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The Collected Parliamentary Reports of Robin Hyde

The Dominion, Tuesday, September 29, 1925. p. 10. — Peeps at Parliament: The Pathetic Fall of the Member for Stratford — Mr. Masters' Discomfiture

The Dominion, Tuesday, September 29, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: The Pathetic Fall of the Member for Stratford — Mr. Masters' Discomfiture


"Expense out of all proportion!"

"Needless waste!"

"National bankruptcy!"502

"Etc., etc., etc.!"

Dear me! You'd almost think, wouldn't you, that the entire Thermal Belt—no, we mean the entire Forbes-Nationalist Party—was, once again, spouting? But it isn't. Things, after all, might be just a little worse. It is merely Mr. Masters.

Election time, dear friends, has a way of bringing out strange potentialities in the most unexpected places. Maybe you've noticed it. The sober, respectable, wife-fearing citizen—the kind that plays poker for matches, and wears the ties his mother-in-law gives him for Christmas—goes out into the purlieus of the streets and returns sporting a red buttonhole and a black eye. Great ladies who, in the natural course of events, are wont to survey you with that pardon-me-but-have-we-been-introduced expression manifest a sudden and quite inexplicable interest in your views on the social problems of the day. Another of these interesting little election-time phenomena is Mr. Masters. Mr. Masters has, without warning of any kind, developed into the strong, masterful man of the Forbes-Nationalist Party. As we think we heard a voice at the back of the hall remark, he wouldn't need to be any Hercules at that.

Mr. Masters was, as you'll know if you've been reading all about him in the family papers of this Dominion, the polite gentleman who accused the Minister of Lands of being–what was it? the porridge-pot–no, the mud geyser of the Reform Party.503 We in our hopelessly unsophisticated way, have, for the better part of the session, regarded Mr. Masters as merely one of the long chain of extinct volcanoes which composes our Forbes-Nationalist Party. Now, without so much as a preliminary warning rumble, the worst has happened. Mr. Masters has erupted–nay, more [—] Mr. Masters has simply and definitely gone up in smoke. Whether the honourable member for Stratford will ever again come down to earth is a matter which is occasioning considerable speculation in Parliament. If, by any unforeseen chance, this is so, you won't need any newspaper reports on the matter. Mr. Masters will hit the ground with a dull and sickening thud which will be heard for miles around.

And what, you ask, has the honourable member for Stratford been doing—no, we504 mean, saying, now? Well, it's all a very sad story. You'll remember how, somewhere in mid-session, there was a great deal of discussion about a report of the Auditor-General's, in which that dignitary alleged that our Public Service finances were in a condition of mind, body, and estate such as to bring stark horror to the mathematical culture of our Mr. McCombs?505 You remember, also, that the entire Opposition arose and repeated its twice times table to the Ministry with a solemnity, an earnestness, a concord which must have made our unfortunate Ministers wish that they were safely back again at school, where, if they did happen to make a mistake in their multiplication the result would be merely the cane, not social and political ostracism. If you know your Parliament, you know also that there could be only one possible outcome of all this. A special committee of inquiry, composed of representatives from all sides of the House, was appointed, and the Opposition set its teeth and prayed for the worst.

However, to the complete surprise of everybody, the Departmental officials of the Public Service have been found not guilty.506 The committee, taking a decidedly charitable view of the matter, decided something to the effect that the Auditor-General hadn't really meant any harm, but that too much book-keeping was apt, at times, to produce rather a strain on the very best of intelligences, and that most likely he'd feel better all round when he'd been away for his annual holiday at the seaside. The enormous depredations from the Public Service exchequer were found, upon the closest scrutiny and investigation, to be non-existent. Even Mr. McCombs, after a minute examination of every official concerned, failed to catch one of them "at it." That shows you, doesn't it? But it didn't show Mr. Masters. Mr. Masters happened, at the time of the investigations and after, to be looking in a different direction. He was looking towards the polling booths.

Mind you, there's nothing actually wrong with Mr. Masters' political eye-sight. Far from it. He can discern—or imagine—mistakes and maladministration on the part of other people with the same almost supernatural ability with which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle conjures forth spirits out of the vasty deep. For instance, looking at the finding of the special committee of investigation, he immediately saw the Catch In It. A child could have seen it—and nobody would accuse Mr. Masters of being a child. You can guess, almost without Mr. Masters telling you, the real reason for the findings of the committee. The committee was biased and "packed," Mr. Masters says so, and, in case you don't understand the inner significance of a "packed" committee as fully as does the honourable member for Stratford, let's explain what happened.507

We have never, even from a respectful distance, had the pleasure of seeing that important official, the Auditor-General. But, from Mr. Masters' touching little description, we gather that he is a timid little man who cultivates a military moustache and a full set of Dundreary whiskers for the express purpose of hiding behind them whenever anybody looks at him.508 One morning, after lying awake all night thinking of the "unkind, ungenerous, unjust, untrue" things that Parliament had been saying about him, he came down to breakfast only to see an official-looking document lying in or about the marmalade. Somehow the taste went out of his bacon and eggs. The very worst had happened. He had been summoned to attend the special committee.

One has only to listen to Mr. Masters to realise just what befell the Auditor-General when, feeling shaky at the knees and in his facts, he walked into the spiders' parlour.509 The spiders—that is Mr. Masters' "packed committee"—simply locked the door, shuttered the windows, and ate him alive.510 It was just like the charge of the Light Brigade:

"Members right of him,
Members left of him,
Members in front of him
Volleyed and thundered…"511

And what in the world, under the circumstances, was one poor, lone, defenceless Auditor-General to do but to admit, that perhaps, after all, everybody else was right, and that he might possibly have made just one or two trifling little errors? By the time Mr. Masters had quite finished speaking, we for one wiped away a surreptitious tear of sympathy for the Auditor-General. And then Mr. Holland simply spoiled everything, including Mr. Masters' perfectly beautiful scenic effects. The Leader of the Labour Party has, colloquially speaking, a perfect genius for "spilling the beans"—even those which Mr. Masters was giving the Ministry.512

Mr. Holland was one of those who most strenuously demanded a committee of inquiry, and who honestly believed, on reading the Auditor-General's report, that for once he had caught the Government napping and the Departmental officials tapping—the public exchequer. But the brightest hopes are doomed to fade. Mr. Holland attended every committee meeting, and, at the end of that time, arose in the House, and declared, in the most straightforward manner possible, that his only objection to the findings of the Committee was that they hadn't, so to speak, pitched it strong enough, and that the Auditor-General was getting off quite as lightly as could, under the circumstances, be expected. That, coming from the Leader of the Labour Party, was perhaps sufficient guarantee of the committee's integrity to satisfy even Mr. Masters. But what was still worse for Mr. Masters, it transpired that his revered chief, Mr. Forbes, and his first-lieutenant, Mr. Sidey, were both members of the committee which Mr. Masters had so unkindly abused. And worse than ever, the aforesaid committee had unanimously found that the Auditor-General was in error, and that in consequence the Government's criticism of his report was well founded. Now, will Mr. Masters follow Mr. Corrigan's example and apologise? I wonder.

502 These are not Masters's exact words but they accurately reflect the tone of his speech on the Controller and Auditor-General's Report; see Hansard 208: 717-19.

503 These were Masters's exact words; see Hansard 208: 647.

504 Dominion: me.

505 See the column for 19 August 1925.

506 See the findings of the tabled report (Hansard 208: 716-17).

507 Masters used both "biased" and "packed" as terms to describe the committee; see Hansard 208: 719.

508 Dundreary whiskers are long whiskers worn without a beard (Oxford English Dictionary).

509 Cf. Mary Howitt, "The Spider and the Fly," (line 1).

"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly.

The Spider and the Fly. Illus. Tony DiTerlizzi. New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002.

510 Masters said that it was "a matter for regret that the Controller and Auditor-General, who is the highest official in this Dominion…has now been placed in the humiliating position of being 'put on the mat' before a parliamentary Committee" (Hansard 208: 717).

511 Cf. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Charge of the Light Brigade," from Maud, and Other Poems (?) (1855), lines 18-21.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered

The Poems of Tennyson, ed. Christopher Ricks, vol. 2 (Harlow, Eng.: Longman, 1987).

512 See Holland's speech (Hansard 208: 721-24).