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Wednesday, 5 October 1904

Mr POYNTON (Grey) - Upon several occasions in the course of this debate, the honorable member for Laanecoorie and the Minister of Defence have referred to me, by way of interjection, as " a new convert," and " a new broom." I do not understand the point of the interjection, but if it is intended to imply that my advocacy of industrial legislation - legislation for the amelioration of the conditions of the masses - is of such recent date that I ought to be called " a new convert," I hurl back the accusation with contempt. As you, sir, are aware, I have been twelve years in political life, and I challenge either of these gentlemen to point to any legislation that has been introduced for the advancement of the people which has not commanded my support. Prior to entering political life, I was for many years - and the honorable member for Laanecoorie when he made his statement was well aware of the fact - associated with the miners of the very district which he now represents. Only last year this " new broom " was asked to assist him at the general elections. Had he thought that I had no influence, or that I did not possess a record of good work accomplished in that locality, he would scarcely have requested me to assist him in his campaign. If, on the other hand, the term " new broom " has reference to the fact that I recently became a pledged member of the Labour Party, my reply is that I made the move voluntarily. I was not coerced from without, and certainly there was no coercion exercised from within. I threw in my lot with the fortunes of that party voluntarily, not because I was promised immunity from opposition at election time, Lui because I saw the political combination which was being effected. I noticed that the leading conservative journals were advo"rating < coalition of parties - not for the purpose of carrying on responsible government, tut with the avowed object of preventing labour from obtaining any more power than it at present possesses. When it became a question of joining the Free-trade-Conservatives and the Protectionist-Conservatives, who had banded together for the sole purpose of strangling the labour movement, and " down ing the Labour Party," I had no hesitation in declaring my position. I ask honorable members opposite if they have- ever had any doubt as to my attitude upon industrial matters ? When the Prime Minister advocated something in which I did not believe, I was never afraid to voice my opinions. I took care that there should be no misunderstanding. When an attempt was made to rope me in by making it appear that, at the last elections, we went to the country in opposition to the Deakin Government, I at once repudiated any understanding of that character. It has been acknowledged that at that time anybody could join the present Prime Minister if they, were sound in one faith, namely, a desire to displace the Deakin Government. Who would have dreamed when the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was originally introduced, that, it would have had such a rough and stormy passage ? We all recollect the occasion when a difference in regard to it occurred in the Barton Administration, as the result of which the right honorable member for Adelaide resigned his position.- A little later the honorable member for Kennedy carried an amendment, the effect of which was to make the Bill applicable to railway employes. Then the Barton Government abandoned the measure. The general election followed, and if there was one thing more than another which was placed clearly before the people during that campaign, it was the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. When this Parliament opened the measure was re-introduced, and the amendment to include within its provisions the [railway servants of the States was again carried. As a result the Deakin Adminstration resigned. The Watson Government then assumed office, and they in turn were displaced upon the same measure. Now we have the composite Ministry that is before us. When I look at the Government, I find it difficult to understand how they can agree upon any policy, except it be a policy of doing nothing in order that they may retain their seats upon the Treasury benches. They certainly cannot remain there upon the fiscal issue. They admit that they have submitted no policy. Their apologist, the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, has informed the House that they have not yet had time to formulate a policy. He spoke of them as if they were inexperienced hands in the matter of Cabinet-making. They are certainly a very funny mixture.

If I were asked to describe them, I should say that they were half fish and half fox. One-half of them are foxy, because of their cunning; and the other half are fishy, because of their slipperiness. It will be impossible for them, during the life of either the present or the next Parliament, to submit a policy upon which they are in anything like agreement. Then, look at their followers ! For example, there is the honorable member for Dalley, for whom I have the very greatest respect: How could a policy which would command his support suit the honorable member for Flinders, the honorable and learned member for Parkes, or the honorable member for Kooyong? The secret of the strength of the party, which is at present led by the Prime Minister, is that it is destitute of a policy. Despite the right honorable gentleman's boast, that he would put the fiscal issue before the electors clearly at the last election, did he not agree that every free-trade Victorian member should be allowed to sink that issue?

Mr Tudor - Otherwise, they would not have been returned.

Mr POYNTON - Nevertheless, it was understood that they were to assist him to bring about the downfall of the Deakin Government. I wish to show that the political chaos which we have to-day is the result of the ambition of one man. He has already wrecked two Ministries, and he has also wrecked the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, which he used for the purpose of attaining office. One can hardly believe that it was possible for a gentleman to allow his ambition to get the upper hand of his judgment, and of his sense of fair tactics in politics, to such an extent as the present Prime Minister did. What did he say concerning the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill when it was first introduced ? He said -

I feel no reserve whatever in saying that the experiment is one to which there are a number of objections. It is an experiment which is surrounded by quite a multitude of fears, but there is one substantial gain which comes to us by this willingness on the part of those who represent the physical strength of our Commonwealth to place themselves under the reign of law and order, administered by a High Court of Justice.

He referred further to the great sacrifices made by the labour organizations in agreeing to this experimental legislation. He said -

But, still, we in this young Commonwealth, viewing the history of the great nations where these joint interests fight to a point at which human life is ruthlessly sacrificed - remembering that behind all these employers and workmen there stands that great helpless element in our national life, the women and children of Australia; remembering that the homes of labour will, under a Bill of this sort, be more secure from the misery of poverty, and the agitation and dangerous ebulition of class feeling; remembering the great humanity which deals with this imperfect state of things - will, I hope, cheerfully pass this Bill, trusting that the time will come when, under a more rational and voluntary arrangement of intelligent men representing these great interests, a method will be found of settling their disputes without any recourse to legal machinery.

In the same speech the right honorable gentleman said that it was one of the greatest tributes to the representatives of labour in Australia that they had agreed to allow the Judge of a Court to settle industrial disputes, instead of ha;-;ng recourse to the old methods. What has become of all those noble sentiments and aspirations? I felt my blood warm within me as I listened to that speech. I thought that the right honorable gentleman was the great democrat who was going to stand at the head of the forward movement in this country. But some little time afterwards, I had a rude awakening. The scales were removed from my political eyes when I heard this very man denounce those who, in New South Wales, had practically kept him in office tor years. He is now making political capital out of the fact that the alliance endeavours to secure immunity from opposition to those who are supporting it. But what did the right honorable gentleman do when the Barton Government dropped the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in the last Parliament ? Did he not move the adjournment of the House, and while the debate on his motion was' proceeding, was he not communicating with the Labour Party with the object of bringing about the defeat of the Government? Not only that, but the very thing that he is now condemning in the alliance - the granting of immunity from opposition - he agreed to grant to every labour man who stood at the elections. Yet we have this same gentleman posing before the public and saying that the Labour Party is a menace to Australia. I am glad that the Labour Party did not accept his overtures. Immediately after that, he entered into other intrigues to bring about the downfall of the Deakin Government. It is idle for him to say that simply because he voted with the honorable and learned member for Ballarat he could not have prevented the downfall of that gentleman's Government. While the Prime Minister was shaking hands with the then Prime Minister in voting with him, he was driving a political stiletto into the side ot his Government by the assistance of those who publicly declared that they voted against the Deakin Government in order to wreck the Bill, and the Ministry. The Prime Minister tacitly agreed to have the Bill killed.- Why ? Because he thought that if the Deakin Government were defeated he would be sent for. This is not idle talk. When the honorable member for Bland was sent for, did not the Prime Minister declare that he did not know on what constitutional grounds the GovernorGeneral could send for him, instead of for the leader of the Opposition ? He complained bitterly about it. But still the right honorable gentleman did not abandon his attempt to get into office. Further intrigues were tried. He approached the honorable and learned member for Ballarat for the purpose of forming a coalition. There was to be no immunity from opposition for labour men then, but they were to be fought against in every shape and form. While the right honorable gentleman's party were prepared to swallow a coalition proposal, the Deakin party would not agree to it. Matters drifted on until the Watson Government was threatened with a no-confidence motion. The newspapers said that the right honorable gentleman had left Sydney with a no-confidence, motion in his pocket. The honorable member for Bland, while Prime Minister, announced in a speech in Sydney, that if clause 48 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill were not amended in Committee in a certain direction, his Government would resign. That was the right honorable gentleman's opportunity.

Mr Maloney - I call attention to the fact that there are only five members on the Government side of the Chamber. It is only fair that we should have a quorum present. [Quorum formed.]

Mr POYNTON - Knowing that he would fail if he submitted a direct noconfidence motion, there was only one way in which the right honorable gentleman could displace the Watson Government. That was by assassination. The present Minister of Defence was used for the purpose. It was not his first attempt in this direction. He had previously been guilty of assassinating a Government. An interview took place . between those two gentlemen, and this matter was fixed up.

Mr McCay - That is not correct.

Mr POYNTON - I say that it is correct. How is it that the honorable member for Barker was approached with . regard to the honorable and learned gentleman's amendment, if there was not some arrangement about it a fortnight before?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I rise to order. It is an invariable rule that when an honorable member gives a denial concerning a statement which has been made, that denial must be accepted. I submit that that rule ought to be applied to the honorable member for Grey, who has refused to accept a denial made by the Minister of Defence.

Mr SPEAKER - There is no standing order which provides that an assurance given by an honorable member shall be accepted, but amongst gentlemen, asI have said several times previously, it is the custom to accept an assurance given. There is no point of order.

Mr POYNTON - I submit that the statement which I have made is correct - that an arrangement was made between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence to prevent the Watson Government from going into Committee on clause 48. Having secured a member to perform the act of assassination, they proceeded to look around for another person to help them. They hit upon the Chairman of Committees. I am sorry he is not in his place, because I am going to say something strong about him and I shall not screen him because he happens to be away.

Mr McCay - The honorable member is incorrect on that matter also.

Mr POYNTON - Everything is incorrect that does not suit the Minister of Defence. The honorable and learned gentlemain has a record of his own, and he was an apt instrument for this purpose of assassination.

Mr McCay - I will not allow the honorable member to make incorrect statements unchallenged.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Grey has three or four times applied the word " assassination " to honorable members.

Mr Poynton - I say it was political' assassination.

Mr SPEAKER - On the first occasion I thought, perhaps, the use of the word might be due to a slip of the tongue, and I therefore took no notice of it. The honorable member must not apply such an expression to members of the House.

Mr POYNTON - I think that any terms are good enough in which to describe the treatment which was meted out to the Labour Government. I say that there is no precedent for such treatment. I was about to refer to the Chairman of Committees, who is reported in this way in the Argus -

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