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Wednesday, 16 November 1938

Mr LANE (Barton) . - I regret very much indeed that I have to oppose this measure. I do so because I believe that, in the interests of Australia, we shall have to revise our methods of Cabinet control. At the present time, members of Parliament count for very little in the affairs of State until bills are actually brought before the House. My experience in this Parliament for the last six years has led me to believe that there are too many Ministers with too little work to do individually. During the last twelve months, I have seen Ministers sitting in their places in this House with practically nothing to do all day. During the passage of the National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill, there was hardly one Minister capable of coming to the help of the Treasurer. One did try to make a speech. It was put in his hands, and he tried to read it, but he did not read it as well as would a boy of fourteen years of age. I could not understand what he was talking about, and I do not think he understood it himself.

The trouble is very largely due to the fact that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) is not able to select his own Cabinet. During the recent crisis, he should have been able to say to the Leader of the Country party, the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), that he was himself going to select the Cabinet. The Leader of the Country party has the right to select the men who shall represent his party in the Cabinet. I do not think that he has power to allocate the portfolios; at any rate, he should not have that power.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is not discussing the measure before the House.

Mr LANE - I do not think that an additional Minister is necessary, because any weakness in the present system is due to existing methods of Cabinet control. A Minister is to be appointed, it is said, to repair certain deficiencies in the Cabinet as previously constituted. I "contend that the Prime Minister should have the sole choice in the selection of his Cabinet Ministers, whether they be members of the Country party or members of the United Australia party. In my opinion, no junior Minister, even if he be the senior member of one of the parties supporting the Government, should be permitted to use his influence in the allocation of portfolios. Under the present method of allocating Cabinet positions, the largest State in industrial importance, and the most prosperous in the Commonwealth, has only three Country party representatives in the Cabinet.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must discuss the bill, or I cannot permit him to continue. The number of Ministers from each State is not affected in any way by the bill.

Mr LANE - The situation that has arisen to-day in connexion with the allocation of portfolios has been brought about largely by the inefficiency of Cabinet Ministers. You, Mr. Speaker, have driven me to say that. Under the present arrangements it has become necessary to replace the former Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) because he was incapable of, and lacked the training necessary for, carrying out the high duties imposed upon him, by another honorable gentleman more suited to undertake the task. To appoint Ministers to take control of departments without regard for their particular ability is like attempting to put a square peg into a round hole. If a Minister lacks the necessary training to administer his department, how can he possibly do it successfully? I have no ill-feelings against any Minister as an individual, but I point out that you, Mr. Speaker, me to make these statements

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is distinctly out of order in suggest ing that the Chair has driven him to do anything. The Standing Orders are clear ; the honorable member must discuss the bill and matters pertaining to it, and nothing more.

Mr LANE - All I wished to do, Mr. Speaker, was to register my protest against the inadequate representation in the Cabinet of the most industrially important and wealthiest State of the Commonwealth. It is my firm conviction that, owing to its importance in the industrial field, the portfolio of Minister for Industry should be held by a representative from ' New South Wales. This is not the first time that I have made this protest. Immediately after the last elections I met the Prime Minister in the corridors of this House, following the Cabinet construction, and I drew his attention to the very serious injustice that had been perpetrated in the re-allocation of portfolios. In the allocation of Cabinet portfolios the Government should be actuated by business methods, and the Prime Minister should be free to make his choice without undue influence by a party which, for the moment, holds the balance of power. In view of the recent crisis through which we have just emerged, it is necessary that, the Prime Minister should exercise complete authority in the selection of the personnel of his Cabinet and that he should not be subjected to any " squeeze " by one section of the political friends of the Government. The great democracies of the world to-day have no faith in a government which permits minorities to apply pressure in the selection of Cabinet Ministers. Particularly is this so in this country whose people so much .long for liberty and freedom. I say, without hesitation, that I oppose the proposal to increase the numerical strength of the Cabinet - in my opinion, there are already sufficient Ministers to carry out the duties imposed upon them - and also any attempt to increase the expenditure on ministerial allowances. I regret that the Prime Minister has not the liberty and the privilege of selecting his own Cabinet Ministers, as the result of which the most important State in the Commonwealth is receiving unfair treatment, at the instance of those enjoying ministerial rank who come from the smaller and less prosperous States.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The question of small or large States is not affected by this bill. If the honorable member continues to discuss that matter, I shall direct him to resume his seat.

Mr LANE - I say that the necessity for, the appointment of an extra Minister is due very largely to the fact that the Prime Minister has to allocate portfolios, not according to the ability of his Ministers, but according to the dictates of a minority which exercises undue influence in his decisions. I say without fear of contradiction that the Government has already a sufficiency of Ministers, and that if an honorable member, when offered a portfolio, was honest enough to say, " I cannot do the work ; T shall muddle through, I know ; but if you appoint me, I shall have to be kept here because of certain pressure exerted by my leader ", much good would result. It is up to the leaders of both parties composing the Government to say, " We shall face this issue squarely, and appoint a national Government that will not be swayed by the pettiness of political life, or the interests of certain classes of the community that are always knocking at the door of the Cabinet room with requests for preference at the expense of others ". Whether the pressure comes from smaller or larger States-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member will resume his seat.

Mr LANE - May I not explain. Mr. Speaker ?

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will resume his seat.

Mr LANE - Would I be in order, Mr. Speaker, in asking why I am directed to resume my seat?

Mr SPEAKER - I warned the honorable member on several occasions that if he did not address the bill I would ask him to resume his seat.

Mr Brennan - On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, when the Speaker exercises his arbitrary authority and requires an honorable member to resume his seat, is it not within the province of any honorable member to call for a division of the House? Is that not required under the Standing Orders? If I have the right to do so, I call for a division as a protest against your action in directing the honorable member for Barton to resume his seat.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is out of order.

Mr Brennan - I hope not.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is definitely out of order. He may move a motion, but he has not done so; he has merely suggested what that motion is.

Mr Brennan - I ask that the question, " That the honorable member be required to resume his seat", be put.

Mr SPEAKER - The Standing Orders provide that if the Chair should order an honorable member to discontinue his speech for repeated irrelevance, the honorable member may require that the question whether he be further heard be put.

Motion (by Mr. Brennan) agreed to -

That the honorable member be given leave to continue his speech.

Mr LANE - I regret that I have had to question a ruling of the Chair. During the many years I have been in this Parliament I have always believed that when a new Minister is appointed, I have the right to discuss his appointment, and to draw attention to the manner in which a minority section of the Cabinet may sway the decision of the Prime Minister in regard to it. I repeat that, in this instance, a minority section of the Cabinet, representing some of the smaller States, has interfered unduly with the carrying out of the work of the Government, preventing it from functioning in its proper way. I say again that the State of the greatest importance in the Commonwealth is being unfairly treated in the allocation of Cabinet portfolios, and that this results in inability on the part of the Government to fulfil properly its functions. I register my emphatic protest against what I regard to be a wrong action on the part of the Prime Minister in permitting his judgment to be unduly swayed by a majority section of his supporters from smaller States. That section uses its influence to prevent justice from being given to the most important State of the Commonwealth. That state of affairs must be altered and adjusted; otherwise what has happened in other parts of the world, where democracies, which we thought would stand for ever, have been swept away and replaced by dictatorships, will happen in this country. But the people of this country will not sit idly by, and sec the persons elected to represent the larger sections of the community dominated and ruled by the small sections. Constitutionally, there may be nothing wrong with the small sections having a preponderating influence, but if necessary the Constitution should be altered in order to give freedom and justice to a democratic community which is seeking to live under great difficulties.

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