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Wednesday, 21 April 1915

Senator READY (Tasmania) .- We have heard from the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat an excellent exemplification of the party truce which Senator Millen held out to us so temptingly in his first speech on the resumption of our duties this session. Senator Bakhap, while professing to be kindly disposed towards the Labour party, has spent a good deal of his time and devoted many of his arguments to prove that we are not worthy of the confidence of the people of Australia.

Senator Millen - In reply to Senator Lynch.

Senator READY - The honorable senator laid it down that the policy of the Liberal party, in the Senate at any rate, was to be a political truce. Senator Bakhap's speech is the kind of truce we are offered. I admit that the honorable senator said that we must be prepared for healthy criticism of any measures we bring along. But we do not want any hypocrisy about it. It is far better that our honorable friends opposite should come out into the open and say that they are going to fight us honorably than that they should lead the public to believe that they are genuine and sincere in their offer of a political truce.

Senator Bakhap - Does the honorable senator believe that party measures submitted by the Government should be allowed to go through without any opposition?

Senator READY - I do' not want the honorable senator and his leader in one breath to mouth offers of a truce and in the next to initiate a vicious party propaganda and a most unfair criticism of the Government. That is what I object to.

Senator Millen - What Senator Lynch said was perfectly legitimate, but the reply to it was illegitimate, according to the honorable senator.

Senator READY - No; there were references even in the speech of the Leader of the party opposite which Senator Lynch was justified in commenting upon. We know from bitter experience what this party truce has been since this Parliament assembled.

Senator Shannon - Has there been a party truce?

Senator READY - No ; there has been no genuine party truce. Let me inform honorable senators that it was the Labour party who made genuine overtures for a political truce in the first place, and the members of the Liberal party held them up to ridicule because of those overtures. I can refer honorable senators to what occurred just previous to the last elections. Mr. Hughes, who is one of the leaders of the Labour party, generously and in a spirit of the highest patriotism, offered the Liberal party a bond fide truce. He asked them to call Parliament together.

Senator Millen - When there was no Parliament to call together.

Senator READY - Parliament could have been reconstituted.

Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator tell me how ?

Senator READY - A cable could have been sent to England. The House of Commons was then sitting, and a short Imperial Act could have been passed, and under that Act the Governor-General could have called the last Parliament together again.

What did my honorable friend's" party do with that genuine and self-sacrificing offer on the part of the Labour party? It should be remembered that at the time to which 1 refer the members of the La"bour party had hopes of gaining the Treasury benches as a result of the elections. That was generally known. Mr. Joseph. Cook was in power, and yet Mr. Hughes was generous, loyal, and patriotic enough to make this very fine pronouncement.

Senator Millen - Which was repudiated by Mr. Fisher the moment the House met.

Senator READY - No, it was not. I and other honorable senators from Tasmania have had experience of what took place there. At the time we offered this political truce members of the Liberal party there attempted to make political capital out of our well-meaning endeavours to obtain a genuine political truce during the war.

Senator Guthrie - They advised the people not to " swap " horses at such a time.

Senator READY - That is so, and our political opponents seized upon that cry and used every argument in their power to profit by Mr. Hughes' generous offer. Since then we have had contested elections for the Grampians and for Bendigo, two Labour constituencies. We had no offer from the other side of a party truce in connexion with those elections. They contested those elections most bitterly. We take no exception to that, but we do take exception to the hypocrisy mouthed here by the party opposite when they say that they are genuinely desirous of a political truce. In view of what Senator Bakhap has said, let me remind honorable senators of what has taken place since this Parliament assembled after the elections. We have witnessed in another branch of this Legislature such a low standard of political etiquette that our friends opposite should be ashamed that, as a party, they are responsible for it. We saw that the dignity of Parliament was made a reproach. The Leader of the Opposition in another place made one of the greatest scenes in the history of the Federal Parliament. Is that the way to observe a party truce?

Senator Shannon - Has a party truce ever been established ?

Senator READY - Similar offers were made last session.

Senator Shannon - Were they ever accepted ?

Senator READY - Yes, genuinely accepted. This party would have accepted a genuine truce at the proper time, before the people sent them back with a mandate to carry out certain legislation. At that time they expressed a desire to accept a party truce.

Senator Shannon - If it was genuine then, why not now ?

Senator READY - Because we have accepted office under a distinct promise to carry out certain legislation, and I hope we shall fulfil that promise.

Senator Guthrie - There is the truce the Opposition gave us. They leave the benches vacant !

Senator READY - The Opposition have vanished. What must members of the Liberal party in England think of the conduct of the leaders of the Liberal party here? On 19th December last, just as the first part of the session was being closed, the scene to which I have referred occurred in another place. Shortly afterwards, the following cable appeared in the Melbourne Herald- '

Scene in House Regretted. "Leaders should Show Tact." (United Service Special Cable.)

London, Friday.

Deep regret is expressed in Imperial circles at the scene which occurred in the Commonwealth House of Representatives on Thursday night, when Mr. J. Cook, leader of the Opposition, came into collision with Mr. C. McDonald, the Speaker, and was suspended. "It is to be hoped that parties will sink their personal differences," says a famous Imperialist. " We always expect leaders to exhibit sufficient tact to avoid collision with the Chair, no matter what provocation may be given."

Surely that is a most stringent and biting criticism of the methods of the great Liberal party in this Parliament. Yet we hear now from their leader in this Chamber a great deal of humbug about a party truce.

I should probably not have taken part in this debate but for the remarkable statements which fell from Senator Bakhap's lips. Some of them should be replied to. I would direct attention first to the very derogatory references made by the honorable senator to the fact that we were sending only 70,000 men to the front. I notice that Senator Millen was very silent while Senator Bakhap was indulging in these reflections, and that no approving "Hear, hears! " came from the Liberal benches. Senator Bakhap went on to say, "If it takes as long to defend our shores as to send those men, it will not be much good." I am quoting his own words. He is a public man, and should have considered the matter very carefully before giving vent to such statements. Senator Millen could have told him - but

I noticed that he was silent - and the Minister of Defence would have told him if applied to privately, the true facts regarding the equipment of the Expeditionary Forces. Any honorable senator can obtain privately from the Minister a statement of the real position. Senator Bakhap had that avenue of information open to him, and yet, either wilfully or in ignorance of the true facts, he made a statement which, if it goes forth to the world, may lead people in other countries to believe that we have not done our duty towards the Empire. It was a positively dangerous statement to make. If the honorable senator had gone into the matter carefully, he would have found that it is of no use to send efficiently trained men to the front unless the last button has been put on their uniforms, and that modern warfare necessitates an equipment complete in every detail. Senator Bakhap knows that to equip these men entailed a great strain on our resources, yet we did it successfully. He knows that, for obvious reasons, we cannot discuss those matters frankly at the present time. He knows that we never had such a position to deal with before, and if he reads the American papers he must know that one of the principal troubles of the great nation of Russia has been the equipment of her troops. She has had the men, and they have been quite willing to fight, but it has been another matter to supply them with the accoutrements, arms, and ammunition required to enable them to take the field. The honorable senator is well aware of these facts, and yet he railed at this Government, and the preceding Government, because more men had not been sent. I' do not think very much attention will be paid to the honorable senator's opinion in this Chamber, however it may be regarded outside. Here is an extract which I desire to set against it. It comes from a great Liberal newspaper, the Age, which, in a leading article on 19th December, 1914, commented in the following terms on the work which the Government had done in sending troops to the front-

The Federal Parliament goes into recess after the unexampled experience of a war session with a record of legislative and administrative achievement of a character unparalleled in Australian history. It has passed a large number of measures, but with very few exceptions they relate to local and Imperial defence, and they deal chiefly with conditions arising out of the war.

I notice that no Liberal senator applauds those opinions of the great Liberal newspaper.

Senator Shannon - What it says as to what Parliament did last year is quite true.

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