Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 23 September 1904

Mr LEE (Cowper) - I do not suppose that a motion of no-confidence in the Government can be discussed without the introduction of personalities. The honorable member for Darling lifted this debate from the region of personalities, and carried us into the clouds, and it is now time for us to descend to earth. There were one or two matters on which he touched in the same manner as he did in his electioneering campaign. He tried to make his constituents believe that if the free-traders had their way they would impose a duty on seven or eight hundred articles, which are now free. But he forgot to tell them that the Tariff, as introduced by the right honorable member for Adelaide, was considerably modified by the free-traders.

Mr Tudor - That is pretty rough on the protectionist half of the Ministry.

Mr LEE - The honorable member for Darling has a perfect right to give freetraders credit for what they do. We are quite prepared to stand our ground. We have been able to defend our position. New South Wales has been dragged into this discussion a good deal, and very unnecessarily, I think. But she is quite able to look after her own finances. At the last general election, she showed the Labour Party that she intends to do without their aid, for she returned to power a party which is not at their domination. The Labour Party now comprise only a little over one-fourth of the Legislative Assembly, and therefore occupy a very different position from that which they used to hold. Their number has been increased at the expense of the then Ministerialists. The Opposition party at the time came back from the polls more powerful than ever, although they had lost several seats as the result of the splitting of votes.

Mr Page - Do not let it happen again.

Mr Wilks - Let us have a second ballot so that the majority may rule.

Mr LEE - It would be a very good thing if our Electoral Act provided for the holding of a second ballot. In this session very little legislation has been passed. We have had a debate on the Address-in-Reply and on two Ministerial statements, and now a vote of censure upon the Ministry is being discussed. The debate on the last Ministerial statement fizzled out because it awakened very little interest. The present debate is dragging itself wearily along. Personal explanations constitute its principal feature. ' Nearly every day an honorable member has to rise and make a personal explanation. That is a very peculiar way of carrying oh a debate on a no-confidence motion. The chief charge' against the Ministry is that they are a coalition. For the first time the free-traders and protectionists have sunk their fiscal differences for the purpose of carrying on the Government in a constitutional manner. It was certainly a great concession for the free-traders, as well as the protectionists, . to agree to sink the fiscal issue.

Mr Bamford - When knocked out.

Mr LEE - There has been no sacrifice of principle on the part of the free-traders. We have, however, decided to sink our fiscal differences, and carry on the Government of the Commonwealth, as far aspossible, in a constitutional manner.

Mr Page - The free-traders in the Labour Party are all light.

Mr LEE - I believe they are. When thissession was opened, the House was divided' as nearly as possible into three equal parties-

The then Prime Minister decided that such a state of things could not be allowed to. continue; that he would not hold power at the bidding of any party which was not loyal.

Mr Tudor - Why did not the honorable member support him and keep him in office ?

Mr LEE - Why did not the Labour Party keep the honorable and learned member for Ballarat in office? At the earliest opportunity, the honorable and learned member made up his mind to test the feeling of the House, so that the Government of the Commonwealth could be carried on in a proper and constitutional manner. There is no act which reflects greater credit on that honorable and learned member than his' decision not to hold office at the bidding of a party which was not loyal to him, and sitting behind him. The same position is taken up by the present Ministry, who do not wish to hold office without a majority at their back.

Opposition Members. - Hear, hear !

Mr LEE - My honorable friends on the other side will see when the time comes that the Government have a majority behind them.

Mr Storrer - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat would not take office in the coalition Government.

Mr LEE - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat is the head of the Protectionist movement in Victoria. He considered that now that a truce had been declared, and a coalition formed, his duty was still to be ready to lead his forces if any great protectionist issue were raised.

Mr Wilks - He is the watchdog of the protectionists.

Mr Page - He is the watchdog of the Reid Ministry.

Mr LEE - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat is still leader of the Protectionist Party, and although a fiscal truce has been declared, there has not been one jot or tittle of principle given away by either party on this side.

Mr Page - They had nothing to give away.

Mr LEE - Nothing to give away ! Why we have taken a leaf out of the book of the Labour Party. How have they been able to advance so much? Because the free-traders and the protectionists were continually fighting ohe another over the fiscal question. The Labour Party decided to sink the fiscal issue, and persuaded freetraders and protectionists to waive their fiscal differences and fight under the banner of labour. And no\vj because we have sunk the fiscal question-

Mr Page - What an admission to make I The honorable member is the only man who has admitted that he has sunk the fiscal question.

Mr LEE - We have entered into a truce and the question of the Tariff is not to be raised during this Parliament. We have decided that, for the life of this Parliament, there shall be a coalition for the purpose of carrying on the Government in a constitutional manner. There were some honorable members who were not in favour of that proposal. The protectionist wing thought, after looking all round, that the wisest thing they could do would be to fall in with the Labour Party and form an alliance.

Mr Wilks - It is a "fall in" all right.

Mr LEE - It is a " fall in."

Mr Wilks - Mr. Anstey savs it is a " fall in."

Mr Page - Who is he?

Mr Wilks - The honorable member's " boss " leader in Victoria.

Mr LEE - The protectionist wing considered that their wisest plan was not to invite the opposition of the Labour Party at the next general election, and therefore they decided to fall in with them as far as possible. I remember an alliance in New South Wales between the right honorable member for East Sydney and the Labour Party, who had been supporting his Government. At the general election he advised his free-trade supporters not to oppose labour candidates ; in fact, he went so far as to ask me to go and support a labour candidate, which I did. But the very men whom he supported then, whose return he helped to secure, afterwards put hiim out of power. Those honorable members who think that they will escape ' opposition from the Labour Party are very much mistaken. I am sure that they will not lower their flag to. save any man. They believe in their principles, and they have a right to insist that every man who receives their support shall sign their pledge. They have put their platform before' the world, and every man who allies himself with the party should be ready to subscribe to their tenets. After the honorable and learned member for Ballarat retired from office the Labour Party took up the reins of Government, but existed as a Ministry on sufferance only.

Mr Page - The present Government are in exactly the same position.

Mr LEE - We shall soon find out whether or not that is so.

Mr Tudor - The Prime Minister has stated that the Government can do no business unless the Opposition give him their assistance.

Mr LEE - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat said that he was prepared to give the late Government fair play, and he kept his promise. No vote of censure was moved during the whole of the time they were in office.

Mr Tudor - They were stabbed in the back.

Mr LEE - We amended the Arbitration Bill, and improved it in every possible way, but the Labour Party were not content. They wished to have clause 48 recommitted, so that the amendment restricting the power of the Court to grant preference to unionists might be modified. They told honorable members that, unless the previous vote was reversed, they would resign office; but, with one or two exceptions, those honorable members who had voted in favour of the amendment remained true to their principles. The late Government chose their own battle-ground, and suffered a well-merited defeat. The Arbitration Bill, which was brought prominently before the electors at the last general election, has involved the fate of two Ministries, and we have yet to see how the present Government will fare. The measure has been greatly improved by the modification of the provisions with regard to the common rule, by the restrictions placed upon the power of the Court to grant preference to unionists, and by the removal of the agricultural industry beyond the scope of the measure. The best interests of the community would have been menaced if the agricultural industry had been brought under the operation of the Bill. I do not see how the Labour Party can reasonably object to the coalition formed by members on this side of the House, who have, in accordance with the understanding arrived at at- the last election, sunk the fiscal issue.

Mr Watkins - How did the honorable member secure his election?

Mi. LEE. - I stood as a straight-out free-trader.

Mr Watkins - Then the honorable mem-, ber did not sink the fiscal issue.

Mr LEE - I have agreed to sink the fiscal issue for the present, because I realize that it is of no use to run one's head against a wall. The Labour Party have sunk the fiscal issue.

Mr Page - Never.

Mr LEE - We have been told that it is intended to again raise that issue ; but I do not believe that the Labour Party will fight under the protectionist banner.

Mr Webster - The honorable member has sunk his electorate.

Mr LEE - I am not afraid to face the consequences of what I. have done.

Mr Fuller - The honorable member for Gwydir will not have only Colonel Onslow to oppose him at the next election.

Mr Webster - Perhaps the honorable and learned member will come up and fight me.

Suggest corrections