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19. Chapter XIX Early Struggles In The Federal Parliament

IN the course of the long debate that followed there were a number of able and eloquent addresses, beginning with the Prime Minister's reply to my speech.

Mr. Hughes (now the Prime Minister of Australia), who was the ablest Free Trader amongst the Labour members of the House, eloquently supported my motion.

The debate closed on October 31st, the result (including pairs) being 30 Ayes and 44 Noes—a majority of 14, which, in a House of 75 members, was a very large majority indeed.

Dividing the votes by States, the result was as follows:

Ayes   Noes  
New South Wales  15  11 
Victoria  19 
South Australia 
Western Australia 
30  44 

The labour of going through all the items of the new tariff in Committee was a stupendous task. We

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Free Traders made a first-rate fight, and secured a number of reductions, thanks to the way in which Protectionists in principle were swayed by local or national interests in particular cases. Some Free Traders were swayed by local interests, too, but very rarely. The votes thus given were always the subject of good - natured chaff. Sometimes Ministers were visibly annoyed when their supporters on the general principle of the Tariff joined us in defeating or moderating their demands.

The two Ministers in charge of the Tariff, Mr. Kingston and Sir George Turner, displayed a degree of ability and constancy in fighting for their proposals which both sides of the House greatly admired.

I was not able to attend regularly; but the hon. members who supported me, under Sir William McMillan's zealous and efficient leadership, showed a wonderful degree of capacity and devotion to our cause. Where all were of such eminent service, it would be unfair to single out any individual member. I am bound to say that the great preponderance of judgment in the House was not in favour of extreme measures. The silent pressure of the moderates induced Ministers to agree to many reductions.

Some of the striking features of these proceedings were to be found in the lobbies of the House. Naturally enough, there were crowds of people in attendance striving to preserve or increase or reduce or defeat those duties in which they were personally interested. In this respect the Victorian interests were conspicuous—partly because the Parliament was sitting in Melbourne, and partly because Victorians

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were more dependent on the Tariff than any other State. We often called attention to the fact that after some years of our radically small tariff our manufacturers in Sydney rarely appealed for any consideration. In one memorable case three or four Sydney boot and shoe manufacturers, having very large factories of that class, actually preferred a request that the proposed duties on boots and shoes should be reduced!

In accordance with the procedure provided for such cases, the Senate in dealing with the Tariff in Committee did not amend the items, but requested the amendment of a number of items, always in the direction of reducing the duties. The Free Trade members were strong in the Senate and the Revenue Tariffists were moderate, with the net result that the Government was very often in a minority. The House fought a number of requests and gave way on some. On the outstanding differences a compromise was arrived at.

Thus ended the keenest and most prolonged contest over a measure the Commonwealth has had or is likely to have. The results of the first year's operation of the Tariff showed that the revenue estimated to be received from it was grossly under-estimated, because after numerous and some heavy reductions made in the duties, the receipts were still much above the estimate.

On our side we had predicted that result over and over again, and therefore felt no scruples in voting down genuine revenue duties. The burdens of the people would be sufficiently heavy, and we did not

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seek to make them heavier. Besides, the duties knocked off—such as tea—we thought might be useful later on if we got the power to cut down the Protective duties. As everybody knows, it is much easier to put duties on the people than to take them off; and unnecessary revenue breeds extravagance.

The Budget Speech for the financial year 1902–3 was delivered by Sir George Turner on September 23rd, 1902. The total revenue for the previous year was £11,087,000; that estimated for 1902–3 was £221,000 more. In both cases the special West Australian duties are excluded.

A few days afterwards the House approved of the appointment of a Committee of experts to report upon sites suggested for the Capital.

Reviewing the work of those days at this distance of time, I must admit that Ministers justified in many ways the high reputation they enjoyed in their respective States. The strain upon them was very great. The machinery of a new system of government had to be started, although the larger services were in existence as separate State concerns. Then the legislation called for covered a number of indispensable measures, some of the first order of importance.

I am glad to be able to pay my own supporters a high tribute for their ability and zeal. Whilst they fought hard on matters of principle, patriotic feeling kept party interest in the background, both in large and small affairs.

A Machinery Act relating to the Customs was just as necessary as a Tariff Act; and it involved a number of intricate precautions. When a tariff is a short

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one, without ad valorem duties, administrative checks are simple. When the tariff is a long one, with many ad valorem duties in it, it is almost impossible to prevent serious frauds.

One of the most interesting debates in connection with the Bill arose from a proposal that whilst an ocean-going ship was proceeding from one Australian port to another, until she left “her last port of departure in the Commonwealth,” her ship's stores, taken out from day to day, should be dutiable at federal rates. It was hotly contended that when a ship was on the Australian coast outside the territorial limit there was no power to tax the ship's stores. This seemed quite a sound position. A most ingenious, though not original, way of evading this point of jurisdiction was adopted, by giving power to local officers of Customs to affix seals on the places where ship's stores are deposited, and making it unlawful under a heavy penalty for any ship to come into any of our ports with any such seals broken. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council decided that the Commonwealth had the power to impose such a condition on the use of its ports.

The Public Service Act was taken from various sources—largely from the Public Service Act of 1895, which we introduced in New South Wales. No pension system exists in the Commonwealth Service, not even in the case of judges. Civil servants are compelled to insure their lives, and these policies, which must be increased as salaries increase, are protected from assignment or insolvency.

The Commonwealth Franchise Act established a

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uniform franchise for Senate and House, every adult being entitled to one vote.

The Electoral Act was also passed in the first Session. The number of electorates is regulated by the number of members, one for each in the case of the House. In the case of the Senate each State is one electorate. The electoral divisions are to be made by three Commissioners in each State. The total number of electors in a State divided by the number of seats for that State forms in all cases the quota on which the divisions are to be based, but the law allows the Commissioners a margin of not more than one-fifth above and not more than one-fifth below the quota. When in each State the work is complete and a report is made, both Houses may approve by resolution. If either House does not approve, fresh proposals must be submitted. All the elections for the House must be on one day, and so in the case of the Senate. A candidate for the Senate may not spend more than £250; a candidate for a Division may not spend more than £100.

By a subsequent Act, passed in 1911, no comment relating to a candidate or any election topic can be published between the issue and return of the Writs, without the name of the writer, under a penalty of £50, and every newspaper editor publishing any such matters without signature is also liable to £50 for each offence. This extraordinary provision shows how sensitive even the roughest democrat can be to criticism, and to the power of the anonymous “We” of the newspapers.

One penalty imposed by an amending Act passed in

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1909 ought to command general approval. It was made an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment to act in a disorderly manner at any public political meeting held within the same period, if the offender were found guilty of an intention to prevent the purpose for which the meeting was held.

One of the great contests was on the question whether petitions disputing elections should be heard by a Committee of Elections and Qualifications or by a tribunal outside Parliament. Very wisely the latter method was preferred.

The Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1901 was passed in order that the Kanakas employed on the sugar plantations of Queensland and elsewhere should be repatriated, and that none of those islanders should be employed in Australia. There were liberal exemptions for the benefit of islanders who had lived for a long time in Queensland and those who had families born there.

The Immigration Restriction Act was designed to prevent the landing in Australia of undesirable immigrants of various kinds, but its main object was to keep out the coloured races. There was a great effort to make the Bill express this intention in plain English. I joined strongly in that attempt. The law now is that failure to write out to the dictation of an officer fifty words in any prescribed language is the test whether anyone was a “prohibited immigrant” or not. Every person, whether white or coloured, British subject or not, could be tested, and perhaps by a selection of language “plucked”; but in point of fact the officers do not apply the test to white

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immigrants at all unless they come under a specially named class of undesirable. Still, at any moment any person whom the authorities desired to keep out could be excluded in that way.

To show how far the Federal Parliament was prepared to go in its endeavour to punish offenders, it was enacted in one of the Acts that every averment in any information, declaration, or claim in a proceeding under the Act was to be deemed to be proved in the absence of proof to the contrary, except in the case of an indictable offence, or a case alleging an intent to defraud.

In considering the Post and Telegraph Act, 1901, there was a violent controversy over one drastic provision concerning letters or circulars sent through the post relating to racing sweeps. Mr. George Adams, of Sydney, who was a man of high personal character and considerable means, had become the head of a business in the way of promoting “sweeps” on sporting events. As Australians are much given to such speculations, and held Mr. Adams in high esteem, the volume of his business became immense. Every prize of large amount won by a domestic servant or poor worker added thousands to the number of his constituents. At last Parliament stepped in to suppress the “sweeps.” In order to avoid postal interference, Mr. Adams established his head office in Tasmania, where there was no such legislation. All sorts of methods were adopted to transmit the thousands of applications for tickets from the mainland to the little island, and the drawings took place there, the results being advertised throughout Australia. Tasmania received large

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additions to its postal revenues in consequence. When the Federal Bill was introduced, a dead set was made against the clauses intended to prevent the use of the Post Office by “sweep” promoters, but the clauses were adhered to.

The Defence Bill was not finished in the first session; indeed, the first measure was not passed until 1903.

The Inter-State Commission Bill also was dropped. I earnestly advised the Governments of New South Wales and Victoria to arrive at some friendly revision of their railway rates in order to make such a tribunal unnecessary.

There was no attempt to introduce a Bill to bring into operation the provisions of the Constitution relating to the High Court. A Judiciary Act was one of the most urgent needs of the Commonwealth, because until a High Court was established all the benefits of a Commonwealth system of law, redress, and appeal were postponed.

The reasons for the delay were not entirely of a public character, just as those for the long delay in passing a High Commissioner Bill were not.

When Lord Hopetoun resigned, Lord Tennyson, who was Governor of South Australia, succeeded him.

The second session of the first Parliament was opened by Lord Tennyson, on May 26th, 1903, and the Judiciary Bill was at once tabled.

In the debate on the Address in Reply, I denounced the action of the Government in refusing to allow six hatters from England to land in Australia. These men were members of their trade union in England, and

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came out with certificates to the union in Australia. They were eventually released, but the episode did us a great deal of harm in England.

I was able to congratulate my friends on the fact that although we had been attacked by the Government for reducing the Customs tariff by £1,000,000 to £1,500,000, in spite of all the reductions we helped to make, the actual revenue was £350,000 more than the original estimate. The Treasurer had estimated a normal year's receipts at £8,900,000, and after all our reductions the actual receipts were £9,250,000.

I cordially supported a Bill to give effect to a new agreement with the Admiralty.

A few days before the introduction of the Arbitration Bill, Mr. Kingston, who was to take charge of the measure, left the Ministry. The cause alleged—there were also other points of difference—was the refusal of his colleagues to bring under the Bill seamen employed in ships engaged in coastal trade as part of long voyages from and to England or other distant countries. Ministers promised to deal with oversea seamen and ships in a Navigation Bill, but he persisted in his resignation. The regret at his retirement was universal. Most of his friends thought he took an extreme course. But, if so, it was in keeping with the rugged independence and firmness of his character. He was one of the truly great men of Australia.

Mr. Deakin moved the second reading of the Bill which had caused this trouble. As in the case of the Judiciary Bill introduced in the first Session, he made a most able and eloquent address.

Under the Electoral Act Commissioners were appointed

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to submit schemes for systems of federal electorates in each of the six States. When their reports were sent in containing the proposed distribution of seats, many objections were advanced. I can only speak confidently with regard to my own State—New South Wales. The proposed distribution in that case was as fair as it could be. Unfortunately, it did not seem popular either with the Government or some of the Labour members. If the divisions proposed were disapproved by the House, two courses were open: one, to refer the scheme for a fresh report, or to hold the next General Election on the basis of the State laws passed before Federation for the election of the first House. The Government chose the latter course. This took us back to a state of things antiquated from every point of view. The change caused by the addition of women to the rolls would also be left out of account! The discrepancies in the latter case between the number of electors in populous electorates and the number in remote electorates would be enormous, and would quite falsify the principle of one adult one vote. Some of the New South Wales electorates, if the old State law were employed, would show differences so great that some constituencies might have 12,000 or 15,000 voters, and others 40,000 electors or even more!

In spite of all protests, the New South Wales scheme was thrown out, and some others too, and no proposals for fresh subdivisions were made. In order to emphasise my protest against this audacious abuse of power I resigned my seat immediately after the vote was taken. I challenged the Government to oppose me, but there was no response.

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The first step taken in connection with that difficult and important task, the selection of a site for the Federal Capital, was a proposal made by the Government in both Houses for a joint conference and ballot. The House adopted, but the Senate rejected this proposal. The Senate would have been 36 to 75 in such a gathering, which may have led them to stand on their footing of equality.

On the following day the Prime Minister tendered his resignation to the Governor-General, whereupon His Excellency sent for Mr. Deakin to form a new Ministry. Mr. Austin Chapman became Defence Minister, and Senator Playford became Vice-President of the Executive Council. Those were the additions to the Cabinet. Mr. Deakin became Minister of External Affairs in Sir Edmund Barton's place, Mr. Drake became Attorney-General, and Sir John Forrest became Minister for Home Affairs. The two Ministers who stood out were Sir Edmund Barton and Mr. R. E. O'Connor.

To Sir Edmund Barton's infinite credit, before resigning he offered the position of Chief Justice to Sir Samuel Griffith, who accepted it. Sir Edmund took the next position on the invitation of the new Government, and Senator O'Connor the third Judgeship of the High Court.

The late Prime Minister and Mr. O'Connor had led the Houses well during their term of office. Mr. O'Connor performed his duties with the greatest possible tact and ability. I was always proud of the fact that when, in the days of our youth, we were members of the Debating Club in the Sydney School of Arts,

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young O'Connor was always my right-hand man in the mimic ministries I formed.

The three Judges of the new Supreme Court commanded general approval. There were other conspicuously able men available, but no one quarrelled with the selections which had been made.

I was in Sydney when these developments occurred. Sir Edmund and I had been great friends in our youth, and, with intervals of fiery conflict, remained so. I never met a more diffident beginner as a speaker than he was. I often used to encourage him, when a very young man, to get on his feet and speak in a debating club to which we belonged, but he did not take to it kindly.

I sent Sir Edmund a telegram of congratulation; and his reply was: “Thanks for your kind words. Hope an old friendship may henceforth find no eddies in its current.”

Sir George Turner's Budget Speech was delivered on July 28th. In this he frankly admitted that he was entirely wrong when he proposed that the Commonwealth “should” instead of “might” take over the State debts. He said, with his usual candour, that his proposal in the Convention was “utterly and absolutely wrong.”

Since the Senate refused a joint sitting on the subject of the Capital, the House conducted a separate ballot. The process adopted was a progressive elimination of the sites proposed. The last ballot was between Tumut and Lyndhurst. Neither of these places was ultimately selected.

In the Senate the Bill sent up from the House

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was amended by striking out Tumut and inserting Bombala. Bombala is very far from Sydney in the south-east corner of the Colony, but was within a reasonable distance of a seaport—Twofold Bay.

The House was prorogued on October 22nd, and dissolved on November 24th, 1903.

The Arbitration Bill lapsed, and so did the Capital Site Bill.

The Defence Act was passed. It enabled the Government to constitute Standing and Citizen Forces, none of which could be compelled to serve abroad. It empowered the Governor-General, upon the application of the Executive Government of a State, after its Governor had proclaimed that domestic violence existed therein, to call out the Standing, and, if necessary, the Militia and Volunteer Forces, to protect the State.

As amended later (1909) all male British subjects between the ages of 18 and 60 were made liable to serve, and they might be called out by Governor-General's proclamation in five different classes. The unmarried between 18 and 35 first, the unmarried or widowers without children between 35 and 45 next, the married or widowers with children between 18 and 35 next, same between 35 and 45 next, and the last class, men between 45 and 60. Parliament, if not sitting, must be summoned to meet within ten days from the issue of any such proclamation. Amongst the exemptions are “persons who are not substantially of European origin or descent, and persons who satisfy the prescribed authority that their conscientious beliefs do not allow them to bear arms”—but

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that would not free them from duties of a “non-combatant nature.”

Great use has been made of the term “conscientious” and the term “conscience,” as if there were in the mind a mysterious entity distinct from its ordinary faculties and processes. I venture to question any such view. The exercise of reason and the power of judging, in relation to facts and beliefs, and fears concerning consequences, or expectations of reward here or hereafter—all these being ordinary mental operations—seem to leave no place or need for the theory of a separate and independent tribunal within the mind, such as conscience is supposed by many to be.

Powers were also taken in the Act for the formation of Senior and Junior Cadet Corps.

A universal obligation of naval and military training was imposed—as Junior Cadets from 12 to 14, as Senior Cadets from 14 to 18; in the Citizen Forces from 18 to 25. The training includes a certain number of drills and for the Citizen Forces continuous work in camp for eight days once a year. Between 25 and 26 years of age only one registration or muster parade is required.

Any member of the Force tried for an offence punishable by death is entitled to the assistance of counsel at the expense of the Crown.

The Naval Agreement Act passed during the session embodied important changes. It provided that new ships of a modern type, including one armoured cruiser of the first-class, two second-class cruisers, four third-class cruisers, and four sloops should be placed on the Australian station, and have their base in

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Australian and New Zealand waters, under a Naval Commander-in-Chief. Their sphere of operations was defined, and limited to the Australia, China, and East Indies stations. Provision was also made for the training of Australians in a Naval Reserve to consist of 25 officers and 700 men. The agreement to last for ten years, or longer, two years' notice before expiration being necessary. The expense of maintaining the force was to be divided thus: Great Britain 6-12ths, Australia 5-12ths, and New Zealand 1-12th—not to exceed £200,000 a year in the case of Australia and £40,000 a year in the case of New Zealand. The preamble asserted the necessity for a single Navy under one authority.

The campaign in connection with the second Parliament was dominated by the questions concerning the Customs Tariff. The three Parties went upon their own lines, but there was no other great question upon which, in that contest, they were sharply divided. My friends and I did our best to secure a result which would promptly reform the Tariff on lines of revenue, discarding its protective character, so far as that was possible in any revenue tariff.

Mr. Deakin and his supporters, largely backed by members of the Labour Party, appealed for “fiscal peace.” The result was in favour of fiscal peace, but not in favour of the Ministry, as it was weaker than ever.

The second Parliament met on March 2nd, 1904. The Ministerial forces in the House had fallen from 33 to 25, in the Senate from 11 to 10. The Opposition in the House had increased from 26 to 27; in

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the Senate our numbers fell from 17 to 12. The Labour Party was the only one to score an emphatic success. In the House it rose from 16 to 23 members, and in the Senate from 8 to 14. The Ministry, therefore, had only one-third of the strength of the House, and less than one-third of the strength of the Senate. There was no striking personality added to or removed from the Senate; it will be remembered that only one-half of its members had to retire.

In the House the changes do not call for special notice, except in one respect—the death of Sir Edward Braddon after his election and just before the House met.

Sir Edward merited the beautiful tribute to his character offered by Mr. Deakin in moving a resolution recording the profound regret of the House.

For five years we were brother Premiers, and he was one of the leading members on our side of the House. The mingled force and charm of his nature have left in my memory an unfading impression.

The Prime Minister felt very keenly the position he occupied, owing to the three-Party condition of things in the House. He said: “I have not the slightest idea as yet which two Parties are going to endeavour to unite, but unite they must.”

In the debate on the Address in Reply I quoted some figures showing that the gross inequalities in the voting strength of the electorates were even worse than I had imagined. If the law had not aimed at electoral equality such abuses could be more easily tolerated; but deliberately to prevent the law from operating in order to leave some constituencies with

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twice as many electors to a member than others, was disgraceful. As the practical outcome was to injure the Opposition, and help its opponents, we felt all the more angry, and Ministerialists all the more amiable!

The Prime Minister, after the Address in Reply was passed, moved the second reading of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. There was general agreement upon this Bill, except on one or two points, of which one was to prove fatal to the Government, and another to its successor.

The Deakin Ministry had determined to resist an amendment which included the Public Services of the States, especially the State railways, within the operation of the Bill. I supported them in that course, and thought they were absolutely right. The question had come up in the previous Parliament, and had been ventilated during the recent elections. It became known that the Government would resign if the amendment were carried. As all the Labour Party, a good many of the Opposition, and one or two of the Ministerial supporters were pledged to support it, the result was inevitable. On April 21st the Government was defeated by 38 to 29. I believe the defeated Ministers asked for a dissolution. If so, it was refused. Ministers thereupon resigned, and Mr. J. C. Watson, the leader of the Labour Party, was sent for, and formed a Ministry. It was constituted as follows:


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Prime Minister and Treasurer   Mr. J. C. Watson. 
Minister for External Affairs   Mr. W. M. Hughes. 
Attorney-General   Mr. Higgins. 
Minister for Trade and Customs   Mr. Andrew Fisher. 
Minister for Defence   Senator Dawson. 
Postmaster-General   Mr. Mahon. 
Vice-President of the Executive Council   Senator McGregor. 

Mr. Watson made a Ministerial statement, Mr. Deakin and I spoke, he as leader of the late Administration, I as leader of the Opposition. Mr. Deakin announced on behalf of his Party that he was authorised to assure the new Government that they would receive the “utmost fair play.” I reminded Ministers that it was clear that a majority of the electors had no desire to see them in office. The Houses then adjourned until May 18th.

Mr. Deakin and I had always been in different camps, but about two weeks after the above developments I learned from Mr. Sydney Smith that Mr. Deakin was willing to confer with me upon the situation. This led to an endeavour to bring about a Coalition between his forces and mine on the basis of a fiscal truce. The first step was a Conference between Mr. Deakin and Sir George Turner on one side and myself and Mr. Sydney Smith on the other.

We considered whether we could arrive at an agreement. There was one broad ground upon which united action by Mr. Deakin and his friends and our Party was absolutely wise and justifiable, and in the public interest. Most of the members of both Parties —if not all—had a strong objection to the despotic tendency of the Labour leagues and the secrecy of Labour caucus methods. Owing to our disunion, the Labour Party had an ascendancy in public affairs to which it was not entitled.

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The result of our Conferences was an agreement which was put into writing and published.

Mr. Deakin told me that his state of health would prevent him from joining any Ministry that was formed. This was to me a great disappointment. Against that he put the view that he could be of more service to a new Ministry if he sat amongst his friends on the Government side.

Our respective Parties met to consider these proposals for co-operation. Mr. Deakin told me the purport of his friends' views, and sent me a copy of the resolutions they had agreed to. One was a vote of thanks to Sir George Turner and himself “for their efforts during the past few weeks to bring about a better condition of the political situation.” The other was as follows:

“That this Party is not prepared to consider proposals for a Coalition except on the condition that the Prime Ministership of any Coalition Government be accorded to the present leader of this Party.”

I wrote to Mr. Deakin, asking whether that stipulation was the only point that prevented acceptance of union. His reply was: “I do not think that this would be the only stipulation on the part of some members, but believe that the majority would ask nothing more.” Mr. Deakin does not seem to have convinced his friends that his health would not stand the strain.

As things turned out, it was impossible to bring the whole of the Deakin Party into line with us, but Mr. Deakin and a majority of his followers joined in

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our truce. Thereupon the others, headed by Sir William Lyne and Mr. (afterwards Mr. Justice) Isaacs came to an agreement with the Labour Party.

Later disclosures brought out the fact that the whole of the Protectionist Party had been open to a union with the Labour Party, and that some efforts had been made to bring it about, before Mr. Deakin joined us. Mr. Deakin believes that he told me of this. My recollection is that he did not. The terms we employed in our agreement with reference to the Labour Party seemed to me to make the idea of a union between Mr. Deakin and that Party inconceivable. I allude to the following words:

“Unfortunately, the Party now in office—quite apart from any questions relating to its programme—maintains a control of its minority by its majority and an antagonism to all who do not submit themselves to its organisation and decisions, which seems to make it hopeless to approach its members upon any terms of equality, even under the present exceptional conditions.

“A Coalition between the two Parties sitting together in opposition to the present Government appears therefore to be the solution most in accordance with the views of the members themselves and of a great majority of the electors of Australia.”