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Friday, 8 June 1906

Mr REID (East Sydney) .- It will be my duty to touch upon a large number of questions of public importance, and I shall, therefore, begin by asking the indulgence of the House. With reference to the Speech itself, I think that, just as the late Ministry established a record for brevity, the present Ministry have established a record in the opposite direction. The Speech contains about four paragraphs for each Government supporter in the House of Representatives, which is an unusually large allowance. I may say at once that I propose to vote for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply on both the grounds mentioned - firstly, on the ground of loyalty, and, secondly, on the ground of thanks to His Excellency the Governor-General for having passed successfully through such an ordeal. My honorable friend, the member for Barker, made a statement which, considering his well-known reputation for affability and amiability, was of a startling nature. He announced that he had become a militant protectionist. Upon this occasion it is my- misfortune to differ from my honorable friend, because in the present state of public affairs there is a much more important reason for a fiscal truce than any that was advanced by the Deakin Administration before the last general election. Upon that occasion the only reason put forward was that it would be undesirable to unsettle the mercantile community. Now, I think that a grave public crisis has arisen, which affords me a larger measure of justification for maintaining a fiscal truce. With regard to the appointment of the Tariff Commission, I wish it to be understood that I did! not consent to the appointment of the Commission because of any pressure brought to bear upon me by the present Attorney-General. I take the full responsibility for my action in that matter. I appointed the Commission because I thought it was a good thing to do. I am one of those who do not shrink from the fullest investigation of all the problems connected with the Tariff. The man who does shrink shows a want of confidence in the soundness of his political views. I made the appointment deliberately, with the concurrence of my colleagues. I believe that a %'ery great public service has been rendered by the members of the Commission, and any of their reports, in which even one of the honorable members who represent the views I hold joins with four protectionist members of the Commission, will receive my most friendly support. As is well known, the appointment was deliberately made, so that no report could be presented unless it commanded the approval of at least one on the other side. The appointment of four protectionists and four free-traders was decided upon, and the names on both sides were approved by both parties, and I am prepared to help on, at the earliest possible period, any recommendation that the Commission may make. Of course, I can make that statement with reference to all the reports that have been published ; but, with respect to any that I have not seen, no honorable member would expect me to pledge myself. All I can say is, that I hope and believe that any report of the Commission will be of such a character that I can support it, and such as I hope honorable members on this side will endeavour to have adopted with the least possible delay. Any protectionist report, which will not be a report of the Commission, I cannot be expected to support.

Mr Page - What does the right honorable gentleman mean by that?

Mr REID - I mean that I am not a protectionist.

Mr Page - But what does the right honorable gentleman mean by " a protectionist report " ?

Mr REID - I mean that no report can be a report of the Commission unless five members out of eight agree to it. Any report in which even one of the free-trade members of the Commission concurs I shall be ready to accept as not seriously raising the fiscal question ; but it is too much to as'k me to adopt the report of one-half,

Mr Tudor - They have been in Victoria.

Mir. REID. - If there is to be any examination of the extent to which the farmers and manufacturers of Victoria have been indebted to the Tariff, I think that it will be found that the obligation rests more on the manufacturers than on the farmers. In the nature of the case, with our vast area in Australia, it was inevitable that the Tariff would speedily cease to prove of benefit to those who produce cereals and other agricultural products. At the present time our butter, wheat, and other produce is sold at prices which are regulated by those which prevail in foreign markets. Except in times of famine or prolonged drought, none of the farmers receive any help from the Tariff. It cannot be said that is the case with the manufacturers of Victoria or of Australia. It is a significant fact that the farmers of Australia have appeared before the Tariff Commission, not to ask for an increase of a single duty affecting their produce, but to protest against any increase of duties. The honorable member for Moira did not do justice to the force of his intellect when he failed to see the difference between the help which the Tariff gives, or the benefit which a policy of public works confers upon the farmer, or any other industrial, and the doctrine of Socialism. We had protectionist tariffs and vast systems of public works before the Socialists were ever heard of in Australia.

Mr Watson - There were unconscious Socialists like the right honorable gentleman.

Mr Kennedy - What I referred to were the subsidies and special grants intended for the benefit of the agriculturists.

Mr REID - I am including all those. If my honorable friend would apply his intellect to this subject as clearly as he does to some others, he would see that there is no difficulty in drawing a line between the assistance which the Government affords to private enterprise, and the policy of destroying private enterprise. Whichever may be the right principle, there is surely a clean- line of distinction between helping individuals to develop their own industries and supplanting those industries of private individuals by a series of Government industries. I think that, a line of cleavage is thus marked, the discovery of which even the intellect of my honorable friend should be equal to. As usual, in these documents, the most important considerations are those which do not appear even in the longest vice-regal speech. I should like to point out that in my view, though it may be a wrong one, there are far more serious issues affecting the position of this House than any which are .disclosed in the Speech of the Governor-General now before us. I consider that the present condition of the House is one which is entirely foreign to constitutional principles, and entirely foreign to any British method of conducting parliamentary institutions. In making this statement, I am supported by the eminent authority of the present Prime Minister. For three years that honorable and learned gentleman accepted the support of the Labour Party, and tolerated the existence of the three-party system without the slightest appearance of uneasiness. But when the Arbitration Bill came along, and the possibility of a labour vote that would displace him. clouded the horizon, then in the month of January, 1904, the honorable and learned gentleman, at the Australian Natives' Association banquet, made what I thought a very admirable speech. in, which he expressed his condemnation of the present position of Parliament.

Mr Page - The right honorable gentleman has told us' all this before.

Mr REID - If the honorable member for Maranoa had had that remark applied to him he would never have made more than one speech. I hope my honorable friend will remember that each honorable member is entitled to judge for himself as to the nature of the remarks which he addresses to this House. I am not going to dwell on the subject, but am simply working forward to nearer events. When the defeat of the Ministry occurred, it was then suddenlydiscovered that the Prime Minister was sick of the humiliation he had been enduring.

Mr Deakin - I never have been subjected to any humiliation. I never said so, and have always expressly contradicted the statement.

Mr REID - I am glad for the honorable and learned gentleman's sake to hear that it was an enjoyable experience. All I' can say is that in the light of his subsequent declarations that makes the situation more surprising still. T shall compare the honorable and learned gentleman with himself presently. We shall now take it that he did enjoy the position which he occupied, but I have a vague recollection that my right honorable friend the Treasurer said that he had been eating dirt.

Mr Deakin - Not the present Treasurer, the late Treasurer.

Mr REID - I refer to 'the present Treasurer.

Mr Deakin - No.

Mr REID - I think the right honorable gentleman will not deny that at least he had a nasty taste in his mouth once or twice.

Sir John Forrest - I did not use the expression referred to.

Mr REID - I know my right honorable friend will not quibble about words There is no doubt that the Treasurer did make that statement, an,d we all know that he is a gentleman whose statement on such a subject would be accepted. But that is not material. The material point is that when the Government was defeated, I paid the Prime Minister a number of compliments upon his chivalrous regard for constitutional propriety in taking the course' which he did. But I now find, from a speech which th'e honorable and learned gentleman delivered in Adelaide, that I have been in error. The Prime Minister stated at Adelaide in March last, that when he was defeated he had made a proposal to the Labour Party for carrying on the business for the remainder of the session, that that offer had been refused, and, as a consequence,, the Labour Government had come into power. That is rather a revelation to me. It turns out now that the honorable and learned gentleman, so far from being full of the situation, was actually eager, even after that defeat, to continue in his position.

Mr Deakin - That is not so.

Mr REID - I cannot be answerable for the accuracy of newspaper reports; I can only quote them.

Sir John Forrest - We did not ask for a dissolution, we simply went out.

Air. REID. - I am not saying anything about that. I shall read this quotation from the report of the speech of the honorable and learned Prime Minister at Adelaide.

Mr Ewing - What is the newspaper ?

Mr REID - This report appeared in a Sydney newspaper - the Sydney Morning Herald.

Honorable Members. - Oh !

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