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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr HUGHES (West Sydney) (Minister of External Affairs) . - The amendment moved by the honorable and learned member for Corinella on the proposal of the Government to recommit certain clauses has the peculiar merit of being, so far as I know, and, apparently, so far as can be gathered from honorable members, unique in the history of parliamentary government - unique, at any rate, in this country and in Great Britain. Under certain circumstances very little could be urged against his action, but the present circumstances are peculiar. The Government, as the honorable and learned member, and every other honorable member in the House knows very well, have declared that they regard the amendment as vital, both to the measure and to their own existence as an administration. The action of the honorable and learned member, therefore, amounts to an attempt to prevent the Government, whose administration, whose policy, and whose very existence are challenged, from saying one word in their own defence. The honorable and learned member, in advancing some reasons why this clause 48 should not be recommitted, spoke in comparatively brief fashion. When we recall the other occasions on which the House and< the Committee have been privileged to hear the honorable and learned member, we can only wonder why he should have been so brief at the present juncture, when, under circumstances of less importance, he has entertained us at great length. There is about big battalions a virtue which curtails even the oratorical efforts of the honorable and learned member. Why, indeed, should the honorable and learned member speak longer than was necessary to declare, in so many set terms, the intentions of that body whose mouth-piece for the time he is, especially since he had to set an example which Has been admirably followed by the gentlemen who now sit alongside him, and who have wrapped their sentiments and their ideas in sepulchral silence? The House is asked to decline to recommit this clause. What is this measure ? What is its purport? I think we are entitled to ask ourselves so much. Obviously, it is a "Bill to prevent industrial disputes, and it can only take effect provided industrial unions give their allegiance to the main principles of it. The honorable and learned member who has moved this amendment knows that fact well. He and those who support him have, during the passage of this Bill through Committee - a passage of . almost unparalleled vicissitude - moved a number of amendments, ostensibly for the good of the measure. Of these, some stand in the Bill to-day ; others, happily, have been relegated to the waste paper basket. All alike, however, afford irrefragable evidence of the insincerity of the honorable and learned member and those who supported him. In his present amendment he proposes preventing the Government from having that opportunity which the honorable and learned member, in common with a number of others, solicited, when certain other clauses of the Bill were decided against them, to recommit certain clauses for the purpose of enabling honorable- members to once more consider them. The honorable and learned member is denying to the Government that very right which he, and those who sit with him, asked on so very many occasions in reference to numerous clauses. The position, perhaps, is not quite clear to citizens outside the chamber, though it is abundantly clear to every man inside. It is perfectly useless -for any man here to attempt to deceive himself ; nor ought it to be possible for him to deceive others as to the true position. Those honorable members who vote against the proposed recommittal will stand condemned for having taken a course of action which does effectually prevent the Government from defending itself, and which does most effectually prevent honorable members from setting forth categorically the objections they have to the present 'Administration - from setting forth in clear, round terms, so that the whole country may know, and if necessary approve, or disapprove, the reasons why they wish to oust the present Administration. The leader of the Opposition, or the leader of one wing of the Opposition, in the beginning of the present regime, treated us to a number of reasons why the present Government should not be allowed to live a day without challenge. Now, however, we have a challenge put forward in ah indirect and underhand way, and upon this indirect, circuitous, and contemptible proposal, the right honorable gentleman has not taken the opportunity to say' one word in condemnation of an Administration which he has continuously denounced, because of its lack of capacity and experience, its policy, its programme, and because, in his opinion, it stands for minority government. The right honorable gentleman condemned the Government, in short, on the ground that it imperils representative and good government. Yet, he does not now dare to say one word. The right honorable member is joined on this occasion by his colleague, who was lately his' opponent, the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. To that honorable and learned gentleman, who has, during the progress of this discussion, visited the chamber but fitfully, I give credit for this much - that he is unable' to be present, and to hear and to feel the full extent of his inconsistency. Lately the honorable and learned member had garlands placed upon his brow for the chivalrous and almost unique heroism which he exhibited in electing to go out of office rather than agree to a certain amendment. The honorable and learned member went out of office, not with our wish.

Mr McColl - That is all nonsense; we do not believe that.

Mr Poynton - It is perfectly true.

Mr Thomas - Ask the honorable arid learned member for Ballarat himself.

Mr HUGHES - I say that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat did not go out of office with the wish of the Labour Party. To-day we ask the honorable and learned member to come into the chamber and give honorable members, and the Government, the reasons; - some reasons, or any reasons - why he is supporting the honorable and learned member for Corinella on this occasion. Is the honorable and learned member for Ballarat supporting the honorable and learned member for Corinella ? I do not think there can be any doubt upon that point. ' Those pleasant smiles which honorable members on the front opposition benches are endeavouring to hide, with more or less success, would not be seen if they were not quite sure that the honorable and learned member - the chivalrous member - for Ballarat had decided to allow the honorable and learned member for Corinella to fire this gun, while he stands firmly and securely enough behind the hedge. He still retains that mask of fair' play towards us, though he does not even grace the chamber with his presence, and remains ominously silent. This is a Bill to prevent industrial disputes, and clause 48 cuts right into its very heart. The Bill will be either a success or a failure, according to whether unions take advantage of its provisions or otherwise. I do not know whether honorable members recall some of those glowing phrases with which the honorable and learned member for Ballarat invested his speech on the motion that the measure be read a second time. I cannot imitate them; I have not that fatal gift of fluency which distinguishes, and sometimes mars, the matter of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. But those phrases are embalmed in Hansard, and any man who cares may read them. The glorious picture of the promised land which was held before the Israelites during their forty years of wandering, is but dull and drab by comparison with that sketched to this country by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat in his forecast of the result of this measure. A land flowing with milk and honey was opened out to our gaze. The honorable and learned member said that this was a measure which he had received from his colleague, the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide, and that so heartily did he approve of it that he had not found it necessary or desirable to make any amendment other than a few verbal and trifling alterations. Yet Here the honorable and learned member for Ballarat stands, to-day, absolutely voting against the principle upon the insertion of which the success of the measure entirely depends. I shall deal more categorically with the honorable and learned member in a moment. In the meantime I wish to quote one or two phrases which the honorable and learned member used in reference to this phase of the matter. He said it was not necessary to make any amendment. He so heartily approved of the measure as framed by his right honorable colleague, upon whose legislation all the Acts dealing with industrial conciliation and arbitration throughout Australasia had been framed, that he did not find it necessary to make any amendments at all. I ask whether the very heart of the measure, as framed by the right honorable member for Adelaide, was not the principle of preference to unionists? If it was not, if this is an immaterial, a trifling matter, let the honorable and learned gentleman say so now. Let him say so after all this thundering which has been delivered from the opposition benches against preference to unionists, in declaiming that it would infringe the rights of a free people, that it would take away the privilege of nonunionists to have a share in the bounteous harvest - the salvation - which was to follow this remarkable measure. Let the honorable and learned gentleman say now that although in the opinion of honorable members opposite preference to unionists was' going to do all this, it is but a trifling thing, not the kernel of the measure, but a mere tassel on its very fringe. I challenge the honorable and learned gentleman to deny that there are two essential principles in the measure, and that one is compulsion and the other preference to unionists. Without compulsion the measure fails', without preference it equally fails. The honorable and learned gentleman, after declaring that the drafting of this measure, founded as it is upon; legislation upon which the Arbitration Acts of Australasia have been based, was such that he could find no room for improvement and no necessity for it, now sits behind the honorable and learned member for Corinella, and intends to vote to prevent a re-discussion of this most vital point in the Bill. This is the honorable and learned gentleman's chivalry, his heroism, his inauguration of a new era in politics in which a man shall retire gracefully and welcome his successors as gentlemen who have not sought office. This is his idea of fair play. I say that since this measure was introduced we have not had a semblance of fair play from the Opposition, or from the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. Some honorable members have opposed preference to unionists openly, others have done so in an underhand and covert fashion. Some honorable members have always been opposed to this principle, and we cannot object ito their opposition to it now. But there are other honorable members who have pretended to see in this measure the promise of a regenerated Australia, who have professed to believe that it would make this country a promised land. They, too, stated that they would give to this Administration the fairest of fair play ; and yet now when we look, not for generous treatment, but merely for that fair play which is extended even to a person in the dock being tried for a criminal offence, the honorable and learned member for Ballarat slaps us across the face. He has not the courage to. gag us himself, but he gets some other person to do it, and he says nothing. That is fair play ! I declare emphatically that clause 48 is one of the essential parts of the measure. If compulsion is the heart of the measure, preference to unionists is the lungs which oxidize the blood. Without it the measure must become stagnant and useless, and inevitably fall into decrepitude and decay. And the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who has said that the measure of the right honorable member for Adelaide required no amendment, now votes against the principle without which the whole thing must fall info decay. The honorable and learned gentleman sits there and not one word have we heard from him to justify this most amazing, this unexampled, this treacherous change of front. He says very little now. There is a wisdom in silence which, had the honorable and learned gentleman learnt it earlier, would have served his purpose admirably to-day. Had he been silent when he spoke, or had he spoken when he remained silent, he would have commended himself more to the people of Australia than he has done. But his eloquence and his inconsistency have been his undoing. The honorable and learned gentleman has promised much, and he has done nothing. He said -

Speaking for those whom I have had the honour of consulting to-day, and who, I should inform you, sir, have paid me the honour of electing me their leader, I am charged to extend to the Government the assurance that the Opposition propose to extend to them the utmost fair play. We feel that the tasks which they have shouldered merit forbearance, and we hope ' that they will receive it. " We hope that they will receive it."

Sir John Forrest - There was too much generosity that time.

Mr Watson - We expected that from the right honorable member.

Mr HUGHES - There is the expression of a hope which has borne dead sea fruit. We have had more fair play from honorable members who have opposed us openly than we have had from the honorable and learned gentleman. The country is now asked to believe that these gentlemen are sincere, and earnestly desire to improve the Bill - and may believe it if it does not know the truth - and honorable members opposite are relying upon this, knowing that the press will not give publicity to the facts-

Mr Watson - Hear, hear. No reports. Despicable journalism.

Mr HUGHES - Here, for the first time in the history of the world, the Labour

Party have had an opportunity to administer the public Departments. For three months we have been in office, and, as the honorable and learned gentleman said, we have shouldered its responsibilities. Let the honorable and learned gentleman say whether we have failed in carrying out any one of those responsibilities. But let any honorable member say so fairly, and not in this contemptible back-handed fashion. If we were accused openly, we might fight our opponents fairly, but we have not the chance to do so. The House is asked to believe that honorable members opposite are actuated in this matter by the most patriotic and honorable motives. I wish to deal with those who profess to believe that the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill now before the House is in no danger in the hands of the honorable members opposite. Let us see who sit opposite. Amongst them are one or two honorable members who have committed themselves to the principle of compulsory conciliation and arbitration; some by words, others by actions, and others by hustings pledges, which, unfortunately for them, they cannot go back upon. They are committed to stand by this great principle. I- propose- to deal with those honorable members. There is my friend the honorable member for Robertson. He believes in this principle.

Mr Henry Willis - In what principle?

Mr HUGHES - -In the principle of compulsory arbitration. Does the honorable member wish to withdraw that?

Mr Henry Willis - I have never said so.

Mr HUGHES - The honorable member has never said so! All I have to say to that is that the honorable member supported the principle on the second reading of the Bill, and he has never raised his voice against it. He has voted consistently in favour of it, and I recollect that he voted for the inclusion of the railway servants.

Mr Henry Willis - That is the only thing I did. I said that I would do so, and I kept my promise.

Mr HUGHES - Quite so. Here is an extraordinary situation. The honorable member has had many hours and many days in which to explain his position, butuntil I make this remark, he does not think it worth while to break through the fetters by which he has been bound in common with other honorable members sitting opposite, not by a decision given in a caucus in which all men are free to speak, and are bound only by the decision of the majority, but where one man's voice and one man's eye swamps all their names. Now the honorable member wishes under cover of an interjection to get in a speech which there is yet ample opportunity for him to deliver.

Mr Henry Willis - I kept a promise which I gave.

Mr HUGHES - I will deal with the honorable member. He claims that he has never said that he was in favour of compulsory conciliation and arbitration. He voted to include the railway men. Does the honorable member mean to say that he voted to include the railway men in a principle and in a measure in which he does not believe?

Mr Henry Willis - I assisted to amend the Bill that was carried on the second reading.

Mr HUGHES - Why the honorable member signed the railway men's platform.

Mr Henry Willis - I made a pledge, and I kept it.

Mr HUGHES - The honorable and learned member, or I should say the honorable and unfortunate member, signed the pledge of the railway men's platform.

Mr Henry Willis - Let the honorable and learned member produce it.

Mr Watson - We can produce it.

Mr Hutchison - Does the honorable member deny it?

Mr Henry Willis - Let the honorable and learned member produce the signed pledge. I say he cannot produce it.

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