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Tuesday, 28 August 1906

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) .--I desire to make a personal explanation. It has been stated in the press and elsewhere, during the last few days, that before the honorable member for Bourke, the Government Whip, left the House last Friday morning, he made ah arrangement with me which would have precluded me from taking the steps which led to the exposure of the inability of the Government to keep a quorum. In an interview with a representative of the Melbourne Herald, published on Friday afternoon, the Government Whip is reported to have said -

I had to address one of the mid-day protectionist meetings. Before leaving the House, I saw Mr. Chapman, the Postmaster-General, and asked him to look after matters in the House for me. Mr. Chapman said - " You had better see Mr. Kelly (the acting whip on the other side) and arrange for pairs and other matters." It is always a matter of honour with the whips during the absence of one of them, that the' other will not take any unfair advantage.

I saw Mr. Kelly, and told him that I would be away until two o'clock, and that I had arranged with Mr. Chapman the details of pairs and other matters. Mr. Kelly said " All right." I returned before I had expected, but by that time a number of members had left, and there was no quorum.

On Friday the honorable member saw me in the Opposition room, where I was writing letters, and told me that he was going away, but that in his absence the PostmasterGeneral would act as Whip, and would arrange for pairs in connexion with any divisions which might occur. He did not speak of any other matter. The possibility of a quorum not being present was. not mentioned, and no arrangement was made with me in regard to the keeping of a quorum. Evidence of the correctness of what I say exists in the fact that he told me that the Postmaster-General would, in his absence, look after divisions, and, if there bad been a division, how could the Government have prevented a count-out in the absence of a quorum? The honorable member made no arrangement with me in regard to the keeping of a quorum ; he did not suggest that the Opposition should connive at the evasion by the Government of its constitutional responsibility to keep a quorum for the transaction of public business. I am therefore inclined to think that he must have been misunderstood or misreported by the Herald interviewer. Nothing transpired during the conversation with me which could have inspired the honorable member with the belief that an arrangement had been entered into between us for the keeping of a quorum. There was no such arrangement. Furthermore, when the count-out occurred, of the five Ministerialists in the Chamber, the only private member present was the honorable member himself. As he was here to see what was happening, that disposes of the ridiculous contention that I was guilty of a practically dishonorable act in calling for a quorum while he was away. A blackguardly attack Was made upon me yesterday by the Melbourne Age in connexion with this matter. It is not my custom to take notice of newspaper criticism, especially not of libels emanating from a journal which daily prostitutes its talents in the services of Sapphira; but I cannot allow the virulently mendacious attack to which I refer to pass without comment, even though appropriately enough this newspaper has erected over its portico a statue of Mercury, the patron of thieves and liars. The article to which I refer is as follows: -

There is a code of honour, it is said, even among thieves, and Mr. Chapman says there is one amongst politicians, and particularly amongst the Whips who marshal them. Men have to play the game or be ostracised.....

It is certain that on Friday the Opposition broke al] recognised rules in bringing the sitting to an end with a " count out." This it was that caused the. Government to cry "A foul!" A "count out" is a part of the game, too; but it has to be brought about according to the code. Friday's " count out " was a breach of political honour, and hence the Ministerial indignation. The standing orders fix a quorum of the Chambe at twenty-five. Any member may object to going on with business if there are fewer mem bers present. Very often there are not half that number, and no notice is taken, because it is known that they are in the precincts of the House and available on call. But if from any cause those in Opposition can seize a time when there are not twenty-five Government supporters within hail, they can leave the Chamber with only two or three of their number to demand a count out. And that is a quite legitimate part of the game as it is played. To guard against such a thing, it is the duty of the Ministerial Whip, when Government supporters desire to leave the Chamber in any unusual numbers, to make an agreement with the Opposition, and such agreements constitute a code of honour. On Friday that was done.

I have shown that it was not done. The article continues -

Mr. Hume'Cook told Mr. Kelly that he and some other members desired to be absent for a couple of hours during the adjournment for dinner. The latter acquiesced, and that bound him. But no sooner were these members absent, together with a few others who left early for lunch, than Mr. Kelly drew the Speaker's attention to the want of a quorum, with the necessary effect that, as none could be obtained within a few minutes, Parliament had to rise for the week, and the business before the House had to be sacrificed. Mr. Deakin characterized this in his Maryborough speech as " watching men off to their lunch, and then counting out the House before they could get back."

In palliation ' of this dishonorable trick it may be urged by its impish perpetrator that the Opposition had more members in the House than the Government had. And that is true. But the time was 12.45 P-m-> only a few minutes before adjournment, when members leave for lunch with a sense of security, relying upon each other to at least abstain from the tactics of a political welsher. However, there are some natures which no honour binds when expediency seems to perceive advantage in a dodge. There was no party gain in the spiteful little piece of cunning, and there was, of course, no public purpose to serve, but only a loss of valuable public time. There was the petty gratification that a Quilp might feel in pinching his wife's arm or in belabouring his wooden figure with the blows of his waddy. It was an act that brands the Opposition Whip as contemptible amongst his fellows, but as that does not alter his previous status, the people are the only sufferers. It might be well, however, if Ministers, to mark their sense of the meanness of the deception that was practiced on their own Whip, should refuse to hold any further intercourse with the offender for the rest of the present Parliament.

The remainder of the article is not relevant to myself. Those statements- can, I think, best be shown to be false by comparing the present attitude of the newspaper with that which it took up on a similar occasion a couple of years ago. By such a comparison I shall prove, out of the mouth of the Age, that its mendacious attack upon me was absolutely without justification. The House was counted out on Friday, the 9th September, 1904, a few minutes after the resumption of proceedings following the luncheon adjournment, when a luncheon party was being held within the precincts of the Chamber. This is what the Age said of that occurrence: -

After the adjournment for luncheon a curious thing happened. When Sir William Lyne resumed there were only nineteen members present. The member for Hume looked about him, and made a signal to Mr. Thomas, member for Broken Hill. That honorable member promptly jumped up and called attention to the state of the House.

Sir William Lyne - Surely the honorable member does not believe that.

Mr KELLY - T am quoting the Age. The article proceeds -

This extraordinary contretemps created not a little dismay in the Ministerial ranks, and some degree of humour at the expense of the Government. Almost at the very inception of its term of office, and of an important debate, the Government had failed in its responsibility to keep a House. The two Ministers in the Chamber appeared to be panic-stricken. Here was evidence of a fine capacity to conduct the business of the country ! Sir John Forrest was entertaining the Prime Minister and others upstairs at a luncheon, but where was the newly appointed Government Whip, Mr. Wilks ? Why did he not keep a House? The episode was regarded as a further conclusive proof of the demoralization of the House under its present leadership.

Sir WilliamLyne, who was speaking at the time of the count-out, was by no means displeased at the turn of events. He had several strong criticisms to level against the Prime Minister, he said, and he was not going to continue with them while Mr. Reid persisted in Tunning away. According to all precedent the Government is responsible for the transaction of public business, and must bear the responsibility of keeping a quorum.

Apart 'from the member for Hume, members strongly expressed the opinion that a Govern-^';' ment which neglected its duty in this fashion, which deserted its post to allow public affairs to look after themselves, and which in a craven way refused to face criticism, must be brought to account with promptitude. The " count out " probably did more than anything else could have done to hurry up a no-confidence motion.

That was the view taken by the Age newspaper in regard to a similar ocurrence during the life-time of a Government to which it was opposed.

Mr Tudor - Was the Age opposed to the Reid-McLean Government ?

Mr KELLY - If it had not been opposed to that Government, the honorable member for Barrier would have received treatment similar ' to that received by me yesterday in its scoundrelly leader.

Mr,- Thomas.!- But I did not intenttionally count the House out.

Mr KELLY - This is what the Age said when the House was counted out on the 2nd November, 1904 : -

While the Opposition is not fulfilling the threat of some of its members to give the Government no quarter, it can be depended upon to embrace opportunities for embarrassing Ministers when those opportunities prominently present themselves. On two occasions the Government has neglected to keep a House. On Wednesday night there was a " count out " almost at the usual hour of adjourning, and the Treasurer yesterday wanted to evade the penalty for this neglect by replacing the lapsed estimates on the notice paper, going on as if nothing had happened. Oppositionists were not inclined to be so lenient. They might be as anxious to get into recess as the Government, but like all true oppositionists, they must support the standing orders.

Having quoted those statements, I have done with this newspaper. It has shown itself so unworthy in all its political criticism, from whatever stand-point directed, that I thought I could not do better than answer its lies out of its own mouth. The Prime Minister and others sitting on the Ministerial side of the Chamber, have said that I deliberately counted heads before calling attention to the state of the Committee. To that charge my reply is that on Friday morning I did not enter either the Labour room or the Ministerial room, and I therefore leave it to the Government to explain how I could have counted heads. The best evidence of the falsity of the charges which have_been made by the Government in its extraordinary indignation at this exposure of its inability to maintain a quorum, lies in the fact that of the three parties represented in the Chamber when attention was called to the state of the Committee, the members of the Opposition, who were in no way responsible for the keeping of a quorum, were proportionate! v a larger representation than were the members of the other parties present.

Mr. HUMECOOK (Bourke) [2.45I.- T also wish to make a personal explanation with respect to what occurred on last Friday. The statement of the honorable member for Wentworth is correct to a certain degree, but I think' that it is necessary that I should give my version of what took place. What happened was this : I found it necessary tq leave the House for about two hours, and. in the ordinary course of business, I communicated with the PostmasterGeneral, to whom I usually refer upon such occasions of the kind - I think that I had been under the necessity of doing so only three times since I have held my present position. TheMinister said - "You had better see the Acting Whip of the Opposition, the honorable member for Wentworth, tell him how things are, and put him on his honour as to the state of the House." I think that the PostmasterGeneral added : " If you do that, things will be as safe as a church." My answer was that I did not think it necessary to put the honorable member for Wentworth upon his honour, but that I would inform him of the circumstances, and that it would then be all right. I saw the honorable member for Wentworth and told him that I would be away until two o'clock, and asked him to see the PostmasterGeneral if it were found necessary to arrange for any pairs. I did not ask him not to count out the House. I did not make any particular or special arrangement with him as to that or anything else. If one had to make a special arrangement of that kind in every such case, it would be necessary to enter into a solemn compact half-a-dozen times a day.

Mr Robinson - How often has the honorable member helped us?

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