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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Senator Lt Col GOULD (New South Wales) - I rise to move that the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until half -past 10 o'clock on Wednesday next, for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgent public importance, namely, the announced intention of the Government to proceed with business after the passage of the Appropriation Bill.

Four honorable senators having risen in theirplaces,

Question proposed.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Yesterday when we were dealing with the Appropriation Bill. I intended to call attention to this matter. But as it was then after 4 o'clock in the morning, I thought I should better study the convenience of honorable senators if I deferred what I had to say until to-day. I desire to direct attention to the fact that although the passing of the Appropriation Bill ought to be the last business of the session, the Government propose to proceed with other measures. To some honorable senators the importance of this matter may not be very apparent at first blush. I have, however, taken pains to ascertain what has been the practice in the mother of Parliaments, and I discover that it is regarded as highly unconstitutional for a Government to proceed with any business whatever after the Ap propriation Bill has been passed. An opportunity for the airing of grievances having been afforded, and supply having been granted, the one regular constitutional course is to at once prorogue Parliament. Honorable senators naturally want to know my authority for the statement that the course now being pursued by the Government is unusual. On referring to May, I find-

On the 12th October, 1799, the Appropriation Act received the royal assent, when both Houses adjourned till the 21st January, 1800.

What was the special occasion of the adjournment on that occasion I am not aware. The next instance on which there was an opportunity afforded to the House of Commons to deal with business after the passing of the Appropriation Bill was in 1820. According to May -

On the 24th July, 1820, the Appropriation Act received the royal assent ; and on the 26th, the Commons adjourned, and continued adjournments, and the transaction of business, until 23rd November.

The next instance occurred in 1882 -

On the 17th August, 1882, the Appropriation Act received the royal assent ; and on the following day both Houses adjourned until 23rd October. On the reassembling of Parliament, the regularity of the adjournment was challenged in the Commons on the ground that the Appropriation Act having been passed, no further business could be proceeded with. But the adjournment was approved by a large majority.

These are the three instances on record in which business has been done by the House of Commons after the passing of the Appropriation Bill. As I have already told honorable senators, I am not aware of the circumstances of the adjournment in 1799, but in 1820 it was absolutely necessary that the House of Commons should be prepared to deal with any matter of business arising out of the proceedings against Queen Caroline. I believe that on that occasion no other business was contemplated, except such as was of a purely formal character.

Senator Givens - Is it not a fact that sometimes the House of Commons, after the passing of the Appropriation Bill, holds a short session for the consideration of further measures?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That is a different matter altogether, because then there is another session.

Senator Playford - Whether it be a different matter or not, the constitutional practice of the House of Commons does not govern us.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- We have no constitutional practice, unless it is the practice of the House of Commons. If the Government had said that they were prepared to-morrow to advise His Excellency to prorogue Parliament, and to hold another session next month, no exception could have been taken, unless, perhaps, on the ground of inconvenience to members. But if that course were taken the Government would have to come down with a speech announcing their policy, and thus afford an opportunity for Parliament to deal with the business proposed, and, if thought fit, to deal effectively with the Ministry itself. But at the present time, Parliament has no more control over the Government than I have as an individual. The Government have been granted supply, and may snap their fingers in our faces. In August, 1882, the House of Commons passed the Appropriation Bill, and then adjourned until the following October. When Parliament met again it was for the specific purpose of dealing with rules of procedure - that was the only object of the adjournment. It will be seen that, on each occasion, in 1799 and in 1882, there was a specific reason for summoning Parliament without entering upon a new session. In 1882 a strong protest was made by Lord Randolph Churchill; and Mr. Gladstone, who was in power with one of his great majorities, admitted that the practice was most inconvenient, and could only be justified under exceptional circumstances, such as I have mentioned. It was pointed out in the House of Commons at that time that when the House consented to the adjournment, Mr. Gladstone assured honorable members that there were many precedents to justify the course proposed. Mr. Gladstone, however, was wrong when he made that representation. It is perfectly true that in 1820 an adjournment had taken place, but the circumstances were such as I have related. It is also true that, since 1832, when the reformed Parliament came into existence, and a little more attention was paid to the rights and interests of the public generally, there has been only one instance in which the Parliament of Great Britain has proceeded with business after the passing of the Appropriation Bill. We are now laying down precedents for our future guidance. No matter what the explanation or reason of the Government may be for proceeding with work now, we ought to be very careful that we are not drawn into precedents by means of which future Governments may urge the passing of the Appropriation Bill on the ground that the public servants must be paid, and the convenience of the public consulted, and then proceed with ordinary business.

Senator Givens - Why should a Government not do so?

Senator Playford - I should like to know the reason.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - The reason is that, until supply has been granted, the Government are not independent of Parliament. When once supply has been granted, the Government may do as they see fit with Parliament. If, for instance, a vote of censure were proposed and carried, even by an overwhelming majority,the Government might say, "Well, gentlemen, we have supply to the 30th June next year, and, as we shall have to go to the country, whether we like it or not, within a few months, we will now enjoy a comfortable recess."

Senator Givens - The Government could do that now.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Of course; but if the Appropriation Bill had not been passed, they could not close the session without the consent of Parliament itself. No Minister would dare to go to the country without supply for the public servants. It is the invariable practice that, when a vote of want of confidence is carried against a Government, that Government must either resign and allow their opponents to take office, or must advise a dissolution. If the latter course be taken, a dissolution is never granted unless supply is first provided to cover the expenses of the Public Service over the time of the general election. It is our right and duty as representatives of the public to hold a power over the Government, and not allow them to take any step which the majority believe to be antagonistic to the interests of the Commonwealth. I know that honorable senators are anxious to have certain legislation passed. It is no secret that one very influential party in this Parliament is anxious to see a measure passed to provide for a union label. If that party have the power, they should be able to say, " We will not go to the country unless that measure is carried into law." Under the present circumstances, however, if the present Government were a Government with a backbone, they might say, " We do not believe in that legislation ; thank you, gentlemen, we have got the money and you can do just what you please."

Senator Henderson - But if they did not say that?

Senator Clemons - We must be prepared for such an event.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- That is so. I admit that the present Government intend to keep Parliament sitting until that particular measure and two or three others have been passed.

Senator Givens - Was that why the honorable senator was so anxious to rush the business through last night?

Senator Lt Col GOULD - I was informed by the Government that they were anxious to have supply granted in order that the public servants might be paid. . As to the question of Senator Givens, I ask, in reply, why did not the Government ask for three months' supply, instead of supply for two months, so as to carry them on until the end of December? The Government's intention clearly was to close the session by, the end of November.

Senator Playford - No.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- It was repeatedly said, on behalf of the Government, that they hoped to be in recess long before Christmas, and the whole circumstances point unmistakably to the conclusion that it was the intention to prorogue before 30th November. I give the

Government, I was going to say the credit, but would rather say the discredit, of desiring to pass the union label measure at the behest of an influential party in this Parliament.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator is greatly troubled about a little measure of justice to the working man.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The honorable senator and those who are fighting for a union label are attempting to commit the grossest act of injustice on the working men of the country.

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