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Thursday, 18 August 1904

Mr MCDONALD (Kennedy) - Probably this is a more convenient time to offer the few general remarks I propose to make.

Mr Reid - I think the best time would be on the message to send the Bill to the Senate.

Mr MCDONALD - I have no doubt that the right honorable gentleman would. prefer that nothing should be said on the matter at all.

Mr Reid - I wish to have the first word - that is all.

Mr MCDONALD - Very likely; and no doubt the right honorable gentleman would like to have a good many last words also. When the Labour Party took office under the honorable member for Bland, the Prime Minister rose in this chamber and told us that that honorable member had no right whatever- to accept the responsibility of office, because he had not a majority behind him.

Mr Thomas - Who said that?

Mr MCDONALD - The right honorable gentleman who now sits at the head of the present Government.

Mr Thomas - I thought it was the right honorable member for Swan.

Mr MCDONALD - The right honorable gentleman was not content with saying that in this Chamber, but he went whining about the country, telling people that inasmuch as he did not send for himself, instead of the leader of the Labour Party, when the Government, led by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat resigned, the action of the Governor-General had been unconstitutional.

Mr Reid - It has all come right in the end.

Mr Batchelor - The end is not yet.

Mr MCDONALD - Now, what has been the action of the right honorable gentleman ? Despite his continual whine about his not having been sent for on that occasion, we find that he has accepted a similar commission from the Governor-General, knowing full well at the time that he had not a majority behind him, and knowing also that he could not secure a majority except by humiliating himself and those honorable members whom he had to recommend to His Excellency as responsible Ministers. The right honorable gentleman, when he came back from his interview with the GovernorGeneral, was like a man who had secured a mining concession. He started to hawk it around where he could make most of it. He went first to the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, and that honorable and learned gentleman sent him on to the right honorable member for Balaclava, by whom he was passed on to the honorable member for Gippsland.

Mr Crouch - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat would have nothing to do with the right honorable gentleman.

Mr King O'malley - The honorable and learned member would not take any stock in the syndicate.

Mr MCDONALD - That was the position ; the honorable- and learned member for Ballarat refused to have anything at all to do with the right honorable gentleman. He said, " No ; I have only made one political mistake in my life, and that was in joining a Coalition Government." The honorable and learned gentleman refused to have anything to do with the Prime Minister, but he passed him on to the right honorable member for Balaclava. We have then this humiliating spectacle in the present leader of the Government. - The right honorable gentleman went, cap in hand, to the present Treasurer, and said to him, " Although I am Prime Minister of this Commonwealth, I am only in that position nominally ; I am not really Prime Minister, because you will have co-ordinate powers with myself."

An Honorable Member. - The right honorable gentleman sublet half of his contract.

Mr MCDONALD - As the honorable member says, the right honorable gentleman sublet the formation of half of the Government'.

Mr Mauger - Subletting is illegal.

Mr Webster - The Government propose to work on the butty-gang system.

Mr MCDONALD - I hope that we shall not find, in this instance, the amount of sweating which usually takes place in connexion with a contract which has been sublet. After finding fault with the ex-Prime Minister, because he did not inform the GovernorGeneral that he could not command a majority, surely it was the absolute duty of the right honorable member for East Sydney to give that assurance? But the right honorable gentleman had a party of only four. His whole party, all he could rake together, numbered no more than four. Not only was that so; but when- he came to deal with the members of the other party, they said, " We will join you, but you must swallow the whole of your life-long principles." The right honorable gentleman had to swallow his Life-long principles, and had to include in his Ministry men for whom he has the greatest contempt.

Mr King O'malley - Not contempt.

Mr MCDONALD - The honorable member must know that I am not speaking in. a personal, but in a purely political, sense. I remember that some time ago the right honorable member for East Sydney delivered a very great oration, as we all know he can do, in the Melbourne Town Hall, and on that occasion he referred to the Labour Party as the " Steerage Party."

Mr Reid - That is where the true gentlemen are - the true democrats-

Mr MCDONALD - I was present in the Town Hall when the right honorable gentleman made those remarks, and I know that he did not intend them as a compliment to the Labour Party.

Mr Crouch - The right honorable gentleman said lhat every protectionist was a coward.

Mr MCDONALD - There was another incident at that particular meeting of which I have a very vivid recollection.' I remember that the right honorable gentleman referred to the present leader of the Executive Council in another place, Senator Drake. The right honorable gentleman, in a sneering sort of way, said, " Now, there is that great and glorious statesman Mr. Drake !" That remark brought rounds of applause. But now we find that this gentleman has been also swallowed by the right honorable member.

Mr Reid - There is lots of room !

Mr MCDONALD - The right honorable gentleman came down to the House and, I think, on sixteen or seventeen occasions - I cannot give the exact number - told us that he intended to move a no-confidence motion. Every day the unfortunate reporters for the newspapers were waiting outside his door to ascertain just when he intended to move this motion.

Mr Hutchison - The honorable member did not believe it, did he?

Mr MCDONALD - We were all deceived. The right honorable gentleman had other designs for getting upon the Treasury bench. First of all, he came to the conclusion that he must kill the Deakin Government. The method he adopted was that a number of his supporters should vote in a certain direction upon a certain clause, it being distinctly stated that if a certain proposal were carried it would kill the Bill.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - They were wreckers.

Mr MCDONALD - They were wreckers of the Bill, and at the same time desired to defeat the Deakin. Government. That Government was defeated. The right honorable gentleman pursued exactly the same course in connexion with the late Government. He was not prepared to move a no-confidence motion. He was aware that if he submitted a straightforward honest proposal of that nature he would be defeated. He could not possibly have carried such a motion. Therefore, he endeavoured to attain his purpose by carrying an adverse vote upon a clause which .was vital to the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. I should not have spoken at this length, except that we know the right honorable gentleman and his methods, and we are aware that during the next three weeks he will be granting interviews and delivering addresses in different parts of the country. It is therefore necessary that we should as far as possible put our case before the public. The late Prime Minister is too modest on an occasion like this. There is such courtesy in his disposition, .that he wishes to grant to the present Government a concession similar to that which he thinks was granted to him on a recent occasion.

Mr Thomas - We will give the Government courtesy as soon as we have the numbers !

Mr Batchelor - We have the numbers to-day.

Mr MCDONALD - We have the numbers now, and the Prime Minister will either have to " stone-wall " this Bill, or he goes out.

Mr Reid - I would not even encourage a debate upon a question of urgency.

Mr MCDONALD - The right 'honorable member cannot complain. I did not complain when he did not submit a straightout vote of no confidence in the late Government. Honorable members opposite were quite within their rights. They had a perfect right to adopt the method which they did adopt, if they thought fit. Personally, I should not have taken the course which' they adopted, because I thought it was a very questionable one; but technically speaking they were within their constitutional rights. But they must not blame us for taking a similar course when we think it expedient. It is just as well that we should face the situation. I am giving a start to a discussion which I trust will afterwards be carried on with more vigour and ability than I can command. When the Prime Minister had defeated the Deakin Government, he endeavoured to bring about a combination. Just here I feel that something ought to be said concerning the action of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. The Prime Minister and the honorable and learned member to whom I have referred, came to a certain agreement. Of course, we have no right to object to their coming to an agreement, but what I did object to was that while the honorable and learned member for Ballarat had signed an agreement with the head of the present Government to form a coalition, he was at the same time negotiating with our party.

Mr Kennedy - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat never signed an agreement for a coalition.

Mr McDONALD - He signed an agreement to this effect - that the terms were to be submitted to his party. But while he signed that, and was negotiating with the Free-trade Party, he was also negotiating with the Labour Party. That, to my mind, was a base act of treachery. Suppose, for a moment, that the Labour Party had agreed to the terms desired by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat. What would have been the result ? Probably he would have gone to his party and recommended it to sell itself to the highest bidder.

Mr Kennedy - Has not the honorable member heard of a party in this Parliament which made such a proposal ?

Mr McDONALD - No; I have never heard of a party that did so. Anything that the Labour Party has ever done, we are prepared to bring to the light of day. I am blaming the leader of the Deakin Government for the action which he took on that occasion. I maintain that to negotiate terms of agreement with the Labour Party, and also with the right honorable member at the head of the Government, was hot a fair deal. What came of it? When we hear, from time to time statements made about the members of the Labour Party signing away their liberty because they have signed a pledge, I ask in what position are other honorable members? What was the position of the head of the Government, and the honorable and learned member for Ballarat when they entered into an agreement? They signed an agreement. Now we "have a pledged party on the other side. Honorable members of that party, who, we were told, could always take each other's word, decided, on this particular occasion, that they would have an agreement drawn up in- black and white, so that none might back down. ' I hope that for the future we shall not hear any more about the Labour Party being compelled to sign a pledge, seeing that the leaders of the party opposite cannot trust one another without a similar precaution. There is another little matter which I think ought to be mentioned, though only casually, because there will be ample opportunity later on to enlarge on these topics. I can remember when a Tariff was being passed by this House. The present Prime Minister then, in his place in Opposition, made such a pathetic appeal on behalf of poor little children, whose boots were subject to a duty of 30 per cent., that the ladies in the gallery were obliged to use their handkerchiefs; indeed, the honorable gentle- i man's own tears dropped on his notes

I as he spoke. At one moment he fairly wept, and the next he yelled, at the top of his voice, denunciations of what he termed the outrageous duties of 30 per cent, on hats and boots. But what do we find now? The honorable gentleman has swallowed the 30 per cent, on boots, and the 30 per cent, on hats, and what has become of the little children of whom he spoke does not matter, because he has now attained the ambition of his life - he has become Prime Minister of Australia. However, as I say, there will be ample time later on to deal with these matters ; but before I sit down I should like to ask the honorable member for Gippsland whether he feels nice and comfortable in his present position ? That honorable member advocated the stock tax to its fullest extent, while the Prime Minister vigorously denounced that impost ; but now we find those gentlemen arm in arm.

Mr Ronald - "Adversity makes us acquainted with strange bed-fellows."

Mr McDONALD - That is quite true. What does this Government, with its mixed elements, propose to do? The Prime Minister, and those who support him, once talked about the rule of the caucus; but what is their own position now ? They are so bound hand and foot that not one can move. Even the Prime Minister dare not take independent action, as a Prime Minister should, because he has to consult his co-equal in the Cabinet.

Mr Mauger - His equal in all things.

Mr McDONALD - That is . so. Talk about shackles ! Why, the Prime Minister is chained up more than any man of whom I have yet heard of in political life. In what little experience I have had of politics I have never heard' of a gentleman accepting the position of Prime Minister who allowed himself to be shackled as the leader of the present Government has on this occasion. I hope that the Commonwealth will never see a similar spectacle - that the Commonwealth will never see another gentleman so degrade his position ns to be only half a Prime Minister. I shall not, however, pursue that line of comment ; I see I am treacling on dangerous ground. I have had my little innings this afternoon, and others may follow me if they so desire. In any case, there is not the slightest doubt that at the end of three weeks, just before this Government are turned out. we shall have ample opportunity to let them know what we think. The Prime Minister cannot take exception to the course which T am following; the example has been set by himself. When the amendment was submitted, which resulted in the defeat of the late Government, the Prime Minister was told that the tactics to which he was then resorting might be used against himself; and I promise the honorable gentleman that, so long as I sit in the House, I shall fully avail myself of such tactics as are within my knowledge. The present Government and their supporters had. no doubt, a perfect right to displace the late Government, even by the questionable methods then adopted; and the Labour Party have no cause to feel discontented. We are a growing party; indeed, we are the most powerful political party in Australia. There never has been a similar party in this country ; and our great power is shown in the fact that the chief political leaders of Australia have had to swallow their life-long principles in order to obtain a momentary victory. The Labour Party could not have been beaten in any other way than that which the late Opposition followed. The power of our party is growing from day to day; and honorable members opposite, who see that it is ultimately going to rule the Commonwealth clutch at a straw in the hope of arresting our progress. I congratulate the Prime Minister on selecting, as his coequal, the honorable member for Gippsland - a gentleman whose fine democratic and advanced ideas are well known all over Australia, although it is a . fact that he always gives a Conservative vote. We now have the extreme protectionist in the person of the honorable member for Gippsland, and the extreme free-trader in the person of the Prime Minister, in the same Government- Those gentlemen might rightly be termed the " heavenly twins," though whether they will ever wear the heavenly wreaths is quite another matter. I regret that the Prime Minister has already had to announce a slight split in the Cabinet, he having had to accept another co equal in place of the gentleman he desired to have. In any case, I can assure him that he has my hearty congratulations on his attainment of the 1 osition he now occupies ; and 1 also can assure him that there are a large number of honorable members on this side who will give him encouragement and ample opportunity to deal with the business of the House.

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