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Friday, 10 August 1906

Mr REID (EAST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My honorable friend, as the honorable member for Wide Bay, knows nothing about the intention of the party. but as a member of the caucus he knows all about it. Amongst the curious exhibitions by the Melbourne Age, that which it has given in relation to this question is one of the most absurd. The Age proprietary appear to have two different offices. In one of them a leader for publication on Tuesday is written, and in the other office another fellow, who never sees the Ace, writes one for publication on Wednesday. I am going to read the leader published in the Age of Tuesday last.

Mr Tudor - Is the right honorable member going to read all the hard words about us?

Mr REID - I am. This Government is the product of the Melbourne Age. It is the Age Government. There is no doubt about that.

Sir John Forrest - Is that so?

Mr REID - The honorable member knows that it is. It is true that one of its members is an unruly colt, who shows in a number of ways that his manliness is of a much higher order than is his poetry.

Mr Wilks - And yet he is called " the steam-roller."

Mr REID - We may criticise the right honorable gentleman, but I am sure that we have a good deal of personal good feeling for him.-

Mr Wilks - He does not know where he is.

Mr REID - I approve of that, because it mav lead to the right honorable gentleman some day coming our way. I do not like fixed quantities. One is reminded of the difference between an old bullock in a team and a stray one. One never knows when the latter will come one's way - it is the bullock in the team of which one cannot obtain a hold. This is what the Age, in its issue of Tuesday last, says of the party that is keeping its Government in office -

It is thus that we have a Labour Party, ignorant, inflated, infatuated and uninformed, chartered libertines in the political arena -

What should we say on that point about the Age itself? - cut off from their natural congeners, the liberal trunk, effecting no good -

Mr Bamford - That is intended to apply to the members of the State Labour Party-.

Mr REID - That is about the meanest statement that a member of "the Labour Party could make. The honorable member is trying to shift this abuse on to his brother labour men in the State arena. But unfortunately the Age makes it perfectlyclear that its remarks apply to the Federal Party.

Mr Frazer - The honorable member was only joking.

Mr REID - I recognise that. The article continues - and efficient only in arresting the true march of progress.

That being so, twenty-five honorable members who are keeping in office the progressive Government of the Aec. are arresting the march of progress. This is

One of the basest pieces of ingratitude of which I have ever heard. If the Labour Party were supporting me, the position might be different. But considering that it is supporting the proteges of the Age, this is one of the roughest comments that could be made.

Mr Hughes - The right honorable member, had he been in charge, would not have allowed us to suffer silently and meekly.

Mr REID - No. When the honorable member and his friends were under my wing, I was a nurse and a mother to all of them. The honorable and learned member and his party must recognise the sort of people with whom they are now associating.

Mr Hughes - In that case, we must regret that we left the. right honorable member, or that he left us.

Mr REID - I was going to say that the Prime Minister has spoken of the base, black ingratitude of the Labour Party. He has said that he might serve them for years, and that if they did not agree with him on one point, thev would then throw him out. B.ut this attack by the Age is the basest ingratitude of all, and it is only the pre.liminary to a development for which I am sure the Labour Party have from the first been prepared. As long as use can be made of the Labour Party, they are in the van of liberal progress, but when they decline .to submit to the domination of the Age - when they reject and scorn the Age - that journal turns upon them with the same plenitude of abuse which it has bestowed upon others. .

Mr Batchelor - I do not think that it has made any material variation.

Mr REID - No, but it has varied the target. This abuse used to be showered on me alone. The article continues -

Here, too, another consideration arises which no progressive Government should ignore.

Fancy this progressive Government ignoring the Labour Party. It is a pitch of political idiotcy that only a leader-writer of the Age would be capable of -

Not only has this Labour Party run wild and spoiled the orderly development of liberal and progressive thought, but by means of the split vote in the State -

And this is where the Federal party comes in- just as in the Federal sphere -

The honorable member for Herbert cannot get over that - it has led to complete political misrepresentation, to the representation of mere minorities, and the disfranchisement of majorities.

We come now to the remedy -

If we have a compulsory voting law,, and an amendment of the Electoral Act providing against the split vote, so that all parties may be represented according to their true strength, the Labour Party, judging by the last returns, will be very lucky if it secures a dozen members in a House of sixty-five.

That reference applies particularly to the State Parliament -

These are invincible reasons for an amendment of our electoral machinery in the State in the same way that the Federal Government has decided.

Next day, having abused the Labour Party in a way that even its bitterest enemy could not fairly do - having gone beyond the range of legitimate abuse -

Mr Hughes - What is the range of legitimate abuse?

Mr REID - That beyond which the Prime Minister or I would not go. The next day this infantile series of editors, having pointed out to the Labour Party that they could get seven seats through the present ineffective state of the electoral law, published the following statement : -

It is manifest, then, that, not alone does a great political, principle depend on the passage of this Exhaustive Ballot Bill-

The reference is to the projected Federal

Bill- but the immediate party interests of Labour and of . Liberalism are equally bound up in it.

When . a newspaper in one day's issue points out that the Labour Party has, so to speak, been "murdering" the electors because of the want of this reform, and on the following day implores the Labour Party to join with the Liberals in order to carry that reform, it . reaches the height of inconsequential absurdity which, while it may suit the ill-informed readers of that paper, passes entirely beyond the bounds of ordinary journalism. If I thought that the principle of the second ballot was good from the point of view of the electors, I should not be influenced by any considerations as to whether it would or would not suit any particular party. The only way in which this proposal, if it is a good one, can be carried out with, any regard for the electors, . is by affording them an opportunity to go to the ballot-box, and expiess their opinions on every one of the candidates in the order of their preference for them.

Mr Fisher - Will the right honorable member be surprised to learn that, although the Age ticket polled the fewest number of votes at the last general election for the Senate, it secured the return of two candidates, whilst the Argus was unable to secure the return of any of its candidates, and the Labour Party had one returned ?

Mr REID - I am not surprised at anything that happens in Victoria. But the next election will show a marvellous change. When the Age ticket loses the support of the labour protectionists and of the anti- Socialists, those nominated by that newspaper will find themselves between two stools.

Mr Fisher - But, although the Age candidates received the lowest number of votes, two of them were returned.

Mr REID - If that was so, it was a great calamity.

Mr Fisher - The Labour Party obtained the largest number of votes, and had one candidate returned, while none of the candidates of the Argus were returned, although a larger number of votes were cast for them than were cast for the candidates of the Age, of whom two were returned.

Mr REID - There is one great cure for that evil. The electors, instead of splitting themselves up into two or three parties, should make up their minds to have a straight line of cleavage between two parties. This very newspaper which is now denouncing the evil of split votes, has done more to re-introduce the evil of split politics and split parties than has any other newspaper in Australia. It fought to produce a split in the ranks of those opposed to the Labour Party, and, having succeeded, is not satisfied with its work. I believe that at the next election the great majority of the electors will take one side or the other, and will thus see that effect is given to their votes. I should like now to refer to the results of our sugar legislation upon Queensland. I am glad that the experiment of trying to produce sugar wholly with white labour is answering very much better than many of us thought it would. The figures which have been placed before us are very encouraging. But the problem is by no means settled yet, and, if it should happen that white Australian labour cannot be obtained for employment in the cane-fields, we must help the growers of cane . by introducing white labour from other parts of the world. If Australian labour will do the necessary_ work, all will be right ; but, if Australian labour, although able to, will not do it, the growers should be considered by the introduction of white labour from other parts of the world.

Mr Watson - It is only a question of wages so far.

Mr REID - Until now the experiment has answered better than many persons hoped it would answer. Honorable members will recollect that, when speaking on the motion for the Address-in-Reply, I made an earnest appeal to the Government to carry out the deportation of kanakas with some regard to humanity. In some respects they seem to be adopting rules of which we must all approve. In accepting the" recommendations; of the Queensland Commission, they are having regard to the interests of humanity.

Mr Fisher - And that is not being objected to.

Mr REID - I have not heard any one object to it, and L am glad that the Government are taking this action. But I understand that this is the position : The Treasurer tells us - and he, no doubt, has made proper inquiry - that by the 31st December next the Government will have been able to deport 900 kanakas out of about 4,000 now in Queensland. That will leave over 3,000 in the State on the 1st January next. But, by the laws of Queensland, those kanakas cannot, from that date, work for any one in the State. They will ' not be able to earn a shilling after the end of this year. The people of Queensland will be left standing beside these unfortunate kanakas, unable to offer them work. This state of affairs will shock the civilized world. They will be told that these 3,000 kanakas were brought from their homes to Australia, and that now the Commonwealth - because we must take responsibility for the effect of State legislation, in this matter - penalises any one who will put bread into their mouths by giving them a shilling's worth of work.

Mr Lonsdale - Is this making the bounds of freedom wider yet? The position is an outrage upon civilization.

Mr REID - It is not the policy of any one party that is responsible for it ; all parties are responsible for it. My remarks acknowledge a responsibility for our kanaka legislation equal to that of the Government. I am not trying to make political capital out of something which has already happened, which it would be easy to do after the 1st January next; I am repeating what I said oh the Address-in-Reply. .It is now August, and, while there is yet plenty of time to put matters right, I call upon the Government to save the name of Australia from universal execration, by having the law amended, so that during the ten or twelve months which must elapse before these people can be deported in a humane and considerate manner, they may be allowed to work for their living.

Mr Fisher - Under the Queensland law the kanakas could not work after their agreements were up. They had simply to wait about until boats were ready to return them to their islands.

Mr Lonsdale - It is a disgrace that it should have been so.

Mr Fisher - Most of them desire to go back, and can be shipped away early in January.

Mr REID - We are all equally responsible for our black labour policy. We have a joint stock liability, and, as sharing that liability, I implore the Government to make arrangements for the deportation of the kanakas by the 1st January, or within a month or two afterwards, and for their proper housing and feeding until they can be deported.

Mr Bamford - There is a sum of £25,000 on the Estimates for the purpose.

Mr REID - I understand that that is to provide for the £5 a head to be paid for the deportation of the kanakas.

Mr Bamford - That has been paid.

Sir John Forrest - We are alive to our duty in this matter.

Mr REID - The Treasurer must forgive me for being alive to it, too. We have libellers enough in the world, and should not play into their hands by showing a lack of consideration in this matter. I wish now to speak about New Guinea affairs. I think that grave injustice is being done to a man who occupies a most trying and difficult position - the present Administrator of New Guineas He suffers from the misfortune of not having been born in Australia, a thing which he could not provide for. Captain Barton went to New Guinea with Sir George Le Hunte, and the first Deakin Administration appointed him to succeed that gentleman.

Mr Watson - Not permanently - only as acting Administrator.

Mr REID - That fact does not affect my argument. The Watson Administration did not interfere with the appointment, nor did my Administration. I came to know a good deal about the work which that officer is doing in New Guinea, and I consider that the way in which he is now being treated is not creditable fo the Government. If he is removed from his position without good cause, in order to place there some other person, he will have good reason to complain. If he is put out of office, not because he is unfit, but to allow some other person who is an Australian to be appointed to it, undying disgrace will attach to the Government. I wish to say, for what it is worth, that my impression of Captain Barton's work is of the highest possible character.

Mr Watson - The Possession has been at a standstill, under his administration.

Mr REID - Where there is a mere handful of white people, and hundreds of thousands of coloured savages, care must be taken to ascertain that the complaints of the whites are not due to the fact that the ruling authorities are doing their duty by protecting those who cannot represent their wrongs, or voice their complaints. If neglect of duty is alleged against the Administrator, he can be treated as any other public officer can be treated. I believe him to be one of the ablest and most self-sacrificing men in our Public Service.

Mr Hughes - What does the right honorable member suggest?

Mr REID - Unless a well-founded complaint can be urged against him, Captain Barton is more entitled to the office than any other person. He has given years of hard work to the service of the Commonwealth.

Mr Harper - And must have gained a great deal of experience.

Mr REID - Yes. He has played the part of a pioneer, and it would1 Le a shame to deprive him of his appointment, except to place in his position a man of higher Qualifications.

Mr Watson - The only proper ground for removing him would be that he had failed to administer the affairs of the Territory in a proper way.

Mr REID - That is so. I am much obliged to the honorable member for his remark. It represents exactly what I wish to convey. The idea that some other man, simply because he has been born in Australia, should be put into his place, should not commend itself to any ohe.

Mr Hughes - How long has Captain Barton been in New Guinea?

Mr REID - For some years.

Mr Hughes - He went there in my time, or in that of the honorable and learned member.

Mr REID - If the honorable and learned member or myself were in a Government billet, we should not like to have another fellow shoved over our heads. He knows how we feel when we are turned out of office.

Mr Hughes - That does not prevent people from turning us out of office.

Mr REID - I hope that Captain Barton will be fairly dealt with.

Mr Bamford - The Government determined to take action irc regard to Captain Barton, before there was any talk of appointing an Australian, by approaching Sir William McGregor.

Mr REID - That is so.

Sir John Forrest - Sir William McGregor is a very experienced man.

Mr Watson - There have been a number of complaints.

Mr REID - I understand that Sir William McGregor does not wish to take the position. In view of the experience possessed by Captain Barton, and the hard work which he has done, it would be a disgrace if the Government were to appoint even Sir William McGregor, eminent as he is, unless some well-founded complaint - and1 I know of none - can be urged against the present administration.

Mr Watson - The complaint which has been made is that, since Sir William McGregor left New Guinea, affairs have been allowed to drift, and no help has been extended to settlers.

Mr REID - I do not' wish to dogmatize.

Mr Watson - I do not wish to do so either.

Mr REID - During the eleven months that I was in office, I was constantly in communication with, and receiving reports from, Captain Barton, and I say for what the statement is worth, that he made a most singular impression upon, my mind as a man of extraordinary ability and activity.

Mr Bamford - The dissatisfaction in New Guinea is unanimous.

Mr REID - It may be due to a cause with which we should have no sympathy.

Mr Lonsdale - It may prove that Captain Barton is a good man for the post.

Mr REID - When a man is administering the affairs of 500 whites and 400,000 savages, the fact that he is not popular with the whites may be evidence that he is a fearless administrator, and is acting fairly between black and white.

Mr Watson - I think that every one will admit that his protection of the natives is to his credit.

Mr REID - It is a great point in his favour as an administrator. We must all feel the greatest satisfaction that the Administrator of New Guinea, who is under the control of the Commonwealth, has a reputation for humanity in his dealings with the 400,000 savages whose destiny has been intrusted! to us. I wish now to say a word or two in reference to the Defence Forces. I am very sorry to have come to the conclusion' that they are in a most unsatisfactory state. There is no sort of harmony in the higher branches of the service, and some of the very best soldiers Australia ever had are leaving the forces because of their dissatisfaction. I am very sorry for this. I desire to enter my very strong protest against the application of the principle of " Australia for the Australians " to the appointment of an officer to take the supreme command of the Australian Defence Forces. If any Australian officer had had the necessary experience to fit him for the position of Commander-in-Chief, no human being would feel any sentiment but that of pride upon seeing him appointed. Every one would hail the appointment with delight. But if an Australian is to be appointed merely because he is an Australian, I think that we shall show a disgraceful lack of regard for the lives of our soldiers and volunteers, and for the interests of our whole defence system. We must all admit that it is impossible for the Minister of Defence - and my remarks would apply equally to all previous Ministers, except, perhaps, the Honorable and learned member for Corinella, who has had considerable experience in ' connexion with military matters - to judge as to the military qualifications of a candidate for the position of Commander-in-Chief. I wish to know, with reference to the highest position of command in connexion with our Defence Forces, whether the Minister has obtained any expert opinion .as to the qualifications of the gentleman proposed to be appointed. If Senator Playford merely thinks that a certain candidate is the best man, I do not value his opinion more than I would value that of any gentleman in the service of the House. One of the first conditions that should be fulfilled in connexion with such an appointment is that the candidate should have given practical demonstration of his qualifications, and I should like to know whether Senator Playford has satisfied himself that there is no man in the Home or Colo nial forces whose services could be commanded at a salary such as we are able to offer, who would possess superior qualifications and greater efficiency and experience than, any man we have in our local forces. Has the gentleman whom it is understood the Government intend to appoint ever commanded large bodies of troops in actual warfare?

Mr Watson - He did very good work in South Africa.

Mr REID - Hundreds and thousands of men did that; therefore that statement goes for nothing. I do not wish to do any injustice.

Mr Watson - I did not say that Colonel Hoad should be appointed ; but we ought to do him justice.

Mr REID - I have no feeling of antagonism towards him.

Mr Fisher - I do not think he cultivates acquaintances, although that has been suggested.'

Mr REID - I cannot say. I only know that, as Prime Minister, I was invited to attend at the railway station at Spencerstreet to receive him after his return from Japan as an attache. I thought that that was rather a stiff thing. Of course, Colonel Hoad would not have been a party to that, but probably it was suggested by some kind friends of his. At any rate, I thought it was an extraordinary thing to ask the Prime Minister to do. If he had been a personal friend there would have been nothing extraordinary in the request. However,- I have no sort of prejudice against the officer in question, because I know nothing against him, and have not the pleasure of his acquaintance. I am speaking upon broad grounds. If any other officer had been concerned, my remarks would apply equally to him. During the operations in South Africa, scores of good soldiers had command of large bodies of men in actual warfare, and the services of one or other of these could surely be obtained. A man who has had command of large bodies of men in actual warfare, other conditions being equal, must surely be the best man for the position of commanderinchief of our Defence Forces. An officer who has not had such experience might be a good theorist, and might have a perfect knowledge of military tactics, and might, perhaps, develop perfect qualifications in a time of danger ; but-

Mr Fisher - Twenty per cent, of the men in the ranks would make good com- manders, if an opportunity were presented to them.

Mr REID - In the administration of great military affairs in time of war, we should not put in the supreme command a man who had never been accustomed to control large bodies of men.

Mr Hutchison - What about the American Civil War?

Mr McCay - The great curse of that war was the inefficiency of the officers.

Mr Fowler - Hundreds of thousands of men were butchered uselessly owing to their bungling.

Mr REID - The raw material of the armies engaged in the Civil War of the United States was the grandest in the world, but for two years the stronger and better-equipped armies of the Northern States were slaughtered by tens if not by hundreds of thousands, because the officers had to be trained through the shedding of the blood of those led by them.

Mr Hutchison - That applies also to British wars.

Mr REID - That is my point. Owing to the experience gained in that unhappy war in South Africa a number of officers have perfected their capacity to command large bodies of men in time of war.

Mr Watson - We have men here who commanded large bodies of men.

Mr REID - I do not think that we have any man who had anything like a large command - who was responsible for the movements of large bodies of troops.

Mr McCay -We have officers who have commanded regiments - I do not think that any Australian officer commanded more than a regiment.

Mr REID - That is my impression. An officer commanding a regiment might be a possible Napoleon or a Wellington, but in the absence of the power of inspiration to enable us to detect that, we cannot with safety arrive at a judgment of his qualifications. The officer who has command of a regiment has to work under the brain of another man. He receives orders to move his men according to dispositions made by his superior officer. When we have offered to us the services of men who have controlled the movements of large bodies of troops, their claims ought to be considered, not in the interests of the officers themselves, but in the interests of the men whom they are to command. If two officers submit themselves, one having commanded a regiment and the other having had experience in commanding brigades of regiments, and having gone through the arduous necessities of war, the latter should, other conditions being equal, be preferred, on the ground of experience, for the position of commander-in-chief. We cannot indulge in speculations as to how men would turn out. The matter is too serious for "that. I wish to enter my strongest protest against the proposed appointment, unless the Government have taken some expert advice, the result of which is that the appointment has been pronounced a desirable one. When I speak of expert advice, I do mot refer to our own officers. No doubt they would all consider that they were equal to the task - any man worth his salt would think that. If the Government, in making the appointment, act upon expert advice, I shall have not another word to say, and all my objections will be removed; but if the officer is to be appointed because, in the judgment of the Minister - a very worthy citizen - he is competent to fill the position, the course adopted will be one of which I cannot approve. How can it be said that the present Minister is competent to judge of the military qualifications of the candidates for the position? The whole thing is preposterous. Surely, if it is important that the Government should obtain the advice of the Imperial Defence Committee with regard to the pattern of fort they should construct in connexion with our defences, it is still more important that they should obtain expert advice in regard to the appointment of a commander-in-chief for the whole of the forces of Australia. I have to thank the Committee for having permitted me to deal with these matters. I have no prejudice against Australian sol-, diers, and if Colonel Head is appointed as the result of expert advice, I shall be glad to hear the statement made, and to express my perfect approval.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m

Progress reported.

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