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Wednesday, 10 September 1902

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I disagree with the remarks of the honorable members who have immediately preceded me. We have come to the end of our business for the time being, and our sitting to-day has nearly lapsed more than once for want of a quorum. I am quite willing to sit here every day of the week when there is any business to transact, but under the circumstances I think the Government proposal is a reasonable one. It is evident that the Estimates will not be brought before usuntil nearly the end of this month.

Mr McDonald - It is a scandalous shame and a disgrace.

Mr R EDWARDS (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - If we do not adjourn as proposed we shall have to suspend our sittings for a week later on. As soon as I heard that there was a possibility of the House adjourning over next week I altered my plans so as to permit of my currying out some important private 'business. Therefore, I desire that the adjournment should take place as arranged.

Mr. DEAKIN(Ballarat- Attorney General), in reply. - A good deal of misapprehension appears to exist in regard to this proposal. In the first place, I would remind honorable members that in moving the adjournment of the House on Thursday last, I pointed out that it was hardly possible for us to receive any further measures from another place before Wednesday next - that is to-day. I said -

I hope that honorable members who have private motions on the paper will be ready to proceed with them, should time permit,' during the remainder of next week. _ .

That is this week. Surely that was a failnotice that all we could undertake to do this week was to receive a. Message from the Senate, and then proceed with the consideration of private members1 business. We have done that to-day. The reason why a more definite statement concerning this adjournment could not be made last week was that, whatever our private opinions might have been - and they differed - we could not possibly know what action would be taken by the Senate in regard to the measure which has been disposed of by the Message received this afternoon. It was quite possible - and, indeed, in conversation with me, some honorable members urged that it was probable - that the result of the consideration of the Customs Tariff Bill in another place would be a further Message to this House. That would have been a very serious matter, and few honorable members would care to have been absent upon such an occasion. There was no certainty, I repeat, that such a step would not be taken. Consequently, we dare not adjourn for this week, or. propose anything which might have involved a further delay in the final settlement of the Tariff. Had I known as much last Thursday as I do now, I could only have added that the Customs Tariff Bill would be passed, arid that this week there would have been no need to deal with anything save private members' business. To-day private members' motions were called on, and the Government are prepared to proceed with their consideration just so long as . honorable members care to discuss them. But when honorable members learned that the Customs Tariff Bill had been settled, I was asked - by the leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Macquarie what business it was proposed to proceed with this week. When I informed them that only private members' motions would be considered, they at once made up their minds that it was unnecessary for them to remain. The Government entered into no arrangement of any kind.

Mr Wilkinson - The House was empty because honorable members understood that this adjournment would take place.

Mr DEAKIN - The understanding was that it would take place only after private members' business had been disposed of. If the House is prepared to proceed with that business, the Government are perfectly willing to fulfil their obligations.

Mr McDonald - Why should we adjourn until the 23rd instant ?

Mr DEAKIN - Honorable members must see that they are somewhat unjust when they declare that the Government did not give them fair notice of their intentions. Until the House met to-day, I did not know that we should not require to deal with the Customs Tariff Bill and that private business would not fill the remainder of the week. I have been asked why it is proposed to adjourn until the 23rd instant. In speaking the other night, I referred to two minor Bills which the Government might possibly introduce during the present session. The Cabinet has since taken those matters into consideration, and has decided that, under the circumstances, it would be premature to ask the House to consider them. One of those Bills had reference to an amendment of the /Public Service Act, and the second to the amendment of another measure. The fate of the other Government measures which remain on the business paper will all depend upon the nature of the Budget. The honorable member for Kennedy has asked whether we could not deal with the Loan Bill and thus advance the Budget. Since the last discussion of that .Bill, the Treasurer has been recasting his Estimates, dividing them into loan expenditure and expenditure from revenue. He is now preparing proposals which will be considered by the Cabinet during the coming week, when we shall decide whether it is necessary to ask for a loan at all. Should it be determined that no loan is necessary, a very critical position will be created financially, and it will -need all the Treasurer's skill and knowledge to enable him to frame Estimates which this House will be prepared to accept. The one important measure with which I had hoped we should be able to deal this week was the Electoral Bill. The Minister for Home Affairs, however, informs me that the Senate has altered that Bill by omitting many provisions that were inserted in this House, and replacing those which it originally contained'. In some instances amendments have been made to meet the views of this House, and in still others new amendments have been introduced. In any case he says that the Bill has been so recast that he will require time to reconsider it from the first clause to the last before he is in a position to bring down his proposals. That was the one measure with which I had hoped we should deal with this week. If the amendments had not been of such a vital character it would have been possible to consider it next week, although I believe that those who are most concerned in the matter desire that it should be dealt with in a full House. In another place the Government have adhered to the amendments which were made in that Bill' by this House. The Senate, however, entertained a strong objection to some of the most cardinal changes made during its passage through this House, so that the measure practically requires remodelling. To accomplish that satisfactorily will occupy the Minister for Home Affairs all this week. A statement has been made in regard to the delay which has occurred in the delivery of the Budget. To my knowledge, ever since the 30th June the Treasurer has been indefatigable in his endeavours to obtain his Estimates from every part of the Commonwealth.

Mr Watson - He is not severe enough upon his officers.

Mr DEAKIN - Honorable members should recollect that the Treasurer's officers are not in any way to blame for the delay. The Treasurer's Budget depends, not upon his own officers, but upon those of every department of the Commonwealth, and upon officers in a certain number of State departments who are at present doing duty for the Commonwealth. On behalf of my colleague I have already forwarded several circulars to the Premiers of different States and to others asking for particulars which he requires in order to make his Budget statement. Large masses of figures have been received, but in some cases they have had to be returned, because they showed alterations upon last year's Estimates, which demanded explanation. I think that the Treasurer now has in his possession all the information that he requires.

Sir George Turner - I obtained the last information yesterday.

Mr DEAKIN - When the Treasurer has obtained all his Estimates, he then has to prepare his Budget. He has to cut down the Estimates in those directions which appear to him legitimate. If a difference arises between himself and any other Minister regarding the Estimates of a department, the Cabinet has to decide the matter. The Treasurer informs me that the very earliest date upon which 'he can be ready to deliver his financial statement - he expresses some .doubt as to whether he will be ready then, but, knowing his great capacity for work, I have every confidence that he will - is the 23rd instant. The Electoral Bill cannot be considered before that date. It is quite possible that we might be able to consider it at the end of next week, but that would mean keeping honorable members here for a week in order to do a couple of days' work. Moreover when the Budget speech has been delivered, Opposition members will probably desire an adjournment of that debate for a day or two. Last year an arrangement was made for the publication of a special number of Hansard, so that honorable members might have an opportunity of criticising the details of the Budget.

Sir George Turner - I have arranged for that this year.

Mr DEAKIN - Having regard to the operation of the Customs Tariff Bill, and to the fact that since the 8th October last uniform duties have been collected, the financial statement for this year will necessarily be of a more precise and complete nature than the statement of a year ago. The Treasurer can now present a Budget upon definite lines, which were not then available, and the forthcoming statement will be one of the most important to which this House is ever likely to listen. My colleague has at last obtained, even from the most remote parts of Australia, all the information that lie requires. Of course, there is a great deal to be said in mitigation of the delay which has occurred, because every little expenditure proposed - say, in connexion with a post - office in the remotest portion of Queensland - has had to be sifted and checked. If honorable members take into account that, in preparing his statement, the Estimates of the six States have to be blended and criticised, they will realize the nature of the task which -the Treasurer has to undertake. I felt the reproaches of honorable members to-night, because in some respect-s they seem legitimate. But until they look at this matter from our stand-point--

Mr Wilkinson - The Government will not permit us to look at it in that light.

Mr DEAKIN - The honorable member has never asked me for information, and been refused.

Mr Wilkinson - But the Government never hold a caucus meeting of their supporters.

Mr DEAKIN - In many parliaments the holding of caucuses is a practice which is more honoured in the breach than in the observance, and I do not know that the matter with which we are now dealing could have been better dealt with by any caucus. The Government are perfectly willing to proceed with private members' motions, and to sit the whole week if necessary.

Mr Watson - Private motions are not so important as is Government business.

Mr DEAKIN - Nothing else with which we can deal will shorten the session by a single day.

Mr McDonald - The proposed adjournment will prevent some of us from getting to our constituencies for a couple of months.

Mr Page - Postpone the Budget for a couple of months.

Mr Watson - That is a good idea. Let some of the members from a distance get "nome.

Mr DEAKIN - Unfortunately we must have the Budget statement, and pass a Supply Bill. I should never be one to counsel honorable members to fail in their attendance in Parliament, but think that if any honorable members wish now to absent themselves, they will be excused by their constituents and by this House.

Mr McDonald - I should not do so. A number of honorable members absent themselves, but I do not think it is right. It ought to be public business first, and private business afterwards.

Mr DEAKIN - I quite agree with the honorable member, but the circumstances are so exceptional that if honorable members did absent themselves one could not reproach them. Do honorable members suppose that Ministers desire to prolong this session a single day or a single hour 1

Mr Page - It seems like it.

Mr DEAKIN - It may seem like it to those who look at the matter from the outside, but those who know the situation as well as .Ministers do, will never suspect us of any desire to prolong the session. All honorable members are exhausted - we have almost reached the limit of our powers ; and that is why we are endeavouring to have short adjournments. It is true that all honorable members cannot take advantage of them, but some are able to do so ; and the position of members from a great distance has from the commencement been most unfortunate for them.

Mr McDonald - They have had to sacrifice their own personal business in a way in which other honorable members have not been called upon to do.

Mr DEAKIN - Honorable members who, like myself, are fortunate enough to reside in Melbourne, 'and to be near their constituents, have always freely admitted that there is no comparison between the sacrifices made by them, and the sacrifices made by members from a distance.

Mr Mahon - "Fine words butter no parsnips."

Mr DEAKIN - That is true ; but my words are sincere - I think no one will doubt their sincerity - and are an intimation that the sacrifices are not unnoticed or unappreciated. When honorable members look at the matter fairly, they will see that the proposal for an adjournment arises out of the extraordinary condition of affairs in which we find ourselves ; at the end of the session we are endeavouring to make the task as light as possible. We should make the task heavy enough, if by doing so we could expedite the close of the session - that is, we should propose to sit late and often, as we shall propose to do after the "Budget is launched. We think it better to have a week's recess now, and then ask honorable members to sit every available clay and make the utmost effort to deal with the remaining work which is presented in the Estimates.

Mr McDonald - Can the Acting Prime Minister give us any idea of the length of the recess 1 I hope we are not going to leave the meeting of Parliament until May or June next year, and then go on right up to the time of the elections.

Mr DEAKIN - That is a matter entirely for the House. As a Government we have not yet considered the question, owing to the uncertainty which prevailed until the Tariff had been dealt with. It appears now as though the session would close early next month, and Ministers will lay their views before the House in regard to the recess before we separate.When we meet again on the 23rd, the Government will be willing to fall in with any proposal to sit oftener and later. The time has now been reached when our administrative work must be put aside, and everything sacrificed in order to bring the session toanend. If honorable members will help us when we meet on the 23rd the Government will ask for or consent to no adjournment, hut will sit as long and often as may be desired in order to dispose of the remaining business as quickly as possible.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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