5th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Clemons) read a first time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Motion (by Senator Clemons) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a first time.
– No amendment can be moved at this stage, as the first reading of such a Bill must be taken as formal.
Bill read a first time.
– I desire to ask the permission of the Senate to make a statement, in view of questions submitted to myself, and to my colleagues in another place, relative to the retirement of Captain Hughes Onslow from the Naval Board 1
– Is it the pleasure of the Senate that the Minister of Defence have leave to make a statement?
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear !
– In making public . the reasons which have led to the termination of Captain Hughes Onslow’s appointment as second member of the Naval Board, it is desirable that the duties of that Board should first be set out. Clause 7 of the Naval Defence Act states that (1) the Governor-General may appoint a Board of Administration for the Naval Forces to be called the Naval Board; and (2) the Naval Board shall have such powers and functions as are prescribed. Under the above powers regulations were issued which declared, inter alia, that the members of the Board shall act as a whole’; but in matters of routine a special sphere of supervision shall be allotted to the different members.
From this it will be seen that an essential factor for the effective working of the Board is the existence of harmonious relations between individual members. Although members were given seniority as indicated by their being first, second, third, and finance members respectively, not one of them has greater executive power than another. The recommendations of any or of all of them are subject only to the decision of the Minister. Under the circumstances, therefore, with every member on a practically equal footing, it is manifest that a good understanding must exist between them, together with the ordinary courtesies of official intercourse, if the administration by the Board is to proceed satisfactorily.
On my taking office, however, I soon discovered that this essential harmony was entirely absent, personal friction, and, indeed, hostility, existing in its stead, and these had assumed such proportions that the members as a whole were not on speaking terms, apart from the intercourse necessary for the discharge of official duties.
Recognising that this was absolutely fatal to a proper discharge of the duties for which the Board was created, and, further, that its responsibilities were daily increasing, and were likely to be still further increased with the arrival of the remaining vessels of the Fleet Unit, I endeavoured to bring about better personal relations between its members. To that end I interviewed them individually, and invited their assistance in the task I had undertaken. I was gratified by receiving an assurance that they would be only too pleased to do anything to bring about an end so desirable in itself, and so essential to the welfare of the Department. I regret to say, however, that hardly had these assurances been given when I became convinced of the futility of any efforts that I might make towards the restoration of peace, at least, so far as Captain Hughes Onslow was concerned .
Although I had by this time quite made up my mind that certain changes on the Board were necessary, in view of. the great magnitude and importance of the work to be accomplished, I still thought it desirable to bring about these changes in a less drastic method than that which circumstances have compelled. It did not appear to me to be in the public interest that publicity should, at this juncture, be given to the very unfortunate state of affairs that existed on the Board. Admiral Patey was shortly to arrive, and for the first time the vessels of the Fleet Unit were to assemble. I was extremely anxious, therefore, that what can only be described as a truly historical event should pass off without the disturbing factor referred to obtruding itself, and until I should have had an opportunity of taking further counsel as to the future of the Board. However, circumstances compelled earlier action.
Captain Hughes Onslow’s attitude regarding the Board, his method of expressing himself towards certain of his colleagues, and my personal observation of his demeanour, gradually compelled me to the conclusion that he was primarily responsible for the unfortunate state of affairs to which I have already referred, which was rapidly reducing the Board to a state of paralysis, and seriously jeopardizing the administration of the Department.
His own minutes abundantly prove that the Board, owing to the differences between its members, was unable to properly discharge its duties, and as a matter of fact was not so discharging them. Even before I had arrived at the conclusion that action was necessary, Captain Hughes Onslow himself had recognised and intimated that it was impossible for him to continue his duties except under certain conditions which he indicated. I was not prepared to meet his stipulations, nor can I admit the right of any officer to dictate to the Government as to whom it should employ, or whom it should cease to employ.
The cumulative force of these several matters finally made it clear that my duty was to take the step which appeared to me to be necessary to render the Board capable of discharging its high and responsible duties. I therefore suggested to Captain Hughes Onslow that he should tender his resignation.
As he declined to do so, the only course open was to relieve him of his duties, which was done by Executive minute on the 3rd October, 1913.
Immediately following, matters connected with the arrival of the Fleet took me to, and detained me, at Sydney for some little time. Shortly after my return, communications were addressed to me, which suggested the possibility of Captain Hughes Onslow returning to the Board under conditions, holding out reasonable promise of its future smooth and efficient working. However, as Captain Hughes Onslow, in the last of certain interviews which followed, re-affirmed his inability to act upon the Board as at present constituted, I again suggested that he should place me in a position to accept his resignation. As he declined, there was forced upon me the unpleasant but only alternative of securing the termination of his appointment.
One of Captain Hughes Onslow’s complaints, which I state in fairness to him, is the fact that the duties of both finance member on the Board and of Naval Secretary are discharged by one officer. The view taken is that this places undue power in that officer’s hands, who, first as finance member, shares in the deliberations of the Board, and then later on, as secretary, places the Board’s recommendations before the Minister.
Captain Hughes Onslow frequently voiced this complaint.
It is only right, however, to say on behalf of Mr. Manisty, who at present is finance member and Naval Secretary, that I have never known him to express an opinion upon a Board recommendation until I asked him to do so; and, further, in presenting a recommendation from which he disagreed, he invariably placed before me any minutes, or other documents, supporting the view from which he differed. It appeared to me, indeed, that he was punctilious in this regard. .
One other matter, perhaps, calls for comment. The opinion has been expressed in certain quarters that the trouble on the Board has arisen owing to the inability of Australian officers to work with British officers. The facts of the case disprove this, as (he division among the members of the Board has been on quite different lines.
In connexion with this matter, as was quite naturally to be expected, considerable press comment has appeared, and some speculation has been indulged in as to the future of the Board, with pointed references to individual members.
While the rapid expansion of its responsibilities requires that the future of the Board, and the duties intrusted to its members, should be brought under early review, it is neither fair nor right to regard such review as being consequent upon, or connected with, the events previously referred to. It is a matter of simple fairness that I should take this opportunity of emphasizing this point.
– May I ask a question concerning the statement which the Minister has made? He tas told us that shortly after he took up the position of Minister of Defence, he found that the members of the Naval Board were not on friendly terms, or even on speaking terms, with each other. He has told us to-day that Captain Hughes Onslow is to be dismissed from the service. Will he be good enough to say whether he meant that not only Captain Hughes Onslow, but also other members of the Naval Board were not on speaking terms, and whether, since Captain Hughes Onslow’s retirement or dismissal, there is peace in the family, and that members of the Naval Board are now on speaking terms one with another t
– I have made the statement with a view of giving the public what appeared to me to be the information which was necessary for the understanding of the action that has been taken. I have, personally, no objection to answer the question if the honorable senator persists with it; but I submit that no public object is to be gained by unduly pressing a question of that kind at this juncture.
– I think that, in fairness to the Senate and to the community, the question I have asked should be answered. The Minister of Defence has made publicly the statement that the members of the Naval Board when he took office were not on speaking terms one with the other, and that, in his opinion, Captain Hughes Onslow was mainly responsible for that. I desire to know whether, since his retirement, the members of the Naval Board have been friendly one with another, and have resumed speaking terms?
– I do not know that I can add anything more to what I have said. My statement clearly pointed out that the members of the Naval Board, as a whole, were not on speaking terms. It is obvious that that statement, must apply to more than one member.
– Why do you not sack the whole lot of them?
– If I did, the honorable member would be the first to complain.
– Not a bit of it.
– I have stated in terms as accurate as I could select that I was forced to the conclusion that the trouble that had occurred was primarily chargeable against Captain Hughes Onslow.
Senator McDougall presented the report, with minutes of evidence, and appendices, of the Select Committee appointed to inquire into matters relating to the Fitzroy Dock.
Ordered to be printed.
The PRESIDENT laid upon the table a report formulating and tabulating the decisions arrived at during the year 1912.
Suspension of Standing Orders
– I desire to ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether anything has been done to deal with the motion of no-confidence submitted in another place, and, if not, whether there is any reason why the Senate should proceed with business, other than the reasons existing on the 6th November ?
– I have nothing to add to the statement made in the Senate yesterday. The position is exactly as it was then. I only desire to say, without wishing to give offence to anybody, that I know of no justification for the action taken here, nor of anything which should cause the Government to swerve from the path which it has marked out.
Motion (by Senator McGregor) proposed -
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent him moving - That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Before the motion is put, I should like to submit to the Senate certain considerations on this matter, because ifI failed to do so I might probably be charged - and justly so - with keeping back something from honorable senators that I think they ought to know with regard to the course of business. I hope that I shall not be misunderstood, but in order that there may be no chance of any honorable senator being unaware of the present position of business, I make this statement. As you know, sir, the second reading of the Loan Bill has been moved. I wish to inform the Senate that it is important - very important - that that measure should be dealt with. That that is so will be realized if honorable senators consider the necessity for carrying on the big works which the Commonwealth has in hand. I can hardly say within what definite time things will reach a crisis if the Bill be not passed, and some of the works - perhaps all of them - that are now in progress in the Commonwealth have to be stopped. . But I assure the Senate because I think, quite apart from any party considerations, it is fair that honorable senators opposite should know-
– The Government will be responsible for any stoppage.
– As to the matter of responsibility, we can each bear the share which ought properly to be allotted to us. But I wish to say very seriously that it is important, that the Loan Bill should pass within a comparatively short time. When the Senate was last sitting, I did hope and believe that the Bill would be disposed of before the end of this week. As to the rest of the business before us, I admit freely that much of it is decidedly contentious: But I do submit to the Opposition very seriously that the question of the passing of the Loan Bill, lit any rate as to the major portion of the works with which it deals - assuming that there is a possibility of a difference of opinion with regard to some of them - is a matter which ought to engage the attention of the Senate without the slightest regard either to political troubles elsewhere, or to our internal party dissensions. As a Minister sitting here, I arn not personally troubled, but I have made these remarks because, as I have said, I consider it to be my duty to honorable senators, as well as- to myself, that I should explain the position.
-Colonel O’loghlin. - Submit the position to the Prime Minister; it rests with him whether we go on with the business or not.
– That is not the question with which I am dealing, and I do not wish to deal with it. I am appealing to the Senate because I am concerned in its business just as much as any member of the Opposition can be. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that it is fair to the Senate as a whole that it should be informed as to the results that may follow from delay in the early consideration of the important Bill which I have mentioned.
– As we have now a repetition of the action which was taken yesterday, I think it my duty to say- a few words. Yesterday I did not consider that it was necessary to say anything. I thought it just as well to allow the responsibility of dealing with the matter to remain with Ministers. I am a senator assisting in the representation of a small State, to which the status of the Senate is particularly dear and essential, and I must protest against what I consider to be a- misuse of the functions of this Chamber.
– You are not saying a word about the “ gag “ in another place.
– I submit very respectfully, and in no heated spirit, that the Senate is misusing its functions when it interferes in a matter of the purely internal regulation of the affairs of another place.
– Your leader instituted that by adjourning the Senate.
– No. If the honorable senator will allow me to discriminate, I will do him the justice of believing that he can perceive the line of discrimination. We did not adjourn a fortnight ago out of respect to the proceedings in another place, except inasmuch as they affected our own proceedings. Our legislative work, in a way, would have resembled the labours of Sisyphus, had we gone on with business while there was a possibility of the Administration being defeated in another Chamber; but, as a matter of fact, another place has decided, by virtue of its own regulations, to relegate the censure’ motion to a place on the notice-paper which prevents its discussion. That censure motion is not under discussion, so that our proceedings cannot be affected by the fact that there is a censure motion on the noticepaper in another place. I stress the point that it is an absolute misuse of our functions as a Chamber of review, to interfere in what is a matter of the internal regulation of the conduct of business in another place.
– Wake up ! Wake up !
– I am awake. I say the present action is being taken by a party which, in its political heart, has no respect for’ the Senate as an institution, and which wishes to see the Senate abolished. One of the objects the Labour party has in view in connexion with its action in this particular matter is to bring the Senate, I will not say into disrepute, but into public disapprobation.
– The honorable senator is not entitled to impute motives in regard to the action of any honorable senator.
– I shall not impute motives, but I shall think motives, and I believe my thoughts will secure publication. Honorable senators must be prepared to continue the action they are taking indefinitely. From a purely party stand-point I welcome their action; but we have to consider something more than the bearing of any action on purely party politics. This Chamber of the National Legislature should be maintained in its dignity and in its proper efficiency for those who will succeed us in the representation of the various States of the Commonwealth. I venture to say that, through the improper actions of honorable senators opposite, there will be a current of public feeling set in motion which will be antagonistic and . inimical tothe continued existence of this Chamber.
Question put. The Senate divided.
Majority … … 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator McGregor) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– As a representative of New South Wales in the Senate, I very strongly protest against the action of Senator McGregor. I wish to put the case from my own point of view, apart from any party feeling. We are senators assembled here on behalf of Australia, not on a population basis, but on a State basis, with six members from each State in the Union. We are brought here from all parts of the Commonwealth to transact the business of Australia, and there is a properly-constituted Government in power, with representatives in this Chamber. Necessary legislation has been passed in another place, and it is now for us in this Chamber to deal with it; but it seems that, because in this Chamber the numbers are against those holding the same views as the party in the majority in another Chamber, the business of the Commonwealth is to be held up - till when ? Can Senator McGregor tell us when this farce of moving the adjournment from day to day will cease 1 Yesterday we took it as a protest, and as an opportunity for honorable senators opposite to assert their principles - and numbers, perhaps - but to-day we have the same thing; and this may go on from day to day as long as the Senate meets here. The public of Australia will be perfectly entitled to look upon these proceedings as nothing but a waste of time. We ought to discharge our duties as long as there is a properly-constituted Government in power. No one can gainsay that Mr. Cook is in power constitutionally, and no one can gainsay that he is carrying on business under a serious handicap and odds. He is in office by the will of the people. The fact that my honorable friends are on the other side of the chamber is a proof that Mr. Cook is the properly constituted Prime Minister of the Commonwealth. A majority in the other branch of the Legislature have enacted legislation which has now been forwarded to us for review. In these circumstances, are we to take up the stand that we refuse to discuss it ?I strongly protest against the course of action which has been taken by the Leader of the Opposition.
– I rise to make a personal explanation. The pair-book shows that during the absence of Senator Keating I had paired with him, but on consulting the Whip of my own party he suggested that another pair should be found for that honorable senator. I make this explanation in order that honorable senators opposite may not think that I have violated my promise.
– I do not desire to repeat to-day the appeal which I addressed to the Senate yesterday, but seeing that to-day’s experience is a repetition of yesterday’s, I think I am entitled to ask the Leader of the Opposition whether we may accept that repetition as evidence, of an intention on the part of the Opposition to prevent any business being transacted in this Chamber until something has been transacted in the other branch of the Legislature?
– I ask the honor able gentleman to give notice.
– It is a question which I am entitled to ask the honorable senator, and if he is standing out for what he believes to be a principle he should have no hesitation in giving a plain answer to thatsimple question.
Question put. The Senate divided.
Majority … 17
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 20 November 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1913/19131120_senate_5_72/>.