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Thursday, 8 September 1904

Mr WATSON (BLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That -is so, but in Canada, as the right honorable gentleman is probably aware, the Government issue, all notes below the denomination of five dollars. They issue one, two, and four-dollar notes against which they, practically speaking, hold no reserve.

Mr Reid - That is a very bad system.

Mr WATSON - They hold no reserve up to nine million dollars. But after that issue is reached, they hold a certain reserve, increasing as the issue increases. Up to an issue of nine million dollars, which it is believed the country can fairly carry without any risk, they hold no reserve at all. What I desire to point out is that the present Treasurer, in 1901, thought that that, on the face of it, was a fair scheme. The right honorable gentleman had not, I admit, gone fully into it, but he led the House to believe that he considered it favorably, so far as he had then gone, and he intended to refer to Canada for further information. But, of course, the right honorable gentleman has got into different company since then.

Mr Reid - The right honorable gentleman got the information long before he joined me.

Mr WATSON - Yes ; but the right honorable gentleman had not declared against this scheme before he joined the right honorable member for East Sydney.

Mr Reid - The right honorable gentleman has not clone so vet.

Mr WATSON - I can quite understand, when se many members of the present Reid-McLean Administration are sinking their convictions in so many directions, the right honorable member for Balaclava must sink some portion of his.

Mr Tudor - The members of the Government will sink themselves in the end.

Mr Reid - And will come up again smiling. It is all in a life-time.

Mr WATSON - I come now to deal with the practical proposals of the Government. I regret that I have taken up so much time in the introductory portion of my observations, but in that I have merely fol lowed the example of the Prime Minister, who yesterday devoted the greater part of the admittedly short time he took up, to general matters outside of 'his programme.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorable gentleman going to continue to imitate the Prime Minister?

Mr WATSON - Only in so far as the right honorable gentleman is right. The first definite statement we had in the right honorable gentleman's speech yesterday was with regard to Preferential Trade. The Prime Minister says that he takes up the position taken, up by the Deakin Government in respect to Preferential Trade.

Mr Batchelor - And that involves the raising of duties to the foreigner.

Mr WATSON - This is a most interesting alteration of policy on the part of the right honorable member for East Sydney.

Mr Reid - The honorable gentleman does not complete what I said in respect of waiting for a definite proposal from the Imperial Government.

Mr WATSON - That was an addition to the statement first put forward, and not retracted, that the position taken up by the Deakin Government on the subject of Preferential Trade was the position adopted by the present Administration. I say that this discloses a most interesting state of affairs.

Mr Mauger - Because that was to raise the duties against foreigners.

Mr Reid - Some of the newspapers say that I have dropped it altogether.

Mr WATSON - I desire to have some clear understanding as to what policy 'in this matter the present Government has taken up. If there is to be any emendation of the statement put forward yesterday, the sooner it is made the better in the interests of the public generally. I am quite willing that the position of the Government in this matter should be cleared up now. If the statement I heard yesterday is correct, that the policy of the Deakin Government is taken up, I desire to know what is the opinion of the honorable and learned member for Werriwa on the subject? Is that honorable and learned member prepared to support the proposal of the Deakin Government to raise duties against foreigners ? Personally, I am in favour of it.

Mr McCay - What does the honorable and learned member for West Sydney say to that?

Mr WATSON - I am quite prepared to increase the duties ; tout I wish to know is it the Government decision to follow the Deakin proposal in that regard?

Mr Mauger - They say - No.

Mr WATSON - I do not know what they say. That was the statement yesterday.

Mr Reid - No.

Mr WATSON - I am sorry if I have misunderstood the right honorable gentleman. If that is not the position, are we to assume that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat is going to acquiesce in the lowering of the duties at present existing in favour of British goods?

Mr Deakin - Who said so?

Mr WATSON - Only two positions are possible, even to this Government. Even this Administration cannot take up more than one of two positions on this question, and it must be one or other of the two positions which I have mentioned.

Mr Reid - The honorable member is all astray.

Mr WATSON - I am asking what the Government propose to do, and whether they do not propose to do what I heard yesterday was their intention. I am free to admit that the versatility of the right honorable gentleman is equal to all emergencies, but I hardly think that it is possible, even for him, to find more than two paths to follow in relation to this particular matter.

Mr Batchelor - We should know what their policy is, at any rate.

Mr Reid - Is this a caucus?

Mr WATSON - Perhaps for an explanation of the other aspect of this particular question we should look to the other head of the Government. When, a little later, the Minister of Trade and Customs speaks, he may supplement the statement of the Prime Minister in regard to preferential trade with an amended proposal which will be distinct from that which we heard yesterday ; but,, in the absence of such an amended statement, I am forced to the conclusion that those who followed the Prime Minister originally are now being asked to back down upon their ideas of preferential trade, and to submit to the duties being raised against the foreigner.


Mr WATSON - If that is so, I congratulate them upon having come to an opinion which I share, and which I have shared for a considerable time past.

Mr Thomas - The Government Is solid only on the trade marks measures.

Mr WATSON - I regret the decision of the Government to postpone the passing of the High Commissionership Bill until next session.

Mr McColl - It is a wise decision.

Mr WATSON - It seems to me an unwise decision.

Mr Reid - It is certainly an un-Wise decision.

Mr WATSON - I do not know that there would be any greater wisdom in an appointment which might be made in another direction. It is possibly because of the unpopularity, if not unwisdom, of some appointment that the Bill is not being proceeded with. In my opinion, it is certainly a proper thing to have a High Commissioner in London at the earliest opportunity possible. I have held the view that true economy in this relation consists in having a Federal representative in the heart of the Empire as soon as we can, and that the cry about the expense is a paltry matter when it is recollected that we shall be able to do without the services of the AgentsGeneral of the States if the High Commissioner is appointed.

Mr McColl - We cannot dispense with the services of the Agents-General of the States, though the Governments of the States may do so.

Mr WATSON - If a Commonwealth officer is appointed, who will be competent to perform, for one-sixth or one-fourth of their salaries, the work which the AgentsGeneral of the States are now doing, public opinion will force the Governments of the States to make use of his services in order to save expense.

Mr McColl - But this House has no control over the States in regard to the appointment of Agents-General.

Mr Reid - Would not friendly negotiations with the States be better than an attempt to force the change upon them? I think that, in the first instance at any rate, it would be better to proceed by negotiation.

Mr WATSON - I do not see any objection to friendly negotiation, but, see'ing how much time has already elapsed, it is rather too late to proceed in that way now. Australia has already suffered through having no proper representative in London. In my view, the acts of this Parliament have been misunderstood and grossly misrepresented in London, and that could have been avoided if we had had some one there able to speak with authority on behalf of Australia, 'as to what our aims and our intentions really were. I was informed, only a couple of days ago, of an instance in . which an AgentGeneral, speaking in London, showed him- self absolutely ignorant of the terras of the Constitution, and thereby conveyed an altogether false impression to the people to whom he was speaking as to the powers of this Federation. This is a most unfortunate state of affairs. The least we should expect from any gentleman appointed to that high position is that he would be fit to interpret to the people of England our Constitution, and the legislation under it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Interpret our Constitution ?

Mr WATSON - The honorable member knows what I mean. He should not make any gross errors in regard to it. But in the case to which I refer, a gross error was made. I am sorry, therefore, that the Government have seen fit to postpone the passing of the High Commissioner Bill, and the appointment of a High Commissioner. I believe that to be false economy. I do not think that there would be any friction with the Governments of the States if a High Commissioner were appointed. On the contrary, anxiety would be shown at an early date to take advantage of the facilities which his office in London would afford. There is another measure referred to in the Ministerial statement upon which I should like to say a word or two, and that is the Iron Bonus Bill. We have been told that the question of the granting of an iron bonus is to be an open one with the Government. The right honorable gentleman seemed to be rather concerned yesterday as - to the opinions of those in Opposition upon this highly important question. I at once say that I have been opposed to the granting of bonuses to private individuals, just as a number of the members of the Ministry, and a number of those who are supporting the Ministry, have been opposed to it. But I have never been unprepared to take the opinion of the House in regard to that question as in regard to other questions. In my view it is one in regard to which a difference of opinion may legitimately exist. I give way to none in my anxiety to see the iron industry successfully established in Australia; but I differ from those who think that the best way to establish it is to pay large bonuses out of the public Treasury to private individuals. I was, however, prepared to bow to the decision of the House on the question, both before I took office and while I was a Minister. The policy of the last Administration in regard to that measure was not parallel with the course proposed to be followed by the present Government. The Prime Minister, in common with, and almost in company with, the honorable member for Ballarat, has for months past been impressing upon the electors of Australia that what is needed in this country is to restore responsible government and majority rule ; that that is the one thing necessary, and the great end to which all energies should be bent. Judging by the appearance of the benches in this chamber, both yesterday and to-day, it does not look as though majority rule has been achieved, and certainly one cannot say that it was responsible government which the right honorable member emphasized yesterday. He spoke about the example of the British Parliament in this matter ; but responsible government is not achieved by a decision such as that of the Ministry in respect to the Iron Bonus Bill. The right honorable gentleman was frank enough to say that there is no rule, no matter how good, to which there may not be exceptions. These exceptions appear to be getting rather frequent, and are made nearly always when it is convenient that there should be an exception. I myself have no complaint against the proposed treatment of the Iron Bonus Bill ; but it must be a sore disappointment to those outside who have followed the Prime Minister blindly, believing that when he obtained office he would give them this much-vaunted responsible government - what it may be worth I do not know, but they seem to think that there is something in it - and now find that they have been left in the lurch. Perhaps we have an explanation in their attitude towards this question of the disinclination of the Government to meet its followers in caucus. The right honorable gentleman stated yesterday that it has not been their practice so far to meet in caucus, and we could understand the difficulties of a caucus on the T ron Bonus Bill if the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, and the honorable member for Lang division, or the honorable and learned member for Werriwa, and the honorable member for Echuca were present. We can understand that it would not be wise to bring these full-grown tigers into so small an arena.

Mr Reid - It would not be more incongruous than to bring the honorable member, the honorable and learned member for West Sydney, and the honorable member for Hume together.

Mr WATSON - Our contempt of responsible government, as the right honorable member seems to understand it, and has advocated it throughout the country, was not disguised. I have never made any pretence of regard for responsible government as it has been understood and written about in British communities for many years past. I see no virtue in it per se. The right honorable gentleman, however, has taken quite a different stand. He seems to me to have tried to persuade the people that if they achieved responsible government all their troubles would disappear as if by magic. Now, however, that opportunity has been taken from them, because in dealing with the Iron Bonus Bill he proposes to drop it as inconvenient.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - All coalitions have their little differences - even the Opposition coalition.

Mr Reid - There is one little difficulty that might be fixed up. Who is to be leader of the Opposition?

Mr Batchelor - The right honorable gentleman need not worry; he will find out.

Mr WATSON - Upon that head, we shall not have half the difficulty that seems to have confronted the right honorable gentleman some little time ago. There is one remarkable statement in the speech of the Prime Minister that is another striking commentary upon this, cry for responsible government. The right honorable gentleman said, by way of apology for the small programme that he was putting forward, that if there was anything else for which time could be found, and which the House desired, the Government would afford opportunities for its discussion. That is responsible government with a vengeance. The Prime Minister said, in effect, " Gentlemen, we present a programme to you ; if it does not suit it can be altered, or extended, or anything else done, so long as we remain in office." I must say that that struck me as a rather peculiar way of reintroducing responsible government.

Mr Reid - There is no more consistent man in Australia than I am.

Mr WATSON - I do not make any reflections upon that head, but I cannot quite harmonize the statement that room will be found for anything in the Ministerial waggon so long as the House gives some reasonable indication of its desires, with the claim that responsible government will be restored. That appears to me tantamount to saying that responsible government can go hang.

Mr Reid - I did not say that.

Mr WATSON - I defy any one to attach . any other meaning to what the right honorable gentleman said. For myself I can conceive, of no other, and I should like to hear an explanation of that phrase.

Mr Reid - I .shall make a note of it.

Mr WATSON - I should like to hear each of the Government supporters getting up in turn and trying to explain by thorough dissection exactly what that phrase means, if it does not mean what I have said. We were told yesterday that every endeavour would be made to establish cordial relations between the Commonwealth Government and the States Governments.

Mr Batchelor - As if they were not already established.

Mr WATSON - I was just about to say that I was not aware that any Government so far had failed in the endeavour to act in the most generous fashion towards the various States Governments. I have certainly heard no complaint from any of the States Governments upon this head.

Mr Johnson - Mr. Bent does not seem to think that the relations have been satisfactory.

Mr WATSON - So far as Mr. Bent is concerned, his bark is very much worse than his bite. According to my own experience, whilst Mr. Bent has occasionally spoken about the awfulness of the Federal Government - and he will probably- speak in just the same way of the present Government' in a little while - I have found him most easy to work with in regard to matters which concern both the Commonwealth and the State of Victoria. I succeeded in settling up several matters which had been in abeyance for some years, and which I wished to have disposed of upon equitable terms, so far as both Governments were concerned. Therefore, while it is true, as the honorable member for Lang has indicated, that Mr. Bent may have made some random remarks about the Commonwealth Government spending money they were not entitled to, so far as the actual relations between the two Governments are concerned, they were of the most cordial character.

Mr Johnson - Perhaps Mr. Bent was misreported.

Mr WATSON - He may have been; but in any case I do not know of any real complaint. Further than that, so far as' the States Governments generally were concerned, there was no exception taken, or any ground for taking exception, to the administration of the last Government. lAnd I heard nothing as to the relations of the previous Government with the States Governments being unsatisfactory. Therefore, the Prime Minister appears to me to convey quite a wrong impression when he states that every endeavour will be made to establish cordial relations with the various States Governments. I do not wish to say a great deal more with regard to the programme of the Government. The Prime Minister, when speaking at Warragul some time ago, referred to the programme of the late Ministry as a crawling programme. If that term was justifiably applied to the programme of the late Government, which included some debatable matter - something over which a fight might be made - surely it could be applied with tenfold force to the wretched programme which the Prime Minister has put forward, which is not calculated to offend the meekest individual in the community.

Mr Reid - That is what makes it so indigestible.

Mr WATSON - The right honorable gentleman talked about the crawling programme of the late Ministry. One would imagine that he was the knight valiant, who was going to put forward a programme when he had an opportunity - when the " chap to save the country ' ' was called on - about which there would be no cavil, and which would range all the forces of righteousness on his side. The mountain has been in labour, and what is the result? This programme is significant quite as much in respect of its omissions as for what it contains. On the occasion of the last election, we heard from the right honorable gentleman some statements about the administration of the legislation of the then Government. When he made the opening speech of the campaign at the Protestant Hall, Sydney, on 13th October, 1903, he stated that the contract labour provisions of the Immigration Restriction Act, and the prohibition of coloured labour on steamships, constituted blots upon the prospects of Australia. We were told by inference, if not explicitly, that this was the reason that immigration had fallen off, why people barred Australia when they desired to settle in a new country and make homes for themselves. The right honorable gentleman said he would not rest until these blots upon our statute- book were removed, that no effort of his would be spared to alter both the legislation and the administration in these regards. Now, we have a most significant silence in regard to these important matters - important in our eyes, as they were held to be important by the right honorable gentleman a short while ago. We hold them to be important, because we believe that the best interests of Australia are bound up in their retention, whereas the right honorable gentleman regards it as important that they should be abolished. 1 ask why there is no mention in this programme of any proposal to deal with either of these important matters?

Mr Page - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat will not permit it.

Mr WATSON - Is it that the stress which the right honorable gentleman laid four months ago upon administration, is to find expression in the action of himself and his colleagues in the Departments? Are they content to rely on administration for effecting their purposes, instead of coming down to Parliament fairly and openly and asking for the reversal of the previous decisions ? I say that the circumstances are such as to arouse suspicion. When the Prime Minister sought the suffrages of the electors, and asked for their support, he put these matters in the very fore-front of his programme, and emphasized their importance; but now he is significantly silent upon the subject. This must arouse the suspicion that, either he is dropping these questions, upon which he assumed an attitude which he claimed to be just and right, or that he is going to effect his object in an underhand way, by means of his administration, instead of asking Parliament reasonably and fairly to arrive at an opposite decision. I think that we are entitled to a statement upon Ohe matter. In coalitions it is, no doubt, necessary that some sacrifices of opinion should be made, temporarily, if not permanently ; but I say that on important matters regarding which so much controversy has been raised in Aus- tralia - because it was sought to make the last election turn, to some extent, upon the question of the six hatters - it is surely reasonable to ask that a fair and candid statement should be made to Parliament on an occasion of this kind. I should like to congratulate the Prime Minister upon, his new-found anxiety to promote friendly feelings between the States of New South Wales and Victoria. Relying for his support - I will not say for his majority at present - in the bulk, upon the representatives of these two States, we find the right honorable gentleman saying that it is time that Inter-State jealousies died out, and that we should demonstrate our belief in the fairness of members who come from the other States. Now, I would point out that this sentiment was not especially expressed during the last election in New South Wales.

Mr Johnson - That feeling should be reciprocal.

Mr WATSON - Of course it should. But who has 'done the most to keep alive the feeling of animosity between the States ? - the press supporters of the right honorable gentleman in New South Wales.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And the press opponents of the right honorable gentleman in Vic "-oria.

Mr WATSON - I admit that some of the Victorian newspapers have helped to keep alive the feeling of hostility betweenthe States. I contend, however, that no encouragement has been given to any such feeling by myself or by any other member of the Labour Party, whereas it was distinctly stimulated by the right honorable gentleman. I say that the honorable member spoke about the domination of Victoria ad nauseam throughout the last election campaign, and stated that the Barton Government had Been enabled through its brutal majority of Victorian representatives to carry through a' Tariff to which he objected. He laid stress upon that fact at almost every meeting he addressed.

Mr Reid - None of those appeared in the press; no statements in that strain.

Mr WATSON - The right honorable gentleman- will find such statements in the report of his meeting of 10th 'October, 1903, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, and also in a report of his speech at Bowral in August of the same year. That was just before the opening of the electoral campaign, and I dare say that he will find similar statements in other speeches delivered at a later stag*. I have not had time to look them up. We had an example of this only a few days ago. The Sydney Daily Telegraph, which is to-day amongst the most influential newspapers supporting the present Government, stated that the Liberal Protectionists, now in alliance with the Labour Part}' - the Liberal Protectionists who are in opposition to the present Government - constituted that section of Victorians who had all along shown the utmost enmity to New South Wales.

Mr Reid - It spoke of a section of Victorians, not of Victorians generally.

Mr WATSON - Tt stated that they constituted that section of Victorians who had shown the greatest opposition to New South Wales.

Mr Mauger - That is absolutely untrue.

Mr WATSON - It is a most unfortunate libel.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I rise to a point of order. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports loudly interjected that a certain statement was untrue.

Mr SPEAKER - I distinctly heard the interjection, and it was to the effect that the statement quoted from the Sydney Daily Telegraph was false.

Mr WATSON - It is most unfortunate that attempts of this kind should be made to stir up inter-provincial feeling. I am happy to say that this feeling is largely confined to the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, and that there is very little evidence of it in the country districts.

Mr King O'malley - There is none in Melbourne.

Mr WATSON - There is some feeling of the kind.

Mr Mauger - Very little.

Mr WATSON - Surely no public man should encourage, and no public print should give publicity to, such statements. They are absolutely untrue, so far as individuals are concerned. I have not seen evidence of any desire on the part of any representative of Victoria to do injury to New South Wales interests. There has naturally been an anxiety evinced by them, and I am happy to say, by the representatives of New South Wales also, to stand firmly by their opinions, but I have not seen any indication of a desire on the part of Victorians or of any other section of the House to attack New South Wales interests. I am satisfied that there is no such desire existing in the minds of honorable members on either side of the House. As an instance of the length to which these tactics may be carried, I should like to mention a statement which I read in an issue of the Sydney DailyTelegraph, published shortly before the last general election. It was contained, not in a letter to the editor, but in an article written by a member of the staff, and it was to the effect that some blunder had been committed in the electoral office, and that " Melbourne must be called to account for this." ' Having regard to the fact that the Minister of Home Affairs, who then controlled the electoral office, was a New South Welshman, and that the Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, as well as the gentleman immediately in charge of the electoral office, were New South Welshmen, it does not seem to me that Melbourne was particularly responsible for any blunder that had occurred.

Mr Johnson - All of them had strong Victorian interests.

Mr WATSON - I do not think that is true.

Mr Johnson - I think it is.

Mr Reid - I think the expression was - " The Melbourne office " not " The- city of Melbourne.''

Mr WATSON - I am sorry to say that the reference was to Melbourne itself. It is only in keeping with frequent statements of the kind that have been made. I believe I speak for every honorable member on this side of the House, when I say that while we recognize that the Government are entitled to reasonable consideration as to the form that any attack should take, we have so little confidence in them as a Ministry - we have so little confidence in their public administration, apart altogether from the personal merits of the individual members of the Ministry, which, of course, must at. once be conceded - that we shall avail ourselves of every legitimate step that can be taken to turn them out of office. It is all very well for the right honorable member to speak of the democracy which is behind him. We know, as against that statement, that all the reactionary forces of Australia are banded together in support of the Ministry ; all the conservatives who can be martialled into line are strongly of the opinion that the present Government should be maintained.

Mr Reid - And all the anarchists are behind the Opposition.

Mr WATSON - The right honorable member talks of anarchists ! Where are the anarchists in Australia, if we except the honorable and learned member for Werriwa and the honorable and learned member for Parkes ? I am glad to say that, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there are none. If there are any they certainly have never demonstrated their support of the Labour Party. We cannot in New South Wales even secure the support of the official

Socialistic party, not to speak of the anarchists. All the gentlemen whose belief in non-interference with private enterprise inevitably leads them in the direction of political anarchy are on the other side.

Mr Batchelor - Necessarily.

Mr WATSON - Necessarily they are on the other side, and linked with them are, as I have said, all the reactionary conservative forces which exist to-day in Australia. The Government have even the moral support of Mr. Walpole, the paid organizer of the Employers'Federation, who tells the workmen of Australia that marriage is a luxury which should not be indulged in by the poor.

Mr Johnson - Is the honorable member responsible for trie views of every outside supporter of his party ?

Mr Batchelor - Are we responsible for the statements of Mr. Tom Mann?

Mr WATSON - What about the insinuations made by the Prime Minister yesterday in his endeavour to place the responsibility for various statements by irresponsible persons on the shoulders of the Opposition? The present Government are not responsible for all that is said by these persons.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This side of the House has nothing to do with Mr. Walpole.

Mr WATSON - The present Coalition Government is supported by Mr. Walpole, and by every other force similar to that by which he is maintained as a paid organizer. The right honorable gentleman has told us that the Government are in favour of encouraging private enterprise. He will, of course, go to the assistance of those who are anxious for the success of private greed as acainst the public good. The gentlemen who have lately done so well out of the butter trade will give every assistance to this Government. They do not believe in interference with private enterprise. Why should the State step in?

Mr Page - Why should the State interfere?

Mr WATSON - That is what they say. Why not let the weakest go to the wall? Why should not free play be given to these grand original individualistic instincts of the people? That is their doctrine.

Mr Fuller - All this is the result of the bonus system.

Mr WATSON - No ; the honorable and learned member knows that the later swindles disclosed by the evidence given before the Butter Commission had no connexion with the bonus system. The gains in question were made at the expense of the butter producers, quite independently of the bonus system.

Mr Fuller - But the operations of these men did not commence until the bonus system was inaugurated.

Mr WATSON - I repeat that the swindle was perfected, independently of the butter bonus, and was the legitimate pro-duct of private enterprise in the form of a trust.

Mr Fuller - It is such systems which give rise to tactics of the kind to which the honorable member refers.

Mr WATSON - The Government will certainly receive every assistance from gentlemen of the character to which I have referred, as well as from the members of the tobacco monopoly, who will also give them all the influence that it is possible for them to exercise ; and when we find all these forces brought together in support of a Government it is certainly time for the radicals of Australia to sink their minor differences, and to concentrate all their energies in hurling that Government from power.

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