3rd Parliament · 3rd Session
The President took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Honorable senators can scarcely be unaware of certain happenings in another place.
– I rise to order. There is a standing order which sets out the procedure to be followed at the opening of a sitting, and I suggest that it would be more convenient to comply with it, and go through the business paper in the ordinary way. It would have been as competent for the Minister to interrupt the reading of prayers as it is to interrupt procedure in the way in which he is now doing.
– The Standing Orders provide that, at any time, the adjournment of the Senate may be moved by, or on behalf of, a Minister of the Crown. Therefore it is perfectly competent for the VicePresident of the Executive Council to move the adjournment now, and, of course, equally competent for him to defer such action until the formal business of the day has been dealt with: The matter is one for his own discretion. .
– When interrupted in such an unseemly manner, I had made the preliminary remark that honorable senators . could not be unaware of something which has happened in another place.
– I take exception to the expression “unseemly manner” as applying to my action in addressing the Chair on a point of order.
– The Minister was not entitled to use, those words in reference to the honorable senator, and, I am sure, will withdraw them.
– Certainly. Honorable senators, of course, know that notice of a motion of no-confidence has been launched against the Government by the leader of the Opposition in another place, and must realize that that requires the suspension of all Government business, so far as matters of policy are concerned, and the reduction of administration practically to mere matters of form. It is obvious that, Government business having been brought to a standstill elsewhere, it cannot be proceeded with by Ministers in this Chamber. The hands of my colleagues being tied elsewhere, I have no alternative but to follow the usual constitutional procedure, and move the adjournment of the Senate. Not only is this the practice in the Mother of Parliaments, and throughout the British Dominions, but, as honorable senators will remember, it has been followed here by Mr. Justice O’Connor, Senator Sir Josiah Symon, and, I think, Senator McGregor, when representing Governments similarly attacked.
– What would be the consequence of a no-confidence motion here?
– I prefer not to consider that possibility at this moment. With the calamity which I have suggested pending, I have no alternative but to take the action I speak of ; but we must first determine when we shall meet again. It would be our duty to meet on Wednesday next, if there were a likelihood of the censure debate being concluded then ; but honorable senators know pretty well that there is no reasonable prospect of that. I think that Wednesday week is the earliest date which we can reasonably fix ; but I am desirous of consulting the convenience of the Senate. The Government, of course, would be glad to go on. next Wednesday,
– Wednesday fortnight would be a better date.
– I think it would be better to adjourn for only a week. I therefore move-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Wednesday, 28th October.
– I am pleased that the VicePresident of the Executive Council has fixed Wednesday week as the date for our next meeting. It is highly improbable that the censure debate will terminate before the end of next week, and, although we desire to proceed with our business as rapidly as possible, it would be a great inconvenience to assemble here again next Wednesday from all parts of Australia, merely to agree to a further adjournment. The honorable gentleman seemed at some pains to apologize for his action, but, in my opinion, he has taken the only course open to any one who has regard for the practice of, and the constitutional requirements which are imposed on, the Senate equally with the House of Representatives.
– I am opposed to this adjournment. Why should we concern ourselves with the squabbles of, and scrambling for office in, another place?
– This is the second attempt to postpone the settlement of the Capital site question.
– Not only is it a scramble for office, but it is also an attempt by persons who are always mouthing their desire to have the Capital site chosen, to delay the settlement of the question. I fail to see why the Senate, which has important business awaiting its consideration, should take cognisance of any such squabbles in the other Chamber. We have before us the Navigation Bill, which, in one form or another, has claimed some share of our attention during the past four years. It is very manifest that that measure will have torun the gauntlet of all sorts of delays before it becomes law. We have already been considering it for several weeks during the current session. It contains over 400 clauses, and so far we have reached only clause 13. Do not honorable senators realize that if we are going to take advantage of opportunities to adjourn for the purpose of gaining a holiday our chances of reaching finality in respect of that measure during the current session are absolutely hopeless? The Navigation Bill is not a party measure in any sense of the term, as is proved by the divisions which have already taken place, and in which members of the Opposition have voted with the Government just as frequently as they have against it. Why should the fate of that Bill be kept in abeyance pending the result of a party squabble elsewhere ?
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council has told the honorable senator the reason why.
-But the reason is not an adequate one. I . am an advocate of doing the serious business of the country in a business-like way. I have endeavoured to show that the Navigation Bill is a nonparty measure, and that its progress through this Chamber should not be dependent upon the constant struggle for office elsewhere. I fail to see why the Senate should not devote itself seriously to the task of transacting the business of the country, and why it should not allow the other Chamber to continue its party squabbles as long as it chooses to do so. The Vice-President of the Executive Council might just as reasonably have asked the
Senate to adjourn till Wednesday month as till Wednesday week, because if his motion be carried it will be impossible to transact any serious business during the short period of the session that will then remain. In view of the desire of members of the Opposition to postpone a settlement of the Capital, site question, is it reasonable to assume that the debate upon the no-confidence motion will terminate next week? The leader of the Opposition in another place will himself occupy the whole of Tuesday next, and, in replying, the Prime Minister will probably occupy the greater portion of the following day. Then the deputy leader of the Opposition, and the three leaders of the corner party, will, feel called upon to discuss the question, and when the flood of inanities has been let loose by Mr. Johnson and Mr. Kelly, the debate will probably continue for at least a month.
– How about Mr. Webster?
– Honorable senators are not in order in alluding to members of the other House bv name.
– “Foi the past five years this Parliament has -been twitted with having endeavoured to evade the responsibility cast upon it by the Constitution of determining the Federal Capital site. That charge has been constantly repeated by members of the Opposition. But what are the undeniable facts? When the Government attempted to settle the question last session, the Opposition used every means in their power to intervene with another scramble for office.
– That statement is not correct. The motion to which the honorable senator refers was launched by a member of the Labour Party, and as soon as that party found it was loaded they became docile.
– A simple motion was submitted affirming the desirableness of appointing a Royal Commission to investigate the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department.
– I would_ point out that the honorable senator is getting away from the motion under consideration, which is that the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till a particular day. The honorable senator’s remarks must be strictly relevant to that question.
– I respectfully submit that I am advancing reasons why the Senate should not adjourn.
– The honorable senator is advancing very good reasons why the adjournment should be for a fortnight.
– The adjournment might as well be for two months as for a week. If we re-assemble towards the end of the present month, only about six weeks of the session will remain in which to transact urgent business. My remarks in connexion with the determination of the Federal Capital site question are perfectly a-pro-pos on this occasion, because it is within the knowledge of everybody that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has already given notice of a motion to take an exhaustive ballot upon it. That is another non-party matter with which this Senate might very well deal next week. Its settlement was shelved last session by reason of the action of the Opposition in another place.
– It is quite immaterial whether the settlement of that question was shelved upon a former occasion by reason of the action of the Opposition, or of anybody else. The question now under consideration is whether tha Senate should or should not adjourn till a particular date. The honorable senator must see that his remarks are scarcely relevant to the motion before the Chair.
– A tentative settlement of the Federal Capital question has been arrived at in another place, and the Vice-President of the Executive Council has_ already given notice of his intention to take action with a view to arriving at a determination of it in this Chamber. If we agree to the proposed adjournment, the settlement of that matter will be indefinitely postponed, because we shall not be afforded another opportunity of dealing with it during the current session. Are we to be held responsible for the shelving of such an important question? Undoubtedly we are not. The responsibility will rest entirely with the members of the Opposition who, in season, and out of season, have been clamouring for its settlement. For these reasons I intend to oppose the motion for adjournment. If I receive any support I shall divide the Senate upon it, because I maintain that so long as we have serious work to do, we should set ourselves to its accomplishment, without taking any cognisance whatever of squabbles for office elsewhere, or indeed of any other extraneous circumstance.
We have work of great importance to do, and should not adjourn merely because of something that has occurred somewhere else, and of which we have no official knowledge.
– It has just been conveyed to the Senate by the official representative of the Government.
– But not in an official way.
– What would the honorable senator do in the circumstances if he were leader of the Government in this Chamber?
– Probably if I were like the honorable senator I should take advantage of the incident to have a holiday.
– That is the honorable senator’s mean and contemptible way of putting his case.
– Order; the senators must not carry on conversations with each other.
– I ask, sir, that the honorable senator should not be permitted to make untruthful references to myself.
– The honorable senator is not in order in making a charge of untruthfulness against another honorable senator. If Senator Givens has made a misstatement the honorable senator has a right to call attention to the fact or to make an explanation at a later stage.
– I should not have alluded to Senator Findley if he had not interjected.
– Why did the honorable senator insinuate that I desired a holiday. He is simply trying to throw the limelight on himself.
– I have as much right to reply to an interjection as the honorable senator has to make one. I offer no apology.
– The honorable senator never does.
– Order. I ask honorable senators not to carry on these conversations.
– I have adduced several good reasons why we should go on with our business, and transact it in the interests of those who have sent us here. I fail to see why we should be guided by musty precedents. It has been my rule ever since I have been a member of the Senate to disregard precedents unless they commend themselves to my good sense. We should not be ruled by the dead hand of people who lived generations since.
– We are guided by our own uniform precedents.
– And are making them as we go along.
– I care not by whom precedents are created, we are here to do our business in our own way, entirely independent of what any one in bygone times has said. I have no respect for ancient precedents, and could name a hundred which any sensible person would disregard. I am not in favour of the motion for the adjournment, and if I can obtain any support, shall call for a division.
Senator Colonel NEILD (New South Wales) [10.54]. - The Vice-President of the Executive Council has either gone too far or not far enough. He has proposed an adjournment of seven days, which means four sitting days in . another place and three sitting days in the case of the Senate. I sympathize with what Senator Givens has said as to the practice of Parliament in adjourning when motions of the kind referred to have been lodged.. But, on the other hand, I must draw attention to the extraordinary avidity with which the Minister moved this motion, and to his evident delight at the occurrence of something that will relieve him of the responsibility of continuing to play out time, as this Chamber has done, at his instance, for the last six weeks. During that period we have passed thirteen clauses of one Bill. The proverbial readiness of the shark to snap at a bit of pork is trifling as compared with the anxiety of the honorable senator to do nothing. If he means what he says as to the constitutional reasons for an adjournment, then an adjournment for one week is too little. He knows that the motion submitted in another place is not likely to be disposed of in four sitting days, and he is, therefore, proposing to bring back senators at the end of a week merely to adjourn once more. If the motion goes to a vote in its present form I shall, therefore, vote with Senator Givens against a week’s adjournment, but if it be amended to provide for an adjournment for fourteen days, I shall vote for it. That would be a bond fide proposal, whereas that now before us is spurious. There is on the notice-paper business that might well be transacted now, and which would not involve any responsibility on the part of the Government. The Seat of Government Bill might certainly be dealt with in the Senate at this stage, because the Government have shown over and over again that they accept no responsibility in regard to it. They do not even agree amongst themselves on the subject. They vote against one another, and it cannot possibly be alleged that the measure is one of Ministerial responsibility.
– Is that why the honorable senator is prepared to vote for an adjournment for a fortnight?
– If we are not to be allowed to proceed with business I shall vote for a sensible and not for a silly adjournment. My desire is that we should push on with the selection of the Capital site, and I deplore that something which has just been reported to the Senate should have occurred in another place at this juncture. However desirable it may be to discuss such a motion at the proper time, it is deplorable that it should have been launched just when there was some hope of finality in regard to the selection of the Capital site.
– I ask the honorable senator not to discuss that question in detail. The question before us is the <late to which the Senate shall adjourn.
– I understand that the motion before us is not one for the adjournment of the Senate in the ordinary way, but a special adjournment motion.
– The question to be considered is the date to which we should adjourn. It is not for us to debate the wisdom or unwisdom of the action of another place with regard to a motion pf censure.
– I know that, sir. I was only incidentally expressing my regret that that motion had been tabled at this juncture.
– I am afraid that the honorable senator was proceeding to discuss it at too great length.
– I thought that I referred to it only in the most incidental manner; but I know that there are not a dozen words in the English language that will bear the same complexion ito two minds. I do not care to move an amendment extending the adjournment to a fortnight, but I hope the Minister will <lo so or take the consequences of the defeat of his motion in its present form. I ask the Minister whether he will move to make the date to which wa shall adjourn the 4th November. As the honorable gentleman does not seem disposed to accept that reasonable suggestion, I move -
That the words “28th October” be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “4th November.”
I wish either to go on with the business or to have a sensible adjournment. I do not desire to be brought here, or to see other honorable senators brought here, on the 28th October for a five minutes’ sitting, in which we shall be told that the matter which has arisen has not yet been settled, and a further adjournment will therefore be necessary. We know that it cannot be, settled in four sittings of another place. If my amendment is not carried, I shall vote against any adjournment at all. That we should adjourn only for a week, in the circumstances, is a preposterous proposal, and involves a sheer waste of the time of the majority of the members of the Senate. There are honorable senators who find it necessary during the session to reside permanently in Melbourne. They must be away from their homes, and have to incur additional expense j but they would not be any worse off if the adjournment were over a fortnight. There are other honorable senators, from Queensland and Tasmania, who would have an opportunity of going to their homes if we adjourned for that time.
– Honorable senators from Western Australia cannot go to their homes and back in a fortnight.
– They could go to Perth and back easily in a fortnight. They would be four days on the water each way, and could have six days in Perth. If my amendment is not carried,, and honorable senators decide, as I hope they will, that we shall not adjourn at all, we can go on with the consideration of the question of the Federal Capital site, in respect to which Ministers have no responsibility. There is private business which could be considered. We know that SenatorMcGregor ‘was sacrificed last night.
– And Senator Neild.
– If the honorable senator makes any reference to a low-down trick–
– Order. I ask the honorable senator not to make use of remarks of that kind. The words he has just used should certainly be withdrawn.
– I withdraw them, and say a contemptible manoeuvre.
– Order. I do not think that is a proper remark to make either. I ask the honorable senator not to make use of such remarks, and I also remind him that the matter to which he refers cannot be discussed on the motion before the Senate.
– I referred to it only because of interjections.
– I am aware of that. But the honorable senator was not in order in making use of the remarks he did, and which I asked him to withdraw.
– I have withdrawn them. An opportunity will be afforded on the motion for the ‘ adjournment of the Senate to discuss a considerable number of matters of interest to some of us, if not to Ministers. On that motion I shall have a freer hand, and shall probably take advantage of it.
-5]- - I must express my regret, and even my astonishment, that the mover of the amendment did not endeavour to uphold the reputation which he seeks to achieve as a stubborn stickler for the dignity and importance of the Senate. The honorable senator will be content with an adjournment, provided that it is sufficiently long to suit his purpose. That is hardly a view which he might be expected to take in the light of the repeated attempts he has made to claim for the Senate co-equal powers with another branch of the Legislature. The honorable senator has made praiseworthy attempts to prevent the Senate being ignored, but on the present occasion he appears to be prepared to knuckle down to the other branch of the Legislature, or, rather, to a section in another place. That is rather a serious falling away from grace on the part, of this gallant champion of the Senate. He should have stood up for the rights and dignity of this Chamber as he has led honorable senators in the past to believe he was always prepared to do. We are asked to agree to an adjournment because of something that has happened in another place, as the result of a notice of motion tabled on behalf of one section in that branch of the Legislature. I point out that similar action might just as easily have been taken on behalf of another section representing a very small minority of twelve’ members, but with a distinct identity recognised by the country. It was equally possible for the minority comprising that small section to precipitate a crisis. If a similar notice of motion had been given by the leader of that small party, that mere fraction in another place,, following precedent we should in the sameway have been asked to bow down to it.
– The Governmentwould not in that case have taken any,notice of the motion.
– The Government arenot bound to recognise every hostile motion, as a vote of censure.
– From the accountsof the matter which have appeared in thepress it would appear that it was merely an accident that the leader of that smalt fraction of honorable members in another place did not give notice of the motion.
– Does the honorablesenator mean to say that Government would have ignored that small section? That apparently is his argument.
– I do not know towhat small section the honorable senator is referring.
– It was possible forthe leader of the small section in another place to which I have referred to table amotion of no confidence, and following, precedent the Senate of thirty-six members, representing the whole of the Federated States, would have been asked tobow down and subordinate themselves . tothe passing whim of that party.
-Colonel Cameron. - Abolishthe House of Representatives.
– I am not proposing, that we should abolish the House of Representatives, but I suggest that certain, circumstances attending the present occasion warrant us in going on with our business in the Senate. We have before us for consideration a non-contentious and nonparty measure. I refer to the Navigation. Bill.
– The honorable senatorshould not say non-contentious.
– It is certainly not a party measure. It has been sufficiently exemplified that honorable senators do not take a party view of it. I recognisethat, in the introduction of any fresh’ Government business, a difficulty would” arise ; but the Navigation Bill has been looked forward to by those concerned, with much anxiety, for a number of years > and we, as members of the Senate, will unwarrantably and inexcusably subordinateour position, as a co-equal branch of the-‘ Legislature, if we adjourn on, the present occasion. I know that my view will not: meet with the approval of honorable senators, but we should not be bound by precedent. The House of Lords does adjourn on such occasions ; but, after all, what is the House of Lords ? It is merely the creation of the popular Chamber in the Old Country, whereas we, as a Senate, come direct from the people, as a branch of the Legislature, co-equal, except in the matter of Money Bills, with the other Chamber; and yet we are asked to acknowledge our inability to proceed with business. I believe we could with advantage, not only to the party that may remain in power, but to the party that may come into power, discuss and determine this measure; and I record my strongest protest against an adjournment. It illbecomes us as a Senate to so efface ourselves as to yield - for it is nothing else - to a mere section or fraction of the members of another place. I shall support the amendment, and if that be not carried I shall vote against the motion.
– We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that we work under a. system of party government, and that, therefore, we can- not expect the Ministry to proceed with business while its existence is threatened ; in fact, to proceed with business would be simply flouting both Houses. There is, however, a reason why the Senate should not adjourn. I am fast coming to the opinion that this Parliament is becoming unworkable and no other conclusion is possible when we remember the enormous work that lies ahead, and observe the slow progress we are making. But if there is any business on the notice-paper of a nonparty character, and we proceed with it, we shall relieve ourselves of any responsibility for delay ; and I point to the selection of the Federal Capital site as business of the kind. The Government have absolutely refused to take any responsibility in connexion with the selection of the Federal Capital site, as a party question. In another place the Government even refused to put aside the Act which is now on the statute-book, and absolutely disclaimed any vestige of party government or leadership.
– The Government are responsible for the manner in which that question is presented to us.
– I do not know that the Government are so responsible, because, so far as I can see, the business was practically taken out of the Govern ment’s hands long ago; and both Houses have sanctioned the position. This ought to be a short session, with the business all finished by the end of the year, so that we may not be asked to return after Christmas ; and to accomplish that we have only a few weeks remaining. Senators on both sides recognise that the selection of the Federal Capital site is a pressing and non-party matter ; and I venture to say that, when we come to vote, parties will be found very much mixed, seeing that there will be no leadership from the Government. This was what occurred in another place; and practically the Government have thrown the question down and said, “ Do the best, and as you like, with it.” All that the Government has done is to submit a series of standing orders to govern our proceedings while we are deciding the question. The Navigation Bill, on the other hand, is essentially a party measure, for the introduction of which the Government take the responsibility.
– If the procedure which I assume the honorable senator is suggesting were adopted, there might come a time when it would be extremely difficult to say whether or not the selection of the Federal Capital site was a party question.
– Then it would be for the Government to say that the question had reached a stage at which they, as a party, were called upon to take action; and, in view of the no-confidence motion to move an adjournment. Whenever that moment arrives I shall be prepared to support an adjournment; but such a contingency is not at present even in sight.
– Supposing another Government were to come into power, the votes cast here on the Navigation Bill would not be altered in the slightest.
– I am not prepared to agree to that.
– We might then have another Bill altogether.
– There is such a thing as Cabinet solidarity.
– Since when?
– There is, at any, rate, a legend that there is Cabinet solidarity ; and, judging by some of the votes we see in this Chamber, I think it does exist. The Senate ought to view the position, not from the stand-point of precedent, bub from that of expediting the business of the session, especially in relation to the Federal;
Capital, on which some announcement is due to the people.
– We desire to pass the Navigation Bill before Christmas.
– Quite so; and ‘if we do not deal with the -Federal Capital question during the coming week we shall have to do so in the subsequent week, and that will, by so much, shorten the time at our disposal to deal with the Navigation Bill. 1 suggest that we adjourn until Wednesday, and then take up the Federal Capital question. I venture to say, judging from what I know of the talking capabilities of the Senate, and the due deliberation we give to all matters, that we shall not have disposed of that question by next Friday ; and my suggestion would result in useful work and make it- possible for desirable legislation to be passed this session. Although the Government are charged with the responsibility of leading the legislative work here, they are really in the hands of the Chamber so far as concerns the work to be done, and I suggest that the Vice-President of the Executive Council withdraw his present motion, and move that the Senate adjourn until next Wednesday. After that question was disposed of I should be prepared to support any adjournment, because I recognise that the Government could not be expected to take up a party Bill.
– Some may think that the Navigation Bill is a party measure.
– That is for the Senate itself to determine. If the Senate should conclude that the Navigation Bill is not a party measure, we might go on with it. But no one can say that the Federal Capital question is one of a party character. Why, then, put- off the settlement of it? I ask the Senate to vote against the adjournment unless the Government can see their way to propose that it shall be until Wednesday next. If Senator Best’s motion is defeated he can substitute another one - “ That the Senate do now adjourn “ - and then we can meet on Wednesday fro forma.
– No matter how much we may deplore the lack of progress made during the present session we cannot shut our eyes to the circumstances surrounding us. At the beginning of the session it was understood that we were to prorogue before Christmas. There was to be a short session. If we had devoted the whole of our time to the Navigation Bill the whole ses sion would have been occupied with it. But the interposition of the no-confidence motion in another place puts entirely out of question the possibility of concluding our work upon the Navigation Bill.
– Not necessarily.
– I see no hope of our being able to dispose of the measure this side of Christmas. It contains 417 clauses, over which we can split hairs as ‘much as we please. The Federal Capital question may or may not be of a party character, but at any rate it will occupy a considerable time. I cannot see the possibility of doing much else than settlethat question this session. It is not a bit of use for us, therefore, to oppose the motion of the Vice-President of the ExecutiveCouncil. We may as well agree to It, and put aside all idea of passing the Navigation Bill. I shall support the Government,, because I can see no possibility of satisfactory work being done by resisting the adjournment, and those who come from distant States ought to have a reasonable opportunity of getting to their homes before the end of the year.
– I am in rather a curious position. I seconded the amendment, and will givereasons for doing so. I am opposed to any adjournment, but if an adjournment is to be agreed to, I prefer that the date should be the 4th November rather thai* the 28th October.
– That is funny logic !
– It is not to any one who has a logical mind. If the adjournment till the 28th October were carried the probability is that -when the Senate met on that day it would discover that the no-confidence motion in another place had not been disposed of, and that a further adjournment was necessary. Therefore, if we are to adjourn, I think a date should be fixed that would enable those of us who come from distant Statesto visit them. I admit that an adjournment for a fortnight would not Be sufficient for the Western Australian senators. I am sorry for them. But their case cannot be helped in the circumstances. A reasonable adjournment would however, enable the Queensland senators to visit their State. But, as I have said, I am opposed entirely to any adjournment.
– If an adjournment iswrong, does not the honorable senator “think that it would be logical to make the wrong as small as possible?
– I am opposed to any adjournment, and shall vote for the amendment. But if there is to be an adjournment at all, I want to go To Queensland, and also to be present when the Senate meets again. I do not want to come all the way from Queensland just to hear prayers read in the Senate, and agree to an adjournment immediately afterwards. There is a reasonable prospect of the noconfidence motion being disposed of by the 4th November.
– Does the honorable senator recognise that an adjournment until Wednesday week would give five days’ debate in the other House?
– When I think of the long-winded speeches delivered in that House I am not at all sure that five days’ debate will end the matter. I should like to show why I think there should be jio adjournment. It appears to me that honorable senators who have discussed, this problem take a peculiar view of the position of the Senate. I may not be fully acquainted with constitutional principles, but this Parliament, which is composed of two Houses, and not the Government, is responsible to the country for legislation and administration. The Constitution knows nothing whatever of the Government. The Government is merely a. Committee appointed by Parliament to manage its business. That Committee has been challenged in another place, and its members, together with a number of others, have come to the conclusion that on that account the Committee is also challenged in this Chamber, and that all business should end here as it does there. I differ from that view. We are here entirely independent of anything that takes place, in the other place. We have to review measures which are sent to us from that place. Before they become law they must pass this Chamber, and similarly ‘measures introduced here must be passed by the other Chamber before they become law. The functions of each Chamber, are wholly separate. We have been told that the Navigation Bill is a Government measure. It has been introduced by the Government, but is now the property of the. Senate. It’ has passed wholly out of the control of the Government. The Senate can either permit the Government to withdraw it, or can :go on with it.
– The Government can. withdraw the measure without consulting the Senate.
– The Government cannot do so without the consent of the Senate. The Senate is supreme in this matter, and rightly so. The business of the Senate is not in the hands of the two men who sit here representing the Government, but is in the hands of the whole of the thirty-six senators, who have been chosen by the people of Australia to do their work. We are sent here to do the business of the country, and not to take part in squabbles for office. I admit that that sort of thing is the only attraction which politics have to offer to certain individuals, but our real duty is to do the serious work of the country. The selection of a Capital site is a duty imposed by the Constitution upon Parliament. Certain steps have been taken in another Chamber towards carrying out the; provisions of the Constitution in that regard, and it was intended at an early date to proceed in this Chamber to bring the question to finality. Why cannot we go on with that business which the country expects us to do? Personally I am altogether opposed to the proposal of the Government in that matter, as there is an Act already on the statute-book, but we might well discuss the question. It is business which has been placed within the purview of the Senate, and ought to be gone on with irrespective of what is happening in another place. Do we want to go on with the Navigation Bill, which1 is our Bill ? If we consider it necessary to pass it, we know that there is only a short session in prospect, and we all desire to get away before Christmas. If we intend to do anything this year it must be done now, and there must be no adjournment. If there is, it will be impossible to overtake the work before Christmas.
– Does the honorable senator think that we can deal with the Capital site question and the Navigation Bill this year?
– If we gave it a fair trial we might do it easily.
– If the present Government went out of office the Navigation Bill might not be part of the policy of the next Government, and all our work would go for nothing.
– Even in that event the Senate could assert its rights. If could refuse to deal with any measure sent up by the next Government.
– We could stop Supply.
– We could do so if necessary. The position of the Senate is unassailable if honorable senators are prepared to assert themselves, but, if they are not, the Senate becomes a mere joint in the tail of the other Chamber, with no other function than to do certain routine work. I am opposed to any adjournment, but if we do adjourn it should be till 4th November, rather than 28th October.
– I am anxious in every way to consult the convenience of honorable senators, but there is a reasonable prospect of the debate on the want of confidence motion being concluded in another place by the 28th October. Therefore we should not be justified in adjourning until a later date, which might involve the possibility of the other House proceeding with ordinary Government work, and the Senate not sitting at all. We shall know by the 27 th October what the prospect is. I admit that it would be a great hardship to bring a number of honorable senators back from adjoining States if there was no business to deal with.
-Why not give to private senators an opportunity to go on with their business?
– I shall deal with that matter presently. If we find on the 27th October that there is no prospect of the debate on the motion of no-confidence elsewhere being concluded, I am sure that those who reside in Melbourne will convenience other senators by formally meeting and adjourning. On that day I shall endeavour to ascertain, if possible, what the prospect is, and telegraph information to those who leave their names with me.
– I should have to leave on the Monday.
– I admit that my honorable friend is disadvantaged, but the situation is certainly not the creation of the Government. We are endeavouring in a constitutional manner to meet the emergency which has arisen. That is a reason why we should not adjourn until a later date than the 28th October.
-Colonel Cameron. - What reason is there for not letting honorable senators know the prospect on Friday, the 23rd October? Would not the honorable senator have a reasonable chance of estimating the position then?
– Perhaps; but on the Tuesday we shall have a better chance. If we find that there is a prospect of the debate being concluded on Tuesday or Wednesday, the Senate can meet on Thursday and Friday, in the usual way, but honorable senators will be advised in that regard. Senator Pearce has urged that non-party Government business should be proceeded with. But I remind him that it would be against parliamentary practice and the precedent established by the Senate to adopt that course. The hands of my seven colleagues cannot be tied elsewhere, and my honorable colleague, Senator Keating, and myself allowed to actively press forward Government business here. Such a thing, would be completely opposed to the fundamental principle of responsible government.
– Yes, but take the Navigation Bill.
– That is a Government measure. Whether it is regarded here from a party or non-party stand-point, is to some extent more or less immaterial at the present moment, but it embodies a policy for which the Government are responsible. If they went out of office tomorrow, the new Government would be at liberty to either father that Bill, orintroduce another. They might decide not to bring forward a Navigation Bill at all. At any rate, they must formulate a policy for themselves and proceed with it in such a manner, and at such times, as they think proper.
– That is to say that men cast their votes on a measure out of political considerations ?
– Under our system of party government, undoubtedly. Senator Needham has asked why we should not proceed with private business. He must realise that the Government have to take some responsibility, even in regard to private business. In accordance with the principles of responsible government they have to say whether they are prepared to accept or oppose the proposals which are made by honorable senators. The Government must lead each House, and as leaders they must arrange their business. If any private business is proposed, which the Government cannot see their way to accept their clear duty to the Senate is to oppose it. In addition to that, as honorable senators know, it is the duty of a leader to advise the Senate generally onany measures which are brought forward by private senators.
– And to keep a quorum, too.
– That is another matter. From his own stand-point, Senator Needham will see that the Government cannot forsake their duty, and that, fundamentally, it would be a mistake for the Senate to attempt to proceed when practically there was no responsible Government in power.
– What about the Seat of Government Bill?
– While it is quite true that that measure is of a non-party character, and it is not part and parcel of the policy of the Government that any particular site should be selected, the majority of Ministers are undoubtedly in favour of one site. But the Government have to lead in that matter as in others.
– It is part of the Government policy to bring the matter to a conclusion.
– We, as a Government, are endeavouring to carry out the wish of the Parliament with regard to having a Capital site fixed. We have to lead in the matter and to accept the responsibility. Suppose that the Senate should make a certain selection. The Government would then have to say what Bill had to be introduced.
– That is a matter for later consideration. There is no Bill here now.
– It does not rest with any honorable senator to introduce a measure for the purpose of carrying out the determination of both Houses.
– I agree that a private senator could not introduce a Bill. But there is no Bill here now.
– Even in that matter, affecting as it does the business of the Senate, the Government have to take the lead in Parliament, and they must be, to some extent, governed by results. I submit to honorable senators that they would be abrogating the principles of our recognised system of responsible government if they did not follow the constitutional practice on this occasion. It would be anomalous for us to proceed with business while, in another place, the existence of the Government was being challenged. I think, however, that we should not be jus- tified in adjourning until the 4th November.
Question - That the words proposed to to be left out (Senator Colonel Neild’s amendment) be left out - put. The Senate divided.
Majority … … 23
Question so resolved in the negative.
Question - That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Wednesday, 28th October - put. The Senate divided.
Majority … … 10
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12 (noon).
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 16 October 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1908/19081016_senate_3_47/>.