Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 19 May 1904

Mr HIGGINS (Attorney) (GeneralNorthern Melbourne) . - We have all listened with great interest and sympathy to the honorable and learned member, especially to his remarks relating to his personal experiences and the difficulties which have beset him during the present crisis. I can assure him that he never stood higher in the estimation of Australians than he does today, and that nothing in his official life has become him better than the manner of his leaving it. I say that without the least irony, because I believe that the manner of his leaving official life, and his manner of receiving the present Ministry, are worthy of the highest admiration. I propose to make only a short speech, and I hope that my honorable friend will not regard the brevity of my remarks as any disparagement of his speech.

Mr Deakin - The Romans shortened their swords, and widened their Empire.

Mr HIGGINS - My remarks will be brief, because there is so little to find fault 2 z 2 with in the deliverance of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. It was probably expected that owing to his recent experience the honorable and learned member would come here to curse us, but instead of that, like a certain prophet of old, he has remained to bless. It is quite true that the prophet had interviews and conferences by the way with a certain animal. I understand that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat had the advantage of conferences with the right honorable member for East Sydney. I am speaking only by way of analogy, and not with any offensive intent, so far as the right honorable gentlemanis concerned. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat, in waiting for overtures from the representatives of the two other parties, reminds me very much of the young lady to whom he referred at the A.N.A. banquet. If I might press the comparison further, I would suggest that he is like one of the characters in A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was very admirably presented to us last year. There Demetrius is pursued by Helena, and he pursues Hermia. I venture to suggest that the right honorable member for East Sydney is Helena, and is pursuing Demetrius, in the person of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who in his turn is pursuing Hermia, in the shape of the Labour Party. I really think that my honorable friend makes too much altogether of the three parties bogy. I know that there is a great deal in what he has said, but he must not forget that, although it may be very convenient and nice for a Government to have a majority, a number of Governments have been carried on without majorities. I do not allude to the German Parliament, where the Ministry never had a majority, because it may be urged there are differences between the Constitution of that country and our own. It will be found, however, that in England when the Corn Laws were repealed by Sir Robert Peel, in 1845, the Government were in a minority, whilst the Great Reform Law was carried in 1867 by Mr. Disraeli, when his Government were in a minority. Again, in the initial stages of the working of the Federal Constitution some of the greatest and most far-reaching measures that any Parliament has ever passed were introduced by a Government who were in a minority from first to last.

Mr Hughes - The Government led by the right honorable member for East Syd ney in New South Wales was in a minority in the Parliament of 1898.

Mr HIGGINS - I understand that the right honorable gentleman carried on his Government for five years upon lines of which he could fully approve, whilst he was dependent on an alliance with the Labour Party.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We had a majority against both the other parties at the beginning.

Mr Hughes - That's absurd.

Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the Minister of External Affairs not to interject across the table. It is very disorderly.

Mr HIGGINS - The House has during the last few years heard more than enough of the domestic quarrels of New South Wales, and perhaps I ought not to have digressed to the extent I have done. Three weeks ago the honorable and learned member for Ballarat promised us fair play, and said that he would wait for our programme. He always keeps his word, and now that our programme has been disclosed he finds that our measures are exactly those which, of his own accord, hethought fit to present to the people of Australia. In the programme put forward, not only by the honorable and learned member, but by the right honorable member for East Sydney, there is not one proposal which has not been included among those of the Ministry. Therefore, I suggest, with all respect, that until my honorable and learned friend is in a position to judge as to the manner in which the Government will administer the affairs of the country, his proper place is on this side of the House. We know that the honorable and learned member's sympathy is, and always has been, with progressive legislation, and therefore there is no one in the House we should more warmly welcome as an ally and a guide. There is only the one point in dispute between us - the point on which he thought fit to stake the life of his Government. I refer to the proposal to include railway and other public servants within the operation of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill.

Mr McColl - A very important point.

Mr HIGGINS - It may be. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat appeals for government by majority, and I would remind him that so far as that point is concerned, we certainly have a majority. That fact was demonstrated by the result of the division, and those who voted with us on the last occasion will, if they remain true to their principles, vote in the same way again. We have a majority on that question, and, adopting his advice, we govern in that respect by a majority. As soon as we pass from that matter we have the honorable and learned member's full approval of our programme. It is, of course, very convenient for Governments to feel that they have only one party with which to deal", or, in other words, to know that they have a majority ; but it is not always convenient for the country. My experience and reading are that Governments are best held in check and controlled when they feel that they have to commend their principles not merely to the party supporting them, but to the majority of the House, and some of the best measures that have been passed into law have been framed by Governments at a time when they felt that they had to please a certain number of honorable members of the Opposition.

Mr Reid - Hear, hear. A glorious fighting platform !

Mr HIGGINS - At the present timethe question is really not one of two parties. Having regard to the fact that the honorable and learned members who lead the two branches of' the Opposition have joined in proposing to the Commonwealth the same programme that we have put forward, I submit that the Ministry is in the happy position of being able to feel that there is now only one party in the country - one party supporting old-age pensions, one party supporting all the minor measures, and one party evidently supporting the building of the Federal Capital and the transcontinental railway. I shall go one better than the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. He says that we have at present three parties, and that we require but two. I assert that we need only one. May I also say that but for a very peculiar development during the last general elections, we should have had only two parties - even nominal parties - in this House. In what I am about to say I have no desire to attribute blame to honorable members. I simply wish to state the fact that in New South Wales it was determined that the fight should be based' upon an issue which had really been abandoned for. the time being in all the other States - the issue of free-trade or protection. The question had been discussed in the first Parliament, but recently we witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of the' representatives of one of the six States, with the exception of the members of the Labour Party, basing all the essential voting upon the issue of free-trade or protection, although the issue was dead, and of no practical purpose; The result of . the attitude taken up in New South Wales at the last general elections was that in Victoria the Ministry was forced to a large extent to see that protectionists were returned. But for that peculiar development - one State going to the poll upon an issue different from that which was taken up by all the others - we should have had only two parties, and they would have been what we are going to have in the course of a very short time - the parties of progress and of reaction. ' There are going to be two parties, but, with all respect to my honorable and learned friends opposite, they are not going to be the parties of Mr. Deakin, or of Mr. Reid, or of Mr. Watson. . We shall settle down in a very short time to the old time-honoured cleavage which history has shown' to be universal, the distinction between those who are for progress and those who, if we may put it in a mild form, are for caution. Although, as the honorable and learned member has said, I am not a pledged member of the Labour Party, I view with a great deal of indignation - and I can speak more freely than can those who are pledged - the statement that the Labour Party is a class party. . That misrepresentation Has been sedulously fostered in newspapers, on public platforms, and, I am sorry to say, even in Parliament. No doubt the Labour Party has rightly endeavoured to strike at the root of the evils that exist, at the lowest part of the tree, but at the same time its members avow their intention to dp their best for the whole community. If there is one thing more than another which has driven me and a number of men into sympathy with the Labour Party, it is the gross and cruel injustice to which they have been subjected.

Mr HIGGINS - My honorable friend always spoils my periods. In my opinion, the outcome of this crisis must be very beneficial to the whole community. I do not put it as being beneficial to any party; but for years past I have watched with concern a party growing in influence, in numbers, and in power, yet never facing responsibility. The effect of the creation of the present Ministry, be it short-lived or long-lived, will be good for Australia. It will help to sober those who are in power, it will make them see the limita- tions within which they must work, and at the same time it will help to sober - and they need sobering even more - their unjustcritics. It will enable the people of Australia to see that the affairs of the Commonwealth can be managed as coolly, as sedulously, and as honestly by members of the Labour Party as by any other group of honorable members that could be found in the House. In the Attorney-General's Department there is not that departmental work that is associated with other branches of the Government service, and therefore I am free to say that I never saw a group of Ministers tackle the work of their Departments with such earnestness, honesty, industry, and care, and with' so strong a determination' to. do right to all classes, as have been exhibited by my honorable colleagues. I can make that statement with more freedom than can others, and I have only to say in conclusion, as my honorable and learned friend said the other day, that the people of Australia may consider their destinies and affairs as safe in the hands of the Labour Party, of whom some people speak sneeringly, as they would be in the hands of any other body of men that could be found.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I believe that the right honorable member for East Sydney desires to speak on this important occasion, and I propose to ask for the adjournment of the debate in order that he may do so.

Mr McDonald - The honorable member can keep the debate going.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have not prepared a speech for delivery on the situation. I think it is right that the leader of' the Opposition, Mr. Reid, should be heard.

Mr Poynton - Who is leader of the Opposition?

Mr McDonald - Why didnot the right honorable member for East Sydney take up the positionof leader of the Opposition ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Honorable members think that by making interjections of that kind they will cause division in our ranks.

Mr SPEAKER - Is the honorable member speaking to the question?

Suggest corrections