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Thursday, 29 April 1915

Mr ANSTEY (Bourke) .- I should like to know from the Minister in charge of the Bill whether the following statement, which appears in to-night's Herald, is correct -

Members of the Federal Ministerial (Labour) party are now said to be in general agreement with the provisions of the Amend ing War Precautions Bill, which have been the subject of much adverse criticism from the Government supporters in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

At the usual weekly caucus of the party today, consideration was given to the clauses which some members have declared unnecessarily subordinate civil rights to military power. Mr. A. Fisher, the Prime Minister, said subsequently that much of the criticism arose from misunderstandings, and that these had been cleared up. It was shown that the latent power was always with the civil executive. He did not think that any amendments of the measure would be necessary.

I have had a very pleasant day, I have just risen from an excellent meal, I have given this subject mature consideration, and I see no reason for altering the opinions which I expressed in the debate last night. To my mind, there is no necessity, and no justification, for the provisions of the clause, and if I can obtain support' I shall press my objection to the provision. Last night the AttorneyGeneral was being advised from this side of the House, and by the honorable member for Angas and others on the Opposition side, until at length he said, " I wish I had not so many friends to advise me." His remark reminded me of a passage in Byron's Don Juan. The hero was asked, " Have you no friends?" and his reply was, " I had some, but, thank God, I have lost them." That seems to be virtually my position. Those who were supporting me last night have, in the interval, been ground through the mill. The honorable member for Parramatta asked me, and those who were then supporting me, why we were so fearful of a military despotism, and why we made charges against the military officials. Let me say that no one has a higher respect than I have for those who go forth to fight the battles of their country, no matter how humble their rank, or exalted their position. I hold in far higher estimation those who have taken the risk of life and limb to serve the interests of their country than I hold the platform patriots, who urge others to do what they are not prepared to do themselves. It is not because I am opposed to me military that I oppose the clause; it is because I am opposed to the giving of absolute power to a few men. I would object to such a measure were those to whom this power was to be intrusted my dearest friends, or the associates of years. I object to the giving of absolute power except in the most extreme emergency.

Crises come in the history of nations and of individuals. There are periods of history in which nationalities must war against others to their very existence. There are times when, to save from disaster a vessel buffeted by the wind and the waves, all on board must be subject to one intelligence and will; when there must be no discussion or argument, but implicit obedience to the orders of one person alone that all may be saved. The hour of supreme crisis may have dawned for the Old Country and for countries of Europe, but has not yet dawned for Australia. The honorable members for Parramatta and Kooyong are in the same boat with the Ministry, but I occupy a very different position. Last night the honorable member for Flinders said, " This Bill gives enormous powers," and he added thathe could not imagine any circumstances which would necessitate their exercise. He said that he would like to know what circumstances would require their exercise. That was a plain question asked from the standpoint pf Toryism. I ask it from the standpoint of working Democracy. It is an instance of extremes meeting. The members of the British House of Lords showed their hostility to this provision because they recognised the glorious love of liberty which is traditional with the British race, and felt that only under the most extreme emergency should that liberty be violated. The Ministry and the honorable members for Parramatta and Kooyong say that the Bill does not give new powers, but merely sets forth powers that they already possess. I have denied that. I hold with the honorable member for Flinders that the Bill gives new and extremely wide powers. It gives the power to make regulations, and by regulations you can bring within the scope of the military authorities all civil liberties. You can put an end to the liberties of the people, if you will, under the excuse that that is necessary in the public interest. I ask, " What are the powers that are demanded ? What is the need for them, and to what extent are they to be used?" I am told that Ministers do not know of any circumstances under which they are needed, of any evil that they are designed to meet. In the Old Country they live within the sound of the cannon. Bombs have been dropped on country villages which for long centuries had not felt the blow of a foreign foe. There the emergency possibly has arisen. Yet the House of Lords, in spite of its aristocratic instincts, has maintained the glorious traditions of the race to which we belong, and refuses to allow to be put into operation provisions to which the Labour party here has given its adherence. A week ago the Age said that this Bill confers enormous powers.

Mr Joseph Cook - So far from that being the case, I understand that it embodies the results of the criticisms of the House of Lords.

Mr ANSTEY - Does it?

Mr Joseph Cook - So I understand.

Mr ANSTEY - We have that statement. Even supposing that we have the Bill with limitations imposed by the House of Lords, while it may meet the objection of the honorable member and his party, how can it meet the attitude of the men with whom I am associated to-day? Men who claim to be Radicals in politics find that the framing of their Bills has to be done, not in accordance with the Radical instincts of the working classes of this country, but in accordance with propositions carried through the House of Lords. That is the position. How do honorable members justify the fact that they are not one step in advance of the British aristocracy to-day; that they are going backwards; that they are not acting in accordance with their own needs and instincts, not in accordance with the principles and fundamentals of a movement with which we are supposed to be allied ; and that they have to go to the Old Country and its aristocracy to know how Democratic they should be? It is said that thisBill confers enormous powers on the naval and military authorities. In many respects it constitutes the Defence Department the sole administrator of justice throughout the Commonwealth. Has that been denied ? Is there any honorable member on this side - and we all attained to our positions by the votes of the working democracy - who will stand on the floor of this Chamber and deny that this measure makes the Defence Department the sole administrator of justice throughout the Commonwealth ? The clause goes on to say that the methods of the military tribunal shall be brought into a closer approximation with the forms and principles of civil law; but we do not do anything of the kind. Every five minutes yesterday it was stated clearly and distinctly that the Bill does not embody any new principles. We were assured that it was exactly what the Bill was eight months ago. We were told that we were called upon to give our adherence to something to which we gave our adherence then, and the honorable member for Parramatta said that the Bill was. a. mere repetition or a mere reiteration. Are we asked to believe that we are called upon here to occupy the time of the country with mere repetition and mere reiteration ? In the clause we are now considering there is not a single line, from the beginning to the end, which is not absolutely something new to be embodied in the existing law. The clause provides -

An offence against this Act may be prosecuted either summarily or upon indictment-

It says that there shall be certain offences which may be prosecuted in a summary manner, and certain other offences which may be prosecuted upon indictment. It lays down the penalty for an offence; it states clearly and distinctly the processes of the Court; and, in a line, it goes on to say that an offence may be prosecuted " if the regulations so provide by court martial." Can any honorable member conceive of a Bill presented to Parliament which sought to so cajole the judgment of its members - a measure under which, if it be passed to-night, to-morrow the military authorities may proceed to make regulations which will nullify every provision of the Act? This clause says that certain offences may be prosecuted summarily, and certain other offences by certain processes of indictment. Let honorable members read the clause and examine it for themselves. It is clear that the day after the measure is passed the Executive Government can make a regulation which will say that those things shall not be done, and that everything which comes within its scope shall be within the purview of a court martial. Further down it says that certain other provisions will protect the civil rights of the working classes, and then, cunningly, another clause provides that the Government can take away that protection by a mere proclamation. Is not that an evidence of its mala fides? .If there is anything genuine about the whole matter, why should we not lay down clearly and distinctly what we mean ? Why should we with one hand give a protection and with the other hand enable the military authorities to take it away ? We are told that this provision is designed for the preservation of public safety. Now, what is the preservation of the public safety ? Let me read a few extracts to show the situation which is dawning in Australia, and we are told that it is not dissimilar from that which is occurring in England. Let me see what is the position since, under some of the regulations, the authorities can take away the rights of ordinary civilians, can multiply offences, create any crime they like, and impose any penalty they like. They can take a case to an ordinary military tribunal; they can bring in the prisoner; they can condemn him, and from that court there is be no appeal. But, says the Daily Express of the 21st January -

Just as it is the duty of the Government to maintain an efficient well-nurtured army and navy -

Do honorable members believe that? Do they believe that it is the duty of a country to maintain a well-nourished Army and Navy ? They will not speak. Said the Daily Express - so it is equally its duty to take every possible means to maintain the food supply of the civilian population-.

Do honorable members believe that? Right ! They give an endorsement to it. Thanks for that much. Then, said the Yorkshire Miners' Manifesto, throughout last January -

And not one step has been taken by the Government to safeguard Labour against the employers, though Government has spent fabulous sums safeguarding the owners against war.

The Weekly Echo said -

The war is a life and death struggle, in which every ounce of energy will be required to win. ironically, the people are saying, " How can the nation put forth all its strength if its vitality is to be artificially sapped by the legalised highwaymen who are deliberately holding up the foodstuffs?"

On the 22nd January the Clarion made this comment -

To the perils that beset this nation is now added the deadly canker of treason. Britain is fighting for her life against the most formidable enemy she has ever known, and this time of supreme test and peril is being exploited for greed of gain by powerful knaves within our gates whose devilish treachery threatens to stir the people to revolution.

On the 24th January Reynolds's Newspaper wrote -

That we should, on the one hand, call for men to leave their homes to do duty in sodden trenches or man our ships, and on the other hand allow the dependants of those men to be bled and robbed by the vampires whose wealth the men are protecting, would be unspeakably comic if it were not an unutterable shame.

So the situation which exists in England is the situation with which we are confronted in Australia to-day. Again, said Reynolds's Newspaper of the 31st January -

It is an ironical picture.

And I present this to you, sir, and to the members of the Labour party, as a picture which is as true of Australia today as it is of the Old Country -

It is an ironical picture for a patriotic nation to reflect upon, and a still more ironical picture for the husbands and fathers at the front to fight upon. But it is just what every decent-minded Briton in England to-day is thinking and brooding over with intensified feelings that will brook little further delay from this or any other Government. "It is not," they say, "the blood heroically shed in the great cause that hurts the most.a It is the stomach plunder at Home by men o'f our own race that hurts the most, more especially in the case of the kiddies, who are to fill, in a few years' time, the places of the men now giving up their lives to their country."

In a few months we are going out to ask the people of Australia to pass referenda proposals enabling us to cope with the food monopolists of this country; to handle the sugar monopoly, the tobacco monopoly, and the men who make big profits out of fodder, butter, and wheat. We are going to ask the people to give us power to suppress the evils in connexion with the foodstuffs of the people. Here, iu a great National emergency, where it is an absolute requisite to maintain a wellnurtured Army and Navy, whence 70,000 Australians have marched forth to battle, leaving their wives and children behind, and where men who claim to be of our race and blood are taking advantage of the opportunity to raise the price of fodder for cattle and of food for human beings, we, the members of the Labour party, talk of taking precautions against traitors ! Who are they ? Are the traitors those who are ready to give direct help to the Germans or those who take advantage of the situation to raise prices? What are we, as a party, if we do not take full advantage of the powers we have to deal with a great emergency ? What are we if we do not come here and say, " We shall cope with the grievances within our own boundaries?" Who are the traitors to the British race?

Who are the enemies to the great supremacy of the Empire if it is not those men who, in the hour of National emergency, are seeking what they pan make out of it? Before I come back to the question, let me read an extract from a newspaper which, mark you, is not a revolutionary journal, not one of the red-rag brigade, but one which from beginning to end is filled with a desire to animate the British race to that glorious supremacy which has prevailed for long centuries. It describes how the manufacturers, the Cadburys and others, have exported 16,500,000 lbs. of cocoa through Holland to feed German troops, as against 3,500,000 lbs. in the corresponding period of 1913; it shows how these buccaneers of our race, who talk of their patriotism, have exported 20,000,000 lbs. of tea to the enemy, as against 2,000,000 lbs. in the corresponding period of 1913. I propose to read this extract because it is true to-day. What applies to the Liberal Government in England applies to the Labour Government in Australia. If this is an argument against a Liberal Government in England, it is equally au argument against a Labour Government in Australia. If we are true to our ideals; if we believe ourselves to be something distinct from honorable members on the other side, let us show the difference in our acts and deeds, and put our views into force.

Mr Watt - What newspaper do you propose to quote from?

Mr ANSTEY - -Reynolds's Newspaper. There is not a sentiment in that newspaper which cannot be taken out of every other English newspaper. Whether you take the Tory Baily Express, the Yorkshire Post, the Daily Chronicle, or the Clarion, edited by Blatchford, everything it contains on this subject is a mere repetition of the few lines I am going to read, and I hold that our Government stands in exactly the same position in regard to the working classes as does the Liberal Government in England. Tt says -

They have enlisted in numbers that have staggered the conscriptionists. They have laboured superhumanly in the national interests; and what have they seen happening around them? First they saw the railway shareholders safeguarded by a Government guarantee of full dividends based on the rate of a record year; they saw the banks secured at we know not what a colossal price to the taxpayers; they saw the shipping interests helped by the Government in regard to insurance; they saw contractors being given huge prices for work that was a disgrace. All round them they saw the commercial and financial interests, they saw money receiving help from the national coffers, and for themselves they listened to continual appeals for patriotism and sacrifice. Then, as if the open scattering of national wealth among the profiteers was not enough, there came the conscienceless throttling of the workers by the food and fuel exploiters; and still the Government left Labour to the mercies of whoever could grapple it by the throat.

Where are we to-day? Do honorable members mean to say that we stand here to-day as a party and have no power? Does any one dare to make that state ment ?

Mr Watt - Do you mean to imply that this Government is doing the same thing as Reynolds's Newspaper says is being done elsewhere ?

Mr ANSTEY - That is exactly where it stands. It comes here to pre. serve the interests of money. It comes here with the indorsement of the banks. For twenty long years we have said that the struggling working men were subjects of a system of exploitation and public robbery. But how do we, in this hour of National crisis, act? We simply say, "It is not we, but others who have saved the country. Thanks to the banks, the situation has been saved," and the Minister of Defence says, " I have to thank the mercantile community for the manner in which they have come to the rescue of the country." No more shall we be able to argue against them upon the platform. The banks, God bless them ! have saved us, not our members, not our policy. But God bless the banks!

Mr Hughes - How is all this relevant to the Bill?

Mr ANSTEY - Of course it is relevant, because the matter is one that affects the preservation of the public safety. The Government will be given power to deal with any commodity that it thinks fit. But the point I wish to emphasize is, the Government, under its war legislation, has had the power to apply the social and economic principles upon which the party stands. From the very hour that the war started, the Government could, in the interests of the public safety, have checked the exploiters in their operations in the foodstuffs of the working classes. It could have dominated the Sugar Trust; it could have applied the Act against butter, wheat, and every - thing else.

Mr Watt - You are not advising your party, under the pretext of war, to violate the Constitution, are you ?

Mr ANSTEY - In the American Constitution, upon which ours is based, the war provisions are of the most elastic character. Abraham Lincoln on one occasion, when somebody put the question to him as to whether their operation was not a breach of the Constitution, asked, " Do you know any one who in this hour of national trouble is prepared to take out an injunction ? If you do, see that he goes to the concentration camp before he gets his injunction." The maintenance of national existence and the securing for the civil population of all the necessaries of life is one of the most important duties imposed upon us during war time.

Mr Watt - You are going further than that. You are advocating the socialization of industry under the guise of war.

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