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Friday, 26 September 1913

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I welcome this opportunity of saying a few words by way of taking up the challenge thrown out by Senator Clemons that we should criticise the work of Ministers, and generally review the political position. I wish to refer to the statement made by Senator Millen earlier in the week. His declaration has been somewhat clouded, but there is no doubt whatever that, in reply to a question from our leader, he did say that the Government would not introduce any measure in the Senate this session which involved a question of policy. There is no getting away from that position. When I asked Senator Millen whether, in making that announcement, he was not ignoring the Senate, he jocularly replied that he was not, because he was recognising the present position of parties here. The statement of the honorable senator is being re-echoed from every platform from which a member of this Ministry speaks. They are doing all they can to belittle the Senate. I hold in my hand a copy of the policy statement issued by the Government. It refers to a number of measures involving Government policy, some of which are non-contentious and might easily be introduced in the Senate. But let me pin Senator Millen down to his own statement, that it is not the intention of the Government to introduce any Bill involving Government policy in this Chamber until the question has been reviewed in another branch of the Legislature. I say that such an attitude is absolutely in defiance of the wish of the people of Australia. One would think that the twenty-nine Labour senators had been sent here in a surreptitious manner - that they had been forced here against the wish of the people. One would think that the electors had not sent them here by means of a free adult franchise. I have had the honour of being a member of the Senate for about seven years, and I can recollect occasions when the party to which I belong was in a minority. We did not hear from Ministers of the Crown in those days statements reflecting on the constitution .of the Senate, and upon the judgment of the electors of Australia. That is really the cardinal point. The people of Australia on the 31st May were faced by two political armies, which, through their leaders and candidates, laid certain proposals before the people. The election was taken. The result was that the Senate was composed of twenty-nine on one side, and seven on the other. For Ministers of the Crown to reflect on the judgment of the electors, as has been done lately, is unheard of in the history of Australia or of parliamentary government. The attitude of Ministers on public platforms is decidedly different from their attitude when speaking here or in another branch of the Legislature.

Senator Ready - They are quite mild here; they will eat out of your hand.

Senator NEEDHAM - Let it be remembered that this Senate, in common with the House of Representatives, is elected by the franchise of every man and woman in this country over twenty-one years of age who has been a resident here longer than six months. Practically the whole manhood and womanhood of the country is qualified to vote for both branches of the National Parliament. Except in regard to money Bills, the Senate has co-equal powers with the other House. The attitude of Ministers is, therefore, not comprehensible, and will certainly tend to a situation with which honorable senators opposite may not be altogether pleased. If it is the view of Ministers that the Senate is not worth considering, the best thing they can do is to abandon their seats on the Ministerial bench, and say that they will have nothing more to do ' with this Chamber. They know perfectly well that they are helpless, and that at any time the majority of the members of the Senate can compel them to bow to our will. They are as mild as babes when they are here, but when on the platform outside they are like roaring lions.

Senator McGregor - More like braying asses.

Senator NEEDHAM - Take Senator McColl. From the way in which he discharges his functions, one wonders whether he is really in the Ministry or not. At any rate, he is a tiny little mite when he is here. But when he is at a "teafight," he speaks as if he were going to move empires. I trust that the Government will reconsider their determination, and will introduce here measures, even though they involve Government policy. We have every right to have Bills brought before us. The present attitude of the Government is simply defiant -to the people of Australia. I wish to say a word in connexion with the dismissal of a number of men from the Kalgoorlie end of the trans-Australian railway. The Honorary Minister certainly gave me a reply to my question, but he said nothing about the discourteous treatment which I had received. I can only assume that it was due to the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Kelly. I remember on another occasion making a statement about a matter of public policy affecting the Minister of External Affairs; and, when I found that I was wrong, I made the amende honorable on the next day of sitting. But when I asked Mr. Kelly, over the telephone, a question relative to the dismissal of about seventy men from the Kalgoorlie end of the railway, he curtly told me that I must put my question in writing, as he declined to answer it across the telephone. I said that I would send him a letter, and did so. This occurred during the debate on the no-confidence motion in the House of Representatives; but I received no reply from him, nor did I even get an acknowledgment of my letter. Treatment of that kind towards representatives of the people, when asking for information directly affecting their constituents, is nol worthy of a Government; and I hope that it will not be continued, no matter what party is in power.

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