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Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator CHATAWAY (Queensland) . - I beg to move) -

That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until to-morrow at 9.30 a.m.

I mentioned this matter to the Minister of Defence before the Senate met to-day, and assured him that I did not intend to occupy more than a few minutes. In the course of procedure upon the Supply Bill on Wednesday last honorable senators had an opportunity of discussing the census questions, which, it will be admitted, have been attracting a. great deal of attention all over the country, and have been the subject of a considerable amount of unfavorable criticism. The questions might reasonably enough have been discussed at some length then. Senator Gould therefore asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council a question, intimating that we were anxious to know when the Senate would have an opportunity of discussing the questions. Thereupon the Vice-President of the Executive Council made the definite promise that an opportunity would be given on the following day - that is, on Thursday last. What happened on the Thursday morning? Notice of motion was given by Senator Findley, which held out the hope that the Senate would be afforded an opportunity of discussing the matter on the following Tuesday - that is to say, yesterday. When the motion was called on yesterday, however, in spite of the fact that an honorable senator on this side of the Chamber called " Not formal," it was ruled - perfectly correctly, I understand - that the Minister was at liberty to take no action whatever. Accordingly the motion lapsed. Where do we stand now ? We have granted Supply for two months, and have not been afforded the opportunity for which we were anxious. We were promised by the VicePresident of the Executive Council that we should have an opportunity within twenty-four hours after the matter was mentioned to him. In reply to a question which I put to-day the Minister of Defence stated that the census questions were to be dealt with by the Executive Council this week. If I understood him rightly, he said that the questions would thereafter take the form of regulations, which would be laid upon the table of the Senate. That procedure is not at all in accordance with what Senator McGregor definitely promised. He promised to give us an opportunity of discussing the questions before they were embodied in regulations. Now we have an entirely new proposition laid before us. The census questions themselves must be drafted and ready for submission to the Executive Council. Otherwise the Minister of Defence could not have spoken as he did concerning them. The moment they have been dealt with by the Executive Council t'hey will take the form of regulations. The Government have not treated the Opposition, and their own supporters who wish to discuss the matter, fairly. They induced us to allow an excellent opportunity to slip. I may, perhaps, be using an unreasonably strong term, but when I compare the statement made by Senator McGregor, and the notice of motion given by Senator Findley, with the procedure since adopted, I am inclined to say that the Government have been guilty of trickery. If Ministers can show some really good reason for the position which they have taken up in departing from the promise definitely made, I shall certainly withdraw that last statement, but meanwhile I say that on the face of matters the Government have not treated those who wished to discuss the census questions, fairly. I do not intend to discuss the subject at length at the present stage. I purposely drafted my letter to the President in such a form that - as I knew perfectly - I should have no power to discuss the questions themselves. What I am now discussing is what appears to me to be an absolutely unfair course of action on the part of the Government, namely, that we were assured that we should have a fair opportunity of discussing the questions, and that that opportunity has not been afforded to us. Of course, any honorable senator could raise the matter on the adjournment of the Senate any evening ; but at a late hour honorable senators are tired and not prepared to take an interest in a subject of the kind.

Senator Givens - Moreover, no definite result could then be secured.

Senator CHATAWAY - No; as the honorable senator points out, no result could be attained by mentioning the subject on the motion for the adjournment. We have been unfairly treated ; and I have moved the adjournment this afternoon in the hope that the Government will make some more definite statement than has previously been made as to the procedure that they intend to adopt. I say again that we have not been treated well. We were especially asked to reserve our remarks when we had an opportunity, while the

Supply Bill was before us, and were further induced to withhold action by the fact that notice of motion was given by Senator Findley on behalf of the Government. But the very moment that motion was called on the Minister sat tight in his seat, and the motion dropped from the businesspaper. The Ministry themselves must realize that they have not acted fairly. They may have the very best reasons for what they have done, but they have not yet furnished those reasons to the Senate.

Senator St.LEDGER (Queensland) [2.41]. - I do not intend to traverse the history of the remarkable attitude of the Government concerning the census questions.

Senator Findley - There is nothing remarkable about their attitude.

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