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Tuesday, 15 March 1904

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - I have been listening for now nearly three weeks to the long and tortuous debate upon free-trade and protection which has been proceeding in this Chamber. Some of the voluble gentlemen who represent New South Wales have become so accustomed to the discussion of the fiscal question in their own State that they find it impossible to abandon it in the Commonwealth Parliament. I remember that the question was a burning one in New South Wales even in my time there.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member come from New South Wales?

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Yes, and I voted for the honorable member when he first stood for the State Parliament. At that time I believed that he was a protectionist. At any rate, he was a member of the party to which I now belong.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not correct. I never joined any caucus party. The honorable member knows it.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - It seems to me that the fiscal question has very little to do with the subject under discussion, the adoption of an Address in Reply to the Governor-General's Speech. The only excuse for its introduction is the reference in the speech to the subject of preferential trade. Although I am a protectionist, I have sunk the fiscal question, and I shall do my utmost to prevent fiscal strife from interfering with the commerce and business of the country. Some of the representatives of New South Wales appear to wish to dominate this Assembly. They tell us that this, that,and the other is done in their State, and seem to think that nothing else is of importance. I have lived most of my life in New South Wales, but I think that members of this Parliament should be moved by the Federal spirit, and, therefore, although I am now a representative of a Queensland constituency, I shall not have much to say about my State until I wish to bring its wants or grievances before honorable members. The present occasion seems to be regarded as opportune by many honorable members for the ventilation of grievances and for the reiteration of their electioneering and hustings speeches, in order to secure their publication in the Commonwealth Hansard; but, after it all, we are not very far forward, most of those who have spoken having come out of the hole at which they went in. In my opinion, when no amendment is moved upon a formal motion such as that for the adoption of the Address in Reply to the Governor-General's Speech, it should be sufficient for the leaders of parties to speak on behalf of those whom they represent, and for the House then to proceed with the business of the country. If that had been done on this occasion, we should have saved some thousands of pounds, and the people would be all the better off. I have not been out of the chamber for more than ten minutes altogether since Parliament met, and have listened to all the speeches which have been made during this debate; but the only statesmanlike and Federal utterance which I have heard was that of the right honorable' member for Adelaide. The right honorable member is ready even to agree to the choosing of the site of the Federal Capital at once.

Mr Crouch - Does not the honorable member support Bombala?

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - I shall not say now. I have not yet had the pleasure of making a picnicking excursion to the various sites. I think, however, that the question should have been settled long ago. I am ready to vote for the choosing of a site in New South Wales. I know the three prin-. cipal sites proposed fairly well, and no doubt the State of New South Wales is entitled to have the matter definitely dealt with. The members of the Opposition have said all the nasty things they can about the Government and about Mr. Chamberlain, and some of them have gone so far as to play the school-master by lecturing the members of the Labour Party. After all their gas, I should like to know what they would do if they were in power. They know that if they occupied the Ministerial benches they would be in no better position than is the present Government. They would have to depend upon the Labour Party for their support, because it would be impossible for any Administration to carry on without it.

Mr Hutchison - Would our consciences stretch so far as to allow us to support the Opposition ?

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - I cannot say. That is a matter which we should have to decide in caucus. Thereis no doubt, however, that they would require our support if they wished to keep in power, unless, of course, they could marry the present Ministerial party. It has been sa'd that at the last elections the members of the Labour Party were supported by the Government. I give that statement an emphatic denial. In my electorate, one of the candidates, was a member of the National Liberal Union, and because he was not chosen as the representative of the party, he drew up a programme of his own, and called himself a Deakinite. His secretary, whose remuneration depended upon the success of the candidate, wired to the Prime Minister, asking him to send up some of his gladiators' to assist him in fighting the labour candidate, who, he said, had " no show," and the Prime Minister sent the Attorney-General. After speaking in my electorate in vain, that honorable and learned gentleman proceeded to Brisbane, and there spoke for two other candidates, both of whom were returned at the bottom of the poll. I do not blame the Attorney-General for that. I mention the circumstance merely to show that the members of the Labour Party were not supported by the Government in several cases which came under my notice, and I know of no case in which they were so supported. I am sorry that the Government are not able to put forward a better scheme for the payment of old-age pensions. Commonwealth provision for old-age pensions is one of the principal planks of the labour platform, and I should like to see something, done towards carrying it into effect. There are many old men and women in the community who, after toiling valiantly for many years, are now, through no fault of their own, reduced to penury. Are they to be left on the road-side of life to starve and die while others pass them by? The Conciliation and Arbitration Bill is a measure from which the Labour Party hope much in the settlement of industrial disputes. I do not know what the Government ultimately intend to do in regard to cbe proposed application of the provisions of that measure to State and Commonwealth public servants, including railway employes ; but, as there has been some talk of a dissolution, I say that the Labour Party cannot be frightened by a threat of that kind. I should' not be afraid to submit myself again to the electors of Capricornia to-morrow. I do not propose to detain the House very much longer, because I really have no grievance to ventilate. I had some cause for complaint arising out of the conditions proposed for the new English mail contract, in connexion with the suggestion that the steamers should be required to call at Brisbane. But the fact that no tenders were received for the mail service has cut the ground from under my feet so far as that is concerned. My feeling is, however, that Queensland does not receive very much consideration. The representatives of New South Wales and Victoria carry on the fight in this House, and honorable members from other States act as allies to one side or the other as occasion may seem to demand. I trust that the business of the country will not be further delayed by the undue prolongation of this debate.

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