Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 3 March 1904

Mr REID (EAST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The form in which the Government have framed the Address in Reply has been happily chosen, because it is one to which every member of the House can cordially agree. We are asked to express our loyalty, which we are at all times ready to do, and to thank His Excellency for the speech which he has-been "pleased to address to Parliament." After that speech has been carefully reviewed, it will be found that if any should have any reason to thank His Excellency for it, it is the members of His Majesty's Opposition. In the first place, I wish to express the cordial congratulations of, I am sure, not only the members who sit on this side of the chamber, but of all the members of the House, at the appointment of our present Governor-General. I think our best wish for him is that when he resigns his important trust, he will be able to leave these shores with the same esteem which his predecessors have enjoyed. It has been the custom to select new members to move and second the adoption of the Address in Reply, but it is only fair to the Government to say that they had a perfectly valid excuse for departing from the practice on the present occasion, inasmuch as the only seat in Australia which they were able to capture was that represented by the honorable member for Bass. It was impossible for the Government to obtain two new members for the task, so they had to fall back upon their and our old friend the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to move the adoption of the Address. If the Government are as pleased with his speech as' we on this side are, everyone should be perfectly satisfied. With reference to the honorable member for Bass, I should like to offer to him my congratulations for the manner in which he addressed himself to his task. The expression of his views suggested differences of opinion between us, but the manner in which they were conveyed to the House reflects, particularly for its brevity, high credit upon him as a new member. That he was able to obtain a seat here as the only new member returned to support the Government was owing, not so much to his political views, as to the patriotic services which he undoubtedly rendered as Mayor of Launceston in connexion with the recent outbreak of small-pox in that town. Speaking in all seriousness, I believe that he performed heroic services in that connexion. His occupation in life is one which naturally enabled him to undertake the duty of assisting at the funeral obsequies of the present Administration. My experience of speeches of Governors and GovernorsGeneral is that the first thing to be done in connexion with them is to try to discover what matters have been left out of them. No one can complain of the amplitude of the speech now under notice, but it is singular in respect to one or two of its omissions. For instance, the great battle-cry of the Ministry at the recent elections was advocacy Of fiscal peace; but we hear nothing about fiscal peace in the speech of the GovernorGeneral. On the contrary, there are proposed a number of measures which dangerously verge upon fiscal warfare. It will be remembered by honorable members that the Opposition played sad havoc with the Tariff submitted by the Government. We were prepared to take the . full responsibility for our actions before the electors of Australia. We were prepared then, as we. have always been prepared since, to go before the electors to justify that which we did in mutilating the Tariff, and to declare our desire to make even more radical changes. Our challenge to do so was accepted by our opponents at the time, and it was hoped on all sides, I believe, that the result would be the final settlement of the fiscal question. My own view was one which I thought might well be shared by both sides, that it was as much in the interests of the manufacturers of Australia and of those who wished to engage in industries that would be fostered by the Tariff, as it was to the interests of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth, that the fiscal issue should be finally settled, and the permanent position of all parties made known as soon as possible. That was the state of affairs until the time came for holding the general elections. Then the Government, in the exercise of their undoubted right, suddenly changed' their ground. They abandoned the threat that they would ask the electors of Australia to punish us for what we did in mutilating their fiscal offspring, and, instead of coming forward .with a courageous policy for its restoration to sound health, they asked the people to allow them to raise the white flag over its remains. The electors, and especially those who took moderate views, were much impressed with the transition from the ardent fighting attitude of our protectionist friends as a great Australian political force, to the advocacy of a policy of neutrality. I quite admit the wisdom from a strategetical point of view of the course taken by the Government. The more weakness one has the more wisdom he needs. The Government felt that they were not quite strong enough to fight us, and therefore they adopted the Boer policy of hoisting the white flag. We, however, were not prepared to accept their view, and agree to the suspension of this vital issue. The Government, by the course they took, obtained the advantage of dividing our forces, because a large number of electors who believed in our fiscal views were anxious that the Tariff question should be allowed to remain in abeyance for a time. Their evolution also gave them a further advantage, in that it enabled them to swing into line with our friends of the Labour Party. The fiscal issue is perhaps the only one which strains the solidarity of that party, and the policy of its members has naturally been, to sink the issue as much as possible. Consequently the Government, by their diplomatic move, obtained an alliance for the time being with the Labour Party, and put the Opposition in the place of having to fight two great political parties on the fiscal issue. There was a further, and perhaps an even stronger, reason for this change of attitude. How could the Government go before the electors of Australia and advocate both the Australian policy of protection and the Imperial policy of preferential trade ? It would have placed the Government in a position which would have strained the intelligence of the dullest voter in Australia. How could any Government, true to its protectionist traditions, which had always been in the direction of shutting out the manufactures of the. mother country, come forward with that old traditional policy of building up a tariff wall against the mother country, and at the same time assure the people that the only distressed persons in the world for whom they had an affectionate interest and anxiety we're the British manufacturers ? It is quite novel that the appeal of the British manufacturers for consideration, for the relaxation of this policy of protection, should have received so much, I will not say practical, but rhetorical sympathy from the Prime Minister, and the position would have been indescribably absurd if the protectionist flag of isolation and war against the mother country had been displayed side by side with a new loyal emblem of Imperial devotion. The situation would have been ludicrous, and the result was that protection was abandoned, and the policy of the Government resolved itself into this - " Keep what is left of our fiscal bantling in the miserable existence to which it has been condemned by our wicked enemies the Opposition, and cover its remains with a white flag. In the meantime let us win the sympathies of the great mass of Australian people, who always readily respond to the call of loyalty and affection to the mother country." Besides, there would have been a- restriction put upon my learned and distinguished friend the Prime Minister, even in his- rhetorical flights, which would have been decidedly embarrassing. Under the flag of preferential trade the Prime Minister could say with impunity, " Mr. Deakin and loyalty to the mother country ; Mr. Reid the friend of the foreigner !" But under the flag of protection Mr. Deakin as the friend of the mother country, and Mr. Reid as the enemy of the mother country, would have been too ridiculous; because Mr. Reid's whole political existence has been devoted to removing tariff barriers from the path of the mother country, and Mr. Reid happened to be the only man in the British Empire who, with the aid of his loyal friends, was able to pass a tariff policy which outrivalled in breadth and liberality even the British Tariff itself. It did seem strange to me that my honorable friend, whose general fairness and courtesy I have always been the first to acknowledge, should have found it possible, even in his inspired flights, where even recollection finds no place, to, picture me as a friend of France and Germany, and himself as a friend of the manufacturers of the midland districts of England ! I have never used harsh language with reference to my honorable friend, because I know what may happen to a man who has intervals of inspiration. His whole political career has reminded me of another genius in another country, who used to compose the most heavenly music, but who could never find a band, even when he conducted the orchestra himself, that could play it ! When we look upon mv distinguished friend as an orator we find him standing alone upon a pedestal ; but when we bring the orator down from the pedestal on to the floor of ordinary practical legislation, his proportions are miraculously diminished. But his intentions are always good.. We all have an admiration for him, because we all know that, whether upon a pedestal, or in any other position, he is, and has always been, a fair and honorable antagonist. One of the keenest pleasures of my antagonism, which will not be stinted, is that I have always been able to conduct my political differences with the Prime Minister without even the slightest break in the most cordial private intimacy, and I hope that will always be the case. ' Now, I regret to say that there were other issues at the last election which I deem it my duty as a public man to notice. In the field of industrial enterprise, and amongst all those questions which affect the two great classes into which this community is industrially divided, those of the employers and the employed, there has been an evolution which, I believe, is on the whole probably for the benefit of society. Especially of late years, and more particularly under the new arbitration law in some of the States, these two great forces which used to be scattered have been brought together. They have assumed the appearance and cohesion of military forces.

So long as this evolution is confined to the fields of industry, to the fields of conciliation, and of compulsory and peaceable arbitration it is, as I have said, an evolution which may work for the good of society. But I do most deeply deplore a thing which causes me to look upon the immediate political future of Australia with the most anxious regard. I refer to the fact that we have seen, during the last elections, traces of an invasion of these industrial armies into the field of national politics. The sharper the line between, I will not say the selfish, but the legitimate interests, of a man in his own private business and calling, and the duty he owes to his country and himself in the sphere of politics - the more sharply intelligence and conscience are kept free from selfinterest and class feeling - the better for the public life of any country. I do not blame one side in this matter. The state of things I have mentioned is perfectly legitimate and probably beneficial in the industrial sphere, but especially in Queensland, we saw the great questions, whatever they may be, of national politics in this Commonwealth, all swept into the background, whilst one issue, and that alone was fought, the issue between the classes and the masses.

Mr Watson - That was a cleaner issue than the one raised in New South Wales.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The issue raised in New South Wales was a straightforward one.

Mr Watson - Was it? It was a dirty issue.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Because it did not suit the honorable member. He has no right to say such a thing. It is very COW.ardly to say so.

Suggest corrections