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Wednesday, 3 October 1906

The PRESIDENT - Does the honorable senator think that that amendment is relative to the Bill ?

Senator Col NEILD - Yes, sir. It is intended to express the desire of the Senate to delay the passage of the measure until other eventualities have occurred, just as it would be in order to move that the Bill be read a third time this day six months.

The PRESIDENT - Under the Standing Orders an amendment to the motion for the second reading of a Bill must be strictly relative to the Bill. I am not saying, on the spur of the moment, whether the honorable senator's amendment is in accordance with the Standing Orders. I should like to look into the question before ruling. But I doubt it.

Senator Millen - May I remind you, sir, of an amendment moved on the motion for the second reading of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway Survey Bill, to which you took no objection? The object of it was to make the second reading contingent upon something happening.

The PRESIDENT - 'But it must be relevant to the Bill.

Senator Millen - Senator Neild proposes, not that the Bill be now read a second time, but that it be read after a certain event has happened.

The PRESIDENT - I am aware that a very subtle distinction has to be drawn ; but, in the Legislative Council of South' Australia, I have ruled out of order an amendment affirming " That this Bill be not further proceeded with until the finances of the State are in a better position." That proposal would have raised a discussion upon the whole question of what was the position of the finances of the State - a subject which was not relevant to the Bill under consideration. It seems to me that Senator Neild's amendment - raising, as it does, the whole business of the session - can scarcely be considered strictly relevant to the Bill.

Senator Col Neild - Do I understand that you rule that I cannot move my amendment ?

The PRESIDENT - Will the honorable senator allow me to look at it?

Senator Col Neild - Most certainly.

The PRESIDENT - If I have to' give a ruling upon the spur of the moment, I shall say that the amendment is not in order.

Senator Col Neild - Before ruling, you will, of course, hear me upon the point of order ?

The PRESIDENT - Yes. At the same time, I ask the honorable senator to consider whether his proposal would not raise a. discussion which has nothing whatever to do with the Bill.

Senator Col Neild - I submit that every word that I could utter in speaking to the proposed amendment, I could say by way of objection to the second reading of the Bill. I might urge, as a reason why the Bill should not be read a second time, the state of the public business, and that there are matters of greater consequence to be dealt with, which is all that the amendment affirms.

The PRESIDENT - If the honorable senator will read the standing order bearing upon this question, he will notice that the word " strictly " is used in reference to amendments relating to Bills, and is not introduced anywhere else. That word must have some meaning, otherwise it would not have been placed there.

Senator Col Neild - If you rule that my proposal is out of order, i shall be just as free to say everything that I desire to say upon the motion for the second reading of the Bill.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator can move that it be read a second time this day six months.

Senator Col Neild - Certainly I can. However, I have no desire to do that. I merely ask that the consideration of more urgent matters should be proceeded with. If my proposed amendment be not relevant to the Bill, I have spent twenty-five years in" a State Parliament without learning of a single instance in which such a proposal has been ruled out of order. Of course, it may have been my misfortune to be a member of a Parliament which did not follow the practice of the British Parliament, though there was a standing order which declared that that practice should be followed. Having looked through our Standing Orders, I fail to see any reference to amendments to Bills such as you, sir, have indicated.

The PRESIDENT - Under the heading of " Second readings of Bills," standing order 187 says -

No other amendment may be moved to such questions unless in the form of a resolution strictly relevant to the Bill.

The word " strictly " was undoubtedly inserted with, some object.

Senator Col Neild - That object probably was to prevent amendments being submitted which were clearly not relevant to the Bill under consideration.

The PRESIDENT - It was doubtless inserted to prevent amendments being moved which would raise discussion upon matters that were foreign to the Bill under consideration. Here is a parallel case which occurred in England. A motion had been submitted for the second reading of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, and an honorable member submitted the following amendment : -

That it would be inexpedient to proceed with any legislation at this period, except such as is absolutely necessary to the government of the country.

That amendment was ruled out of order. Mr. Speaker said-

The terms of the amendment before " the House have no reference to the business before the House. J cannot accept the honorable member's amendment.

Senator Col Neild - I submit that there is a vast difference between the proposal which you, sir, have cited, and that which I desire to submit. In the former case the amendment was to absolutely refuse to proceed with the consideration of the Bill in a most indefinite manner, but my proposal is merely to postpone the consideration of this Bill until matters of more pressing consequences have been dealt with. Of course, if you rule me out of order, I shall be able to say all that I desire to say upon an amendment to the effect that the Bil] be read this day six months. If you rule my proposal out of order, I shall take a course which will be in consonance with your ruling, but which will not restrict my freedom of action in any way.

The PRESIDENT - My 'ruling is that the amendment is not in order. I do not think that it is strictly relevant to the subjectmatter of the Bill. An amendment to be strictly relevant to the subject-matter of a Bill must have something to do with the Bill, and the proposed amendment has nothing whatever to do with the Bill itself, but has something to do with other

Bills. It seeks to postpone the consideration of this measure for reasons which have nothing whatever to do with, the Bill itself, and therefore I do not think that it is strictly relevant.

Senator Col NEILD - Then I move-

That the word " now " be left out, with a view to add the words " this day six months."

I submit this amendment, because I deem it to be in the public interest that no further time should be wasted over a measure, the whole atmosphere surrounding which reeks with the taint of corruption. The other day, when in Brisbane, I heard in the club, in the street, and on the Exchange, nothing but caustic remarks about the atmosphere surrounding this Bill ; and the same may be heard in Sydney and Melbourne any day.

Senator Stewart - Is the honorable senator in order in saying that this Bill is surrounded by an " atmosphere " of " corruption " ?

The PRESIDENT - I do not know that the words are not in order. The " atmosphere" of "corruption" may have nothing to do with this Parliament or with Ministers.

Senator Stewart - That is the infer;ence.

The PRESIDENT - I do not think that the words are necessarily a reflection on Ministers or Parliament.

Senator Playford - They may be a reflection on the Tariff Commission.

The PRESIDENT - The words may reflect on anybody - it is one of those vague allegations which I cannot rule out of order.

Senator Col NEILD - This. Bill is being pressed on with reckless indifference to the public interest. It is notorious that members of another place are flocking away from this sphere of legislative effort.

Senator Guthrie - So is the honorable senator's party in this Chamber.

Senator Col NEILD - My party? I think the senators, with whom I have the honour to be associated, will be here quite soon enough, and in sufficient number, for the comfort and peace of mind of the honorable senator. It is not a question of "my" party, and, with the honorable senator's permission, I shall change the word to "our." The press, which has given ihe present Administration unbounded support, is now " turning dog," as the phrase goes. We cannot pick up a morn ing paper in Melbourne without reading the strongest strictures on the conduct of public business by the present Ministry. If it were not for the ever-existing excellent temper and kindly disposition of the Minister of Defence and his colleague, Senator Keating - both of whom, I make free to say, have endeared themselves to every honorable senator who has his heart in the right place - the course of public business in this Chamber would have been very different. I think we can all agree with the words used by the President, a few days ago, when he described this Chamber as resembling a bear garden. We have seen the most extraordinary developments during the last few days in the conduct of public business - developments which warrant the postponement of all but the most urgent public measures, in order that an appeal may be made to the masters of this and another place. We have had honorable senators making the strongest speeches against a Bill, and afterwards voting for it. I pass no strictures on those honorable senators; but, as an old public man, I know what ir. means, and the journalists of the daily press, and others familiar with parliamentary life, also know the meaning. The Prime Minister, in his speech at Ballarat, eloquently and vehemently denounced the demoralization of Parliament - not a demoralization that involves corruption, but a demoralization which precludes the satisfactory conduct of public business. Who can deny what happened yesterday in connexion with the passage of a measure here, which I then pointed out would have to be treated as a new Bill when it went to another place? By the daily press this morning we see that the Ministry have recognised that fact, and have issued something like an informal" whip in the hope of keeping together members who desire to go north, west, and south, with a view to secure election. We cannot blame those members of Parliament ; but the position of affairs as described in journals, which are far more friendly to the Government than to the Opposition, is that every effort is being made, and every tactic, and every dodge adopted to postpone the general election to a time when the farmers - and the great producers of the country - will not be able to vote bv reason of the strenuousness of their position in relation to the harvest.

The PRESIDENT - Does the honorable senator think that these observations are relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill?

Senator Col NEILD - The observations, I submit, are relative to the amendment, which declares that this Bill ought not to be proceeded with. At the time of the last general election we had the great gerrymandering scandal, and now we have the scandal of everything possible being done in connexion with useless and pernicious measures, such as the one under discussion, in order to delay an appeal to the people. The business is being thrust on us in' a manner absolutely without precedent, unless, perhaps, in some 'South American Republics. There are on the Senate noticepaper four Bills for second reading, and one of a most contentious character in Committee. One of the Bills down for second reading is the Appropriation Bill for the whole service of the Commonwealth for the year ; and on the table of the Senate there is an official paper which shows that in another place there are no fewer than eight Bills awaiting second reading, all of which are supposed to be dealt with by the Senate. There are several other measures which have reached the Committee stage, and one of these is of an absolutely absurd character - being brought in to correct the bacl language of a previous Parliament, or of officials in the employ of the Commonwealth. We find the business in such a condition that, owing to the interesting question of the appointment of Judges to the High Court, Parliament is without a law adviser. I suppose we shall have a few more amending Bills introduced in order to correct the bad language found in them.

Senator McGregor - Not "bad language," surely?

Senator Col NEILD - If the honorable senator likes I will say bad grammar, though, strictly speaking, there is no such thing, because if it is bad it is not grammar. Unless we adopt the amendment, either the law must be broken, or there must be a prorogation of Parliament without the passing of measures of greater consequence than is this miserable Bill, by which it is proposed to confer immense benefits on a firm the members of which were not prepared, before a Royal Commission, to give any information about their business. One of the two supporters of the Ministry in the Senate gave us, last night, an excellent speech of about two hours' duration. It was delivered at the rate of about from 75 to 80 words a minute, and, as an exposition of stonewalling, was a verv fine effort. It was done so well that no one would have thought that the honorable senator was stone-walling. I compliment Senator Trenwith on his admirable effort.

Senator Trenwith - I am prepared to accept such a compliment from, an exponent of the art of stone-walling.

Senator Col NEILD - I am very happy that, in the plenitude of my knowledge as to how business is conducted elsewhere, I am able to tender this courtesy to my honorable friend. How is it that the business of the Senate has become so congested ? Why is it necessary for me to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months ? It is due to the contemptuous manner in which the Senate has been treated by the Ministry. They are not even prepared to introduce in this Chamber a Bill to amend their own bad language. One of the principal reasons for this awful congestion of business is that six or seven measures all stand in the name of one Minister, who for some months has been conspicuous by his devotion to cow shows and pig pens in his electorate. It is consequent upon that honorable gentleman's absence at these interesting agricultural functions that we find the public interests absolutely jeopardized. The courtesy that one honorable senator may extend to another, whether he be an independent representative or a creature of the Crown as a Minister-

The PRESIDENT - I do not think that the honorable senator ought to characterize a Minister as a " creature of the Crown."

Senator Col NEILD - Then I shall say servants of the Crown. "Creature" is a very old word, and has a significance nowadays that was never thought of in times gone by. There is a vast difference between the man who 'sacrifices his independence as a representative of the people in order to be a servant of the Crown, and the man who does not. I have not sacrificed my independence, and am free, as a representative of the people, to complain of the acts of Ministers, who. although apparently on a higher plane of official responsibility-, are not on a higher plane of responsibility to the people. They have neglected their duties in Parliament, with the result that we have to-day a congestion of business without parallel in any Legislature. We find that the legal busi- ness of the Parliament is in a deplorable state, because the Minister of all Ministers who should be capable of attending and advising members finds, apparently, that the shadow of a coming appointment prevents his devotion to the public interest. Instead of trafficking with a Harvester Bill and other measures which are asked for by only one firm, we should deal with more pressing business that is left in the background. It is impossible to follow everything that appears in the press in regard to this noxious business of harvester jobs; but, so far as I know, only one firm has sought to obtain, not merely protection, but prohibition, in respect of these machines. Indeed, the speech made by Senator Trenwith would lead one to suppose that the object of this Bill is to secure not protection, but prohibition. The honorable senator said he was not going to raise the cry of free-trade or protection. I shall not do so, for I do not think this Bill necessarily involves either proposition. But it certainly involves an extraordinary departure from all decent procedure. It is a departure from all decent usage that a Bill should be passed for the exclusive benefit of one set of individuals.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Did not Senator Trenwith say that we had one high rampart, and that this was to be another? Apparently we are to have a lot of walls.

Senator Col NEILD - We are rapidly building, not only walls round Australia, but, so to speak, coral reefs in the sea, since we are not satisfied to pass legislation affecting the land itself, but-

The PRESIDENT - That matter can-' not be discussed.

Senator Col NEILD - I was drawn aside by the interesting observation made by Senator Symon as to the building of walls. This Bill shows clearly that the authors of the Australian Industries Preservation Act recognise that it is practically a failure. If it were what it is claimed to be, this Bill would be unnecessary. The Australian Industries Preservation Act was heralded as a measure that, in the course of a month, would abolish trusts. It has been found, however, to be a dead letter, and now the great Parliament of the Commonwealth is engaged in passing measures for the good fortune of individuals and separate corporations. It as a motet deplorable situation for what is supposed to be a national Parliament to occupy. A large name was applied to the Parliament, and big things were expected of it; but we have come down to trafficking in peddling measures for the aggrandizement of individual firms. This Bill ought not to be passed. It ought not even to be read a second time six months hence, but I cannot move that the second reading be postponed beyond that time. During the next six months I hope that there will be an opportunity for the people to show their sense of proportion in legislation. I have moved the amendment in order that the voice of Australia mav be heard at the polling places - that we may ascertain whether it is the desire of the electors of the Commonwealth that their would-be great national Parliament shall become a huckstering shop for the advantage of individual manufacturers. I do not consider that the question of protection or free-trade is involved, and I shall not discuss the Bill from that stand-point. But I do think it is a Bill for the advantage of one or two persons who are known and some persons unspecified, lor these reasons, and for many others, the Bill should be read this day six months rather than at the present time, and we should proceed with the consideration of the measures which must be passed before the close of the session if the administration of the. Commonwealth is to be decently conducted. It is necessary at the end of this year to deal with the great kanaka question. I do not propose to discuss it now, but, apparently, from the views expressed by Ministers, it is impossible to carry out the laws passed by this Parliament to deal with that question without additional legislation. We are trafficking in the harvester business, whilst thegreat question of White Australia - to which some honorable senators profess to attach-, so much importance - is trembling in- thebalance.

Senator Clemons - What about the- Appropriation Bill ; is not that important?

Senator Col NEILD - It has been read a first time, and, although it proposes the expenditure of millions of money, in all probability there will be no quorum in either Chamber to deal with it next week, and, clearly it cannot be dealt with this week if our time is further occupied with harvesters. If mv amendment is carried we shall be able to consider that much more important measure. I am unable to understand why the interests of the Commonwealth should be sacrificed to the interests, political or otherwise, of one or two Ministers. We occupied some time in dealing with a measure which was infinitely dear to the heart of one Minister, and infinitely bound up with his political fortunes. Whilst the discussion on this Bill was proceeding last night, we saw within the precincts of the Chamber a Minister with hollow eves and haggard face-

The PRESIDENT. I do not think the honorable senator should allude to strangers in the galleries of the Senate.

Senator Col NEILD - I propose to take a course with reference to public business which, so far as I can assist in the matter, will secure proper attention to the important, rather than to the unimportant, measures before the Senate. I do not utter that as a threat; but I was sent here, not to be the creature - but the President objects to that word--

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator may call himself a creature.

Senator Col NEILD -I hope I am one of God's creatures, and, as such, I am not ashamed to call myself a creature. I was sent here to represent the people, and not to be a jack of all trades for any Administration. I decline to subordinate the trust imposed upon me by the people of my State to the fortunes of any Ministry. The whole financial service of the year is bound up in the Appropriation Bill, which was read a first time in the Senate on Monday, and which we should have been discussing long ago. On a proposal to expend public money on a useless enterprise, we can find 20,000 reasons for discussion extending over weeks. If a Bill is introduced in connexion with harvesters, to enrich some person who is already rich, we can spend unlimited time over that. There are other measures to which I might refer; but I shall not do so, because I have no desire to unduly occupy the few short hours which will be left before so many members of the Federal Parliament have gone away on electioneering business that there will not be a quorum in either Chamber. With all kindly feeling, I warn the Minister of Defence that, by taking up valuable time in the consideration of comparatively trifling, and individual interests, he is running the risk of being left without a quorum in this Chamber, or in another place, to carry on really important business. I have not in this session offered the slightest factious opposition to the Government.

Senator Playford - Hear, hear.

Senator Col NEILD - I am glad to hear the Minister assent to that statement, because I feel that I have given the Government reasonable help. Though I have been opposed to one or two of their measures, I have expressed my opposition briefly enough. I have not touched upon the Bill itself, because I prefer to see it postponed, and dealt with after the people have had an opportunity, at the coming elections, of saying what they think should be done with this and with some other measures. If they are placed on the statute-book, of what use will it be to consult the public about them ? Every conceivable topic under Heaven has been dealt with in one or other of the measures submitted this session. What are we going to consult the people about? Those members of the Senate and the House of Representatives who must shortly submit themselves for reelection will go before their constituents, not with a number of reforms to offer the electors, but full of apologies for the action of Parliament in passing trumpery measures to the disadvantage of the community. I am not personally affected, because my term of office will not expire until three years hence; but I think that those who have to seek re-election should, in sporting parlance, be given a " fair run for their money." Let us be content with passing a Bill to amend the bad language of the Government, the Appropriation Bill, and one or two other essential measures, and not continue sitting, with barely a quorum present dealing with questions seriously affecting the public interest. Surely it is not unreasonable to ask that measures of paramount importance, such as some of those on the business-paper. shall be postponed until we can be sure of attendances at' least as Targe as the statutory quorum. The people, in voting for the Constitution, did not think that Bills of this kind would be discussed in the House of Representatives when only six or seven of the seventy-five members which constitute that body were present and. by the suspension of theStanding Orders, hurried through the Senate of thirty-six members in the presence of only three or four.

Senator Clemons - Is the honorable senator referring to the present condition of things? [Quorum formed.]

Senator Col NEILD - The absence of a quorum a moment ago gave point to my remarks. It showed that my statement was not improper or vague, but conveyed the exact facts. Having protested against a procedure without parallel in the other Parliaments of Australia, and contrary to all decent parliamentary methods, and especially to the constitutional principles and rules which should govern the chief Parliament of the Commonwealth, I consider that I have discharged my duties to those who sent me here, and shall say no more on the subject.

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