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Wednesday, 29 November 1905

The CHAIRMAN - Perhaps it would be convenient to honorable senators if I suspended the sitting for twenty minutes or half-an-hour.

Senator CLEMONS - Have you, sir, the power to do so? If you have, I trust that you will exercise it.

The CHAIRMAN - I believe that I have that power.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 .a.m., Thursday, until 1.15 a.m.

Senator CLEMONS(Tasmania). - We are asked to reconsider the Bill for two purposes. May I ask whether you, Mr. Chairman, intend to divide the motion?

The CHAIRMAN - Certainly I will do so. We will first deal with the request made in subdivision No. 2, of division 1, affecting the President.

Senator CLEMONS - I think it will be remembered that when that request was moved by me, after attempting to get information upon the item and failing, eventually, but reluctantly, Senator Baker informed us that the item then in dispute was made up, not as he had given the Committee to understand, by an appropriation for cabs for the use of senators, but by a sum of £1010s. which he had charged the Commonwealth for himself. It was a very difficult thing indeed to extract that information. Butwhen at last it was extracted, it will be remembered that I at once offered

Senator Bakerto drop my intended request and to say nothing more about it if he would give the Committee an undertaking that what I considered to be an offence would not be repeated. He gave no such undertaking. In fact, he went further, and said that he absolutely refused to entertain such a proposal, and that he would vote against the whole item. He went on to say, as a justification for the expenditure, which the Committee subsequently decided was not justifiable, that it was a fair thing to take money out of the Commonwealth purse in one direction, because others - meaning members of the Senate - were helping themselves out of the Commonwealth purse in another direction. When we did get that, information, I gave Senator Baker an opportunity of preventing any request being made. I said that if he would give an undertaking that such a charge would not be made against the Commonwealth any longer, I would not go on with the request. He refused; and it was because of his refusal, and for no other reason, that the request was made.

Senator Playford - He subsequently said, before the division took place, that he would take the vote, if in favour of the request, as indicating that he was not to repeat what had been done.

Senator CLEMONS - It is true that when he had taken a survey of the Chamber, the bells were on the point of ceasing to ring, and he had ascertained how the vote was going - when he found that it was going against him - he said that he would climb down. We have seen plenty of instances of men being willing to climb down when they knew that the gun was loaded, and that the man behind it was going to shoot.

Senator Dobson - He voted in favour of the honorable senator's request.

Senator CLEMONS - It is a great deal better to vote for a thing when it is certain that it is going to be carried, than to vote against it and have it carried in spite of you.

Senator Dobson - I do not think anyone knew that it was going to be carried.

Senator CLEMONS - Without individualizing particular persons, I have had ample opportunities in this Parliament for observing the rapidity with which certain persons in the Senate can ascertain how a vote is likely to go.

Senator Dobson - I do not think that the honorable senator is imputing very nice things to the President.

Senator CLEMONS - I have not imputed anything to him. I was not mentioning him.

Senator Dobson - He is our President, and-

Senator O'Keefe - Senator Clemons has a perfect right to say what he likes.

Senator Trenwith - It is not a question of right, but of taste.

Senator Dobson - He is imputing al! sorts of motives.

Senator CLEMONS - I quite agree with Senator O'Keefe that the person who has to decide whether I am in order is the Chairman, not Senator Dobson.

Senator Dobson - I am only making a friendly interjection ; but one cannot expect good taste at half-past i o'clock in the morning.

Senator CLEMONS - I quite expect that, before we have finished, we shall see much that is npt in the best of taste. It was for that reason I suggested earlier that we should1 adjourn, and that I gave an undertaking that if that were done I would not speak more than a quarter of an hour. . Seeing that Senator Playford is determined to keep us here all night, he cannot be surprised at some things being said which are not altogether agreeable. We are asked to reconsider the Bill, not on the question which affects, senators from New South Wales, but on a question which affects the Senate and the President only.

Senator Playford - The President has promised that this sum shall never be used again for the purpose, and. that being so, the item might as well be restored, and another place not asked to go into Committee upon it.

Senator CLEMONS - Why ?

Senator Playford - Because the honorable senator has gained his object.

Senator Dobson - The observations of Senator Clemons might be taken as vindictive.

Senator CLEMONS - I resent that imputation.

Senator Dobson - I am very sorry, but it looks rather like it.

Senator CLEMONS - When Senator Baker finds that a majority of the Senate is against him, it is not a difficult thing for him to say that he will not repeat what we consider as an offence.

Senator Dobson - Senator Clemons has repeated that sentence three times, and I ask whether he is in order 'in doing so.

The CHAIRMAN - I must say that I have not come to the conclusion that Senator Clemons, so far, is guilty of needless repetition.

Senator CLEMONS - If the item in regard to Senator Baker is reconsidered, it will be open to the fullest discussion. The other day we dealt only with an admission by Senator Baker that there was an item of£1010s., which he had charged the people of the Commonwealth for the purpose of his own convenience. We accepted that admission without going into details, and during the whole of the discussion we did not, as we might properly have done, deal with the question as to the amount that had been absorbed for the same purpose in previous years. I point out seriously that if Senator Playford secures a reconsideration of the question, he will certainly make it possible, and only too easy, for any honorable senator to go into the whole question as to how long these payments have been going on, and as to what the total is which, in the opinion of the Senate, has been wrongly appropriated for the purpose of paying for extra berths for Senator Baker. If Senator Playford will let the matter drop now, he will avoid much that may be unpleasant. I warn Senator Playford that if the item is committed, he cannot expect anything buta full and complete inquiry, from the 1st day of May, 1 90 1, to the present day, as to the amount of public moneys appropriated for this particular purpose.

Senator Playford - If it is a proper matter to be inquired into, it ought to be inquired into, irrespective altogether of this vote. This kind of threat does not reflect much credit on the honorable senator.

Senator CLEMONS - Does Senator Playford, as' leader of the Senate, give the Committee an undertaking that he will make an inquiry? Is he prepared, himself, to ascertain what the amount is that has been appropriated for this purpose, and lay a report on the table ? If the honorable senator will give such an undertaking, I shall promise, if the Bill be reconsidered, not to go into the question. Is Senator Playford prepared to give the undertaking?

Senator Playford - If the House desires I shall do so.

Senator CLEMONS - There are occasions when the leader of the Senate can very properly act on his own initiative, and consider what is due not only to his own dignity, but to thedignity of the

House.. I gather from SenatorPlayford's interjections that, in his opinion, this matter ought to be inquired into thoroughly .

Senator Playford - I do not say anything at all. I am not under crossexamination.

Senator CLEMONS - That is so; nor did I invite Senator Playford to interrupt me when I was speaking.

Senator Playford - I interrupted because you made a threat.

Senator CLEMONS - I made no threat.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator said there would be an inquiry if certain things were not done, and my reply was that if an inquiry was necessary it ought to be made altogether apart from any reconsideration of the Bill.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Playfordmust agree, whether he likes it or not, that if the item be recommitted, there will, at any rate, be a great danger of an exhaustive inquiry into the whole matter.

Senator Playford - That has no effect on me.

Senator CLEMONS - I am inclined to contrast my attitude with that of Senator Playford. I said that if we had an undertakingfrom the Minister I would drop the matter, whereas Senator Playford has said that, now we have gone so far, if it is a right thing we have done, we ought to go into the whole history of the expenditure.

Senator Playford - I said nothing of the sort. I said that if an inquiry was the right course, it ought to be made, irrespective of my action.

Senator CLEMONS - Precisely; the Minister says that if it is right to have an inquiry, it is right to go into the whole question from the beginning of Federation. Speaking generally with regard to the reconsideration, it does not add much to the dignity of the Senate for a Minister at 1.30 o'clock a.m., to ask us to reconsider items which have already had proper consideration in our usual hours of sitting. If the Senate adds to the many examples of weakness it has already shown since this Parliament first met, by backing down - for that is what a recommittal would mean in the case of an important measure like the Appropriation Bill - I say advisedly that we shall run considerable risk of becoming a laughing-stock to such members of the public as take an interest in Federal parliamentary proceedings. We shall be told that the moment we are threatened we are prepared to swallow our own opinions.

Senator Playford - Honorable senators are not threatened with anything.

Senator CLEMONS - The Minister has been a large mass of threats for the last three or four days, beginning on Friday, when he used a threat, repeated last night, to have an all-night sitting. I said at the time that I thought the Minister was in earnest, and so he proves to be; but I never thought that he would attempt to sit all night on a proposal to reconsider certain items in the second schedule of the Appropriation Bill. It might have been necessary to insist on the consideration of the Bill being completed, and to that end I should have been glad to assist. I have never wasted two minutes of the time of this Senate since I entered it; but to-night things are changed. I have given a full undertaking to be no party to any obstruction to-morrow if the Senate is now adjourned, and we meet at the time provided for ; but every honorable senator is entitled to protest against an attempt to reconsider what we have already done at this hour of the night.

Senator Playford - There are special circumstances connected with this Bill which render it desirable, that it should be passed in time to enable the public ser.vants to be paid at the usual time.

Senator CLEMONS - During the halfhour adjournment I made some inquiries on the subject, and, so far as I can ascertain, the only convenience that can be secured by finishing the consideration of the Bill to-night will be such as might be gained by the opportunity to send a telegram which could not be received before 9 o'clock to-morrow morning to officers in different parts of the Commonwealth to say that the Bill has been passed, when, if V the Bill is not considered to-night, it will be sent in the ordinary way by message to another place, and1 will be received there at half-past 2 o'clock.

Senator Playford - The other House will then have to consider it, and it may be too late to send telegrams in order that salaries may be paid in the usual way.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Playfordis assuming that the Bill will be sent to another place with the requests already agreed to.

Senator Playford - If it does there is certain to be delay ; but if the honorable senator assumes that it will not, why should we not pass it to-night?

Senator CLEMONS - I can assure the honorable senator that if it were in my power these requests should go down to another place. I shall be no party to turning the Senate into a laughing-stock. I am not prepared at 12 o'clock one night to vote in one direction, and at 12 o'clock the next night in the opposite direction. When Senator Playford suggested a reconsideration, he did not say one word with regard to the item with which I am dealing.

Senator Playford - I said that, as. honorable senators had gained all that they desired, the prevention of the payment of certain money for the purpose for which it had been paid before, I 'asked' that it should not be made the subject of a request, because that would necessitate the Bill going into Committee in another place, and would so delay its passage.

Senator CLEMONS - Between the implied undertaking by Senator Baker that the offence complained of shall not occur again and the striking of a certain sum off the Estimates there must surely be some difference. Can Senator Playford say how much of the sum of ten guineas has already been expended? We are dealing with Estimates which cover the expenditure of the financial year, beginning with the ist of July last. We are now almost in December, and we should know whether Senator Baker has spent the whole of this ten guineas. If he has, the honorable senator's promise that he will not spend any morel is a very barren one. Senator Playford apparently can give us no information on the subject, and his attitude in connexion with all the Departments is simply, " I do not know." I am willing that, there should be a reconsideration if Senator Playford will move it at what I think to be a fitting and proper time, that is to say, during ordinary sitting hours.

Senator Dobson - Why not deal with the matter now?

Senator Walker - Senator Clemons seems to think that his views must prevail over those of every one else.

Senator CLEMONS - Not at all. With regard to the request affecting Senator Baker, I do not feel so strongly on the subject now that the Committee has secured that its views will be met, but I certainly must oppose the withdrawal of the other request.

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