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Thursday, 6 November 1913

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - I am opposed altogether to the motion. I suppose, as the Leader of the Government says, it is the custom for the second Chamber to adjourn when the position of the Government is challenged in what may be called the " first " Chamber, but it is a very evil custom. It may apply very well to the nominee LegislativeCouncils in the States, where they do so little, except in the way of slaughtering occasionally, that it makes very little odds whether they adjourn or not. But I consider that this branch of the Parliament has important work to do, and it is about time that we entered an effective protest against being dragged at the heels of the other House. On the notice-paper there are a number of measures at various stages with which, I contend, honorable senators should proceed to deal.

Senator Clemons - The debates on some of which measures have been adjourned unnecessarily.

Senator RAE - Yes; but those adjourned debates could be resumed to-day.

Senator Clemons - Would it not have been better if the debates had not been adjourned ?

Senator RAE - That does not trouble me. It was in accordance with the Standing Orders that the debates were adjourned, and it would equally be in accord with the Standing Orders if we resumed the debates to-day. I cannot see why a challenge of the position of the Government in another place should prevent us from going on with our work. What is the object behind this custom? The idea, I take it, must be that if the challenge in the other Chamber were successful, the result would be that the work of the Government, which had progressed to certain stages, would become useless, but under modern conditions that is not necessarily the case. A change of Government might not mean the abandonment of Bills. I am sure that the very admirable measures which have recently appeared here would not be dropped. Any Government would gladly take them all in hand, and model them according to the will of the Australian people.

Senator Millen - Do not become serious.

Senator RAE - I certainly think that on the notice-paper there are several matters which could be proceeded with, and which no variation in a fluctuating majority in another place could in any way touch. Certainly any change of Government would not materially affect the position. Apart from notices of motion by private senators, there are measures of a public character which have been important enough for previous Governments to make part of their policy.We could very well stop to discuss the very important and serious proposals to change the Constitution.

Senator Clemons - In the hope that the majority would fluctuate.

Senator RAE - The majority in the other place may fluctuate, but the majority here cannot fluctuate during the term of this Parliament. I protest against this continuous waste of time in allowing important business to be indefinitely postponed to suit the whims of some more or less irresponsible individuals in another place. I enter this protest seriously, because, apart from the adjournment of some five weeks which took place on the part of each House after the opening of Parliament, there have been several adjournments of the Senate, amounting to between two and three weeks in some cases, and, consequently, no matter what opinions may be held in regard to them, measures which seriously affect the position of this country are ready to be dealt with, and could be dealt with, if we would abandon hoary old precedents, too many of which guide us now. There is too much of the dead hand of past times controlling the work of this Legislature. We are holding ourselves up to ridicule and contempt before the public as an absolutely unnecessary branch of the Legislature, when, without any consideration of our own convenience, we adjourn at the sweet will of another Chamber on every occasion it suits them to take certain action.

Senator Bakhap - The idea, I think, is that our work might prove useless if the Administration were changed.

Senator RAE - The honorable senator only repeats what I said. The idea underlying the practice is that if the Senate were to go on with its labours they might prove useless.

Senator Bakhap - They might be nullified by the success of the motion of want of confidence.

Senator RAE - That position does not apply to quite a number of matters which are down for consideration on the businesspaper, because, in regard to any unfinished measure, a new Government can take up the work of their predecessors. There is the instance of the Navigation Bill. It remained in course of progress throughout the duration of several Parliaments, and then was ultimately dealt with, showing that a change of Government, or an occasional general election, does not necessarily nullify work previously done. I would remind honorable senators that we have on the notice-paper six separate measures for altering the Constitution. Any one of those might be deemed of sufficient importance to occupy the serious attention of the Senate for several nights. I maintain that no possible change of Government, no action taken in the other House, could affect any decision arrived at by the Senate with regard to those measures. There are also other matters which could be dealt with. I consider that this proposal is another attempt to shirk our rightful duty, and another exhibition of the continual grasping at opportunities of evading the work which we are paid to do. It is reducing the Senate to an absolute farce. I am only sorry that those members of the Senate who have held office are not willing to join with me in making an effective protest against this motion.

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