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Thursday, 30 November 1905

The PRESIDENT - I do not think the honorable senator ought to discuss the question of the union label.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - I simply replied to an interjection. Several measures have been introduced since the Appropriation Bill left another place. It is the announced intention of the Government to proceed with an Anti-Trust Bill ; and on the notice-paper there is more than sufficient business to occupy us for a whole session. I should like honorable senators to have regard to the principle involved without paying any consideration to party. There is the broad principle laid down by all standard constitutional writers - that the Appropriation Bill should be the last measure dealt with in a session. In the House of Commons, when the Appropriation Bill is sent up to the Lords at the last moment, no work is done in the Commons while the Bill is being dealt with in the House of Lords, and the Bill is presented for the Royal assent, when members of both Houses are assembled together for the purpose of listening to the speech proroguing Parliament and sending members to their homes. I did not dead with this matter last night, because I had consideration for honorable senators. There is a body of men in this Parliament who are prepared to disregard all constitutional' principles and practice where their own interests are concerned.

Senator Guthrie - To what party does the honorable senator refer?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- When the party to which Senator Guthrie belongs is anxious to pass certain legislation its members are not much concerned about constitutional precedents.

Senator Guthrie - We are anxious to do what the country desires us to do, and we propose to do it.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - If members of the party to which' the honorable senator belongs will be content to do only what the country desires they will do a very great deal less than I am afraid they propose to do before this session is concluded.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator must allow us to be the judges of that.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The best thing honorable senators can do is to go away to their homes and rest for six months, that they may come back here with renewed vigour to transact the business of the country. I regard the principle involved in this matter as of the very greatest importance. I believe that we should be false to the position we occupy here if in the early stages of the history of the Commonwealth Parliament we did not endeavour to lay down sound constitutional foundations for the work of Parliament. I have referred to the business which the Government have expressed their intention to deal with, and we now have no possible check upon the introduction of further measures if the Government should be so ill-advised as to introduce them. Senator Guthrie may say that we have not lost control over the Government, because we know that they propose to deal with certain measures, but I ask the honorable senator to bear in mind that the merits or demerits of the present Government are entirely beside the question I raise, which is- a constitutional question. The present Government cannot remain in office for ever, and we may have Governments in the future prepared to regard the action of the Government in 'this instance as a precedent laid down for their guidance. What would be said if, at the beginning of a session, the first measure submitted by a Government were the Appropriation Bill, to provide for the services of the ensuing year ? I ask whether any member of the Federal Parliament would consent at the beginning of a session to place in the hands of any Government the control of the affairs of the country for a period of twelve months, when they would know that by doing so they would have lost all effectual check upon the Government, who might propose to adopt measures which' the majority might not believe to be in the best interests of tha community ? If it is really proposed that we shall deal with all the measures which have been indicated, we are only now in the middle of the present session, and yet we have given the Government power over the whole Public Service up to the 30th June next, and have lost the power to check them in any respect whatever. The Government can snap their fingers at Parliament. A vote of want of confidence might be carried against them in another place, and instead of such action being followed by a constitutional change of Government or a dissolution of Parliament, the Government would be able to shut up the shutters, and say to members of this Parliament: "We shall not bother our heads about you any more." I know of a Parliament in which a vote censuring two members of a Government, and therefore practically a vote of censure upon the Government as awhole, was carried. Parliament had every right to expect that that Government would get rid of the men who had been censured, but when members assembled on the following day they were confronted with a Gazette notice, informing them that His Excellency the Governor had prorogued Parliament. The Government laughed in their sleeves at Members of Parliament, and congratulated themselves upon having done a very smart trick. When this Government again met Parliament they had purified themselves by discarding the two gentlemen who were objected to, and they went on as gaily as ever. I ask honorable senators, who profess to be so anxious for purity of administration, to raise their voices in protest against what the present Government are doing. If they will not do so, because they wish measures in which they are interested passed into law as speedily as possible, the least they can do is to recognise that there are special circumstances in the present case, and to insist that the course followed now shall not be accepted as a precedent, to be followed by future Administrations. When a dominant section of Parliament is able to screw anything it pleases out of a Government, and chooses to exercise its power tyrannically, and when we have a Ministry weak enough to submit to such pressure and exaction, the dominant party may be willing to condone unconstitutional action if it suits their purpose. When we have a party in Parliament in a position to say to a Government, " You must do what we desire, or you must go out of office," I urge that they should not make a precedent of the course adopted on this occasion. I ask honorable senators not to look upon this as a party matter, but to treat it on the broad constitutional lines on which I have submitted it.

Senator Givens - Has not the honorable senator looked on it from a party point of view?

Senator Lt Col GOULD - No, I have looked at it from a purely constitutional point of view.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator has been girding at parties throughout his speech.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - That is nonsense. I have looked at the matter from a constitutional point of view. I think I am justified in what I have said with regard to the action of the party dominating the Government at the present time.

Senator Givens - We shall say what we choose about the honorable senator's party presently.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I dare say that honorable senators will, and I shall have an opportunity to reply to them. I do not know that it is necessary that I should quote many authorities in dealing with such a matter.

Senator Henderson - The honorable senator should quote a few New South Wales precedents. They go down all right.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - In dealing with the way in which supply is taken in the House of Commons, Todd, in his work On Parliamentary Government in England, says -

The constitutional effect of this proceeding is that until the Queen and the House of Lords have assented to the grant of ways and means the appropriation of the public money directed by the vote in supply of the House of Commons is inoperative. . . . The final grant of ways and means to cover the whole of the supplies voted in the session is always reserved for the Appropriation Act, thus, although the House of Commons, at an early period of the session, might have voted the whole of the supplies of the year, they could still hold their constitutional check upon the Minister by limiting the grant of ways and means to an amount sufficient only to last such time as they might think proper to give him the means of carrying on the public service, and they are by such limited grants at all times enabled to prevent the Minister from dissolving or proroguing Parliament.

Again he says -

When the Appropriation Bill has passed both Houses, and is ready for the Royal assent, it is returned into the charge of the Commons until the time appointed for the prorogation of Parliament, when it is carried by the Speaker to the bar of the House of Peers, and there received by the clerk of the Parliament for the Royal assent.

That is the principle laid down, and while I recognise that we have adopted some practices which have not been adopted in the House of Commons, the reason why Parliament should withhold the Appropriation Rill until the close of the session is as applicable to us as to any other Parliament in the world. May contains this statement -

When the Appropriation Bill has passed both Houses, and is about to receive the Royal assent, it is returned into the charge of the Commons until that House is summoned to attend Her Majesty, or the Lords Commissioners in the House of Peers for the prorogation of Parliament; when it is carried by the Speaker to the bar of the House of Peers, and there received by the clerk of the Parliaments, for the Royal assent.

So that the same practice is laid down by May and by Todd. I have pointed out that there are only three instances in the history of the House of Commons for more than a century in which the practice proposed here was followed. I have shown that there were exceptional circumstances, and a specific purpose to be served in each of those instances, to suit the convenience of Parliament in one case, and to suit the convenience of the nation in connexion with the trial of Queen Caroline in another. This shows how very careful we should be in connexion with what we are doing at the present moment. The Government cannot justify their action at the present time by either of the instances to which I have referred, because they propose to go on with a large volume of general business.

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