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Thursday, 23 November 1905

Mr McCAY - - It is the honorable member's youthfulness that speaks, not his experience.

Mr Frazer - Does not the honorable and learned member agree with me?

Mr McCAY - No. Although no business results from a debate on an AddressinReply, the discussion is one of the most valuable that takes place, if the occasion be not abused. A member may also speak for an unlimited period during a Budget debate, in criticising the financial proposals of the Government, and during a a debate on a motion of " no-confidence." I can understand how honorable members in the Labour Conner would have kicked had any limitation been in force last session, when a motion of " no-confidence" in the Reid-McLean Administration was being discussed. I could understand the honorable member for Gwydir or the honorable member for Darling saying : " I could speak for five hours, or for fifteen hours, on this subject without effort, but I am being limited to one hour." At first blush, one might be inclined to admit that one of those philosophic discussions with which the honorable member for Darling used to favour us last session, could not well be terminated within an hour, because it is one of the advantages, or disadvantages, of such utterances that, although they have a beginning, they can end anywhere or nowhere without impairing their efficiency or destroying their artistic completeness. But the honorable member would only have to ask for leave to continue his remarks to be permitted to speak as long as he wished. Under the procedure which I am advocating, there would be no extraordinary maximum limitation, and if an honorable member were addressing himself to a question on which the House wished to hear him further, permission to prolong his remarks would willingly be granted. It seems to me that the great advantages of this alternative .proposal are that the rule is not brought into operation only when feeling is running high ; that it will not prevent the full and fair discussion of any measure before the House ; and that it will not allow a majority relying on its numbers, and on nothing else, to force measures through the House. Objections raised to any proposed course of legislation will have as full an opportunity for expression as arguments in support of it, so far as the number of those opposing it permit. I should not have trespassed upon the time of honorable members in this connexion, but that I wish to point out that this proposal represents in substance the conclusions at which the last Government had arrived as to what ought to be done to limit debate. They did not intend to provide for any such closure as the present Administration has brought forward, because they felt that any limitation of debate should be of such a nature that it would act automatically, and could not be used as a weapon by the majority in times of excitement. The last Administration went out of office before it could bring this matter under the consideration of the House; but I had the privilege of submitting it to the Standing Orders Committee. There it met with opposition in some quarters, as the honorable member for Kennedy may remember.

Mr McDonald - I opposed it.

Mr McCAY - And other honorable members gave it very faint support, which is a significant fact, in view of the present circumstances.

Mr McDonald - The honorable and learned member was not very strong about it.

Mr McCAY - It received so little support that I did not think it worth while to go on with it.

Mr Fisher - A great deal of water has run under the bridge since then.

Mr McCAY - Yes, and we have approached the consideration of the trade union label proposals, and the end of the! session. The proposal which is now brought forward had my support when I submitted it to the Standing Orders Committee, and it will have my support now, because I believe it to be a fair one. It will not permit a minority to be compelled to speak less than a majority ; it will not permit the closure to be applied when the arguments against a measure are becoming too searching ; and it will not allow force to be used when those who are supporting a measure feel that the country had better not be given an opportunity to understand it. The objection to the proposal of the Government is largely that it would permit the stifling of debate, and thus keep information from the people whom we represent, and whom it is our duty to make acquainted with the reasons for our decisions. Under the proposal which I am supporting, every honorable member would have an opportunity to express his views with reasonable fulness. There may be those who will say that the limitation is not sufficient - that, halfanhour instead of an hour should be allowed; but, in view of the great importance of the questions which come before this Parliament for consideration, and of the fact that the geographical extent of our jurisdiction compels us to allow more time for the spreading of views and opinions than is necessary in a community of smaller geographical area, if is better to err by allowing too much time for discussion than by allowing too little. The proposal of the Government, which some of the members of the Labour corner are supporting, would have met with but scant consideration from them a few months ago, when the Trade Marks Bill was not so near its time for consideration. The honorable member for Canobolas, in saying that the amendment provides for a greater restriction of debate than does the motion, expressed only half the truth. It provides a greater restriction of debate by the majority, but not so great a restriction of debate by the minority. It .puts every one on the same footing. Whether a member belongs to the majority or the minority he will have the same rights. But honorable members will not be on an equal footing under the Government proposal. It is only the majority that can apply the closure, and the majority will not do it so long as its members wish to talk. They will use this power only to prevent the minority from talking.

Mr Fisher - The closure might be applied by a combination of members, which, though seemingly a minority, was really a majority.

Mr McCAY - Pigs might fly, but they are not in the habit of doing so. We know why the closure is being proposed. We know that there is only one measure on the noticepaper to which it can be suggested that it will be applied.

Mr Robinson - The Government Whip said last night that it will be used to throttle the free-traders.

Mr McCAY - I do not wish to throttle the free-traders, though I desire to convert them - perhaps a harder, but, at any rate, a more humane task. Under the proposal which I am supporting, I should have only ,an hour to try to do that ; but, no doubt, the House would give me leave to continue remarks which had so excellent an object. Let us take a specific case, and contrast the probable working of the two proposals. If the Government proposal be agreed to, when the trade union label provisions of the Trade Marks Bill come before us again there will be a counting of heads, and the side which discovers that it has a majority will determine to remain silent, in order that the clauses may be passed through as quickly as possible. It cannot be thought that the weapon will not be used, because, until the socialistic state has arrived, human nature may be expected to use any serviceable weapon that is put into its hands. It is therefore quite reasonable to suppose that the majority will endeavour to pass into law, irrespective of their merits, the trade union label provisions of the Prime Minister, which bear the imprimatur of the honorable member for Bland. The minority, believing those provisions to be detrimental to the community, and feeling that the country should be informed in regard to their probable effect, will proceed to debate them. With what result ? That after a number of honorable members in the minority had spoken, we should hear cries from the majority that no one on their side had spoken, that no one had had an opportunity of speaking, because all the time had been taken up by members of the minority - even though the members of the Opposition had remained seated after each speech, in order to give members of the majority an opportunity of standing up and catching the eye of the Speaker^ and that opportunity had not been availed of. That fact, however, would be forgotten. The minority would be charged with having occupied all the time, and members in the majority would say, " We must stop all this talk. We do not want to speak ourselves, and we do not want others to do so." We have had an instance of that to-day, although the closure has not been in operation here. The result would be that, with the proposed new standing order behind them, majorities would invariably rely upon their numbers, instead of upon their reasons, and the country would be deprived of an opportunity to hear just criticisms on tlie proposals that the majority were trying to force through.

Mr Fisher - I have seen the closure in operation in Queensland for some years, and it has had no such effect as that described.

Mr McCAY - The events of last week make me very much afraid of what is going to be done during the next week or two. Whether I happen to be in the majority or in the minority - and sitting here in the Opposition corner I occupy a position of independence, and I may be at one time on the side of the Government, and at another om the side of the Opposition - I desire to take my share in endeavouring to enforce the views I hold by argument), and not by weight of numbers. The advantage attaching to the amendment proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney, as compared with the Government proposal, is that honorable members who sit silent because they are in the majority, will not be able to prevent honorable members on the other side from exercising reasonable opportunities of expressing their views.

Mr Mahon - No one has objected to affording reasonable facilities for speech.

Mr McCAY - The amendment proposes to fix a reasonable limit to the speeches of honorable members, and that is the reason I support it It would debar the majority from preventing the expression of just criticisms by the minority. The Government proposal could be applied to prevent just criticism, and probably would be brought into operation when the criticism had be come of the keenest, and the majority were most anxious to prevent it from being pursued. I would not mind if I felt certain that the new standing order proposed by the Government would never be abused. That is to say, that it would never be used. Some honorable members have urged as a reason for supporting the Government proposal that the closure would not be applied. The new standing order proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney would be used, and would Be a Teal thing, because it would be the duty of the Speaker or the Chairman of Committees to see that it was applied. Surely a standing order which it would be the duty of the Speaker to apply should be preferred by- honorable members to a provision subject to abuses which it would T>e the duty- of the Speaker to guard against? Our proposal, owing to its fairness, is placed in the hands of the Speaker; whilst the other, on account of its unfairness, is made subject to the Speaker's control. The fact that it is regarded as necessary to make the application of the Government proposal subject to a check upon the part of the Speaker, amounts to an admission that it opens the door to grave abuses.

Mr Frazer - Who is supporting the proposed amendment in that direction?

Mr McCAY - The Prime Minister stated publicly in this Chamber that he had no objection to such a proposal being made, and carried. I presume that he still adheres to that opinion. I do not know, and I shall wait until his vote makes the point clear. Any honorable member who refuses to agree to an amendment upon the main proposal which would have the effect of imposing upon the Speaker or Chairman the duty of preventing its obvious abuse is openly confessing that he wants the standing order to be abused. Whatever may be the views of honorable members on the main question, as compared with the amendment proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney, I feel sure that the majority will at least leave the final check over the exercise of the proposed standing order in the hands of the Presiding Officer.

Mr Kennedy - Is not the honorable and learned member's argument basedupon the presumption that the majority mayat any time abuse its power?

Mr McCAY - Yes, and I say that the people of Australia are now protected against the abuse of power by the exercise of the right of the minority to point out abuses. It is because the amendment of the honorable member for North Sydney would permit the minority to exercise its right in that direction, without enabling them to wantonly waste time, that I prefer it to the Government proposal. That is the whole question. What the minority want is an opportunity to point out abuses. They cannot carry anything into effect, but they can criticise everything, and it is the fear of wholesome criticism that prevents the majority from engaging in wrong-doing. The. amendment would enable the minority to do' what was legitimate, 'without permitting them to indulge in wanton obstruction. It would limit the speeches of honorable members, and place all upon an equal footing, except to the extent that it would exempt honorable members in charge of Bills, or resolutions, from restrictions as to time. It would require honorable members to confine their remarks within what would, in 99 cases out of 100, prove to be an. ample margin of time. Consequently, with the alternative offered to them, honorable members - unless they desire that the power given under the standing order shall be abused - should have no hesitation in making a choice.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Has the closure provision ever been abused in the Senate?

Mr McCAY - I am not permitted to refer to the proceedings in another place, but if in any other place connected with the Federation there is a similar order in force, I will say that in no other place does such a state of affairs exist as we find in this House.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Hear, hear. Eight or ten members are monopolizing all the time.

Mr McCAY - The amendment now before the Chair would prevent that. I am supporting it because it would prevent any eight or ten men from monopolizing the whole of the time. It would also prevent any individual member from speaking for four or five hours at a time - as was done by an honorable member who was in opposition last session.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The honorable member means last week.

Mr McCAY - Under the proposal of the honorable member for North Sydney, an honorable member of the Opposition would be prevented from speaking for four or five hours at a time. So far as I am aware, no speech of that length has been delivered during this session. I have not been sufficiently curious to search' Hansard. in order to discover to what length speeches have been extended. When I do refer to Hansard, I read the speeches, and do not attempt to measure them with a yard stick. I do not consider it necessary to take up much more time. I should not have spoken so long, but for interruptions which led me somewhat off the track. I support the amendment now before the House, because I believe in it. I regard it as a fair thing. It will treat all members alike, and will make exceptions only where exceptions ought to be. made. It will prevent any special powers from being put into force at times when excitement is running -high. It will prevent undue debate, and undue obstruction. It will provide for limitations which will bring about the result which some honorable members say has been produced this week, during which the speeches delivered have extended loversomething less than an hour each. I consider that that will be a desirable result. It will achieve all that can be desired - unless honorable members seek to stifle debate and silence criticism, and thus enable things to be done, of which the country cannot be properly informed, through Parliament. Under these circumstances, I deem it to be my bounden duty to heartily support the amendment, and to express the hope that the more moderate of honorable members on the Government side of the House, who agree that there should be some limitation of debate, but who join with me in my dislike of the Government proposal, may see their way to adopt the alternative now presented to them. The amendment will enable us to bring about the limitation of debate in a form that is not open to abuse, whereas the Government proposal is one which, in view of the circumstances of the case, of the existence of three parties in the House, and of the dominance exercised by the Labour Party, is most likely to be abused. Abuses are bound to occur when opportunities are presented, and I have no desire to see any such opportunity afforded. I trust that honorable members will realize that the amendment is a wiser and fairer proposal than that originally made, and that if adopted it will effect all that can reasonably be desired, if honorable members do not wish to abuse the powers intrusted to them.

Mr Fisher - Most of the observations of members of the Opposition have been based upon the assumption that the Government have been subject to some outside influence in this matter; that has weakened their arguments.

Mr McCAY - I sincerely believe that to be true, and, therefore, I have no hesitation in saying it. Honorable members cannot expect me to be silent on the point, if I believe that to be the ease.

Mr SPEAKER - That has nothing whatever to do with this debate.

Mr McCAY - It may possibly, in some distant way, be urged as a reason why the proposal now before the Chair, rather than the original one, should be adopted. However, I do not propose to press that point. I shall satisfy myself by once more urging honorable members to seriously consider whether it is not correct, as has been stated, that the amendment of the honorable member for North Sydney is fairer and less likely to be misused in a moment of excitement than is the standing order proposed by the Government.

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