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Thursday, 13 October 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) - I am, sorry that this debate has taken longer than some of us anticipated that it would. It must be apparent to any unprejudiced observer that the Government can have derived but very little satisfaction from the speeches even of most of the honorable members who have spoken from their own side of the House. At most it can only have been the very negative satisfaction of finding that it is possible that an infinitesimal majority will enable them to retain their' places on the Treasury bench. The position that we on this side took up was that the present Government had in the first place declared no tangible programme, and in the second place had done no more than indicate, so far as their speeches were an indication, that their administration would be against the spirit of the legislation that this Parliament had been engaged in passing for some time previously. How have those who have spoken in support of the Government attempted to meet that position? They have professed to meet it by ejecting a cloud as the octopus does, in order to cover their own deficiencies, and transferring the attack to the alliance programme. There has been, no attempt on the part of honorable members opposite to justify what they have dignified bv the name' of a programme. There has not been even the mildest pretence that it constitutes a policy. All their efforts have been directed to discrediting the position taken up by those in opposition. It seems to me that the electors will require a much stronger justification than has so far been given before they will be content with the political views of the honorable gentlemen who make up the present Administration. The Prime Minister stated that it was a singular thing that my speech in attack contained no reference to the programme of the alliance. I contend that in present circumstances we on this side of the House are under no obligation to put a programme before the country. That obligation certainly lies upon those who are charged with the administration of public affairs. It is for them to indicate clearly, distinctly, and without reservation not only what is their programme for the few remaining weeks or months of the present session, but what they propose to do in the immediate future. If they are competent to lead not only this House but Australia, surely the electors have a right to know to what kind of programme honorable gentlemen opposite are committed, and seek to commit the electors of Australia? So far as we are concerned, while, as I say, there is no obligation upon us to put a programme before the electors, we have, nevertheless acted in the most frank and open manner with this House and with the people of Australia. There has been no concealment about our actions, or about the programme which resulted from the conference between the different members on the Opposition side of the House. No matter how long it may take for its accomplishment, no matter though it may occupy more than- one session, the programme is there. Of course I do not say that that is all that will engage the attention of the alliance.

Mr McLean - Nobody is committed to it.

Mr WATSON - I state distinctly that the alliance is committed to it, and our honorable friends on the other side need not hug the sweet delusion that the alliance is going . to break into a thousand pieces, despite all their hopes in that direction. Thev will be bitterly disappointed at the solidarity of the honorable members who sit on this side. Thev will find that there is a community of principle-

Mr Lonsdale - What is it - A or B ?

Mr WATSON - There is a parrot-like trait about honorable members on the other side, who persistently reiterate what they think are magic letters - A and B. I would invite them to devote their attention to. the wide discrepancy - to which I shall allude presently - between the Prime Minister and some of those who are associated with him, as to what their position is at the present time. There is a community of principle amongst those who sit on this side of the Hquse. We are at one in recognising the right of the community to interfere on behalf of the poor and oppressed, and in desiring to remove grievances which are remediable by legislation. That principle obtains in its fulness on this side of the House, and it will be the guiding line of thought and action that will keep together the members of the alliance.

Mr Lonsdale - It is the same on this side.

Mr WATSON - Does the honorable member mean to say that his individualistic ideas can be so stretched as to allow the State to interfere between capital and labour, to intervene in the conduct of industry ? Will' the honorable and learned member for Parkes stretch his individualistic ideas to that extent?


Mr WATSON - " Certainly not," says an honest man.

Mr Lonsdale - He may have an opinion as to which is best.

Mr WATSON - There are no halfmeasures about the political programme of the honorable and learned member. We know where he is all the time.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What a great admiration the honorable member has developed for the honorable and learned member lately.

Mr WATSON - I have never concealed my admiration for a straight-out opponent. I expressed it whenwe first arrived here.

Mr Wilks - The honorable member takes him as a shocking example.

Mr WATSON - From my point of view, the honorable and learned member is a shocking example as a politician, but still one can appreciate an honorable member who has some idea of what he is aiming a: in politics, and who acts consistently in support of his view. The Prime Minister twitted me with having taken office after having declared some months previously that the Labour Party did not desire to sit on the Treasury bench, unless they were sure of the support of a majority in favour of . the principles of the labour platform. It is quite true that I made that remark, but I would remind the right honorable gentleman and the country that a very great deal has happened since that time. It is true that there has not been in all respects a change in the principles or opinions as expressed by the right honorable gentleman, but there was no prospect when I made those remarks that he would come into office. There was no prospect then that he would have an opportunity to carry out that which he had declared to be his intention a month previously. He said then that if he had the power he would abrogate the legislation on which this Parliament had been engaged. At that time the honorable and learned member for Ballarat was Prime Minister, and the members of the Labour Party were not anxious to depose him. They were quite satisfied that he should remain in office, and were prepared to assist him in passing legislation which they conceived to be in the interests of the country. But the present position is quite different. We have in office a right honorable gentleman who has declared that the very breath of his existence depends upon the destruction of the party which I have had the honour to lead for some time. He says that he ha« thrown himself right across the path of the Labour Party. He declares open war against us, and he now blames us because we are prepared to resist the tender attentions which he promised us in that way. I imagine that we should be something more than human if we failed to resent, not only actions, but expressed intentions of that description. I have no fear as to the result when the war commences, because, after all, what is done here is only an affair of outposts. When we get before the country rhe battle will begin, and so soon as that occurs there is- very little doubt as to the position which the right honorable gentleman will occupy. Even the honorable member for Robertson said the other evening, "The other side are too well organized ; we must not have a dissolution." He is aware that the feeling of the country is against the present Ministry, and he does not desire a dissolution.

Mr Henry Willis - I said nothing of the kind.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member said that we on this side were too well organized.

Mr Henry Willis - I did not say that honorable members on the other side were " too well " organized.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member said that we on this side were too well organized, and that, therefore, it would not be wise to have a dissolution.

Mr Henry Willis - I said that in some of the States we should sweep the polls when we were organized.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member will find out the feeling of the country byandby. From the honorable and learned member for Ballarat last evening we had a history of the negotiations which have taken place, and the events which have happened since this Parliament met. When he got to the stage at which he resigned, and I, on his advice, was sent for by His Excellency the Governor-General, he stated that he had hoped that I would have chosen protectionists for one-half of my Government.

Mr Crouch - So the honorable member did.

Mr WATSON - Of course, I was not aware what his hopes were. I do not take it fhat he meant protectionists as such, but members of the official Protectionist Party. I was rather disappointed at that statement, though I could take no exception to the general tone of the honorable and learned member's speech. In fact it did not seem to me a speech that could give much balm to the Ministry to whom he is, temporarily or permanently, acting as wetnurse. But while I do not complain of the general tone of the speech, I was a little disappointed in it, for this reason : The honorable and learned member well knew that the feeling which had prompted him to make a vital matter of the amendment for the inclusion of the public servants was operating with all the other leading men in his party.

Mr Deakin - Not with all.

Mr WATSON - With nearly all of them. Surely, then, he' did not expect that I should go to ex-Ministers or to other members of his party who had considered that question so important that they had been ready to cast in their fortunes with those of the honorable and learned member rather than accept the amendment. I do not conceive that I could have done anything of the sort. Neither would I have been justified in agreeing, and in asking colleagues chosen from my own party to agree,to sink our opinions on the subject in order that honorable members of the

Deakin party might be asked to join my Administration. It seemed to me at the time - and this explains the remarks which I made to the Herald reporter, published on the nth May, which the honorable and learned member quoted last night - quite impossible that there should be any official fusion of his party with the Labour Party at that time, in view of the fact that we were pledged to the electors in regard to the question at issue in exactly opposite ways, and could neither of us retrace our steps. How could I then ask the members of the Deakin Party, unless it were some of those who had voted with me-

Sir John Forrest - Who suggested that the honorable member should ?

Mr WATSON - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat.- If the right honorable member had been here last night, he would have heard that statement. I always regarded the members of the Protectionist Party, or most of them, notwithstanding the presence among them of the amiable but rather conservative representative for Swan, as the natural allies of the Labour Party, and I think that the greater number of the members of the Labour Party, including myself, were always prepared to work heartily with them. Taken all through, we showed that in our actions, during the early history of this Parliament.

Sir John Forrest - Yes; but not after our defeat.

Mr WATSON - Oh, no. I have just explained why I could not ask the members of the Deakin party to join my Administration at that period.

Sir John Forrest - Hear, hear. I quite agree with the' honorable member.

Mr WATSON - The honorable and learned member for Ballarat complained that the Labour Party took no step towards an alliance up to- the 17th May.

Mr Deakin - Later than that. It was about the 27th. On the 17th the honorable member declined.

Mr WATSON - As I understood the honorable and learned member, he complained that nothing was done by the Labour Party.

Mr Deakin - I did not complain, but I stated that nothing was done.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member seemed rather disappointed that nothing was done.

Mr Deakin - I think that it would have been more advantageous if the proposals for an alliance had been made then.

Mr WATSON - It might have been. But in view of the fact that each of us was compelled by circumstances to insist upon his own views in regard to the 'Arbitration Bill, it was not to be expected that an immediate attempt at an alliance would be successful. But before the 17th, when our party met to consider the question, the honorable and learned member had proceeded a very great distance in his negotiations with the right honorable member for East Sydney, so that the impression naturally got abroad that all was arranged, and that the political wedding of these two interesting young people was only a matter of a few days. The honorable and learned member last night seemed disappointed that more did not come from his invitation at that particular stage. If so. he was prepared to ally himself, or see his party allied, with those whom he now contends were worked, controlled, and governed by the machine. The machine, whatever its virtues or defects may be. was just as strong and effective then as now. No change whatever has been made in that connexion.

Mr Higgins - Nor will be made.

Mr WATSON - Nor will be made in the immediate future. Goodness only knows what will come by-and-by.

Mr Deakin - I had already pointed out, when I asked for overtures, that it would be necessary for arrangements to be made to get rid of the machine, so far as the alliance was concerned, and to amend the programme.

Mr WATSON - I am not aware that there was any condition.

Mr Deakin - I imposed no condition upon the honorable member- I could not do so - but I said what our condition of acceptance would be.

Mr WATSON - Quite so. But I was not aware that the honorable and learned gentleman had laid down any condition of acceptance on his part, other than that there must be an arrangement by which the two parties would not ,assault each other. That, of course, would have gone without saying. No alliance can be \yprked upon any other basis. That seems to me to rob of its point all the criticism which we have had about the immunity from mutual attack, to which the members of the present alliance are committed. An alliance would not be worthy of the name if its members did not agree to stand by each other when confronted bv the common enemy. I think that that goes without saying. So far as machinery is concerned, I have no intense admiration for any party machine. I admit frankly that I have never looked upon party machines as, at the best, anything better than expedients. It is only because we are compelled, like every other party, to use a machine that we must have some organization if we are to be successful. It seems to me that it savours of "Satan reproving sin" for honorable members on the other side of the House to be continually talking about the machine of the Labour Party, whilst they, just as carefully, and as effectively as may be, use a machine themselves on -all possible occasions, and regret, of course, its comparative ineffectiveness. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat, when speaking last evening, brought his historical resume to a close at what seemed to me to be the most interesting point. We heard a great deal as to the position taken up by the different parties. All details were given up to the point at which the present Prime Minister was sent for by the GovernorGeneral, but with regard to what took place after that, silence was preserved. I do not know whether the honorable and learned member had no more information to give to the House and to the country, but it certainly would be interesting to know exactly what were the negotiations which led to the formation, of the present Ministry, and. above all, upon what understanding that Ministry exists - if there is an understanding at all.

Mr Deakin - The honorable member knows everything that I know.

Mr WATSON - I am surprised to hear that, but if that is so the country at least has the right to know a great deal more than it is aware of at present.

Sir John Forrest - It knows everything. The whole of- the facts have been published in the newspapers.

Mr WATSON - The right honorable gentleman has evidently been asleep. He is a sort of political Rip van Winkle. He has evidently forgotten, if he ever knew, or if he has been awake all the time, that there has been an express disavowal on the part of the Ministry and their supporters of the May agreement - the agreement arrived at tentatively between the present Prime Minister and the honorable and learned member for Ballarat.

Mr Isaacs - Some of them only have disavowed it.

Sir John Forrest - The Prime Minister has said that he will respect it.

Mr WATSON - The Prime Minister said, at Ballarat, that the coalition was going to work on the lines of that agreement; but the Prime Minister stated on the occasion of my accepting the commission of the Governor-General to form a Ministry, that I had no right to take office without being first assured that I had a majority of members behind me; that I had no right to mislead the Governor-General, or to run the risk of misleading him, by taking office without a distinct and definite assurance that I had a majority of honorable members behind me.

Sir John Forrest - That is the constitutional usage.

Mr WATSON - That was the position taken up by the Prime Minister on 27th April. Did the right honorable gentleman in this instance obtain any assurance that he had a majority of honorable members' behind him? Did he have any assurance - other than the natural assurance that we all possess in a greater or lesser degree - any promise from, or understanding with, any honorable members as to the position which he and his new Government would occupy ? We have the declaration of the honorable and learned member for Ballarat that the agreement was never ratified by his party, and we have also heard the honorable member for Laanecoorie state that there is no understanding of which he is aware. The honorable member for Echuca, the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, and the honorable member for Moira have also stated that there was no understanding of which they knew, and no arrangement. If that is so, then we assume what I can hardly believe, that the Prime Minister, in spite of the declaration made by him in regard to my position, in spite of the high-souled patriotism which we know him to possess, and which would certainly influence him upon an occasion of this description, dispensed with any such assurance. He must have had some understanding. I do not say that he has an understanding with those honorable members who have denied it, but some understanding must exist with other honorable members. If so, the country is entitled to know what it is.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is an intuitive understanding.

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