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Thursday, 17 November 1927

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) .- I move-

That the Senate at its rising adjourn till 11 a.m. Tuesday, 22nd November.

It will be within the memory of honorable senators that last Friday, when the Senate was discussing an amendment moved by Senator Duncan to the original motionby Senator Kingsmill relating to the printing of the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the Commonwealth Government shipping activities, the right honorable the Leader of the Government in the Senate (SenatorPearce) was asked by Senator Greene if Parliament would have another chance to discuss the matter of the disposal of ships before finality was reached. Senator Pearce unhesitatingly replied that before the vessels were sold such an opportunity would be given. When I was speaking to Senator Duncan's amendment, I expressed the hope that the promise made by the right honorable the Leader of the Senate would be honoured, and that before the vessels were ultimately sold this Parliament would be afforded another opportunity to discuss the whole question. But, in order to make doubly sure, towards the end of the sitting, without notice, I submitted a question to the right honorable the Leader of the Senate in connexion with the matter. He asked that notice be given, and I gave notice of the question. Yesterday I received a reply quite at variance with the statement made by Senator Pearce on Friday. The reply given was not made by Senator Pearce but was furnished to him by the Prime Minister, and it was, speaking from memory, to the effect that, in view of the motion of want of confidence in another place having been defeated, tenders for the purchase of the Australian Commonwealth Line could not be placed on the Table of Parliament, and Parliament would not have another opportunity of discussing the matter. I have not yet seen the Hansard report of Senator Pearce's remarks on Friday, but I think I am correct in saying that he made a promise that Parliament would have another opportunity to discuss the sale of the vessels before the matter was finally decided. According to the Prime Minister, that opportunity will not be afforded to us. I want to know what position we are in when a right honorable gentleman who occupies the important positions of Leader of the Senate and Vice-President of the Executive Council, makes a promise and we find that it will not be fulfilled. I take as charitable a view of the matter, as I can. It is possible that Senator Pearce had every intention of keeping his promiseI am not doubting his good faith; the present position is due to a set of circumstances over which he had no control. His Leader, the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has pronounced the dictum that no. opportunity is to be given to discuss further the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I challenge that attitude. The promise which was made by the Leader of the Senate should be honored. Failure to do so will be a distinct breach of faith. Senator Pearce's statement had a certain amount of influence with honorable senators before they took part in the division. He informed the Senate that if Senator' Kingsmill's motion were carried he would regard that as' a direction from the Senate to the Government to negotiate for the sale of the ships; but if, on the other hand, Senator Duncan's amendment were carried, that would be regarded as a direction to the Government to stay its hand. It is true that the motion was agreed to; but by no stretch of imagination can that decision, and the defeat of a certain motion in another place, be construed into an authority to sell the ships without again referring the matter to Parliament. Honorable senators who sit on this side realize that the Line is doomed and that the ships will be handed over to the tender mercies' of the Inchcape Combine; but we claim the right to be present at the funeral obsequies. I can understand the Government entering into negotiations and carrying them to the stage at which it is prepared to accept a certain tender. It is at that stage that the Government, should come down to Parliament, put all its cards on the table, and state the price that has been offered, the conditions under which the ships will be sold, and whether they will be transferred to the British or remain on the Australian register.

Senator Ogden - We should only be talking uselessly, if we discussed those matters.

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not accept that dictum. This Parliament has the right to be advised of the sale ot what for a number of years, has been a great instrumentality, the amount that is to be paid for it, and the conditions under which it is to be sold. Senator Greene did not ask his question without reason. He had an open mind on the whole question, and was prepared to keep ifc so until concrete facts in regard to the conditions of sale and the amount of purchase money were disclosed. Yesterday honorable senators listened to Senator Pearce delivering a homily to a recalcitrant Government supporter. Senator Duncan was called out of the class and the schoolmaster, in the person of Senator Pearce, publicly caned him, in a political sense - told him he was a naughty boy, and advised him. to act differently in the future. The right, honorable senator claimed that Senator Duncan's statements had damaged the good name and lowered the prestige of the Government. How can that be damaged which does not exist? If anything would tend to *lower the prestige of a Government, it is the failure of a member of it, who is fully seized of his responsibility to both Parliament and the people, to honour a promise that he has made. I trust that the Leader of the Senate is in a position to advance sound reasons for that failure.

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