Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 6 October 1904

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) - While I think that honorable members will agree that the tone of the speech just delivered was admirable, and more in harmony .with that adopted in the early days of this Parliament than with that with which we have become familiar of late, the ideas of the speaker seemed to me to be those of a political Rip Van Winkle. At the same time, I congratulate him upon the straightforward manner in which he stated his opinion upon the present position of parties. He says that he does not regret that there are now but two parties in the House, and is glad that the so-called Liberal Party has separated from the Labour Party. He has admitted freely that the Labour Party was at all times ready to serve the Liberal Party when it suited that party to seek its help, but there came a time when the so-called Liberal Party ceased to go forward, and then, as the members of the Labour Party were anxious to carry out their pledges, it was discovered that they were a dangerous body of men. The honorable member for Denison was, as a member of the Barton Administration, glad to have the support of the Labour Party. I have no complaint to make against either the Barton or the Deakin Government. Their actions justified the attitude which they took up, and I believe that the first Government of the Commonwealth of Australia is likely to stand out in history as one of the very best that the Federation possessed. It is, therefore, a consolation to me to remember that I was a member of the Labour Party which gave it a fairly generous support. I make no complaints about the manner in which the Watson Administration were attacked by the party now in possession of the Treasury benches, because I have seen the same kind of procedure in the Queensland Parliament from time to time, when there was a likelihood of the Labour Party there becoming strong enough to assume the reins of Government. But does any one, either inside or outside the House, believe that the country was1 in danger when the Labour Party were administering the Commonwealth Government? No honorable member would say such a thing, although the

Prime Minister and others have told the farmers, who are supposed not to know anything, that if the Labour Party got into power it would confiscate their lands. Only one member, the honorable and learned member for Parkes, has descended to the improper suggestion that it was dangerous to allow members of the Labour Party to have portfolios and to administer the laws of the Commonwealth, seeing that they believed only in one class. Whatever may be thought of the honorable and learned member's abilities, and the backwardness of his policy, such a statement was quite unworthy of one occupying his position. Whatever can be said about labour members, it cannot be said that they do not keep their obligations and compacts, nor can it be denied that we administered the laws without fear or favour. I should like to remind the House of the reason why, according to a leading journal which supports -the present Government, and has always supported the Free-trade Party, they tried to obtain possession of the Treasury benches. Negotiations had been proceeding between the honorable and learned member for Ballarat and the right honorable members for Balaclava and East Sydney, at the house of the honorable member for Macquarie, with a view to turning the Labour Party out of office, and the Argus then said -

The coalition may not take place on the lines Mr. Deakin marked out, but it is certain to come. If two separate herds on poor grass are divided by a low fence from a fat pasture, there will soon be a coalition on that pasture.

Therefore it was the fat pasture off which, according to one of the leading lights, guides, and counsellors of the Government Party, they could not resist hunting others.

Sir John Forrest - Then the honorable member opposite found it fat?

Mr FISHER - I have merely quoted from the Argus, though the right honorable gentleman must have found it fat, because on the day that the Watson Administration was sworn in he said, " I do not believe in any adjournment. Out with them. They put us out."

Sir John Forrest - I assure the honorable member that I did not say that. I said that the Labour Party ought not to have taken office. I did not say anything about putting them out of office.

Mr FISHER - I must accept the right honorable member's assertion. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat advised His Excellency the GovernorGeneral to send for the honorable member for Bland, and what has since transpired has amply justified his action, because the late Government was undoubtedly more in touch with the liberal sentiment of honor able members than is the present Administration. In Queensland some years ago a state of affairs prevailed very similar to that which now exists here. The most conservative elements in the Parliament launched a manifesto, in which they urged the people to safeguard the rights and privileges for which their forefathers had fought and bled. That appeal was made to the more timid spirits in the community, in order to enable the Government to hide a great financial scandal. At the time that those in power were asking the people to guard their sacred rights and privileges against the Labour Party, they were making .an unauthorized use of the money belonging to the people. At a time when every adult in the Commonwealth has a vote, is it not absurd to endeavour to frighten them by declaring that the Labour Party has socialistic aims? The late William Morris has been referred to as a dangerous Socialist, and I think that that is a most extaordinary view to take of a great reformer. Undoubtedly the programme of the Labour Party is socialistic. So also is every progressive programme in the civilized world. We are told that Socialism is dangerous, but what are we to say of the results of the application of the principle of individualism in some of the greatest countries in the world? How are we to regard a system which results in the sending of useless war material, in lieu of efficient arms, to soldiers who are fighting for their country ? What are we to think of a system under which shavings are sent out as horsefeed, and packages of stones as food to soldiers who are undergoing all the privations of an active campaign ? So much for individualism.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should call it dishonesty.

Mr FISHER - I am using against individualism arguments similar to many which have been urged against Socialism. Are we not told" by experts that half of the food sold to the public is adulterated, and that about 25 per cent, of it is absolutely dangerous to life? The Queensland Government Analyst informed me that even infant foods are seriously adulterated. Of all the samples he examined, he found only one that could be regarded as satisfactory.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why is not the law enforced against the offenders?

Mr FISHER - There is no power to enforce the law. Did not one of the Melbourne newspapers, in referring to the recent disclosures in connexion with the adulteration of food, say that the utmost caution must be -used in order to guard against disturbing or interfering with private enterprise? Some honorable members claim that private enterprise will reme'dy all evils, and make good all defects. They are urging the necessity of taking measures to secure an increase of population, and yet they are countenancing a system which permits of the people being poisoned for profit. Such is individualism.

Mr Kelly - Does the State provide better food for infants than do private individuals ?

Mr FISHER - Yes, it happens that in the State represented by you, Mr. Speaker, the mortality amongst infants placed under the care of the State is lower than that amongst infants who are attended to by their own mothers. The honorable member will surely admit that that fact furnishes an answer to his question, because it is not at all likely that the infants committed to the care of the State would be any stronger :han those under the care of their own mothers.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorable member arguing in favour of State motherhood for infants?

Mr FISHER - No; I am not arguing in that direction. I do not propose to enter upon a discussion of that matter at present.

Mr SPEAKER - At least four conversations between honorable members are proceeding in different parts of the Chamber. Some of them are being conducted in such a loud tone of voice that now and again I can catch a word or two. It is almost impossible for the honorable member to proceed with his speech under such conditions, and I would ask honorable members to refrain from holding discussions in a loud tone of voice.

Mr FISHER - Honorable members are mainly interested, not in the debate, but in the question how the honorable member for Wilmot intends to vote. It is understood that he will very shortly make a declaration of his intention. I ask the honorable and learned' member for Ballarat to be good enough to say whether or not a coalition exists amongst honorable members on the Government benches. It is only fair that the House and the country should know how matters stand. Whatever may be said against the Labour Party, it must be granted that in all their actions they have been plain and straightforward, and that they have publicly declared their intentions.

Mr Robinson - Call it an alliance.

Mr FISHER - I understood that the combination entered into by honorable members opposite took the form of a coalition, and if honorable members do not care to indicate the exact position, the responsibility must rest with them.

Mr Kelly - I do not think that the parties affected have ratified any agreement. They came together under an agreement previously made.

Mr FISHER - We have no right to know, but we have a right to ask whether a coalition has been formed. The country is entitled to know, and it is our duty to obtain the information. We are here only as agents for the electors of Australia, to carry out the duties delegated to us'. In spite of the glorious independence and freedom of which some honorable members boast, they must carry out the will of the electors. I have never regarded myself as entitled to depart one iota from any pledge that I have given to my constituents. As the Government are about to go to the country-

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What?. - about to go to the country?

Mr FISHER - There is not the slightest doubt about it. I do not believe that honorable members opposite will go to the country if they can possibly help it, but I hope that if the Government fail to secure a majority, they will relinquish office. I do not suggest that they are retaining their positions on the Treasury benches for personal profit. We have heard so much about constitutional government, that I hope that there will be no departure from recognised constitutional principles, if the motion is carried against the Government. I ask if there is a coalition amongst honorable members opposite, because the Prime Minister, when speaking at Sydney recently, is reported to have used these words -

I never liked coalitions. They always seem to me to suggest, in some way or other, the possibility of the great chiefs meeting to divide the spoils of office.

Mr Kelly - Does not that apply to alliances as well as to coalitions?

Mr FISHER - I do not think so.

Mr Kelly - What is in a name?

Mr FISHER - Does the honorable member, who comes from one of the great seats of learning, suggest that a coalition is synonymous with an alliance? People enter into an alliance in order to fight a combination which they regard as dangerous to their existence, or to the welfare of the people they represent. But a coalition undoubtedly involves the surrender by the parties to it of their . principles, in order to- achieve a common object. According to the Prime Minister, that common object is to divide the spoils of office.

Mr Kelly - Has there been no surrender of principle on the part of the members of the alliance?

Mr FISHER - I think not.

Mr McLean - What will the alliance become when its members take possession of the Treasury benches?

Mr FISHER - We shall tell the Minister when we get there. When we succeed, the mind of the Minister and those associated with him will undoubtedly be much disturbed. When the Watson Government were in office both sections of the Opposition exhibited much concern, and doubtless history will repeat itself. The electors of Australia will be asked to determine the programme of the next Government.

Mr Mcwilliams - Would it not foe better for each party to put its programme before the electors, and let them decide?

Mr FISHER - We have always placed our programme before trie public, and we have never concealed our aims in any way.

Mr Mcwilliams - Is the Bonus Bill included in the alliance platform?

Mr FISHER - The honorable member can easily obtain a printed copy of that platform; it has been published in every newspaper in the Commonwealth. Now I desire to sav a few words in regard to the general question. In my opinion the management of this Parliament has degenerated.

Sir John Forrest - Ever since the Deakin Government were turned out of office.

Mr FISHER - At present there is an utter want of leadership and grasp of the political situation. What is the use . of our marking time as we are doing? According to the Government proposals, we are to do nothing that would cause any difficulty with the electors, but we are to sit here, and mark time. Whilst our revenue from Customs and Excise is decreasing, we shall be called upon to take over new Departments, and to conduct new services, which will entail considerable extra expenditure. Yet no attempts are to be made to raise the necessary funds.

Mr Kelly - Why did the Watson Government postpone until an unattainable second session the consideration of those necessary me'asures?

Mr FISHER - The honorable member knows very well that the Watson Government submitted a programme more than sufficient for the current session, and that the programme for the succeeding session was adversely criticised on account of its boldness. The honorable member for Bland was told that his programme was too bold and too aggressive, and yet the honorable member for Wentworth now speaks of it as being insufficient.

Sir John Forrest - What was the programme - to nationalize the tobacco industry, and to take money out of the banks?

Mr FISHER - Is it not a fact that the hesitancy on the part of the Government to take over certain important Departments is due1 to the fact that they would entail extra expenditure ? _ Take quarantine, for instance. Does " any honorable member contend for a moment that it is not desirable that the Federal authorities should take over the Quarantine Department ? Why is not that done ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is nothing to prevent its being done.

Sir John Forrest - Why did not the Watson Government do it?

Mr FISHER - We did our best to bring it forward, and we also showed that we were fully alive to the necessities of the case. So far as our defences are concerned, ours was admittedly the first Government of the Commonwealth which really obtained a firm grasp of defence matters. Everybody admits that.

Sir John Forrest - I do not.

Mr FISHER - Why, the great journals upon tHe other side of the world admit it.

Sir John Forrest - What did the Government of which the honorable member was a Minister do?

Mr FISHER - Surely the right honorable member will admit that a journal like the London Daily Chronicle is not likely to be influenced by labour ideas. Yet it stated that it seemed something like an anomaly that the Labour Government should be the first to firmly grasp defence matters.

Mr Kelly - Was that because the Labour Party wished to establish an Australian Navy?

Mr FISHER - I do. not know. In that connexion, however, I would point out that an influential journal like the Spectator also believes in the establishment of an Australian Navy. If Australia is ever to become a nation, she ought to shoulder the responsibility necessary to put her naval bases in proper order. I do not think much of any young Australian who fears to take up that position.

Mr Kelly - In order to secure efficiency is it not necessary to have the naval and military organizations under one control ?

Mr FISHER - I think it is advisable, as far as possible, that we should co-operate in a naval and military sense with Great Britain. At the same time, I do not believe that we should subject all our interests to the control of Imperial officers. I believe that we can be better served by. our own people. There are men in Australia -who are quite as competent as any officers whose services we could obtain from Great Britain.

Mr Skene - Would not our people serve England just the same?

Mr FISHER - Undoubtedly. The honorable member has too much common sense not to realize that Australians, if they were afforded the usual facilities for obtaining instruction; would prove themselves quite as competent as are the officers who are sent to us from the old country.

Sir John Forrest - Will the honorable member tell the House what the Watson Government did in regard to defence matters during the four months that it held office?

Mr SPEAKER - Order. I would remind the House that the honorable member who is addressing the Chamber has a right to express what opinions he pleases; and to make his own speech. It appears to me that three honorable members upon the other side of the Chamber are attempting to make his speech for him. That is not provided for in the Standing Orders. I hope that those who have not spoken will be content to wait their turn, and that those who have already spoken will refrain from interjecting.

Mr FISHER - I have very little to add, because, as the honorable member who preceded me remarked, I think that the country is tired of this debate. It has been asserted that -when the amendment to include State servants within the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was submitted to this House, the Labour Party intended it to be regarded as a proposal hos- tile to the Government. I am sure the honorable and learned member for Ballarat will be believed when he says that we merely acted from a sense of duty and in fulfilment of our definite pledges.

Mr Deakin - I have never made any complaint upon that score.

Mr FISHER -I am quite certain of that. But the honorable and learned member, and also the present Prime Minister, declared that if that amendment were carried State rights would be altogether abrogated. They argued that it was synonymous with a proposal for unification. In my judgment they have proved very false prophets. They asserted that if the proposal were carried there would be a universal shriek from one of Australia to the other. So far as I am aware, not a single meeting has been held to protest against that amendment, nor is any considerable sentiment exhibited in connexion with it.

Sir John Forrest - The people know that it is unconstitutional.

Mr FISHER - Moreover. the Prime Minister, who had affirmed that he would never agree to it, was candid enough when he secured office to send the Bill to the Senate with that provision included in it. What was his plain duty when he found himself in charge of a measure containing a clause which he believed would defeat the whole purpose of Federation? Obviously it was to advise the Governor-General that an appeal to the electors was imperative to preserve State rights. But, instead of acting in a straightforward manner, he accepted the verdict of the Committee, and forwarded the Bill to the other Chamber. That is what I mean when I say that the leadership of this Parliament has degenerated. Whatever may be said of Sir Edmund Barton as leader of the first Commonwealth Government, it must be recorded to his credit that when the adoption of a certain course was opposed tohis principles he had the backbone to declare that he would not be a party to it. Yet we are assured that the present Government came into power solely for the purpose, of restoring Constitutional Government. Apparently the Primer Minister is prepared to sacrifice all his professed principles for the sake of remaining in office for a few days, not from mercenary motives, but from a sense of duty which is entirely mistaken and absolutely wrong. Some honorable members have spoken of the great expenditure which a general election would involve at the present time, but I am disposed to think that it is not so much the expense they fear, as the possible effect of the election upon themselves. I think it is the duty of every honorable member to assist in sending this House to the country, and for the all-sufficient reason that some membeis who were elected upon most definite pledges have violated those oledges. I maintain that no authority was given to any body of members to enter into a coalition for the sake of displacing the Labour Administration, and thereby obtaining office. I am thoroughly convinced, because of the soundness and moderation of the principles and policy of the Labour Party, and because of the unity and straightforwardness of its members, that no section of the community would benefit more by its return to power than the farmers, of whom we have recently heard so much. I am satisfied that the Labour Party will do far more for the agriculturists than has been accomplished by any pievious Government.

Mr.KNOX (Kooyong). - There are two reasons which prevent me from inflicting upon the House a long speech. In the first place, I am not sufficiently well, and in the next it is absolutely impossible for me to traverse any new ground. Nevertheless, I think that the present political position is so serious and lamentable that every honorable member is' justified in defining his position, and I presume that most honorable members will do so. I repeat that the present position is a very serious one for the Commonwealth. We have already been in session for seven months, and what have we accomplished? We have passed several necessary Supply Bills, and have listened to a number of speeches upon motions initiated by private members. Some of these speeches dealt with eminently practical subjects, which, in ray judgment, should have been taken in hand by any Government which desired to promote the true interests of the Commonwealth. Then, Parliament, in its wisdom, has selected a a site for the future Seat of Government. The work of establishing a city there must inevitably involve an enormous expenditure, if not immediately, certainly within the next few years. Further, we have taken the initial step in connexion with, the construction of a railway tq Western Australia. All these projects' will do nothing but impose burdens upon the people of the Commonwealth. Further, we have forwarded to the Senate the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill - the measure which has been productive of so much trouble. None of us are satisfied with the form in which it left this House, and it will certainly be returned to us for reconsideration, with what result to the Ministry which may then be in office, or to this Parliament, Heaven only knows. Its progress has been marked by a succession of disasters. But what practical benefit, I ask again, havewe to record so far as. this session is concerned ? If honorable members ask themselves that question, they will find that nothing has been done except to impose a burden on the people of the Commonwealth.

Mr Frazer - Does the honorable member really think that the Arbitration Bill is a burden on the people of Australia?

Suggest corrections