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Friday, 9 August 1946

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- The debate on. Supply has a .historic significance for the parliamentary institution because it provides private members with the opportunity to voice grievances before voting money out of the Consolidated Revenue for the service of the Crown. It also enables the Parliament to protect the rights of individuals which, after all, is the supreme function of the parliamentary institution. It is customary on the last day of a sessional period - to-day is more than that, for it is the last day of meeting of the Seventeenth Parliament before the prorogation, after which honorable members must submit themselves , to the judgment of the electorate - to say nice things about each other and the parliamentary associations- that have been formed. . It is. with regret that 1 am impelled by my sense of responsibility to the Parliament to make some comments about the Seventeenth Parliament, because I am not .prepared to see it dissolved without issuing a final challenge to some of the developments we have witnessed in the three years of its life. I have always felt as a member of the Commonwealth Parliament that the .first responsibility of a member is to the Parliament, and through it to the people - not to the political party to which he belongs, or to the Government that he has. helped to maintain in office. He has ' a primary responsibility to the Parliament as an institution, because it is1 the instrument of the democracy that elects him. He should adhere ' firmly to the principle that the Parliament should at all times control the Executive, which derives its authority from the Parliament. It is my sad belief that the Seventeenth Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia will be written down in history as having failed in its duty to democracy by having weakened' the authority of the Parliament, and thereby weakened the protection of the rights of the subject that the people of the British Empire have fought for through the centuries, first to achieve, and then to hold.

Mr Barnard - The honorable member does not believe that?

Mr HOLT - I do-; and before I finish, my loud-mouthed friend, the honorable . member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) will. have been discomfited, by my recital of the reasons why the Seventeenth Parliament has so dismally failed democracy: The Labour Government was returned from the polls with an overwhelming majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. One would have expected members of a party enjoying such a huge majority to regard as their responsibility to democracy to be critical of measures brought before them from time to time - not critical so as to embarrass the Government or. endanger its life, but critical in the sense of letting the people realize the- imperfections of bills. But though they saw the imperfections of many a measure they kept undemocratically silent about them. The unprecedented docility of government supporters has led them so far in the reverse direction that, far "from daring to show the slightest semblance of rebellion against legislative proposals that they deep down knew were not- just defective but an offence to their inherent democratic instincts they joined together at the -crack of the whip to present a - solid phalanx against most' reasonable and constructive amendments proposed by honorable members .on this side. Not all the wisdom of the Parliament reposes in the mind's of Ministers and their too faithful adherents. And the Government of' to-day might easily be the' Opposition of to-morrow. No political party in the history of the British Empire has monopolized the allegiance of the people. So the Government of the "last three years owed it to itself as well as to the electorate to hear and heed constructive criticism and advice offered' in the interests of the- Commonwealth by the Opposition. Instead, however, we found ourselves- swimming against the tide: The party behind the Government was regimented. What caucus decided behind closed doors was .what the Parliament willynilly approved, despite our. most earnest entreaties to honorable members opposite not to- be so caucus- ridden- as to brush aside with ill-bred scorn everything we suggested. When the party in power- regards the Parliament so contemptuously as to make it merely a rubber stamp to endorse everything put before- it, it must bring the Parliament into contempt in the judgment of the people-. A weakened parliament breeds a weakened democracy and undermines the principle that the rights of 'the people must be protected at all costs. Recklessly and carelessly honorable gentleman opposite have allowed' the traditional control by the Parliament of the Executive to pass into a regrettable decline: Worse even than that though is the fact that the Government has been so disloyal to British parliamentary practice as to allow the powers, and authority that it should fearlessly exercise in the interests of all the people pass into the hand's of a political pressure group; outside the Parliament - a group which is not answerable to any one as the Parliament is answerable to- the electors, but dictates and enforces matters of policy in the interests of a select but powerful minority.

Mr Ward - The honorable member seems to believe what he is saying.

Mr HOLT - If the honorable, member had been alive instead of dead to his responsibilities to the democracy of which this Parliament was the instrument before the accession to power of his spineless party, I should not have been . impelled to make an otherwise ill-timed speech on this my last' opportunity to couch a lance- in the' Seventeenth Parliament in defence of the precious rights of the subject. How those1 rights Have been attacked ! A supreme, example of the onslaught on- them occurred late last night and' early this morning when bill after- bill affecting major aspects1 of the life of the people was passed after desultory debate. One of the largest and most expensive public works ever contemplated in Australia is provided for in the Railway Standardization Agreement Bill which was. passed1 after the briefest consideration, all our protest's being testily swept aside by the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward),' because he was assured of the blind support . of the majority the Government commands.

What a law-abider .the Government is when an individual commits a breach! lie is prosecuted, persecuted to the full extent of the law.; why the Government has even stooped to using agents - ro provoke into unlawful acts people who otherwise might have preserved their integrity! But lawlessness such as we are victims of to-day and have been for years, with' repercussions, national .and international, of the utmost gravity is worse than condoned; action against the guilty is shirked by a Ministry too timid to enforce the law against industrial desperadoes.- Without inspired leadership we cannot have competent government, and without that we cannot have a fixed course for the Australian nation to follow to prosperity. So, because the majority that the Labour party commands in the Commonwealth Parliament has failed- to meet its obligations to the people, the Seventeenth Parliament has let Australia down. The opportunity arises 'for .the people to say what they think of a Government that has allowed them to be placed in the plight they are in to-day through industrial lawlessness. Last year, not this year, though unless desirable changes occur we shall have as had .or worse, 3,000,000 working days were lost, despite the Labour rule in the Commonwealth, and in five of the six States, through 945 industrial disputes-an all-time record, and an inglorious one, in the history of Australia.

A question that must occupy the attention of every 'one whose thoughts dwell on the ills that' beset Australian economy under current conditions is whether Australia is over-regulated or under-governed. That it is over- regulated is obvious from the mass of laws and regulations that have spawned like,mushrooms since the war began and has been little lessened since it ended. That it is under-governed -is equally -obvious. .The Commonwealth Government has failed to lead the people as a true government would lead them from war into peace. Lt has failed to enforce its own laws designed to ensure continuity of produc tion, with the result that Australia isfaced with -'economic /disaster unless abetter spirit prevails, especially on thecoalfields. To .what degree .the difficulties that confront :us are due to pur being: the highest taxed people in the world, per capita, requires .little thought. I assurehonorable members that what I have saidis not said by me merely as a partypolitician. I have spoken as an Aus-tralian citizen .disquieted by the courseevents are taking. Unless the calibre of my fellow Australians is smaller than .1 believe it to be, on the 28th September they will register their disapproval of the Labour party's . maladministration and take the opportunity to return to power the .party that will :truly -govern the country. I am not .so 'much concerned, about .whether . the government comes from the ranks -of .the Labour party, .the Australian 'Country .party, or the Liberal party. I am concerned that a government .shall be returned to power which f will respect .and enforce the law, support the democratic institutions which have ,Deen .established in this country, respect the rights of individuals, regard the responsibility of government seriously, and guarantee freedom to the people in place of .regimentation by bureaucrats. I desire a government to be returned which will give ;yo.ung Australians the chance they should have in this great country for which they have fought so well. This is a young and . growing nation, and: it should not- be harrassed by quotas here and licences there, barriers in front and impediments- on .every hand. This is a pioneering country. The election .slogan- of the Labour party is ".Chifley for security", but this is a country of enterprise .and adventure. We .should'1 be more concerned about .developing a spirit of freedom and adventure than in seeking security. I hope that the people will return to power a government which will have a true regard for the real needs of "the people, and a parliament which will serve the country well, and not let it down as the Seventeenth Parliament has done.

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