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An Autobiography

electors, who assuredly are neither the best nor the most intelligent, who turn the scale at
each of our scrutin de liste elections. I see to the right and to the left two large armies--
Catholics and Liberals--of force almost equal, whom nothing would tempt to desert their
standard, who serve it with devotion and from conviction. Well, these great armies do not
count, or scarcely count. On the day of battle it is as if they do not exist. What counts,
what decides, what triumphs, is another body of electors altogether--a floating body too
often swayed by their passions, by their prejudices; or, worse still, by their interests.
These are our masters, and according as they veer from right to left, or from left to right,
the Government of the country changes, and its history takes a new direction. Gentlemen,
is it well that it should be so? Is it well that this country should be at the mercy of such
contemptible elements as these?
How often have I longed to see a Premier in this, my adopted country, rise to such fervid
heights of patriotism as this?
M. Bernhaert is right. It is the party Government that is essentially the weak Government.
It cannot afford to estrange or offend any one who commands votes. It is said that every
prominent politician in the British House of Commons is being perpetually tempted and
tormented by his friends not to be honest, and perpetually assailed by his enemies in
order to be made to appear to be dishonest. The Opposition is prepared to trip up the
Ministry at every step. It exaggerates mistakes, misreprerents motives, and combats
measures which it believes to be good, if these are brought forward by its opponents. It
bullies in public and undermines in secret. It is always ready to step into the shoes of the
Ministry, to undergo similar treatment. This is the sort of strength which is supposed to
be imperilled if the nation were equitably represented in the Legislature. In the present
state of the world, especially in the Australian States, where the functions of government
have multiplied and are multiplying, it is of the first importance that the administration
should be watched from all sides, and not merely from the point of view of those who
wish to sit on the Treasury benches. The right function of the Opposition is to see that the
Government does the work of the country well. The actual practice of the Opposition is to
try to prevent it from doing the country's work at all. In order that government should be
honest, intelligent, and economical, it needs helpful criticism rather than unqualified
opposition; and this criticism may be expected from the less compact and more
independent ranks in a legislative body which truly represents all the people. Party
discipline, which is almost inevitable in the present struggle for ascendancy or defeat, is
the most undemocratic agency in the world. It is rather by liberating all votes and
allowing them to group themselves according to conviction that a real government of the
people by the people can be secured. When I look back on the intention of the framers of
the Commonwealth Constitution to create in the Senate a States' rights House I am
amazed at the remoteness of the intention from the achievement. The Senate is as much a
party House as is the House of Representatives. Nothing, perhaps, describes the position
better than the epigrammatic if somewhat triumphant statement of a Labour Senator some
time ago. "The Senate was supposed to be a place where the radical legislation of the
Lower Chamber could be cooled off, but they had found that the saucer was hotter than
the cup."
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