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Friday, 18 June 1915

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE (Flinders) . - The speech we have just listened to. from the Prime Minister is one which, perhaps, might, have been worthy of a leader of a political party addressing his own followers, but I think honorable members will agree that it was not a speech worthy the leader of the Commonwealth Parliament - the leader of Australia - in the greatest- national crisis . in its existence. I am not going to speak of the matters which the. Prime Minister referred to as having occurred, in the past. Surely the present, and the immediate future, contain problems sufficient for us without raking up party animosities arising out of what has been done long ago. What is the meaning of this amendment? It does not imply a refusal to permit the consideration of amendments to the Constitution. It is not directed against the introduction of these measures. It seeks that their discussion and consideration - involving as this does the most bitter political conflict that can possibly be raised in Australia at the present time - be postponed until adequate provision has been made by the united energies of the Government and the Parliament, for the successful prosecution of this war. The Prime Minister, in the course of his speech, referred - true, the reference waa made in language which was not a direct accusation - but his reference left the imputation that this amendment had been launched with a view of displacing the Government, and of enabling those who support the amendment to take their places. I think I am entitled to absolutely repudiate and resent that imputation, and I do so not only on behalf of myself, but on behalf of every member who sits on this side of the House.

An Honorable Member. - You have got no chance.

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - We do not want a chance just now. During the whole of this Parliament - and this is the only reference I shall make to the past - the Opposition has placed itself under the closest and most continuous restraint with regard to the actions of the Government. Time and again there have been opportunities which, under ordinary normal circumstances, would have been availed of, for pointing out what members of the Oppositon regarded as grave defects in the conduct and administration of matters arising out of the war. Buttime and time again these opportunities have been deliberately passed by by honorable members on this side. It is only when the Government, who, in this matter, are not acting as free agents - neither they nor the honorable members who support them are free, but are carrying out the express directions of a body which is superior to them and their supporters - say that they are now going to plunge Australia into what must be the bitterest political conflict that could possibly be aroused, that we as- an Opposition have considered it our duty, in the only way open to us, to ask the House to decide that the country shall not be plunged into internecine political warfare while our sons and brothers are dying on the battlefield. There is the simple issue, cloak it as you will; and there is not one honorable member on the Government side of the House who, if he were free, would not indorse such a statement of the case.

Mr Hughes - In what way does the honorable member say that we are not pledged to do this?

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - The AttorneyGeneral asks why I say that the Government in this matter are not free agents. Did not the honorable gentleman and his Leader, a week or two ago, leave on one side for a whole week the most important business of this country, in order that they might attend a Conference in Adelaide to receive the directions of their political supporters? And when, they came back, did not the honorable member and his Leader deliberately alter the order of procedure which they had set out for this House, and introduce, at the bidding of those supporters, the particular measure now before us ?

Mr Hughes - No! Emphatically no ! There is no truth in what the honorable member says.

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - I did not " say " anything; I simply asked a question; and, although the ordinary rules of courtesy in this House prevent me from expressing my disbelief in any thing that is actually said here, I, like every member of the public, am entitled, notwithstanding the Attorney-General's denial, to form my own conclusion as to the necessary inference to be drawn from the facts. What is the present position? It is one of the defects of the system under which my honorable friends opposite conduct their parliamentary proceedings, the system by which they are appointed, and through which they gain their places in this House, that they are given, from time to time, general sailing orders by a political Conference. They have now placed over them a political executive, the object of which, as stated in the motion published in the press, is to see that the resolutions and objectives of the Conference are carried out by the Labour party in this Parliament. One of the objectives of that Conference is the immediate introduction of these Bills. The Attorney-General now wishes to appear as a free, responsible Minister, acting upon his own judgment in introducing this Bill.

Mr Hughes - I say that emphatically.

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - The more emphatically the honorable member makes his denial, the more it comes into striking contrast with the facts) as we know them. The Government, acting under the directions of a political Conference which was held some weeks ago, and which itself was composed of representatives who had been appointed some little time before, are now placing these Bills before Parliament, in order to carry into effect a resolution affirmed. I believe, some considerable time ago. I want to show the Government that they are blind if theydo not see that, even within the short space of time that has elapsed since this Conference was held, a complete change-' has come over the spirit of the people - that a complete change has come over the views of a large number of those who placed the Labour party in power. I read this from a hundred different signs. I know it from my own personal experience. Less than a week ago, I had the privilege of addressing a huge gathering consisting, as I am assured, and firmly believe, to a large extent of people who are either direct supporters of, or sympathizers with, the Labour party in this Parliament. .And I can assure honorable members that that gathering was unanimous and most enthusiastic in the determination that there should be an end to this wretched party conflict until the war is over. The Prime Minister made the statement that this Government had done all they could to aid the Mother Country ; that they had given to the Mother Country kindly and sympathetic consideration. Good heavens! are we blind? Are honorable members opposite blind to the danger which hangs over us at the present moment? The Leader of the Opposition has sketched the present position in Europe. Let me deal a little further with it. Any one who reads the newspapers can see that, on the Eastern war frontier, the power of Russia to actively participate for the present in any serious blow against the coalition of our enemies is either broken or being broken, and that before long the 700,000 or 800,000 enemy troops who are in one part of the Galician movement will be thrown back to aid the Germans in their attack upon our own men in Flanders. In addition to that, we must not lose sight of the fact that the cable news which we read in the papers from day to day has been censored, and that what is more, everything is put in the most favorable light to us. That cannot be denied. Our own men who are fighting in the Dardenelles are backing up an almost impossible position. They are calling to us.

Mr Hughes - I cannot think of any speech more calculated to hearten the Germans in their business than this speech by the honorable member.

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - I hurl that accusation back in the honorable member's teeth. If the Attorney-General and his party persist in throwing down this bone of contention, they and their Government will fall under the imputation of not being sincere in carrying on this war. The honorable member knows this and knows it well. Do we not also know that an efficient censorship has been provided in order to enable us here to speak the truth concerning matters affecting the welfare of Australia without danger of information being given to the enemy? The only reasonable conclusion that we can draw from the facts is that the result of this war hangs in the balance, and that we are now at the most critical point in the most dangerous war that has ever threatened our safety. And yet the Prime Minister talks in this way of the Mother Country! What stake has the Mother Country, great as it is, compared with the stake that we in Australia have ? Is there an honorable member opposite who will venture to suggest that if we are beaten in this war Australia will not come under the domination of Germany?

Mr Thomas - Does the honorable member think that the passing or non-passing of these Referenda Bills will decide the great issues of the war?

Sir WILLIAM IRVINE - I do not. It is well-known that I personally would go a long way towards the object that the Government have in view in the desire to enlarge the powers of the Federal Parliament. The passing or non-passing of these referenda proposals, when they are ultimately submitted to the people, will, have no effect on the war. But this invitation to the whole of the people of Australia to engage in what we all know will be a bitter political conflict, will have a> very deleterious effect on Australia's share of the war. That is my answer to the honorable member.

Several honorable members interjecting,

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