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Friday, 30 September 1904

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - I regret that it has become the fashion in this House, on motions of censure, and also on other motions, to delay decision by prolonged speeches. I do not mean to say that honorable members on one side are more to blame in this respect than honorablemembers on the other; but I do think that the Minister of Defence, who spoke last, and who contributed a speech lasting nearly three hours-

Mr McCay - Two hours and twenty minutes, to be accurate.

Mr MAHON - The honorable and learned gentleman might very well have eliminated the two hours, for everything he said pertinent or relevant to the subject could have been uttered in twenty minutes. I have no wish to follow him through all the tortuous mazes of his arguments, nor into his narrative respecting the defeat of the late Government. I believe that this House and the country knows sufficient of the facts not to accept any partisan interpretation of them. Windy declarations cannot obscure the fact that the late Government were denied the privilege usually accorded to Governments of reconsidering, under proper circumstances, an amendment to an important measure, carried by a snatch vote in Committee. The country will know also that the amendment was one which, in the opinion of those for whom we intended to pass the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, the workers of Australia, would render that measure of little use.

Mr Lonsdale - One section of the workers.

Mr MAHON - It is true that all workers are not members of unions, but the great majority of Australian democrats, the men who have rendered advanced legislation possible, are members of industrial unions. I say that the action of the majority, in taking the business of the House out of the hands of the Government on the occasion referred to, has no parallel in the parliamentary history of Australia.

An Honorable Member. - -There is no precedent for it anywhere.

Mr MAHON - Very likely. I cannot conceive such procedure being adopted by any party with even rudimentary appreciation of fair play. The last speaker sought to cloud the main issue by digressions having only a remote bearing upon it. An opponent might accept many of his conclusions, so unimportant are they, without in any degree mitigating his antagonism to the present Ministry. Those of his fallacies which are calculated to mislead the House on any material point will, no doubt, be exposed by subsequent speakers. What I should first like to draw attention to is the extraordinary composition of the present Government.

Mr Reid - Hear, hear.

Mr MAHON - I am glad that the Prime Minister cheers that statement.

Mr Reid - The honorable gentleman means by contrast with the last Government.

Mr MAHON - There is undoubtedly a vast difference between the two Administrations, and any comparison must be to the. disadvantage of the existing one. The last Government, at all events, fairly represented the various States of Australia, with, perhaps, one exception. Looking at thepersonnel of the present Government, we see that the two principal States of the Commonwealth practically dominate the whole Ministry. Out of eight members in the Cabinet, New South Wales and Victoria are represented by six. The Prime Minister now professes the utmost solicitude for the effacement of the unhappy jealousies that have been rife in the several States, yet, in forming his Government, he supplied some of the States with a first-class grievance. He has practically ignored the smaller States in the formation of his Ministry. Certainly he has given Queensland and South Australia representation in the Cabinet, but not from this House; so we have the curious and sinister situation that the two larger States control the entire Cabinet in the House of Representatives. I ask the right honorable gentleman why he passed over Western Australia in forming his Government. Why did the Prime Minister ignore the right honorable member for Swan - a man whose great career is crowded with practical achievements, which make even the Prime Minister a mere political pigmy in comparison?

Mr Reid - Hear hear ; I admit it.

Mr MAHON - The admission is good, but the explanation would be better. The right honorable member for Swan is a man whose name will be handed down to posterity as an intrepid explorer, arid one of the most capable administrators that Australia has ever seen. What possible justification was there for passing him over and filling the place which he might have occupied I do not desire to be disrespectful - by our military friend, the honorable and learned member for Corinella? The right honorable member for Swan has been in the public life of Australia for nearly a quarter of a century. For a great portion of that time he has been at the head of an Administration, and has to his credit the successful accomplishment of the greatest engineering feat yet attempted anywhere.

Mr McWilliams - If there should be a dissolution, will the honorable gentleman get on to the platform of the right honorable member for Swan, and say that?

Mr MAHON - I shall try to speak the truth wherever I may be. Now, I find that the States of New South Wales and Victoria return to the Federal Parliament sixty-one members, whilst the other four States return fifty members. Yet the sixty-one members are represented by six members of the Cabinet, whilst the fifty members are represented by only two.

Mr Lonsdale - If the representation were on the population basis, New South Wales and Victoria should have aneven greater representation in the Cabinet.

Mr Reid - The honorable gentleman has included the Senate in his figures.

Mr MAHON - Does the Prime Minister mean to say that the Senate should be denied representation in the Cabinet?

Mr Reid - They have got it, and as much as any other Government gave them.

Mr MAHON - My point is that the four States which send fifty members to the Federal Parliament are entitled to more than two representatives in the Cabinet. A consideration of thepersonnel of the Cabinet exposes the hollowness of the Prime Minister's professed solicitude to restore good feeling between the various States. Why, the entire Cabinet in this House consists entirely of representatives of New South Wales and Victoria. All the other States are absolutely ignored. Why should that be? It is not for lack of men of high capacity and large experience, for in the right honorable member for Swan the Prime Minister could have had a colleague combining all essential qualifications. I need scarcely say that no disparagement is intended of the Treasurer, the Minister of Trade and Customs, or the Minister of Home Affairs ; I am glad to see those three gentlemen in the Ministry. I am especially glad to see the honorable member for North Sydney in the Government. When the Prime Minister abdicated his functions as leader of the Opposition, and retired to look after his private business, the honorable member for North Sydney sat here night after night, week after week, and month after month, fighting the cause which the right honorable member for East Sydney had deserted.

Mr Reid - A generous acknowledgment.

Mr MAHON - In making a generous acknowledgment to a political foe, I hope 1 am setting an example which the Prime Minister will occasionally follow. I have a word or two to say about the Minister of Trade and Customs. The honorable gentleman has a lively Celtic imagination, and a gift of honeyed persuasiveness which, to borrow an old-world saying, would coax the birds from the bushes. He went up to Ballarat lately, and attempted to justify the extraordinary position in which, as a protectionist, he finds himself - co-leader of a Ministry with a free-trader. Speaking on that occasion, the honorable member explained that the Watson Government contained four free-traders and four protectionists, as the Reid Government does ; and therefore if one alliance were morally defensible, so is the other. But there is a kink in this argument. The Labour Party never made the fiscal issue a fetish, as did the respective parties captained by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Customs. They relegated fiscalism to a subordinate place.

Mr McLean - That is just what we object to.

Mr MAHON - The Labour Party had, from the inception of this Parliament, been absolutely cohesive on all fundamental issues. It agreed to differ on the Tariff, just as it does on the acquisition of State debts and State railways, or the construction of the Transcontinental railway. The junction of certain Labour members of opposite fiscal beliefs in an Administration, therefore, involved no sacrifice of principle or betrayal of pledges. But how stands this Government? The joint leaders represent policies which are mutually destructive. Theirs is, in truth, a perfect " Yes-No " combination. Not merely are their principles hostile, but, from the outset, and up to the present hour, they isolate themselves in separate apartments within parliamentary precincts.

Mr Robinson - That is not correct.

Mr MAHON - At least it was so publicly reported. Their pretended fusion is only for the public eye. It is idle, therefore; for the Minister for Trade and Customs to attempt to justify this immoral political compact by fastening a precedent for it on the Labour Party. The cases are in no respect parallel, and nothing in the composition or history of the Labour Government palliates the shameless abandonment of principle which can be sheeted home to the joint leaders of this combination. Their rival policies are as utterly distinctive as day is from night, or truth from falsehood.

Mr Reid - They blend occasionally very satisfactorily.

Mr MAHON - It ls clear that they do blend satisfactorily for the right honorable gentleman at times.

Mr Wilson - The honorable member fights for the Labour Party; we fight against it.

Mr MAHON - I shall come to the honorable member for Corangamite presently, and to what he is fighting for. The honorable member is fighting for "the maintenance of the ascendency of a small caste in the community.

Mr Wilson - Not at all.

Mr MAHON - Why, the honorable member is in this House on a minority vote I say that the position of the two parties is radically different. The honorable and learned, gentleman who spoke last amused me very much by the importance which he professed to attach to a trifling reference which I made in a jocular moment to the " forty thieves." As explained at the time, that observation had no personal application. But the right honorable gentleman whom he is now following has repeatedly denounced the protectionists of Victoria, even in this House, as plunderers.

Mr Wilks - He meant blunderers.

Mr MAHON - No, plunderers. I shall read from Hansard a few passages, which will illustrate the sentiments entertained by the free-trade leader for the gentlemen with whom he has now entered into a coalition. In Hansard of the 15th October, 1901, I find this passage -

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I rise now because I find there is a conspiracy of silence on the other side of the House.

Mr Reid - Plunderers should keep silence.

Mr Reid - I ought to have been called to order.

Mr MAHON - That is very true; unwarranted lenity was shown.

Mr Reid - I withdraw the expression at this late date.

Mr MAHON - Better late than never. When the honorable member for Macquarie pitied Victoria for adopting protection instead of that system which made New South Wales powerful, the honorable member for Mernda interjected, " On borrowed money," and evoked this retort -

The honorable member has thrived under the protectionist policy of Victoria at the expense of the great mass of workers of this State.

Here is a charge of corruption levelled at the honorable member for Mernda by a gentleman who is now a member of the Ministry, and yet he is supporting them.

Mr Reid - I shall use nothing but " Silver starch " now.

Mr MAHON - Continuing, the honorable member for Macquarie said -

He has accumulated wealth by extorting higher rates under this iniquitous system of protection than he had any right to expect from consumers.

The "honorable member so unsparingly denounced by the present Postmaster-General is now expected to maintain in office members who thus slandered him. A few quotations showing the Prime Minister's opinion of the Tariff he is now content to administer, will not come amiss. On numerous platforms he refused to abandon free trade, and said he would decline to take office by protectionist votes.

Mr Reid - Can the honorable member give me a reference to that statement?

Mr MAHON - I shall do so before I finish my speech.

Mr Reid - I never refused a vote in my life, and I do not know a political leader who ever did.

Mr MAHON - I shall give the "right honorable gentleman ample proof of what I said.

Mr Reid - All right. Is not the honorable member angling for a vote which does not belong 'to his party ?

Mr MAHON - In the Argus of nth October, 1902, the right honorable gentleman is reported to Save said at Portland -

He believed that he should be ten times stronger politically, and save himself much annoyance and worry, if he would consent to accept the Tariff as it now stood. He had only to say that he would do so, and he would get tens of thousands of protectionist supporters behind him. But he did not intend to take that opportunity.

Mr Reid - I was fighting them then.

Mr MAHON - I ask honorable members to listen to this passage -

He had not come into the Federal Parliament in the closing years of his political life to play that kind of game. It would not be worth his while to be there unless he could do something that would cause him to be remembered with respect and esteem by the country.

Mr Tudor - But that was said some time ago. He has changed his opinion several times since then.

Mr Reid - No, I am still holding the fort.

Mr MAHON - The Prime . Minister is not holding the free-trade fort at any rate. Then he went on -

Whatever self interest may do in the way of pointing to this way, or that way, as the easy path, he would tell them and the country that no protectionist need give him a vote in the House or out of it.

Mr Reid - I was fighting them then. I have a truce with them now, and I cannot fight them.

Mr MAHON - But the point of this is that the Prime Minister pledged himself never to make a truce with the protectionists. Does not this quotation prove what I said, that he repudiated protectionist aid to office? He said further -

From the moment he got power he would make that Tariff an honest Tariff.

Mr Mauger - Now that the right honorable gentleman has got the power, is he going to do it?

Mr Reid - No; my " better half " will not allow me.

Mr MAHON - That was not the first time the right honorable gentleman made this declaration. Speaking at Fremantle, a few months before, he made similar remarks, which I shall quote-

Mr Reid - Do not my speeches read beautifully ?

Mr MAHON - There is no doubt about that. I cannot put my hand on the quotation at the moment, and, therefore, I propose to read from Hansard, a few extracts as to the right honorable gentleman's opinion of the Tariff, which he previously denounced as a robbery of the wage earners, and under which he is quite prepared to carry on. On the 15th October, 1901, he said -

A high Tariff is not necessary for revenue ; it is an outrage upon every principle of fairness and humanity.

How does the Minister of Trade and Customs like that statement?

Mr Reid - That statement was made at the beginning of the fight. We got a lot of the duties taken off after that. .

Mr MAHON - I shall read the opinion which the right honorable gentleman expressed after the duties were in operation. It will be seen that it is not much different from what he said on the 15th October, 1901-

Mr Reid - When is the honorable member going to begin the free-trade crusade with the honorable member for Parramatta?

Mr MAHON - In reply to the Prime Minister, who has vacated the position of leader of the Free-trade Party, I wish to say that when a capable successor arises on the political horizon I shall be prepared to consider the propriety of joining him. Speaking here, on the 15th October, 1901, and referring to the Victorians, he said -

I am not addressing men whose minds have been saddened with a long course of these outrages on humanity and sound finance. It would be idle for any one to talk to them, for their ears are dulled. I am talking to Australia in all its conditions as represented by this House. Those who have been accustomed to run a country on these lines are not likely to listen to anything which I might say. I speak, however, beyond them, to those who, unlike them, have not become inoculated with that poison. I speak to those . . . who have not been accustomed to regard the public as a flock of sheep to be used for the benefit of politicians and manufacturers.

The right honorable gentleman was further complimentary to Victoria on the same day, when he addressed the House in these terms -

All that is wanted in Victoria now is a little fresh air. In contrast with this artificially constructed paradise of labour every other country in the world has proved more attractive than Victoria. I am told that Victoria is becoming a ruinous place even for lawyers, and when a country is in that state it is almost near its end. Stagnation is the picture that the policy of protection presents in Victoria, while in New South Wales there is nothing put progress.

And the Prime Minister, now madly anxious to reconcile the jealousies of Victoria and New South Wales, went on to compare the people of Victoria with the downtrodden and oppressed 'people of Ireland. On another occasion he proceeded to. ridicule Victorian enterprise, and on the 22nd January, 1902, he cast this taunt at the Victorian members-

Mr Reid - The honorable member has been busy digging up these things. Has he not had anything better to do?

Mr MAHON - Does not theright honorable member know that I represent a miming constituency, and that it is my business to dig up things.

Mr Reid - And do I not represent them too? They treated me like a brother.

Mr MAHON - Hear, hear; and they would do so again if the right honorable gentleman were out of office.

Mr Reid - They would receive me, anyhow.

Mr MAHON - I hope that the right honorable gentleman will find the weather more genial than it was last time. On the 22nd January, 1902, the question of imposing a duty on barbed wire and wire netting was being discussed. Barbed wire is manufactured considerably in Melbourne, and wire netting is manufactured considerably in Sydney. A duty was to be put on for the benefit of the Melbourne industry, and the Sydney industry was to get no protection.

Mr Reid - Did not the honorable member vote with me?

Mr MAHON - I admit that I did. On that occasion the right honorable gentleman said -

We are in favour of a moderate Tariff based on revenue principles, but our friends opposite favour a protective Tariff - protective for Victoria, but free-trade, so far as the industriesof New South Wales are concerned. . . . When all these gifts are being showered about, it is singular that the shower of fair benefits should fall so thickly on one little spot in Australia and so sparsely in other parts. . . . Would the Ministry have dared to take up their present position if 1,300 men had been engaged in the wire netting industry in Melbourne instead of in Sydney ?

That statement was made by the right honorable gentleman who is so desirous of removing the ill-feeling which prevailed between the various States, and who, in a few months, if he be in office, will endeavour to convene a conference of the States Premiers with a view to achieving that object.

Mr Reid - Do not make it too hard for me.

Mr MAHON - Unfortunately, the right honorable gentleman has made it very hard for himself, but he has such a capacity for swallowing his previous remarks and professions of principle that I have no doubt he will be successful on. this occasion.

Mr Reid - No man in this world was ever more consistent. My creed is the same now as it was when I began.

Mr MAHON - Consistent in inconsistency. Then the Prime Minister remarked -

If there is anything absurd and ridiculous in the world it is the attempt which little Victoria has made to cope with the marvellous magnitude of the manufacturing industries of a great nation like America. The moment the Victorian product goes out upon the ocean the stilts of protection fall into Hobson's Bay.

In the same speech the right honorable gentleman said -

The protective system of Victoria was professedly a hideous robbery of the wage-earners.

Mr Reid - I withdraw the word " hideous " ; it is too strong.

Mr MAHON - It is a curious thing that the right honorable gentleman is prepared to concur in that hideous robbery of the wage-earners. He is now prepared to go on until 1906, or some late date, before ho initiates another great free-trade campaign.

Mr Reid - Can the honorable member have tied himself up to this high duty revival? Surely not, after all this.

Mr MAHON - The right honorable gentleman must not imagine that I am a witness and he the cross-examining counsel. Conditions are reversed - he is now in the box. When I come to the high duties I shall make a statement in my own way. It is quite time enough for me to make up my mind when we have a concrete proposal before us. The right honorable gentleman was not even complimentary to some of his present colleagues a little while ago. On the 17th January, 1902, he interjected "Nonsense!" when the honorable and learned member for Corinella rose to a point of order, and met with this retort: -

The right honorable the leader of the Opposition never allowed me to speak without interruption, and his interjection "Nonsense," is not ordinarily courteous.

Mr Wilson - Those wounds have healed.

Mr MAHON - Wonderful !

Mr Reid - I misunderstood him in those days.

Mr MAHON - If the honorable member for Corangamite, in the practice of his profession, should be able to discover an equally efficacious specific for ordinary physical ills, he will make a fortune. Again, the honorable member for Macquarie spoke of the suspicion which must attach to any member who for political purposes took a certain view one day and another view the next day, whereupon the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who is now a supporter of the coalition, said - "The honorable member's remarks form a strong accusation against his own leader." I thought that these little sidelights on past history might prove interesting to the House.

Mr Wilson - Most interesting !

Mr MAHON - Especially, in such a debate as this, to one like the honorable member for Corangamite, who had not an opportunity of being present during the last Parliament. I have shown that the Prime Minister denounced the Tariff as a robbery of the wage-earners, and' I will prove from his own remarks, made after the Tariff was passed, that he actually advocated what he now condemns in the honorable and learned member for Indi. I will quote first what he said on the 15th January, 1902, after the Tariff had become operative : -

The Government brought in a tolerably sound protective Tariff. . . . We, on this side, who consider that the Tariff- has been moulded on absolutely wrong principles, have a very difficult task in endeavouring to alter it ; but it must be understood that we in no sense recognised the Tariff when altered as being founded on sound principles.

I call the attention of the House especially to this passage -

It is impossible to create a hybrid production such as this Tariff will be, without having a number of striking anomalies which must be radically altered at the earliest opportunity possible.

The honorable and learned member for Indi and those who are acting with him have in that declaration by the present Prime Minister sufficient justification for advocating the reopening of the Tariff. The Prime Minister cannot get over his declaration that there are a number of striking anomalies in the Tariff which must be radically altered at the first opportunity possible. In view of this declaration that the Tariff must be radically altered at the earliest opportunity, how can the Prime Minister resist the demand for revision?

Mr Reid - I was beaten on that; the electors decided against me. I have to bow to the will of the people, as every good democrat does.

8 Q

Mr MAHON - But the right honorable gentleman cannot get over the passage that

I will next read.

Mr Reid - Show me anything that I cannot get over.

Mr MAHON - The right honorable gentleman is pretty bulky, but I believe he can get through most obstacles. He came to Western Australia in 1903, and on the 20th' January he made the following statement to an interviewer representing a newspaper known as the West Australian.

Mr Reid - I repudiate the interview !

Mr MAHON - What the right honorable gentleman cannot get over he will repudiate. Is that so? Would he repudiate the interview if it were favorable to his present position? He said this -

He had a profound conviction that the Tariff, not only was thoroughly unsound and injurious, but that the people would at the earliest opportunity repudiate it. He believed, if he were content to sink the fiscal issue and allow the Tariff to stand, the Free-trade Party would come into power without any delay.

Mr Reid - That was before election talk.

Mr MAHON - But here is the crux of the statement -

But he was not in the public life of Australia to make clever arrangements of that sort.

Mr Reid - I can explain that. I said that I would not sink the fiscal issue, but it sunk me.

Mr MAHON - I did not know it was quite so bad as that, though it is clear enough that some people at times get very low down. Then the Prime Minister went on to say -

And he was determined to fight for a genuine revenue Tarin".

Then it is claimed that the right honorable gentleman came into power to restore responsible government.

Mr Reid - That meant experienced government.

Mr MAHON - If responsibility could roe measured by bulk there is no doubt that the Prime Minister has restored it. But I take it that responsible government is not to be restored by a Government which puts before this House a programme of absolutely non-contentious measures, and wherever it mentions a Bill about which it is possible to have two opinions informs the country that the members of the Cabinet have a free hand. The Prime Minister calls this responsible government. Let us see what people on the other side of the world - independent critics, and some of the most capable critics in Great Britain - think of this gentleman who has come into power to restore responsible government. Let me quote shortly what the Saturday Review has to say about the Prime Minister.

Mr Robinson - That is a good conservative paper.

Mr MAHON - On the 27th August of this year the Saturday Review wrote as follows: -

Mr. Reidhas inaugurated his Premiership of Australia with a couple of excited addresses in no way calculated to strengthen his not too firm grip of the political machinery of the country.

Mr Reid - That is a long way to go for an opinion on Australian politics.

Mr MAHON - Sometimes the right honorable gentleman goes to the Privy Council for an opinion.

Mr Reid - That is a judicial opinion.

Mr MAHON - If the Saturday Review were to say anything that was favorable to the rig ht honorable gentleman's policy, he would not hesitate to quote it. The article pro ceeds -

To charge arrogance, corruption, and insanity against the Labour Party, which is bound to have a large, if not preponderant,following in a community such as the Australian, is just the sort of ineptitude we should expect from Mr. Reid.

Mr Reid - They know me there. Some people are not even known at the other end of the world.

Mr MAHON - And some are too well known. The article proceeds -

He is prepared to go any length just now to undermine the position of the Socialists who have, he contends, utterly destroyed public confidence by visionary schemes. He is sure that he has rendered the Commonwealth a lasting service by securing " a period of fiscal peace," which is Mr. Reid's way of saying that he has subordinated his own free-trade views in order to secure protectionist support in forming his first Government. Whatever Mr. Reid may think of the Labour Party, it is certain that Australia has no idea of playing fast and loose with its economic possibilities by adopting a general system of free imports.

In the previous issue the same journal wrote this-

Mr. Reid'sCabinet can hardly be a stable one, and it would probably have been much better if Lord Northcote had accepted Mr. Watson's advice and dissolved. A dissolution would have cleared away some uncertainties in the situation.

Mr Reid - I never heard of the Saturday Review before as a Socialist journal.

Mr Robinson - Perhaps it is one of Mr. B. R. Wise's articles?

Mr Reid - It sounds like a bit of B. R.

Mr MAHON - It rings true, anyhow. I regret very much that so few of the supporters of the Government are present today, and I also regret the absence of the honorable member for Mernda. Surely some specific must have been discovered and' administered to him to induce him to become reconciled to his present leader. The little incursion into what may be called ancient history which I shall now make has a very striking bearing, as will be seen, upon the majority which' at present keeps the Government in power. On the 22nd October, 1901. the following dialogue took place in this House, as recorded in Hansard. The honorable member for Mernda said -

One thing that struck me about this Tariff immediately it was enunciated was-

Mr Reid - Starch.

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