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Thursday, 4 October 1906

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I wish to enter my protest against the methods of conducting business adopted by the Government. Under the circumstances, I think it is absolutely necessary that every member of the Senate should say what he thinks about those methods. I am supporting the Government - or am supposed to be supporting it - but it appears to me that the Government is so weak-kneed that it is staggering all over the place, and needs a great deal more support than any reasonable individual would be inclined to give to it. If I were a member of the Opposition, I would exhaust the resources of the Standing Orders to prevent the Government from passing a single measure at this period of the session.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator has been doing that pretty well.

Senator STEWART - I have not been doing anything of the kind. I have only shown a. sample of the goods that are in stock, if it were necessary to bring them out. The Government has either been guilty of the grossest negligence with regard to the business of the country, or it has deliberately, and of set purpose, flouted the Senate. ' It can choose which horn of the dilemma it pleases. If the Government has been guilty of deliberately flouting the Senate, it is the duty of every senator to resent such conduct. If it has been grossly negligent of the country's business, it ought not to remain in power. When one carries his memory back three months, and recollects the dawdling, easy-going fashion in which the business of the Senate was conducted then, one really wonders whether the Government is worthy of support

Senator Turley - One wonders more when one looks at the daily press, and sees the number of Bills we are expected to pass.

Senator STEWART -The number of Bills is perfectly scandalous ! We know that a general election must take place this year, and that honorable senators are naturally anxious to go to their constituents.

Senator Trenwith - Let us postpone the election until next year.

Senator STEWART - Possibly, if things go on as they are, it will have to be postponed. The most important Bills come up to us, and we are invited to pass them with the very shortest time for consideration. I object to that sort of thing. I look upon legislation as a serious and important matter. I do not think it is sufficient that a Government should hatch its measures in Cabinet, instruct its draftsman to draw Bills, and afterwards send them to the Senate, expecting them to be passed without comment or- scrutiny. Each member of the Senate has just as much responsibility for legislation as the Government has. For that reason, I insist on the Senate having the fullest and freest opportunity to discuss every measure that comes before us. We have the Appropriation Bill to consider. What time is left for discussing it?

Senator McGregor - There is plenty of time before Christmas !

Senator STEWART - There is not a member of the Senate who is in a greater hurry to get away than Senator McGregor. We shall be expected to pass the Appropriation Bill without any scrutiny.

Senator Pearce - Let us get on with it.

Senator STEWART - If my honorable friend were doing his duty to his constituents, he would resent, as forcibly as I am doing, the methods by which the Government carries on the business of the country. I think we ought to teach it a lesson.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator means that we ought to stone-wall .protectionist measures.

Senator STEWART - I am not stonewalling any protectionist measures, and, if I were, my honorable friend ought to be the last to complain.

Senator Clemons - He is voting for them.

Senator STEWART - At any rate, my honorable friend, whether voting- for protectionist measures or not, professes not to believe in a protectionist policy. Therefore, he ought not to complain. But I am talking about something very much more serious than either protection or free-trade. I am talking about the method by which the Government seeks to conduct its business. Surely the proceedings of this Senate are of as great importance as the proceedings of any Court of Justice. If a public prosecutor, or a Judge, tried to rush cases through, without the defendant being given a fair opportunity to state his case, would not a public scandal be created ?

Senator Playford - Oh, let us get on with business !

Senator STEWART - I want the Government to get on.

Senator Playford - Let me say a word or two.

Senator STEWART - I assure the Minister of Defence that it is exceedingly painful for me to get up and kick my own joss; that, unfortunately, is exactly what I am doing. But, if the joss deserves to be kicked, it ought to be kicked. I must protest againstthe ineffectiveness of the methods of the Government. Either it does not know its own policy, or it has brought out its policy at the last moment, and expects us to swallow it without lookingat it.

Senator Playford - The honorable senator will vote for this Bill right enough.

Senator STEWART - I do not know what it is.

Senator Playford - It concerns Queensland.

Senator STEWART - Unless I am told what it is, I shall vote against the first reading, because I consider that it is of the greatest importance that, not only should we have an ample opportunity to discuss every measure that comes before us, but that we should be told what the measures are when they are introduced. It is not a pleasant thing for me to criticise the Government in this fashion. I can assure the Senate that I do so with the very greatest reluctance. But I feel compelled to speak as I doby the absolute lack of capacity which the Government has shown in carrying on the business of the country.

Senator Lt.-Col.GOULD (New South Wales) [11.40]. - I am not in the position of the last speaker, in being in a difficulty about kicking my joss. I have no joss to kick. But I quite concur with what he has said as to the desirableness of teaching the Government a lesson with regard to the way in which it is treating the Senate. I am prepared to accept his suggestion, and to vote against the first reading of any Bill which the Government may see fit to bring before us at this late period. The Government hassimply dilly-dallied with business throughout the session. It has not submitted measures to us in such a way that we could discuss them properly, but has brought forward important proposals in a lump at the very last moment. The Senate cannot be blamed for refusing to abrogate its functions, so far as debate is concerned. I can think of no parallel to the treatment which the Senate has received from Ministers. The idea in their minds appears to be that the position of the Senate in relation to the other House is that of a Legislative Council in relation to a Legislative Assembly. We know that the idea of a Legislative Assembly, under the old Stateplan, is to keep business in its own hands as long as possible, and to look upon the Legislative Council as merely a body that will make a few amendments in the grammatical construction of Bills, or a few alterations in detail, and then pass them. But it has been pointed out over and. over again that the Senate is in anentirely different position. It is elected on the same franchise as the other House, and is, in fact, more capable of representing public opinion in, the States.

Senator Neild - Much more.

Senator Trenwith - No; in the Senate six men represent as many people as are represented by over twenty in the other House.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- In the Senate six men represent a State, and if that State, as a whole, entertains a certain opinion with regard to a certain policy, that opinion is better represented in the Senate than elsewhere.

Senator Trenwith - Not in proportion to numbers.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- We represent the people because we are elected by the people, and I hold that the senators sent to this Chamber by the States represent each individual State more perfectly than does an aggregate of members who represent portions of a State. But how have we been treated in regard to public business? When a Bill is sent up from another place we are not even told whether it is a new measure or whether it is a Bill that has been returned with amendments. Of course, I accept the explanation that the Minister has made. I should be very sorry to doubt the Minister's word on this or any other subject. But I am forced to the conclusion that he is not made acquainted by his colleagues with the measures which come up for consideration, from time to time. Senators have a right to expect that, in moving the first reading of a Bill, the Minister should tell them whether we can or cannot amend it---

Senator Playford - No Minister has vet done that in introducing an Excise Bill to the notice of this Chamber.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. GOULD.- The Minister ought to have informed us in this instance. He must recollect that honorable senators do not see the Bills till they have been laid upon the table. He himself does, and therefore he should afford us an opportunity to take advantage of the privileges which are conferred upon us under our Standing Orders. The President would give us the necessary notification df he were acquainted with the nature of the measures which come up from the other House from time to time.

Senator Playford - The very title of the Bill is sufficient to indicate its character.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Then why did not the Minister tell us that it could be debated upon the motion for its first reading? There is no denying the fact that, but for the quickness of an honorable senator upon this side of the Chamber, we should have been tricked, or jockeyed, into agreeing to drs first reading as a formal matter. I claim that the Senate has been placed in a very unfair position during the past few weeks. Bills of vital importance have been pouring in upon us - measures dealing with the granting of bounties, and Bills extending an increased measure of protection to certain industries. Are not such measures of paramount importance, from a protectionist or free-trade standpoint? Certainly they should not be rushed through the Senate at the last moment of the session.

Senator Playford - They are not being rushed through.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- They are. The Minister knew of one Bill, which would be fought most strenuously, and yet he permitted a month, to elapse between its submission to this Chamber and the resumption of the debate upon dts second reading. He was perfectly aware that its consideration would occupy a great deal of time - which it did. to the detriment of more important business. Whatever honorable senators may think of the proposal to construct a line of railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, thev certainly cannot regard it as of equal importance with Bills imposing Duties of Customs and Excise, and measures providing for the payment of bounties. This is not the only new Bill with which we shall be asked to deal. I find that, in the House of Representatives, the Orders of the Day include the following measures: - Post and Telegraph Bill, Patents Bill, Public Service (Telegraph Messengers') Bill, Electoral (Advertisement) Bill, Copyright Bill, Life Assurance (Foreign Companies) Bill, Postal Rates Bill, and Preferential Ballot Bill, not one of which has yet seen the light of this Chamber. In addition, there are private measures awaiting consideration. Do the Government intend to pass all these measures ?

Senator Fraser - Downright nonsense..

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I accept the interjection of the honorable senator as being applicable to the action of the Government in respect of these Bills, r ask honorable senators whether they understand the way in which business is conducted in the other branch of the Legislature? The process very much resembles that of putting meat into a machine and turning out sausages.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable and learned senator ought not to reflect upon the other branch of the Legislature. There is a special standing order to that effect.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- I regret that I have transgressed. I recognise that it is desirable that the members of both Houses should speak of one another with bated breath, or even with an assumption of admiration. I cannot look with pride upon the manner in which business is conducted in this Chamber, or upon the way in which votes are recorded. I believe that the legislation of the past six years has done more than has anything else to decrease the public esteem in which Federal politicians are held. We were assured prior to the consummation of the union that in the Commonwealth Parliament we should live in a rarer atmosphere. That hope has been woefully disappointed. I protest most earnestly against the way in which business is being piled upon us. Of course, we may be told that the present Government are not the first that have been guilty of such conduct. But I venture to say that they have improved upon their predecessors by simply overwhelming us with business during the closing days of the session. A few days ago we were informed that the session would close last week, and that honorable senators were to be afforded -the inordinate time of three days in which to discuss the

Appropriation Bill. Since then we have been assured that the session would close this week. What prospect is there of that prediction being fulfilled if the Government are determined to proceed with the business which is before this Chamber, to say nothing of that which is at present claiming the attention of the House of Representatives ?

An Honorable Senator. - There is plenty of time between now and Christmas.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Do the Government expect that they will be able to keep a House till Christmas? Already they experience the greatest difficulty in keeping a quorum, and next week that difficulty will be accentuated.

Senator McGregor - The honorable and learned senator seems to be determined that the session shall not close this week.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- We are determined that the Government shall know the opinion of honorable senators upon this side of the Chamber regarding the way in which they conduct the business of the country, lt is only a stern sense of duty which compels many honorable senators to 1 remain in this Parliament. They are here to safeguard the best interests of the Commonwealth. Only a few days ago the Prime Minister delivered a long speech in the House of Representatives, in the course of which he outlined the defence policy of the Government. I presume that when the Estimates are under consideration, the Minister of Defence will tell us what he proposes to do in regard to the deplorable condition of our defences.

Senator Playford - Deplorable ?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The defences of the Commonwealth are in a far worse condition' now than they were prior to Federation. The entire force is simply honeycombed with discontent. A few years ago we had more than 30,000 men in our defence force, but to-day we have only about 21,000. In his speech the other day, the Prime Minister outlined probably the most important policy in relation to defence matters that has ever been put before the country. But that policy will cost the country double what we are paying at present for our defence, and even then we snail have to starve our land forces. The defence policv of the country is one of the most important matters that can claim our attention, and, therefore, it should receive the fullest consideration - not at the hands of a few members who choose to remain in Melbourne till the close of the session - but by a ma- jority of the Parliament. Yet the discussion of that question is to be deferred till the las't moment. When it is entered upon, we shall be under considerable disadvantages, owing to the suppression of reports relating to the administration of our Defence Department. The last report submitted to the Minister bv a conference of officers from the various States contained references to other reports which we have never seen, and which will probably never be placed before us. I hope that in the interval between now and the date when the Defence Estimates come up for consideration the Minister will get those reports printed, in order that we may see the nature of the criticism which has been passed upon the defences of the Commonwealth general I v.

Senator Playford - 'Some of the reports are absolutely secret. We have documents in connexion with the Imperial Council of Defence which are marked "Secret."

Senator Lt Col GOULD - Will the Minister promise to table every report that is not marked " Secret " ?

Senator Playford - I think I have given every such report.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Will the Minister give us all the reports which came from the late Inspector-General?

Senator Playford - Yes, every one.

Senator Drake - They all have been made public, I think.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- Not all.

Senator Drake - A great number of them have.

Senator Playford - All the reports are here, but it would be throwing away money to lay them on the table and have them printed.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The Minister could do as he has done in other cases, namely, lav the reports on the table of the Senate, or the Library table, with ari intimation that thev will not be printed unless by the special desire of the Senate.

Senator Playford - So I would, if anyhonorable senators wished to see the reports ; but I do not think there is much importance attached to reports which simply say that an officer went, ' for instance, to Armidale, saw five men, and inspected their boots, and so forth.

Senator Lt Col GOULD - The reports deal with very different matters.

Senator Playford - I have produced all the important reports,

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The Minister, in laying the reports on the table of the

House, or of the Library, might intimate that some are of little or no importance, but that his desire is to hold none of them back.

Senator Playford - I have no desire to withhold any.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. GOULD.- The Minister may, of course, have his own views on the question of defence, but he ought to show a willingness to accept the assistance of honorable senators in evolving a system which will commend itself to Parliament, and, therefore, to the public generally, as one which has been fully and fairly considered. We have before us legislative work sufficient to occupy a month or six weeks, but the fact is that the Senate is belittled by the Government, and expected to pass all these measures at once, simply because there is a desire to prorogue. If that is the way the business is to be conducted, God help thecountry and Parliament ! Senator Trenwith, I know, is an ardent and faithful supporter of the Government, but I dare say that, as soon as Mr. Watson's manifesto is issued, the honorable senator will be prepared to politically cut the throats of every member of the Government, just as he would politically cut the throats of any other persons opposed to the policy which he upholds.

Senator Trenwith - That is no reason why we should not legislate now.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- The honorable senator isalways "barracking" for the Government, but immediately the Government has served the turn of those with whom he is associated it may go to - where it pleases-

The PRESIDENT -I think I ought to call attention to the fact that Senator McGregor's behaviour is not respectful to the Senate. No honorable senator ought to behave in a manner insulting to the Senate.

Senator McGregor - I could not help it.

Senator Clemons - I ask that Senator McGregor be requested to apologize to the Senate.

Senator O'Keefe - Apologize for a yawn !

The PRESIDENT -I did ask Senator McGregor to apologize, but he said that he could not help yawning, and, therefore, I am obliged to take his, word.

Senator Clemons - That is the unfortunate position you are in, Mr. President.

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