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Wednesday, 27 April 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) (Treasurer) .I have to frankly acknowledge, on behalf of every member of the Ministry, the kind references made by the honorable gentlemen at the head of His Majesty's Oppositions, and especially the generous reception, so far as we are individually concerned, which has been accorded us by the House. I acknowledge that we have nothing whatever of which to complain in that respect, nor in regard to the criticism which so far has been launched against us. But I think that there is some justification for my pointing out that there is another side to the existing position as put before us a few moments ago. In the first place, we were told by the right honorable member for Swan that we had no warrant for. assuming office in face of the fact that we have not the assurance of the support of a majority of this House. Then we were told 'by the right honorable member for East Sydney that the result of the last election went to show that the people of Australia were not agreeable to the assumption of office by an Administration consisting of members of the party to which I belong. I would remind the House, however, that at the last elections an almost equal number of honorable members belonging to each of the three parties in this Chamber was returned, and that, therefore, we have as great a right to assume office as has any other party. If we make an analysis of the voting on that occasion, I think we shall see that the success of the Labour Party, so far as the number of members returned is concerned, compares favorably with the record of either of the leaders of the other two parties who then appealed to the electors.

Mr Johnson - But still the Labour Party is in a minority.

Mr WATSON - I am quite prepared to admit that that is so. Unfortunately we are not in a position to say that there is any party in this House which commands a majority of members on all questions of policy. That is the point. On the question of policy which is immediately at issue - the question of compulsory conciliation and arbitration, and the general details of the measure before Parliament - I claim to represent more nearly and accurately the opinion of the majority of members of this House than do any of the other gentlemen who are in the position of leaders of parties. So far as concerns any' declaration of this House on the momentous matters which have so far affected the existence of the Government in the present Parliament, I claim we have a right to assume that we have a majority df honorable members behind us. We, of course, regret as much as any one that there are three parties in the House; but we hope before very long to increase our numbers in such a way that there may be only two parties. In reference to the remarks of the honorable gentleman who has lately resigned the office I now occupy, it seems to me only proper that honorable members, before coming to a decision as to the degree of generosity with which they will treat us, or the degree of confidence they will extend to us, have a right to know the immediate policy we intend to place before the country. I am hopeful - indeed, I can assure the House - that honorable members will be made fully aware of our intentions in this regard when this Chamber re-assembles. I only desire to say that personally I have the fullest possible appreciation of the great difficulties which attach to the position I have had the temerity to assume, and which have been alluded to by the late Prime Minister. I, too, quite understand that in attempting the work of the Treasury, after so able and trusted an administrator as the late Treasurer, the right honorable member for Balaclava, I am faced with a doubly difficult task. But I feel it important that the Treasurer should have a little power in regard to the direction of expenditure ; and in making an alteration in what has hitherto been regarded as the practice of the Commonwealth Government, I am following the example of various States Premiers, who have in the past also undertaken the administration of trie Trea sury. I again thank the House for the generous treatment which has been accorded to the Government so far; and I can assure honorable members that we shall be able to place before them a policy when we next re-assemble for the immediate work of Parliament.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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