Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 26 May 1904

Sir JOHN FORREST - Conversations, then.

Mr Watson - No.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I mean before the vote was taken, or before the Prime Minister was sent for by His Excellency the Governor-General.

Mr Watson - It is absolutely untrue.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I am very glad to hear that.

Mr Hughes - The right honorable member is not glad 'to hear that.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I am very glad to hear it.

Mr Hughes - I am pleased to hear t you say so.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Such statements as have been made in regard to this matter cio a great deal of harm, and it is better to have a denial, which I unreservedly accept.

Mr Watson - I did not, in any shape or form, approach the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne until two days after I had been sent for by His Excellency the Governor-General.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I am absolutely satisfied. My remarks, which are disagreeable to myself, and, I am sure, not pleasant to others, might have been avoided if. the Attorney-General, when he spoke the other evening, had taken the course which is usual under such circumstances, and explained his position to his old friends, whom he saw relegated to the Opposition benches while he had gained by their defeat a comfortable seat on the Treasury benches

Mr Batchelor - The Attorney-General has worked much longer with the party with whom he is now associated, than with the other party.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I know nothing of that ; I only know my own experience in this House. The Attorney-General had surely done enough to injure his party without profiting by its downfall ; he had joined in slaying his leader, and his party, and if might well be said of him what was said of old to Jehu by Jezebel - "Had Zimri peace, who slew his master?"

Mr Higgins - I thought the right honorable member advocated freedom from caucus compulsion.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I believe in sticking to one's friends in the hour of danger. I do not believe in going over to the enemy when the party is in difficulty. My motto is - " Do not leave the ship when it is in difficulties " ; but the honorable and learned member did not act up to that motto.

Mr Hughes - Is the ship of the right honorable member for Swan in difficulties now ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - No; it is sailing smoothly along, and I am quite happy. I should like to say a word in regard to the Arbitration Bill, which the Government have put in the forefront of their policy. No one can say truthfully that I am out of sympathy with the principle of arbitration, seeing that, as I have already said, I introduced a similar measure in Western Australia. It is true that the Bill was clamoured for by the labour unions in the western State ; and there are at present in the Senate two members who accompanied a deputation which urged me to introduce the measure. I had introduced a Bill the previous session, but it was impossible to pass it, owing to want of time. The next session I once more introduced it, and was desirous of seeing it passed into law, if time would permit. The Labour unions were very anxious in the matter, and I was told at the time by Senator de Largie in the presence of several of his friends, who came to me on a deputation on the subject - " If you pass this Bill it will be the first of the kind in Australia, and you will raise a monument for yourself, and will earn the love and respect of the working classes, not only of the present generation, but of future generations."

Mr Johnson - They knew how to pile on the "jam " !

Sir JOHN FORREST - They did.

Mr Hughes - Did that utterance affect the right honorable gentleman?

Sir JOHN FORREST - It is not unpleasant to hear such things. There is no sound so sweet as praise, especially in a good cause; it is good to hear that you have the good- opinion of your fellows. I told the advocates of the measure that they would have to keep the Opposition in order, and they carried out their promise to do so. The Government had a strong majority, but there was opposition and obstruction.

Mr Hughes - That is how we regard the opposition to the present measure.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The Bill was passed. Not long after, however, it was stated by another gentleman, who is now a member of the Senate, and was present when Senator de Largie made his generous speech, that the Labour unions or the labouring classes owed me nothing in regard to that measure. I was disappointed, but I had to submit. I was satisfied that I had done my duty, and placed what I thought to be a good Act on the statute-book, with a view to prevent strikes. If there is one thing which I abominate more than another, it is that people should strike, and, by so doing, inflict much injury upon one another. I mention these facts to show that, as the Minister who introduced the first real measure of the kind in Australia, I am in favour of the principles of arbitration. But sometime has now elapsed, and I recognise that compulsory arbitration is on its trial in this country, both in regard to capital and labour. The provisions of the Acts in force, which were intended to cultivate good relations between employers and employed, are, I think, in danger of being run to death. I am not singular in that opinion. That great democrat, my friend, Mr. Seddon, Prime Minister of New Zealand, has expressed the same opinion, and has warned the trades unions of that Colony, with whom he is in great sympathy, as he has been for years, that they must be careful, in the administration of the Arbitration Act, not to run it to death. Only to-day I read in the Melbourne, newspapers the remarks which were made by the Chief Justice of New South Wales in connexion with the Act in force in that State. I am not familiar with its provisions, but- I believe that it is more stringent than was the New Zealand Act when I introduced the Arbitration Bill in the Western Australian Parliament in 1900. It would appear from the remarks of the Chief Justice of New South Wales that a very serious condition of affairs is growing in that State. Speaking of the New South Wales Act, I find that he said -

It does encroach upon the liberty of the subjeqt as regards person and property; it creates new crimes unknown to the common law and not contained in any previous statute.

We knew that, of course. He further says -

It interferes with the liberty of action both of the employer and employé ; it precludes one from giving and the other from obtaining employment except upon terms settled by the . Court ; it has the effect of preventing persons from obtaining employment at their own specific calling except upon terms imposed by the Act.

Mr Hughes - The right honorable, gentleman, of course, does not believe all this ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - I must believe it . on such high authority.

Mr Hughes - What, after the right honorable gentleman introduced such a measure in his own State ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Itis not the same measure, and the Chief Justice was speaking with regard to administration.

Mr Hughes - Not at all. What he says is against the Act.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The Chief Justice is speaking of the New South Wales Act, and not of the Western Australian Act.

Mr Hughes - It is precisely the same.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I beg the honorable and learned gentleman's pardon ; it is not the same.

Mr Hughes - In what respect does it differ?'

Sir JOHN FORREST - It is very different.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - After all those remarks, the Chief Justice upheld the application which was before the Court.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The Chief Justice of New South Wales further said -

It deprives an employer of the conduct of his own business, and vests it in a tribunal formed under the Act; and it can prescribe terms of management which, however injurious they may be to an employer, . he must comply with under penalties for any breach of an order of the Court. There are many other matters to which I might refer, such as the operation of the common rule upon persons who have not been before the Court, but it is not necessary to do so. Further, I think this Act is productive of the most alarming and deplorable amount of litigation, with its concomitant ill-feeling and ill-will, between employers and employes, who are by this Act forced into hostile camps.

He concludes with these words -

I believe the object of the Legislature in passing the Act was to promote peace and good-will between employers and employes, but I fear it has npt had that effect.

Mr Webster - Does the right honorable gentleman think that a Judge should deliver a political speech from the Bench?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Will the honorable member be good enough to ask that question of the Judge himself? The statements I have read, coming as thev do from the highest judicial authority in New South Wales, constitute a terrible indictment.

Mr Hutchison - They show his bias.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I have no desire to say anything against the New South Wales Act, but I repeat that this is a terrible indictment, and it behoves us, as sensible men intrusted with great responsibility, to examine into the working of that measure before proceeding with a Bill of our own dealing with the subject. What has been said by the Chief Justice of New South Wales should be a warning to us to act carefully, and we shall act very foolishly if we ignore what he has said. We shall make a mistake if we sav, " We do not care what the Chief Justice of New South Wales, or any one else, has said about the working of the Act in that State; we shall not take the trouble to look into it, but are satisfied that it is all right." Having introduced a similar measure in Western Australia, I perhaps feel a greater sense of responsibility in this connexion than do other honorable members. I was guided in the action I took by New Zealand advice and experience; but if the remarks made by the Chief Justice of New South Wales correctly describe the experience of the effect of this legislation in an Australian community, as reasonable and sensible persons we should look into it.

Mr Hughes - The same measure is proposed in the coalition programme.

Sir JOHN FORREST - What the honorable and learned gentleman refers to is merely the heading of a proposed Bill. If there should be a coalition, and such a Bill were introduced, and if, even after it had almost reached its third reading, we found in it provisions which would not be to the advantage of the country, we should have only one plain duty before us, and that would be to amend it.

Mr Cameron - Throw it out altogether ; that would be the best plan.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I repeat that the remarks of the Chief Justice of New South Wales constitute a terrible indictment against the New South Wales Act, and deserve careful consideration. I ask honor-, able members to consider the effect of it on Australia in the eyes of the British people. Who will embark in business under such conditions, as are described by the Chief Justice of New South Wales? When they are acquainted with the fact that such an Act is in operation here, are there any people in the old country who will be so stupid as to embark capital under conditions of that sort? The indictment of the Chief Justice of New South

Wales is not one which we can afford to treat lightly. It is one of the most important deliverances ever brought under the notice of this House. As a private individual, I should say that, if I had any money to invest in industry, I certainly should not put it into any venture in New South Wales, if the Chief Justice of that State has correctly described the way in which I might be treated. I imagine' that every one would act in the same way, and while those who have capital invested there will not invest more, they will probably withdraw what they have already invested as soon as possible. We, who are in favour of the principle of arbitration, and who have taken action to impose such legislation on the community, are not, I hope, going to be blind; and, if, after investigation, it is found that such legislation is likely to become law, we must reconsider our position. We must "see that those provisions in the Bill which are not good are eliminated, and that other provisions are introduced which will make it carry out what we intend.

Mr Webster - It requires amendment,

Ave admit that.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Myown opinion is that the New South Wales Act is' not being treated fairly by the persons for

Avhose benefit it Avas passed. It appears to me that it is being run to death. I haA'e received a long list of cases Avhich have been brought before the Arbitration Court in that State.

Mr Conroy - There are over sixty cases before the Court now.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Those engaged in almost every industry in that State appear to be dissatisfied, and are going to the Arbitration Court. That, to my mind, is an unfortunate state of affairs. If Ave are men

Avho desire to do Avhat is right, Ave shall not, in the circumstances, ignore the opinion of the Chief Justice of NeAv South Wales and neglect to look closely into the matter.. One of the reasons Avhy I object to the methods of the Labour Party is that they never seem to be satisfied with. any leaderwho does goodwork for them. Perhaps the present Prime Minister will receive better treatment at their hands, because he is one of themselves. One of today's neAvspapers contains a report of an intervieAV with the Premier of Western Australia, whose observations have a considerable bearing upon the point which I desire to impress upon honorable members. The Premier of Western Australia, Mr. James. entered Parliament some years ago, when I was Premier of that State, and has remained there ever since. We used to regard him as an extremist. He was a young and ambitious man, was full of fire an excellent speaker, and possessed of a high character. He was imbued with the idea that no community could become great unless it gave its attention to social legislation, even though there might not appear to be any immediate necessity for it. He used to ransack the records of other States with a view to find' desirable new laws, and when any measure took his fancy he brought it before the Western Australian Legislature. He did not succeed in carrying many of these Bills, as all our time was taken up in providing for the new order of things brought about by the rapid progress of the Colony. I used to say that, although the proposals contained in his measures were in many cases very good, they were not required. I argued, for instance, that there was no use in legislating in the direction of establishing a minimum wage, when all the workers of the State were receiving wages far in excess of any minimum that was likely to be fixed. Now, Mr. James, whilst he has been the Premier of Western Australia, has succeeded in placing on the statute-book a large amount of legislation of a more or less radical character. He has been a staunch friend of the Labour Party ever since he has been in public life.

Mr Frazer - The right honorable gentleman should not forget to tell the House that the Labour Party kept Mr. James in power.

Sir JOHN FORREST - They apparently do not intend to keep him in power any longer. Perhaps they kept Mr. James in power for a time, because it did not, suit them to turn him out in favour of others who might be even less favorably disposed to them. Mr. James has no doubt been a good friend to the Labour Party, and an advocate of advanced legislation. In the course of an interview on Wednesday last, he was asked why all the members of his Government were being so bitterlyopposed by labour candidates. The James Government is constituted of several men who were political opponents of mine. They were never tired of airing their liberal or radical views, and tried to impress on their hearers that they were far in advance of me so far as their ideas of liberalism were concerned. Now the

Labour Party are not only opposing their friends at the hustings, but every Minister, including the Premier, has to fight for his life. The contests will be three-cornered in most cases, because there are three parties in the field. I venture to think that the Labour Party will exhibit more bitterness against the Premier and his Ministers, who have been their friends, than against others, who have not been on their side. They will probably display the same spirit that was shown at the last Federal elections towards sympathizers and supporters like the honorable member for Melbourne Ports and the honorable member for Bourke, against whom, so I am told, their opposition- was more furiously directed, than against other honorable members who had been openly hostile to them. Mr. James, in reply to the question I have indicated, said that -

The cause of the workers never had a better or more consistent friend than himself.

He is represented as saying, further, that -

It was a wonder, after such long and practical sympathy with the workmen, that he and his colleagues shoul'd be opposed. He did not object to labour being represented in Parliament, but he objected to the attempt to make unionism the exclusive mouthpiece of labour in Parliament.

Mr. James,who was opposed to me in politics - although we have always been very good friends apart from that - was supposed to be the " white-headed boy " of the Labour Party, and he worked hard for them. He was supported bv the party against me, in spite of trie fact that I had given them good measures and good works, and had made the State a land' of plenty for all classes. Mr. James went on to say that-

He sympathized with the desire of the workers to support their own candidates when they and their policy were progressive, but when the organizations claimed the exclusive right to represent labour, and aimed at making the party representation a practical monopoly of their organization, it was the duty of the people to plead for greater freedom and more democratic views.

These are the views which are entertained by one who has been considered a friend by the Labour Party for many years.

Mr Carpenter - Mr. James has been the avowed opponent of the Labour Party for many months.

Sir JOHN FORREST - There is no doubt that he is being denounced now, and that he is receiving the same treatment that was meted out to me. I used to think that when he reached power, and had responsibility, he would find that it was not so easy to please the Labour Party. In the beginning, he was young and inexperienced, and full of life and enterprise. Now he is more experienced, and has more knowledge, ' and probably finds that it is not so easy to exercise the powers of office in such a way as to please his supporters, as it is to sit in opposition and criticise those who are trying to do their best. Although evidences of the good work done by what was known as the Forrest Government can be found all over the goldfields, I had not, for some time before I resigned office in Western Australia, the support of more than two out of the ten representatives sent from that part of the State for which I had laboured so hard. I say -to honorable members who may contemplate accepting the invitation that has been so graciously extended to them by the. Minister of External Affairs, " Beware " ! I desire to say a few words regarding the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act. Yesterday I asked the Minister of External Affairs if every passenger from Colombo to Fremantle by the mail steamers was to be hauled up before a Customs official and interrogated as to whether he was under an engagement for manual labour. The reply given was that immigrants are to be asked whether they are bond or free men. Unless they satisfy the officer upon this point, what is to happen? I, or any other honorable member of this House, who may be travelling from Colomboi will' be liable to be hauled up before a Customs official and interrogated.

Mr Hughes - Why differentiate between individuals'?

Sir JOHN FORREST - I am not advocating that.

Mr Hughes - I thought that the right honorable member was asking me a question.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I was not, but I shall have something to say to the Minister presently.

Mr Hughes - I have an engagement elsewhere, but if the right honorable member will sav it now, I will answer him?

Sir JOHN FORREST - If the Minister has an engagement elsewhere, he is at liberty to go. I have no wish to detain him. What are the instructions which he has issued to the Collector of Customs at Fremantle? He has directed that -

A special officer shall be instructed to visit vessels likely to contain Austrian and Italian immigrants, and to examine all immigrants separately and carefully, particularly as to whether they are under contract to perform manual labour. If the officer is satisfied that they are under contract they are to be treated as pro-' hibited immigrants.

I do not believe that there has been a single case of an immigrant landing in Western Australia under contract.

Mr Hughes - Then how will my instructions affect these people ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Where is the necessity for the action which has been taken ?

Mr Hughes - The right honorable member must know that a large meeting was held in Western Australia, at - which certain resolutions were passed.

Sir JOHN FORREST - But when the cases were investigated, it was proved that very few . Italians were employed in the mines at Kalgoorlie. The Minister's instructions continue -

If he is not so satisfied, but has reasonable grounds to suspect that false statements have been made to him in this regard -

I suppose that the looks of some men would constitute " reasonable grounds to suspect that false statements had been made " - - he should permit the immigrant to land, and instruct him not to leave Fremantle until advised that he may do so, and while there to report ' himself every second day at the Customs office. In the meantime all 'possible inquiries should be made by the officer to ascertain whether his suspicion is well-founded. If he comes to the conclusion that such person is really under contract, you. should report the matter as briefly as possible by telegraph, and ask for instructions.

What will happen to an immigrant who, after being treated in this way, proves that he is not under contract? Will the Government pay him anything for the inconvenience to which they have subjected him?

Mr Hughes - Yes. I have agreed with the Italian Consul to pay all the immigrant's expenses "in such cases,, and the Italian Consul is perfectly satisfied with the arrangement.

Mr Thomas - Hear, hear.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member for the Barrier says " Hear, hear " without knowing anything of the circumstances of the case. I am chiefly . concerned with the. interests of the travelling public.

Mr Hughes - How did the right honorable member fare at New York?

Sir JOHN FORREST - I walked ashore there in the same way as I should walk from the Spencer-street railway station, without any Questions being asked of me. The Minister has not been out of Australia for twentv years, and knows nothing whatever of the usages of the world in matters of this character. I have travelled all over the globe, and .my liberty has never been interfered with, save by the laws of quarantine.

Mr Hughes - Should not all men be treated alike?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes; but they should be treated on business lines. In New South Wales, I am aware that great care is taken to exclude undesirable persons coming from Vancouver. What is done there? Under regulations, every captain is required to get each passenger on his ship to fill in a form, setting out who he is, what he is, and the nature of his avocation. At New York a passenger has to declare that he has the equvalent of $30 in his pocket. But all that is done en route; it is not done at the port, where everybody wants to get off the ship, or meet his friends on shore. Administration of this sort only shows the inexperience of the honorable gentleman, who ought to be guided by his own officers, instead of issuing regulations of this description.

Mr Frazer - Would the right honorable member advocate handing over the administration of the Act to the pursers of the vessels?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Is this the way to encourage white men to come to this /country? We say that we want immigration. In my opinion, the honorable gentleman wants to keep immigrants out of Australia.

Mr Hughes - What does the right honorable member's opinion matter to any sane person ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Some people pay some attention to my opinion. The honorable and learned gentleman evidently does not like it, although what I have said is true.

Mr Watson - Tlie people of Western Australia did not show much regard for it at the elections.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Western Australia has .a far better opinion of me than New South Wales has of the honorable gentleman who interrupts me.

Mr Watson - We got some support from New South Wales, but the right honorable member got no support from Western Australia.

Sir JOHN FORREST - If it were not for the honorable gentleman's party, he would not be here at all. Honorable members opposite are dependent entirely upon their organizations to place them in the positions they occupy.

Mr Hughes - I had a bigger majority in New South Wales than the right honorable member has had during the whole of his political life.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Let me tell the Minister of External Affairs that if he lives for a thousand years he will never be regarded in this country as I am regarded by the people who know me in my own State. If he doubts that statement let him come over to Western Australia and see.

Mr Hughes - The honorable member -

Suggest corrections