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20. Chapter XX Prime Minister

MR. WATSON, after the necessary adjournment, made his Ministerial Statement. It was a very clear and manly one. He proposed to take up the Arbitration Bill at the point reached before the crisis. He also spoke of starting a tobacco monopoly, and of compelling the banks to deposit 40 per cent of their gold reserves in the Federal Treasury. The Senate had sent down to the House a message asking it to concur in the manufacture and sale of tobacco, cigars, and cigarettes in order to provide money for Old Age Pensions.

Mr. Deakin followed Mr. Watson, and made it clear that he and his friends had been equally open to receive overtures from us or from the Labour Party, and that he had been expressly authorised to do so.

State railways and State industries were included in the Arbitration Bill, but by 29 to 21 it was resolved against the Government that the measure should not include disputes “relating to employment in any agricultural, viticultural, horticultural, or dairying pursuit.”

An amendment from our side providing that no Trade Union should be registered whose rules permitted grants from its funds for political purposes

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was only defeated by one vote. An amendment that preference to Trade Unionists over other workers should not be given, unless in the opinion of the Court a majority of those affected by the award who had interests in common with the applicants approved of the application, was carried by a majority of 7, on the motion of the hon. member for Corinella (Victoria), Mr. McCay. This amendment excited great indignation amongst the Trade Unionists, who refused to allow it to remain in the Bill.

After the Bill came out of Committee, Mr. Watson moved that certain clauses be recommitted, and he included Clause 48, which contained the above amendment. Mr. McCay thereupon moved that the House should refuse to recommit that clause. Outside the House Mr. Watson had made it clear that he would resign unless the amendment was removed from the Bill. The words of a substitute which he intended to propose were circulated. They provided that if the Court were satisfied that the Union “substantially” represented the industry affected in point of the numbers and competence of its members, that was to be sufficient.

There was, of course, a very long and excited discussion extending over several days. Mr. Watson and Mr. Hughes made fine speeches. Mr. Deakin was much incensed by the attack made upon him by the latter.

When the division was taken the Government were defeated by a majority of two. With two pairs, and the Speaker, the whole House was accounted for.

Of the former Deakin party, he and fifteen others

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voted with us; Sir William Lyne, Mr. Isaacs, Mr. Groom, and others voted with the Labour Party.

Mr. Watson asked Lord Northcote to give him a dissolution, but the request was refused, chiefly, no doubt, because of the smallness of the difference between our amendment and the concession Mr. Watson was willing to make, and because the House was in its first year.

The Governor-General, before formally sending for me, asked me whether I thought I could form a Ministry that could carry on. I said I believed I could. I confess I soon found that my expectation of sufficient strength proved ill-founded, as Mr. Deakin's support of the new Ministry did not attract as many of his followers as I had hoped.

The difficulty of forming a Federal Government representing the six States is always great. In our case it was made more difficult, because the two parties to the Coalition had to be equally represented.

The Ministry when made up was as follows:

Prime Minister and External Affairs   Myself. 
Minister for Trade and Customs   Mr. Allan McLean. 
Treasurer   Sir George Turner. 
Attorney-General   Senator Sir Josiah 
Minister for Home Affairs   Mr. Dugald Thomson. 
Minister for Defence   Mr. McCay. 
Postmaster-General   Mr. Sydney Smith. 
Vice-President of the Executive Council   Senator Drake. 

Photograph facing p.236. The Federal Ministry of 1905 (reid mclean administration). Sitting: Rt.Hon.Sir George Turner, P.C., K.C.M.G. (Treasury), Rt.Hon.George Houstoun Reid, P.C., K.C.(External Affairs), Rt.Hon.Lord Northeote, P.C., C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.I.E. (Governor-General), Hon.Allan McLean (Trade and Customs), Hon.Sir Josiah Henry Symon, K.C.M.G., K.C. (Attorney-General). Standing: Hon.Sydney Smith (Postmaster-General), Hon.Dugald Thomson (Home Affairs), Hon.James Whiteside McGay (Defence), Hon.James George Drake (Vice-President Executive Council).

I can never forget Sir George Turner's chivalry in joining me when his health was in a most precarious condition. Having, with Mr. Deakin, met me in

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conference and agreement, since Mr. Deakin stood out, he would not desert me. It was at first arranged that Sir George and I should be “equal in all things,” but he assured me that it would mean a breakdown for him, and Mr. Allan McLean took his place.

Mr. Allan McLean was a man who united the best qualities of a Highlander with the best qualities of an Australian Colonist. No public man in Victoria was more widely or more affectionately esteemed.

Mr. McCay (afterwards General McCay) was one of the youngest leaders in Victorian politics. He possessed a clear, sagacious mind. He was in the first Australian contingent to leave Australia for the War, and commanded a brigade at Gallipoli with conspicuous courage and success.

Our Attorney-General—Sir Josiah Symon, K.C., of South Australia—is not only an eminent lawyer, but also a man of commanding ability in every other respect. Mr. Dugald Thomson was that rare combination—so far as Australia is concerned—a first-rate man of business and a first-rate man of affairs generally. When I was so unjustly attacked in the New South Wales Parliament in connection with the public finances, his vindication of my conduct was invaluable. His speeches were invariably clear, strong, and all the more weighty because of their moderate tone. Mr. Sydney Smith, when Sir Henry Parkes gave up the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1891, became a staunch friend and supporter. His enthusiasm, devotion, and efficiency as “Whip” made him an invaluable colleague, and his services in

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bringing about the understanding with Mr. Deakin and Sir George Turner could not be overlooked.

During my periods of leadership in New South Wales and in Australia I had the good fortune to enjoy the support of parties of singular fidelity and high capacity. The honour of leading them was great, but the enjoyment their loyalty and good fellowship always gave me had more to do with my perennial complacency than anything else. Looking back over thirty years of public life, I can only remember one clear instance of an attempt to shoot at me “from behind.” Perhaps there was another. Each, if there were two, strengthened my position, so the pain was not lasting.

Our Ministry never had a greater majority than two, and when the House was in Committee one of the two sat in the Chair. To make bad worse, the one who was left was a supporter of the most doubtful kind. Coalitions at all times are full of the elements of disaster, but a Coalition that was only half a Coalition, and had only (when in Committee) a majority of one—who could not be depended upon—that surely was a situation not devoid of humour!

After an adjournment Parliament met again on September 7th, and I made a Ministerial Statement. I pointed out that the result of the previous General Election had been a confirmation of the fiscal truce proposed by the Deakin Government, and that the Ministry was a guarantee for the truce during its existence.

On the question of preferential trade I proposed to follow the example of previous Governments and

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wait for definite proposals from the Imperial Government. When these would come was uncertain, because the Government then in power was opposed to any such policy. We intended to take up the Arbitration Bill, and recommit it for the purpose of making amendments. A number of those that were to be submitted by the late Government we could propose, a number we could not.

Then, as so many months of the session had passed, we would deal with the Budget and the Estimates.

A few days afterwards we sent the Arbitration Bill up to the Senate.

On September 20th Mr. Watson moved a vote of want of confidence. A decision was not arrived at until October 13th, when the motion was defeated by 37 to 35; with pair, 38 to 36.

The Budget Speech was delivered by Sir George Turner on October 18th.

Before the close of the session Mr. Deakin, in a very fine speech, moved a Resolution in favour of Preferential Trade and Reciprocity.

During the session Protectionists on both sides of the House desired an inquiry by Royal Commission into the operation of the Tariff.

Mr. Isaacs pressed the matter very much. He wished a Commission consisting of members of both Houses. I preferred one consisting of persons outside Parliament. He wanted to limit the scope of the inquiry. I preferred that the whole Tariff should be inquired into.

We appointed four Free Traders and Four Protectionists.

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One of the latter, Sir John Quick, we made Chairman; but he was not allowed a casting vote.

Strangely enough, in spite of our precarious position we went through the session, August to December, without any serious difficulty. It was in the power of any one of our supporters to create a deadlock. Mr. Deakin and all his friends stood by us most loyally.

In February we had an important Conference at Hobart with the State Premiers upon a number of questions.

During the recess nothing had occurred to show that Mr. Deakin or his followers had any intention to withdraw their support from our Administration. He and I met occasionally. I spoke very confidentially to him whenever we did meet. Our last interview was two days before his Ballarat speech. During that interview the same cordiality prevailed, and not a single word escaped from him which prepared me for a “notice to quit,” such as that deliverance undoubtedly was.

Our preparations for the opening of the session on the following Tuesday were almost complete. I had a “Speech from the Throne” drafted, which consisted of many clauses, containing a long catalogue of public business which we had decided to submit to the House. A meeting of the Cabinet had been called for Monday, the day before Parliament met, in order to finish it.

But the speech made by Mr. Deakin, reported in the newspapers that morning, completely altered our

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position. Even with the cordial support of Mr. Deakin and his friends we had only a majority of two. The speech showed that the cordiality and support seemed to have vanished.

Each of the eight Ministers sitting round the Cabinet table, including Mr. Deakin's old friend and colleague, Sir George Turner, had independently arrived at the same conclusion. We all felt that to meet Parliament and submit a legislative programme as if nothing had occurred was impossible. On the other hand, we had administered public affairs during a Parliamentary recess of six months, and did not relish the appearance of running away from our posts. After full deliberation we determined to meet Parliament, but to place in His Excellency's hands a Speech which would show that we would only stay in office to bring about an appeal to the country.

The view we took of the meaning of Mr. Deakin's speech was in harmony with the construction the Press put upon it. It was universally regarded as “a notice to quit.”

Mr. Deakin, when the House met, disclaimed any hostile intention, but he kept silence on Monday and on Tuesday, He had three intimate Protectionist supporters in the Cabinet—Sir George Turner, Mr. Allan McLean, and Mr. McCay, who had joined me with his approval. Neither to me, nor to them, did he intimate that everybody had made a mistake in thinking that his support had been withdrawn.

I still think he was censurable. Knowing our precarious position, he should not have said anything to

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weaken us, if he wished us to carry on; if he had determined to forsake us he might have treated us, or Sir George Turner at any rate, with fuller consideration. However, it is an old story now.

Parliament met on Tuesday, June 29th. The Speech from the Throne was the shortest on record. It simply proposed electoral business.

The suddenness of His Excellency's departure from the Council Chamber created an immense sensation.

At this distance of time it is hard to recall the indignation I felt at Mr. Deakin's conduct, but of course, the members of his own Party who had become my colleagues by virtue of his agreement with me had far more right to complain.

Sir George showed, even in his evident suffering from ill-health and disappointment at Mr. Deakin's conduct, an affection for him which was equally honourable to both.

He considered that the inquiry into the working of the Tariff which we had started was the best possible use that could be made of the period of “fiscal peace.”

Mr. Allan McLean spoke with intense feeling, which even our opponents deeply respected:

“So far as I am aware, the Ministry have not departed to the extent of a hair's breadth from the honourable understanding which was entered into between the honourable and learned Member for Ballarat and the Prime Minister. We acted up to it in every possible way, and I think it is only fair to the Prime Minister to say that he has never, upon any occasion, sought to take any advantage of the fact that the

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Free Traders predominated amongst the Government supporters. On the contrary, whenever there has been any little advantage to be given to one side or the other, it has always been given to the Protectionist members of the Government. Even in the case of the Tariff Commission, the chairmanship was given to a Protectionist, notwithstanding the fact that there was a large number of Free Traders sitting behind the Ministry. Upon every possible occasion the Prime Minister has honourably adhered to the bargain which he made with the honourable and learned Member for Ballarat. …”

Mr. Deakin moved as an amendment to the Address in Reply the addition of the words, “But we are of opinion that practical measures should be proceeded with.”

With his usual eloquence, Mr. Deakin defended his action. He disclaimed any intention to upset the Ministry. The Protectionists throughout Australia were afraid of a dissolution which would place them at a disadvantage. He knew that the arrangement was that there should be a fiscal truce during the Parliament, but considered that the reports sent in from time to time from the Tariff Commission must force the fiscal question to the front.

The following reveals a flash of sardonic humour which is unusual in Mr. Deakin:

MR. REID: “The Age said it was a notice to quit.”

MR. DEAKIN: “Even a notice to quit may be for six or twelve months, or any other period.”

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Mr. Deakin's amendment was carried by 45 to 28 (including pairs), a majority of 17. The whole of Mr. Deakin's following voted against us, leaving my three Protectionist colleagues to vote without a single Protectionist supporter.

This unexpected treatment of Sir George Turner and Mr. McLean left a painful impression on more minds than mine. We had one consolation: the outcome had relieved us from a position which had become intolerable.

Mr. Deakin imputed to me an unworthy attempt to injure the Protectionist cause by an improper use of the period of truce, and also of a design to dissolve Parliament. These were quite fallacious ideas, and the testimony given by Sir George Turner and Mr. McLean to the fairness of my conduct all through was a sufficient answer. The charge suggested their complicity, which was incredible in itself. There is little doubt that the Protectionists in some of the States and in the House persuaded Mr. Deakin to forsake us.

I had a very strong objection—as Mr. Deakin had —to the methods of the Labour Party. In one respect my opposition to that Party went much farther than his. He took too lightly the Socialistic gospel which they had declared. I hoped by the attempt to unite Mr. Deakin with the Opposition to present a solid front to a dangerous enemy. To do this I was quite ready to listen to Tariff changes that did not seriously raise questions of principle.

Ministers advised a dissolution, but the Governor-General did not accept our advice. Looking back

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upon the whole affair, I think the Governor-General arrived at a proper decision.

Up to that time I believe every defeated Ministry had asked for leave to appeal to the country, and each had received a negative answer. The practice in the Dominions is quite different from that in Great Britain. His Majesty's Ministers in England have their own way in such matters. It is not so in the Dominions.