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Wednesday, 19 May 1920

Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prime Minister and Attorney-General) . - {By leave). - I wish that the honorable member who has raised this question had given me some notice. A matter that Concerns the welfare and even the life and death of so many persons - if we are to believe the honorable member, and I do believe him - is surely one that calls for notice to the responsible Minister, or other mouthpiece of the Government, in order that he may inform his mind and come down to the House with all the facts at his disposal. This lack of notice has been observable once or twice; honorable members have moved the formal adjournment of the House, and have not even thought fit to give the Minister concerned notice of their intention.

Mr Mcwilliams - We did inform the Government Whip.

Mr HUGHES - However, failing that notice, I can only speak generally, and on the spur of the moment. Yesterday, I think, and on one day last week, this matter was raised by honorable members, not in relation to fodder, but in relation to coal; and I then said that I would do whatever was possible to make Commonwealth vessels . available. I said then that I believed - and I believe now - that four Commonwealth vessels are engaged in work that may be called coastal work. I also said, what is very obvious, that the Commonwealth vessels are scattered all over the waters that surround the earth. Those vessels have their engagements when they come to these shores; and, therefore, it is not by merely waving one's hand that one makes threeorfour available. I did not need what the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) has said to make me appreciate to the full the lamentable state in which a great deal of this Commonwealth finds itself, particularly in the States of Queensland and New South Wales. It is theduty of the Commonwealth to do all things within 'its power to come to the assistance of those who, unless they are assisted by us, or unless nature sends rain, are utterly undone; indeed, rain would not save them now, and we must have fodder. However, I can say by way of direct reply, that I shall see Mr. Eva as soon as I am able to do so this afternoon. I shall ascertain what vessels of our fleet in Australian waters are available, whether they are laden with inward or outward cargo. Of course, those laden with outward cargo are not available - vessels outside our own waters are not available - but we shall see what are. I give the House the assurance that Ishall not allow ordinary obstacles to stand in the road of making vessels available for the purpose.

Just one word about the suggestion of the honorable member for Hume that we should contribute to the loan which is being raised in the State of New South Wales. That is a matter of quite a different kind; and I can only say that, while the Government will give it every consideration at the earliest possible moment, I must not, by any word of mine, be held to commit theGovernment in that direction. .

Mr SPEAKER -(Hon. W. Elliot Johnson). - I think it only right to say, at this juncture, that I hope this is the last time we shall have such a procedure as this adopted in the House. The course taken is contrary altogether to our own established procedure, and contrary to all my reading of the practice of Parliament. I, therefore, do not propose to take it as a precedent for the adoption of a similar course in the future ; and honorable members, no doubt, see the reason. While it is usual to accord the Prime Minister, or a Minister in charge of some important matter, the opportunity to make a statement, by leave of the House, as a courteous concession, I have never, so far as my memory serves, in. this or any other Parliament, known the courtesy to be sought by, or granted to, any private member, except, perhaps, the Leader of the Opposition, who., on some occasions, has asked, and been granted, leave of the House to make a statement in reply to one already made.

Mr Mahony - This matter is urgent.

Mr SPEAKER - I am coming to that. The result of the procedure that has been adopted to-day is to involve the House in an irregular debate, with no question before the Chair. Any extremely urgent matter may be dealt with on amotion for the formal adjournment of the House; and then, of course, there is a question before the Chair. The matter that has now been brought under notice could have been raised and debated on the very first Order of the Day, namely, Supply. I only call the attention , of the House to this breach of our ordinary procedure, and on the House the responsibility rests. I express the hope that such a course will not be resorted to on any other occasion.

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