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Wednesday, 13 June 1906

Senator PLAYFORD (South AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I move -

That the Senate places on record its profound regret at the untimely death of the right honorable Richard Seddon, and expresses its deep sympathy with his family and the people of New Zealand.

It was only last week that we had the pleasure of meeting the right honorable gentleman. For the first time I had the gratification of sitting alongside him when you, sir, and the Speaker gave a luncheon to the members of the Legislature. He then appeared to be in his usual health ; he certainly was in excellent spirits, and I much enjoyed his conversation. To my surprise, when walking along a street in Adelaide on Monday morning, I was met by a gentleman, who said, "Have you Heard the news? Mr. Seddon is dead!" Never dreaming for a moment that he referred to the right honorable gentleman, I said, "What Mr. Seddon?" as I thought it must bc another gentleman of that name; and he replied, " The Premier of New Zealand." Of course the news of his death came upon us as a great blow. An unexpected calamity has fallen not merely upon his family, not merely ' upon the people over whom he has presided for many years with conspicuous ability and success, but also upon the whole of the people of Australasia, and to a considerable extent upon the people of the Englishspeaking world. The right honorable gentleman was well known. He was what is called in military parlance a " ranker " - a man who had risen from the ranks to a high and important position. He had no silver spoon in his mouth when he was born, but he> had to force his way by sheer strength of character and ability into the position which he so ably occupied. The legislation which he originated is well known to honorable senators. They know his history from the press. It may be recapitulated in a few words. Born in Lancashire in 1845, he learned the trade of an engineer, left the old country for Melbourne, worked in the Government workshops at Newport, went to the diggings and worked as a miner at Bendigo and at ballarat, married in Victoria, and then left for the gold-fields in New Zealand, where he worked with pick and shovel as a miner, and afterwards went into business. When local government was extended he became one of the members of the first local government board on the gold-fields, where he had made himself well known and respected among his fellows. He took a very great Interest in all matters affecting the wellbeing of the community. He was an Oddfellow. He was at the head of all movements for the purpose of bettering the conditions of those with whom he came in contact. After serving for a time on this local government board, the constituency with which he was associated elected him a member of Parliament. In that capacity he served for twelve years before he attained Ministerial office. During that time he was known as a Liberal, and was a follower of that old democrat of whom we have heard so much and whom we all respected, the late Sir George Grey. He joined the Balance Ministry. On the death of its head, he became Premier, and for some fourteen years he held that position with credit to himself and with great advantage to his country. I do not know that I need say very much about the legislation which he introduced, and yet I think it advisable to shortly refer to a few matters. He liked to call himself, not a Liberal, not a labour man, not a Socialist, not an antiSocialist, but, as he did when he was here, a humanitarian working for the benefit of humanity as a whole, irrespective of creed, and of any names which parties might choose to give him. Take the humanitarian legislation which has contributed so much to his reputation. The first great measure which he got enacted - it was first originated bv the Right Honorable Charles Cameron Kingston, in South Australia - was a measure with regard to arbitration for the purpose of preventing strikes. He introduced supplementary legislation for the purpose of enabling a workman to get fair hours of labour and a reasonable wage for his exertions. He started to break up the big estates, not by unfair means, not by confiscation, but by taking compulsory power to purchase at a fair price. Up to the time of his death he had spent ^4,000,000 of the people's money in the purchase of these properties, with beneficial results to the people of the community. Where sheep once roamed human beings are now living, and living, too, in competence, if not in affluence. Mr. Seddon also did what was looked upon as a very dangerous thing. He agreed to lend money to the people. He started a system of State loans for the purpose of assisting struggling farmers and settlers. Those who have had experience of land occupation know that the first few years of a settler's life, when he has to clear and plough, and wait before he can get a return, is a time of stress and trouble, but that with a little help and assistance to tide him over that period of struggle, he can go alone. Mr. Seddon was also the means of getting enacted an, oldage pension scheme, womanhood suffrage, and a number of other laws. He did not get all his advanced legislation passed without opposition and without an immense amount of labour on his part. He had strong opposition for years. He had an Upper House to fight and to conquer. But, sticking, to his colours, fighting strenuously for what he believed to be right, he accomplished the legislation to which I have alluded ; and, although in his own State it was considered by many, and outside his own State, especially in Australasia, it was considered by many more, that the legislation that he introduced would result in disaster to New Zealand, we know that, instead of its resulting disastrously, Mr. Seddon was able only last week to assure us - and on more than one occasion in his tour of these States he assured our people - that New Zealand has never been more prosperous than she is to-day. He made an unique statement - a statement which. I only wish we also could make in regard to our States in this great continent - that was that there were no unemployed in New Zealand. That spoke volumes for the prosperity of the country. And it is in consequence of this legislation that Mr. Seddon's name is known throughout the civilized world to-day. He was a man of strong individuality, a man of great determination, and of resolute will, a far-seeing man. Sum up his character as we will, we must say that he was a thorough statesman. And now we have lost him. He has gone to " that bourne from which no traveller returns." We have to mourn his loss. To his family - to his beloved wife and his children - that loss is irreparable. To the people of New Zealand it may not be irreparable, but still it is a very great loss. Great man as he was, however, he had disciples. He founded a school. He educated those who came in contact with him, so that they will be able to take his place, just as Socrates educated Plato and Xenophon, and as Our Lord educated His Disciples. I have no doubt, therefore, that New Zealand will be able to find some one to take his place, and to take it with credit. But, still, after all, his death is a great loss. He was only sixtyone years of age, and' in ordinary circumstances at least ten years of good, active life might still have been before him - aye, if we consider some cases, we can say that he might have been expected to have fifteen years of useful life before him, for we have known statesmen to be, not perhaps in their prime, but still capable of filling an exalted position with distinguished ability, when they have been over 80 years of age, as in the instance of Mr. Gladstone. When we compare Mr. Seddon's case with such instances as that, we may say that he has been cut off in his prime. But he has at least died in harness ; and I think that, if he had chosen the mode of his own death, he would have chosen that mode in preference to any other. His end was painless. He was spared the fate of lingering on a sick-bed, perhaps, for weeks, months, or years. What more can I say on the subject? I can only add that we condole most sincerely with his family, and with his people in New Zealand, and, as a proof of our deep sympathy with them, I ask the Senate to pass the motion which I have submitted.

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