playing the game of Germany in our midst, that behind them are Sinn Feiners, I. WAV. men.
Those Sinn Feiners, according to the Prime Minister,, have now become idealists, and men with whom he would be glad to work; but this changed attitude is merely for the present, possibly to try and damp the powder of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). The manifesto stated, further -
Behind them are Sinn Feiners, I.W.W. men, and Syndicalists, men of the type responsible for the great strike which paralyzed our industries, men responsible for the rebellion in Ireland, men to whom is due the failure of voluntary recruiting, the kind of men who to-day are in power in Russia, who, in return for German gold, are offering a separate peace to Germany, and so striking the most deadly blow at the cause of the Allies.
– Is the catalogue complete? Is there nothing in it about toads ?
– .Yes ; I think he described me as one, but that was merely one of his gentlemanly and complimentary expressions.
– And I think the honorable member once called a member of this side a Jersey cow.
– That was only when I was provoked. I never insult any man except under provocation, and then I do not always mean what I say. Those who opposed the conscription proposals of the Government were, at different times, called shirkers, slackers, cravens, disloyalists, haters of England, social lepers, and pariahs.
– And worms.
– I ask honorable members who may be influenced for the moment by the suggestions of the Prime Minister to bear in mind that he does not mean to efface himself unless forced to do so. I ask them to remember the things the Prime Minister has been saying ever since the commencement of the conscription campaign in 1916. We have been described as pro-Germans, but we have evidence that the Prime Minister is a greater pro-German than any other man in this community. He is the man who allowed Julius Blau to get out of this country, and, at the time the matter was brought before the House, the Melbourne Argus referred to the Prime Minister’s action in these words -
Official documents put Mr. Hughes’ action in connexion with the case of Julius Blau, importer of eau-de-Cologne, iu a very unfavorable light. . . . The very name of this firm should have made Mr. Hughes chary of granting permission. The Attorney-General, despite the appeals of military officers, urged the Department of Defence to permit of Blau’s departure, and the visit was duly made.
The Prime Minister allowed this Hungarian, who has since been interned, to leave the country.
– The honorable member was a member of the Ministry at the time.
– The honorable member is repeating an audacious misstatement made by Senator Millen. Blau went insolvent, and in his evidence before the Insolvency Court he stated that the Prime Minister had stood by him until the case was mentioned in Parliament, and then, as is characteristic of the Prime Minister, he left him. The statement that I was a member of the Ministry at the time Blau left for America was made by Senator Millen at Rockhampton. Evidently the Conscription party thought that Queensland, and Rockhampton particularly, required special attention, for they sent up there three Ministers - Senator Millen, the Assistant Minister (Mr. Groom), and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster). The latter, I am sorry to say, had rather a rough reception, but that may have been due to his having told his audience that they were mongrels. Of course, they resented that statement by throwing blue metal at the Minister’s motor car - a very wrong thing to do. Senator Millen, at the conclusion of his speech atRockhampton, said -
With regard to a statement made by Mr. Higgs at his meeting last night - that Mr. Hughes had given permission to a German, Julius Blau, to go to America, although the Defence Department was against his going - I wish to say that at the time Mr. Hughes did that, whatever he did, Mr. Higgs was a member of his Cabinet. Mr. Higgs knew all about it, and, if he thought it wrong, his duty was to have denounced it and left the Cabinet.
That was an audacious misstatement, not to call it by a harsher term. The case of Julius Blau was brought under my notice when I was a private member, in April, 1915, by a member of the New South Wales Government, who objected to the then Attorney-General allowing this man to leave Australia, and I wrote to the Defence Department asking for anexplanation. I received this letter on the 29th April, 1915-
With reference to your letter of 23rd inst., enclosing certain questions relative to Julius Blau, &c, I desire to append for your information the following replies to same : -
Yes; but he has not yet returned.
and (3) Permission was given at the request of the Attorney-General, who satisfied himself as to the case.
That is the action of the man who had the impudence to call honorable members on this side pro-Germans. I was very interested to notice that the Prime Minister, in a speech in Sydney, issued a warning to liars. He said -
I want to warn every man in Australia that if, in this campaign, he utters lies he will utter lies at his peril. If anything be said by a speaker which is calculated to mislead the electors, unless he proves his words, his punishment will be swift and certain.
Nobody in Australia was more unsuccessful than the Prime Minister in his endeavours to make accurate statements. In the 1916 referendum campaign the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) raised in this House the matter of the introduction of Maltese into Australia. The Prime Minister, in effect, denied that there was any truth in the honorable member’s statement, and paragraphs were circulated throughout Australia headed, “A lie nailed.” The Prime Minister held one of his investigations into the matter. When a question is raised in this House Ministers, of course, invariably promise to in vestigate it, but we never see the report. According to a press paragraph -
The Prime Minister, on being questioned today in reference to the alleged importation of Maltese under contract, said that he was having a most careful inquiry into the matter. So far the Minister for External Affairs had not been able to obtain any evidence whateverto support a prosecution under the Act; but Mr. Hughes continued, “ Whether there had been a violation of any of the provisions of the Contract Immigrants Act or not, the Government, during the war, does not intend to permit any importation of labour which amounts to a violation of the spirit of the Act, and it has decided to take such steps as are necessary to prevent any further introduction of any kind of cheap labour during the. war. The people of Australia may rest assured that cheap labour, no matter from what country it comes, will not be permitted.”
What did he do? The Maltese referred to by the honorable member for Bourke were on a boat, and the Prime Minister sent them to New Caledonia, where they were kept at the public expense until the referendum campaign was over, and then they were allowed to return to the Commonwealth. I asked the Prime Minister whether, at any time, he had given instructions that the Maltese should be kept at New Caledonia, and he replied, “ No.” I then asked how it was that there appeared in the Estimates an item “ Cost of Maltese kept at New Caledonia, £3,008,” and the Speaker called me to order, and said that I could not ask that question, because I should be anticipating a discussion on the Estimates. The point I am making is the utter unreliability of the Prime Minister’s statements on all occasions when it suits him.
– According to what the honorable member has read, the Prime Minister’s promise was not to allow the introduction of cheap labour. ‘ I understand that the Maltese are not cheap labour.
– The point is the difficulty the Prime Minister experiences in observing his own regulations, which require that people shall not tell lies. I propose to deal with some of the methods adopted by the Ministry during the last referendum campaign to which I take exception. Many letters were written by me and other honorable members, and by parents, to the Minister for Defence asking that the soldier sons of those parents should be allowed to return to Australia. I sent one letter on the 2nd
November, and another on the 16th November, and I did not get a reply until the 14th December, six days before the referendum, when apparently a batch of replies was sent out for the purpose of influencing the votes of electors. Apparently the idea was that the letters should reach the voters just before polling day, but not in time to be used by public speakers who were advocating the “No” cause. This is the reply I received -
With further reference to your letter of 2nd ultimo, on behalf of Mr. W. Gerard, of Ambrose, who desired that his son be returned to Australia, I am directed to inform you that it is regretted Mr. Gerard’s request cannot be complied with at present.
In view, however, of the statement of Senator Pearce, to the effect that if the referendum proposals are carried, one of the difficulties in the way of granting leave to members of Australian Imperial Force would be removed, and if the other difficulties could also be surmounted, the Commonwealth Government would do its best in an endeavour to obtain leave to Australia for them, the matter may be submitted for reconsideration should the vote on the referendum be “ Yes.”
A similar letter was sent to me in reply to an application by Mr. T. A. McCosker.
– I have received many of them. One reached me only yesterday.
– But not couched in those terms?
– That letter was a deliberate attempt by the Government to drive the parents of the soldiers into voting “Yes,” and was an unfair use of a Government Department.
– Only a few weeks before the Minister for Defence had stated that they could not bring the men back because of the lack of ships.
– Not only because of the lack of ships.
– There is no doubt that the members of the Government are sufficiently old parliamentary hands and political campaigners to leave a loop-hole of escape. Their promise was qualified to some extent. The anxious parent might read the letter, and be concerned only with the statement that if the referendum were carried there would be a possibility of his son returning. He would not notice the qualifying words, “ One of the difficulties would be removed,” and “ if the other difficulties could be surmounted.”
Mr.Sampson. - Does the honorable member deny that if the referendum proposal had been carried there would have been a better chance of bringing thosemen back ?
– The Government said that they had not the ships with which to bring back 5,000 men.
– The Minister for Worksand Railways has interjected that thisletter was signed by the Secretary of the Defence Department, and not by theMinister. It is quite in keeping with the habits and customs of the Prime Minister to get somebody else to do the dirty work. The letter was not even signed by Mr. Trumble, but was signed by somebody else in his behalf.
– Are the officialsactually being blamed?
– It was dirty worktoattempt to deceive the parents of this country. We all know that it is impossible to give effect to Senator Pearce’s scheme to return to Australia 5,000 of theoriginal Anzacs. How much would it cost to bring back a single soldier? Why, to return 5,000 men to our shores, to give them four months leave, and to pay them, would cost, at least, half-a-million pounds-
– It does not matter what it would cost; it ought to be done.
– But we cannot get theships to enable it to be done. I wish now to call attention to some of the unfair tactics that were adopted by the PrimeMinister during the referendum campaign. In passing, I would like to mention a curious practice which has grown up in our public life owing to the methodspursued by the right honorable gentleman. Prior to his advent to office, a daily newspaper, like the Argus, would never dream of accepting gifts either at thehands of the Government or of any individual. But when the recent campaign ) started, what did the Prime Minister do ? Apparently, he visited the Argus officeand requested that the services of Mr. Dumas, one of its first-class reporters, should be placed at his disposal. Thisgentleman, it is said, was paid £12 per week, in addition to an allowance of £7 per week for expenses, to accompany the Prime Minister. That is an extraordinary thing in the life of public journalism in Australia. Every newspaper with which I have been acquainted in the past would decline to accept an offer of that sort. I say nothing against Mr. Dumas in the matter. He is a good reporter, and an assiduous and clever workman. But the Argus, instead of acting up to the high standard of public journalism which has been set ever since the establishment of the Sydney Morning Herald, allowed the Prime Minister to take this man away from its office, permitted him to accompany the right honorable gentleman, to eat his salt, and to prepare reports, of the meetings which he addressed. In that way it avoided the expense .which otherwise would have attached to the sending of a reporter throughout the Commonwealth to accompany the Prime Minister. Any journal should refrain from accepting an offer of that kind. It is the invariable practice of our daily newspapers to send a journalist with the Prime Minister on his tours of the Commonwealth, but, by paying that gentleman, they have hitherto reserved to themselves their right to criticise the Prime Minister. By handing over Mr. Dumas “to the right honorable gentleman . and accepting this free gift of news from him, or from the persons who paid Mr. Dumas - I do not know that the Prime Minister or the Government paid for his services - the Argus was prevented from criticising the Prime Minister, and this circumstance, no doubt, accounted for the fulsome flattery which appeared in the reports published from time1 to time. Head the account of Mr. Hughes’ meeting at “Warwick - “ Mr. Hughes “ - “ Assailed hy Mob “ - “ Riot at Warwick, Queensland “- - “ Free Fight on Railway Station.” That is a grossly exaggerated account of what occurred, and it was written by Mr. Dumas. In connexion with its publication I acknowledge that the Argus had the decency to break the law. It was ashamed to put Mr. Dumas’ signature to the report, although his name did appear in other newspapers to which that report was despatched. In so acting, the Argus violated the law, which requires that all reports and speeches of a political character at such a time should bear the signatures of their authors. Then the Argus complains of the censorship. Now, quite recently I sent a letter to that journal on the question of conscription. It did not appear. I then wrote a letter to Dr. E. S. Cunningham, its editor. Dr.
Cunningham is not a medical doctor - he is one of those gentlemen who, at a Press Conference, received the title of doctor. In other words, he is a literary doctor. I wrote to the doctor a courteous letter, ask- ing him why he had not inserted my letter in opposition to conscription, thanking him for a reply, and enclosing a stamped envelope. I wished to make it impossible for him to refuse to reply. What do honorable members think I got by way of answer ? I received a note which reads -
The editor presents his compliments to Mr. Higgs, and with great respect begs to inform him that the insertion of a letter is within the editor’s rejection. Further than this, no reply is offered to the question of Mr. Higgs.
That reply ought to be put amongst our literary curiosities. It is the first time that I have heard that the insertion of a letter is within the editor’s-“ rejection.” I wonder what the editor’s “rejection” is?The Argus almost invariably refuses to insert the letters of public men on public matters. Yet I consider that, as a public man, representing a constituency in Queensland, the columns of the Argus ought to be open to me at any time so long as I keep within reasonable bounds in the matter of space and adhere to parliamentary language.
I also had another experience - this time with the Sydney Morning Herald. Honorable members will recollect that the Argus report of Mr., Hughes’ meeting at Warwick ‘ represented him as speaking as “ a member of the Imperial War Cabinet.” That phrase, I confess, struck me. I had never heard that Mr. Hughes was a member of the Imperial War Cabinet, and accordingly I wrote to the press about it. Thereupon the Sydney Morning Herald stated that Mr. Higgs, having cast doubt upon the declaration that Mr. Hughes was a member of the Imperial War Council, Mr. Hughes had remarked “ that this circumstance showed Mr. Higgs’ utter ignorance of matters of common knowledge.” Now I said nothing whatever about the “ Imperial War Count,..:, “ I referred to the Imperial War Cabinet, which is a different matter altogether. Thereupon, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald,Mr. T. S. Heaney, pointing this out, but although he had allowed Mr. Hughes to hold me up to public ridicule and contempt, he refused to insert my explanation.
In my opinion there is not another editor in Australia who, in similar circumstances, would have declined to publish my communication.
Now I come to the military raid upon the Government Printing Office in Brisbane, which was made under the direction of the Prime Minister. I hold in my hand a copy of the Queensland Hansard, No. 37. This raid took place prior to the battle at Warwick, and I offer it as a possible explanation as to why the Prime Minister was assaulted at Warwick.
Mr.J.H. Catts. - He was not assaulted.
– It was merely a technical assault. What a difference there is between the Prime Minister and SirGeorge Reid. I remember the time when Sir George Reid, as Premier of New South Wales, appeared on a public platform, and when his constituents purchased small packets of flour, with which they pelted him. They pelted him with eggs first, and followed up their attack with flour, until he was really a picture in. yellow and white. The Prime Minister will remember the circumstance. Indeed, he may know a good deal about it. Certainly he knows a very great deal about the interruptions of the pro-Federation meetings, because he was one of the leaders of the anti-Federal movement in Sydney at the time. He, therefore, knows a good deal of the breaking up of the pro-Federal meetings. I have a vivid recollection of what Sir George Reid said on the occasion to which I have referred. He did not get angry. He did notrush round with his “hand, not his face, bleeding” and vow that he would “get” this person or that. He merely smiled and said, “ Ah ! you can afford to do that under my Government, but you could not afford to do it under the regime of my opponents. You were too poor then.Under my Government you can afford to throw good food about.” The actions of these two men; under some degree of provocation, disclose a great difference between their characters.
– Is it suggested that what was thrown at the Prime Minister was good food?
– Deponent sayeth not. By the way, the ex-Speaker of this Chamber and myself happened to be in Brisbane at the time the raid was made upon the Queensland Government Printing Office in connexion with Queensland Hansard,
No. 37. Now, this particular issue of Hansard is a public record of the debate which took place, not only on the military censorship, but on the various subjects which occupied the attention of the Queensland Parliament. Mr. Hughes objected to that special number of Hansard because some portions of it were printed in black type. But those portions, I would point out, are the portions which the censor refused to allow to be published. I have seen the instructions that were issued by the censor in Brisbane when Mr. Ryan was about to deliver his speech. That official directed that all reports of Mr. Ryan’s speech should be submitted to the censor. But when the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Groom) visited Brisbane the following day to deliver his speech the censor sent out a regulation countermanding the order for the submission of public speeches to censorship. The result was that Mr. Ryan’s speech was censored throughout Queensland, while Mr. Groom’s speech was allowed to go forth without any censorship whatever. Yet the day after the delivery of Mr. Groom’s speech the censorship of such utterances was again imposed. Surely nobody can support that kind of conduct. Yet it is the sort of thing which happens under the regime of the Prime Minister, who is quite unfitted to occupy such a distinguished office, because of his political and moral outlook. Here are the extracts from the Queensland Hansard, if honorable members care to look at them. They are contraband, of course, but possibly within the sacred precincts of this House they are open to inspection.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
– I have been endeavouring, in carrying out my public duty, to impress upon honorable members that the Prime Minister is not fit to occupy his high position. I have tried to prove to honorable members as calmly as I can that we cannot rely upon his word - that while the rank and file in Parliament might be allowed a certain latitude, the man who holds the position of Leader of the House should be one whose word can be taken on all occasions. I wish to show that it is impossible to place any reliance on the Prime Minister’s word. When the Leader of the Opposition asked for an inquiry into the statements made in another place by Senator Watson, and the circumstances attending the resignation of Senator Heady, the Prime Minister said -
The honorable member 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 possible that could be made against public men.
What were those charges? The Prime Minister is reported to have said to Senator Watson, whom he was trying to get to join his party in a plot which had for its object the extension of the life of Parliament -
What is standing in your way? Why can you not come over? If you do not like to live in Newcastle we can find you another place to live in. Docs money stand in your way? I never turn on a friend. What about getting out? We will find you a job. ,
The Prime Minister admitted that those were the gravest charges that could be made against a public man, and in heated language he said, “ If honorable members require a Royal Commission or any other inquiry into the matter, in God’s name let them have it.” What happened? Did he let us have a Royal Commission ? No. He changed his tactics. When speaking later in the House, referring to the charges, he said -
What can any man think of such a charge from such a man ? I have only one thing to say about him and his charge. I have instructed my solicitor to issue a writ against him. That writ wall be out this afternoon. It is returnable in the Supreme Court of this State. Unless he pleads privilege he must defend it; he must do so publicly; he must take the consequences of his charge; he cannot and shall not be allowed to make such charges for party purposes. The Courts can and shall judge between him and me. It will be for him to make out his case. . . . We are going to appeal to the great jury of the people, and the Courts of this country can investigate these charges.
We all thought that the Courts would investigate these charges, though many of us were of opinion that the Prime Minister, instead of granting us the Royal Commission he promised, was bringing his action against Senator Watson in order to close the mouths of candidates throughout the country, so that they might not discuss the charges made by Senator Watson against him. The right honorable gentleman was applying the gag by means of the Courts. The elec tion out of the way, what happened? Were the Courts allowed to inquire into the charges made by Senator Watson, by this time ex-Senator Watson?: No. That gentleman was being worried by legal processes, and’ I am informed on good authority that the Prime Minister’s nian Friday, Mr. J. C. Watson, came into the case in order to bring about a settlement. The case was settled. We were told at first that one of the conditions of settlement was that its terms should not be made public, but afterwards the following paragraph appeared in the Melbourne Herald : -
It lis understood that the terms of settlement we’re that Senator Watson should make a statement that he did not, by the words he uttered, intend to impute to the Prime Minister any intention to bribe or corrupt him. On receipt of the withdrawal of the imputations, Mr. Hughes agreed to pay the costs of both sides. These, it is estimated, amount to £250.
That paragraph was a great surprise to us.
– Was it merely a surmise on the part of the newspaper, or was it an official statement?
– That report appeared in the Melbourne Herald, and it has not been contradicted.
– Did it surprise the honorable member that ex-Senator Watson withdrew the imputations1?
– The point is that the Prime Minister admitted that the charges made by ex-Senator Watson were the gravest that could be made against a public man, and he promised us that the matter would be fought out in the Courts. .
– Ex-Senator Watson withdrew the imputations.
– He withdrew nothing. I make that statement absolutely.
– There must have been good reasons for paying the money.
– About the time of this reported settlement, an article appeared in the Ballarat Echo as follows: -
We trust that the general reading and thinking public will not miss the significance of that item of news which states that the action for libel launched by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) against ex-Senator David Watson has been settled. The significance lies in the fact that on the defendant making a statement to the effect that he did not intend to impute to the Prime Minister any intention to bribe or corrupt him, Mr. Hughes abandons the action and pays the costs of both sides. There may be much, or little, or nothing in the statement the defendant has agreed to make, but there can be no questioning the fact that since he’ has to pay the defendant’s costs Mr. Hughes did not win.
The newspaper goes on to pointout that this was not a personal matter between Mr. Hughes and ex-Senator Watson, but that it was a matter concerning the reputation and character of public men.
– When one man withdraws a charge he has made against another it is the biggest win that the other can have.
– Let us consider the position of ex-Senator Watson. He was a defeated man, a poor man, a working miner, and he was worried by the law’s delays to which the Prime Minister had been subjecting him from the commencement of the action for libel. His case is set out in a letter to the Ballar at Echo dated 3rd November, 1917, in which he said -
I have received a cutting of the Echo, describing the humiliating defeat of Mr. Hughes in his withdrawal of the law suit against me in regard to my statement in the Labour party meeting. Allow me to offer you my very hearty thanks and congratulations on your out. spoken utterances on this important subject. I should be glad if you would favour me with a cutting or two to send tomy gallant sons who are fighting across the seas, and who have no opportunity of knowing the strength of the case from the biased reports appearing in the press. Your statement of the humiliating defeat of Mr. Hughes is a true and accurate report of the terms of settlement. At no time of my life did I ever seek to injure the personal character of any one, but when truth and honour are in the balances, then sentiment has to be thrown to the wind. Had it not been for the financial difficulty, nothing would have given me more pleasure than to have fought this business to a finish. However, I think I have the best end of the stick.
– There is no denial there of the withdrawal of the imputations against the Prime Minister.
– There is no getting away from the fact that, while Mr. Hughes was denouncing ex-Senator Watson in this House, and promising an inquiry through the Courts of the land - an inquiry which he had refused in this House - he sent some one to ex-Senator Watson in order to get him to settle the case, the Prime Minister to pay the whole of the costs.
In order to show why we cannot rely on the word of the Prime Minister, I draw attention to the fact that at the time of this incident, and when the dis solution was agreed upon, he made the following statement in the House: -
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 whi chare set out in the newspapers in regard tohis ill-health, I know nothing. I positively deny any knowledge, good, bad, or indifferent, of the whole matter.
Before touching on that matter, I want to know whether the Prime Minister had anything to do with a cablegram which appeared in the London Sunday Chronicle on the 14th October, 1917,. reading as follows: -
A Melbourne telegram states that Mr. Hughes’ £5,000 libel action against Mr. Watson has been settled. Mr. Watson has withdrawn the imputation, and will pay the costs for both sides.
The Sunday Chronicle is the newspaper for which Mr. Hughes wrote some articles when in London. Was the cablegram that I have read published to explain away, for the benefit of the British public, the fact that Mr. Hughes had been charged with trying to bribe a senator? Now, to deal with the denial that Mr. Hughes had no knowledge, good, bad, or indifferent, of the resignation of Senator Ready and the swearing-in of Mr. Earle. For over a week, as the documents prove, the Prime Minister was engaged in a plot to prolong the life of Parliament. Would he deny that he telegraphed to the Premier of Tasmania in these terms, asking him to come to Sydney?
Very important that I see you on Monday (26th February, 1917). Leaving for Sydney to-morrow. Please catch Moeraki 10 a.m. for Sydney. See me Sydney, Monday. Very important you should come.
Will the Prime Minister deny that he discussed with Premier Lee the resignation of Senator Ready, or that on Wednesday, the 28th February, Mr. Earle and Senator Ready arrived from Tasmania in the same vessel, and the Prime Minister took Mr. Earle to dinner, Senator Ready coming to Parliament House, where he fainted in the refreshment room, and was taken to the President’s room. He was taken to the President’s room, although the President had left the Labour party and Senator Ready was still one of its secretaries, and there were any number of the members of the party who would have been willing to help had anything been the matter with him. “Will the Prime Minister deny that Mr. Earle went to Government House and signed his resignation of his Tasmanian seat in the presence of His Excellency the Governor-General? Why -did the Prime Minister compromise -a high official by getting him to take part, however innocently, in a plot to prolong the life of Parliament? Will he deny that Senator Ready wrote out his resignation in the office of the Minister for Trade and ^Customs at midday on the day just mentioned? If the Prime Minister denies that, will he explain why, on the 1st March, 1917, he sent to Premier Lee the following cablegram: -
All arrangements this end complete. Beady has handed his resignation to President of the Senate. President will not announce until after dinner.
Will he deny that he cabled to the Premier of Tasmania that the GovernorGeneral would notify the Governor of the State that Mr. Earle’s resignation of his State seat had been written out in the presence of the Governor-General, who had attested his signature, and stated that the Governor-General awaited a notification from the Governor of Tasmania to ratify Mr. Earle’s appointment as senator ? Will he deny that he cabled -
Imperative that notification should reach the Governor-General to-night not later than 9 p.m. ?
There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the Prime Minister, and possibly other members, induced Senator Ready to resign. The Prime Minister has burked all inquiry into the Watson charges, the inference being that he used towards Senator’ Ready the words that he was reported to have used to Senator Watson.
Mr LAIRD SMITH: DENISON, TASMANIA · ALP; NAT from 1917
– Be fair to Ready. He has publicly denied that he was bribed in any way, and challenges any one to make the statement outside. When he was nearly dead, as the result of what was being said about him, his wife had to go on to the stage to defend him.
– The extraordinary fact is that Senator Ready, one or two days prior to his resignation, while still a trusted secretary of the Labour party and a member of its executive, had not said a word to any of us of his intention to resign. Both. this House and the Senate, when a member is ill, is always willing to grant leave of absence should it be asked for, and Senator Ready could have obtained leave of absence until the end of the session. He resigned on the 1st March, but he could have continued drawing his Parliamentary remuneration for another four months. We asked for an inquiry into the circumstances of his resignation. The Prime Minister promised to appoint a Royal Commission, but he has broken that promise, as he has broken so many others. He promised to have the matter tried in the Law Courts, and then paid the costs of the man against whom he had brought a libel action. It is not surprising that the public press is adversely criticising the present Government because the Win-the-war party has not endeavoured to tax the rich and those who are making war profits as they ought to be taxed. This is what the Sydney Bulletin says of them in its issue of 10th January -
To no country in the world should the financing of the war be so easy ; to none should payment of so large a proportion out of current taxes be possible. It is quite safe to say that, on the contrary, no country is piling up so large a debt in proportion to the number of men in the field; and the whole explanation is that the people have permitted the reins to fall into ‘the hands of adventurers who are prepared to do anything, to offer almost any bribe, m order to remain in office.
Try as we may, we cannot ignore public opinion. What I say may not carry much weight with honorable members opposite, but I am certain that those who are now supporting the Prime Minister in his unworthy career will be called upon by the electors for an explanation.
The most disquieting reflection on all this to the student of modern politics is that the Prime Minister is the product of Democracy, and the direct product of the Labour movement.
– He is leading Democracy to-day.
– He rose to power climbing on the shoulders of the Waterside Workers.
– - You were anxious to get him back after the split.
– Every man I know in the Labour movement here and elsewhere could earn a living before he associated himself with the movement. The only man who could not do so was the Prime Minister. He used to mend umbrellas for a living. He has also worked for 15s. a week in a kitchen in a West Sydney hotel1.
– This shows the possibility of Democracy.
– I have heard the Prime Minister say that he never accepted any outside position in connexion with the Labour movement, but he was a travel ling organizer for the shearers of New South Wales. He secured his election soon after by denouncing Labour members for leaving the party. In those days such members were called bogus Labour members, and Mr. Hughes secured his return for West Sydney by denouncing Mr. J. D. Fitzgerald and others. It may be said that the Prime Minister, deserves great credit for having succeeded in reaching his present position from so lowly a start.
– His career shows that Australia is a place of great opportunities.
– It proves what has been said by many persons, that anything is possible in a Democracy. It is admitted, that the Prime Minister is clever, but his methods are inexcusable. At the time I speak of he was helped by the man who is now Premier of New South Wales. Many a pound of Mr. Holman1 s money - Mr. Holman was then single- went to help Mr. Hughes. Listen to Mr. Holman’s opinion of Mr. Hughes to-day. Commenting on the acceptance by Mr. Hughes of the commission to form a new Government, the Premier of New South Wales said -
I have long known that Mr. Hughes is a man whose pledged word is absolutely worthless, but I confess I am amazed and depressed to find that the whole of his colleagues have joined him in this exploit. I can only attribute it in certain cases to a sense of mistaken loyalty to a man who has never been loyal to anybody or anything.
If you want another opinion upon the Prime Minister, whose word cannot be relied on, and whose one characteristic is ingratitude and disloyalty to his friends, I refer you to Mr. Beeby. Beeby, Holman, and Hughes used to go about together making speeches. I could name a dozen other men in New South Wales who have expressed a similar opinion of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, in my opinion, is unfit to occupy his position, and has no right to be allowed to sit on the benches opposite by those supporting him. I sincerely hope that honorable members on the Government side, who in private have expressed their opinion, will have the courage, when the vote is taken, to record it as they ought to do - as the vote of men who believe that the Prime Minister’s word ought not to be taken in the Parliament of this country.
Mr FOWLER: Perth
.- I rise with a great amount of reluctance to speak on the present occasion. I do so, principally, to remove certain misconceptions regarding myself, and also certain misconceptions regarding the position, as I look at it, which has arisen in the course of the debate. At the outset I have to inform my honorable friends opposite - though I am afraid that when I make the statement’ they will regard me “as something of a backslider - that I am unable to support the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition,.
– W)e did not expect it.
– The reason I do not support the motion is not’ that it is an attack on the Government of a sufficiently definite character, but that it does not go far enough. It only touches the fringe of the great matter that ought to concern this Parliament - the only matter, indeed, that ought to concern this Parliament and the people of Australia at the present juncture - and that is the prosecution of the war. It is a misfortune, only a little short of the result of the last referendum, that we should be discussing a motion of this kind at the present time. I say, therefore, that 1 cannot support the motion; but I shall give, under this motion, a few reasons why, and by reason of the latitude allowed in debate on occasions of this kind, the House should improve the present position.
There is one characteristic of this debate, common, I think, to all the honorable members that have spoken, and that is the distance they have kept away from the particular motion. It is, indeed: significant of- shall I call it? - the lack of concentration of honorable members opposite that they have gone all round the compass, and discussed such matters as the Taylor card system, the prices of rabbits, and so forth, at a time when Australia is waiting, and waiting impatiently, for a lead on a question that materially, concerns our honour and our very existence.
One of the most interesting speeches that we have heard, and one that was successful in regard to the distance that was kept from the subject-matter of the motion, . was that by the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine) last night. Because that honorable member, in keeping away from the motion, got somewhat near to the particular matter that I have at heart - the prosecution of the war - I propose to follow him for a few minutes. He spoke about the position in Russia, and argued that revolutions, such as have taken place there, would probably do more to win the war than the armed efforts of the Allies. Let me suggest to the honorable member that if the revolution is going to be carried on by the impractical and absurd methods of those responsible for it, instead of there being a successful winning of the war thereby it may yet assist to rivet the fetters of Prussian absolutism on Democracy. While those revolutionary gentlemen talk with their heads in the clouds, the Prussians are getthing through their legs, and establishing a condition of affairs in Russia that may yet act disastrously,- not only on that country, but on the whole of the world. That is, indeed, a possible development. When one remembers that all revolutions of a similar character that have taken place have simply set back the hands of the clock of progress - in some instances for a hundred years - as in the case of the French Revolution - then I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald), in his insistence on the principle that evolution and order point the only safe way in which humanity can progress. But the honorable member for Barrier, in the course of his interesting address, showed the sources from which he had obtained the political knowledge that he was expounding to lis. He talked, in fact, that kind of political pabulum which has emanated from Germany, and which, as we have every reason to believe now, was concocted for foreign consumption - a political pabulum which, being disseminated throughout the world, to the detriment of the cause of the Allies, has been abandoned at the first opportunity by the very people who were responsible for it in Germany - those people who are to-day seeking, in spite of their teachings in regard to Socialism, to aid the Prussian rulers in their onslaught upon freedom.
– Has Dr. Leibknecht repudiated -his principles ?
– No; Leibknecht ia the one solitary honest man in the whole crowd, who has remained consistently true to the teachings of his school, and has not abandoned them like the great mass of the German Socialists. The hon.orable member for Barrier, as I say, showed the source from which he has obtained his inspiration, by his use of terms that are utterly foreign to Australia - terms which practically have no” meaning in a country such as this. He talked about the Australian “ proletariat.” . It is a mere travesty to apply a word of that kind to the masses of Australia. There are no people in the world belonging to the class to which the honorable member refers, who have a better standing, or more control of the political situation, than those referred to by him as the Australian “ proletariat.” But I know that when he talks in 1hat way he has in his mind heroic pictures of the French revolution. I have no doubt that, in his dreams of youthful ambition, he sees himself, some day or other, standing in a dramatic attitude on a barricade in Collins-street, with a red flag in one hand and a bloody sword in the other, waiting for the Australian “ proletariat “ to bring him the heads of the capitalist magnates of the country. The honorable member for Barrier is, if I may be allowed to say so, a man of considerable intellect and imagination ; and if the picture I have drawn of his mental attitude be a correct one to-day, I venture also to suggest that in another ten years he will be laughing at the speech he made in the House last night. . The honorable member spoke about landless Australians, and he gave us to understand that there is only one way in which, land can be obtained for the Australian “proletariat,” namely, by bloody revolution. Does the honorable member realize that the Australian “proletariat” have only to exercise their votes to get all that even he desires for them? To talk about revolution in a country like Australia is to indicate an intellect obsessed by teachings which are utterly foreign to Australia, and have no real practical relation to the actual conditions of this Commonwealth.
The honorable member gave us his assurance that the war in which we are engaged is a trade war. For the purposes of argument we will admit that such is the case, in the sense, at any rate, in which he puts it, and say that the war has really been caused by a desire for trade by the dominant nations of the world. A burglar has no doubt the same commercial instinct, though somewhat misguidedly he desires to trade in his own way. However, if the honorable member found a burglar in his own house some night, brutally maltreating a child or a mother, in order to stifle their cries, while he went on with his business, I ask how the honorable member would treat him? How is the honorable member prepared to treat the German burglar? Would he leave him severely alone to bayonet old men, outrage women, and starve little children to death 1 I am sure the honorable member would do nothing of the kind ; but that if he. were brought face to face with these horrors he would probably be one of the first to “ wade in “ with rifle and bayonet. I wish to follow up that question with yet another. After the German burglar has in turn devastated Belgium, France, and Great Britain, is the honorable member for Barrier prepared to stand helplessly by while he arrives in Australia and proceeds to carry into execution here his own particular methods?
– Once the honorable member admits the basis of my argument he reduces the quarrel to a squabble between burglars, and not between an honest man and a burglar.
– The honorable member perceives the point of my argument. I am glad that he does. If he does not see also that the relationship of Germany to the countries she has attacked is actually that of a burglar in more or less defenceless households, then he has failed altogether to gather any elementary lesson whatever as to the meaning of this war.
– It seems to me that the honorable member for Perth has himself a good imagination.
– I know that the honorable member for Barrier possesses the quality of imagination, and if he looks at the position as I have put it to him, I feel sure he will realize that, remote though we are from the theatre of war, it is yet the right of Australians to do for others the duty that would be overwhelmingly a duty and a necessity in our own case here.
I was surprised to hear during this de- bate an effort made in defence of voluntarism. It is, to me, one of the mysteries of the Australian position that nearly every honorable member opposite, while professing the principle of State Socialism, denounces conscription. A fundamental principle of State Socialism is that the interests of the community are greater than those of the individual. And upon that principle State Socialists proceed by compulsion to impose on the individual those necessary duties without which society cannot be maintained and cannot progress. One of the most elementary duties of any society is that of self defence. If compulsion is necessary in lesser matters why in the name of logic and common sense should it be withheld in regard to the all-important duty of defending ourselves? I have not yet heard any attempted explanation of that anomaly, and am sure I shall wait in vain for it. There is not one honorable member opposite who does not in his heart and soul realize that he occupies a false position in this regard, and that Democracy throughout the world, and in all ages, has imposed upon all its citizens, and must of necessity impose upon them, the one overwhelming obligation of fighting in their own defence.
I come now to the more practical phases of this subject, and have a few observations to make concerning the speech to which we listened from the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley). That honorable member ‘ is a very cheerful optimist. I would remind him that in nature the most cheerful optimist in the face, of danger is the. ostrich. It can put its head in the sand while its tail sticks up high in he horizon, and convince itself that all is well. The honorable member, evidently a student of strategy, has given us assurances that all is well with the Allies. I do not think he went further, however, than to show that we could hold our own against the enemy. If we do no more than that - if the war comes to an end with us holding our own and no more- then we shall have absolutely failed in regard to every object we had in view when we entered upon the conflict. If peace comes to the world with anything like the present military situation Germany will have absolutely won.’ It will then be only a matter of a few years in the history of mankind when Germany will reap the fruits of such a peace in a way that will make freedom impossible to Europe and to us in Australia. We are very proud of our victories in Mesopotamia; very well satisfied with the progress made by our. arms in Palestine. But let me remind the House that, having regard to the present position in Europe, Germany isi the focus of a new and greater Empire. Germany has, even now, achieved the aim and object of German statesmen and publicists for many years - a Middle Europe Empire with a population of 200,000,000, and with resources vastly superior to those of the British Empire. If peace is concluded with a possibility of that* Middle Europe Empire, being maintained, there is an end to the British Empire in the near future, and a challenge indeed to the liberties of the world.
The honorable member for South Sydney gave us the assurance that men were not particularly needed; that we had more than enough at the Front. For an answer to that statement we have only to look at the cables in yesterday’s newspapers setting out that the Minister for National Service (Sir Auckland Geddes), who is not a military man, impressed upon the House of Commons the absolute necessity for increasing the man-power of the Allies. The message states that this Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on the previous day, said that the question of man-power was “ the central problem of the war. The urgent need at the present time is men for the Army.” A little further on he is reported to have said, “ Our enemies are staking everything on our failure to solve the manpower problem.” In the face of these statements - in the face of the efforts we know Great Britain is making - can we for a moment maintain conscientiously that the Commonwealth has done her full share in regard to the . supply of manpower for the armies of the Allies? I do not think we can. While the proportion of men we have sent to the Front per head of our population is somewhere about 8 per cent., Great Britain has thrown into the ‘ war more than double that percentage. No one can say that our interests in this war and its successful prosecution are less than those, of the Motherland. They are a great deal more, since the very future of Australia hangs in the balance to-day: This, war, and the part we play in it will determine whether this shall remain a white country, and whether it shall remain a heritage to our children.
– Surely the honorable member does not say that Great Britain has put into the field double the percentage of men sent to the Front by Australia. If he does, he is wrong.
– My statement is correct. When we take into consideration also the efforts that are being made in Great Britain in connexion with the manufacture of munitions and the whole prosecution of the war, then anything Australia has done fades relatively into insignificance. It matters not in the slightest degree whether we have sent five, six, or sixteen divisions. I am surprised that so much time has been devoted to the argument- as to whether six or only five divisions were ever projected. Such matters it may suit some honorable members to discuss, but I would remind them that Australia’s share of credit in regard ‘to the war will be determined, not by ourselves, not by our own feelings of satisfaction, “but by the voice of the world at large. While we are twaddling as to the number of men who have been sent to the Front, can we conceal the fact that there are tens of thousands of ablebodied young men thronging our cities, rushing to our race-courses, filling our theatres, while the duty they should be performing is being done for us by others? Can we conceal from the world at large facts like these? And will the world at large regard this Parliament as having done its duty when it is known that we have almost a quarter of a million men who in any other country of the Allies would have been called up for service, but upon whom we as a Parliament have never put the slightest pressure?
A bush fire is a very common occurence in Australia ; I have seen some dreadful ones. When a bush fire occurs every man in the district, and sometimes every woman who is able to use a beater, is out fighting that fire along so much of its length as human effort can be employed upon. Imagine what would’ be thought of a farmer who sent out one able-bodied son to fight a bush fire, and told another to stay at home and practice on his fiddle. What would his “neighbours say of his action? What help would he get from them when, perhaps, his turn came’ to call for assistance? Yet that is exactly the position Australia occupies to-day. One man goes and we allow another to stay at home, if not to play the fiddle, at least to do something more discreditable to his manhood and to Australia. Beyond question we shall be judged in regard to our attitude towards the war by powers outside of Australia, which, to a large extent, will hold our future in the hollow of their hands; and if we do not now acquit ourselves as a branch of the white race in taking up our full responsibilities!, it will be all the worse, if not for U3, then for our posterity.
I want now to go back to the causes leading up to the motion now before the House, and at the very outset I wish to dissociate myself absolutely and entirely from the sordid intrigue by which the Prime Minister returned to office after his nominal resignation. I do not desire to discuss it, except to make my position perfectly clear. I have no hesitation whatever in taking up an independent attitude over this matter. I dissent altogether from the contention of the honorable member for Flinders (Sir William Irvine) that Government pledges also bind members of the party. In my judgment, nothing could be more fatal to effective parliamentary government. We, the members of the National party, had no say whatever in the pledge, and, accordingly, we are free to take up an independent position in regard to it. As one who has always upheld Parliament against the coercion of Ministers, I protest as forcibly as I can against any assumption that because members happen to sit behind a Ministry they must remain silent and refrain from taking any action that will incommode them or seriously threaten their position on the Ministerial benches. In the British House of Commons it has happened time and again that Governments which have made serious mistakes have been displaced by the votes of their own supporters. I regret very much that the cursed party system has fastened itself so strongly upon Australian politics as to make it almost impossible, or at least very difficult, for honorable members to adopt that course which their consciences or judgment may dictate in regard to the conduct of the affairs, of this country. Speaking for myself, I have no hesitation whatever in taking any action in regard to this Government, which, in my judgment, may be necessary, on the present occasion.
It will not . be of very much advantage to discuss in detail the events leading up to the present situation. There is/ a well-known saying, worthy of general acceptance, that we should let bygones be bygones; but, on the other hand, it is our duty, as members of this Parliament, to learn from experience and, if neceessary, to criticise the Government for wrong-doing. It is our duty also, on special occasions to take whatever steps may be necessary to put right any errors they may have committed. I have criticised the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, and there are many phases of this question upon which I feel inclined to speak strongly now; but while I do not shrink in the slightest from the task, I feel under a certain amount of restraint, because, in the first place,t the Prime Minister is not present, and in the second place, it is on account of illness that he is not here. I shall, therefore, confine myself as nearly as possible to those matters upon which there is a certain amount of misconception, and if the Prime Minister, of necessity, comes within the purview of my observations, I want to assure the House that my attitude towards him ia absolutely impersonal.
Now, I maintain that the whole series of ghastly blunders that have brought Australia into her present position is due almost entirely to the Prime Minister. From time to time I have made my protests against the blundering way in which the affairs of this country have been conducted since he took office, and I want to protest very strongly indeed against the position he takes up concerning the result of the referendum vote. After we have gone through an experience that has left Australia in the mire of shame and national disgrace, for which he alone was primarily responsible, the Prime Minister now turns round and tells us that it was not the Government, but the people of Australia, who failed. This remarkable statement could only come from a leader lacking conscientiousness and possessed of a very considerable amount of hardihood. The people of Australia, in the first place, did not want these referenda, and did not ask for them. They were imposed upon the electors by the Prime Minister, and they were the outcome of cowardice on the part of the Government, led by the Prime Minister, whose failure to face the situation, and whose thrusting of the responsibility upon the people brought, about the only result that could have been anticipated. As one of the representatives of the solitary State that has not failed, and in view of the succession of blunders perpetrated by the Leader of the Government, from the time that he rounded the men of Australia into those home defence camps down to the day when he imposed the national police force upon Australia for some trumpery reason or other, it is a matter of surprise to me that there should have been a million electors who could still vote in favour of conscription. No other country in the world could have done better than Australia in regard to this matter. The people of this country rose to the occasion as well as could have been expected by any man with a proper conception of human nature and an understanding of the political situation. In every community there is only a certain proportion of people capable of putting patriotism before selfinterests. In every community there are slackers and those who are constitutionally averse to any new proposal, particularly of this kind.
I want also to emphasize the point that the vote given at the last referendum was, to a large extent, not a vote against conscription at all. This may seem a strange statement to make, but I contend that tens of thousands of people voted “ No,” not because they were against conscription, but because they were against the Prime Minister; and, in addition, tens of thousands of people voted “ No “ because they objected to having this responsibility thrust upon their shoulders by the Prime Minister. I believe a substantial majority would accept conscription readily enough from a Government and Parliament that imposed it upon them, but would vote “No” every time as a protest against the action of a Government in placing upon the electors the responsibility of deciding the issue. When we remember that the difference between the “ Yes “ and the “ No “ votes is represented by only about 4 per cent, of the population, honorable members will see the strength of my contention. We have had an offer from the Prime Minister to stand down if that course of action would lead to effective co-operation of members in the prosecution of this war, and i ask the members of the Opposition to accept it.
I quite agree that the presence of the Prime Minister at the head of this Government is detrimental to the effective prosecution of the war by a united Australia. More than that, I say that the internal affairs of the Commonwealth will suffer so long as the Prime Minister remains at the head of any Government. By the violence of his propaganda work in connexion with the, referenda, particularly the latter one, he has brought Australia within measurable distance of civil war. He has created a spirit of bitter antagonism that was foreign to Australia until now, and I believe that it would be a good thing for Australia, not only in regard to the prosecution of the war, but also in regard to the management of our internal affairs, if the Prime Minister were to stand down. He has made an offer to do so, and I ask the Opposition whether it is not their duty under the circumstances, and in the interests of the people they represent, to accept the proposal.
– Can we rely on that undertaking more than we could on his word outside this House!
– At any rate, the offer has been made before Parliament and the country, and if honorable members oppo- ( site doubt its sincerity they have a very easy method of testing it. The Minister for the Navy made the same proposal, and I say frankly that the offer would have come with better grace before Ministers had entrenched themselves in the position in which they are now. But the offer has been made, and I ask honorable members opposite to take it on its face value, and, at any rate, accept it.
Let me remind honorable members in all earnestness that as a Parliament we have failed up to the present time to give Australia that lead which the people have a right to expect. We have been engaged in party squabbling; we have spent much time on matters that are only remotely