Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 30 September 1904

Mr HARPER - I trust that the right honorable member will recollect the obligation of noblesse oblige. He occupies a prominent position in the country, and aspires to a still more prominent one. Surely he might set an example of something like decent behaviour.

Mr Reid - That is very true.

Mr HARPER - I found the right honorable gentleman breaking all the traditions of Parliament. . . I am not going to be bounced by the right honorable gentleman.

Mr Reid - Only as a man, not as a manufacturer.

Mr HARPER - I have a right to courteous treatment. I have been a Member of Parliament for twenty years.

Mr Reid - So have I, but I do not get courteous treatment always.

Mr HARPER - He has himself to thank for that. . . The game ought to be played fairly, and that was not done by the right honorable member.


Mr HARPER - My honorable friend had better keep quiet, or I may get on to the subject of jam.

Mr Reid - Starch on jam !

Mr HARPER - The leader of the Opposition . . leads other honorable members into unmannerly interruption, and conduct, in my opinion, unbecoming a Member of Parliament.

Mr Reid - Or a manufacturer of starch.

Mr HARPER - The right honorable gentleman had introduced into his' remarks a series of personal reflections on me, which were utterly unwarrantable, ungentlemanly, and against all the traditions of parliamentary order and procedure.

Mr Reid - Now go on about starch.

The honorable member for Mernda proceeded to accuse the right honorable member for East Sydney of retailing mere gossip, of talking from a brief "made in Ger- many," and of contributing to a base form of business rivalry. " His remarks would," he said, " be good fun on a variety stage"-

Mr Reid - That is more than could be said of the honorable member's remarks. Fancy him on the variety stage !

Mr MAHON - " But they showed that he knew nothing whatever of what he was talking about. His statement that the Victorian industries were all shoddy industries showed his ignorance, nothing more. It was an absolute fabrication that his firm and two others were netting£10,000 a year from these duties." The right honable gentleman appealed to Mr. Speaker for protection. The honorable member for. Mernda went on to say that the right honorable gentleman " desired to put a stigma on him. His conduct was despicable in the extreme."

I believe he will live to regret the day that he ever put such a statement on the records of this House.

Mr Reid - I do regret it now.

Mr MAHON - The honorable member for Mernda, continuing, said -

The right honorable gentleman is all' right on Town-hall platforms, where he cannot be answered ; but I am thankful to have him here, where I can show his absolute incorrectness and unreliability as a public man.

Mr Reid - That is very rough.

Mr MAHON - The honorable member for Mernda went on to ask -

Was it not bringing parliamentary proceedings down to the level of a farce when private business was discussed, as was done by the honorable member for Macquarie?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is indecent for the honorable member for Mernda to thus advertise his firm throughout the country.

Mr HARPER - That comes with very bad grace from the honorable member, who brought the matter up.

Then the present Minister for Trade and Customs accused the honorable member for Macquarie of unfairness. What I have read is a transcript from the Hansard report; it is an absolutely correct one, and I can give chapter and verse for every statement which I have made.

Mr McLean - The honorable member for Macquarie has since apologized.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And my honorable friend has accepted the apology.

Mr Wilson - All healed with coalition salve !

Mr MAHON - The amusing part of all this is that after all these hard words have been exchanged - though we are told that hard words break no bones - honorable members can fraternize and join together to resist the advancing tide of Socialism.

Mr Reid - Has the honorable member read the remarks of the honorable and learned member for West Sydney on the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, as recorded in Hansard?

Mr MAHON - No ; I have not looked them up.

Mr Mauger - I have forgiven him.

Mr MAHON - Another extraordinary incident occurred in connexion with the honorable member for Denison. He was a member of both the Barton and Deakin Administrations, who were continually reproached by the leader of the Free-trade Party as robbers and plunderers. The only retort upon which the honorable member for Denison ventured was to quote Mr. Justin McCarthy's description of Gathorne Hardy, and apply it to the right honorable and learned gentleman -

Hisspeech was as stirring as a rolling drum, as flowing as the sand in an hour glass ; but as empty as the drum, and as dry as the sand in the hour glass.

Now I come to the relations between the right honorable members for Swan and East Sydney. A very remarkable affinity between these statesmen has sprung up during the last few months; but the virtues which each possesses had not been discovered by the other until the Watson Administration came into power. On the 22nd October, 1901, the right honorable member for Swan, replying to the right honorable member for East Sydney, who had been speaking against the imposition of taxation on the pioneers in the back country of Australia, and had been drawing a lurid picture of the hardships which the Tariff would place upon them, said -

I ask the right honorable member for East Sydney what he knows about " the bold pioneer or the man with the pannikin in the bush"? His experience of the " bold pioneer" consists of having read of him.

Mr Reid - I am afraid that I have not even done that.

Mr MAHON - He proceeds-

What has he ever done for the poor man ? . . . Certainly he has talked a great deal about him, but talk is very cheap.

Mr Reid - That is all the poor man gets from politicians as a rule.

Mr MAHON - And he added-

I want to expose those who use this cheap way of advertising themselves. If some of them went out to the back-blocks they would soon get lost.

Mr Reid - I plead guilty to that.

Mr MAHON - The relations between these gentlemen were not cordial, to judge by their newspaper speeches, when the right honorable member for East Sydney visited Western Australia.

Mr Reid - There has not been a break in our personal friendship.

Mr MAHON - It is not more than nine or ten months ago since the Prime Minister sent a telegram toWestern Australia, in which he charged the right honorable member for Swan with being very ungenerous, and with degrading political life.

Mr Reid - That telegram was sent on false information. The right honorable member for Swan explained to me that he had not said what was attributed to him. I believe that the statement appeared in the newspaper of the honorable member for Coolgardie.

Mr MAHON - Ridiculous. Ihaveno newspaper. The daily papers are my authority. This explanation about false information comes very late in the day.

Mr Reid - The honorable member did not read the correction.

Mr Page - It was not made before today.

Mr MAHON - The fact remains that in a telegram sent to Senator Staniforth Smith on the 28th November, 1903, the Prime Minister said that the right honorable member for Swan was very ungenerous, and had degraded public life.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was during the elections.

Mr MAHON - No; just before.

Mr Reid - It has all been cleared up since.

Mr MAHON - I suppose what cannot be "cleared up" or "explained" can be " repudiated." Well, here is another statement, which was not based upon false information. These are some of the remarks made by the Prime Minister when he visited Fremantle, not very long ago -

Nine of the eleven representatives sent by Western Australia to the Federal Parliament sat upon his side, and every one of the nine was a straight, true man.

Mr Reid - At that time.

Mr MAHON - Something has evidently happened since -

If they had not been, by this time Sir John Forrest would have got them for his side. (Laughter.) Sir John Forrest had been throwing out some rather adroit remarks, not quite plain to the ordinary ear perhaps, but clear enough to the. political intelligence, to the effect that if his (Mr. Reid's) friends would only leave him and go over to the Government it might be better for the Trans-Australian railway. (Laughter and applause.)

I ask the attention of the House to the concluding sentence -

He was astonished that a gentleman of such high reputation, and hitherto unblemished character - (laughter) - should be guilty of such a palpable attempt at bribery for political support.

Mr Reid - Well, I withdraw that charge.

Mr MAHON - What? Another withdrawal ?

Sir John Forrest - The information upon which that statement was made was not correct.

Mr Reid - This is a conspiracy to make us quarrel.

Mr MAHON - I think that the right honorable member for Swan is making a mistake, because the Prime Minister, when making the speech from which I have quoted, was relying upon the reports of the proceedings of this House.

Sir John Forrest - I told them that they should stand by me, not that they should stand by the Government.

Mr MAHON - That is what the Prime Minister described as " a palpable attempt at bribery for political support."

Sir John Forrest - I said that we should be united, that is all.

Mr MAHON - The words which I have quoted were published in the right honorable gentleman's own organ, the West Australian, on the 21st January) 1903.

Mr Reid - Was that when I was at Fremantle?

Mr MAHON - Yes.

Mr Reid - I doubt whether I used the expression which the honorable member has just repeated.

Mr MAHON - If the right honorable gentleman has any doubt about the matter, I refer him to the file of the West Australian in the library, where he can read the report for himself.

Mr Reid - That is why I doubt it.

Sir John Forrest - I do not think that I ever advised the representatives of Western Australia to join me as a member, of the Government. I' advised them to unite with me, thinking that in that way we should do better.

Mr MAHON - I cannot pretend to explain the remarks of the right honorable member for Swan, which justified the Prime Minister's 'charge, which I have before me in black and white. Then the Prime Minister went on to Kalgoorlie, where, on the 30th January, 1903, he said -

The Government water scheme will, no doubt, prove a great blessing to the gold-fields. But 1 could not help thinking, when Sir John Forrest so eloquently dilated upon the benefits of the scheme, that he bent his efforts towards shutting out from the gold-fields so many other blessings and comforts of civilized life.

The right honorable member for Swan must have seen the report of those remarks.

Sir John Forrest - The Prime Minister was at the time sitting in opposition to me.

Mr MAHON - Then the right honorable member for Swan, speaking at Northam, on the 14th December, 1903, is reported in the West Australian of the following day to have said -

Mr. Reidhad accused him of degrading politics, but if Mr. Reid had done nothing more than he had to degrade politics, he would have a better political reputation than he had. Mr. Reid had accused him of want of generosity in not acknowledging his (Mr. Reid's) support to the railway movement. As soon as he saw the statement, he telegraphed to Mr. Reid, informing him that some mischief-maker had been telling him a "banger."

Sir John Forrest - That is quite true.

Mr MAHON - Then the right honorable gentleman added -

Mr. Reid,with his usual discourtesy, had not acknowledged that telegram.

Mr Reid - I should have had to pay for that telegram whilst' the right honorable gentleman was in office.

Mr MAHON - Then the right honorable gentleman characterized Mr. Reid's statement that he had degraded politics as " absolutely unfair and diabolically untrue."

Mr Reid - To whom does that refer ?

Mr MAHON - To the right honorable gentleman himself.

Mr Reid - I shall require an explanation from my right honorable friend.

Sir John Forrest - I do not remember the statement. Were we electioneering?

Mr MAHON - That statement was made on some occasion soon after the opening of the Coolgardie water scheme. The right honorable member for Swan went on to say -

Mr. Reid,when in Western Australia, considered the Transcontinental Railway to be trumps - in Victoria he changed the trumps. (Laughter.)

The Prime Minister had been going through Victoria, speaking upon various topics, but never saying one word with regard to the proposed Transcontinental Railway. The right honorable member for Swan continued -

Throughout a long campaign in Victoria, Mr. Reid omitted any reference to the line, and meeting him afterwards, he (Sir John Forrest) reminded Mr. Reid of the omission. Whereupon Mr. Reid, in characteristic style, replied, " By Jove, I forgot all about it!" (Laughter.)

In just the same way the right honorable gentleman forgot the old-age pensions scheme, and omitted it from his policy speech. That is the kind of recollection he has for any great work in which his friends are interested.

Mr Reid - I am only human.

Mr MAHON - What a convenient memory the right honorable gentleman has. I should like now to say a word or two with regard to the extraordinary attitude assumed by the Government in connexion with contracts for supplies for the Post and Telegraph Department. This matter has already been the subject of personal explanations by myself and the PostmasterGeneral. The Minister will do me the justice to say that did not introduce this question into the House.


Mr MAHON - The matter was introduced by the honorable member for Parramatta, and I observe that the honorable member for Parkes, another supporter of the Government, has a question on the paper in connexion with the same subject. What has the Postmaster-General done? He, a professing free-trader, acting under a free-trade leader, has given a preference to the local contractors to the extent of fully 15 per cent., in addition to the protection afforded by the Tariff upon the articles. I ask how this line of action can be reconciled with his free-trade principles.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the first place, I have not given a preference of 15 per cent.

Mr MAHON - Then the Minister has misled the House.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I referred to a previous decision. The preference did not amount to 15 per cent. ; but only represented a total of £64.

Mr MAHON - Did not the Minister give any preferences at all ?

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I carried out the previous decision.

Mr MAHON - Exactly ; the decision of the Barton Government, which was that local contractors should receive a preference to the extent of 15 per cent. These

Ministers who all their lives have been making a fetish of free-trade, and who were elected to Parliament solely because of that fact, have, upon obtaining office, swallowed their principles and given protection to the local manufacturers.

Mr Page - What duty was levied upon the articles supplied by the tenderers?

Mr MAHON - I believe that the duty amounted to about 20 per cent.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did not the honorable member say that he would give a preference to the British over American goods ?

Mr MAHON - Yes. I said that I would give a reasonable preference to British goods. I would point out, however, that, unlike the Postmaster-General, I never made free-trade the cardinal principle of my life. I did not go into politics to advance free-trade, but to further the cause of labour.

Mr Reid - Did not the honorable member think that the interests of labour were affected by the fiscal question?

Mr MAHON - Yes, I did, and I do still; but the obligation to carry out a freetrade policy does not rest so heavily upon me as upon men like the PostmasterGeneral. What is he, if he is not a freetrader ? Has he a shred of principle apart from the fiscal question? If free-trade, which has brought him into public life, were removed from the Minister's programme, his slate would be left absolutely blank.

Mr Reid - My honorable colleague has done more for the workers of Australia than has the honorable member.

Mr MAHON - Yet, when such men get into office, they have the shocking indecency to sink their principles and give preference to manufacturers.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How does the honorable member justify his action in giving preference ?

Mr MAHON - I am prepared to justify my actions at the proper time, and in the proper place. At present there are Other people in the dock.

Mr Reid - It is a very attractive dock.

Mr MAHON - I stated in this House that if the local article were equal to the imported article in quality and price, I would give it a preference. What does the Minister do? He, a professing freetrader, to whom free-trade is everything, immediately he gets into office begins to practise protection. He has been mouthing free-trade all his life, and yet he is ready to renounce his principles for the sake of office.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member was afraid to give a decision.

Mr MAHON - The Minister knows that that is not correct. He is aware that I held back the papers for the consideration of the Cabinet.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member's minute does not say so.

Mr MAHON - Does a minute disclose everything? Does a Minister, when he makes a minute, say everything that is to be said on the subject? The Minister is placing the very worst construction upon the minute, because it suits his purpose to do so.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - This is a case of Satan reproving sin.

Mr MAHON - The honorable member is entirely wrong. I ask him to look up the answer I gave in this House when I was questioned upon this subject. I stated that if the local article were equal in quality and price, I would give it a preference. That is the answer of a man who is a free-trader, and if the honorable member for Parramatta were in office, he could not do less. No wonder that the honorable and learned member for Parkes has placed a question on the notice-paper. No wonder that the honorable member for New England, and the honorable and learned member for Werriwa are disgusted with the attitude of the Minister. They are honest men, who believe in carrying out to their logical conclusion the principles oftheir lives, but the Postmaster- General, after having vapoured about free-trade on the platform, shows his readiness to practise protection immediately on his accession to office. He has given a preference to contractors for articles which are already heavily protected by the Tariff. I defy the Minister to show that tenderers were ever told that local contractors would receive a preference.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I can show a letter written by the honorable member to an American firm, stating that local tenderers were to receive a preference. On that account the firm refrained from tendering.

Mr MAHON - I challenge the Minister to produce any letter in which I said that I would give a preference such as he has extended. If the honorable member produces such a letter I shall acknowledge my error.

Mr Kelly - Is it true that the honorable member proposedto enter upon a free-trade crusade in Victoria, in combination with the honorable member for Melbourne Ports?

Mr MAHON - No. I was going to enter upon a crusade in New South Wales with a view to discover a leader for the free-trade cause, seeing that the Prime Minister had abdicated that position.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have here the letter to which I referred, and the honorable member's reply when he was acting as PostmasterGeneral.

Mr MAHON - I shall read the letter, which is as follows: -

North . British Chambers, 39 Queen-street,

Melbourne,14th July,1904.

The Secretary,

Postmaster-General's Department,

Post and Telegraph Department, Melbourne.

Dear Sir,

In reference to your advertisement in the Commonwealth Gazette, that you will receive tenders in Adelaide on the21stSeptembernextfor telegraph material, as verbally explained to you today, I beg leave to point out that on a former occasion, when I tendered for such material, although my price was the lowest, my tender was declined, on the ground that you were giving the preference to goods of British manufacture. As I am agent here for Messrs. John A. Roeblings, Sons and Co., of New York, and would be offering their well-known manufactures, I have been asked by these friends whether it is still your intention to give a preference as regards price for British goods. In an article like copper wire, the difference in price between British or other manufacture would only amount to a few shillings per ton, so you can see there is no room for any margin, and if there was such a preference given, my friends would not care to go to the expense of cabling over their tender. I shall be much obliged if you will kindly let me have a reply as to this to-morrow, so as to enable me to write to New York by Saturday's mail. If there was not any preference as to price, I should, of course, be very glad to submit a tender on account of Messrs. Roebling's, as before.

I am, dear sir,

Yours faithfully,

Alex. Fraser.

Upon that I wrote this minute-

As the writer says the difference in price between British and American wire is small, I think he may be informed that we intend to take the British article. - H.M.,15/7/'04.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is blaming the Government for doing the same thing.

Suggest corrections