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Wednesday, 9 November 1904


Mr WATSON - Our honorable friends opposite, including the Minister of Home Affairs, cheer that statement, and yet the Minister is fully aware that only a few months ago, we had in this Chamber some of the most extraordinary exhibitions of stone-walling on his behalf, and on behalf of the present Prime Minister.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Never during the honorable gentleman's term of office.


Mr WATSON - Certainly not. I was anxious to get on with the business, and though at the time honorable members in opposition spoke for hours, the standing order which has been put in force to-night was not brought into operation.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We were fighting for abig principle.


Mr WATSON - The honorable member for Parramatta was one of those who stonewalled for hours, and yet no attempt was made to put him down. On this occasion, the honorable member for Gwydir was speaking for twenty minutes only, and honorable members will admit that he is capable of speaking for more, than twenty minutes without repeating himself.


Mr Reid - I rise to a point of order. I submit that it is not in order for the honorable gentleman to cavil at a decision of the Chairman.


The CHAIRMAN - The decision was a decision of the Committee.


Mr Reid - I am referring to the Chairman's original direction. The Chairman is charged with the duty of taking a certain course if an honorable member is guilty of tedious repetition. You, sir, have expressed the opinion that a certain honorable member had been guilty of that offence. The discretion in such a matter is vested in the Chair, and I hope that no charges will be made against the Chair unless upon some other motion. I submit that we are not at present discussing the conduct of the Chair. Mr. WATSON.- I think that my remarks were perfectly in order. I have a complaint to make - I do not say against the Chairman, as such, but against the Committee.

An Honorable Member. - The Committee supported the Chairman.


Mr WATSON - I think that the Committee did wrong, and I think the Chairman did wrong. In my opinion, the mere fact that the Chairman has taken the stand he did, is evidence that he has been too long in the Chair on the present occasion, and in his interests, the Committee should adjourn.


Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We can have a deputy-Chairman, and go on with the business.


Mr WATSON - Itis evident that something should be donewhen unprecedented action of the kind to which I have referred is taken. The standing order which has been enforced by the Chairman has practically been ignored by every other Chairman we have had. Tha short space of time occupied by the honorable member for Gwydir, in my opinion, constitutes a very good argument in support of objections to the course which has been adopted.


Mr Mcwilliams - The honorable member was warned two or three times of his repetitions.


Mr WATSON - I do not wish to discuss that aspect of the matter. It seems to me that there hasBeen a supersensitiveness apparent to-night, which has not been evident on other occasions. The Government might very well agree to an adjournment at this hour. There was nothing whatever to complain about in the debate during this afternoon, and I think the Government should have been 'prepared to agree to an adjournment at11 p.m., seeing that no stonewalling had been indulged in up to that time.

Honorable Members. - It had.


Mr WATSON - I did not notice it.


Mr Kelly - The honorable gentleman was not in the Chamber.


Mr WATSON - I was not here during a portion of the evening, nor was the honorable member's leader here at that time.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - An honorable member was speaking about the length of an officer.


Mr WATSON - That was long after the request for an adjournment had been refused.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The stonewalling had begun before that.


Mr McLean - I can assure the honorable gentleman there would have been no refusal to adjourn if obstruction had not been very apparent before that.


Mr WATSON - I remind the Minister of Trade and Customs that he said that he was not complaining, but desired to finish the Department under consideration.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was intimated by honorable members in Opposition that we might get to a vote to-morrow morning.


Mr WATSON - That was after the adjournment had been refused. The Minister of Trade and Customs refused to consent to an adjournment at about ten minutes to11 o'clock.


Mr McLean - I appealed to the Committee to pass the Estimates of this Department, but I did not at that stage refuse the adjournment.


Mr WATSON - I do not say that there was a technical refusal to adjourn, but at about twelve or ten minutes to 11 o'clock the honorable gentleman said that he had no reason to complain of what had happened up to that time, but he thought the Committee might very well pass the remaining portion of the Estimates of the Customs Department. I said that I had no objection to that being done, although I could not speak for other honorable members who might desire to discuss the Estimates. I mentioned that I would do what I could to get the Queensland portion of the Estimates through. I may mention that I have just been informed that four members on the Government side spoke on the Estimates between 7.30 p.m. and the request for the adjournment at about 10.45p.m. So far as I heard the debate during the afternoon, it was on an important matter of administration, and the time occupied could not be considered as wasted. The business of the House would have been facilitated by an adjournment at or about 11 o'clock. Honorable members have since naturally become somewhat irritated, and there has not been the progress we have a right to expect. I feel that if we areto get the business of the session done, especially in view of the Standing Orders in force in this House, it can only be by extending consideration to every member of the House.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is precisely what honorable members opposite have declared they will not do.


Mr WATSON - I have not noticed any absence of consideration on their part. If there had been any desire on their part to display a lack of consideration, it could have been shown this evening. The honorable member for Parramatta ought to know that his chief and other honorable members could not: have fulfilled their engagements' this evening if honorable members on this side had decided to harass the Government.


Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -What has that to do with it ?


Mr WATSON - It shows that there has been no desire on the partof honorable members on this side to harass the Government, and it also shows the unfairness of the honorable member for Parramatta in continually chargingus with obstruction when, as a matter of fact, we have shown reasonable consideration for the members of the Governmment. The conduct of public business would be served by an adjournment now. It does not strike me as a very likely way of insuring the rapid despatch of business that honorable members should be irritated as they have been to-night. With the utmost desire to have our business disposed of in a reasonable time, I strongly urge that we should be allowed to go home now, that we may take up our work tomorrow in a better frame of mind.


Mr REID - I should like the leader of the Opposition to recall a slightly more accurate view of the situation than he has expressed. I suppose the proposition will not be questioned that, no matter what Government is in power, it is in a special degree responsible for the conduct of public business. When I suggested to the Committee that we should finish the Estimates of this Department, as there was no important matter connected with them to be decided, the request was made that we should adjourn at 11 o'clock. I did not see my way to comply with that request, in view of the state of public business, the state of the Estimates, and the desire that we should finish this Department. Matters of principle connected with the latter portion of these Estimates have been debated in dealing with other votes, and yet, when I made my statement, the remark was made, "Well, we will sit after midnight."


Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - That remark came from the Government side.


Mr Watson - I think it was provoked by the honorable member for Corangamite.


Mr REID - I do not apprehend that the honorable member for Corangamite is anxious to throw difficulties in my way. The Opposition, as represented by the honorable member for Coolgardie, immediately indulged in a threat.


Mr Mahon - In response to threats made by honorable members sitting behind the Government.


Mr REID - It was impossible for me to accept dictation from honorable members of the Opposition. I will go further. The conduct of certain honorable members since 11 o'clock in connexion with an amendment moved by the honorable member for Kennedy, has been an intimation to the Committee which a child could interpret, of the deliberate intention - not of the Opposition, but of two or three irresponsible members of it - to prevent the transaction of public business, and to take the conduct of affairs out of the hands of the Government. A Government which would submit to that should not exist for a single day. The conduct of three honorable members has been an open, unashamed obstruction of public business.


Mr Mahon - I rise to order.


Mr REID - I withdraw the expression, to save time. The manner in which the honorable member for Kennedy spoke in support of his amendment, and the ludicrous details as to the personal appearance of the officer affected, such as whether he wore a beard or not, his height, baptism, and birth, discussed by the honorable member for Maranoa, were evidence of an intention to waste time, of which a child could see the significance. Then the honorable member for Gwydir, under the plea of opposing the amendment, joined the other two in their common, design - not to discuss the item, by objecting to the officeror the salary allotted to him, . which has been voted over and over again - but for a reason which those who have the progress of business at heart cannot appreciate - to hinder the consideration of the Estimates. I am not here to help those who wish to block public business, though I shall not lose my temper if other honorable members take a different view of their responsibilities. My usefulness as leader of the House would be absolutely gone if I allowed an honorable member, by means of a threat, to alter the mind of the Committee. Is it not strange that vigorous men, who have lived lives of healthy toil, should talk of being exhausted at 11 o'clock at night? Those members of the Committee who have been reared in the lap of luxury might complain of feeling languid, but surely members of the Labour Party, who possess a magnificent physique, earned by honest work, some of them in mines, hewing out the solid metal, hundreds of feet below the surface, cannot make that excuse, after the example of heroic activity which they have shown in travelling from one end of the Continent to another to attend public meetings. The people expect us to do our duty in regard to these Estimates. If honorable gentlemen insist on moving amendments for the sole purpose of blocking business, which they mayconsider a good purpose, I hope that other honorable members will listen to them in good temper ; but, surely, the Chairman must have the sympathy of every honorable member in the fearless and honest performance of his duty, without regard to party. If we each judged of his decisions as they affected us personally, it would be useless to have a Chairman.


Mr Webster - If party interests are to be considered, my rights are gone.


Mr REID - The honorable member is in a state of compressed excitement, which is dangerous ; but he, like all of us, must obey the Chair.


Mr Webster - I am ready to submit to a just judgment.


Mr REID - The honorable member is not to be the judge in his own cause. The Chairman has decided that his conduct came within the meaning of the standing order, and it is the duty of every honorable member to support the ruling of the Chair.


Mr Watson - Right or wrong?


Mr REID - Those who heard the honorable member for Gwydir, know that the decision of the Chairman was one which he was absolutely called upon to pronounce.


Mr Watson - That is bound to be said by those on the Government side of the Chamber.


Mr REID - The honorable member's manner was that of a condemned criminal. He was not speaking on the merits of the question in the magnificent way to which we are accustomed. There has been a design, to waste time, to which the Government cannot be a party. If the leader of the Opposition asks us to adjourn now, without doing any business, he invites us to allow the Committee to be fooled every night, at' the whim of two or three irresponsible members of his party, and I shall not agree to that. I do not care what task is placed upon our physical endurance, the moment the signal of defiance is run up, and an attempt is made to take the transaction of public business out of the hands of the Government, we are compelled to assume an attitude of resistance. I hope, however, that the Labour Party will not falsify the handsome compliments which I paid them before thev had tasted blood, and got entangled in the meshes of office. They are rapidly, imitating the most degenerate politics of Australia. What has become of their high regard for the public interest, and their disregard for the loaves and fishes of office? I hope that they will allow the Estimates for this Department to be passed. The Government have no desire to go further tonight ; but we must pass these Estimates if it takes a week to do so. If there is to be a trial of brute strength, the sooner it takes place the better.

Mr. MAHON(Coolgardie).- I regret 4ha.t it should have fallen to my lot to move that your ruling be dissented from, Mr. Chairman ; but I cannot allow it io pass unchallenged. I feel that ' a very serious error was made by you, and, without wasting time, or making use of a word that would give the slightest offence either to you or to any honorable gentleman opposite, I respectfully submit that your decision cannot be upheld by the Committee. Directly you had informed the Committee that the honorable member for Gwydir was guilty of tedious repetition under standing order 276, I rose to move that your ruling be dissented from, and you then told the Committee that what you had given was a decision, not a ruling. Standing order 276 reads as follows: -

The Speaker or the Chairman of Committees may call the attention of the House or the Committee, as the case may be, to continued irrelevance or tedious repetition, or the taking up of time by a speech of such unwarrantable length as to obstruct the business on the part of a member, and may direct such member to discontinue his speech-.

You ruled that your direction under that standing order is not a ruling which may be challenged by the Committee. I respectfully submit that it is, and in support of my position I refer you to standing order 228, which say's -

If any objection is taken to a .ruling or decision of the Chairman of Committees, such objection shall be stated at once "in writing, and may forthwith be decided by the Committee ; and the proceedings shall then be resumed where they were interrupted.

I am aware that dissent from the ruling of the Chairman must be made directly that ruling is given, and, therefore, I took the earliest opportunity to raise the question.


The CHAIRMAN - My direction to the honorable member for Gwydir was neither a ruling nor a decision.


Mr Watson - It must have been one or the other.


The CHAIRMAN - There was nothing to decide ; there was no question before the Chair. The Standing Orders provide for action on my part under such circumstances, without it being possible to raise a point of order, or to challenge my ruling.


Mr McDonald - This is the first time that such a ruling has been given in this Parliament


Mr Watson - I hope that it will be the last.


The CHAIRMAN - I warned the honorable member for Gwydir several times.


Mr MAHON - It is with great regret that I dissent from yOur ruling that your direction is unchallengeable. You declared that the honorable member for Gwydir had been guilty of continued irrelevance or tedious repetition within the meaning of standing order 276, and you directed him not to continue his speech, so that you actually gave two decisions. I feel considerably hurt, therefore, that you should, in defiance of the Standing Orders, refuse to receive my motion of dissent, and I take- this opportunity, in no spirit of ill-feeling, to protest against your decision. I hope that the earliest opportunity will be taken to obtain the opinion of the Speaker on the question. Every honorable member who has heard your ruling has been greatly astonished by it, and especially by your action in refusing to accept a motion of dissent upon it. If your ruling be correct, you and an accidental majority of one could dominate proceedings in Committee, and prevent honorable members on this side of the Chamber from being heard.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - So could the Speaker and an accidental majority of one dominate proceedings in the House.


Mr MAHON - If the ruling is a good one, the Speaker would be in the same position. I do not think that the ruling is sound. To me it appears contrary to common-sense and destructive of the traditional right of members of a British Parliament to the exercise of the utmost liberty of speech.







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