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Friday, 12 August 1904

Mr STORRER (Bass) - Considering the warmth of the debate which has taken place, it is interesting to know what it is all about. We are here not to represent any particular party, but to represent Australia. At the present time I am attached to no party. Therefore, I can speak with perfect freedom upon this question. But when I find that a new departure has been made, and that a new method has been inaugurated in dealing with the legislation of the Commonwealth, I am driven to the conclusion that there must be some reason for it. It has been stated to-day that much of what has taken place has been done in order to catch the vote of the Chairman of Committees. I do not think it reasonable to suppose that an honorable member occupying the important and honorable position of Chairman of Committees would lend himself to stifle discussion. Because really the amendment which is now before the- House involves the stifling of discussion. 1 always understood that the aim of the Chairman of Committees when he gave a vote should be to give it in such a way as to afford an opportunity for the further consideration of the question. Therefore, I do not think it probable that the Chairman Of Committees will be found voting to stifle debate in reference to a matter which is of vast importance to members of trade unions, and to others who are interested in the' industrial questions affected by this Bill. We are asked to determine that the majority shall rule. The honorable and learned member for Corinella states that there is no difficulty in proving what is a majority. I should like to know how- he would propose to ascertain the opinion of the majority of those engaged in any particular trade? I venture to .-ay that it is impossible to ascertain the number of people employed in any industry in the Commonwealth. We have had a little experience lately of the difficulty of ascertaining how many electors there are in various districts of Australia. It seems to be even impossible to find out the number of men and women in a particular district. It is still more difficult to find out how many persons are affected by a particular trade dispute. I am not at all afraid of the threat which has been thrown out by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, that those honorable members who sit in the corner where I occupy a seat will find it a disadvantage when they go before the electors if they vote against the amendment. I am one of those who intend to vote for what he considers to be right, irrespective of whether that vote commends itself to the electors of any particular district or not. I am here to do my duty, and intend to do it. If the electors do not like it they can place me at the bottom of the poll. But I should not like to go back to them and have to admit that, having been elected as a democrat and protectionist, I had joined the Free-trade Party. I am aware that that point is outside the limits of the present discussion, and as I wish to confine my remarks within proper lines I will proceed no further with it. I repeat that I believe that it is impossible to find out the number of persons engaged in the industries of this country. Take, for instance, the boot trade. How would honorable members opposite propose to find out how many persons in "Victoria alone are interested in the boot trade? How would they propose to ascertain how many shearers or wharf labourers there are, or how many workmen are interested in other occupations? People in this country vary their occupations frequently. Sometimes they are doing one thing, sometimes another. Statistics are unreliable, because the occupations of the people change so much. A man may be engaged in mining this week; in a few weeks' time he may be engaged in quite another occupation. It is only fair and reasonable, seeing that the Bill has been under discussion for a considerable time, that amendments have been made .in it, and that the Prime Minister intimated that he intended to ask the House to recommit the measure, that the majority of honorable members should allow that reconsideration to take place. I cannot understand why the closure should be exercised. Some question has been raised with regard to the circumstances under which the vote upon the question under discussion was formerly taken. It was a hurried vote. Many .honorable members had left the chamber in order to get ready to go to other States. After the division bell had been ringing for some time an honorable member came to me and asked me to request Mr. Speaker to repeat the question, because he feared that I was making a mistake. I was in the chamber during the whole of the discussion, because I had no train to catch. But many honorable members came in at the last moment. One honorable member told me on the following day that he knew that he had made a mistake. He had intended to vote the other way. But because some honorable members have a desire to find seats on the Ministerial side of the chamber they are prepared to throw in their weight against the Government, with the hope of taking their places. It matters not to me which side of the House I sit upon, so long as I can secure the legislation which I think is in the' interests of the Commonwealth. But I do like every one to be straightforward and honorable in his methods, and I do not consider that it is straightforward and honorable to prevent the House from going into Committee in order to reconsider a question of this kind. Therefore I intend to vote with the Government. I shall do so, not because they are a Labour Ministry, nor because certain gentlemen at present occupy the Opposition benches ; but because I believe in fair play, and in being straightforward and above board.

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