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Thursday, 24 June 1915

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - It is not my intention to prolong unnecessarily the debate on the .first reading of this measure, but I want to offer a few remarks concerning statements which have fallen from the lips of speakers on the other side of the House during the past few weeks. The whole trend of their criticism of this Government in connexion with the prosecution of the war has been in the direction of insisting on " shutting up shop " and closing down this Parliament, or, as an alternative, the formation of a National Government in order that, in their opinion, more assistance may be rendered to the Empire in this great struggle. The only argument that honorable gentlemen have adduced, so far, in support of their contention, is that in Great Britain the Home Government elected to reconstruct and to include members of all shades of political opinion; but the honorable gentlemen have not mentioned that the House of Commons, constituted as it is to-day, is practically a moribund House. It is about six years since members elected to the Imperial Parliament appealed to the people of the British Isles, and it is about ten months since Great Britain became involved in this terrible war. Seeing that an election was imperative under the Constitution, one of two things had to be done - either to extend the life of the Parliament or to reconstruct the Ministry. All parties agreed that it would be wrong to involve the people of the British Isles in the turmoil of a general, election, knowing that their attention was concentrated on the great struggle on the Continent of Europe, where their sons and husbands were fighting the battles of the Empire. As the result of that agreement between all parties, the only way out of the difficulty was to take in the leaders of the different phases of thought in the House of Commons. This was the reason for the establishment of a National Cabinet in Great Britain. The Prime Minister of Great Britain agreed that this course was advisable.

Senator Bakhap - The honorable senator's leader, Mr. Fisher, said the Liberal Government of Great Britain were already falling to pieces before the reconstruction, and I believe he was right.

Senator NEEDHAM - I am not quoting my leader's opinion, but the opinion of the Prime Minister of Great Britain himself, who is on the spot, and who probably knows more about the position in Great Britain than does the right honorable the Prime Minister of Australia, with all due respect to him. Compare the position as I have outlined it at Home with the position of this Parliament. This Parliament was elected by the people of Australia on the 5th of last September - one month after war was declared. The Cook Government appealed to the people not to " swop " horses crossing the stream. They urged that, as we were involved in this great struggle, it would be dangerous to change the members, and the policy; but the people determined otherwise. They "swopped" horses crossing the stream. They put in another team. They elected a new Parliament, the majority of whom belonged to this party; and this party, with the confidence of the people behind them, elected new Ministers. Now, are we to expect that this Government will turn round, ten months from their election, and practically say to the people of Australia, " We are not worthy of the trust you reposed in us. We are able to conduct the affairs of the Commonwealth of Australia in times of peace. We can guide the ship of State when the sea is calm and the waters are undisturbed. But when the sea gets rough, we cannot manage the ship. We resign. Put in another crew ". That would be a confession of impotence and of weakness which no man worthy of the name would admit himself capable of.

Senator Guy - The people also sent the party in with an instruction.

Senator NEEDHAM - Furthermore, the people of Australia indorsed the policy that we placed before them.

Senator Guthrie - And after the war occurred, too.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes; the war had been in progress one month when we appealed to the people; and the progress of that war has determined the absolute and imperative necessity of this Government remaining as they are, and putting into operation the policy promised to the people. We promised the people that we would give them another opportunity of clothing this Parliament with greater powers than it possesses to-day; and during this time of struggle, and strife, and anxiety, what do we find? We find that the people of Australia are being fleeced more to-day than ever in their history. And by whom? By the very men who are advocating the formation of a National Cabinet. And why do they do this? They do it to prevent this Parliament getting ready the machinery to submit these proposals to the people, fearful lest these men, who to-day are sucking the very life-blood of the people of the Commonwealth, will be placed in their proper position. That is what is behind the opposition to these proposals. Because we stick to the ship we have tho capitalistic press of Australia running us down, and saying, "Why all this bother about party politics, and this forgetting of the war?" There is not one man of them, in the press or on the public platform, who can suggest any better system of conducting this war than that adopted by the Government.

Senator Bakhap - Nonsense !

Senator NEEDHAM - Senator Gouldlashed himself into a fury this afternoon about the way the war is being conducted, but he did not make one tangible suggestion.

Senator Guthrie - Or Senator Bakhap either.

Senator NEEDHAM - There has been talk about the scarcity of munitions.

Senator Bakhap - God help the country !

Senator NEEDHAM - This has only been made clear since the trouble was discovered at Home, when the British Government themselves realized that they had not sufficient munitions of war. If in Great Britain this trouble was not discovered by their great statesmen-

Senator Bakhap - Great statesmen?

Senator NEEDHAM - Senator Bakhap will not dispute that they are. great statesmen.

Senator Bakhap - I do dispute it.

Senator NEEDHAM - If those statesmen, with their great experience and knowledge, could not foresee the difficulties that have arisen, how was it possible for this young Commonwealth to foresee them? It has been freely stated that we have not yet made one shell in Australia. I believe we can make shells here, and I believe we have the men and the material to do it. Every effort is now being made to meet that short-coming. If the honorable gentlemen who are cavilling at the policy of the present Ministry, who are crying stinking fish about the Commonwealth, who are practically libelling Australia in the eyes of the world, had their way there would not have been an Australian fighting on the Gallipoli Peninsula to-day. There would not have been a ship to drive from our waters the German raiders. In the clubroom this evening I was reading Mansard, and there I found speeches in which these honorable gentlemen deprecated the proposal for an Australian Navy, urged that we should continue the payment of the Naval subsidy, having one Imperial Navy governing the Empire, and doing nothing ourselves. If we had not had an Australian Navy, I venture to say that the Emden would not have been smashed to pieces on the Cocos Islands. These are the men who come here to-day mid say that the Government are not doing all that they could do to help the nation in the hour of trouble. It is in my recollection that about a couple of years ago the press of Melbourne severely castigated the Fisher Ministry and the present Minister of Defence for increasing the Defence Estimates. The Age, in leading articles, condemned the daily increase in the cost of defence. It conveniently forgets that fact to-day, and practically says that we are not spending enough. The . reply might be made that at that time we were not at war. Our policy all along has been to prepare for war in time of peace, and it is because of our policy that we have 'been, at least, as prepared as we are today. It would have been a good job for Australia and the Empire if the policy which the Labour party have advocated in season and out of season had been put into execution at the very beginning of the Commonwealth.

Senator Bakhap - Why was it only Labour members who voted against that policy ?

Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator is entirely wrong.

Senator Bakhap - Read Hansard a .kittle more closely, and tell us more accurately what is in it.

Senator NEEDHAM - I ' admit that one or two Labour members voted against it. One swallow never made a summer.

Senator Bakhap - Multiply it by four or five.

Senator NEEDHAM - But 1 can read in Hansard that almost every member of the party the honorable senator sits with opposed the principle of an Australian Navy and a Citizen Defence Force.

Senator Bakhap - And every member of the party in the other House voted for the proposal when it was introduced, which is more than can be said of your party. If you go back to Hansard and read the report, you will find that you are making a mistake. It is there all right.

Senator NEEDHAM - I leave it to the honorable senator when he stands up to disprove my statement. Mr. Cook's speech in Hansard of 1907 will prove conclusively the statement I am making. In connexion with the visit of the then Prime Minister to London to attend the Imperial Conference, he said that it was essential for the unity of the Empire to continue the Naval subsidy of £200,000 a year, and that he was against the commencement of an Australian Navy, as we have it to-day. That statement cannot be denied. It is to be seen in print.

Senator Bakhap - He introduced the proposal, and every member in the House of Representatives voted for it.

Senator NEEDHAM - What was the proposal ?

Senator Bakhap - It was the proposal committing the Commonwealth to the indorsement of the principle of an Australian Navy arrived at in consequence of the Admiralty Conference.

Senator NEEDHAM - I know that Mr. Cook did that, but the Labour party had already taken action which he had to carry out.

Senator Bakhap - Why did nine Labour members vote against it?

Senator NEEDHAM - That is their business, not mine.

Senator Bakhap - Stop the kind of statement you are making !

Senator NEEDHAM - Those nine members did not constitute the Labour party.

Senator Bakhap - Why are you pillorying the Liberal party about it, and trying to throw the shadow of oblivion over that fact?

Senator NEEDHAM - Mr. Deputy President, I would like the honorable senator to make his speech at some other time.

Senator Bakhap - You do not like the truth I am telling you.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- I remind Senator Bakhap that interjections are always disorderly.

Senator NEEDHAM - I will stick to what I have said, and the pages of Hansard will prove my_ statement. It is imperative that this "Parliament should go on with its business and keep its promise to the people. Furthermore, it is going to give to the people, shortly, a chance to endow this Parliament with further powers. It has been said, not only by members of the Opposition but by members of my own party, that in time of war the Government have powers which they can put into operation without let or hindrance, and that, therefore, there is no necessity to seek from the people additional powers. And, when these statements have been met with the contention that if the Government did exercise those powers during the time of war. they might be brought before the High Court, it was said that no man in Australia would dare to test the position there. But in the High Court to-day, under a certain Act of this Parliament giving criminal jurisdiction to that Court, the position is being tested in connexion with a forgery case. The power of this Parliament was set at defiance, the case was hung up to find out whether we had right or authority to pass that measure in the time of war, and pass it under war conditions, and on account of them. It is futile to say that we have certain powers, and that if we exercise them they will not be tested, because there is a case which is now before the High Court. I have no more to say, except that the honorable senators who advocate the formation of a National Cabinet should remember that we are fresh from the electors of Australia, with a mandate from them to carry out; whilst the people in Great Britain have not had a chance for six years to tell their representatives what they ought to do. It was for that reason, and for that reason alone, that the National Cabinet in Great Britain was formed.

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