7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– In reference to the resolution of the House of the 18th September, I have received, through the High Commissioner’s Office in London, the following cablegram, dated the 28th September, 1918:-
Reference your telegram 20th September, Lady Reid conveys her deep, heartfelt appreciation resolution passed by Commonwealth Parliament.
– Is the statement in today’s newspaper, that the exportation of a, quantity of leather equal to the quantity of hides exported is to be permitted, correct? If it is not correct, will the Acting Prime Minister again try to obtain some relief for our tanning and leather industries? I am informed that over £1,200,000 worth of leather is at present being kept back in Australia.
-The Government is aware that leather to a considerable value is stored in Australia awaiting shipment, and, as I have informed the House on several occasions, Ministers have endeavoured to arrange better conditions with the British Government for the exportation of our leather. The statement which was published last night is correct, and although I am awaiting confirmation of the facts through official channels, I was entitled, by reason of the advices I had received, to make it public. The new arrangement is due largely to the efforts of the Prime Minister in London. I hope to be in a position within the next forty-eight hours to give the tanning trade more definite information.
– The arrangement is half and half?
-Is the statement of the general secretary ofthe Federated Enginemenand Firemen’s Union, which appears in the press to-day, as a message sent to the union representative on the railway, correct ? It is to the effect that the authorities are agreeable to allowing the grievances of the men tobe dealt with by the Arbitration Court upon the presentation of a new log, the award of the Court to be retrospective, and that a ticket for the union organizer is to be purchased on the understanding that a refund of the purchase money shall be applied for later? If the statement is correct, I ask the Minister for Works and Railways if it embodies the policy of the Government towards these rebellious men?
– The statement is absolutely incorrect.
– As serious inconvenience is being caused to a large number of people by the stoppage of the railway service between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, will the Minister for Works and Railways say when the service is likely to be resumed?
– I am not in a position to make any definite announcement as to when the passenger service will be resumed, but the Railway Commissioner is endeavouring to bring about a resumption as soon as possible.
- Mr. Speaker, I desire to ask you, sir, a question without notice. Would honorable members be in order if they rise and give three cheers for Private Wallace?
Honorable members having cheered Mr, Wallace as he entered the chamber in
– We are, of course, very glad to see the honorable member for West Sydney in uniform, but there was a proper way of asking that the House might express its appreciation of his action in enlisting, and I think that it should have been followed.
– What reply was made by the Prime Minister to the. cablegram of the Acting Prime Minister informing him that it had been suggested in the House of Representatives that if the British authorities declined to arrange for the purchase of Australian copper beyond the 31st December next, the Australian producers might be allowed to make contracts with the Allied countries?
– As I intimated to the honorable member, I cabled to the Prime Minister, and yesterday got a reply to the effect that he was still dealing with the subject, and hoped to succeed. It will be time enough to consider whether we should seek to sell in the Allied free world when it is known that Britain will not buy our copper on favorable terms.
– I ask the Minister for Price Fixing if, in view of the exceptionally trying period of drought and consequent shrinkage of supplies generally, and the high mortality in dairy stock, and in view of the fact that, despite the price of butter having been reduced by the Commissioner from 168s. to 149s. 4d. per cwt, lucerne was sold yesterday in Brisbane for £14 per ton, he will allow Queensland producers to give evidence Ve production, shrinkage of supplies, high mortality of dairy stock, and the cost of fodder, and will then review the present fixed prices?
– The honorable member informed me of his intention to ask this question. I am aware that in some parts of Queensland the dairying industry is not in a very flourishing condition at the present time, because of the causes which he has stated, but I gave an undertaking to the House at the beginning of last winter, that when the butter production of all the States was equal to the consumption, the price of butter to the consumer wouldbe brought back to 149s. 4d. per cwt. I am informed that Queensland is now producing a little more butter than she can actually consume, which necessitates, of course, the storing of the surplus for export. The British Government has not stated definitely whether it intends to buy our butter this year, but at the beginning of the present week I arranged with the Treasurer for an advance to the butter factories against all butter going into cold store. That advance is now being drawn; and, in the circumstances, it does not ‘seem possible to do what the honorable gentleman suggests. However, I shall be very glad to look into the matter, and see if any thing can be done in the extraordinary circumstances in which some of the dairying districts find themselves.
– I desire to ask the Minister in charge of price-fixing whether, in determining the new prices for butter, he took into account his promise to retailers in Queensland that consideration would be given to their position. If so, why is it that a different basis has been adopted in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania from that adopted in Queensland?
– The honorable member has evidently received a telegram from a gentleman in Brisbane, who also sent me a copy of it.
– That is so.
– The gentleman who sent this telegram is labouring under a misapprehension. We have given exactly the same consideration to the people of Queensland as we have to those in the other States, and in the adjustment of prices have given the retailers in the northern State an additional halfpenny.
– Seeing that awards made by the Federal Arbitration Court have been found to be ultra vires, will the Government enforce thepayment of the grossly unjust fines imposed on certain pastoralists, particularly Mr. Wallace Hunter, Mrs. Kelly, and the late Mr. H. Edols?
– The honorable member is hardly accurate insaying that the awards have been held to be ultra vires. The awards will stand, but the provisions of the Act dealing with the enforcement of awards are affected by the recent High Court decision. If the honorable member will submit the details of the cases to which he hasreferred, I will have them looked into, in order to see how they are affectedby the decision.
- (By leave)- I desire to make a statement in connexion with the Postal Department. A considerable amount of anxiety has been displayed in various country centres at a notification which has been received by officials in certain post-offices, to the effect that their offices will be handed over to the Home and Territories Department, and that they must find other suitable premises in which the postal business can be conducted. This is the circular which has been sent around -
I have to inform you that it has been decided by Central Office, Melbourne, to hand over the property used as a post-office at to the Home and Territories Department. This decision will mean that other arrangements will have to be made for the conduct of postal duties. In the circumstances, it will be. open to you to provide suitable premises, and to continue to conduct postal duties therein, receiving, of course, the full allowance payable, with no deduction for rent, or, failing that, to arrange with some other person, who may be willing to provide the premises, and conduct the duties for the allowance justified.
No date is fixed for the transfer of the property, but as it is stated that such transfer will take place as soon as the postal business is transferred to other premises, I shall be glad if you will take immediate steps to secure other premises, or, failing that, if you will nominate some person already in possession of suitable premises, centrally situated, who would conduct the postal duties.
There is a fair amount of revenue received each year in these post-offices, and from statements which I have received from the officials themselves it appears to me that it will be impossible for them to provide otherp remises. Therefore, I ask the Postmaster-General to relieve their feelings of anxiety by making a statement to the effect that the existing facilities will remain as they are. At one time I held the belief that the Minister was not devoting the whole of his time to his Department. I had expelled that idea from my mind, but I have now reluctantly to state that I fear that a great amount of his time is wasted,-.because this morning I received a circular from the Postmaster-
General - at least, I do not knowwhether it can be called a circular; it is in the form of a poem, which reads as follows : -
– Is this a personal explanation ?
– I asked the honorable member if he desired to make a personal explanation. He said that he desired leave of the House to make a statement, and as the House offered no objection to the honorable member, I allowed him to proceed. At the same time, I ask him to make a serious statement.
– I desire to know whether this “William Webster is the gentleman who is associated with the Postal Department. If such be the case, I ask him to devote more of his energies to providing postal facilities in country towns.
– Has the Minister in Charge of Price Fixing considered the question of fixing prices for log and sawn timber? If so, will he make representations to theState Governments in order to prevent a ‘periodical increase in the royalties which are demanded from the timber getters?
– As far as my memory serves me, nothing has been done regarding the fixing of the price of timber beyond declaring that timber is a necessary commodity, so that inquiries can be made as to the advisability of fixing prices. If it is found desirable to fix the price of timber, and steps are taken to that end, I shall be very glad to approach the Queensland Government through the usual channels, and ask them not to raise the royalties demanded from timber-getters.
– In view of the epidemic of what is known as Spanish influenza, which is raging in South Africa and elsewhere, and causing many deaths, will the Minister for Trade and Customs say what steps have been taken in order to prevent its introduction into Australia ?
- Dr. Cumpston, the Director of Quarantine,is taking every precaution to see that this dreaded disease does not get into Australia. Passengers are duly examined on the arrival of every boat, and every care is taken by the Quarantine Department.
– Has the Navy Department taken steps to ascertain the whereabouts ofCaptainChugg and his boat’s crew, which left Maldon Island after the wreck of the ship John Murray, in order to obtain succour for those who were left on the island ? Will the Minister endeavour to see if the crew of thatboat are marooned on any of the islands of the Pacific?
– I will do so.
– In accordance with promises made in the House, I desire to lay on the table a statement showing the cost of advertising the Sixth War Loan.
Docking of the Cethana.
– It has been publicly stated that the first of the fleet of wooden vesselsfor which the Commonwealth Government placed au order in the United States of America arrived here a few weeks ago, and that ever since then she has been in dock undergoing repairs that” will involve an expenditure of some thousands of pounds. Will the Acting Minister for the Navy state whether or not this report is correct ? I should also be glad if he would inform the House as to the stage that has been reached in the construction of the remaining vessels of the fleet.
-Owing to the courtesy of the honorable member in advising me that he intended to ask this question, I am in a position to supply the information he seeks. The vessel to which herefers as having arrived in Sydney recently is the Cethana. She carried a cargo of 1,400 tons of newspaper, 550 tons of ship plates, and 600 tons of sawn timber. I was in Sydney at the time of her arrival, and saw the cargo of newspaper being delivered. It was perfectly dry. The vessel, I understand, was not leaking on her arrival, but it is the usual practice to have a wooden vessel re-caulked at the end of her first voyage. This is being done in the case of the Cethana. To-morrow she will proceed toloada cargo of wheat, and, so far as I know, there is nothing seriously wrong with her. As to the other wooden vessels of the fleet for which an order was placed in the United States of America, the Culburra was launched on the 17th March last, and is due in Sydney, with a full cargo, about the 12th instant. The Challamba was launched on the 4th July, was delivered on 1st October, and sailed on 2nd October from Seattle for San Francisco to load for Australia. The Coolcha was launched on 22nd July, and delivery is expected about the middle of this month. The Bellata was launched on 18th April, the official trial took place on 26th September, and delivery is expected at the end of this week. The Bundarra. was launched on 20th May last, and her boilers are now being installed. The Birriwa was launched on 27th June; the Berringa on 27th July; and the Bethanga on 1st September. It is expected that the Benowa and the Babinda will be launched about the middle of this month. At the moment no particulars are available regarding the three remaining vessels, the Balcatta, the Boobyalla, and the Boorika; but, although no definite information is to hand, it is understood that four of the “ B “ class, which were originally intended to be steamers, are being converted into motor ships, with Diesel engines.
– Will the Acting Minister for the Navy state whether it is a fact that the steam-ship Yarra recently proceeded to Port Augusta with a cargoof coal, but was unable to discharge it upon arrival there, and had to return with the cargo to Adelaide? If the report is true, will he give the House some assurance that the Government will control the trade of Australia, and not allow any interference by an outside body?
– I have not heard anything about the matter, but shall mate inquiries, and inform the honorable member of the result to-morrow.
Report of Royal Commission
– In view of the fact that printed copies of the report of the Royal Commission upon the Department of the Navy have apparently been in existence for some little time, will the Acting Prime Minister state the reason for the delay in supplying them to honorable members ? Is it due, as rumoured, to the fact that the Government are adding to the report some little camouflage of their own?
– If the honorable member had been in his place last week he would know that the report was laid on the table, together with the recommendations adopted by the Cabinet, so that the whole paper is the property of the House. I moved that it be printed, the House concurred, and the circulation of the report is a matter for the authorities of the House.
– I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to a recent statement by Mr. Justice Powers with reference to alternative methods of enforcing the awards of the Court. The first of these was to give the President of the Court an appointment for life, while the second was that this Parliament should give to the High Court the necessary powers, so that the enforcement of the awards of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court could be effected through the President or Deputy President.
– I have not seen the statement of the learned Judge to which the honorable member has referred, but am aware that these questions were raised before the High Court when the determination to which he alluded last week was arrived at. The matter at present is be fore the Acting Attorney-General (Mr. Groom), and when the Government receive his report on the text of the judgment, which he is obtaining, I ‘shall announce our policy with regard to it.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister state whether he is able to communicate to the House the decision of the Government with regard to the provision of moneys for the Anzacs returned on furlough ?
– The Acting AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) has been dealing with the matter, in conjunction with the Minister for Defence, and I should be glad if the honorable member would give notice of his question for to-morrow.
– In view of the fact that the report which the Public Works Committee presented last week to the House on the question of the provision of homes for the operators at Lithgow was only a majority one, and that to give effect to it would involve not only a new principle, but an enormous expenditure, will the Acting Prime Minister give the House an. opportunity to consider the report before the Government are committed to the proposed expenditure?
– That is a question of which Ministers might have notice. I may say, however, that the Minister concerned has brought it under the notice of the Cabinet, which is now dealing with it.
– The poultrymen in Australia are objecting to the importation of the yolk of eggs in powdered form, and I should like to know whether the Government have taken this matter into consideration, with a view to assisting the local industry?
– If the honorable member will give notice of the question, I shall obtain the necessary information, and, in all probability, convey the decision of the Government.
Dependants of Deserters
– I desire to ask a question in regard to the practice of the Defence Department in stopping ,the separation allowance and allotment moneys of dependants of soldiers who have got into trouble at the Front through being absent without leave. What is the position now? I understand that the Prime Minister has undertaken that the Commonwealth Government will pay half the allotment money, or something of that kind. I should like to know whether the Government are going to abandon the policy they have followed in the past, and pay the dependants as if nothing had happened at the Front?
– There is a good deal of literature on the official files relating to this matter. I am not able to give an answer offhand, and I shall be glad if the honorable member will give notice of the question, when I shall be prepared to give him a full reply.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) carried out his promise to honorable members, when we adjourned on the 15th June last, that he would confer with the PostmasterGeneral with a view to giving country electorates better postal facilities? If so, what is the result of that conference?
– A question of that kind is not, I think, sufficiently urgent to warrant its being answered without notice.
– Better answer the honorable member in verse !
– I could not do that impromptu, but I dare say I could if I were given sufficient notice. I have had several conferences with the PostmasterGeneral on this and other matters, mostly in dealing with the Estimates, and the conferences have not been altogether pleasant for me. I cannot give an answer to the question offhand, and I should like the question to be placed on the noticepaper.
– Have the Government considered the matter of appointing a Cabinet Minister to remain in Great Britain during the war, and, if so, have the
Government any Minister in their eye for the position?
– We have considered the question, and we are awaiting further advices from the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes)’. As to any Minister being marked for the position, there is no truth in the statement.
– Will the Assistant Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) grant permission to our bluejackets to wear their cap ribbons during the time they are on leave? I should like the sailors to have a similar privilege to that enjoyed by our soldiers.
– I shall make “inquiries, and advise the honorable member later on.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) contemplating an amendment of the Public Service Act so as to afford effective preference to returned soldiers; and, if so, is the honorable gentleman prepared to make a statement?
– There is a certain law on the matter in which this House has concurred. Nothing fresh is contemplated that I am aware of at this stage, but i shall make inquiries.
Posting in Parliament House.
– I should like to know, Mr. Speaker, whether it would be possible to have the latest war news posted somewhere within the precincts of the House? If this suggestion were acted upon, it would confer a benefit on honorable members.
– If I remember rightly, the Acting Prime Minister was asked a question on this subject last week. I subsequently had a consultation with that honorable gentleman on the subject. At one time it was the practice of the Prime Minister’s Department to supply information of the kind, which was posted in the lobby; but, for some reason, which the Acting Prime Minister was not able to explain at the interview, that practice has not been followed since the resumption of the present session. However, I have arranged to have the war news posted up in the future as soon as it is available from the newspaper offices; indeed, I may say that at the present time war news is posted up within Parliament House.
– As contracts for the supply of small jam fruits will shortly be made, has any decision been come to in regard to fixing the price?
– That matter is still under investigation.
– In reply to an earlier question, I was told that citizens could obtain at the post-offices the list of the prices fixed for commodities. I inquired at a post-office, and was told that the price-lists are not quite up to date. Will the Minister inform the House when the lists will be brought up to date ?
– Storekeepers may obtain price-lists at every post-office, and the regulations impose upon them the obligation of exposing those lists in their shop windows, and also of altering the lists if at any time the prices are amended or added to.
– In view of the paragraph in the Ministerial statement that price-fixing having assumed such considerable proportions it is necessary to place the matter on a more satisfactory basis than a regulation under the War Precautions Act, and in view also of the reported statement by the Minister for Price-Fixing, confirmed by the Acting Prime Minister, that the Government had nob even considered the question of placing price-fixing on a permanent basis, will the Acting Prime Minister inform the House what is the policy of the Government in regard to this matter?
– If the honorable member will read the Ministerial statement to which he referred, he will see that the paragraph did not refer to the placing of price-fixation on a permanent basis, but dealt with the effective regulation of price-fixation during war time. The Go vernment proposals to this end are being developed, and during this session will be brought before the House for consideration.
– Having regard to the contradictory reports which are published in the daily, press from time to time, is the Acting Prime Minister in a position to inform the House as to the precise relations existing between Hia Majesty’s Government and the de facto Soviet Administration of the Russian Republic ?
– I should have thought, bearing in mind what the honorable member has done and said in recent months, that such >a question might be more properly addressed by me to him. I am not in a position, or at liberty at the present time, to make any statement about the matter.
– This is the first recognition I have received
– On the 27th ultimo the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked me the following questions : -
The information is being obtained, and, when available, will be communicated to the honorable member.
I have now to inform the honorable member that no rabbit skins were exported by the Ventura on her last voyage.
Sale of Goods
– On the 27th ultimo the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) asked the following questions : -
Name, Address, Amount of Tender Accepted
Jones, J. P., 4 Royal-arcade, Melbourne, £251 9s.8d.
David Jones Ltd., George-street, Sydney, £104 19s.
Linay, Wm., Box 140, General Post Office, Sydney, £34 8s.6d
Sniders, J. & B., 318 Flinders-lane, Melbourne, £74 17s.
Goode, Durrant, Co. Ltd., Grenfell-street, Adelaide, £44 19s. 4d.
Lincoln, Stuart & Co. Pty. Ltd., Flindersstreet, Melbourne, £391 9s. 5d
Buckley & Nunn Ltd., Bourke-street, Melbourne, £716 4s.11d.
Tickle & Son, J. B., 1 Wynyard-street, Sydney, f4,396 19s. 2d.
Robinson, W. J., 173 Victoria-road, Collingwood, £299 10s. 3d.
Raby, R. W., 163 Elizabeth-street, Melbourne, £1116s. 7d.
The Leviathan, Bourke-street, Melbourne, £361 18s. 8d.
Cutler, J. H., 70 King-street, Sydney, £7 19s. 4d.
Hooper & Co., J. H., Barkly-street, Footscray, £167 5s.
Woods & Manson, 40 Elizabeth-street, Melbourne, £2,355 18s. 2d.
Sargood Bros., Flinders-lane, Melbourne, £70 6s. 3d.
Hagon, R. C, 129 King-street, Sydney, £13 5s. 3d.
G.& R. Wills & Co. Ltd., 234 Flinderslane, Melbourne, £3
Mutual Store Ltd., Flinders-street, Melbourne, £2 19s. 6d.
Lowes Ltd., 512 George-street, Sydney, £36 0s. 8d.
Hopkins, Rice T., 312 Flinders-street, Melbourne, £928 14s. 3d.
– In accordance with a promise I made last week to the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Falkiner), who asked whether a report had been received from the Board of Business Administration, presided over by Mr. Swinburne, and, if so, whether it was the intention of the Government to make it public. I made inquiries, and have been furnished with the following reply: -
The Board reports to the Minister from time to time on the various matters coming before it, and the Minister has reported to the Go vernment on the general work carried out by the Board. It is proposed by the Minister at a later date, when certain important matters with which the Board is now dealing are finalized, to have a report prepared dealing with the Board’s operations, and to make such report public.
asked the Minister in charge of Recruiting, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
If so -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Assistant
Minister for Defence, upon notice -
As owing to the brilliant victories gained over the Turks in Palestine and other eastern countries by our Australian soldiers and those of our Allies, it is probable that some of the finest types of the Arab horse will pass into our hands, will the Minister take steps at once to secure as many as possible of these useful horses, of both sexes, to promote the industry of horse-breeding in Australia?
– -The question of securing some high-class Arab horses - which may have been captured from the Turks by our troops during the operations in Palestine - for the purpose of promoting the horse-breeding industry in this country has been under consideration for some time, and the consensus of expert opinion is to the effect that, so far as breeding for military purposes is concerned, no advantage would be. gained by the introduction of Arab blood. Prom a commercial point of view, the difficulty in obtaining freights, even after the war, and the necessity for the most stringent quarantine regulations to avoid introducing diseases from which Australia is now free, must be borne in mind; however, in order that the matter be more fully considered, it is proposed to obtain the fullest possible information regarding the quality of the animals captured and estimate of the expenditure which their export from Egypt to Australia would entail.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice- -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will the Government appoint an independent tribunal to take sworn evidence concerning the status and bona fides of the so-called British Imperial Oil Company, such inquiry having specific regard to its controlling factors and the destination of profits earned in Australia, also the reasons for its registration as a foreign company and the effect of such registration upon Commonwealth revenues?
– In view of the informamation relating to the company in the possession of the Commonwealth Government, and of advices received from the British Government regarding the company’s affairs, it is not considered necessary to take the action suggested by tha honorable member.
Settlement of Soldiers in Queensland.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Mr.WATT.- The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Audit or Accounts
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The following reply has been furnished by the Auditor-General : -
The question of the honorable member cannot be answered except by stating that a continuous audit of the Northern Territory accounts is conducted by the Auditor-General, as explained in the reply to a similar question asked by the honorable member on the 3rd October. The accounts of the Northern Territory audited by the Auditor- General are published each year in the Treasurer’s Finance Statement, to which is attached the AuditorGeneral’s report thereon. The accounts of the year 1917-18, the audit of which is not quite complete, appear in the Budget-papers presented to Parliament on the 25th September last. The last occasion on which the Northern Territory was visited by a Commonwealth audit inspector from Melbourne was early in March, 1913.
The following papers were presented: -
Defence Act. - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1.918, No. 242.
Lands Acquisition Act. - Land acquired under, at Randwick, New South Wales, for Defence purposes.
War Precautions Act. - Regulations amended -Statutory Rules 1918, Nos. 246, 248, 258.
– Before submitting the motion standing in my name for leave to introduce a Bill relating to subscriptions to Commonwealth war loans, I wish to make a special request to honorable members. The Standing Orders technically prevent the first and second readings of a Bill being taken on the same day as that on which leave is given to introduce it, except by consent of the House. It is possible to explain the subject-matter of this Bill on the motion for leave to introduce it, but that would not be satisfactory to honorable members, because when I come to explain the more technical provisions of the measure, I should like them to have the Bill before them. If the House will consent, therefore, I propose to submit the motion for leave to introduce the Bill formally, and then, by leave, to advance the Bill to the moving of the second reading. I move -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for art Act relating to subscriptions to Commonwealth war loans.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented, and (on motion by Mr. Watt) read a first time.
– (By leave) I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The last war loan, which was the sixth, was from many points of view the only one that was a real success. That is to say, without endeavouring in any way to derogate from the efforts of those who endeavoured, and who did raise money required under previous war loans, the sixth was the only war loan that gave us sufficient money to meet our war obligations for the period to be covered. In that sense it was a successful loan.
T think it was primarily successful because of three conditions. One was a wider system of publicity and organization, which was attempted in connexion with it. The second condition was tha special advance system which was arranged between the banks and the Treasury, and the third was the announcement that it was the last tax-free loan.
The publicity and organization arrangements have been extended in connexion with the present loan, and from that point of view the prospects of its success appear as favorable, or even more favorable, than those of the sixth war loan. The second condition, the special advance, is still operative, but will cover a less extended field than that to which it was first applied. The reason for this is that there are many citizens who took advantage of the special advance system and hypothecated their earnings under that system for eighteen months. That field cannot be tilled twice to the same depth, and, therefore, to some extent the operation of the advance system in its application to the present loan will necessarily be limited. The third condition achieved its purpose in the judgment of the Treasurer and chief officers; that is to say, it caused a number of people who appreciated the immunity stock to hasten in to acquire it before the door closed. That condition, having achieved its purpose, is no longer existent, and there is no similar kind of inducement to offer in connexion with the present loan.
Therefore, I say, the present loan is at a disadvantage, compared with its immediate predecessor, if not with all previous war loans. This disadvantage is so serious, in the opinion of those most competent to judge, that the raising, of the full £40,000,000 in connexion with the Seventh “War Loan now before the country is to some extent doubtful, and we cannot at this stage risk a failure in connexion with it.
Any shortage, any natural failure of the loan to yield the £40,000,000 required, could, apart from the measure I have the honour to recommend, only be made good by leaning further upon the British Government, and they, in my judgment, have already been asked to do boo much. The British Government have lent us in definite loans £47,500,000 since the war started. They have, in addition, paid £54,345,000 for the maintenance of our troops at the Front. We have repaid of that last amount only £16,000,000 to the 30th June last. So that we owe the Mother Country for war expenditure a net .£85,845,000, and the Commonwealth Government have decided that this total must not be allowed to increase.
We, therefore, bring forward a proposal which, so far as this country is con cerned, is novel, and to some minds may appear to be too drastic. It is a measure to provide for a form of compulsory subscription in connexion with the present loan and all other loans that follow it. The main reason for suggesting compulsion is this: It is known to the Government that many persons who are able to lend have not paid any money into previous loans, and are not likely to do so unless forced. Many others have not subscribed as much as they ought to have done, and the Government conclude that it is not a fair thing that the willing section of the people should be allowed to find all the money required in connexion with this war, even if they were able to do so. I may say in passing that the chief financial institutions of the country know these facts even better than the Government do, and approve of the principle of this measure.
Some honorable members and some critics outside may say that it is time enough to introduce a Bill for compulsion of this kind when the failure of a war loan has shown compulsion to be necessary. But, in my judgment, failure would be not only depressing, but detrimental in many ways. Failure would damage, or vitally injure, our national credit, and that must at all costs be avoided during the continuance of the struggle in which we are engaged. It is important, also, to remember that when the war is over, a long time must elapse before our troops, then we hope triumphant victors, will return to us, and, to speak quite frankly, more loans will be necessary after the conclusion of the war, whenever that is reached.
– Not more than we are raising at the present time, but merely more loans?
– More loans will be necessary after the conclusion of the war. until our war obligation vanishes. It will then be superseded by a repatriation obligation, which will probably continue for some considerable time. I say quite plainly that it is fairer to the people to ask them to lend at this stage, and easier for them to say “ Yes “ while the war is in progress, than it would be when our hearts are filled with joy and our memories, perhaps, rather fitful. This,- in my judgment, is the proper time to get the people to face the obligation that confronts the Government of this Commonwealth. Recognising, therefore, the necessity for compulsion, the Government have given very .careful attention to the provisions of a New Zealand measure which was passed last year, and have decided to submit a Bill on somewhat similar lines.
The chief provision of the Bill is to the effect that every (person may be compelled to subscribe to the present or to any future loans a sum equal in any given year to six times his yearly average income tax. paid during the previous three years. There are two classes of exemptions of those upon whom we may levy. One comprises soldiers who have been or are on active service in this war outside of Australia. They will not be included in respect of their incomes from personal exertion. They will be given the same exemption as has been given in the Income Tax Act in that respect. Of course, if they have income from property they may have to subscribe. The other persons exempted are those whose taxable income is £250 or under. All above that amount will be potential contributors under this provision.
– The amount is £700 under the New Zealand Act, I think.
– It was.
– The Acting Prime Minister means that persons who have not contributed to the war loan may be compelled to subscribe to the extent of six times the amount of their Federal income tax?
– Yes, we can only bring within the purview of this Bill the Federal income tax, not the State. In New Zealand the position is somewhat different, and in explaining these provisions I propose to give, by way of comparison, information relating to the New Zealand Act. In New Zealand the law provides that persons may be compelled to contribute to Dominion war loans in any one year six times the amount of their income and laud taxes. I do not consider that the land tax should be included in Australia, because it is not a tax in the ordinary sense, but a penalty that is inflicted upon large landholders. There are other differences between the means of taxpayers in New Zealand and those in Australia which I need not labour here, and which I can explain at a later stage.
There is a proviso attached to this condition to the effect that if two loans are floated in a given financial year, and a person has either subscribed voluntarily, or been compelled to subscribe, six times the amount of his income tax to the first war loan during that year, he shall not be compelled to subscribe to the second loan. The Bill is so framed that the Commissioner of Taxation may, df the amount desired fits it, levy in respect of each of two loans in any year, three times-the amount of a non-subscriber’s income tax every six months, but the maximum sum which he can compel such a taxpayer to subscribe is fixed at six times the amount of the income tax for a given financial year. This provision, is practically the same as that which is contained in the New Zealand Act. The proposed law will operate only if voluntary subscriptions to any loan fall short of the amount that may be required, and then only to the extent of that shortage. In other words, only to the extent to which subscriptions fall short will enforcement be applied. Let me state a case by way of. illustration. The prospectus to any war loan will set out the amount that is required by the Government. In respect of the present or Seventh War Loan, that amount is £40,000,000. If the voluntary subscriptions to it, after the passing of this Bill, amount to £30,000,000, enforcement will apply only to the shortage of £10,000,000.
– And will represent three times instead of six times the amount paid in income tax by any nonsubscriber.
– That depends entirely upon circumstances.
– Suppose that a wife is a contributor to a war loan, and that her husband is the only money earner?
– There are lots of puzzles about the Bill which I prefer not to discuss at the present time. The measure deals with taxpayers as individuals - it does not deal with them in their joint capacity. I repeat that the provision it contains under which compulsion may be applied when voluntarism falls short of the amount required, and to the extent to which it does fall short, is similar in effect to the provision that is embodied in the New Zealand law. When voluntary subscriptions to a loan fall short of the amount required, the. Commissioner of Taxation may be directed by the Treasurer to require subscriptions to make good that shortage. Where the Commissioner has reason to believe that any person of the non-exempt class has not subscribed according to his means, that officer mav call upon such person to subscribe a certain amount within a specified time. This person may lodge an objection with the Commissioner stating fully the grounds of his objection. In considering that objection the Commissioner will be compelled to take into account any war loan securities previously bought by the objector in the market, or direct from the Commonwealth, and any war saving certificates he may have purchased from the Commonwealth. The Commissioner must, in deciding the objection, take into account these antecedent facts.
There is beyond this an Appeal Board which is to consist of the secretary of the Treasury as chairman, the Commissioner of Taxation, and a third person who is to be appointed by the Governor-General. This Board will hear appeals in manner prescribed, or directed by the Bill, and will be empowered to exempt the appellant or amend the demand made upon him, or dismiss the appeal. But the Board’s decision will be final. These appeals will be heard and determined in private, and secrecy is enjoined under a heavy fine. In regard to these two matters I desire* to point out . two vital differences between this Bill and the New Zealand Act. In New Zealand there can be no ‘objection lodged with the Commissioner, but a man, if not satisfied with the preliminary requirements of the Commissioner, may appeal to a Board of Appeal, and, if still not satisfied by the Board’s decision, may take his case to the Supreme Court. This is a lengthy, cumbrous, and costly procedure. In this Bill we propose to give to the taxpayer the right to appeal to the Commissioner, and to put upon that officer, after all the facts have been presented to him from the taxpayer’s point of view, the responsibility of determining whether his requirements shall be enforced, amended, or withdrawn. The second appeal of the taxpayer will be to this Board of Appeal, of which the Commissioner of Taxation will be a member, and we propose to give its decision absolute finality without recourse to law.
– Will the appeals be heard in the different States?
– My honorable friend will see that in the latter clauses of the Bill certain powers of delegation are provided, in respect of the preliminary hearing by the Commissioner. But the Appeal Board will be the central organization, although it will have power to peregrinate Australia if its duties so demand.
– The Commissioner sitting on the Appeal Board will get his own decisions confirmed.
– Like members of great judicial tribunals.
– They only get them confirmed sometimes.
– That result was obtained in the most recent decisions. It is, of course, arguable as to whether the officer against whose decision an appeal is made ought to be a member of the Appeal Court. That question I shall be prepared to discuss in Committee.
– Has the Commissioner any rule by which he selects his victims ?
– I think that that interjection is a characteristically unfortunate one, and I do not think it is calculated to help the consideration of our war loan finance. The Government is seeking no victims, but it is seeking to place contributions to our war loans equitably on the shoulders of the community. The Commissioner of Taxation has shown himself to be worthy of trust, and I am sure that he will continue to discharge his duties impartially.
– I used the word “victims” in quite an innocent sense, and I do not think that the Acting Prime Minister is fair to me.
– I do not wish to be unfair, but my honorable friend, like myself, jokes with difficulty.
– I was not joking, either.
– Then I apologize to the honorable member for taking what was a serious expression as a facetious remark. Regarding his interjection as a serious one, I say that it will be the duty of the Commissioner of Taxation, when he gets a direction from the Treasurer requiring him to provide a certain sum of money, to find that money, with the means at his disposal, in an equitable way. When that is not being done, appellants will be able to show that it is not, - either to him or to the Appeal Board, which will sit in judgment on his decision.
– That is all I want to know.
Mr.WATT. - Now, there is a penalty attaching to those upon whom compulsion falls. If any person is compelled to subscribe he must forfeit, by way of penalty, a sum equal to twice the average amount of his income tax, but there is a provision that the penalty mav be (proportionately reduced if compulsory subscriptions to an amount of less than six times the average income tax is demanded. That is to say, a man may have subscribed to this or to the last war loan, and may consider he has done sufficient. The Commissioner may think otherwise, and if eventually it is shown that the taxpayer has subscribed only a partial amount of the total required of him, the Commissioner may proportionately reduce the penalty imposed on him. It is not proposed to inflict the same penalty on such a taxpayer as upon the man in respect of whom the full compulsory subscription is demanded. This penalty payment passes into revenue, and is recoverable in manner laid down in the Act for the recovery of income tax or income tax fines, for which the law has invented recoverable machinery.
– Will there be an opportunity of appeal ?
– The penalty will pass automatically into revenue.
– But a taxpayer will get notice, and if he complies will he be penalized ?
– If compulsion is enforced against a taxpayer, the penalty will pass automatically into revenue. I want to show why this is necessary.
– Don’t argue with the investors. Give some attention to members on this side of the House.
– The honorable member suggested when this Bill was introduced that I should give some attention to honorable gentlemen on this side, and now he appears to be objecting. This payment of the penalty will not relieve any person of his obligations to subscribe to the war loan. That is to say, he cannot buy his way out of it. The penalty is intended as an addition or enforced subscription, but when a man pays the penalty he gets no scrip for it, the penalty passing automatically into the maw of the Treasury as revenue.
– Presuming that a citizen of the Commonwealth subscribed to previous war loans an amount equal to six times his annual income during the period of the war, would be be exempt from any penalty?
– I have already explained that if a citizen gets a requirement notice from the Taxation Commissioner, and he feels that he has been unjustly treated because of his subscriptions to previous war loans, he could submit his objection to the Commissioner, and under the provisions of this Bill the Commissioner would be compelled to take into account the amount so subscribed to war loans.
– Can you ascertain those who merit the attention of the Commissioner without bothering those who have subscribed ?
– As we have not a register of those who hold stock or bonds, it may happen that as the result of the first requirement notice the Commissioner will be obliged to forego the imposition of penalties in ‘some cases. The only way to obviate this would be to take a census of the holdings, but that would take a very great deal of time, and it would be costly and unsatisfactory.
– Men may have subscribed to previous loans and since transferred their scrip.
– Yes; and it is a question how we should treat men who have bought over the counter, and have since disposed of the scrip, as compared with those who have not bought over the counter, but have purchased from other subscribers. That problem caused me considerable anxiety, but I think the honorable gentleman will find that a perfectly fair and feasible arrangement is provided for in the Bill.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister say if conscientious objectors - those who, on religious grounds, or for other ethical reasons, refuse to take any part in the maintenance of the war - will receive consideration?
– There is no provision in the Bill to meet such cases, and I do not propose to insert any. I think that a man who lives in a community and enjoys the protection which it affords to all, should share in its burdens. There is a limit to which ethical considerations may give any man immunity in critical times like the present. I have not attempted to provide for a contingency of the kind mentioned by the honorable member.
– 1 merely wished to ascertain whether the Government had made provision for those persons.
– You do not intend to compel us to take this interest? -
– The honorable member, if he likes, can donate his interest payments to the Treasury, as one honorable member on his side of the House has already done.
– Yes, I know that. It is unnecessary to explain that it was a member on this side of the House.
– That remark is characteristically ungenerous of the honorable member, for I need not have made the admission, which I did quite frankly and freely, because I think the honorable gentleman to whom I refer was impelled by high patriotic motives, and I like to acknowledge that.
Now, if I may, I will proceed on this extremely rocky road in explanation of the Bill. Some honorable- members may imagine that the enforcement of the penalty will fall very heavily on taxpayers. My answer to that is, that to the extent that compulsion may deter voluntary contributions to the war loan - and it may, and it will, in certain directions - we have to make sure that compulsion will gather in enough money to carry on. That is to say, if we were to pass this Bill, as we have passed other similar measures, relying upon public spirited patriotism, we would probably go a good distance, so far, at all events, as the means of the patriotic section of the community would allow us; but when we bring down a proposition to more equitably spread the obligation of these big commitments, undoubtedly there are some who, having laden themselves heavily in regard to previous loans, will now say that other people should shoulder portion of the burden in connexion with this loan. To some extent, therefore, we may, by this measure, discourage a section of the community from voluntary contributions to the loan now before the country, and in order to deal fairly by all sections of the people we must make sure that we are going to get the money. For that reason, therefore, we feel justified in inflicting a penalty of a substantial nature, and to be pretty rigid in its enforcement.
I want now to compare the proposed penalty with the system in operation under the New Zealand law. This pro position differs substantially from the New Zealand practice. In the Dominion the authorities do not inflict any penalty for revenue purposes, but write a man lowpriced stock; that is to say, if he is a conscript contributor he may get 3 per cent, stock. I have looked carefully into the proposal, and have come to the conclusion -and I am sure the House will agree with me - that it would be dangerous to write stock which would have no appreciable or ascertainable market value. If, when inviting subscriptions to a loan with an effective rate of 5£ per cent., which is the amount of the Seventh War Loan, we wrote a man 3 or 3£ per cent, stock, we would be- giving him something which he could not sell, or if he did sell, it would be at between two-thirds or three-quarters of the face value, and, moreover, it would sympathetically injure the other stocks on the market. If we compel a man to find money for war loans at a time when he has no mobile assets, and has to get special advances from the banks, we prefer to write him stock of the same value.
– But he ia going to wait until he is pushed into it.
– That reminds me of the police constable who was asked by the magistrate if he had had to use force in arresting a prisoner, and who replied, “ No, sir, I made him come voluntarily.”
– That is just what you will be doing
– I am hopeful that that will be the effect of it.
Another question to which I direct special attention is that the -Bill applies to companies as well as to persons.
– All companies?
– I ask the honorable member kindly to read the Bill, and not to put questions.
– I thought it might be like the war-time profits tax.
– The honorable member dc©3 not think at all; he just opens hia mouth and says what he likes.
– I do not open my mouth and let you do the thinking for me
– It would be better done if the honorable member did.
– I do not think so.
– If any tragic mischance should ever put the honorable member on this side of the table, and should give him the responsibility of having to explain a Bill, I think he will wish that honorable members would be more patient than he is.
I desire to utter one warning, and to emphasize that a person without money in hand or in the bank will have to subscribe if he has means; that is, if he has income, or property that yields income. There will be no hardship, because the Government in the past loan, and in connexion with this, have arranged for the banks to advance to a person who wishes to subscribe, or who may now have to do so, up to 90 per cent, of the amount required, and at low-priced money. That is to say, a man can walk into a bank to-day and get 4 per cent, money spread over eighteen months, and by that means may purchase a loan security equal to the best stock in the country, and which will yield him 5£ per cent, effective rate. Therefore, because a man has not the money, he is not exempt from this provision. If necessary, he will have to operate under the special advance system, and pay as required by the Taxation Commissioner.
This situation is somewhat different from that which exists in New Zealand. So far as I have been able to learn regarding the practice throughout the whole of the Dominions, our system is the most elastic and the best-governed of special advances among all those in vogue, and our people can have no cause to complain about their inability to subscribe, when we have arranged low-priced money to be advanced to them up to the extent of nine-tenths of their requirements. In New Zealand they have not made arrangements in the same way; but the banks are advancing - to contributors, voluntary or compulsory - or were, up to the time oi the latest information to hand, at the same price as that at which the stock was issued, that is, 5 per cent, stock, 5 per cent, advance. And, to the extent that the banks may have issued their special advances, the Government of New Zealand made this concession, namely, that those institutions could increase their noteissue without adding to their gold reserve. That was a wise safeguard, and was a provision much appreciated by the banks, although I am not aware that it has had to be taken advantage of.
As to subscribers to previous loans, and with respect to those who have made purchases in the market - for which there is a special provision - persons must not expect exemption merely upon those grounds. The fact that a man may have subscribed to the first, second, and third loans, and then may have pulled out, will not be sufficient. The citizen who does not now subscribe must be able to show the Commissioner that he has already subscribed according to his means when all the facts have been taken into consideration.
– That is, holding the stock or bonds?
– As to that, there is a lot of argument which may be brought forward. A person must show the Taxation Commissioner that in this respect he has done his duty. In New Zealand no notice is taken of what a person may have done before, or of what he is holding. We are more liberal. Previous loans or market purchases are not taken into account in that Dominion. It is the present loan - whichever it may.be - upon which the Commissioner bases his demands. We are operating this proposition for the first time, and desire to be distinctly careful, therefore, to see that those who have already loaded themselves shall have fair consideration as against the man who. has not done his share.
– They can appeal to the Commissioner, I take it. There is nothing in the Bill to that effect.
– They can do so. The Government hopes that no one will be misled into thinking he is required to subscribe only up to six times the amount of his income tax. The principle of voluntary subscription is still to be continued, and it is as important as ever that all good citizens should continue to recognise their duty, no matter what they previously may have done - that is, if their means will allow. For without their willing help the most liberal subscriptions that this proposed law might evoke would not be sufficient to secure all the money required. If there were no further voluntarism, this measure of compulsion would not be sufficient. We desire, therefore, that voluntarism should continue unabated.
As I know full well from a study of the lists in connexion with the past few loans, splendid patriotism has been displayed by many of the great institutions throughout Australia and by many of our citizens; large and small, wealthy and humble; and we appeal to the people to continue in the full knowledge that ih is their duty and that they are endeavouring to help their country through the final stages of this dreadful drama.
This security is gilt-edged. The interest returned is very liberal considering all the circumstances, and these facts should continue to stimulate contributions. The scheme presented in the Bill is fair and equitable. No injustice will be done to any citizen. It is easily practicable of operation, and the appeals will not take an undue length of time. If experience proves that the measures now to be taken require to be strengthened, there will fall upon the Government the responsiblity. of undertaking that strengthening. The Government is determined that this community, which has diffused wealth, shall find the money necessary to meet the nation’s obligations in this war. And in this spirit I recommend the Bill - novel as it is - to the country as an absolutely essential war measure. If we are not to fail in our obligations or lean more heavily upon our maternal parent - the most generous that any country ever had - we should now do our duty. And if some of the citizens will not see, and will not do, that duty, the responsibility for initiating a proposal to compel them falls upon the Government, while the responsibility for concurrence in the action of the Government falls on the Parliament. And I am hopeful that Parliament will help the Government.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Higgs) adjourned.
– (By leave). I ask the Acting Prime Minister (Mr.Watt) if he can publish to the country simultaneously with the publication of his speech a statement of what, in the opinion of the Government, is the exact obligation resting on individuals in connexion with the War Loan. What amount, in its opinion, should each individual contribute? My honorable friend spoke of the duty of individuals in the matter of contributing to the loan, and honorable members on both sides agree with what he said on the subject, but the members of the public will wish to know, when told the penalty for not contributing, what exactly is their obligation.
– (By leave). The press will doubtless print the essential provisions of the Bill; and if the citizens read these, they will understand their duty.
Debate resumed from Eriday, 4th October (vide page 6685), on motion by Mr. Watt -
That notwithstanding any provisions in the Standing Orders to the contrary, there be forthwith adopted the following Standing Order, namely: -
Limitation of Debate. 262a. (I.) On the reading of a message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation in connexion with any Bill, on the calling on of a motion for leave to introduce a Bill, or on the consideration of any resolution preliminary to the introduction of a Bill, or at any stage of a Bill, a member of the Government may declare that the Bill is an Urgent Bill, and, on such declaration, the question “ That the Bill be considered an Urgent Bill “ shall be put forthwith - no debate or amendment being allowed - and on such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twenty-four members, a member of the Government may forthwith, or at any time during any sitting of the House or Committee, but not so as to interrupt a member who is addressing the House or Committee, move a further motion or motions specifying the time which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to all or any of the following: -
The initial stages of the Bill (including any motion or resolution preliminary to the introduction of the Bill) up to, but not inclusive of, the second reading of the Bill;
The second reading of the Bill;
The Committee stage of the Bill;
The remaining stages of the Bill; and the order with regard to the time allotted to the Committee stage of the Bill may, out of the time allotted, apportion a certain time or times to a particular clause or clauses, or to any particular part or parts of the Bill. (II.) When Estimates of Expenditure are being considered, a member of the Government may at any time declare that the Estimates are of an urgent nature, and, on such declaration, the question “ That the Estimates of Expenditure be considered of an urgent nature “ shall be put forthwith - no debate or amendment being allowed - and on such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twenty-four members, a member of the Government may forthwith, or at any time during any sitting of the Committee, but not so as to interrupt a member who is addressing the Committee, move a further motion or motions specifying the time which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to each or any Department of, or to the whole of, the Estimates. (III.) When a Customs or Excise Tariff resolution is being considered, a member of the Government may at any time declare that the proposed resolution is of an urgent nature, and. on such declaration, the question “ That the resolution be considered of an urgent nature “ shall be put forthwith - no debate or amendment being allowed - rand on such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twenty-four members, a member of the Government may forthwith, or at any time during any sitting of the Committee, but not so as to interrupt a member who is addressing the Committee, move a further motion specifying the time or times which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to any portion or portions of the Tariff, or to the Tariff as a whole. (IV.) When any motion of any kind whatsoever has been moved, a member of the Government may at any time declare that the motion is an urgent motion, and, on such declaration, the question “That the motion be considered an urgent motion “ shall be put forthwith - no debate or amendment being allowed - and on such motion being agreed to without dissentient voice, or being carried by an affirmative vote of not less than twentyfour members, a member of the Government may forthwith move a further motion specifying the time which (exclusive of any adjournment or suspension of sitting) shall be allotted to the motion. (V.) Upon such further motion or motions with regard to the allotment of time being moved, no debate thereon shall be allowed for move than one hour, and in speaking thereon no member shall exceed ten minutes. If the debate be not sooner concluded then forthwith upon the expiration of that time the Speaker or the Chairman shall put any questions on any amendment or motion already proposed from the Chair. (VI.) For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion on the expiration of the time allotted under any motion passed under any of the preceding paragraphs of this Standing Order, the Speaker or the Chairman shall at the time appointed under the motion for the conclusion of those proceedings put forthwith the question on any amendment or motion already proposed from the Chair, and, in the case of the consideration of any Bill in Committee shall then put any clauses, and any Government amendments and new clauses and schedules, copies of which have been circulated by the Government among members two hours ait least before the expiration of the allotted time, and any other question requisite to dispose of the business before the House or Committee. No other amendments, new clauses, or schedules shall be proposed. (VII.) Standing Order “A” (The Closure) adopted by the House on 23rd November, 1005, shall not apply to any proceedings in respect of which time has been allotted in pursuance of this standing order. (VIII.) Where any time has been specified for the commencement of any proceedings in connexion with any business under this standing order, when the time so specified has been reached the business, whatsoever its nature be, then before the House or Committee shall be postponed forthwith, and the first-mentioned business shall be proceeded with, and all steps necessary to enable this to be done shall be taken accordingly.
.- This Parliament has been in existence now for more than seventeen years, and the Standing Orders which govern its procedure have never yet been debated; they are only provisional Standing Orders. Now the Government propose a new standing order, to take from honorable members the opportunity of expressing their opinions. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) says that this standing order is absolutely needed to enable the Government to transact its business. The proposal is the greatest instance of political hypocrisy in the history of this Parliament.
– Who introduced the “gag”?
– On the 15th June last the Government secured the adjournment of both Houses until the 16th September, which gave Ministers a recess of nearly fourteen weeks. Now they say, “ Any honorable member who dares to criticise the Government’s proposals will be gagged.” I shall answer the question of the honorable member for Calare. When the Deakin Government was in power, its Attorney-General, now Mr. Justice Isa acs, proposed an amendment of the Trades Marks. Act to enable trade unions to register trade marks. This came to be known as the Union Label Act. The Leader of the Opposition was the late Sir George Reid, and in his absence the present Minister for the Navy (Mr. Joseph Cook) acted for him, and the party behind him “ stone- walled “ the measure from the Tuesday until about 12.50 on the following Sunday morning. During that period we had but one adjournment, after a sitting of about twenty-three hours, from 1.30 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. oh the same day, an interval shorter than the ordinary luncheon suspension of a sitting. Mr. Justice Isaacs then proposed the standing order which limits debate. This standing order has been put into operation but a very few times. The Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Wise) prepared a table showing how often it was used by the Cook Government. Originally an honorable member could rise at any time in Committee and move “ That the Chairman do now leave the chair,” and on that motion there could be an untrammelled discussion lasting for many hours. The closure, which I voted for, was proposed by the Deakin Government to prevent such a thing being done.
– The “ gag.”
– I prefer to term it the closure; the honorable member may use what word he pleases”. Speaking from memory, I have only voted once for the application of the “gag,” and then the Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster), the medical poet of the water waggon, walked out of the House rather than vote for it. Yet he is a member of the Ministry that has submitted the proposal now under discussion.
– If the honorable member looks at paragraph VII. of the proposed standing order, he will see that the “ gag “ is not to apply to proceedings in respect of which time has been allotted.
– I am aware of that. What honorable members opposite say, in effect, is, “ We do not propose to scalp you; we are only cutting off your head.”
– The proposed standing order applies to the whole House.
– Its real application is to the Opposition. Honorable members opposite will not use the closure when they have the proposed standing order to their hand. The words, “ The question shall be put forthwith,” appear repeatedly throughout the proposed standing order. In paragraph I. it is provided that the question, “ That the Bill be considered an urgent Bill “ shall be put forthwith, no debate or amendment being allowed. The question, “ That the Estimates of Expenditure be considered of an urgent nature “ is to be put forthwith. In paragraph I. provision is made for the allotting of time for the discussion of a measure, but no period is specified. The length of time allotted to the consideration of a Bill may be no greater than the ten seconds in which the boxer who has been knocked down may recover himself. A Minister may get up and declare that the Estimates of Expenditure are an urgent matter. I can understand that there are honorable members on both sides who may be anxious to discuss the administration of the Northern Territory, and there may be honorable members on the Ministerial side who are not satisfied that the Government are in earnest in the matter of economy. However, by getting the Minister to move that the Estimates of Expenditure shall be treated as an urgent matter, they will be able to provide themselves with an excuse to the people outside for not dis cussing the matter or offering criticism against the Government.
– If the Government do say that the consideration of the Estimates is an urgent matter, and the House so declares it, what happens?
– The Government will then decide what time shall be allowed for the debate on the Estimates. It may be ten seconds or the remainder of a sitting.
– They may allow a week for the discussion.
– Possibly they may do so; but it is quite likely that no honorable member of the Opposition will be seen by the Chair. There is nothing in the Standing Orders declaring that Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees shall see honorable members on either side of the House.
– It is the invariable practice for them to do so.
– I do not say that the present Speaker or the present Chairman of Committees would not follow that practice; but, even if the motion before the House should be amended to provide that the Chair must see honorable members on either side alternately, honorable members sitting on the Government side could cross the chamber and sit on this side. I think I am Tight in saying that, with the exception of Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition, no honorable member is supposed to be known to the Chair as belonging to any party in the House. In the way I have suggested, discussion of any matter under consideration could -be absolutely stifled. We have had this proposal from the Government on the first day of sitting after an adjournment of fourteen weeks. I am aware that Ministers desired the adjournment so that they could transact ordinary administrative business; the same reason has been advanced for the restriction of the sittings of the House to three days a week.
– Ministers are working overtime on Wan- Precautions Regulations.
– il believe that the machine is well oiled at the present time, and that these regulations’ are being turned out in the usual quantity.
– When the honorable member’ was Minister he turned out a good many.
– The honorable member has not heard me say that the War Precautions Act was unnecessary. I have said that it has been put to uses to which it was never intended to apply. Honorable members of the Opposition do not have the opportunity of obtaining the same publicity for their remarks that honorable members on the Ministerial side have, seeing that they absolutely control the press.
– Does the honorable member suggest that we control the Labour press ?
– If the Minister wants an idea as to the control which honorable members on the Ministerial side have over the Labour press, he has only to look at the names of the gentlemen who constituted the press delegation to Europe. Eleven of them represent the Ministerial party and conscription, which has been turned down twice by the people of Australia. There is only one gentleman representing the Labour press, and, apparently, he was only selected because he happened to be in Great Britain.
– What has this to do with the motion?
– I am pointing out that outside we have no opportunity of placing our views before the people, and Ministers are now taking good care to see that inside, through the columns of the press, we will have no opportunity of doing so.
– The press has treated the honorable member as fairly as any other honorable member has been treated.
– Since I have become Leader of the Opposition I have obtained a greater” amount of publicity than I got previously; but recently, when I made a statement that the Government had increased the land tax by 20 per cent, only, and the income tax by 30 per cent., while the increase placed upon children attending picture shows was 33 per cent., the papers omitted all reference to the tax upon the children. Honorable members opposite could not live five minutes without the support’ of the press. We on this side of the chamber have secured our seats in spite . of the opposition of the press. I have always been returned in the teeth of opposition from the daily newspapers. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Bruce Smith), the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page), the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Groom), and I are the only honorable members at this moment in the House who were members of the first Commonwealth Parliament. The Standing Orders under which we are working have never been discussed by the House.
– As a matter of fact, they are only provisional.
– That is time. The only standing order which has been discussed was that which had for its purpose the introduction of the closure.’ The only Standing Orders we have discussed are those relating to the closure, the prayer at the opening of the sittings of the House, and the time limit to speeches which was proposed by the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams).
– The honorable member has not found that time limit too short ?
– No; but under this standing order, if the Government so desire, we shall be prevented from discussing any measure. There is to be no discussion of a Bill.
– This new standing order does not so provide.
– It does. It provides that -
On the reading of a message from the GovernorGeneral recommending an appropriation in connexion with any Bill, - on the calling on of a motion for leave to introduce a Bill, or on the consideration of any resolution preliminary to the introduction of a Bill, or at any stage of a Bill, a member of the Government may declare that the Bill is an urgent Bill, and, on such declaration, tha question, “ That the Bill be considered an urgent Bill “ shall be put forthwith, no debate or amendment being allowed.
That quotation supports my statement.
– It does not. The honorable member said, that under this standing order there could be no discussion of a Bill.
– The Government might allow a five minutes’ discussion upon a Bill.
– There might be a discussion extending over six months.
– Under this standing order it will be open to the Government to prevent any member of the Opposition from discussing a Bill. The Government will determine the time to be allotted to the discussion on any stage of a Bill. I well remember the discussion which took place on a certain resolution submitted to this House, on which we eventually went to the country, and which was opposed, at every stage by the present Deputy Speaker. I can well understand what would be the attitude of even the supporters of the Government if they were told that only a few minutes were to be allowed for the discussion of an Electoral Bill, in which provision was made for postal voting, or for the publication in the press of unsigned articles dealing with electoral matters. Then again, this standing order makes no provision for any discussion on the Budget.
– The honorable member is putting the position in a misleading way.
– The honorable gentleman will,- of course, say that I am putting the position in a misleading way from the point of view of the Government, but the fact remains that I am stating exactly what the proposed standing order provides.
– This standing order will not limit the discussion of any measure. Under it, it will be for the House itself to determine the time to be devoted to the consideration of any Bill declared to be urgent.
– 1 invite the honorable gentleman to explain in what respect I have misstated the position. I am aware that it will be for the House to determine the time to be allotted to the discussion of any measure, but if a Minister proposed that a Bill should be regarded as urgent, we well know how the supporters of the Ministry would vote. We know how they voted on the bachelor tax, which the Government had not the backbone to put into operation. Only two of their supporters had the courage to vote with us in opposition to it.
– I once induced nine supporters of the Government to cross over with me, and we should have defeated the Government’s proposal on that occasion but for the fact that seven members of the Opposition failed to put in an appearance.
– I cannot recall the incident to which the honorable member refers, but I do know that the supporters of the Government will vote blindly for anything proposed by Ministers.
– Just as supporters of a previous Government were in the habit of doing.
– Not at all. I was a member of a Government, many of the supporters of which frequently voted against it. If at this moment the bells were to ring for a division, would honorable members on entering the chamber inquire what was the question before the Chair ? We know that they would simply ask how the Government were voting.
– Is the honorable member referring to his own party ?
– He is speaking from the depths of his own experience.
– No, I am speaking of the Government party. Supporters of the Government, when the division bells ring, file into the chamber and vote with the Ministry without even inquiring what is the question before the Chair. On Friday last, when the Opposition proposed that on every 1,000,000 lbs. of tobacco the manufacturers should pay £500, honorable members opposite voted against us and in the interests of the big manufacturers. Did those who came into the chamber when the bells were rung ask what the question really was ? No. They simply asked how the Ministry were voting, and lined up behind the Government.
– The honorable member is not justified in making statements of that kind, since he cannot know what was in the minds of honorable members.
– I invite the honorable member, if he was present last Friday, to explain why he voted with the Government for’ the big manufacturer as against the small man.
Under this standing order there will be nothing to prevent Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees from calling on honorable members from only one side of the House, so that the Opposition may not be afforded an opportunity to express any opinion whatever on a Bill that is declared to be urgent. Such treatment of the Opposition would only be in keeping with the attitude adopted towards us by the press, which now completely ignores us. Then, again, the records show that the discussion of the Budget and the Estimates usually occupies about three weeks; but this standing order makes no provision for the discussion of the Budget, and under it the debate on the Estimates itself may be closed down after one day’s consideration. I think I am safe in saying that the Tariff of 1901-2 occupied the attention of the House for at least eight months, and that the Tariff of 1907-8, introduced by the late Sir William Lyne, was before this Chamber for at least six months. Under the third paragraph of this standing order, when a Customs or Excise Tariff resolution is being considered, a member of the Government may at any time declare that the proposed resolution is of an urgent nature, whereupon the question, that the resolution be considered of an urgent nature, will have to be put forthwith. No debate or amendment will be permissible, and if the motion is agreed to, a Minister will have power to move a further motion specifying the time which shall be allotted to any portion of the Tariff or to the Tariff as a whole. That absolutely shuts out discussion. The Tariff contains 440 odd items, some of which contain from thirty to forty subdivisions. Under the heading of timber alone, no one could possibly say how long it would be necessary to discuss the duties, and there are other items to which no time limit could reasonably be applied. In paragraph VI. of the proposed new standing order, we are told that “ for the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion on the expiration of the time allotted under any motion passed under any of the preceding paragraphs,” the Speaker or the Chairman shall, at the time appointed for the conclusion of the proceedings, put forthwith the question on any amendment or motion already proposed from the Chair, and, in the case of the consideration of any Bill in Committee, shall then put any clauses “and any Government amendments and new clauses and schedules, copies of which havebeen circulated by the Government among members two hours at least before the expiration of the allotted time.” It will be noted by honorable members that only Government amendments are to be considered - that no amendments by any private member are to be dealt with, although that member may have devoted much time and consideration to the proposal before the House, and have had his amendments printed and circulated. Paragraph VII. provides that the closure adopted by the House on 23rd November, 1905, shall not apply to any proceeding in respect of which time has been allotted in pursuance of this proposed standing order. That, of course, we can under- stand, for the motion before us gives the Government much greater power than is given by the closure. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) told us that this new power will have tobe used with care, or the Government itself would feel its effects.
– The closure can be applied at any time.
– By a majority vote.
– It will require a majority vote to apply the powers now proposed.
– I think the honorable member is wrong, for there must be a majority of those present and voting, and there must be at least twenty-four honorable members in favour. However that may be, the ‘Government can prevent any discussion and any inconvenient amendments on the bachelor tax, for example, or any other proposal. It will be possible, further, for the Government to get their supporters out of a difficult position by preventing any amendments being moved. Do honorable members on. the Government side hold that no person is entitled to move an amendment to a Bill unless he is a member of the Government? I am against this proposal “ lock, stock, and barrel,” for I maintain that every honorable member has a right, along with members of the Government, to have their amendments considered and decided. Of course, it is possible that honorable members opposite may have these proposals altered, so as to give priority to amendments proposed by Government supporters, and that would only be carrying their intention to its logical conclusion, namely, the prevention of discussion by honorable members on this side.
– Do not impute motives. Mr. TUDOR- There is no need to impute motives to men who contest seats when the retiring member is on active service.
– Are you referring to the honorable member for Corio (Mr. Lister) ? He is a returned soldier.
– If the “ cap fits “ any one, he may wear it. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) did not defeat any man who was on active service.
– No more did I.
– The honorable member and myself must disagree on that point.
– This discussion is out of order.
– There is no doubt about that; and there will be a great deal more out of order if this motion is carried, for we on this side will be prevented from voicing our opinions or moving any amendment, even though we have given notice. It would be very difficult to find a Bill that has not been amended by the Government at the suggestion of the Opposition; and Ave had an example of this only last Friday, when I was able to point out a danger and induce the Government to amend a provision in the Excise Bill. Had the proposed new standing order -been in force then, no amendment would have been possible.
– You are quite wrong; during the time allowed for debate, an honorable member may move any amendment he chooses.
– In view of the paragraph I have read, only Government amendments may be considered-
– Proper time will always be allowed; but, of course, if there is any abuse, the standing order will operate.
– Under paragraph VII. a member who may have given notice of a dozen amendments may find them all swept away.
– That, is the intention.
– Of course it is; and honorable members on the Government side will suffer along with members of the Opposition. I remember when the income tax amendment measure was before us at an earlier part of this session, the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) gave notice of quite a number of amendments; but under the proposed standing order such notice would be absolutely useless, for the Government will decide that at a certain hour on a certain day discussion shall cease, and the question be put. Such amendments will not be given a chance of discussion, or even be put from the Chair. We know the fate that usually awaits a Government who apply the gag. In 1909, when the Fisher Government were in power, a majority of members decided that they should not have an opportunity of placing their policy before .the people, and instead of the Leader of the Opposition moving the adjournment of the debate, or a motion of want of confidence, he moved the adjournment of the House. The members of the Government were prevented from discussing any question; on a sudden death motion the Government were put out of office. The Deakin-Cook Government followed, and they repeatedly used the gag for the prevention of discussion. What happened at the general election? When Ministers went on public platforms the public gagged them, and on polling- day the Government were swept out of .office.
– And in 1913 the public “gagged” the honorable member’s party again.
– We were beaten in this House by the casting vote of the Speaker, but when we next appealed to the electors on the double dissolution in 1914 they reversed their verdict. It is quite possible that soon there will be another swing of the pendulum/’and the honorable member for Calare may not then be so smug and satisfied. Honorable members opposite think that they have no reason to criticise the actions of the Government, or if they should have, that opportunity will be afforded for them to do so, but that they will be able to prevent any honorable member on this side having his say, and that they will be able to curtail the discussion of awkward questions or prevent the putting from the Chair of any proposition that will place them in an embarrassing position. In this policy of suppression they will be backed up by the press, but if any difficulty should arise with the press they can call in the Censor to prevent the publication of anything that may prove damaging or dangerous to the Government. This is but another weapon forged by the Government for the limitation of free speech in this Parliament. Not only do they censor members’ speeches and tamper with their correspondence, but they propose to carry a motion that will seriously curtail the privileges of honorable members. I shall vote against the motion.
.- I do not think that the Government will gain anything by the passing of this motion. I realize that perhaps there are times when a good deal of unnecessary talk is indulged in, and that very often there is reiteration by speakers, but whilst that may be so, I do not think it justifies the Government in bringing down a proposal of this kind. What does the motion mean? No matter how important the business may be, on any member of the Government declaring that it is urgent a motion to that effect is to be put forthwith. When the matter has been declared by the vote of the House to be urgent a further motion is to be moved fixing a time limit for the discussion of the question. That motion may be debated for not more than one hour, and no speech may exceed ten minutes in duration.. That means that there may be three speeches from each side on the very important question of deciding what time shall be available for the discussion of the particular motion or Bill. Very often when legislation is presented to the Chamber it appears that the last word has been said in regard to the form which the proposal should take; it is only after hearing the opinions of honorable members that the House realizes the necessity for alteration. The same thing will occur in regard to motions for the fixation of a time limit. Perhaps three honorable members giving reasons why the debate should not be limited will not be able to convey the thoughts of all honorable members. One honorable member, who does not succeed in getting a call during the hour of discussion, might have very sound arguments to put forward as to why the debate on that matter should not be unduly curtailed, but because the House does not get the benefit of his opinion, it comes to the conclusion that the measure is of such little importance that it can be dealt with in a very limited time. That may lead us into a very difficult position.
I do not say that it is not necessary to curtail debate as far as possible for the sake of the more expeditious despatch of business, but we should hot do it in such a way as to run the risk of legislation leaving the House with blemishes. There are many stages of a Bill, but under this proposed alteration of the Standing Orders the whole measure may be dealt with in a fixed time. My experience of Parliament has been that usually very little business is done in the first two or three months of a session, but that towards its close many of the most important measures are on the business-paper and to be dealt with. By that time honorable members have made up their minds to complete the session’s work by a certain date. The result is that, perhaps within a fortnight of the proposed date of adjournment, there are still to be dealt with half-a-dozen measures, the discussion of which should occupy the House for weeks. But under these amended Standing Orders the Government will take action to get the businesssheet cleared, and only a limited time will be allowed to each measure; none of them will be properly discussed, and we shall not produce healthy legislation. Instead of representing the combined wisdom of this Chamber, it will go forth representative, perhaps, of the wisdom only of the officer who drafted it. When the introduction of a Bill is contemplated, a Minister states his views to an officer, with instructions that those views shall be translated into Bill form. I admit that the officers are capable men, but no matter how great his ability, or how much he may consult with the Minister, a draftsman cannot get by conversation with a Minister the whole facts that are necessary to be understood if the legislation is to be effective.’ A Minister may have certain views, and put those views before the officer, and the officer may draft a Bill to the satisfaction of the Minister. It is sometimes only after debate in the House that the Minister himself can see the defects in his own measure. No man can expect to draft a measure in such a way as to give complete satisfaction. We are here to discuss every measure presented, in order to secure that it shall be passed in such a manner that its administration will be satisfactory to the country. If this motion is passed, we may be given no opportunity to do the work for which we are here. What is our position at the present moment? We have been here for a month, and what have we done ? We have done very little, and the business we have assembled to do still lies ahead of us. If this motion is carried it is quite possible we shall be given no sufficient opportunity to discuss the real business of the country.
There is no reason why we should not endeavour, by some procedure differing from this, to prevent unnecessary discussion: We have so many Supply Bills introduced to cover short periods that their consideration takes up much of the time of Parliament, and leaves insufficient time for the discussion of what may be more important matters. I do not know what the Government propose to do in connexion with the next Supply Bill, which must be almost immediately introduced in order that the salaries of public servants may be paid on the 14th of this month. It may be decided that, as the measure must go to the Senate, its consideration is urgent, and if this motion be carried a Supply Bill may be introduced to-morrow afternoon. The Government would then make it an urgent matter, and propose that only one hour should be allowed for itS consideration, although in passing it we may be voting away £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 of public money. Honorable members may have in mind certain grievances which they believe should be discussed, and to remedy which might involve some amendment of the Supply Bill, especially at a time like the present, when there should be a desire for economy. They will have no opportunity to ventilate their grievances if the consideration of the Bill is confined to one hour. . The Government, by their motion dealing with the matter, may not limit the time of a speaker in dealing with the Bill, and if the full half-hour allowed a speaker in Committee were taken by two speakers, they would be the only honorable members who could speak on the Bill if only one hour was fixed for its consideration. I ask honorable members to remember that that is quite possible if this motion be carried.
I ask honorable members, also, to consider that the carrying of the motion may get the Government no further in the direction in which they desire to go. Members of the Opposition, .resenting procedure of this kind, may force divisions Upon every item and at every stage, and if they do, how long do honorable members think it will take to get a Supply Bill through under those conditions? If honorable members believe that the procedure adopted by the Government will prevent them from discussing matters which they regard as vital, and connected with the expenditure of public money, the result will be that the business of this House will be held u,p and bad feeling will be created through their relying upon the Standing Orders, and calling for division after division.
– The Government will regulate the divisions.
– They cannot regulate the rights of honorable members under the Standing Orders. We do not, I am sure, desire that that sort of thing should happen in this Chamber. Honorable members may take up the same attitude in regard to any Bill, and the result may be that, instead of securing despatch in legislation, the adoption of this motion may merely create bad feeling amongst honorable members. Every form of obstruction’ may be adopted in order that honorable members may show their resentment of this kind of procedure. Let me take, for instance, the Electoral Bill, with which we shall shortly be called upon to deal. That is not a party measure, and, in my opinion, should not be so regarded. But there is a number of matters connected with electoral reform which are deserving of a good deal of discussion. Honorable members on both sides may desire to express their views on, for instance, the postal vote. Several honorable members may desire to move amendments. They can only hope to secure support for their amendments by argument. They must make out a case to convince their fellow members of the necessity for the amendments they suggest. But how are they to do this if the Electoral Bil] is treated, under this motion, as an urgent matter? A. fixed time will be given within which to dispose of the Bill. If the time fixed were two hours, or even one sitting, honorable members could not possibly discuss that measure as it deserves to be dealt with. There is scarcely a member of this House who will not desire to criticise certain provisions of the Electoral Bill; but if this motion be agreed to, there may be no sufficient time allowed for its consideration.
Whilst I agree that it is necessary to prevent waste of time in connexion with our legislation, and admit that, under existing conditions, there is some waste of time, there should be some other means to provide against it. We might adopt some procedure which would render the introduction of so many Supply Bills unnecessary. The question is one which should be submitted to the Standing Orders Committee’. That Committee should be called upon to remodel the Standing Orders in such a way as to curtail all unnecessary debate ; but it is quite wrong for the Government to propose, aa they do by this motion, to take away the rights of honorable members who have been sent here by their constituents to voice their views in regard to important matters that materially affect the welfare of the country.
It is easy to see where this motion will lead us if it is agreed to. I quite realize the view taken by honorable members opposite. They are anxious to get the business of the Government through, and that we shall sit here as short a time as possible.
– They would not sit here at all if they could help it.
– There might be something in that. In order to achieve their object, they submit this motion, under which the discussion upon any matter before the House may be confined to whatever time they please. I venture to say that honorable members opposite supporting this proposal will very shortly discover the mistake they are making. I do not mean to suggest a change of sides, but there may be some measure introduced by the Government which they may desire to amend in Committee. It is the proper function of a member of Parliament to endeavour to secure what he believes to be an improvement of a Bill when it is under consideration in Committee. That is the purpose for which we are here, and if we are prevented from carrying out that function, it is of no use for us to be here at all. When honorable members opposite find some provision in a Bill which they regard as unsatisfactory, they will require time to debate it. But, under this motion, the time fixed for the consideration of a measure may give them no opportunity to debate it. What will honorable members say to their constituents when they are asked, “ Why did you allow so-and-so to be done? Its effects ave disastrous to us.” Would it be a sufficient justification for an honorable member to say, “ I could not say a word. -I saw the blemish in the Bill, and the need for its amendment, but my party decided that there should be only a certain time allowed for its discussion. Only two or three speakers were given an Opportunity to speak, and none of them noticed the. provision to which you object. I noticed it, but I could not speak upon it. I was obliged to support the application of the closure to members of my own party.” That, I contend, will place honorable members in a very invidious position. There are many occasions upon which an honorable member finds himself diametrically opposed to the “Government of which he is a supporter. In such circumstances he naturally desires to voice his opinions with a view to removing objectionable features from the proposal that is immediately before him. But under this motion he will be prevented from doing that. I am satisfied that its effect will not be to expedite the transaction of public business.
In connexion with- the consideration of the Estimates, we all recognise that we have fallen into a practice which is far from satisfactory. Their consideration is usually postponed until the fag-end of the session, when the bulk of the money to which they relate has been expended. The statement which appears in the Age newspaper to-day to the effect that, in dealing -with our Estimates, we have drifted into a very slip-shod method, is quite true. But under this motion it would be possible for the Government to bring forward the Estimates next week, for the House by a vote of twenty-four honorable members to decide that their consideration is an urgent matter and for it to fix a time-limit for their discussion. Suppose that the period allowed for their consideration be limited to, say, one sitting, will anybody contend that they can. be adequately discussed? If this proposal be adopted, probably during the present Parliament, we shall see the Estimates disposed of in the course of a single sitting. Yet this is presumed to be a deliberative assembly.
– Does the honorable member think that the practice for which the motion provides will be applied to the Estimates ?
– I do. I may tell the honorable member, who is comparatively a new member, that my experience in both the New South Wales Parliament and this Parliament, is that the consideration of the Estimates usually forms practically the last business of the session. Then we sit up all night to rush them through. In order to avoid all-night sittings, it will only be necessary to declare that the consideration of the Estimates is urgent, and to fix a period within which they must be disposed of.
– Has the honorable member considered how little difference there is between the procedure which is now proposed and the present procedure in the House of Commons?
– I have not.
– And there is nothing to cavil at in the procedure of the House of Commons.
– I heard what the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) said in regard to that matter, and I am under the impression that he obtained the outline of this proposal from the practice of the House of Commons. But in this country I venture to say that the procedure contemplated will work out in the way I have indicated.
Let me further instance what may happen under this motion in connexion with Customs and Excise matters. Honorable members know that when a Tariff is before them they, usually receive very sound advice in regard to various duties that are proposed from outside persons who are interested in such matters.
– And who are experts in their own lines.
– Yes. For example, many persons gave me very sound information in regard to the duties that were proposed to be levied upon timber. They were not personally interested in those duties, and the information which they imparted was of great assistance to the timber trade. But if honorable members are denied an opportunity of discussing such a question, of what value will be the information which they gather? How can we establish industries in Australia if we do not pay attention to our Tariff? When the Minister for Trade and Customs lays a Tariff upon the table, it necessarily contains many proposals which are not of a satisfactory character.
– Especially is that so in the case of the present Government.
– It is the case no matter what Government may be in power. I do not believe the passing of this motion will be in the interests of good legislation. I am of opinion that we shall get hasty legislation. I do not say that we have not had that sort of legislation in the past. I do not suggest that our present procedure is satisfactory. I have sometimes heard time occupied in this chamber by speeches which were entirely beside the mark. I admit that that sort of thing should be prevented.
– How are we going to prevent it?
– That is a matter for the Standing Orders Committee to determine. I do not desire to take away the privilege of any honorable member ; but I believe that we have too many .Supply Bills submitted for our consideration. Every one of those (measures occupies several days in discussion, and I think that their number might be curtailed without in any way interfering with the business which should legitimately occupy our attention.
Lt-Colonel Abbott. - Does not the honorable member think that the closure which was passed in 1905, with the assistance of the Labour party, is really more drastic in operation than will be the proposal to which he is now objecting?
– The closure may still be put into operation if that course is deemed desirable. But, as a matter of fact, it has been used only in exceptional cases. Suppose that I were guilty of deliberately wasting the time of the House, and, as a result, an honorable member moved the application of the closure, there would be justification for his action. But under this motion every honorable member will be prevented from speaking.
– The application of the closure prevents every honorable member from speaking.
– The closure is applied only to a particular individual.
– How often has it been applied?
– Not very often.
– But the straight-out closure has been.
– Whatever” may be said about the closure, I admit that its application has sometimes served a good purpose, while at other times it has not been used wisely. But the proposal we are now considering is worse than the closure, because when once a time limit has been fixed for the discussion of any measure, honorable members will be debarred from further debating it.
Lt. Colonel Abbott. - Does not the closure cut an honorable member off short, whereas, under this proposal, he will know exactly what time is to be devoted to any debate?
– While it is true that the closure will cut short the utterances of any honorable member, it is equally true that, under this motion, if two hours he allotted for the discussion of any subject, and half-an-hour be allowed to each speaker, only four honorable members ‘will he able to take part in the debate. Yet there may be ten honorable members desirous of participating in it, all of whom may have something to say which may be worth being heard. The Speaker calls one honorable member here and an honorable member there, and the time allotted for the consideration of a measure is exhausted before other honorable members have had an opportunity of speaking.
– But if each honorable member could speak for ten minutes he might be able to present his views in tabloid form.
– There is no provision that each member should be allowed ten minutes for the’ discussion of any particular matter. It is proposed that the House should fix the time for the consideration of a particular question. In this way the Government could fix any time they liked. We cannot escape from that position. Surely we can devise some other means of curtailing discussion without interfering with the rights of honorable members. Parliament will be up by the middle of December, and as we shall not come to the discussion of really important legislation inside of a couple of weeks there will be only four or five weeks available for its consideration.
The adoption of this motion will practically mean ill-considered legislation which, when put into effect, will be found to be defective, and open to just criticism from the people who sent us here. Quite recently, and without this proposed time limit in operation, we passed certain legislation which was not put into operation, because it was defective. Several honorable members on this side of the House pointed out the position at the time, but our advice was not accepted. If this motion is adopted, and if the Government desire to pass certain legislation, all that will be necessary will be to declare it urgent and fix a time for its discussion. After all, this decision will rest with the Government.
– No ; the supporters of the Government.
– We might as well be quite frank. We all know that if the Government decide that legislation is urgent, they will take action, and having done so, their supporters will be behind them. There is no doubt about that. This is party government.
– But how are you going to suppress members who talk a lot, but have little to say?
– I admit there may be a good deal to be said from that point of view, but I do not think this will be the most successful way of dealing with the trouble. The whole question might have been submitted to the Standing Orders Committee for some alteration of procedure without curtailing honorable members’ rights.
– But do you not think it preferable to have speeches in tabloid form rather than lengthy, diluted stuff?
– I admit that if an honorable member can condense his thoughts it is probable his speech will be more effective than that of a member -who talks at greater length, and probably reiterates a great deal. I admit all that, but I do not think the proposed course will be the best remedy. In the future, if this motion is carried, a man may desire to put his position very clearly before the House, but unless he catches the Speaker’s eye, before the expiration of the allotted time, he will not have an opportunity, because the Speaker, or the Chairman of Committees, if the House is in Committee, must put the question
The Minister himself (Mr. Wise) has on several occasions been instrumental in securing beneficial amendments to Bills under consideration, and many other honorable members have done the same. In. future many of these opportunities will not be available to honorable members, and I maintain that to limit the time allotted for the discussion of measures will not give ‘the best results in legislation, because certain honorable members who at present give a great deal of attention to the Bills as they come before the House with the object of improving them will be discouraged if they cannot get a reasonable opportunity of stating their views.
– Then they can give an intelligent vote.
– Yes, they may satisfy themselves, but they will not have had a chance of expressing their views in order to enlighten other honorable members. Speaking for myself, I am always open to conviction. If an honorable member can satisfactorily explain to me why a certain course of action ‘should be taken in regard to a Bill, I am always prepared to support him. That is what we are here for. But how will this be possible in the future under the operation of a time limit for the consideration of a Bill or a particular clause in a measure?
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I confess that offhand I cannot suggest anything other than- that the matter should have been referred to the Standing Orders Committee for careful consideration to see if they can suggest an improved procedure for Parliament without unduly curtailing the rights of honorable members.
Lt. -Colonel Abbott. - How many of the 640 members in the House of Commons get an opportunity of speaking ?
– I admit that not very many do get a chance. But it does not follow that we should adopt the same procedure.
The experience of members of the House of Commons only illustrates the force of my argument. Many members of the Imperial Parliament, because of the lack of opportunity to speak, take very little interest in the proceedings of the House of Commons. Hundreds of them never bother about Parliament at all. They hold their seat, and that is the end of it. They do not devote their talents to the work of the Parliament. And that will be the experience here if we carry this motion. I know that many members on both sides of this House give careful attention to matters that come up for discussion, and that usually they are desirous of putting their views before this Chamber for the edification of other honorable members, and in order to remedy what they consider to be defects in our legislation.
– Some have no views, but they talk, nevertheless.
– There may be something in that.
– If the operation of the motion were limited to the duration of the war, would the honorable member then support it ?
– I do not think that would affect the matter at all. It would be far better to devise some other means to improve the procedure of Parliament, and to obviate waste of time; but I do not think this motion will have that effect. It will, however, lay us open to the charge that we are passing ill-considered legislation. Though honorable members may have sound views to express, many of them in future will be denied the chance of doing so in Committee, and it is in the Committee that the real work of Parliament is done, and where the details of measures are considered in order to make them acceptable to the administration of the future. This cannot be done if, by means of this motion, we close members’ mouths. As far as I am concerned, I am opposed to the motion,- and I think the House would be well advised not to pass it. The Ministry would do well to take into serious” consideration the adoption of some other means for an improvement in the procedure of the House. However anxious we may be to curtail discussion and to get legislation through, we should be more anxious to see that our legislation when passed is complete and satisfactory in every respect. The effect of this motion will be to cause dissatisfaction as far as the work of Parliament is concerned.
Mr. laird SMITH (Denison) [5.50]. - I have listened with great pleasure to the speech of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), and could not help contrasting it in its temperateness with that of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor). We find the one honorable member giving us. much food for thought, which will cause us to go into the matter now before us most earnestly; while the other honorable gentleman merely utters a tirade of abuse towards honorable members on this side of the chamber who have dared to think and speak their opinions when they have differed from those of the Leader of the Opposition. The honorable member for Hunter called attention to the position arising in connexion with the Budget, and, with respect to some of those who listened to him, Mr. Charlton was able to make a very strong point. He pointed out that the Budget is brought down at the close of a session, and is simply rushed through. Why is that done? It is because no Government can get a measure through without bringing about a continuous sitting.
– We know all about that.
– That is so. The honorable member on one occasion sat side by side with me for fifty-two hours because the Fisher Government came to an understanding that the closure would not be applied; but it was applied to us. Let a member attempt, after having been in Caucus, to come into this chamber and express his opinions.
– Well, what about it?
– I ask the honorable member what he would get. The Whip would come along and say, in effect, “ You get up, and see what you will get.” Talk about freedom! What freedom had we after the Government had agreed to bring down a certain measure, and to pass it? We had to sit behind the Government, and vote behind the Government, or we would have had a wire or some other notification sent to our league.
– And you were a strong supporter of the procedure.
– Of course I was, because I believed it was the only way to get measures through which we believed in and desired to pass. We simply sat here, and the Opposition did the talking. Honorable members talk of freedom to speak. What freedom has any honorable member here now, if he is supporting the Government, and is desirous that the Government should carry the legislation which it brings down?
– What did the honorable member do?
– What did you do? You went and perched yourself with the honorable member for Bourke in another room, because you would not submit to the discipline.
– And you were the man to apply the “ gag.”
– And then the Prime Minister made the fatal mistake of not putting the acid on the honorable member, and of making him come to heel. Internally, he was out of the party, while externally he was known to be in the party.
– Quite right. They could not put the “ gag “ on me!
– And now the honorable member says I am wrong. Why do I go into this past history? I look into the history of the past because the future lies mirrored there. That is why I speak as I am doing to-day.
Here, we are about to make it possible to get business through the House when a strong Opposition is determined that no business shall go through. That is all that is proposed. Under the rules governing this House - and no one knows this fact better than the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) - a strong Opposition can make it impossible for any Government to do business. The Opposition will move an amendment. If it is ruled in order by Mr. Speaker, there is ultimately a division upon it, and then there is a division on the motion ; whereafter, another amendment is moved, and so wego on.
– Were you not a member of the Opposition in 1913, when the Liberals were in power and applied the closure night after night? They carried their business in that way. What more doyou want?
– Exactly, and that can be done to-day. But I shall vote for this motion because it will give honorable members much more freedom. Whathappens at the present time? Members of the Opposition may talk, and their party has no objection at all to their talking upon any measure. But if the Government desire to get a Bill through, the party agree that it shall go through, whereupon honorable members on the Government side have either to curtail their speeches or not speak at all. What was the experience the other day ? The honorable member for Illawarra” (Mr. Hector Lamond) was desirous of speaking upon what was certainly to him a most important question. He made an attempt about five times, and then got shut out merely because the Government was desirous that the measure in question should go through.
– You cannot blame the Opposition for that.
– Of course not. The Opposition is here for the specific purpose of stopping the legislation of the Government, and, so long as they have the right to do so, Opposition members are quite justified in exercising their right to the fullest extent.
The trouble with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) will be that when we come to read his speeches in the future it will be noted that what he said would come about has not come about, and it will have been clearly demonstrated again that no one should be a prophet unless he knows beforehand. The honorable member has made statements to-day that will be useful when we go on the hustings.
We shall be- able to say, “Here is the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and to show you people how intemperate and misleading he is in his remarks, just for the purpose of gulling the public, see what he has said. But we ask you, as a reasonable people, did it come about? Of course, it did not come about, because no Government could afford to do what the Leader of the Opposition said could be done.”
– They can do all that I said under this order.
– The honorable member knows that that kind of thing would not be submitted to, and that honorable members will have their say if they deem it necessary. But why should every honorable member have to get up and talk when he believes in a measure and is willing to support the Government in its passage? An honorable member asks me why I continue to talk about this particular phase. It is because of the tirade of the Leader of the Opposition. I assure him that I shall have my say whenever I may desire, and that, when the Budget comes along - by ‘which time I may have even greater, freedom of speech - I shall still have my say, and I shall give honorable members just as much of my views as I may deem fit. I have been prepared generally to take the advice of the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman), namely, to say no unkind word in this House. But if honorable members are going to speak as the Leader of the Opposition has done, andfor such a purpose - that is, not to endeavour to win votes within this Chamber, nor to persuade honorable members upon any course, but merely that he may be able to say in his electorate, “ Look at what I said in the House about those ‘ scabs ‘ who lived with me and you “ - then I, too, shall have my say. I know what the Leader of the Opposition desires to bring about, but his efforts will not have that effect. Every day I meet trade unionists who are thinking for themselves now, who are not kicking us as they were doing months ago, but are saying, “ I am beginning to think that you are on the right side, and that I was wrong.” I was talking with one of the best trade unionists in Melbourne, who was elected to office only the other day, and when we hear men talking as the Leader of the Opposition has been doing, I can only say that I, at any rate, do not object to his strong language, because I realize that men of ability outside will not be gulled in that manner. They will give us the opportunity to state our views from the platform. I shall support the motion, because I desire to see something done. ~No doubt, some of the members who live in Melbourne find comfortable quarters here. This House is not so hot a place as some others that they know, but, on the contrary, a haven of refuge. Those members would like to see us sit from Christmas to Christmas. But we who do not live in Melbourne desire to get away to our constituencies and our homes when the occasion offers. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) complains that the motion will take away his freedom of speech. Outside this Chamber he possesses no- freedom of speech at all. He has not what a great writer calls the freedom “ to utter, to argue according to conscience.” He must weigh every word that lie utters. Indeed, he must first listen attentively to hear what the other man says he shall utter. In my opinion, the proposed new standing order will not deprive him of freedom pf speech in this Chamber.
– I do not regard the motion as an unmixed evil. I have heard members make speeches by the hour, night after night, and have wished that there were some way of stopping them. The fear that has been expressed, that Governments may use the proposed standing order unfairly, is not shared by me. I do not think that any set of Ministers would use it in a way likely to bring upon themselves “ ridicule arid contempt and dismissal from power. A rule similar to that now proposed has been in operation in the Queensland Parliament for many years. In the good old days, when I was young in politics, I looked upon an all-night sitting as something glorious, but I do not relish one now. I have learned a great deal since then. I feel that something must be done, to facilitate the transaction of business. Of course, everything that the Leader of the Opposition said might happen were the motion passed could happen.
– I know the crowd over there.
– I have a better opinion of some of them than to think that they would do what the honorable member fears may be done.
– Of “ some “ of them.
– “Well, of the big majority of them.
– We know some of the crowd on your side.
– The honorable member ought to know us. I was Whip to a Government of which he was a Minister, and I remember two or three occasions on which some of his supporters were twisting his tail when he was in charge of Government business. No doubt, many wrong things could be done under the motion by a Government that was unscrupulous:
– By a Government like the Cook-Deakin Government, ‘ for instance.
-Well, our record is not too good. I have always been sorry that I voted in 1905 for the introduction of the “gag,” though at the time it was necessary foT something of the kind to be adopted. We had then a real, live, truculent Opposition, who knew politics from A to Z. Those who were then in Parliament received an education in politics which they will never forget. Having voted for the “gag,” I do not think I can cavil at the guillotine. The PostmasterGeneral, the poet laureate of Australia, once had a whole issue of Hansard to himself, and other instances could be brought to show the need for curtailing speeches and stopping the waste of the time, not only of the House, but of the country. Except on the second reading of a Bill, on the Budget motion, or on a Tariff motion, a man can say all that he wants to say in half-an-hour.
– And make a better speech than he would make if he spoke for an hour and a half.
– I think so. I am not a long-distance champion, though on many occasions I have been put up to speak in order to keep a debate going. The Government in power must carry on the business of the country, and if a Government is willing to take the risk attaching to the curtailing of the speeches of members, I am prepared to let it carry the baby.
– But this motion has been brought down after a fourteen-weeks’ recess.
– These are extraordinary times. Let me tell the Leader of the Opposition, who has condemned the Ministry for not meeting the House, that when he was Minister he was not keen on meeting the House for tpo long a time or too often.
– But we never brought forward such a proposal as this.
– When we were in office, we always had a big majority which was amenable to reason and discipline. I anticipate that the Government will allow honorable members on both sides a reasonable time for the discussion of Bills; and if I have not faith in some of the Ministers, at any rate, I have faith in honorable members generally, because those who are sitting behind the Government to-day may be sitting in Opposition to-morrow.
– Even sitting behind the Government, we cannot afford to remain dumb all the time.
– There are many honorable members sitting behind the Government who are permeated with the spirit of fair play.
-. - Some of them are.
– The large majority of them are. The honorable member knows what party government and party discipline mean. It is useless for him to condemn honorable members sitting on one side of the House because they are dumb, driven cattle. How many times have we been dumb, driven cattle? I suppose that it is an Opposition’s part to criticise and hold up any Government, but we should be satisfied if we are allowed a fair time for the discussion of Bills. On both sides of the chamber, there are honorable members who are encyclopaedias. How they do it I do not know, but they are always anxious to give us the benefit of their information. This motion simply means that they will be robbed of their jobs, and that in future they will be compelled to talk about things of which they know something, and not about things of which they know nothing:
– Why is the motion restricted to Government amendments only ?
– If the Government will not accept an amendment, what chance have the Opposition of carrying it?
– That is not the point. They will not even allow it to be voted upon.
– When the guillotine comes down, off goes the head. Once the head is off, it cannot be amended on again. The guillotine will stop discussion on both sides of the House.
– It will allow Ministerial amendments to be put; no one else can submit any.
– The honorable member claims that the Government will, not allow any amendments to be put; but, even now, so long as they have a majority behind them, they can do what they like with the Opposition by the use of the closure. I do not anticipate that the Opposition will not get a fair and square deal from the Government. I do not think that the Government will do anything monstrous, because a reaction would be bound to set in. There is a Democracy in Australia, apart from any party politics, which rules the ‘ destinies of the Commonwealth; and, in a spirit of fairness, it will see that any Government which sets out to stifle discussion, and will not permit debate, or allow .its faults to be exposed, will get the reward it richly merits.
– The honorable member would “ buck up “ if anything like that occurred.
– When I think anything is unfair, I do not sit back in the breeching. I always come up to the collar. That has always been my attitude in the past, and it will be the same in the future. I have no fear of the guillotine. In fact, from the” point of view of a Whip, I look upon it as one of the best things that has ever been instituted, and I have not that dread of it that some honorable mem-; bers seem to have. Nevertheless, ‘I do not think that this alteration should be brought about, because the Government already have ample powers in the shape of the closure ; but these are grave times, and the Government are probably in a quandary as to how they can obtain time for administering -their Departments, and possibly they think that they should have greater powers for the curtailment of de- bate. The other day the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) submitted a question to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) in reference to the House meeting on Tuesdays, and I did not like the tone of the Minister’s reply when he said that if the honorable member had read on the notice-paper what the Government intended to do, he would see that there would be no need for the House to sit on Tuesdays. It made me think that the Government were .proposing to “ bullock “ things through. I have implicit faith in Mr. Speaker seeing that no two speeches are made consecutively from one side of the House,- and I have no fear but that every question will be properly debated. Even if some of our speeches are cut out by the guillotine, it will, perhaps, be for our own benefit and for the benefit of the- country.
Mr. MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) [6.19J.. - ‘Candidly, I do not like this motion. I was in the House in the stormy days to which the honorable member for Maranoa has just referred. My own party threatened to put me out of its ranks because, in opposition to its wishes, I tabled a motion restricting the speeches delivered by the mover of a motion, the Leader of the Opposition, or whoever replied, to one hour each, and those of all other speakers upon the motion to half-an-hour each, and all speeches in Committee to a quarter of an hour each.
– That did no good.
– On the contrary, it accomplished an immense amount of good. We used to. have long, rambling speeches extending over three hours, four hours, and even nine hours ; but the passing of that resolution had the effect of reducing by one-fourth, in many cases, the volume of such utterances. Are we sitting so many days in the week that there is any necessity to apply this new limitation to our debates? What is the position? Since 1st January, 1917, Parliament has sat on only eighty- three days. If we continue to sit three days a week up to 8th December next - the stage at which we usually adjourn - we shall have sat since 1st January, 1917, only 107 days, although during that time there will have been, excluding Sundays, 626 working days. In the years preceding the war, our sitting days were even less.
– With another Government in power.
– Yes. My experience is that every Government looks upon recess as a haven of refuge which it must reach as soon as possible. I have said over and over again that the way in which this Parliament during the last twelve years has dealt with the Estimates is a standing disgrace to it. When the Labour party were in power, they were just as faulty in this regard as any Liberal Government has been. The invariable practice is to hold up the consideration of the Estimates until the last week of the session.
– What for?
-Because the Government do not want criticism.
Mr.McWILLIAMS.-It is done to stifle criticism. As soon as the Estimates are called on the Government Whip goes from member to member, and says, “ Will you stop all night, so that we may put the Estimates through?” and we have an all-night sitting to rush them through. It is sheer hypocrisy in the circumstances to urge that it is necessary to pass such a standing order as this in order that the work of the Parliament may be carried out. I feel strongly concerning the failure of Parliament to sit more than three days & week. It is quite an innovation, and, as the result of it, the representatives of Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania have to remain in Melbourne from Friday afternoon until Wednesday afternoon for the resumption of the sittings.
If this standing order be carried, I hope it will be subject to the proviso that it shall come into operation only when Parliament is sitting four days a week. No greater mistake could be made by any Parliament than to legislate for any peculiar set of circumstances or because of implicit trust in any Government. Honorable members on this side of the House may say that they have every confidence in the Government of the day; but they should not forget that if we pass this standing order, it will remain for other Governments to apply. I doubt if, once carried, any Government will be induced to repeal it, so that those who are supporting it with a light heart to-day may have it applied as a political whip to their backs in the days to come. I was one of those who took part in a record sitting of this House, when we sat continuously for eighty-two hours in the effort to prevent our honorable friends, who are now in opposition, from passing the “gag’’ standing order.
– I am glad to say that I have never voted for the “ gag.”
Mr.McWILLIAMS.- If the honorable member had been in Parliament at the time, and a member of the Labour party, he would have voted for the “ gag “ standing order.
This proposed standing order is altogether too stringent. If there was ever a time when public expenditure called for the closest analysis and criticism it is now.
– And it will get it.
Mr.McWILLIAMS.-With such a standing order as this, analysis and criticism of Government expenditure will be impossible.
– Not at all.
Mr.McWILLIAMS.- I have never known the Estimates to be discussed in this House as they ought to be. The Estimates relating to the Navy, the Defence Department, the Northern Territory, Papua, and to Public Works, as well as those relating to the Federal Capital, the Small Arms Factory, and Cockatoo Island Dock, all call for very careful consideration. Will that consideration be possible under this standing order? Certainly not. Each of these large items requires separate treatment. They cannot be dealt with as a whole in an off-hand way; they are so varied and numerous that they demand the very closest scrutiny. Ever since I have been a member of this House I have held it to be as much the duty of the supporters of the Government as it is of the Opposition to thoroughly discuss the Estimates. That is a duty which rests on the shoulders of every honorable member; but I repeat that under this standing order it will not be possible to deal with public expenditure as it ought to be. If it be carried, then the Government should at once introduce the Estimates, and allow the House to deal with them before it is applied.
– And make it imperative for every honorable member to remain in the House while the Estimates are being discussed
Mr.McWILLIAMS.- Certainly ; although there are some items in which honorable members generally are not in- terested. In any event, this standing order should not be applied to the consideration of the Estimates. I do not occupy the time of the House unduly, but one very great danger I see is that with such a standing order as this the time allotted to the consideration of a Bill may be wholly occupied by four or five honorable members on both sides of the House, who address themselves to practically every subject that comes up for discussion.
– This standing order will be applied only by resolution of the House.
– But on action taken by a Minister. No Government is prepared to submit to the House any measure restricting debate unless heads have been counted and it is known that the numbers are up. The present Opposition, when in power, passed the “gag” standing order, little thinking that it would have a boomerang effect upon themselves. And so with the standing order now proposed. Who knows what Government will be in office a year or two hence? If this standing order is adopted, I hope it will be upon the distinct understanding that it shall not apply, except in a more extended form, to the discussion of the Estimates.
Sitting suspended from 6.33 to 7.45 p.m.
.- I should be much more contented and pleased if, instead of this motion, we were discussing some of the Bills which the Government have promised to lay before us. I should be still better pleased if we were dealing with the matter of taxation, because that is infinitely more essential than the proposal to apply this drastic closure. The object of the motion appears to me to be to relieve the Government from bringing forward the Bills they have outlined for this session. As I have stated previously, Parliament should not be robbed of its privileges. Even conceding that some honorable members may have exceeded ordinary decency in the conduct of debate, we must credit them with the idea that they were casting pearls of wisdom before the country, and we have no right to deprive any representative of the opportunity of expressing his views. It has often happened that when members have wandered from the immediate business before the House they have been laying the foundation of important legislation subsequently, and I am not prepared to deprive members of the rights they now possess. I do not know any Parliament in Australia with a standing order so drastic.
– The New South Wales Government is introducing a similar standing order.
– There are fools in other Parliaments as well as in this; at present, however no Parliament possesses a standing order of this character.. One reason for the proposal is that there have been protracted debates on the Estimates. Even if that be so, a standing order of this kind will not providea remedy. It may be that when the Estimates are laid on the table members are not quite prepared to discuss them, and the one and real reason is that, once the Estimates are through, a Government with a majority in both Houses has only to pass the Appropriation Bill by Christmas, and then be under no obligation to call Parliament until the following July. That is precisely what a great number of members object to - the giving up of the control of the finances. Even in the case of the granting of a three months’ Supply Bill it is a matter of indifference to a Government whether Parliament meets in the meanwhile or not.
A more serious objection to the motion is that at the present time Australia does not look upon its National Parliament with that respect which is its due. There is discontent in the community and also a number of gentlemen who believe in what is termed “ direct action.” There are many who are dissatisfied with our system of parliamentary government and we had an instance of this the other day in connexion with the Arbitration Court. Such standing orders as are now proposed simply supply material for argument to those discontented persons, and strengthen them in their view that direct action is the only road to reform Parliament ought to be the protector, “the guide, philosopher, and friend,” of those who are keen for reform in the interests of the people. In the time of “Jack” Robertson and Sir Henry Parkes the New South Wales Parliament used to sit four days a week, as, indeed, this Parliament did until recent years, and if we are anxious to get on with the business of the country we ought to devote our time to the various measures, especially taxation measures, which have been promised, and not talk about curtailing the rights and privileges of honorable members. Latterly we have not had statesmen, or men of the necessary intellect and intelligence, at the head of the Treasury, and now we have an Acting Prime Minister who submits a motion of this kind instead of the Bills that have been promised.
This motion will not win the war - will not give the soldier £1 a day, find him equipment, or feed his children. There is no doubt that the measures on the businesspaper would, if passed, be of some use as a foundation for a better system of taxation than . we have at present. Hasty legislation is very dangerous, but legislation which there is no opportunity for discussing is more dangerous still, and holds out the possibilities of disaster. A Government actuated by . proper motives would have no fear of criticism. We all know that the measures we pass very often require amendment, but what would be the state of affairs under the operation of a standing order like that proposed ? Where is the justification for such a standing order ? The Estimates have never really been discussed since this Government assumed office. Criticism of the Government in reference to war expenditure, .especially on the Navy, appear in the press day after day and no Government should object to the free ventilation of all public questions. How are we to explain the work of Parliament to our constituents if we are deprived of the right of freely expressing our opinions within these walls 1 Every properly constituted Parliament should be composed of two parties - one the progressive party, and the other the party which is satisfied with existing conditions. In such a Parliament every opportunity should be provided for discussion. We here are laving down precedents, for we have no precedents for a National Parliament of the kind. We have progressed beyond the legislation of the Parliaments of the Old World. Why has the French Mission come here ? To find out what the Labour party in Australia is doing. Honorable members may laugh, but I had the pleasure of introducing the commissioner from the technical and industrial colleges of Paris a few years ago, and I know what I am talking about. The French Mission is here to find out how we conduct our legislative business, and .at such a moment it is” proposed to stifle debate.
As pointed .out by the Leader of the Opposition. (Mr. Tudor), no amendments other than Government amendments will have a chance of- being put to the House under this standing order, and I am not unreasonable when I ask what the Opposition has done to justify such a proposal. The- Opposition in this House applies itself to the one purpose of assisting the party in power to govern the country, and, if possible, to win the war. Nothing that has been said or done on this side of the House would justify any honorable member in saying that we have not played our part in assisting the Government with any measure that had for its object the winning of the war. If the Government are anxious to proceed with the business, let them bring before Parliament the Bills which were promised in the Ministerial statement. I am anxious to assist them as far as I can, although I do not agree with them in regard to their” taxation proposals or their loan policy. I know we cannot do without loan money ; but before we pledge the country in order to raise money by loan. we ought to tap by taxation the reserves of wealth. If there are reserves which can be tapped by loans, those same reserves can be tapped by taxation. The Government have taken, from the banks every available sovereign ; but for every sovereign placed .in the gold reserve two notes have been issued. All the big companies in Australia have added to their wealth during the last few years, and I ask the Government why they do not make those companies contribute more largely to the revenue. The Mother of Parliaments has set an example for the smaller Parliaments of the Empire, by not attempting to carry on the war merely with loan moneys. About 33 per cent, of the Imperial war expenditure has been paid from revenue. Mr. Phillip Snowden and other members of the House of Commons have criticised the Imperial Government for not adopting the same policy as was followed in connexion with the Napoleonic and Crimean wars, when Parliament raised sufficient revenue to pay half the cost of the war, in order that the soldiers and their dependants might not be bled by indirect taxation whilst those who stayed at home became wealthy and put their money into the war loan at 5 per cent.
If it is necessary to expedite the business of Parliament, I would sooner sit four days a week continuously for four or five months. If we had continuity in our sittings we should be able to come to decisions quicker than is possible under the present system of brief and interrupted sessions, which prevent continuity in our deliberations. We should do better if we followed the example of the Fisher Government when they induced Parliament to sit four days in the week; but I do not desire that the sitting shall start at 10 o’clock in the morning and continue till midnight or later. I do not believe that this motion will assist the Government at all. This is not the way to treat a Parliament of men. If we are men we should be treated as such, and if there is any justification for the motion we should be told what it is. When the French Commission was in Australia in 1911 I introduced its members into the gallery of this chamber, and I said to one of them : “ What do you think of this Parliament?” He replied, “I never heard a body of men rise in Parliament and speak for the first time with so much confidence and earnestness.”
– Did he mean that* as a compliment ?
– I never knew a Frenchman who was. not courteous and complimentary. It is always the tyrant who introduces tyrannical measures. Men who have open minds, and respect the opinions of others, never wish to do anything of a tyrannical nature. This motion cannot be regarded as anything but evidence of a tyrannical desire to suppress the views of honorable members on this s;de.
The present Standing Orders invest the Speaker with full power to protect the House against any honorable member who attempts anything which is not in accordance with the desire of the House. The Speaker can call an honorable member to order, or, if necessary, a motion can be made that an honorable member be no longer heard. And Parliament carried on very well with these Standing Orders until the present Government came into power. The Government have lost Ministerial control. The Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Glynn) and the Postmaster-General (Mr. Webster) are the only two Ministers who are not surrounded by Commissions. In the case of all the other Ministers, Commissions are doing all the work, and the Ministers are not even “twelfth-day cake ornaments.”
The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) has pointed out that, of the 313 working days in last year, Parliament sat only about fifty days. If those fifty days are divided into our salaries it will be seen that we have a dashed good job.
– Does the honorable member do nothing when he is not in the House ?
– I have a great deal of work in doing what I can to put the present Government out of office. There is plenty of real work to which Parliament could direct its energy. One can see in the street, on one hand, a workman’s wife leading one child by the hand and carrying another in her arms; and, on the other hand, a woman riding in a car in Collins-street, wearing a hat that has cost more than the worker’s weekly wage, and boots ornamented with enough buttons to equip thirty pairs of children’s boots. While the one woman rides in luxury, the worker’s wife on her way to visit her mother must walk with her children, because she cannot afford tram fares. These are the social anomalies which Parliament should be remedying. Let Parliament rise to the occasion and do the work which is to its hand. Let us show that we are a Parliament of men sent here to legislate in the interests of Australia. One honorable member interjected, “ What about our home comforts?” And we work fifty days in the year ! An intelligent Democracy will not stand that sort of thing. When the soldiers return they will demand’ to know what we are doing to make conditions better than they were when they went away. They will not be content to go into the bush with their families and work for £2 10s. per week and never see’ anything but gum - leaves and dust. They will demand a better life than that, and Parliament should be trying to find employment for them. It is no pleasure to me to be driving these facts into ‘ the minds of honorable members opposite, except that I know that I am voicing the opinions of those who sent me here.
I have no desire to hear my own voice, I speak only because I believe that there are wrongs which should be remedied. If we neglect our legislative work, discontent will surely increase, and possibly get beyond our control. We should legislate to prevent discontent. It can be done. The Government would be much better employed in proceeding with some of the Bills on the notice-paper, than in wasting time with this motion and that which was passed last week, to enable the Crown Law officers to censor my speeches. One might think I was a criminal, and that the Crown Law officers had to be called upon to decide what charge should be entered against me. Under the motion to which I refer Mr. Speaker was deprived of all power. Our Hansard reporters are capable men, and would not include in their reports any utterance which might injure the Empire. Their chief goes through the Hansard report, and so also does Mr. Speaker, and. further, if honorable members are dissatisfied because something which they desired to appear is not included in the report, they can rise in their places here, and ask, through. Mr. Speaker, for some explanation of the omission. When a motion such as that now under discussion is submitted, one would think that a small tooth-comb had been used amongst the community to gather all the wretches who could be found in order to place them in this Parliament. That ‘ is a logical deduction from the introduction* of such a motion, and I say that it is no way in which to treat the members of any Parliament. If we pass such a motion we shall rightly be subjected to the ridicule of every other Parliament in the Empire. “ I often refrain . from speaking in this House because it is of no use to offer pearls of wisdom to dummies, and we know that honorable members opposite come here with their minds made up as creatures of the Government, to carry whatever they propose. The function of a Parliament is to debate questions, and, if any measure submitted is not likely to meet with the approbation of the people, it should not “be passed. Under this proposal members may not understand a Bill submitted, because they may be given no opportunity to learn what is in it, if the creatures of the Government agree that the passing of the measure is an urgent matter. When the Estimates for the Navy come on I should like to avail myself of the opportunity to go thoroughly into them, but if honorable members opposite decide to pass them as an urgent matter they will be put to the vote, and done with.
The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor), when speaking upon the motion, made a reference to the treatment of hon- orable members on this side by the press. Newspapers to-day do not give the attention which they used to give in times gone by to the utterances of members of Parliament. They are virtually in the hands of the Government, and may not publish anything but what the Government deem desirable, because the censors are the creatures of the Government. There never before was a time when the utterances of members of Parliament were treated by the newspapers as they are today. We know .that the war is the excuse, but it does not justify what is done. I receive every week two or three English newspapers, which are sent to me by my people in England, and I can assure honorable members that information concerning the war, and criticism of members of the Parliament of Parliaments, no matter what position they occupy, are freely published in those newspapers. That is sound, because the public, whose servants members of Parliament are. should know something of what is going on. Why should we have these attempts made to smother criticism in this country, when in Great Britain the representative of a British constituency may rise in his place in the House of Commons, and criticise the Estimates, or the action of Sir Douglas Haig at the Front. One honorable member urged that Sir Douglas Haig should be recalled because of certain things he had done. He has been criticised also in the press. Sir John French, when in command of the British Forces, was criticised, and so, also, was Admiral Beatty. If any honorable member takes up an English newspaper, he will find that writers for it plainly say that these men do things which they ought not to do, and give reasons for their belief. That sort of freedom is not permitted in Australia. Are honorable members opposite afraid of what honorable members on this side may say? I shall say nothing which may not appear in the press or in Hansard, and I know that every .honorable member on this side is animated by the same spirit. At one time it was proposed to constitute a mutual admiration society of this Parliament. I put my foot down upon that. If any attempt of the kind were made, I should become unruly and obnoxious, and riotous, because when a Parliament becomes a mutual admiration society, as this Parliament is likely to become if this motion is passed, its fall will very shortly take place. Honorable members may recall that when the Romans became so satisfied with themselves as to become a mutual admiration society, they went very fast to the wall I have been elected to oppose the present Government, and I shall oppose them when they submit any measure which is not progressive. This cannot be regarded as a progressive motion, and it will not add a shilling to any war fund. At the eleventh hour I advise honorable members opposite to induce the Government to withdraw the motion. If they do so they will be commended by the press, and by every right-thinking man in Australia.
I have no desire to occupy further time in discussing this matter, but I protest against every attempt to curtail the privileges of Parliament. If such a motion as this had been presented to some of the older politicians of the New South Wales Parliament, they would not have tolerated such an encroachment upon their rights. They regarded Parliament as a place in which public questions should be fully and fearlessly discussed, and their one ambition was the progress of the country. I ask honorable members opposite to consider carefully what they are asked to do, and to remember that the Labour party in the elections in 1910 secured thousands of votes in every State, because they were able to say that they had been gagged and prevented from discussing measures brought before Parliament. This motion will reflect upon honorable members opposite in the same way. I do not speak in this fashion from any love of the present Government, but for love of the Parliament of which I am a member. I feel confident that in voting against this motion I shall be giving effect to the views of the people of East Sydney, and of the whole of the city of Sydney, which is really the metropolis of Australia. There is no other city in the Commonwealth in which there are four daily papers, four newspapers published on the Sunday, and two comic and one semi-comic publication issued each week. For the parliamentary representatives of these people to be asked to vote for a proposal which will have the effect of stifling discussion here is altogether beyond reason. This motion is prompted by ulterior motives, and by fear on the part of the Government” that the measures which they submit will be discussed fully and fearlessly, and in the manner in which they ought to be discussed.
– I intend to support the motion. I have long held the opinion - and, indeed, I have repeatedly urged - that some such procedure as that contemplated in this proposal should be adopted. Briefly put, the motion aims at the emancipation of Ministerialists and the destruction of the tyranny of the Opposition. We hear a great deal about liberty from honorable members opposite, but we witness only exhibitions of brutal tyranny. What is the position to-day ? As soon as the Government submit a measure for our consideration, members of the Opposition occupy all the time they are allowed to occupy under our Standing Orders in discussing it. Of course, Ministerial supporters are at liberty to follow their example, but if they did so the Government would be unable to pass any legislative measures at all. Consequently Ministerialists refrain from debating proposals because of the tyranny of the Opposition. All-night sittings are sometimes resorted to in order to push business through this Chamber; but who derives any satisfaction from such sittings ? Only a few enthusiastic lunatics upon the opposite side of the Chamber. The ordinary citizen, upon reading about an all-night sitting, merely shrugs his shoulders, wonders what sort of an institution Parliament has become, and is driven to the conclusion that these protracted sittings involve a disgraceful waste of time. Such sittings break down the health of those honorable members who are most attentive to their duties, and who do not possess sufficiently robust constitutions to withstand the strain. That is the position which obtains to-day, and I am sure that Australia does not desire its continuance.
Some honorable members have indulged in all sorts of predictions as to what will be the effect of this motion. We have been assured that the Government will impose a time limit upon the discussion of the Estimates and upon the consideration of measures of the utmost importance. Certainly they will, if they can command the support of a sufficient number of Ministerialists. But the latter have a keen love of liberty, and are not likely to tolerate tyranny on the part of the Government, even if the latter desired to exercise it. As a matter of fact, however, there is no such desire on the part of Ministers. “With the exception of the present Opposition, there never was a party in this Parliament which was disposed to indulge in tyranny, because the great majority of honorable members possess the sporting instincts of Australians. The adoption of this motion will mean that the time allotted to any debate will be equally divided between Ministerialists and Oppositionists. Consequently, the tone of our discussions will be raised, and the reports which appear in Hansard will be worthy of more serious perusal than they are at present.
There is another reason why the procedure contemplated should be -adopted. The position of Parliament, to-day is entirely different from that of Parliament half a century ago. It has been urged that there is no precedent for this motion. But a precedent can be found in the British House of Commons. Why? Because the Commons recognised the necessity for some such procedure if it was to carry on the King’s business.
– Remember that there are 670 members in the House of Commons.
– I am quite aware of that. I know that discussion in the House of Commons is limited to a certain number of members. There, an honorable member cannot speak without the consent of the Whip, and if he attempted to make a speech of the character of many of the speeches that are delivered here he would be pulled down on his seat by his coat tails. The Speaker of the House of Commons is practically vested with unlimited powers, and again and again during the past forty years he has, upon his own initiative, taken drastic action when he has felt sure that such action would command the support of members. In the British Parliament from 1859 to 1865 we know that two parties carried on the business of the country. Every courtesy and consideration were shown to the Ministry of that time. ‘But here in Australia we do not understand the rudiments of parliamentary government, and the sooner we learn them the .better. The idea that it is the function of an Opposition to consistently pursue obstructive tactics is unknown in England. Not a year passes in which the members of the different parties in the British Parliament do not meet to confer upon certain matters. Who was it that originated parliamentary obstructive tactics ? It was the Irish brigade, which used the forms of the House of Commons for the purpose of securing Home Rule for Ireland by making it impossible for that Chamber to perform its work. Similarly, when the measure dealing with the South African Confederation was under review, a “ stone-wall “ was set up which lasted a week. Now, I have had twenty -seven years of parliamentary experience, and I have never yet known a “ stone-wall “ to succeed. When threatened with organized obstruction, no Government would be worth its salt if it did not bring all its guns to bear in order to beat down that obstruction. The proceedings of this Parliament are little short of a comedy. Certainly they do not reflect any credit upon us. Suppose the regulations dealing with the King’s Army could be used for the purpose of preventing that Army from discharging the functions which it is intended to discharge. what would people say ? Similarly, if the engineering society adopted . rules which would prevent engineers from efficiently performing their duties, what should we think of it? Or, if the law society framed rules to prevent efficient service by members of the Bar, what would be said ? Yet these cases are entirely analogous to our own. Hitherto we have allowed our Standing Orders to be used for the purpose of preventing Parliament transacting the public business. We have already delayed too long, and the sooner the motion is passed the better it will be for this Parliament. I have not the slightest fear as to the effect of this amendment of our Standing Orders, because honorable members will have ample opportunity for the submission of their views. Mr. Speaker will see to that. We are all agreed as to his impartiality, and he will see that the time allowed will be fairly allotted.
To-night we have had some figures concerning the number of days that Parliament has been sitting. I say that under the present system we have sat too long, and that if we had sat less it would have been better for the country. By this I do not mean that there has not been work enough, but, unfortunately, we have an Opposition different from the Opposition of any other Parliament in the British Empire; aye, different from any Opposition where the English language is spoken to-night. In no other part of the British
Empire is there an Opposition in the sense that we know it here, comprising men burning with the hatred of party politics. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has told us that he will use all the means of party warfare to block this motion. In private affairs he is very much respected, but in party politics he is a barbarian. We have all this, too, at a time when the Empire is engaged in the greatest war in its history.
– -Is this the soft answer that turneth away wrath? ‘.
– The honorable member need not worry. The red-raggers at Broken Hill keep him in.. I say that during this, the greatest war in our history, we have sat on too many days, because of the character of the Opposition. If any honorable member takes up Hansard and goes through the speeches, he will find what has been the attitude of honorable members opposite with regard to every Government proposal. When the Labour party were in power and there was a Liberal Opposition, I saw Supply Bills for three months go through in an hour. Have we had that experience during the present Parliament? Hansard will show that the speeches of every member on the other side have been made, not for the purpose of throwing any light on a debate or of insuring sounder judgment, but for the benefit of political leagues outside the House. Then we have had all the cant about “ peace by negotiation.” Do honorable members think this was the right course to take in the Commonwealth Parliament at a time when our people are shouldering cheerfully the full weight of this war?=> I say that when Parliament is cursed by an Opposition that countenances this, then the sooner Parliament is in recess the better. That is the view I take, and that is the view held by pretty well all the people of this country. Party politics have, never before sunk so low as to endeavour to paralyze the efforts of the Government and defy the wishes of the people. This, I maintain, is justification for the motion now before the House. The Government would not be worth their salt if they had not brought down some such proposal, and if they did not endeavour to get it through as quickly as possible.
I do not want to set an example tonight by making a long speech. The carrying of this motion will give me ample opportunity of speaking in the future, though I may not have the chance to make long speeches. . I do .not want that. Let us examine this hypocritical cant about time being so necessary for the consideration of the Budget. If Parliament sat from the 1st January till Christmas Eve there would still be plenty of members who would .want to talk Budget all the time. And, after all, what do we gain by talking about the Budget? I have listened to honorable members of this Parliament talking for a couple of days about a vote of £100,000 with the object of reducing it by £1,. and then in the next half-hour they .have voted £10,000,000 or £20,000,000. The only way in which the Estimates can be interfered with is for the supporters of the Government to call upon the Government to make any reduction considered necessary.
– What chance would they have of doing that?
– My honorable friend seems to know a very great deal about our Caucus. I have had the good fortune to be a member of bo,th Caucuses, and I know.
– Thank God, I don’t!
– I know that the difference between our present Caucus and the former Caucus of which I was a member, is as the difference- between heaven and bell. All Ministers know they will have to consider any proposal by their supporters with regard to the Estimates. I have seen this done. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Poster) will recollect that the Government supporters in the South Australian Parliament, about twenty years ago, sent back the Estimates with an instruction for the Government to do certain things, and the Government obeyed. I remember when, as a youth, the celebrated John Bright saying just what the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mc Williams) said to-night about the Budget. All this talk about reducing the Estimates, he said, was humbug, because he had sat beside Joseph Hume in the House of Commons for twenty-five years, and, though Joseph Hume had never done anything else but check Budgets, he had never got anything out of it, for the simple reason that all this Budget talk is intended for the people outside. Honorable members know that very well.
We have to look at the position fairly and consider what would be the effect of seriously interfering with Estimates. Let us take our military expenditure as an example. After the war it is certain there will be great differences of opinion amongst members as to how far we can go in reducing the Estimates. In many cases it would be very difficult to cut down without abolishing certain aspects of departmental work. We might shut up the East- West railway, for instance, and make a big saving in salaries, expenditure on rolling-stock, maintenance of the permanent-way, and allow the grass to grow there. We might also do the same with Canberra. But I do not want to discuss these matters to-night. I deprecate all this abstract talk about what we can do by a Budget debate, for, as I have already said, I have seen the House occupy an immense amount of time in seeking to reduce a particular line by £1, sitting, perhaps, for a couple of days and a couple of nights, and then passing Estimates for £10,000,000 without a word. It is comical, to say the least of it.
– Do not be too severe.
– I have no desire to be severe, but the honorable member was severe upon me a little while ago when he spoke about our Caucus. I recollect when I was in charge of the Bill for compulsory voting that members agreed to it in Caucus, but when they came down to the House they slaughtered it.
– And what about Mr. Webster slaughtering you, too?
– My honorable friend need not tell that part of the story. However, that is past history.
I do not know that I have much more to say, except that, in reply to a suggestion that we might sit on more days each week, I remember that in the Parliament of 1910-13, when there were several new members, there was a belief that, as eight hours a day was a good thing for the average man, it would be a good thing for Parliament. The old hands, like myself, shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads, but said, “Let them have a go.” Accordingly we sat from 10 o’clock in the morning till 11 o’clock at night, but we did not get a bit “ forrader,” because our friends in Opposition - the Liberals in those days - said, in effect, to the Government, “ Parliament is going to get up when we like, and not before.” Ministers, therefore, had no time to attend to their offices, and honorable members who have had any experience of public life know what that means. That innovation failed. Parliament did no more work then than is being done now under the present system, but, of course, members had more time to talk. At one time, Wednesday was set apart for private members’ business, and I have always regarded that as “ Tom Fools’s Day “ - a day when all the abstract twaddle that a man can think about was talked.
– What about grievance day?
– It is a safety valve.
– Yes; but most of the grievances that we hear so much of are made-up grievances. The main grievance of those who voice them is that they are not in office. I do not know why a day should be given every three weeks for the airing of that grievance.
– They could have it out at any time they liked to do so.
– Of course they could. If my honorable friend had a grievance to ventilate, he would know how to deal with it, and so would I. I never ventilate imaginary grievances, merely to play to the gallery. The State Parliaments sit only three days a week, and when this Parliament was sitting four days a week I was one of those who recognised that it could get through as much work if it saved a sitting day and its attendant expense. Ishould have liked, when a member of the Labour Government, to see a motion like this car- . ried. I was in favour of. a standing order similar to that now proposed. Such a rule was needed. Complaint is made time and again of the delay in presenting the Budget, but whatever Government may be in office - Liberal, Labour, National,or Radical - it could not, under the present parliamentary arrangements, bring forward its Budget early in a session, because the discussion of the Estimates and Budget proposals would block the consideration of whatever measures it might have in its programme. A hundred reasons could be adduced in support of the motion, but, to my mind, there are not half-a-dozen to be found against it.
.- The speeches of Ministerialists, instead of enlightening the House as to the reasons for this motion, have contained no reasons at all in support of it. The Government, before asking for greater power for the conduct of the business of the country, should have shown that, under the existing Standing Orders, the consideration of business is hindered. No member has stated that a reason for the proposed new standing order is that business cannot now be dealt with. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) has given us a reason why the motion should not be passed. He told us that the Labour Administration, which was in power between 1910 and 1913, did no more work with Parliament sitting four -days a week than this Government has done with Parliament sitting only three days a week. That Administration, however, passed through Parliament a series of legislative measures never equalled before or since in either quantity or quality. As it was able to do that by getting Parliament to sit four days a week; and without asking for the increase of power now asked for, there is no good reason for the present motion.
– That Government had a different Opposition.
– Unfortunately, the honorable member was unable to keep out of his speech the bitter party prejudice which is so strong in him. His remarks, and the interjection he has just made, indicate what is in his mind, and what is in the minds of Ministerialists generally. Their object is to get at the Opposition.
I repudiate the suggestion that the conduct of the present Opposition has made it necessary to propose this new standing order. I do not think that it can be shown from the records of the House that the present Opposition of twenty-two members has prevented the Government from transacting its business. The Opposition is not strong enough to prevent the Government from passing any measures that it may wish to pass, or from doing what it chooses with the business of the House. The closure gives the Government as strong a weapon against obstruction as can be wielded in any Parliament of the world. By its use, this Government could at any time force any legislation through Parliament. There was not, however, from any speaker pre ceding the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald) the slightest suggestion that the motion is due to the ill-conduct of the Opposition. As a matter of fact, the Government has a large majority at its beck and call. It has not, however, made any serious attempt to transact business. It has not shown any particular desire to get through any great quantity of business. Parliament has sat for so few days, and its meetings have been at such long intervals, that Ministers evidently have not been particularly desirous of getting through their business. This Parliament was elected on the 5th May, 1917. It met on the 14th June following; when it sat for one day only. It reassembled on the 11th July, and sat until the 27 th ‘September, on thirty-four days. In 1918 it sat between the 9th and 18th January on seven days, and ‘between the 4th April and 15th June, on thirty-four days. We reassembled on 18th September, and have since sat on ten days. During a year and five months we have sat on only eighty-six days. Had the Government desired to get through legislation, it had the opportunity to do so. The Opposition has not obstructed, nor has it delayed, business. The reason for the proposed standing order is not anything that has happened in the past. This is a machine-gun trained on the Opposition to prevent possible obstruction of business in the future.
I am not discussing this proposal from a party stand-point, because the Standing Orders affect all parliamentary parties alike. Ever since I entered the House in 1910, I have heard it said that the Standing Orders needed amendment. It has been suggested that the Standing Orders Committee, or a Special Committee, should be instructed to consider and revise them. The need for the revision of the Standing Orders being admitted on both sides, the Government should have referred them for revision to the Standing Orders Committee or to a Special Committee, composed of members of both parties. This has not been done. We are not informed whether Ministers have even consulted their supporters in reference to the proposed standing order, or whether the motion now before us comes wholly from the “junta,” the caucus upstairs having had no “say “ about it. Certainly the Opposition has not been invited to offer any suggestion. However,I do not want to argue the matter.WhateverGovernment maybe in power, the use or abuse of the Standing Orders is the same. I have seen an Opposition doing its ‘best to obstruct and delay the business of a Labour Government, and I have seen a Labour Opposition using the same tactics towards a Liberal Government. I have heard complaints about the delay in the presentation of the Budget both when Labour Governments and when Liberal Governments have been in power. No matter what Administration may be in office, it uses the Standing Orders to suit its convenience. We have been told that this Government does not intend to employ, with any severity, the new powers for which it asks.
We have been told by one of the Ministers that it is not intended to employ them in the manner suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), and that the Opposition will be given a fair deal. But. honorable members generally, and particularly those on the opposite side, must bear in mind that the proposed new standing order will be a weapon in the hands, not only of the present Ministers - who may use it fairly - but also of their successors; and those who support the motion may be the first to feel its effect. When the war precautions legislation was introduced, Sir William Irvine, the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Joseph Cook), the Minister for Home and Territories (Mr. Glynn), and the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) all protested against it, pointing out the seriousness of the step that the House was being asked to take in conferring so much power on the Government. The then AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Hughes), and the then Prime Minister (Mr. Andrew Fisher), assured the House and the Opposition in particular, that the powers sought for would be used with discretion and moderation.
– ‘When we tried to get the measure amended, honorable members opposite refused to support us, and they are now suffering heavily in consequence of that refusal.
– I ask the House to remember that, although I was a supporter of the Government which introduced the legislation to which I am refer ring, I was from the very beginning opposed to it-
– There were not too many who did oppose it.
– No, the party as a whole supported it, but who imagines for one moment that the kindly character of the administration of the War Precautions Act promised by the then Government is at all comparable with the administration of that measure at the present time? The little timid, retiring cub has groAvn into a ferocious tiger. The War Precautions Act of to-day has no similarity whatever to the little, feeble, innocent measure introduced in 1914-15. When introduced it was to be used for special purposes, and was not to be used with severity. That is just what Ministers are saying to-day about this proposed amendment of the Standing Orders; but exactly as the War Precautions Act has developed, so will the Standing Orders develop, and one day the seed which Ministers are now sowing will bring in a harvest of trouble that it will take the work of a Parliament to undo. I believe that the Standing Orders do need amending. There are some anomalies in them which are not at all flattering to our intelligence as a Parliament; but this is not the right way in which to alter them, and even now the Government would be well advised to accept the suggestion made earlier in. the debate, and withdraw the proposal and submit it to the Standing Orders Committee. The Speaker and those who have occupied the position of Speaker and Chairman of Committees know more about the working of the Standing Orders than ordinary honorable members ; they are better acquainted with the intricacies of them, and they would make a very acceptable committee to revise the Standing Orders as a whole. If there is any particular reason for limiting debates on the lines suggested in the motion, such a Committee could give full consideration to. the proposal put forward.
I cannot overlook the fact that this is, first of all, a deliberative assembly. Therefore, anything that would interfere with the freedom of our deliberations, and a full and fair criticism of the proposals brought forward here, is to be regarded with some suspicion, if not fear. The main objection to the Government’s proposal is that it will tend to destroy the character of this House as a deliberative assembly. “We are. getting into a system of government in this country - perhaps “re are not much different from any other country - by which Ministers say what is to be done, and it is done. Ministers bring forward their measures as a matter of form, as a sort of concession to Democracy, or as a kind of camouflage to make the people believe that there is such a thing in existence as a representative assembly ; the measures are placed before the House and are seriously discussed, yet every honorable member on both sides knows that a Bill which has been” brought forward by tlie Government has to go through, no matter whether the debate upon it lasts for a week or a month. It is merely a matter of legislation by ‘an internal coterie of select members called a Cabinet. They choose what the legislation shall be. The really deliberative assembly in these days is the Cabinet, and we are credibly informed, and there seems to be very good reason for believing,- that there is an inner Cabinet which practically determines what the legislation of the country shall be. Already in various little ways we have whittled away rights and privileges attaching to an assembly such as this is. We are supposed to exercise a very full and rigid oversight over the measures of Ministers, but I challenge any one to show how, under the proposed new standing order, it will be possible for honorable members who are not in the Ministry to express any freedom of opinion or have any opportunity for doing so.
Criticism of Ministers and attacks on their administration do not all come from the Opposition. Only last year one of the most serious attacks upon the Government came from the Ministerial corner, and when we take the trouble to go through the records of this Parliament since it opened in June of last year, we see that there has been more lengthy criticism of the Government from the Ministerial side than has come from this side.
– Why should there not be? There is freedom on this side of the House.
– This motion is aimed at licence, and not liberty.
– The only justification for such an interjection would be a claim that the liberties of honorable me n bers have been abused. I challenge the honorable member to show in the records of this Parliament where the liberties of honorable members have been abused during debate. If he looks through the records, the honorable member will find that the use, not the abuse, of the liberties of the House have been very freely availed of by honorable members on his own side for the purpose of making -attacks on the Government.
– I am not talking of honorable members on either side, but there are lots of speeches that could usefully be compressed into half the space.
– The honorable member has had a forensic training that enables him to put his words in very beautiful, concise, and effective language. We have not all had his advantages; but, on “the whole, honorable members express themselves fairly clearly, if at times they do so rather fully, which may be not their fault but rather their misfortune. Id quantity or quality the speeches delivered in this Parliament compare very favorably with those which have been delivered in any other Parliament. I am quite certain that this, the seventh Parliament of the Commonwealth, does not compare unfavorably in this regard with Parliaments that have preceded it. In any case, even if there are a few honorable members who are a bit prolix, and inflict themselves on the House at every conceivable opportunity, is it sufficient reason for the whole of the House abandoning its privileges and destroying its deliberative powers and opportunities? I think not. Can one go into any assembly or representative body and not find one or two men who make themselves a nuisance and try to allocate to themselves all the privileges and opportunities for speech?
– Like Billy Webster with his poetry.
- Mr. Webster is an authority on monopoly so far as debate is concerned. I suppose that he and the honorable member who holds the distinguished position of Speaker in this House have an enviable, or perhaps unenviable, record in that respect, because both of them when in Opposition were the fiercest in the exercise of their privileges in respect to obstructing Government business.
There are people who believe that in a time of war Parliament is a nuisance. Honorable members will easily recollect that, in 1914, soon after the war broke out, and when a general election was pending, it was suggested that the election should he abandoned or postponed, and that Parliament should be summoned in order to have a War Government formed for the purpose of carrying on the war on behalf of Australia. That suggestion was rejected, but a significant remark was made by Sir William Irvine, who was then the AttorneyGeneral of the Liberal Government which was in office at the time, that intime of war Parliament was a nuisance or an obstacle. There are some honorable members to-day who seem to hold the opinion that it is impertinence on the part of the Opposition, or on the part of honorable members on their own side, to criticise administration when there is a war in progress, and that the Government should be permitted to do what they like, and as they like.
– That would be quite right if there was a perfect Government in office.
– Of course, it would. If my friend and a few of his compatriots were there, things would ibe safe; but when we have men in office whose administration during the war has come in for most severe criticism and castigation, such as has been heard in regard to the Defence Department and the Navy Department, one cannot believe that Parliament is an inefficient or unnecessary institution. It has been argued in the House of Commons that during the war Parliament should be almost continuously in session, not for the purpose of obstructing or harassing the Government, but for the purpose of insuring that, as far as possible, the whole of the weight, influence, and ability of the Legislature shall be concentrated, exercised, and made available for the important purpose of carrying on the war. Here there seems to be an idea that the less opportunity given to honorable members to deliberate on questions and discuss them, the better it is, and that the less often Parliament meets, and the longer the recesses are, the better it is, because Ministers are then at liberty to give closer attention to their office work. Parliament is superseded, and in fact considered unnecessary and a nuisance.
If the proposal to shorten debates will accomplish any purpose it can only be one of two things - either the Government are desirous to get certain business through or they intend to get their little programme through as quickly as possible and adjourn Parliament, in order to have the longest possible recess.
Mr.McWilliams. - How long did the previous Government have. Parliament sitting?
– I have not gone into the figures.
– For thirty-five days in the year.
– Then the present Government are not doing very badly ; but the fact remains that they are transactingno business. When they went to the country with their programme of legislation, and their promises of the wonderful things they were going to accomplish, the country had a right to expect that some business would be done when Parliament met. Is it not a fact that we had two or three exhibitions in this Parliament of the Government having no business to bring forward, in consequence of which the House has had to adjourn?
– The same thing occurs at the beginning of every session in every Parliament.
– They are not anxious to get business through the House. Every Minister knows that if he is anxious to get business through, he has unlimited powers in that respect. The Government could go through their whole programme to-night if they so desired.
– What will the new standing order enable the Government to deal with, if it is not business ?
– My complaint is that it is unnecessary unless the Government are determined to get through a patricularly heavy lot of business during the present sub-session. There is at present no indication of anything of the kind. The Standing Orders as “they exist to-day will enable the Government to pass all the miserable legislation at present on their programme. What are their items of legislation - a Distillation Bill,
– Thereare no Bills on the notice-paper other than those I have read.
– The Government are keeping other business up their sleeves.
– Are they keeping it up their sleeves until they get the new standing order carried? If so, I was right in speaking of the proposal as a machine gun, and it is evidently loaded. The Government have no right to introduce new methods until they have proved the old ones to be worthless. They have not attempted to use the powers they possess under the existing Standing Orders, and until they do they have no right to demand new powers. Until the Standing Orders at present in operation are proved to be insufficient to enable the Government to get on with their business, they have no right to ask for increased powers.
It is contended by the Government that, because the House of Commons has in operation what is known as the guillotine, we should follow its example in that respect. There is, however, no analogy between the House of Commons, with its 670 members, and this House, with its seventy-five members. Could there be any analogy, again between the quality and the importance of the measures which the House of Commons has to consider and those with which we have to deal ?
– We have much better talking men here.
– We have not, and the House of Commons makes no such distinctions in its Standing Orders as the Government propose in this case. The House of Commons cannot even provide seating accommodation for all its members. A feature of the House of Commons debates, and particularly of the speeches of its leading members, is the remarkable ability displayed in dealing with a great mass of information in a very short space of time.
– That will be one of the effects of this proposal on the debates in this House.
– Then the honorable member will suffer very sorely. He will have to burn the midnight oil steadily in the preparation of his speeches.
As I said during the debate on the motion providing for the censorship of Hansard, in this matter, as in all others, as the Government sow so they must reap. They are proposing a standing order that may or may not suit their immediate purpose. That remains to be seen, but it cannot be worse in its effect on the Opposition than it will be upon the supporters of the Government. We cannot suffer under it more than they will, and to that extent, therefore, I am not particularly hurt by this proposition. I know, however that undoubtedly, as time goes on, a Government having such a power as this at its disposal, and determined to push on with its business, will hit the very men who to-day are advocating and are going to vote for this motion. Honorable membersopposite will not always be in power-
– Then this proposition will be to the advantage of the Opposition, because if we go out they will come in.’
– The honorable member must recognise that what I consider when sitting in Opposition to be wrong must be equally wrong when I am on the other side. If I think a proposal is right I support it, but if I believe it to be wrong I oppose it, no matter where I may be sitting. I view this proposition as being altogether wrong. I would remind the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) that when the Government of which i was a supporter in 1912 brought forward a motion for the limitation of debate I opposed it, and have opposed its application ever since. I am jealous of the privileges which I have as a member of this Parliament. They make no difference to me personally, but I am here to express on behalf of those who sent me here the views I most fondly and truly believe in. And so I oppose this proposed standing order, because it will interfere, not only with my privileges, but with the privileges of honorable members opposite. When the time comes for them to feel the crushing effect of such a standing order, they will realize too late that they themselves forged a weapon that has entered their own political souls.
– Is the honorable member familiar withthe words of Burns -
The fear o’ hell’s a hangman’s whip
To hand the wretch in order.
This is intended more as a preventive measure than for any other purpose.
– I am always amused when I hear honorable members opposite saying that they are out for prevention rather than for cure. They seem to invent diseases in order to secure an opportunity to promulgate preventive measures. The honorable member’s words bring to my mind something that the Defence Department is doing for the soldiers on the other side, but which I cannot discuss at this stage. If the Department gave its attention to the curing of the disease instead of to the application of preventives, it would be to the advantage 6f the soldiers as well as to the country. The time is coming when something must be said in this House concerning that matter.
As the Acting Minister for the Navy has stated, this proposition is designed, not to cure, but to prevent something. The Government are always putting up their umbrellas to shield themselves from a shower of which there is no indication. Surely the Government, having regard to their present position, should be fully occupied in dealing with the troubles which actually surround them on every side. Surely they have enough to do in dealing with such difficulties instead of looking for imaginary ones. Do they think the Opposition are going to run wild ?
– We fear the excessive vocabularies of men like the honorable member.
– I am often painfully consciousof the fact that my vocabulary is so incomplete as to make me quite unable to express myself as I should like to do. I can, at all events, promise the honorable member that every proposal to curtail the right of honorable members to criticise the Government of the day will be opposed by me, no matter whether I sit on this side of the House or on the other. I am out to preserve for honorable members in their representative character the fullest and freest opportunity for the exercise of their liberties.
– I intend to support the new standing order proposed by the Government, against which I have not heard from the Opposi tion one argument. The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) said that such a standing order would interfere with the liberties of honorable members, and seriously curtail their privileges. I would remind him that it will not be applied except with the approval of the House itself, so that, if it does curtail any liberties enjoyed by honorable members, that curtailment will be the direct result of action taken by themselves. Thispower is not to be exercised by some outside authority. It is to be brought into operation by honorable members themselves, and only when the occasion demands it will the House apply the guillotine: The honorable member for Brisbane has urged that instead of using the guillotine we should sit more frequently. It has been said that during the last 483 days this House has met on only eighty-six days. I have figures to show what took place in Parliament when a previous Administration, of which the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) was a prominent member, was in office. From the 12th November, 1915, to the 29th November, 1916, covering a period of 382 days, the Labour Government then in power called upon Parliament to meet on only twenty days. In view of that fact, what sort of camouflage are the Opposition resorting to in talking as they have done concerning the present Government? At that time, they had not on their shoulders the responsibility that the Government and their supporters have to-day. Honorable members were not then called upon to engage in recruiting work and to travelthroughout the length and breadth of Australia in the effort to induce young fellows to realize their responsibilities. Honorable members generally had more time at their disposal, and yet the Labour party then in power required this House to meet on only twenty days out of 382.
– Why does not the honorable member go to the war?
– That is a fit question to be addressed to me by a man who is under forty-five. I asked the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) to raise the age limit to fifty-five years, so that the honorable member for South Sydnev (Mr. Riley) and I might enlist.
The honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. Finlayson) has declared that there is no analogy between the House of Commons and this House, and has also asserted that leaders of thoughtin the Imperial Parliament display remarkable abilityin condensing their speeches. That condensation must have been cultivated as the result of the introduction of the guillotine. Members on both sides of the House have spoken, not for the purpose of helping on a measure before the House, but for obstructive purposes ; and, therefore, I think the proposal made by the Government is on the right lines. I am not here to waste my time. The first impression I received when I entered the House was that members were not serious; they did not occupy the time as business men would, and, in fact, did not seem to value time at all. I have sat here in this chamber all day and all night, listening to weary reiteration of argument; and that sort of thing is not to be tolerated. The arguments put forward by the Opposition against the proposal are the very arguments they used on the 25th November, 1905, when the closure was introduced. There is practically no difference between this proposal and the closure, except that the former is more effective andscientific. The closure “ gags “ individual speakers, but the motion simply limits the period of time in which a measure may be discussed; there is nothing invidious about it, seeing that it does not attack individual members. I can remember the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) being stopped by a motion that he be no longer heard. That motion was moved by the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Palmer), and the honorable member for Melbourne was very much offended.
– How did you vote on that motion?
– I voted for the motion; but it is not a question of my feelings, but of the feelings of the honorable member for Melbourne. Iremember sitting all night during the session of 1913-14, when the Speaker had the majority in his pocket. Some honorable members of the Opposition had gone down town, and we on the Government side, finding we had a majority, had the question put. In order to get the question settled, we had to move the closure some thirty times, involving some sixty divisions, and occupying some three hours to do what the proposal now before us will make possible in as many minutes.In that session of 1913-14 the Standing Orders were strained, the Opposition introducing amendment upon amendment in such a way that it was impossible to get legislation accomplished. As a matter of fact, obstruction was raised even on the motion for leave to introduce a Bill; and we all remember how cleverly the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) held up the House on that occasion. The motion before us is an endeavour to put an end to all that sort of nonsense, and I am quite sure that in the future the electors will thankus for the innovation. What we require is more concentration in our speeches.
– What would have happened if the honorable member had had to concentrate this speech into ten minutes? He would have bust!
– Let me tell the honorable member that Lord Salisbury, when on one occasion he was asked by a constituent how long he would require to prepare a speech, replied that if he were asked to speak for four hours he would require no preparation whatever, that if he were asked to speak for an hour he would require three hours to prepare, but that if he were asked to speak for three minutes he would require a week’s notice. This illustrates what I mean when I say that we require more concentration of our thoughts, and ought to be able to say in ten minutes what now apparently takes us three or four hours. We have had very long speeches made in this House. One honorable member, who is not here now, has a record of eight or nine hours, and during the discussion on the “ gag “ proposals it was stated that another member, that session, had made speeches which covered seventy-three yards of space in Hansard.
– You have the two record men on your side.
– In the future people will wonder how Parliament tolerated such nonsense. I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this motion, and I verily believe that honorable members opposite are heartily in accord with it.
.- In any question affecting the liberties of this Chamber, an honorable member should try to take a view beyond the immediate necessities of the moment, and I propose to address myself to this proposition entirely from that point of view. I do not find that this proposal is one intended to meet any exceptional circumstances arising out of the war; on the other hand, it is the intention to create an entirely new standing order revolutionizing the methods and procedure of the House for all time. I, therefore, ask myself, not as a member sitting on this side of the House, but as one who has had the honour to ait in Parliament for a considerable time, what is my duty, not to this Government which happens to be in power, but to this House and the Commonwealth of Australia.
I feel that honorable members on the Treasury bench have taken on their shoulders a very heavy responsibility in >’ submitting this motion. It is, I see, roughly copied from a standing order of the House of Commons, where a great number of people can enter, and, if they see fit, obstruct the whole national business in such a way as to make it impossible to conduct the affairs of the country. I find that the answer to what might be done is not proved by what has been done. At one time I was in a Government which did undoubtedly suffer from the most organized opposition that I think had been experienced by any Government in almost any country in the world, but even then, under the exceptional circumstances in which we were placed, we were not absolutely held up so much by the Opposition as by the situation in which the constituencies had placed us of being practically without a majority in this Chamber.
Let us consider this proposal altogether apart from party, and look at it as reasonable men, who know Parliament and parliamentary procedure, must look at it if they wish to do their duty to the House.
– The motion has been brought forward as a party measure. The House has not been consulted.
– The House ^ is being consulted now; and, as an unimportant unit of the House, I am stating my own views in regard to it. The feeling I have is that a Government might possibly seek to stifle debate upon some question vitally affecting the existence of the Ministerial party at an immediately ensuing election.
I am on the Ministerial side of the House at the present moment; but at any time parties may change sides, and I think that honorable members on this side may claim that they have most to lose if honest and legitimate debate be stifled. The value of debate in this House has often been demonstrated. I have sat on the Opposition side and seen measure after measure introduced by an overwhelming party on the Government side, and modified, not by the force of votes or the brute strength of a division, but by sheer force of argument, put again and again.- I have seen measures improved over and over again by sheer reason from the party opposed to the Government which submitted them; and I do feel that it is not in the public interest if any party that happens to be placed temporarily in charge of the government of the country is. able, by a resolution of the kind suggested, to escape the responsibility now resting upon members under the Standing Orders of closuring directly obstruction in this chamber.
The difference between the existing standing order and that proposed is this : When obstruction takes place now, the man who moves under the existing standing order has to take the responsibility of his action. Under the proposed standing order, debate may be stifled before obstruction of any kind has been produced, perhaps stifling, not obstruction, but argument and light.
– When the “gag” is applied, it is applied to all.
– There are several forms of the “ gag.” One form is to closure the individual member; another form is to closure a motion. When . motions for closure are moved, the country can decide on the debate that has taken place, whether that debate be useful or not. Under the proposal now before the House the Government may submit a motion and say, before the case is put, that the matter is urgent, and must he taken to the vote in one minute. In such circumstances, what chance would the country have of ‘knowing what was behind the motion ?
– Is it not absurd to say that the Government would allow one minute for a debate?
– I recollect occasions in this House when, I believe, an angry Minister would have behaved exactly a3 I have suggested, and I believe that other honorable members recollect similar incidents.
– Because the Minister lost his temper?
– Because he lost his temper is one reason why Government supporters before an election would do almost anything rather than submit the Government to a humiliation.
– The honorable member is begging the question.
– I am stating the case as honestly as I can.
– I doubt that.
– I accept the Minister’s challenge, and i will take a.m ply as an illustration of what this motion may mean the Bill that was submitted by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to-day. In that measure a man’s obligations for a particular purpose are assessed, not by his ability to meet them, but by the amount of the income tax he pays, Ministers having apparently overlooked the fact that the curves governing that tax rise at a particularly steep rate when an income gets beyond certain figures. The Bill introduced to-day requires a man to pay yearly as a war loan when he gets beyond an income of £5,000, a great deal more than he is receiving.
– Order! The honorable member may not debate that Bill.
– I referred to it simply as an illustration. It would be most deplorable if the Government, ‘in order to cover up the foolish framing of a measure of that kind, and hoping to undo the harm by administration, were to say, ‘ ‘ This is an urgent measure required for the purpose of a loan, and we will put it through without debate.” A similar argument can be applied to almost any proposal that comes before the House.
The honorable, member for Calare (Mr. Pigott) said that the Government must get their business through. Obviously, the Government should get their business through, but the country does not anticipate or expect that the Government shall get their business through without debate. I am speaking now as a man who knows no party in suCh a matter as this.
– The Government have not suggested that they should get their business through without debate.
– The whole standing order suggests that.
– It does not, and nobody knows that better than does the honorable member.
– I deeply resent the attitude of the Acting Minister for the Navy, and I ask you, Mr. Deputy President, to call upon the honorable gentleman to immediately withdraw the suggestion that I am acting dishonestly in stating my views to the House.
– Nobody knows better than the honorable member that what he has mentioned is not likely to occur.
– I know that what I am saying is literally and absolutely correct, and the honorable member has no right to insult me because I take that view.
– If the Acting Minister for the Navy (Mr. Poynton) has made any offensive reference to the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly), T ask him to withdraw it. I also ask honorable members to cease interjecting. There were so many interjections that it was impossible for me to hear what was said.
– I object to words being put in my mouth that I did not use. I did not say what the honorable member for Wentworth has alleged.
– If I have done the Minister an injustice,’ I am sorry; but I certainly understood from what the Minister said several times that he suggested that nobody knew better than I that what I was saying was not correct.
– That a Bill would be put through in a minute.
– It could be put through in half a minute,- or in -any length of time that the Minister might chose to propose.
– That could be done only by the vote of the House. .The honorable member is begging the question.
– I am not aware that the insinuation that an honorable member is begging the question is any more in order from the Ministerial bench than from any other part of the House. I am looking at the question fairly and squarely, and if honorable members do not like my view I hope they will pay me the same courtesy as I pay them when I differ from their statements.
If honorable members will only realize that their possession of this side or that side is only temporary, they will look at the liberties of the House in a broader sense than I think some members are prepared to look at them to-day. When this proposal was first brought to my notice I did suggest that it might be possible to make it a war measure. In times of war there is an occasional urgency of business which does not exist at other times’. I find that my suggestion has not been adopted ; and as the Government are proposing- an alteration of the liberties of the House for all time, I And myself in the unfortunate position of not being able to support this Ministerial proposal.
– Did the honorable member make that suggestion in the House ?
– No; I suggested it before the motion was introduced in the House.
– Why not move an amendment to that effect now?
– It would relieve the position very much, and I shall adopt the honorable member’s suggestion before I resume my seat.
I remind honorable members that there is one feature of the business of this House which is, I think, peculiar to it, and it is that our legislation as a whole is put through with greater rapidity, judging by results, than is that of most other legislative Chambers. “ Honorable members are aware that we have passed measures, and have immediately been asked to consider new’ measures to amend them. We have had a measure submitted here to amend another practically before the ink with which the Governor-General signed his assent to the first measure was dry.
– One Bill we passed was amended before that.
– Many examples of the kind might be quoted. If we compare the way in which legislation is brought on here with the way in which legislation is dealt with in the House of Commons, where this procedure obtains, we shall find that in the practice of the House of Commons there are safeguards to secure the perfection of measures submitted to Parliament which do not exist here. There a Bill is submitted to a Committee of specially chosen persons from both sides before, it is considered by the House. The Committee carefully observes every phase of the proposed legislation before it is considered by the Parliament at all.
– We should submit every important Bill to a similar Committee.
– I honestly think that to do so would be in the interests of the business of. this House.
I think that the best way in which to test the suggestion which has met with the approval of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) would be to move the insertion after the word “adopted “ of the words “ for the duration of the war.”
– And for six months thereafter.
– I should have no objection if that would meet the view of the Acting- Prime Minister (Mr. Watt).
– Why any amendment at all?
– I have just been stating the reasons why I think such an amendment is necessary.
– If this is good for the period of the war, why not for all time?
– It. would certainly ‘ be bad for all time.
– For reasons which I have already given to the House. If the Acting Prime Minister will accept the amendment I have suggested I shall strain a point and support this proposal, but I really cannot support the motion as one to alter the Standing Orders of this House, in the way proposed, for all time. I am prepared to move the insertion of the words “ for the duration of the war “ after the word “ adopted.”
– I have an amendment to move before that, to refer the matter to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration and report.
– I am afraid that if I give way to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) I shall have no opportunity to move my amendment. I move -
That after the word “ adopted “, line 3, the words “ for the duration of the war “ be inserted.
Mr. brennan (Batman) [10.15].- I do not propose to signify even partial approval of this proposal by supporting the amendment. But, even at the risk of doing the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) irreparable damage in his. constituency, I should like to congratulate him upon the wisdom he has evidenced in his speech. It came very happily after the observations of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Pigott).
I propose to put myself in training at once, labouring as I do under the painf ul apprehension that the motion will ultimately be carried, and that I shall have, upon certain fixed occasions in the future, to concentrate my utterances within the heretofore unheard of narrow limits of ten minutes. The honorable member for Calare consoles himself by the reflection that when this motion has been carried by a majority it will be something that has been imposed by the House itself, and, therefore, should be entirely satisfying to every member of it. That will afford very little consolation to members of the minority party and those who have spoken and voted against the proposal. It will afford very little consolation, also, to the electors outside, whose spokesmen are not to be given an opportunity to give expression to their views in this House, as they ought to be.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) observes - although it must be a very painful reflection to him, tempered, perhaps, by the fact that he is not now in office - that he may some day be, with his party, in Opposition. The truth about this proposal, about that which preceded it for the censorship of honorable members’ speeches, and about the policy of legislation by regulation, is that the Government are perfectly secure in their knowledge that no Labour Government will ever put a policy of this kind into operation after they reach the Treasury benches. A Labour Government will never do this, either as a deliberate expression of their opinions, or as an act of reprisal against the party who insist upon passing legislation of this kind. The party opposite cut our speeches down by the process of censorship. We do not propose to do that. They would cut our rights down by the proposed new standing order, which, in addition to the gag which they have exercised so freely, will practically stultify this House altogether. Not con tent with this, they call the Parliament together for only a few days in the year. They are more busy with their legislation when this Parliament is not sitting than when it is, and they have cumbered our ‘ Library shelves with statutory rules and regulations which they have never given this House an opportunity to consider. Now, apparently, . we may not even consider the measures which are brought before the House itself. We may not even discuss them.
I do not propose to repeat, in connexion with this proposal, observations equally applicable to the motion to censor the speeches of honorable members. A Labour Government will never do this, and therefore it becomes and remains a purely party practice and policy adopted by the other side. It is designed, not to prevent honorablemembers opposite from expressing their views, but to prevent criticism of themselves and their policy. I recognise that the motion is bound to be carried. But I shall not support it, either for the “ period of the war, or for any other period ; and, consequently, I cannot vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Wentworth.
Mr. leckie (Indi) [10.19].- I find myself in a difficulty in regard to this proposal. I have asked myself whether any real necessity exists for it. I am bound to admit that there are occasions upon which a good deal of time is wasted in this Chamber - occasions when we could wish that there were some method of cutting short the utterances of garrulous members. But we have to recollect that any time which may be wasted in this House is the time of honorable members and not of the country. No matter how many, or how few, days we sit, the cost to the country is the same. It is really, therefore, the convenience of honorable members which is involved. My own experience, both of this Parliament and of other Parliaments, is that the waste of time which occurs does not take place when Bills are under consideration. It occurs in discussing either the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, or motions for the printing of certain papers, or motions for adjournment. I repeat that sufficient time is not devoted to the consideration of Bills, which have frequently to be rushed through the House by means of all-night sittings.
Only last year, we had an illustration of this when, as the result of an all-night sitting, we passed the War-time Profits Taxation Act, which has probably damaged the industrial work of Australia more than has any other measure. If the Government will consent to withdraw Bills from the operation of the proposed guillotine, I am prepared to support them. The motion, if adopted, will not prevent garrulous members from talking at inordinate length; but it will prevent modest members, who do not often address the Chamber, from speaking at all. I know it is your practice, sir, to call upon honorable members alternately from either side of the House. That practice operates unfairly, because this side of the House has 53 members to 22. Assuming that this motion be carried, what will happen? Some honorable members will address the House at great length, and then, if two honorable members upon the same side of the chamber rise simultaneously, you, sir, will call upon the senior representative. ‘ The result will be that new. members, like myself, will be entirely debarred from addressing themselves to some measures. I cannot see the necessity for this proposal, although I would welcome a measure to curtail the length of honorable members’ speeches. When we recollect that, during the present Parliament, we have only sat some sixty or seventy days, it will be manifest that we cannot be accused of having inordinately held up the business of the country.
At the same time, I cannot support the amendment of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly). I believe that the proposal of the Government is a bad one, whether it be applied to war time or to any other time. During the past two years, I have not seen any urgent Government measure prevented from passing this Chamber. As a matter of fact, many Bills have been rushed through it hurriedly, with the result that they have subsequently had to be amended. I apprehend that the effect of the motion, if carried, will be to make the position of many honorable members a very difficult one. There is no analogy, such as has been sought to be established, between the House of Commons and this Parliament. The House of Commons contains some 670 members, whereas this Chamber contains only seventy-five members. If the Government will consent to amend their proposal by restricting its application to motions, I will support it, but not otherwise.
.- I protest against the proposal, and I do not look with favour upon the amendment that has been submitted. While I congratulate the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) upon the manner in which he dealt with this motion, I believe that he overlooked the fact that the arguments which he adduced against it will apply with added weight to war-time legislation. He laid stress upon the value of criticism by honorable members of the Opposition in relation to many measures, which had thereby been improved. But if his arguments are sound, they will apply with even greater force to legislation enacted in war time, when honorable members, in common with the rest of the community, are not normal. Certain honorable members say that this motion should not be looked at from a party point of view; but seeing that the House has not been asked, through its Standing Orders Committee, to facilitate the progress of measures through this Chamber, we cannot very well look at it from any other view-point. Apparently, the Government have put their heads together, and have brought down this motion as part and parcel of the scheme foreshadowed by the censoring of Hansard. It is simply a scientific . suppression of Opposition criticism pure and simple.
– That is a jaundiced view.
– No; I think it is “ Lynch “ law as far as effective criticism is concerned. One honorable member, I believe, said that no Labour Administration would use this measure if the tables were turned; but I think it is about time that the Labour party adopted the attitude inside this House, as well as outside it, not of turning the other cheek, but of giving as good as they get. If honorable members opposite, in the enjoyment of their temporary majority -which at the next election might be turned into a minority - are going to utilize the power they possess to alter the machinery of the House, and. so prevent legitimate criticism, and to advantage their own political party, then all I can say is that what is good for the goose. is good for the gander.
– Surely you would return good for evil?
– If ever we are” in the happy position - and I have no doubt we will bc one of these days - we will, I hope, adopt the same attitude that honorable members opposite take to-day. We will demand reparation and restitution.
But, of course, honorable members have made up their minds, and - with the exception of a few who will come over and vote with the minority; as .they usually do when they know that the Government have the numbers - will vote for this motion.
– That is worthy of you.
– The honorable member is generally in a minority.
– The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) may find himself in the minority one of these days also. He and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Archibald “i, in supporting the motion, gave the case away and exposed the fact that .it had been introduced as a political move.
– -You are dreaming.
– No, I am not. The’ honorable member for Wakefield quoted the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) as one of the awful examples, rendering the censorship of Hansard necessary. He might have proceeded further, and named other honorable members.
– I gave the names of two others, and for opposite reasons.
– The honorable member for “Wakefield has admitted the fact now. In the course of his remarks the honorable member for Hindmarsh poured the vials of his wrath upon the heads of members belonging to the party of which he was once an ornament.
– It did not contain revolutionaries, in those days.
– It is not given to everybody to recognise ‘ the position and to get out in time, as the honorable member did. 1 do not feel insulted at being called a revolutionary, for I am one of those who believe that revolutionary methods should, not be confined to one portion of the community at all. This motion itself is revolutionary, and, boiled down, is part and parcel of a scheme hatched, no doubt, by the Caucus of the Nationalist party.
– Do not say that.
– I did not think the honorable member for Grampian* would feel hurt about it, but I maintain that the motion has been devised with the intention of preventing the constituents of honorable members on this side of’ the House from knowing what is taking place here. One honorable member on this side said to-day that the press of this country was practically controlled by the party opposite. They have gone a step further in seeking to control Hansard, and now, as’ the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) pointed out, they propose, by means of this guillotine motion, to allow a particular Minister to determine what length of .time shall be given to the discussion of a measure. Therefore, much will depend on whether he is in a good temper or otherwise, and how he feels generally. It has been suggested that I am not treating honorable members opposite fairly when I say one or two will vote with the minority because they know that the Government have the numbers; but I believe that if honorable members treated this motion as a nonparty measure it would not have halfadozen supporters on the Ministerial side of the House, because it cannot be justified by any logical reasoning. It is merely intended to secure a party advantage at the expense of members on this side of the House. Therefore, while I oppose the motion, I Bay that, should it be carried, I hope that when the Labour party is returned to power it will apply it to its opponents with the same courtesy as that shown by the present Government.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Blakeley) adjourned.
House adjourned st 10.37 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 October 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19181009_reps_7_86/>.