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Friday, 24 November 1905

Mr WILKS (Dalley) - The modesty of the honorable member for Robertson is almost overwhelming. In the expressive but not very elegant phraseology of the street, I think that " the game is up."

Mr Tudor - Then! " ring off."

Mr WILKS - I intend to do so in two or three minutes. I agree with the plea made by the honorable member for Robertson in regard to the restriction of debate upon dilatory motions, and approve of the proposal made by the honorable member for North Sydney that a time limit should be placed upon speeches, believing that it would induce Honorable members to prepare their speeches more carefully than they now do. I trust that with the coming into operation of the closure standing order, the honorable member for Robertson will contribute to our debates more frequently than he has done. The pearls of wisdom which will then fall from his lips will astonish the House. My experience is that it is the invariable custom for an honorable member to commence his. speech by saying, " But for such and such a matter " - meaning the speech made by the other fellow - " I should not have spoken," and to conclude with the assertion that he thinks that the question has now been sufficiently debated. The Ministry succeeded last night in placing the curb on honorable members, and they now propose to apply the bridoon to us. We have to take our physic, and might as well take it smiling. I, for one, do not intend to sip it. I shall swallow it at one gulp, and so get rid of it' as soon as possible!. The value of an Opposition has been shown in the most striking manner by the fact that the Attorney-General, who is- mainly responsible 'for the introduction of these closure proposals, has distributed a fresh list of amendments in relation to the Trade Marks Bill. Had we not debated that Bill the Government' would have asked the House? to pass its union label provisions in the crude and drastic form in which thev were first placed before us. The Attorney-General by his latest1 action has admitted that the Opposition have done good work in relation to a measure our constitutional right to pass which is said to be a moot point. A rational discussion, although it may be regarded by some honorable members as mere oBstruction, often fends to the perfecting of legislation. One result of the application of the closure will be the pass- ing of imperfect laws which may be challenged in the High Court. The city hoardings are placarded with notices that a certain preparation '" once tried is always used," and I am afraid that that will be our experience of these proposed Standing Orders. The honorable member for Bass, for instance, who has a keen desire to push on with business, may move that I be no longer heard, and although I rarelytrouble the House, I should not be surprised if such a motion received considerable support. Then, again, the honorable member might say, " The honorable member for Kennedy is a saucy young rascal, and we ought to apply the closure to him." The closure, once applied, will come into general use. But it is useless to complain. The Government have, so to speak, chloroformed the Opposition, and T shall content myself by appealing to the Prime Minister to be merciful in the application of his new-found power. I am Sure that he would be delighted if he only knew of the eloquence which will in future characterize the speeches of the Opposition. It is said that Dr. Guillotine was the first to suffer the application of the machine which he invented, and I should not be surprised if that were the experience of the honorable; and learned gentleman. We have known him to speak four or five hours upon the question of preferential trade, but he will not have another opportunity to deliver such an oration ; he will never have another chance to make a five-hours' speech in explanation of his Ballarat utterances. At any time when he is speaking, an irreverent honorable member may move that he be no longer heard, with the result that his remarks may be brought to an abrupt termination. I find some consolation in the knowledge that it is not proposed to apply the closure to interjection's. You alone, "Mr. Speaker, have power to suppress them, and I hope that the Opposition will be able to avail themselves occasionally of such a means of expressing their views. I could not help thinking, sir, when you were giving a ruling this morning, that if the Standing Orders were properly framed, it would be in the power of an honorable member to move that you be no further heard. In that event, Mr. Speaker, you would find yourself in a very awkward position. I am trying to appear happy when I am really very miserable. We are sad because the closure motion has been passed ; but I wish the Government luck with" it. I have no complaint to make in regard to the first four clauses of the motion now before us, but I certainly favour the amendment moved by the honorable member for Lang; I agree that certain well-framed closure standing orders, if properly used, would lead to an improvement in debate. Like the police, they have a dormant influence. They are. a warning to would-be evil-doers, and I hope that the honorable member for Robertson will be warned and take care not to offend. But if the people of Melbourne decided to riot, the whole police force would not be sufficient to quell the disturbance. And so with the Standing Orders. There are times when many of the members of an Opposition, like Government supporters, go mad, although we never hear of all the members of an Opposition becoming politically insane at the one time.

Mr Deakin - There is one, at least, who never does.

Mr WILKS - I thank the Prime Minister for the compliment. If there be a student of literature in the Chamber, it is he, and I am sure that he has read Montaigne's admirable' essay on, Caesar, in which he makes Cato say, "Oh, that such a sober man should have almost ruined a nation." I feel constrained to paraphrase those words, and say, " Oh, that such a sad, sober, and stubborn man as the Attorney-General should have almost ruined the Commonwealth." Montaigne, like the AttorneyGeneral, was a lawyer, although his knowledge and ability were infinitely superior to those of the honorable member. I believe that the Labour Party will be the first to feel the effect of the proposals now before us. We have to admit that the Government now have the power; but, once they seek to apply it, many honorable members will display quite a feverish anxiety to bring the guillotine into play, and the result will be the passing of faulty laws, which must necessarily lead to litigation in the High Court.

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