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Friday, 24 November 1905

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am glad that the honorable member has withdrawn the amendment, because the motion should be fully discussed before any amendment is considered. Had this motion been proposed in the first instance, it would have been debated more calmly, and would have received more favorable consideration than it is likely to obtain under present circumstances. But, although I feel that the Government stand in a wretched position in regard to the means which they have chosen for dealing with the evil waste of time in matters affecting legislation - they having acted wrongly and unwisely in overlooking the Standing Orders Committee, to whom all such rules should be submitted, and in proposing to meet particular ends what should be proposed to meet general ends only - I still feel compelled to support many of the rules contained in the motion. I have, for some time, thought that we might well prevent discussion on certain motions in the House and in Committee, which are of a more or less formal character, and I intend to ask the Prime Minister to so divide the motion that the House mav give a decision in regard to each portion! of it. Should that request not be assented to, I shall appeal to Mr. Speaker to act upon precedent, by putting the motion from the Chair in sections. I do not think there should be any discussion on the motion for the first reading of a Bill, because, although such a motion mav be necessary to draw attention to the proposal to introduce the Bill, and to put the Bill before the House, discussion is useless until the measure is in print, and in the hands of honorable members. Neither do I think that the motion "That the debate be now adjourned," should be the subject of discussion, though an opportunity should be given to the mover of that and similar motions - say, five minutes - to explain the reason for moving it. Otherwise, a Minister who may have some special reason for reporting progress, because of something which has suddenly come to his knowledge,, will have no means of informing honorable members in regard to it, except by sending the Government Whip to each of them individually. But I do not think that such motions should be taken advantage of by political parties, to delay business. In my opinion, the present Opposition have not sinned to as great an extent in this respect as have other Oppositions in this House ; but opportunity should not be given to any set of members to delay business, and, therefore, I feel compelled to vote for at least several of the proposals contained in, the motion. It cannot be ignored, however, that the standing order adopted yesterday makes the second part of the motion unnecessary. My chief reason for supporting in the main the proposals, in the first part is that they provide for rules which will be applied impersonally, and will not inflict injustice on any member individually.. I quite agree, with the first proposal under which all honorable members will be placed upon an equal footing, in so far that certain motions will have to be put without discussion. No party can take any advantage of such a standing, order, nor can the majority impose disabilities upon the members of a minority or upon an individual member. That is as it should be. There is some justice in a rule that will apply all round, and I regret to say that that element is lacking in the standing order adopted last evening, and also in the second of the proposals now before us. I object to a rule which would have the effect of depriving honorable members of privileges which, as representatives of the people, they should enjoy as fully as does a Minister. Under the proposed rule, it would be open to the majority . to prevent an honorable member from expressing, his view upon a matter of vital importance to his constituents. We have already conferred power to prevent waste of time, and I see no reason why we should direct the application of the closure to individual members. I have stated over and over again that every honorable member has a right to the full privileges of membership, irrespective of whether on not he be a Minister. If a Minister has the right - as he would have, without infringing the new standing order - to address the House for two or three hours, or for even-a week, in introducing a Bill, it would be a gross act of injustice to apply the: closure to an opponent of the measure after he had uttered two or three words. A tyrannous majority could make the position of honorable members in Opposition absolutely intolerable. If it be desired to prevent speeches from being extended to inordinate length, we can impose a time limit. We could decide what period should be devoted to the consideration of a measure, and divide the time equally among members. We should not allow a brutal majority to close the mouth of an opponent by moving that he be no longer heard. Such a proposal is about the last that I should have expected the professed democrats of the Labour Party to support. If, in the first instance, we had been asked to limit the time devoted to the discussion of motions which I admit are frequently moved with the object of delaying business, most members on this side of the House would have given the proposal favorable consideration. It would have been .recognised as an attempt to prevent indiscriminate waste of time, and it would have commended itself to honorable members because of its equal application. The closure rule already adopted ought to be sufficient to put an end to any organized attempt on the part of honorable members to waste time. The application of the " gag " to an individual member under conditions such as those contemplated in the second proposal now before us, would involve the Parliament in disgrace. A provision so unjust in its conception must be entirely repugnant 4o the spirit of men who represent a free people in a free Parliament, and it will certainly be repealed very shortly after the next Parliament meets. I do not wish to speak at any length on this subject, because I know that the numbers are up, and that we shall soon have to come to a vote. I know that many honorable members on the opposite side of the House must in their hearts recognise that discredit will Be reflected upon the Legislature which considers it necessary to adopt such a rule, and that sooner or later they will join in seeking to repeal it. I trust that the motion will be submitted in paragraphs, so that we may have an opportunity of voting for those portions of which we approve, and of expressing our dissent from those with which we do not agree. Whilst I will go as far as any one in endeavouring to put a stop to useless discussion, I cannot support the Government in their attempt to prevent the expression of the views of honorable members who oppose measures which they consider to be inimical to the best interests of the community.

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