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Thursday, 4 October 1906

Senator DOBSON (Tasmania) . - The incident under discussion may lead to a definite rule being laid down with regard to our procedure in these matters. It is the duty of the Government, when introducing a Bill, to outline its provisions and to announce whether it is one that is open to debate on the motion for the first reading. There are so many Customs and Excise Bills awaiting consideration that we almost allowed this Bill to slip through. In one sense, the Minister of Defence is to blame for what has happened, but in another he is not. There is so much business to be done, and so little time to deal with it, that the Minister may be forgiven for failing to be familiar with the contents of every measure that is brought forward. I enter my emphatic protest against Monday sittings. When we have morning sittings, and meet every day in the week, it is impossible to prepare ourselves to deal with the business submitted to the Senate. The admission made by the Minister shows that he has not time under present conditions to grasp the details of the work before him. We certainly ought to have from- him a- statement as to when the session will close.

Senator Playford - How can I tell when it will close?

Senator DOBSON - The Minister's interjection only serves to emphasize my contention that our business is in a chaotic condition. The greater part of the last few weeks has been devoted to the discussion of measures affecting only one or two individuals. The policy of protection is being run mad, and we find that we have no time to deal with measures of far greater importance. The Government anticipated that the session would close last Friday. I certainly thought that it would close to-morrow, but I see no chance of its doing so. Honorable senators who do not reside in Melbourne are anxious to know when the prorogation will take place in order that they make arrangements for their departure. The Minister ought certainly to tell us what business he proposes to ask us to deal with. Many of the Bills introduced recently are mere electioneering placards. The Government evidently wish the Parliament to continue sitting as long as thev can keep a bare quorum, and to " bullock " through measures which thev think will help them at the elections. Is it reasonable to assume that we can do justice to the many measures remaining on the business-paper ? The whole conduct of business in this House is disgraceful. I have never seen anything like it before, and do not suppose we ever shall see anything like it again. The British preferential trade proposals, and the reciprocity agreements with New Zealand and South Africa, overshadow in importance every other Government proposal. But these are being held back, while the Government are displaying electioneering placards and raising party cries for the next campaign. They are making use of the Senate to secure increased popularity.

Senator Trenwith - If they are popular in the country, then they must be' doing the right thing.

Senator DOBSON - I take a very' deep interest in the question of preferential trade, and say, without hesitation, that, in this regard, I am a follower of Mr. Chamberlain. I am willing to support any preferential scheme which is worthy of the name; but whilst I arn anxious to see a beginning made, I cannot vote for tha abortion submitted to us.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable and learned senator must not. on this motion, discuss the question of British preferential trade, as the consideration of the Bill relating to it is an Order of the Day for today.

Senator DOBSON - The Minister should inform us when he proposes to deal with the preferential trade proposals, and what measures on the business-paper are to be sacrificed. I desire now to refer briefly to the question of defence. Important reports have been furnished by the Imperial Council of Defence, the Naval Committee, and the Military Officers Committee. Those reports are before us, but we have not had time to thoroughly examine them. I wish to know whether the reports are going to be considered by the Cabinet during the recess?

Senator Playford - The honorable and learned senator is " stone- wal ling."

Senator DOBSON - I am not. Is not the .Minister interested in the remodelling of our Defence- system ? Are the Government 'going to deal with the reports during the recess?

Senator Playford - The honorable and learned senator 1V111 be told in due course.

Senator DOBSON - Shall we have an opportunity to discuss this very important question on the Appropriation Bill? The Minister will launch his scheme, and give us no opportunity to discuss it?

Senator Playford - The honorable and learned senator will have an opportunity to discuss all these matters..

Senator DOBSON - The expenditure which these schemes involve is so great that honorable senators must be keenly interested in them. There can be no starting of an Australian Navy without consultation with Parliament, and I wish to know whether the Government propose to alter the fundamental plans of our defence system without giving honorable senators an opportunity to discuss the whole question.

Senator Trenwith - Honorable senators will have the Appropriation Bill tomorrow.

Senator DOBSON - But is the Minister of Defence going to give us time to discuss it? I notice that he has not cut out all private .members' business, and I should be very glad to be given an opportunity, after a speech of not more than about ten minutes, to take a division on my motion with respect to cadets. I should like now to be given a definite answer to the question whether positions as cadet officers are to be confined to school teachers. The Minister has already informed me that they are not, but I learn that some regulations have been framed bv the Department, and an advertisement has appeared calling upon head-teachers to submit themselves for examination as staff and commissioned officers of the cadet force. I had a conversation with a young man in Hobart recently, in which he expressed bitter disappointment at the regulations issued. He stated that he had been studying hard for two or three weeks, and when, at the time appointed, he presented himself for examination for a position as a cadet officer, he was told that those positions were to be limited to teachers. In. the circumstances, 1 ask the Minister to say whether the answer he previously gave to my question is correct?

Senator Col. NEILD(New South Wales) [12.33]. - I do not know that I should have risen to speak were it not that an interjection I made has been to some extent misrepresented. When I asked whether it was possible for' the Senate " to fall any lower," what I intended was an inquiry as to whether it is possible for the Senate to more completely abrogate its functions as a deliberative assembly and as a co-ordinate branch of the Commonwealth Legislature. I ask now whether it is possible for the Senate to more completely consent to be made the tool and plaything of persons in another place ? I sympathize with my honorable friend, Senator Playford, in this matter. He is placed in. the very unfortunate position of being compelled bv the pressure of persons who do not sit in this Chamber to ask the Senate practically to degrade itself, whilst we know that the records disclose the fact that there has been no more consistent and persistent defender of the position of the Senate under the Constitution than the present Minister of Defence. It has been justly urged that the Prime Minister has in another place announced the defence policy of the Government to persons other than the members of the Chamber in which the Minister of Defence has a seat. The Minister at tlie-head of the Department has been unable to attend to the business owing to the pressure of measures which have been thrust forward in the interests of a Minister who spends all his time in going about to cow shows in the Riverina, and in the interests of the re-election of the Treasurer. We do not know whether the Bill which we are being asked to read a first time has any reference to the interesting agricultural institutions to which the Minister of Trade and Customs devotes so much time - far more than he does to the duties of the office hs is supposed to fill. The Minister of Defence is unable to tell us anything about defence, and we are treated with leSs than -*cant courtesy 'when we are asked during the closing hours of a dying

Parliament to deal with these important questions. I am not prepared to say that defence matters are in the position of chaos which is alleged, but I do saythat there are matters connected with the administration of the Defence Department which are of very much more importance than is the reading a first time of this Bill, about which we know nothing. Honorable senators will find that' in an official document which is before the Chamber, it is stated that we have a fully paid permanent staff of five persons to manage four persons in rifle clubs. These are matters of greater importance than is a measure to regulate cow shows and pig pens. The Minister of Defence does not know what the Bill is for, and certain official persons elsewhere do not care twopence for these measures so long as they can be put forward as electioneering placards, or may be used to form the subject of selfcongratulatory post-prandial oratory by the cowshow Minister.

Senator Clemons - Are cows the only animals exhibited at these shows?

Senator Col NEILD - No, the Minister himself is the most interesting exhibit ; only he is so damnably loquacious that, at the cow-show dinners, they pass resolutions prohibiting the toast of the Federal Parliament, because they are afraid he will make a speech.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator is making a fine exhibition of himself. He is like an over-grown boy.

Senator Col NEILD - Senator Findley might be a little more modest in his extravagant interjections on behalf of Ministers whose political throats he is ready to cut outside.

Senator Findley - "Damnably loquacious." That is nice language for a senator.

Senator Col NEILD - If. the honorable gentleman added a little wattle bark to his political ' equipment, the leather-making process would be complete. Why are we not dealing with the preferential trade proposals of the Government instead of with this Bill? I do not say that it is the result of those proposals, but it is a coincidence that Germany is at the present time adding to her artillery in an unprecedented manner, while Japan also is increasing her warlike preparations. It is true that defence proposals of considerable magnitude have been - if we may believe the newspapers - mentioned' in an other place, but the Minister of Defence from whom we are entitled to information of the kind, sits eloquently dumb. Is it because he is satisfied with the 21,000 more or less trained young people in the Defence Forces, or is it because he has not had the time that he has not made any statement on the subject? The only newspaper in Melbourne to report the proceedings of the Federal Parliament is the Herald. The others are content to paragraph alleged "scenes." According to the Age, which I think is the name of the Ministerial organ - and its doddering statements often justify its title - the courteous gentleman at the head of the Administration has made an announcement of its intentions in regard to Defence, although admitting that he knows nothing about the subject. It is, however, difficult to know what to believe, and what not to believe of the reports furnished by the newspapers. When we were opposing the desert railway proposal, we were the white-headed boys of the Age, but when we* objected to the increase in the duty on harvesters we were painted bv its writers in the blackest of colours. If it is a fact, as the newspapers allege, that the Minister of Defence has authorized drilling in double rank in the infantry force, instead of the horse-marine exercises with which our late military authority. Major-General Hutton, afflicted them for several years, I congratulate him upon having effected a reform. But we are entitled to know, from his own lips, what he is doing. Although I. believe it to be a fact that improvements are being effected by the officers charged with administrative duties at the Victoria Barracks. Melbourne, it is undoubtedly the case that the New South Wales Defence Force is not as strong numerically, and is not as well organized, as it was prior to Federation. Striplings have had to be enlisted in place of the stalwart men who at one time formed our Defence Force, the standard height for infantry have been reduced from 5 ft. 6 in. to 5 ft. 4 in., the height of the British "tommies," because stalwart men will not present themselves. No doubt things are improving again ; but we should know exactly what the Minister is doing. That seems to .be impossible, while he is acting as a wood-and-water-joey for a number of gentlemen in another place, who treat him as a sort of post-office for the transmission to us of documents, which are shot into this. Chamber with abso- lute disregard of proper constitutional methods.

Senator Playford - Thehonorable senator seems to think that a Minister of Defence should not have parliamentary duties to attend to.

Senator Col NEILD - He should have time to do at least part of the Ministerial work for which he is paid.

Senator Playford - My work is not the least in arrear.

Senator Col NEILD - At all events, the honorable gentleman has not had time to take us into his confidence in regard to Defence matters, and we have to be content with the information which leaks out through the press. At present all his energies seem to be devoted to assisting the " bul locking through" - to use a phrase which promises to become historical - of measures in respect of which I say " God help the country !" Fully two months ago I urged that, for the expedition of Government business, the time usually set aside for private members should be taken ; but Ministers themselves opposed that suggestion, and demanded that Senator Pearce should go on with his Bill for the nationalization of industries, although there was no chance of it becoming law. To show my bona fides in the matter, I have postponed, until next week, business which I had on the notice-paper. No fewer than twelve afternoons have been deliberately wasted by the Government during the last three months in connexion with a proposal which all who knew anything of parliamentary procedure were aware could not be passed, and one of the results is that at the end of the session we find men who have recently been marching in procession,bedlight with coloured ribbons, and speaking at a banquet, in glorification of the Eight Hours God. working the officials and attendants of Parliament for, on some ocasions. as long asthirty-six or forty hours at a stretch. Is not that the apotheosis of humbug?

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.

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