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Thursday, 17 March 1904

Mr GIBB (Flinders) - It appears necessary for every honorable member - especially a new member - to say a few words on the question now before the House. I do not propose to detain honorable members long, but I wish to give expression to a few thoughts that have passed through my mind while listening to the debate. The kind attention which has been paid to new members has made me feel somewhat nervous. Although I occupied a seat in the State Parliament of Victoria for a short period, I have not had an opportunity of addressing an assemblage of this kind for some time past, because I have been quietly farming. The events which occurred in the first Federal Parliament induced me to endeavour to secure a seat in this House, and I have done so. I am afraid that the opinion now held with regard to Federation is not so favourable as that entertained before the Union was established, and that the results have not been so satisfactory as was at one time anticipated. I do not think that the Labour Party are altogether responsible for this. Too much has been made of their influence. There has also been great wailing because of the equal strength of the three parties in the House. I maintain that the present Government are responsible for the present position of affairs. They placed their policy before the House, and were not able to carry it through; but did not place the responsibility upon the Opposition, who were able to defeat them. The readiness which they showed to effect compromises led to the present state of parties ; and I am pleased to observe that the Prime Minister has promised to turn over- a new leaf. I was very pleased to hear him say that he wasdetermined to put his policy clearly beforethe House and to go straight on. I hope that going "straight on" will mean that he will not deviate too much to the right or to the left, or in the direction of the Labour Party. I trust that he will go straight on, and that if that course necessitates his resigning office he will do so, and let parties settle down to their proper positions. The Government brought forward an extremely protectionist Tariff, upon which they were defeated over and over again. The Tariff was torn to pieces by members of the Opposition, assisted in some cases by the Labour Party, and the Government should, under these circumstances, have thrown the whole responsibilitv upon the Opposition, and have given them an opportunity to introduce something more in keeping with the desires of the House. The whole of the legislation passed has been in the nature cif a compromise. I do not blame the Labour Party for securing all they could. Their declared object is to push forward their policy by every means in their power. They have been instrumental in passing legislation which, I think, has proved detrimental to the Commonwealth, and is still proving so, but, from their own point of view, they were quite justified in getting all they could. The Ministry which allowed this to be done, and not the Labour Party, are to blame. I do not propose to detain honorable members long, after having listened to the flood of talk with which the House has been deluged. It may be good policy on the part of the Government to open the safety-valve and let the surplus steam escape before settling down to practical work. I am rather disappointed with some of my friends on this side of the House. I was delighted with the speech which was delivered by the leader of the Opposition. He frankly admitted that he had appealed to the country upon the fiscal issue, and had been defeated, and that he accepted the decision of the electors. So far as he was concerned, therefore, the fiscal issue was to be laid aside during the currency of this Parliament. He is a leader of our party, and I think that it was our duty to follow his leadership. The speech next in ability made during the debate was that which was contributed by the honorable and learned member for Parkes. It was practically a motion of want of confidence in the Government, and the Address has been debated ever since upon those lines. It may have been good policy to endeavour to weaken the Government, but, seeing that the Prime Minister has attempted to bring about a coalition of parties for the benefit of the Commonwealth, and has failed, I shall be very pleased if he will go straight on with the Government programme.

Mr Conroy - To destruction.

Mr GIBB - I do not know where he is going, nor does any one else. We are informed that the very first measure which is to be introduced is the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. To a certain extent I think the Government are to blame for having put up Minister after Minister to de fend their policy and administration, and thus to prolong this debate. Concerning the suggested amendment to bring the States civil servants under the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, I intend to support the Government. . I represent one of the largest farming districts in Victoria, and I stated on the hustings that if the Ministry attempted to include the farmers and producers of the Commonwealth within the provisions of that measure, I should do all that I possibly could to oppose them. So far we have never experienced any trouble with the farm labourers of this country. Our agriculturists and their employes have always got on very well without the application of any system of compulsory arbitration. I say unhesitatingly that if the Ministry apply the provisions of that Bill to the farmers of this country, they will absolutely destroy the agricultural industry. I haye also -the honour to represent the coal-fields of Victoria. I am sure that if honorable members were aware of the position of affairs which obtains there at the present time, they would do all that they possibly could to secure industrial peace. But whilst I am anxious to prevent strikes, I shall never support an attempt on the part of any Ministry to interfere with the farming community, thereby imperilling the very best industry that we have in the Commonwealth. I do not propose to traverse all the items which are contained in the viceregal speech. I am of. opinion that we ought to get down to practical business without further delay. We have already wasted much valuable time in the discussion of trivial matters, when more important subjects await our consideration. We have occupied a long period in debating such small questions as the selection of the Federal Capital site, and the employment of lascars upon our mail steamers, whilst great subjects, such as the conversion of the States loans have been relegated to the background. The Treasurer deserves the thanks of the entire Commonwealth for the able manner in which he placed that matter before the Treasurers' Conference, and I am satisfied that much good will result from his efforts. The sooner the problem is satisfactorily disposed of, the better will it be for the whole of Australia. As far as the selection of the Capital site is concerned, I left no doubt about my attitude upon that question during the recent elections. The opinion in my constituency is that Victoria has no desire whatever to break faith with New South Wales. The electors, however, object to the expenditure of millions of money in establishing a Federal Capital, when there is no necessity whatever for it. Personally, I believe that the people of Victoria would welcome an amendment of the Constitution to permit of the seat of Government being located in Sydney.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would cost six times as much money to establish the capital there as it would to locate it anywhere else. *

Mr GIBB - There is no necessity to build a Federal Capital at all. Why could not arrangements be made in Sydney similar to those which obtain here? I regret to say that that is not the worst feature in connexion with this proposal. I need scarcely remind honorable members that the leader of the Opposition attended the opening of this Parliament and made a big speech. He then disappeared, and has not since been seen in this House. The honorable and learned member for Parkes has done precisely the same thing. If we establish the Federal Capital at Bombala or Tumut, we cannot expect able professional men to devote their time exclusively to politics.

Mr Cameron - That is rather a reflection upon the rest of honorable members.

Mr GIBB - It may be a reflection upon the Victorian representatives; but those from Tasmania, Western Australia, and Queensland must necessarily be absent from their respective States under any circumstances. We .require a few able' lawyers in this House ; although I fear that at the present time we have too many. We do want some one to represent the farming and producing classes of this country, as we also require some representatives of labour in this House.

Mr Cameron - But not too many of them.

Mr GIBB - I repeat that rather than vote for a huge expenditure to establish a. Federal Capital, I would support a proposal to transfer the seat of government to Sydney. Of course, it is only natural that the representatives of the different States should have a special list of grievances to air. I have listened patiently to a recital of them. So far, however, I have been able to acquire no information which would warrant me in believing that the construction of the projected transcontinental railway would be likely to prove remunerative. When the Federal Treasurer suggested that the Com monwealth should take over the railway revenues of the different States, in order that he might be in a position to meet the interest upon the States debts, I was certainly in agreement with him. Indeed, in my judgment we shall never have a true Federation of Australia until the Commonwealth 'is charged with the entire management of the railway systems of this Continent. I am afraid, however, that it will be many years before the proposed transcontinental railway would pay even working expenses. If the Minister for Home Affairs can assure us that there is a considerable area of good land which would be developed by that railway, of course the aspect of affairs would undergo a complete change. But, from what I can gather, it would be simply a desert railway. It would merely connect Perth and Adelaide, and it would not develop any country worth developing between those two cities. I am satisfied that the Commonwealth could manage the railway systems of the different States much more efficiently than they are being managed at the present time. We shall never secure the consolidation of our States debts until we acquire complete control of those railways. We have had a debate upon what was practically a want of confidence motion. The speech of the honorable and learned member for Parkes constituted one of the most severe indictments which I have ever heard delivered in any Parliament. The Tariff has also been discussed again and again. I trust that the Government will submit their measures to the House, and definitely declare their policy in regard to them. If they are defeated, they should give members of the Opposition an opportunity to do something better. I was rather surprised to hear the honorable member for Southern Melbourne express a hope that the Government would compromise upon the proposal to bring States .civil servants within the scope of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. If Ministers suffer defeat upon an attempt to apply the provisions of that measure to our farmers, I trust that they, will regard it as vital to their existence. I should be only too delighted to go to the country upon that question.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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