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Tuesday, 31 May 1904

Sir JOHN FORREST (Swan) - No doubt the Prime Minister would be very glad if the honorable and learned member for Corio were to withdraw his amendment.

Mr Watson - He could move it again.

Sir JOHN FORREST - It would relieve honorable members opposite perhaps of a little difficulty in which they find themselves.

Mr Page - No difficulty at all.

Mr Robinson - They are in the soup now.

Mr Tudor - No ; ' do not worry about us.

Sir JOHN FORREST - It is true that this question was before the electors in Western Australia, but they did not trouble very much about it. I desire to remind -the Minister of Trade and Customs - who is not here, I am sorry to see - of the saying -

By their fruits ye shall know them.

The honorable gentleman said something about my being the last person to say anything about inconsistency. I have yet to learn that I have ever voted in different ways in this House, and if anything I have- ever said here in my outspokenness has been misunderstood by honorable members, of course I cannot help that. I am not accustomed to change my vote or my opinion without a very good reason, and I have never done so, in this House at any rate. I have not done what the Minister of Trade and Customs has done to-night - voted in a different way from what he did six weeks ago. The proposal of the late Government was that Commonwealth and States employes should be excluded from the operation of the Bill. The members of the present Government and their supporters opposed that proposal with all their might, with the result that the Ministry was defeated, and resigned. They were in favour of public servants, railway employe's, and all persons who are paid by the Government being subjected to the Bill, and they in both the last Parliament and this Parliament opposed the proposal of the late Government. One would have expected that, having gained a victory, they would have proceeded to insert the words of the amendment which was moved by the Minister of Trade and Customs. The division was taken on the question that certain words be omitted, with a view of inserting certain other words. I remember complimenting the present Prime Minister on the straightforwardness of his party. There was no room for difference of opinion as to what they meant. The Government party meant to exclude States public servants from the operation of the Bill, and said so. The opposing Labour Party wanted to include them, and said so. Both were acting in a straightforward manner. But can I say that now? Can I say that honorable members opposite have stuck to their colours? They have departed entirely from their former amendment.

Mr Watson - We were not bound to adhere to the phraseology.

Sir JOHN FORREST - My compliments, which were accepted by honorable members opposite, go for nothing.

Mr Batchelor - The right honorable member withdraws them?

Sir JOHN FORREST - Certainly, I withdraw them. It was thoroughly understood that one party wished to include and the other to exclude - not by implication, but by exact words. But no sooner do the Government get upon the Treasury bench than they introduce our Bill, but drop the words that they formerly intended to insert, and put in other words which are more restrictive. We have had no explanation of this lightning change, except that honorable members opposite now say that they do not desire to have inserted in the Bill the exact language that they wanted a few weeks ago. They have already voted for the exclusion of Commonwealth servants, whom they desired a few weeks since to include, and now they do not wish to include State servants. They are absolutely reversing, so far as I can see, what they said they were in favour of a little while ago.

Mr Watson - Does not the right honorable member know that we were prepared to accept this amendment from the previous Government ?

Sir JOHN FORREST - We were open and straightforward all through.

Mr Watson - So were we, and we would have accepted this.

Sir JOHN FORREST - I do not know that. We felt too strongly on the matter ; in fact, we had gone to the country upon it, and were not able, even if we had changed our minds - which certainly I have not done - to change our attitude. It is due to the Committee that honorable members opposite should make some explanation as to why the very things which they advocated formerly they depart from to-night. They say that the words which they favour carry out to some extent what was desired before. But they, do not go the full extent, and do not say definitely whom they intend to include, leaving it to the High Court to decide for them. The question will arise - What is an industrial matter ? What is an industrial State servant? We do not want to ask the High Court to tell us what we want. We ought to let the High Court know exactly what we mean.

Mr Watson - The High Court would have to decide in either case.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The High Court would do justice; but it is for us to say what we think is included in the term "industrial," and not to use vague words which may mean anything. Is it business-like that we should leave to the High Court the decision of a matter which we ought to decide for ourselves? At least we ought to let the High Court know what we want. When a difficulty arises, the High Court will have to be convened in all haste to settle it. Probably the mischief will have been done by that time. We cannot get a decision from the High Court in a moment. The subject will have to be argued, perhaps, for weeks. Then the Judges will have to consider their decision. This is not the way to do the business of the country. We ought not to refrain from saying exactly what we want, leaving it to other people to decide what is the meaning of our words. Is that the attitude which my honorable friends opposite assumed when they were opposed to us ? They seem to have gone into devious paths. If we carry the clause in the form recommended by the Government, we shall not know the meaning of it, and the High Court will have to tell us what we meant. It is our dutv to tell the High Court what we want in definite terms. If we overstep the mark - as I hope we shall not do - the High Court will pull us up. But it is not a proper way to legislate to use expressions of which we do not know the meaning, leaving it to the High Court to interpret them. I should imagine that it will be news to the public servants when they learn that they are excluded. It will be rather a shock to them to find that they are not included in specific terms in this Bill. After all the talk which has taken place, and all the speeches which have been made as to the great advantage of including them all, and of how ameliorating and how just, and how far-reaching a measure like this, which included them, would be, the public servants of the States will be amazed to discover that they are left out altogether. I do not think that will satisfy those of the public servants of the Commonwealth and the States, who have been promised all sorts of advantages by those who advocate their inclusion in this Bill. It seems to me that honorable members opposite have altogether abandoned the views to which they previously gave expression. They now desire to limit the application of the measure to railway employes, and such other members of the Public Service as the High Court may decide are engaged in industrial enterprise.

Mr Hutchison - That is specifically stated.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member for Hindmarsh, who is very apt at interjecting, will, perhaps, tell me where it is specifically stated.

Mr Hutchison - I shall speak presently.

Sir JOHN FORREST - The honorable member would be wise if he expressed his own views when he addressed the Committee instead of interjecting so frequently. I have noticed that he interrupts even when the Attorney-General is expounding the law upon the subject. What is the reason for this lightning change on the part of honorable members opposite, after advertising throughout the length and breadth of the country the great good which this measure would confer upon all public servants? I observed that there was some little dissension in their ranks when the division was taken, and I wonder that there was not more. Evidently some honorable members did not like the' idea of stultifying themselves immediately they had attained to seats upon the Treasury benches, because a few of them refused to vote with the Government. Perhaps they were aware that the position was perfectly safe. On this very question they were very solid a few weeks ago when they saw a possibility of securing control of the affairs of this country ; but they are not so united now. All the compliments which I paid to them on a former occasion when I told the present Prime Minister that the Labour Party was acting in a perfectly straightforward manner must now be withdrawn.

Mr Batchelor - That was before the Government, of which the right honorable member was a Minister, was " out."

Sir JOHN FORREST - Yes, and before the present Government was "in." When the party with which I am associated is out of office its members stick to their guns. But when honorable members opposite have secured office they effect a lightning change. I chiefly rose to address a few words to the Minister for Trade and Customs. I have always been consistent in this House, and no fault has ever been found with me by those to whom I owed allegiance. Therefore, I consider that his reflections upon my loyalty were undeserved. 1 am opposed to making this measure applicable either to Commonwealth or State public servants, for the reasons which I have advanced. I hold that the proposal is unconstitutional, and that even if it were not it is inexpedient for us to adopt it. In this matter honorable members opposite have- not been consistent. I have not heard anything which can justify the course of action which they have adopted. They voted for including within the provisions of this Bill the public servants of the Commonwealth', and of the States, and we opposed it. Now that the honorable and learned member for Corio submits a similar proposal, they are prepared to absolutely reverse their previous votes.

Sir WILLIAMLYNE (Hume).Although I listened attentively to the references made by the right honorable member for Swan to the Government and their action in this matter, he failed to convince me either that they have committed any grievous wrong or that they have departed seriously from their previous attitude. He asked " Why is this matter to be left to the decision of the High Court 1 ' ? But I would point out that that tribunal alone can interpret the Constitution. He referred to the word " industrial " which it is proposed to insert in this Bill-

Sir John Forrest - Are you a member of the Government? I think that they can defend themselves.

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