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Friday, 24 November 1905

Mr CROUCH (CORIO, VICTORIA) - Even with the closure the business of the House of Commons is paralyzed.

Mr DEAKIN - That is so. The last session closed practically without any legislation being passed. I maintain that the speeches of the three leaders whom I have quoted, when read together, amount to this : " Some of us approve,, and some of us do not approve;, of this, the most drastic form of closure known. in the world ; but we all agree that its application is inevitable at present, -and none of us can see our way to propose anything better."

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - One of them suggests a further "devolution."

Mr DEAKIN - But he does not say what devolution- neither does Mr. Redmond.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the "gag" a " devolutionary " process ?

Mr DEAKIN - It is one of the means of devolution, but there is no doubt that the term covers very much more than that. It seems to me that the two arguments which have been advanced against our proposals - the authority of Mr. Asquith and the objection to the period at which we have been obliged to take this step - are both met by the proceedings of the House of Commons in July of the present .year. Now I have to deal with what, to me, is a painful subject, because my conduct in parliamentary life has very rarely been called into question upon the ground that I have not extended proper consideration to those with whom I have been negotiating, or that I failed to appreciate what was due to my own self-respect. I must say that whils]t prepared for charges of various kinds at different times in my political life, I was never taken so entirely unawares as by the unexpected charge that in the particular negotiations of last Monday I failed in fulness of candour and straightforwardness to the gentlemen who met me in conference. I regret that the honorable member for North Sydney is not now in his place. Had he been present, I should have made a personal explanation at an earlier stage of our proceedings. But as two of the members of the Opposition who met me in conference upon that day are now present, together with my colleagues and1 the honorable member for Bland, who were associated with me in the negotiations, I propose to outline exactly what happened. Five of the six members who were present at that gathering can bear testimony to my statement of what took place. I desire to. be judged by the highest and severest standard that honorable members can set themselves in relation to this matter, when once they have heard my view of the facts of the case. Upon my arrival at the House on Monday morning I was informed that a proposal for some arrangement to terminate the prolonged sitting was to be submitted. I was asked if I was prepared to meet representatives of the Opposition to consider the situation, anc! agreed to do so without hesitation. I was not informed as to the particular character of the arrangement to be suggested, but at once came to a conclusion of my own as to what its purpose would be. I assumed, as most honorable members would have done, that it would take the shape of some proposition from the Opposition for the amendments which they desired to make in the standing order then under consideration. I naturally thought that they would ask for certain amendments, and object to others, with a view to seeing if we could not agree upon the passage of some standing order. Honorable members will recollect the circumstances of the position. We had been sitting from the preceding Thursday. A prolonged struggle had taken place. We had adjourned at midnight on Saturday until the Monday morning. We met again, I venture to say, as to this side of the House, not only strong in numbers, but high in hope and. \resolute courage.

Mr Wilks - We were strong in spirit upon this side of the chamber.

Mr DEAKIN - I make no imputation. I went into the conference without feeling that it could imply anything like surrender on our part, but with a preconception that it necessarily meant that some arrangement would be made with regard to Standing Orders. When first the question of making a proposition to the House in regard to that matter presented itself, the Government took into consideration, in a general way, the whole question of Standing Orders. We dealt with the general question of Standing Orders, and resolved that we would, if necessary, go as far as the House of Commons provisions ; but if it were not necessary to go to that length, we would go as far as was necessary to meet the circumstances of the case. When, therefore, a direct challenge came from the Opposition in regard to the conduct of the business of this House. in connexion with a certain measure, we decided to take the first step and then the second, or any subsequent step that might be necessary. We left these matters generally approved, but in the rough. I wish to say that the second and third proposals, word for word as they are now before us, had not been agreed upon, but it had been agreed that similar proposals and others,, if required, should be made.

Mr McCay - Honorable members upon this side of the House knew nothing of that.

Mr DEAKIN - Nobody outside the members of the Government had any knowledge cif the matter.- I mention it now, because I have been challenged as to what I had in mv own mind, and in order to make that clear am obliged to say what would otherwise remain a Cabinet confidence. My colleague, the Minister of Trade and Customs, and the honorable member for Bland, were sUe,(rested as members of the conference, and we attended it together. The House is aware of what was. agreed upon, because the announcement was made immediately afterwards.

We disposed of the proposal that the amendments should be -withdrawn, and agreed that a discussion should take place next day upon the standing order - the discussion of which was concluded last night. As honorable members will see, we arrived merely at an arrangement as to the time which the debate should occupy, and as to the course of business. Before those matters were finally settled I said to the deputy leader of the Opposition-

Mr McCay - The First remark of the Prime Minister was in the nature of a proposal to discuss the motion. " Mr. DEAKIN. - I was under the impression that that came subsequently, but agree that probably it did come first. I wished to discuss the terms of the motion. I took down the file containing the noticepaper, and said, " Now, what amendments do you desire in this standing order?" Then to my entire surprise - though the reply was perfectly legitimate - I was told that there was to be no proposal submitted in relation to that standing order. "Mr. Joseph Cook. - I told the honorable and learned gentleman that under any circumstances we should resist it as far as possible.

Mr DEAKIN - That is immaterial to ray statement. At some time or other the honorable member gave me an intimation, from which I drew that inference. But, in reply to my inquiry, he told me nothing in regard to the standing order. On. the contrary, he indicated at once that he had no proposition to make upon the question of what should or should not be embodied in it. He wished to put that entirely out of consideration. I was naturally taken aback, because, until the representatives of the Opposition made it perfectly clear that they were prepared to fix a time at which the debate upon the standing order should close, it seemed to me that our conference was not likely to result iri much good. That having been made plain, and as the only question left was fixing a time for closing the debate, there was no obligation upon me to go any further. If they would disclose nothing of their hand as to the standing order-


Mr DEAKIN - Only as to time. In my opinion, that is not the point. I do not remember - but will not deny, because it is possible that the honorable member may have made it as explicit as he has made it here - any direct statement that the Opposition intended to resist the Government proposal to the uttermost. What the honorable member for Parramatta did make perfectly clear to me was that he would take no responsibility for making any statement in relation to the proposed standing order, and that he would not indicate his intentions at all. When he left the room, I did not know whether he intended to favour any amendment of the Government proposal, and, if so, what amendment. The standing order question was absolutely excluded from discussion.


Mr DEAKIN - Exactly. That being so, what was my position? 'My honorable friends opposite, in the exercise of their undoubted right, chose, in spite of the three applications that I made in different forms, to absolutely decline to consider the question of the particular standing orders to be passed.

Mr McCay - We went to the conference to discuss the question of the proposed standing order then on the notice-paper.

Mr DEAKIN - No; only the time it should be voted upon. To consider one would have meant the consideration of any other standing orders.

Mr McCay - No.

Mr DEAKIN - I ask honorable members to recollect my position. I wished to open the door for a discussion of the Standing Orders, and was perfectly prepared not only to discuss amendments of that before ils, but, if necessary, to tell my honorable friends what else was in our minds. I believed, arid subsequent events have proved that there was a good deal of justification for that belief, that the first of the proposals now before us with regard to formal motions would not be opposed by them, and that I could secure its passing by mutual approval. I was perfectly prepared, in the event of their entering upon a frank consideration of the Standing Orders, to tell them everything that was in the minds of the Government in relation to this matter. I was ready to inform them of the view of the Ministry of what we thought was necessary, and what we considered unnecessary.

Mr McCay - But the honorable and learned gentleman did not suggest that other standing orders, were to be proposed.

Mr DEAKIN - No; because when I desired to open the door for the discission of the Standing Orders in 'substance, or in form, my honorable friends opposite absolutely closed it im mv face. Would any man, not having a glimpse of their intentions, have proceeded to show his intentions in regard to those very matters which they declined to discuss with him, and their intentions in regard to which they were not prepared to indicate to any extent. That would have been an absolutely one-sided position to take up. I take upon myself the full responsibility of having been then, and still remaining, entirely oblivious to any sense of obligation towards my honorable friends in respect of any matter touching the substance of the first or subsequent standing orders. "I went to the conference thinking that they and they alone were to be discussed. I was prepared to discuss them in principle and in detail.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not "them," but «' that."

Mr DEAKIN - Yes, both " that " and " them."

Mr McCay - The Prime Minister used the singular.

Mr DEAKIN - Because the proposed standing order then before the House must be the basis of the other proposals now under consideration. The standing order adopted yesterday is the foundation upon which these rest. I went to the conference prepared to submit the proposals of the Government to my honorable friends. The discussion was strictly confidential, and even if our views had not been accepted no harm could have resulted from such a disclosure. I was prepared to discuss something that could be submitted to my colleagues, and to the whole of my party, and receive their assent. I was in hopes that when I put our proposals before my honorable friends they would say, " We agree to so much, but not to this or that. We will take a division on those of which we do not approve, but it will be unnecessary to take that step in regard to those of which we do approve." I anticipated that they would accept our first proposal that the motion " That the Chairman report progress " should not be open to debate, but was quite prepared for them to say : " We will not give you the other proposals' unless you agree to make some change in them." I thought that they . might agree to our further proposals in the event of our making some such amendment as has been suggested to-day.

Mr McCay - We were asked to discuss one standing order.

Mr DEAKIN - I was not asked to discuss even one. I was not allowed, though I did ask it. I have not put a question to my honorable colleague the Minister of Trade and Customs, who knew as much as. I did of the intentions of the Government in this matter ; but I undertake to say that it never crossed his mind that there was the slightest obligation on our part to intimate to honorable members, who would not tell us anything of what they proposed, what were our intentions in regard to the Standing Orders.

Sir William Lyne - Quite so.

Mr DEAKIN - The honorable member for Bland, so far as I am aware, knew nothing about the ideas we entertained, but he knows that my statement of what took place at the conference is accurate.

Mr Watson - Absolutely accurate.

Mr DEAKIN - Indeed, the statement has not been " contradicted. Honorable members will recollect that I was- not too favorably impressed by the proposal that we eventually accepted. My mind was set upon endeavouring to arrive at an understanding about the Standing Orders. I did not like the other proposal, and accepted it only in lieu of that which I desired about the Standing Orders.

Mr Crouch - Did they ask that the Tariff should be excluded from, the operation of the closure?

Mr DEAKIN - No precise proposal was made ; no other measure was mentioned.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorable arid learned gentleman sure that nothing relating to the fiscal question was discussed ?

Mr DEAKIN - The honorable member may recall something I do not ; I do not remember a reference to the fiscal question.

Mr McCay - No one thought of the fiscal question.

An Honorable Member. - That is the whole trouble.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Supposing it had been decided-

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The Prime Minister is making a personal explanation, and I think that in such circumstances an honorable member should be allowed to proceed without interruption.

Mr DEAKIN -- -I have finished. All I can say is that if I thought that in the conduct of these negotiations my colleagues and' I had failed in any respect to make the fullest disclosure that we ought to have made to our honorable friends opposite, I should feel nothing more keenly. Upon reconsideration I still fail to see that I was under any obligation to do more than I did, or that I would have been right in saying more. I am perfectly willing to be judged by those who realize the facts of the case /that I went to the conference with no other object than that we might arrive at a settlement, with regard to the Standing Orders, and that I was deeply disappointed at the door being absolutely shut upon any consideration of that question. The only point discussed was as to time. The door having been shut upon everything else by those who would not show me what was behind it on their side, what obligation vested upon me to show what was behind it on ours?

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).- By way of personal explanation I wish to say, in answer to the Prime Minister's statemerit, that we declined to show him what was on our side of the door, that no one could have told him of what the Opposition had in mind. There was only one standing order in question. I told the Prime Minister distinctly that we had come not to discuss that standing order, but to see if we could arrange to put a period to the debate.

Mr Deakin - Hear, hear !

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I told him that we should resist that standing order.

Mr Watson - How could it be said that there was a breach of any understanding if the only question under consideration was that of putting, a period to the debate ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Because all that took place at the conference was on the basis of the standing order then on the notice-paper. If the honorable and learned member had the passing of other standing orders in his mind, he should at least have told us so. That is all I say.

Mr Spence - Why should he have told the honorable member and his party, when they said that they did not attend the conference to discuss the standing order?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Had the Prime Minister told us that he proposed to ask the House to pass other standing orders, the arrangement arrived at certainly would not have been made.

Mr Deakin - I wish it had not been made.

Mr. McCAY(Corinella).- Although the Prime Minister's narrative does not include everything-

Mr Deakin - It was unnecessary to mention everything.

Mr McCAY - I think that it is a substantially accurate statement of the facts of the interview. It is one to which I desire to take no exception and to make no addition. But the position was this: There was a prolonged and dilatory debate upon the proposed standing order, and the conference, as was pointed out to the Prime Minister and those associated with him,, was for the specific purpose of ending that debate and determining the main question. From first to last the discussion proceeded on the basis that certain closure proposals were being made, and that we desired the debate on those proposals to be terminated. My objection to the action of the Prime Minister is that in my opinion - and the honorable and learned member has put it that it is simply a matter of opinion - we were led by his silence to believe that the whole of the Government's closure proposals were those then before the House. Not one of those who attended the conference on behalf of the Opposition supposed for one moment that we were to. have a further closure motion thrust upon us.

Mr SPEAKER - Is it the desire of the House that the two paragraphs of the motion should be put separately?

Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.

Question - That the words " forthwith adopted," lines i and 2., be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words " brought up for consideration when the Standing Orders recommended by the Standing Orders Committee are being considered by the House ' ' resolved in the negative.

Paragraph 1 agreed to.

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