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Friday, 17 August 1906

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (Prime Minister) . - I do not desire to take any part in personal recriminations,' but think that the deputy leader of the Opposition has done justice neither to himself nor to the party he represents by putting forward as a' plea for stopping the mere publication of a measure a statement of his opinion with regard to the order in which the business of the House should be taken. Under present circumstances, it is not m the interests of the public or of the House, nor is it worthy of an honorable member to interpose the forms of the House to prevent the publication of a Bill which happened to arrive a few minutes too late to be placed in the hands of Ministers this morning. No advantage was sought to be taken of honorable members, but we simply asked, as a matter of courtesy, to be allowed to take a certain course which we were unable to adopt this morning. That courtesy was refused, very improperly, and inconsistently, and in a manner that showed that the honorable member for Parramatta was not anxior.5 to assist us in transacting the business we have before us. Then the honorable member went on to question my own anxiety and that of the Government to dispose of the Tariff proposals as expeditiously as possible. I do not think, however, that any honorable member who has cast his eye, as I have had to do, over the last set of recommendations of the Tariff Commission which were laid before the House in an unexpected manner, in consequence of the improper action of a newspaper, will suggest that the Government, who were not aware of the recommendations until they were communicated to thi: House, has yet had time to sift them thoroughly, and properly examine them, so as to be able to submit its own proposals to the House. It is only a few days since the recommendations of the Commission in respect of agricultural machinery came into our hands. Those recommendations had engaged the attention of that body for some time, and resulted in a very serious division of opinion among its member's.

Mr Watson - I do not think that the Government should be expected to adopt them holus bolus.

Mr DEAKIN - But the point is that ths Commission, after weeks of consideration, were unable to arrive at agreement in respect of these recommendations, which only reached us. at the same time as they were placed before the public. Since then we have been engaged in discussing the spirit duties, and any leisure on the part of the Customs officers is now being devoted to considering the recommendations referred to. So far from having delayed their examination, I have personally urged upon the ComptrollerGeneral the' necessity for supplying us with the fullest criticism which he and his officers can bestow upon them at the very first opportunity. I have not yet received a line of that criticism, nor could I have reasonably expected to do so.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In any case, the reports could only reach the Prime Minister through the Minister of Trade and Customs.

Mr DEAKIN - Exactly. But I have already explained that I was acting for the Minister of Trade and Customs. I can assure the honorable member for Parramatta that we shall continue to urge the Customs officers to expedite their comments upon the Tariff Commission's recommendations, and that there will be no delay in submitting the Government proposals to this House. On the contrary, I believe that we shall be able to deal with those now in hand before any others are received from the Commission. In the meantime, we are bound to keep the general business of the House going, and to lay before honorable members the short Bills which we are introducing. Two or three of them are, in a sense, purely formal - at all events they are Bills not likely to arouse any party antagonism. One of them is designed to cure a purely technical question of law in reference, to certain constituencies. Another- is intended. to repeal the Property for Public Purposes Acquisition Act, and to re-enact it with necessary amendments. One or two other measures relate to the dates at which the Federal elections shall in future be held, the desire being to avoid holding them at harvest time. That Bill involves an amendment of the Constitution, which, although formal, has to be submitted to the electors for their ratification. .The consideration of these Bills ought not to be delayed. When we asked permission to introduce a more disputable measure - one relating to the method of conducting the elections - our object was to get it before the public early, because if it is to be rejected, we ought to be apprised of that fact without delay, inasmuch as the instructions to the returning officers have to be issued, and the electors warned. Nobody will deny that this is a matter of great urgency, and that we were justified in pressing it before the country.

Mr McLean - Will the Government proceed with a Bill of that character - which will be highly contentious - before the consideration of the recommendations of the Tariff Commission is resumed?

Mr DEAKIN - That depends upon the time when we receive further recommendations, and the extent to which we are able to agree with them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But some reports of the Commission are already in hand.

Mr DEAKIN - That is the group of which I have spoken. The Government proposals 'will be submitted as soon as possible. It is undesirable that we should depart from the recommendations of the Commission unless we are absolutely obliged to do so. In regard to the duties upon spirits, we believed that it was incumbent upon us to do so for the protection of the revenue. But there has been no delay upon- that account.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Government are introducing contentious measures when they already have their hands full.

Mr DEAKIN - In the last session of this Parliament we have no choice of the time when we shall introduce contentious measures.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Who rs asking the Government to put such measures through ?

Mr DEAKIN - The Government are introducing the Bill relating to the conduct of elections because thev think that it ought to be introduced. We are acting under compulsion as to time under pressure of work, and, though I make no complaint of the manner in which the business of the House has been dealt with hitherto, to-day a general and important debate has been carried over to next week, although nothing definite can result from it at present.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The debate has been carried over at the request of the Government's own supporters.

Mr DEAKIN - Backed up by some honorable members opposite. I am not attributing blame to any side in that connexion. I am merely speaking of the. posi tion in which we find ourselves. Only a few more weeks of the present session remain.

Mr King O'Malley - Can the Prime Minister tell us when the session will close?

Mr DEAKIN - It is impossible. But I trust that we shall not hear even the eloquence of the honorable member again at such length - as we heard it upon the Budget, though his remarks, like those of others, were devoted to the education of the public. We must neglect our own interests if our remaining business is to be transacted within a reasonable time. I hope that upon another occasion the honorable member for Parramatta will not endeavour to throw unnecessary obstacles in the way of our work, and thus compel us. to remain in session later than we otherwise should.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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