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Wednesday, 27 June 1906

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - In beginning the few remarks which I wish to make in regard to this Bill, I am bound to repeat an observation which I have uttered on other occasions when opposing measures which I felt certain would pass, notwithstanding any opposition. That impression, Mr. Speaker, is founded upon the conviction that this is not in fact a deliberative assembly. I know that it is popularly supposed outside Parliament that all who enter it come here to meet a number of other members whose minds are open to conviction, and whose one anxietyis to do that which is best calculated to contribute to the welfare of the community.

Mr Carpenter - There are few honorable members whose minds are perfectly open.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are few in this House; I consider that I am amongst them myself. I feel that, whatever arguments were brought to bear upon this subject, on this occasion, and in this House, even if they were the arguments of an archangel, would have very little effect in turning, the House, as a corporate body, from the determination upon which it is set. The great bulk of the members of this House are influenced by pledges and parties, the principles of which, no doubt, they think beneficial to a body of this kind. But to any one who reflects from time to time upon the usefulness of this Parliament, it must come as a rather sad conviction that it is not a deliberative body. Few Parliaments are where party feeling runs high, and parties are bound by pledges which commit them to take any certain course. Now, I am not given to the use of superlatives, because I think that they are so much abused that they lose their effect; but I have no hesitation in saying that this is not only the most far-reaching Bill that has ever been brought before the House in its five years' existence, but the most far-reaching that it is possible for any Government to bring before it. It is a measure which, in my opinion, notwithstanding the very light and airy way in which some honorable members 'have dealt with it, goes to the very root of our civilized life. I think we are apt to forget how much we owe to competition as an element in civilization. We forget that the working classes are to-day living under conditions which were not within the reach of Queen Elizabeth; that those conditions are the result of keen competition in every branch of commerce and industry, and that it is only by the encouragement of that competition in all parts of the world that we are to-day able to command advantages and luxuries now become necessities of our daily life, such as were never dreamt of three or four hundred years ago, when legislation of this kind was rife, and when invention and inventive genius had not had that free play with competition such as is enjoyed under the conditions in which we live. I was not present, Mr. Speaker, during the delivery of the principal speeches which have been made on this measure, but I have had the advantage of reading the whole of them, and I therefore am as capable of dealing with those contributions thus made to the debate from time to time by honorable members, as if I had been in the Chamber, and had listened to them. I am brought to this conclusion from having read with very great care the speech of the Minister who introduced the Bill - that he had no more conception of the far-reaching provisions of the. measure which had been intrusted to his charge than the veriest tyro who might have been brought into this House for the purpose. The "honorable gentleman, I will admit, approached the measure with great earnestness, even with fervour, but he must have discovered by this time that to deal with a complicated Bill of the kind, full of cross references of a very abstract character, is entirely beyond his capacity. I am really reminded - and I say it with the best possible feeling- - of the honorable gentleman's attempt, about four years ago, to introduce a measure which was intended to deal with Inter-State commerce. That also was a measure of a very complicated character, which has long since been abandoned. But the honorable gentleman, in attempting to explain this Bill to the House, showed how completely at sea, how completely "bushed " he was, with regard to the abstract economic principles which it involves. I am bound to say, that after having studied 'the measure, and read with very great care the speech in which the Minister introduced it, I felt that not only was I no nearer than before to an understanding of the Bill without a reference to its letter and spirit, but that the speech was rather calculated to mystify one as to what was really meant by its complex provisions. The honorable gentleman made an explanation to the House - from which I shall take the opportunity of giving one or two quotations - that really had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. He had in his mind a measure of a character so drastic - even as compared with this Bill, which' itself, he said, was more drastic than the one which it succeeded, "that, if ultimately placed upon the statute-book, it would have struck the most vital blow at the future prospects of this country that could possibly be conceived. But, fortunately, the honorable gentleman who had charge of the Bill quite exaggerated its effects; and I am sure - after what I have heard of the criticisms of the leader of the. Labour Party, and ethers upon it - that when it emanates from Committee, the Minister himself will hardly recognise it as the measure which he introduced. I am bound to say, also, that I read with very great interest three speeches delivered in the course of this debate - those of the honorable member for Kooyong, the honorable member for Bland, and the honorable and learned member for Corinella. It was really refreshing, and delightful, if I may say so, without being suspected of irony, to see that. the honorable member for Bland, leading the Labour Party, had, at lastthough it was the first time I had heard him give expression to any such sentiment - recognised that there were some " inexorable tendencies" in commerce; I myself should call them economic laws, but' obviously he was not prepared to admit their title to that term. But he admitted - and it was, I repeat, refreshing to hear him - that there were certain tendencies in commerce which he himself said were " inexorable." Well, I am not prepared to quarrel with the honorable member as to whether or not a tendency in commerce which is inexorable should be called a law. It does not matter what we call it. The law of gravitation is a tendency, and a verv inexorable one. But whether we call it a law or not, we take as much care as possible not to come under it if it should be in our way. We have been accustomed to hear the members of the Labour Party talk about such matters as the laws of political economy in a genuine swashbuckling spirit, as if since they had come into power economics must go to the winds. And I say yet again that not only was it refreshing, but that I felt that the honorable member had come partly round to my stand-point in politics when I found that he at last - and his party, probably - recognised that there were such things as economic laws with which, like the law of gravitation, we have to avoid conflict if we desire to obtain that success in our commercial life which we are all anxious to see realized. Well, I welcome the speech of the honorable member for Bland. I welcome it as a highly intelligent contribution to this debate, because it showed that the result of a consideration of some of the economic tendencies which he now recognises had led him to the conclusion that certain parts of this Bill were not likely to meet with any success.

The honorable member for Corinella made a speech which I read with very great interest. I was glad, too, to see that the honorable member for Parramatta and the honorable member for Bland had been able to carry on such a very interesting and very instructive series of cross observations, one to the other, as throwing light upon the Bill. I do not hesitate to say that, taking into consideration the best of the speeches which have been made on this measure, it has been one of the most ably and completely discussed we have ever had brought forward in this House. In approaching its consideration, I feel that one ought to take up a thoroughly logical position. I assume that we all recognise that we should avoid legislation as much as possible. I remember that many years ago - I think it was twenty-five years ago; certainly it was in his salad days - the honorable member for Ballarat delivered in some part of Victoria an address in which he boasted to his constituents that the Government of which he was a' member had added two inches' to the Statutes.

Mr Deakin - It was in 1883.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was evidently a red-letter day in the honorable member's career, and he remembers it well. I am quite sure that, with his longer life and his greater experience of political matters, he would not now consider it a subject for boasting that he had added two inches to the statute-book. I take it that he agrees with me, and I think most thoughtful persons do in this respect, that it is the province of the legislator, if possible, to avoid legislation. The object of a Parliament is not necessarily to add to the statute-book, but to supervise the affairs of the country, to see that everything is progressing satisfactorily, and to pass laws only when it becomes necessary to curtail the liberties of the people in order to prevent some abuse or injustice to any part of the citizens. I, therefore, start my analysis by presuming that there is an onus on those who introduced such a far-reaching measure as this, to give the House and the country good and sufficient reasons why it should be made law. The honorable member for Hume gave no reasons whatever, because - and I say it with the very best possible spirit - I do not think he understood the Bill. His observations about the Bill, and what it would enable him to do, clearly showed that he did not know either the extent or the limit of the powers which it proposes to give. Therefore, so far as he was concerned, I am bound to say that no justification has been put before the House for the introduction of the measure. It deals, as we all recognise, with two things - what are called " monopolies" and what is popularly called "dumping." But no one has yet attempted to define either " monopoly " or " dumping." Certainly, the honorable member for Hume never went near the question of the definition of dumping. He told us that this Bill was " not the same as the last Bill" ; that it was " more drastic" ; that " it was not a long Bill."

Mr Wilks - He is getting a roasting tonight.

Sir William Lyne - It does not roast me a bit coming from the honorable and learned member.

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