A Ministry of Malefactors

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A Ministry Of Malefactors – Keenan's Crushing Condemnation  (1911) 
Labor Vanguard, 12 August 1911, page 1. Published by Labor Paper Office, Trades Hall, Beaufort Street, Perth as an official organ of the Westralian Division of the Australian Labor Federation. Editor: John Holman MLA.

A Ministry Of Malefactors – Keenan's Crushing Condemnation

(Juggling with Electorates and Looting the Treasury.)

Norbert Keenan, K.C.—the sitting member for Kalgoorlie—is a man of his impulses when "going on his own". It would scarcely be fair to judge him by his attitude when a member of the Government, for that Government he had to leave for the reasons, among others, he gives in his Kalgoorlie speech. All the time he was under a cloud, he had to defend his reckless colleagues when it was repugnant for him to do so. Whatever sins he had of his own to carry were light indeed in comparison with the load heaped upon him by Gregory, Wilson and Co. His position at the present moment is a strange one. He is standing for his old seat, and yet cannot support, as his speech shows, the Government, which he considers so absolutely abandoned in its own degradation, and he is not in harmony with the Labor movement. There is no half-way point this time, and Keenan knows it.

He told his hearers that, "Politics has been for him far more a bed of thorns than a garden of roses," and he "desired not to make any secret of the fact that withdrawal into private live would possess no terrors for him." He spoke generously of Mr Green, the Labor candidate, and informed his audience that he was standing by the force of old-time associations, and because many of his friends, whose advice he had to respect, had requested him not to keep out of the contest. So he is standing as an opponent of the Government. We call the extracts that follow from his speech because they are the impressions of an able politician who is not one of the Labor party. They have the weight which attaches to utterances of a man who has been "behind the scenes." The very same things have been said by members of the Parliamentary Labor party, perhaps, not in varse so well, but to the same outcome. But what a Labor member says is almost invariably ignored by the biased and bigoted "Liberal" press, so-called. Mr Keenan, is, therefore, an independent witness. He confirms what has been said by Messrs Scaddan, Walker, Bath, Holman, Collier and others. And the merit of his testimony is that it cannot be refuted. Mr Keenan has been and will be abused by the members of the Ministry, and their minions, but no "mud-slinging" in the world can destroy the truths that were uttered in the Kalgoorlie speech.

Firstly, Mr Keenan reproaches the Ministry for breaking its pledge to reduce the Ministerial salaries. "Effect was not given to that pledge, and he (Mr Keenan) accepted his measure of blame for delay in that respect, although it was delay not at all to his liking. But what was the record of the present Ministry? Here, in one of the very pledges of the Moore Ministry, what did they find to be their attitude? Not to give effect to the pledge they were bound by but, on the contrary, to increase their Ministerial salaries by £300 for each minister for each year." And as Mr Keenan points out, they took advantage of the increase of the payment of members from £200 to £300 per annum in order to get for each Minister an increase not of £100 per year, but £300 per year each? "If those Ministers had done this and without breaking any pledge it would be sufficiently disgraceful to warrant all honest men in looking on them askance, but when these very men—four of the six of them pledged to reduce their salaries, and yet in this almost surreptitious manner increased them—what opinion are people to hold of them?"

But it was the conduct of Frank Wilson and Co on the Redistribution of Seats Bill that more than anything had utterly disgusted Mr Keenan. Of course, he raps them on the knuckles for their fooling and tinkering with such measures as the Licensing Bill and the Health Bill, which they literally flung at the House to tear to shreds, and patch up as the mood suggested, without the slightest regard for Cabinet responsibility. Yet on the Redistribution of Seats Bill: "The one measure which by every law of decency and normal conduct should have been treated as non-party, not only did the Government make this measure a party measure, but they did not dare to bring it before the House (long section which didn't scan correctly) of their new constituents or, at any rate, of those of them who favoured their return, were conferred. In what greater degree was it possible to degrade and prostitute the functions of Parliament? Let them forget for the moment that this Bill which, by every rule of justice and decency should not be a party measure was constituted one."

However the members of the Wilson Government may abuse Mr Keenan, this is all perfectly true, and no one with a sense of honour can wonder at the speaker's fierce wrath at such unscrupulous tactics. The Ministers had not even then, he said, sounded the depths of degradation in public live to which they had ultimately descended.

He went on to say:- "By a secret caucus the measure had been considered and determined so, and when it came before the House, it was merely to enact the necessary farce to make it into law. Instead of being discussed on the floor of the House; instead of having its faults probed, its deficiencies exposed and, if possible, its errors rectified in honest debate, it was framed and settled in the principles—if it possessed any—and in all its degrading details by a coterie of persons interested in the highest degree and impregnated to the greatest possible extent by party bias. Even as a party measure, the history of its inception, its introduction and passing into law was a history of total degradation of Parliamentary life, of the substitution of a secret conference, with all its nauseous bargains and arrangements for the full, free and open discussion which the Constitution prescribed." Adn then, he could have added, bludgeoned through the House by means of the "gag".

Can Wilson, or his agile lieutenant Gregory, deny these facts? But let us hear Mr Keenan further. Suppressing, like an experienced member (as he is), the natural indignation aroused by such dishonourable conduct, he continued:- "But that it should be a party measure at all polluted the very fountain-head of just and open dealing. Were men justified in appointing themselves judges in their own game? Was it not plain that the whole future of the present Administration dependent on the nature of the prophesy for the redistribution of Parliamentary representation? By following the same line of conduct that the present Administration, now any political party could so carve up the constituencies so to ensure their return to power, although they represented only a miserable minority. And yet, the Government had the audacity to protest against the charge that they had brought down the Bill for the purpose of gerrymandering the electorates of the State and that, in fact, so far as lay in their power, they had gerrymandered the electorates. He could conceive no fair-minded man who, reviewing the conduct of Ministers in this matter, could form any but the one conclusion, that they had been guilty of conduct which merited the strongest condemnation at the hands of every man or woman who respected the Parliamentary institutions or possessed one vestige of reverence for the abstract rules of honesty and justice."

It is difficult to conceive what else but "the strongest condemnation" such conduct merits, unless it be the condign punishment of the offenders at the ballot box. If such outrages upon honesty and justice can be tolerated, then may the most abandoned of mortals be trusted with the reins of power. The people henceforth, will be at the mercy of the most reckless and audacious schemers unless this shocking insult in and violation of their sovereignty be by them resented in no unmistakable manner at the coming elections. Men who can be guilty of such conduct as that truthfully described by Mr Keenan, should be ostracised and banished from public life forever. Clean politics are impossible with such men in power. As Mr Keenan puts it:- "The real issue to be decided at the forthcoming elections by the electors of the State would be the question of placing in power as administrators, men who deserved the respect of the electors at large. He looked on it as the first and most important result to be achieved to place the administration in clean hands, to rid themselves of those who had shown themselves prepared to ignore their pledged words when their own personal profit was concerned, and who had proved themselves capable of abusing their powers in a road attempt to prolong their occupancy of office."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).