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Thursday, 23 November 1905

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - I think that the House is pleased that the honorable member for Dalley, after his temporary indisposition, is once more able to take part in our deliberations.

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

Mr BROWN - I also believe that the House generally is delighted to find a return to common sense, and that the idle task of building up a "stone-wall" to block public business has. been abandoned. I view the proposal now before us with mixed feelings, because, during my political career, I have invariably opposed the application of the closure. In the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, of which I had the honour to be a member for some seven or eight years, the closure obtains; and the present leader of the Opposition in this House did not hesitate to avail himself of it when he wished to force through the House measures which he had introduced. Although I was then giving a general support to the Government of which he was the leader, I could not concur in his action in that regard; but, as the result of my experience in this House, where, in the absence of such a standing order, a minority has been able to hold up the Government and the majority supporting them, I have come to the conclusion that some such proposals as those now before us are absolutely necessary.

Mr Conroy - The standing order proposed by the Government will mean, not the limitation, but the suppression of debate.

Mr BROWN - I regret that it should be necessary to take such a step, for I feel that in such a House as this the greatest liberty should be extended to- honorable members. But when liberty is so abused as to become licence, and the business of the. country is held up for an undue length, of time, something must be done to protect the rights of the House.

Mr Conroy - Is the honorable member aware that the Senate of the United States has absolutely refused to pass laws dealing with the suppression of speech, and that to-day it is the strongest legislative body in the world ?

Mr BROWN - That may be so, but probably it has not been faced with the conditions which now confront us, or with those that have induced the States Legislatures to resort to the closure.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does not such a statement partake of the cry of " stinking fish " - no Parliament in the world is as bad as ours?

Mr BROWN - No. But the proceedings in this Chamber during last week will give the "stinking-fish" party some ground for making statements derogatory to the national Parliament. I wish to deal briefly with the position taken up by the honorable member for Dalley. He denies that any necessity exists for the introduction of proposals of this character.But I would remind him that during the currency of the last Parliament he recognised the need for arming the majority with power to control its own business in a proper manner. Upon page 4335 of Hansard, vol. XVI.., he is reported to have said -

I consider, however, that we have a serious grievance against the Ministry, for no effort has yet been made by them to secure the adoption of permanent Standing Orders for our guidance.

Mr Wilks - That is a speech, which I made upon the Standing Orders.

Mr BROWN - A little later on the honorable member said -

The want of proper Standing Orders has given me many a sleepless night, and I wonder, therefore, at your placidity, Mr. Speaker, under the ' circumstances.

The honorable member then dealt with the powers of the House under existing conditions. In this connexion he observed -

All that we have for our guidance are temporary Standing Orders, and in view of the fact that you, Mr. Speaker, have had, practically no greater power over us than hasthe chairman of a public meeting - having no permanent rules for your guidance - it redounds to the credit of the House that our proceedings have always been characterised by a due regard for the best traditions of political institutions.

That was an accurate presentment of the case at the time. The pity is that it is not an accurate presentment to-day. The honorable member also stated -

The Chairman of Committees was powerless to stop the flow of their eloquence, and the patience which he has exhibited under the circumstances has been truly remarkable. Honorable members have harassed, worried, and bullbaited the Chairman, and yet, with all these facts before them, the Government have, taken no steps to protect him or the Speaker. It would be in the interests of the Government if they facilitated the adoption of proper Standing Orders, because the public business would be transacted very much more expeditiously. The present condition of affairs is scandalous. Although no " stonewalling " has yet taken place, thereis a positive danger that, with other members in opposition, the abuse of parliamentary forms might occur. . . . It is a standing disgrace that this important subject should be neglected ; and if the Prime Minister is not careful he will find some honorable members taking advantage of the present orders in order to " stonewall " the proposals of the Government. I am surprised that the newspapers have not published articles commenting on the neglect of the Commonwealth House of Representatives to frame proper Standing Orders...

It may happen that in the future some designing Opposition will take advantage of the faultiness of the Standing Orders to prevent Ministers from carrying on the work of the country.

The honorable member was a very good prophet. The position to which he referred has actuallybeen reached. The Opposition have practically decided to " hold up " the Government of the country. They have consistently blocked the transaction of public business during the present session. The first sign of a departure from the principles of fair criticism and a generalrecognition of the Tights of honorable members manifested itself when the Labour Government assumed office. The attitude then adopted by certain honorable members marked the beginning of a new era in our political history, and naturally it provoked reprisals when that Administration was defeated. A disposition was exhibited on the part of some of its supporters to repay the lateGovernment in. their own coin. But, although I felt strongly that fair treatment had not been meted out to the followers of the honorable member for Bland, I did not feel called upon to copy their bad example. Consequently I took no part in the opposition that confronted the late Prime Minister. Indeed, whenever any of his followers were compelled to absent themselves from the House, I was not only prepared to pair with them, but to assist in maintaining a quorum. When the ReidMcLean Government was displaced, similar objectionable tactics were adopted towards the present Administration. Although there is a substantial majority in this House in favour of the measures which they have submitted, the session has been chiefly remarkable for its barrenness. What is the cause of that barrenness? Undoubtedly it is due to the action of the Opposition in deliberately attempting to block the progress of Government measures. In support of my statement I need only quote an extract from an article in the last issue of Life, a magazine published in this State which cannot be charged with being hostile to the Opposition. It says -

The month proved another disappointment to all those who fondly imagined that the principal business of the Federal Parliament is to work, not squander its time in futile verbiage. The Prime Minister is evidently sensible of the fact that his assurance to Lord Northcote that the present Parliament was capable of transacting the affairs of the country was, to say the least, somewhat premature.

When the leader of the Opposition advised the Governor-General to dissolve this Par liament, after the defeat of the late Government, no doubt he assured His Excellency that the House, as at present constituted, was incapable of carrying on the business of the country. Evidently those who sit behind him are endeavouring to prove that he accurately presented the situation. The other night the Prime Minister outlined the Bills with which he proposed to deal during the remainder of the session. I trust that he will adhere to his intention, and that he will decline to permit this Parliament to be prorogued until all those measures have been passed, even if the adoption of that course necessitates the House reassembling after Christmas. I have no desire to see useful measures pushed into the background, and to be called upon to face my constituents without being able to point to a record of useful legislative work. Such a position might be satisfactory to the Opposition, who wish to prove that the Government are incapable, but I am satisfied that it is not one which will commend itself to the great majority of the electors.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What does the honorable member say about consulting the electors ?

Mr BROWN - I am prepared to consult my constituents whenever the honorable member is willing to appeal to his. The honorable member feels very jaunty just now because he happens to have the Employers' Federation behind him.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why does the honorable member utter a slander of that kind ?

Mr BROWN - The Employers' Federation is behind the honorable member in regard to the business awaiting our attention in this House. I should like to direct his attention to a paragraph which appears in one of the leading newspapers of this city to-day. It relates to a condition of affairs which obtainsin a partially inhabited island in the South Pacific, where responsible government has only been in operation during the past five years. This is how the Age describes the proceedings in its representative Chamber -

The central power of this (obstruction tactics) is the bunch of members who have come to be known as the " squealing dozen." They are a body of ill-mannered and intensely aggressive type - loud, self-assertive, and boisterous to the verge of clownishness.

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