Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 7 October 1904

Mr WATKINS (Newcastle) - I think, that no self-respecting Government, after listening to the last speech, and to oneor two other speeches which have proceeded from the other side of the House, would attempt to carry on the business of the country. I do not propose in my remarks to refer to the political history of leading men from the various States, because I can hardly see what relevance that can have to the present position in Federal politics. The so-called replies which have come from the Government side have largely been a condemnation of the action of the Labour Party in forming an alliance with certain honorable members. Not one word have we yet had in defence of the want of policy of the occupants of the Treasury bench. We have had the miserable excuse put forward that, on account of the length of the session, it is desirable that Ministers should bring forward one or two little noncontentious measures, and then get into recess, with a view, as is said, of developing a policy which might be acceptable to this House; but, as I think, to add to their majority, if, indeed, they possess one. I do not undervalue the strain which has been imposed upon those honorable members who have come here from distant States. On the other hand, the position of Australia to-day is such that we cannot afford to sit idle and do nothing. There are too many persons out of employment for us to go into recess without having accomplished something.

Mr Wilson - How can we give them employment ?

Mr WATKINS - I have my ideas on the subject, as the honorable member probably has his. We could at least attempt to do something. In myopinion, we might complete the Federal Tariff. Any one who says that that Tariff was completed by the first Parliament says what is incorrect, be cause part of it was postponed, and has been allowed to remain unfinished.

Mr Wilks - No.

Mr WATKINS - In the honorable member's electorate there are industries of which any State might be proud.

Mr Wilks - They are in a worse condition now than they were in before the Federal Tariff was imposed.

Mr WATKINS - That is because they have in the past depended on work obtained from the State Government, or the chance of a ship meeting with an accident. At the present time they are appealing to the State Government for more orders. If the members of the Government are satisfied with the present situation, they are entitled to my sympathy, rather than to anything else. A Government which could stand the withering condemnation which this Government received from one of its supporters last night would stand anything. He told them plainly that he does not believe in their inactivity, and that they should come down with something in the nature of a policy. If they think that they have a majority on which they can depend, and proceed, I am surprised. Honorable members opposite, and even the honorable member for Dalley himself, have admitted that the present state of parties in this House makes progress impossible. Yet they are going to vote for the Government, in order that this state of things may continue. To my mind, that is neither consistent nor honest. I ask honorable members to listen to what the Government organ in New South Wales, a newspaper which has supported the Prime Minister throughout his political career, has said on this subject. On the 22nd August last, the following statement appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph: -

It is instructive to be told that the statement issued by the new Federal Prime Minister is a manifesto. That information was much needed ; for most persons, on reading the document, find themselves sorely at a loss for a word to describe it. Mr. Reid is nothing if not bold ; and the lengths of yes-no-ism, to which his boldness has been known to carry him, quite account for the extra amount of it which he has shown in issuing the manifesto under notice. He starts out by informing the people of Australia that they must contain themselves in patience until he has had time to incubate something in the way of a policy. He excuses this tardy incubation on the ground that he has not yet had time to consult with his colleagues. Of all limp excuses, this is perhaps the limpest. Mr. Reid formed this Ministry ; and before he could form it, he had to consult every individual who became a member of it. Are we to suppose that his colleagues simply bolted the bait of office, without so much as inquiring the intention of the angler?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was published before the Prime Minister made his statement of policy in this House..

Mr WATKINS - Those who heard the right honorable gentleman know that he did not add much to the statement published in the press.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Every measure previously mentioned was outlined, and' some others were referred to.

Mr WATKINS - The programme of tha Government is merely to pass the Trade Marks Bill and the Papua Bill, and then, as the honorable member for Wilmot said last night, to go to sleep for some months, preparatory to maturing a further policy. In my opinion, no Government can pass any practical legislation in the existing position of Federal parties, and that, I think, is known to honorable members generally. An appeal to the people is the only solution of the difficulty. We have been told that the electoral rolls are not in a satisfactory state; but we were told that prior to the last elections, and since then, the Department is supposed to have amplified and corrected them. No doubt we shall always hear statements of this kind on the eve of a dissolution. I wish now to make a further quotation from the Sydney Daily Telegraph, . the official organ, of the Ministry. In speaking of the manifesto issued by the Prime Minister, the Telegraph says -

Boiled down, this alleged manifesto consists of ' a laborious essay on majority rule, as represented by Mr. Reid and his new following, and minority rule as represented by all those who are not included in his fold.

It has been stated that the Deakin Administration were ousted from office by the Labour Party, who are responsible for the present position of affairs. I would point out, however, that the honorable and learned member for Ballarat resigned office owing to an adverse vote upon the question of including public servants within the scope of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. He was opposed on that occasion by members other than those belonging to the Labour Party. The question was one upon which the Government had. appealed to the people, and the verdict went against them. My own feeling is that when the honorable and learned member met the House after the elections, he should have recognised that he was in a minority, and have tendered his resignation. I contend, further, that he should have adhered to the position which he assumed at the outset. He claimed that the question upon which he resigned office was one of high principle - as I believe it was. The Prime Minister should at all times be prepared to carry out the wishes of the people as expressed by the will of the majority, or relinquish office. The honorable and learned member took the view that the provision to which he objected would be unconstitutional, and he would not listen to the suggestion that the High Court should be left to decide that point. He has now consented to accept the Bill which embraces the objectionable provision, and is willing to allow the High Court to decide as to its constitutionality. What a lot of trouble we would have been saved if the honorable and learned member had taken up that position from the first? What is a good thing to-day should be equally good six months ago. I do not. wish to say anything with regard to the split which has occurred in the Protectionist Party. Some honorable members have been blamed for joining hands with the Labour Party, and they may be left to make their own replies. . I have yet to learn, however, that the Prime Minister has the sole right to enter into coalitions. The leaders of the coalition on the Government side are apparently prepared to swallow all the provisions in the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, to which they formerly expressed their objection. Their sole object, apparently, is to establish themselves securely in office. If the provision relating to the public servants of the States was unconstitutional six months ago it should be open to the same objection to-day, but honorable members opposite are prepared to ignore every consideration but that of retaining their hold of office. We have been told that the Labour Ministry were very much put out at having to resign office, and that they desired to regain their positions on the Treasury bench at any cost. I would, however, direct attention to the fact that when they resigned, both the Prime Minister and the honorable and learned member for Ballarat gave them credit for the way in which they had conducted the affairs of the Commonwealth, and for relinquishing office upon a question of principle. Why should they be told now that they desire to regain the Treasury bench at any cost? I should be quite content to leave the country to judge as to the respective merits of the programmes put forward by the Government and the alliance. I do not know that any honorable members desire to remove the present Government from office with a view to securing an increase of

Customs duties. The main charges against the Ministry are, first, that they secured their present position by the adoption of unfair methods, and, secondly, that they have no policy worth speaking of. I wish now to deal with the so-called political machine which it is said governs some members of this House. No doubt that machine has been successful, possibly to the dissatisfaction of honorable members opposite. Indeed, so successful has it been, that at the last general election the great party, .every member of which is supposed to be free and unfettered, actually emulated the methods of the Labour Party, and notwithstanding the fiscal peace to which its members are committed, they are prepared to again employ those methods at the next election. We have been assured that they are committed to a fiscal truce, but they are careful to say that it is merely for the life of the present Parliament.

Mr Carpenter - Only whilst they are beaten.

Mr WATKINS - Yes. I shall deal with that aspect of the matter presently. I repeat that at the next election it will be open to the Free-trade Party to renew the fiscal fight. If we desire any evidence of that, we shall find it in the statements supplied by the joint secretaries of that party to a representative of the press. For instance, upon being interviewed by an Argus reporter last month, the honorable member for Lang furnished a comprehensive statement regarding the methods adopted by the Free-trade Party at the last election. He pointed out that, in conjunction with the present PostmasterGeneral, he acted as secretary to that body, and amongst other things he stated - .

In the nomination of candidates to carry our banner, we left the selection, as much as possible, to the local branches of the league. Where there was no difference of opinion the central executive indorsed the local nomination. Even where there were no local branches, and the central executive made a selection, the opinion of influential adherents of our cause in the electorate was sought, and it was always with their approval that the selection was made. Speaking generally, loyalty to party selection was shown both by candidates and electors. The result was that in eighteen contested seats we won sixteen seats.

These methods are a copy of those' which the Labour Party has so successfully employed in the past.

Mr McDonald - What about the pledge in relation to another organization which candidates had to sign ?

Mr WATKINS - Who were the "influential adherents " in the local centres to whom reference is made ? Were they "in fluential" in a political sense, or were they not the leaders of all the " isms " who could be induced to take the free-tra'de side? The honorable member continued -

We are preparing now a new constitution, with a view to thorough organization of the electorates and sustained effort.

Honorable members opposite who have had so much to say regarding the alliance upon this side of the House, should understand that the Free-trade Party at the present time is framing a new constitution, with a view to renewed and sustained effort at the next general election. The interview continues -

We hope in this way to form a permanent fight-' ing force, which may be used with effect when election day comes round.

That statement is fully corroborated by a telegram from Sydney, which is dated the 30th August of the present year, and which reads -

There are signs that the protectionists will shortly have cause to regret having entered into even a temporary truce with the free-trade party. While Mr. Reid is giving every assurance that he and his party were bound to respect the compact entered into with certain of his fiscal opponents the Australian Free-trade League is making vigorous efforts to strengthen and unite the free-trade party in every electorate. The council held a meeting in Sydney to-day, and came to the conclusion that no reliance could be placed on the pledges of the protectionist party, and that any suspension of propaganda or organizing work would be most dangerous. It was resolved, therefore, that the present situation made the work of the league doubly important, and that arrangements should be entered into forthwith for the purpose of strengthening the free-trade party throughout Australia.

Mr Wilks - That is a six potters yarn.

Mr WATKINS - It is the statement of the secretary of the Free-trade Party. If it be admitted that we cannot believe him in this particular, I trust that we shall hear no more approving "hear, hear's" when he is affording information to this House. The telegram adds -

A manifesto is being prepared, and after submission to the league, it will be issued throughout the Commonwealth.

I think that honorable members occupying that position- should be the last to accuse other parties in this House of a want of honour. If it be fair and honorable for them to' enter into a coalition for the purpose of combating Socialism, surely others may enter into an alliance from equally honorable motives. We have been told that the coalition was formed, not because the party which previously occupied the Treasury bench had done any wrong. or because their programme was of a reactionary character, but because of the advance which would take place in a socialistic direction if they were permitted to remain there. All I have to say is, that if, as we believe, State Socialism is growing every day, and if the movement will afford a large measure of relief to the producers, irrespective of whether they produce with their brains or their hands, we should certainly aim at accelerating its progress. Honorable members opposite never object to Socialism so long as it is confined to a section of the community. When the States of Australia were suffering financial stress, who were the people to first ask the States Governments to stand by the financial institutions?

Mr Henry Willis - Was not that in the interests of the community?

Mr WATKINS - That is all we claim for the Socialism we advocate. The difference between honorable members opposite and honorable members on this side is that, while the former believe in Socialism for a section of the people, we believe in it for the whole people. Honorable members opposite say that the State control of railways and of the Post and .Telegraph Department is State commercialism. No matter what name is applied, we regard that control as State Socialism; and it is certain that honorable members opposite would not dare to vote for the railways or the post and telegraph systems being handed over to the control of private individuals. We have no right to _ say that those two particular undertakings only should be brought under State control. In England and America the railways are privately owned; and if railways may be taken under State control, so may any other large monopoly. Ask any retail tobacconist what have been the results of the tobacco monopoly in Australia. Are tobacconists free to do to-day all that they were free to do before that monopoly was created? It has been asserted that the policy of the Labour Party will lead to the ruin of the Commonwealth- that we propose to 'take away the liberty of the individual, and to confiscate land and all industries. Whether honorable members who make these statements actually believe them is no concern of ours, but no intelligent man in Australia places any reliance whatever on assertions of the kind. In New Zealand there has been considerable legislation of the class which the Labour Party of Australia desire to see passed. In New Zealand prosperity is shown on every hand, . and no one in that country complains of the socialistic measures which have been put in force.

Mr Henry Willis - If New Zealand is all right, why is a Labour Party being organized there?

Mr WATKINS - There was. a Labour Party in New Zealand before there was a Labour Party in Australia; and, moreover, New Zealand was, so to speak, in a state of insolvency before any socialistic measures had been passed. The honorable and learned member for Angas, in his splendid address on the ethics of Socialism, said he believed in socializing monopolies. The honorable and learned member expressed the opinion that electrical and other similar power should be owned by the State - in short, he believes in municipal Socialism, such as has been carried out by the County Councils of England, and the Corporation of Glasgow. If the honorable and learned member believes in municipal Socialism, he ought to know that in Glasgow there are municipal laundries and municipal lodging-houses, and that out of the public funds workmen's dwellings have been erected in the place of the squalid rookeries of the past. The scheme, which is being carried out by the Glasgow Corporation will, in fifty years, make that city entirely free from local taxation. Is the honorable and learned member for Angas prepared to support Socialism to that extent? I care not what a man's political opinions may be, if he is a conservative, let him be an avowed and consistent conservative. On the other hand, if he believes in the policy of the Labour Party, let him vote according to his convictions, and not speak one way and vote another. An honorable member ought not to tell the electors, in his speeches here, that he believes in the principle of Socialism, and then record his vote in favour of those who are averse to any experiments of the kind. The honorable and learned member for Angas holds that we ought to experiment in that direction, and yet on this motion he intends to vote with the party whose avowed object is to prevent any such policy being carried into force. If any undertaking under State control shows a financial loss for the first one or two years, that is seized upon as proof of failure. But in how many cases do large private investments absolutely fail? One safeguard is that when the State makes a mistake, it is speedily found out, and the matter put right.

Would honorable members, for instance, abolish the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, which in four years and eight months has made a profit on stock and sheep amounting, to ^28,223? Is that good or bad for the State of Victoria? Again, the Melbourne City Council has landed property from which it derives a revenue of ,68,000 per annum. These are examples of municipal and State Socialism. Honorable members opposite, in decrying and condemning Socialism, are careful enough to point to cases of failure where State-owned concerns have been politically managed. I do not agree with political management in State concerns. There is a vast difference between the State controlling an industry; and political management. The Governments of the States own the railways, but they are managed on commercial principles. So it ought to be wherever the Government attempts to regulate an industry for the benefit of the people. A great deal has been said about preference to unionists, and perhaps there is very little that is fresh to be* added. Hut that question has been raised as a bugbear to frighten, so to speak, the electors against some innovation which it is held will secure to the few rights which they ought not to possess. But all the large trade union organizations -in Australia had secured preference for their members before1 we had any conciliation and arbitration legislation. The granting of preference is no innovation. As the unions have gained preference by their own power, it would not be just to take from them that right by means of legislation which we profess to pass for their benefit. Honorable members opposite wish to rob unionists by legislation of that which they have already, and at the same time to bind them to work on conditions prescribed by an Arbitration Court, no matter what its verdicts may be. The Prime Minister himself condemned the amendment of the honorable and learned member for Corinella in unmeasured terms when it was1 first proposed. He pointed out that it would ruin the clause to which it was attached, and that it would be impossible for a majority of workers to, be obtained where a dispute extended over the whole length and breadth of Australia. But though he condemned it then, he endeavoured by means of it, to supplant the late Government, and now he is trying to carry the Bill through, embodying a clause which he knows to be unworkable. I come, by way of conclusion, to. the dramatic speech delivered last night by the honorable member for Wilmot. Without wishing in any way to offend honorable members opposite, I say that they have no reason to feel proud that they are likely to win. by one vote. During the whole of my political experience, I have never witnessed a more degrading situation than the present one. The vote of the honorable member will make the result rather a defeat than a victory for the Ministry. It is humiliating for them to know that they are kept in office by the vote of a man who told them plainly that they ought not to be on the Treasury bench, and who intimated that, although he intends to vote with them on this occasion, they cannot depend upon him for twenty-four hours. Is this the majority rule that the Prime' Minister was to establish? Is this the majority rule bymeans of which progressive legislation was to be carried, and responsible government restored? Let us examine the position. We have the honorable and learned member for Bendigo telling us that although he will vote with the Government on the present occasion, he does not know what he will do next session if they do not bring down a progressive policy.

Mr Austin Chapman - Hear, hear; I am right with him, too.

Mr WATKINS - Then we have two honorable members who expect from the present Government a progressive policy, though the honorable member for Wilmot said last night that he would not vote with them if they did not undo the democratic legislation which some honorable members opposite assisted to pass.

Mr Austin Chapman - Let them try it on.

Mr WATKINS - Here is an absolute admission that if next session the Government meet the House with a progressive policy they will absolutely be in a minority. I sympathize with the Government. It must be galling to them' to think that one who has supported their party through thick and thin, should have degraded himself in a political sense as the honorable member for Wilmot must appear to them to have done.

Mr Wilks - It shows how free honorable members are on this side to speak and vote as thev like.

Mr WATKINS -- The Minister of Trade and Customs tells us through this morning's newspapers that the Government propose to carry on if they secure the anticipated majority of two, because that is the position which' they occupied when they first took possession of the Treasury bench. I say that the position will be entirely different. When they took possession of the Treasury bench they had a clear majority of two, but, according to the speech which was made by the honorable member for Wilmot last night, that majority has been reduced' until now it is not more than a majority of one-and-a-half. The Ministry propose to retain office by the support of an honorable member who, referring to the Prime Minister, said -

He brought forward a policy which is practically the same as that which the Labour Government had proposed. But he says, " Only let me get into recess - let me have one of those sleeps lor which I am so famous - and I will come down next session and astonish you." That is practically what it amounts to, and nothing else. Then, when the leader of the Opposition brings forward a motion of no-confidence, the Prime Minister, in his own defence, says, " If I had the power I would repeal a certain section in the Post and Telegraph Act, and also a certain section in the Immigration Restriction Act; but I have not the power." Well, if he has not the power, what right has he to be there?

The Government are kept; in office by the vote of an honorable member, who says they have no right to be there, and that he will assist to keep them there only if they will consent to do that which more than threefourths of their supporters will not agree to. Will the honorable member for Dalley record a vote in favour of either the amendment or repeal of the Alien Immigration Restriction Act? Will any honorable member on the opposite side do so? If we are to believe press reports of the honorable member's statements, he said a fortnight ago that he proposed' to vote in such a way as to bring about a dissolution. At that time it appears the honorable member did not care what condition the rolls were in, and whether the Labour Party was organized or not. The honor.orable member- subsequently paid a visit to his electorate, and we now find that his only reason for recording his vote in the way he announced last night, is that he is afraid to go to the people. Honorable members on the other side talk much of majority rule, and their respect for the verdict of the people ; but the honorable member for Wilmot has admitted that he is afraid to go before the people, and he has candidly confessed his belief that if the party opposite were to go to the country at the present time, the people might decide against them. After speaking of the results of two or three recent elections which have been in favour of honorable members on this side, the honorable member for Wilmot, referring to the Labour Party as the "unionists," said -

Further, I know that the unionists are thoroughly organized. I know, on the contrary, that the liberal-conservatives, -

I really do not know what party that can be- with whom I have been associated so long, and the liberals themselves are not thoroughly organized. In the interests of fair play, and with a strong desire to see the best side win when the fight takes place, I shall vote on this occasion with the Government.

That is the honorable member's bald excuse for his conduct during the last two or three weeks. He thought of voting for a dissolution a week or two ago, but he is now afraid to trust the people. I have shown that the party opposite has been organizing in just the same way as the Labour Party, and its members are as prepared as are those of any other party in this House. It is therefore a miserable subterfuge for the honorable- member for Wilmot to say that he will not give a vote to bring about an appeal to the country until parties are on ah equal footing in this regard. The honorable member is prepared to risk the passing-of legislation to which he is deadly opposed, to see the Commonwealth ruined, and to witness our downfall in any direction so long as by delay he thinks he will be able to bring about a state of affairs in which he and his party would be likely to win. I wonder whether the news flashed to us by ' the cables this morning, that already there is a gentleman Waiting to contest his electorate with him has had anything to do with the determination to which the honorable member has come? The present Administration is living absolutely by virtue of a minority on questions of general policy. It is not sufficient to say that they should be allowed to go into recess in order to mature a policy for next session. The free-traders in the party opposite possessed their own policy, and they now have also the policy of those with whom they have combined, and I say, therefore, that the object is not that they may go into recess for the purpose of maturing a policy to bring down next session, but simply that in the lapse of time they may gain strength to enable them to carry on with their do-nothing policy. That being the position, I trust that if the motion is defeated, the Government, without attempting to get into recess, will come down, as they have often promised, with some legislation, which will be for the benefit of the people.

Mr. HENRYWILLIS (Robertson).The honorable member for Newcastle has closed a very excellent speech by saying that he hopes that the Government will come down with good legislation during next session. I am inclined to think that the motion of want of confidence has given honorable members an opportunity to speak to their electors at very considerable length. I have no objection to their doing so.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable member is going to do so himself.

Suggest corrections