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Thursday, 21 April 1904


Mr WEBSTER (Gwydir) - I rise to address the Committee on the question at issue, because at the second-reading stage I thought it unnecessary to offer any general remarks, believing . that the matter had gone so far that there was no room for doubt as to the wisdom of the adoption of a law having for its purpose the establishment of an Arbitration Court. Consequently I determined to save the time of the House by not offering any remarks on the motion for the second reading. But in view of the discussion which has taken place on the amendment which has been moved by the honorable member for Wide Bay, I deem it to be my duty, not only to the Committee, but to my constituents and to the people of the Commonwealth, to express my opinions without fear or favour upon the various aspects of the case as it has been debated by various honorable members. When before my constituents I took up the. attitude that I was entirely in favour of the. inclusion of civil servants in the Arbitration Bill. But I expressed the opinion that I did not think that it would be constitutional to do so. I maintain that in expressing that opinion I had due regard to what would be necessary provided this Parliament refused to include them. I am satisfied that my constituents thoroughly understood the basis upon which I advocated the inclusion of States servants within the four corners of this measure. My idea of arbitration is that it is the harbinger of ' a higher civilization. The tendency in modern times is to refer not only industrial disputes, but disputes between nations, to a peaceful arbitration rather than to resort to the arbitrament of war, and I consider that in urging that public servants should be brought within the scope of the Bil] I am advocating a principle in harmony with the development of the thought of the age, and the advance of reason. I am satisfied that the opponents of this class of legislation believe in the old adage that " might is right." The party to which I belong, however, believe that right should prevail, and that the only way in which we can arrive at a just decision regarding the rights and wrongs of any question is by submitting it to a Court of equity and good conscience. I do not think I need say anything further to indi- cate why I support the principle of arbitration and the proposal to bring public servants within the operation of the Bill. A question that has not been touched upon to any great extent during this debate is whether the public servants would be better treated by the proposed Court than by the tribunals at present constituted for the purpose of dealing with their claims and grievances. I have jio hesitation in saying that we should have a purer administration if the public servants had the right to appeal to an Arbitration Court, such as that now proposed. I know that it is claimed that under the administration of the Public Service Boards established by the Federal and States Governments, political influence has been done away with, but an influence more insidious, viz., of a social character, has penetrated to the very core of the service. I believe that the family and social influences which are now operating so largely in connexion with appointments and promotions in the Public Services of the States and of the Commonwealth would not be so powerfully exerted if the public servants had the right of appeal to a Court of Arbitration which would be able to investigate grievances arising out of improper appointments and promotions. Such a Court would undoubtedly prove of immense advantage to the railway servants of the States. Some three years ago the New South Wales Parliament passed an Arbitration Act which embraced the public servants of the State. I do not contend that this Parliament could exercise the same complete authority as the States Parliaments over the States servants ; but -that does not affect my contention that is is advisable to bring States servants within the scope of this measure. I maintain that it would be good for the public servants, for the States, and for the Commonwealth if the administration of the Departments were as far as possible placed beyond the reach of political or social influences. I have listened very attentively to this debate, and I must confess that I have not received the enlightenment I expected. If I had had to depend for light and leading upon honorable and "learned members who took part in the proceedings of the Convention, and succeeded, as lawyers only can, in making the Constitution more confusing than it otherwise would have been, I should not have been any further forward than before the debate was opened. The Prime Minister made an appeal to us upon constitutional grounds, and afterwards told us that he also considered that it would be inexpedient to bring States servants within the scope of the proposed law. I do not consider that it is within the province of the Prime Minister or any honorable member to interpret the Constitution. It has been stated by some honorable members that when this question of conciliation and arbitration was considered at the Convention, no member of that body - not even the author of the provision - realized how far the application of the sub-section might be extended. That has nothing to do with us. The question is, can it be so extended as to enable us to give the relief needed by the public servants of the States. With ali due respect to' the Prime Minister's opinion, I consider that he has not adopted the course best calculated to dispel the legal doubt which exists as to the extent of our powers under the Constitution. Why should he not be content to rely for the interpretation of the Constitution upon the tribunal which has been specially created to perform that function ? He says that he is absolutely certain that his reading of the law is correct, and therefore he should not be afraid that the High Court will adopt a different interpretation. Some members of the Convention have given us the benefit of their recollection with regard to the deliberations of that august body, and the intentions of the framers of the Constitution. But we need not attach much weight to their impressions, because the Constitution itself provides that if any doubt should arise as to the interpretation of the Constitution, the High Court shall decide. It is simply playing at politics for gentlemen of the experience of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs to ask honorable, members to vote upon this question as one of principle. Where is the principle which they allege is at stake? If the Prime Minister accepted the amendment, and allowed its constitutionality to be decided by the High Court, what would he lose by so doing? Personally, I entertain the same opinion as he does regarding the unconstitutionality of the proposal, but nevertheless I conceive it to be my duty as a representative of the people to submit this particular disagreement to the tribunal which has been especially established to interpret our charter of government. I have looked for light and leading amongst the legal members of this House, and after listening patiently to their utterances during the course of this debate, I no longer wonder why the Constitution was framed in such a way as to provide a harvest feast for all time for the legal fraternity.


Mr Conroy - If the honorable member has no confidence in the legal fraternity, why create still more Courts?


Mr WEBSTER - Some of the legal members of this House who were delegates to the Federal Convention hold that the proposal under consideration is perfectly constitutional, whilst others just as determinedly maintain that it is not. For example, the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs takes up the position that it is undoubtedly constitutional, because it affects the question of trade and commerce, which is one of the thirty-nine subjects upon which we are empowered to legislate. I fail to see that his argument justifies the conclusion at which he arrives. He claims that because sub-section xxxiv. of section 51 of our Constitution deals with certain matters, including railways, we are justified in removing the railways from the control of the States, and in interfering with their financial management. As a layman who * is not even an academy student, or a University man, but one who has just come as a recruit from the end of a pick handle, which has been my pen through life, I fail to understand how the honorable and learned member hoped to establish his case.


Mr Conroy - The question is whether the honorable member has confidence in the Government or not.


Mr WEBSTER - If the honorable and learned member will seal his steam valve for a brief interval, I shall endeavour to compress my remarks into as brief a space as possible. I have no desire to cross swords with him, because he is too good-natured to fight.


Mr Conroy - I wish to help the honorable member.


Mr WEBSTER - The honorable and learned member is so kind that he desires to assist every member who addresses the House, but the trouble is that instead of doing so, his interjections serve only to confuse them, as is evidenced by the fact that early in the first session of the last Parliament his own leader was compelled to appeal to him to give him a chance. Then we find that the honorable and learned- member for Bendigo holds a contrary view to that expressed by the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, and argues it with equal confidence, whilst the honorable and learned member for Indi is thoroughly satisfied that though the proposed amendment is perfectly constitutional it is inexpedient to adopt it.


Mr Kennedy - He said that he could not express a definite opinion.


Mr WEBSTER - No. He expressed a definite opinion as to the constitutionality o£ the proposal. He said, in effect, " Fancy the Commonwealth not having the power to assume control of the States railways in the event of war, when they would be required for defence purposes." That contingency was suggested in support of his argument that the amendment is constitutional. But I would point out that under sub-section XXXII. of section 51, special provision is made for the Commonwealth assuming control of the railways for purposes of defence, and, consequently, the reasoning of the honorable and learned member is robbed of all force in that connexion. I have attempted, without success, to gain information from the utterances of the various legal members who have addressed this Chamber, and I am, therefore, compelled to rely upon my own commonsense. Upon previous occasions I have had to act in a, similar way. I have opposed legal opinion, when that opinion was practically unanimous. I have fought my case, and won it. That is indicative of how far legal opinion is to be trusted, even when it is unanimous. When the Commonwealth Constitution was, being debated throughout Australia, the Prime Minister was a Billite at any price, whereas I was an anti Billite, in a humble capacity, and for very good reasons. Consequently the honorable gentleman holds a very different position from that which I occupy. He stands in the relation of godfather to our Constitution. He believes that that charter of government is more or less perfect, and, therefore, does not like to turn his back upon it, and submit this proposal for the decision of the High Court, because the judgment of that tribunal might upset his opinion regarding its unconstitutionality. As I did not father the Constitution when it was being discussed throughout Australia, I am free to declare that, whilst I agree that the amendment is unconstitutional. I am perfectly consistent in going a step further, and allowing the High Court to decide the question. Should that tribunal determine that it is unconstitutional, so convinced am I of the wisdom of establishing an Arbitration Court, to which the public servants of the Commonwealth and the States, including the railway employes of the States, may appeal, that I am prepared to advocate an amendment of the Constitution in that direction, and to allow the people to say whether or not they agree with such a proposal. That is a perfectly consistent attitude to adopt. I am surprised that, upon a pretext of this kind, the Government are prepared to sacrifice office.


Mr Conroy - The honorable member ought, rather, to be surprised at their firmness.


Mr WEBSTER - I do not know that their action is altogether prompted by firmness. I am not so satisfied as is the honorable and learned member, that the real cause of their present attitude is to be found in the constitutionality or otherwise of this proposal.


Mr Conroy - " They did not know it was loaded."


Mr WEBSTER - I think that they did, and I shall presently give my reasons for so doing. I believe that they are aiming in an entirely different direction from that which is generally supposed. It appears to me that the Prime Minister is unprepared to act upon his own interpretation of the law. Notwithstanding that his view is supported by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, he fears to join with his colleagues in giving effect to what he maintains to have been the intention of the Convention, in inserting in the Constitution the provision relating to conciliation and arbitration. I have never yet heard of a Government staking its existence on such a question as this. On the contrary, I have known Governments, in order to avoid their political annihilation, to cling to a pretext such as that which has been advanced by the Prime Minister, as a reason for his opposition to the amendment. We find this Government prepared to leave office, and to throw the House into' a state of confusion, without any sufficient reason. But the matter is one which solely affects the Government, and I do not intend to Quarrel with the Prime Minister as to the attitude which he deems it necessary to take up. He has a perfect right to adopt whatever attitude lie thinks desirable, provided that it is a straightforward one, but he should take care to show the House that there is no reason other than that which has been given by him for the course which he has decided to pursue. The common-sense interpretation must, after all, override any purely technical construction of the sub-section, and therefore I do not propose to discuss mere technicalities. Hour after hour has been spent by the lawyers of the House in discussing the prerogative of the Crown, but to that phase of the question I shall not address myself. I recognise that my duty is to assist in the proper administration of the Constitution, and that the kernel of the whole question is to be found in the point relating to taxation. We have to ask ourselves to what extent does the Constitution permit us to trench upon the powers of the States Governments in regard to taxation? I agree with the argument advanced by the Prime Minister that the amendment undoubtedly involves the inference that its application to the public servants of a State might bring the Commonwealth into antagonism with the States Governments. For the sake of argument, let us assume that a dispute arises among public servants in New South Wales, and that, as was thought to be likely in the case of the Victorian railway strike, it extends to the servants of another State, with the result that the Arbitration Court is called upon to deal with it. In such a case the Court might make an award requiring an increased wage to be paid to the men in one State, and compliance with that decision would mean an increased charge on the State concerned. That would naturally lead to a great deal of commotion among members of the State Cabinet, because it would be considered that there had been an invasion of the rights of the States. The State Government might have its railway estimates before the House at the time of the occurrence of a dispute, and if the Court made an award involving an increased expenditure on the part of the State, it would be felt that an unconstitutional action had been taken. We have, therefore, to consider to what extent Ave may legitimately interfere with the finances ' of the States. In my opinion, we have no right to interfere with their finances, and in that respect I agree with the view expressed by the Prime Minister. But whilst I agree with the Prime Minister's contention with regard to the un- , constitutionality of the amendment. I cannot agree with the conclusion arrived at by him. I fail to understand why the honorable and learned gentleman should refuse to accept the amendment, and to at once give the people the benefit of a measure of this kind, leaving it to the High Court to determine the constitutionality of the proposal now before us. Does he riot recognise that by passing the amendment we shall give the High Court an opportunity to decide the question of constitutionality, and that that course would be in the interests of the Parliament and the people?


Mr Deakin - Even if we have the power it is very unwise for us to use it at the present time.


Mr WEBSTER - If we accept the Prime Minister's view of the position, and simply pass the Bill as introduced, we shall practically make it impossible for the public servants of the States to secure the benefits of legislation of this description. The Bill as it stands expressly excludes public servants from its operation.


Mr Deakin - Until it is amended. they cannot avail themselves of it.


Mr WEBSTER - That is the difficulty. By allowing such a provision to pass we run the risk of taking away a possible right.


Mr Deakin - We have not the power to take away any right.


Mr WEBSTER - Once we pass the Bill with an express provision to exclude public servants from its operation we shall make it much more difficult than it now is for them to obtain the advantages of such legislation. With all due respect to the Government, I cannot help saying that I have very grave doubts as to whether they are not unwittingly inserting in the Bill a provision which may restrict the power of the public servants to claim a right that may be self-evident in the future. The argument that no case has yet occurred which indicates the necessity for the amendment is not sufficient to induce me to vote .against it. We have to legislate not only for today, but for the future, and it is our duty to make provision for contingencies. I regret that the Prime Minister is prepared to include in the Bill a provision which, apart altogether from what may be their present position, may deprive public servants of their rights in the future. It is recognised by students of constitutional history that a law once passed must be accepted as a precedent. . If we pass this Bill without inserting the proposed amendment it may be regarded as an indication of the view which we take of our) constitutional powers, and undoubtedly would influence the High Court.


Mr Poynton - And by the advice of members of the Federal Convention.


Mr WEBSTER - Undoubtedly.


Mr Conroy - They must strive to give effect to the law, if possible.


Mr WEBSTER - That is so; but when there is a doubt, let there be an appeal to the tribunal which the people have set up.


Mr Crouch - A few moments ago I thought that, according to the honorable member, lawyers were of no use.


Mr WEBSTER - I am indicating how untrustworthy lawyers are as guides in matters of constitutional law. I beg the honorable and learned member for Werriwa to remember that I am merely a novice in this House, and I do not desire my line of argument to be broken by what are possibly irrelevant interjections. I was saying that an argument was used by one of the legal gentlemen in reference to the section of the Constitution which governs differential rates. We have heard arguments on the question of trade and commerce and State rights; and now we find it contended that because the Convention gave power to this Parliament to establish a medium whereby the differential rates prevailing in the various States could be regulated, the Convention practically gave us the right to take over the control of the States railways. No such argument, however, is borne out by a study of the Constitution. Differential rates are specifically provided for by an Inter-State Commission, which, although it may directly or indirectly interfere with the revenues of a State railway or States railways, will have the right to do so under the Constitution. I have not heard or read of any argument from legal members who oppose the amendment, except that which, if it can be called an argument, is drawn from the recollection of those august gentlemen who assisted to frame the Constitution. As the Minister for Home Affairs said last night, if it were twenty years or forty years hence, when many of those gentlemen had gone to their last home, and could no longer be called upon to give evidence, we might doubt their opinion as to the interpretation of the 'law. But we are not here to depend upon the recollection or impressions of men, no matter how honestly they may be inclined, nor how clear their minds. We are here to deal with the Constitution which they in their wisdom handed over to our control for the government of this great Commonwealth; and there is no reasonable excuse on the part of the Go- vernment for adopting their present course with a view to debarring the public servants of the States from coming under this Bill. The Minister for Home Affairs last night made an impassioned speech in that rugged style which is so characteristic of his utterances. The right honorable gentleman adopted a fighting attitude, as he called it, and, seeing that he has not yet had a serious encounter, he may he " rusting for a fight." I was rather impressed with the personality of the right honorable gentleman, who, at. least, has the courage of his opinions - a point I like about an opponent. I would rather have a straightout opponent, who tells me what he means, than one who tries to shield himself behind a subterfuge not in accordance with what we can reasonably see underlies his arguments. I am satisfied that the Minister for Home Affairs wanted the House to decide this constitutional question on his recollection of the intention of the Convention. I do not mistrust the right honorable gentleman's recollection, and I have no doubt that what he says is correct. If he and his colleagues, who are now giving us their recollections of the Convention, were the constitutional body to decide this question, I could readily accept their dictum; but we have a High Court that has been established for the purpose of interpreting the law, and while we have that Court I fail to see to what other Caesar we should appeal. I do not think I need say much more on this aspect df the question. I have already indicated that I came into this House a's a supporter of the principles contained in the amendment now submitted to the Committee. I came here with a clear understanding 'that, whilst I 'supported the principle of the amendment from a humanitarian and progressive standpoint, I should act in the full knowledge that, owing to the Constitution, we might have to appeal to the High Court, and then to a still higher court, namely, the people, by way of a referendum, for an amendment of the Constitution in order to gain the object so much desired. Whilst I differ from some of my colleagues in regard to the constitutional aspect of the question, I am absolutely in agreement with them as regards the wisdom of applying an arbitration law to the railway .employes and other public servants of the States. I was very much interested and amused by the change that took place in this debate yesterday, a change which certainly broke the monotony of the proceedings in a most remarkable way. Our worthy friend, the Minister for Home Affairs, threw a new light on the question. The right honorable gentleman started off by telling us, in his blunt style - " Now, boys, do not be in too big a hurry, because I have something behind; and I shall let you know what it is before I finish." The right honorable gentleman said that as if he meant it, and, as I believe he meant what he said, I can quote and criticise him with confidence. The Minister for Home Affairs said that, when that remarkable speech was delivered by the Prime Minister at Ballarat, it was understood throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth that the days of what has been called the triangular form of government were over - that the dictation of a third party in Parliament could not be borne any longer, at any rate by the gentleman who delivered that speech. I presume that the Minister for Home Affairs heartily agreed, as he said he did, in that conclusion.


Mr Deakin - That was not the Ballarat speech, but a speech delivered in Melbourne in February of this year.


Mr WEBSTER - The Minister for Home Affairs said the speech was delivered at Ballarat, and, if he was wrong, I apologize for him in his absence. At any rate, the right honorable gentleman said that it was well known in Parliament, and outside, that the triangular form of government had become irksome to the gentlemen who hold the Treasury benches, and could not much longer be tolerated. Am I to understand that that' is the real reason why the Government are taking this amendment so seriously? Is it because of the constitutional aspect of the question - is it because the Government fear that the High Court will interpret the law in antagonism to the opinion of the Government ; or is it because it provides a means by which a blow may be struck at what is called the triangular party in this House? After listening to the address of the Minister for Home Affairs, I am inclined to think that that really showed us the milk in the cocoanut. I am disposed to believe that the right honorable gentleman explained the real object of the Government, and that their opposition to this amendment is only an excuse. The Minister for Home Affairs , last night told us that in order to carry this amendment we were prepared to sacrifice the shearers, the seamen, and the men engaged in various other trades, who would be benefited by this measure. I ask the right honorable gentleman and his colleagues who it is that is really sacrificing these men? Is it not those who will not allow us to proceed with this legislation, and permit the point in dispute to be submitted to the tribunal set up by the people for the interpretation of our laws. The right honorable member for Swan yesterday made these pregnant remarks - '' We are tired of saying ' Yes, Mr. Watson,' and in future it will be, ' Yes, Mr. Deakin,' or, 'Yes, Mr. Reid."' I think what the right honorable gentleman would like is that it should be all the time - " Yes. Sir John." That is the natural inference to be drawn from his speech. He longs to be the king that he has been for so long in another place; it is irksome for him to be dethroned in this manner in the Federal Parliament, and, therefore, he would like to do away with the awkward triangular element in this Chamber.


Mr Conroy - The right honorable gentleman said that he had been bossed bv the Labour Party all through. "Mr. WEBSTER.- I do not say-that the right honorable gentleman admitted that the Government had been bossed by the Labour Party, but he seems to have felt that the members of that party have been ungrateful and unkind to the genial Prime Minister, who has treated them so well in this Parliament. The right honorable gentleman appealed to us in words which went to my heart when he told us how much consideration the Prime Minister had shown members of the Labour Party in this Parliament. The sting, however, lay underneath all the time, when the' right honorable gentleman was criticising the Labour Party and condemning the caucus. The caucus has been criticised more than any other institution during the last five or six years of Australian history. Whilst the right honorable member for Swan condemned the caucus, he cannot deny the fact that, as a member of the Government, he has been bound bv the opinion of the majority in the Cabinet, just as we have obeyed loyally the will of the majority in the caucus.


Mr Conroy - The Cabinet has been bound by the caucus, on the right honorable gentleman's own admission.


Mr WEBSTER - I do not intend to put words into the mouth of the right honorable, gentleman. What. I desire to convey is that, in my opinion, he spoke as he thought, and the importance of his statement lies in the fact that it differed so much from what has been said in this Chamber before. The right honorable gentleman endeavoured to cast odium upon the party to which I belong, which it has never deserved. We have not occupied the Treasury benches, and we have not been influenced by the .emoluments of office in proposing legislation for the' welfare of the people. As a political party we have onlyone mission in Parliament, and that is by every legitimate means to secure the passage of legislation which we calculate will be beneficial to the people of Australia. Is not that a noble mission? Can the Prime Minister or the Minister for Home Affairs find anything to jeer at in the aspirations of the party to which I belong? Undoubtedly they cannot. The Government have done well in aiding and in being advised to some extent by the Labour Party. They have rendered the party assistance by placing upon the statute-book laws Of which we are proud, and of which posterity will be proud when we are no longer here. On that account we feel grateful to the Government - not for ourselves, but for the people whom we represent.


Mr Conroy - Posterity may be proud of those measures, but the present generation is not.


Mr WEBSTER - It frequently happens that those who try to see too far fail to see what- is occurring under their very noses. Can any honorable member in this House arrogate to himself the power to decide whether the present generation is or is not satisfied with the laws which have been passed in this Chamber, when they have not been applied for more than a day in the history of a nation ? Some men expect us to believe what they say with regard to the disaffection of the present generation on account of legislation which has been passed before that legislation has been brought into operation, and before the people have been enabled to realize the beneficent purposes . which those who passed it had in mind. It is preposterous for men to put themselves forward as the interpreters of the opinion of the present generation upon questions upon which the people have had no opportunity to arrive at a conclusion.


Mr Poynton - The result of the elections is a complete reply to the honorable and learned member for Werriwa.


Mr WEBSTER - I desire to be fair, and I am prepared to admit that the result of the election is not a complete reply. I shall not turn to the right or to the left unless I am justified by reason and common sense in deviating from the direct course. The party which is credited with having forced from the Government the progressive legislation against which there has been such an outcry has been returned to this Parliament with a larger following than it had before. I do not say that that is because the present generation have realized the benefits of that" legislation, because the ink with which it was printed is hardly yet dry on' the statute-book; but their support is our reward for having done what we promised on the hustings. They wished us to do certain things, in their interests, and for the benefit of those who are to follow them, and we have carried out the programme which we put before them at the inception of Federation. The Minister for Home Affairs stated yesterday that he knew of no case, unless it might be the 1890 strike, in regard to which a law of the character now proposed would come into operation. Surely a statement of that kind cannot be regarded by men who look to the future as an argument against legislation. We are making laws, not for what has been, but for what may be. We have to consider the history of the past only so far as it affords indications of the need for legislative interference. The right honorable member was right in referring to the strike of 1890 as a dispute which would, have come under the operation of the law which we wish to enact, supposing it had then been in force ; but other cases in point have occurred since then. For instance, the Victorian railway strike, because of which no doubt the measure now before us is obtaining considerable support, might easily have extended beyond the limits of Victoria, and probably would have done so had it continued. If there be a similar occurrence in the future, and resort has to be had to the semi-barbaric method of quelling it by the introduction of a Coercion Act, the blame will lie at the door of this Government, because they did not, in times of peace, when there was no panic, endeavour to formulate a peaceable and legal method for settling all such disputes. The right honorable member also said that the members of the Convention, when agreeing to the section of the Constitution under which this action is being taken, never dreamt that it would be sought to apply the provision to States servants, and he appealed for confirmation to the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne. No doubt the members of the Convention did not contemplate anything of the kind, because the question did not then become one of live political interest. Nothing had occurred to stir ur feeling in regard to it ; but is that a reason why, now that we see the necessity for extending it in the" manner proposed, we should not exercise to the fullest extent the powers given us by the Constitution? I appeal to the Prime Minister, even at this late stage of the debate, to crown his record by allowing the amendment to pass unchallenged.


Mr Deakin - And destroy the Federal principle? That is the whole point.


Mr WEBSTER - The Federal principle cannot be destroyed, because it will be defended by the High Court which the last Parliament brought into existence. I appreciate and admire the Prime Minister's desire to preserve the Federal principle. At the same time I do not see where his argument comes in.


Mr Deakin - If the honorable member did. he would be convinced bv it.


Mr WEBSTER - I would be convinced by it if I saw as the honorable and learned gentleman sees. When speaking on the Address in Reply, I referred to this matter, and the Prime Minister then objected that I had not heard the point argued. I thereupon ceased my remarks, in the expectation of. later hearing something which would bring conviction to my mind that the course which I propose to follow is the wrong one. Like a wise man, I was ready to sit at the feet of legal intellectuality. But what I have heard during the present debate has not caused me to move in the least from my original conclusion. As I have already said, I agree with the Prime Minister that the amendment may be unconstitutional, in interfering with the sovereign rights of the States. I was an anti-Billite, and wished for another form of Federation than that offered to the people by the Draft Constitution. I wanted more elasticity in the Federal Constitution. If I could have had my way, I should have prevented the Constitution feeing accepted by the people, so that 'it might have been made more capable of being applied to the changing requirements of a young country, which, after all, demands a Constitution of an elastic character more particularly than does an old established community. As an antiBillite, I am in no way acting inconsistently when I say that I want the principle of this measure extended further. I cannot understand why the Prime Minister cannot agree to refer the question to the constitutional authorities. Of course that is for him to explain. . I am myself quite satisfied on the point of constitutionality. With regard to expediency, I am not so antagonistic towards it as was an honorable member who spoke last night. I regard expediency as applicable to many institutions and many political relations.


Mr Deakin - When the honorable member has power.


Mr WEBSTER - No, I do not have regard to expediency in that contingency only. I regard expediency as something which in public life has to be kept in view quite apart from the requirements of power. I give the Prime Minister full credit for acting honorably and according to .his lights. I quite think that his policy is dictated by his conclusions in regard to the interpretation of the Constitution. But one thing has struck me as being the most peculiar spectacle I ever observed, either while I was outside public life or during the short period I have had the privilege of viewing it from inside. It is the most puzzling position I have ever read about or observed in politics. There are three parties in this House. The Labour Party come forward with a programme which they have submitted to the people, and they ask this ' Parliament to obey the will of the people by carrying that programme into law. That is a clear issue. But what about the Opposition ? They are supposed to be cemented together for the purposes of protecting the rights and privileges of the House, and of the people, whenever they are trespassed upon by the party in power. But what do we find them doing in regard to the historical issue now before us ? What is the attitude of the Opposition? I can quite understand the position of those honorable members on the Government side of the House, who intend to vote for the amendment as a matter of principle and expediency. I can understand the attitude of those honorable members who are governed by their feelings with regard to the lot of the railway men in Victoria, and who are to some extent influenced by the votes of that body in the elections which are to come. I can understand honorable members who are influenced by either one or other of those factors giving us their assistance in carrying the amendment, so that the question involved in it may be brought before the High Court for final decision. But I cannot understand the attitude of my honorable friends the members of the Opposition. I cannot understand the attitude of honorable members who are for ever reiterating their adherence' to principle, and their determination never to- depart from the straight line of rectitude and duty, but who, with a coolness and effrontery which I have never seen equalled, having told us that they do not believe in this amendment, and do not believe in its principle, and that in fact they are disbelievers in nearly everything connected with the Bill, nevertheless, intend to vote for it. It is not a question of principle with them. It is not a question of law. It is not a question of constitutionality. It is not a question of protecting the Constitution or safeguarding the rights of the States. It is simply a question of whether they can get the scalp of the Government. They say, practically : "We are not here to act as legislators; we are not here to use our reason; we are here as highwaymen and wreckers of the Government.'" There is the honorable member for North Sydney. What does he do when driven into a corner? He is an opponent of the Labour Party. The only way in which he can find relief is to utter the phrase, " What about your caucus?"


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Honorable members talk about men giving up their conscientious views !


Mr WEBSTER - I . have given up no conscientious views.


Mr Conroy - I thought the honorable member was against the amendment on the ground of constitutionality ?


Mr WEBSTER - The honorable and learned member for Werriwa cannot put me in a corner. I am not in the witness-box, and he will never have a chance of upsetting me by cross-examination. When the Opposition are driven to the last extremity - when they have no other cover or defence to offer- they yell out at the top of their voices, "What about your caucus?" Do they not know that we have a sound and Straightforward answer to make *to that question ? A caucus is honorable. The Labour Party goes before the people and is elected on its platform. We do not form combines or enter into intrigues. We come here as a solid party.' Every one of us is absolutely pledged before seeking the suffrages of the people. The people elect us knowing that we are going to act in caucus, as it is called - that we are going to act solidly and with one united front. That is the people's decision with regard. to ourselves. But the honorable members to whom I refer come here as Oppositionists. Has His Majesty's Opposition sunk to such a depth of degradation that they do not seek to remove Governments on matters of principle - except it be principle spelt with "pal" at. the end? Has His Majesty's Opposition, which throughout the centuries has been regarded as one of the most majestic of the institutions of the British Empire, sunk to such a state of degradation that they intend practically to lay all ideas of principle aside? Their only desire is to bring about the downfall of a Government which they do not like.


Mr Frazer - They are wreckers.


Mr WEBSTER - Exactly. I would remind those honorable members that we shall have to look to the future, and that those who are now supporting the amendment,, not with a view to make it law, because they do not believe in it, but for their own selfish purposes, may be convicted of an act of shameless political profligacy. I am voting for this amendment, because I believe in it, and I wish that I could say the same of all honorable members.


Mr Lonsdale - Does not the honorable member desire to see it carried?


Mr WEBSTER - Certainly. The honorable member has my sympathy, because 1 feel sorry at all times for those who are in trouble. Whenever a man is in pain, whether physical or mental, the fact is demonstrated by those outward signs which nature provides to enable him to indicate that he is suffering. The day will come when the fate of a Government will not be at stake, and when members of the Opposition may be called upon to give an honest vote with regard to this proposal. My parents taught me never to do anything that I might have reason to regret, but rather to try to do that which might be looked upon afterwards with pleasure. I believe that one or two honorable members of the Opposition are sincere in their support of . the amendment ; but that others are acting in a manner which to me is abhorrent and contemptible. When the members of the party to which I belong have taken their places on the Ministerial benches, this question, which has become a vital issue in politics, will have to be fought out. If those honorable members to whom I have last referred then turn round, and we appeal to Caesar, their master, what sort of a case shall we have against them? I warn those honorable gentlemen that they are not dealing with juvenile politicians, but with men who have memories, upon the tablets of which will be marked indelibly the events of to-day. If they prove to be unfaithful to the cause of the people, we shall have no hesitation in appealing to Caesar. I would rather cut off my right hand and let it wither, than be responsible for records in Hansard which would not be in accordance with my conscientious convictions. I regret that the Government are about to leave office, and that the members of the Opposition are availing themselves of the opportunity for which they have been looking, but which I never thought they would embrace.


Mr Lonsdale - Was the amendment proposed as a sham?


Mr WEBSTER - I know exactly what I am talking about. I gave the members of ' the Opposition more credit for consistency than I should have done ; but we all make mistakes, and my inclination is rather to the kindly side. How different was the attitude of the leader of the Opposition when he spoke yesterday to that which I have seen him assume in the State Parliament of New South Wales when fighting for the liberties and the rights of the people. Did he venture to give us a legal opinion? No. Why was this? I am told that he does not give an opinion gratis under any circumstances; but had he favoured us on this occasion I am not toosure that we should have been any wiser. His speech was thoroughly characteristic, and in keeping with the reputation he has earned. I regret that during my short acquaintance with Federal politics, such intrigues as those which have been engaged in should have been brought under my notice. I hope that I shall never have a similar experience.







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