House of Representatives
10 November 1908

3rd Parliament · 3rd Session

Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

page 2137



Ministerial Statement

Minister of External Affairs · Ballarat · Protectionist

– I trust I may have t!« indulgence of the House for a few moments in making reference to the present position of parties and of public business. Rather more than a fortnight ago we were engaged in a debate upon a want of confidence motion, in the course of which I took occasion to examine the parties in this House, their principles, and their possible combinations. I had intended to completely discuss the general outlook, and, but for the interruptions with which I was favoured, should have done so. However, incomplete as the sketch may have been, I trust that it is unnecessary for me to repeat it, or any portion of it, to-day. I hope that not only honorable members, but the public, are by this time fully seized of the state of public business and the relations of the four parties into which, this House is divided. That motion was dealt with on amendment by & division which gave twenty-one votes for the Opposition, and forty-three votes against them. Since that time the honorable member for Wide Bay, as leader of the Labour Party, has intimated’ that more than one-half of that Ministerial majority can no longer be reckoned as supporting the present Government. Thus he has created a situation which could scarcely be continued with advantage even in a House that had discharged the greater part of its business, and becomes utterly impossible when it is realized that the great bulk of the work of this session still remains to be done. We have before us, announced in the Speech, or included in the businesspaper, the immense and all-important problem of Australian defence by land and sea, the whole series of questions radiating from their common centre in Commonwealth and State finance, the new protection proposals of the Government, the acquisition of the Northern Territory - one of the largest propositions ever submitted even to this Parliament - and, closely connected with it, although also of the highest general import, the encouragement of immigration in its relation to that territory and to the whole of the States. Be sides this, we have before us a great Navigation Bill, a Manufactures Encouragement Dili, lately passed to another Chamber, the Capital Site, now ready for the submission of a validating and defining measure, and several Bills, such as those relating to marine insurance and bills of exchange, of great value to our commercial community, and, indeed, to the community as a whole. Upon these and other projects I need not dwell. Let me add here another matter which should be mentioned, in reference to which I hope to lay the papers upon the table to-day. These will show that the Government have provisionally purchased a site abutting on Trafalgar Square and running down Northumberland Avenue, in the centre of London, for the future Commonwealth offices. The terms and particulars will be disclosed to honorable members, and plans laid before them. It is highly desirable, whatever, happens, that this proposal should be either - accepted or rejected within the next few days, in justice to the vendor. Even the items of business to which I have alluded are of such magnitude that they can only be dealt with by a strong Government, with a strong party united on those, questions. In our case evidently it would be but paltering if we were at this stage to endeavour to proceed with them.

We are fortunate in having been able to advance them so far, but deeply regret that the opportunity of pressing them on to a conclusion does not rest with us. -At the same time, we feel that it is due to Parliament and to the country that sent us here, that we should not offer in our persons any obstacle to the better transaction of public business. The object originally was that the present session should close at Christmas, and if that is to be done, even with a very much restricted programme, it will involve a far greater demand upon honorable members than they have made upon themselves as yet during this session. The majority that would be required to carry several of the measures referred to would be large, and, even the effective majority which we have hitherto enjoyed being denied to us, it is in the ‘ best interests of those measures and of the business of the country that the Government submit themselves to-day to the pleasure of the House. I do not intend to allude to the past. The statute-books of the last three years, the list of fresh powers accepted by the Commonwealth, the new Departments assumed, and the preparations for still further extensions, constitute records which speak for themselves. The fact remains that we have now no majority to carry the measures which were submitted in the speech of His Excellency the Governor-General. What is more, no other party in this House has a majority of its own to carry those or any other measures. We have so far proceeded with our work owing to a general public understanding between the two parties which occupy these benches. It can be dealt with henceforward only by some other Government which in the same way will have a general or particular understanding with some party outside itself. It may be that a change in the men upon whom devolves the task of holding the helm will enable this House to transact the business which now passes from our hands. It is a singular circumstance, upon which those who have been associated with this Government can look with .a considerable amount of consolation, that although our party is not numerically strong, no party combination is possible in this House which can transact the business of the country without its consent. It is our duty to give that consent so far as it is possible, and to subordinate individual views and even party interests to the necessities of the case. It is our duty, when laying down the official conduct of business, to endeavour to strengthen the hands of those who will take it up while the conduct of that business by them does not conflict either with the principles upon which we were returned, or with the interests of the Commonwealth. We have from the outset, not from paucity of numbers, but from reliance upon the sober judgment and steady conscience of the people of Australia - we have consistently put our policy in the first place. It is for that policy that we have politically lived. Now that policy will remain after us, widening in its popularity, and deepening in the extent of the appreciation afforded to it outside. No matter into whose hands that policy may fall, it will be both our privilege and our duty to support if. This can be accomplished, as my honorable friends in the corner have shown for the past three years. With their fixed and decided platform, remaining without amendment from Parliament to Parliament, they have been able to lend us support, without breach of, or departure from, it .or the obligations which they have assumed1. So; much at least is possible from us under1 similar circumstances. Again, it is not only what has been done during the last three years that merits remembrance now. It is what has been avoided - what has been prevented. We speak in another atmosphere to-day from that which existed a few years ago. Before this Parliament has run its course, I have little doubt but that public opinion outside will have matured, so that the measures approved when next we face the electors of the Commonwealth, will give effect to a progressive policy, no matter who may be at the head of affairs.


– Ought we not to face them now, if that is to be the case? Should we not go to the country now?


– My present’ statement, authorized by you, Mr. Speaker, hardly permits a reply to interjections. At another time, I should be happy to deal wilh that suggestion. What I desired to say was that as a national party, intrusted with a national policy, we by no means diminish our ardour or relinquish our expectations of its success because we sit elsewhere than upon these benches. The policy has made us, and not we the policy. We trust that policy will be pursued, in whatever part of the House we ourselves may be found. We remain, sir, the party of the centre, which, not simply attempting to avoid extremes, takes that onward course which allows the natural unfoldment of a democratic community. I should be happy if I could be led to believe that the impending change will relieve us of toils and anxieties. But, as already mentioned a fortnight ago, we must realize that in a House constituted as this is, business can only be conducted to the satisfaction of those who have a policy to carry out, by the same constant devotion to it as we should have proved if we still occupied these seats. It is not going to be an easy task to even continue this Parliament. It is not going to’ be an easy task to dispose of the great business before us. It is not going to be an easy task to prepare the public for appeals that will be made to them at the next general election. Therefore, we who have “ learnt in suffering what we teach” in speech, if not “ in song,” can sympathize not only with those who are to occupy these benches, but also with those who sit in opposition ; because in these times, and in this House, a heavy responsibility extends not only to all parties, but to every individual member. If we can in any manner hew through this thicket a straight way to the transaction of some of the all-important business which lies before us we shall, at least, have deserved well of the country, if it understands the difficulties of the task in a House such as this is. Finally, Mr. Speaker, it is time that we moved out of the political doldrums. There is a stage forward. But in any case, there is one motion necessary to any Government that occupies these benches, if it desired to see this session close before Christmas. It must make further demands upon honorable members for their time and attention, as well as for the concentration of their comments.

Mr Johnson:

– Does any one object to that?


– I must not answer interjections. The object is, as the object of any Government sitting upon these benches would be, to take such ‘ steps immediately as will enable the possible business to be coped with before Christmas. Is it with this view, sir, that I have prepared a motion relating to the order of business, because the order of business in one aspect is the first situation we are required to consider. . But although the motion only relates to the order of business, with a view to challenge the opinion of the House, Ministers will accept any alteration whatever, no matter how slight, as an indication that the term of their Administration has arrived. It will be perfectly possible, therefore, for any honorable member, or for any party, to take up our challenge; and I sincerely hope that some representative member will. Parliament is the centre of the whole of our political system. From it and through it every Government derives its authority, though ultimately, of course, that authority comes from and reverts to the electors. But from Parliament every Ministry receives the accolade; from Parliament every Ministry receives its despatch, save in those cases when, after an election, the people have spoken so emphaticallyat the ballot-box that without counting the numbers in Parliament, the return of the new representatives is accepted as a sufficient verdict. To Parliament, therefore, this Government now surrenders its trust, inviting the House to express its will by an amendment of the following simple motion, which, having read,I shall ask leave to move -

That in view of the present state of public business, the House shall for the remainder of the session meet on Monday at 3 p.m., and that private business be suspended for the remainder of the session.

Any amendment of the motion, however formal, will be accepted by the Government as an adverse vote. I now simply submit it.


– Is it the pleasure of the House that the Prime Minister have leave to submit the motion without notice?

Mr Reid:

– No.


– Then the motion cannot be put.

Minister of External Affairs · Ballarat · Protectionist

– I shall, in those circumstances, submit a motion which the right honorable gentleman cannot stop. I move -

That the House at its rising adjourn until to-morrow at 3 o’clock.

That proposes a difference of only half an hour in the usual time of meeting, but it is enough for the purpose. We shall equally accept any amendment of this formal motion as a challenge to the Government.

Wide Bay

– I have listened to the eloquent review by the

Prime Minister of the business brought before the House and what has been done with it, with a very great deal of pleasure. I am quite sure that every honorable member must envy the honorable gentleman his eloquence, and must wish that he were able to acquit himself in the same way. I think, however, that the way in which the honorable gentleman has proposed to deal with the present situation is not as satisfactory as honorable members could desire, and I therefore move -

Thatall the words after the word “That” be left out.

Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the motion - put. The House divided.

AYES: 13

NOES: 49

Majority … … 36



Question so resolved in the negative.

Amendment agreed to.

Minister of External Affairs · Ballarat · Protectionist

– In order that the House may give full and profound attentionto all the possible meanings that are to be found in the one word of my motion remaining, I propose to move that the House, at its rising, adjourn until Friday.

Mr Reid:

– Friday is an unlucky day!

Sir William Lyne:

– Yes, for the honorable member for East Sydney !

Mr Reid:

– Friday is a very awkward day for all parties. I suggest that the House meet on the following Tuesday.


– There are two reasons why Friday was suggested to me. In the first place, it is very desirable that, if possible, the question of the London’ site should be dealt with this week.


– Better do nothing in the meantime; adjourn until Tuesday.

Mr Reid:

– I suggest that if Tuesday is not convenient, the adjournment had better be until Thursday, because Friday is a very awkward day.


– If there is no objection to the suggestion made by the leader of the Opposition, I move -

That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Thursday next.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 3.33 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 November 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.