14th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I regret to have to inform honorable members that I have received from His Excellency the Governor-General the following message sent by His Majesty the King : - “After long and anxious consideration I have determined to renounce the Throne towhich I succeeded on the death of My father, and am now communicating this, My final and irrevocable decision.Realizing as I. do the gravity of this step, I can only hope that I shall have the understanding of My peoples in the decision I have taken and the reasons which have led Me to take it. I will not enter now into My private feelings, but I would beg that it should bo remembered that the burden which constantly rests upon the shoulders of a Sovereign is so heavy that it can only be borne in circumstances different from those in which I now find. Myself. I conceive that I am not overlooking the duties that reston Me to place in the forefront the public interests when I declare that I am conscious that I can no longer discharge this heavy task with efiiciency or with satisfaction to Myself.
I have accordingly this morning executed an Instrument of Abdication in the terms following: -
I, Edward the Eighth, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Emperor of India, do hereby declare My irrevocable determination to renounce the Throne for Myself and for My descendants, and My desire that effect should be given to this Instrument of Abdication immediately.
In token whereof I have hereunto set My hand this tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-six, in the presence of the witnesses whose signatures are subscribed. (Signed) Edwardr.I.’
My execution of this Instrument has been witnessed by My three brothers, TheirRoyal Highnesses the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke of Kent.
I deeply appreciate the spirit which has actuated the appeals which have been made to Me to take a different decision and I have, before reaching My final determination, most fully pondered over them. But My mind is made up. Moreover, further delay cannot but be most injurious to the peoples whom I have tried to serve as Prince of “Wales and as King, and whose future happiness and prosperity are the constant wish of My heart. I take My leave of them in the confidenthope that the course which I have thought it right to follow is that which is best for the stability of the Throne and the Empire and the happiness of My peoples. I am deeply sensible of the consideration which they have always extended to Me, both before and after My accession to the Throne, and which I know they will extend in full measure to My successor.
I am most anxious that there should be no delay of any kind in giving effect to the Instrument which I have executed and that all necessary steps should be taken immediately to secure that My lawful successor, My brother. HisRoyal Highness the Duke of York, should ascend the Throne.
I ask leave to make a statement in regard to this matter, and at a later stage to move a motion.
– Is there any objection to the Prime Minister being given leave to make a statement and to move a motion?
-i object, to leave being given.
Leave not granted.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to with the concurrence of an absolute majority of the members of the House -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable me to make a ministerial statement to the House in regard to the Abdication of His Majesty the King and also to move, without notice, a motion in connexion therewith.
Standing Orders suspended.
– In presenting the message that I have just read, I desire to set out briefly the history of this matter so far as it concerns the King and his advisers.
– I thought that the motion of the Prime Minister was for the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable something to be done. The right honorable gentleman is making a statement.
– I declared carried the motion that the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the Prime Minister to make a statement and subsequently to move a motion.
– In presenting this message I desire to set out briefly the history of this matter so far as it concerns the King and his advisers, and particularly the part taken in the dis cussions by the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The cause of His Majesty’s abdication, as honorable members know, is his desireto marry a Mrs. Simpson, and his deliberate personal conclusion that such a marriage would in all the circumstances be inconsistent with his remaining upon, the Throne. Mrs. Simpson is a lady of American birth, twice divorced, whose first and second husbands . are still living. The decree nisi for her divorce from the second of those husbands has not yet been made absolute.
On the 28th November I received from Mr. . Baldwin, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a secret and confidential cable informing me that he had had conversations with His Majesty the King about Mrs. Simpson; that His Majesty had stated his intention to marry Mrs. Simpson; but that at the same time His Majesty had said that he appreciated that the idea of her becoming Queen and her children succeeding to the Throne was out of the question, and that consequently he contemplated abdicating and leavingthe ‘Duke of York to succeed to the Throne. Mr. Baldwin having told His Majesty that he would like a few days to think this over, His Majesty had subsequently asked Mr. Baldwin’s views on a. new proposal, namely, that special legislative provision should be made for a marriage to Mrs. Simpson which would not make her Queen and would not. entitle her issue to succeed to the Throne. Mr. Baldwin informed me that he had advised His Majesty that he did not think there was any chance of such an arrangement receiving the approval of Parliament in Great Britain; also that the assent of the dominions would be essential to the carrying out of such an arrangement. He invited my personal views. X then communicated with Mr. Baldwin offering my personal view - since at that time the whole matter was highly secretand confidential - that the proposed marriage, if it led to Mrs. Simpson becoming Queen, would invoke widespread condemnation, and that the alternative proposal or something in the nature of a specially sanctioned morganatic marriage would run counter to the best popularconception of theRoyal Family.
There having arisen in certain sections of the press a rumour ihat a conflict existed between the King and his advisers, Mr. Baldwin informed me on the 4th December that there was no foundation for the suggestion that any advice by Ministers had been tendered or that any conflict between His Majesty and his Ministers existed. On the 5 th December, Mr. Baldwin further informed me that, in view of the fact that Hia Majesty the King was still contemplating as a possibility the contracting of a morganatic marriage with Mrs. Simpson, the British Cabinet had felt it necessary that he, Mr. Baldwin, should make a statement in the House of Commons making it clear that the British Cabinet regarded that course as utterly impracticable, and that, from the information which had been received, it was satisfied that this course would similarly not be acceptable to the dominions. Pursuant to this Mr. Baldwin made the proposed statement in the House of Commons and subsequently advised His Majesty accordingly. At the same time Mr. Baldwin suggested that I might convey to His Majesty the opinion of his Government in the Commonwealth of Australia. On the 5th December I did so, informing His Majesty of the views of my Government, and in particular stating that any proposal that Mrs. Simpson should become Consort and not Queen, and that her issue should be barred from succession would not be approved by my Government, nor on my advices could any government be formed in the Commonwealth Parliament which would be prepared to sponsor legislation sanctioning such a course. What I said on that occasion has since received the confirmation in this Parliament of the honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). My communication to His Majesty was formally acknowledged by his private secretary.
For several days thereafter His Majesty took into consideration the views not only of his Ministers in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth of Australia, but also of the Governments of the Dominion of Canada, the Union of South Africa, and the Dominion of New Zealand, all of which, I was advised by Mr. Baldwin, were substan- tially in agreement with the opinions expressed by the Governments of the United Kingdom and Australia.
On the 10th December Mr. Baldwin advised me that His Majesty’s determination remained unalterably fixed and that His Majesty had informed him that it was his desire to abdicate. Mr. Baldwin added that his Government was making a final appeal to His Majesty, but that it feared that there was no chance of His Majesty changing his mind. Having received that information, I at once forwarded, through His Excellency the Governor-General, a message to His Majesty the King expressing the deep sympathy of the Commonwealth Government, and its sincere regret that His Majesty should feel it necessary to take such a step, and begging, in the name of His Majesty’s subjects in the Commonwealth of Australia, that His Majesty would reconsider his decision and continue to reign over us.
His Majesty did not feel able to reconsider his decision, and his message which I have just read to the House is the melancholy result.
I cannot conclude this narrative without emphasizing that His Majesty’s decision to abdicate was in no sense advised by any of His Majesty’s Governments, and was neither directly nor indirectly the outcome of any pressure exerted by them.
Little remains to be said. I know that I am expressing the opinion of every member of this Parliament, and of the Australian public, when I say how deeply we regret His Majesty’s decision, and how profoundly grieved we all are at this sudden termination of a reign which seemed so full of golden promise.
But His Majesty’s decision is irrevocable, and it is proper that his wishes should be carried out. We must turn our eyes to the future, and set about the business of confirming in the occupancy of the Throne His Royal Highness the Duke of York, who, on the effectuation of His Majesty’s abdication, becomes the successor to the Throne.
I appeal to members of this Parliament, and to the people of Australia, to show to our new sovereign all that loyalty and affection which they showed to his brother and his father, and I am certain that this appeal will not be in vain.
Any alteration of the law affecting the succession to the Throne is now a matter of concern to every British dominion, as well as to the United Kingdom. For that “reason I am submitting to the House a motion, the substance of which is that this House approves of the legislation which has already been introduced into the Parliament of the United Kingdom giving effect to the King’s abdication, excluding his issue from the succession, and allowing the occupancy of the Throne to go to the Duke of York as on a demise of the Crown. The motion itself is being submitted in both’ Houses of this Parliament in order to give effect to the Constitutional Convention recorded in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster, which sets out, in substance, that any alteration of the law affecting the succession to the Crown requires the assent of the Parliaments of the dominions.
I move -
Whereas His Majesty King Edward the Eighth by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India, has, by an Instrument of Abdication executed on the tenth day of December, One thousand nine hundred, and thirty-six, been pleased to declare that He is irrevocably determined to renounce the Throne for Himself and His descendants, and has for that purpose executed an Instrument of Abdication and has signified His desire that effect thereto should be given immediately:
And whereas a Bill intituled An Act to give effect to His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication and for purposes connected therewith has been introduced into the Parliament of the United Kingdom :
And whereas it is proposed to be enacted by that Bill that immediately upon the Royal assent being signified thereto the Instrument of Abdication so executed shall have effect, and thereupon His Majesty shall cease to be King, and there shall be a demise of the Crown, and, accordingly, the member of the Royal Family next in succession to the Throne shall succeed thereto and to all the rights, privileges and dignities thereunto belonging, and His Majesty, His issue (if any) and descendants of that issue shall not, after His Majesty’s abdication, have any right, title or interest in or to the succession to the Throne, and section one of the Act of Settlement shall be construed accordingly, and the Royal Marriages Act 1772 shall not apply to His Majesty after His abdication, nor to the issue (if any) of His Majesty or descendants of that issue :
And whereas it is by the Preamble to the Act of the United Kingdom known as the Statute of Westminster, 1931, among other things provided that it is meet and proper to set out by way of preamble to that Statute that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all the members of the Commonwealth in relation to one another that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne should thereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom:
And whereas the Bill intituled An Act to give effect to His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication and for purposes connected therewith will, upon the Royal assent being signified thereto, involve an alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne and it is desirable that the Parliament of the Commonwealth should assent to such alteration : this House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Commonwealth hereby assents to such alteration.
.- It would be idle to say that this is not a day of supreme importance to the people of Australia and to all the people of the British Empire. We are faced with the fact that King Edward VIII. has abdicated the Throne, and has abdicated it because he desired to marry a lady, and in marrying her sought that the law in respect of the marriage of the King should be so altered that his wife would not be Queen of England, and, therefore, not in every way his mate and equal, and, furthermore, that any children who should be born would not come in the first line of succession. It appears clear from the statement that the Prime Minister has just read to the House, and from the circumstances attendant upon it, that abdication represents the definite intention of His Majesty. I quite agree that the course that he contemplated was one which this Parliament would not support.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– Further, I say that the Australian Labour movement, as a movement, would not have agreed, in any circumstances, to confer upon the wife of any man, even though he should be King, a status less than that which would be the inherent right of her wifehood as the wife of her husband. Therefore, as the King sought special legislation to accommodate his convenience in his choice-
– Who said so?
– The Prime Minister has just said so, and I accept, unreservedly, the statement which he has made. All through this week we have asked for the facts, and to-day we have had them.
– Some of them.
– Having had the facts, I think, fully and completely- honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– That view is notshared by all of us.
– It may not be, but I speak as the Leader of the Opposition in this House and as the Leader of the Australian Labour movement in this Parliament, and the judgment which I make in assessing the value or otherwise of the statements that I make is a judgment I shall answer for anywhere and everywhere.
I regret very much that His Majesty King Edward VIII. should have relinquished the Throne. He came to the Throne after years of difficulty through which the Empire has passed. He had made himself probably the most prominent and conspicuous symbol of the unity of the British speaking people, for he had travelled through every part of the dominions. He knew the ‘people of the dominions probably better than anybody who had previously held the office which came to him. It is a matter of deep regret that he should find it necessary from his own personal point of view to relinquish that office. I have only to say that there appears to me to be nothing for this Parliament to do but to carry the motion which the Prime Minister has moved. The succession to the Throne goes naturally and logically to the Duke of York, as the brother of His Majesty. Australia believes that the King is the symbol of the union of the community constituting the British Commonwealth of Nations, and it will give to the successor of King Edward that loyalty and allegiance which it gave to him. We all hope - I hope - that in the reign of the King who is to succeed King Edward the work which can be done for civilization by the British Empire will be of such a character as to make even more stable the institutionalism which it has developed and which has played so important a part in the history of the world.
– I am sure that the House would agree that during the last few days we have passed through, a. set of circumstances in our country unknown to us in the history of this generation. During that period the only source from which honorable members could obtain any information concerning happenings in regard to matters of vital concern to the British Empire was through the channel of the newspapers. We were summoned to attend a meeting of this House last Wednesday. The reason for attending was not clearly defined. We knew only through the press of rumours that the present King proposed to abdicate and that, arising from the abdication, it would be necessary for this Parliament to pass certain legislation. Well, we met here last Wednesday. The first endeavour of myself and other honorable members was to ascertain the facts behind the controversy which was raging throughout the world. The House was denied the opportunity to secure these facts. Attempts were made to do so, but all our efforts were frustrated by Government supporters applying the gag.
– The honorable, member must not reflect upon a decision of the House.
– We wished to inform our minds on the subject so that we could arrive at clear and just conclusions in regard to it. However the facts and information were denied to us. To-day, for the first time, we have heard from the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) a statement which he claims provides the House with all the knowledge which it should have in regard to this matter. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has accepted unreservedly what the Prime Minister has said as complete information. The Leader of the Opposition, like every other honorable member, is entitled to form his own conclusions us to whether he will accept unreservedly all that the Prime Minister has said on this subject, but I wish to say respectfully that I disagree with him. I do not believe that all the facte have unreservedly been placed before the House in the statement made by the Prime Minister.
– Nothing thathe said was worth smothering up.
– My reason for saying that is because of what happened in the British House of Commons when this controversy started just about a week ago. The British Prime Minister caused to be published in the British press references to the effect that if the King refused to accept the advice offered to him he would resign, and that he was in a position to inform His Majesty that the Leader of the Opposition would refuse to form a government. That information was published broadcast.
– It was subsequently denied by Major Attlee.
– That is just the point to which I was leading. Of course i t was denied, and flatly denied ; but there was no attempt by the British Prime Minister to inform the world that the statement concerning Major Attlee was untrue. Apparently the British Prime Minister or some of his advisers made the statement deliberately for the express purpose of bringing about the situation referred, to in the motion dealing with the abdication, which has just been moved. Bight through the events of this week there has been a series of publications in the form of propaganda deliberately designed, in my opinion, to bring about the unfortunate result which has been made known to us this morning. I wish to say that I am not satisfied that all the facts in relation to this matter have been made known. I shall not be satisfied, nor should any other honorable member be satisfied, until a complete file of all the cablegrams and telephonic communications and conversations that have passed between this Government and the British Government is laid upon the table of this House or of the Library.
– What good would that do?
– It would do this good, that honorable members would not be treated like children in this matter, but would have the opportunity to carry equal responsibility for what has happened in this most momentous issue that the Parliament, the country and the Empire have ever faced. We are at least entitled to that.
– Is the honorable member a part of the official Opposition to-day?
– I am here, Mr. Speaker, respectfully to offer my observations on this subject and not in any way to undermine or pass any adverse comment upon any of my colleagues. They share with me the right to express any opinion they have as to the facts of this situation. Those who agree with me will endeavour, as far as we can, to elicit from the Government the fullest information that is possible so that we shall be able properly to discuss this question with the country at large, for I must say that the issue does not end with the resolution that may be passed, nor will it completely satisfy every section of the British dominions, for their love and admiration for the gentleman who is abdicating the Throne is so widespread that it will never die in the hearts of the people over whom he has reigned. It is because of that that I desire this information be made known. Whether this is the laughing matter it seems to be to some honorable members is a question to be determined in the years that lie ahead. I have said that I do not accept unreservedly all the Prime Minister has said in regard to this matter. I do not do so because of the propaganda and false statements in regard to this matter that have been circulated throughout the world, particularly in Great Britain during the last week. There is some reason, not yet disclosed, for the declaration of the Prime Minister of England that he would refuse to carry on, and for his observation in regard to the attitude of the Opposition in the House of Commons which, apparently, as we are now aware, was a lying statement so far as the leader of that party was concerned. Due to these things and the purpose of the propaganda behind them, I believe that Mr. Baldwin had in mind the creation of an atmosphere essential to the accomplishment of the final result of forcing the abdication of the King. It is for these reasons that I seek further information in regard to this matter. Apparently we are not to be informed as to whether the Prime Minister here supported entirely all of these developments overseas. Only seven hours before Parliament met yesterday the Prime Minister saw fit to cable to His Majesty advising him that it was the wish of his Government and the Australian people that he should not abdicate. Why were not those observations made last Friday? Why did he not then convey to King Edward the opinion of the Australian people that His Majesty should not abdicate ? Why did he postpone his cablegram to the King until all this propaganda had had its undoubted effect upon the situation? I am entitled to say that the Prime Minister only forwarded that cablegram after a lapse of seven days when he found that the pulse of public opinion in Australia was to the effect that it honestly resented any action that might be taken here or abroad that would force the circumstances which we are discussing this morning. If that cablegram had been sent seven days ago, namely on Friday last, it would have had a big effect on the atmosphere created by Mr. Baldwin and others associated with him in the British House of Commons. But it was left till the last moment. As a matter of fact, it appears to me that it was left to the stage when the Prime Minister already knew what action was to be taken - until the British Prime Minister had advised him exactly as to what was happening. In the light of all the facts, when the cablegram was despatched the Prime Minister knew the King had decided to abdicate. It is not unkind of me to say that. Certainly it does not seem to me to be a straightforward attitude for him to have adopted in such a time of crisis, if he firmly believed that the step now taken by the King should not have been taken.
But there are other aspects of this question. It cannot be denied that the circumstances existing during the ten and a half months of the reign of Edward VIII. have brought about a state of affairs which has not met with the approval of the conservative element in British politics. His Majesty has shown a tendency to mix with the masses of the ^people. He has brought to the forefront the unsatisfactory conditions of the working class in England with a view to their immediate remedy. He has gone among the more unfortunate sections of the people in England. He has drawn attention to the necessity for relieving unemployment and removing slums so that his subjects might live decently. Undoubtedly, his efforts in this respect have exerted a powerful influence on the London County Council, and it has launched an extensive scheme to improve the housing conditions of the people coming under its control. Harbouring these thoughts in regard to the developments which have taken place during the period of the reign of Edward VIII., and also while he was Prince of Wales, we believe that behind this move and behind the propaganda indulged in overseas during the last week there are other and more deep-seated reasons than those already stated for the action taken by the British Government.
The King has seen fit to abdicate. Upon that decision none of us can offer any further comment. It was an issue upon which he had to decide for himself; but we regret it. He has passed from the sphere in which we all believed he would exercise a great influence for good, the benefits of which, I think, would have been shared by all, not only his subjects in the British dominions, hut also people generally throughout the world ; an influence which would Lave resulted in breaking down the strong opposition which is continuously manifesting itself against the development of social progress throughout the world. It “was to him that we looked for leadership in such matters, and it is because of the loss we have sustained in that respect that we deeply regret what has occurred.
His brother, the Duke of York, will take his place on the Throne. We shall extend to him, without reservation, all the courtesy, dignity and allegiance due to him as the occupant of the Throne. It is not my intention to make any reference that may bear the interpretation of disrespect, but I must say that, while we wish him well, we deeply regret the passing from the throne of Great Britain of the most democratic King who has ever occupied it, and who has exerted a great influence for the betterment of social conditions over the nations of the world.
– I do not propose to say anything about the general question which the House is considering, beyond that I should like to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) on lifting this discussion far above any petty controversy. My purpose in rising is to address myself to a question on which this House, I think, is entitled to have further information, and that is the question of the constitutional position with which we are confronted this morning. I propose to express my views on this matter with some care, because the event with which we have been dealing is without any precedent in the constitutional history of our race, and it is, therefore, proper that the Government, through me, should put on record its view of the constitutional position - its view of the various steps which fall to be taken when one King abdicates the Throne and another is in a position to succeed to it. In the first place I wish to deal with this matter entirely apart from the questions raised by the Statute of Westminster, and, indeed, by the new dominion status generally. I, therefore, propose, in the first instance, to discuss it as briefly as I can as a matter of British constitutionalism, and I shall indicate to what extent that position seems to me to require modification in the light of the position now occupied by the dominions.
This is the first occasion in the whole course of the constitutional history of our people on which a King has voluntarily abdicated the throne. Edward II. was deposed. Richard II. executed a deed of resignation, but, subsequently Parliament drew up articles against him and he was, in substance, deposed. James II., in 1688, was, in substance, driven out of the Kingdom and the Convention Parliament resolved that the King having “ violated the fundamental laws and withdrawn himself out of the Kingdom has abdicated the Government and the Throne is thereby vacant”. Subsequently, the “Declaration of Rights”, recited that James had abdicated the Government and the Throne was thereby vacant. The subsequent growth of constitutionalism in Great Britain, however, has been such that it is now the received view that a ruler’s abdication cannot be properly carried out without an act of Parliament. Honorable members have had put in their hands this morning a roneoed copy of the bill which has been introduced into the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and because the motion submitted by the Prime Minister refers to that bill, I am addressing myself to this matter in order that honorable members may be put into a position to understand just why that bill has been introduced, and just why this motion has been submitted. As I have said, the received view is that a royal abdication cannot be properly carried out without an act of parliament. The basis of this view is to be found in the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament. In connexion with the succession to the throne that view is compendiously stated by Dicey in his Law of the Constitution, 8th edition, page 41, as follows : -
This supreme legislative authority of Parliament is shown historically in a large number of instances. The descent of the Crown was varied and finally fixed under the Act of Settlement, .12 and 13, William III., c.2.; the King occupies the Throne under a Parliamentary title; his claim to reign depends upon, and is the result of, a Statute.
Another great constitutional authority, Maitland, in his Constitutional History of England, page 344, expresses a similar view somewhat more hesitantly -
There is, I think, no way in which a reigning King can cease to reign save by his death, by holding communion with the Church of Rome, professing the Popish religion or marrying a Papist, and possibly by abdication. I cannot regard the events of 1327, 1399 or 1688 as legal precedents. I can deduce no rule of law from them ; they seem to me precedents for a revolution, not for legal action.If we had a very bad King, we should very probably depose him; but unless ho consented to an Act of Parliament depriving him of the Crown, the deposition would be a revolution, not a legal process. Even the King’s power to abdicate, except by giving his assent to a Statute declaring his abdication, may, as it seems to me, be doubted.
Tas well-La ngmead, in his English Constitutional History,8th edition, pages 206-7, says-
But the theory of indefeasible hereditary right, fortified as it was by the Stuart addition of a sanction jure divino, utterly failed to take permanent root, and was finally extirpated by the revolution of 1688 and the subsequent -Act of Settlement, which entailed the Crown on the descendants of Sophia of Hanover. In that statute, Parliament, for the last time in our history, exercised its paramount right to settle the succession to the Crown; a right founded not. only in reason, but in the ancient principles of our constitution, and supported by long usage and a uniformity of theory and practice for centuries prior to the revolution.
The same view is taken in Halsbury’s Laws of England, second edition, vol. VI., pages 393-4, in which reference is made to the power of the Crown and Parliament to limit and bind the succession having been expressly affirmed by statute.
I do not desire to multiply references to leading authorities, but the passages I have quoted will be sufficient to show that the succession, to the British Throne in modern times depends essentially upon statute. It seems to me to follow inevitably from that fact that any alteration in the succession could not be brought, about merely by a Royal Proclamation or by a Deed of Abdication, but, must be achieved by the exercise of the power of Parliament. What is contained in a statute can he modified only by a statute. That is why the Deed of Abdication exhibited this morning is not, of its own force, sufficient to bring one reign to an end and cause another to begin. That is why, in the Parliament of the
United Kingdom to-day there is being discussed a bill to take up the Deed of Abdication; to give effect to it and to make those consequential changes which are necessary upon an alteration to the succession to the Throne.
It is of the greatest importance, constitutionally speaking, that the force of these propositions should be admitted and recognized, since the power of the Crown to-day depends upon its place in a well-balanced constitutional structure,. and not upon either the personal authority of the sovereign, or upon older ideas of his prerogative and rights.
Honorable members will observe that references are made in the motion and in the bill to two statutes, the Act of Settlement and the Royal Marriages Act. Each contains a section which requires some explanation. By virtue of section 1 of the Act of Settlement 1700, and of the Succession to the Crown Act 1707. the succession to the Throne is settled upon the heirs of the body of the Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover, being Protestants.
The Royal Marriages Act 1772, section 1, provides that, with certain exceptions, no descendant of George II. shall be capable of contracting matrimony without the previous consent of the King signified under the Great Seal, declared in Council, and entered in the Privy Council books. Since the consent of the King to his own marriage would appear to be rather anomalous, there has been a fairly general view that the Royal Marriages Act does not apply to the ruling sovereign. The operation of each of these acts must be considered if effect is to be given by Parliament to an abdication. In the case of the Act of Settlement and the Succession to the Crown Act, it is necessary to exclude from thesuccession the abdicating monarch and any children he may in future have. In the case of the Royal Marriages Act, it is desirable that the abdicating monarch should be freed from the restrictions upon his marriage contained in the act, restrictions which, while probably not attaching to him as King, would certainly attach to him if he had ceased to be King.
The King’s abdication, therefore, is being made to-day the subject of a bill for an act of Parliament of the United Kingdom. That act will give effect to His Majesty’s declaration of abdication, will bring about a demise of the Crown and the succession to the Throne of the member of the Royal Family next in succession under the law, will bar from the succession the abdicating King, his issue, if any, and the descendants of that issue, and will exclude him from the operation of the Royal Marriages Act.
Honorable members will notice that I have used the phrase “demise of the Crown “. I desire to offer an explanalion of those words because they are of importance to this Parliament, and to the other parliaments of the British Commonwealth of Nations. I now quote Halsbury’s Lawn of England, second edition. The appropriate passage states -
The Sovereign is regarded as legally immortal, the maxim of law being that “the King never dies “. The death of the Sovereign in his natural body is, therefore, termed legally his demise, meaning the transfer of the kingdom (demissio) to his successor.
For very many years the demise of the Crown had the effect of dissolving Parliament, vacating offices under the Crown, discontinuing legal processes, and so on. These disabilities have, in the interest of stable and continuous government and administration, been gradually removed from time to time. It is some long period of time since the demise of the Crown led to a dissolution of Parliament, and the last of the disabilities were removed as the result of certain trouble that arose on the death of Queen Victoria and the accession of Edward VII. The Demise of the Crown Act, 1901, completed the process by providing - I quote the exact words - that - the holding of any office under the Crown, whether within or without His Majesty’s dominions, shall not bc affected, nor shall any fresh appointment thereto be rendered necessary, by the demise of the Crown.
Honorable members will at once see the significance of that. If it were not for a provision of that kind, commissions issued to Governors-General, Governors, and those holding office under the Crown might all be affected and, in many eased terminated. It was earlier provided, as I have said, that the demise of the Crown should not affect the duration of an existing parliament.
As it is desired that all the benefit of this ameliorating legislation should be preserved on the abdication of the present King, and the accession of the new one, the legislation introduced in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and the motion introduced in the Commonwealth Parliament have both referred to the demise of the Crown, have both sought to approximate what is now being done to a demise of the Crown and to give that act legal effect in order that the consequences that I have described may follow from it.
That, as I see it, is the constitutional position that exists apart from the Statute of Westminster and apart from the new dominion status.
It is now necessary that I should say a few further words about the effect of the problem of the dominion status on what would normally, as I have described it, be the constitutional position. In 1926, at the Imperial Conference held in that year, a most famous resolution was carried, the best-known provision of which was in these terms: -
That Great Britain and the self-governing dominions are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Subsequent thereto, a further Imperial Conference was held in 1930, of which the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) can speak with first-hand knowledge. The deliberations of that conference gave rise to the passing of the Statute of Westminster through the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1931. The Statute of Westminster was assented to on the 11th December, 1931, and, by virtue of its terms, came into force on that date in the Dominion of Canada, the Union of South Africa and the Irish Free State.
– It is still on our notice-paper.
– Its principal operative provisions shall not come into force in the Commonwealth of Australia until adopted by the Parliament of the Commonwealth and, I am reminded by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), the bill is on our notice-paper. It has received its first reading. Certain of the provisions of the statute undoubtedly operate within the Commonwealth of Australia of their own force. The chief among these is the famous preamble which contains what I suppose are the most important recitals with regard to the position of the dominions or indeed any other governing bodies ever contained in an English Statute. That preamble contains two recitals in particular which are material to our purposes. They are the second recital and third recital. The second reads -
And whereas it is meet and proper to set out by way of preamble to this act that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all the members of the Commonwealth in relation to one another that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The third is-
And whereas it is in accord with the established constitutional position that no law hereafter made by the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall extend to any of the said dominions as part, of the law of that dominion otherwise than at the request and with the consent of the dominion.
It will be seen by honorable members, if they care to look again at the two recitals which I have just read, that to some extent they overlap. My own view is that the material recital for the present purposes is the second and not the third. I say that because it is the second which deals specifically with the succession to the Throne. That recital makes it clear that, in the present case, the alterations of the law touching the succession to the Throne, which are now being submitted to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, require the assent of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. That leaves one question which is, perhaps, a rather dry and technical question, to be considered, and that is the way in which this Parliament is to record its assent to the legislation of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
– What would the position be if this Parliament chose not to give its assent?
– If this Parliament, by whatever method it chose, refused to record assent, then the Constitutional Convention would not have been carried out, and a very grave question would arise as to whether the alteration of the succession would have any effect.
– It would upset the plot to depose the King.
– I do not want to bandy words about those entirely mythical delusions from which the honorable member is suffering. Upon reflection I see that the word “ mythical “ is redundant, and I shall just say “ delusions “.
The Commonwealth Parliament is being invited to express its assent by resolution of both Houses and not by act of Parliament. It is proper that I should explain to honorable members why that course has been chosen. There are two good reasons for adopting the course of giving assent by resolution. The first is that the Parliament of the Commonwealth is engaged in the business of assenting to a legal proposal, namely, an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which itself can have no operation without the. Royal assent. Therefore it would appear to me that to go through the formality of a second Royal Assent to the same proposition would involve something in the nature of an anomaly. In the second place, it is highly doubtful whether the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, the powers of which are enumerated in section °51 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution, has any direct power of its own motion to pass a substantive law dealing with the succession to the Throne. I have examined the provisions of section 51 and can find in it no legislative power which seems to me to touch the succession to the Throne. On the contrary, it is worthy of note that the preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act recites that the people of the various Australian colonies “have agreed to unite in one indissoluble federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland “. My own opinion is that this Parliament has no such power. But in anybody’s opinion the question of its power would be open to very great doubt. The most complete examination that has been made of these aspects of the Statute of “Westminster was made in a very elaborate, learned and informative opinion given last year to the Government of Victoria by Professor K. H. Bailey, professor of public law in the University of Melbourne. That opinion has been printed and circulated, and I shall be glad to arrange for any honorable member who would like to have it to be provided with a copy. It is an extraordinarily stimulating document. In the course of it, and dealing with this point, Professor Bailey very largely discusses the effect of section 2 (2) of the Statute of Westminster itself. That section is not yet in force in Australia, and consequently his views have to be modified to that extent. But at the same time he states quite clearly a conclusion to which I personally adhere. That conclusion, which is stated at page 9 of his opinion, is in these terms -
Not without some anxiety, as I have said, I have come to the conclusion that the new Convention concerning the succession recited in the preamble of the statute, does not oblige me to a construction of section 2, which would actually add new subject-matters to the legislative power of the Commonwealth Parliament.
I have taken the responsibility of advising the Commonwealth Government that that also is my own opinion and that, for both reasons, the correct procedure in the present case is for the Parliament of the Commonwealth, by resolution of both Houses, to indicate its assent to the proposed alteration of the law touching the succession to the Throne.
In conclusion, may I say this: I have stated with some fullness the constitutional position as I see it, in remarkable and unprecedented circumstances. Although very naturally our interest is directed to, and our emotions are stirred by, the personal drama of the King’s proposed marriage, our primary duty as a Parliament in a British community is to preserve the constitutional rights of both the Parliament and the people, established in their modern form 30Q years ago, and brought to full power by generations of our predecessors in the responsibility of government.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
– We are now passing through a period of crisis, the significance of which we shall not be able to understand for a long time, and the results of which we cannot foresee. The British State has been described as a charter of anomalies. It reconciles a traditional monarchy having all the habit of obedience behind it, with the fullest realization of parliamentary democracy. The powers of government, formerly personally exercised by the King, are now exercised by him on the advice of certain persons. Executive acts are done by him on the advice of Ministers; acts of Parliament are his acts, but can only be passed with the advice and consent of the legislature. In theory, he still judges, and as far as we are concerned, he is the final judge. An appeal to the Privy Council is an appeal to His Majesty. All these things, as I have said, are consistent with the fullest parliamentary democracy. We have the advantage of a system that has behind it the habit of obedience, the habit that the people have developed from realizing that the monarchy goes on from time to time without interruption ; that the eldest son naturally succeeds his father as King. Twice there have been great dislocations of this system - in the year 1399 and again in the event that is described as the English Revolution. I pass over the military revolution of 1642, which culminated in the execution of the King. Two revolutions have been executed by act of Parliament. In 1399, Parliament either accepted the abdication of Richard II. or deposed him, and then decided that the Royal power should be vested in a younger branch of the Royal house - the House of Lancaster - passing over the elder branch, the House of York. We know that, within the course of a century, there occurred in England a great civil war between the deposed or pretermitted elder branch and the preferred younger branch; that struggle resulted in the destruction of parliamentary institutions in England and the arbitrary rule of the Tudors, which the Stuarts attempted to continue. The other change was the English Revolution. One can say that it was not until the accession of GeorgeIII. in 1760 that the new House was safely on the Throne. All these occurrences indicate that it is of tremendous importance to us that we should not disturb the continuity of the Royal succession and should not make changes in it except under the greatest possible force of necessity.
I feel constrained to say that I do not accept the statement made by the right honorable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) as a full and complete relation of all the unfortunate events that have led up to the present position. I base that on the internal evidence of his own statement. The right honorable gentleman has said that he advised that the marriage of the King to a twice-divorced woman, and her acceptance as Queen, would meet with general disapproval. I submit that that clearly indicates that it was in the contemplation of both the Sovereign himself and his Imperial advisers that the King would marry the lady of his choice and make her the Queen of England, and that the proposal for a morganatic marriage was only an alternative. If that be not so, then I do not understand the Prime Minister’s statement, and cannot understand other statements that I have read. From what the Prime Minister has said, it appears to he perfectly obvious that there was in contemplation the possibility of the King marrying this lady and making her the Queen Consort of England, and the children of the marriage becoming heirs to the Throne.
– The King at no stage suggested it.
– Then I think that the Prime Minister did a great wrong in giving voluntarily advice that was unnecessary - in suggesting that the people of this country would not tolerate the King marrying the person whom he wished to marry. The law of England and of Scotland recognizes divorce. An Englishman or a Scotsman may marry freely a divorced person. There is only one restriction, and it shows the exact tenor of the British law. Let me remind honorable members that the act of 1857 merely gave to judges the power to grant divorces, which Parliament had been granting for nearly two centuries previously; prior to that enactment a rich man could obtain a divorce by act of Parliament but a poor man was denied such relief. Ten out of fifteen of the bench of bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, voted for the second reading. That law contained the significant provision that a divorced person should be as free to marry as though his spouse were dead. It also provided that a clergyman of the Church of England should not be compelled to marry the guilty party to a divorce; but it went on to say that, although he himself might refuse to marry such a guilty party he could not permit his parish church to be used by another person for the solemnization of such a marriage. Here we are dealing with a lady who has been twice divorced ; she was the petitioner in both cases and the divorces were obtained by her. There is no suggestion that she was the guilty party. This is the very point which was raised before the Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes in 1912. The Bishop of St. Albans, in evidence before the commission, pointed out that under the law as it then existed in England, an English clergyman was compellable to marry a man who, by the law of his domicil, had obtained a divorce on the ground of incompatability. In protesting against that provision in the law, His Lordship did not ask that a remarriage in such circumstances should he rendered unlawful; he merely asked that a clergyman should he protected against punishment if he refused_ to marry the divorced person. The Royal Commissioners replied that while they respected the feelings of the people represented by the Bishop of St. Albans, they reminded him that a great number of people, both laity and clergy, had a different opinion and that their freedom of conscience and action must also be pro- tected. Scotland has had divorce laws since 1560, and, since 1573, desertion has been regarded as a ground for divorce. As Lord Salvesen j>ointed out, there have been no cases of persons divorced in Scotland being refused remarriage in the Episcopal Church, of which the Church of England is a branch. Outside of England, the church is a voluntary association which makes any rules it likes for its own members, but in England it is subject to the law. As the Chancellor of the Diocese of St. Albans said, there is no difference between the law of England and the law of the Church of England. A person cannot be punished for celebrating a marriage within the law; in fact, he is legally bound to do so. lt seems to me very wrong that in a matter entirely affecting his private relations, the King should have been interfered with. He is as much entitled to make his own choice as Queen Victoria was, when she chose her Prince Consort without consultation with anybody; she herself has said that she told Prince Albert that she wanted to marry him, and then broke the news to the Privy Council that she intended to marry him. King Edward VIII. was similarly entitled to make his own choice, and I think it is a tremendous calamity that the tranquility of this country and the habit of obedience should be dislocated by persons thrusting .their advice on His Majesty in a matter affecting his own personal relations. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister that no parliament could countenance either a. morganatic marriage or such an alteration of the law as would put the wife of the King in a lower position than that occupied by the consorts of past kings. But I believe that that project was proposed only because officious persons - and I am not excepting the Prime Minister - have forced upon the King gratuitous advice that his marriage to the woman of his choice would not meet with the approval of his people.
– It was the only proposition ever made by His Majesty.
Mr. WARD (East Sydney) [11.441.- After having listened to the discussion this morning I think it will at least be agreed by a majority of the right-think ing members of the community that the decision of the monarch to abdicate was not a voluntary one; he was compelled to take the course he did. However, nothing teaches like experience, and 1 feel sure that much good will come out of the experience through which the people of this and other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations have passed during the constitutional crisis. It has long been stated in the speeches and propaganda of the Labour party and other organizations which hold similar views that the monarch is nothing more than a symbol of British imperialism and the capitalist class, but the result of all their work is as naught in comparison with the education that the workers have received as a result of the disclosure of the details of the conspiracy which has now reached its culminating point. A great deal has been made of the proposed marriage of the King. I am satisfied that that was not the only objection which the British Government had to the King remaining on the throne. Personally, I believe that the King, as a member of the community, exercises very little power. That has been pointed out very clearly to-day by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) and the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn). The King is a mere cypher who is expected to give approval to the decisions of the dominating class in the community. The only offence the King has committed, which is unforgiveable by these people, is that of not being prepared on all occasions to say what they wanted him to say or do what they wanted him to do. As a matter of fact, though these imperialists to-day say that the King should not have proposed marriage at all to n divorced woman, not one of them, and not one honorable member of this chamber, has suggested that there is anything wrong with the character of the woman whom His Majesty proposed to marry; not one member of the British Parliament or of this Parliament has suggested that she is immoral. Why, may I ask. have we this sudden desire on the part of these self-styled puritans to protect the morals of the King? We are now discussing the happenings of the past few weeks, but the American journals for months past have been full of the King’s relations with Mrs. Simpson. While the King was holidaying in Europe in company with this woman it was known in the United States of America and in other parts of the world that there was some sort of alliance between them. But these moralists shut their eyes to the true circumstances because so long as the King was prepared to act in every way as they desired as the mouthpiece of British capitalism they were prepared to permit him to live an immoral life; he could have had Mrs. Simpson as his mistress, and not one voice of protest would have been raised by members of this Government or the Government of the United Kingdom. They said they were not prepared to agree to a morganatic marriage, and, as the ‘Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has said, with that viewpoint the Opposition agrees. I am not ready to believe, however, that the suggestion put forward as an alternative to abdication was made voluntarily by the King, because, in examining the statement made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) this morning, we find that the information that the King proposed to marry Mrs. Simpson first came under the notice of the right honorable gentleman on the 28th November last. On that date this Parliament was in session, and in reply to questions addressed to him in regard to the matter the Prime Minister said that he had no information to convey to honorable members. At that time he had not conveyed to the British Government the views of the Australian Government in regard to the proposed morganatic marriage; and. according to his own statement, the views of the Australian Government were not conveyed to the British Government until the 5 th December, just one week after he had received the intimation from the British Government that the King proposed to marry Mrs. Simpson. It is evident that Mr. Baldwin had informed the King that, if he married Mrs. Simpson, she would become Queen of England; that the Government would not agree to this; and that the King then suggested the morganatic marriage as a compromise. I should like to know upon whose authority the Prime Minister acted when he con- veyed to the British Government an assurance that no government would be formed in the Commonwealth of Australia if the present Government were to resign as the result of the King’s rejection of the advice tendered to him. The right honorable gentleman stated that he had sufficient information to warrant his making that intimation to the British authorities. As a matter of fact, he had no authority to make such a statement, and thereby mislead opinion abroad as to the attitude of the Australian Labour party in this crisis. I believe that the Prime Minister has been guilty of a conspiracy with the leaders of the British Government to bring about the deposition of the King. The reason why they desired to do this is that His Majesty declined to act as a pliable tool in the hands of the British imperialists who have been directing the operations of the British Government. If the King had been prepared to do just what he was expected to do and to say the things expected of him, he could, according to the standards set up by many honorable members opposite, have had as many mistresses as he wanted. The mere fact that the King proposed marriage to Mrs. Simpson has only been used as a pretext in this particular instance. I warn honorable members that there is no occasion for them to be very elated over the success of the Government which they support, in enforcing abdication of the King, because no action by any other member of the British Commonwealth of Nations has so weakened the position of the Crown as has the action taken by the present Government. The great majority of people had believed in the past that the ruling monarch was the symbol of unity among the various peoples composing the British Commonwealth of Nations. The King was popularly supposed to he the personal guarantor of the liberties of every individual subject, when, as a matter of fact, he was not in possession of sufficient power to preserve even his own liberty. I believe that every right-thinking person will agree that no section of the community is entitled to privileges above those enjoyed by any other section: likewise, no man, from the highest to the lowest, should be debarred from enjoying the same privileges as arc enjoyed by his fellows. In my opinion, the King was quite within his rights in choosing this woman to be his wife. It has been stated that the principal, objection to the selection by the King of this lady for his wife was that she had been divorced on two previous occasions. Speaking from memory, I understand that certain members of the Government who objected to the King marrying a divorced woman have themselves adopted that practice in the past-
– Order ! Personal references of that nature in regard to honorable members arc distinctly out of order.
– It is the truth that hurts.
– That is not a reflection on honorable members, because they were quite within their legal rights in so acting; but the point 1 wish to emphasize is that they are attempting to set up for the King a standard of conduct different from their own. The fact that the governments of Great Britain and the dominions have refused to recognize the right, of the King to marry whomsoever ho pleases, and their submission of that advice to him was, in my opinion, in this ease an affront to a friendly nation, the lady in question being a subject of the United States of America. According to some statements published in. the press, and the utterances of many honorable members of this House in the lobbies since this discussion arose, I understand that one of the objections to M’rs. Simpson becoming the wife of the King was that her mother at one. time kept lodgers in Baltimore; there would be no objection, I gather, if the King had chosen a wife from a selected few who had been indicated to him. If Mrs. Simpson had been one of the eligible princesses of one of the European courts, I do not suppose that honorable members would have made a close examination of the morals of the proposed wife. All that they would have been concerned about was whether the wife chosen by the King was a member of a particular class in the community, and that her personal influence would be in the direction of inducing the King to continue to act as the dominant capitalist class desired. According to their viewpoint, the King’s offence was not his intention to marry, but first that he chose a woman whom, the English “snobs” regarded as a commoner; and secondly, that he was directing attention to matters which he considered that, he, in his capacity of Sovereign, should bring under the notice of the Government. Evidently the Conservative party - which is of the same political colour as the Government party in this Parliament - disapproved of the fact that the King had moved among the unemployed and visited working-class areas in which the workers were striking, with a view to obtaining better conditions. Prom the viewpoint of the capitalists the King had been very difficult to handle. He was not prepared, when visiting those areas, to deliver speeches which had been carefully prepared for him. On at least one occasion, His Majesty indicated his support for striking workmen against capitalistic domination by making a donation of £1,000 to their strike funds for the purpose of assisting their womenfolk and children. The donation in itself was not a large amount, in comparison with the income cf (he King; but the unforgiveable sin which he had committed was the fact that he, as Sovereign, had indicated by his action, that he disapproved of the policy of the capitalists of Great Britain in oppressing the working class and unnecessarily inflicting starvation conditions upon them. That was his sin! It is stated that the King’s act of abdication was voluntary. Who is to say whether or not it was voluntary? Who is to say whether or not the Prime Minister fold honorable members all the facts of the case in the statement which he made to this Parliament The reigning monarch has not had the opportunity to speak in this regard. The parliaments from one end of the British Commonwealth of Nations to the other have been silenced by the various parties which dominate them at the moment. They have not had an opportunity to obtain the full facts or to express their opinions upon the abdication. The whole of the broadcasting systems, and the newspapers, which are generally controlled by the capitalists who wanted the deposition of the King, have been able, by innuendo and suggestions of immorality on the part of Hi3 Majesty and the woman whom he desired to marry, to blind the people to the real issue involved. My advice to the people is not to become greatly excited in connexion with the fact that we have one monarch on the throne in the place of another. The workers will still have to sweat and toil for British capitalism and imperialism. What they should learn as the result of the abdication of King Edward VIII. is that, in this country, a dominant class are determined to maintain their position in the social structure, and are ruthless in dealing with any person who may do anything contrary to their bidding, whether he be King or pauper. The workers should further realize that justice will never prevail throughout the length and breadth of the British Commonwealth of Nations until our economic fabric has been completely reconstructed. That is one lesson which they should learn from the abdication of the King. They should profit from the experience gained in this matter, and prepare for the future. They should also determine that, at the earliest opportunity, they will prevent or terminate this rule of the oppressors - not only in Australia, but also throughout the British Commonwealth of Nations - whose sole objective in obtaining and retaining control of parliaments and all the machinery of government, is to sweat and exploit the people in order that the selected few of the community may live in luxury and ease at the- expense of the great majority. That is the value to the workers of the present situation. The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) outlined the various legal processes that will be necessary in order to give effect to the act which had already been forced on the King himself by the conspiracy between the Baldwin Government in Great Britain and the antiLabour Government of Australia. We have no alternative but to accept them. It is true that the King has declared, by his own hand, that his step is irrevocable, and that there can be no turning back from the course which he himself has decided to take.
But honorable members should have an opportunity to examine closely all the available evidence and to study all the details. We should not be satisfied to accept the declaration of the Prime Minister in this chamber this morning that all the facts have been presented to the House. The oath of allegiance to His Majesty the King, taken by ministerial members in this chamber some time ago, was not so much an oath of allegiance to the King personally as it was an oath to maintain the existing economic system. That is the only oath of allegiance that those honorable members generally have taken. My advice to the workers is to remember that a day will come, just as soon as they are prepared so to will it, when the reign of the dominant class will end. They will be relieved of their ills which have been brought about by the dominance of the same class as has successfully conspired to bring about the deposition of a reigning monarch who was sufficiently outspoken not only to express sympathy with the working classes but also to say with determination that their conditions would have to be improved.
.- Whether one regards the monarchial system as excellent or merely the best possible in the stage of political evolution in which mankind finds itself, any legislative act or suggestion which affectsthe condition, status, or freedom of the reigning monarch is of vital, even if only temporary, interest to every man, woman and child within the British Empire. We have been called together under most peculiar circumstances. Outside the score of a musical comedy or the pages of a. sensational historical romance, I know of nothing comparable with the circumstances with which the members of this House are now faced. At such a time it behoves us to face the crisis as calmly as a medical man would face a crisis in the sick room: Our duty is to consider the motion without the heat and prejudice of partisanship. Let us shed that hypocrisy which plays such a tremendous and catastrophic part in some of the big issues of public life, and display courage, coolness, honesty and knowledge which should be the only standards to guide us in the revision of legislative enactments or decrees. Since the House can arrive at a just, honest and honorable decision only by considering human souls in the communion of social service let me present the subject to the House as it appeals to me.
In 1914 - that year of disaster and pathetic memory - Great Britain was rent almost asunder with industrial turmoil. Those who “ had not “ were very rightly questioning the right and the privilege of those who had plenty to make a travesty of that old British boast: “ Britons never shall be slaves “. Alas ! We know too well what happened. The desire of the people of Great Britain for industrial emancipation was crashed into oblivion by the haying of the hounds of war. How far the entry of Great Britain into that welter of carnage was an excuse to smash the hopes of the workers, I do not know. I can but suspect. History has yet to give an answer.
When the war was over the people of the British Empire found that many of their most cherished ideals had been buried beneath the debris of the conflict. We came out of that war more enslaved than we had been for a century. The evils attendant on a man-manufactured war became accelerated in action, and accentuated in intensity and audacity by a man-manufactured depression which settled upon the world like the soot of hell desecrating the pristine purity of the dews of heaven. So we muddled on. The corpses of those who fell in the grim struggle for existence became the cobblestones on the path of life over which troop those who still stagger on. They are hopeless, bereft of faith, and sullenly conscious that the vultures of exploiters are feasting alike upon their bodies and upon that great communal activity which we call the national soul.
In the course of time King George died, and King Edward succeeded to the throne. As Prince of Wales King Edward had seen, on the corpse-strewn fields of Europe, the evils of governments. He had seen the evils of capitalism in the workless hunger-infested areas of England, Scotland and Wales. By land, sea and air he had travelled. There is not one spot that he visited, where though God is worshipped in name, he did not find the idols of mammon supreme, and the ideal of justice subordinated to the expediencies of temporal inequalities and iniquities. As a man he must have seen and appreciated to the full, the terrible fact that hypocrisy was the dominating, aye, the domineering dictator of civilization. In the fullness of time the Prince became a King - that rare specimen of all kings - who appraised at their true value, the words of Shakespeare, “ The evil that men do lives after them “. King Edward did not, would not, and probably could not, permit his advisers to make him accept sordid convention as constitutionalism. We heard of the critics at his accession who said : “ His new responsibilities will prevent him from giving utterance to radical thoughts. He is now a King”. Fortunately he was a King who subordinated the glories of office to the majesties of manhood. Conditions in the Empire over which he ruled are not as they should be and he said so. He said, in effect, that the shame and sham of starving communities in England and Wales cried aloud for prompt reform and instant redress. I desire to he assured that the offence for which the King is now being subjected to an iniquitous inquisition is not the articulation of his spiritual ardour, which dared to condemn all that tended to brutalize and destroy that greatest of God’s creation, the mammal Man, to arrest the development of man and desecrate the glories of progress with retrogression. I realize that the King has given offence to a section of the church, because, it is alleged, he desired to marry a woman who had been twice divorced. I do not propose to question the religious scruples of any man, but I say with all the earnestness that I can command, that it is hypocritical for British or dominion legislatures to attack the King, or the lady on whom his choice has fallen, because the contemplated action is contrary to the laws of the church. It is these legislatures which have made divorce easy. I do not know if any honorable member is a divorced man; but I know that honorable members have given tacit, approval to our divorce’ laws. That being so, it is hypocrisy to take the attitude that has been adopted.
– The word “hypocrisy “ is unparliamentary, and the honorable member must not use it in regard to honorable members.
– All I can say is that in a House in which sinners predominate, 1 refuse to cast the first stone. At least by this method I can obey the judicial law that the Nazarene imposed upon His followers : “ Judge not, and ye shall not he judged ; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned.” Insofar as the King is concerned, I appreciate his outspokenness against the worst evils of capitalism, and I agree with his indictment of that godlessness which prates of godliness - “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” Moreover, I would direct the attention of honorable members to the fact that the founders of the Commonwealth in their wisdom made it obligatory upon members of this House to put before the people by referendum any proposed amendment of the Constitution. I have sworn to uphold the Constitution. That carries with it a moral obligation. If I am not to be foresworn - if I am to remain loyal to the Australian Constitution - I must submit to my masters, the people, every question of constitutional reform. The Prime Minister and his friends may, or may not, recognize that a moral obligation rests upon every one of us to consult the people in every matter of constitutional alteration and amendment. The King is part of the Constitution. Whatever may be denied to the King in any other part of the Empire, should not be denied to him in Australia. After a short reign of a little more than ten months the King has been dethroned by a Machiavellian intrigue of backstairs origin. The most popular monarch ever to succeed to the Throne has been removed even before he could be crowned. Instead of being a royal cypher, King Edward VIII. proved himself a. most capable leader of intelligent action in the cause of the underdog. But such an assault upon the citadel of the princes of privilege could not be tolerated even from a King! So Edward VIII. was dethroned.
We now have an opportunity, by means of this motion, to express the opinion that every citizen of the British Commonwealth of Nations should enjoy equal rights. Certain speakers have made it clear that sonic subjects of the King do not enjoy the same rights as others of his subjects. This should be remedied. Why should we not take the opportunity to assert the view that this great question should he submitted for consideration throughout the Empire? The Attorney-General, in the course of his speech, cited certain constitutional authorities to indicate that some inhabitants of the British Empire have no rights whatsoever in respect to the occupancy of the Throne. If the King in his wisdom had chosen a bride from among such people Parliament would have had to recognize the choice. I submit, therefore, that now is the time to take action to ensure equality to every person who claims citizenship in the British Commonwealth of Nations. If that were clone, no such question could arise in any subsequent problem relating to succession to the Throne.
.- This week has been one of very considerable strain upon the feelings of private members of this Parliament. We assumed from the message to return received by us after we had left Canberra last week-end that it would probably bc necessary for us to pass legislation this week consequent upon the contingency which has now arisen. Although we knew, in our own minds, that therewas a distinct probability of this eventuality arising we had no information before us to enable us to decide for ourselves whether such a crisis was inevitable. For that reason the week has been particularly trying. We should have been very much easier in our minds had we known whether the views of His Majesty the King himself upon this crisis had been obtained by the Government, and also whether some message of loyalty and encouragement had been despatched to His Majesty from the Government. Wo should have welcomed this information, for it would have shown us clearly that His Majesty’s own opinions upon the particular issues raised had been ascertained. In the absence of such information we, as private members, were not in a position to form a definite opinion as to the desirability of or necessity for, any proposed course of action.
The statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to-day has clarified our minds considerably. The right honorable gentleman lias told us - and this is one of the most significant of the statements that he made to-day - that the Xing himself expressed to Mr. Baldwin the view that a marriage by which Mrs. Simpson would become his Queen was out of the question. Many of us who would have been prepared to hold that it was the right of any man, whatever Iris station, to choose his own wife, were convinced by the statement of the Prime Minister that it was not, at any stage, the intention of His Majesty that Mrs. Simpson should become his Queen. Therefore, the statement by His Majesty that it was his desire to marry Mrs. Simpson in circumstances which would not make her his Queen undoubtedly clarified the. position. AVe have also been informed that there were direct communications between this Government and the King himself, and that the Prime Minister, with the concurrence of the Government, and with, I believe, the full approval of the people of Australia, sent to His Majesty a message expressing loyalty and urging 1 1 i in to reconsider his decision to abdicate. The occurrence which has befallen us is to me a major calamity. From my earliest recollections the present King, first as Prince of Wales, and latterly as King, lias had my complete allegiance. Many of us in this chamber have lived during the reigns of several monarchs; but those of us who have grown to maturity in the years following the war, and who have known only King George V. and his son as monarchs have always regarded the latter with feelings of peculiar loyalty. Even when he was Prince of Wales we looked upon him as our future Ruler. The knowledge that lie has now relinquished the throne strikes us the more deeply because we have long realized his lively appreciation of the difficulties and perplexities of those who reached adult age in the years following the war. Ife realized so clearly that we were passing through a period of great social and economic change, during which institutions that had been the bulwarks of other generations had been severely criticized, and many of them shaken. Because we believed that he understood us. and we looked to him to lop off from the tree of tradition the dead brandies which threatened to interfere with its healthy growth within the British Empire, we realize with feelings of the utmost dismay his impending abdication. .1 repeat that, had His Majesty chosen to select any woman, to whom lie was legally entitled to be married, as his Queen, I, for one, would not have hesitated in my loyalty to him. We have, however, the satisfaction of knowing that the King who is to follow him is his own brother, and that, obviously, there has been the fullest discussion between the members of the Royal Family in regard to the abdication and the succession to the throne. We have also the happiest recollections of the visit to Australia of the Duke and Duchess of York, and I am certain that all honorable members of this House, and, indeed, all the people of Australia, will tender to them the same allegiance, and will repose in them the same trust, as they have at all times given to King Edward VIII.
.- The subject which this Parliament is discussing to-day is of great importance to Australia. Notwithstanding that, on the Prime Minister’s own admission, the possibility of the present situation arising has been known to the Government since the 28th November, Parliament is now asked merely to acquiesce in a fait accompli. That position was foreseen by the Opposition before Parliament adjourned last week, for it will be remembered that one member of 1he Opposition and one supporter of the composite Government referred to the projected marriage of the King and the important constitutional issues involved, and suggested that the opinion of Parliament should lie obtained. The Government, however, net only declined to give to the Parliament any information, but it also refused to give to it an opportunity to discuss the matter. Accordingly, Parliament adjourned; but, a few days later, it was summoned hurriedly.
Even then, after honorable members had assembled from all parts of Australia, it met merely to enable the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to make a statement, which contained no information of value. So far, Parliament ha3 heard only one side of the case. Despite the risk of being accused of lowering the tone of the debate, I express the opinion that it is the duty of members of this Parliament to probe this matter and to express their views, in relation not only to the attitude of the Government, but also as to the responsibility of Parliament in this matter. Even though it may be too late to remedy what I can only describe as a monstrous injustice, I see no reason why members of this Parliament should not express their opinions.
The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) has dealt fully with the legal position, and I have no intention to discuss the subject from that standpoint, other than to say that it appears that Parliament must vote either for or against the motion to support the action of the British Government in deciding to place a new King on the Throne. Should it record a negative vote, Australia would be without a King. There is a possibility that, in that event, Great Britain also would be without a King. I base that opinion on the language contained in the preamble to the Statute of Westminster that “ any alteration in the law, touching the succession to the Throne shall thereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom “. The Attorney-General has said that refusal to agree to the motion would not affect Australia, but I suggest that it would affect, not only Australia, but also Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and New Zealand. Unless the Parliament of each of those countries carries a similar resolution, or passes legislation to the same effect, the act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom would probably not be effective in causing the Duke of York to become King of Great Britain. As I have said, this Parliament has no alternative; it must either accept or reject the motion now before it. In the circumstances, the King having signified his intention to abdicate - he was placed in such a position that he had no choice but to abdicate - we also are in the position of having no choice. Foreseeing the position which has arisen, the Opposition urged that Parliament should be allowed to express its view, so that King Edward VIII. might know whether there was, in the parliament of one of his dominions, support for any other course which he might have suggested. The Prime Minister refused to give to the Parliament any information relating to the communications which passed between the Commonwealth Government and the Governments of the United Kingdom and the other British dominions. What meagre information honorable members have obtained has been gathered from the press reports of statements published in the English newspapers. It has been said in Great Britain that the dominions, particularly Australia, took the lead in this matter, and that the Parliament of the United Kingdom was strengthened in its determination by the knowledge that the governments of the dominions were behind it. It was also stated that the people of the dominions supported their governments; but it was impossible to say whether that was so, or not. There was no authority for saying that any dominion parliament supported the Baldwin Government. Judging by the remarks made by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, we have reason to believe to-day that all members of the Government party do not acquiesce in the advice given by the Prime Minister. That view supports the argument of honorable members on this side of the House, that the matter under discussion should have been debated openly in Parliament before it was too late to do so, in order that this Parliament could have by its vote expressed its opinion on the question at issue. The Opposition sought repeatedly to have this procedure followed, but was met by a conspiracy of silence on the part of the Government, with the result that His Majesty, in addition to not being a King, in the position to make his own beliefs known, was unable to learn the views of his subjects, except those that were individually cabled overseas.
Numerous statements have been made in the press in regard to this matter which have been proved to be quite untrue. In the first place, we were led to believe that the Baldwin Government took the first step. Several days later it became common knowledge that it was the King who took the first step by asking the Government of Great Britain for its opinion on certain aspects. As we were informed by the Prime Minister to-day - and I have no reason to disbelieve the statement - the King consulted the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and informed him that it was his intention to marry the lady upon whom his choice had fallen. Another statement made in the press was to the effect, that Major Attlee, the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of Great Britain, had stated that his party would not form a government if called upon. That statement was subsequently emphatically denied by Major Attlee; but it had already obtained wide credence; it had been circulated throughout the world, and, as we know, it is impossible to overtake a lie once it has been circulated through the press; no number of denials can catch. up with it. This particular lie is merely on a level with those circulated in the Australian press regarding the meetings of this Parliament on last Wednesday and yesterday, in connexion with which it was reported that there had been scenes in this chamber. Those statements were deliberate untruths. In accordance with their rights, some honorable members on this side of the House interposed certain interjections, but altogether the sittings on both occasions were most orderly.
– Hear, hear !
– That much the Attorney-General admits; yet the press of Australia, including that of this capital city, stated that on both those occasions there were scenes in this Parliament, the inference being that members of the Labour party, as the Opposition, were making scenes in this House on matters of great public importance. That is merely an example of the unfair criticism that is directed at honorable members of this Parliament. It is, indeed, an example of the unfair criticism to which the King himself has been subjected. It is merely one phase of the attitude adopted by certain individuals against any one who endeavours to support the King, who himself was not in a position to make any statement.
It has become apparent that the suggestion of a morganatic marriage was made by His Majesty as a compromise. Many members of the community, including members of this Parliament, whether or not they believe divorce is right or wrong, recognize that divorce is the law of the land, and believe that the highest in the land is as much subject, to the law as is the lowest in the land. Just as the lowest subject in the realm is entitled to claim the full privileges which may exist under any divorce law, the highest in the land, namely, the King, is equally entitled to claim the privilege of that law, just as he would be liable to the law for any wrongdoing on his part. It appears, however, that without much discussion being allowed on his being entitled to marry the lady of his choice, His Majesty was practically placed in a wrong position, and he suggested a compromise; but the Government of Great Britain, having got him in that position, immediately denied him its support for a morganatic marriage. Honorable members on this side of the House agree with that. We were not in favour of altering the law to suit the King. But that is a different thing from forcing the King to suggesting a compromise. I believe that a great many of His Majesty’s subjects believe that the King is entitled, according to the law of the land, just as much as any of his subjects, to marry a person who happens to have been divorced. This particular marriage could not possibly have taken place within the next five months, so that once the Baldwin Government had come to a decision against a morganatic marriage, the position could have ‘been left as it was until the King chose to take a further step in one direction or the other. Indecent haste, however, hai characterized all of the actions of the Government in this matter.
– The honorable member should not say that. This is not indecent haste.
– I was referring lo the attitude of the British Parliament and of the press. I admit that the Government, of which the honorable gentleman is a Minister, never shows any indecent haste in deciding anything of any moment whatever. If it is a matter of following the British Government, it just does what the British Government does. It waits, no matter for how long a period, until the British Government has come to a decision, or until its representative in Australia has notified it of the British Government’s decision, and then hastens to follow suit. That procedure has been exemplified in this matter; it is similar to that followed by this Government recently when we were nearly rushed into war with Italy. The British Government decides what is to be done, and this Government merely acquiesces. Whether it be a matter of war with another nation, or the deposing of a king, whatever th, Baldwin Government does is right. At any rate, that is the attitude of the present Commonwealth Government.
I believe that this whole matter reeks with intrigue, and that the King has not been treated fairly. Developments in this instance prove just how little substance there is in the idle words we hear so often spoken about British fair play. That fact is exemplified whenever certain forces want to come to n certain decision. In this instance, this Government tied up the wireless broadcasting services so that no statement could be made in support of His Majesty. Almost all the newspapers have attacked him bitterly, although only a little earlier they had steadfastly professed their loyalty to him. Those interests which were always in the forefront in waving flags and boasting of their loyalty to the Throne, and were the most subservient in making such professions of loyalty, have been the most eager to drive their King from his throne, and to drive him. into exile because he has proved lo be too democratic for them. They have regarded this position which has so suddenly arisen as a heaven-sent opportunity to get rid of him. At any rate, that is my opinion, and I believe it to bc the opinion of millions of His Majesty’s subjects throughout the world.
We arc all agreed that Parliament must bc supreme, but that does not mean that we must agree with every action, or decision, of a foolish, or futile, Executive. The attitude of those now opposed to the King was made very clear when they refused to let the town halls in Melbourne and in Sydney for the purpose of holding meetings in support of His Majesty. They would not permit one word to be heard in his favour. They would not even allow members of this Parliament to speak, and the King himself, by constitutional etiquette, was not allowed to say a word in his own behalf. The whole proceeding constitutes a monstrous injustice, the like of which has seldom been seen in British history. Now we arc told that the King has voluntarily abdicated the throne. Those who say that do not know the meaning of the word “ voluntarily “. In England, The Times. the most conservative and reactionary of ail the newspapers there, gradually increased the pressure on His Majesty as it felt that he might not abdicate in time. In the last few issues before the abdication, this newspaper explained that the closing days of the life of King George V. were troubled by a sense of insecurity. Later it added that, in the interests of trade and commerce - that is, big business - the King must come to a decision as quickly as possible, and this, notwithstanding the fact that no decision was called for until another five months had elapsed. Even if we were all wholeheartedly behind the Government we must admit that there was no need to take any action until that period of time had elapsed. Why was there such haste to get the new King on to the Throne? This incident has demonstrated the power wielded by certain interests in Great Britain. We are entitled to ask why the Ministers of the Crown in England saw fit to interfere with the domestic affairs of His Majesty? The Prime Minister of England holds a position of tremendous importance, but no one suggests that the Government should scrutinize his domestic affairs. His own choice of a wife is unfettered, and the same applies to the Prime Minister of this country, and to the members of this Parliament. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister of Great Britain took it upon himself to declare that the King could not marry the lady of his choice although, in five months’ time, when it was proposed that the marriage should take place, there could be no possible legal objection to it.
Another example of the lack of loyalty in those who formerly most loudly professed this virtue is found in the wild and lying rumours that have been in circulation regarding the King and Mrs. Simpson. All this is in line with the recent attitude of the Government in this Parliament regarding another lady whose character was attacked on evidence which would have no efficacy in any court of law.
One important fact which emerges from this controversy is that the actions of the Government of Great Britain and of the Commonwealth Government have certainly not tended to strengthen the institution of the Monarchy. Those who formerly boasted to be most enthusiastic supporters of the Monarchy have done most to undermine it. Of course, we shall all offer the new King our unqualified loyalty, and we do not blame him for the position which has arisen.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15p.m.
– It appears to me that the result of what has happened within the last few days must necessarily be a weakening of the respect for and support of the Throne, coupled also with a lessening of respect for womenkind due to the rumours which have circulated with regard to this matter, and also another matter concerning another lady. Women have had their names bandied about and their characters torn to shreds without their having been given a chance to defend themselves. This is particularly the case in respect of Mrs. Simpson. A government composed of republicans could not have done more harm to the Throne than has been done by the governments within the British Empire led by the Baldwin Government. It is interesting to endeavour to visualize what would have happened if a Labour government in England had attempted to do what the Baldwin Government has done. There would have been most serious political repercussions. If a Labour government had endeavoured to pass a matter of particular constitutional importance, quite apart from interference with the King’s private business of life, and if the King had refused to carry out that legislation, the Government in question would have experienced tremendous difficulty in obtaining the support of other governments in the British Empire.
The latest wireless despatches disclose that Mr. Baldwin has been referring this matter to the King since the middle of last October, and that since about a month ago he has been placing before the King the opinion that His Majesty’s subjects were not in agreement with his desire to marry in the direction he desired.
– We were not told that this morning.
– Some members of the Opposition this morning declared that it appeared obvious that a compromise had been reached. We believed that the King wanted to go on with his proposed marriage in the ordinary way, seeing that there was no law to prevent him from doing so. In such circumstances, the first thing one would think of would be that some move was made as the result of which he suggested this morganatic marriage as a compromise. According to the latest heard over the wireless, Mr. Baldwin for over a month has been approaching the King on this matter, telling him of the scandal and gossip, and practically informing him that his subjects would not acquiesce in the marriage. The result was that the King put forward a proposal that he should be allowed to contract a morganatic marriage. At any rate, events seem to bear out the view taken by this side of the House, that it was this suggested compromise that was the only one considered. Such a situation as has arisen must be expected if we are to have hereditary rule. The Government party believes in hereditary rule, not in choosing a ruler on his ability to do the job. There is no choice in the matter; because of descent a man becomes King whether he be good, bad or indifferent, or whether his character be of high or low moral standard. In this instance, I am not suggesting anything derogatory to the present line of descent. Nevertheless, we have to take the members of the Royal Family as they are, and, that being so, we have to put up with the position as it exists. Furthermore, I believe that they should be allowed to conduct their private lives as their own private concerns. I believe personally that, had the woman concerned in this crisis been a member of the aristocracy, and had the circumstances been practically similar in all other respects, little criticism would have been directed against the proposed marriage. I believe that it is because Mrs. Simpson is a commoner that the present arguments have been raised. This debate does not settle any rule by which we can decide who is entitled to he a fit mate for the King of England in the future, and the argument may be advanced in the future that it is sufficient ground for refusing to allow a King to make his own choice of a wife if the woman of his choice is a commoner. We are, therefore, entitled to expect the Government to draw a definite border line to act as a precedent in such a matter as this.
A week ago the position was that of all the Crowns in the world the British was easily the most secure. The King of Great Britain was ensconced on the Throne apparently as long as he lived. It seemed to be the one throne from which there was no risk of the occupant being removed - except by death. There was no more popular or more beloved King than Edward VIII., yet when for the first time in his reign he approached the people who had assured him of their love and loyalty, and who had cheered and sang “ God Save the King “ and asked their approval of a step which he contemplated taking, they gave him the choice of abdication of the Throne or abdication of his right to happiness. I believe that most honorable members of this Parliament, and of all the Empire parliaments, in their hearts admire the King for the choice he has made. They admire him because he has been prepared to abdicate the Throne of the greatest Empire the world has known to carry out his private wishes, which he did not believe should be considered as being opposed to the interests of his subjects. History will give the verdict in this grave matter, and I am convinced that its verdict will be that those who are responsible for what in reality is not an abdication, but a deposition of the King from the Throne of England, and his exile from his native land, are the leaders of the governments throughout the Empire, and that the only one who has emerged with clean hands and with respect and admiration is Edward VIII.
– This is not an occasion for long speeches ; it is a matter of great seriousness and fraught with importance ; accordingly, my remarks will be brief. I propose, however, to recapitulatebriefly what led up to the attendance of honorable members ‘ in this House on Wednesday. I, in common, with other honorable members, was recalled to Canberra after the appearance of newspaper reports that a crisis was impending. I knew no more than other honorable members. We were told that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) was standing behind Mr. Baldwin, Prime Minister of Great Britain, but to what extent we were not made aware. At this stage I might say that the Government’s action in pledging Australia to follow blindly the lead of other governments is distinctly dangerous and should be frowned upon unless the seriousness of the occasion makes it impossible to call Parliament together in time to authorize such action. We were not told exactly how far the sister dominions subscribed to the guarantee of support given by the Commonwealth. Government to Mr. Baldwin. Because of that I should like, if I may, to discuss the correctness or otherwise of the action taken by the Government, and the question whether it has assumed responsibility for problems that should have been placed on the shoulders of this Parliament. All that has been clearly placed before us is that this is a constitutional issue of first importance. That being so, and because of the necessity for calm and unruffled consideration, I feel that the Government was quite justified in not permitting open discussion in this Parliament, thus avoiding the introduction of emotionalism into a matter that should not be clouded in any way. The Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) has stated the case very clearly. Stripped of all emotionalism, and in its right perspective, it is this - that matters affecting the Throne are determined by statute. It is as well that that should be so, because when a King accepts the responsibility of a kingdom he ceases to be an individual, and becomes the highest expression of the ideals of the people whom he governs. That being so, it devolves upon the people to determine who shall govern. Therefore, the matters raised in. this House to-day in an endeavour to cloud the constitutional issue in an atmosphere of emotionalism, fall far short of furnishing the real reason for the action that has . been taken, strip it of all importance and seriousness, and reduce it to a level to which debate should notbe permitted to descend in a House of the deliberative character of this branch of the Legislature. The Attorney-General this morning made it quite clear that the constitutional issue is the only one involved. May I commend and congratulate the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Cur tin) for the very restrained manner in which he stated his case.
– The Leader of the Opposition does not need the honorable member’s commendation or congratulation.
– He should get greater support from his followers than they have so far seen fit to give him.
– The Leader of the Opposition has the complete encouragement and support of his followers.
– I congratulate ‘the honorable gentleman on the very restrained way in which he made his speech this morning. Accepting without reservation the statement of the Prime Minister as to why it was impossible to lay the whole of the facts before this Parliament, at an earlier juncture, I believe that the attitude adopted by the Leader of the Opposition will be of dis tinct service to the people, in that it will show that an unbiassed view is now held by some at least of those who may previously have differed from the Government in regard to the secrecy that it was practising. Having had the full facts explained clearly to them, they now realize that there is a definite constitutional issue which can be determined only in a constitutional manner, without the emotionalism that unfortunately would have been associated with the discussion of it at an earlier stage. In this very serious and important matter the Prime Minister has acted with great delicacy. He has forged a bond of affection between himself and the people of the Commonwealth. They realize that he had a very difficult task to perform, and I have no doubt that they feel strengthened by the statement that he made immediately on receipt of official news from overseas.
Mr.ROSEVEAR (Dalley) [2.30].- During the last couple of days there has been a wonderful exposition, both here and overseas, of the futility of parliaments when the “ powers that be “ decide on a certain course of action. In both, plaices, there has been an attempt to stifle and browbeat the representatives of the people, on the ground that parliamentary discussion could do nothing but harm. When we consider the dates that have been mentioned by the Prime Ministers of Great Britain and Australia, we find that all the harm that could be done had already been done before this Parliament assembled last Wednesday. All that this Parliament desired to know, as it was entitled to know, was just how far the Executive Government had committed the people of Australia to support the endeavour of the Baldwin Government to politically sandbag the King of England and remove him from the throne. It is also to be noted that throughout the crisis the stand has been taken that, in regard to one of the most important of the liberties of the subject, the King has less freedom than the meanest of bis subjects. Any man in the community may choose any lady who is willing to marry him, provided that she is lawfully free to do so. But when the King desired to marry, a “ peeping Tom “ in the form of a Prime Minister desired to choose a wife for him, or, if not exactly to choose her, at least to dictate to him as to whether or not the lady he desired to marry should become his lawfully wedded wife. I have not the slightest doubt that had the King of England chosen one of the inbred imbeciles belonging to one of the other royal families of Europe, no objection would have been raised to his marriage to her; but, because his choice lay in a lower stratum of society, the Prime Minister of Great Britain intruded himself in what was primarily, and in my opinion, absolutely, a domestic matter. With other honorable members, I had the privilege, during the luncheon adjournment, of listening to the speech that the Prime Minister of Great Britain delivered in the House of Commons, and heard the same hypocrisy that I have heard elsewhere. That honorable gentleman desired, even at the present late stage, to browbeat the Parliament of Great Britain into silent acquiescence in what had been done, in order that the passions of the people might not be roused. Another prominent feature, particularly of the speech of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, is the power that the press has exercised in this particular matter. The honorable gentleman indicated what, I think, will be news to the majority of the people of this country - that as far back as August last he was chasing the King for an audience, his reason being that sensational yellow journals in the United States of America were publishing scandalous statements concerning the conduct of His Majesty. He confessed to the House of Commons that from the middle of August until the middle of October, contrary to the usual practice of approaching the King when summoned, he was chasing him for the sole purpose of bringing to His Majesty’s notice these scandalmongering articles that were appearing in a portion of the American press. His object was to point out to His Majesty that individuals from different parts of the British Empire had written to him drawing his attention to this newspaper gossip. According to Mr. Baldwin he arranged a meeting with the King at Port Belvedere on the 20th October. Mr. Baldwin himself chose that particular place for the meeting because he desired his interview with the King to be absolutely secret ; he did not wish anybody to know that anything was amiss; he wanted to put the position to the King - and it was the only position which had arisen up to that stage - arising from press comments appearing in the most sensational journals of the United States of America. There were no other grounds for his desire to meet the King at that stage, as far as has been disclosed by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, than that certain press articles appearing in American journals had been brought under his notice, and further, that some individuals throughout the Empire had also written to the King concerning them. It will be seen, therefore, that the events which led up to the present crisis in regard to the King’s marriage took place at a date far removed from the dates given to us to-day by the Prime Minister. Those events go back at least to the middle of October. The Prime Minister of Great Britain told the House of Commons that he warned the King of this scandalous gossip, and that he had pointed out to His Majesty that his personal popularity could not prevail against it. It is clear, I think, to any reasonable person, that the first move made in this crisis was made as the result of the printing of some scandalous news in some of the most unreliable journals in the United States of America. The Prime Minister of Great Britain also disclosed that on the 16th November, after the decree nisi had been granted to the lady in question, he told His Majesty that the King’s wife was in a different position from that of any other woman, clearly indicating that, at that stage, there was no question of a morganatic marriage or of the making of any special provision by act of Parliament. The root objection of the honorable gentleman to this lady was based on the gossip which was appearing in certain journals of the United States of America. That gossip was excised from those journals by censorship officers in Australia and in other parts of the British Empire, but it could not be withheld for long. That was the initial stage of this dispute. It is clearly indicated, however, that, on the 16th November, the Prime Minister of Great Britain had only two objections to the King’s proposals; one, the gossip appearing in the press, and the other, the fact that the lady had been twice divorced. But since she had been the plaintiff in both divorce cases, we have a right to assume, and she is entitled to claim, that her character had not been besmirched by the divorce proceedings. It was not until nine days after the King had intimated that he proposed to marry Mrs. Simpson that he suggested to the Prime Minister of Great Britain that a special act of Parliament might be passed to enable a morganatic marriage to he consummated. That suggestion was not made until after about five weeks of badgering by the Prime Minister of Great Britain, who confessed in his speech in the House of Commons that he was almost continuously on the King’s doorstep waiting for interviews with His Majesty to impress upon him the necessity for not going on with his proposed marriage. The next move we find is that a secret cable was sent from Mr. Baldwin to the Australian Prime Minister on the 28th November. This, again, as I have pointed out, was sent five or six weeks after negotiations had commenced. I want to impress upon honorable members that there has been an endeavour in this House, in the House of Commons, and in the press of this country to have the people believe that the whole issue at stake was the question of passing special legislation for the convenience of the King. That is not a true statement of the facts. The real position is that the Prime Minister of Great Britain objected to the person, and probably the social status, of the lady whom the King desired to marry. The policy laid down by the Leader of the Opposition in this Parliament (Mr. Curtin) clearly indicates that in the view of the Opposition the King should be unfettered in the choice of his wife. If the party to which I belong had been in the position which Mr. Baldwin occupied when he was badgering the King to prevent him from carrying out his desires, we should have advised His Majesty that, as far as we are concerned, he could marry just whom he pleased and could lawfully marry her. The situation around which so much discussion has taken place, that is,- the desire of the King to have a special act of Parliament passed to cover the after-events of his marriage, did not arise until weeks after the question had been broached by His Majesty to the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
There is just one further point which I wish to emphasize, and that is that it was disclosed by the Prime Minister this morning that he took upon himself, on the 5 th December, to advise the Baldwin Government that if his and Mr. Baldwin’s desires were not carried out hy the King, and a political crisis arose in this country, he had some sort of authority to say that nobody else in Australia would attempt to form a government.
– ‘What authority did the Prime Minister have for that?
– It was a piece of impudent presumption on his part. He had no authority from this party or from its leader to give any such undertaking to Mr. Baldwin at that stage. His claim to-day that the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition during the lasttwo days bears out his conjecture is not in accordance with facts. If the right honorable gentleman desires to quote the Leader of the Opposition, let him quote him thoroughly and effectively. The difference between the attitude of the Prime Minister of Australia and that of the Leader of the Opposition is that, whereas the Prime Minister was against the King marrying Mrs. Simpson in any circumstances, the Leader of the Opposition clearly indicated that the King was entitled to use his own discretion in the choice of his wife. The only point upon which we agree with the Government is that no special legislative provision should be made for the purpose of conveniencing such a marriage. But the crisis has arisen not over the necessity for special legislation, but over the fact that the Prime Minister of Great Britain - apparently with the endorsement of the Commonwea1th Government - ob jjected in the first place to the King marrying Mrs. Simpson in any circumstances, or for that matter, any other person below the status of those usually chosen to become the consorts of British kings. “Whathas happened in Australia is precisely the same as what happened in Great Britain. Mr. Baldwin, with the same presumption as that shown by the right honorable the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, assured the King that if he handed his resignation to His Majesty no other party was prepared to form a government, and that he had the assurance of the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, Major Attlee, that he would not form a government in the event of a crisis - a statement which was emphatically denied by Major Attlee. Unfortunately, these were the points that were no doubt, presented to His Majesty during the discussion of these matters. “When the King was faced with the constitutional viewpoint that in personal matters he must be guided by the advice of his Ministers, he was unaware that they were wrongly advising him, and I have no doubt that he was informed that if he did not bend his knee to the desire of the Government, nobody else would be prepared to take up the reins of government in the event of a political crisis. J. have no doubt also that, in order to give an added purchase to their arguments to the King in regard to this matter, members of the Commonwealth Government had no scruples about using the name of the Leader of the Opposition in this Parliament in the same way as the British Government used the name of Major Attlee in the House of Commons . in order to browbeat His Majesty. I regret that honorable members, who constitute a deliberative body, have been brought here, not for the purpose of deliberating at all on this vital matter, but in order to suit the convenience of this Government and the Government of the United Kingdom, with a view to recording certain resolutions after the whole of the damage has been done. The point has arisen as to whether or not the Prime Minister gave honorable members all the information at hi? disposal. The right honorable gentleman says that he did so ; but if the meagre information which he placed before this House this morning represented all the information at his disposal, I ‘believe that it is so paltry in nature that there is not a single reason why it could not have been disclosed to the House two days ago. I regret that this Parliament has been placed in such a position, and that honorable members of the Opposition have been hamstrung, hampered and refused information, and even the right to speak on this vital subject until it was too late for their views to have any effect. The treatment of the Opposition is on all fours with the Government’s request to the King to reconsider his position and not to relinquish the throne after he had already done so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinations by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1936 -
No. 16 - Arms, Explosives and Munition Workers’ Federation of Australia.
No. 17 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
Commonwealth Bank Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1936, No. 157.
Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1930, No. 158.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes at -
Goulburn, New South Wales.
Holbrook, Now South Wales.
Mascot, New South Wales.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1936, No. 159.
Public Service Act - Appointment of W.H. Harral, Department of the Interior.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinances of 1936 -
No. 46 - Auctioneers.
No. 47 - Juries.
No. 48 - Dogs Registration.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until a date and hour to be fixed by Mr. Speaker, which time of meeting shall be notified by Mr. Speaker to each member by telegram or letter.
Motion (by Mr. Lyons) - by leave - agreed to -
That leave of absence be given to every member of the House of Representatives from the determination of this sitting of the House to the date of its next sitting.
Possibility of Prorogation - Referendum Date; Broadcasting Facilities; Scrutiny - Photographers in Chamber - Enforcing Arbitration Awards - Invalid and Old-age Pensions: Auditor-General’s Comments ; Payments during Christmas Season - Privileges of Parliamentarians - Price of Tea - Canberra Betting Prosecutions.
.- I move-
That the House do now adjourn. “I. desire to intimate to honorable members that the position is now what it was when the House adjourned a few days ago. The desire of the Government is to prorogue Parliament during the recess, if possible, but there may be difficulties in the way of giving effect to this intention.
– Has the date for the holding of the referendum been fixed?
– The referendum will be held on Saturday, the 6th March.
– When will the “ Case “ for and against the referendum be ready for distribution?
– I understand that it will be ready by New Year’s Day.
– Will the right honorable gentleman indicate the approximate date on which he proposes to prorogue Parliament or to summon Parliament to meet again if there is no prorogation?
– It is intended to summon. Parliament about the middle of March. If the Government is unable to prorogue Parliament in the interim, it is hoped that it will be able to do so after a short session.
.- I should like to have the benefit of your view, Mr. Speaker, and to express my own opinion in regard to the practice which has been followed in connexion with this very important debate of permitting photographers to take photographs of honorable members in the course of their duties in this chamber. I suggest that if in any circumstances this may properly be done, it can only be by the unanimous consent of this House. Personally, I venture to protest against it. While very important speeches were being delivered in the chamber, first from the ministerial side and afterwards by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), honorable members were distracted by the unseemly proceedings of photographs being taken and the clicking of apparatus in the galleries. It will be remembered that on a strict construction of the Standing Orders - certainly as they were some years ago - honorable members themselves were prohibited from, reading newspapers in the chamber, but I am not aware that there is any rule of the House which permits honorable members within this chamber to be photographed, and those photographs to be carried away by strangers in the House. Personally, I welcome visitors to this chamber. By common consent, representatives of the press, who are strangers, are accommodated within the chamber, and conveniences are provided for them to enable them to carry out their duties. In my opinion, that is entirely right, and visitors, to the extent of the limits of the accommodation of the House, should be welcome within the galleries. I have always taken the viewthat the photographing of a person in the streets or anywhere else against his or her will is a personal affront, in some cases amounting almost to an assault. I have seen persons called as witnesses to courts of law photographed against their will, and endeavouring to protect themselves against that kind of personal affront. I have seen the photographs of unfortunate women who were unwilling participators in the proceedings reproduced later in the press above the caption “ Camera Shy “. Such proceedings should be made the subjectmatter of protest. At all events, I do not think that photographs should he taken in this chamber, without the consent of every honorable member. I make a respectful protest to you, sir, against what has been done. I abstained from making a complaint at the time because of the importance and solemnity of the proceedings’, but I make it now, and ask you to be good enough to inform the House whether in the exercise of the high authority which you possess you have given permission after consultation with the Government or otherwise.
In reply to the statement made by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) regarding photographs being taken of the proceedings in the House, I may say that my permission was given, through an officer of the House, to certain photographers to take photographs of the House when it met on Wednesday last. Such permission has been given previously. Photographs of the sittings have been- taken, particularly on the first day on which the House meets at the commencement of .a session. On this occasion I granted permission provided the proceedings of the House were not interfered with. Subsequently I took strong exception to the taking of a flashlight photograph during the reading of prayers, and sent a message to the photographer saying that what he had done was improper, and that I was surprised that a picture should have been taken at that time. The photographer expressed regret, and said that he did not realize that he was offending. In future, when similar requests are made, I shall consult the views of honorable members, through the leaders of the political parties represented in this chamber. I shall not permit photographs to be taken in the chamber if it should be contrary to the wishes of honorable members.
– I suppose that it is reasonable for us to expect that the wireless broadcasting system will be used very extensively in connexion with the referendum which the
Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has announced will be held on the 6th March. I have been absent from the sittings of Parliament for about three weeks, and I do not know if information on the subject has been conveyed to honorable members; but I should like to know what arrangements the Postmaster-General has made in respect of the facilities to be offered in each of the States to those opposing the proposals to be submitted to the people by means of a referendum. Prior to a general election the leaders of the different political parties are permitted to broadcast throughout the Commonwealth, and I understand that there is also a State-wide broadcast controlled by those conducting the campaign within a State. I am anxious to know if the same facilities will be afforded to those opposing the proposals as will -be extended to those who are supporting them?
– I desire to bring under the notice of the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies) certain matters relating to his department which I have mentioned on previous occasions. I am concerned with the difficulty of enforcing Commonwealth awards, particularly in the clothing trade, in Victoria. On a previous occasion I suggested for the consideration of the Government - the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) promised to communicate with the Attorney-General on the subject - that the Principal Registrar in Melbourne should be consulted upon the expediency of appointing officials of the Clothing Trades Union as inspectors under the Commonwealth arbitration system. I believe that if he were consulted on the subject he would report favorably. Similar difficulties exist in the other States, but they are most pronounced in Melbourne, and particularly in the constituency which I represent. E also repeat a suggestion previously made that Commonwealth and State inspectors and State labour offices should be supplied with copies of federal awards. Some time ago a prosecution was heard in Hobart in connexion with a timberworkers’ award, and it was with great difficulty that a copy of the award was obtained. The police magistrate was in- formed that no copies had been supplied to the State Labour Office in Hobart. I believe that there should be more reciprocity and comity between the Commonwealth and .State authorities in this respect. I repeat the suggestion previously made that a regulation should be gazetted providing that relevant awards shall be posted in all workshops. On other occasions I have suggested that the regulations covering Commonwealth employee’s compensation and seamen’s compensation should be brought up to date, and I trust that that will be done. Rather than that the Seamen’s Compensation Act should remain as it is, it should bo repealed altogether.
– I should like to inform the Minister for Defence (Sir Archdale Parkhill) that the action of the Defence Department in dispensing with a number of employees in my electorate is causing some concern. I have been informed that early in November the services of 40 men had been dispensed with, and that on the 25th November another twenty were dismissed. I have already brought this matter under the notice of the Minister for Defence; I do not suggest that he is not giving attention to the matter, but I should like him to take some action as soon as possible. It seems deplorable that after Parliament has appropriated large sums for defence purposes the services of men should be dispensed with, particularly at this season. I have been informed that the work on which the 20 men who were dismissed on the 25th November were engaged has terminated; but that information is not wholly in accordance with the particulars that have been supplied to me from another source. I understand that many of these men have been engaged on maintenance work for a considerable time. It may be that the men who have been re-employed are those who have been on maintenance work, but it would appear that in order to effect economy others have been put off unexpectedly. In view of the fact that only this year Parliament appropriated £9,000,000 for defence purposes, and it was understood that this expenditure would result in increased employment, these dismissals should be the subject of an inquiry. It was naturally expected that there would not be any dismissals in large numbers. I could understand the discharge of men engaged on work which had been completed; men who had been working in the metal trades could expect to obtain employment elsewhere, ‘ but unskilled men such as those employed in the maintenance and manufacturing sections of the explosives factory have no chance of re-absorption elsewhere at the present time. I suggest that the Minister for Defence should ask his officers to see if these men cannot be absorbed in some way. I am sure that he will realize that there should be no need for men to be out of employment at this juncture. I do not suggest that the Minister has not given the matter his attention, but I am afraid that the information with which he has been supplied is not strictly accurate and does not reveal the full story. I do not mean that he has been deliberately misinformed, but I know that men who have been engaged on maintenance work for twelve months or more have been dismissed. There does not appear to be sufficient reason to justify this action when one considers the large appropriation made by this Parliament.
I desire to draw the attention of the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral to another matter. During the debate on the Estimates I directed attention to the position of certain officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, who, in consequence of the Senate’s disallowance of a certain award, were denied increments that were due to them. The consequence has been that some junior officers of the department are actually receiving higher rates of pay than some senior members of it. When I made my complaint the Minister representing the Postmaster-General assured me that it would be investigated. Since then I have received no further report on the subject. I understood that the intention of the Government was to restore fully all the reductions made in consequence of the financial emergency measures. In these circumstances, it is unfair that the senior officers to whom I refer are still being paid a lower rate of wage than is being paid to some of their junior colleagues. I ask again that this complaint be investigated and remedied.
.- I ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to assure me, when he replies to the various questions raised in this debate, that at the referendum to be taken on the 6th March next full facilities will be provided for unofficial’ scrutineers to check the votes recorded. I have a vivid recollection that, when a referendum was taken in New South Wales some time ago, it was contended that departmental regulations provided that only officers of the Electoral Department should be entitled to count and check votes. Such a policy would cause disquietude in the minds of the people as to the strict impartiality of the ballot. I wish the Prime Minister to give me an assurance that on the 6th March next scrutineers on both the affirmative and negative sides will be afforded full facilities to examine the “ballot-papers, such as they enjoy at a general election.
– I direct the attention of the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) to certain comments in the Auditor-General’s report concerning invalid pensioners in New South Wales, and request him to take all necessary steps to ensure that nothing in the nature of a crusade shall be entered upon hy the inspectors of the Pensions Department against invalid pensioners. Because of what has happened within the last week or two, I fear that something of that kind is contemplated. I have had brought under my notice the case of an invalid who has been in receipt of the pension for eight years and has suddenly had his pension withdrawn. The wife of this man told me a story which showed that the departmental officers acted most unfairly in cancelling the pension. Because these people, had a fairly large garden it was assumed that the man was not an invalid. I took the trouble to go to the home of these people, and ascertained that the wife rises at 5 o’clock every morning to work in the garden. When the departmental inspector called at the home, and was told that this was the case, he sniggered in an insulting and disbelieving way, but I have satisfied myself of the truth of the explanation that has been given by the pensioner. In the circumstances, I repeat my request that all care shall be taken to see that no injustice is done to our pensioners. The Auditor-General may have had some cause for his adverse comment concerning certain invalid pensioners in New South Wales-
– The ratio of invalid pensioners in that State is no greater than in other States.
– If we have a larger number of invalid pensioners than is to he found in certain other States, it is because we have a larger population. I am of the opinion that something is definitely wrong with the system of medical supervision of invalid pensioners in New South Wales. It is not satisfactory to me that elderly medical practitioners should be permitted to collect their 10s. for each case examined in circumstances which leave the claimants dissatisfied as to the fairness of the examination. This is not the time for the department to embark upon a policy of retrenchment. In my opinion, a more careful examination of the condition of many pensioners would indicate clearly that certain persons, if not exactly invalids, are definitely unemployable. Notwithstanding what the AuditorGeneral has had to say, I feel that we may have to face the prospect of providing 30s. a week for a man and wife in some cases in which only an invalid pension of 17s. 6d. is being paid to the husband at present.
– Thirty-three per cent, more invalid pensions are granted in New South Wales than in any other State.
– That is due to our larger population.
– If the medical practitioners are more critical in the other States than they are in New South Wales, then they are critical, indeed.
– I feel that the circumstances justify me in urging the Treasurer to take every possible step to ensure that an onslaught shall not be made upon our invalid pensioners in consequence of the comments of the Auditor-General.
.- Some time ago I brought under the notice of the Government certain matters affecting the transport of honorable members and their wives and families. I understood at that time that consideration would be given to my submissions, and that the information for which I asked would be supplied. The only information I have since received is that a certain practice, which had been followed in the past, is being maintained. That practice, I understand, is being maintained more or less secretly. At any rate, full details of what is going on have not been made available to the general public. The procedure, so far as I understand it, is quite unfair. If the existing practice is to be continued, it should at least be made to apply equitably to all honorable members.
– Has the honorable member been refused any request?
– That is not the point. I asked for information to enable me to determine whether the existing practice is equitable or not. The present arrangement is that the wife of an honorable member may visit Canberra once during each sessional period of the Parliament. The wives of some honorable members, however, have no desire to visit Canberra, but they may have a desire, for health or other reasons, to visit other parts of the State in which they reside. If so, they should be given the same consideration as is enjoyed by those who visit Canberra. I should like to know, for my own information, and also that of my constituents, the expense entailed to the Government in continuing the existing privileges to honorable members in respect to the transportation of their wives and families. I also wish to. know whether these privileges are being abused by any honorable members. I understand that it has been the practice to provide cars for the transport of the wives and families of some honorable members who support the Government. Probably for this reason it is not desired that the information which I am seeking should be made available. However, I request that exhaustive inquiries be instituted to disclose the full circumstances of the case. Seeing that Parliament is about to enter upon a fairly long recess, I am particularly desirous that information concerning these concessions should be made available to me. The wives of the majority of honorable members of the Labour party are not able to run away from their homes every week or two to visit Canberra, nor are they able to travel extensively to attend various official functions to which they may have been invited, but which they have little inclination to attend. Should the Government decide to discontinue the present practice I shall have no objection, for I believe that every member of the Parliament is paid a salary sufficient to meet his requirements ; but so long as the practice of granting these concessions continues, I submit that those members whose wives are able to avail themselves of the opportunity to attend various functions should not put the country to considerable expense, while the wives of other members who wish to travel, not for pleasure, but for health reasons, are denied similar opportunities, and have to pay their own travelling expenses. I understand that this matter has been under consideration by the Government for some time, and I should like the Minister to say what is the existing practice, and whether it is proposed to place the granting of these concessions on a more equitable basis.
.- Although Parliament has legislated to remove the sales tax and primage on tea, there are many complaints that the reductions have not been passed on to the consumers. I shall be glad if the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) will make inquiries in order to ascertain whether the complaints are well founded.
.- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) regarding the criticism of the Pensions Department by the Auditor-General. This is not the first occasion on which similar statements have been made, for honorable members will recollect that the exAuditorGeneral, on the eve of his retirement, made unwarranted attacks upon invalid and old-age pensioners as a class. However unjustified such attacks may be, when mud is thrown some of it adheres. The present Auditor-General has attacked the pensioners from a new angle. He has not criticized the administration of the department on the ground that pensioners have committed misdemeanours - he has not contributed one tittle of evidence to show that pensions are unmerited - but he has taken the figures in relation to pensions in New South Wales and, by some mathematical process, has endeavoured to show that there has been an inordinate increase of the number of pensions granted. He advocates a periodical review of pensions, presumably with the object of discontinuing some of them. What he suggests has been the practice for many years. Judging by the number of cases with which I have dealt, I should say that probably 25 per cent, of invalid pensioners are required to submit to a medical examination at intervals of a year or two years. One effect of such criticism is that pensions are now more difficult to obtain than they were formerly. I desire to know whether there are means by which the activities of the Auditor-General in this direction may be curbed. Is that gentleman entitled to criticize pensioners as a class, as his predecessor did, and, on the basis of some mathematical formula, to condemn the administration of the Pensions Department? Only last week I had before me the case of a man, 61 years of age, who had been separated from his wife for 40 years, and did not know whether she was alive or dead, having been refused a pension on the ground, not that he was not totally incapacitated for work, but that during the previous five years he had not adequately provided for the maintenance of his wife. The department does not know whether or not his wife is alive, and yet it has denied him a pension. The man has been unable to work during the last five years, and in ordinary circumstances would not have been denied a pension; but because of the unwarranted criticism of the department by the Auditor-General, there has been a tightening up of the administration, making pensions much more difficult to obtain than formerly, and presumably this is the reason why this applicant has been refused a pension. The time is ripe for action to be taken to prevent the AuditorGeneral from making such unwarranted statements concerning an aspect of pensions administration which is probably beyond his jurisdiction.
– I desire to know whether the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) has yet made inquiries into the trial of a number of residents of Canberra for illegal betting, to which I referred last week. Although I, as Minister for the Interior, had given instructions that money was not to be provided for such prosecutions, unfortunately, because of an oversight on the part of a junior officer, the money was made available, and the prosecutions took place. I took that action because I had formed an unfavorable opinion of Kevin Lynch; indeed, I thought that he, not those who were subsequently fined, ought to have been prosecuted. The prosecutions took place, and the other day we read in the press that Colonel Jones had given to Lynch a reference testifying that he had carried out his work in connexion with nearly 50 cases in a proper manner, and that his word had been accepted in court without supporting evidence. The royal, commissioner who inquired recently into starting price betting in Sydney described Lynch as a man whose word he would not accept in any circumstances. I ask the Minister whether he intends to make any inquiries into the prosecutions with which Lynch was concerned with a view to giving the people involved a chance to clear their name in the eyes of the people of Canberra, and also with a view to making restitution of the fines imposed on them?
Dealing with invalid pensions, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) expressed views with which I agree. T have read the report of the AuditorGeneral, and I have no fault to find with it because what he says is a fact. He says that the payments to invalid pensioners in Kew South Wales are higher than in other States. He is quite within his rights in drawing attention to that fact, hut I hope that the department will not deal with this matter by merely endeavouring to make the figures for the different States correspond. If the pensions paid to invalids in New South Wales are higher than in any other State, there must be a reason; the recipients must be entitled to the pension. Several people residing in the electorate which I represent have had their applications for an invalid pension turned down despite the fact that they are undoubtedly entitled to it. One is a blind girl’ who is absolutely unemployable ; she could not secure w7ork unless it were given to her out of charity. For some years she was in receipt of a pension, but because some unkind friend saw her at a picture show and at a dance, and believed that she should not be present at such amusements if she were blind it was claimed that she was capable of earning her own. living. I have received petitions signed by practically all of the business people in the town concerned stating that she is not capable of doing any work. Another applicant is a deaf girl who, also, is absolutely unemployable. She told me the other day that ii; she did not go to gaol she would have to starve. She would at least be fed in gaol. The law says that that girl is not an invalid; yet she cannot be employed, for instance, in domestic service or in shop work. What kind of work can a girl so incapacitated undertake? The fact is that she cannot do any work and is compelled, therefore, to live a miserable existence. I submit that it was never the intention of this Parliament to deny a pension to such an applicant. I repeat the hope that the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) will not, as the result of the observations made by the Auditor-General, come along with a. broom, and see how many pensioners he can sweep out. I suggest that more liberal treatment should be extended to applicants for, and recipients of, invalid pensions than is the case at present.
.- On the 1st December, I asked that invalid and old-age pensions should be paid on the Wednesday and Thursday preceding Christmas, instead of on the Wednesday and Thursday after Christmas, and I have since received the following reply from the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) : -
With reference to your question in the House of Representatives on 1st December, 1936, I have to advise you that I have given careful consideration to your request that invalid and old-age pensions be paid on the Wednesday and Thursday preceding Christmas instead of on the Wednesday and Thursday after Christmas or that, alternatively, pensioners receive three weeks’ pension prior to Christmas. Apart from serious administrative difficulties due in part to the fact that war pensions will be payable during the week preceding Christmas, I have come to the conclusion that it would not be in the interests of pensioners themselves to make payment as suggested by you. Under the existing provisions pensioners will receive a fortnightly instalment of pension on 17th December and a further fortnightly instalment on 31st December.
I have been in close consultation with officials of pensioners’ associations who are constantly in touch with the great body of pensioners. These associations meet every pension day both in the metropolitan areas and the country districts. This is particularly the case in New South Wales. Most of these organizations have carried resolutions asking the Government to arrange for the payment before Christmas of the pension due on the 3”ist December, or, alternatively, the payment of three weeks’ pension before Christmas. When the Treasurer says that it would not be in the interests of the pensioners to give them three weeks’ payment I do not know whether he expects them to take a trip abroad or to visit some salubrious country or seaside resort. I ask him to reconsider this matter; he has only to issue instructions which, I have no doubt, the department will be well able to carry out.
– In reply to the honorable members for Barton (Mr. Lane) and Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), I do not think that any exception can be taken to the observations made by the Auditor-General on invalid pensions in his latest report. He has taken authentic figures, and has pointed out that a fairly large discrepancy exists between the number and percentage of invalid pensions in force in New South Wales as compared with those in force in other States.
– Has he taken into consideration the special circumstances existing in New South Wales?
– Honorable members have probably read the report, and know what facts he has taken into consideration. The matters which he has criticized, however, come properly within the province of the Auditor-General, and no sinister interpretation can be placed upon the facts which he has pointed out.
– There seem to be sinister proceedings as the result.
– I assure the honorable member that there has not been, and will not be, any sinister proceedings. The Government, however, cannot ignore the observations made by the AuditorGeneral, and I have called for a report on the matter from the Deputy Commissioner in Sydney. For at least eighteen months, I, personally, have been concerned in achieving a greater degree of uniformity than now exists in the means of establishing eligibility for invalid pensions as between the various States, and as between the capital cities and the country districts, and, even before the Auditor-General had made his report, I had set on foot numerous inquiries, which I expect will, in due course, bear fruit.
– Retrenchment ?
– I assure the honorable member that the present methods of determining eligibility for pensions will be maintained until the Government decides upon new methods ; there will be no variations in the meantime. Every one is aware of the extreme difficulty of ascertaining, beyond reasonable doubt,, whether persons are temporarily, or permanently, incapacitated.
– It must have been a coincidence that the granting of pensions was tightened up.
– I assure the honorable member that there has been no tightening up. What the Government proposes to do for the future will be decided in due course.
– Would not the fact that a report has been asked for from the Deputy Commissioner automatically result in tightening up?
– No instructions to that effect have been given.
In reply to the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock), I have understood for some weeks that in most cases the price of tea had responded to the lifting of the sales tax.
– And the primage?
– I am unable to make any statement at this juncture concerning the result of the reduction of primage duty on tea, but I shall investigate that matter. If the remission of sales tax has not made any difference to the price of tea, I shall set inquiries afoot, because there is obvious justification that the public should enjoy the full benefit of that remission.
The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Gander) raised the matter of the most suitable dates for the payment of invalid and old-age pensions over the period of Christmas and New Year. One pay day is on the 17th of December, and the next on the 31st of December, both being Thursdays. The matter has been gone into very carefully, and I believe that it is in the interests of the pensioners to retain the present dates for payment. They do not fall upon public holidays,, and I believe that, if they were anticipated to any appreciable extent, it would not be in the interests of the bulk of thepensioners. I assure the honorable member that the Government has no wish, other than to ensure that the pensioners: receive their pension upon the most suitable dates.
As for the cases cited by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins), if they will supply me with particulars regarding them I shall have investigations made.
– I did not hear the beginning of the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), but I gather that he was repeating a complaint which he made previously in this House regarding transport facilities provided for members of Parliament and their families. I cannot recall having received a specific request from the honorable member for transport, but if he will send me a letter setting out what he desires, I shall grant it if it comes within the rules, or within the limits of the discretion which I am permitted to exercise.
– I am not asking for anything for myself. I want to know the amount of money which has been expended upon providing transport for members and their families, and whether any have abused the privilege.
– I have been asked by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) to say in reply to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) that inquiries are still proceeding into the prosecutions for starting price betting, and that the honorable member will be informed of the result of those inquiries at a later date.
On behalf of the Prime Minister I desire to inform the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) that his representations in regard to broadcasting facilities during the forthcoming referendum campaign will be taken into consideration. The usual practice has been for broadcasting facilities over national stations to be divided between the Government and the Opposition. As the circumstances on this occasion are somewhat different, the Prime Minister has instructed me to say that he is not at the moment in a position to make a definite pronouncement, but that the honorable member’s recommendation will receive due weight.
The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) mentioned the matter of the employment of scrutineers for the referendum.
– I did not suggest the employment of scrutineers at government expense, but merely that the same facilities for scrutiny by the parties should be provided as are available in connexion with an election.
– I am informed that the matter is governed by an act, and that scrutineers are appointed by the Governments of the various States. The honorable member asks that scrutineers should be appointed to represent the “ Yes “ and “ No “ sides of the campaign. I shall see that his representations are brought before the Prime Minister and the Government.
I assure the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Drakeford) that I have no wish to be a party to putting workers out of employment at this time. I have made personal inquiries into the matter mentioned by him, and the information which I gave to him represents the facts as they were presented to me, and I have no doubt that they are correct. Since I made those inquiries, someof the men have been re-employed, and I shall keep the honorable member’s representations in mind and see if anything further can be done. I shall be in Melbourne early next week, and shall take the matter up with the Munitions Department with a view to seeing whether the others can be re-engaged.
The honorable member also referred toanother matter which he had previously mentioned during the discussion on the Estimates. This was the long-standing question of the remuneration and status of postal officials who, during the depression, had been kept in employment on junior work, and at junior rates of pay, after they attained adult age. All such persons are now receiving the full adult wage, hut it so happened that, as work became available, they were not all put into the same grade or on to the same kind of work. Some were given work which carried with it higher remuneration than the work upon which others were employed. Some difficulty has been experienced, I understand, in reconciling these inconsistencies. Inquiries are still being made, and I hope to he able to advise the honorable member more definitely regarding the matter at a later stage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.44 p.m. until a date and hour to be fixed by Mr. Speaker.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 December 1936, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1936/19361211_reps_14_152/>.