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Thursday, 8 September 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I think that if there is one feature of the speech of the Prime Minister yesterday upon which we can congratulate him, it is its extraordinary brevity. As to any other aspects of it, I hardly think that they would form the subject of much congratulation on the part of his supporters. In fact, to my mind, a certain proportion of honorable members sitting on the Government benches must have been filled with disappointment, both on account of the fewness of the matters referred to, and of the proposals in detail' which the Prime Minister put forward. The right honorable gentleman dealt first with the crisis that has existed in this Parliament for some little time past, and stated that the late Government chose its own battleground in connexion with the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. He quoted a statement of mine which was made to representatives of the press in Sydney, as to the attitude that the then Government would take up if this House failed to reconsider its position in regard to the amendment adopted at the instance of the Minister of Defence. The honorable member for Grey took exception to the statement put forward by the Prime Minister, so far as its first presentation was concerned. His statement as it was first put forward would lead the public to believe that the Government had chosen the particular motion upon which they were afterwards defeated as their battle-ground, but that was very different from what was stated by myself. I stated to the representatives of the Sydney newspapers that if the House failed to reconsider the amendment adopted at the instance of the Minister of Defence, we should take their action as an intimation that our services were no longer required. That, however, was a very different thing from the proposal of some honorable members of this House to take the whole conduct of business out of the hands of the '

Government by refusing to go into Committee. No Government would have been worth its salt if it had submitted to an insult of that kind lying down, and therefore when the right honorable gentleman stated that we chose our own battle-ground he was some distance from the truth, so far as the particular motion which was carried against the Government was concerned.

Mr Reid - I was referring to the clause containing the amendment to which the late Government took exception.

Mr WATSON - We never reached the clause. Owing to the machinations of the right honorable gentleman and those honorable members who assisted him, we had not an opportunity of reaching the clause. The right honorable gentleman and some of his supporters stated that the effect would be the same, whether we reached the clause or not. No doubt the effect was the same for their purpose, which was to dislodge the then Government by a side wind. But sp far as it affected the supporters of the Arbitration Bill, the effect was very different, because if those gentlemen who supported the right honorable member in ousting the Government had honestly desired to have that Bill passed in the shape that the majority pf Parliament were anxious to see it assume, they would have gone into Committee, and tried every expedient to obtain the decision of the House, and the full sense of its desires in regard to that important measure. My complaint is, however, that the right honorable gentleman and his supporters showed no desire to pass the Bill in such a shape that it would prove effective. Their sole anxiety was to take advantage of the declaration of some honorable members that they would not change their vote upon clause 48, in order to eject the Government from office1. So far as I am concerned, I entertain no great regret at being thrown out of office. I never whined for office, nor have I whined at being thrown out of it, I made no improper attempt to get there, and I never went to one man with the idea of inducing him to alter his opinion, so that the Government might be retained in office;. Therefore, I have no regret at being ejected from office. As one, however, who has supported the principle of conciliation and" arbitration for years past, and as one who believes that if an effective measure were passed it would save the Commonwealth millions of pounds, and that it would be in the best interests of the country, I do regret that some honorable members thought fit to wreak their vengeance upon the Government by leaving the Bill to its fate. I say, therefore, that the battle ground was not of our choosing. We certainly objected, and still object, to the proposal embodied in the Bill; but I think - I may be wrong - that much greater regard would have been shown for the principle which the majority of honorable members on the other side of the House have always professed to support in regard to the Bill, and a more seemly spirit of sweet reasonableness, if they had consented to go into Committee, and to there1 confer as to the best means of expressing the desires of the majority. There was one feature of the Prime Minister's speech yesterday that I thought was regrettable. In speaking of the recent crisis, the right honorable gentleman was good enough to refer to myself as having tendered certain advice to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral. Of course, the fact that the House is still in existence is sufficient evidence that that advice was not accepted. I do not wish for one moment to canvass the right of His Excellency as the representative of His Majesty the King to take what.ever course he thought proper in the interests of the people of Australia. I have not the slightest doubt that the action he took was dictated by no other consideration than what he conceived to be the best interests of the community. But I say that it comes most" improperly from the right honorable gentleman, who must have assured His Excellency that he could carry on the Government of this country, and that the time had not arrived for a dissolution - who must have given his assurance in explicit terms in the face of the fact that there was only a majority of two in support of the Government - to come down, and, in so many words, threaten this House with a dissolution if what? - if the Opposition did not combine with their strength the quality of mercy, if the Opposition did not extend consideration to the Government fat and away -greater than that extended by the right honorable gentleman and his supporters to the late Government. We were told that if we did not extend to the Government greater consideration than thev gave to us, the result would be a dissolution.

Mr Kennedy - We heard something of the same kind from the last Government.

Mr WATSON - I beg the honorable member's pardon. That is not correct.

Mr Kennedy - We heard it from their supporters.

Mr WATSON - If any supporters of the late Government said that, they had no authority from me. On the contrary, I took the opportunity to explicitly deny, by interjection, that there was any such promise made, or any such contingency afloat.

Mr Kennedy - The honorable member told the House that he would seek a dissolution.

Mr WATSON - Certainly. Who would object to the Prime Minister stating that he would seek a dissolution? His statement went a great deal further than that.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think it did.

Mr WATSON - Perhaps the right honorable gentleman is a biased observer.

Mr McCay - Is not the honorable member also biased?

Mr WATSON - I do not think so- not to the same degree, at any rate. The action of the Prime Minister appears to me to be most improper, and certainly unprecedented. T do not remember a single instance in which a Prime Minister, upon meeting the House for the first time with his programme, practically threw out, in so many words, a threat that if the members of the Opposition did not behave themselves they would 'have to go about their business.

Mr Reid - I said no such thing.

Mr WATSON - I refer the right honorable gentleman to the words of his own speech.

Mr Reid - I am not the Emperor of Japan.; I could not dissolve the House.

Mr WATSON - Probably that is a good thing for the country.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The 'honorable member, when he asked for a dissolution, admitted that the House was not competent to carry on the business of the country.

Mr WATSON - I shall argue that question when it arises. I am quite prepared to take the full responsibility of any advice I tendered in that direction. I must .say that I regret exceedingly that we had not an opportunity to consult the country.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Pray leave this most distasteful subject.

Mr WATSON - The Prime Minister then proceeded to compare his party with honorable members in Opposition. I suppose that he was justified in speaking of his " party " ; although the members who support him are certainly a heterogeneous lot.

Mr Reid - Do not say that.

Mr WATSON - I think so. I cb not use the term disrespectfully. Among honorable members who sit on the Government benches, there exist the most remarkable differences of opinion upon many of the leading questions before the community. I do not in any way seek to imply that such opinions are not legitimately held, or that honorable members are not honestly seeking to secure the betterment of the condition of the people; but that their opinions widely differ must be admitted by the most unprejudiced observer. The Prime Minister said that there was one great point of similarity between his supporters and the members of the Opposition, namely, that they were all democratic. We can understand the excitable ramping democracy of the honorable and learned member for Parkes, who has been noted as a democrat for many years past ,in New South Wales. Then there is the honorable member for Flinders, who is another raging democrat, who is anxious , to put all the power in the hands of the people, and to secure absolute equality for all classes of the community. I notice, too, that even the honorable member for Corangamite shelters himself under the term "Liberal."

Mr Wilson - We are democrats who have not gone mad.

Mr WATSON - It is always safe to imply that the other fellow is just a little weak in his top storey. I do not, however, wish to say that of honorable members opposite. I do not think that my honorable friends are even politically mad. No doubt they are politically sane, so far as the interests of the people they represent are concerned. But it does sound like a travesty upon the term democrat when we find coming under its beneficent shelter the gentlemen I have indicated who are sitting in the Government corner. Sitting behind the Government also, there will be found other gentlemen who have just as little title to the term "democrat" as those to whom I have referred.

An Honorable Member. - What about the honorable member for Kooyong? Mr. WATSON.- He is another excellent sample of a democrat. He is a most estimable gentleman, but 1 do not think that he would claim to be particularly imbued with democratic ideas. The honorable member for Oxley is another strong democrat, whose whole aim during the time' he has been ' in politics has been to advance the cause of democracy. He has been pushing its interests forward with all his strength, and the only regret that remains to him is that he has been comparatively unsuccessful in his own State.

Mr Reid - The honorable member would be proud to have the support of every one of them.

Mr WATSON - If I had their support, it would be a clear indication that I was at last going wrong in my public career. The right honorable gentleman, passing from that vain attempt to prove similarity between the two parties to an endeavour to accentuate the points of difference, said that the great primary distinction between the supporters of the Government and the Opposition was that the. former did not believe in a caucus. We are given to understand that the Government conduct their business in quite a different way. There is no bringing of their supporters into consultation, that a proper result may be arrived at. They manage these matters at present, I understand, not by the domination of one man, but by the domination of two half men. They arrange their business on the basis of the two heads of the Government being "equal in all things," and these two honorable gentlemen* seem to manage the concern for the rest of the party.

Mr Thomas - It saves trouble, so far as the rest are concerned.

Mr WATSON - Certainly it does; but the thinking machine is liable to become rusty if not occasionally agitated, and such a thing may perhaps happen to the supporters of the Government. There is one feature of the right honorable gentleman's statement that certainly calls for remark from me. Some considerable time ago - I think it was when addressing a rather innocent audience at Warragul, in the Federal electorate of Flinders - the right honorable gentleman stated that the policy of the Watson Government was put together in the vaults. The Prime Minister has rather a weakness for graphic forms of expression, and we can understand the attractiveness of the word " vaults " to a man who is given to vaulting so regularly over any obstacle, no matter how high it may be. I think it was on the day following the making of that speech that I made a clear and distinct statement to the press to the effect that the policy of the Government of which I was the head was determined by the Ministry, without reference to any outside person - without reference to even an extra leader, or kind of fifth wheel to. the coach, a practice which, we are told, obtains in the present Ministry. In any case, the programme of the late Ministry was prepared without reference to any outside person, and was subsequently placed before the supporters of the Government at a meeting held, not in the vaults of this House, but in the ordinary meeting-room.

Mr Reid - What does the Labour Party do at these meetings?

Mr WATSON - I shall come to that matter in the course of a few moments. I do not wish to be drawn away from the point that, to my mind, it is a regrettable feature of public life that, when a definite statement is made, to which an equally definite denial is given, that denial is not accepted clearly and without reservation.

Mr Reid - I have not seen the newspaper statement to which the honorable member refers.

Mr WATSON - It appeared two days after the statement made by the right honorable gentleman.

Mr Reid - I can assure the honorable member that I do not read the newspapers regularly, but that I would accept any statement made by him, whether made through the medium of a newspaper, or in any other way.

Mr WATSON - It is very good of the right honorable gentleman to say that. As a matter of fact, there was no necessity for the late Ministry to go before the caucus, for the simple reason that the policy on which the members of the Labour Party had been elected to this Parliament was well known to all. So long as no attempt was made to depart from that policy, there was no occasion to consult members of the caucus or of the party individually in regard to it. The members of the Party had sufficient confidence in the late Ministry - and would have had sufficient confidence in any other Ministry formed from its ranks - to believe that they would stand by the policy to which its members had pledged themselves when before the country. In these circumstances, there was no necessity for the late Government to do more than tell their supporters : what particular portion of their policy they hoped to carry out in the immediate future, and how much of it would necessarily have to be left in abeyance until the time arrived to take action.

Mr Hutchison - The caucus never instructed the late Government, even in regard t0 that matter.

Mr WATSON - I must say that I was treated with a generosity which certainly was never excelled by the supporters of any Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, or of the Premier of any of the States. No member of the Party ever approached me in regard to the personnel of the Ministry which I was about to form, or in reference to the programme which we should insist on carrying out. This, perhaps, is not a matter of public importance, but it is only right that the facts should be stated. The Prime Minister attempted to make some capital out of the alleged power exercised over members of the Labour Party by the Labour Leagues, and the honorable and learned member for Ballarat traversed the same ground in a speech which he delivered some little time ago. For public men who have been acquainted to a greater or lesser extent with the Labour Party and its organizations for a number of years - and certainly the Prime Minister has been very closely identified on some occasions with the Labour Party-

Mr Spence - He was " in the hollow of their hand."

Mr WATSON - I believe. that the right honorable gentleman confessed that he was at one time in that position. It is strange that such gentlemen should exhibit so much ignorance as to what are the relations between the Labour Leagues and members of the Labour Party.

Mr Hutchison - It is not ignorance, but something worse.

Mr Reid - That is rather a vulgar assertion.

Mr WATSON - I scarcely like to assume that these honorable gentlemen would be guilty of deliberate misrepresentation ; but the statement having been reiterated yesterday, it is proper that I should in a few words state exactly what the facts are. In the first place, the programme of proposed legislation which the Labour Party will support is agreed to by a conference at which' every supporter of the party, whether a unionist or non-unionist, may be represented. I am glad to say that the vast bulk of the support of the Labour Party comes from the ranks of the non-unionist's - from men who, while not actively opposed to unionism, are certainly not at present included within its ranks. Every person who supports the programme of the Labour Party has an opportunity to be represented, either through the agency of a labour league or by a union, at the conference to which I have referred.

Mr Fisher - Farmers -have been represented at such conferences.

Mr WATSON - I am pleased to say that we receive substantial support from the farmers of New South Wales and Queensland. When the programme is agreed to, it is, of course, laid down that every person desiring to stand as a labour candidate must first subscribe to that programme - it would not be of much use for a man to appear as a labour candidate if he did not - and, secondly, he must pledge himself, if not selected by the organization, to stand down in favour of the selected candidate.

Mr Wilks - The. Labour Party have two platforms - -a fighting programme and a propaganda.

Mr WATSON - Quite so. We have one programme for immediate action, while the other is a declaration of principle; but it makes no difference to the position of the candidate. He is asked to express his belief in the whole programme.

Mr Wilks - He takes the lot.

Mr WATSON - That is so. From the time a candidate is elected on that pro gramme, until he again comes before the league for selection, that league has no' power over him. Its members trust to his honesty, and to the honesty of those associated with him in the Parliament, to carry out the programme on which he has been returned. There is no domination in the slightest degree by the outside leagues or organizations of the Labour Party.

Sir JOHN FORREST (SWAN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - But they can pass resolutions.

Mr WATSON - Certainly; but do not the supporters of the right honorable member occasionally pass resolutions?

Sir John Forrest - They do not.

Mr Batchelor - In Western Australia they -have passed several resolutions in regard to the right honorable member.

Sir John Forrest - They have never passed any about me.

Mr WATSON - I was about to say, when this cross-firing commenced, that it was absolutely incorrect for persons to assume or to state that any power over members of Parliament exists in the hands of any labour organization, except in this degree - that, as the right honorable gentleman stated yesterday, if those members do not give satisfaction,, they may not be again selected to stand for Parliament. What sort of ta man is he who is afraid to face those who are in agreement with him in regard to every detail of his political programme? What man is there who, being honest, and anxious to carry out the principles to which he has pledged himself before the electors, would fear to face those who necessarily must be prejudiced in his favour, seeing that, they are in thorough harmony and agreement with him on all the material issues that come up for public discussion? The members of the Labour Party share the liability to rejection equally with every other member of this House. The right honorable gentleman finds it convenient to talk about machine politics as applied to the Labour Party, but he seeks to gloss over the operations of equally objectionable machine politics among the ranks of his old-time supporters. Let us recall to mind the case to which he referred yesterday - the case of a member of the State Parliament of New South Wales, who was one of the most faithful' supporters of the party which the right honorable gentleman led so ably and so long, and who, in regard to both loyalty and service, deserved well of the party. The machine - the local organization - selected another man.

Mr Watkins - By ballot?

Mr WATSON - Yes. They ran a gentleman in opposition to Mr. Hawthorne for the electorate of Leichardt, and|, notwithstanding that the leader of the party which is now heir to the ideals of the right honorable member for East Sydney - Mr. Carruthers - had received every support and assistance from Mr. 'Hawthorne - notwithstanding that Mr. Hawthorne' had been as loyal to his new leader as he was to his old one-

Mr McDonald - For sixteen years !

Mr WATSON - Notwithstanding that he had given this support to his leaders for sixteen years, the machine was so strong that not only was another man brought out against him, but the leader of the party spoke against his old henchman. The accusation may be made .against the Labour Party that they' are governed by organizations; but I say, without the slightest hesitation, that if a man had been loyal to the party of which I was leader, I should never speak against him. The " machine " might do as it pleased, but, whatever else! I might do, I' certainly should not be guilty of such an action. I am not putting this forward against the machine. Unfortunately, some kind of machine or organization is necessary.

Mr Chanter - To which of the machines is the honorable member now referring ?

Mr WATSON - I was referring to the machine called, I believe, the " Liberal and Reform Association of New South Wales." We shall shortly learn how far that " reform " will go.

Mr Reid - What is the name of the newly-formed alliance between the Opposition and honorable members in the Opposition corner?

Mr WATSON - It is a Liberal and Labour alliance. I repeat that so-called machines are necessary and are universally employed. The Prime Minister himself used a machine at the last elections in New South Wales. I am told that it was not quite so effective in this State, but in New South Wales we had the free- trade organization working hotly and strongly for him. I do not blame them ; but what I do object to is the political hypocrisy of which men are guilty when they come here and object to the Labour Party as an organization per se, while they themselves use the machine, and, as in the case of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, bring into existence! yet another organization to remedy the defects of that already existing.

Mr Reid - It is only the despotism of an enlightened democracy.

Mr WATSON - I think that the decision of a Committee appointed in part by the right honorable gentleman before the last Federal election, and in part by gentlemen who had previously appointed themselves a committee, is a form of despotism a little more complete than the organization of the Labour Party, in 'connexion with which every individual may join a labour league, and may in that league have his direct vote by ballot to decide whether a particular candidate shall be run for Parliament.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The only difficulty about it is that it is not true. That is all.

Sir William Lyne - It is true. It has been done all through New South Wales.

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