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Thursday, 26 May 1904

Mr SPEAKER - I must point out to honorable members that this is not a dialogue; it is a speech. I will ask the right honorable member for Swan to proceed.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Honorable members opposite should not interrupt me offensively.

Mr Watson - We know that the Western Australian people have a great opinion of the right honorable member personally, though not politically.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The Prime Minister says that they have a high opinion of me personally. What a piece of arrogant impertinence towards a man who has been ten years continuously Premier of ' that State, enjoying the absolute confidence of the people all that time, and ' who has been returned unopposed ever since he has been in public life ! What does he mean by addressing this remark to me? What does he mean by saying that the people of West Australia have no regard for me politically? They have not only a regard for me politically, but an affection for me personally, and if the Prime Minister doubts that let him come over to Western Australia and see for himself.

Mr Watson - Yet they voted against the right honorable member.

Sir JOHN FORREST - They will not do it again. There were reasons for it last time. I did not speak and work against the Labour'.Party, because they had been supporting my party. I was in a difficult position.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The labour senators got a majority vote in the right honorable member's own electorate.

Sir JOHN FORREST - What was the majority ?

Mr O'malley - About 500, I think.

Sir JOHN FORREST - There were not many who voted for them altogether. I think only 15,000 or 16,000 electors . voted out of 106,000 on the rolls. I am altogether opposed to interfering unduly with Europeans entering Australia. We must act like other nations in dealing with the travelling public. There are plenty of ways by which passengers, from the humblest to the richest, can be interrogated on the journey, instead of being pestered and delayed when they arrive at Fremantle, and instead of the impression being conveyed to them that they are entering a country in which they are considered to be in bondage. They may not be allowed to land for hours and hours after the ship has arrived. Probably honorable members do not know that vessels only remain five or six hours at Fremantle altogether, and if passengers are to be humbugged about for an hour or two while the officials look after some Italian or Austrian whom they think is coming here to try to earn a living, they must regard it as most harassing. That conduct will not suit the people of Western Australia. I do not say these things on personal grounds. If I were a selfish man, merely looking after myself, I should say to this Government, " Go on and make your blunders - make a by-word of your administration." But I mav tell honorable members opposite, and the Minister, that if he tries to carry out in Western Australia the instructions that have been issued, he will have a hornet's nest about his ears. I am quite sure that the honorable member for Fremantle will have something said to him on the subject. It will be more than his political life is worth if these instructions are persevered with.

Mr Carpenter - Let the right honorable member leave that to me; he is raising a bogy.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Surely to goodness the landing of passengers at Fremantle is difficult enough now, without the Commonwealth Government placing further restrictions in the way. It takes a very long time to land. Is that difficulty to be intensified in order that the Commonwealth Government may look after a few men who can just as well be looked after en route?

Mr Mahon - Passengers can land just as easily at Fremantle 'as at Port Melbourne.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I have warned the Government, and they can take the responsibility.

Mr Carpenter - They are quite ready to do that.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member, is very' bold now, but he will not be quite so bold when he has to answer for these things which I am talking about. I understood that it was intended that we should treat all European nations alike. Now, however, Austrians and Italians are being singled out for objection. I do not know what the Austrian Empire and the people of Italy will say to this discrimination.

Mr Brown - New Zealand has done the same thing with regard to Austrians.

Mr Mauger - There is a Bill before the House of Commons at this moment dealing with aliens, and Austrians are amongst those who are causing the difficulty in London.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I am desirous that the greatest care shall be taken in discriminating between different nationalities. The Minister who is responsible for the working of the Immigration Restriction Act must, use his own discretion, but to discriminate in this fashion will probably be very offensive to the nations affected. The instructions which he has issued simply show the sort of slap-dash policy indulged in by this new Minister, who has had no experience at all in matters of this sort. It is evident that the Minister has not a proper appreciation of our obligations to the Empire. He must have forgotten altogether that incidents of this sort may make the position of the mother country very difficult indeed in regard to her relations with great and powerful foreign nations. This shows the danger of intrusting the administration of the government of this country to people who have had no experience of the management of affairs of this kind, or, indeed, of any affairs of any magnitude. Now I want to say a word or two with regard to another feature of the policy of the Government. They say that they are opposed to borrowing, or at any rate that they wish to see borrowing restricted. Well, I suppose we are all in favour of that. No one wants to be extravagant or to borrow uselessly. They do not appear to be averse to taking money from the banks without paying any interest for the use of it. Doubtless a scheme will, in due course, be laid before us, showing how it is proposed to refund the money. I presume that the Government do not propose to give the banks nothing but paper in return for their gold, and to make no provision for a refund.

Mr O'malley - Provision will be made.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I' fail to distinguish anty great difference between this proposal and a policy of Commonwealth borrowing, save that the Government probably hope to escape the payment of a certain amount of interest by using other people's money instead of borrowing to the extent necessary to satisfy their needs. I am altogether opposed to the contention that we should not construct any public works, or embark on any enterprise, unless we have the necessary capital in hand. Such a policy would not tend to the development of this country.. I am as anxious as is any honorable member that proper regard shall be paid to the principle of economy ; but, in Western Australia, I have spent loan moneys to the extent of many millions of pounds in carrying out works, not one of which I would undo if I could. Public borrowing has been a benefit to Australia, and I feel that the Labour Party have not merely been assisted by, but practically owe their existence as a party to the public borrowing policy of the States. Does any one suppose for a moment that the great cities of Melbourne and Sydney would be what they are to-day, or that railways would be running throughout the several States if a loan policy had not been adopted in any of the States? It goes without saying that, in the absence of such a policy, they would not.« If a country is to be benefited, the' Government must make its highways, or allow private enterprise to step in and do so, and in either case borrowed money is the factor. It is not the borrowing, but the unwise spending of money, that is to be deprecated. The Labour Party in the New South Wales Parliament is not opposed to borrowing, for during the last four years they have kept in power a Government which, I believe, has increased the public debt by something like ^20,000,000.

Mr Webster - And used the money in carrying out good work.

Sir JOHN FORREST - How do honorable members opposite reconcile the attitude of the Labour Party in New South Wales with their statement, that they, are opposed to public borrowing? The stand which they take up reminds me very much of a man who, having sucked all the good out of an orange that it is possible for him to obtain, says that he " does not like oranges." I come now to another plank in the Labour platform to which I object - the nationalization of industries. It is a Utopian idea. Perhaps some honorable members may describe it as a piece pf Tom Mannism

Mr Carpenter - The right honorable gentleman has misquoted the platform. The word used is " monopolies," not " industries."

Sir JOHN FORREST - We find the word "industries" used in one place, and " monopolies" in another. In the programme of the State Labour Party of New South Wales " land nationalization and the whole means of production, distribution, and exchange " are included.

Mr Ronald - That is not the case.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Then there must have been some mistake, for the copy of the platform which I have certainly contains that item as plank' No. 17 of the fighting platform. Honorable members on this side may reasonably speakof this proposal as Utopian or socialistic. They may say that it is in keeping with resolutions passed at the May Day celebrations, to which, as has already been pointed out, the Prime Minister has made such sympathetic reference.' I believe that a large degree of individual liberty and individual enterprise are the necessary incentives to great efforts, and that those manly attributes have been the great factors in building up Our race and our country. I have heard of some curious Socialists, and the story of one to which I will refer may not' be unknown in this House. A Tasmanian Socialist once declared that he believed in the equal distribution of property, and when asked whether that was his honest belief, replied in the affirmative. "What,"' said his interrogator, "if you had two houses, would you give me one?" "Certainly," replied the Socialist. "And if you had two horses or cows, would you give me one?" "I would," again replied the man. " Then, if you had two pigs, would you be prepared to give me one of them?" "Ah! you beggar," replied the Socialist, " you know I have two pigs." That is the position of Socialists generally. They are willing to divide everything that they themselves do not possess.

Mr Watson - Socialism does not mean division.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I know what it means.

Mr Watson - Apparently the right honorable member does not know the meaning of Socialism.

Sir JOHN FORREST - It is only the thin end of the wedge. If there are any Socialists in this House, let them go to Port Darwin, under the leadership of the honorable member for Darwin, and found a Colony in the Torrid Zone.

Mr O'malley - I am very comfortable here.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I should think so.

Mr Watson - Why go to the Torrid Zone ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Because honorable members of the Labour Party say that white men can work there in comfort. I wish now to refer to the Government proposals in regard to navigation laws. What has become of this part of their fighting platform? I wish to be perfectly candid, and to say that I think the Government have acted wisely in this matter. The question requires far more consideration than it has yet received, before a Navigation Bill is passed. Honorable members know what my feelings are in this regard. 1 induced my colleagues to insert certain clauses in the Bill which we introduced, in order to make it more acceptable ; but I never liked the Bill. I considered it to be premature. However desirable a measure may seem in theory, I do not think that it should be passed into law unless it is "actually required. Let us first deal with those matters which are pressing and practical, and allow those that are not to await a more convenient time.

Mr Watson - The caucus overruled the right honorable member in regard to the Navigation Bill.

Sir JOHN FORREST - But I could have left that caucus, and that is more than the honorable gentleman can do, so far as his party is concerned.

Mr Watson - I could do the same.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Not unless the honorable gentleman gave up his seat in this House.

Mr Watson - Yes, I could.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I could have left that caucus, and yet remained in the House.

Mr McDonald - The right honorable member admits that he supported a measure to which he was opposed.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I have honestlygiven expression to my opinion on the subject, and it is open to the honorable member to place what construction he likes upon my action. I am glad that the Government have not gone on with the measure, but that does not alter the fact that the Labour Party pressed, urged, and almost coerced the late Government to bring in the Bill. Why should it be sacrificed, when it was considered last session to be so pressing?

Mr Webster - It is not sacrificed.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The consideration of it is, at all events, to be postponed-

Mr Webster - In order that the work of the Government, of which the right honorable member was a member, may be perfected.

Sir JOHN FORREST - Then the measure is not as urgent as it was said to be? Was the demand for the passing of that Bill merely an election cry? What about, the poor seamen, and the poor ship-owners,, of whom we heard so much last session ? An alliance between the poor seamen and" the poor ship-owners was formed, in order to secure the passing of this Bill, and when I saw those parties come together I felt that there must be something associated with the demand that required attention. The two parties had not been hitherto very friendly, and the fact that they were associating together for a certain purpose, suggested that, in the public interest, some inquiry was necessary. Are the seamen to be sacrificed ? Are the ship-owners to be sacrificed for the present session? But, perhaps, the Prime Minister is of the opinion that the Bill, as introduced, applies to them without specifically naming them.

Mr Watson - I am not a member of the legal profession, so I decline to give a legal opinion.

Sir JOHN FORREST - If the Government think that seamen come within thescope of the Arbitration Bill, as introduced, it is their duty to tell us so. It is not fair that they should keep us in the dark on such a subject. They should be outspoken. We expect their confidence. We were told last session that a strike was imminent, unless special legislation applying to seamen was passed. The right honorable member for Adelaide resigned hs portfolio in the Barton Administration because the provisions of the last Conciliation and Arbitration Bill were not made to apply to seamen in oversea and foreign ships. He spoke of the imminence of a strike. Was it all a sham? Was what has been said merely a cry to influence the elections? Every one knows that the seamen on our coast are fairly well paid, that our steam-ship owners are fairly affluent, and that there is no likelihood ot a maritime strike. I am informed that the coastal shipping obtains more employment by the carriage of goods transhipped to them from the over-sea and foreign steamers than it loses by the competition of those, steamers. I understand that now the shipowners themselves are frightened, and are doubtful if it is in their interests to legislate in the way proposed. Is this virtuous and consistent party going to sacrifice the public servants as well as the seamen and the shipowners? Personally, I think that the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill should not apply to public servants. But t he members of the Labour Party are ready to sacrifice anything to gain their own ends, and although they were enabled to get possession of the Treasury benches by carrying an amendment applying the provisions of the Bill to public servants, now that they are in power they are discarding them. I regret that my speech has been so long. My task has been a heavy one, and I have not been in the best of health for its performance. My concluding words are these : I have had to ask myself two questions. The first is, " Am I prepared to give my help to the Government to carry out the platform, present and prospective, of their party ? " The second is, " Do I approve of their- objects and their methods? " To both questions I definitely reply " No." I am not in accord with the platform of the Government, present and prospective, nor with the methods of their organization.

Mr Webster - It is the programme of the right honorable member's party,

Sir JOHN FORREST - I deny that. The manner in which it is proposed to give effect to this programme is not that of the party to which I belong. Neither have I sufficient confidence in the knowledge and experience of Ministers to justify me in intrusting them with the administration of the affairs of the Commonwealth. I thank honorable members for the attention which they have given to me.

Mr Higgins - I desire, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, to make a personal explanation. The right honorable member for Swan has said that I arranged to take office before the vote which displaced the late Administration was taken.

Sir John Forrest - What I said I had heard was, that a conversation or understanding had been arranged either before the vote or before the honorable member for Bland was sent for bv His Excellency the Governor-General. My statement was denied, and I accepted the denial.

Mr Higgins - I am glad that the right honorable member has withdrawn that statement. It is in accordance with his usual frankness to do so.

Sir John Forrest - I did it when it was denied, and was very glad to.

Mr Higgins - I regret that the statement was made without better reason.

Sir John Forrest - I assure the AttorneyGeneral that I did not invent it. It stated to me as a fact.

Mr Higgins - I am sure that honorable members believe that I would not utter a word that is not true, and I say that I heard nothing as to the acceptance of office until a day or two after the Prime- Minister was commissioned by His Excellency to form an Administration. The right honorable member for Swan also said that, in accepting office, I had deserted my party, and had given no excuse for my action. But before I had accepted office I was assured that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat had been consulted, and that he had no objection to my doing so.

Mr Watson - The words were, " He had no objection whatever."

Sir John Forrest - Did he say that to the Attorney-General?

Mr Watson - He said it to me.

Mr Higgins - I wrote to the honorable and learned member for Ballarat afterwards. He replied ; and if he does not regard the correspondence as confidential, I do not, and am perfectly willing that the right ' honorable member for Swan should see it. I have a genuine respect for the right honorable member, but may I say, with all kindness and respect, that I can understand now his black looks at the Ministerial benches. If he had been loyal to the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, and had consulted him about what had been done, he would have had all these doubts and difficulties dispelled.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think so.

Mr Watson - I had the authority of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat only a few minutes ago to make the statement which I have made.

Mr Higgins - I have made this statement, because the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who has the respect of all who know him, and has always been my friend, gave me permission to do so ; otherwise I should not have made it. i decline to give my reasons for joining the Ministry, beyond saying that I regard it as a good thing for Australia that the Labour Party should have an innings. Every one knows that,- from first to last, I have had a strong and a growing sympathy with their aspirations. That sympathy has not been lessened one whit by the unjust attacks made on them. I am sorry that the right honorable member has been misled by rumours and suspicions. I think he has taken his beating very badly. I attribute that to his want of experience in being beaten. I think he was never beaten before.

Mr SPEAKER - I am afraid that the honorable and learned member is going beyond a personal explanation.

Mr Higgins - The right honorable member's infinite capacity for learning will enable him to gain an advantage from this experience, and help him to bear his present trials. My admiration for his character and powers is not in the least diminished.

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