Petitions against the Amusement Tax were signed in every theatre in the Commonwealth. Members were bombarded with telegrams. Employees were told theatres would have to close. Builders were informed there would be no new theatres built. Shareholders in film companies were told that they` would lose their dividends because the industry could not stand the strain. The member for Angas, Mr Parsons, read to the House a telegram he had received:
Your persistent silence suggests that you deliberately ignore vested interests whose life and livelihood is at stake. Unless intimation received your return immediately, our representative leaves by plane to demand you take action.
Jepson, Secretary, United Amusement Interests.
The movie strategists realised that they could not defeat the Amusements Tax in the House. But the Maritime Industries Bill to abolish the Federal Arbitration Court provided them with their best chance. If they could defeat Bruce on that, then they believed they were in the clear.
All the weekend there were feverish discussions. Every member was lobbied. The Labor Party realised that it was getting unexpected allies. It didn't hesitate to give the necessary pledges not to go ahead with the Amusements Tax. The idea of having all the resources of the movie people to call upon appealed greatly to Theodore.
In order to upset the government it was necessary to get three more votes, in addition to those who had voted against the government on the second reading.
Hughes was carrying the keg of dynamite. He had the time fuse all ready. Nothing gave him more satisfaction than this chance to get even with his two greatest enemies. He knew that Mann, and P.G. Stewart would do anything to assist him. They hated as much as he hated.
George Maxwell K.C. had already indicated that he was against the Prime Minister on grounds of principle, because it was a volte face on party policy. W.J. McWilliams, the Nationalist member for Franklin, had also indicated that he was against the bill being rushed through, and saw in it some kind of threat to Tasmania.
That made up two votes. Another was necessary. Where was it coming from? That was the big question canvassed over the weekend. There were all kinds of wild rumors. Bruce said that if there was any delay in implementing the proposal, he would go to the country.
Hughes threw down the challenge as soon as the House resumed consideration of the Bill in committee on the Tuesday. He moved an amendment that it should not be proclaimed until it had been submitted to the people either at a referendum or a general election.
Again he thrashed Bruce with violating his own platform. He said Bruce had concealed his intention from the people. He had promised that they would soon round Cape Desolation and proceed into the Bay of Plenty. Instead he had put the helm hard over and reversed course saying: "Unless you stand behind me in this, you will walk the plank. Unless you tear up your election pledges, I will excommunicate you."
Hughes accepted the election offer. "It will be the end of the government and honorable members who support it," predicted Hughes "The verdict will make it impossible for any political thimble-rigger further to cloud the issue ... Let us go before the people and fight this battle once and for all." Bruce took up the challenge. He denied that he had invited his followers to "walk the plank". Many of them had voted against government measures. But Hughes and Mann had impugned the honesty and decency of the government on the John Brown issue. That was why they had been expelled. That was why they had "walked the plank".
Bruce rejected the idea of another referendum. It was not constitutionally possible. He said that if Hughes' amendment were carried the government would go to the people. He was confident that he would again win. Bruce's announcement caused a tumultuous scene. There were cheers and counter cheers from both sides. Members were rocked by the shock.
J.H. Scullin, who had returned from a sick bed for the climax, said the government was somersaulting on its own policy. It was trying to load the court against the workers. He said the Prime Minister reminded him of a regimental sergeant-major marching his recruits around a drill hall. "The Prime Minister says, `Quick march!' They march. The Prime Minister says, `Halt, right about face, quick march.' They march back. They are the political awkward squad."
The idea that a politician was not bound by the platform on which he was elected was outrageous. The government had betrayed its trust to the people.
The member for New England, Mr. V.C. Thompson, who had openly attacked the government's proposal in his paper, The Tamworth Northern Daily Leader backed out. He was not in favor of a dissolution. He said that the issues would be twisted and distorted. They would have to wrestle with the prejudice of tens of thousands whose minds were being poisoned by pernicious American propaganda. He differed with his leader. He was still in favor of federal arbitration. But a referendum would be defeated.
"Can the opposition in this House speak for Mr. Lang?" asked Thompson. Scullin retorted, "Can the government speak for the big business and oil interests?" Thompson said that what Lang decided would go with the Labor Party in New South Wales. So he would vote against the Hughes amendment.
Then came the most dramatic moment of all. A new figure came into the spotlight. He alone held the destiny of the government in his hands. It was the immaculate figure of Walter Marks, Sydney solicitor and member for the conservative blue-ribbon seat of Wentworth. He had served in the Royal Naval Forces in the First World War and was Parliamentary Under Secretary for External Affairs from 1921 to 1923. Then Bruce dumped him.
Representing the elite of Vaucluse and Rose Bay, he had expected to be invited to join the Cabinet on the death of Pratten. Instead Bruce selected one of his most vocal critics H.S. Gullett. To make matters worse, he gave him the portfolio that Marks wanted most, trade and customs. It was Gullett who took over film censorship. That was Marks' particular hobby. For two years Marks had presided over a Royal Commission, which had inquired into the film industry. He had travelled abroad. In Hollywood he had been feted by the stars. He met Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow and Joan Crawford. There was even a suggestion that he might be invited to leave his footprints in concrete. On his return he spoke for hours about his thrilling experiences. He was full of plans. But Bruce put his report into a pigeon-hole. Marks was very upset about the withdrawal of the John Brown prosecution. He knew the Baron. Some of his clients had money invested in his mines. The Baron had even bought him a bottle of beer at Randwick. But still Marks thought the law should have taken its course.
When Marks rose, the House was tense and expectant. Marks fully appreciated that the cameras and lights were on him. Veteran gallery men said that the hushed silence was almost shattering. The fate of the government was in the balance and Marks knew it. The Herald next day said: "The house was literally breathless with excitement. As Mr Marks unfolded his reasons it would have been possible to hear a pin drop. Mr Bruce alone, of all his colleagues, remained unperturbed. He was magnificent."
Mr Marks said that he had promised his electors to vote for the second reading. That was his only pledge. He recalled that he had appeared in the first arbitration case before Mr Justice O'Connor on behalf of the employees, with Hughes. He proposed to vote for the amendment. He would not be a party to repealing 15 Acts by a single vote. Even the graziers were opposed to abolition of the court.
It was the first time that he had ever recorded a vote against the government. He objected to Mr Bruce taking everything into his own hands. He had failed to consult his party. The Prime Minister had also failed to consult them on the John Brown case. But his chief grievance was that Bruce had not consulted him personally on the Amusements Tax. After all, he was the great authority on that subject.
"If any man knew the position of the industry, I did, and I should have been very pleased to give the government the benefit of all the information I had gained, but I was not consulted concerning the proposed increase in the tax on amusements," declared Marks.
So Walter Marks, faced with the choice between Mr Bruce as Prime Minister and his loyalty to the movie interests, decided in favor of Hollywood.
"I told the Prime Minister he would have to go one way, and I would go another," he said. He would not follow him in the proposal to impose the Amusements Tax, so he proposed to register his protest by voting for the Hughes' amendment. "The present position cannot continue. Let the people give their verdict. There is one plank of the Nationalist Party in which I have always believed that is liberty of thought, speech and action."
He then disclosed that he had been bombarded by telegrams from branches of the Nationalist Party in Wentworth, although he had only told the Prime Minister. The telegrams