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Thursday, 23 November 1905

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am sure we are all delighted with the lecture we have received at the hands of the honorable member for Moira. He has admitted that when in Opposition he resorted to extreme tactics to prevent the transaction of public business.

Mr Kennedy - The honorable member should quote me fairly.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I may tell the honorable member that his support of the Government is of no value whatever in the absence of the support of the honorable member for Bland. In a leading article this morning the Age points out that it is the duty of the Ministry to make the union label provisions of the Trade Marks Bill a non-party question. The honorable member for Moira must know that at one time the Age had power to say to the Government : " This measure must be made a party question."

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must not discuss the Trade Marks Bill.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not intend to do so. The honorable gentleman admits that at one time the Age-

Mr Watson - I rise to a point of order. The honorable member is deliberately transgressing the direction of the Chair. You, sir, told him that he was out of order in making a certain statement, and he immediately commenced to repeat it.

Mr SPEAKER - I asked the honorable member not to discuss the Trade Marks Bill. His next remark was that he did not intend to do so. The honorable member will have to keep that promise, and I am sure that he will do so.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Speaking generally, and with no reference whatever to the question of the union label, I say that at one time the Age could dictate to the Government.

Mr Watson - Is it not a fair thing that the honorable member should leave the Age alone whilst he discusses the question of whether or not the proposed standing order should be adopted?

Mr SPEAKER - I cannot see how any remarks of the Age can have any bearing upon this question, or that the Honorable member has any right to introduce that newspaper into a discussion of this kind.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then, I will not refer to the Age. I will say that at one time a certain influence was sufficient to induce the Government to take any course which was suggested. That power has now vanished. The Age has no influence with the Government to-day. All the power is exercised by members of the Labour corner.

Mr McLean - The Tocsin is the power behind the throne now.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; the position 06 affairs has completely altered.

Mr Watson - What has that to do with the question under consideration?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Last night the Vice-President of the Executive Council made a long attack upon individual members of this House. But we did not hear the honorable member for Bland rising to points of order then. He is very sensitive to criticism.

Mr Watson - The honorable member has had a verv wide latitude allowed him.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Bland does not care how he "gags" anybody. I think he is most tyrannical in his attitude towards others. I repeat that the Age cannot influence the Government to-day as it used to do. The Ministry dare not submit a proposal tomorrow and say, " This question is a nonparty one," without" the approval of the honorable member for Bland.

Mr Watson - I rise to a point of order. I desire to know whether the honorable member is in order in so frequently evading your ruling, sir, which is that he must confine his remarks to the question under consideration. During the whole period that he has been speaking, I submit .that he has not addressed himself to the question for one moment.

Mr SPEAKER - I notice that honorable members upon either side of the House very strongly hold the opinion that all who speak upon the other side are speaking aside from the question. I think that the honorable member for Macquarie is perfectly entitled to show the genesis of the proposed standing order if he wishes to do so.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Honorable members opposite do not like any statement to be made which reflects upon them, although they are in the habit of making assertions - personal or otherwise - which reflect upon the Opposition. The honorable member for Moira can make any suggestion that he chooses to the Prime Minister, but no heed will be paid to it unless it meets with the approval of the honorable member for Bland.

Mr Watson - We have heard that statement' made over and over again during the past fortnight.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I remember one occasion, when the honorable member for Moira attempted to lecture the right honorable member for East Sydney ; but the latter soon gave him his reply. I notice from to-day's newspapers that the Government Whip has been addressing a public meeting, at which he pointed out that the " gag " has been introduced for the purpose of preventing the Opposition from giving expression to their opinions.

Sir William Lyne - He did not say that.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall quote the newspaper report of the honorable member's remarks.

Mr Frazer - From what journal does the honorable member propose to quote?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - From the Argus. Honorable members may laugh. Do they suggest that the report is inaccurate ?

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable mem- ber must not read from newspapers or other documents referring to debates in the House during the same session.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member to whom I allude pointed out that these proposals had been introduced because the Government intended to bring forward legislation dealing with the harvester question.

Mr Page - Does the honorable member really believe that he made that statement?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have no doubt that he did. Of course, if the honorable member denies its accuracy, I am prepared to accept his assurance.

Mr Page - Nobody but a lunatic would make that statement.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I notice that there is a general disposition that the honorable member for Macquarie should not speak at too great length. One of the bestways to shorten his remarks is for honorable members to refrain from interjecting. I ask honorable members to allow him to make his speech in his own way.

Mr Watson - It would be a good thing if he discussed the question under consideration.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) -.- I did not intend to speak at any length upon this proposal. I should not have discussed it in detail but for the honorable member for Bland.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must confine himself to the question before the Chair. Even if disorderly interjections are made, there is not the slightest reason why he should reply to them.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Last night the Vice-President of the Executive Council stated that the late Sir Henry Parkes had brought forward certain closure proposals. That statement is perfectly true. But I would point out that those proposals are of a very different character from the proposals of the Government.

Mr Watson - They are much more drastic.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They are not anything like so drastic as the proposals of the Government. Under the Standing Orders which were adopted at the instance of the late Sir Henry Parkes, the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, as the case might be, was invested with discretionary power to determine when the closure should be brought into operation, and even then its application required the support of forty honorable members.

Mr Watson - That is not correct. Iread the debate only a couple of nights ago.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was necessary for forty honorable members to vote in the affirmative, in order to secure the application of the closure.

Mr Watson - Forty members out of a House of 140 !

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Forty members are nearly twice the quorum of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, but the number the Government require for the application of the closure here is less than the quorum, and little more than the strength of the Labour Party.

Mr Thomas - Why does the honorable member always, sneer at the Labour Party ?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - He will not do so when the elections come on.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not sneer at the Labour Party, although I draw a distinction between the members of the party in this House and the labourers outside. I have certainly never been anything like so offensive in my remarks about the party as the honorable member for Bourke has been, although he is now being supported by the caucus. Although I feel that there are occasions when honorable members are called upon to take a strong and determined stand for their rights and those of their electors, I am prepared to give fair consideration to any reasonable proposal to prevent abuse of the privileges of the

House. Honorable members say that the " gag " has never been abused ; but, on one occasion, when I visited the New South Wales 'Legislative Assembly, in company with the honorable and learned member for Werriwa and the honorable gentleman who then represented Kalgoorlie, we saw three members "gagged," although we remained only a few minutes. I have taken the trouble to go through the New South Wales. Hansard record, to be able to tell honorable members exactly how the " gag " has been applied elsewhere.

Sir William Lyne - Bythe honorable member's Government?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - By the remnant of the honorable member's Government which was led by Sir John See.

Mr Watson - Why does not the honorable member refer to the instance in which the Tariff proposals of the Reid Government were closured through?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I leave that instance to the honorable member. In 1902, at 1.20 a.m. on a certain sitting, the See Government refused a request for an adjournment, and brought forward the following consolidating Bills: - The Public Health Bill, the Constitution Bill; the Parliamentary Electorates Bill, the Billiard and Bagatelle Licences Bill, the Standard Time Bill, the Usury Bill, the General Legal Procedure Bill, the Sydney Corporation, Bill, the Width of 'Streets Bill, the Public Parks Bill, the Cattle Slaughtering Bill, the Sydney Abattoirs Bill, and the Sydney Mint Bill. Certain honorable members pointed out that in some respects those Bills differed from the legislation which they had been introduced to consolidate; and, in the succeeding three hours and eighteen minutes, the "gag" was applied no fewer than twenty-two times, although the whole report of proceedings does not occupy more than thirteen columns of Hansard.

Mr Brown - The Bills were accompanied with certificates stating that they merely consolidated the existing law.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. But honorable members were not bound to accept those certificates. They had a right to show that the Bills differed from the existing law, and that contention has since been borne out by several of the judgments in the Law Courts.

Mr Spence - It was held by the authorities that the House had no power to deal with them.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No outside authorities can bind the action of Parliament.

Mr Frazer - Does the honorable member think that the House would have been wise in trying to amend those Bills?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe that some of them were amended in some particulars, and I understand that the Courts have since held that some of their provisions differ from those of the laws which they were introduced to consolidate. Those proceedings were an instance of the gross abuse of this power. It has been said that there has been a lot of obstruction here this session, but I do not think that there is any ground for that statement. Last Tuesday week, when the House met, the Opposition found that the Trade Marks Bill - which, on the previous Friday had occupied a position at the bottom of the notice-paper - had been moved to the top. As honorable members had assembled under the impression that they would be asked to consider the Electoral Bill, the honorable member for Parramatta moved the Chairman out of the chair to protest against the alteration. He, himself, spoke for only ten minutes ; but the discussion of the motion lasted for some time. Ultimately, however, the friendly suggestion was made that fifty-seven clauses should be passed, and that then the House should adjourn. Many honorable members opposite thought that the proposal was a fair and reasonable one.

Mr Page - So it was.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe also that that opinion was shared by the majority of Ministers. We evinced our desire to help the Government to carry on the business of the country, but they declined our offer, and then calmly charged us with obstruction, and introduced the closure proposal.

Sir William Lyne - There was nothing to discuss in the fifty-seven clauses referred to.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There were one or two matters of great importance to be considered, but we were quite prepared to dispose of them after indicating, as briefly as possible the amendments we considered necessary. There was no dictation on our part, but a friendly suggestion was made, originally at the instance of some honorable member on the Government side of the House. There was no justification whatever for the attitude assumed by the Government towards the Opposition, nor was there any warrant for the introduction of the motion now before us. The honorable member for Moira has criticised our action in debating the proposed new standing order last week. We had no desire to remain here until midnight on Saturday ; but we considered that the Government had acted unfairly towards us, and entered the strongest protest of which we were capable. We were quite prepared to consider the Government proposal in a reasonable way, but we resented the action of Ministers in trying to impose the closure upon us without affording fair opportunities for debate. After we had had a rest, an arrangement was entered into with the Government to close the debate to-night, and although that compact has been broken by the Prime Minister in giving notice of his intention to introduce still more drastic proposals, we intend to perform our part of the agreement. We do not object to measures that are intended to prevent abuses of the rights and privileges of honorable members, but we resent the action of the Government in introducing closure provisions, with the evident intention of forcing through the House a certain measure containing many objectionable features. If the Government had been sincere in their belief that the Opposition were obstructing public business they should have introduced their closure proposals long ago. We should then have been able to fully discuss them on their merits. I regret that the motion now before us was not dealt with in Committee, where proposed amendments could have been more conveniently considered. That course was adopted on a former occasion, and I fail to see why it should not have been followed in the present case. Under the circumstances, we must do our best to safeguard the rights and privileges of honorable members, and to remove at least some of the objections which now attach to the proposed new standing, order. The manner in which the closure has been applied in New South Wales - a manner that was never contemplated when it was introduced - has convinced me that it would be very undesirable to adopt any similar rules in this House.

Amendment (by Mr. Dugald Thomson) proposed -

That all the words after " namely " be left out, with a view to inserting in lieu thereof the following words : - " No member shall speak for more than one hour on any question before the House except in the debate on the AddressinReply or on the Budget, or in a debate on a motion of ' No Confidence,1 or in moving the second reading of a Bill, or in moving a resolution. In a Committee of the House no Member shall speak for more than one hour in all, or four times in all, on any question before the Committee. This rule shall noi apply to a Member in charge of a Bill or resolution. Any Member may speak for a longer period or more frequently than .is allowed by the two preceding rules with the leave of an ordinary majority of the House or Committee, as the case may be. The question whether the Member be further heard shall be put forthwith without amendment or debate."

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).A new proposal has been submitted from this side of the Chamber for the express purpose of limiting debate rather than of stifling or suppressing it. altogether, and I venture to say that, if relief be needed in this Chamber, that is the direction in which it should be sought. If we adopted the closure, as proposed by the Government, and deliberately exposed to the application of the " gag " the representatives of the people, many of whom come here with a view to making specific proposals, we should place in the hands of a tyrannical Government the power to prevent the views of the constituencies from being expressed, and to thus deal a deadly blow at our representative institutions. I, therefore, think that if there be a desire to save time and to transact business at a greater rate of speed than has hitherto been the rule, the direction proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney is the one in which limitation of debate ought to be sought. I am not quite sure whether we are not in danger nowadays of forgetting what is the real object for which Parliament assembles. We have come lately to regard Parliament as merely a machine for turning out laws to be judged by their number, rather than by their quality and importance. And so one becomes impatient of debate of any kind, since it' interferes with the quantity of work that we turn out from time to time. I trust that we shall agree to some modification of the drastic proposals of the Government, that we shall accept proposals which, while limiting debate and allowing business to be done with reasonable despatch, will not result in the total suppression of free speech in this Chamber. Reference has been made this afternoon by the honorable member for Canobolas to the"" holding up " of this House. If any honorable member has held up this, and the last, Parliament, it is he. He has drivelled from the back Opposition bench for three or four hours at a stretch, with less than half-a-dozen honorable members in the Chamber, and those anxious to reach their homes. If any honorable member has added to the tedium of attendance here - has added to the obstruction of the business of the House, so far as prolonged debate is concerned - the honorable member for Canobolas has done so. I know of no one who has more freely indulged in that kind of debate, which he now declares lead's to the Parliament being " held up." No honorable member has wasted the time of the House to the same extent that he has done, when his speaking has been absolutely of no avail,

Mr Brown - The honorable member will find that the Hansard reports of my speeches are not nearly so long as are those of speeches made by himself.

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