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Thursday, 15 July 1915

Mr J H CATTS (Cook) .- It is proposed to close this Parliament almost immediately. Statements to that effect are appearing in the daily press, and we know that they are being actively canvassed by honorable members in thelobbies of the House. To that proposal I wish to offer, a respectful but most emphatic protest.

The situation, both at Home and abroad, is critical, and it is imperative, and urgent that it should be met with all the intelligence and energy we can command. Our requirements demand -

1.   A scheme - a plan of campaign-;: a definite programme off action.

2.   The execution of such programme- with all our energies and' our resources mobilized, organized, . and applied to the best- effect; .

The outbreak of war created the very. problems that now confront us. The.:months . that have elapsed serve but to emphasize them the more. These problems- were not: provided for in relation to our.! present-, dire necessities in the policy speeches of ' the recognised party leaders. Our! difficulties arose from special circumstances out of which by popular consent - instinctively - the ballot-box became articulate- with directions. It is with1 these . problems that this Parliament is expected to deal. A clear analytical conception of " the national expectation of the Federal ' Parliament is essential, for the great facts which have, and do now, challenge us are only now coming to be falteringly recognised. The nature and seriousness of our national perils require that we should sweep away all hindrances to theirspeedy, effective, a.nd scientific treatment, and that our methods should be up to- date. In this regard I invite consideration of -

1.   The special circumstances and problems the people elected us to negotiate.

2.   Our obsolete parliamentary ma chinery should be reformed to remove the obstacles which prevent the great ability of the people's representatives being fully devoted to public service.

(3)   The ancient theories of so-called responsible government should be modified and modernized to provide for the abolition of irresponsibility in Parliament.

(4)   The National Parliament should not be closed until its responsibilities and its obligations have been discharged.

The war broke out on the 31st July, 1914. This Parliament was elected on the 15th September, 1914. This Parliament is a War Parliament - elected after the outbreak and during the currency of war. Have we fully appreciated the situation that existed at the time of our election, and still exists? What was in the minds of the electors when they expressed themselves at the ballotbox? What are the special duties and obligations of this Parliament? What was the imperious will and mandate- of the country? What was and is expected of us? Have we realized those expectations? Are we facing and discharging our most serious and sacred responsibilities courageously and wisely?

The conditions 31st July to 5th September, 1914. The outbreak of war, unexpected and sudden, was sensational. Something approaching financial, industrial, and commercial panic was in evidence. These subjects monopolized the space in the newspapers. The speeches of public men had to be attuned to meet, relieve, and allay popular anxiety. Surely there is no need to emphasize that point. There is no man in the Federal Parliament but knows that after the outbreak of war he was compelled to deal with the great issues that arose out of the war every time he addressed his constituents. The war - our means and resources to wage it - offensively without, defensively within - finance - unemployment - food supplies - in a word, the war, its consequences and effects, not party political shibboleths, were the issues upon which we were elected, and with which we were and are expected to deal. Let us analyze the situation.

Finance. During the month prior to our election, the stock exchanges of Australia, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vienna, Amsterdam, Milan, St. Petersburg, Liverpool, Manchester, Montreal, and other world centres closed. The British Bank Act was suspended. A quasi moratorium was royally proclaimed in London. British Government stock depreciated £30,000,000 in a week, and European securities £100,000,000 in the same period. The British bank rate rose to 10 per cent., the highest figure it has reached since 1860. Indeed, there were financial disturbances in every land, including Australia, of immediate and farreaching consequences. Finance in all its aspects and the relationships of the Commonwealth thereto were matters of public discussion. "Unemployment. During August, 1914, the prices of many of our primary products suffered a serious slump. Tin fell ill per ton, and was £100 below the price for the corresponding period of the previous year. Copper declined £3 10s. per ton ; silver fell 1 1/4d. per oz. The Continent refused to buy wool. Bradford markets were cautious and weak. Sheepskins seriously receded in price. Wooltops dropped lid. per lb. The market for scoured wool closed. Employment in. all these industries was seriously curtailed. Large numbers of wharf labourers were thrown out of employment. Several great mines at Broken Hill were closed. The despatch of mine produce was suspended. The train service between Broken Hill and Adelaide was curtailed by half. Several large coal mines closed. Other mines closed were - North Farrell Silver Lead, Bischoff and Magnet silver mines, Arba tin mines, and there were serious diminution of operations at Mount Lyell copper mines, Tasmania; Cadia copper mines, Whim Creek Copper Mine, and Tingha tin mines, New South Wales; and Wallaroo and Moonta copper mines, South Australia. Brown's and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company's steel works at Newcastle closed. During that month of August last at least 100,000 men were thrown out of employment.

The prospect before the workers of Australia was gloomy indeed, and the opportunities of betterment in this connexion under the respective Federal political parties were thoroughly canvassed.

Food Supplies and the Necessaries of Life. During the month of August the prices of wheat, flour, . cheese, butter, meat, and other foodstuffs increased by leaps and bounds. The Premiers of New South Wales and Queensland announced that urgent action was necessary to prevent a rapid inflation of prices. In this respect the utmost concern was experienced by the householders of the Commonwealth. In pressing their claims to election, Federal members urged their desire to relieve the situation.

War Measures. During this month preceding the election the problem of meeting the defence necessities in Australia and abroad was exercising the mind of every thoughtful citizen. In his extremity he pondered on the constructiveness and purposefulness of Labour control of Commonwealth affairs in 1910-13, when naval and military schemes, with their accessories in munitions and equipment factories, were established, and when the Commonwealth Bank and the note-issue were inaugurated; and he reflected upon the oft-repeated statement that Labour had special qualifications for, and a special interest in, dealing with the questions of unemployment and food supplies. These considerations turned the party scales in the election. In the hour of peril, faced with dangers from within and without, unknown in their extent and effect, the electors returned this Parliament. Those are the outstanding; facts and circumstances as they existed. This Parliament- was elected specifically to deal with the war problems enumerated. Ministers have since been elected. But no member can shift or evade his responsibility. He must satisfy himself and face his constituents and his country -yes, and his children and his children's children- with the consciousness that everything possible has been done to promote the national efficiency and security.

Coalition Government. Before offering respectfully certain constructive suggestions it is advisable to clear away probable misapprehension or confusion of thought. In what is about to foe submitted no such thing as coalition is involved. A coalition was practicable in

England, because there no vital or basic principle divided the two dominant parties. For the opposite reason a coalition Government is impossible in Australia. Here we have two distinct schools of political thought - legislative and administrative acts are based upon two opposing and warring principles.

Mr Higgs - Who has asked for a coalition Government ?

Mr J H CATTS - The daily press have been clamouring for it.

Mr Higgs - Do you regard the two parties in Great Britain as warring against one another?

Mr J H CATTS - No. They are not divided by any vital or basic principle. Here, on the other hand, the political parties are divided into two distinct parties, the collectivist group and the individualistic group. There are wide variations of principle or type within these two groups of political economists. On the collectivist side there are those who would go further than others in giving effect to collectivist ideals. On the individualistic side, while there are extremists who would go to the utmost extremity of individualism, there are those who hold much more modified views in that respect. Whether the collectivist group is called Labour or Socialistic, or the individualistic group is called Liberal or anti-Socialistic, or whether they are branded with other names from our multitudinous political nomenclature, the distinctive differences and basic principles between these two parties still remain; the fundamental mainspring of thought and action of each is diametrically opposed. There can be ' no assimilation of these two fundamental opposites, any more than there can be assimilation of such" fundamental opposites as Christianity and paganism, light and darkness, or oil and water. They are instinctively and fundamentally opposed. Consultation, conference, discussion, and the correction of - weaknesses and defects by publicspirited criticism and investigations of methods and means of either party by the other are invaluable. But a division of authority between these two opposites in a Government would do nothing but engender dissension. It is, however, both possible and desirable to maintain our party 'systems and principlesintact, and at the same time arrange our- parliamentary machine, as distinguished from party political methods, so that every electorate may usefully submit its quota to the directing national intelligence. The plain fact is that, without readjustment, our up-to-date party systems and the ancient customs and practices of parliamentary procedure are mutually destructive.

The ancient fetish of Responsible Government. When the war broke out, Messrs. Fisher, Hughes, and Pearce journeyed to Melbourne, and placed their services, their ability, and their experience in a consultative capacity at the disposal of the Cook-Irvine Government. Their offer was met with indifference. That of Senator Pearce was ignored.

Mr Joseph Cook - What does the honorable member mean? Allow me to say that they came here at my invitation.

Mr j H CATTS - Was Senator Pearce in consultation with the right honorable gentleman?

Mr Joseph Cook - No.

Mr J H CATTS - I was consulted and was a party in regard to bringing Senator Pearce, the previous Minister of Defence, from Western Australia, so that his services and his experience might be available in a consultative capacity to the Cook-Irvine Government, but he was left to strut about the streets of Melbourne. For the past eleven months the position has been reversed, but the forms and ceremonies and dignities common to all governments have operated in such a way that the Leaders of the Opposition in turn have not been sought in consultation in the inner counsels of the nation. Responsible government, which means sole responsibility in the few and irresponsibility in the many, has developed into a fetish, both nauseating and harmful. It is undignified, and, indeed, almost improper, for Ministers in all Governments to accept, openly and above-board, suggestions for the public weal. To do so is regarded as tantamount to a confession of incapacity, whereas the highest form of capacity is the ability to extract and utilize the best from all sources in order to accomplish a great purpose. The rule referred to is time-honoured, though it has its exceptions. It is a custom crystallized into law. The present ancient machinery of Parliament, with all its ceremonies, precedents, practices, and prejudices, operating under the newer party system, serves to suppress individuality, to kill initiative, and to prevent the united intelligence of the representatives of the people from being fully devoted to the public service. Recently I said that there were some men in Parliament who had no ideas. I have, on reconsideration, corrected that judgment. There are some members in Parliament who offer no ideas, not because they have none, but because the parliamentary machine creates the minimum of responsibility-bearers, and the maximum of irresponsibility.

Mr Thomas - Is that a reason why the honorable member does not offer ideas ?

Mr Joseph Cook - He is offering some now, and doing very well, I think.

Mr J H CATTS - No suggestion for the betterment of the conditions of the great toiling masses can be offered in this Parliament without meeting with the sneers and jeers of the honorable member for Barrier. It is becoming a commonplace. In Parliament there are many things that one may not do, and very few that one may do. One may speak interminably; but move a specific resolution, seek to translate thought into action, and one finds oneself up against an insurmountable barrier which makes progress impossible. I have acted perfectly within my rights as a member oi this House. I have acted within the rules and practices of Parliament, and within the limitations of my party plat-' form, and yet it has been difficult ;in the utmost to submit my ideas to the House in the form of a resolution. The public outside do not realize these obstacles and disadvantages. On the 3rd June I offered constructive proposals for dealing with the foodstuffs difficulty. All the wit and ingenuity of Parliament was arrayed in opposition to this laudable effort. The Minister in charge of the House at the time said that it was impossible to do anything like what was proposed, yet within a fortnight the Government decided to carry out the proposal.

Mr Higgs - Then the honorable member effected his purpose. It is the unhappy fate of all reformers to see the credit taken by some one else.

Mr J H CATTS - No matter how serious may be the issue - though the question have no place in the party platforms - there is no convincing ground in

Parliament where intellects may grapple freely and frankly.

The British Conservatives, Sir Henry Dalziel in the Commons and Baron St. Davids in the Lords, were groaning only last week under the ineptitude of the nation's representatives in the face of this mass of parliamentary practice and procedure. Lord Crewe, President of the Council, announced that every effort was being made to introduce business methods and scientific knowledge into the conduct of public affairs. We have long since discarded the political economy which finds favour in Great Britain, but we continue to slavishly follow the precedents, practices, customs, and ceremonies associated with the parliamentary machine of that country. An honorable member sets out to effect some reform, and is immediately confronted with text-books based on the practice of the British House of Commons, which confuse and confound him at every turn.

The fate of the Government should be open to challenge only upon party "principles and party measures. This would free the representatives of the people to act over a large extent of really neutral ground, and much good would result.

We propose to clothe the people with the initiative and referendum, the power to initiate and veto legislation upon all subjects. Surely we should grant to the representatives of the people in Parliament assembled the initiative and referendum over a more restricted area, namely, that outside of their respective party principles and platforms. Let the people of the country know that the initiative and referendum that we propose to confer upon them has not been conferred upon their representatives in Parliament.

Do not close Parliament. For the most part, the great national issues upon which we were elected, and which have been referred to remain undecided. Finance, unemployment, foodstuffs, and some phases of defence necessities still require attention according to some systematic, well-defined plan. This Parliament has done nothing to date in regard to the issues now under discussion except to pass a War Pensions Act, and pass several temporary Supply Bills. Certainly there have been some executive Acta. Under these conditions, not more holidays, but more work is required. Do not let it be said of us in regard to the vital matters referred to -

They promise, pause, prepare, postpone, And end by leaving things alone; In fact, they earn the people's pay By doing nothing every day.

We require, not more dependence upon others, but more individual application and more unity of purpose in dealing with the situation. Arrangements could be made to relieve Ministers greatly whilst utilizing members in working out a solution of our difficulties. Let the whole Parliament - both Houses - be set to work as follows: -

1.   Form Committees to deal with -

(d)   Finance.

(f)   Foodstuffs.

2.   Let these Committees operate upon resolutions referred to them by Parliament.

3.   Let the reports of Committees be submitted to Parliament.

4.   Let the sitting days of Parliamentbe reduced to two, to enable the Committee to work, and to relieve. Ministers for administration duties.

5.   Let Government business always take precedence.

Existing Committees, and the new Committee about to be created, could be used under this scheme. All questions not involving party principles and measures should be decided by the untrammelled vote of Parliament as a deliberative assembly. In regard to party matters referred to, members are pledged to their constituents. Except for the necessary adjournment associated with constitutional referendums, Parliament should not close until it has done its best to grapple with the problems enumerated.

The present international situation. The position of the Allies is anything but reassuring. Although the war has been in progress for twelve months, the forces of Germany and Austria continue to make headway and to maintain their supremacy on the territory of our Allies. The supposed invincible Russian hordes have just been hurled back 100 miles, and the press informs us that this drive is continuing at the rate of 5 miles a day. Russian territory is in German hands, and Warsaw, the capital of Russian Poland, is threatened. Although immense forces are being hurled at the Russians by the Germans, the Allies have been able to make no headway against the Germans on the western front, where British, French, and Belgian forces are combined. Germany has consolidated h exposition in the West in such a way that its line is now one great, long fortification. No doubt the same purpose will be effected upon the eastern and other fronts. On the Gallipoli Peninsula no progress is being made commensurate with the awful casualties incurred by our own brave soldiers. Hide the truth as we may, and however much our sympathies may predispose us to minimize enemy successes and to take comfort from the victories of Allied Arms, the plain and incontrovertible fact remains that Germany and Austria are still in the ascendant upon the battlefields of Europe.

The financial position of the Allies has also shown symptoms of late which cause some anxiety, dependent as we are upon such countries as Japan and America for large supplies of war munitions. The war to date has cost the British Government £.1,000,000,000. At the commencement of the war America was debtor to Great Britain to the amount of £80,000,000; to-day Great Britain is debtor to America to the amount of nearly £300,000,000. The fact that the Morgan Banking Syndicate is raising in America a paltry £25,000,000 for Great Britain, and a paltry £10,000,000 for France, are two very grave features. The fact that Great Britain and France are both asking the working men and women of their country to lend to their respective Governments the few shillings that .they have hoarded up in their stockings is significant. We notice that in America another great banking syndicate almost equal in its financial power to the Morgan Syndicate - the banking corporation headed by Schiff - is buying up the raw material necessary for the making of munitions, and cornering it, with a view to raising the price to an almost impossible figure, if not of preventing its purchase altogether. This . is intended to embarrass the Allies both financially and in regard to supplies. It is eloquent testimony to the extensive influence of the Teuton race. The fact that the Commonwealth is about to raise a local loan which necessity alone could justify, as against appealing to the London market in the present circumstances, is significant.

But above and beyond all is the distress signal sent out by Lord Kitchener, ' the British Minister of War, in the Guild Hall, London, last Friday. Of that meeting the London Times, in its report, says that the Lord Mayor introduced Lord Kitchener to the meeting, "whose hands were shaking slightly, and who was breathing heavily with excitement. He put on his spectacles, and drew a thick sheaf of manuscript from an inside pocket." ... He said, " that in regard to men, we are in an immeasurably better situation now than ten months ago, but the position is at least as serious as it was then. There was," he continued, "in every man's life a supreme hour towards which all his earlier experiences move, and from which all future results are reckoned. That solemn hour is striking now for every Briton." Lord Curzon, Lord Privy Seal, speaking on the same evening, said, " The struggle, I believe, is nearing the supreme crisis."

Mr Hampson - How does the honorable member make out that that is Lord Kitchener's "distress signal"?

Mr J H CATTS - No thinking man can read these terrible utterances with anunderstanding heart, in the light of the surrounding circumstances, without feelings of the gravest apprehension. The report in the Times goes on to say that Lord Kitchener's speech was read from a typewritten document, showing great deliberation. Some of us have had the pleasure of meeting Lord Kitchener. His dispassionate temperament is a commonplace throughout the British Empire. He is a man of mature years - the warrior of a hundred battles-. That is not the type of man whose hands tremble with emotion, and whose breast heaves with excitement, for nothing. These circumstances, this typewritten document, and the emotion of Lord Kitchener - taken "in conjunction with the terrible statements lie made, are such as to power- . fully arrest our attention.

It must be remembered that, in the previous week, Lord Kitchener had visited the allied generals, and had held consultations with French Ministers, returning then to London to issue this statement to the Empire.

Mark you, it was not a statement delivered to a mere local meeting, but bad pointed reference and stated intention to be brought to the notice of Britons in every part of the Empire. Lord Kitchener says that the position in regard to men is better than it was ten months ago, but that the situation itself is at least as serious. This means that, in spite of the feverish energies and preparations of the Allies over the last ten months, Germany is, at least, in as strong a relative position as she was then. Lord Kitchener said, " The supreme hour is striking now for every Briton." Ominous words! Lord Curzon, another member of the British Cabinet, said that we are approaching "the supreme crisis." What is a crisis in the case of a patient? It is that time when the doctor says to those anxiously awaiting relatives and friends, " If the patient survives the next half-hour, or next hour, there is some chance for his life."

British Cabinet Ministers do not issue these significant statements to be read throughout the length and breadth of the British Empire without knowing the consternation they will cause when they are read by those who have the capacity to analyze and fully realize their import. There are a great many people who read things, but do not appreciate their significance. They see without realizing. They hear without understanding. The hearing ear and the understanding heart are not common attributes. Lord Kitchener's statement is the S.O.S. signal to the British Empire. It is the cry for help ! help ! ! help ! ! ! This country will not be in a proper position to help until it deals with questions such as those of finance, unemployment, and foodstuffs - questions which are causing anxiety in every man's home. It is impossible for men with social perplexities and domestic difficulties to do the best for the Empire. Free them from such anxieties - at least, do the best we can to free them - and we shall unloose potential forces for the protection of our freedom and liberties both at Home and abroad. ,r

Mr Higgs - The honorable member is not overlooking the State Parliaments and their powers in regard to unemployment?

Mr J H CATTS - No, my friend; but we must not endeavour to see Bow much responsibility we can pass on to somebody else. We should consider how much responsibility we can take on our own shoulders. We need not tell the people of this country how much power the States have to do this, that, or ohe ether. What they want to know is how much power this Commonwealth Parliament has, and whether it is prepared to act to the extent of that power. Whether in connexion with our defence preparations, our finances, unemployment, or foodstuffs, no man can show any definite detailed programme to which we are working. Much good - great things have been done. The fact that the Federal authorities have sent nearly 100,000 soldiers to take part in the defence of the Empire is a truly magnificent performance. But because we have done well in one respect, is certainly no reason for our not doing those things we have the capacity and opportunity to do if we have the will.

There is the proposal to close Parliament. This is not the time to contemplate closing the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. There is no suggestion to close up the Imperial Parliament. The great outstanding questions that challenge the attention of the public men of the country are those of finance, unemployment, foodstuffs, and defence necessities at home and abroad, and until we can face the people of the country and honestly say, " We have accepted our responsibilities; we have done the best we can do in regard to these matters," then, and not till then, will it be time to promulgate the idea of closing up the National Parliament.

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