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Friday, 24 November 1905

Mr McLEAN (Gippsland) - I should not have much objection to these proposals, if they were modified, although I do not believe in them in their present form; but I have the strongest objection to the manner in which they have been introduced, and feel that I should be failing in my duty if I did not express it. I do not accuse the Government of absolute breach of faith, but I say unhesitatingly that, when negotiating with the Opposition for the termination of the discussion on the "gag" proposal, the Government suppressed

Mr Deakin - No.

Mr McLEAN - Did the Government tell the Opposition that they were bringing forward these further proposals?


Mr Deakin - I wished to bring forward the question of the Standing. Orders at that meeting.


Mr Deakin - The honorable member absolutely declined to discuss them.


Mr Deakin - One could not be discussed without the other.

Mr McLEAN - All that took place on that occasion was placed before me, and not a word was said about the introduction of further gagging proposals.

Mr Deakin - Nor was one word said about the existing proposal.

Mr McLEAN - There are two ways of misleading those with whom one is dealing - one is by making a statement that is absolutely untrue, and the other by suppressing known facts having a material bearing on the question at issue.

Mr Deakin - Considering that the honorable member was not present, he is not entitled to pass judgment.

Mr McLEAN - There may be difference of opinion as to which of these two courses is the more immoral, but, while the person who tells an untruth' does so with the knowledge that he must accept the responsibility and the consequences of such action, the person who misleads by the suppression of material facts takes the benefit of his deception, but tries to evade the responsibility of his action.

Mr Deakin - Those remarks have no application to this case.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable and learned member admits all that the honorable member for Gippsland says.

Mr Deakin - I do. not. I deny absolutely the correctness of his statements.

Mr McLEAN - If, in commercial life, a producer, a manufacturer, or a merchant, adopted a similar course in regard to the disposal of commodities to customers, he would be regarded as guilty of sharp practice, and a trade union label would not be required to insure the boycotting of his goods in the future. It is a lamentable and unfortunate thing that, in ari assemblage of gentlemen elected to deal with the vital interests of the nation, we should be content with a lower standard of morality than prevails in! the mercantile world. I do not wish to labour this question.

Mr Deakin - No; because we are being given an example of a lower standard now. The honorable member is condemning us unheard'. If this were a mercantile transaction he would rue it.

Mr McLEAN - Does the honorable and learned gentleman deny that the knowledge of his further1 proposals was withheld from the members of the Opposition with whom be negotiated?

Mr Deakin - I deny it in all the senses in which the honorable) member has referred to it.

Mr McLEAN - Then I regret very, much what I have said.

Mr Deakin - Why does not the honorable member allow those who were present to speak?

Mr McLEAN - I am speaking on the words of those who were present.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Hear, hear. Every word that the honorable member has said is correct.

Mr Deakin - He is making charges on an ex forte statement, without hearing the men he is condemning.

Mr McLEAN - This panic legislation is degrading to Parliament. We are told that similar rules are in force in the House of Commons, but honorable members know that, although that .body contains between 600 and' 700 members, it managed to conduct its business for several centuries without such rules.

Mr Maloney - The number of members of the House of Commons was not formerly so large.

Mr McLEAN - I am aware that the number of members has gradually increased.

Mr Maloney - Furthermore, members . of the House) of Commons are elected, not on manhood suffrage, but on a property vote.

Mr McLEAN - That has nothing to do with the question. If in the House of Commons the; business of the nation cannot be conducted on the same high standard of conduct under manhood suffrage as under other systems of representation, that is a condemnation of a principle for, which I have fought all my life. I have been an advocate, not only of manhood1, but of adult suffrage. This is a House of only seventy-five members, and yet, after we have been in existence less than five years, the Government ask us to confess to Australia and to the world that we are incompetent to conduct our business reasonably and fairly.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - The Senate, with a membership of only thirty -six, has adopted the "gag."

Mr McLEAN - In my opinion, that is not very creditable.

Mr Maloney - The honorable member should go outside, and inquire how our time is wasted, and by whom.

Mr McLEAN - I know that a good deal that is disreputable and disgraceful transpires at public meetings which my honorable friend is in the habit of attending, where no one is heard unless his views are in accordance with those favoured by the majority of a certain section.

Mr Maloney - If the honorable member's information on the negotiations between the Prime Minister and the Opposition is as absurd as that, his statements are too wild to answer. He should know that what he says is not correct.

Mr McLEAN - The honorable member will have an opportunity to address the House when I have finished.

Mr Maloney - Perhaps I shall be able to show how the honorable member treated the right honorable member for Balaclava.

Mr McLEAN - The Government view iti regard to the application of the closure was,, I presume, placed before us by the Vice-President of the Executive Council ?

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member must not refer to a, previous debate.

Mr McLEAN - Am I precluded from alluding to the views which the Government hold on the subject? Cannot I deal with the reasons which have actuated the Government in bringing forward this motion ?

Mr SPEAKER - Yes, if the honorable member can do so without referring to a previous debate.

Mr McLEAN - I think that I can dothat. I understand that the Government view is that Members of Parliament aremere voting machines.

Mr Ewing - On the Opposition side.

Mr McLEAN - The Government position is that, when the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition have expressed their opinions, other members are to range themselves on one side or the other, without giving expression to their views. If I thought that I occupied such a degraded position, I would not remain in the House for an hour. I have never, when before my constituents, quoted the opinions of others, and expressed my intention to abjectly follow them. I have never adopted any other course than to place my own views before my constituents, telling them what I thought proper, and I have been elected on my own views. So far as I know, I have never yet violated a promise which I made in that respect.

Mr Thomas - What did the country think when the honorable member turned the right honorable member for Balaclava out of office?

Mr McLEAN - No doubt it thought that I was a good fellow, and I hope that it will think as highly of my honorable friend. I. do not mean to say that I am infallible, or that my career has been without mistake, but, whether I have done right or wrong, I have endeavoured to keep my election pledges. According to the Ministerial view, private members should be mere pawns, and vote as they may be directed. I hold no such opinion. I have always understood that Parliament was a deliberative assembly, and that each honorable member was entitled to submit such views as his constituents approved of. The very best legislation results from compromises between those who hold conflicting views. Ministers, however, 'apparently hold the view that we should meekly adopt the views of the one man who happens to be

Prime Minister. No man is infallible. The best amongst us may make grave errors of judgment, and it is only by full and free discussion that it is possible to arrive at satisfactory results. If the proposals now before us had been submitted independently of the standing order adopted last evening, I should not have entertained any very strong objection to them, although I do not believe in the application of the closure to individual mem"bers. I regard the time limit as very much to be preferred. Sometimes an honorable member may trespass unduly upon the time and patience of the House, but no one cares, by his vote, to silence that member, because it is well known that if he t>e " gagged " he will be injured in the eyes of his constituents. I felt very much bored last session by long speeches of four or five hours' duration, but if I had been asked to support a movement in the direction of silencing the offending members, I should have hesitated to do so, because I could not ignore the fact that action of that "kind would injure them in the eyes of their constituents.

Mr McDonald - Did not the honorable, member vote last session in favour of applying the " gag " to the honorable member for Gwydir, by supporting the Chairman's ruling against him ?

Mr McLEAN - It is one thing to support a Chairman's ruling and another to vote for the application of the closure.

Mr Thomas - It was all the same to the honorable member for Gwydir.

Mr McLEAN - We were called upon, on the occasion referred to, to choose the lesser of two evils. We believed that the Chairman was acting within his proper discretion, and therefore coul'd not shield the honorable member for Gwydir by condemning the Chairman. I am emphatically opposed to panic proposals of the character now before us, especially towards the close of the session. I think that the course the Government now propose to adopt' will deprive the people of the country of one of their most cherished privileges, namely, the right to have their case fully and fairly stated in the counsels of the nation, when matters of vital importance are under consideration. I regret to say that in the future the boasted high court of Parliament will have to decide matters of the most vital importance to the public without hearing evidence. There is, however, one ray of light to relieve the dark prospect before us - no closure that may be applied here will prevent us from stating the case fully and fairly to the people of the Commonwealth when we are afforded an opportunity - which I believe will be deferred until the last day of the statutory limitation - to go before the country

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