Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) (Minister of Trade and Customs) .- It ought not to fall to me to reply to the speech which has just been delivered by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. His statement should have been made much earlier in this debate. As the leader of the Opposition the honorable and learned member should, before this have informed honorable members and the country of the reasons for the attitude which he has adopted on this question. I should like to direct attention to one remark of the honorable and learned member with regard to the sacrifices which the operation of machine politics entail on every person who submits himself to their influences He) stated! that every person who had allied himself with the Labour Party had been ultimately sacrificed, but I would point out that he was speaking without a knowledge of his own country. In Queensland, every member who had supported the Morgan Government and the Labour Party was returned unopposed so far as that party was concerned. The statement of the honorable and learned member, therefore, conveyed quite a wrong impression.

Mr Deakin - I believe that, so far as Queensland is concerned, up to the present time, what the honorable member states is perfectly correct. Of course we have to see how matters will eventually work out there.

Mr FISHER - In the same way we have to see how the millenium will work out when it comes. No attempt was made to oppose the honorable member for Darling Downs, and rightly so, nor was any attempt made by the Labour Party to oppose the honorable member for Moreton. Why should an honorable member occupying such' a position as that held by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat make such an accusation, even in the heat of debate.

Mr Deakin - All the seats which we lost at the last election were lost -to members of the Labour Party.

Mr Batchelor - In South Australia we did not oppose one Liberal.

Mr Lonsdale - In New South Wales the Labour Party put up candidates against members of our party who really were favorable to their principles.

Mr FISHER - If that be the charge made against our party, I accept it. The evidence before our own eyes justifies the action which Ave took. The Opposition comprises honorable members holding the most extreme views, and, as honest believers in certain principles, we were bound to tell the people of the country that we differed from these men. That being so, we should have taken up an unworthy position had we not sought to secure the return of others in their stead.

Mr Hughes - A nominee of the right honorable member for East Sydney opposed me.

Mr FISHER - Why should so much unnecessary heat be displayed at the last moment, when it is known that I am the only member of the Ministry who has not spoken? Why this throwing down of the gauntlet, when the Government have practically no further opportunity to reply to the challenge?

Mr Deakin - The Postmaster-General has not yet spoken.

Mr FISHER - I had overlooked that fact. In any event, why should the suggestion have been made tHat the proceedings of the House have been degraded? If the honorable and learned member, feels that Parliament has been degraded by reason of tactics which have recently Been pursued, I am entirely with him. Until the Labour Party took possession of the Treasury benches no fault could be found with the conduct of the proceedings, but shortly after we took office there was a noticeable falling away from the high level which had been reached. That falling away, however, was not due to any fault on the part of the Government, or of their supporters. As the honorable and learned member for Ballarat has been permitted to refer to one. or two personal matters, I Trust that I shall not be denied the opportunity to reply to a statement regarding the office which I hold. The honorable and learned member for Parkes, in discussing the Ministerial statement some weeks ago, made a most unworthy insinuation, hinting in the broadest possible way that it was not wise, in the public interests, to intrust a Department, like that of Trade and Customs, to a member of the Labour Party.

Mr Hughes - The. right honorable member for East Sydney said that it was a matter, not of a penny, but of many pennies, with us.

Mr FISHER - He also remarked that we were anxious to remain another day in office.

Mr Conroy - He withdrew that remark.

Mr FISHER - Certainly he did, and I therefore do not propose to refer to it. But I have never had an opportunity to reply to the contemptible insinuation made by the honorable and learned member for Parkes, which has been recorded on the pages of Hansard, and I therefore trust that I shall be permitted to briefly refer to it.

Mr SPEAKER - I would point out to the honorable gentleman that, when the honorable and learned member for Ballarat mentioned a certain question a few moments, ago, I prevented him from proceeding to discuss it, because I considered it to be beyond the scope of the debate, and unless the honorable the Minister can connect the matter to which he refers, with clause 48, I am afraid that I cannot hear him.

Mr FISHER - The statement made by the honorable and learned member for Parkes certainly touches the question of preference, because it clearly shows that he has no preference for members of the Labour Party. He asserted that, as we represented a class, it was unsafe to allow any member of the party to give decisions in matters relating to the Customs Department, inasmuch as he would favour a certain side. Could a more contemptible statement be made? It is to charges such as this that we are to submit without reply.

Mr Henry Willis - Did not the honorable and learned member for Parkes say that he wished to see the Labour Party come into power?

Mr FISHER - I do not think he did. He told the House that it was the duty of his leader to call upon honorable members to remove the present Administration from power at the earliest possible moment, and that direct action must shortly be taken, with that object in view. Where are those honorable members who advocated the taking of direct action against the Government? Their attitude shows that they are wanting in that statesmanlike conduct which might reasonably be expected from those occupying high positions. It has been hinted by .the honorable and learned member for Ballarat that the Government are endeavouring to obtain for unions more than they are entitled to, and that we are not taking care to safeguard the interests of non-unionists and the public generally. That statement has been suggested by conservative minds in every age, since the struggles and trials of unionists began. It was said, at one time, that the leaders of unionists were blackguards, who were interfering with law and order, and endeavouring to prevent masters from carrying on their industries in the way they ought to do. Trade unionists were reviled, and even suffered imprisonment; but ultimately they were recognised by law, and succeeded in accomplishing a great work. Mr. Herbert Paul, in A History of Modern England, states that trade unionists did more to uplift the masses of Great Britain during the last century than all that had ever been done at Westminster; that all the laws passed by the British Parliament, with a view to this end, sink into significance as compared with the good achieved by trade unions. That is the statement, not of a partisan, but of an historian, who has taken some interest in the question, and he is able to verify it by statistics and historical records. Is it not strange that there should be a fear that the leaders in these movements for reform will get too much ? Is it not singular that nearly every one is to be left to lag behind, and more particularly those who have suffered in their efforts to improve the lot of their fellows? When I was but a lad, in my teens, I had to take part in a strike in which the workers were worsted, with the result that I was not allowed to return to my former place of employment. My tools were removed-

Mr Henry Willis - -It was the tide which led to fortune.

Mr FISHER - I was first led to think of coming to Australia by the feeling that as a youth I had been treated unfairly in my native country. Is there anything wrong in that. My experience is that no man who is not competent can occupy a leading position in a trade union. The leading officers of those organizations are called upon to submit to a great deal of abuse, and unless we can offer them something in return for their self-sacrifice, where is the virtue in passing a Bill of this description? We are not asked to enact legislation which willi confer no benefit upon unionists. Seeing that these men undertake to protect the rights of all engaged in their own particular calling, it is only fair that a preference should be extended to them, in order to prevent them being made the victims of injustice. At this stage I have no desire to make a lengthy speech, because I am aware that honorable members wish to take a vote upon this question. I should like to say, however, that I should have been very much better pleased if the right honorable member for East Sydney had more carefully chosen his language last evening, and if he had been more considerate of the feelings of others. The one taunt level lc against the Government in this House has been that we were clinging to this Bill, not that we might secure a workable measure of arbitration, but that we might remain in office for a few days longer. I say that there is not an honest man in the country who believes that charge. The desire to oust the Ministry does not arise from an honest difference of opinion as to whether a preference should be extended to unionists, but springs rather from the fact that we were allowed to accept office as a matter of grace, that we have done a great deal better than our opponents anticipated, that the country is beginning to realize that others are capable of carrying on the Government of the Commonwealth, and that those who have been accustomed to regard themselves as the only persons able to administer its affairs are' in fear and trembling as to the result.

Suggest corrections