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Thursday, 21 April 1904

Mr KENNEDY (Moira) - After having attended here for two days at what has been designated the funeral service of the Government, it was quite refreshing to hear the speech of the honorable member for Gwydir, characterized as it was by so much sincerity and vigour. No matter how we may differ from the. honorable member, we must respect and admire him for the manner in which he has given expression to his conscientious beliefs. I could not help noticing the tone of regret which marked his utterances. The members of the Government who are about .to receive the happy despatch present a much more cheerful aspect, and are apparently in a far more placid frame of mind than are those who are about to succeed them. It would almost seem that it has just dawned upon honorable members of the Labour Party that there is some responsibility attached to the occupancy pf office. The fact that the Government have not proved firm in their attitude on several occasions has been the subject of Strong complaint by members of the Opposition. Now, however, that they have exhibited a little firmness, and have determined to adhere to a certain line of action, we hear nothing but complaints from the members of the Opposition, and from the Labour Party.

Mr Fisher - We are expressing regret, not complaining.

Mr KENNEDY - The There has been complaint as well as regret. I believe that the regret arises chiefly from the fact that the Labour Party are beginning to realize the grave difficulties which confront them now that they have an opportunity to occupy the Ministerial benches and give effect to their policy. The party in power always has the best chance to give effect to its policy, and the Labour Party should be eager to take advantage of the opening now afforded them. Certainly they should not view the position with any feeling of regret.

Mr Frazer - We regret the motives which are actuating some people in assisting to place us in office.

Mr KENNEDY -They should be glad that the time has arrived when, according to their judgment, the general well-being of the community will be. insured, and long-suffering humanity will have something to which to look forward. I recognise that no words of mine are necessary to defend the action of the Ministry. I realize as fully as we can realize anything in politics, that " the numbers are up." I am aware that in a debate of this character, when the fate of the Ministry is at stake, it is not reasonable to expect that the views' expressed by any honorable member will influence a single vote. The fact is more strongly impressed upon one's mind on the present occasion by the reflection that this issue was finally and conclusively decided by the people of Australia at the recent general election. Last night the honorable member for Lang complained that the Government in its wisdom had not seen fit to introduce other measures which, to his mind, were of more importance to the welfare of the general community. He seems to have entirely forgotten that the Government were distinctly and unequivocally pledged to the course of action which they have pursued during the current session. They were committed to it by the declaration of the Government policy which the Prime Minister made to his constituents at Ballarat at the opening of the recent campaign.

Mr Johnson - Under pressure from another party.

Mr KENNEDY - That is an assumption which may govern the opinions of the honorable member, but which certainly does not govern mine. The Prime Minister .was committed to the course which he has pursued by reason of the action taken in the last Parliament. As we are all aware, during the second session of that Parliament, the Government submitted this measure to the House. When an amendment was carried in opposition to the wish of the Ministry, the effect of which was to make the Bill applicable to the railway servants of the States, the measure was put under the table. At that time an appeal could not be made to the country, although, had circumstances permitted, that would have been the right course to adopt. As the successor of Sir Edmund Barton, the Prime Minister had no option but to make the question of the inclusion in this Bill of the public servants of the Commonwealth and of the States, together with the railway employes, a leading plank in the Government platform at the last election. Had the Government gone back upon the pledges which they made to the last Parliament and to the country, would not 'the Opposition have been justified in submitting a no-confidence motion ?

Mr Johnson - That statement does not tally with the explanation given by the Minister for Home Affairs yesterday.

Mr Deakin - Yes, it does, because he spoke only for himself.

Mr KENNEDY - We have to deal with the actualities of the position. Rightly or wrongly, this Bill is before us to-day. To my mind it is rightly before us, because it was a part of the Government policy at the recent elections. Now that it has been submitted for our consideration, party lines will be clearly defined. There are very few honorable members who do not propose to vote in accordance with the pledges which they gave to their constituents. For those who honestly believe that it is proper to include within the provisions of this Bill the public servants and the railway employes I have every respect. But I clearly defined my attitude upon this matter to my constituents upon the hustings, and I propose to respect the pledge which I then gave. To my mind the reasons why this proposal should not be embodied in the Bill may be ranged under two headings. In the first place it is, in my judgment, unconstitutional. I am aware that different opinions have been expressed upon this aspect of the question by the legal members of the House, but in my opinion, when an honorable member cannot gain definite information for himself, it is wise to look for guidance to the Law officers of the Crown. There is no doubt whatever in the mind of the Prime Minister - whose duty it is to advise the House upon such matters - that the amendment is unconstitutional. I am prepared to accept his dictum. In the second place I hold that it is inexpedient to give effect to this proposal. Even if I were satisfied that it was constitutional, as a matter of expediency, I should hesitate to insist upon embodying it in the Bill. Some members have repeatedly declared that State servants are practically on an equality with the workers in private employ - that there is no difference whatever in the relationship which exists between the State and its servants and that which exists between a private employer and his employes. But I would ask those who entertain that view, what private employe is protected in his position by a special Act of Parliament, or by regulations under that Act ? What private employe has the right of appeal from the dictum of his employer? As we are all aware, the State servant, in the first instance, is protected by the Public Service Act, and by the regulations which have been framed under that Act. In the event of his dismissal upon a charge of misconduct, or anything of that sort, he has a right of appeal lo the Commissioner, frequently a right of appeal beyond the Commissioner to the Minister, and finally to Parliament itself. Do such conditions ripply to private employes? I would further ask whether the State has to compete with any other employer in the same way that the private employer has to compete? Would the States, as the employers of the public servants, receive any pecuniary gain or reward or any advantage from sweating or harassing them in any way ? That is my view of the situation. Last, but not least, I ask whether there has been a demand for this legislation from any section of the Public Service throughout the Commonwealth, save in one isolated instance? "We are all aware that friction does exist between the railway servants of Victoria and the Government of this State. It is unnecessary for me to enter upon a consideration of the merits or demerits of that dispute. There may have been some provocation for the action of the men, but we all know that as the result of the strike many of the railway employes have undergone much suffering, while great loss to the community has been occasioned. Ever since I have been able to appreciate the true significance of a strike my aspiration has been to assist in averting such disastrous struggles. My desire having always been to support any legislation designed to avert the suffering and disaster which such disputes must necessarily entail, I have been an advocate of the principle of compulsory arbitration. But I would seriously ask those who are pressing this amendment whether in doing so they are not really grasping at the shadow and losing the substance. That is the view which I take of their attitude. I would remind those who point to the Victorian railway strike as a justification for this amendment that even the most earnest advocates of this provision admit that 'such a dispute would not come within ' the jurisdiction of the Court. In view of the provision in the Constitution upon which this Bill is based, how would it be possible for the Court to deal with a dispute between a State and its employes when their functions cannot extend beyond the limits of that State? That is a phase of the question which has been so fully discussed that I do not propose to do more than make this brief allusion to it, in order that there may be no doubt as to the attitude which I take up. There is one feature of this debate, however, to which I desire to draw the special attention of the Committee. I refer to the attitude of certain honorable members of the Opposition, to which reference has been made by the honorable member for Gwydir. Throughout the proceedings of the Federal Convention and during the campaign, in which the people of Australia were urged to accept the Commonwealth Bill, we were told again and again that in the higher and rarer atmosphere of Federal politics all the ideals of true statesmanship would be found. But after listening to the views expressed yesterday by the honorable member for New England, the honorable member for Lang, and several others, I feel that we have had a rude awakening. The honorable members to whom I have specially referred admitted that they were prepared to violate cherished principles for no other reason than a desire to wreck the Government. Do such utterances reflect that higher statesmanship which we were told would be revealed in the rarer atmosphere of Federal politics ? Do they not rather involve a prostitution of all the higher principles which should govern our political conduct ? In view of such statements, is it a matter for surprise that sections of the press, as well as the public, should rail at some of the characteristics of public life? Doubtless they will seize upon such admissions as an indication of the base motives by which some public men are swayed. The adoption of such tactics must bring political institutions into discredit and operate prejudicially even on honorable members whose rigid adherence to principle and honesty of conviction cannot be gainsaid. When we find honorable members prepared in this way to prostitute the best institutions and the noblest ideals, what must we expect the people to say? We were told by the honorable member for New England that he was strongly opposed to the first principles of compulsory arbitration, and that consequently he objected to the extension of this Bill to the Public Service of the States. But in the same breath he informed the Committee that, notwithstanding that he was pledged to oppose such legislation, he was prepared to support the amendment simply because of his desire to wreck the Government. He is prepared to sacrifice his principles in order to defeat a Government against which he can bring no charge of deviation from the path of integrity. After listening to such statements, I can well understand the regret expressed to-day by honorable members who are sincerely fighting for their principles, that they . are likely to find themselves allied with men who, when political convictions are at stake, are prepared to ignore the voice of conscience. Whether my public life be long or short, I trust that it will never be possible for any one to point to any action of mine as indicating a readiness on my part to degrade all that we should cherish in public life.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has taken exception to a Government proposal in this House, and yet voted for it.

Mr KENNEDY - No; I do not. object to the attitude adopted by the Government in regard to this amendment. I have already said that I believe in the principle of compulsory arbitration, but that I am opposed to the extension of the Bill to public servants. When before my constituents I told them of my views on this question, and I am now fighting to give effect to the principles which I profess.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not referring to the position taken up by the honorable member in regard to this amendment.

Mr KENNEDY - I have no fault to find with the attitude taken up by the honorable member in reference, to this question, but when I see an honorable member openly declaring that he will support a proposal which he is pledged to oppose, I cannot refrain from giving expression to my regret.

Mr Johnson - Did not the honorable member on a former occasion do the very thing of which he complains?

Mr KENNEDY - No one can point to any public or private act of mine which shows that I have ever gone back on my principles, even when large issues have been at stake. At the last election I had -as my opponent the Chairman of the Reform League, and had to fight against much misrepresentation.

Mr Wilks - We all have to do that.

Mr KENNEDY - Quite so; but when we find such a degree of political degradation in a Legislature in, which we were taught to look for the highest ideals of statesmanship, it appears to be high time for those who have some regard for the welfare of the people and a love of fair dealing to consider whether, after all, it is worth while fighting to obtain a seat in it.

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