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Thursday, 7 June 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South Australia) (Minister of Defence) .- I desire to say a word or two in reply before the motion is put, and I will be perfectly frank with those honorable senators who have asked me questions. I have been asked whether this adjournment has been moved in the interest of the senators who are to move and second the Address-in-Reply, or for the convenience of the Government. So far as I know, it is neither for the convenience of the Government, on the one hand, nor of those honorable senators on the other. I looked up the proceedings of the Senate in times gone by, and I found that when it was asked to sit on a Friday for the purpose of taking the discussion on the Address-in-Reply, it met at half-past 10, and adjourned at 11. Some senators wished to catch trains or steamers, and there was nothing done.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Parliament was never called together on a Thursday before.

Senator PLAYFORD - No. We always met on a Wednesday on previous occasions, but in this case we have met on a Thursday. I had nothing to do with the fixing of the day. It was fixed by my colleagues without any consultation with me. When' it was fixed for Thursday, I looked into the matter, and concluded that it would be useless to ask honorable senators to meet on the Friday, when in all probability so many of them would want to go away. That was the experience on previous occasions. Therefore, when the leader of the Opposition wrote to me and asked what I proposed to do, I replied that I did not propose to ask the Senate to sit on the Friday, but that I was in the hands of the Senate, and could not make a definite statement. But I took care to let the press know what I proposed to do. In Adelaide, only last Saturday, the press was informed - and communicated the information to the press of the Commonwealth - that it was not proposed to ask the Senate to sit on Friday. I saw an .announcement to that effect in the Adelaide newspapers last week. ' I also saw it in the Melbourne newspapers.

Senator Millen - The Sydney newspapers had the announcement that the Senate would adjourn until to-morrow.

Senator PLAYFORD - Then they were wrong.

Senator Millen - Why did not the Minister allow an official of the Senate to inform honorable senators what was to be done ?

Senator PLAYFORD - I had no right to do more than I did. It is for the Senate to say when it will meet. It is for me to propose what I think will be best under the circumstances, but the Senate decides what it- will do, irrespective of me.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - If the honorable senator had intimated that he would move such a motion many honorable senators would not have come here to-day.

Senator PLAYFORD - I did the best I could under the circumstances. I am always quite willing to do all I possibly can to facilitate honorable senators, and to suit their convenience, if they will only ask me what I intend to propose. Surely they will take the trouble to ask me.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator will never give us a definite answer.

Senator PLAYFORD - I do whenever I can ; but I cannot fix these things definitely. I can only say what I propose to ask the Senate to do. The fixing of such arrangements is within the province of the Senate.

Senator Clemons - Would it be inconvenient to the Minister to go on with business to-morrow ?

Senator PLAYFORD - Not in the slightest degree. It was because I believed it would be merely wasting time to ask the Senate to sit to-morrow - and I arrived at that conclusion from what had been done before under similar circumstances - that I asked for an adjournment until Wednesday. As to the statement which has been made relating to keeping business before the Senate, and not bringing senators to Melbourne unless there is work to keep them continuously employed, what I have to say is this : I can never tell for certain how much time a particular piece of business will take to transact. Suppose I have a Bill down for its second reading. I assume that it will be debated after the second reading has been moved. Perhaps I guess that this will, take a short time, but to my astonishment I find that there is a long discussion upon it. Or perhaps I expect that; a long discussion will take place upon a Bill', and it is disposed of in a few hours. How can I help that? I can never tell what the Senate will do. I can form an estimate, but I can never be certain as to whether any particular piece of business will give rise to a long or a short discussions How is it possible for me to give a definite answer to the question very properly put by Senator Millen? How- can I tell what the Senate will do? It may take up a piece of work and do it expeditiously, or it mav take a longer time than I estimate.-

Senator Millen - The Government have never accused us of undue expedition.

Senator Croft - Honorable senators opposite have never deserved it.

Senator PLAYFORD - There are certain Bills which .it would be convenient to introduce into the Senate, and which I would gladly introduce here if I could. But 1 cannot. The Constitution prevents me.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - When does the Government propose to bring in the Bill to amend the Tariff?

Senator PLAYFORD - I cannot say at the present moment. There are several Bills which it is simply impossible for me to bring before the Senate until they have been passed by the House of Representatives, because they are money Bills. There is a certain measure that was rejected by the Senate last session. I should like to re-introduce it, in order to obtain a decision upon it instead of its having to be re-introduced in the other place, discussed at, length, and then brought up to the Senate. But I cannot do that. I refer to the Bill with regard to the survey of the railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Surely the Government is not going on with that measure this session?

Senator PLAYFORD - Yes; it is in our programme. The honorable senator cannot have studied the Governor-General's speech or he would have known that "we intend to deal with that important measure, which is of considerable interest to the State which he represents. There is another Bill which I should be happy to bring before the Senate to-morrow, if I could. I refer to the measure which the Government intend to introduce to increase the number of the Judges of the High Court. I should like to enable the Senate to say at an early date whether the Court shall be strengthened by the addition of one extra Judge or two, and whether the salaries shall be maintained as under the present Act of Parliament. But I cannot do it. The Constitution does not permit that Bill to be introduced in the Senate. We have to wait for such Bills until they have been dealt with by another place. I have every sympathy with those honorable senators who have to travel long distances, and am sorry that they should suffer any inconvenience. I will not bring them here, if I can help it, until I know that I have a fair amount of work to keep them engaged three days a week. But the question of the hour when the Senate shall adjourn, and on what days it shall Sit, is for the Senate itself to decide. It is r.ot for the members of the Government to say, except so far as they have a voice as members of the Senate.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Why not bring forward the motion with regard to the redistribution of seats ?

Senator PLAYFORD - No; I think that is a matter especially affecting the other branch of the Legislature, and as such ought not be introduced here. It would he a great mistake to do so.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - We have to assent.

Senator PLAYFORD - Yes, but I contend that where the Senate is interested especially in a particular question, the other House should give way to our wishes, and that where the House of Representatives is specially interested, it is our duty to give way, and we certainly ought to do so in regard to a redistribution of seats, unless we have strong grounds for acting otherwise.

Senator Mulcahy - Surely it is not our duty to " give way."

Senator PLAYFORD - It is our duty to give way to their special wishes in such a matter, unless we have strong grounds for taking a contrary course. Although this Chamber is not precluded by the Constitution from initiating legislation for ai redistribution of seats, I think that, above all, the motion dealing with that matter ought to be introduced in another place. I promise honorable senators to db the best I can to keep them at work when they meet again, and, if necessary, to adjourn for a week or a fortnight in preference to calling them together for, it may be, only one day's work. If honorable senators will confer with me, and give me something like an idea as to how long they propose to speak on certain measures, I shall be able to form some opinion as to the time likely to be occupied, and in a better position to meet their wishes.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Will the Minister for Defence kindly mention if there are any proposals in His Excellency's speech which can be introduced in the Senate ?

Senator PLAYFORD - There are the two Bills of which I have (riven notice.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - But excepting those two Bills?

Senator PLAYFORD - T do not know at present of any other measures. I think there aire several more, but I am not acquainted with them.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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