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Thursday, 10 March 1904

Mr SPEAKER - Do I understand the honorable member for Kennedy to say that the honorable and learned member for Parkes is telling a lie?

Mr McDonald - No. What I say is that any person who continues to repeat the statement made by the honorable and learned member for Parkes, after it has been contradicted, is guilty of saying what is absolutely untrue, and must know that he is uttering a falsehood. These statements are always appearing in the newspapers, and I have come to the conclusion that they are reiterated only from sinister motives.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not agree with the honorable member for Kennedy, that any one who persists in a statement which has been denied is necessarily a liar, but he certainly subjects himself to the possibility of contradiction. I wish to know from honorable members of the Labour Party whether they will undertake to say that the caucus is not exercised by them? The people of Australia will be very much surprised to learn that it is not.

Mr Tudor - The Opposition party exercises acaucus.


Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Every member of the Opposition, as I showed by my own actions during the last Parliament, has the right, if he chooses, to vote against his party. He does not by doing so risk the loss of his seat, and in point of fact, some times secures a larger majority in his constituency by showing his independence. Is it not a fact that upon many questions the members of the Labour Party take a vote ?

Mr McDonald - The honorable and learned member is now toning down his statement.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Because I wish to be upon solid ground. I commenced by saying all questions; I know how to crossexamine. Having failed to elicit a satisfactory reply in regard to all questions, I am inquiring now in regard to a majority of questions.

Mr Fisher - Our answer is " No."

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Having failed again, I inquire in regard to some questions. It is admitted by the members of the Labour Party that upon some great political questions they take a vote among themselves in order to ascertain how they should vote in this House.

Mr Webster - Who admits it?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member deny it? I should be quite satisfied ifI were addressing a jury with having obtained that answer in place of a direct admission. I challenge members of the Labour Party to deny that upon some great political questions-

Mr McDonald - Name one such question.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I challenge the members of the Labour Party to deny that upon some great political questions they have to take a vote among themselves to ascertain the opinions of the majority, in order to determine how they shall vote in this House.

Mr Fisher - They have not to do so in any case.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Any onewho replies " No " to my statement belies the whole course of the history of the Labour Party. I am willing to admit that there are questions to which they have agreed among themselves . that the caucus shall not apply ; but how can a man come into an assembly like this, and profess to represent the opinions of his constituency upon a great public question, at the same time admitting that he has arrived at a decision as to how he shall vote, by ascertaining the opinions of the majority of the members of the party to which he belongs?

Mr Webster - The members of the Labour Party carry out their pledges to their constituents 'in every case.

Mr Bamford - Their constituencies elect them, knowing what their position as members of the Labour Party will be.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should be prepared to take the verdict of the electors in regard to the matter. I wish to know how this process would work out if eight members of the Labour Party were chosen to form an administration to carry on the government of the country. Would the eight labour members, in framing their policy be required to consult the other members of the party, or would the party insist upon some arrangement under which the eight Ministers should not go outside their particular platform ? I should like to know what the public would think of the labour platform and of the handcuffed condition of things in which the new Government tried to carry on the affairs of Australia. I will not lay down any principles for the Labour Party ; they, like myself, have opinions of their own.

Mr Page - What is the honorable and learned member's concern about what the Labour Party would do?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not much concerned.

Mr Page - It would seem so.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not at all. I am only endeavouring to point out the extraordinary result that may be evolved from the present condition of things in the House. I say that on the Ministerial side there is not a sufficient majority to carry on responsible government, and I admit that on the Opposition side similar conditions prevail. But whether the House is going to allow the Labour Party to stand, as it were, on the centre of a see-saw, and, turning the House this way. or that, take into their own hands the management of the affairs of Australia, minus the responsibility, is a question, which the people will sooner or later have to determine.

An Honorable Member. - Let the Opposition form a coalition with the Government.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not want any coalition ; any coalition between the Opposition and the Government at the present time would be unwholesome and demoralizing. There must be a new Parliament, or the party which controls the Ministerial side must come into power and take the responsibility on their own shoulders. I have no caucus to control me, but I have a perfect right to express my individual opinion; and I say that the necessary outcome of the present condition of affairs must be a state of public life which has never before been known in Australia. In Queensland,* I think, on one occasion, the Labour Party came into power, but as soon as it was announced that they had accepted office they were turned out. I believe that something parallel to that occurrred in South Australia, although I do not remember the facts.

Mr Batchelor - That was a Government of the Conservative Party in South Australia

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is all very well to use clap-trap phrases about conservatives, liberals, radicals, labour members, or socialists, but half who use them do not know what they mean. I have heard a man talking in this House about his liberalism, and telling us in the same breath that he is a conservative. From an historical aspect this sort of thing is a farce. If Ave look at the history of the Corn Laws it is found that the whole of the people, and the members of the House of Commons, with a very few exceptions, who voted for the abolition of the Corn Laws belonged to the Liberal Party, and that those who voted to retain the duties were Conservatives. I have heard the Prime Minister over and over again talk of his party as a Liberal Party, and yet he is a rabid protectionist. What does " liberal " mean ? If we look in Webster's dictionary or any public work which enables us to determine the question, we find that a liberal is not a man who indulges in liberality with other people's money, but is an advocate of freedom - freedom of thought, freedom of action, and freedom of commerce. How can the word be applied to a man who advocates the shackling of industry and commerce at every turn by a compulsory Arbitration Act, by duties, by bounties, and all .the rest of the socialist paraphernalia which the head of the Government wants to introduce into this country? I am saying all this perhaps strenuously and forcibly, but with no bitterness. I perfectly well acknowledge the right of a constituency, if it likes, to send a Nihilist into this House, and I am perfectly willing to admit that that Nihilist would have the right to express his opinions here. I do not care whether a man is a protectionist, a free-trader, a socialist, a labour representative, or an individualist, so long as he honestly advocates principles in which he believes. With such a man

I am willing to treat and endeavour to settle political questions on the well-known principle of majority, which is the only principle we should observe. But, while I put no bitterness into my speech, I am entitled to comment on the extraordinary position in which we are placed - a position so extraordinary that I cannot get any man in the House to give me an idea which commends itself to my mind as to what the future is going to be. We are for the moment marking time ; nobody knows what is going to happen. The party in power does not know from day to day when some divisional bombshell may burst and compel them to abandon office. I have always thought that it would have been much better for the honour and dignity of the last Government if they had made a stand long ago, and vindicated the principles of responsible government in Australia. That Government might now, in the change and whirligig of events, have been back in their places, and they would have established in the national Parliament of Australia a sound principle for the guidance of the people.

Mr Fisher - Does the honorable and learned member not admit that all Governments are more or less in the position he describes?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No ; I make no such admission. I can only tell honorable members that in the modern history of English government we do not find a leading statesman who would remain in office a moment after he had discovered that his Government had not a working majority.

Mr Fisher - Gladstone did so.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask whether Gladstone, Disraeli, Balfour, Rosebery, Salisbury, or any other of the modern statesmen who occupied the position of Prime Minister during Her late Majesty's reign, would have humiliated and degraded public life by coquetting with another party, in order to remain in office after it had been ascertained that he had not an honest and substantial majority with which to control the House.

Mr Fisher - Lord Salisbury did it in 1885.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If any work on constitutional government or practice be consulted it will be found laid down by leading men, and accepted by all the best authorities, that no Government is justified in staying in office unless it has a substantial working majority - not a majority of one or two, keeping it in a condition of trepidation from night to night lest the required number may not be present; but a majority, which may be relied on to loyally assist in carrying out legislation believed to be in the interests of the country which they have undertaken to govern. What does responsible government mean? It does not mean that the Government are irresponsible - that it may do just what the House wishes, the House itself being practically an irresponsible committee. When a Government brings in a measure which is negatived, or so amended that the vital principles in it are killed, can it be said there is responsiblity when the Government goes on with the business of the House after it has been thus demonstrated that they do not possess the confidence of honorable members?

Mr Page - Why not put that to the test?

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is of no use our party putting the question to the test. We know very well, and I am sure every member of my party will agree with me, that there is not on this side of the House a working majority, unless we become dependent on the third party.

Mr Page - Which is the third party ?


Mr Page - That is the first party.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thought it fair enough to admit the Labour Party to be the first party when they come into office. At all events, I admit that the Opposition might have, a majority if it were content to depend on the intermittent and moody support of the Labour Party. But I should be very sorry to be a member of such a Government, or to see any of my friends participate in the formation of an Administration which would be dependent on the favours or the good-will of a party bent simply on securing the advantage of the class it represents. I shall not deal further with this point, on which I think I have expressed myself pretty freely.

Mr Chapman - The honorable and learned member was glad enough to have the support of the Labour Party in New South Wales when he was a member of the Ministry in 1891.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That Ministry resigned because the Labour Party refused to' allow the Chairman to leave the chair after a certain clause had been introduced into the Coal Mines Act unknown to Sir Henry Parkes.

Sir William Lyne - The Ministry with which the honorable member was connected . accepted the support of the Labour Party for a long time.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whatever may. happen in this House or in the States Parliaments, I hope that we shall endeavour to exhibit broader views and a larger love of Empire than we have done in the past. I am sure that no impartial critic of our legislation could look at the history of our last Parliament without feeling that we have done almost all we could to embarrass the British Government in its dealings with other countries. In the first place, we have shut out England's own goods as foreign merchandise. Our newspapers have talked freely about English manufacturers as foreigners. We have shut out England's own people, under the impression that it is injurious to the people of Australia that an employer should make a bargain with an English workman to pay his passage to Australia - instead of allowing the Government to do it - and to gradually receive the money back from him in instalments. We have embarrassed the mother country because we have irritated most of the nations of Europe by stopping their citizens from coming to our shores. We have refused to recognise the friendship and alliance of the mother country with her best friend, Japan, and have insulted the people of that country in classing them with barbarous peoples. We have absolutely turned our face from some of the residents of New Zealand, the very Colony with which we recently tried to federate. We have stopped the introduction of England's goods, we have stopped her people from coming here, and, altogether, have done our best - although, perhaps, unintentionally and thoughtlessly - to embarrass her in her diplomatic relations with her best ally. Yet we hear from the Prime Minister, that

Our fortunes are bound up with the mother country. We must stand or fall with her, we must rise or sink together.

If the Prime Minister had endeavoured to compose an ironical speech, having regard to the character of the legislation which he and his Government have proposed and passed during the last three years, he could not have said anything more effective. I shall do m'y utmost to support any party, whether it be the labour, the free-trade, or the protectionist party, so long as it introduces legislation- which I can honestly, as a representative of the people, regard as being in the best interests of Australia. But, whatever party comes into power, I hope that, instead of crying "Australia for the Australians," and building a sort of Chinese wall in order to shut off all communication with other nations, we shall remember that we are but a junior partner in the firm of John Bull and Co., and that it is our duty, in some cases, to sacrifice our local interests in order that the welfare of the Empire may be furthered. I trust that, whatever Government assumes the reins of office, will realize that the time has come for us to recognise the truth of the words which were uttered by the Prime Minister only a few days ago.

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