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Friday, 18 June 1915

Mr SPEAKER -It is quite evident from the interjections across the chamber that there is a little excitement this morning. I appeal to honorable members not to continue in that strain, because it will compel me to take very severe action, which I do not desire to do. I ask honorable members on both sides of the House to assist me in maintaining order.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - One grows accustomed to these taunts from honorable members on the Ministerial side in relation to this matter; therefore, one interjection here and there does not matter very much. I rise this morning to do my duty as I conceive it, and although there has been no formal consultation to decide on the steps to be taken - I desire that to be distinctly understood - I believe that in the amendment I have moved I am interpreting the sentiments of the bulk of the honorable members on this side of the House.

Opposition Members. - Hear, hear! .

Mr JOSEPH COOK - And I believe I am voicing the sentiments of at least half the members on the Government side.

Mr Fenton - You are speaking for the Employers Federation.


Mr JOSEPH COOK - I desire to urge reasons why this party strife should not be entered upon in this Chamber at the present crisis in the Empire's history. Assuredly any one reading the newspapers must be impressed with the gravity of the international situation, but beyond all else there comes to us from over the seas a call to suspend party politics and concentrate our united energies on the prosecution of the war to a successful conclusion. That is the supreme matter of national safety.

In the first place I ask myself whether the Constitution ought to be amended when 60,000 citizens are at the war, and unable to vote.

Mr Fenton - They will vote at the front.

Several honorable members interjecting,

Mr SPEAKER - I again appeal to honorable members to discontinue these interjections. The honorable member for Parramatta has appealed to me for protection against this continuous interruption. If honorable members persist in these tactics I shall be obliged to take a course to prevent further disorder of the kind.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Honorable members on the Government side have fought many valiant battles to acquire for the people of Australia the right to determine, without let or hindrance, their own destiny as far as it is possible for them to do so under the laws of the country in which we live, but there is the outstanding fact that 60,000 of our citizens have left these shores to fight for the safety of the remainder in Australia, and by these proposals the Government are submitting the most supreme of all questions, the Constitution which governs them as well as us, and which fixes the destiny of all of us, to a referendum of the people in the absence of those soldiers, and without affording them the privilege of voting on the issue. Surely that is a complete subversion of democratic rule and principle. Moreover it is a political crime of the deepest dye against those brave fellows who are fighting at the front. Ought the Constitution to be amended in the absence of 60,000 of our citizens who are fighting for their lives, and, above all, for our lives? Is it treating those soldiers fairly to persevere with these proposals at this time? The 4,000,000 people living at home in safety are asked to decide this great issue in the absence of the 60,000 who are at the front helping to keep the fire-sides of the 4,000,000 warm and safe. I care not of what complexion the absent vote may be. Honorable members opposite claim that it would be a labour vote. Let it be so; I am not concerned with that point, but I am concerned with the fact that 60,000 men are deprived of the right to vote, and were not told that in their absence the Constitution would be altered, and made a different sort of instrument altogether. That is my first indictment against this procedure of the Government - that on democratic grounds these men have as much right to be consulted in the alteration of our Constitution as we who are still in the country have.

Mr Sampson - There will be 100,000 there before the Bill is through.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - If what we are told is correct, before these Bills are submitted, there will be 80,000 soldiers away from these shores. Is this procedure fair to them?

Mr Hughes - Provision was made for the Canadians who were at the front to vote, and they did vote.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - Do honorable members think that it is possible to make provision for voting in the trenches?

Mr Hughes - The Canadians were in the trenches, and they did vote.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I simply do not believe it.

Mr Hughes - You mean to say that I am telling a lie; but they did.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I say that I do not believe that they were able to vote. In the meantime all we are doing in Australia is to talk about the reconstruction of a house while the house is burning. Is this the time to be tinkering with its reconstruction - with its alteration here and there in detail? Surely the first thing you should do is to get the fire engines, and to devote all your energies to putting the fire out. Then, afterwards, you may do what you will with its structural position.

If there be one man more than another who sees the light in this respect it is the Attorney-General, who is in charge of these Bills. No man saw it more clearly than he did a little while ago. I cannot do better than quote his language.

Mr Riley - You could not see it then.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - That was at a time when there was no Parliament in existence, when it was not possible to do what he suggested. Now it is possible. There is a Government, there is a Parliament, and all we are asking is that this Parliament should concentrate its energies upon the supremest of all questions, putting away these considerations until we are able to devote ourselves to them without the intrusion of the war. On the 11th. August, the Attorney-General stated -

For the time being there is but one issue-

It was not this issue either. It is clear what the one issue was -

For the time being there is but one issue - the war, and upon this we are united. We cannot criticise. What then remains. How can Mr. Cook consult us and we co-operate with him, and at the same time go on with party warfare. We cannot at once have party warfare and united action.

Mr Hughes - Hear, hear! What did you say to that?

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I said to that what I say now.

Mr Hughes - I will read what you said on the first occasion.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I wish you would. Then the Attorney-General went on -

We cannot go on to the platform and denounce the Government, and at the same time work with the Government. The choice lies between party and the welfare of the nation. It rests with Mr. Cook to make his choice. He says party strife must continue throughout the Empire. His is the only voice that says so.

I say that, throughout the Empire today, his - the Attorney-General's of Australia - is the only voice that says party strife must continue. May I in this connexion call honorable members' attention to the weighty words of the Imperial Prime Minister, which came to us only yesterday, and I want to put the two statements in contrast because they seem to me to so completely put the setting of things as we are seeing them to-day, after ten months of war? If things were serious then, and the honorable member was so anxious to stop party strife, so anxious to help us to do everything in the prosecution of the war, surely matters are even more serious to-day. . Speaking in the light of this graver situation, Mr. Asquith uses this language -

I come reluctantly to think that there should be a' broadening of the basis of Government, so as to remove even a semblance of a one-sided party character. That would demonstrate to our people at Home, our fellow-subjects across the seas, to our Allies and enemies, as well as neutrals, that the British people were more resolute than ever in their one aim and purpose.

Mr. Asquithstates also that they were determined to obliterate all distinctions untilevery personal and political, as well as moral and material, force was devoted to the prosecution of the Empire's cause.

The Prime Minister of Great Britain stated, in fact, that the national emergency demanded the unreserved and whole-hearted co-operation of all parties.

Its Government was reconstructed, so as to intimate to the British people over the seas that there was not a shred of party difference in Great Britain. Everything savouring of party has been put away. Everything is being concentrated with the one object of effectively prosecuting the war.

Contrast this with the statement of our Prime Minister. He says -

We are not here as children playing in a dangerous place.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear !

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am glad to have that confirmation of his attitude.

We are not here as children playing in a dangerous place, likely to be attacked by the enemy. If we do not exercise our power and authority whilst we are practically at peace, when shall we?

That was a scandalous statement for the Prime Minister to make, but the Prime Minister repeats it here, and now.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear!

Mr JOSEPH COOK - And I tell him to his shame and scandal-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must not use language of that description, and I ask him not to repeat it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I withdraw it. I ask the House to look at this statement. Are we practically at peace? Is this the attitude of the Government? Is it the attitude of the party behind the Government that we are practically at peace? And that there is no let or hindrance to our proceeding with our ordinary party programmes and party propaganda? Here is the statement, repeated and emphasized this morning, that there is no danger - that we are practically at peace, and, therefore, that we should not be obsessed, as the Attorney-General was nine months ago, with the one idea of the war, but that our first business here should be the perpetuation of party conflict, puttingthis great national war as far into the background as possible. I should like our men in the trenches to hear this statement by the Prime Minister. They would tell him a different tale.

Mr Fisher - Hear, hear!

Mr Richard Foster - They are like a lot of heathens.

Mr SPEAKER - I have appealed several times to honorable members to refrain from interjecting; but various expressions continue to be hurled across the chamber. I ask honorable members to desist, and give them timely warning that if they persist in disregarding my request, I shall probably hear, in an official sense, one or two of these interjections.

Mr Higgs - I desire, Mr. Speaker, to draw your attention to an objectionable epithet applied by the honorable member for Wakefield to the Prime Minister.

Mr Richard Foster - To the whole of the Government side.

Mr Higgs - The honorable member used the word "heathens."

Mr Fisher - I accept it.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Wakefield himself admits that he used this expression, which I did not officially hear, and I ask him to withdraw it.

Mr Richard Foster - I made use of the expression as applied to the whole of the other side, bub I withdraw it.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member has now committed an offence against the Standing Orders, and after what I have said I shall name him.

Mr Fisher - I understood the honorable member to withdraw the remark.

Mr SPEAKER - I had just appealed to the honorable member to withdraw the expression, and as an old parliamentarian he must recognise that his second offence was a thousand times worse than the original one. I tell honorable mem bers on both sides that if they defy the direction of the Chair I shall take a course that will prevent any recurrence of such conduct. The honorable member for Wakefield in the further statement that he made was insulting not only to me, but to the whole House.

Mr Richard Foster - As a matter of personal explanation-

Mr SPEAKER - There can be no debate.

Mr Joseph Cook - But this is entirely a misunderstanding.

Mr Higgs -The honorable member for Wakefield has been named.

Mr SPEAKER - I am quite capable of dealing with these matters without the assistance of honorable members. If the honorable member for Wakefield wishes to apologize for his conduct I am prepared to withdraw from the position I have taken up, but unless he does so gracefully and properly I shall not.

Mr Richard Foster - I stated distinctly to you, Mr. Speaker, when you said that you did not hear the interjection, thatI made it, that it applied to the other side, and that I withdrew it.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member withdrew in a way that was practically a defiance of the Chair.

Mr Kelly - No.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member for Wakefield has not done the right thing, and I name him for the action he has taken.

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