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Thursday, 21 April 1904

Mr KNOX (Kooyong) - I do not propose to take up much time in discussing the amendment before the Committee. I am' of opinion that the country wishes us to decide the issue, so that we may understand exactly where we stand. The attitude which I shall take on this amendment is, I think, already well known. I shall support the Government - I shall vote against the amendment. I have indicated already that I think the Bill itself is not only premature and immature, but is unnecessary. In connexion with this crisis, I wish to say, distinctly, that I cannot view the retirement of the Prime Minister from office with any personal pleasure. ' I have throughout been associated with the Prime Minister in the work of this Federation, and indorse every word which has been said in regard to him personally by honorable members who have spoken so strongly in his favour. Yet it seems to me that, as a means of clearing the party atmosphere in this House, and ending the existing intolerable condition of things, the crisis must bring relief to many honorable members who- believe that so long as the Labour Party continue to do as they are doing now - ride their own opinions to death, and force their own particular platform on the people of this country - there will be no satisfaction, no rest, and no stability in the Government - that there will be no peace until they occupy the Treasury benches, or are in direct opposition. I do not care on which side of the House the Labour Party may sit; if they have the necessary power in the House, they are thoroughly justified in endeavouring, and are indeed entitled, to occupy the Treasury benches. I may say, for myself, as has been said by other honorable members, that the Labour Party, if they do occupy the Treasury benches, will not receive any unreasoning or factious opposition. My feeling is that we must arrive at a state of affairs in which there shall be a distinct line of demarcation between two parties in this House - a state of affairs in which those on the Treasury benches are faced by a constant, vigilant, and critical opposition.

Mr Page - " The wish is father to the thought."

Mr KNOX - What is the honorable member's thought ? I desire to refer- to the splendid fighting speech of my honorable and valued friend, the Minister for Home Affairs, last night. One was reminded of a heavy-weight pugilistic encounter, in which the right honorable gentleman pounded his adversary constantly and successfully. He hit, as a good pugilist will under similar circumstances, straight from the shoulder ; and it must be admitted that he " got home " very frequently. But the right honorable gentleman gave a sort of impression that he had finally to succumb to his adversary, and that, before his extinction, he desired to make peace with the world and a death-bed confession, admitting the " squeeze " that the Government had received from members of the Labour Party.

Mr Page - The Minister for Home Affairs said that the Labour Party had never " squeezed " the Government.

Mr Fisher - The Minister was joking.

Mr KNOX - The Minister for Home Affairs was hitting too hard and too straight to be joking at the time, and he admitted the " squeeze." He admitted that the order of public business had been regulated to suit my honorable friends in the labour comer; and the truth of that admission is unquestionable. The right honorable gentleman concluded by chiding the Labour Party for their ingratitude, his feeling being that the Government had done so much for them that they should, in a contingency such as the present, be much more generous to himself and his colleagues. Personally, I . think it objectionable that any one party in the House - any third party or any Opposition - should have the power to determine the order of business ; but, in my opinion, the Prime Minister and his Government took a very proper course in bringing forward this Bill, and also the Navigation Bill in another place, as the two measures likely to offer grounds for considerable differences of opinion and lead to a more definite and satisfactory division of parties. The Government were quite right in bringing those measures forward as early as possible, in order that their own position might be determined; and - I hope the Prime Minister will understand the sense in which I speak - the Government, in their death, may possibly secure greater honour and more public appreciation than have been given to them during their tenure of office. In saying that I wish to express the hope that many of those who may . in a few short hours retire from the Treasury benches, will come back again, a strong party in coalition for the conduct of the affairs of this country.

Mr Johnson - On the Opposition side of the House.

Mr KNOX - If so, I hope there will be a proper, well-regulated, and united Opposition. When the advantages to be gained by this Bill, within its admittedly limited area of influence, are considered, it is a constant puzzle to me to undestand the motive of my honorable friends of the Labour Party, in pressing this question so strongly as they have done in the past, and as they are doing at the present moment'. It has been pointed out that by .their present attitude the Labour Party are risking whatever benefits they consider are contained within this important measure - risking all on the result of the forthcoming division. I may be wrong, but I think that the motive is "to be found in the expectation they have of forming through this Bill an organization with autocratic, tyrannical power, which they hope to use for the purpose of compelling men to join trades unions.

Mr Fisher - It is for the very opposite purpose.

Mr. -KNOX.- I am4e'ry glad to hear my honorable friend say that, because he is aware that I have a great personal respect for him and for any statement he may make; but I have endeavoured to discover what motive there is behind all this strenuous effort on the part of honorable members to force this Bill through, and to undertake all the risks which attend their action in connexion with the amendment before -us.

Mr Fisher - To prevent political influence interfering with private or State enterprise.

Mr KNOX - I feel that all that members of the Labour Party are doing is to work in the direction to which I have referred. We hear talk about freedom. But in this Bill an effort is being made to coerce honorable, honest, and hardworking men1, and to bring them under the control of tyrannical legislation. We are asked in this Bill to say that they must join a union, and if they do not join a union, it is proposed to give the Arbitration Court power to step in, and say, " Whether you desire it or not, we shall constitute you a union." If we endeavoured to select a question upon which we might hope to secure a true line of demarcation between the two parties in this House, we could not have made a better selection than is provided by the amendment now before us.


Mr KNOX - I propose to describe the parties into which I think honorable members of this House will be divided.

Mr Poynton - The party against arbitration, and the party in favour of it.

Mr KNOX - That is not the issue. I favour arbitration. Apart from the question of expediency, it must be generally admitted that the question of State rights, which is involved, is one of the first, importance, and I venture to think that the line of demarcation which will be drawn in this House bv the division on this amendment will be a line between those who are in 'favour of unification . and those who are in favour of the maintenance of State rights at all hazards.

Mr Poynton - And against the Labour Party.

Mr KNOX - Many of my honorable friends in the Labour Party will agree that my personal effort and desire in private life has been to do all that one individual may to better the condition of the great working classes. So long as life is spared to me, any power I possess will be exercised in that direction. I, therefore, decline to believe that the whole merit of looking after the interests of the labouring classes rests with my honorable friends of the Labour Party. I am as anxious as they can be to have placed upon the statutebook practical laws, whose operation will not be ultimately to the disadvantageof the workers. I say that manifestly the tendency of the Labour Party is in thedirection of unification. I ask my honorable friends whether they will deny that, as a party, they are working towards unification ?

Mr Page - The honorable member saysso. That is enough.

Mr KNOX - I want honorable members, of the Labour Party to deny it if they can. I say that the platform of that party is distinctly against the maintenance of State rights, as compared with the policy of unification, in support of which they are working.

Mr Fisher - Could the honorable member give some evidence upon which he has founded that opinion?

Mr KNOX - I can refer to the action taken by the party in connexion with this Bill.

Mr Tudor - This Bill has been introduced by the Government.

Mr KNOX - I refer to the amendment which we are now discussing. The Government have taken up no such positions as that. It is the amendment moved on behalf of the Labour Party, which will establish the line of demarcation between those who favour unification and those who desire to preserve the rights of the States. In bringing about unification, or in impairing the rights of the various States, the members of the Labour Party believethat they will secure greater power. They expect to suborn the States, and to use the legislative instrument of the Commonwealth Parliament as an easier and more rapid method by which to attain their ends. I notice that my honorable friends do not deny that. I hold that underlying all this pressure and effort on their part that is the end towards which they are working.

Mr Page - Not guilty, your worship.

Mr KNOX - Quite apart from the intrinsic merits or demerits of the amendment, those who desire to support the Constitution and preserve State rights should" regard the division to be taken to-night asone of the most important that can ever he taken in this House.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is still the High Court behind us to decide State rights.

Mr KNOX - I am not manufacturing, but merely stating facts which are not contradicted. I say that to-night we are going to lay down a line between two parties in this House. We shall separate those who favour the Constitution and the maintenance of State rights from those who are in favour of a policy of unification, and of using the Federal Parliament as an instrument to bring about that which I think is undesirable, and should be resisted. So far from being a supporter of unification, I believe that, in consequence of the varying physical and climatic conditions, and the enormous extent of this island continent, the time is not far distant when it will be necessary for the Federal Parliament to consider whether it will not be in the interests of the proper representation of the people of the Commonwealth to have a further subdivision of States. In my humble judgment that is one of the questions which must engage the attention of the Federal Parliament in the very near future.

Mr Tudor - How many Parliaments would the honorable member like to see?

Mr KNOX - I hope that my honorable friend and 1 may be found together in many a future Parliament. As to the legal position in connexion with- the proposed amendment, I venture, as a layman, to rest absolutely satisfied with the arguments put forward by the Prime Minister, and by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. When I am confronted by a question of legal difficulty, it is my custom, and I suppose the custom of every business man here, to take the opinion of those who are qualified to- give information and guidance upon such technical matters.


Mr KNOX - If I had a difficulty with the honorable member for South Sydney I have no doubt he would be able to get a lawyer to support his view, as I should be able to get one to support mine ; but I have chosen to accept the guidance of those who have, supplied a clear enunciation of the position from what I believe to be a commonsense view of the whole situation. Speaking with a full sense of my responsibilities and for the people I represent, I feel that in the approaching division the main issue will be unification or the maintenance of State rights.

Mr Deakin - Or Federalism. 2 r

Mr KNOX - I shall cast my vote tonight for a continued and loyal adherence to the spirit of the Constitution, and for the maintenance of State rights.

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