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Thursday, 16 November 1905

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Mr HIGGINS - It is worthy, and every one knows that it is true. The honorable member knows that it is true. He is one of the most guilty - one of the noisiest and most voluminous talkers in the House. He is one of the six or seven members who have degraded the House.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should like to know whether the honorable and learned member is in order in saying that any honorable member has degraded the House.

Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the honorable and learned member to withdraw that remark.

Mr HIGGINS - I withdraw the remark, but I would ask the honorable member for New England not to interrupt me again. I only made the observation in answer to an interjection.

Mr Wilks - The honorable member is getting, angry.

Mr HIGGINS - I am angry, and the country is angry. The House is becoming lowered in the eyes of the people by the conduct of a few honorable members, whilst the majority are anxious to do work. Unfortunately, the public, when they read the newspapers, do not take the trouble to distinguish between those who are delaying "the business and those who are endeavouring to expedite the work of Parliament. With great reluctance I support this motion. There is nothing in the world that makes one squirm so much as. when he is called upon to curtail the liberty of speech of the minority. Honorable members are entitled to express their views, and to enforce them as far as possible, and to obstruct Bills with which they do not agree, by means of. genuine debate, but it must be remembered that we have had dilatory devices resorted to for weeks and months.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Trade Marks Bill was kept off the table for months.

Mr HIGGINS - That Bill has nothing to do with the matter. What have we seen this week? A series of dilatory devices have been resorted to for months. Every one knew that they were intended to waste time then!. A statement was, made by the official whip of the Opposition this week that it was intended to use all the forms of the House to prevent business being done.

Mr Wilks - That is not so.

Mr HIGGINS - Is it not a fact that the honorable member made a statement to that effect?

Mr Wilks - No. I said that if I had my way - I was merely expressing my own personal feeling - all business would be blocked until the Capital Site question was disposed of.

Mr HIGGINS - That is worse and worse. It is proposed to block- the whole of the business of the country for the sake of the wretched Capital Site question. One would think that there was nothing in the whole business of Australia but the question of the Capital Site. I have never wavered in supporting the establishment of the Capital in New South Wales as a part of the bargain made with that State; but those who think that the people of the rest of Australia will allow their business to be brought to a standstill unless that one question is settled, are greatly mistaken. What happened this week? A statement appeared in the press - if it is wrong, the honorable . member for Dalley can contradict it-

Mr Lonsdale - It has been denied time after time, and the honorable and learned member knows it.

Mr HIGGINS - I am not aware of it. When the Trade Marks Bill was brought forward, instead of proceeding to discuss the clauses, honorable members opposite sought to remove the Chairman from the chair. The debate which followed occupied six or seven hours, and then collapsed. A similar movement was made later on.

Mr Lonsdale - What business were the Government offered ?

Mr HIGGINS - They were offered fifty-seven clauses of the Bill. That was a most scandalous offer. Either the clauses were wrong or they were right. If they were wrong, they ought not to have been passed, no matter what might happen. If they were right, they should have been a.greed to. Just think of a Government accepting a scandalous offer of that kind !

Mr Lonsdale - They wanted seventyone clauses.

Mr SPEAKER - Several honorable members to whom I have previously spoken have persistently interrupted the honorable member for Northern Melbourne. He has a right to speak, and I am bound to preserve that right to him. I would therefore ask honorable members not to persist in their interruptions.

Mr HIGGINS - May I say that, in addition! to the reported speech of the honorable member for Dalley, articles have appeared in the Melbourne Argus and in the Sydney newspapers encouraging members of the Opposition to block business. We have to put these things together, and I would ask honorable members whether there has not been a deliberate waste of time. Every honorable member is entitled to urge his views to the fullest legitimate extent, but I deny the right of any man to block business because he does mot agree with the majority. We must get the business done somehow. I am quite sure that some members of the Opposition deprecate the attitude of the six or seven members to whom I have referred as much as does any one on this side of the House. I am exceedingly sorry that the honorable and learned member for Corinella, whom I have never known to indulge in " stonewalling," should appear to be aiding and abetting those who are obstructing the business. I can only conclude "that he has fallen into bad practices owing to the com.pany he is keeping.

Mr McCay - I have never " stonewalled " yet.

Mr HIGGINS - It is dangerous for the majority to curtail debate by the minority, and it is only in the present extreme case that I venture to help the Government to adopt the proposed standing order.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is another way cut of the difficulty ; we can go to the country.

Mr HIGGINS - That is always the cry of honorable members who do not want to go to the country .

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable gentleman will find that I am ready enough.

Mr HIGGINS - I do not wish to be led off the track. All I desire to say is that I have weighed this proposal, and that at first, in- spite of everything, I was averse to it. I feel, however, that there is no other course open to us. If this House is to remain a deliberative assembly, we must have some such provision in operation. I suggest to the Government a few amendments of the proposed standing order, which are not alarming, but, if adopted, will to some extent protect the minority. We have to remember that those who are in a majority to-day, may be in a minority tomorrow. After the words, " and the motion shall be put forthwith," I should like to move the insertion of the following words, which appear in the House of Commons rule-

Unless it appear to the Chair that the motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority.

Those words must be well weighed. If it be permissible for any honorable member to move, " That the question be now put." the power may be exercised simply to waste time. I, therefore, hold that Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman, should be able to say, " I will not put the motion ; it is an abuse of the rules." If, as has been suggested, the word " Minister ' ' be substituted for the word "member"-

Mr Isaacs - The Prime Minister expressed his willingness at the outset to agree to that ' amendment.

Mr HIGGINS - If such an amendment be made, the need for a provision as to an abuse of the rules of the House will not be so great, but .even in such circumstances, it is desirable that the Chair should have the right to determine whether the moving of the motion " That the question be now put," is an abuse of the procedure of the House. A Minister usually has a majority with him, and if some such provision as I suggest be not inserted1, there will be great danger of the rights of a minority being interfered with. I hope, therefore, that even if the power to move the motion, " That the question be now put," be limited to a Minister, the Government will agree to an amendment providing that the motion shall be put -

Unless ft appear to the Chair that it is an infringement of the rights of the minority.

An incidental amendment would then be necessary ,to bring the standing order into line with the House of Commons rule. It should not be permissible to move " That the question be now put," when a temporary Chairman is in the chair. There ought to be a proviso that it shall be moved1 only when Mr. Speaker or the Chairman is in the chair. I need not explain the importance of such a safeguard. I, therefore, propose to move the following amendment : -

Provided always that this rule shall be put in force only when Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees is in the chair.

Mr Isaacs - That would be an additional sub-clause?

Mr HIGGINS - Quite so. It will also be necessary to move a further amendment; but as there is already an amendment before the Chair, I must refrain from moving those which I have outlined until a later stage. I understand that a prior amendment as to the desirableness of substituting "Minister" for "Member" will be suggested. I shall not move this amendment until it has been dealt with.

Mr SPEAKER - There is. already an amendment before the Chair.

Mr HIGGINS - As to the word " Member " ?

Mr SPEAKER - To insert after the word "That" the words "Except as regards business for this session."

Mr HIGGINS - Then I give notice that I shall move the insertion of the words I have indicated after the word " forthwith," as well as the insertion of the word's "shall be" after the word "and." But the proviso will come in at the end of the motion.

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