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Thursday, 23 November 1905

Mr KNOX (Kooyong) - I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, because I do not think that any very great advantage will be gained by prolonging the debate ; but, as I represent the most populous electorate in Victoria, after that of the honorable member for Yarra, I feel that I should be failing in my duty to my electors if I did not enter my protest against the passing of the motion. The merits of this proposal have not been properly discussed, because it has been brought forward by the Government in order to provide means for forcing through the Trade Marks Bill, in which have Been inserted provisions which are detrimental to the best interests of the manufacturing community, and of the public at large.

Mr Page - It is only the " boodlers " who say that.

Mr KNOX - The honorable member should not talk rubbish. Many of his interjections are calculated to destroy the reputation which he has gained for taking a sensible view of matters. I contend that the Government proposal has not received that calm consideration at the hands of the Government to which its importance entitles it. The manner in which it has been introduced is objectionable, and the merits of the proposal are questionable. Many of lis; believe that the honorable members on the Government side have done as much as have any others to obstruct business in this House, and no section of honorable members can say that they have not upon occasions prolonged debates unnecessarily. I am sure that mem bers of the Labour Party, when sitting on this side of the Chamber, have occupied as much time as members of the present Opposition have done in expressing their disapproval of Government proposals. The honorable member for Canobolas has referred to the tyranny of the minority. There is no doubt that, so far as this House is concerned, the tyrannous minority sits in the Labour corner. It is perfectly clear that they are tyrannising over Ministers, who are being used merely as instruments to give effect to the decisions of the Labour caucus. Surely no body of men in this Parliament should be more jealous than the Labour Party of any attempt to interfere with the rights and privileges of the minority. They at one time represented very insignificant minorities in the Australian Legislatures, and yet they could not complain that they were unjustly treated on that account. The Opposition represent a minority merely because two smaller sections of the House have united their forces1 for the purpose of carrying through certain measures, of which the general body of electors do not approve. It is unfortunate that, owing to the circumstances under which the Government proposal was introduced, we are unable to give reasonable and proper consideration to its merits. We all agree that if our proceedings are not to be extended beyond due bounds, some steps will have to be taken to put a stop to the unnecessary repetition of arguments, and the delivery of speeches of inordinate length. And most honorable members are prepared to consider proposals in that direction. The greatest resentment of honorable members on this side of the House is directed to the manner in which the Government have submitted the proposed new standing order. The present time is most inopportune, because any such measure should certainly not be adopted without the most serious consideration. In view of the small number of representatives in this House, and the large area that is affected by any legislation passed by this Legislature, it will be a most serious matter to interfere with the. full liberty of speech. Two or three votes, one way or the other, may decide questions of the greatest importance and the most farreaching results ; and in view of these circumstances we should afford the fullest opportunities for the ventilation of the views of representatives from all parts of the Commonwealth. I hope that the

Government will realize the grave responsibility that they are assuming in applying repressive measures to a minority which has recently performed such excellent .service. They are, with the assistance of trie Labour Party, proposing to forge a weapon which may be used with the most disastrous effects. I am glad to say that the moral standard of honorable members is exceedingly high, and that no suggestions have ever been made against their integrity or honour. But the proposed new standing order will place in the hands of Ministers and their supporters a dangerous power, which will subject their moral fibre to the severest of tests. I hope that we shall at least so amend the motion that it will be impossible for a private member to move " that the question be now put." The Ministry should take the full responsibility for their actions. Not only should the power of "moving " that the question be now put " be confined to Ministers, but you, Mr. Speaker, should be made the sole judge of whether or not any proposal before the House has been sufficiently discussed. \ think that we should provide that, even in Committee, the closure shall not be applied except with the concurrence of Mr. Speaker. I have the greatest respect for the Chairman of Committees, but I think that, just as we require Mr. Speaker to be called in whenever the attention of the Chairman is called to the absence of a quorum, so we should provide that he alone shall determine whether the closure shall be applied.

Mr Page - It was the Opposition who declined to accept the Chairman's word. They suggested that he could not count.

Mr KNOX - - I have the fullest confidence in the Chairman of Committees, but think that it would be wise to amend the motion in the way I have indicated. The honorable member for Riverina- last night quoted the speeches of various honorable members in connexion with the introduction of the closure resolutions in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. I venture to submit, however, that, so far as the application of the " gag " is concerned1, the position of the two Parliaments is altogether dissimilar. Members of the States Parliaments do not suffer inconvenience in attending to their duties, but members of this House have to travel long distances from week to week, and various obstacles might be placed in the way of their attendance here. For example, the representatives of

Tasmania might be prevented, by the breakdown of a steamer's machinery, from attending here for a few days; and, similarly, various difficulties might be placed in the way of the attendance of other honorable members. In their absence, it would be possible for a few honorable members to apply the closure and rush a Bill through the House. I therefore think that it is absolutely necessary that the Government proposals should at least be properly safeguarded. I rose solely to enter my emphatic protest against the motion, which to my mind is most inopportune. It is idle for any one to suggest that it has been introduced merely because of a sudden desire on the part of the Government to pass new Standing Orders, applying generally to the business of the House. The public recognise that this motion has been submitted for the specific purpose of enabling them to bludgeon through the House the union label provisions of the Trade Marks Bill. We have been asked again and again why we should so stoutly resist the passing of those provisions, since the union label clauses inserted in the Bill on the motion of a private member in. another place, are to be rendered innocuous. Such a suggestion is an insult- to the intelligence of honorable members. Every one knows that the union label provisions of the Bill are to be used for a certain purpose, but that is a matter which I am not at liberty at present to discuss. The feeling of most of my constituents is one of gratitude to the Opposition for having taken a course which has enabled the people to realize the true purport of the Government proposals. They recognise that the Opposition have been fighting, not so much because of a motion that may, after all, be so amended as to meet with the approval of honorable members, but because it is the evident desire of the Government to coerce the minority, who wish the country to be fully apprised of what is going on. It is for these reasons, and because we believe that the union label provisions of the Trade Marks Bill will prove disastrous to the very people who are now doing their utmost to rush them through the House, that we have taken up a resolute stand in opposition to the proposals of the Ministry.

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