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Thursday, 15 July 1920

Mr. Hugheswas wooing his majority.

This is what I wish especially to direct the attention of honorable members to -

Why does Mr. McGrath (Labour) exhibit a majority of 3,000 votes over Mr. Kerby (Nationalist) ? It is not because Mr. Kerby helped himself to £400 a year. The salary grab played a small part in the election, for the anti-salary grab candidate, Mr. Troup, with the aid ofthe farmers' vote, polled negligibly. It is not that the woes of Ireland played any great part, for the inhabitants of Ballarat are three-fourths Protestant, and Mr. Hughes' raising of the sectarian bogy certainly did not have much effect either way - except that the insincerity of this move probably disgusted a few of his own supporters in Ballarat. The reason is that the people of Ballarat, and of Victoria and of Australia, are getting very tired of the dictatorship of Mr. Hughes, of his " dominating personality," and his War Precautions Act, and his clumsy handling of the Watt episode, and his unpublished wool reports. There is a powerful feeling growing in Australia that it is high time the country got back to parliamentary government. Ballarat is the "Mene Tekel" upon the walls of the banquet hall of Belshazzar Hughes and his Nationalist courtiers. The party has still a chance of survival; but it will not survive if it is going to constitute the applauding court of Babylon. It must bring Belshazzar to reason, and the trouble appears to be that not one man of the Cabinet has the necessary force, now that Mr. Watt has been driven out.

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Holmanism, which was also modelled upon the Belshazzar idea of personal government, wrecked the hopes of the National party in

I make this quotation merely to show that there are others besides the Labour party who seriously believe that there are grave reasons for this censure motion.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) returned last night to his referendum joke, and taunted the Leader of our party with having repeated former statements made by him on the subject. I propose very briefly to refer to the principles of the referendum taken at the last general election. The Prime Minister distinctly stated that the proposed amendments of the Constitution then put before the electors were practically the same as those which the Labour party had on prior occasions submitted. The curious fact is that every force and influence that opposed those proposals when they were submitted by the Labour Government professed a readiness to support them on this occasion. It is very necessary in the circumstances to ask the reason for the change of front. Honorable members opposite will admit that, when the Prime Minister first submitted to his party his proposed amendments of the Constitution, they met with a very luke-warm reception. The daily newspapers published articles which were anything but vigorous in their support of them, and the big vested interests of the country quickly began to show that they would oppose them. Something had to be done, and done quickly, to secure unity on the part of the Nationalist party. Conflicting interests had to be reconciled, and consequently the Prime Minister lost no time in announcing that certain reservations were to he made. He began by addressing a meeting of the inner circle of the profiteers in this city - the very people who, if the referendum proposals were carried, were to be dealt with. The meeting was held behind closed doors, the star-chamber tactics adopted being much like those associated with many other undertakings on the part of this Government. I dare say that soldiers in uniform were posted outside the meeting room to take care that no listening ear was at the keyhole. No sooner had the meeting been held than the Chamber of Commerce publicly announced that, having heard the Prime Minister, it had decided to support the referendum proposals of his Government, since they recognised that they would be circumscribed and altogether of a very restricted character. Even that, however, was not sufficient to secure unity among the Natonalists. More remained to be done, and so other reservations were made. Finally, we had the reservation, which destroyed the proposals completely, so far as we were concerned, that, even if the projected amendments of the Constitution were accepted by the people, they would lapse unless a Convention to make recommendations in regard to the Constitution as a whole was called before the end of the present year. That Convention could make recommendations which would have stultified the decision of the people, and the Prime Minister announced that, unless . it was called before the end of ,1920, the proposed amendments, even if carried by the people, would become null and void. Having regard to our experience of the Prime Minister's political tactics - knowing, as we did, that he was prepared to jump from one party to another; that he would make definite statements to-day and qualify them, or almost deny them, to-morrow - we rightly said that we could not associate ourselves with any proposal of the kind, and that we would not support the referendum. Having regard to the desperate methods to which the Prime Minister had resorted - to the reservations and restrictions which he proposed with the object of placating members of his own party and his capitalistic supporters outside - we took the stand that the people should be advised to reject the Government's proposals.

Mr Wise - Is that why the whole of the honorable member's party in this House, with two exceptions, voted for the proposed amendments of the Constitution which were submitted to the people?

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