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Wednesday, 27 April 1904

Mr SPEAKER - It was open to the Prime Minister to make his statement as to his present position as a matter of privilege, and had he availed himself of that right a general discussion could not have taken place. I take it, however, that the honorable gentleman adopted the course of making the statement on the motion for the adjournment in order to permit such honorable members as desired to do so to address themselves to the subject. Holding that view, I have raised no objection to the remarks made by the right honorable member for Swan, who is entitled to speak. Other honorable members have an equal right, should they choose to exercise it.


Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member for Parramatta is continually interrupting. I am drawing attention to the present position of the Ministry, not from any desire to unnecessarily find fault, but as a matter of duty. I think I may say that the Prime Minister has not received any promise of support from any section of the House save that of which he is the leader, and therefore I consider that he occupies a unique position. It is unique to find an honorable member forming a Government, submitting the names of the members of that Government for the approval of the Governor-General, taking office, meeting this House and asking for. an adjournment of three weeks - to which, by the way, I do not propose to object - when he has not secured any promise to assure him that he will have a majority to support his Administration.

Mr Webster - He had a majority on the vital question which led to. the defeat of the late Government.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Even if my argument does not appeal to the honorable member for Gwydir, I feel satisfied that its force will be recognised by. every honorable member who has a knowledge of constitutional usage. Is it in future to be the practice to allow any one who may be sent for by the Governor-General to form an Administration to submit the names of the members of his Government for the approval of the Governor-General, to take over the Departments, and then to ask Parliament for as long an adjournment as possible without assuring the representative of the Crown that he has reasonable grounds for the belief that he has a majority behind him?

Mr Webster - He has reasonable grounds.

Sir JOHN FORREST - After surveying the position- of parties in the House to-day, I fail to see where the Government majority is.

Mr Reid - Did not the right honorable gentleman recommend that the honorable member for Bland should be sent for by the Governor-General ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - I did' not. Have we ever experienced such an incident as this? Have we ever known of a Ministry, after being sworn in and assuming control of the .Departments, meeting the House and asking for an adjournment when they and their supporters number only about twenty-five, as against forty-eight members sitting in opposition. Was there ever such a case as this?

Mr Higgins - Yes.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I have never heard of such a position.

Mr McDonald - It has been the position in this House ever since the first meeting of the Parliament.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I can only say that if the procedure adopted by the Government is to be recognised as a constitutional one, we shall never hear again of any one who has been invited to form an Administration returning his Commission to the Governor-General without having had at least a month's experience of office.

Mr Maloney - The right honorable member should follow the example of his leader

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member should mind his own business, and not interrupt. The Government should have a reasonable opportunity to prepare their policy,' although we know that it is a cut-and-dried one. It has been printed months ago, and therefore a lengthy adjournment is unnecessary to enable them to formulate their policy.

Mr Webster - The right honorable member is wrong again.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I think they will be more particularly engaged during the adjournment in seeking that support which by constitutional usage they should have possessed before taking office. Honorable members are not justified in taking office unless they have received promises on which they could satisfy the GovernorGeneral that they have reasonable grounds to believe that they will have sufficient support to enable them to give effect to their policy, and in this case I have reason to know they have received no such promises. I protest against any Government being formed, taking over the administration of the Departments, and obtaining an adjournment of Parliament, unless they have been able to satisfy the Governor-General thar they have reasonable grounds for the belief that they will be able to carry on the conduct of public affairs. In the absence of any such reasonable grounds, their plain duty is to return their Commission. I have only to say, in conclusion, that although I shall probably not be one of their supporters, I trust that the Government will not find in me an unreasonable opponent.

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