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Wednesday, 19 May 1920

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I thank the Prime Minister for the information which he has made available. The position which I have taken up is that this is not a drought matter at all; it is simply an aftermath of the war. I do not intend to discuss the point now, for this reason : I had arranged with the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) that during the consideration of the Estimates I would test the feeling of the House upon the subject by moving for the reduction of one item. At the request of the Minister, however, I allowed the Estimates to pass to-night, since it was desired that they should go before the Senate without delay ; but 1 did so on the understanding that when the House was considering Supply to-morrow I would then test the feeling of honorable members. I do not intend, therefore, to enter into debate, but the statement of the Prime Minister that attention would be given to the matter does not meet the object of thousands of persons who, by direct representation, or by medium of their own representatives, have urged me to plead for the extension of the moratorium. I shall take action to-morrow, in no sense as a party move. The Government will acquit me of any such purpose for the reason that I made this offer, which I consider distinctly fair, that if the Government would extend the operation of the Act until Parliament had re-assembled, I would not move in the matter during the present stage of the session. I shall show tomorrow how this House was misled into curtailing the scope of the Act by a deliberate statement that if we extended it beyond six months it would not be held valid by the High Court, and thus we would lose everything by reason of the fact that the War Precautions Regulations had expired. Nevertheless, about six months after that statement was made, the War Precautions Regulations were still in force. I will take the opportunity to-morrow to demonstrate, by reference to Hansard, that it was that assurance, and that alone, which induced the majority of honorable members to take the action which they did. I desire to emphasize that ray contemplated action in testing the feeling of honorable members will be a strictly non-party move. The homes of the people are far too sacred to be made the plaything of any one party ; and I feel sure that, no matter what the decision may be, no honorable member will seek to make any political capital out of it.

Mr West - Would 'it not be well for the honorable member to ascertain in the meantime whether we have the constitutional power to do what he proposes 1

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I remind honorable members that six months after the utterance of the statement to which I have just alluded, the War Precautions Regu lations were put into force in connexion with the engineers' strike. If the position was sufficiently strong to enable them to be enforced in connexion with that crisis, it is idle .now to say that we have not the power to proceed as I propose.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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