Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 12 June 1914

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - I think that it is our plain duty to know exactly how the promised double dissolution has been brought about.

Senator MULLAN (QUEENSLAND) - It is only promised.

Senator DE LARGIE - That is so. The Senate was elected by the people of Australia on the broadest franchise of any House of Parliament in the world, and before it is dissolved, the people have a right to know the reasons why it is to be dissolved. These have not been reported to us, and, remembering that in the Senate there is a very large majority against the advisers of the Governor-General, we have a right to know the advice on which. His Excellency granted a double dissolution. We know the Government are quite capable of misleading the Governor-General, because we recognise that the present crisis has been brought about by a Bill which has been proven beyond any doubt to be a piece of political hypocrisy. It was brought forward, first of all, to effect a gerrymandered dead-lock, and, consequently, a double dissolution. It was not brought forward to meet any public necessity, because all that the Government proposed to do with the Bill they had already done by an administrative act. The Government were guilty of a most palpable trick in bringing forward the measure, and by passing it by a casting vote in another place they have been able to trick the Parliament up to a certain point ; consequently it is quite possible they tricked the Governor-General. As far as it lies in my power, I do not intend to allow any trickery to be practised on the Senate. This is the one Upper House in the world where the Democracy is powerful. There are Legislative Councils in Australia and Upper Houses in other countries, but in every, instance the Second Chamber is in the, -brands 0f ^ political opponents of the Labour party, or the People's party. The Senate occupies a unique position. According to all I have read and heard in respect of either the present or any previous generation, the Senate is the one Upper House in the world in which the people have power, but we find .that by a trick its dissolution has been ordered. It is plain, I think, that it is part and parcel of a party conspiracy to destroy the majority which the Labour party have here. Before I assent to a proceeding of the kind I intend to secure the fullest information. I am not content with the published reasons of the Government for requesting a double -dissolution. I am not prepared to take their word alone. The statement which was read to the Senate is not sufficient to satisfy me.

Senator Mullan - You would be foolish to take their statement of the reasons.

Senator DE LARGIE - I understand the Government with whom I am dealing. I know how they have tricked a Select Committee of the Senate. I remember how, when information was asked for by that Committee, they were side-tracked, humbugged, and bull-dozed in one way after another. Knowing the Government as I do, and having been taught a lesson by them, I am not likely to be so foolish as to fall into a trap a second time. There is an old saying that any man may be fooled once by a party, hut if he is fooled the second time by the same party he deserves what he gets. I, for one, will take advantage of the rules of the Senate, and of every constitutional method, to prevent a dissolution being brought about until we get the full information which we are entitled to have. We have in office, but not in power, a Government who, no doubt, recognise that their position is untenable. When we compare the numbers of the two parties we can understand at a glance that, with the Government, it is not a question of a double dissolution, but only a question of how long they can hang on to office in the present circumstances. They took office knowing full well that in the Senate they would be in a hopeless minority, and could not possibly get any party measure put through. The Liberal party, all told, number only forty-five, and sitting in Opposition to them is a party comprising sixty-six members. A party with twenty-one members less than the Opposition had the audacity to ask the Governor-General for a double dissolution within twelve months of the people's decision. The theory of representative government is that the majority -should prevail in Parliament, and, consequently, rule the country. Surely we have a perfect right to know the grounds on which the request was based. I am quite satisfied that His Excellency was a sufficiently experienced man, not only in party warfare, but in constitutional practices, to insist upon good and sufficient reasons being shown before he gave the promise which we are told he made. We desire to know the conditions on which the promise was given. We want to see the conditions, and to judge whether the Senate should comply with them, because I hold that, unless we do so, the Government cannot comply with the conditions. I am very strongly of the belief that one condition is that the Government must secure sufficient money to carry on the Departments. The Senate has a very important voice in deciding whether Supply shall be granted. If Supply is sought for the purpose of enabling the Government to obtain a double dissolution, and there are not sufficient reasons for having a double dissolution, the Senate can refuse Supply for that purpose. Consequently, the conditions laid down by the Governor-General may not be complied with, and, therefore, there may be no double dissolution. In view of the fact that here a party of twentynine members confronts a paltry party of seven members on the so-called Government side, is the Senate going to commit hari-kari to suit their political opponents? I can scarcely think the Senate will do anything of the kind. I can scarcely think that such a state of affairs will be brought about by the voluntary action of the Opposition in a Chamber constituted as the Senate is.

Senator Long - There is not much chance of that.

Senator DE LARGIE - I can scarcely think that we have gone mad, and that our sense of proportion has entirely gone. In a Parliament where there are only two parties, and no go-betweens or Independents as' in past Parliaments; in a two-party Parliament, with an Opposition well organized and every member of it adhering to the policy and principles of the party, and with a Government organized on somewhat similar lines, it would be ridiculous for the Governor-General to give a double dissolution, and to be in any doubt as to the true position of the parties. I feel quite satisfied that His Excellency knows well that there are only two parties in this Parliament, and the numbers indicate at a glance how the parties stand. No doubt His Excellency would ask himself, if he did not mention it to the Prime Minister, " Have we exhausted all the means of doing public business? Have we got to the end of our tether? Can we not ask if the Opposition are able to carry on the business of the country?" Probably all these questions were asked by His Excellency before he gave an answer to the Prime Minster, who, as I have already pointed out, is at the head of a minority Government. That fact, of course, would make His Excellency all the more careful as to what he was doing in this matter. The Senate has a duty to perform to its constituents. It owes a duty to the Governor-General, to see that he has not been misled. It owes a duty to its members, to see that they are not sent to the country before their term has expired. It also owes a duty to itself, to see that it does not lose its prestige and power by establishing a precedent which, undoubtedly, would rob it of a great deal of it's authority in the future. One false step made at the present juncture would put the Senate in a position which it might never get out of. If we agree to a double dissolution being inflicted on flimsy grounds, we shall establish a precedent for all time.

Suggest corrections