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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .- I take it that this motion does not come under the " guillotine," and I propose, therefore, to take advantage of that fact to say jj, few words on the proceedings in this chamber during the consideration of the Estimates. If the manner in which honorable members have been treated is what the Prime Minister calls " conducting the business of the country," the right honorable gentleman does not understand the meaning of the term he uses. To have millions of money passed by the sheer exhaustion of honorable members is not "" conducting the business of the country." Protests have been made for many years about the application of the "closure " and the " guillotine." There are occasions when both those instruments of parliamentary government are properly used. They are proper instruments for carrying on the government of the country. But their use is justifiable only when there are obstructionist tactics by an Opposition. The implication in the Prime Minister's statement that he had to " conduct the business of the country " was that on this occasion the Opposition had used such tactics. I challenge the right honorable gentleman to indicate one speech on the budget from the Opposition side that could be characterized as obstructionist or "stone-walling." There were more speakers on the general budget debate from the Government's supporters than from our side, and up to the time of the application of the " closure " there was not one suggestion of " stone-walling." It is true that fairly long speeches were delivered on the budget by some honorable members. But with the exception of the war years,- 1 do not believe that the financial outlook has ever been so serious as it is to-day.

The debate has been conducted by all honorable members on a fairly high plane, and with an earnest endeavour to draw attention to the problems with which we are faced and to suggest means by which they may be overcome. When honorable members are prepared to listen to, and to take part in, a discussion that has for its object the welfare and the safety of the nation, it can be claimed that they are carrying on the business of the country. .It is not right to closure a debate of that description at 3 o'clock in the morning, and to apply the guillotine to ensure, by a process of exhaustion, the voting of a sum of £22,000,000. We have a perfect right to protest in a genuine way against this measure. Although the Opposition has fought principles with which it has disagreed, it has always been prepared to display an amicable spirit in order that our proceedings might be conducted in a business-like way. I defy the Government to say that on one occasion during this or any recent session that has not been our frame of mind. We are now asked to pass the final stages of a measure that involves the expenditure of millions of pounds. The Department of the Treasurer was linked up with a number of others, thus rendering it impossible to say -one word respecting its administration, notwithstanding the fact that this was the only opportunity we had for criticism. Will the Prime Minister say that that is a proper way in which to carry on "the affairs of a great nation? One of our biggest and most important departments is that of defence. This was the only opportunity that has been given to us in the present session to discuss the big question of defence. Although many honorable members were' prepared to contribute, to the best of their ability, to the discussion of that most important question, they were debarred from doing so. As a member of this Parliament I regard my responsibility somewhat seriously, and I represent men who are similarly inclined. I ask honorable members who sit placidly behind the Government, do they believe deep, down in their hearts that a Parliament, the doors of which have been closed for ti period of thirteen months less three weeks, is justified in conducting the consideration of financial legislation in the manner in which it has been conducted during this sitting? I suggest to the Prime Minister that the duty of the Government, and of honorable members, is to sit here in more constant session so that they may deliberate on the problems that confront them, face the issues that have to be faced, look to thf future, and attempt to stave off the financial crisis that is bound to come if action is not taken to prevent it. The doors of Parliament should not be closed for twelve months and then opened only in order that important measures may be rushed through in a few weeks. What does it matter if Christmas is approaching! We could have a short adjournment and then return to Canberra to discuss the problems that require urgent consideration. For over twelve months a tariff schedule has been lying on the table of this Parliament. With some portions of it I agree; with others I disagree, because they do not go far enough. There are other honorable members who consider that it is highly protective. Whatever may be their opinions, all honorable members have a right to express them in the interests of those by whom they have been returned to this Parliament. Revenues are being collected by means of a tariff that may be either excessive or not sufficiently high, yet honorable members are deprived of the opportunity of discussing even one item. Many months have passed since the schedule was tabled, and without the authority of this Parliament, duties have been collected under it. That has been done by a government, some members of which belong to the Country party, whose leader at the outset declared his intention to restore responsible government and the control by Parliament of the public purse. When he sat on a cross-bench, he expressed the view that the control of the public purse had been taken away from Parliament, and that the affairs of the nation were in the hands of an oligarchy or a bureaucracy. He said that the Country party would switch on the light and restore responsible government. That- party has now an equal voice in the government of the country;- yet this is the way iu which it allows the business of the nation to be carried on. I do not wish to detain honorable members any longer.. I know that they are as tired and as worn as I am. But I would have failed in the conception that I hold of my duty if I had not made a protest at this stage of the proceedings against what has been going on for the last 35 hours.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported and adopted.

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