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Wednesday, 20 April 1904

The CHAIRMAN - During the last ten minutes I have repeatedly called for order, and requested honorable members not to interject. If honorable members continue to interject, I shall ask the leader of the House to assist me in keeping order.

Sir JOHN FORREST - It has not been shown that: had a law of this kind been in existence the railway servants of Victoria could have taken advantage of it, so that the alleged improper order might have been dealt with by the Court. We know, however, that the Bill applies only to disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State, so that, according to the Constitution, a law of the kind would have been of no use whatever in the case of the Victorian railway strike. The leader of the Opposition has said that even in his imagination he cannot find any case, except that of the shearers and that of the seamen, to which the Bill could be applied. What is the use of carrying a law, and creating annoyance and friction in the States, if the law is not going to be effective? Is theamendment of such importance that all the provisions of the Bill which are alleged to be so beneficent - such, for instance, as those which provide for the shearers, and, with their corollary, the Navigation Bill, for the seamen - should be destroyed - destroyed for an amendment which no one has yet been able to show could have been applied in any case which has yet arisen ? It is impossible for any of us to look into the future. The Labour Party have the ball at their feet now, with the chance Of passing these two Bills, as introduced by the Prime Minister. If the present chance be thrown away no one can tell when these 'Bills will be passed; yet there is a willingness to throw all away in order to carry out the Quixotic idea contained in the amendment. There is. a willingness to sacrifice not only the seamen and shearers, but also the Prime Minister, who is said to be so esteemed by the Labour Party. If the Bill is so urgently needed, if it is so beneficent in its objects, as I believe it is, what does common-sense say to me, to honorable members opposite, and to the Labour Party? Common-sense says that if the Labour Party are really in earnest, if they do not prefer political trouble to a beneficent law, their course is to get the measure passed in a shape in which it can be passed, and, later on, if they want anything more, to get that too if they can. Surely that is common-sense, but - apparently out of " pure cussedness " - they are willing to sacrifice the whole lot, like the dog which grasped at the shadow, and lost the substance. That is not business. It is not common-sense. This action does not seem to me to be that of men who are really in earnest, and want this Bill passed. They do not seem to care twopence about the seamen and the shearers. They seem to desire something which we will not give them, and which, when it has been obtained, will be of no use to them. They cannot deny the premises which I have placed before them. All that they really want to provide in the Bill is that it shall apply to those disputes which overflow from one State to another, such as a seamen's strike or a shearers' strike. I cannot think of any other disputes, but if there had been any, they would no doubt have occurred to the minds of the members of the Labour Party. They can get all that they want from the Bill which the Prime Minister has introduced, but still they want something more. They want that which we say is unconstitutional, that which we say should not be given in any case at the present time, even if it were constitutional, and that which will be of no use to them when it is obtained. They cannot mention a single case in. which the proposed power could be used. If they can, why has it not been mentioned to the House? To what cases could it be applied ? They cannot cite one case. The case of the railway strike in Victoria has only to be mentioned to be dismissed from our consideration. It would not apply to a case of that kind. I am therefore justified in saying that the Prime Minister has not been well treated. The Labour Party have said to my honorable, my generous friend - and no more generous man will they ever have to deal with - " Unless we get everything that we want, out you go." Like Shylock in the play, they want the exact pound of flesh. I appeal to honorable members as generous men, as men who are rubbing shoulders with men of the world every day, to say whether that is the way in which to treat those who, to say the least of it, have, not been unmindful of the interests of the Labour Party or of any other section of the House.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does not the Minister wish that he had never done it?

Sir JOHN FORREST - No; I reserve that sort of remorse for the honorable member. It goes without saying that we who have been in public life for so many years are not anxious to promote, or assist in promoting, any division in this House, or any crisis. We wish to continue the work upon which we are engaged, but only with honour. When we are asked to take a course which we think is unconstitutional, and which, if not unconstitutional, is inexpedient-and unnecessary - a course which we think would strike at the very root of the self-governing powers of the States - we cannot consent to be influenced by any personal considerations. I . rejoice that I have as my leader one who has never wavered with regard to his pledges on. this matter. I rejoice that we stand here to-day true to the principles which we enunciated, and to the pledges which we gave; and when the time comes, as it will come perhaps in a few hours, for others to take our places on these benches - feeling, as I do, that the course of conduct which I have followed is not only that laid down by the Constitution, not only that which is in the interest of Australia and of the States, but is in accordance with my own conscience and with what I think is right, I shall, in taking my seat on the Opposition benches, have the satisfaction of feeling that I have tried to do my duty.

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