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Thursday, 21 June 1906

Mr SPEAKER - Is it the pleasure of the House that the honorable member have leave to amend his motion?

Leave granted.

Mr McCOLL - The matter with which I now propose to deal was referred to at the close of last session ; but the scope then proposed to be given was too long. No doubt tine position of the honorable member for Coolgardie, that under the law the general elections cannot take place in October next, is the correct one ; but, if the date which I have set down is fixed upon, a fortnight more than is actually required will be given. 'No action was taken in this matter last session, because no motion dealing with it was. pressed : but the Minister of Home Affairs expressed sympathy with the object of those who supported the views which i am about to repeat. I am afraid that his sympathy has now dwindled away, because he seems not to be at all anxious to hold the elections earlier in the year than thev were held in 1903. The statement that the rolls cannot be got ready in time for an earlier election is puerile. Four or five months must elapse between the present date and that which I propose, and if the staff of the Department is not large enough 1:0 get the rolls ready in .that time, it can be increased to the number necessary to do the work. We have been given to understand that preparations for the holding of the elections have been going on for some time past in anticipation of the approval of Parliament to the Commissioners' redistributions of divisions ; and, as those redistributions have been approved of without alteration, there can he no excuse for delay on their account. I intend to take the sense of the House on this question, because it is too serious to be trifled with. As honorable members know, a farmer might, by a day or two's neglect in the month of December, lose the results of his year's labour, because a dry wind might come, and if his wheat was not garnered, half of it might fall to the ground. For this reason the fanners cannot be expected to attend at the polling- booths as they should if the day for the holding of the general elections is chosen in so unseasonable a month of the year as December. It must be remembered that the next elections will be of immense importance. For several years past the political position, so far as Commonwealth affairs are concerned, has been very unsatisfactory. Old parties have been broken up, and new parties have been formed ; but there has been no proper following of party leaders, and no cohesion, and honorable members have not known where they were. I do not propose to say who, in my opinion, is responsible for this state of affairs ; but I regard it as having retarded Federal development, while it has bitterly* disappointed the public of Australia, and has caused embarrassment, and, in some cases, perhaps, humiliation, to honorable members. Business has been conducted here almost on go-as-you-please principles, but, throughout, one party has been pushing steadily, ruthlessly, and persistently ahead, and has lost no chance of improving its position. In saying that, I cast no reflection upon the party to which I refer, because, if I were a member of it, I should be glad to see it working om those lines. Its object hitherto has been, by holding the balance of power, to control the conduct of government, and in that it has largely succeeded, although its members have had to cast their fiscal opinions aside to achieve that end.

Mr Watson - These remarks are very gratifying to the Labour Party, but what have they to do with the question before the Chair?

Mr McCOLL - They have a great deal' to do with it, as the honorable member will presently discover. Having hitherto controlled to a great extent the administration of affairs, the Labour Party will make at the next elections a determined attempt to capture the reins of government. For that I shall not blame them; but it will make the next elections of the utmost importance, and will require an expression of opinion from the whole of the people of Australia. If they had a majority of the electors behind them, they should take charge of 'the affairs of the country. I do not know that in such a case the conditions would be much worse than they are now. .1. am quite willing that the Labour Party shall control the administration if they have the support of the majority of the electors, but [ am not content that they shall exercise such a large influence as th?y do over the affairs of State whilst they represent a minority of the electors. The object of the party has been fairly and clearly setout by t,heir leader as being the nationalization of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange.

Mr Watson - I did not say that. Donot misrepresent me.

Mr McCOLL - Of course, the honorable member for Bland stated that the present intention was merely to nationalize monopolies, but the honorable and learned! member for Corinella demonstrated that the objective of the Socialist Party was Collectivism.

Mr Mauger - I should like your ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether the honorable member is in order in discussing; Socialism upon a motion of this kind.

Mr SPEAKER - In his last remarks,, the honorable member has certainly travelled beyond the scope of the motion. The question of Socialism cannot be discussed at the present stage.

Mr MCCOLL - I thought that in discussing the question as to the date upon which the next elections should be held, I was in order in referring to the policies of the various parties that will be appealing to the country at that time. However, I shall not transgress any further, except to say that the Labour Party, although it has not a majority in this House, plays its cards remarkably well. No one takes exception to the leader, to whose tact and general characteristics the success of the party has been mainly due. That honorable member, however, is merely a chip on the stream, and when the tide begins to run a little more strongly, he may be swept aside, and landed on the bank. We know very well that his views do not coincide with those held by certain extreme members of his party, and the date is not far distant when he will have to part company either with his position or his conscience. The Labour Party propose to run candidates in all the divisions of the Commonwealth, and they are even setting up opposition to the candidature of Mr. Speaker. In my view, that is a. most unworthy thing to do. It is never done in Great Britain. Last year a friend of mine entered upon a contest for the Carlisle seat against Mr. Lowther. He had been working for many months, and had spent considerable sums, of money, when the retirement of Mr. Gully from the Speakership of the House of Commons led to the appointment of Mr. Lowther. My friend immediately abandoned his campaign, because it is always recognised in Great Britain that the Speaker is above party, and ought not to meet with party opposition. Therefore, he is always returned unopposed.

Mr Maloney - Would it not be a good thing if we could all be temporarily appointed to the position of Speaker, and be returned unopposed?

Mr McCOLL - I was in error when I stated the Labour Party were putting forward candidates in all the divisions. It appears that there is a movement on foot with a view to rendering certain honorable members immune. Whether or not, that matter is finally settled, I do not know.

Mr Watson - I should like to know how far the honorable member is in order in following his present line of discussion. It will not make much difference, if other "honorable members will be at liberty to adopt the same course, but it will be useful to ascertain how far remarks of the kind apply to the proposal that the elections should be held upon a certain date.

Mr SPEAKER - I must say that I think, the remarks of the honorable member are extending over a very wide range. There appears to be ample room for the discussion of the question whether the elections shall be held upon a certain date without introducing issues such as the honorable member is raising. I hope, therefore, that he will confine his remarks to the subject of the motion.

Mr McCOLL - I am sorry that the' members of the Labour Party do not like to hear the truth. It seems that I am touching them on the raw. I do not think that it is creditable for politicians of high standing to enter into an arrangement that will render them immune from the opposition of any party. At present we will call them immunists, who are on the road to becoming communists. If the next elections are held at the same period of the year as that at which the last elections took place, the primary producers of .the Commonwealth - and more especially of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia - will be placed at a great disadvantage. No other section of the population is situated in quite the same way. Every other class will have an opportunity of voting, because, if men happen to be away from home, they can arrange to record their votes by post. The farmer, however, cannot afford, during the harvest, to lose the time that would be occupied in going to the poll-. This matter rests entirely with the Government, and I do not think that any exception can be taken to an expression of opinion on the part of the House.

Sir William Lyne - I take exception to the proposal of the honorable member. It is equivalent to a vote of censure.

Mr McCOLL - The Minister must not drag that red herring across the track. The language of the motion is respectful and courteous, and no censure is implied. The Government, as I have said, has this matter in their full control, and there is no valid reason - departmental or otherwise - why the elections should not be held before the date I have named. No plea of want of time will be of any avail. Of course, I am quite aware that some Ministers are in a very peculiar position. Their seats depend upon the action of the party to whom the criticisms of some of their number have been directed. It is possible, therefore, that there will be a division in the Cabinet with regard to this matter. If there is, I hope that the Prime Minister will put his foot down and do justice. If he does, he will merit the thanks of the farming community.

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