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Thursday, 8 July 1915

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - The very interesting announcement just made to the Senate by the Minister of Defence must indicate,, even to the most unthinking, that we areliving in very extraordinary circumstances. The fact that a British Parliament or a British community should receive with approval a proposal for legislation of a compulsory character, and of the scope indicated by the Minister's ' statement, proves beyond any doubt that the times in which we are living are not normal or usual. Anything in the nature of compulsion is abhorrent to British ideas of government, but circumstancesalter cases, and, as we are living in very extraordinary circumstances, we are obliged to make our preparations accordingly! The proposals referred to by the Minister of Defence are intended to meet conditions existing during the time of war, and' when our conditions again become normalwe shall resume ordinary constitutional' methods of legislation to meet ordinary circumstances. We are obliged to recognise our necessities for the present and for the future, and in the ordinary conduct of affairs we do not desire anything in the nature of military law if we can possibly avoid it. However, we require at the present time constitutional powers which we do not now possess, and in order to secure them we have been obliged again to submit the proposed amendments of the Constitution which are before the Senate for consideration today. As these Bills are before us, not for a second time, but, as the VicePresident of the Executive Council has said, for the fifth time, and we have on every previous occasion had a full-dress debate upon them, the subject with which they deal may be considered somewhat hackneyed, and it will be granted that it is difficult, in discussing them at this stage, to break any new ground, or to review them from any fresh stand-point. There is one aspect of the question which will, I think, be recognised by all, and that is the consistency with which the Labour party have pressed these measures upon the consideration of the people. It is typical of this party to consistently and persistently advocate legislation which they believe to be for the benefit of the community until their object is accomplished. That is a big feature of this debate. We have had these questions before, and I hope that, so far as the Senate is concerned, this, the fifth time, will be the last upon which we will need to discuss these Bills, and that the people will soon have an opportunity to accept proposals which we regard as so necessary for the proper working of our Constitution.

Senator Bakhap - If they are not accepted, shall we have a repetition of this business next year? Will the Labour party never accept the decision of the people as final ?

Senator DE LARGIE -" Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." When we come to the sixth fence, if ever we do, it will be time enough for us to consider how we shall take it. In the present Parliament the Senate has a certain obligation to discharge. Members sitting on this side of the Senate went to the country advocating certain principles, amongst them being the Referendum Bills, and they should discharge their obligation. ' Senator' Guy. - They were the issue of the election.

Senator DE LARGIE - Yes, they were one of the prinicipal issues of the late election, and, having been returned to power, we are bound to give effect to our pledges. Honorable senators sitting on the other side of the chamber may not feel that they are under any such obligation, but we on this side received a mandate from the country to do so. We pledged ourselves that if returned we would give the community once more an opportunity of saying whether they view these proposals with favour or otherwise. If there were any questions of really live importance at the last election, they were those affecting the amendment of the Constitution and preference to unionists. The last of these two subjects was forced upon our party in a way- that permitted of no escape. Our political opponents thought that by cracking the whip of a double dissolution over our heads we would not risk the loss of our majority in the Senate by going to the country on a double dissolution on the question of preference to unionists. But, as I have said, that question was forced on us, and I am proud to think that the Labour party recognised their obligation to trade unionism. With a double dissolution looming in the near future, we took such steps as were necessary under the Constitution to place before the people the questions indicated in the six Bills now before us again.

Senator Bakhap - A general election is never a proper time to submit such questions. I may say that it is always right to present questions of Constitution amendment to the people free from the turmoil of a general election.

Senator DE LARGIE - There may be something in that. As a party, we recognised that, as a general election was inevitable, it was our duty to give the people an early opportunity of saying "Yea" or " Nay " to these questions. We took up an attitude which, I think, every one must admit is conferred on us by section 128 of the Constitution. Under that section this Chamber has a perfect right to present to the people whatever amendments may be deemed necessary, but we were refused that opportunity by the Government of the day, which, in my opinion, did a most unscrupulous thing when they violated the Constitution by denying to this Chamber the right to submit to the people the questions which are now before us. But what has been the result of that high-handed action? As soon as the people had the opportunity they quite properly and strongly resented the action of the Fusion Government, which they rejected. In view of the fact that, the Labour party were returned to power on a definite pledge, we would be unfaithful if we did not present these Bills to give the people the opportunity that was promised to them. It may be said that when we were debating these questions on the last occasion in the Senate the present war was not overshadowing the world. That is quite true, but, on the other hand, the full effect of the war was felt at the time that the election was held, for just then the Germans were making their tremendous rush through Belgium to Paris, and it looked as if the forces of the enemy would be the .conquerors before the armies of the Allies had time to get properly going. There was never a more anxious time in 1 he history of the war than then, and the people of Australia knew exactly what they were doing when they voted out the .Fusion Government, and pub the Labour party in power. The fact that they changed their Government is, I think, the best possible proof that the country was behind us. Recognising this position, I would like to refer briefly to a matter that has been touched on more than once, namely, the overtures made by Mr. Hughes to Mr. Joseph Cook, the then Leader of the Government. I am not going to add anything to what has been said on that subject already, but I would like to say that overtures were also made to a member of the Fusion Government in "Western Australia, and perhaps this is the first time that I am making known, in this Chamber at all events, that such overtures were made to another leader in that Government. Sir John Forrest was approached by the Labour people in Western Australia to cease party strife, because it was thought that a general election was a very dangerous experiment ro try during Avar time. Representations were made to him as the leader of the Liberal party in Western Australia, and I am sorry to say that they did not receive that consideration which we thought a hey deserved. What was the result? The very fact that the Labour party in

Western Australia made friendly overtures to Sir John Forrest was taken by our political opponents to mean that we were afraid of the result of the coming elections, and that we were appealing for mercy to save our political skins. That was the attitude taken up by the West Australian newspaper, which declared that war or no war the fight between the Labour party and the Liberal party must be fought to a finish. Therefore, when we now hear this cry, " Cease party strife," we can only regard it as a political red-herring drawn across the track to prevent the Labour party from giving effect to their promises to the people. We were forced to fight on that occasion and we won; but now the Fusion party are endeavouring to get by strategy what they were unable to achieve by a straightout fight. I hold that if we were so foolish as to attempt to humbug the people over these referenda proposals by accepting the suggestion now made, we would write ourselves down as mere political poltroons, who were not capable of carrying on the government of the country. The attitude of the Opposition at the present time appears to lack sincerity, especially in view of the attitude adopted in another place. I do not know exactly what is their position in this Chamber, but I would have expected the Leader of the Opposition to speak before I rose. He would have done so had he followed the ordinary course of debate, for I did not try to usurp his turn, but waited until I saw that he was not going to rise. I am not aware what may be Senator Bakhap's position in this matter.

Senator Bakhap - Speaking for myself - I am the only member of the Opposition present just now - I can say that we are going to fully debate the measures. We are not going to shirk the issue in any way.

Senator DE LARGIE - I did not suppose the honorable gentleman would.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - He is a good fighter.

Senator DE LARGIE - Those of us who know the honorable senator best will always give him credit for candour. His attitude in this Chamber has always been straightforward. At the same time, we might reasonably have expected that the Leader of the Opposition would have followed the Minister in this debate, but, for some reason best known to himself, he did not do so. If there is going to be any stage managed performance in the Senate such as we saw in another place, I can only say that the members of the Opposition will be acting very foolishly indeed. The grand march out performed recently by the Opposition in another place, instead of staying to take part in the debate, as they were in duty bound to do, is more likely to injure them than to redound to their credit, and the booming of the big guns of the press, with the incessant appeal to "cease party strife," in order to cover up the retreat of the Opposition, will deceive very few indeed. Both in Parliament and outside, our political opponents are losing no opportunity to seek party advantage wherever they can get it. All this is merely another proof that they themselves have not yet ceased party strife, even though the war is upon us. It has been argued that this is the only Parliament in the British Dominions proceeding with party legislation, and we have been urged to follow the example of the British Government. The British Parliament was in an entirely different position. It had sat for very nearly its full term, and the British Government were by no means in the strong position occupied by the Government here. It had not a working majority of its own. Had it not been for the support of the Irish party and the Labour party, it could not have held office as long as it did. There was no need for a coalition here, because this Parliament has practically just been elected. The electors have expressed their opinions - they did so under war conditions - and we know exactly where we stand. The Government have an overwhelming majority in this Chamber, and a substantial working majority in another. Our party placed its programme before the people, and the electors indorsed it. There is, therefore, nothing for us to do but to go on with the referenda proposals as far as lies in our power. We recognise that our first and greatest responsibility is to attend to the war. We cannot shirk it, nor are we attempting to do so. As to-day's announcement indicates, we are prepared to make war matters non-party ones, and have no desire to take things lightly, and everything that a community could possibly expect to have done for it the Government have done during the present war. It, therefore, ill becomes our political opponents to belittle the Australian efforts as compared with those of other Dominions in the British Empire. The Conservative Canadian Government have not formed a coalition, nor a ' combined war council, such as we propose, although they are not in the strong position of the Australian Government, Being in a minority in the Senate, they must feel the weakness of their position, as did our Fusion Government of twelve months ago, yet Sir Wilfrid Laurier has not been asked by the Prime Minister of Canada to enter a Coalition Cabinet. If there is one part of the Empire that could well have been compared to a magazine from the commencement of the war, it was undoubtedly South Africa. The forces of that community were taxed to their utmost to put down a rebellion, which was actually headed by prominent members of the Union Parliament, including Commandant Beyers, General Christian De Wet, and General Delarey. One would have naturally expected in the circumstances the formation of a Coalition Government there; but nothing of the kind was done. In New Zealand, when the war began, the life of the Parliament had nearly expired, but that did not prevent members going to the country. A genera] election was held in the midst of the war, and the result was a very close division of opinion in the House, the actual figures being thirty-nine for the Government, and thirty-seven against. Yet no coalition has been formed there. When the New Zealand Government declared' their intention to go on with their programme, the Opposition, headed by Sir Joseph Ward, marched out of the House. This shows that Mr. Joseph Cook was not at all original in his recent grand march performance in this building. In view of all these facts, it must be recognised that the Federal Government have taken up a by no means extraordinary attitude in saying that there is no necessity for a coalition. There is no reason for us to compromise with our principles, or to refrain from putting the referenda questions before the country. We are acting perfectly consistently in the position in which we find ourselves, in doing what we are doing. I have shown that, except in the British Parliament, there is no Coalition Government in existence in any part of the Empire, yet if one were to take heed of the

Liberal newspapers one would imagine that coalitions had been formed in every Parliament of the Empire except that of Australia. The announced intention to appoint another Minister to help in the work of the Defence Department and the War Committee will just about meet the requirements of the case. It would be extremely foolish to say that, because one Department is abnormally busy, all the other Departments should be shut up. In fact, it would be madness to refuse to do the necessary work in the Departments that are not overtaxed. There are other things than the war to be attended to, and there are other things in connexion with the war that should be attended to, and for us to shut up Parliament, and devote all our time to platform recruiting work, would be most foolish. The Government have pledged themselves to do all that is humanly possible to help us to do our part in the war. Before the elections were held, Mr. Fisher, speaking for the members on thisside, pledged every man and every shilling in the community to see the war to a successful issue. We have shown by what we have done since that we intend to carry out that policy, and, whilst the war may be still a long way from its end, we have shown no slackening, but have proved our intention to see it through. We can say with truth, that our Australian defence is equal to the occasion, and we are anxious to see that the Constitution gives us those powers that we desire to use for the benefit of the whole community. We contend that at the present time we are unable to exercise the functions that we ought to exercise. Without the alterations outlined in these measures, we are so hampered that it is impossible to pass the legislation that is really necessary for the welfare of the Commonwealth. It is our duty to safeguard the interests of the community so far as lies in our power. The oommunity have given us a mandate to pass these measures, and in obeying that mandate we are simply honouring the pledges that we gave the people at the last election.

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