5th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m. and read prayers.
– In view of what transpired last night in another place, and of the statements which have been made publicly by the Prime Minister, I wish to know if he has any announcement to make to the House this morning?
– I am glad that my right honorable friend has recovered from the shock caused by what occurred last night. I have no statement to make just at present.
-I thought so.
– The Government Preference Prohibition Bill having been rejected by the Senate, does the Prime
Minister intend to approach the GovernorGeneral at once for the purpose of asking for a double dissolution?
-I shall spare the honorable member any harrowed feelings, for just a few hours.
– I ask the Minister of Trade and Customs if he is aware that the Tasmanian Government contemplates bringing a test action against the Government of Western Australia in connexion with the heavy charges made for the inspection of imported potatoes. Seeing that there has been a breach of the Constitution, I ask whether the Commonwealth cannot take such action as may be necessary to relieve the State of Tasmania from having to move in the matter?
– I have already announced that I have seen the Western Australian Minister who administers the Act under which the inspection charges are made, and that he has promised to reconsider the charges. He has arranged with me that the matter shall be gone into by officers of the two Departments concerned.
– The Minister stopped Western Australia, on a former occasion, from making unduly heavy charges.
– Excessive charges were made in respect of certain fruit, and our representations to the Government of Western Australia brought about the reduction of those charges to reasonable rates. I hope that our’ present efforts will have the same result.
– I - I wish to know from the Attorney-General if the State Governments possess the constitutional power to impose these inspection charges? Is not the imposition of such charges an interference with the freedom of trade between the States which is provided for by the Constitution ?
– I have already answered several questions of this kind, and in the same way. It is highly undesirable that I should express any opinion as to the validity of State laws. We should very much resent the action of the State authorities in expressing opinions as to the validity ofour laws. The validity of any law can be tested by those affected by it.
– When does the Prime Minister intend to give the House an opportunity to elect the members of the Public Works Committee?
– In view of all the circumstances of the situation, I am not in a position to say at the present moment.
– In view of the approaching dissolution, will the Treasurer give the House an early opportunity to deal with the Pensions Bill, and also give effect to my proposal to increase the old-age and invalid pension from 103. to 12s. 6d. a week?
– When the Government is dealing with its financial proposals for the coming year, this and other matters will have due consideration.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Trade and Customs if he has yet received from the New South Wales Government any repayment of the expenses incurred in connexion with the active quarantine imposed last year in consequence of an outbreak of small-pox in Sydney?
– No. The matter is still the subject of communications between the two Governments.
-Has the Treasurer read ‘the statement of the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank which was presented to the Senate yesterday? If so, does he know whether it is the Governor’s last word with reference to the banking legislation that he proposes to introduce?
– I do not know the mind of the Governor of the Bank. If the honorable member will give notice of his question, I shall try to ascertain it.
– The right honorable gentleman’s colleague yesterday presented to the Senate a statement made by the Governor of the Bank.
– The honorable member asks whether that was the last word of the Governor. I am not aware whether it was or not. If the honorable member will give notice, I shall make inquiries.
– I wish to know from the Postmaster-General whether there is any electrical contrivance which will register each completed call simultaneously with the exchange and with the subscriber, thus giving the subscriber a means for checking his quarterly accounts? If not, will the honorable gentleman set aside a sum of money for the purpose of testing proposed contrivances to that end?
– Several persons take credit for having invented appliances which will check telephone calls, and I have arranged to have the Godfrey appliance installed at the Ballarat Telephone Exchange, by way of experiment. Some persons have applied for permission to install checking contrivances on their own premises. We have not the slightest objection to any on© doing that.
– When is the Treasurer likely to deliver the Budget and to make to the House a statement of the financial position of the country?
– As soon as that may be necessary.
Colonel RYRIE. - Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that in the Brisbane Post Office, 365 hours of overtime were recently worked during one fortnight, some officers being on duty from 4 p.m. to 2 p.m. next day?
– Several questions have been asked me lately by members of the Opposition in regard to matters affecting the Gippsland division, and I have made no objection to answering them. I take it that it is my duty to answer questions on departmental matters put to me by any member of the Australian Parliament. The honorable member for Brisbane lent me a letter which he had received, and there have been several complaints from Brisbane telegraphists of late-
– I rise to order.
– I wish to give the honorable member credit-
– I do not desire any credit. I have on the notice-paper a question dealing with this matter, and it is not competent for any other honorable member to intervene.
– I ask the Minister of Trade and Customs when the Government intend to issue a proclamation to bring the Navigation Act into operation!
– I have said that it will be impossible to put it into force for some time to come, because a staff has yet to be appointed, and necessary regulations must be framed and fully considered.
– I ask the Minister of External Affairs what will be the position at Port Darwin when the Navigation Act has been brought into force? Will exemptions be granted, and will such exemptions be legal?
– The Navigation Act will substantially affect some of the main lines of communication with Port Darwin, and this has been mentioned to the Minister of Trade and Customs. The whole matter will be considered before the Act is actually brought into force.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral if he is aware that Lord Howe Island has no communication with the mainland, and that his predecessor in office promised that no part of the Commonwealth should be left without communication.
– I am not aware of the promise of my predecessor. There are eighteen wireless stations round the Australian coast which can communicate with all vessels within 300 miles of the coast properly equipped with wireless. I do not know what the position of Lord Howe Island is, but I shall make inquiries.
– I ask the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs whether the Government of Western Australia are; going on with the sleeper contract; and, if not, will the honorable gentleman consider the advisability of inviting tenders for sleepers in other parts of Australia ?
– In the letter of the Commonwealth Government which cancelled the contract with the Western Aus tralian Government, an offer was made to enter into a new arrangement to meet the position of Western Australia. Following upon that offer, there were two conferences between the Premier of the State and Commonwealth Ministers, the second being held in Sydney. The Premier of Western Australia agreed to supply to the Commonwealth 500,000 powellised karri sleepers, and 500,000 jarrah sleepers, certain deliveries being fixed, the prices, with the exception of jarrah delivered at the western end, being also fixed. An arrangement was made under which the prices were to be reduced for sleepers proportionately with any reduction in size that might be decided upon by the Commonwealth Government. And there was a number of other matters agreed to, which I do not think my honorable friends will ask me to refer to without notice. In due course those provisions, which were agreed to by Mr. Scaddan, were inserted in a contract which was sent over to Western Australia for formal completion. The contract has come back, and it is now clear that the State Government will neither supply jarrah sleepers themselves, nor will they allow safeguards in this contract document against interference with other jarrah suppliers to the Commonwealth. Further, the State Government have decided that they will not give any pro rata reduction in the case of any reduction in the size of sleepers, which means in practice, judging from the New South Wales experience, that, if they charged for, say, an 8-ft. sleeper upon a 9-ft. basis, they would charge at least 40 per cent, more than it was worth. Owing to the action of the Western Australian Government, which is very much regretted by the Commonwealth Government, the question of the sleeper supply has become an urgent one, and is . now under the urgent consideration of this Government.
– Has the Honorary Minister any objection to laying on the table the papers relating to the recent negotiations with the Premier of Western Australia regarding the sleeper contract ?
– I should have no objection to laying on the table the draft contract submitted to the Western Australian Government and the alterations which they have sought to make.
– And the papers relating to the promises Mr. Scaddan made.
– The papers deal with all the verbal negotiations.
– Wil Will the Postmaster-General give the House an indication of the method employed in recording telephone calls? Are more than the actual number of calls registered, or does the system register less? If a subscriber has 150 calls, and he is charged for 300, is that accuracy?
– The report of the officers of the Department is that the full number of calls is not debited against the subscriber. There is a margin allowed in ‘favour of the subscriber. If any honorable member has any doubt on the subject, I would be pleased if he would visit the telephone exchange and see how the calls are recorded.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform the House when the Brighton subscribers will be connected with the automatic telephone service?
– The automatic telephone exchange at Brighton has been completed, and arrangements are being made to connect the subscribers as fast as possible. Probably within three weeks the exchange will be ready for opening.
– In view of the answer which the Postmaster-General gave yesterday to the honorable member for Darwin in regard to the appointment to the Postal Department of an expert from America, does the Minister intend to take steps to carry out the recommendations of the Postal Commission that the Department should be placed under the control of a Commission so as to give an efficient service?
– I have a Bill drafted for the appointment of a Commission, and as soon as we have an opportunity of dealing with it the measure will be submitted to the House.
– Will the Honorary Minister endeavour to have done everything possible to expedite the preparation of the electoral rolls, so that there may be no excuse for any delay in bringing about an election if the Government get a double dissolution 1
– I may inform the honorable member that only this morning before the House met I had a conversation with my colleague on this very subject of the rolls.
– As the French and British Governments are about to confer in regard to the drawing up of a new agreement respecting the control of the New Hebrides, will the Minister for External Affairs say whether he has any distinct promise from the British Government that the Commonwealth Government will be consulted before any agreement is finally ratified?
– Yes, there is a distinct promise. That is the interpretation which I put on the despatches received by us from the Imperial Government, and which were in answer to specific requests by us, that we should be consulted before any agreement was arrived at. A number of questions have been asked on that point in the House of Commons. I have read them all, and I notice that in some of the answers, Mr. Harcourt, and in one case Mr. Ackland, expressed the view that the Commonwealth and New Zealand Governments would be consulted. I feel confident that the Imperial Government will recognise their obligations to us in this matter.
– Twelve months ago I first mentioned the matter of the charges levied by the Western Australian Government on Commonwealth material entering that State, and since then the Government have been making inquiries. I would like to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether he is prepared to obtain an opinion as to the possibility of taking action under section 112 of the Constitution Act?
– The matter waa brought before the House less than twelve months ago, I think, and representations were immediately made to the present Government in Western Australia. We asked them to specify for us the amount of money they were receiving from those charges, and the cost to them of the actual inspection, information which is obviously contemplated by section 112. We repeated that request on several occasions, but obtained no definite reply. Finally, Mr. Bath has agreed to an arrangement, which I have already indicated to the House, and before any opinion can be taken on that section, obviously the Government must get the actual facts of the case. An arrangement has now been made to have the information supplied by the Western Australian Government to the Commonwealth officers.
– Will the Minister of Trade and Customs state what steps, if any, are being taken in connexion with the outbreak of small-pox in Sydney?
– We have made an arrangement with the Government of New South Wales, by which they have agreed to make provision for the complete isolation of all contacts and patients in Sydney. We have placed at their disposal the North Head station, subject to our right to accommodate passengers there in case of an overseas outbreak. In addition, the State Government have undertaken to build a station for their own patients and contacts.
– That is a matter for them to determine, but if they desire a portion of the present quarantine area they are entitled to have it by virtue of an arrangement made when my predecessor took control of quarantine. That agreement was thai) if the State Government desired to erect a hospital on the quarantine area they should have the right to do so. That was arranged between the departmental officers of the two Governments, and as the area is large, the arrangement was a reasonable one. Also, the State Government have undertaken to introduce a Bill to amend their existing Act so as to give them adequate power to deal with the present outbreak and any future outbreaks. We have also told them that if there are any powers under the Commonwealth law which they desire to exercise we shall be prepared to assist them to suppress the disease.
– Is the Minister satisfied that the State Government will be able to fully control any epidemic of this character?
– I am satisfied that if adequate amending legislation is passed, and the State Government provide themselves with a hospital, they will have all necessary powers.
– I understand that four cases have appeared at Bunbury, on the western side of Australia. As I understand that the quarantine station at Woodman’s Point is to be done away with, will the Minister say what steps have been taken to deal with this outbreak ?
– We are in communication with the Western Australian authorities’, and the information supplied to us shows that under the very good Western Australian Act they are taking every necessary precaution to prevent the spread of the disease.
Colonel RYRIE. - In view of the fact that the Minister of Trade and Customs recently informed me that he was in communication with the Government of New South Wales in regard to the removal of the quarantine station at North Head, does he think it wise to allow them to build a small-pox hospital on that site? And will the Minister consult the residents of the populous districts adjoining as to .the advisability of allowing such a thing to be done?
– The point raised by the honorable member has been distinctly understood by the State Government. They have suggested to the Commonwealth alternative sites with a view to the old area being resumed by the State, and a site elsewhere selected. Those sites are to be reported upon at once.
Carriage of .Produce
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Will he be good enough to stipulate that coastal mail steamers carrying mails to Gladatone, Townsville, Stc, (see Commonwealth Gazette, page 841, 9th May instant), shall also carry produce and other cargo, if required by residents of Gladstone district?
– I am looking into this matter, and will see what can bedone.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– My colleague, the Minister of Defence, has asked that all questions to him this morning be postponed until the next day of sitting, as he has not had time to prepare the answers.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The Advisory Board reported on the designs in July, 1913. On their advice, the specifications were drawn by Messrs. Butler and Bradshaw, architects, of Melbourne. I am not conversant with all the facts, as the proceedings had been initiated before I took office, but I am making further inquiries on the subject, and will give the honorable member a more particular answer next Wednesday.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
I am informed by Messrs. Robertson and Moffat that the table was made by Mr. Ziggle, who does work for that firm, at his works atBelman-place, off Russell-street, Melbourne.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
.- I move-
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the improper removal from the Chamber of Mr. Speaker’s copy of May’s “ Parliamentary Practice,” with Mr. Speaker’s notes in connexion therewith, and the abstraction of such notes, the interference with the keys of certain doors in the Chamber and precincts, and other disorderly proceedings; such Committee to consist of Mr. Archibald, Mr. Charlton, Mr. Sampson, and Mr. Bruce Smith, with power to send for persons, papers, and records, to report the evidence from time to time, and to have leave to sit during the sittings of the House.
The notice of motion was postponed yesterday on the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition, and as nothing has intervened in the meantime I now submit it to the House. Ib is very regrettable that this course should have become necessary, bub the time has undoubtedly arrived when something must be done to clear up occurrences of the kind, and, if possible, to stop them; otherwise business in the House will be entirely impossible.
– Has such a thing happened before?
– I have never known such a thing to happen before. Unfortunately, there are other incidents which have come to my ear since.
– Let us hear them. Do not insinuate.
– Will the right honorable member permit me to speak? What does he mean by these mock heroics? I heard that, the other night, there was placed before the door of the room of the Chairman of Committees, in which , the Treasurer was sleeping, a coalscuttle for him to fall over when he came out. It is time this sort of thing was stopped in the National Parliament.
– Hear, hear!
– It may be mere tittle-tattle.
– I do not suppose that there were two members of the Opposition who knew that the Treasurer was sleeping there that night.
– It may, or may not, be tittle-tattle, but I hope that the Committee will clear it up.
– I do not think any one would desire to injure the Treasurer.
– If it be true, nothing could be more detestable. It is time we cleared up these matters.
Several honorable members interjecting,
– Order !
– Two or three honorable members are interjecting simultaneously. This is not a party matter, and ought not to be a party matter.
– N - No one wants it to be so regarded.
– Then, why does the Leader of the Opposition indulge in these mock heroics?
– It is not a party matter.
– Order !
– Then why do not the Opposition hold their tongues and permit me to speak?
– Make a decent-
– Order ! I have several times called for order, and I ask the leaders on both sides of the House to support the Chair. I do not wish to name any honorable member, but I shall be compelled to do so if this constant disregard of the Chair is to continue. I give honorable members this warning, and remind them I expect the call of the Chair for order to be obeyed.
– I promise you, sir, my hearty assistance.
– I thank the right honorable member.
– Both sides are interested in clearing up this matter, and it should not be regarded from a party stand-point. I have shown my bona fides by my proposal as to the composition of the proposed Select Committee. I have selected four honorable members of calm judgment - two from each side of the House - to sift the whole thing to the bottom, and to tell us all there is to be known about it. There the matter ought to rest, and until the Committee has reported the less discussion there is the better.
.- The Prime Minister in submitting the motion imported a great deal of heat into the discussion, and whilst he was generalizing I asked him, as I had a right to do, not to insinuate, but to say straight out to what he was referring.
– The right honorable member did not give me a chance to say to what I was referring.
– The honorable member was not going to do so.
– Order ! These interjections must cease.
– I have become so used to interruptions that I do not complain. This is a non-party matter, since it concerns the whole House. I support the motion, but object to the words “ and other disorderly proceedings” appearing in the motion, since they would make the scope of the inquiry practically unlimited. Mr. Speaker has said this morning that our proceedings are disorderly, and has threatened to name some one. Would the inquiry extend into such a matter as that ?
– Under the terms of the motion it could.
– The words to which I have referred should have no place in such a motion. This should not be a roving inquiry.
– I am willing to strike out the words “ and other disorderly proceedings “ as long as it is understood that the Select Committee may investigate any of the incidents of the night in question.
– I am agreeable to that. I do not wish to limit the legitimate scope of the inquiry, but at the same time I do not think it should be a roving Committee. If it were, I could give evidence about certain things that happened during my term of office, but they are things which I like to forget. Speaking as one who has been in other Parliaments, I think that, taking it all in all, this is an exceedingly well-behaved one.
– Then some of the other Parliaments must have been very bad.
– Of recent years a number of new members - men unacquainted with parliamentary procedure - have entered the House; that possibly may have something to do with the matter. I have confidence in the proposed Committee, and believe it will do its work well. The dignity of Parliament, I am sure, will not suffer at its hands. I shall ask my colleagues to co-operate in every way with the Committee in its efforts to sift this trouble to the bottom, so that the right thing may be done. I concur with the Prime Minister as to the elimination of the words; but, in conclusion, I desire to say that, when he is invited to make a statement of the kind, he should not consider that he is injured, and indulge in heroics. I do not feel any reflection cast upon myself by the language used.
– Why did the right honorable gentleman say, “Let us have no insinuations?”
– In future I shall endeavour not to ruffle the feathers of the Prime Minister any more than I can help.
– I hope the right honorable gentleman will not ruffle my feathers, seeing that I have not many feathers left. I now ask leave to eliminate from the motion the words “ and other disorderly proceedings,” on the understanding that those proceedings may be inquired into.
Leave granted; question amended accordingly.
.- While the Prime Minister was claiming that he submitted his motion without any idea of serving party purposes, I interjected; and I did so because I felt strongly in regard to what, in my opinion, was as contemptible an insinuation as any public man could make.
-The honorable member must .withdraw the words “contemptible insinuation.”
– I withdraw those words, but what I referred to is the statement that a coal scuttle was placed opposite the door of the room in which the Treasurer was sleeping. I am perfectly satisfied that no honorable member on this side would do such a thing.
– No one said they would.
– That is quite true, but the insinuation was there, and it was cheered by honorable members opposite. I have no wish to debate the matter beyond saying that the insinuation was unworthy of the Prime Minister.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I can only conclude that the honorable member for Fawkner is suffering from some hallucination. I made no insinuation.
– The Prime Minister used the words.
– Of course, I stated the fact that I have heard that said. I repeat the statement, and I submit that the matter requires clearing up.
– - I wish to say that there is no man on this side of the House, whoever may be on the other side, who would do anything to injure the Treasurer.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 28th May (vide page 1660), on motion by Mr. Joseph Cook) -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to restore the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1902-1909 with respect to voting by post.
.- When this motion was last before us, I inquired whether it referred to a general
Bill to amend the electoral machinery, or whether it simply dealt with the postal rote; in other words, whether it was a copy of the Bill that was sent to another place last session. The Prime Minister was good enough to reply that the latter was the case; and that being so, my objection to the Bill is that it is useless for any practical purposes of electoral reform. If any evidence were required as to the utility and advantage of the system adopted at the last contest, it is supplied in the fact that a larger percentage of votes were cast than at any previous election. We have the further fact that, when the postal vote waa last in use, the majority of the electors who availed themselves of it consisted of men - not women. While I doubt very much whether it is of any great advantage for sick people to vote at all - if they are really sick - I point out that, at the last general election, such people were offered greater facilities at hospitals, and other places, than ever before, and that a fuller return was obtained than even under the old postal-vote system. There is, however, a fundamental objection to postal voting. It means that the votes must be cast some days, and, in many instances, some weeks, before the actual polling day. It is well known that elections very frequently turn on what takes place a few days, or even a day, before the voting; and a large number of postal votes, recorded a week or a fortnight prior, may depend on Government action, or inaction, which are not action or inaction that ultimately determine the verdict. Under the circumstances, while we may get a legal, we do not get a logical, or actual verdict of the people. We all recognise that an election cannot be permitted to sprawl all over the year; such a suggestion is at once recognised as an absurdity. The principle of a general election is the determination of the whole of the electorates on one particular day. Further, postal voting is an actual violation of the secrecy of the ballot, safeguard it as we may. I do not think that any one was more anxious than I was to have postal voting, or who advocated the principle, or stood by it so long as I did myself. But I found that in my own town of Gympie, as is well known to the honorable member for Lilley, the postal votes of two maids in one of the principal hotels were collected by a justice of the peace, that the maids did not vote as that justice of the peace desired, and that the postal votes were never delivered, but were subsequently discovered in a lower part of the sewer. The honorable member for Kennedy, who knows Charters Towers well, will corroborate me when I say that the mine, managers, and other influential members of the community there, made a housetohouse canvass while the husbands were- ‘ at work, and collected postal votes in theinterests of a particular candidate.
– And also threatenedthe women.
– Threats are declared by witnesses to have been made, but for my present purposes I shall leave them out of consideration. The fact remainsthat the women were coerced in every possible way - by the representation that,, not their political, but their financial, interests would suffer if certain candidateswere not returned.
– My word! How the honorable member is slandering Australia.
– The facts are on evidence, and I could support my statement by quoting, not members of my own party, but members of the Queensland State Government, who abolished the postal vote.
– Has the Queensland Government not reintroduced thepostal vote?
– Yes, in a way; but not in the way now proposed. In any case, it is now a different State Government, and they do not justify the postal vote on grounds which have been suggested, but simply because they think, as they straightforwardly admit, it will be of political advantage to themselves. I am a justice of the peace myself.
– There is no accounting for the men who are made justices !
– That may be, but we who are justices have to do our best to maintain the dignity of the office. Every possible facility should be afforded the citizens to, first of all, be enrolled, and then to have their names kept on the roll, even in duplication, if that be necessary, to enable them to poll once. No citizen should be permitted to poll more than once under any circumstances; every person who can possibly record his or her vote should have ample facilities to do so; in hospitals and other places means should, as far as practicable, be provided for the patients to exercise the franchise. Voting by post has been abused in the past, and will be abused under any partygovernment system. I am against the Bill that it is now sought to introduce. It has, of course, another purpose in view, but, as to that, I am indifferent. The Government have had their opportunity, if they are prepared to do so, to carry out the so-called principle they announced; but this Bill, for test purposes, is valueless, and ought to be thrown out.
.- Having regard to the state of business here and elsewhere, I do not know whether it is necessary at the present juncture to indulge in any lengthy remarks upon a Bill of this character. The Prime Minister has shown the weakness of his case in introducing it without offering any apology for his action. He introduced it as though it were something to be ashamed of, or something he could not support as he is in the habit of supporting any measure he brings forward. The tender way in which he handled the responsibilities that are upon him shows very clearly the attitude of the Government in their wild endeavour to secure what they call a double dissolution. A discussion of the matter of postal voting would be merely reiteration of what has been said time and again in this chamber. The history of the postal vote in the Commonwealth and in the States has been given on many occasions and recorded in Hansard. It has undoubtedly been tried and found wanting as a piece of electoral machinery. If only the evidence as to the experience of the various States that have tried the system of postal voting, and the Commonwealth experience of the system, could be collected and put into one document, the people would stand astounded that at this time of the day the Government should seek to reintroduce it. Adult suffrage is the base upon which the Democracy of this country rests - the right of every man or woman to vote, and to exercise that vote by marking the ballot-paper in a manner which will give the proper expression to the opinions which are influencing him, or her, for the time being; and Australian Democracy has evolved a system whereby to every man or woman in this country is secured the privilege of being able to exercise that vote secretly. No matter what outside influence may be brought to bear upon the voter by any employer, or by party organizers, when the voter enters the polling booth and marks the ballot-paper he can do it secretly and vote according to the way his conscience dictates as being best in the interests of the country. We, as a party, tried the postal vote; we were anxious to let every man or woman entitled to vote do so, and therefore we made the experiment, but from that experiment we learned what a dangerous weapon the postal vote was; we learned its disabilities and the way in which it undermined the whole principle of the secrecy of the ballot, and gave designing and unscrupulous persons the opportunity of exercising their skill in manipulating the votes of the people. Having tried the experiment, we had the courage, as a party, to admit that what we had attempted to do in the interests of those who were unable to get to a polling booth through sickness or distance had broken down, and that the remedy was worse than the disease. We are asked by the Prime Minister to re-enact a whole section of electoral law. Every honorable member could discuss every detail of the section, but we do not - I at any rate do not - propose to do so. I would have liked to fight this matter through to the bitter end in order to see whether this Government could possibly get to the Governor-General with a flimsy measure of this character; but recognising that the conditions are such that other things are against that being accomplished - which I regret very much - and that the party on this side of the chamber to some degree is anxious to let the Governor-General decide the fate of this Parliament, and having also learned that members in another place are equally indifferent with regard to what the Governor-General may do, there is no justification for my standing up here - as I would willingly do to the death - in order to fight an imposition of this kind, especially seeing that other honorable members feel that they prefer to go to the shambles, if such be the fate that awaits them.
– We know your fighting capabilities.
– All I can say is that the fighting capabilities that should characterize the Labour party are fast becoming a thing of the past. There is nothing I deplore more than the fact that the Government should be able to masquerade as reformers, and carry into the presence of the GovernorGeneral measures which have been admitted by the Prime Minister to. be trumpery, and to be simply trifling with the time of the country and the interests of Democracy, with a view to securing - what? Not a reform. This is no reform. It is a backward step; a step to undermine Democracy and take away the rights and privileges of our fellow beings, who have fought for those rights in days gone by. When I think of those days, when we were fighting for manhood suffrage and for securing a hold on the political machine so that the voice of the mass of the people could be heard in Parliament; when I recall those days, thirty years ago, when we were fighting an unpopular battle for the masses; when the propertied classes, with- plural voting, could multiply votes in every electorate; when I look back on the sacrifices that were made by men who were practically exiled for their efforts to uplift the masses of the people and give them the power that their education enabled them to use to the best advantage -when I think of all these things, I realize the attitude honorable members should adopt in regard to this Bill. If the Government should be successful in their endeavours, the Labour party take a considerable risk - no one can deny it - the risk of allowing’ the first step to be taken towards pulling down the citadel which our forefathers have built up for the good of humanity. I do not regard the matter from the point of view of a politician, or one who is anxious to return to the Treasury bench, or who seeks for some advantage that may be gained by manoeuvres, political or otherwise. I realize that there is a greater thing ahead, and that it is a nobler aim to maintain and retain that which was handed down to us by our forefathers to guard, care for, protect, and maintain as a precious heritage given to us, not for our own sakes, but for the sake of our children. Yet the party born among the workers, and sprung from the people who have fought to gain political freedom, now propose to allow the Prime Minister to secure the passage of this subtle thing that has had its birth in the brains of the AttorneyGeneral, and which can - I will not say it will - secure a double dissolution. I say that there is an element of risk in this. No party knowing their business .would even allow a risk to be taken when the rights of the multitude they represent are in danger. Let us assume for a moment that the Governor-General will grant a double dissolution. What will be the result? The party behind politicians on the other side will certainly act in the manner they have always adopted, manipulating the rolls and following the tactics they are pursuing day by day with the aid of the money of those who are always oppressing the masses in any country.
– T - That will not save them.
– I like the man who says, “Calvary, O Calvary 1 I believe in Calvary.” That is not going to save us. The only thing that would save the Labour movement would be to fight to the death, and no other course is worthy of the man who carries the Labour flag. But I was looking at the possibilities of passing this measure. Assume that the Bill is carried, and that the GovernorGeneral may grant a double dissolution. In that case, the advantage will lie with the party in power. They are capable of many things, as we have proved all along the line, and as I have known them to be in the days before Labour came into existence. It is the same old Satan on the Government bench that sat there in the fifties. They know well how to manipulate the electoral machinery and throw dust in the eyes of the people, and practically belie the situation and misrepresent it at every breakfast table in the country, as they did last time by misrepresenting the whole situation and slandering the Labour party, and blaming them for being responsible for the high cost of living, in this way appealing to the pockets of the multitude and gaining a shady majority over the party that would not stoop to such tactics. We have to face the position and see what will happen by what has been done in South Australia and other places. In South Australia, the Liberals, having seen that the Labour movement is solidly entrenched, that the aspirations and hopes of Labour men have, to some degree, been realized, and that the Liberal power ie dying, what did they do? Having gained power by methods which I have just related, they proceeded to undermine the whole electoral system and gerrymander the electorates, reducing the value of votes in the Labour centres, and giving 1,000 people in one electorate as much power as 2,000 in another, and so making it almost impossible for some years to come for Labour to have a hope of succeeding in winning the seats so gerrymandered. That is what lies behind the subtle method that has been so cunningly initiated by the Attorney-General, and I say unhesitatingly that the risk is too great, and that the disabilities that will be placed upon us are something we should not accept. No party is justified in taking a risk in regard to matters intrusted to it as a sacred trust. In the face of the corruption, improper manipulation, and other malpractices that have been experienced in connexion with the postal vote, the party that urges its restoration is not the friend, but the bitterest enemy, of the people. Ministers say that they want to get the Bill through quickly. I remember the way in which the postal vote was manipulated when it was provided for in a Federal Act. Justices of the Peace were paid by the day to go from door to door persuading persons who had no right to do so to vote by post, misleading them as to the casting of their votes. They were paid, not to obtain postal votes in a legitimate way, or rather not to merely witness the signature of sick persons entitled to and desirous of voting by post, but to deceive the electors, and to ascertain how votes were being cast. It is on record that thousands of votes collected in this way by party organizations never saw the ballot-box.
– That was in Queensland?
– Yes, and we have evidence that similar practices have obtained in other places where the postal vote system has been in operation. The
Liberals desire the opportunity to “ down “ the Labour party by any means possible. They cannot defeat us on our policy, nor attack our principles, nor undermine our platform.
– You have no policy.
– The honorable gentleman has no policy for the betterment of the people, but merely a secret, cunning, deep-laid plot to rob the people of the rights and privileges handed down to them by their forefathers. That is the desire of those who are to-day trying to work political points, and are neglecting to bring forward measures of legislation which are urgent, and would enable matters of primary importance affecting the homes of the people to be dealt with. But I have never been one to take part in a sham fight, and I shall not do so now. In real warfare, I am prepared to fight to the death for my home and my country. But one cannot fight when there is something holding him back, paralyzing his arm when about to strike an effective blow. Whatever may be the fate of this test Bill, and whatever may be the decision of the Governor-General, it shall not be said of me, a Labour man, who hae come through many fights, having had to contest six battles to gain entrance into the parliamentary arena, that I did anything to injure the movement of which I am so proud, and which I value as I would a father or a mother. In days gone by, thirty-four years ago, before Labour took any part in politics, we used to meet in the Trades and Labour Council, moulding what was destined to be the Labour policy of the future. The Labour movement has built itself up by gallant fights, and the sacrifice of time, money, and opportunity by those who supported it. They have been victimized, boycotted, and persecuted to gain the liberties at stake to-day. I am one of those who was present at the birth of the movement. I was there at its delivery, watched its growth from boyhood to manhood. I saw it reach its majority, and, at last, assume control of the government of this country, putting up a record during three years’ administration of the public affairs that will never be equalled by that of any other political party. To-day I feel that there is a danger that what we have done may be undone, and that the work of many years may be lost; but it shall not be laid at my door that I did anything “to risk the interests of the movement.
– 55]. - I am glad that tlie motion has been moved, and I hope that the Bill will have a speedy despatch. It is the second of the two test Billa by the rejection of which the Government hope to induce the GovernorGeneral to grant a double dissolution. By our action in the Senate last night, we took the Liberals completely by surprise, and if we deal speedily with this Bill, it will remain to be seen whether Ministers really want a dissolution. I shall not speak more than a few minutes now, and at the second-reading stage I propose to offer a few remarks with the object of assisting the speedy passing of the measure. When both Bills have been dealt with, we may, perhaps, adjourn for a week, or whatever time the GovernorGeneral may require to consider the position. Then let us have a fight, if there is to be one.
– The Governor-General will turn down the request for a double dissolution.’
– I am sure that he will. Under all the circumstances, the best thing would be to grant a single dissolution. Ministers will not do business, and we cannot do anything. They know that there is an overwhelming majority in favour of dealing with the Tariff; but, although frequently invited to deal with it, -they have done nothing. Many honorable members on their side, and all on this, are pledged to support a social insurance scheme, but the Government have done nothing towards proposing it. A Bankruptcy Bill, an Insurance Bill, the establishment of a Bureau of Agriculture, are all non-party matters with which this Parliament could deal, but which Ministers will not give us an opportunity to consider. Proposals for the alteration of the Constitution, which honorable members opposite have admitted to be necessary, are not presented to us. The only House prepared to do business is the Senate, where members of the Labour party have introduced a Bankruptcy Bill, an Insurance Bill, and a set of Bills proposing alterations of the Constitution. As the Government refuses to do business, let us take it at its word, and put this Bill through quick and lively. There will be no obstruction from me. When the Bill is through, we can see what Ministers are made of.
– You have been knocked kite-high.
– If I had had my way, both test Bills would have been got rid of in about three hours.
– If I had had my way the Prime Minister would never have got them.
– These trumpery things I would have met with the statement that they were not worth five minutes’ consideration, and I would have disposed of them immediately. The alternative was to fight them to the death. By that course I believe we could have humiliated the Government, and if we had been a proper fighting army we could have blocked the measures going through.
– Instead of the ragged regiment you are.
– I give the Government credit for the fight they put up, and I give their Whips credit for the manner in which they whipped up their numbers.
– I do not think this has anything to do with the motion before the Chair.
– The only thing I am sorry for is that we were not in the same fighting form on this side. I hope this Bill will be speedily dealt with. I would suggest to the Prime Minister that as the BUI will be quickly disposed of here, and will, no doubt, have a happy despatch in smother Chamber, he should adjourn the House for a week or a fortnight, or as long as is necessary to enable the Governor-General to make up his mind in regard to any request for a double dissolution.
– Oh, do not talk about it!
– Now we see whether the Government are in earnest or not. As soon as they are up against the thing they said they wanted, they are in a blue funk. I hope we shall have none of this humbug, aud that this issue will go straight to the Governor-General. I assure the Prime Munster that I was never more in earnest on anything than I am on this matter.
– Y - You have a sure seat.
– And I believe that the party to which I belong is sure of a majority at the polls. A party with the record which we have has the best election cry that I know of.
-The honorable member is not in order in discussing the election.
– Why is this Bill introduced a second time? It has passed through this Chamber already.
– Let it go.
– Does the Prime Minister want the Bill to go through?
– Well, I will oblige the honorable member, and give the measure my blessing. I hope some sort of a dissolution will come quick and lively.
.- I have an idea that the Prime Minister is not quite so happy this morning as his smiling face would indicate. We saw the consternation on the Ministerial bench this morning. The Government are asking for leave to introduce this Bill for the purpose of bringing about a double dissolution, they say. I will not occupy the time of the House at great length in giving the reasons why I believe the Bill should not be introduced. I hope we shall test the sincerity of the Prime Minister and his colleagues.
– The game is up now, and you are going to make the best of it.
– No one is better than the honorable gentleman in the art of political mud-slinging. We “desire to test the sincerity of the Prime Minister and his followers. The honorable gentleman has been too long in politics not to know that these two test Bills are just so much electioneering clap-trap. So far as the public interests of Australia are concerned, these Bills do not matter at all, and the honorable member knows that.
– Just look how serious the honorable member for Melbourne Forts is.
– The honorable member for Melbourne Ports can get his majority of 18,000, so why should he trouble? The Prime Minister knows that if he had the interests of Australia at heart he would introduce, instead of these Bills, measures of national importance, but he is an old politician, and a great political professor.
– Professor of “ bunkum.”
– I honestly believe that there may be some arguments in favour of the postal vote, and there may be cases where people will be disadvantaged by not being able to vote by post, but once the door is opened to the manipulation of the postal vote, it gives great power to wealthy people, and paves the way for corruption. Mr. Kidston, when Premier of Queensland, called for a report from his officers, and, on obtaining it, expressed the opinion that the postal vote ought to be abolished root and branch.
– They did abolish it, and then reimposed it.
– It was reimposed, but by a reactionary party. The Prime Minister in proposing this measure, if he really means business by it, is trying to open the door to political manipulation of the ballot-papers.
– On a point of order, I draw attention to the fact that the honorable member has stated that the Prime Minister is trying to manipulate the postal vote.
– I think the honorable member for Capricornia said that the door was being opened for the manipulation of the postal vote. That statement does not impute any motive to any member of this House. I desire members to observe the distinction between a general statement that carries no imputation on any member, and one that does. The latter is out of order, whilst the other, according to the Standing Orders, is allowed to pass.
– Having observed the consternation caused in the Liberal ranks by the rejection of the Preference Prohibition Bill in another place, it is not my intention to do anything to obstruct this measure. I have this morning sent home my bed, and I imagine there will be no more all-night sittings. The Government, I am sure, will do all they possibly can to delay the fateful day. There will lie no attempt to “ gag “ this measure through. They are inviting us to discuss it at great length, and I was told yesterday that we would sit all last night.
– Who is inviting you to discuss it?
– The honorable member is. If we refuse to talk upon the Government measures honorable ‘ members opposite will commence to discuss them, and if the Prime Minister should by any possible good or bad luck, according to how it is viewed, get a double dissolution, we shall see him availing himself of every possible means of delaying the day of election. All sorts of excuses will be offered to enable him and his party to cling to office. But we are going to challenge him. I hope we shall pass this Bill rapidly through all its stages, and that it will be rejected in another place.
.- As one who endeavoured as a member of the House to purify the electoral rolls, and to make the electoral law as simple as possible with a view to giving every person in the Commonwealth the right to vote, I, in opposing the introduction of (this Bill, feel that the Government are doing that which the people of Australia will object to, because the Bill contains within itself machinery which, in its past operation, created great abuses. No section of the electoral law was so abused as was the postal vote. The intention of the postal vote to provide the sick and infirm with a vote was a good one, but in operation it was surrounded by many abuses. I personally am aware of abuses committed by persons who, in the manipulation of the postal vote, did things which were not to their credit. Those things were done as party tactics, and it is assumed that party tactics are not an offence, but, to my mind, those abuses were offences that deserved punishment. No person who is desirous of electoral purity could, for a moment, support this Bill. I expect that, before many days, an oppor tunity will be seized by the Government to delay proceeding with the Bill. I do not think that there is an honest desire on their part to go on with it since they heard of what happened in another place in regard to the Preference Prohibition Bill. For my part, it is generally agreed that I am in the happy position of having a safe seat, but a Bill of this kind should not be viewed by an honorable member with any regard to whether his seat is safe or not. Whether my seat was safe or unsafe my voice would still be against any measure that permitted of so many abuses as this measure will. Honorable members should be very careful about re-enacting such a system as this. Does any one think that the Fisher Government decided to repeal the postal vote for any other reason than that it was abused ? Statements went uncontradicted that the vote had been used for purposes entirely foreign to the intention of the Act, and it ill becomes honorable members to facilitate the reinstatement of such a system. Of course there may be ulterior motives behind the introduction of this measure, and, so far as they can be judged, they are such that no Government in a National Parliament should lend themselves to. To put the country to the expense and turmoil of a general election in respect of two such trumpery measures as the socalled test Bills is about the last thing that any Government should try to do. A general election involves not only great expense, but gives rise to much excitement, and seriously disorganizes business. For the time being, business is almost at a standstill, and we ‘ are therefore asked to take a very serious step when we are called upon to precipitate a general election in respect of such a proposal as this. When they do go to the country, the Government will suffer defeat at the hands of the people. I am satisfied that the people will speak in no uncertain manner, and it is therefore not because of any fear of going before my constituents that I speak as I. have done this morning. The point that I wish to emphasize is that there are important measures which could be brought down by the Government, and with which honorable members on all sides would be prepared to deal. There are many important questions that we are anxious to discuss, and in respect of which we desire to legislate, but the Government refuse to give us the opportunity to do so. If there is to be a dissolution, let it be brought about on something- real, concerning which we can voice our opinions. This Bill, I am satisfied, will be attended with mischievous results, and my love of Australia, and my desire that it shall progress, force me to vote against it. I do not .want to see the great work of the Commonwealth delayed by the consideration of proposals designed merely to serve a party purpose.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented, anl! read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook for Sir John Forrest) agreed to -
That he hare leave to bring in a Bill foi an Act relating to the Savings Bank business of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook for Mr. Groom) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Australian Industries Preservation Act 1906-10.
House adjourned at 12.23 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 May 1914, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1914/19140529_reps_5_74/>.