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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Friday, September 11, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: Just Why — Petitions and Their Sponsors

The Dominion, Friday, September 11, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: Just Why — Petitions and Their Sponsors

"But I do trust, Mr. Speaker—I do trust—I do trust—" Slowly, sadly, reluctantly, the occupants of the Ladies' Press Gallery emerged, rubbing their eyes, from a state of blissful unconsciousness to a realisation of the startling fact that the member for Auckland West, Mr. Parry, was on the very point of trusting somebody.451 To this day we don't know who it was, but we are willing to—what's that vulgarly slangy expression?—to bet our bottom dollar that it wasn't a Cabinet Minister. Seated immediately behind Mr. Parry, the member for Wellington East went through the motions of one who wearily windeth up an eight-day clock452—the kind that is not fitted with an automatic alarm silencer; everybody else in the House looked, and, we are quite sure, felt as if they had heard all this sort of thing once ever so many times before. But ere the above-mentioned occupants of the Ladies' Press Gallery had definitely finished putting sleep from their eyes and slumber from their eyelids, the eight-day clock ran down. No, beg pardon, that wasn't what we were going to say. We mean that Mr. Parry, having reconsidered the question of trusting somebody, came to a halt—yes, positively to a halt—and sat down. By leaning over at a perilous angle from the balustrade of our gallery, we were able to ascertain the fact that the entire Ministry looked as though it could believe neither its eyes nor its ears.

But not yet was it written that Mr. Speaker, that man of destiny should rise from his senatorial chair and move that the House should there and then, without further shilly-shallying about the matter, adjourn. Not yet were wary Ministers permitted to seek comfortable oblivion over a cup of tea, or, more probably, a corpulent cigar. The House had first to reckon with Mr. Masters.

Between you and me, the mere on-looker is a little puzzled, in these strange and troublous times, as to just why the erstwhile Liberal Party should have adopted the name of Nationalists. A nation, if you follow our line of argument, suggests something with settled ideas, fixed policies, and, above all, boundary lines of its very own. Whereas the Forbes-Nationalists, as far as we can see, haven't a limit among them—although, of course, some impolite people venture to hint that Mr. Masters is that. But what we set out to say is that the Nationalists, if they are a nation at all, are a nation of Nomads—perhaps one of the lost (and now, just at the wrong moment, rediscovered) tribes of Israel. If this be so, Mr. Masters is, politically-speaking, the one, only and original Wandering Jew. One can never quite guess, so to speak, which way pussy is going to jump. Only that stern and uncompromising command, "The ayes will go to the right—the noes will go to the left," makes clear the mystery unto our eyes.

On the night before last, Mr. Masters was, for once in a while, definitely "agin the Government."453 The Government, when last we left it, seemed to be doing as well as might be expected. But to return to our Mr. Masters. The thing that, on this occasion, aroused his ire, was the Government's action in endeavouring to make some mild reductions in the matter of income tax. The hon. member started off by boldly admitting that he had been very much impressed by a previous speech on the subject—a speech delivered, as454 it please you, by no less a personage than the leader of the Labour Party.455 Well, well! We didn't think that Mr. Masters—however, that's beside the point. But all these Oppositionist protests against income tax reduction have the drastic effect of making us think. Can it be that members, whose salaries, though reasonable in the extreme, nevertheless rank as taxable incomes, actually enjoy filling in the little forms which give to Departmental officials the clue to the taxable extent of above-mentioned members' worldly goods? Or can it, on the other hand, be even remotely possible that our Opposition, knowing that the Government has a majority sufficient to carry its much-maligned tax reduction proposals safely through the House, feels that it is at liberty to express itself in just whatever words it happens to fancy? The only point upon which we are quite perfectly clear is that nobody can perfectly tell just what our Forbes-Nationalists are going to do or say next. Now, so to speak, you have them, and now you don't; at odd moments, indeed, you begin to entertain a faint suspicion that they are "having" you. To-day they're here, to-morrow they're there, and the next day—where are they? Echo, in a bewildered sort of fashion, answers "Where?"

Do you remember how, in the comparatively recent past, we endeavoured to give you some little information as to the number and nature of the petitions so regularly presented to the House? Yesterday afternoon we discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that this formal presentation wasn't the end of them. There was worse to come.

"Mr. Speaker!" "Mr. Speaker!" "Mr. Speaker!" Imagine, if you can, the amazing spectacle of half a dozen respectable and, as a general rule, reverential members of the Reform Party striving to gain the eye and ear of Mr. Speaker with the same insistency sometimes displayed by energetic ladies at auction sales. Some of them, we deeply regret to relate, seemed to find much difficulty in refraining from addressing Mr. Speaker in the simple, terse, effective, but unceremonious terms customarily used in speaking to a refractory errand boy, and drawing down upon themselves an uncompromising "Order! Order!" by remarking "Hi! You there!" to the extra specially honourable member whose eye they desired to catch.

"Mr. Speaker, Sir—," with much pomp, ceremony and regard for the dignified procedure of the House, the successful candidate proceeds to read a report of his particular petitionary protege as transmitted to the House by the committee to which it has been referred. Sometimes he lays great stress upon the fact that the committee has submitted the petition in question for the favourable consideration of the House. Not infrequently, he regrets to state that the committee can make no recommendation. Now, knowing as we do that a petition which has been favourably recommended by committees, may in like fashion be favourably recommended for the next twenty years to come, without anything in particular being done about it, we can't see why the committees don't save time, tears, and tribulation by favourably recommending all petitions given into their tender care. It would please the petitioners, and it couldn't really hurt the Government.

But really, dear readers, you've no idea—we're sure you haven't—of the unceasing solicitude with which our members of Parliament watch over your interests—and, of course, incidentally, over its own. Take an instance. A member of the Nationalist Party, taking a stroll in your paddock (we'll say he is gathering mushrooms for breakfast, which legitimises the trespass), notices a Californian thistle smiling up at the morning sunshine. Does he pass on unheeding? Not if he knows it. He carefully gathers that thistle and stows it away in the pocket nearest his heart. In due time he visits local bodies, ladies' guilds, and mothers' meetings, and points out to them the urgent necessity of the Government's doing something about Californian thistles. He doesn't suggest that you yourselves should roll up your coat sleeves and root it out. Nothing so plebeian. His idea is that the Government should be petitioned for a little fund of, say, £1000, for purposes of experimenting on the defenceless bodies of Californian thistles.456 If the Government gives ear to the "favourable recommendation" invariably attached to such petitions, well and good. If not—let Ministers tremble, and private secretaries shake in their patent leather shoes! A day of reckoning will come—sooner or later. Later, we think? Don't you?

451 See Parry's speech in Hansard 208: 219, in which he uses the phrases "I trust" and "I do trust" several times.

452 i.e. a grandfather clock.

453 Hyde is probably referring to Masters's speech on taxation policy; see Hansard 208: 152-55.

454 Dominion: an.

455 This comment is not recorded in Masters's speech in Hansard (208: 152).Perhaps Hyde was thinking of Munro, who did praise Holland's speech (Hansard 208: 134).

456 Hyde is referring to an earlier debate. See “Looking Down: Notes from the Gallery,” Christchurch Sun, 17 August 1925, p. 8, for coverage of these comments.