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Wednesday, 13 April 1904

Mr EWING (Richmond) - The only question under consideration to-night has reference to the main ' principles underlying this measure. The point to be decided first is whether honorable members believe in the parliamentary method of reform, or in what has been termed the arbitrament of blue metal. The next question is whether the public servants of the States ought to be brought under this .measure. Although I have listened with a great deal of attention, and with some educational result, to the speeches of the honorable member for North Sydney, and the honorable member for Wentworth, I do not think that there is any need to enter into a dissertation on the details of the Bill. There are two main points.- The first is whether we believe that our knowledge of history and our experience with regard to the upward tendency and progress of nations entitles us to consider that it is better for a community to deal with its industrial troubles, or to leave the people to find their own way out of their difficulties. The next question is how far legislation of this kind should go. I am prepared to acknowledge, "with the honorable member for North Sydney and the honorable member for Wentworth, that we should approach the consideration of this matter with a considerable amount of diffidence, and with a caution amounting almost to temerity. But we should also approach it in a spirit pf hopefulness. We *are especially hopeful in regard to this Bill, because a man possessed of any humane feeling would take all the risk that might be involved in passing legslation of this kind, if he believed that it was possible to do any good in this way. I agree with the member for North Sydney that we should approach the question with caution, for if our experience of history and of Governments brings us to any conclusion, it is that in the evolution of every community the best work done by one Parliament may include the destruction of the work of a past Legislature. Even the best laws evolved by Parliament, supported by our more advanced knowledge, and the honest belief of -every honorable member must, in the course of a few decades, become obsolete. There may be, in years to come, evidence of the stupidity, barbarism, or unwisdom of those who. passed them; and the feeling that what we may describe as the vagaries of the human family causes legislation sometimes to be attended with results different from those expected must make us cautious. How frequently do we find, on looking back as. far as we are able - and it may not be very far - that the laws made by Parliaments for the protection of life, property, and trade, have absolutely failed. Passing from this aspect of the case, I therefore grant at once that every honorable member who approaches the consideration of this measure with caution, apprehension, and doubt is possibly on very sound ground. But our experience causes us to press onward. Judging from the views expressed by the last two speakers, some honorable members appear to have the idea that we are living in what is really a dreadful century ; that the troubles which beset us in Australia are graver than any which have beset any other nation. That idea can be the outcome of only thoughtlessness or ignorance. There never was a community that did not possess as great or greater troubles than those which to-day beset Australia. I make that assertion with a knowledge of the difficulties which surround us, with a knowledge of the apprehensions and tumult which disturb the minds of many people with regard to government. Australia is to-day in a more wholesome and solid position, not only with regard to social reform, but in relation to most political matters, than was ever any other community in the history of the world. Entertaining that feeling, let me give honorable members an illustration of the present position. If for example, an honorable member who is an inexperienced father heard his boy complain of pains in the limbs, he would no doubt be anxious about the lad. But a man who is familiar with the cause of the trouble knows that the pain is due to the fact that the boy is growing, that his sinews are stretching, and instead of being anxious about these growing pains, he regards them as harbingers of an evolution.; He looks upon them as an indication that the boy is growing. A scientific writer, referring to this subject on one occasion, pointed out that, after all, these tumults, agitations, and difficulties were no more than the growing pains of society. If we view history aright, we must see in strife, in the upward tendencies of the community, in the desire on the part of the people to prosper more and more in the conduct of industries in which labour plays so great and important a part, a sign not of discrepitude, but of virility, which should give any reasonable man great hope of the future. I do not desire to go into any details, but only to deal with' those broad principles which must appeal to all men, and which lie close to the root of national reform. Without these principles all methods of Parliamentary reform are useless ; without them measures of this kind are purely experimental. The honorable member for North' Sydney, when thinking over the apprehension that he feels with regard to the difficulties which beset this community, should cast his eyes to a country in which there are no strikes or industrial troubles. Let him look at China.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are many strikes in China.

Mr EWING - Now and again a revolt of Boxers occurs there, and gives rise to trouble. But we know that the Chinaman is satisfied to end his life as he began it. He is satisfied to have the same environment in which his father lived. He has no hope of advancement, no hope of any great national purpose to be achieved, and lives simply a dull, material life. China is in a state of what I have previously described as national hibernation. She is in a condition of national, mental, physical, political, and ethical hibernation. I do not desire to enter into a discussion of the fiscal issue, although we all know that honorable members opposite at once become alert when the question of cheap labour is brought forward. In China, the people have no hope of advancement, and there there are no strikes, no trouble.

Mr Tudor - What about the strike of Chinese cabinet-makers in Little Bourke street ?

Mr EWING - No doubt they have become Australianized ; but, generally speaking, honorable members know that if we turn to a nation undergoing a long winter of intellectual stupor, we find that it has no strikes or difficulties of that kind. Therefore, instead of regarding the ordinary growing pains of society as a serious matter, we should look upon them as indications of better times. The honorable member for Wentworth and the honorable member for North Sydneiy do not desire arbitration. They believe it to be a bad principle. One hundred years ago another nation considered that any interference with the affairs of the people was wrong. I refer to France, and I should like honorable members to bear with me for a moment or two while I speak of that class of thought which dominates the honorable members to whom reference has been made. It nominated France towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the upper classes, socalled, or the second class, as described by an honorable member here, controlled the country. This is a matter which absolutely deals with the point at issue. It is a question of parliamentary reform, or the survival of the fittest.

Mr Kelly - The principle of arbitration was enacted in France by the greatest tyrant she ever had.

Mr Deakin - After the Revolution.

Mr EWING - If the honorable member had lived in _F ranee in those days - and I am glad that" he did not, for in that event we should not have him here - he would have thought, had he belonged to one of the classes, that the masses ha'd no rights at all.

Mr Kelly - On the contrary, I think that the masses have political and individual rights.

Mr EWING - I do not understand exactly what the honorable member means ; but I know that the opposition to the principle of conciliation and arbitration, and to the legislation of the great democratic platform generally is based upon the principle of free will and the survival of the fittest. Those are the two forces which stand in practical antagonism to the parliamentary method of reform.

Mr Kelly - The question of individualism has nothing to do with the question of the artistocracy in France.

Mr EWING - I shall show the honorable member that it has something to do with it. If I were to ask him when the Reign of Terror occurred in France he would say that it was during the time when they carried the " fairest born of the people " on tumbrils to the guillotine and when the streets ran blood. But the real Reign of Terror was not then. It had existed for hundreds of years before. It existed when there was a class living in its battlemented towers, while the people crouched in hovels outside their gates; wh'en neither honour of woman, the results of industry, the labour of the community, nor wealth was safe. That was the real Reign of Terror in France.

Mr Kelly - Is the honorable member likening that period to the condition of affairs in Australia to-day ?

Mr EWING - I am not. I am simply endeavouring to explain that we should be influenced by the methods of the past. To go a little more fully into this question of the French, to which the honorable member for Wentworth has pinned me, although when I referred to it, I had no desire to go into details, I would ask him why did the Reign of Terror which cast such a lurid glare over the pages of history occur ? The answer is, that it was largely due to the absence of any measures of this kind to deal with conflicts between the classes. The embankments were kept too high, there were no sluice gates through which public opinion might pass, and the result was that the great masses of the French people burst through the barriers. Then followed what the honorable member has erroneously termed the Reign of Terror. The incident referred to must surely teach the people that it is better to have parliamentary methods of reform or unredressed grievances than to perpetuate quarrels between individuals. It is better that the people, through Parliament, should gradually bring into existence a Better state of things than that those who are down should be forced to fight for better, conditions, merely because there is no alternative. .1 have, in this Chamber, before referred to the example furnished by English history of the results which have followed the obtaining of reasonable control by the mass of the people. A few centuries ago, when the barons held sway, a nobleman could not cross the drawbridge which spanned his moat until he had cased himself in armour, and had gathered his retainers around him ; and even then he could *not go half-a-mile beyond his boundaries without the risk of being destroyed by some other nobleman who was similarly situated, so that few of them lived out half their days. If any one had entered the castle of such a person, and had told him that the time would come when the serfs without his gates would aid in governing England, when the nobleman would be wealthier and safer, so that he could go from end to end of the kingdom without let or hindrance, that person would either have been relegated to the dungeon, or laughed out of the hall. Honorable members should remember that we are now dealing with the question of how best to control industrial management by the people through Parliament. What is the alternative? The alternative is might. The alternative is war. Might and war have existed for centuries,, and what has been the result? Honorable members who smile at my statements cannot deny the basic facts from which a reasonable man argues. They are the facts which underlie the agitation of the party sitting in the horseshoe bend, and of every man who is entitled to be regarded as progressive. Governing this subject is the one salient question - are we to have revolution by war or revolution by constitutional government ? The reference to the French Revolution naturally turns the mind to the English Revolution. ' When the English people wanted a revolution, what did they do?

Mr Higgins - They cut off the King's head.

Mr EWING - The execution of Charles I. is not what is known as the English Revolution. That revolution took place when the people of England allowed their King to abscond, and sent over the water for a Prince, who had married his daughter.

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