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Thursday, 24 June 1915

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must confine himself to the proposal before the Chair.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I am going to do that. But I hope I am entitled to show reasons why the second reading should not be entered upon.

Mr SPEAKER - Will the honorable member resume his seat? I desire to make my position in this matter clear, so that there will be no misunderstanding. When the proposal asking for leave to introduce the Bill was before the House, I allowed the fullest possible freedom of debate. I did not stop any member from roaming where he liked in order to show reasons why the Bill should not be introduced. Since then, however; leave has been given to introduce certain Bills. Not only has the leave been given, but the Bills have been read a first time. Now, this measure is brought forward for the second time, and it is for the House to say whether they approve of what is contained in the Bill on second-reading debate, not whether some matter outside the Bill shall be discussed. If I allowed that discussion to take place, I can readily see that within a short time a discussion might arise on the war, and the Bill would practically cease to be under consideration: '

Mr Watt - Is it not competent for an honorable member to give reasons why [157] the Bill should not now be read a second time? Notwithstanding the fact that the House has given leave for the introduction of the measure, and has advanced it to this stage, an honorable member should ba in order in showing why it should not be proceeded with further.

Mr SPEAKER - The Standing Orders prescribe modes for dealing with the motion for the second reading. I cannot allow a general discussion on the war instead of on the measure before the House.

Mr Joseph Cook - Would it not have been better to wait until a general discussion on the war had begun than to interrupt me in this way?

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must not talk in that way to the Chair. Were I to allow him to proceed otherwise, I should have to treat every other honorable member in the same way.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I assure you, sir, that I do not, and did not, wish to discuss the war. I have been in Parliament for a quarter of a century, but lately I cannot rise to discuss any question' without my speech becoming a dialogue with the Chair. I very much regret this.

I was proceeding to say that I do not think that the discussion of the second reading of the Bill should take place at the present time because of "what is happening outside. These proposals for the alteration of the Constitution have been twicebefore Parliament, and have been twice rejected by the country. Unquestionably, they are most far-reaching, ' and, in my judgment, transcend in importance any other proposal that could be brought' before the Chamber. I submit that proposals for the amendment of our charter^ having to do with the division of powers between the Commonwealth and the States - always a delicate and difficult matter of negotiation - ought to be considered in an atmosphere in which war cries are not heard, and when honorable members are not perturbed by what is taking place in other parts of the world. We ought to discuss proposals of this kind in a calm atmosphere, and at a time when we can give them our undivided attention. It is not fair to. the country to force their consideration now, and to force the measures through, as the Government are evidently bent on doing. It is no time to consider the re-allotting of the powers of the Commonwealth and of the States when We must concentrate every ounce of energy upon other matters of infinitely more consequence. The great outstanding question at this moment is not whether the Constitution should be amended, but how we can prevent the molestation of a foe which would utterly destroy it. I protest against the House and the country being plunged into party strife at a time when war is being waged . across the seas.

I take the view that we in this Parliament are under a contract with the men away in the trenches.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is now going beyond my ruling.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - I assure you, sir, that I am not. We are under a contract with those in the trenches to take no step which will interfere with the preparations for continuing the war, and I submit that we may not discuss the Constitution in the way in which we are proposing to discuss it here and now without distracting the mind of the people from the greatest and most pressing of all duties, and without breaking faith with our soldiers. My point throughout is that we ought to consider proposals for the amendment of the Constitution, not in mere intervals between party squabbles and preparation's for war, but when we are free to devote to it the "whole of our attention, ability, intellect, and patriotism, and when there is nothing to prevent the full and calm consideration of the subject. That is the position I take up, and it is the position of those who support me. We feel, also, that we are under an obligation to respond to the appeal made by the Prime Minister of Great Britain the otherday, when he radically altered his own course to intimate to the people overseas that at this time there should be no political division, no party strife. We feel under an obligation to respond to that invitation, in the only way that Parliameat can do so, by leaving over all controversial matter until a more convenientseason. I propose to move an amendment embodying this view. It is this -

That all the words after the word "That" be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof, the following words: - "this Bill be not proceeded with at the present time, as it is expedient and necessary, in tin: interests of Australia and the Empire, that during the continuance of the terrible state of war now raging, there should be a cessation in Parliament of all party conflict, and that measures absolutely necessary for the most strenuous prosecution of the war, and for the proper administration of public business, should alone be dealt with."

We decline, as a party, to take any further part in the debate now proceeding.

Mr SPEAKER - There are statements in the proposed amendment that I cannot accept as part of an amendment of the question that the Bill be now read a second time. The right honorable member distinctly introduces a new subject for discussion, namely, the war. The question is that a Bill for the alteration of the Constitution be read a second time, and in that question there is nothing relating in any way to the war. Were I to permit the amendment, much of which is irrelevant to the question, to be proposed, the result would be, were a discussion to follow; that honorable members could debate the attitude of the Government in regard to the war, and not talk on the Bill at all. Therefore, until the amendment has been modified, I. cannot accept it.

Mr Joseph Cook - I will relieve you of any obligation to accept it.

Mr Higgs - It is with considerable reluctance that I intervene, but it appears to me, Mr. Speaker, that, if you carry out your ruling you somewhat restrict the rights of the Opposition.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is now discussing my ruling.

Mr Higgs - My point is that the amendment is in order.

Mr SPEAKER - I have ruled that it is out of order.

Honorable members of the Opposition then withdrew.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from Committee without amendment.

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