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Friday, 24 November 1905

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Prime Minister stated, by interjection, that it was agreed (hat the statement as to what had taken place at the conference held to bring to an end the recent dead-lock should be put forward by one of those present at that conference.

Mr Deakin - Hear, hear.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have a distinct recollection of all the circumstances attending that meeting, and while the Prime Minister is perfectly right in saying that there was no discussion of the terms of the closure proposal then before us-

Mr Deakin - It was expressly refused.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was because it was thought better to leave Parliament to discuss the terms of the proposal rather than that the conference should do so. We entered the conference in the belief that the proposals with which we had to deal, and which we, as an Opposition, felt that we ought to resist, were contained in the motion that had been the whole cause of the trouble.

Mr Deakin - I do not admit that.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No indication was given of any other proposal. The motion originally submitted by the Prime Minister was that over which the trouble had arisen, and the conference would have been a farce if we had known that more drastic proposals were to be brought forward to supplement those which we regarded as too severe.

Mr McCay - No one suspected that there was anything further.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If we had known that the Prime Minister had something else up his sleeve, and desired to remove the opposition to one proposal in order to pave the way for the introduction of others of an even more drastic character, we should have felt that we had still stronger reason for resistance. The Prime Minister dealt only with the motion then before the House, and asked us whether, under the conditions, a settlement could not be arrived ,at under which full opportunity would be given for discussion, and the debate could be brought to a termination within a reasonable time.

I regret that it should be necessary in matters of this kind to impugn any one's honour, but I ask any honorable member whether; in connexion with negotiations with another member for the removal of obstruction to a proposal, which was strongly objected to by a section of the House, he would have considered himself fairly treated if he had been kept in ignorance of the fact that other proposals were contemplated. I do not know whether the proposals now before us were in the hands of the Prime Minister at the time. I doubt if they were, because I understood him to say at a subsequent stage that' they had' not then been determined upon. If they only cropped up afterwards, the Prime Minister ought to have considered that it would be highly dishonorable to bring them forward after a settlement had been arrived .at without the slightest knowledge on the part of those taking part in the conference that any additional proposals were to be made. The fact that the terms of the proposal then before the House were not considered has nothing to do with the question. They were not considered for two reasons. The members of the Opposition thought, first of all, that they should be debated in the House, and, in the second place, they knew that if they were discussed, difficulties would arise, and that if any settlement were to be arrived at the fewer the differences of opinion the better. The Prime Minister knew that the chief objection to the proposed new standing .order then before the House was its severity, and if he had known that other proposals of an even more drastic character were to be brought forward he should, as a matter of honour between man and man, have informed the other members of the conference. He should have said, " I wish you to know that we intend to submit further proposals."

Mr Mahon - Under those circumstances, would the Opposition have continued the " stone wall " ?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not discussing that matter. We weire negotiating in the reasonable belief - not having been informed by the Prime Minister to the contrary - that the proposal then before the House was the only one with which we should be invited to deal ; and the honorable and learned gentleman had been told again and again that our oppo sition to it was based upon its severity. Despite his knowledge of that fact, the honorable and learned gentleman never intimated that he intended to make that proposal even more severe. I cannot regard his action in that connexion as other than, a breach of faith, and I am sorry indeed that in making an arrangement of that character, anything of the kind should have occurred. I would further point out that in the proposals submitted for our consideration there has not been that strict adherence to the] promise of a Minister which' I believe should always attach to such pledges. We all know that the Attorney-General intimated to the House that the Prime Minister had promised to accept a certain proposal. I say that any such promise should be fulfilled to the letter. I know that there are someMinisters who - if such a promise were not fulfilled by the Prime Minister - would hand in their resignations. There should be nothing more sacred than the deliberate pledge of a Minister to Parliament. W© have had evidence that there has been an absolute breach of a deliberate Ministerial promise, and although the matter must rest as between the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, one of them has been placed in a false light, and one* of themshould consider his position. Last night the honorable member for Bland, by interjection, disclosed the verv improper reasons which are responsible for the attitude taken up by some honorable members, and possibly by the Ministry. He said that no amendment upon any of the proposals submitted by the Government would be considered, because of the action which the Opposition deemed it their duty to take towards the close of last week. What did his statement mean? It meant that for reasons of revenge, any promise whichhad been made to' accept an amendment should be departed from, and this House should commit itself to proposals which will affect not only the present, but future Parliaments, because some honorable members under certain circumstances had taken a certain course of action. Admitting, which I do not, except for the sake of argument, that the action of the Opposition was wrong, I ask whether the conduct of public business is in future to be regulated by the acts of individuals? Are proposals such as those upon which we voted last night', and which were admitted to be of too drastic a character-

Mr SPEAKER -Order ! I do riot think that the honorable member was in the Chamber when at the beginning of the debate I pointed out the risk of this discussion overlapping the debate which closed last night. I have allowed the honorable member very great latitude indeed, but1 he has not yet connected his remarks with' the question before the Chair. I thought that he might perhaps have done so ere this. I feel bound to read to him standing order 266, which says -

No member shall allude to any debate of the same session upon a question or Bill not being then under discussion.

The honorable member will see that that standing order imposes an absolute prohibition upon oven an allusion to a debate which has taken place during the present session. As I have already allowed the honorable! member a larger amount of latitude than I ought to have done, I must ask him to debate the question which is before the Chair.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have every desire to adhere strictly to your ruling, sir, but I do not think that it precludes me from pointing out that the" proposed standing orders do not stand by themselves. They represent an addition to other standing orders which we have adopted.

Mr SPEAKER - That, of course, is so.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is what I wish to point out. The proposals of the Government must be regarded as, an addition to the Standing Orders which have been adopted during the present and previous sessions. Honorable members who are supporting these proposals have upon a variety of occasions - sometimes outside the Chamber and sometimes inside it - given expression to opinions which clearly show that any such proposals as those under consideration, in addition to the Standing Orders already in existence, should not be applied to any Parliament. To me it is astonishing to find that men who profess to be democrats should, the moment the opportunity presents itself, desire to become autocrats, and to go even further than the Conservatives have ever gone in any British Parliament. These proposals, added to our existing Standing Orders, will form a code of rules which exceed in severity those which are operative in any British Parliament.

Mr Fisher - Either the honorable member does not know the nature of the rules which obtain elsewhere, or he is making a deliberate misstatement.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That remark is unworthy of the honorable member. Will he name any other British Parliament in which more severe Standing Orders obtain?

Mr Fisher - The Parliament of Queensland.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has named the Parliament of Queensland, and he associated his. previous interjection with an objectionable remark.

Mr Fisher - I withdraw that.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would point out that the Standing Orders operative in the Queensland Parliament contain, some of the very safeguards which we endeavoured to insert in the proposals of the Government, and which the honorable member opposed. They provide that the enforcement of the closure must be authorized by Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees, as the case may be. Therefore the honorable member must see that my statement that these proposals, in conjunction with our present Standing Orders, are more severe than the rules which obtain in any other British Parliament is correct.

Mr Fisher - The honorable member is in error. There is a standing order for the application of the guillotine, which is ten times more effective.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - To what does the honorable member refer?

Mr Fisher - I am speaking of the guillotine motion, under which a whole Bill can be passed practically without discussion.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under the Government proposals a Bill can be put through without discussion. The honorable member is alluding to a practice which exists, not only in the Queensland Parliament, but in the British Parliament - the practice of fixing a time at which the debate upon a measure shall conclude. But I maintain that the proposals of the Government in conjunction with our present Sanding Orders - seeing that they do not provide for any control by Mr. Speaker or the Chairman of Committees - are more drastic than the Standing Orders which obtain in those Parliaments.

Mr Fisher - Any Opposition which cannot indulge in fair discussion under the Standing Orders proposed is an Opposition which is incapable of performing its duties.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is a matter which rests, not with a majority of the whole House, but of twenty-four members of it. It is for them to say whether an Opposition, shall be afforded an opportunity of properly considering any measure.

Mr Fisher - I shall be no party to preventing reasonable discussion.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not say that the honorable member will. If we had to deal with men of a moderate cast of mind like himself the position would be somewhat different. But if we had to deal with men like the honorable member for Bland - judging from his attitude during the course of the recent debate - these restrictions would be brought into operation like the crack of a whip.

Mr Fisher - I think that the honorable member is doing him an injustice.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A short time ago I should have considered that I was. But in the light of the events of last week, I say that, if the honorable member for Bland had had the power, the twenty-four members necessary- to make the closure effective would have been speedily found, and business would have been forced through without amy more debate than the honorable member himself deemed to be sufficient. That would be a very subservient position for the House to occupy. I regret exceedingly that the safeguards attached to certain standing orders of the House of Commons and the Legislative Assembly of Queensland were not embodied in the standing order adopted last night, so that an impartial officer of the House, elected by ourselves, would be called upon to decide whether or not it was being rightfully applied. I do not view with pleasure the prospect of what may take place in connexion with the application of these Standtag Orders, for I have seen the enforcement of less drastic rules in another Parliament create much bitterness and trouble. A Minister who, despite his anxiety to push on with the business of. which he was in charge, and notwithstanding the irritation which criticism of that business so often creates, would not sometimes be in favour of the unreasonable application of the closure would be more than human. I have known similar provisions to be applied most unreasonably! by Ministers who were usually amenable to reason. I had hoped that the

Ministry, having been a party to a certain arrangement, would be satisfied w,Uh some modification of the standing order originally submitted by them, and, at all events, would not require the second part of those now before us to be passed. I do not take such strong exception to those of the proposed Standing Orders now before us, which have been taken from the report of the Standing Orders Committee. So far as they are concerned, we have had some notice of them, for the report of the Committee has been laid on the table. But I do take the strongest exception to the proposal to add to the standing order already passed, one which is altogether too drastic, and is likely to lead to the making of an invidious distinction. All parties to the arrangement arrived at should have received honorable notice of what was the intention of the Ministry in regard to new Standing Orders. What would have been said if, in accordance with an agreement arrived at, the Government had withdrawn the standing order originally proposed by them, but had re-introduced it on the following day? Had they done so, their action would have been on all-fours with that which they are now taking. If it was the intention of the Ministry, when the conference took place, to introduce these Standing Orders, they should have notified us accordingly. They gave no such notice to those who conferred with them in regard to the standing order adopted yesterday, and this naturally causes vis to consider that we have not been treated as honorably as we ought to have been- Whilst I object to these proposals being introduced without notice, I am not so strongly opposed to the first part of the motion as I am to the latter part of it. Surely, in view of the drastic character of our present Standing Orders, it should be unnecessary to give the Government the further power to apply the closure to Individual members. Their proposal will enable invidious distinctions to be made. The closure will not be applied always with good reason. In many cases, it will be applied to individual members because of personal or other considerations in no sense connected with the business of the House. I have known that to be done in another Parliament, and feel satisfied that our experience in this House will be in no wise different. As the Ministry are already armed, in my opinion, with greater powers than should be given to any Govern- ment, I strongly urge the House to refrain at least from passing the last of these proposed standing orders.

Mr. DEAKIN(Ballarat- Minister for External Affairs). - I find that, unfortunately, my honorable colleague, the Minister of Trade and Customs, and the honorable member for Bland,who were present with me at the conference to which reference has been made, are absent from the House. I prefer to wait until they are here before making a statement that will greatly modify, and indeed contradict that which the honorable member for North Sydney, who was present, has put before honorable members.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).- I have a personal explanation to make. In the course of my speech this morning, I pointed out that a debate was sometimes carried on to enable an honorable member to reach fhe House in time to take part in a division. Whilst I was showing that such debate was not unreasonable, an honorable member behind me intimated that on one occasion, the honorable member for Coolgardie asked the honorable member for Kooyong to carry on a debate for that purpose. I made use of the information so given me, but have since learned that it was entirely incorrect. I do not know whether my informant intended the statement to apply to the Home Rule debate, but I do know that the honorable member for Kooyong did not take part in that discussion, and that he was not by any means pleased that he had not an opportunity to deliver the speech which he had prepared on that subject. I therefore. did him an injustice! when I coupled the reference to the Home Rule debate. I desire to say that the statement which I made was incorrect, and should not have been made to me in the terms stated by the honorable member in question.

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