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Friday, 12 June 1914

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) . - I wish to make a few remarks in seconding the motion. The statement made by the Leader of the Government has been effectively answered by what the Leader of the Opposition has said. This is the first time a dissolution has been granted in the history of the Commonwealth. If a dissolution had been granted when Mr. Watson, as Leader of a Labour Government, asked for it, the Opposition at that time would have desired to know the reasons given in support of the request. The reasons given on previous occasions, when a dissolution has been requested, were never asked for.

Senator Millen - Because the then Opposition knew better than to ask for them.

Senator PEARCE - Nothing of the kind. In one case, the request was made by the Reid Government, of which Senator Millen himself was a member, and the party on this side at that time never asked for the reasons. The fact is that, on previous occasions, the dissolution asked for not being granted, it was immaterial what the reasons given in support of the request were, since the Governor-General did not take any notice of them. Every parliamentary authority teems with instances in which the reasons given in support of a request for a parliamentary dissolution have been given. It is especially important that the reasons given in this instance should be placed before Parliament and the people. The granting of the dissolution has a most important bearing on the Constitution. In the opinion of many of us, it has altered our Constitution. It has materially altered the position of the two Houses under the Constitution, and we want to know what reasons the Government gave for that alteration, and what reasons the Governor-General gave for acceding to the request of the Government. When speaking on the Address-in-Reply, I directed the attention of honorable senators to important references on this subject to be found at pages 766 and 767 of Todd's Parliamentary Government in British Colonies.

Senator Millen - And Mr. Hughes destroyed the honorable senator's argument.

SenatorPEARCE. - I am not concerned about that; but, as a matter of fact, I think that Mr. Hughes supplemented my argument. I believe that our arguments on the subject are reconcilable, and that they are very distasteful to honorable senators opposite. I should like to know what reply there is to those arguments. It may be that the reasons given by the Government in support of the request for a double dissolution contain some sort of reply; but, so far, we have heard none from the Government benches in either House. The publication of the reasons given by the Government may establish a peculiar parallel for the instances quoted by Todd. In dealing with a Canadian case, at pages 766 and 767 of his work, Todd quotes a memorandum from the Governor-General of Canada, which occupies some two pages, a memorandum by the Premier, and a subsequent memorandum by the Governor-General.

Senator Millen - What was the date of the memorandum ?

Senator PEARCE - There is a note to the Premier, Mr. Brown, dated 29th July, 1868.

Senator Millen - When was it published ?

Senator PEARCE - I find that it is stated that the demand for a dissolution -

Proved unsuccessful for reasons which will appear on the perusal of the following correspondence between Mr. Brown and the GovernorGeneral, which is taken from the newspapers of the period.

This shows that the reasons must have been published at the time. Todd took the correspondence from the newspapers of the period. One case, with which I wish particularly to deal, is that of the refusal of a dissolution in New Zealand. In that case, the situation was in some respects similar to that which we now have in Australia. In the New Zealand case, also, the question of the value of the casting vote of the Speaker came up. There is a memorandum from the then Governor of New Zealand, the Marquis of Normanby. This was in 1877, and is a much more recent case than the Canadian one. The Governor of New Zealand gave to the Premier as one of his reasons for refusing to grant a dissolution- 11

Because no great question was at issue upon which to appeal to the constituencies.

Could the Governor-General of the Commonwealth say to the present Government that there is a great question at issue upon which to appeal to the constituencies ? We know that he could not. The fourth reason given by the Marquis of Normanby was -

Because he had no assurance that a dissolution would produce a working majority in favour of Ministers.

Did the Ministers of the Commonwealth, in their memorandum to the GovernorGeneral, give him any assurance that the result of the double dissolution would be the return of a majority for them ? We know that they could not do so. The Marquis of Normanby, in refusing a dissolution in this case, further said -

The Speaker's casting vote given to negative a vote of want of confidence can hardly be taken as an expression of confidence on the part of the House.

That was the opinion of the Marquis of Normanby, and it is of the more value when we find that the whole of the correspondence in this case was remitted to the Home Government, who, through the Colonial Office, expressed their approval of the action of the Governor of New Zealand in refusing the dissolution, having before them the reasons for which he refused it.

Senator Millen - Will the honorable senator say whether those papers were published before or after they were sent to the Colonial Office?

Senator PEARCE - I have not that information before me now, as I have been quoting from my previous remarks as reported in Hansard. In the Canadian case, the reasons must have been published before they were reported to the Colonial Office.

Senator Millen - No.

Senator PEARCE - Todd says that the correspondence was published in the newspapers at the time.

Senator Millen - In 1858; that might have been two months or three months after the correspondence took place.

Senator PEARCE - Does Senator Millen mean to say that, if the present Government get the consent of the Colonial Office, they will publish these papers 1

Senator Millen - No.

Senator PEARCE - Then what is the meaning of the honorable senator's interjection ?

Senator Millen - That the circumstances are not parallel.

Senator PEARCE - The circumstances are parallel. What the Government are fighting for is delay. They do not wish the country to give these papers at any time, and certainly not now. That is one of the reasons why we want this memorandum. We should have it on record. In the New Zealand case, the Government, with the consent of the Colonial Office, and with their approval, refused to recognise the casting vote of the Speaker as indicating that the House had confidence in the Government. The Home authorities also approved of the refusal to grant the dissolution asked for, because there wasno question of importance at issue. But here we have the Governor-General, knowing that a measure was passed by the casting vote of the Speaker, knowing also that that measure is of no importance, dissolving, not one House but both Houses of the Parliament on the advice of his Ministers. If, in one case, the reasons given by Ministers and those given by the Governor for refusing the dissolution asked for could be given to the people, why cannot the present Commonwealth Government take the people of Australia into their confidence? Are they afraid of what the people will' think of their reasons? They know that the party on this side are impotent to make any use of the reasons in this Parliament. The Government cannot be afraid of what we may do here, and it must be that they are afraid of what the people will have to say about their reasons.

Senator Millen - That is why we areso anxious to go before the people.

Senator PEARCE - If the Government are anxious to go before the people,. why are they anxious to keep their reasons from the people? If they are not afraid of letting the people know the reasons they gave the Governor-General, and His Excellency's reply to those reasons, why do they not publish them? There is no escape from the position. Either they are afraid of the people knowing the reasons, and therefore refuse to let them have them, or they wish to keep them secret until the elections are over.

Senator Senior - Why not let the people know the reasons through the Parliament they have elected ?

Senator PEARCE - I do not care whether the Government let the people know through the Parliament, or let them know directly. I am asking for the reasons, not merely in the interests of the Parliament, but in the interests of the people. Todd's work teems with instances in support of our contention that these papers should be published. So far as I know, there has never been an instance in the history of constitutional government where these reasons were asked for and refused. The refusal of the Government to publish these papers creates the suspicion that there is something at the back of them which they do not desire the people to know until after the elections. We represent the people here, and are within our rights in asking that in their interests the reasons, in full, given by the Government for their request for a double dissolution, and the reply, in full, of the GovernorGeneral should be placed before the country. We have had an admission from the Government that the statement they have made of the matter is not a full statement of the reasons they gave, or of the Governor-General's reply. They say that the reasons are absolutely confidential. They affect a public question; they affect the Constitution of the two Houses, their relation one to the other; and, indirectly, the relation of the people as Federal electors to both Houses of this Parliament. If there is to be a change in the Constitution, and it is to be brought about by an Executive act, and not by an amendment of the Constitution, surely the people are entitled to know the reasons and the arguments put forward to induce the Governor-General to make this drastic change. We should know whether he attached any conditions, and, if so, what those conditions were.

Seeing that there is to be an election, the people should be placed in possession of the facts upon which they may make up their mind, and record their verdict. That is all that we are asking. If these papers are not put before the. people, I shall say from every platform on which I speak, that the Government were afraid to trust the people with their reasons, because, if they did so, they would be visited with condign punishment for having advised the Governor-General to take action on the reasons they submitted to him. I hope that the motion will be carried.

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