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Wednesday, 3 September 1902

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I I do not intend to labour this question at any great length, because I do not think at this time of night very much more need be said. We have had some very learned arguments upon the constitutional aspect of this question, but some of them appear to me to be neither more nor less than consummate pieces of word - spinning. For instance, such a speech as that delivered by the honorable member for Indi I so characterize. I listened to that honorable and learned mein ber very patiently, and with a great deal of admiration for the cleverness with which he stated his ease. But it occurred to me that his argument consisted wholly of wordspinning. . I could not call it anything else. I am bound to say that, in my opinion, the honorable and learned gentleman's utterances were not nearly so weighty as many which we have been accustomed to hear from him in this House. I should like also to make a remark somewhat upon the lines suggested by tlie honorable member for% Dalley. I desire to ask the House to take notice of the fact, and it is a striking one, that every honorable member who has argued against the Senate on this occasion, and has seen innumerable dangers wrapt up in the proposal of the Government, is without exception a Victorian hightariffist. Is that a coincidence ? If it is, it is a very remarkable one. Every honorable member who sees all these dangers in the Constitution to-night is a man who is dissatisfied with this Tariff, and who sees in the proposal of the Government a proposal for a still further modification of it. I say that that fact is too . patent to escape notice.-

Mr Isaacs - How about the converse ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does not the honorable and learned member see that he points the way for us. We cannot go wrong in following the honorable and learned member's indication. If he is going all the while to see constitutional dangers in anything that makes for the amelioration of this Tariff, then we may refuse to see those dangers when we believe that the proposal of the Government is for a still further concession in the matter of the Tariff.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - What about the Minister for Trade and Customs ? Is that' honorable gentleman a free-trader ? He is with honorable members opposite.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No ; the Minister for Trad.e and Customs is not a freetrader, but he is a member of the Government. I apprehend that there has been some very considerable discussion on this question in the Cabinet. I should say that, after all the Minister for Trade and Customs has gone through in connexion with this Tariff, whether he be a free-trader or a' protectionist, he is heartily sick of the job, and wants to be done with it. I had charge of the Tariff I should be heartily ashamed of it. But the question is not the Tariff exactly. There is a constitutional aspect of this matter, and I am one of those who are glad that the Government take the attitude in dealing with this question that they do. I would rather the matter was dealt with in the way they propose than make any definite announcement on the present occasion as to what the rights of the Senate and of this House are. At tlie same time, I am bound to say, further, that in my opinion there is nothing in the Constitution which prevents the Senate from sending down a second or a third suggestion if they deem fit. In trying to understand the meaning of the section which has been so much debated to-night, I take the meaning given to it by the framers of the Constitution at the time of the Convention, and I go back to the speech quoted by the honorable and learned member for Indi, which is the latest utterance, I take it, in the Convention on this subject - I refer to the speech of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, Sir Edmund Barton, who was the leader of the Convention. I do not read the utterance as the honorable and learned member for Indi read it, and I shall put one question to the honorable and learned member in regard to it. Sir Edmund Barton at that time was speaking of the power to make suggestions on the part of the Seriate, and after an interjection from the present Minister for Trade and Customs as to how many times they might make these requests or suggestions, he uses these words -

Yes, as long as the Bill is in the hands of the Senate. That means, I take it, a power not solely to send the Bill down at a stage at which the measure has at the moment arrived, but that if it arrives at a further stage in the Senate, there being in the meantime some settlement or no settlement with regard to the suggestion made, the Senate would have power to make other suggestions.

Now the honorable and learned member for Indi says that " at any stage " of the Bill does not mean any further stage in committee.

Mr Watkins - Does not the quotation to which the honorable member has referred speak of "other suggestions"?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The difference between 15 per cent, and 14-J per cent, would be another suggestion. What is the use of quibbling in that way about mere terms? The question is, have they the substantial power' to send down suggestions after this House has dealt with the suggestions which they first sent down ? Sir Edmund Barton, in the Convention, referred to a case in which no settlement had been arrived at. I desire to know from the honorable and learned member for Indi how they could send down to this House any further suggestions upon a matter as to which no settlement had been arrived at after the stage that the Senate was last at? For instance, they send down this proposal to this House when the stage of report has been passed. There can be no further stage, according to the honorable and learned member, but the third reading, which is the next stage in succession. There is no intervening stage after the committee has reported ; we must go on to the third reading. That is the only stage next in succession. How could the Bill reach that stage before a settlement had been arrived at ? Would it not be necessary to go into committee to consider the Message on its return from this House 1 Therefore, it is clear that Sir Edmund Barton could not have had in his mind the case put before us by the honorable and learned member for Indi. The Senate could not send down suggestions for the alteration of the Tariff at the thirdreading stage.

Mr Isaacs - That would depend upon their rules of procedure.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has said this evening that we must take the rules of procedure as we find them. There is no provision in the rules for making suggestions for amendments when a Bill has reached the third-reading stage. It is, therefore, clear that Sir Edmund Barton intended the term " at any stage " to have the very widest meaning. It is impossible to accept the reading of the honorable and learned member for Indi.

Mr Isaacs - Sir Edmund Barton could not prophesy what the rules of procedure of the Senate would be.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable and learned member is now departing from his own statement. He said that we were bound by the ordinary rules of procedure, by the procedure of the House of Commons, and by the practice of British parliamentary institutions. But in no British dominion is there any means provided by which the Senate could reach a further stage of 'the Bill than they have done at the present time, and still, send requests to us regarding amendments in the Tariff. I am sure that if Sir Edmund Barton were here now he would say that it was intended that the Senate should be enabled to send down suggestions at any time that the Bill was under consideration. My own impression is that the section means that the Senate may make requests as frequently as they like so long as this Chamber permits them to do so. It rests with us to say whether or not we shall take their requests into consideration. We have the control in our own hands, and we can stop at any moment. . We may put an end to the negotiations at the exact moment when we think they have gone far enough. I cannot read the section as conveying any other meaning. The honorable and learned member said that the words "if it thinks fit" might just as well have been omitted. That may be, but they were inserted with a view to give this House the power to shut down on the negotiations between the two Chambers . at any time. I congratulate the honorable and learned member for Indi upon his speech. It was the cleverest piece of word-spinning I have ever heard in this Chamber ; but I could not help thinking of Plato's saying - " Truth lies at the bottom of a well." Certainly it seemed as if the honorable and learned member were diving deep down into the bowels of the earth in order to find an argument againt the procedure of the Government on this occasion. It is very curious that all the talk about the importance of this constitutional question, and the dangers which are to be apprehended from the acknowledgment of the rights of the Senate to repeat their request, comes only from those who are in favour of a high Tariff. Those honorable members who desire to arrive at a settlement upon the lines of a moderate Tariff see none of these constitutional dangers. If a crisis were to occur, and I went to" the people of New South Wales and said that I objected to what the Senate had done in regard to the Tariff,' they would turn round and say - "We want the Senate to do precisely as it is doing." Then I might retort - " But look at the danger that is involved to the Constitution." They would then say- - " We had all those dangers pointed out to us before the referendum was taken. We knew all about them then, and now that the Senate is in favour of our view with regard to the Tariff, we ask you and others to work the Constitution as you find it until it is altered in a constitutional way." Therefore, believing that the Senate is acting within its rights, and that it is correctly interpreting the wishes of the majority of the people of

Australia regarding the Tariff, I am ready to consider its requests. I hope that tlie course we shall adopt in this matter will result in bringing the Tariff more into harmony with the wishes of the people of Australia. Apart from that consideration, there is the further question of the uncertainty which now exists in business circles, and the upheaval of our commercial affairs, owing to the unsettled state of tlie Tariff and the administration of it. I submit that the administration of the Tariff is worse than the Tariff itself. There is a feeling of unrest throughout the length and breadth of Australia, and the people, whether protectionists or free-traders, are asking that we shall arrive as soon as possible at finality in regard to this long drawnout and troublesome question. I have heard the most ardent free-traders in New South Wales say - ".For goodness sake finish the Tariff. Give us anything you like - anything will be better than the present state of uncertainty." Therefore, since the Government propose to waive the constitutional point for the present, and defer its consideration till some future time, we ought to readily follow them. We have been told that the question as to the relative powers of the two Houses will have to be considered in connexion with the framing of the standing orders. No doubt it will. The standing orders will have to provide the methods of procedure to be followed in connexion with, negotiations between the two Houses, whose respective positions will have to be determined. We shall have to discuss this question at an early date, and the sooner the better. I think it is almost a calamity that the standing orders were not considered in the first instance, and brought into operation before we were called upon to deal with the Tariff. It seems strange that, after having been in session for eighteen months we should have no recognised means of approaching the other House. This affords another reason why we should more readily follow the Government, because no question of procedure and therefore " no question of the relations between the two Houses arises. I commend the Government for finding us a way out of the difficulty, and I shall follow them with a great deal of pleasure.

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