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Wednesday, 20 April 1904


Sir JOHN FORREST - I fear that honorable members misunderstand me. I shall take great care that any legislation which commands my support comes within the powers conferred upon us by the Constitution. I regret that the honorable and learned member for West Sydney is absent from the Chamber, because I wish to refer to some statements which he made last evening. I am a Scotchman, and I believe in the motto of the Order of the Thistle. " Nemo mcimpune lacessit." If a man hits me I am inclined to hit back if I can. The honorable and learned member took it upon himself very unnecessarily to make disparaging observations concerning the representation of Western Australia at the Federal Convention. He endeavoured to make it appear that that State was represented by ten delegates who were elected by a small number of voters. I desire to tell him that they were elected by the members of the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council sitting together. I would point out that the very mode of election which was adopted in the case of delegates to the Convention in 1891 was that followed by Western Australia in 1:897. But there is a higher example than that. That example is afforded by the United States Senate, which even to-day is elected in the same way.


Mr Fisher - A very paltry way.


Sir JOHN FORREST - It comes with ill grace from the honorable member for Wide Bay to say that of probably the most august legislative body in the world.


Mr Fisher - I say that it is a paltry way to elect representatives.


Sir JOHN FORREST - As the statement emanates from the honorable member, I suppose it must be right, and that the American people must be wrong.


Mr Fisher - If the American people could change the mode of election to the Senate they would quickly do so.


Sir JOHN FORREST - lt appears to me that some Australians are a good deal too big for their boots. I wish, briefly, to refer to the delegates who represented Western Australia at the Federal Convention. If it were not rude to do so, I should like to compare them with honorable members of this House, or of the other Chamber.


Mr Crouch - Don't.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable and learned member for West Sydney has thought fit to make disparaging remarks concerning those delegates. In my judgment, however, they were in no way inferior to himself, either in learning or experience. They comprised Dr. Hackett, one of the most able and learned men in Australia; the late Mr. Leake, a Q.C., who afterwards became Premier of Western Australia, and who was a prominent public man for many years ; Mr. James, the present Premier, who does credit to Australia ; the late Sir James Lee Steere, for many years Speaker of the Western Australian Legislative Assembly, of whom no one will speak but with honour ; and others including my humble self. I regret that the honorable and learned member, in his little self-satisfied, bombastic way, endeavoured to cast ridicule upon the Western Australian delegation at the Convention.


Mr Hughes - I merely attempted to show what was perfectly true, namely, that neither the right honorable gentleman nor the other representatives were elected by a majority of the people of that State.


Sir JOHN FORREST - They were elected bv the same process as that by which the United States Senate is elected to this day.


Mr Hughes - What of that?


Sir JOHN FORREST - Let me return to the subject which I was discussing when I was led away by interjections. It is generally admitted that the Victorian railway strike is the parent of the amendment introduced by the honorable member for Wide Bay.


Mr Fisher - No, no.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member denies my statement ; but that is the opinion which I entertain, and which has been expressed by several other honorable members. In dealing with this question ' I have no desire to be personal. On the contrary, I wish to be on good terms with every one in this House as well as out of it ; but I hold the view that the Victorian railway strike is the parent of the amendment, which would probably not have been thought of but for that unfortunate occurrence. Many opinions have been expressed upon that strike, and upon the attitude taken up in reference to it by the State Government, but I think it is foreign to our duty to give utterance to such opinions, and that no good purpose can be served by doing so. While I may hold certain opinions in regard to the strike, it is unnecessary for me on this occasion to give expression to them. I will say, however, that I considered that the strike was a very regrettable occurrence. That was the view which honorable members generally took of it ; but I have such confidence in the self-governing powers of the State, and in the fairness of the people, that I feel assured that they have no desire to inflict any wrong upon any one. When persons have complained to me that a Government of which I happened to be the leader had acted unfairly I have invariably answered, "Governments never act unfairly ; they never intentionally do wrong." The desire of a Government is to do that which is right, and to assist their fellow colonists by dealing fairly with any question which comes before them. I have faith in the capacity of the people of Victoria to do what is right in the customary constitutional manner. The people of Victoria can manage their own internal affairs, and will mete out justice to all their public servants without the assistance of the Commonwealth Parliament. We must remember that, although we have been returned to this House from all parts of Australia, all knowledge is not possessed by us. Are we likely to be more evenminded and more liberally disposed than are the people of Victoria, so far as the management of public affairs is concerned, merely because we come from Western Australia or Queensland? Governments may unintentionally do wrong, but I have always asserted that the people themselves are the safety valve, and will very quickly compel them to do right.


Mr Fisher - Provided that they have representation.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I think that every one in Victoria has a vote.


Mr McDonald - That is not the case, although some persons have two votes.


Sir JOHN FORREST - It is a serious course to urge that we ought to interfere with the self-governing powers of the people of this State. If we intend to do so we should make the necessary provision in the Constitution, and declare that we are determined to have a voice in the framing of the Constitutions of the States. At present they are self-governing, and, with the exception of the powers which have been conferred upon us by the Constitution, have complete control of their own affairs. I contend that this amendment is not within the competence of the Federal Parliament. It seems to me that the Trades Hall or the railway servants of Victoria, who are urging the extension of this Bill to the public servants of the States far more vehemently than are the servants of any other State, have lost confidence in the people of their own State.


Mr Ronald - They have lost their votes.


Sir JOHN FORREST - They have the right to vote.


Mr Ronald - But they have special representation.


Sir JOHN FORREST - That is a matter with which we have nothing to do. It relates solely to the self-governing powers of the State. Victoria is an autonomous State-


Mr Ronald - But the State Parliament has taken away the voting power which the civil servants formerly enjoyed, and has provided that they shall have special representation.


Sir JOHN FORREST - If the State Parliament has the power it is open to them to take that action. It seems to me that those who are clamouring in Victoria for this amendment of the Bill have lost confidence in their own State Parliament - the Parliament elected by themselves under a free franchise.


Mr McDonald - No.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The Parliament of the State is elected by the people, and it is idle for honorable members to say that the State Constitution should be framed according to their notion of what is right. It must be framed in accordance with the wishes of the people of the State itself. The honorable member for Darling said last night. " We hear a great deal about States rights ; let us hear something about Commonwealth rights," while the honorable member for Wide Bay spoke about petty Parliaments and petty Ministries.


Mr Fisher - I spoke of the littleness of Parliaments.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The States Parliaments are as independent within their own sphere as is the Parliament of the Commonwealth, and it is improper to use opprobrious terms in regard to them. It seems to me that Victoria, which has been in the lead for fifty years so fan as liberal legislation is concerned-


Mr Higgins - Has gone back.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Apparently those who have so long held power in this State have not the same power now, and have now discovered that the position of affairs is not what it ought to be, and ate anxious to secure the assistance of those who know nothing about the matter. Let Victoria look after herself, and let us keep within our own powers rather than seek to interfere with States matters. We have arrived at a remarkable state of affairs when servants of this State, who have been in its employ for many years, are no longer content to live under the State laws, and wish the people of other parts of the Commonwealth to rescue them from what they term the injustice of the Parliament elected by the people of the State itself. That is the way in which the question presents itself to my mind. I believe that there is no injustice existing in any State of the Commonwealth which the people of that State are not only prepared, but anxious, to rectify. State servants have been represented as an oppressed people; but, from an experience of the Public Service extending over forty years, I can say that for every one vacancy that occurs in the service there are numerous applicants. The Public Service is the cream of employment in Australia.


Mr Fisher - The same remark applies to membership of Parliament.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Apparently it must be considered to be a very good thing to be a member of Parliament, or there would not be so many seeking election. If it were not a good thing the honorable member for Southern Melbourne would not have given up his church in order to occupy a seat in this House.


Mr Ronald - Did the right honorable member give up anything in order to become a member of this Chamber?


Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes; the Premiership and my seat in the Parliament of Western Australia. I am wholly in accord with the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, who contends that if the amendment be passed it will put an end to the autonomy of the States. I do not mean to suggest that that would be the immediate result of the passing of the amendment ; but I contend that it is altogether opposed to the theory of the Constitution. It might stand on the statutebook for many years without doing any harm ; but the fact would nevertheless remain that the foundations of the States Constitutions had been undermined, and that to a certain extent, at all events, the self-government of the States was at an end. Some members of the Labour Party may look upon that as desirable; but i't is no part of the Federal compact. We undertook to exercise only those powers that were given to us by the people, and I feel satisfied that the States never intended that the section in the Constitution enabling us to deal with conciliation and arbitration should give us power' to pass such an amendment as this. Even the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne did noi imagine that it would. I now desire to deal briefly with the question of the expediency of doing what is now proposed. In these early days of the Commonwealth it is undesirable, even if we have this power, that we should exercise it to the full. One does not exercise every power that he possesses. I might, for example, have complete control over an estate, and decide to break it up, and by so doing cause injury and loss to the people living upon it; but instead of doing that, I might say. " I will go gently, for nothing can take away from me the power that I possess." I disagree with the opinion expressed by the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne that we may be held to have waived one of our rights if we do not exercise them to the full. If we have the right it must remain with us.


Mr Higgins - As a practical leader of Governments the- right honorable gentleman must know that, if we did not exercise the right in question, it would make it much more difficult than it is now to bring in a Bill of this sort.


Mr Deakin - .No.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not think it would. The view which I take of proposed laws is that a measure should not be introduced to Parliament unless it is required.


Mr Higgins - Of course.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes ; but it is a very common thing for laws to be proposed before they are wanted. Such laws often fill up long spaces in Governors' speeches. I, on many occasions in Western Australia, resisted the introduction of laws which I was not opposed to but which I thought were not then required.. For instance, some people wished for a measure to impose a minimum wage, but mv reply was, that so long as men were being paid 8s., ios., 14s., or £t a day, I saw no neces sity for such a law. Its introduction at that time might have encouraged employers who were paying higher wages to reduce them to the minimum. Unless laws are required, they are worse than useless; they are mischievous. Does the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne contend that, if to-day, in regard to conciliation and arbitration, we exercise as many of our constitutional powers as we think ought to be exercised at this juncture, we shall be prevented from exercising the remainder of them at some future time? My common-sense tells me that such a contention is wrong. Even a declaration in the Bill that we were exercising the whole of our powers, when we were exercising less than the whole, would not prevent a subsequent exercise of the remainder. Nothing but the voice of the people, as provided by the Constitution, can take away power already given. Therefore. I do not agree with the honorable and learned member, that we can be injured by any inference drawn from the exercise by us of a part of our powers. I am of opinion that, if the amendment became law, it would be mischievous, and would cause friction between the Commonwealth and the Governments of the States. The States would resent being bound by it, and trouble, and even worse, might result. I am not one of those who wish to take away powers from the States. I would not take from them any power, unless its exercise by the Commonwealth was necessary to secure the absolute good of the people of Australia. I would neither annoy them by pin pricks, by the taking away of one small power after another, nor by taking over at once every power that the Constitution has given to us; I would take only such powers as were required to be exercised in the interests of the Commonwealth. I wish to do nothing which would infer that the Governments of the States are in any way subservient or inferior to that of the Commonwealth, or that they have sustained any loss of power other than that expressly surrendered by them. I would rather let them be the aggressors. It was the policy of the late Prime Minister, as it is that of the honorable and learned gentleman now at the head of the Government, never to be the aggressor in the case of any friction between the States and the Commonwealth, if it could be avoided. Both those honorable and learned gentlemen believe that as time goes on the Federal spirit will grow, and the dissatisfaction of these early clays will gradually melt away. That is statesmanship which I am sure will bear good fruit. But- if we at once assume all our powers, whether we want them or not, and if we attempt to take from them the control of their servants, I fear what the result may be. I know how I should have felt if, when I was Premier of Western Australia, such a thing had been attempted. I should have resisted it to the utmost - by every constitutional means at my command: I should have considered what is now proposed by the Labour Party a great wrong, and a breach of faith to the States ; and that is how I believe the people of the States will now view it. Until last year the idea never entered the mind of any one that the exercise of a power in this direction would ever be proposed, much less that the proposal would cause the retirement of the Government. But even if we have the power - which I deny - I would regard its exercise as inexpedient at the present time. I come now to the last portion of my address, which I shall devote to a consideration of the necessity for the amendment. If my friends of the Labour Party succeed to the Treasury benches, I hope I shall not be an ungenerous opponent, and that the good fellowship which has existed between us and them will continue. I hope that it may be said of us all in the future that we never let our public controversies interfere with our private friendships. I make these remarks because I have some hard things to say. In the first place, I think that the members of the Labour Party have not treated the Government and the Prime Minister well.


Mr Fisher - We have tried to do so.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not know what could be done to the Prime Minister to make him act ungenerously or unkindly.


Mr Fisher - He is a gentleman in word and deed.


Sir JOHN FORREST - He seems to me to be willing to help those who are attacking him. That is not my way. I attack those who attack me. The words of the members of the Labour Party do not coincide with their acts. They are fair spoken and full of good sentiments, and seem to overflow with goodfellowship. But their caucus is their master. I said to a friend of mine, whom I see in this chamber now - "You are a good man, and I am a friend of yours. I should like very much to help to secure your re-election, because I believe that you are fit to represent your electoral division in the Commonwealth; but the trouble is that as a member of the Labour Party you are bound by the caucus. You may urge your own views to the utmost. But when the mandate of the majority has gone forth, you must bow your head as the Emperor Henry IV. bowed his before Pope Gregory VII. at Canossa."


Mr Webster - Is not the right honorable gentleman bound by the decisions of the Cabinet?


Sir JOHN FORREST - I can leave the Cabinet directly I find myself at variance with its members, and yet retain my seat in this House ; but a member of the Labour Partv who votes against the caucus on a matter included in the platform of the party must resign his seat.


Mr Fisher - The right honorable member is positively wrong.'


Sir JOHN FORREST - A member of the Labour Party who voted against the caucus would have to resign his seat, or he could not again hold up his head among his fellows, he having pledged himself as a member of the party to be bound by the caucus.


Mr Ronald - The members of the Labour Party are as free as is the right honorable member.


Sir JOHN FORREST - No; they have pledged themselves. They have to sign a certain pledge before they even go before their constituents for election.


Mr Fisher - That is not so.


Sir JOHN FORREST - When they present themselves for election they undertake to conform to the platform of the party or resign. When the first Parliament met it was apparent to all that the Government could . carry on only with the assistance of the Labour Party, or of the members of the Opposition. We know what happened. The Opposition moved a vote of want of confidence in the Government. But the members of the Labour Party gave us a general support.


Mr McDonald - No; the party was divided upon that occasion.


Sir JOHN FORREST - On several occasions the Government could not have carried on without the assistance of the Labour Party, while, on other occasions we could not have carried on without the assistance of the members of the Opposition.


Mr McDonald - When the direct exclusion of undesirable aliens was proposed, the Government was saved bv the Opposition.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes; and again, in connexion with the Naval Agreement. On that occasion the caucus was brought into requisition, although it was not a specified item of the platform of the Labour Party, and every member of the Labour Party voted against the Government. Without the controlling power of the caucus, some twenty-five members of Parliament would never have been got to vote together, which proves my contention as to its power and domination. It would be a good thing for the Government if our supporters were bound by a caucus decision. I would put the screw on a few of them in the impending division. I acknowledge that the members of the Labour Party have assisted the Government on several occasions, and we have assisted them so far as we could, consistentl y with our duty to the people, and in harmony with our convictions.


Mr McDonald - The same thing might be said of the members of the Labour Party.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The members of the Labour Party wanted certain measures very badly, and we did our 'best, consistently with our duty to the country, to give them those measures.


Mr McDonald - The Government believed in them.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes, though I do not think that a generous remark. I remember a poor newspaper writer, who fought a newspaper battle for a certain important person, and gained a victory, or, at any rate, was of great assistance in bringing it about. When the poor fellow went to the person whom he had assisted, and said, " I wrote all those leading articles, and fought hard for you, and you are now out of the wood. I am very hard up; can you help me?" the person for whom he had done all this work turned round upon him and said, " I trust that in all you did, you did what you thought was right." That incident reminds me of the attitude of my honorable friend, who says, " I hope that you did it only because you thought it was right to assist us." Ido not think that is a generous remark. There is an inclination on the part of every good man to help those who help him. 'There is no doubt that the Labour Party and the Government have worked together to a large extent, and there is no doubt that the Government have been very much blamed in consequence. We have had to put up with reproaches from one end of Australia to the other, and in Western Australia a good deal of blame has been placed upon my shoulders on the same account.


Mr Higgins - In Bunbury ?


Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes, at Bunbury, a far better place than that from which the honorable and learned member came. It has been said that we have assisted the Labour Party too much, that in fact, we have, been dragged along at their heels. I deny that. We have been improperly blamed, but that does not alter the fact to which I am about to refer. Every honorable member belonging to the Labour Partywill acknowledge that it has been said that the Government have helped them in passing the measures which they desired, that in fact it has been said that we have been almost tools in their hands.


Mr Fisher - We did not desire that.


Sir JOHN FORREST - So far as my experience guides me, the policy of the Labour Party has been - and I say it with very great regret - to take everything they could get, and to give very little back in return.


Mr McDonald - Did they ever try to squeeze the Minister ?


Sir JOHN FORREST - I believe that they would squeeze anybody if they could, and I do not blame them. I would do the same myself in an open and proper manner. The Labour Party would do the same.


Mr McDonald - Did the Labour Party ever attempt to squeeze the Government ?


Sir JOHN FORREST - I have not occupied the position of Prime Minister, and I am not going to answer for my leader; but I think that the Labour Party have urged for the utmost consideration on many occasions.


Mr Deakin - Not in my time.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not say it offensively; but I contend that the Labour Party have tried to get everything they could in the direction of carrying out their policy.


Mr McDonald - Did they ever try to bring any pressure to bear upon the Government at any time?


Sir JOHN FORREST - Well, we put certain measures in the forefront of our programme. Are the Arbitration Bill and the Navigation Bill of such great urgency that the people are languishing and longing for them? If not, why were they placed in such a prominent position ? Because we believed that they were beneficent measures and would assist those who were helping us. Notwithstanding all this, the Labour Party, for which we have done a good deal on several occasions, are determined to defeat us, saying at the same time - "We are terribly sorry over this; we wish that this was not happening; cannot we find any way out of it?"


Mr Fisher - That is ungenerous.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not think so. What did the Labour Party do at the last elections? They did not treat us as well as we treated them. They opposed some of our most trusted supporters. They brought out a candidate against my honorable colleague the Postmaster-General, and they also brought opposition to bear in the case of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who has always supported their policy.


Mr Tudor - Government supporters opposed labour candidates.


Mr Ronald - A Government supporter opposed me.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Not at our suggestion, I think. I know that so far as Western Australia was concerned, although I was assisting two candidates for the Senate, I never said one word against the Labour Party, beyond that I considered that they were not entitled to the whole of the representation in that branch of the Legislature. I never said that as a party they were not entitled to consideration. The honorable member for Fremantle and the honorable member for Perth know very well that, if I had considered it necessary, I might have done a great deal more by way of opposition to the labour candidates. I felt however, that I was in a difficult position. I felt that the Labour Party in this House had often given the Government a good support, although I was not content to allow them to obtain all the seats in the Senate without opposition.


Mr Thomas - They did not run any one against the right honorable gentleman.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I am not speaking about myself. The Labour Party opposed supporters of the Government, such as the member for Melbourne Ports, who never voted against them ; and they showed an utter lack of sympathy with the Government in opposing the PostmasterGeneral. The Labour Party, however considered that they had done so much for the Government that their candidates should not be opposed by us. At the beginning of the session we introduced two Bills, viz., the Arbitration Bill and the Navigation Bill. I do not mean to say that I agreed with all their provisions ; but still I got the best I could in the interests of the State "I represent, and to meet my own views. The measures were introduced at the opening of the session, in fulfilment of a pledge to the country ; and I think there was an understanding with the Labour Party that they should be introduced immediately. The Labour Party were very urgent about these measures, and several times pressed for their introduction. They . were informed by the Prime Minister that the preparation of the Bills was going on as quickly as possible; and in this respect every endeavour was made by the Government to meet the wishes of the Labour Party. As a plea of urgency it was even suggested that there might be a strike amongst the seamen or the shearers if the Arbitration Bill were not immediately passed ; in fact, the Government were urged to lay these two measures on the table as the most momentous in the politics of the Commonwealth, and they were introduced as soon as possible. But what have we been hurrying for, I should like to know? We have been very foolish- we should have taken another month in which to finally settle the Bills now before us. What is the result of our expedition? We have been hurrying to our doom, urged along by the Labour Party, who are now ready to be our executioners. If ever a Government ought to say. " Save us from our friends," surely it is this Government.


Mr Johnson - Gratitude is not their strong point.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not want gratitude, but only fair play.


Mr Wilks - The right honorable gentleman wants votes.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not put the position in that rough way - I want the support of good men. I now desire to submit some questions, the first of which is - have the public servants of the States of Australia urged this measure in their own interest?


Mr Ronald - Yes.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Have the States servants urged this measure all over Australia?


Mr O'malley - Yes.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I want some evidence on that point. I cannot take notice of what people write to one private individual, but I do take notice of the press, and of public meetings in Australia; and I have not found, except on very few occasions indeed, the States public servants demanding, in any way, to be brought under the operation of a Bill of this kind.


Mr Ronald - The States public servants voted for candidates who advocated this measure.


Mr Groom - We have the power to pass such legislation.


Sir JOHN FORREST - I am not ar guing the point with the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, whom I have already told that 1 should oppose a proposal to include States public servants, even if we had the power under the Constitution to include them. I would say, next, that it has not been pointed out to us by any one of the speakers that if a law of the kind were in operation it would be useful or be used. True, there was a maritime strike of 1890 to which such a law might have applied; but as to the last ten years no attempt has been made to show that a law of the kind, if in existence, would have been used or have been useful.


Mr Hutchison - It would have been used in the case of the shearers last year.


Mr Ronald - It would have been resorted to by the Victorian railway men last year.


Sir JOHN FORREST - Would it have been possible to apply a law of the kind in the case of the Victorian railway strike, to which such repeated reference has been made? What was that dispute? The dispute arose over an alleged improper order given in reference to what associations the railway men should belong - the question being whether they should or should not affiliate with the Trades Hall.


Mr Fisher - Or with the Melbourne Club.







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