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Thursday, 13 October 1904

Mr REID (East Sydney) (Minister of External Affairs) . - The honorable member for Hume always seems to be under the impression that his political life has consisted in heaping on me gracious kindnesses, which have been repaid not only by indifference, but by ingratitude on my part. 9 h 2

My impression is that the honorable member has used language in regard to myself which makes it impossible for me to have any intercourse with him, except such which the duties of a public position compel. As a public man occupying an official position, I sink entirely any personal feeling I may have - it is my duty to do so. To show my anxiety not to make any difference between the honorable member for Hume and any other honorable member, in a matter of such importance, I should like to make a short statement to the House. The honorable member for Hume has stated that he approached the Prime Minister of the late Government, and asked for time in which to deal with this Bill.

Sir William Lyne - That was when I found that the Government were not going to take it up.

Mr REID - The same courtesy is due to the Prime Minister of the present Government. If any honorable member wishes Government time, he ought to approach the head of the present Government, as the honorable member for Hume approached the head of the late Government. What I have to say is, that I was certainly informed that the honorable member for Hume, when this same matter was discussed some time ago, made a statement from his seat to the effect that he would accept nothing at the hands of the Government. But putting that aside, I wish to say that a man must show even his bitterest enemy the same courtesy that he shows to his friends, and if an honorable member desires Government time in which to consider, a measure, he ought to approach the head of the Government with a request. The honorable member for Hume, neither directly nor indirectly, approached me with any such request. On the other hand, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro, who also has a resolution on the notice-paper dealing with, this subject, did come to me, as an honorable member ought to. and asked for Government time in which to consider his proposal.

Mr Johnson - The honorable member also made the same request on the floor of the House.

Mr Fisher - To oblige the honorable member for Hume, I presume !

Mr REID - I do not know; I presume honorable members act for themselves unless the contrary is stated. In the absence of any request from the honorable member for Hume, I certainly did not feel that I ought to run after that gentleman. Would any one expect me to do so,, especially under recent circumstances? It is not the public duty of a man in my position to approach those who may desire Government time in which to discuss a matter. The honorable member for Hume did not approach me, and, therefore, I hold myself quite free from any appearance of discourtesy. As has been said, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro did on the floor of the House ask me to give him time to consider this measure, and the request was granted, not because he sits on this side of the House - nothing of the sort - but because the honorable member had been sufficiently connected with . the matter to entitle him in the absence of any request from the honorable member for Hume, to take charge. I hope it will be seen that there has been no attempt on my part to treat the honorable member for Hume discourteously.

Mr Fisher - The right honorable gentleman will admit that a very unusual course has been taken.

Mr REID - I do not wish to say that it is not a usual course, but the position is that I .was not called upon to approach the honorable member for Hume. Honorable members cannot expect me to do so, but if .they do, they will be disappointed every time. When any honorable member of the House has a public request to make to me as Prime Minister he must approach me. I wish now to deal with the statement which was made by the honorable and learned member for West Sydney. I regret that that honorable and learned member has again brought up the matter cf the six potters. He might have terminated the incident long ago by expressing some sort of regret that he had, undesignedly I have no doubt, done me wrong by placing on the permanent records of Parliament language which no person of ordinary intelligence could misunderstand, and which he must have known to be false, unless he was in a state of mind which is not common to him. But I have a more serious complaint to make. After three or four times saying that I had "ordered" a prosecution - and I suppose there is only one English language - and after having caused his words to be placed in the national records, to be sent throughout Australia to my injury, he, within the hour, made to a newspaper reporter the statement, "Oh, I ordered the prosecution."

That statement, however, would never appear in the pages of Hansard. Three times did the honorable and learned member say that I had ordered the prosecution, and yet within an hour he admitted to the representative of a public journal that it was he who had made the order, but he added that I then became responsible. I admit that in the legal sense - a view which has recently dawned on the honorable- and learned member - I am responsible for the acts of my predecessor. That is a general constitutional principle; but it is not customary amongst Ministers and exMinisters in any part of the British Empire to say. that a successor has done what a predecessor has done, and then to add, " Oh, I did it myself, but you can undo it." Such proceedings are rare in connexion with British Parliaments.

Mr Hughes - What was the right hon- 01 able gentleman's attitude in the matter?

Mr REID - On the following day, when there had been plenty of time for reflection, I quoted the words of the honorable and learned member as follows: -

The right honorable gentleman is pledged on this question. " If I have the opportunity," he said, " I will strike this iniquitous section out of the Act," and the first thing he does when he has the opportunity, is to give instructions for a prosecution under it.

That is an act with a definite purpose - prosecution. I then said, " That is not true," and the* honorable and learned member retorted, "It is true." The very next day in this House, when I directed his attention to that statement, he said, " It is true."

Mr Hughes - So it is.

Mr REID - If the honorable and learned member will continue to urge that, I. have nothing more to say. But days afterwards, when he recollected that statements which were calculated to damage the public character of a man had been uttered by. himself, and put upon the permanent records of the Australian Parliament, one would expect some little dawning sense of regret. Instead,, at a public- gathering, before a large audience - I refer to the Eight Hours' celebration, which was held this very month - the honorable and learned member again returned to this matter. He returns to it again and again, and without any expression of regret.

Mr Hughes - I should think so.

Mr REID - He stated to the gathering in question -

I made no deliberate misstatement. I made no essential misstatement -

I think that there is an essential misstatement involved in the allegation that another man did what one did himself, or else the wrong man might be hanged for murder. The honorable and learned member continued - and that I made any misstatement to deceive any one, was disproved by the fact that there appeared in the same issue of the press which reported the occurrence in the House a full statement made by me to the reporters.

I hope that in the public life of this country we are not going to establish a system of using the stiletto in Parliament, and then withdrawing it outside, where the wound cannot be healed. That was the worst feature of the matter, in my judgment. If the honorable and learned member had been carried away by excitement - as we all are at times - I could have understood his action. I have myself often made use of expressions which I afterwards regretted. But when the honorable and learned member recollected outside the wrong which he had done me, and then stated to the press, " I did it, but he could have undone it," he might at least have come back into the House, and made his statement at the table. Had he done so, and then added, " The two things are the same," we could have arrived at an appreciation of the mental methods of the honorable and learned member, which would deprive, his statements of any weight in future. I do not say that he acted deliberately. But, if he did it. inadvertently, he has not yet expressed the slightest regret for maligning me in the' presence of the House and the country. In conclusion, I hope that so long as I occupy my present position, I will not do any unkind or ungenerous thing to any honorable member under any circumstances whatever.

Mr Hughes - Will the right honorable gentleman allow me to say again-

Mr SPEAKER - Order, order! The honorable member has already replied, and it is quite impossible for me to allow any further speech now.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 1.15 a.m. (Friday).

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