Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - I wish to remind the last speaker, and other honorable senators, that the Senate is not a mere debating society. We are here for the purpose of moulding the measures which come before us from time to time.

Senator Sayers - A schoolmaster.

Senator PEARCE - What the Senate is concerned with is how it can most effectually do that, and not to enter upon a mere aimless discussion, arriving at no end and serving no purpose.

Senator Chataway - How we can keep the Government up to the mark is another thine.

Senator PEARCE - Senator Stewarthas said that what honorable senators wanted was a discussion with the object of discovering which of the census questions were objectionable. What would that mean ? Every one of the thirty-six senators would have to give his opinion on each of the fifteen questions. Who would interpret them ? Speaking from the Government bench, I might interpret the discussion as being wholly favorable to the fifteen questions, whereas Senator Chataway, or some other senator on the Opposition side, might interpret it as being wholly unfavorable. What possible register of opinion would there be in such a discussion? If Senator Stewart really means what he says the course proposed by the Government is the best to meet his view, as he knows, because, on a previous occasion, he moved to amend a regulation and succeeded in accomplishing his object. '

Senator Stewart - I know that I had some difficulty to surmount.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator knows that that is the best way to accomplish anything. If, however, he merely wants an aimless discussion, arriving at no end and accomplishing no purpose, the course adopted by the members of the Opposition is the one which he should support. It would mean an aimless discussion, rambling over the whole of the questions and not altering one of them, nor giving the Government an opportunity of ascertaining what is the opinion of the majority. But I understand that Senator Stewart wants to assist the Government in getting on with the business of the country, and it is solely with that end in view that the Government have taken the course which they have adopted. We have also given an assurance, which Senator Stewart refuses to accept, in common with one or two honorable senators - that if, within fifteen sitting days of the tabling of the regulations, any honorable senator gives notice of a motion disagreeing with any one of them, we shall afford to the Senate an opportunity of discussing' the motion, and, of course, they will also have the opportunity of taking a vote.

Senator Stewart - Will they be here in time ?

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator well knows that any honorable senator can give notice of a motion, not in respect of the regulations as a whole, but in regard to any particular regulation, even because of one word therein.

Senator Stewart - Will they be here in time ?

Senator PEARCE - Senator Vardon knows that too; in fact, they all know it. They are aware that if they desire to register the objection of the Senate to any words in a regulation that is the proper, and the only, course to take.

Senator Vardon - I want a Government which will keep its promises.

Senator PEARCE - Is the honorable senator merely concerned with the keeping of an imaginary promise, which, as has already been explained by my honorable colleague, is being kept?

Senator Vardon - An " imaginary " promise ?

Senator PEARCE - Or does the honorable senator want an opportunity to register the opinion of the Senate?

Senator Chataway - The explanation was given after the promise was broken.

Senator PEARCE - Then we have Senator Stewart's innuendo. He knows that he cannot refute what I have said, but he implies that the Government are going to be so cowardly as to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded by the Acts Interpretation Act in order to dodge a discussion. He implies that we intend to take advantage of the whole period of thirty days which the law allows before we lay the regulations on the table.

Senator Stewart - How long will it take?

Senator PEARCE - -The honorable senator know how long it will take. He knows that if a meeting of the Executive Council is held to-day, and the Senate meets tomorrow, the regulations can be tabled tomorrow.

Senator Stewart - Oh, well, that will satisfy me.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator knows that, but he implies that, in order to burke discussion - to dodge criticism - the Government intend to avail themselves of the whole period of thirty days. One would not be surprised at hearing such a statement made by a member of the Opposions, but coming from a supporter of the Government it certainly is a strange criticism, and shows a peculiar judgment.

Senator Stewart - I do not think that this Government is much better than some previous Governments.

Senator Lynch - Do the Government expect their followers to accept the regulations in toto?

Senator PEARCE - Certainly not. The statement made by Senator Sayers that the Government are going to resign, or to make some question a vital one, is too ridiculous to be debated.

Senator Sayers - Of course, everything is ridiculous except what the honorable senator says. He is a schoolmaster.

Senator PEARCE - And equally ridiculous is the statement by the honorable senator that the Senate must reject the regulations as a whole, and, therefore, can have no opportunity to object to any particular question.

Senator Sayers - I have heard the matter argued in that way, and so has the honorable senator.

Senator PEARCE - If the honorable senator will simply consult the President or the Chairman of Committees, as the case may be, he will find that, if he likes, he can move to disagree with any of the regulations because of one word in it.

Senator Chataway - Can an honorable senator move to disagree with one word in a regulation?

Senator PEARCE - Yes ; and if the Senate carries the motion the regulation will be nullified. That will be a direction to the Government to bring in a new regulation in the direction indicated by the Senate. There must, however, be Executive action in regard to the framing of regulations. They cannot be framed in the Senate. They must be framed by the Government and submitted to the Senate for approval. If the Senate disallows a particular regulation, the Government, as the Executive body, will carry out the will of Parliament. Any Government would be stupid in the extreme if it reintroduced a regulation contrary to the expressed will of a branch of the Legislature.

Senator McColl - Suppose the other Chamber disagreed with a decision of the Senate as to a regulation?

Senator PEARCE - In that case, the Government would have to make a choice, or to find a via media. But if either House of the Legislature disallows a regulation, the Government must accept the decision. I do say that the Government have some cause of complaint with regard to this debate. After I had given a distinct promise to Senator Chataway that, after the regulations were laid upon the table of the Senate, we would afford an opportunity of discussing any motion that might be submitted for the disallowance of a regulation, we have a cause of complaint that the adjournment should have been moved.

Senator Chataway - The honorable senator did not make that promise before I moved the adjournment.

Senator PEARCE - I did. The honorable senator asked mea question.

Senator Chataway - The honorable senator did not make the promise in replying to my question.

Senator PEARCE - I made the promise in reply to a question asked by Senator Givens. I gave the Senate a distinct undertaking that the Government would give a full opportunity ; and in the face of that undertaking the submission of a motion for the adjournment of the Senate could have but one meaning, and that is that those who rose in their places to support Senator Chataway refused to take the assurance of the Government. Either that, or they simply wished for an opportunity to belabour the Government because of the action that they took on a previous occasion - an action which was explained on Friday last by my colleague.

Senator CHATAWAY(Queensland) moving the adjournment to-day, it has been furnished by the wild and whirling words that have been uttered by the two Ministers. They have become absolutely angry about the matter. One would imagine that, instead of having asked the Government to explain why they broke a promise made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, we had suddenly laid some dark and dangerous trap for them.

Senator Findley - Is it not a fact that the Vice-President of the Executive Council said, after he made the promise, that, under certain circumstances, he would not be bound by it?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould .-- - That statement is not very creditable to the Vice-President of the Executive Council.

Senator CHATAWAY - At any rate, the point that I wish to make, and that has not been met by Senator Pearce, is that on Wednesday last we had an opportunity of debating the census questions on the Supply Bill. The Leader of the Government, in a reply to Senator St. Ledger, when he began to speak about the census papers, said, " If you are going to discuss that matter now, I will not give you an opportunity to-morrow night ' ' ; that is to say, on Thursday night. Later on, in reply to Senator Gould, the Vice-President of the Executive Council said, " I promise to give an opportunity to discuss the whole matter to-morrow.

Senator Lynch - Conditionally.

Senator CHATAWAY - The VicePresident of the Executive Council did not use that word. If Senator Lynch is going to edit Hansard he should retire from Parliament and become a salaried officer of the Crown. Meanwhile, he may accept my assurance that I am quoting from Hansard. On the strength of the definite promise that was made, the Supply Bill went through. On the following day Senator Findley gave notice of motion. Discussion of that motion would have carried out the promise made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council. The only explanation offered by Ministers to-day for the withdrawal of that opportunity is that when the regulations are tabled we shall be able to deal with them. Of course, we can take what action we please on regulations submitted to' us. That is not a case of the Government affording the Senate an opportunity. It is an opportunity which we take for ourselves.

Senator Pearce - It is the Government that will give the opportunity to discuss the regulations.

Senator CHATAWAY - The Government having captured the time allotted for private members' business, we find that we have not the right to discuss the regulations without their consent. I consider that I was amply justified in protesting against what I think was really a bit of trickery.

The PRESIDENT - Order !

Senator CHATAWAY - I used the same word before, and it was not ruled out of order.. The Government, apparently, have misled us. They led us to believe that on a certain occasion we should have an opportunity of discussing the census questions. What has happened is that, between the time that promise was made and the time for it to be carried out, the Government have thought fit to censor the questions, and to bring forward a fresh set. If one effect of this debate will be to cause the Government to table the regulations and give us an opportunity of discussing them, my motion for the adjournment will not have been submitted in vain.

Senator Pearce - We have not taken this action because of the discussion.. I made my promise before the discussion came on.

Senator CHATAWAY - The Minister's promise was not made before this debate commenced.

Senator Pearce - Yes, it was.

Senator CHATAWAY - I asked a certain question about the regulations, and the Minister then told me that the whole matter was coming before the Executive Council this week. He made no definite promise as to a debate in the Senate. It is only reasonable that the members of this Chamber, seeing how short the session is likely to be, and how little time is left to us, should be afforded the very earliest opportunity of discussing the regulations. I trust that they will be debated as soon as possible. With the consent of the Senate, I now beg leave to withdraw my motion.

Suggest corrections