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Thursday, 23 November 1905

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If I turn to Hansard, I shall find that the honorable member has spoken for four hours at a stretch, whilst I have always been able to compress my remarks within an hour and a quarter, or an hour and a half at the most. The majority of my speeches have been delivered in less than an hour. The honorable member, taking no thought for the convenience of honorable members, nor of their desire, to get home, has always been regarded as the last speaker in a debate, and has added wearily to the weary waiting of the House. We now find a sudden change of front. The honorable member has either turned right about face, or some great overshadowing influence is upon him. He now feels that the House is being "held up," because reasonable speeches are being made upon a most important proposal. I was never more surprised than by the speech which he made this afterneon.

Mr Brown - According to the honorable member for Gwydir, the speeches delivered this session, by the honorable member cover ninety-one yards of Hansard.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - During this short session I have had to do my own fair share of work, in addition to that which should have been done by the honorable member. He has had the " gag " put upon him in the caucus, and I have, therefore, been compelled to take his share of the burden of talking. If I were to measure the space covered by the Hansard report of the honorable member's speeches, I believe I should find that it totalled not ninety-one yards, but 199. The honorable member for Gwydir also gave us some statistics last night; but if the speeches which he delivered last session were measured, it would be found that they ran into very much more than ninety yards. The peculiar feature of this debate is that honorable members, who are now most anxious to apply the " gag," have indulged in the dreariest drivel, and have spoken longer at a stretch than has any other honorable member. Take, for example, the honorable member for Coolgardie, The1 Opposition well remember sitting last session, with aching hearts, on the Government side of the House, whilst the honorable member from the second Opposition bench reeled off by the yard a report by some Post-office officials concerning postal matters in Western Australia. He has now come to the conclusion that debate ought to be! limited. It seems that, as the result of their crossing the gangway, the opinions of these honorable members concerning liberty of speech, and the foundations of democracy as a whole, have! been completely revolutionized. I congratulate them upon the slender basis on which' their democracy rests, since the mere transfer of their seat from one side of the House to the other makes such a vast difference in their views on this subject. The honorable member for Canobolas made use of an expression that conveyed the inference that the Opposition were acting at the instigation of the Employers' Federation. I wish to inform him that I am acting neither at the instigation of that body, nor of that of the Labour caucus. So far as I am aware, there is no compulsion upon me' to do anything of which I do not approve individually. Instead of acting at the dictation of an association of any kind, I am taking that course which I believe best fits in with a sound and healthy view of democracy, and certainly is in keeping with a desire to do that which is best in the interests of Australia as a whole.

Mr Brown - If press telegrams are to be believed, the honorable member is being thanked by employees' organizations all over the Commonwealth.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am glad to receive support from any Quarter, and should not. mind if the Opposition received the thanks of the labour leagues for the stand which they have taken with' reference to the " gagging " proposals of the" Government. I think that we are entitled to their thanks. It will be found hereafter that we have been seeking to preserve liberties which' the honorable member and his caucus confreres are flinging contemptuously away - liberties which were won only after years of struggling and much tribulation. A peculiar feature of this debate is that we have had one honorable member after another declaring that he does not believe in the " sand-bagging " process proposed by the Government, and yet intimating that he is going to vote for it. The honorable member for Coolgardie spoke against the " gag " as an institution,, but announced his intention to vote for' it j whilst the honorable member for Gwydir spoke in favour of this proposal,, and concluded by saying that hewould vote against it. The rule of contrariness seems to have- been operating throughout the debate. Honorable members in the Ministerial corner find themselves in a tight place. They are going to vote for the Government proposals, although they really hate them, and will probably avail themselves of a convenient opportunity to rescind them. Thev are going to vote to-day under compulsion. And why? Simply because the "gag" is associated with the passing of a proposal to which they give their hearty support. That emphasizes another point. There are members of the Government who do not believe in the union label, but they seek to maintain their place and power by putting up what they describe as a fair record of legislation. They are in favour of the " gag/' but] not of the union label clauses of the! Trade Marks Bill. It is well known that half the members of the Government are strongly opposed to those provisions.

Mr SPEAKER - I would remind the honorable member that the question under consideration is not whether some form of closure is desirable, but whether the form to be adopted shall be that proposed by the1 Government, or that which has been submitted by way of amendment by the honorable member for North Sydney. I ask the honorable member to confine himself to a comparison of the two forms.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I suppose, sir, that I shall be in order in showing how the " gag " might be applied in connexion with any proposal submitted to the House?

Mr SPEAKER - That question has been disposed of.

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member, more than a week ago* dealt with that matter, and the only question now before us is whether the proposal made by the honorable member for North Sydney should be substituted for that put forward by the Government.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Judging by their attitude, and the expressions to which they have given public utterance, I believe that the form proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney would be more in accord with the views of Ministers. We know well that they do not all believe in the motion submitted by the Prime Minister. We are face to face with a singular combination, constituting the majority in this House, which makes it possible for the form of closure submitted by the Government to be passed. Ministers themselves do not believe in the union label provisions of the Trade- Marks Bill, but they do believe in a form of closure, whilst honorable members in the Ministerial corner do not believe in the " gag," but are strongly in favour of the union label provisions of the Bill to- which I have referred.

Mr- SPEAKER.-The question of whether the " gag " will be applicable to the union label provisions of the Trade Marks Bill must apply equally to the consideration of the two forms of closure, and, therefore, the honorable member, instead of discussing the relative value of the two proposals now before the Chair, is simply discussing the desirableness of applying the "gag" in any form. That is a matter with which he has already dealt, and I ask him not to make any further reference to it.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - One reason why I am advocating the adoption of the milder form of " gag " proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney - if any form of " gag " ^ to °e adopted - is that it will enable the House to discuss those measures on the business-paper to which it is to be applied.

Mr SPEAKER - That is a matter common to both proposals. It is not- involved in a comparison of the two.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - May not an honorable member give his reasons for favoring or opposing these proposals? Surely no more cogent reason for opposing the Government proposition can lie given

Mr SPEAKER - If anything were needed to show the force of the point I have raised, the nature of the honorable member's speech would supply it. He is using precisely the same arguments that were used by a number of honorable members when discussing the main question. If those arguments were .applicable to the first question they certainly cannot be applicable to that now before us. It is not for me to suggest the lines of debate which are open to the honorable member. There are a number which are quite applicable to the question before the Chair, as indicating the difference between the form of closure proposed by the Government and that put forward by the honorable member for North Sydney.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I favour the form of closure proposed by the honorable member ibr North Sydney, inasmuch as it is far milder than is that submitted by the Government. The honorable member for North Sydney simply desires to so regulate debate that the representatives of the people will be able to speak upon any subjectas a matter of right, without seeking 'the condescension of the Government, or of the caucus which supports them. I venture to say that, if effect be given to the Ministerial proposals, it will be possible not only . to suppress debate, but to suppress the most useful portion of the debate which takes place in this House. It very frequently happens that honorable members who indulge in long speeches do not contribute so materially to the elucidation of the subject in hand as do those who subsequently address themselves to it. The "gag" is not applied after calm deliberation, and as the result of the exercise of reason. It is usually applied in a time of clamour - in a period of temper and obstinacy. Throughout" a long parliamentary experience I have never seen it applied deliberately, and as the result of the promptings of reason. On the contrary, it has always been put into operation after great asperity of feeling had been engendered. Let us suppose that honorable members were discussing the union label provisions of the Trade Marks Bill, or the Commerce Bill - two measures which the country has never demanded. If ever there were two proposals which required thorough and exhaustive discussion it is those two. Let us suppose that we were discussing either of those measures, and pointing out reasons why its consideration ought to be deferred until an appeal had been made to the constituencies. If under such circumstances the honorable member for Bland happened to be in a similar mood to that in which he was this afternoon when the honorable member for Macquarie rose to address himself to this question, what chance should we have of debating those measures in any reasonable spirit ? I do not hesitate to say that the honorable member would have applied the " gag " instantly, had he been able to do so. It is not just that men who prepare speeches which will educate the people, and materially contribute to the betterment of the proposals under review, should be closured out of their right to speak, or that they should be permitted to speak only at the whim of a Government which may happen to have a majority behind them. I urge that the milder form of closure proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney should be adopted, because it will guarantee a fair and adequate discussion of all measures which may come before this Chamber. I am perfectly content to subscribe to the limitations which it would impose. I can generally say all that I desire in an hour, even upon a biff subject, and I .am quite sure that in Committee three speeches extending over twenty minutes would exhaust all my matter under ordinary circumstances. Whatever disabilities inhere in that amendment, I am quite willing to submit to them, because I am not one of those who drivel on hour after hour simply for the purpose of consuming time. The very men who intend to vote for the Government proposal are the greatest sinners in that respect. That is the outstanding feature of this debate. Those who have compelled us to listen for four or five hours at a stretch to the veriest drivel now wish to stifle reasonable debate, and to entirely prevent the possibility of fair discussion whenever any class proposal of theirs may be under review. I hope that the House, even at this late period., will return to reason. There is no reason whatever behind the Government proposals. On the contrary, there is more crass obstinacy than I have seen exhibited in this Chamber by any other Ministry, and we all know whence the .pressure is applied. We ail recognise why these proposals are being pressed forward. We can discern their genesis. Upon the very night that they were originated-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is again discussing the general question.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was not aware that I Avas transgressing. In conclusion, I hope that honorable members who value liberty of speech in this Chamber, who believe that every honorable member ought to be able to represent the views of his constituency within reasonable limits, will assist us to apply the milder form of closure that is embodied in the amendment, and so avoid the stifling of debate.

Mr. BROWN(Canobolas). -Possibly it is due to my native bashfulness that I have hitherto fallen under the rebuke of the deputy leader of the Opposition by speaking towards the close of debates. On the present occasion I am embracing the opportunity to speak earlier than usual, 'because I desire to reply to one or two criticisms which have been aimed at myself. I have been accused of indulging in " dreary drivel." If there be any ground for that accusation, it is a reason why the proposals of the Government should be adopted. I can recollect only one occasion, upon which I prolonged debate in this Chamber; I refer to the time when the Tariff proposals were under consideration.

Mr SYDNEY SMITH (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member did good work that night.

Mr BROWN - Upon that occasion it is true that the then Minister of Trade and Customs was " held up " for several hours to meet the convenience of the present leader of the Opposition. I was not then told that I was indulging in " dreary drivel," and I am sorry that the deputy leader of the Opposition has referred to my remarks in that way. Apparently, the side upon which .an honorable member happens to sit makes all the difference. During the debate which took place last week, I received some nice quiet hints from the honorable member for Parramatta that a, little performance in a similar direction would be very welcome. Possibly, it is because I was not able to acquiesce in "his wishes that I am now accused of having at some time or other indulged in " dreary drivel." Honorable members opposite, whilst severely criticising the Government for submitting proposals to control debate, confess that some action in that direction is desirable. The amendment of the honorable member for North Sydney amounts to an automatic limitation of all discussion. Its adoption would mean that a speaker, having occupied a certain amount of time, would be automatically " shut down," and could only continue his address by permission of the House. It seems to me that that proposal constitutes a more serious interference with the individual rights of honorable members than do the proposals of the Government. Under the latter, it is only when a majority of the House is satisfied that the question under consideration, has been sufficiently debated, or that the discussion has degenerated into a "stone-wall," or that an individual member has exhausted his legitimate rights, that the closure can be applied. It seems to me that, if there be any unwarranted interference with the liberties of individual members of this House, it is to be found in. the amendment of the honorable member for North Sydney. For that reason I shall vote against it.

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