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Wednesday, 17 June 1914

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - The leader of the Senate has my sympathy in the difficult and uncomfortable situation in which he finds himself to-night. With his usual agility, he tries to get out of it, but fails most miserably.

Senator Millen - That is why so many of you think it necessary to combat what I have said.

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator's principal accusation against the Opposition this evening is that it is dragging the Governor-General into a public matter. Does the honorable senator believe that to be the truth or not? He is too acute a gentleman not to know exactly what the position is. The Opposition approached the Government for the publication of all the documents which were submitted to the Governor-General when he was asked to dissolve both Houses, and our request was met with a contemptuous refusal.

Senator Oakes - And you denounce the Government for refusing ?

Senator STEWART - Most undoubtedly.

Senator Oakes - What will you do if His Excellency also refuses?

Senator McDougall - We will discuss that later.

Senator STEWART - If the GovernorGeneral has been dragged into this dispute, it is not by the Opposition, but by the Government. There is the position. Why does the Government refuse this request on the part of the Opposition ? I am sure that we here are not the only people in Australia who desire the publication of the documents. I am certain that the electors are just as anxious and as desirous of having an opportunity to peruse them as we could possibly be. Have we the right to see the reasons? Is government in Australia to be conducted on Star Chamber principles ? This incident reminds me very forcibly of something which occurred several years ago, when the famous Fusion agreement was arrived at; when the meetings were held in secret, when all the documents in connexion with the matter were burned, when even the blotters were burned, and every vestige of evidence that could be of use to show how the Fusionists came to the particular decision they did was got rid of. We remember the resentment with which the people of Australia viewed their action, and I venture to say that the people of Australia will resent the action of the present Government. A Government which is afraid to publish documents on a most important question is one which is not deserving of the confidence of a civilized people. We are not living, surely, in Russia or in India or in some country governed by despotic and irresponsible people ! It appears to me that the Government have grossly mistaken the temper of the Australian people. Our institutions are founded on liberty. But what does liberty mean? It means that every act of government must be made public to the people. That is the true foundation of democratic government, and our friends over there, who pose as the only Democrats in existence, violate the very first principle of democratic government. I am glad that they have done it. " The Lord has delivered them into our hands." I am delighted at their stupidity, but I am also amazed at it. I am filled with wonder that men who are stupid ever reached the position which they have attained. I am certain that this last and unpardonable blunder of theirs will meet with the reward it deserves at the hands of the community. Now, to go a little further : The Leader of the "Senate apparently knows very little about the theory of constitutional government. Does he know that the humblest citizen has in the last resort the right of appeal to the Throne? What are we to do in the Senate in the interests of the people of Australia? It is not for ourselves that we are asking for these papers, but for the people of Australia. We had an election twelve months ago, when the people of the Commonwealth were called upon to spend a great deal of money, and to waste a great deal of energy in going to the polls and carrying on the various activities of a general election, and in twelve months' time they are to be called upon again to spend a very large amount of cash, and to go through the same electoral exercises, but they are not to know the reason why. On the last occasion Parliament was dissolved by effluxion of time. On this occasion it is to be dissolved on the mandate of the Governor-General acting through the Government, and for reasons which they refuse to disclose. A more disgraceful exhibition of so-called constitutional government has never been made, to my knowledge, in any country. We have the right undoubtedly to go to the GovernorGeneral. Is it our duty to do so? Having failed to drag this information out of the Government, are we justified in going farther? I hold that we are, in the interests of the people. I do not know what the Governor-General will do; probably he will act again on the advice of his advisers, and, if he does that, I think it will bring us to this conclusion, that not only is the Senate, as some people are saying; now useless, but that the GovernorGeneral is useless. Why have him at all? Why spend £20,000 a year on a Governor-General if he merely records the advice of his advisers? I would do the work myself for a twentieth part of the money, and do it just as well as His Excellency is doing it; so that the whole thing seems to resolve itself into a sublime farce, which might well be made the subject of comic opera. I think that we are not only justified in going to the Governor-General, seeing that the Government refuse the information we desire, but we are bound, in the interests of the people of Australia, to. do so.

Senator Maughan - We should go far"ther than the Governor-General; we should go to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Senator STEWART - I do not know anything about that. If the GovernorGeneral refuses the information, we shall have to consider what step next to take. In the meantime we are doing, not only what we are entitled to do, but what we are bound to do in the interests of the people of Australia. I believe that the Governor-General will give the information. I do not know whether the papers will be valuable or not; but, in any case, in a crisis such as the present undoubtedly is, I think it is of the highest importance that all the reasons which animated, not only the Government in asking for a double dissolution, but the GovernorGeneral in granting the request ought to be published. We know that there were documents passing. We read in. the newspapers day after day that the Attorney-General was burning the midnight oil and turning out reams of reasons for the Governor-General to grant a double dissolution. We want to know the reasons, and so do the public. The public ought to know them. They paid the Attorney-General for drawing up the reasons, and it is the public's business. They have to pay the piper, and they should have every item of information it is possible to give them. I support the presentation of the Address, and I protest against the charge made against the Opposition of bringing the Governor-General into the storm centre of political discussion. If he is in the storm centre, it is the Government who are to blame.

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