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Wednesday, 9 November 1904

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot recall the question.

Mr McDonald - I say that that never took place.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That settles the matter, I suppose. One begins to understand the intelligence at the back of this obstruction. I am surprised at the honorable member for Canobolas, who is usually a fair man in this Chamber. I could understand "stone-walling" on a big principle, such as the imposition of a new Tariff.

Mr Watson - Then I suppose the honorable member would be justified in " stonewalling " ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Any honorable member is justified in " stone-walling " a measure, if he thinks such a course in the public interest. That is a well recognised rule in a parliamentarysense; but are honorable members opposite following that rule now?

Mr Webster - Yes.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then one member, at any rate, says that the Estimates should be obstructed.

Mr Webster - That is unfair.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Estimates are the only question before the Housie - an officer's salary.

Mr Watkins - What khe honorable member for Gwydir said was that he was doing what the honorable member for Parramatta spoke of as correct.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have yet to learn that there is any sense in the drivelling inanities which are going on from night to night in connexion with the Estimates. I appeal to honorable members to be reasonable, and allow the Estimates to go through, so as to enable us to get into recess.

Mr Brown - Is the Government procedure going to attain that end?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not complaining of the time that was occupied on an important subject this afternoon. But it is a different matter when an honorable member moves an obstructive motion, and is followed by another honorable member who declares that he will give the Government a taste of what the Opposition can do.

Mr Brown - The sum of ,£200,000 had been voted before that occurred.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There, is no reason why the whole should not have been passed, seeing that there are no debatable items in the Estimates of the Department, That is proved by the item which has been picked out for discussion - the salary of an officer with whose salary there is no desire to interfere. If this had been a legitimate proposal, I could have understood it, but an honorable member first submits a motion, and then asks another honorable member to oppose it.

Mr McDonald - I never did.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member invited the honorable member for Maranoa to oppose the proposal.

Mr McDonald - The honorable member is quite wrong.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And the honorable member for Maranoa 'opposed the motion in a most obedient and docile way. It is patent that the present proceeding is for one purpose only, namely, to obstruct the passage of the Estimates, and thereby prevent the payment of the public servants.

The CHAIRMAN - The .honorable member for . Canobolas, and another honorable member have, in my opinion, endeavoured to place the responsibility for my action on the Government. I wish honorable members to understand that I accept fully and completely all responsibility. I am in a position in which I have a duty to perform; and it was only after careful consideration, without consulting anyone, and after warning the honorable member for Gwydir twice, that I took action. I regret very much that I was compelled to interfere; and after warning the honorable member twice, I would take the same course again under similar circumstances. I do not wish any one to be blamed for an action which I took on my own responsibility.

Mr. WEBSTER(Gwydir).- The course of events during the last hour is in my opinion unparalleled in the history of British Parliaments. I do not think that in any British Parliament any such power is relegated to the Chairman of Committees as that which has been exercised to-night.

Mr Johnson - What are the Standing Orders for?

Mr WEBSTER - The Standing Orders are absolutely out of accord with precedent if they are interpreted rightly by the Chairman. ' Standing Orders which govern debate in Committee, whether in New South Wales, or any other State, contain a provision under which an honorable member may be called upon to desist from speaking if, in the opinion of the Committee, by a certain specified, and not by a simple majority, he has transgressed. Yet, in the Parliament qf the Commonwealth, should we happen to have a partisan Chairman, backed up by a party with a solid majority, it would be possible for any honorable member against whom that Chairman had a strong feeling, to be called upon to cease speaking under any circumstances. When I was called to order I had been speaking for twenty minutes only upon a most important subject.

The CHAIRMAN - It was not a matter of time, as the honorable member must know.

Mr WEBSTER - I did not know it.

The CHAIRMAN - I told the honorable member so.

Mr WEBSTER - -Even so. I maintain even now that I had no intention of obstructing the business of the Committee or of repeating myself.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How. can the honorable member say that?

Mr WEBSTER - I cannot, in a matter of this kind, submit to the judgment of honorable members opposite. The honorable member for Parramatta has referred to obstruction and " stone-walling," and a number of other things, but he admitted at a former stage that the discussion which took place upon the question of the sugar bounties was of a perfectly legitimate character.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I had no objection to that.

Mr WEBSTER - The Prime Minister has nothing to complain about with regard to the manner in which the business has been conducted up to the present time. I cannot be justly accused of having delayed the progress of business, or of having indulged in unnecessary repetition. I spoke for only twenty minutes upon a perfectly legitimate motion, when I was called upon by the Chairman to cease speaking, on the ground that I was guilty of tedious repetition and continued irrelevance. The Standing Orders do not warrant the Chairman in assuming the character of a dictator, and I certainly shall not submit to humiliation at his hands. If his dictum is to be accepted, he could, with the assistance of a gagging majority, practically close the mouths of every member of the minority.

Mr Page - I desire to direct attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.]

Mr WEBSTER - To-day I addressed myself quite legitimately to the subject which was then under discussion. To-night, also, I took up a certain attitude, because I entertained the opinion that an unfair proposal had been made to reduce the salary of a Customs official.

Sir John Forrest - Rubbish !

Mr WEBSTER - I can scarcely credit that the right honorable member for Swan is so ungenerous as to refuse to accept my assurance.

Mr Reid - The honorable member knows nothing whatever about this particular officer.

Mr WEBSTER - Surely it is not necessary that I should be personally acquainted with every officer in the PublicService before I am at liberty to stand up and defend him. I had been speaking only twenty minutes when I was adjudged guilty of tedious repetition.

Mr Johnson - The honorable member has already said that a dozen times.

Mr WEBSTER - I do not intend to be dictated to by the honorable member for Lang. He seems to be rapidly developing into a dictator-general. I again ask the Prime Minister to agree to an adjournment! of the debate.

Mr Reid - I have been anxious to adjourn it for a long time. Let us first put' through two or three pages of the Estimates.

Mr WEBSTER - I am not responsible for the delay which has occurred. The Chairman alone is responsible. Will the Prime Minister agree to an adjournment oB the debate upon the Estimates when we have disposed of those relating to Queensland?

Mr Reid - The whole of the Estimates of the six States have been framed upon the same basis. We have passed thoserelating to three States without any objection being offered. Why not dispose of the other three?

Mr WEBSTER - It is now 2 o'clock in the morning, and if the Prime Minister remains obdurate, what will be the result?

Mr Reid - If I agreed to the suggestion of the honorable member we should pass the Queensland Estimates in two minutes, and it would only occupy four more minutes to pass those relating to the other two States.

Mr WEBSTER - I cannot admit that. No good can be accomplished by initiating all-night sittings. They are calculated to demoralize the Parliament, to undermine the health of honorable members, and to induce them to say things which do not redound to their credit.

Mr Reid - I will help the honorable member along if he will only trust me a little bit.

Mr WEBSTER - I am perfectly prepared to trust the Prime Minister. I regret that I have been the cause of an incorrect decision on the part of the Chairman, or of something worse than that.

The ACTING- CHAIRMAN (Mr. Batchelor). - Is the honorable member reflecting upon the Chair?

Mr WEBSTER - No; I am speaking of the Chairman who is now absent. These all-night sittings, I contend, are calculated to makehonorable members unreasonable towards one another. Personally, I believe that the Chairman was growing tired; that he was suffering from mental exhaustion, and that consequently he was induced to rule as he did. I think that he was sincerely desirous of doing his best to expedite the conduct of public business.

The ACTING - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Batchelor). - I think that the honorable member is reflecting upon the Chair.

Mr WEBSTER - These all-night sittings are productive of no good results. In future, I trust that the Prime Minister will allow the Committee to adjourn at a reasonable hour.

Mr. MAHON(Coolgardie).- We have heard a good deal of specious reasoning as to why the Committee should conclude the consideration of the Estimates relating to the Customs Department before progress is re ported. The Prime Minister has declared that there is no principle involved in them, inasmuch as the Estimates of two States were passed without any opposition. I would point out that if the Committee made a mistake in allowing those Estimates to pass without criticism, we shall be duplicating that mistake if we agree to the balance in the same way. I am surprised that so keen a logician as the Prime Minister should have attempted to mislead the Committee by such fallacies. Certainly, I could never subscribe to such a doctrine. As I remarked upon a previous occasion, the silence of honorable members opposite is extremely significant. I entertain a great regard for them, and I trust that I shall see them in another Parliament. However much honorable members desire to dodge a dissolution they will be compelled to face one very soon. It is just as well that they should recognise the dangers which confront them. The other day I was fortunate enough to discover that an Italian nobleman had been entertained by the Ministry at the public expense.

Mr Reid - That item is not upon these Estimates.

Mr MAHON - I would remind the Prime Minister that we are now discussing the motion that the Chairman shall leave the Chair. When we resume the consideration of the Estimates, I shall have a good deal to say upon the various items; but I now make another appeal to the Government to adjourn. We know that it is magnificent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it as a giant; and the Prime Minister, having a majority to-night, should be magnanimous.

Mr Reid - If we consent to adjourn now, will the honorable member promise to put the rest of the Estimates-in-Chief through at the next sitting?

Mr Thomas - All but the Post Office estimates.

Mr MAHON - I promise that, so far as I am concerned, I shall not object to the whole of the Customs and Treasury estimates going through at the next sitting. If that is done, I think we shall have made very good progress.

Mr Lonsdale - Can the honorable member speak for his party?

Mr MAHON - No, I only speak for myself. We differ only in our methods of arriving at the same result, and at this hour, with the greatest confidence in the magnanimity of the Government, I make another appeal to the Prime Minister to adjourn.

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