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Friday, 4 November 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) - The Government have only themselves to blame for the present situation. It is certainly the duty of every honorable member to attend to the business of the country ; but it is the especial duty of a Government to see that a quorum is maintained. It is all very well for some honorable members opposite to say that had they desired, they could have secured a count-out of the House while the late Government were in office, but that statement will not bear investigation. As a matter of fact, we always had a sufficient number of honorable members available to maintain a quorum. It is true that on one occasion there was far less than a quorum present, but that was the outcome of a pre-arranged plan to enable the second-reading debate on the Seat of Government Bill to be concluded, so that a ballot for the site might be taken in the following week. It was the result of an arrangement between the leaders of the several parties, and cannot be taken as any evidence of the inability of the Government then in office to keep a quorum.

Mr Wilks - And one-half of the honorable members then present were members of the Opposition.

Mr WATSON - Surely it is not open to the honorable member to take up that position. If we give, the Government man for man to maintain a quorum, what reason have they for complaint?

Mr Johnson - I was asked by the whip of the late Government to assist in maintaining a quorum.

Mr WATSON - And honorable members of the Opposition have also been asked to assist in maintaining a quorum since the present Government have been in office.

Mr Reid - Did our supporters ever refuse such a request when preferred by the whip of the late Government?

Mr WATSON - I do not know. The Government have no reason to complain while there is a larger proportion of Opposition members than of Ministerial supporters present.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But our supporters have never walked out of the House in order that there should not be a quorum.

Mr WATSON - If an honorable member wishes to return to his home, he is surely at liberty to do so. The duty of maintaining a quorum rests primarily with the Government, and it is useless for any of their supporters to attempt to throw the responsibility for the recent count-out upon the Opposition.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member remember the evening when over twenty-five clauses in a certain Bill were passed, although there was not a quorum present? That was during the term of office of the late Government.

Mr WATSON - I have already referred to that ; but a quorum could have' been obtained.


Mr WATSON - I disagree with the honorable member. The PostmasterGeneral, as the Opposition whip, was always ready to make an arrangement with a view to economizing time in the. transaction of public business ; but , he takes care to point to the very instances where business was carried on, according to a pre-arranged plan, in the absence of a quorum, as evidence that a quorum was not then obtainable. It does not seem to me that there is anything to gain by our opposing the motion. I feel that a certain proportion of the business of the country, including the Estimates, must be passed, whether we have confidence in the Government or not. These Estimates are framed on lines of which 1 have generally approved. The late Government were, to some extent, responsible for their general preparation although they are not exactly as framed by us. There is no doubt that the finances of the country must be kept going, and, notwithstanding our lack of confidence in the Government, I do not think that we should be justified in taking steps to prevent the passing of these Estimates and the maintenance of the finances of the country in a proper condition.

Sir John Forrest - An Opposition never has any confidence in a Government.

Mr WATSON - I suppose that is the constitutional position of every Opposition. The authority for such an attitude comes from the people. T,he people whom we represent have no confidence in this Government, and it is our duty, whenever a reasonable opportunity offers, to show that that is so. I do not say, however, that my lack of confidence in the Government would lead me to go so far as to oppose the passing of the ordinary Estimates for the services of the Commonwealth. I have no objection to the motion, but I do not think that the Government can complain if some criticism is levelled at them in regard to the causes of the present position of business.

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