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Friday, 23 September 1904

Mr SPEAKER - I am very sorry to again have to call attention to the remarks passing between honorable members across the Chamber. Such conversations are entirely out of order, and I shall have to mention the name of the next honorable member who offends. I should be extremely reluctant to take such an extreme course, and I hope that I shall not have occasion to do so.

Mr LEE - It has been stated during this debate that the free-traders have swallowed the protectionists, but I would point out that the Minister who holds the purse-strings is a protectionist, and that the Minister of Trade and Customs, and also the Minister who stands behind the guns, are of the same political faith. Therefore, I do not think that there is much swallowing in the case.

Mr Page - Where do the free-traders come in?

Mr LEE - One stands at the top of the tree. I do not think there is any danger of the protectionist members of the Ministry being called upon to act contrary to their principles, or of their suffering from their association with the free-traders any more than the members of the Labour Party will suffer owing to their connexion with the protectionists. In the eye; of the Labour Party it is apparently almost a crime for free-traders and protectionists to form a coalition. We have, however, joined forces in the interests of constitutional government, and we intend to do our best to defeat the efforts of the Labour Party to force their socialistic ideas upon the community. I am very much surprised that the Labour Party have entered into an alliance with the

Protectionist Party. That alliance has been brought about by the parliamentary representatives who belong to the party, but I do not think that it will be approved of by the labour organizations outside Parliament. If it is, we shall have a new set of conditions, and I think that the Labour Party will be those who will suffer most by the change. So long as the party remains distinct from the other parties in its aims and methods, it will be a power in the land ; but if it allies itself with other parties, it will lose influence. The alliance which has been made is. to last for this and the next Parliament; but honorable members have no right to make promises which will bind the members of next Parliament, because they do not know that they will be here then. Half of those who joined the alliance may not be returned. I do not pretend to be a prophet, but my word's may nevertheless be true. We may have to go to the country very shortly.

Mr Watkins - The honorable member will then have to consider his own chances of re-election.

Mr LEE - I consider .them very seriously. We have to look at all these matters straight in the face. The motion for the appointment of a Commission to inquire into the operation of the Commonwealth Tariff, of which the honorable and learned member for Indi gave notice just prior to the moving of this motion of censure, was merely an electioneering move. Almost all the talk about the necessity for revising the Tariff has come from two or three of the protectionist representatives of Victoria, We do not hear anything about it from the protectionists of the other States. The terms of the honorable and learned member's motion, however, are so indefinite, that it might' equally well have been brought forward by a free-trader. The freetraders are just as anxious as are the protectionists for a satisfactory Tariff.

Mr Storrer - Then why does the honorable member say that the giving of notice of the motion was a political move?

Mr LEE - Because it was done immediately before the moving of this motion of want of confidence. Although the honorable and learned member for Indi could have given notice of his motion months ago, he deferred doing' so until the present time, so that if there happens to be an election he will be able to tell the electors that he was ready to do something for them. In my opinion, there should be no alteration of the Tariff until the constituencies have spoken in regard to the matter. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat, who was at the time Prime Minister, let it be distinctly understood in Victoria prior to the late general elections that he declared for fiscal peace, and that position was afterwards accepted by the right honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Bland. When the new House met, the three parties had agreed that in the interests of legislation the fiscal issue should be put on one side for a time. Now that there are only two parties in the House, the question is being brought forward again, so that if there is an appeal to the country, those who have given notices of motion may be able to profit toy their action. The Prime Minister Has been twitted for refraining from referring to the old-age pensions question when making his policy speech ; but we must accept his statement that he did so through an oversight, and we know that the policy of the Government in regard to the matter was declared by the AttorneyGeneral in another place, and subsequently by another Minister. The. leader of the Opposition has stated that it was the intention of his party to provide for a Commonwealth old-age pensions scheme during the present Parliament, whether the States were satisfied or not, to use his own words. The Government, however, propose first to consult the States' in the matter, which is the more reasonable course to take. At the present time New South Wales and Victoria, which contain two-thirds of the population of the Commonwealth, have old-age pensions systems in force, and if there is anything in the boast of the Labour Party that Queensland and Western Australia are under Labour control, I ask why do they not bring old-age pensions laws into force in those States? The old-age pensions system is a very difficult one for the Commonwealth to provide for, because, in order to obtain through the Customs1 House the ^1,500,000 which would be necessary to establish it, ^6,000,000 would have to be raised, in order to comply with the provision of the Constitution which requires that three-fourths of the Customs revenue raised by the Commonwealth shall be returned to the States. It would be preposterous to propose the levying of so much additional taxation, and the fact shows that the Labour Party are not in earnest when they speak about providing for Commonwealth old-age pensions without making preliminary arrangements with the States.

The honorable member for Barrier interjected, when the subject was discussed before, " Cannot we raise a land tax ? ' ' but I do not think that the Labour Party are prepared to go to the country in advocacy of the imposition of a land tax for the purpose of providing old-age pensions.

Mr Tudor - I am.

Mr LEE - I think that the honorable member is the only one who would do so. It would be wrong to deprive the States of a means of revenue upon which they now so largely depend. The Commonwealth would' have no right to' step in and take from the States the right to impose taxation upon land. We hear a good deal about interference with States rights. If some persons had their way, there would be no States rights at all. The proposal of the Prime Minister to enter into an arrangement with the Treasurers .of the States before providing for any Commonwealth old-age pensions system is the right one, and I am sure will be carried into effect if the States are agreeable to the establishment of a Commonwealth old-age pensions system. The Ministry are certainly doing right in refusing to impose direct taxation to provide for a Commonwealth old-age pensions system, and it would be unfair to increase the heavy Customs burdens which the people bear. Then, the leader of the Opposition considers that the Commonwealth should at once appoint a High Commissioner to represent it in London, without first conferring with the States. It must be remembered, however, that each of the States now maintains an AgentGeneral, and it is necessary to confer with them, before appointing a High Commissioner, to see whether it is not possible to get him to discharge the duties now performed by these Agents-General, and thus save expense. I believe that the establishment of the proposed Department of Agriculture would prove very beneficial to the Commonwealth. Such a Department would be able to impart useful knowledge to those engaged upon the soil.

Mr Watkins - Would not that be Socialism ?

Mr LEE - I do not think so. It would not take anything from the people, neither would it interfere with individual liberty. Instead of each State having a Department of Agriculture, and commercial agencies, I am of opinion that the Commonwealth should establish a central office, and control the whole business. The programme of the Government is a good one, and I believe that they are able to give effect to it. They have a perfect right to the support of honorable members, and I am satisfied that when they are called upon to face the country, they will be returned by a very large majority. When the present Parliament opened, there were three parties in this House. Now there are only two parties, though they are of very nearly equal strength. In that respect, I believe that an improvement has been effected. I repeat that when the electors are called upon to express their opinions through the ballotbox, they will clearly demonstrate that the Ministry possesses the confidence- of the country by adding to the strength of their supporters.

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