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Wednesday, 23 November 1938


Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- The honorable member to whom we have just had the pleasure of listening seems to be under the mistaken impression that the policy of the Australian Labour party is a secret document or a secret policy about which this party entertains some sense of shame or compunction, and that the party promulgates its doctrines in secret while publicly announcing as its policy something entirely different. As a- matter of fact the policy of the Australian Labour party has been frequently published, and ia re-published from time to time; it is available for anybody and everybody who may desire to enlarge their education by becoming familiar with its terms. I do not propose to read it to-night. I can promise the honorable member, however, that, for his enlightenment, I would be prepared to make a copy of the document available for his study with the confident expectation that after, in the course of years, he had learned dimly to comprehend it, he would pass naturally to that side of the House on which, by that time, the Labour party was carrying on the government of this country. Suffice it to say that in the very foreground of Labour's policy appears Labour's objective - and it is printed in bold letters and in plain English - " Socialization of industry, production, distribution and exchange ". Then follow the principles of action, and after that, methods. Then follow further the details of Labour's platform and policy. I suppose there is hardly any one who has had the honour to stand for Parliament as a standardbearer for the Labour party who has failed, not only to enunciate, but also to expound, the fundamental changes involved in Labour's policy. The honorable gentleman does not seem to have heard of them; at least it is very evident that he has failed to understand them. I suggest that it would be better for him to devote some little time to the study of the fundamentals of Labour's policy before he accepts the responsibility of criticizing us about matters which he certainly does not understand.

The general discussion on the budget affords a very excellent illustration of the unhappy decadence of the parliamentary institution as operated under governments of the character df that which now controls our destinies in the federal sphere. I suggest that the national Parliament is, or at least ought to be, a democratic instrument of government which is worth preserving, the liberties and privileges of which demand jealously guarding; but I am sorry to have to admit that, at the hands of those very persons who claim to be the champions of democratic institutions, Parliament has, from day to day, deteriorated in efficiency. I am not referring to the personnel of the Parliament, because I do not join with those who rant occasionally about the "good old days", and the "giant parliamentarians" who controlled our destinies in other times. I believe that every generation throws up, in equal measure, a fair average number of capable men willing to carry on the government of the country in accordance with the best tradition. Unfortunately, to-day the tendency is to create and maintain a bureaucracy to filch the rights of members, and to limit the rights of the electorate, and of what the Attorney-General yesterday described in another connexion as " a sovereign people ". We are supposed to have, for example, almost unlimited powers of discussion over an unlimited area on this very question which is now before the Chair. What happens? What happens to-day happens almost every year when the budget is under consideration. The time for consideration of the question is limited unreasonably, unnatural hours of labour are imposed upon honorable members and, eventually, when we come to the consideration of the Edi mates, millions of pounds of money are voted by forced marches within a measure of time ridiculously inadequate for the purpose that we have in view. Instead of ample opportunity being provided for discussion of a wide range of subjects, very little opportunity is afforded to those at least who feel that their strength and powers of endurance are not equal to all-night sittings, and sittings which extend over night and day continuously. It is a violation of the principles of parliamentary government that honorable members should be worn down and discouraged from speaking by reason of the fact that if they wish to speak they must be deprived of their natural rest, and must submit themselves to an endurance test that should never be imposed upon them. Take the discussion, for example, upon Supply. It is a very well-settled principle that grievances must be redressed before Supply is granted. My friends of the Government would have the country believe that honorable members may talk as much as they like on that subject; but the fact is that they cannot do so. The time for discussion is arbitrarilv limited, and almost invariably the Government informs us that a supply bill must bepassed before a certain hour, very often before one-quarter of the members of the chamber can have had an opportunity to ventilate their grievances. It follows that grievances not stated cannot be redressed. Again, it is open to any honorable member, supposing he can' get the support of, say, five members of the House, to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a matter of urgent public importance; but only yesterday we had an excellent illustration of what occurs in that regard. When the leader of the Labour party for the time being (Mr. Forde) moved the adjournment ofthe House for the purpose of discussing a matter which is of vital interest, and of tremendous importance to the people outside and, consequently, of tremendous interest to those inside this Parliament, after one speech had been delivered by the mover of the motion, the Government, taking very good care to have the last word, and the only other word, had the debate clotured, and further discussion prevented. I have taken leave to say before, and I take leave to say now, that those gentlemen who, with tongue in cheek, pretend to condemn Fascism in other countries, should set their own house in order and learn to show greater respect towards a democratic Parliament before they begin to teach their grandmothers overseas how they should conduct the business of the countries over which they have control and charge. I very often think that when we assemble here as a new Parliament we do not sufficiently realize the historic background of the institution of which we are privileged to be members. We should revise our knowledge of the tribulations, the blood and tears, out of which the parliamentary institution grew, and of how the men of the brave days of old faced terror and death in order to assert the rights of a free parliament. To-day, the tendency is not only to limit the rights of members by arbitrarily declaring that the subject in hand must be disposed of by military methods and all-night sittings, but also to set up officers, such as the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees, who, instead of being the servants of the House, become the masters of the House. That is an inversion of the proper order of control. It is true that we should have standing orders; it is equally true that honorable members should jealously guard their rights; but I think that the Standing Orders have gone much too far in limiting the rights of honorable members. When the rights enjoyed by members are interpreted with undue rigidity by the officers of the Parliament there is grave danger that the servants of the Parliament become its masters, or become so to regard themselves. And so against development along those lines I make this stern protest as an individual and on behalf of the Australian Parliament claimed to be a democratic instrument, which is to me the lineal successor of those parliaments established, as I indicated a moment ago, by the courageously endured hardships of those who suffered to set up a democratic institution. Wearied by the long vigil of last night and the labours of to-day, I am not disposed to make a studious examination of this subject, nor am I fitted, in a physical sense, to make such an examination of any public question worth considering. I shall content myself with some general observations on matters of outstanding interest, hoping to direct attention to their importance rather than to examine them in detail.

The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) made reference to the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act which became law a few months ago. We must accept and respect the law of the land, whatever it may be; but certain developments have arisen with regard to this legislation which are, as far as I am aware, unprecedented in the history of Australian parliaments. I have never known an act passed by the Commonwealth Parliament - and my memory goes back to the birth of the Constitution - which has excited so much public resentment and open indignation as has this measure. I cannot help thinking that the Government, and especially the Treasurer (Mr. Casey), must be well aware of public feeling which has resulted from the passage of this act. By every mail, I have received, not the protests of obscure organizations or societies, but the individual protests of electors to the number of many thousands; and other honorable members have been the recipients of similar protests to an equal number of thousands. I should like to know whether this Government, like most governments, has its ear to the ground, and whether it is impressed by the signs of the times. Will it take action before it is too late? I can quite see that vested interests may be created, and that rights may arise, if the act remains in operation. If the Government is honest with itself and the people and is intelligently reading the signs of the times, it will make no further concession to its own obstinacy, but will make a concession to the rising tide of resentment in the electorates, and deal with it effectively before it is too late. Repeal or at least radical amendment is required. The grounds on which ray criticism rests are those which members on this side of the chamber have ventilated in full in this Parliament. Those who care to read them may do so by referring to the records in the journals of the House. But I take the opportunity to warn the Government against this rising tide of opposition. My only reason for doing so is not that I should count it an irreparableloss if we lost the present Government, but that I should count it almost an irreparable disaster if the national health and pensions insurance scheme, through obstinacy on the part of the Government, were persevered with until rights were created of a kind which would make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to pull out by the roots a plant that should have been nipped in the bud.

This afternoon, we had an interesting speech by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) on the subject of the amendment of the Constitution, and I may add that it followed an interesting address by the AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Menzies) upon the same matter. These gentlemen are doubtless both well qualified to deal with it. I take some pride in the fact that the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), a layman, and not in robust health, was himself the inspiration, in his fine address, for the discussion which followed. Although these speeches have been interesting, to most honorable members they have not been peculiarly informative, for the reason that most honorable members - certainly most on this side of the chamber - have over and over again, in the years that have rolled by, addressed similar arguments to the committee and to the electors, here and elsewhere. I may be permitted to take a little pardonable pride in the reflection that I, as a member of a government, introduced in this chamber thelast measure for the enfranchisement of the people by providing them with an instrument of government adaptable to their needs and responsive to their wishes. I should like to make this further observation on the subject of the amendment of the Constitution : The anomalies mentioned by the AttorneyGeneral have all been discussed, elaborated and promulgated over and over again, and the same comment applies entirely to the speech by the honorable member for Warringah. I do not claim that I have been, in my public utterances in this chamber, entirely free always from party bias. Sometimes, I think, I may be ever so little prejudiced in favour of my own party.


Mr Street - It is scarcely noticeable.


Mr BRENNAN - The honorable gentleman acknowledges the truth of my statement, and I accuse myself of possibly being sometimes a little prejudiced in that direction. I promise this committee, and I think - that I can back myself to give effect to the promise, that, if by a joint sitting, a convention, or any kind of collaboration, we can do something to rid ourselves of these shackles and manacles which we have forged about ourselves, I shall approach that subject without one word of recrimination as to the past, inspired only by the hope that at long last the people of Australia have come to realize the tremendous importance, whatever our views may be on public questions, of being able to give effect to them in the people's Parliament.

I heard the Attorney-General say yesterday - and here it may be suggested that this is an immediate departure from the principle that I have just laid down, but it is more apparent than real - that when the question of the control of aviation was submitted to the people, he could not but think that the vote, especially in New South "Wales, was influenced by party political considerations. When he made that statement, I ventured to say privately, in the ear of one of my colleagues, that it recalled the fact that years ago, when we were appealing for an instrument of government responsive to the .people's will, an eminent statesman who is still living, one who is a typical Constitutionalist, United Australia party man or Nationalist, whichever he should be called, asked: " Are we to give these powers to be exercised by a Labour government ? " So I suggest that the recollection of that question by that eminent' statesman who is now out of politics and in poor health - that is the reason why I do not introduce his name - may well be set off against the possibility that the vote in New South Wales was ever so little influenced by party considerations on the question of the control of aviation. But this brings me, between these two suggested conflicting views, to the point that we can never hope to do anything effective or useful regarding the amendment of the Constitution unless Ave rid ourselves entirely of the consideration of the point of view as to what class of government is to exercise these powers. The point is that the government of the day is the elect of the people, and all we ask is that, however much we may suffer from their apparent aberrations in electing such a government as we have . at present, we have nevertheless to bear it. All we say is that, whatever government is to exercise these powers, that government is the choice of the people. The point is not what the government may do or desire to do, but solely what the sovereign people may do or desire to do. There I leave the matter of the amendment of the Constitution.

Some time yesterday the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Stacey) paid a very high tribute to his honorable leader. Now, Mr. Chairman, I give you notice that I have left the arena of abstract non-party politics to return to that familiar field in which I feel I may possibly be more at home. The honorable member, as I have said, paid a glowing tribute to his leader. It was more than a tribute; it was a panegyric. I should be tempted to say something similar about the Prime Minister but for ;the fact that I do not think it proper that two poets should compete in the same field. If I were disposed to compete with the honorable member, who, as everybody knows, has all the qualities of the perfect poet I should be inclined to recall those beautiful words which the Prime Minister himself used on one occasion when speaking of an honorable gentleman who had been a member of the Labour party but no longer belonged to it. His desertion was entirely disapproved by the Prime Minister, whose exact words, I regret to say, escape me at the moment. But they were to this effect : " He comes into his native city, and there is no one to bid him welcome; he leaves the city, and there is no one to bid him Godspeed ". That is truly descriptive of the dreadful fate that is likely to overtake, in fact, inevitably does overtake, sooner or later, all men who forsake their political principles for considerations which I am not permitted to mention in detail. So the Prime Minister in these days of tribulation, with his distraught Cabinet changing chameleon-like from day to day, suiting its colour and shape to its necessities may be praying and hoping that these component parts may yet not realize the highest ambitions of each. As he walks into the Cabinet room he 'finds there none to bid him welcome; and as he goes out again he must see numbers of potential successors straining at the leash, like the competitors in an old Greek marathon race, to fill the chair that he has just vacated. Some of them would wound, yet are afraid to strike. However, the future will reveal itself. As out of the mouths of babes and sucklings praise is perfected, so it may be that the latest arrival in the Cabinet room, the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street), who is perhaps the most distinguished member of the Ministry, may succeed to the high place of Prime Minister just as he has so unexpectedly reached, recently, the high office of Minister for Defence. Who knows but when the Prime Minister's back is turned some day, or when the other members of the Cabinet are interlocked in the kind of grip that we often hear described at the stadium, he will slip into the vacant chair to the great disgruntlement of his colleague, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron).

I published some blank verse quite recently about the Assistant Minister for Commerce.


Mr Archie Cameron - The verse would be blank all right!

An Honorable Member. - What about the Assistant Minister!


Mr BRENNAN - I do not see why the master poets of our time should waste their sonnets on obscure representatives of the Government when two such distinguished members of the' principal department of the Parliament are sitting at the table. Yesterday, or the day before - or was it to-morrow? - we heard a speech by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis). He also is a representative of the military class who frequently comes into the chamber at the quick march, and sometimes at the double, clicks his heels, and then commences to pour out words of wisdom relative to the defence of the country. On this occasion, the honorable gentleman made his conventional contribution to the gospel of terror which is being supported so ably by this Government. He offered many suggestions concerning universal service. All, said he, must do their part. He indicated that service was required, not only from men, but also from ladies. Women, he said, would be willing to associate themselves with universal service, as a cog in the wheel so to speak, in this purely imaginary crisis or against this entirely imaginary foe.


Mr Blain - What, again!


Mr BRENNAN - Yes; I intend to immortalize that classic, unless war occurs. I mention the honorable member for Moreton as a pivot on which to turn a few entirely philosophic observations on normal life in times of. peace. I point out that the tendency today is to regard the normal atmosphere of life as an atmosphere of war and terror ; that war, not peace, is the normal state. In a properly-ordered community such as we should be, being at peace, as happily we are, and not being threatened, and being many thousands of miles from any centre of disturbance, I suggest that our workmen should be employed peaceably at attractive operations on work of a useful and uplifting character, as far as possible, and that their wives and families, who are the centre of our social structure, should be in the full enjoyment of the blessings of peace, devoting their leisure to improvement of their mental and physical attributes, so that all may enjoy and be uplifted by the knowledge of the arts and crafts, and to have time and opportunity to enjoy music and legitimate entertainment and the joys of literature. Surely this is not too much to expect from citizens living in a rich and peaceful country such as Australia. We should be setting an example to the world as to how a wellordered society should comport itself under the benign Overlordship of the All Wise. Unfortunately, the tendency of honorable members opposite is to insist that we must live constantly in a state of terror, in anticipation of war, and that we must inculcate into the lives not only of men, but also of women, the mothers of the future generation, and into the lives of the children who, one would have thought, were entitled to an inheritance of reasonable peace, the notion that we live on sufferance, and are threatened from day to day by dreadful neighbours of our own kind, only very much worse, arid with all the horrible punishments that can be executed by aD enemy at war, and- -which, by the prostitution of science, are likely to come upon us as a dreadful scourge. Surely, we should not be encouraged to continue in this purely artificial state of mind and be induced by politicians stimulated by newspaper propagandists to foresee nothing but evil ! I f this is to be regarded as the normal state of mind, it may very well be asked whether the country is worth defending, or life is worth living. I should doubt it.

In the moment or two remaining to me, L wish to refer to the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson), who has taken it on himself to be a baiter of nations, and an inspirer of international hatreds. The honorable gentleman spoke about international blackmailers in other parts of the world. He is a young man on the threshold of his political career. I may, therefore, be permitted to make a suggestion to him. He may under-estimate his own influence and his capacity to promote international hatred, but he does his best. The honorable gentleman may think that his remarks are not of much consequence in his small world, but I remind him, and also the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Scholfield), who subsequently addressed the committee, that they can do a great deal more useful service as members of this Parliament than in making a spirited contribution to world unrest.







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