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Friday, 26 June 1914


Senator O'KEEFE - Yesterday. The honorable senator asks that question as if he doubted my word.


Senator Keating - I asked the PostmasterGeneral to-day, and he said he knew nothing about it.


Senator O'KEEFE - The PostmasterGeneral is distinctly reported in the press this morning to have said yesterday that he had received a request from the company. Mr. Val. Johnson, the manager of the company in Melbourne, was interviewed by the press yesterday, and would give no information except to say that in a few days they would know the reasons advanced by the company why the request should be granted.


Senator Keating - Will you say definitely that the Postmaster-General was asked yesterday?


Senator O'KEEFE - I have already made the definite statement that I read in this morning's papers an answer given by the Postmaster-General to the effect that a request had been made to him, and that it was obviously unfair to expect him to give an answer there and then on the floor of the House as to what his reply would be. The Government have blundered in connexion with the fixing up of the mail arrangements between Tasmania and the mainland. It is too late to go into details, but this was forecast twelve months ago. Senator Keating the other day took credit to himself for being the author of the clause in the agreement, which requires the sanction of the Postmaster-General to any increase in freights and fares, and the honorable senator's claim was upheld by Senator McColl. I do not object to Senator Keating taking credit for it, if he was the author of the clause.


Senator Guthrie - He wrote to the Government.


Senator O'KEEFE - That showed his acumen and foresight, and proved that he was acting in the interests of Tasmania, but he might give other Tasmanian members a certain amount of credit for being very much alive on the question, seeing that it was discussed here so often last year. It is very doubtful whether any good will come out of the clause. I am going to prophesy that no sanction will be given by the Postmaster-General to an increase in fares and freights before the election, but the danger is that it may be given afterwards.


Senator Keating - Will you be fair, honorable, and straight, and remember that I said I had written to the PostmasterGeneral asking for the inclusion of a clause of that character in the contract?


Senator O'KEEFE - I have already said so. In party fighting, I do not think the honorable senator and I have found each other anything hut fair and straight. I do not think the PostmasterGeneral's sanction will be given, even after the election, with Senator Clemons' concurrence, but, after all, his is only one voice in the Cabinet, and I am very much afraid that if the present Ministry come back to power after the election the sanction will be given, because the PostmasterGeneral will say, " Sufficient reasons are advanced by the combine to justify the Government in allowing the increase to take place." If that sort of thing is to happen, it would be better, in the interests of the Tasmanian producers, who depend entirely on the combine for the carriage of their stuff to the mainland, and in the interests of every individual in Tasmania who is dependent on the combine whenever he wants to travel to the mainland, to cancel the contract altogether, and let us see if we cannot get a better arrangement, if not with the combine, with some other company, or let the Government take its courage in its hands and institute a State-owned line of steamers. I also accuse the Government of blundering in connexion with the Northern Territory. All it has done there has been to undo as far as it could what the previous Administration did. Apparently it is playing into the hands of big private enterprises instead of pushing on with State or Commonwealth activities there. We have another crop of blunders facing us in Papua. In yesterday's papers we read the news of a massacre of women and children made in mistake by native police. If the report is correct, that trouble occurred because the Administrator, or the man who ought to have been in charge of the native police there, instead of attending to his duties, is following up Sir Rupert Clarke's expedition, which is apparently of greater importance to Australia than the care of the natives. One could go on reciting blunder after blunder made during the last twelve months by the Government in its administration of the affairs nf Australia. Its whole programme has been one of blunder, with no legislative work and absolute Ministerial incapacity. It came into power heralded as a combination of heaven-born geniuses in finance. All its press organs announced that it was going to put the finances once more upon a sound footing. The net result up to date has been that, while its predecessors in office saved about £100,000 a month towards a surplus for the people, this Government has gone to the bad at the rate of about £150,000 a month. That is, it has been a worse financier by about £250,000 a month than its predecessor. If that is the type of heavenborn financier produced by the other side, I am very glad that those who consider themselves financiers in the Labour party were born on earth. Another question which loomed largely a year ago in the programme of the Ministerial party was a general Commonwealth insurance scheme, but it never saw the light of day in either House. It was to include pensions for widows and orphans, but we have had no chance to discuss it, because all the efforts of the Government have been directed towards obtaining a double dissolution. It would have been easy for the Government at the coming election to ask the people to make the necessary alteration in the Constitution, if any alteration is necessary, to allow the new Parliament to extend the pension system to widows and orphans, but it has absolutely refused to do so. I asked the Leader of the Government the other day, seeing that this was a non-party question, whether, if a Bill of one clause for that purpose went through the Senate, he would promise on behalf of the Government an opportunity for its consideration in another place before Parliament was dissolved. I pointed out that it would bind Parliament to nothing, and would merely give the people an opportunity to express an opinion on the question, but Senator Millen absolutely refused to do so. That is another of the promises made prior to the last election by the Cook Government that has gone by the board. If our opponents in the coming fight declare themselves in favour of extending the pension system to embrace widows and orphans, the people will know how much reliance to place on their protestations, because the Government has refused to give them a chance to make in the Constitution any alteration that may be necessary for the purpose. I may say here that there is a divergence of legal opinion on the question of whether an alteration of the Constitution is required. The Government for two or three years asserted that there was no Meat or Beef Trust operating in Australia. It charged the Labour party at the last election with raising a needless scare, and creating a bogy, by saying that the Beef Trust had begun operations here. In this matter, again, its assertions have been proved to be wrong, and our statements right. The action of the Government in appointing a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales as a Commission to inquire into the operations of the alleged Beef Trust clearly proves that there is such a body here. The evidence, so far as it has been published, confirms the fact, and is causing very grave doubts in the minds of many who hitherto did not believe there

Was a Beef Trust here as to whether it Will not prove a serious menace to the people in the very near future. Will Senator Gould, Senator Millen, Senator Clemons, and Senator Keating assert that there is no body Or organization associated with the Beef Trust of America operating in Australia to-day, and that the danger to tho public is not grave? The Government is going to appeal, as it did twelve months ago, to the people of Australia on a number of issues. One issue will be: "Here is a party which denied to sick women a postal vote; here is the iniquitous party which says that it is the women's friend, but which denied to women in maternity, the sick and the invalid, a postal vote." That statement will be just as wrong as many other statements that will be made during the elections, and that were made at the elections a year ago.


Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir AlbertGould. - Facts- speak more strongly than words.


Senator O'KEEFE - The Labour party wants to give to the invalids of Australia a postal vote. In the Senate last year this party tried to restore the postal vote to invalids. I am not going to say whether this party was right or wrong - it may have been wrong - in taking the postal vote away from invalids. But it only took that course because it believed that the postal vote was subject to a great deal of corruption. It made an honest attempt to restore the postal vote and surround it with such a safeguard as it had not before.


Senator McColl - It was an unworkable safeguard.


Senator O'KEEFE - Whether the safeguard was unworkable or not the Government never attempted to put anything in its place. It said, " We want the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill " - that meant the restoration of the postal vote exactly as it was before it was repealed - " the Senate has no right to alter the measure by one line." That is what the Government said last year. When we returned the Postal Voting Restoration Bill with an amendment the Government did not attempt to alter the amendment so as to make the Bill workable. Ministers were glad that we had made an amendment in the Bill. Any kind of amendment would have been said by them to be unworkable, because their sole object in sending the Bill up here was that the Senate might reject it or make an amendment. They knew that we would make an amendment, and no matter what kind of amendment was made here it would not have been accepted by the other House, because the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. This year the Government brought the measure forward in its original form in the House of Representatives, and again it refused the efforts of our party to surround the measure with a workable safeguard. The Government absolutely refused to listen to any suggestion to safeguard the postal vote. The Labour party said to the Government in another place: "We will give you the postal vote for the sick and the invalid, but let us put a reasonable safeguard round it." Ministers, however, would not accept our suggestion. They did not send the Bill up here a second time, because they were glad that they would have the additional cry to take to the electors, " Here is the party which refused to the sick and the invalid of Australia a postal vote." That cry is not going to have as much effect on this occasion as it did on the last occasion. When the people have the chance, as they will have in the course of a few weeks, of declaring which is the better party to govern Australia, and which is the party that wants to see the Constitution not torn to shreds, but remain as it is until an honorable attempt is made to amend it in a straightforward way; when the people are asked to decide between the two parties, I am satisfied as to which party they will decide in favour of, and it will not be the party sitting on the Government benches to-day.







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