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Thursday, 30 November 1905

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) - I think we ought all to agree that- Senator Gould has chosen a proper time to submit this subject for the consideration of the Senate. Honorable senators ought to recognise that we are establishing a precedent in regard to the Appropriation Bill, and as to the time when it should be passed. I am not going to discuss the matter with any particular application to the strength of parties in this, or the other branch of the Legislature. But I point out that this is the first time since the Federal Parliament was established, when a Ministry has declared its intention of introducing fresh legislation after the passing of the Appropriation Bill. I am sure that every one will agree with me that, such being the fact, it is very desirable that the Senate should calmly and dispassionately express its opinion as to the desirableness of such a practice. I do not think that any one would differ from Senator Gould as to the weight and value of the authorities whom he! has quoted. Nor do I think it will be disputed that those authorities agree that it is not usual for fresh parliamentary business to be introduced after the passing of the Appropriation Bill. Therefore, we are departing from the established practice of the House of Commons. As to that practice, I have a word or two to say. Senator Playford has asserted, and quite rightly, that when we affirmed our Standing Orders we deliberately decided that we should not be bound by the practice of the House of Commons. We eliminated a standing order to that effect from the Standing Orders which originally applied to us. But though we decided that we should not be bound by precedents of the House of Commons, I distinctly remember that on several occasions, not only various honorable senators, but you yourself,. Mr. President, have referred to the House of Commons precedents in relation to matters of practice.

Senator Lt Col Gould - And properly so.

Senator CLEMONS - I do not wish to embitter this discussion in any way. I am merely dealing with absolute facts which cannot be challenged. I may refer to the last occasion, when we had a discussion as to the power with relation to instructions to a Committee of the Senate. You, Mr. President^ in delivering your ruling, referred at some length - making a long quotation - to the established practice of the House of Commons on that point. I do not wish to say for a moment that you indicated that we must be bound by it, but I do assert that,i finding that Ave were in somewhat of a difficulty in relation to establishing a proper practice, you had refuge - in spite of the fact that we had eliminated the standing order to which I have referred - to the practice of the House of Commons. Still, wishing to discuss this question dispassionately, I point out that the root of the question is the right of a majority of Members of Parliament to control the Executive for the time being.Senator Gould has pointed out, and I wish to emphasize the point, that once the Appropriation Bill is passed a majority of the House of Representatives may decide that the policy of the existing Ministry is objectionable to it. It may, as Senator Gould said, pass a direct vote of -want of confidence in the Ministry. But if this practice, is established the' majority may find that its decision is absolutely rendered null and void, because the Ministry for the time being has secured the grant of supply for a period of time as long as .that for which we have now granted it. If I may, without offence, take a particular case, let me point out the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. Suppose that, by accident - I do not wish to put this in the least degree offensively - the desire of a majority of the other House was that the present Ministry should not remain in office. The Ministry having secured the passing of the Appropriation Bill, could prorogue Parliament at once. What would happen ? Next year will witness the termination of the present Parliament. As every honorable senator knows, we shall meet again when the GovernorGeneral, on the advice of the Executive, calls Parliament together. It will be quite competent for the Ministry - seeing that next year is the last year of the present Parliament - to advise the Governor-General to call it together in October. As at the end of next year there must be a dissolu tion, the Ministry could, if it chose, although a majority of Parliament might be opposed to it, take that course, and Parliament would have no power to compel the Government to call it together until it was about to expire by effluxion of time. I am sure that it will be admitted that I am not over-stating the case as a possibility. That being so, I do think that Senator Gould has discharged a public service in directing attention to the fact that, we are now going to set a precedent. Because, in spite of all that Senator Playford suggests, this will be regarded as a precedent. This is the first time in the history of this Parliament when there has been any proposal to introduce fresh measures after the passing of the Appropriation Bill. The very fact that this is a singular state of things is perfectly certain to give added weight to our action. I am prepared, and always shall be, to accept the decision of the Senate on this or .any other matter, when the. majority has had a full and ample' opportunity of deciding upon the position put before it. For this reason, I think that it is a very desirable thing that we should now seriously consider the position. We have to make a precedent. We have to remember that it is not to be a precedent bearing upon particular conditions or upon this particular Parliament, but a precedent for all time. It is by no means a party question.

Senator Givens - Is the honorable senator going to tell us anything about the tyrrany of the Labour Party ?

Senator CLEMONS - No, I am not.

Senator Givens - Senator Gould stated that he was discussing it in ai calm, nonparty way, though he talked like that.

Senator Lt Col Gould - The honorable senator must not blame Senator Clemons for that.

Senator Givens - I give him credit for making a moderate and temperate speech.

Senator CLEMONS - I am trying to discuss the question without any semblance of party feeling, and I am asking the Senate to consider it without regard to any particular questions arising at this or any other time. Senator Playford has referred to the fact that the Appropriation Bill has been put through, but he is absolutely committed to this position: that if it is right now for this Government to bring on fresh measures, it will be equally right for any Government to bring on the Appropriation Bill as the first' measure of a session, or, indeed, in the middle of the session.

Senator Givens - Just so; but the House of Representatives has the right not to allow the Bill to pass out of its possession if it thinks fit.

Senator CLEMONS - Yes ; but it has the right to consider what is going to happen.

Senator Givens - So long as the House of Representatives retains control over the Appropriation Bill there is no danger.

Senator CLEMONS - How can the House of Representatives retain control if it passes a vote of want of confidence in the Ministry by an enormous majority, and the vote can be made null and void ?

Senator Givens - It could not be nullified if the Appropriation Bill were not passed. I am in favour of the Appropriation Bill being introduced as soon as possible after the commencement of the financial year.

Senator CLEMONS - That would be a most inconvenient way of dealing with public matters, and, in my opinion, it would not be practicable. I do not see how under that arrangement we could pass monthly Supply Bills:

Senator Givens - Yes, we could.

Senator CLEMONS - I believe that, with the Appropriation Bill before the Parliament, there would be a general objection to the passing of monthly Supply Bills.

Senator Givens - Frequently we have passed Supply Bills after the Appropriation Bill has been introduced.

Senator CLEMONS - Not frequently; and I remember the initiation of the practice being deprecated. I am anxious that this question should receive serious and proper consideration before we take an important step in establishing a practice.

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