Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 25 May 1904

Mr SPEAKER - Does the honorable member think that this has anything to do with the question under discussion?

Mr JOHNSON - It became necessary for me to refer to these matters in reply to the attacks made upon me, because of ' my present position and my former connexionwith the Labour Party.

Mr SPEAKER - If the honorable member feels it necessary to go into these details, I hope that he will be as brief as may be.

Mr JOHNSON - Certainly. I shall proceed only to the extent necessary to give a fair exposition of the situation. Turning to the thirteenth plank of the platform, I find the following: -

Prohibition of further alienation of Crown lands, and the recognition in our legislative enactments of the natural and inalienable rights of the whole community to the land - upon which all must live - and from which, by labour, all wealth is produced. By the taxation of that value which accrues to land from the presence and needs of the community, irrespective of improvements effected by human exertion, and the absolute and indefeasible right of property on the part of all Crown tenants in improvements effected on their holdings.

Following upon that, I find that, although the party had not succeeded in securing the adoption of even the first plank of their platform, they gradually dropped the subject, until, in 1898, they sought for only a progressive land tax. In later platforms, all reference to the subject was deleted. At the time I have spoken of, the labour programme was an absolutely free-trade platform. Now, to show that my action was consistent in supporting the Labour Party, a"s I knew it at that time, I will quote further from their platform. The quotation has reference to what was meant bv sinking the fiscal issue, and is printed in prominent type -

They will not sink the question of revenue. They will strive to obtain revenue for State and local purposes by a tax on unimproved land values, and thus bring into use the bulk of the land now held by monopolists for speculative purposes.

It further stated -

Any man turning from the straight path thus laid down can find no place in the ranks or councils of the party. He will be Distinctly Repudiated by all Labour Bodies.

If we follow what was done in connexion with the declaration of the policy of the Labour Party, we find that when this principle came up for discussion in the State Assembly of New South Wales, they voted in favour of exemptions. The first time that the party had the matter under consideration, they indorsed the principle of no exemptions ; but when it came to a matter of practical politics, and a Land Tax Bill was introduced into the Legislature, the Labour Party were the loudest in proclaiming the necessity for exemptions, and absolutely refused to support the measure without such a provision. This was done in face of the fact that the labour platform had declared that any one who departed from the strict lines laid downin the programme would not be admittedto the labour councils; but would practically be declared bogus. I- ask, where is that platform now? and where are the members who stood behind it? I am standing by it still, and therefore I think I -can honestlv claim to be the only' true supporter here of the Labour Party when it had a policy which was worth fighting for. It has no such policy now. On the question of exemptions, I think it will be pardonable if I quote a short sentence from a speech of the present Prime- Minister.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I must confess that I am not able to see at this stage what the question of exemptions, or no exemptions in connexion with the land tax policy, has to do with the matter under debate. If the honorable member cannot directly connect his remarks with the subject, I shall ask him to pass on to other matters.

Mr Johnson - Do I understand you to rule that I shall not be in order in attempting to justify my attitude by reference to the speeches of other honorable members ?

Mr SPEAKER - I can quite understand that an honorable member mav require to refer incidentally to events of many years ago, for the purpose of defending himself against imputations which may have been cast upon him; but I should expect such references to be of an incidental character.

Mr Conroy - On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, I should like to know whether I shall be in a position to address myself to the history of the Labour Party in its bearing upon the adoption of their present attitude. It seems to me that they are now dropping many of the planks which were in the platform on which they were first elected, and that it would be desirable to know the reasons they are able to give for having abandoned a portion of their programme. I trust that you will hold that an honorable member will be justified in showing that, owing . to the fact that the party in power have dropped many of the planks nf their platform, they are not entitled to the confidence of the country.

Mr SPEAKER - I think that the honorable and learned member for Werriwa is under a misapprehension as to the real purpose of the debate that is now proceeding. If this were a no-confidence debate, I should feel obliged to permit any such references as those to which he has referred. This, however, is not a no-confidence debate, but a discussion upon certain definite proposals which have been placed before the House by the leader of the Government. I do not remember any reference in those proposals to a land tax, with or without exemptions, and, therefore, it seems to me that a lengthy reference to land taxation, with or without exemptions, is 'altogether outside the scope of the discussion. Moreover, the honorable member for Lang does not pretend to be addressing himself to the subject under discussion, but has avowed that his object is to clear himself from certain imputations. I have asked him to do so, as briefly as he may, and to, as far as possible, avoid reference to matters beyond the scope of the debate.

Mr JOHNSON - I shall respect your, ruling, Mr. Speaker, but, whilst doing so, I must certainly direct your attention to the fact that I refrained from retaliating whilst these charges were being made against me, because I thought that I should have an ample opportunity of dealing fully with the matter afterwards.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member now has an opportunity, if he will proceed.

Mr JOHNSON - But I am subject to certain limitations. It seemed to me necessary to. read certain quotations in order to make clear my position and that of the Ministry, and to show that changes which have occurred in the policy of the Labour Party make it impossible for me to follow the Government. I thought this necessary, more particularly because the Government, through some of its members, has given a direct invitation to members on this side of the House to go over and support it. I desire to show that it is impossible for a man with liberal ideas, and with sympathies entirely in accord ,with the legitimate aims of labour, to follow the Government, owing to their departure from the programme first adopted. I shall, however, proceed no further on those lines. The position is that we have a duty to perform, and that is, to bring back the administration of our affairs to proper lines, and to conditions more in accord with the recognised principles of constitutional government. Therefore, believing that constitutional government can be maintained only by a Ministry which has a clear majority of supporters behind it, we are endeavouring to clear the atmosphere, and to establish a plain line of demarcation between Government supporters and those who are in opposition. Even at the present time, the Ministry know perfectly well that there is arrayed against them a combination, perhaps not absolutely agreed, but a combination of Oppositionists thrown into association with each other because of their disbelief in the principles embodied in the general labour platform. It is for those who do not believe in minority rule, to endeavour to bring about a condition of affairs under which we can establish a Government, whether it be a Labour, a Protectionist, or a Free-trade Ministry, that will be able to control its own business and command a fair majority. It is with this end in view that I have taken my present stand with regard to the proposed coalition. I do not desire a coalition, but circumstances have forced us into some kind of united action for the purpose of relieving the country from the chaotic state of affairs into which it is now being driven. Those who have come together with a view to achieve this object deserve the best thanks of the coun try, even though they may have for the present to sink certain questions which would under ordinary circumstances keep thiem asunder.

Suggest corrections