2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Isaacs) .agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until half-past 3 o’clock to-morrow.
Motion (by Mr. Isaacs) agreed to -
That leave of absence for one month be given to the right honorable member for Adelaide on the ground of ill-health.
– In the absence of the Minister of Trade and Customs, .who, I suppose, has another engagement in the Hume electorate, and of the Prime Minister, I wish to ask the Attorney-General a question without notice. In view of the alarming statements which have been made by him as to the terrible sufferings of those connected with the metal trades of Victoria, because of the low duties of the present Tariff; is the honorable and learned gentleman now in a position to tell the House that their condition has improved, or whether it remains the same ? I am sur? that we shall all be glad to hear - if my honorable and learned friend can give us the assurance - that the dreadful state of things to which he referred some time ago no longer continues, and that the position has to some extent improved. If it has not improved, do the Government intend to take prompt measures to deal with it?
– The Prime Minister will be here very shortly. The matter to which the right honorable member refers will be dealt with without delay, and’ all information relating to it will be placed before honorable members on the introduction of the Tariff proposals.
– That will be done this session ?
– I had intended to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs a question without notice; but as he has again deserted his Ministerial post, and run off to his electorate, I ask whichever Minister is representing him here if his attention has been drawn to the following statement, referring to the price of harvesters, which appears in a letter published in this morning’s Argus: -
As anticipated by the majority of farmers, the proposed extra duty of I24 pet cent, on harvesters has already resulted in an increase of prices, some of the leading manufacturers having raised the price of their machine, contrary to their promise to the Commission, one manufacturer especially charging £5 more per machine now than they were charging a month previously, having revoked their price-list about six weeks ago (presumably in anticipation of the additional duty), and issued a revised one last week to the above effect.
I should like to know whether the Minister has seen that letter, and whether, in face of the fact that an increase in prices has taken place, the Government intend to go on with their proposals for raising the duty? I should also be glad to know whether the Minister will be good enough to inform the farmer who is the writer of the letter which’ I have quoted where he can find the obliging foreigner who, according to the protectionists, pays the duties ?
– The answer which I have given to the question just asked bv the right honorable member for East Sydneywill apply to this question toa
. -I desire to make a personal explanation in reference to a matter referred to by the leader of the Opposition last night, in order to explain a mistake which has been made in quoting a passage from his Freetrade Essays. On the 19th June of last year, I delivered, in the Temperance Hall, a lecture entitled “ Protection - Past, Present, and Future.” I prepared the lecture carefully, writing it and reading it, and I have here the manuscript, which I shall have pleasure in showing to the right honorable gentleman if he cares to see it. On the 17th page of the manuscript appears the following quotation from an essay written by the right honorable gentleman -
Will it not be time enough to manufacture everything for ourselves when we can save - instead of now, when we would lose, by the operation ? Will it not be well to reap the advantages of the pauper labour of other countries until we are so great a nation that we have pauper labour of our own ?
– That quotation is correct, although a sentence has been left out which should have been given.
– The lecture was reported in the Age on the day following its delivery. The report was, of course, a condensed one, as the lecture took an hour and three-quarters to deliver. Knowing the man who wrote the report, it is only fair that I should say that I believe that the mistake was the result of condensation or of an error. I donot think that the alteration complained of was wilful or malicious.
– Instead of there being condensation, words were added to what I wrote.Two words were inserted in the place of one left out.
– The report of the lecture has since been reprinted from the Age, and issued in pamphlet form; but, now that it appears that the quotation in question has been wrongly reported, I am sure that the executive responsible for the pamphlet will withdraw it, and see that the quotation, if published at all, ispublished correctly.
– I should like to find out who put the words in.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Mesurier did not pass in an examination of officers of the Permanent Forces for promotion to Lt.-Colonel.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable and learned member’s questions are as follow: - 1 and 2. The Constitution, section 51, subsection xxx., gives the Commonwealth Parliament power to legislate with respect to the relations of the Commonwealth with the islands of the Pacific, but gives no authority to assume any control, nor does it make any distinction between British and other islands.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
Whether the Government can inform the House if the general elections can be held not later than the 15th day of November next?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Chief Electoral Officer for the Commonwealth has advised that as far as electoral arrangements are concerned the election may be held on 21st November, or on any date after the 21st November next.
Motion (by Mr. Wilkinson) agreed to -
That there be laid on the table a return showing the revenue and expenditure of the Queensland Post and Telegraph Department for each of the five years immediately preceding 30th June, 1900; also, the revenue and expenditure on account of the Postmaster-General’s Department for the State of Queensland for each of the five years ended 30th June, 1906.
Motion (by Mr. Carpenter, for Mr. Mahon) agreed to -
That there be laid upon the table a return showing -
The estimated number of Pacific Islanders in Australia engaged in the sugar industry at 17th December, 1901.
The number of Pacific Islanders who were admitted into Australia to work in the sugar industry between 17th December, 1901, and 31st March, 1904.
Between 17th December, 1901, and 30th June, 1906, the number of Pacific Islanders engaged in sugar growing who (a) died; (d) quitted Australia.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Paragraph xxxi., of section 51, empowers the Parliament - to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to -
The acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws.
Pursuant to that provision, the Property for Public Purposes Acquisition Act was passed in 1901, and sets, out the present law relating to the exercise by us of the power possessed by sovereign communities to acquire private property for public purposes; but, as the title of the measure is rather lengthy, it has been thought desirable to shorten it by adopting the “ Lands Acquisition Bill “ as the title of the measure, the second reading of which honorable members are now asked to pass-. It is not proposed to introduce any drastic alteration of principle. In the first instance, the whole of the existing law has been recast with a view to simplify the language and make it easier to comprehend. The old statute was built up upon the experience of the States, and, as some of the provisions were rather complex, it was desired by the Crown Law authorities to recast the Act and draft it upon simpler lines, rather than to merely make any amendments suggested by the experience gained under the operation of the Statute. The Bill does not purport to introduce into the principles relating to the acquisition of public property for public purposes any drastic provisions. If honorable members will look at the measure, they will find that it is divided into six parts. Part I. contains a number of preliminary provisions. Part II. deals with the acquisition of land. Fart III. deals with the exercise of certain powers in relation to lands. Part IV. deals with compensation. Part V. relates to mortgages and encumbrances upon any land that mav be acquired under the Bill ; and Part VI. contains certain miscellaneous provisions. As regards Part I., it will be seen that several new definitions have been added with a view to making the measure more explicit. Additions have also been made to one or two of the definitions which, perhaps, could be better explained in Committee. In view of a suggestion that has been made. I wish honorable members to particularly notice the fact that the Bill relates solely to the acquisition by the Commonwealth of land required for public purposes, and for dealing with the land so acquired. It is not intended to “serve any other purpose. “ Public purpose” is defined to mean -
Any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws, but shall not include the acquisition of territory for the seat of Government of the Commonwealth under the Constitution.
– We could not possibly go beyond that.
– No; and I am merely mentioning the matter because some misconception has arisen as to the purpose of the Bill. We could not go beyond the powers possessed by us under the Constitution, and this is merely a machinery Bill for the purpose of enabling us to exercise the authority we possess. In clause 6, a slight change has been made from the original provision. It is provided that after arrangements have been made between the Governor of a State and the GovernorGeneral of the Commonwealth for the acquisition of lands by the Commonwealth, the Governor of the State shall, by virtue of the measure, have power to execute the documents necessary for the transfer of the land. This provision is made in order to overcome- certain difficulties which have arisen under the States laws. Clause 7 does not depart from the original provision. Clauses 8 and 9 relate to cases in which persons have certain interests of a limited nature in connexion with land, which it is sought to acquire, and is intended to enable them to execute the necessary transfer to the Commonwealth. The provision relates to trustees, guardians, committees in respect of lunatics,, executors or administrators, and others whose powers are limited under various State Acts such as the Settled Lands Act. A provision has been inserted in order to make it clear be yond all doubt that such persons possess power to transfer land to the Commonwealth under this Bill. The extent to which such power could be exercised was practically provided for in the original statute.
– Would this provision dispense with the necessity for registration under States Acts?
– I think that it is very capable of being so construed. Would this provision dispense with the necessity of registration by the Commonwealth?
– The provision deals with cases in which property is transferred to the Commonwealth, and whose interest will be registered under the States Acts.
– The provisions set out that they “ may “ be registered.
– Yes; but the Commonwealth is placed in the position of a corporation, and provision is made for the necessary presentation to the registrars of the States with a view to the registration of the Commonwealth interest, and it is not likely that we shall depart from that. In clause 10. a change has been made. Under the existing Act provision is made that where land is conveyed to the Commonwealth by trustees or others, such as are referred to in the previous clause, the purchase money paid over to them shall be applied in the manner indicated in sub-clause 2. Now it is proposed that the money may, with the consent of the parties interested, be handed to the trustees, subject to the provisions of a trust declared by a deed approved by the AttorneyGeneral, or mav be paid into the High Court or the Supreme Court, to be applied by the Court in the manner prescribed in sub-clause 2. This provision has been made in order to insure that money which is held practically in trust should be applied to the purposes of the trust.
– Paragraph d is pretty wide.
– That provision was contained in the original statute. The Court always pays due regard to certain well-established principles. In clause 12 a slight change has been made. It is provided that where a person is in possession of land, he shall be regarded as the prima facie - not the actual - owner of it. This provision is necessary, because we have met with certain difficulties in dealing with persons who have not been able to give us a satisfactory title.
– But how could the Commonwealth acquire land from a person unless they knew he was the owner?
– There is nothing to prevent us from acquiring the land, but it is merely a question of paying over the purchase money.
– The money might be paid ever to the wrong person.
– The Attorney-General does not pay over the money until he is perfectly satisfied as to the right of the claimant to be regarded as the owner of the property. This provision would meet the case of a person who had been in adverse possession of land for a considerable time. Part II. deals with the acquisition of land, and is practically a re-draft of the original statute. No important departures have been made. The Commonwealth may acquire land in two ways - either by agreement or by compulsory purchase. It is provided that the Commonwealth may acquire any land, but that does not mean that we may acquire land for other than public purposes - an interpretation which, “I am sorry to say, has been placed upon it. The whole measure relates to the acquirement of land for public purposes, and the word “ land “ is used merely for the purpose of short reference in drafting, because it is not considered necessary to specify in every case that the land is to be used for public purposes. Sub-clause 2 of clause 14 is a new provision intended to enable the Minister, without obtaining the authority of the Governor in Council, to enter into short leases of a minor character, such as might be necessary in the case of post-office premises. In a later clause, the Minister is empowered to .give short leases as well as to acquire them. The provisions relating to the acquisition of land by compulsory process are practically the same as those contained in the Act. The Governor-General has power to acquire land after giving notice, which is to be published in the Government Gazette. At present, it must also be advertised in the newspapers. The notice is to be published in the Gazette, and laid upon the table of the House, and in clause 18 provision is made for the service of the notice. Under clause 16 the publication of the notice in the Gazette will have the effect of vesting in the Commonwealth the interests of the owner in the land that has been acquired.
– Paragraph b of sub-clause 1 might operate very harshly against many persons. Take, for instance, the case of the owner of an adjoining, tenement having an easement over the land acquired.
– We could also acquire the easement by compulsory acquisition, if necessary.
– But the owner of the easement could not make a claim.
– The owner of any interest in the land is afforded an opportunity to make his claim.
– The definition of “land” covers easements.
– That meets the difficulty.
– -Part III. deals with the powers of the Commonwealth in relation to lands. When it is necessary to acquire land it sometimes becomes essential to make surveys beforehand, and clause 21 empowers the Minister or any persons authorized by him to enter upon any land’ and make surveys, take levels, sink pits, and1 examine the soil, and do any thing necessary for ascertaining the suitability of the land for any public purpose. I am sorry to say that this provision seems to have been misunderstood. The Minister will be empowered merely to enter upon the land and to make the necessary examination so that he may ascertain its suitability for any public purposes. For example, if we desired to acquire land to be used as a site for a fort, or any work of that description, we should have power to enter upon the land and find out whether suitable foundations could be obtained.
– That is quite a common provision in the States Acts.
– Yes, it is.
– Would mining be regarded as a public purpose within the meaning of the Bill?
– We have no power under the Constitution to deal generally with mining. The sinking of pits referred to would have nothing to do with mining, but would merely enable us to ascertain whether suitable foundations could be obtained for the contemplated public buildings or works.
– What I mean is, would the acquisition of land entitle the Commonwealth to all the minerals lying in or under the land?
– That is another point, with which I shall deal later on. I am merely explaining the purpose of the provision, because some misconception has arisen in regard to it. Part IV. deals with compensation, and is practically a redraft of the sections of the existing law. With regard to the claim for compensation, some slight change has been made. Under the existing law, it is necessary to serve notice of claim upon the Minister of Home Affairs and also upon the Attorney-General. . Only one notice is really necessary, and accordingly we provide that notice shall he served upon only one Minister. Under clause 33, we further extend the time within which a person may serve that notice. He mav present it within 120 days after the publication of the notification of acquisition, or within 120 days after the completion of the acts in respect of which compensation is claimed. We further give the Minister power to extend the time for making any claim, instead of requiring the matter to be referred to the High Court. Clause 36 of Division III., however, does contain important alterations of the existing law. The existing methods of settling disputes are to be superseded. It provides three ways in which disputed claims may be settled. A disputed claim may arise in this way : After the Minister has acquired the land in the manner prescribed bv the Bill, a notice of claim for compensation may be served upon him. The Minister may then offer the claimant a certain amount in satisfaction of his claim, and if the claimant does not, within sixty days thereafter, accept it or if the Minister notifies the claimant that he disputes the claim for compensation, the claim shall be regarded as a. disputed one. Clause 36 provides three ways in which such a claim may be determined : (1) By agreement between the Minister and the claimant; (2) by an action for compensation by the claimant against the Commonwealth; and (3) by a proceeding in a Federal or State Court on the application of the Minister. The first method is, of course, a simple one, in which the parties either arrive at an agreement that a certain price shall be paid, or consent to refer the matter to arbitration. The second method enables an action to be brought by the claimant’ against the Commonwealth. In this connexion we have made a departure from the existing law. At the present time an action for compensation can be brought only in the High Court. That is an expensive proceeding. In some instances, where very small claims have been in dispute, the Commonwealth has been called upon to pay more than it thought was just, rather than incur the expense of fighting an action in the High Court, and possibly- owing to the peculiar rules in connexion with the payment of costs - be obliged to pay more in the nature of costs than the amount in dispute. With a view to getting’ rid of that difficulty, and to providing a tribunal for the settlement of disputed claims, the Bill sets out that an action for compensation may be brought either in the High Court or in any State Court of competent jurisdiction. If an action be brought in a higher Court which ought to have been brought in a lower Court, the Judge is empowered to fix a scale of costs proportionate to the amount awarded. In clause 38 a new provision has been introduced. Our trouble has been that, when we acquire a piece of land, and the claim for compensation is in dispute, litigants sometimes decline to proceed with an action. We have an instance of the kind pending at present. It is a case in which we shall have to pay interest upon a large sum which is claimed for compensation, and in which the litigant disputed the amount, and would not institute an action in the High Court. In that instance the hands of the Commonwealth’ were stayed. With a view to overcoming that anomaly, we provide in clause 38 that, if within siX months after a claim for compensation becomes a disputed claim, no action is brought by the claimant, the Minister has power to refer the matter to the High Court, and to have it determined.
In clause 39 another new provision has been inserted. Unfortunately, under the existing law, if the owner of any land which may be acquired be absent from the Commonwealth, there is no method of having the amount of compensation to which he is entitled determined, because there is nobody present to institute an action. Accordingly, we provide that in cases where the owner of land which we wish to acquire is absent from the Commonwealth, and no claim is made within six months, the Commonwealth may make an application to the Court to determine the amount which is payable. We are thus able - according to the amount of the claim which is likely to be involved - to take advantage of a Court of competent jurisdiction.
– Is that a new provision?
– It is. Under the existing law we can acquire the land, and the Attorney-General is empowered to pay compensation into the Treasury, but there is no means of determining the amount of that compensation. Then the procedure in connexion with the payment of compensation has been altered slightly, and a proviso has been added to clause 40, with a view to expediting that procedure. That is to say, if a claim has been made, and the compensation which has been awarded is less than the amount which the Minister has offered, the compensation shall carry interest only from the date of the claim up to the date on which the offer was made.
– That is a very harsh provision.
– I do not think so.
– How can the Minister be satisfied upon the point until the tribunal has determined the amount of compensation payable?
– Under the clause the claimant will get the interest to which he is entitled.
– Suppose that after the claim has been made he does not accept the offer of the Minister.
– The provision applies on l v to cases where the claimant proceeds to 1 iti cation. However, that is a matter for consideration in Committee. There are one or two minor alterations to which it is not necessary to refer at this stage. Division V. is a re-enactment of the provisions of the existing law, with the exception of clause 49, which relates to the rights of a mortgagee in connexion with lands which are acquired compulsorily. That is a new provision. In the miscellaneous clauses the only provision to which I wish to refer is clause 62, which relates to mining leases and licences. When the Federation was established, it took over a large number of properties from the States, including rifle ranges in mining districts. These properties passed to the Commonwealth absolutely, and are subject to its exclusive jurisdiction. In Victoria especially, our attention has been drawn1 to a difficulty which has arisen in this connexion, and the Commonwealth has been asked to consider claims relating to mining operations upon properties which are used for defence purposes. Under the existing Act we have no power to issue mining leases, and yet the State could not lake any action regarding the properties to which I allude, because thev had passed to the control of the Commonwealth. The matter was brought forward at the last Premiers’ Conference, at the request of the Premier of Victoria. It was discussed, and a promise was made that we would introduce legislation upon the lines suggested in clause 62. Under that provision the Governor-General has power to authorize the grant of a lease or licence to any person to mine for metals or minerals on any land- which is the property of the Commonwealth.
– In New South Wales, when the Crown parts with any land, a reservation is always made in its favour in respect to minerals which mav be found there.
– That does not alter the position that when the Commonwealth, was established a large number of these properties, by virtue of the Constitution, passed over to it. When we took over the land, we took with .it everything that might be found under as well as above the surface. This clause has been introduced in pursuance of a promise which was made at the Premiers’ Conference.
– I do not think we have power to invade the rights of the States.
– There is no invasion of State rights, and this clause was introduced in pursuance of the promise which was made to the Premiers that we would issue licences to enable persons to mine upon these properties. Inasmuch as it was not deemed advisable to introduce a Commonwealth Mining Act which would apply to all the States, we suggested that the States laws should operate in each_ in- stance, and that they should be administered by the State officers.
– By whom may the GovernorGeneral authorize the grant of a lease ?
– He authorizes the grant of the lease.
– Would it not be much simpler to enact that leases might be issued under State Laws with the consent of the Commonwealth ?
– I think that the method provided in the Bill is the better one.
– If the Commonwealth consent is required at any time, it would be much simpler to insert a provision such as I have suggested.
– The idea is not to pass a Mining Act for the Commonwealth, but where mining operations can be carried on without detriment to any land which is vested in the Commonwealth, to enable them to be undertaken. Our object is not - as has been suggested - to acquire land for mineral purposes in order that mining operations may be conducted independently of any public purpose.
– The point which I have in mv mind is that the sovereign rights of the States to these minerals is not recognised.
– Under the Constitution, the Commonwealth has power to acquire all lands which are necessary for public purposes. If it were found, for example, that if mining operations were carried on underneath a large fort, they would seriously interfere with the value of the land for a fort, we would have power to acquire the whole of that land’ and everything in connexion with it.
– There is a difference of opinion in regard to State rights.
– I do not think that the honorable member has comprehended the position, or he would not have made any such suggestion. It is absolutely essential that we should exercise that power, in order that we mav discharge our duties.
– As a matter of fact, there are many cases in which mining might well be carried on, but in which operations are blocked owing to the existing law.
– Exactly. Some of our large rifle ranges embrace areas of 500 or 600 acres.
– At any rate, mining operation below certain depths will be quite harmless.
– That is so. In some cases, it is sufficient for the Commonwealth to take a grant from the States, still leaving, to the latter a reservation as to minerals. We have done that already. The object of the provision is merely to give the Commonwealth rights which are absolutely essential for the acquisition of land for public purposes.
– I can see that it is capable of extension far beyond that.
– The honorable member is misconceiving the position. These are the only important changes in the existing Act which we contemplate making, and I now move the second reading of the Bill.
.- In the first place, I gather from the Minister that this is a Bill which is practically intended to simplify the previous Act, and to consolidate its provisions.
– That is so.
– But, as the Minister has in.timated. it introduces’ some changes in the existing law - changes which he has explained. The first question that naturally arises in the mind of any honorable member is, “ What is the extreme and paramount urgency of this particular measure”? It is a measure containing some sixty-seven clauses, and in it a number of important points must be considered. I therefore desire to know what is the extreme urgency which warrants it being given preference over measures upon the business paper such as the following : the Electoral Validating Bill and- the Bounties Bill?
– The right honorable member may, if he desires, move the adjournment of the debate. I do not wish to proceed any further at this stage with the motion for the second reading.
– As I have commenced my speech, I cannot move the adjournment of the debate without losing my right to further address myself to the motion. We have on the business-paper the Electoral Validating Bill, the Bounties Bill, the Postal Rates Bill, the Copyright Bill, the Preferential Ballot Bill, the Spirits Bill, and the Excise Tariff Bill. We have only five weeks in which to deal with these measures, as well as the Estimates, and some other Bills relating to the Tariff, and vet my honorable and learned friend has calmly risen at this crisis in the business of Parliament to invite our attention to a measure that has no element of national importance or urgency. Whilst I ha.ve supported the Government in the measures they have taken for the protection of the revenue, I submit that we must not lose sight of the cardinal principle which alone justifies the exaction of duties without the authority of the law. I refer to the fact that, whilst Parliament, for the protection of the revenue, will justify the illegal exaction of duties from the King’s subjects, the period during which those exactions obtain- must be strictly limited. The illegal exaction of duties must continue for the briefest possible time. When such proposals are made it is the duty of the Parliament at the earliest possible date In settle them, and to decide what duties, if any, shall be levied, in order that the condition of unrest, uncertainty and illegality may be brought to an end. We have on the business-paper a Spirits Bill, which the House ought to be ready to consider, and also an Excise Bill, a Bounties Bill, and an important measure relating to a change in the electoral and franchise law. Whilst we are in this trying situation - having all these Bills to consider - a Lands Acquisition Bill is brought forward. I do not wish, however, to enlarge upon these objections - I simply point them out. I come now to a matter that is greatly to be deplored. I think that we should endeavour in every way to cultivate friendly and harmonious relations between the Commonwealth and the States. There should be no unnecessary assumption of superiority. The Minister, in the course of his speech, used an expression which I think was ill-advised - when he spoke of this being a Bill for the exercise of powers by sovereign communities.
– I referred to the exercise of powers by the States as well as by the Commonwealth.
– But I am going further than that-
– The right honorable gentleman is under a misapprehension. These powers must be exercised by the States as well as by the Commonwealth.
– That is the point; but under this Bill the sovereign right of the community is to be exercised over the sovereign rights of the States.
– Only so far as is permitted by the Constitution.
– I am merely criticising the use of such an expression.
– The right honorable member is attaching to it a meaning that I did not intend to convey.
– May I suggest that the question ia not as to the intention with which the words were uttered; it is practically one of fact.
– The right honorable member will recognise that I did not mean to convey the inference he suggests.
– I do not wish to be unfair to the Minister by saving that he had any desire to use an expression that would be offensive. I refer to the matter only because it leads up to a more serious point. Great offence was given bv the original title of this Bill. Instead of a plain, business-like title, clearly defining the object of the measure, and raising no question of superiority as between the Commonwealth and the States, the Government applied to the Bill a title that was certainly an extraordinary one in the politics of Australia.
– It is a well-known term in constitutional law.
– I trust that the honorable and learned gentleman will permit me to express my views on this question. It was most grotesque that practical business men who know that the measures passed by all the States Parliaments have plain business titles should have been asked to consider a BiU bearing such a title as that to which I refer. We were suddenly electrified by the introduction of a serious measure bearing the title of the “Eminent Domain Bill.” Even some gentlemen who have passed legal examinations like to refer occasionally to law dictionaries, and I turn to a judicial dictionary to ascertain what is the meaning of such an expression. It may be possible that the explanation will be of interest to the general community having regard to the extraordinary surprise that was sprung upon them -
Eminent Domain. - The right which a Government retains over the estates of individuals to resume them for public use.
Under this Bill power is given to deal with the States which are sovereign communities, and yet by the application of such a title to it they were treated as if they were on the same footing as a private individual who owns an allotment of land. These quaint, fantastic titles can serve no useful purpose. As a matter of fact, the use of the title I have mentioned occasioned bitter debate in another place. There was a prolonged struggle, and the Government stuck to their guns in a way that is unusual in this branch of the Legislature.
– The right honorable member must not refer to the debates in another place.
– I bow to your ruling, sir, < The result of it is, that I cannot complete my observations on this point.
– At all events the title was amended.
– I think that all honorable members know fairly well what I intended to say. A great deal of time might have been wasted oyer the use of such an expression, and possibly after a prolonged series of brilliant victories and defeats a most indomitable Minister may ultimately have been conquered. At all events the title disappeared. I point to these matters as raising all sorts of offensive issues that have absolutely nothing to do with business men. If mv honorable and learned friend has simply introduced this measure without any intention of proceeding further with it this session. I do not wish to further occupy the time of the House.
– We intend to proceed with it this session,, and expect it to be passed.
– That being so, I repeat my protest against the introduction nf such a measure in the last weeks of the session, when a number of matters of vital importance have to be discussed and settled’ in the interests of the Government. It is to be regretted even from their own point of view that they should have signalized the last few weeks of the session - weeks which they .should wish, in the interests of the public as well as for their own sake, to put to good account - by inviting honorable members to embark upon a prolonged examination of a Bill which really ought to be considered far less important than are a large number of other measures on the business-paper. The remaining weeks of the session might well be devoted to more important measures. My honorable and learned friend must recognise that the Bill gives rise to a number of points which will provoke discussion, and it is to be lamented’ that we should be asked to deal with them now, since the measure is not one of pressing importance. Already the AttorneyGeneral of another State has issued a memorandum in which he protests upon a number of grounds against the provisions of this Bill.. I do not wish at this stage to occupy the valuable time of the House by referring in detail to that memorandum, but it possesses several features that well deserve serious consideration.
– I do not think that the right honorable gentleman can support the contentions raised’ in it.
– I intend to mention one matter of which I have personal knowledge. The Minister referred just now to the objects of the provisions relating to mining leases. On the face of it, that object appears to be a perfectly reasonable one. As the Minister has said, he has actually been led% fo take action so far as thase provisions “are concerned by the Premiers’ Conference.
– No - by several’ requisitions. We have had twenty or thirty applications from Victoria.
– In the absence of the illustration I am about to give, the provisions in question might not seem important, but I think that I shall be able to show that they may have a vitallyimportant effect on New South Wales. Some years ago, when I held office as Premier of that State, an application to. mine for coal near Bradley’s Head had been, I think, improvidently entertained. Bradley’s Head, as honorable members are aware, now forms part of a military reserve. The Department had to some extent committed the State Government, but I felt that it would be a monstrous outrage to have a coal mine sunk to a depth of 3,000 feet, and vast quantities of debris raised at that point in full sight of every one using the Sydney harbor. I believe that the harbor has been heard of as being rather an attractive panorama. I had t’o use my power to prevent that project being proceeded with, and the result was that the parties interested had to commence operations at the back of Balmain, some miles further inland. I mention the incident in order to show that although on the face of it the issue involved does not seem important, it might give rise to a most painful’ conflict between the Commonwealth and the States. Great influence will perhaps be brought to bear on the Commonwealth, and large inducements offered to it to give mining rights under military lands, and the States concerned might in that event be most vitally interested in the question. In these circumstances I think that the suggestion made by the honorable and learned member for Corinella was a very sensible one. We do not wish to create possible causes of friction between the Commonwealth and the States in connexion with business undertakings into which the Commonwealth does not enter. Honorable members must recognise that we do not desire to deal with -mining leases or mining enterprises ; we do not wish to trouble ourselves with matters of that sort. There are States laws and States appliances dealing with them, and, therefore, I think that the suggestion made by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, that power should be given to the States to grant leases, is a verv sensible one. It would, if adopted, save the Commonwealth from embarking on- a line of departmental activity for which it has no vocation, and the exercise of power which, except in rare instances, it has no opportunity to exerciseI should like to suggest that the clause in question be put right.
– Does the right honorable member mean that the States should be permitted to grant leases with the consent of the Commonwealth?
– I should not have the slightest objection to the Commonwealth having power to decide whether .these things should be done.
– The consent of the Commonwealth would be necessary.
– Subject to the consent of the Commonwealth that the land might be used for mining purposes, the States should have power to grant leases.
– The Commonwealth must have power to prescribe regulations.
– If the States have in operation machinery necessary for this particular purpose - apart from the question of regulations, which really amount to nothing - economy will be effected if they are left to deal with these matters. I am sure that the intention of the Government is not to establish new machinery. If the Commonwealth consented to the issue of a permit to carry on mining, the States might refuse to grant the necessary appliances, and the Commonwealth would exercise its superior power as owner of the land, and would itself make rules and regulations, and appoint officers to carry them out. All these matters suggest possibilities of conflict and of differences of Opinion which we cannot be too ready to avoid. I do not propose now to deal with the details of the measure. Although there are a number of provisions to which I should like to refer, I admit that this is not the time to do so. I shall, therefore, merely express my regret that, when time is of so much consequence, and there are so many vital matters to be dealt with, the Government % have determined to go on with a Bill which, with all respect to the Minister of Home Affairs, is of trivial importance, remembering the great pressure upon Parliament, and the short period within which we can do useful work.
.- In reference to the point raised by the right honorable member for East Sydney, in connexion with clause 62, I would point out that by clause 57 the Commonwealth is created a corporation for the purposes of this measure. I do not see, therefore, that the suggestion that the States should lease this land can be carried into effect. It will be possible, however, when the Commonwealth does not require land which has been vested in it, to lease it to the States, and the States can then make what arrangements they please with private individuals in regard to it. Clause 57 creates a corporation, to be known as “ The Commonwealth of Australia,” in which lands acquired by the Commonwealth are to be vested. That being so, it would be difficult to provide that the States may lease such land. I see no objection, however, to the Commonwealth, instead of selling surplus land under clause 63, leasing it or the right to mine, to any one who may be disposed to take it, and the States could make it Crown land by Act of Parliament, if it were not covered by the definition. At any rate, there are ways of getting over the difficulty. With regard to the title originally adopted for the Bill, I think that it was a mistake to term the measure the Eminent Domain Bill. The use of th’at title would not have enlarged the powers of the Commonwealth, while the title itself would have been a misnomer, . since eminent domain in the lands of the country, that is the residual power of sovereignty, remains with the States, and has been given to the Commonwealth by the Constitution for certain purposes only, namely, in regard to the acquisition of land under section 51 of the Constitution, or in connexion with the transfer of properties used for the administration of transferred Departments of Government. It was thought in the Convention that powers of sovereignty would, as a matter of law, belong to the Commonwealth, as they do to the States, if this provision were not inserted, and, it having been inserted, it seems to me to limit, rather than extend, the powers of’ the Commonwealth. It is an express provision which is not contained in the American Constitution, under which powers of acquisition are implied, and, of course, limited to the purposes of the powers delegated to the central body. The powers given here are directly prescribed by section 51. The general powers of sovereignty, therefore, belong to the States, so long as they have not been delegated. That is clear from the fact that in America, though the lands are vested in the Commonwealth, that is, in the Federal Government, it has been decided that the powers of sovereignty in relation to eminent domain belong only to it in relation to the territories. The moment a territory becomes a State, the special powers of eminent domain, so far as they are not delegated to the Federal Government, belong to the State.
– Then the title would ‘have been a wrong one to use ?
– I think that it would have been wrongly applied.
– It is used in the United States in reference to land generally.
– That is in reference to the powers of the States.
– And in reference to the powers of the Commonwealth, too.
– I consulted Cooley on Constitutional Limitations just before the House met, and found that he draws a strong distinction. He says that the powers of sovereignty of eminent domain do not belong to the Commonwealth of America, that is, to the Federal Government, but belong to the States. They are in the Commonwealth only as a land-owner in relation to a territory. The moment the territory becomes a State, the powers of the Federal Government are exercisable for specific purposes only, which are the particular powers vested by delegation in the Federal Government, and no more. The use of the term eminent domain would, therefore, not have extended the scope of the measure, but would have been somewhat invidious, so far as the States are concerned. That, I suppose, was the chief ground of the objection which was taken to the title elsewhere. The Bill seems to be a consolidation of the existing law for the purpose of getting over a few flaws, some of which were pointed out in 1901, and, as the Minister has explained, to clear up certain points connected with the original drafting. I do not know that the drafting, has been made more clear in some respects.It seems to me that confusion has been introduced. Some of the points which it is now endeavoured to make clear were mentioned in 1901. For instance, opposition has been shown to ther Bill on the ground that it gives power toresume the park lands of the cities of theStates. That objection was taken in 1901. But the present Bill was not framed to meet it. I pointed out in 1901 that the measurethen before us gave power to the Commonwealth to resume the park lands of the States. If the Commonwealth wishes to erect a building for defence purposes, or a post-office, on the park lands of any State it can resume such land under the Act of 1 901. I do not think that that power should have been granted, though, of course, it could be granted. Why should the Commonwealth acquire part of the park lands of our cities? Is it necessary to erect on such land a building for any of the purposes of the Commonwealth Government ?
– Has the Commonwealth the right to take lands dedicated by the State for anv purpose?
– Should we do so?
– I do not think so. although, under the Constitution, we have power to legislate for the resumption of such land.
– That power is not likely to be exercised except for some necessary purpose.
– The Commonwealth wished to erect buildings on the Centennial Park, Sydnev. for military purposes.
-The Bill, like the Act of 1901, does not prevent the resumption of park lands, though an attempt was made in the other Chamber to do so.
– It was expressly provided for in the Senate.
– I find, by reference to page 5460 of Volume IV. of Hansard, that I mentioned, in 1901, that the park lands which surround Adelaide, and have been dedicated under a State Act, could be acquired by the Commonwealth. But.although that was pointed out at the time, the Government of the day would not assist honorable members to make an amendment in the Bill of1901 to prevent it. A provision has been inserted in this Bill to qualify this power of acquisition, clause 19 providing that, where land is Crown land of a State, dedicated for a public park, or for the recreation or amusement of the public, either House of the Parliament may pass a resolution that the notification shall be void and of no effect, and that then the land shall be deemed not to have been vested in the Commonwealth. That, however, is not very much protection to the States. It simply transfers from the Executive to the Parliament the right to say whether such land shall be acquired by the Commonwealth. I should like to see a provision inserted preventing the acquisition of park lands. Independent of such land, there is other land as suitable, or nearly as suitable, available for the purposes of the Commonwealth. The provision of the law as it stands has given rise to some opposition and a good deal of disquietude, and therefore I should like to see it excised. Regarding the drafting of the measure, it is difficult to speak with, emphasis, because of its technical character ; but I do not know that a glance at its clauses shows that the law has been made much clearer in some respects. For instance, clause 5 says that - “Land” includes any estate or interest in land (legal or equitable), and any easement, right, power, or privilege over, in, or in connexion with land, and also includes Crown land.
Clause 8, however, speaks of -
Any person seised, possessed, or entitled to any land, and goes on to refer to interests which have resulted from the cutting up of the fee-simple into a series of estates coming into existence in succession. Therefore, one may well ask if the words “ any person entitled to any land “ refer to the possession of any estate in land or to the possession of an estate in fee simple. That there may be some doubt on the matter is, I think, clear from the wording of the Act of 1901, which refers to -
All parties seised or possessed of or entitled to any such land or any estate or interest therein.
A distinction is there drawn between a feesimple and a lesser estate or interest. It was evidently contemplated that persons could dispose only of the interests to which they were entitled, and would be compensated separately for each interest.
– Will the honorable and learned member look at section 22 of the Acts Interpretation Act?
– The Attorney-General refers me to the definition of “ land “ contained in the Acts Interpretation Act ; but that does not affect my point, because there is a special definition in this Bill, and there cannot be two definitions for the purposes of one measure. If there were two definitions, and they were in agreement, one would be superfluous, while, if they were not, one would contradict the other. My point is that the meaning of “ land,” as used in clause 8, is not clear. It may be used to refer to an estate in fee simple or to any lesser estate. There are other provisions in which I think confusion, rather than clarity, is introduced, though these are matters which may best be dealt with in Committee. While the Bill does not alter the existing law, it deals with matters of fundamental importance. I should like to know what the Government intend todo with regard to clause 64, which is as follows: -
Any land which, before the commencement of this Act, has been acquired by the Commonwealth from any State or person, or has by virtue of section eighty-five of the Constitution become vested in the Commonwealth, shall for the purposes of this Act be deemed to have been acquired under this Act, and to be vested in the Commonwealth as if acquired under this Act.
I presume that that means that the Commonwealth could pay, according to the scheme provided by this measure, for properties acquired under section 85 of the Constitution. At an earlier stage in the Bill provision is made for the method of payment. Clause 41 provides -
The compensation payable to a State in respect of any land acquired under this Act may, at the option of the Governor-General, be paid in any of the following modes, that is to say -
by payment to the State of the amount of the compensation ; or
by the Commonwealth becoming responsible to the State for its liability for principal and interest in respect of such a part of the public debt of the State as is the actuarial equivalent of a three and one-half per cent, loan of the same currency and of the amount of the compensation.
That deals with the transferred properties. To some extent it is constitutional, and to some extent it is not. It is provided in sub-section 11. of section 85 of the Constitution -
The Commonwealth may acquire any property of the State of any kind used, but not exclusively used, in connexion with the Department ; the value thereof shall, if no agreement can be made, be ascertained in, as nearly as may be, the manner in which the value of land or of an interest in land, taken by the State for public purposes, is ascertained under the law of the State in force at the establishment of the Commonwealth.
Therefore, as regards land not exclusively used in connexion with the Department the valuation must be ascertained as nearly as may be possible under the laws of the State, and, so far as the provision in the Bill is an attempt to override the provisions of the Constitution, it will be ultra vires. As regards property hitherto acquired and not paid for, or to be acquired in the future, the method’ of compensation is prescribed by the Bill, and therefore we are really now dealing with matters of big policy. The provision is that the land shall be paid for either in cash or in bonds bearing interest at per cent. Of course that is a very sound principle, but if the clause is to mean anything, we should provide for giving effect to it. That cannot, however, be done without the consent of the States. We cannot take over the States debts except at the rate of so much per head of the population, and, therefore, I do not see how we can apply this provision. Section 105 of the Constitution provides -
The Parliament may take over from the States their public debts as existing at the establishment of the Commonwealth, or a proportion thereof, according to the respective numbers of their people, as shown by the latest statistics of the Commonwealth.
In view of this restriction, I do not know how we are going to work the provision in the Bill. I think it is a pity that the Minister should have brought in a Bill for the consolidation of the law relating to the acquisition of public property without consulting the States, with a view to inducing them to pass the necessary Acts to enable us to take over their debts to an amount sufficient to wipe off, as far as possible, the indebtedness in regard to the transferred properties. There are several other provisions in the Bill which, I think, could better be dealt with in. Committee.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Johnson) adjourned.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is a short, technical measure, introduced for the purpose of allaying doubts [“3l- 2 which have arisen in connexion with the distribution of seats in New South Wales. Sections 17 and 18 qf the Electoral Act provide that when the Commissioner has completed his report, he shall post it, together with a map of the proposed division in certain public places, and that within thirty days any person may lodge any objection or suggestion in writing, lt is further enacted that the Commissioner shall consider all objections and suggestions so lodged before making his final report. In connexion with the distribution in New South Wales, two or three alterations were made upon the strength of verbal suggestions to the Commissioner. These suggestions, which were not made in writing, as required by the law, involved the interests of a fairly large number of electors.
– Is that material ? Could not the Commissioner obtain his information in any manner he might think fit?
– The Crown Law officers, after carefully investigating the matter, have come to the conclusion that objections or suggestions acted upon by the Commissioner must be made in a manner prescribed by law. The Bill is considered absolutely essential in order to allay any doubt that may exist as to the validity of the distribution.
– - I have no objection to the Bill, although I hardly appreciate its necessity. Whilst any objections Qf which notice is officially taken mav have to be lodged in writing, the Commissioner has the power, which he has no doubt exercised, to obtain information from whomsoever he chooses.
– Not after his report has once been posted.
– I do not think that even then the Commissioner might not, if he thought fit, revise the proposed distribution. However, I do not object to the measure, because, at most, it can only make assurance doubly sure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and reported without amendment.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) agreed to -
That the Standing Orders be suspended so as to allow the third reading to be moved this day.
Bill read a third time. ‘
Additions, New Works, and Buildings
Department of Home Affairs
.-We have had no explanation as to why these buildings - a store at Darling Harbor, Sydney - are considered necessary. I see that the estimated total cost is , £22,300, and that is rather a large item.
– At the present time the Commonwealth has no wharfage accommodation of its own in Sydney. We have acquired from the New South Wales Government a piece of land upon Darling Island, and propose to erect upon it buildings for storage purposes. At present we are paying a large sum of money by way of rent for leasehold premises in connexion with the Post Office, and we have stores scattered about in other places. It is now proposed to erect upon our own wharfs buildings for the accommodation of our stores. The site is connected with the New South Wales railways, is in a convenient position, and has a splendid water frontage.
– Shall we effect any saving of rent?
– Will the stores be utilized in connexion with the Defence Department ?
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 2 (Trade and Customs),
– I should like to know whether ithasbeen decided to erect a new Customs House at Fremantle, or whether the building now occupied as a post-office is to be utilized by the Customs Department?
– It is not considered advisable to use the post-office buildings for the purposes of a Customs House. The selection of a site for the erection of the building is now under consideration. No site has been selected, although several have been offered. But the Customs authorities, after careful inquiry, have notified us that the old post-office is not suitable for the purpose indicated, and strong, representations to the same effect have also been made by the merchants of Fremantle.
– Is the Minister referring to the building or to the locality ?
– To both.
– What is proposed to be done with the present post-‘ office?
– That has not yet been decided. It may be that the State of Western Australia will take it back.
.- Am I to understand that this amount is to be paid out of the funds of the Commonwealth per capita?
– In Tasmania new post-offices have been erected since Federation was accomplished, and these buildings have been paid for out of Tasmanian funds. Until all these works are dealt with under the per capita system, it seems to me that an injustice will be inflicted upon those States which, prior to Federation, erected buildings, for which they are now receiving no rent whatever.
.- I wish to know whether the proposed work is a new one entirely, or whether a fresh building is merely to be erected in place of an old one?
– It will be an entirely new building.
– Has there never been a building there before?
– There has been a Customs building.
– Then how can the cost of erecting the new building be charged upon a per capita basis ? To my mind, it is distinctly expenditure which ought to be charged to Western Australia.
– I suppose that the proceeds from the sale of the old building will be distributed per capital
– I should like to know from the Minister whether the proceeds from the existing building will be divided amongst the States upon a per capita basis, or whether the structure will be considered an asset of Western Australia ?
– It seems to me that the real question which the States have to consider is the effect of the total expenditure. The Budget papers show what would be the effect upon each State of applying the method of debiting the expenditure per capita, instead of under the old system. I think that our power to vary . the provisions of the Constitution in this respect will become operative in about another month. I repeat, that the only way in which we can judge of the effect of debiting our expenditure upon the per capita system is by looking at the totals of the various items of expenditure in the different States, and not at any particular item.
.- I think that the Minister might well tell us what is proposed to be done with the proceeds derived from the old building at Fremantle.
– So far, we have not sold any public buildings belonging to the Commonwealth. As a matter of fact, we are endeavouring to arrive at a’ friendly arrangement with the States in respect of transferred properties. In some instances, the States are taking back properties which are burdensome to us. In this matter, we are treating Tasmania in exactly the same way as the other States are being treated.
– Unfortunately 110 new buildings are to be erected in Tasmania.
– I believe that in time Tasmania will require a great many new buildings. Of course, we have to look at this matter from an Australian stand-point.
– The Minister is viewing it from an- Australian, and not a Tasmanian, stand-point.
– Some time ago it was decided by the right honorable member for Balaclava, who was then Treasurer, that > all these buildings were new works, and as such should be” charged for as “ other “ expenditure. We are merely following the rule which he laid down.
– I notice that this building is to cost £15,000.
– That is the cost of the land and the building.
– It is proposed to erect this building upon an entirely new site?
– Yes ; we have to acquire a new site nearer the shipping.
– Then what is the reason for the Government proposal to erect a new Customs House? Is it because the present building is no longer useful ?
– It is in a dilapidated and insanitary condition, and has been reported upon to that effect.
– I think that honorable members are entitled to understand the rea sons underlying all these proposals. No doubt, when the expenditure proposed is reasonable, no opposition will be raised to the items. There is just one point, however, upon which I should like to gain information. It occurs frequently throughout the Estimates. I refer to unexpended balances. It may be that when we are asked to authorize an expenditure of £1,000 during the current year in connexion with a new building, there is an unexpended balance from the previous year. I should like to know whether these balances will be added to the votes which are authorized on the Estimates now under consideration ?
– Unexpended balances absolutely lapse.
– I have a reason for raising this question, because something relating to it cropped up the other day in connexion with the Audit Act. It was then pointed out that sometimes these balances are kept in hand, arid added to the votes for the current year. Thus it is quite possible that there might be an unexpended balance of £500 or £700, so that, when we voted £1,000 in connexion with any work the actual expenditure would be brought up to £1,700.
– In reply to the honorable member, I would point out that if any vote is not expended during the financial year it absolutely lapses. In such cases, no payment is really made. Whatever amount is appropriated for 1906-7 represents the total amount of the appropriation.
– I mentioned just now that it is necessary for honorable members to look at the total expenditure in connexion with all works, if they wish to ascertain the effect upon the States of debiting that expenditure per capita. In the case of Tasmania, I find that if the expenditure upon new works1 in that State were debited upon a population basis the amount which she would be required to pay would be £29,000, whereas if she had to pay for them herself she would contribute only ,£21,000. So that she really gains £8,000 by the system which is being adopted.
– I understand it has been decided that a new Customs’ House is necessary at Fremantle, either upon the old site or upon a new one. The reason why a new site has been selected is that the harbor works have thrown the shipping into another portion of the city, and the existing building is therefore in a rather inconvenient position.. The same remark is applicable to the post-office. Its business has outgrown the accommodation provided, and instead of enlarging the present building it is proposed to erect a new one in a more central portion of the-town. Seeing that the Commonwealth can only use the, two existing buildings for the Customs or post-office purposes- to which they have previously been put, surely the State Government - which might put them to many uses - should be willing to take them over. I think it is desirable that that should be the understanding upon which the vote is authorized. Seeing that Western Australia is to obtain new offices - owing to the unsuitability of the existing buildings - I think that it ought to be prepared to take over the old structures, so as to avoid their cost being debited to the Commonwealth.
Proposed vote agreed to.
– I should like to gain some information in reference to the proposed expenditure of £8.000 upon a trawler and equipments. A Commonwealth trawler can trawl only outside the territorial limits of the States, and therefore honorable members should be informed of the results which are expected to accrue from this proposed expenditure.
– This item is really part and parcel of a scheme for the proper investigation of the fishing resources of Australia. It has been suggested that we should obtain a trawler, which shall be used purely for the purpose of ascertaining the wealth of the deep-sea fisheries along the whole of our coast-line.
– Is the trawler to be used inside or outside territorial limits?
– In some instances it will be used outside those limits. For example, if honorable members will look at the map, they will see that the boundaries of Queensland extend right up towards the coast of New Guinea. They cover a great expanse of water, which really is part of the high seas. I understand, however, ‘ that the honorable member, in speaking of the “territorial limits,” has in mind the ordinary three-mile limit.
– I use the term in the sense in which it is employed in the Constitution.
– As used in the Constitution it is open to two or three meanings, but as ordinarily understood, “ territorial limits “ means a distance within three miles pf the shore. If, as the result of the operations of this trawler, it is found that large quantities of fish can be secured in our waters, the fishing industry may be established on sound lines.
– What will be the size of this vessel ?
– I cannot say offhand what its exact size will be, but the amount on the Estimates will be sufficient to provide for the construction of a trawler on the lines of those operating at present in other parts of the world. The principle involved is not a new one. It has been freely and successfully exercised by the Cape Colony Government. In 1897 a boat called the Pieter Faure - a modern type of steam trawler - was acquired by that Government at a cost of £7,000 or £8,000 to engage in deep-sea trawling operations along the South African coast.
– The cost was £6,500.
– The New South Wales Government expert states that the cost was between .£7,000 and £8,000. The Government biologist reports that, as the result of this experiment -
It was soon demonstrated that there was an abundance of fish, notwithstanding what was said to the contrary, and that there was an excellent trawling ground, rivalling with the North Sea in productiveness.
In 1899 the Government again took the work in hand, and in a short time the trawler produced a profit of over £300. Private enterprise was then left to develop the industry, with the result that, in 1.903, according to the report of the Government biologist, four steam trawlers, each considerably larger than the Pieter Faure, and over £30,000 in value in all, arrived from Europe to follow up the work initiated by the Cape Government.
– These additional trawlers were provided by private enterprise?
– That is so. The Government having proved that large supplies of fish existed, private enterprise was left to develop the industry. The report of the Government biologist also sets forth that-
Two other vessels fitted up with special refrigerating arrangements for South African trade have arrived during the course of the. year. Another large boat, 250 tons gross register, designed as a carrier and trawler, was valued at ^’7,500. Other trawlers are at work in addition to those mentioned and continue to do profitable business.
I;n a letter dated nth April, 1906, the Prime Minister of Cape Colony wrote to the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth as follows : -
The latest information from the trawling companies now established indicate that they are doing well, and are sending large quantities of fish to the inland towns.
It will thus be seen that the South African experiment was successful in revealing large sources of food supply that were previously unknown, and that, as the result of it, the inland towns of Cape Colony have abundance of fish.
– What parts of the Australian coast will be dealt with?
– That will depend on the advice of the Government expert. If “the honorable member will turn to the report issued by the Minister of Trade and Customs in connexion with the Bounties Bill, he will find that there are many pOintS along the Australian coast where investigations could probably be made with profitable results, but it is impossible for me to say where .operations will be commenced. The trawler will probably be sent in the first instance to such parts of the coast as the authorities deem to be the most promising and the most desirable to examine. The report issued by the Minister of Trade and Customs deals verv fully with the prospects of successfully developing the fishing industry. The quantity of fish annually imported into Australia is 13,000,000 lbs., valued at about £300,000. The local supply is spasmodic.
– Half of our imports of fish consist of tinned salmon.
– That is so.. It will be recognised, however, that we have in Australian waters large quantities of fish, and that our fisheries, as the result of a proper system of encouragement, may be opened up with advantage to the Commonwealth.
.- This proposal may be connected with a scheme for founding a Commonwealth line of mail steamers, such as my honorable friends of the Labour Party are anxious to establish. It will mean a very small beginning, but it will, nevertheless, be a decided one. It will affirm the principle of a State-owned line of steamers, and also to some extent the principle of a national industry. Here, again. I am not in a position to quarrel with the Govern ment. I look upon the development of our fisheries as one of the best and greatest objects that they could have in view.
– Is the right honorable member weakening in his antiSocialism ?
– Had the honorable member allowed me to complete the sentence he would not have put that question. I have in view the magnificent development by private enterprise of the fisheries on the coast of the mother country, where tens of thousands of hardy fishermen have established a great national industry ; I have in view a magnificent development of private * enterprise instead of the creation, in the future, of a fleet of Government trawlers. I look upon this proposal as one to which we need not object, because the object which I expect to be achieved is the development of one of the greatest of the private enterprises of Australia. This is the only difference between my honorable friends, the Socialists, and myself. We both believe in making the best use of the powers of the’ Government for the benefit of the people, and I only part company with my honorable friends on the point that they look upon this, as the beginning of’ a fleet of national trawlers, to be manned’ by sailors wearing the Government uniform. Long before the question of Socialism was discussed in the Federal arena, I had an opportunity to make experiments in. this direction. I believe that I was the first Premier of an Australian State to fit out a trawling expedition at the expense of the Government. I provided the necessary funds, and a gentleman well known in connexion with the fishing industry - Mr. Frank Farnell, who has been identified with these matters all his life - was placed in charge of a properlyequipped trawler to ascertain’ what were the resources of the coastal waters of New South Wales.
– Was not that very wicked and socialistic?
– No. I have just mentioned the point at which I part company with my honorable friends the Socialists. If is foolish to believe that Socialists alone favour the using of the powers of the Government for the benefit of the people. Australian public men used the powers of the State for the benefit of the people before the Socialists were thought of, and will continue to do so long after they have been forgotten. I claim to be just as fearless as the Socialists are i”. making use of the powers of the Government for the benefit of the genera] community, but I draw the line at their desire to convert the whole community into an army of Government servants.
– Who desires anything of the kind?
– The Socialists.
– Where are they?
– A few of them are at present in the Chamber, and the honorable and learned member has got them into hot water owing to his soundness on the question of Home “Rule. They find it impossible to’ secure the withdrawal of the 10ml- nation of a candidate in opposition to the honorable and learned1 member. But there has been no trouble with the Central Council in regard to the finding of opponents to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports and the honorable member for Bourke, who voted against Home Rule.
– I was about to say, sir,that the remarks have to do with political trawling, and also, I think, with political crawling. It is in that way alone that I can connect them with the question before the Chair. I can honestly say that I do not blame the Government for proposing this experiment. I hope that it will be judiciously managed - that the trawler will be placed in good hands, and will be such a vessel as can be employed all round the coast.
– How did the honorable member’s experiment succeed? «
– Unfortunately, it was not as prolonged as it should have been. I think that something happened to me about the rime in question. Unless the Government have some latent design in proposing to acquire a trawler - unless they desire to convert it into a mail steamer, to be run on national lines - I have no objection to the item. I think that the proposal is a good one.
– I was very glad to hear the speech of the leader of the Opposition/ because it has enabled us to know exactly how he stands ; for the moment, at any rate. The only difference between his Socialism and that of the Labour Party is that he believes in Socialism which will give something to private enterprise, but does not believe in Socialism which will give something to the whole people. It is a ‘good thing that he does not oppose this item. It shows that he is advancing in the right direction.
– I was the first to make an experiment of this kind.
– Yes, but, although that experiment has been claimed to have been successful, private enterprise has not followed the matter up. That fact shows that it may be necessary for the Commonwealth to provide quite a number of trawlers. I have seen a good deal of trawling in the old country, where fish is sent from the north of Scotland to the English markets, not by the ton, but by scores of tons. The trawling industry there is very successful. We know that our waters are supplied, not with one or two kinds of fish only, but with an enormous variety, and it will ‘ Le a good thing to use a trawler in the attempt to prove that there is a splendid supply that can be obtained at a comparatively small expense, and that enormous fortunes may be made by private enterprise if it goes into the industry.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh has drawn a distinction between the position of the right honorable member for East Sydney and that of the Labour Party ; I would point out a further distinction. It is this: The honorable’ member for Hindmarsh would refuse to the fishermen who risk their lives and expend their energies in the establishment and maintenance of a perilous and arduous industry, the profits to be won from it, and would give them to the State. That course would inevitably lead to the abandonment and ruin of the industry. If there is any industry which would not. prosper as a State enterprise, it is the fishing industry, and especially the deep-sea fishing industry. But it is the duty of the State to make the scientific inquiries and experiments necessary to prove and exhibit the resources of our seas as well as of our land.
– The honorable member draws a line somewhere between trawlers and steamers.
– The honorable and learned member is not so dense as he tries to appear. It would be a poor compliment if I said that he cannot see my distinction. Whilst the State may use its powers for testing and exhibiting the resources of the country and of the adjacent seas - and the community has approved of that being done - it should not, in my opinion, endeavour to carry on industries which can be better carried on by private enterprise.
– The honorable member wishes to use the resources of the State for the few ; we wish to use them for the whole community.
– The honorable member is repeating a statement of the honorable member for Hindmarsh to which I have replied. He would give the advantages to be derived from the prosecution of the fishing industry, not to the seamen and others engaged in it, but to the community at large, thus taking from them the encouragement necessary to induce them to risk their lives, and to undertake the Heavy and severe exertions required by that calling.
– There will be no trouble about manning this trawler.
– Not at first; but there will be later on if it is seen that the rewards of the enterprise are not allowed to go to those who earn them.
– I understood the leader of the Opposition to say that workmen risk nothing - that it is the capitalists who undertake all risks.
– If trawling is proved likely to be successful, private enterprise will enter into and develop the industry.
– The leader of the Opposition says that he has proved it to be successful.
– I am not the head of the caucus. I do not talk for a machine.
– The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne would go further than is now proposed, and, our resources having been proved, would establish an enormous fleet of Commonwealth trawlers to carry “on the fishing industry.
– I have not said so.
– The section to which the honorable and learned member belongs would do so, and he has indicated by his statements that his views coincide with theirs. If he denies that that is so, he is, of course, not a Socialist. Those who are Socialists are in favour of the carrying on of these industries by the State.
– I follow the right honorable member for East Sydney when he is right.
– The honorable and learned member is satisfied that the leader of the Opposition is right in this instance ?
– Then I am right, too. I doubt, however, that the sum provided is sufficient for the purpose. Probably an additional vote will be necessary before any complete experiment can be made. It must be remembered that the trawler to be provided will have to be more expensively fitted out than is the case with the trawlers which work on the Dogger Bank, for example. It will require trawls for a great variety of depths, and raising and lowering apparatus to deal with, not one particular bank, or a set of banks, but unknown conditions. The Minister stated that the experiment would be under the control of experts. I presume that we are not to understand that it is intended to create a Department of Fisheries, seeing that we have already experts in the States.
– It is not intended to appoint an expensive expert. We shall take the advice of the experts of the States.
– We do not wish to establish a Commonwealth Department of Fisheries, presided over by an expensive expert, because such a Department would continue in existence, and would be added to, even after the experiments had come to an end.
– I confess that, when first I saw this item, I looked upon it with great suspicion, as an insidious attempt to introduce the thin edge of the socialistic wedge for the establishment of a fleet of Commonwealth mail steamers, but, having made personal inquiries into the matter, I find that, so far from this being the case, it is intended to stimulate private enterprise to a hitherto unexplored source of wealth production. In a recent interview with the Chairman of the New South Wales Fisheries Board, I was assured that an experiment of this kind is very necessary, because no private capitalist would go to the expense of building a trawler on the off-chance of discovering a profitable enterprise, whereas, if the Government experiments demonstrate that capital can profitably be embarked in this industry, there are several men of means who will invest money in it. The proposal is defensible on the same principle as the Government putting down bores in waterless tracts of country in the interests of the community, with a view to promote settlement When the right honorable member for East Sydney was Premier of New South Wales, he authorized the expenditure of money for a trawling experiment, which was conducted under the supervision of Mr. Frank Farnell; but the operations were continued for only six weeks, under the most adverse weather and other conditions. That time was not sufficient to thoroughly explore our waters ; but the Reid Government went out of office, and was succeeded by a Ministry who would not renew the experiments, which had therefore to be abandoned at a critical moment. Mr. Farnell, however, assured me that the results obtained were encouraging, and he is an enthusiastic supporter of the present proposal. He has not the slightest doubt as to the profitable results of such an experiment. I am informed that it is estimated that the trawler will cost £6,500, but that it was considered desirable to provide for £8,000, in order to meet contingencies. Experiments made with Government-owned trawlers in other parts of the world have been attended with very gratifying success. Some of the most recent of these operations have been conducted off the Cape of Good Hope under the auspices of the Natal Government. The results have been so successful that already four private steam trawlers are following up the work commenced by the Government steamer, and orders have been given for the construction of another five privately-owned trawlers. I have verylittle doubt that similar results will ensue here. It may be asked, what will become of the trawler when she has accomplished the purpose for which she was originally built? I may point out that the steamer will Le of a class suitable for employment in connexion with our harbour and coastal defences, and in many other ways she could also be used. There is not the slightest doubt that the Commonwealth Government will, sooner or later, have to acquire a number of small steamers for defence purposes, and vessels of the type of the proposed trawler would be very useful for some kinds of work. Therefore, we need not contemplate any loss upon our original outlay. I .understand that the present Chairman of the Fisheries Board in New South Wales would be willing to give us the benefit of his supervising services and experience free of expense, and that there would be no necessity to incur any heavy expenditure in providing for the necessary supervision of the trawling operations. In view of the fact that the trawler is intended to open up a new field of private enterprise, rather than to promote socialistic objects, I shall not oppose the item.
.- Owing to some remarks made by the honorable member for Lang, I wish to call attention to the grave inconvenience that is caused bv the mysterious absence of Ministers. I have just been reminded of the fact that mv endeavour to encourage the trawling industry in New South Wales was brought to an abrupt conclusion, when I was succeeded in the premiership of that State by the present Minister of Trade and Customs. I naturally wish to obtain from him an explanation of the circumstances under which he blighted that interesting experiment, and as to how it comes about that he is now a party to a proposal to carry on an enterprise of a similar character under the Commonwealth. If I am assured bv the Prime Minister, or even by the Postmaster-General, who knows something about most of the underground movements of Ministers, that his honorable colleague is at the Customs Department wrestling with the difficulties connected with the harvester question, or the machinery or spirit duties, I shall be ready to recognise that the pressure of circumstances often justifies a- Minister’s absence from the Chamber. I am told, however, that during the past fortnight no one has been able to say whether the Minister was within 100 miles of his Department. I could understand private members occasionally absenting themselves from * the Chamber, as, unfortunately, I do, but I submit that Ministers should be within reach when the Estimates are under consideration. I hope that some clue will be discovered to indicate the precise locality of the Minister. I understand that he was last heard of in the direction of Wagga, where a show isbeing held, and where I believe the honorable member for Flinders is also to befound. The Minister seems to consider that his sole duty to the public is to follow the honorable member for Flinders whereever he may travel in. the Hume electorate.
.- I am pleased to be able to support the proposed vote. I trust that the Government will arrange for the construction of the trawler in Australia. Although they declined to insert a provision in the mail contract that the proposed new mail steamers should be built in Australia, I hope that they will not refuse to give our artisans an opportunity of exhibiting their skill in connexion with the construction of the new fishing vessel. The proposed vote is similar to those which appear on some of the States Estimates for the purpose of encouraging prospecting, in connexion with the mining industry, and I shall be glad if the search for good fishing grounds is as successful as have been some of the efforts of the prospecting parties in their quest for valuable mineral deposits. That is my desire, but my judgment tells me that the proposed experiment will absolutely fail. In New South Wales, the president of the Fisheries Board, when he was a member of the local Legislature, took charge of a trawling expedition, and the Government placed a considerable sum at his disposal. Mr. Frank Farnell, the gentleman referred to, visited England with a view to forming a company to develop our deep-sea fisheries He had a series of interviews with the Fishmongers Guild of London, a very powerful corporation, but the members of that body were not inclined to invest their capital upon the strength of the flimsy information submitted to them. I would point out that within six weeks the fishing grounds off our coasts could be fully tested.
– What, under adverse weather conditions?
– Yes. In the case of the experiments carried on in New South Wales the steamer proved to be faulty, and, although the trawling appliances were quite up-to-date, they were frequently damaged by rough weather. The present leader of the Opposition, in common with myself, is very fond of deep-sea fishing, and he is probably aware that for the last fifteen years, the supply of fish along the Australian coast has been gradually diminishing. As a matter of fact, the best fishing grounds in Australasia are to be found upon the coast of New Zealand. Still,I do not wish to discourage the Government. Perhaps, if we consent to the proposed vote, we may prevent waste of money in the future, at the suggestion of a protectionist Government, which may desireto offer bonuses for the encouragement of deep-sea fishing. I am not so bigoted a free-trader that I would object to the Government arranging for the construction of the proposed trawler in my electorate. We are now passing through a period of political peace, and I am not such a flathead as to allow my electorate to pass unheeded when there is any loot to be obtained. I hope that the Minister will not follow the example of the present Minister of Trade and Customs, and decline to employ Australian artisans in the construction of the proposed steamer. There is no question as to the capability of our workmen, because I have in my electorate some of the most expert ironworkers in the whole of the British dominions.
– We are being asked to commit ourselves to an absolute waste of money. I do not expect that the slightest success will be achieved as the result of the operations of the proposed Government trawler, but I predict that within three years the steamer will be up for sale, and that we shall be glad to accept any offer for her. Deepsea fishing has been carried on in Australian waters for many years. Some honorable members may recollect the Rachel Thomson - a Hobart ketch of about 40 tons, which used to engage in deep-sea fishing off the coast of Tasmania, and bring her catch into the Melbourne market. That vessel met with misfortune, and has not been replaced. A few ketches fitted with auxilliary engines are now engaged in fishing off our coasts. They are chiefly used to obtain fish for manurial purposes.
– What sort of fish?
– Barracouta and shark, which are sold to the farmers and orchardists for manurial purposes. In our Australian waters there are not the vast shoals of fish which visit England and Scotland, and which enable those countries to make their preserved fishing industries such a great success. Consequently, I maintain that this bounty will prove an absolute failure.
– How can the honorable member say that before we have made the experiment ?
– The experiment has already been made. As everybody is aware, the best fishing ground in Australia is considered to be off the Scamander River. Some time ago a voting Englishman, who had had considerable experience of fishing in the old country, visited Tasmania, and endeavoured to float a company to preserve the fish obtainable in the locality indicated. The project, however, fell through, simply because, although the fishing ground off the Scamander River is an admirable one for tourists, there were not sufficient fish to enable the company to start operations upon the large scale that would be necessary to make it a financial success.
– There is a fish preserving industry on the New South Wales coast at the present time.
– What sort of fish are preserved?
– I cannot say.
– We have tried the experiment in Tasmania, and without success.
– Quite as many fish pass along the eastern seaboard of Australia as are to be found in any part of the world.
– I do hope that, if the proposed £8,000 be expended, it will result in the establishment of the fish, preserving industry. But I believe that it is impossible to obtain a sufficient supply to permit of that being done.
– It is the difficulty of getting fish distributed which keeps them out of more general consumption.
– If a plentiful supply were available - notwithstanding that the middleman frequently obtains quite as much in the way of profit as the fisherman gets for his labours - the price of fish would come down. I credit Ministers with sincerity in this matter, but I believe that the project is doomed to failure. Recognising that the money will be absolutely thrown away, I shall - if the item be pressed to a division - vote against it.
– I support this vote most cordially.
– Where is the anti-Socialist now ?
– The trouble really is that I am anxious to take, the last vestige of the cry of “ stinking fish “ from the honorable member. I maintain that, if this money be thrown away, it will be thrown away in a very good cause indeed.
– If the Government build the trawler in my electorate it will be all right.
– I will support the honorable member ‘in any proposal of that character. I am afraid that we are succumbing to the influences which have been operative here for some time, and really one may be forgiven if, in a temperature like this, one’s political fibre begins to relax somewhat. But speaking seriously, it occurs to me that, of all the amounts which it is proposed to allocate in the distribution of the Treasurer’s surplus, the vote of £8,000 to enable the deep sea fisheries of Australia to be thoroughly tested is most to be commended. It is worth that amount to learn the facts of the case, and if those facts are as I believe, the waters of Australia are as plentifully supplied with fish as are those of any other part of the world. That is my information, and upon the strength of such assurances I am prepared to support this item in order to place the matter beyond doubt. Should experience prove that we have not the teeming millions of fish which are to be found in the deep sea fisheries of Other countries, I say that we have thrown away £8,000 in many a worse speculation. I do not think that we could spend a portion of the Treasurer’s surplus in any better way than that proposed, always provided that this trawler is to be built in New South Wales, and in the electorate of the honorable member for Dalley.
– The honorable member had better make that remark satirical or it will be used against him.
– It is by no means satirical. I mean it absolutely. I think it is about time that Mort’s Dock got a look in in connexion with the dispensation of favours by the Government. I trust that the proposed’ venture will prove the success which is anticipated.
– I am afraid that some honorable members are in danger of seriously falling away from grace. I wish it to be distinctly understood that I do not follow either the honorable member for Dalley or the deputy leader of the Opposition in supporting this proposal, conditional upon the trawler being constructed in any part of the Commonwealth. I am only anxious that if the item is. passed we shall obtain “the besi result possible for our expenditure. If the most expert builders are to be found in Australia, and if the vessel can be constructed here as cheaply and efficiently as it can be elsewhere, by all means let us give a preference to our local builders. But let us get the best results for the money.
– I intend to vote against the Government proposal, because I regard it as an interference with private enterprise. At the present time, there are a number of persons who obtain their livelihood by fishing. We have conducted many similar experiments in connexion with larger concerns - experiments which have proved absolute failures. I am not disposed to support a proposalto expend £8,000 in an enterprise which I feel sure will fail. Stronger evidence in its favour should be forthcoming to justify this vote.
.- I shall support the Government proposal in order that the waters all round our Australian coast may be thoroughly tested. It is quite possible - despite the experiments which have been conducted in New South Wales and Tasmania - that there are fishing grounds upon our coasts which have not been properly tested, and which will yield an abundant supply of fish. I should even be prepared to vote for the construction and’ equipment of a number of trawlers so that the Government might undertake fishing upon behalf of the entire community. In the course of his remarks the honorable member for Franklin stated that the middlemen usually absorb as much profit as the fishermen derive from their labours. That has been the case in connexion with this industry throughout Australia. In some instances the middlemen have absorbed two-thirds of the amount for which the fish have been sold. In Victoria it sometimes happened that the fishermen, after havingworked all the week, actually had to pay something in order to get their baskets returned to them. It was only when they formed themselves into an association that they were able to combat the evil influences of the middlemen.
– The honorable member does not believe in private enterprise.
– The vote that I shall cast on this item will, at all events, be consistent with others I have given. An explanation will certainly be required of some honorable members opposite who are prepared to vote for an expenditure of £8,000 on a Government trawler.
– They are anti-Socialists.
– They are when it suits them, just as they are free-traders when it suits them to support the free-trade cause. But when there is a prospect of a Government steamer being built within one of their electorates, they are ready to support local industry. If this vessel is to be built in Australia, preference should be given to a Government yard. It could be built either at the Fitzroy dock-
– That is in my electorate.
– There is no dock-yard in the electorate which I represent, but the Government workshops at Newport ought to be able to build such a vessel, and to turn it out - as in the case of railway locomotives - at a price lower than would be demanded by private firms. I trust that this proposal will lead to a revision of the regulations relating to deep-sea fishing.I doubt whether, under the existing conditions, a Commonwealth trawler could fish anywhere in Bass Straits without contravening the Tasmanian fishing regulations. I believe that under one of the regulations of that State the use of a net which is more than a quarter of a milein length and 16 feet in depth is prohibited. Those in charge of a trawler of this kind would not think of using such a shallow net.
– Tasmania does not object to the operations of fishermen from other States so long as they are not conducted immediately along her coast line.
– Not long age, the Tasmanian authorities seized a Victorian fishing boat when it was fifty miles nearer the Victorian than the Tasmanian coast. I hope that as the result of this experiment
Ave shall secure uniform fishing regulations, and that it will lead to the control of the fishing industry being transferred to the Commonwealth. Islands within four miles of Victoria are held to be within Tasmanian waters, although they are something like 150 miles distant from that State.
– Does Tasmania claim jurisdiction over all the waters of the Strait that are more than three miles from the Victorian coast?
– Yes. I shall support the item, and I hope that a division will be called for, so that we shall see on the division list the names of some honorable members, who, although they pose as antiSocialists, are prepared to vote for the expenditure of £8,000 of the money of the people to support this enterprise.
Question - That the item “ Trawler, £8,000” be agreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … …28
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Item agreed to.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 3 (Defence), £59,177
.- There are a number of items in this division which relate to rifle ranges. The information I have in my possession is to the effect that at present the Commonwealth does not possess a range. Year after year we are expending money on ranges which we occupy at the will of private owners.
– The honorable member means to say that in some instances we do so.
– The Minister must know that we have no rifle ranges on land possessed by the Commonwealth.
– We own rifle ranges in Sydney and in Melbourne.
– There may be one or two isolated instances in which we own the whole land on which rifle ranges have been established, but I wish to know whether the votes to which I refer are designed to secure to the Commonwealth the ownership of land, or whether they are simply in tended to provide for the erection of buildings on privately-owned land from which we may be ejected at very short notice.
– In some instances, these items relate to the acquisition of sites for rifle ranges. I would point out that the item relating to the Singleton rifle range is to provide for the acquisition of land, and that in several other cases we shall acquire the freehold. Many rifle ranges actually belong to the Commonwealth.
– The great majority of them do not belong to the Commonwealth.
– They will by-and-by.
– We are, at all events, acquiring rifle ranges in the vicinity of the larger towns.
.- Subdivision 1 of division 3 contains a number of votes for rifle ranges and rifle clubs. For instance, item 3 provides a re-vote of £105, and a vote of £2,707, under the heading of “ new service.” Then item 5 provides £265 for alterations and improvements to rifle ranges generally, while £320 is provided for the Bathurst rifle range, and £383 for the Adamstown rifle range; and in item 11, £3,356 is provided for new works in connexion with rifle ranges. I wish to know what is being done in regard to the improvement of old rifle ranges. I have had communications respecting the position of the Orange rifle range, where there seems to be some doubt as to whether the improvements are to be carried out according to an obsolete system, or whether an up-to-date and proper equipment is to be provided. In my opinion, it is extremely desirable that in all cases our rifle ranges shall be equipped with modern apparatus. Where repairs are necessary and equipment is obsolete, it should be replaced with new and up-to-date apparatus. I wish to know, also, whether the Department makes grants to rifle clubs without taking into consideration the cost of the work to be done in connexion with a club’s range. For instance, it has come under my notice that the sum allotted to the recently-formed rifle club at Condobolin for the laying-out and equipping of its range is insufficient, it being found impossible to obtain tenders for the work for the sum at the disposal of the club. What is the practice of the Department in these cases? Will an additional grant be made to provide the balance necessary for the completion of the work, or is it considered that the members of the club should fmd what is necessary ? I fail to see why a new club should be heavily handicapped by having’ to incur a serious debt for the proper equipment of its range.’
.- The Minister explained just now that where the express purpose of a vote for a rifle club was not mentioned, it could be taken that the money was not being spent on the purchase of sites. I find that no less than £6.781 is to be so spent. Practically all the country ranges in New South Wales are rented from private owners.
– My information is that hundreds of them are the property of the Commonwealth, though some are leased. Our desire is to acquire security of tenure before spending any money.
– I wish to know how much of this money is to be expended on ranges which are leased from private land-holders, and what are the terms under which the land is leased. I should also like to know from the Minister if the Department car see its way within the near future to provide artillery ranges. Perhaps he will brine; the matter under the attention of his colleagues.
– I shall do so.
– There is at present no artillery range in Australia, though we spend £50,000 a year op the purchase of artillery.
– Replying to the questions of the honorable member for Canobolas, part of the sum provided for alterations and improvements to rifle ranges is to be spent on the Orange rifle range.
– Is that range to be given an up-to-date* equipment?
– It is proposed to extend the sunken mantlet, to instal a shutter target frame of the “ Owen “ pattern, fitted with a pair of canvas targets of each class, and to utilize the old iron target in the new work. The range will be improved as much as possible, and its equipment brought up to the requirements of the Defence Department. With regard to the position of the Condobolin Rifle Club, every club in Australia receives a grant on an absolutely uniform basis, according to the number of its members, the sums paid varying from £20 to £40.
– Suppose that the .amount is not sufficient?
– In that case the members must provide the balance for themselves. All clubs are treated alike in this matter.
– I should like to know what is the state of the negotiations in regard to the acquisition of the land required for the North Fremantle fort? How much of the £8,000 set down in the Estimates is to be spent in acquiring the necessary site, and how much is to be spent in the construction of the fort?
– There is a dispute in regard to the land in question. The owner has made a claim for compensation which the Commonwealth will not acknowledge, and proceedings have been taken in the High Court. The value of the land will be determined by judicial decision.
– I understand that there has been delay in regard to the acquisition of the land required for this fort; but I understood last year, when money was voted for this purpose, that the work would be proceeded with. Then a dispute arose as to the size of the guns to be used, and> the Government asked the advice of the Imperial Defence Committee on the subject. The Committee’s report having come to hand, I wish to know what has been done.
– Plans had been prepared, and everything was in readiness, when a request came for an alteration in the armament of the proposed fort. Nothing further was therefore done, pending the report of the Imperial Defence Committee, which is now under consideration, having come to hand only a short time since. As soon as the Department arrives at a decision, the matter will be proceeded with.
– I do not understand the Minister’s reply, because the report of the Defence Committee was received some weeks ago. I understand that a 6-inch gun is now recommended. I believe that plans were prepared for 7.5-inch guns, and we were told that if 6-inch guns were decided upon fresh plans would have to be ‘drawn. I wish to know whether new plans are being prepared, and when the work is likely to be carried out?
– The land has been acquired, and the only question to be settled is as to the price to be paid for it. We are now awaiting the decision of the Defence Department with respect to the armament, and as soon as that has been communicated, the work will be proceeded with. Of course, the honorable member will recognise that the report of the Imperial Defence Committee relates to a large number of matters which call for serious consideration.
– I think that the Defence Department should have arrived at a, decision long before this. They have been in possession of the report of the Defence Committee for a considerable time. I should like to know whether we are going to stultify ourselves completely. The Government sent to England and sought the highest advice with regard to the armament of the forts of Fremantle, and other matters, and there should be no need for delay in arriving at a decision. I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle that- in all these questions the Government should loyally abide by the verdict of the Imperial Defence Committee, and act upon it at the earliest possible moment.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Wentworth. The Government have no right to flout the authority whose advice they have sought.
– There is no flouting in the c3.sg.
– That is what the conduct of the Government amounts to. I should like some information in regard to the proposed votes of £8,000 towards the construction of the fort, and acquisition of the site at North Fremantle, and of £580 for the fort and quarters at Arthur’s Head. I see by the foot-note that the total estimated cost of these works is £87,000, and that the expenditure incurred up to the 30th June, 1906, inclusive of £24,000, under division 6, sub-division 1, item 10, of 1905-6, amounted to £43,398^ Last year, when we were discussing the estimates for Fremantle, we were told that some change was to be made in the armament. It was first intended to mount 6-inch and 7.5-inch guns at these forts, but it was afterwards suggested that 9. 2-inch guns should be substituted. I should like to know whether the Minister is in a position to give us any information as to the recommendation that has been made in this connexion ?
– That information is in the possession nf the Defence Department.
– The information is desired, because I take it, that the cost of constructing the fort will, to a very large extent, depend on the character of the armament decided upon.
– The question of armament is one for the Defence Department to decide. We merely construct the works when we know what the Defence Department require.
– Yes, but we are being asked to vote a certain sum of money which mav prove to be excessive, if 6-inch or 7.5- inch guns aire mounted in the forts, instead of 9. 2 -inch guns, and I think that we are entitled to know what kind of armament is to be provided.
– I could not give the honorable member information as to the decisions of the Defence Department.
– I think that the Minister should be in a position to afford the, information asked for by the honorable member for Lang. We should not be asked to pass items of this character in ignorance, simply because the Minister does not happen to be in possession of essential information. I notice that the proposed vote is smaller by £2,000 than the sum voted last year. I should like to know whether that reduction is due to the new method that has been adopted in arriving at a valuation of the land required for the fort, or whether it is owing to some changes in the construction of the fort. I do not think that the reduction can be altogether due to any saving that may be contemplated in connexion with the construction of the fort, but, at any rate, the Committee should be informed roughly as to the’ manner in which the money is to be expended. After all, we are the guardians of the public purse, : and cannot altogether delegate our powers to any officer of the Defence Department, however highly qualified and efficient he may be. The Minister seems to think that he has performed his duty when he has given all the information that happens to be in his possession. Unless the Minister is in a position to afford the information asked for, I think that we shall have to test once and for all the question whether this Committee is to surrender absolutely its powers to some one entirely beyond the control of the people.
– I thought that I had made the position quite clear. An important report has been received from the Imperial Defence Committee, and before the construction of the fort can be further proceeded with the recommendations contained’ in that report will have to be very seriously considered. The Defence Department have not yet communicated their decision to us, and I cannot therefore give the honorable member for Wentworth the information that he desires. He must know that confidential reports are received by the Defence Department.
– Why does the Minister beg the question?
– I am not begging the question. The honorable member for Fremantle asked me whether I could tell him how the matter stood, and I explained that the proposed vote of £8,000 included the sum that would have to be paid for the land that had been acquired. The claim in respect of this land will, I hope, be adjudicated upon by the High Court when it visits Western Australia in October next. I told the honorable member, further, that the balance of the sum would be available for the construction of the fort, but that the Defence Department had asked us to stay our hands pending the receipt of their decision upon the recommendations of the Imperial Defence Committee.
– I asked the Minister how much money was to be devoted for the purchase of the site, and how much was to be appropriated to the work of constructing the fort?
– I could not give the honorable member that information, because the High Court has not yet fixed the amount to be paid for the land. All I can say is that a sufficient sum has been placed upon the Estimates to meet any expenditure that is likely to take place during the current year.
.- I merely wished to know what portion of the £8,000 was intended to be devoted to the construction of the fort. Of course, the Minister could not at the present time tell me how much money was to be paid for the land, but he should have been able to inform us as to the amount proposed to be spent upon the fort. He ignored the question of the honorable member for Lang.
– I did not. I was perfectly courteous to the honorable member.
– It seems to me that the Minister should know what has been set aside for the construction of the fort.
.- In view of the statement of the Minister, I move -
That the consideration of items 16 and 17, sub-division 5, be postponed.
We should not be called upon to pass the items until the Minister is in possession of such information as will enable honorable members to know what they are voting for. I think that we are entitled to have the information asked for.
– It would involve the whole question of our coastal defence.
– The question which I have asked refers particularly to the armament of these forts.
– Did I not tell the honorable member that the Department has not yet arrived at a decision upon that matter?
– Then we are asked to vote money without knowing the purposes for which it is to be expended. Surely the Minister must know the amount which will be set aside for the purchase of the land ? Altogether, the proposals of the Government involve an expenditure of £87,000.
.- I think that I thoroughly understand the explanation of the Minister. It seems that the amount which is to be paid for the land is already the subject of a judicial inquiry. That being so, if the Minister were to say how much the Government expected to give for the land he might prejudice their case.
– Surely that remark does not apply to the forts themselves?
– I regard the explanation of the Minister as entirely satisfactory,, and I hope that the honorable member for Lang will withdraw his motion.
– I am of opinion that the defences of the Commonwealth would be far better managed if honorable members did not know so much about them. Instead of a certain sum being placed upon the Estimates to permit of the necessary works being undertaken, and instead of relying upon our expert officers to manage the affairs of the Department in a secret way, every item - of expenditure is canvassed in this House, so that the information supplied goes forth to the world, with the result that everybody knows just as much about our own business as we know ourselves. The defence of Australia, I contend, is not upon a sound footing.
– Does the honorable member approve of voting money in the dark?
-As a business man, I appoint a certain individual to discharge certain functions. I hand him certain money, but I do not proclaim to the world what he is to do with it.
Mir. Johnson. - According to the honorable member’s dictum, there is no necessity for Parliament at all.
– If the honorable member will notify me when he has concluded his remarks, I will proceed. I contend that the defence of the Commonwealth is badly managed, and that there are too many honorable members in this Chamber endeavouring to control it. As one who is anxious to see our defences placed upon a sound bas’is, I say that the carrying out of these works should be left to our experts. If we have not confidence in those experts1, let us appoint others in whom we have confidence, instead of advertising to the world all our weak, as well as our strong, points. When the honorable and learned member for Angas was speaking a few minutes ago, he pointed out that under the present method of debiting works expenditure to the States, Tasmania is called upon to pay £21,000, whereas under a per capita system she would have had to contribute £29,000. Had he gone back for a period of three years, he would have noticed that the expenditure of that State upon a per capita basis would have be’en £50,000, whereas under the present system it was £51,000. Also he would have discovered that during three years the expenditure of Western Australia upon a per capita basis would have been £70,000, whereas the actual expenditure was £186,000.
– The honorable member is getting provincial.
– I think that we need to become provincial when money is spent in that WAA.
.- I think that the honorable member for Bass will see that he has done a very grave in justice to honorable members on this side of the Chamber. I scarcely think that he meant what he said.
– I always say what I mean and mean what I say.
– If the honorable member really meant what ‘he said he is prepared to forego the greatest trust which his constituents have reposed in him, namely, the trusteeship of the public purse. They did <, not intend that any officer of our Departments should be allowed to do exactly as he might please in these matters without any scrutiny from him. Regarding the statement that we a.re giving away secrets to the enemy and similar clap-trap, I do not think that any serious-minded individual will pay much attention to it.
.- I am surprised at the view which has been expressed by the honorable member for Bass. If we subscribe to his dictum we might just as well close up Parliament entirely. All that would be necessary would be to say to the Treasurer, “Here is £1,000,000. Spend it as you choose. We are content to trust you implicitly, and, although it is the people’s money, we are not in the slightest degree interested in the way that it is expended. We shall shut our eyes and open our mouths.”
– I rise to a point of order. The honorable member is professing to quote some of my statements, but he is not doing so. Is that in order?
– It would not be in order for the honorable member for Lang to misquote the honorable member for Bass, but I am sure that if he did so he did it unintentionally.
– I did not profess toquote the remarks of the honorable member for Bass. I was merely stating what wasthe logical outcome of his contentions. He has put forward a most astounding proposition, and one to which I certainly cannot subscribe. Since he has been a member of the House he has very rarely advanced any reasons, intelligible or otherwise, for the votes which he has registered. For him to expect other honorable members to emulate his example is to expect too much’.. The principal point upon which I desire enlightenment has reference to the ordnance which! is to be mounted at. these two forts. I desire to know whether it is intended to mount 6-inch guns, 7.5-inch! guns, or 9.2- inch guns?
– I do riot think it is necessary for the Minister to tell us that. But he should decide at once.
-If we are asked to sanction the proposed expenditure to place 9.2-inch guns in position - guns which, when mounted, will be useless - we shall be absolutely throwing money away. I believe that a 6-inch gun and a 7.5-inch gun would be ample for all purposes, and would prove far more effective than would any 9. 2 -inch gun, especially in view of the peculiar situation of the Fremantle harbor from a naval stand-point. Rottnest Island interposes a natural barrier against the effective use of long-range ordnance.
– I do not agree with the contention of the honorable member for Lang in regard to this matter. Ample opportunities are presented to honorable members for discussing the calibre of the guns to be mounted for various purposes. I do not think that that information need be sought in this Committee. The honorable member has been good enough to venture an opinion as to the class of gun which should be mounted in these forts, but I think that there are verv few honorable members who will regard him as an authority upon that subject. I repeat that there are ample opportunities afforded honorable members of discussing the general question of armaments. Surely there is no need in connexion with a small item upon the Estimates to demand information as to the exact type of gun which is to be mounted in a certain fort.
– We merely wish to know what the Government intend to do.
– That is an entirely different matter. I agree with the honorable member for Lang up to a certain point. We ought to know the amount which is to be expended upon this work, but it is not at all necessary for the Minister to inform honorable members of the particular type of gun which is to be employed. If there were no other opportunities of gaining that information-
– What other opportunities are there?
– If a Government fails in its duty in the matter of the defence of the Commonwealth, it ought not to be permitted to remain in office.
– I trust that the motion of the honorable member for Lang will not be pressed, I quite agree that it is necessary that hon orable members should be supplied with all the information possible before they are asked to sanction any expenditure. The honorable member’s objection to -this item is prompted by the fact that he is unaware of the particular type of gun which is to be used at these forts, and, consequently, he does not know the amount which Parliament will subsequently be asked to vote. But I would point out to him that any such objection should have been urged last year when this work was commenced. The original estimate for the undertaking was based upon a 6-inch armament. If there had not been a question raised as to whether the use of a larger gun was not desirable, the delay which has occurred would have been obviated.
– It was afterwards decided to have plans prepared upon the supposition that 7.5-inch guns would be mounted.
– Yes. That was after the matter had been’ brought before the House. I do not think that there will be an increase on the amount originally named; the amount expended may possibly be less than that mentioned in the footnote. We are not asked to vote the total sum necessary to complete the work. We are simply invited to vote £8,000 towards the purchase of the necessary land, and to carry on the work which has been entered upon. I agree with the Minister that it is impossible to say what the total cost will be until we know what guns are to be mounted. The Defence Department should by this time have determined that question, but the fact that they have not done so does not afford a1 sufficient reason for refusing to vote the money necessary to carry on the work, and to pay for the land in process of acquirement. I would urge the honorable member to withdraw his motion.
.- If it was originally intended that the fort should be constructed on a scale which would permit only of the .mounting of 6-inch guns, its entire reconstruction might be necessary to allow of the mounting of heavier ordnance.
– But the plans were altered before the change in the calibre of the guns was decided upon.
– That is an explanation which ought to have been given by the Minister.
– I referred to it. Plans were prepared to permit of the mounting of 7.5 guns, and the Department of Home Affairs was then asked to stay its hand, pending the determination of the question of what the new armament should be. We are now awaiting the decision of the Department of Defence.
– Then this item is based on the proposal to mount 7.5 guns?
– All that I can say is that part of the item is to provide for the acquisition of a site, which is the subject of litigation. In the circumstances, I cannot disclose the details ; but the officers advise that this amount will be sufficient to cover the expenditure that is likely to be incurred this year.
– I have no desire that the Minister should disclose confidential information, and, in the light of the additional facts which have been presented since I raised objection to the item, I will not press my motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
– In connexion with the item “ Alterations to Sandy Bay rifle range, £300,” I should like to inquire whether that rifle range is to be a permanent one. As the Minister is aware, there has been much local agitation, and the opening of the range at Sandy Bay - a suburb of Hobart - has practicallyput a stop to building operations in that direction. Statements have also been made that persons walking along the hills at the rear of the range have on several occasions narrowly escaped being shot. I hope that the Minister recognises that we ought not to agree to the expenditure of large sums on temporary rifle ranges, that he has carefully considered what may be the effect of this range on the development of Sandy Bay, and that he has not lost sight of the point that it may endanger the lives of persons, and render the Government liable to an action for damages. The question is a much-vexed one, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some information with regard to it.
– As the honorable member has said, the Sandy Bay rifle range has been the subject of careful and anxious inquiries on the part of the Department. A number of alternative sites were suggested, and some of them were withdrawn almost as soon as thev were mentioned. Several visits were paid to Sandy Bay by the officers of the Department, and, after careful inquiry itwas definitely decided that the Sandy Bay rifle range should be a permanent one. With a view to minimize the risk of accident, the Department have acquired land in the immediate neighbourhood of the range, and this item of £300, which will be applied to the long distance ranges, is expressly intended to secure the safety of the public. It is intended that this shall be the rifle range for Hobart.
.- I should like to point out a rather unsatisfactory feature in connexion with these Estimates. I ‘refer to the fact that votes are passed, and that the conduct of the Department seems to show either that they ask for a much larger sum than is necessary, or that they are neglectful of their duty in that they fail to carry out works for which Parliament has made provision. The subdivison relating to Tasmania, which is now under consideration, shows the same disproportion as exists in connexion with the total sum for the division. Last year, under this subdivision, £3,196 was asked for by the Government as a sum . which it would be proper to expend in the twelve months ending 30th June, 1906. The actual expenditure, however, amounted to only £1,373. In these circumstances, we either voted more than twice the amount that was required, or works which ought to have been constructed have not yet been carried out. . The same observation will apply to the whole of these Estimates. We voted for these services last year £66,500, but only £33,000 was actually expended. The result is that re-votes amounting to £22.500 are sought by the Government. I have two suggestions to make. Either the Government should not ask for more than thev can spend during the financial vear, or, having asked for and! obtained a certain vote, thev should see that it is expended - not recklessly, but in carrying out the works of which Parliament has approved. When votes are not expended the finances of the States are sometimes seriouslv disarranged - disarranged occasionally to the advantage of the States Treasurers, and sometimes to their disadvantage.
– The leader of the Opposition has referred to a matter which has not escaped the attention of the Government ; but good reason can be given for the fact that some votes have not been expended. Let me explain the position..
A Department recommends to the Department of Home Affairs that a given sum should be appropriated in respect of a certain work, and after the vote has been granted a requisition is sent in for the execution of that work. It is then necessary to investigate the requirements of the Department concerned. If a post-office or some other Government building is required a sketch plan has to be prepared showing the disposition of the space required. This having bean approved, plans have to be drawn, and tenders have to be invited. In consequence of the delay in carrying out these details, votes are often passed which are not expended within the financial year.
– Everything should be in readiness for the work to proceed.
– I think it will be found that these delays will not occur so frequently in connexion with the amounts upon these Estimates. We have pressed the Departments to apprise the Department of Home Affairs early in, ‘the year of the nature of the work required by them, so that we may be in readiness to proceed with the undertaking as soon as the necessary vote is passed.
– The regulations to which the Minister refers were circulated last year.
– That is so, but we have hitherto . had some difficulty in bringing them into operation. It frequently happens that it is only at the last moment, so to speak, that a Department realizes its needs, but we are now in a better position than we were last vear. Most of the sketch plans necessary in connexion with the votes to which honorable members are now asked to agree have been prepared, and as soon as the Appropriation Bill is passed we shall be in a position to call for tenders.
– The passing of the Estimates late in the year has something to do with the fact that votes often lapse.
– Exactly. We passed the Estimates at a fairly early period last session, with the result that we were enabled to push on with various works earlier than we should otherwise have been able to do. Let me refer, by way of illustration, to an item relating to the construction of large defence works. We are now in a position to know what are the requirements qf the Department in relation to those works ; the plans are in readiness, and as soon as the Estimates are passed tenders will’ be called, and . the major portion, if not the whole, of the vote will be expended during the financial year.
– Before the honorable member resumes his seat, I should like to inquire whether he thinks it right to include grants to rifle clubs under the heading of “ New Works “ ?
– The items to which the honorable and learned member refers relate, I presume, to new works in connexion with rifle clubs. I have only to say that the point raised by the leader of the Opposition is an important one, but that, in some cases, there is special reason for the delay which has taken place. I agree with the right honorable member that the finances of the States, as well as of the Commonwealth, are often disarranged when votes are not expended within the year for which they are passed.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
Division 4 (Post and Telegraph), £7**555-
.- In subdivision 3, provision is made for the extension of the General Post Office, Brisbane, and for the erection of new post-offices at Atherton, Cairns, and Irvinebank. But, although I have on several occasions approached the authorities of the Postal Department with, a view to getting a new post-office at Chillagoe, the only reply I have received has been that the matter will be inquired into, and I shall be informed later on, and now no provision is being made on these Estimates for a post-office at that place. I visited Chillagoe not long since, and, making a plan of the building in which the post and telegraph business of that town is transacted, sent it to the Department. The building originally consisted of two rooms and a verandah, but there are now five rooms, the verandah running round four sides. Of .these rooms, one is used as the post-office, a second as the parcels .00m, the third is the telegraph office, and the postmaster, his wife, and four children share the remaining two as parlour, dining-room, kitchen, and bedroom. The structure is of iron on a wooden frame, and could not have cost more than £400, inclusive of the land. For it the Department are paying an annual rental of £45, which is equivalent to interest at 5 per cent, on an expenditure of £900. This shows what a poor business arrangement it is to remain in occupation of such inferior premises when, by the expenditure of .£500 or £600, much better accommodation could be given in a new building, both for the public and for the officer in charge.
– Does Chillagoe promise to be a permanent township ?
– Yes. I was asked that question five years ago. The Chillagoe Company is constantly spending money upon the erection of new works there, while there are a number of other mining centres, such as the O.K. mine, round about. The State Government have reserved a site of nearly 2 acres in area in about the centre of the town for a post and telegraph office, so that in providing for a new building, all that the Government would have to consider would be the cost of the structure itself. The accommodation now given to the postmaster and his family is disgraceful, and something of which the Department ought to be ashamed. I hope that the Minister of Home Affairs will give me his assurance that the matter will receive attention. The Postmaster-General has told me several times that it will Le attended to; but I ask now for some definite promise.
– The honorable member has made but a case deserving serious and immediate consideration. The probable permanency of a settlement must always be inquired into before the erection of a post-office is sanctioned ; but Chillagoe appears to be a permanent town. There are other mines in the neighbourhood besides the Chillagoe mine, whose postal business is transacted at this office, and from the description given, the quarters of the postmaster and his family, remembering the climate of the place, should certainly be improved. I shall at once put myself in communication with the Postal Department in connexion with the matter.
Mr. HENRY WILLIS (Robertson)
T?-.i7]- - I should like some information from the Minister of Home Affairs in regard to the proposed expenditure of £1 .i to, together with a re-vote of ^£2,499, making; in all £31609, upon the Cairns post-office. Was the amount voted last vear not sufficient to carry out the work?
Mr. GROOM (Darling Downs - Minister of Home Affairs) [7. ^81. - The appropriation last vear was £2,500, but. when the money was voted, the plans and specifica tions were not ready for the erection of the building. The Inspector-General visited the town this year in company with an officer of the Queensland Government, since when plans have been prepared, and a tender accepted. Cairns is a township requiring a permanent post-office of the character provided, and the expenditure asked for is absolutely justifiable.
– It will be too little.
– I am informed that the building will meet all necessary purposes for some time to come, although Cairns is an important and growing centre. Most careful inquiry .has been made, so that excessive expenditure shall not be incurred.
.- Some years ago, the Town Council of Cairns passed a bv-law requiring all buildings erected in a certain block to be of brick, concrete, or stone. That bylaw was gazetted in January, 1905 ; but the Department wishes to ignore it by erecting a wooden structure. I contend that it has no more right than has a private person to treat a municipal by-law in this way. A municipal bv-law having the indorsement of the Governor in Council is to all intents and purposes statutory law, and this Government has no right whatever to override any such by-law. The excuse urged is that there is not sufficient money available for the erection of a building such as would comply with the by-law; but, on the other hand, it is proposed to throw away £200,000 a year upon the establishment of penny postage throughout Australia. The “excuse that money is not available will, no doubt, be constantly heard if we agree to the penny postage system. It is disgraceful for the Government authorities to flout the local council as they propose to do.
– It is not intended to flout the municipality of Cairns. What is proposed is the removal of a building from one position on a block of land to another.
– That is only a quibble.
– it is not a quibble. The Department always recognises the rules made bv the authorities of the States for the public safety, and complies absolutely with them, at least so far as their spirit is concerned.
.- I should like some information from the Minister in regard to the proposal to ex- pend £8,000 in extending the General Post Office, Brisbane. I saw the building not very long ago, and it seemed to me to be a very commodious edifice.
– It is not nearly large enough.
– It seemed to me a palatial one for a city of the size of Brisbane.
– - The Brisbane Post Office is utterly inadequate for the accommodation of the officers who have to work there. It was proposed, prior to Federation, to spend £130,000 upon the construction of a new building, and that amount was on the Estimates submitted to the first Parliament. The Commonwealth pays £720 for the rental of two buildings - one of them an old theatre - which are at some distance from the post-office, to give the necessary accommodation, but the arrangement is inconvenient, and increases the difficulties of administration. The proposed extension is to provide a parcels office, accommodation for the mail room branch, a telegraph operating room, accommodation for the accounts branch, strong rooms, a dead letter office, accommodation for the checking branch, accommodation for the correspondence branch, new detective galleries, and other requirements. The whole matter has been carefully considered, and the expenditure proposed is the minimum justified.
.- The present accommodation in the Brisbane General Post Office is utterly inadequate, because, although the building has a very fine appearance, it contains only two floors. As the Minister has stated, the Barton Government decided to erect a new structure, and I only regret that there is not a vote on the Estimates for that purpose, instead of the £8,000 proposed.
– The vote asked for covers as much work as can be done during the vear.
– I trust that there will be no objection to the proposed vote, because there is no doubt that additional accommodation is required in Brisbane as well as in Melbourne, Sydney, and other places.
.- The proposed vote will be only a small instalment of what is due to Queensland.
– Yes, and it was very ungracious on the part of the honorable member for Lang to raise any objection.
– The proposed expenditure will be very small as compared with that contemplated by the State Government before the Postal Department was transferred to the Common wealth. I should like to know whether sufficient accommodation will be provided by the expenditure of the proposed vote.
– All the requirements of the public and of the departmental officers will be met.
– I trust that ample accommodation will be provided for the officers. I understand that it is intended to concentrate the whole of the work of the Department in the one building, instead of having it performed in different parts of the city as at present, and I hope that the proposed additions will be undertaken at once.
– Some time ago the Department of Home Affairs notified public servants who were occupying Commonwealth buildings that they would ‘have to pay the water rates levied in connexion with such premises. I should like to know what position is now being assumed. I understand that it is not intended to insist upon the officers who occupy only part of a building paying the whole of the water rates levied in connexion with such premises.
– The Crown Solicitor expressed the opinion that officers occupying public buildings were liable for the payment of the water rates levied in connexion with them, and a notification to that effect was made. The matter was, however, again referred to the Public Service Commissioner, who, after looking into the matter, and considering the position in which public servants were placed, recommended that the demand for payment should, be withdrawn. The officers have, therefore, been relieved of any obligation in the matter.
– I was surprised to hear the interjection of the honorable member for Herbert. Surely it is an extraordinary thing for the honorable member to contend that no honorable member has any right to ask for information regarding a proposed vote.
– If the honorable member had known anything about the matter his action might have been forgivable.
– If I had known anything about it, there would have been no necessity to seek enlightenment. One cannot be expected to be familiar with the requirements in connexion with every postoffice in the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member might be content to trust the officers of the Department, who are familiar with the whole of the circumstances.
– Not at all. We know very well that departmental officers sometimes make very serious mistakes. If we are not to ask for information when the Estimates are submitted we might as well pass them en bloc. I think that I was fully entitled to be informed as to the necessity of the proposed expenditure. I was not offering any factious opposition. In my own electorate there is one locality which is becoming very thickly populated, and which is badly in need of improved post-office accommodation. I refer to Miranda, where the whole of the postal business is conducted in one small room, not as large as this table. Yet I have not had the temerity to ask for improved accommodation. It is necessary to closely scrutinize proposed items of expenditure, in order that we may be able to justify our votes. As the Minister has assured me that additional accommodation is needed, and his statement has bean’ corroborated by two representatives of Queensland, I do not propose to offer any opposition to the proposed vote.
– It ‘is very strange that honorable members representing, other States should assume the part of watchdogs in regard to every item of expenditure relating to the State of Queensland. The honorable member for Lang, and others representing New South Wales, were absolutely dumb when the Estimates relating to that State were being dealt with ; but immediately Queensland was mentioned they became very much on the alert.
– We are not offering any opposition.
– The honorable member was offering opposition, and was not satisfied with the information afforded by the Minister. The State Government contemplated the expenditure of thousands of pounds upon additions to the General Post Office, Brisbane, and the proposed vote is sadly needed to provide accommodation both for the public and the post and telegraph officials. It is time that honorable members confined their attention to matters with which they are familiar.
.- I had a short conversation with the honorable member for Lang before he asked the Minister for information regarding the proposed vote in connexion with the Brisbane Post Office. He certainly gave no indication that he intended to oppose the vote, but stated that he would merely seek information with regard to the necessity for the contemplated expenditure. I regret to find that no provision is made in the Estimates for additional post-office accommodation at Beaudesert. I visited that township at the beginning of the year, and I am satisfied that there is great need for improved accommodation. Beaudesert is a large and thriving settlement;, with a rapidly increasing population, and I am sure that .£200 or £$0° could well be spent there in enlarging the present post-office. I recently spoke to the Postmaster-General with regard to this matter, and he told me that he was obtaining, a report. I am afraid, however, that he has overlooked the matter.
– No, we have not lost sight of it.
– If I am returned to the next Parliament I shall no longer represent the part of the country in which Beaudesert is located, and I should have been better pleased if, before I had ceased to be their representative, I had been able to secure for the residents some additional conveniences.
– I shall hurry up the matter to-morrow.
.- When the Postmaster-General was in Tasmania some time ago a very large deputation waited upon hi mi in reference to the Launceston post-office tower. All the members of the Commonwealth Parliament who have visited that city are acquainted with the peculiar features of that tower, and with the desire of the Launceston residents that it should be removed. The latter have even gone so far as to offer to instal, at their own expense, a clock and chimes which will cost about £1,500, if the postal authorities will demolish the existing tower and erect another which will be capable of receiving them. Upon the occasion of his recent visit to Launceston the Postmaster-General pointed out to the deputation to which I have referred that it was no part of the function of the Commonwealth to provide towers for post-offices. At the same time, he gave that body a very sympathetic reply. Everybody who is familiar with Launceston knows how proud its residents are of its uptodateness and of its many beauties, and I need scarcely point out that the present post-office tower is a complete eyesore to the place. It was designed bv the Tasmanian authorities, and was in an’ unfinished state when the building was taken over by the Commonwealth. I am strongly of opinion that the Government should either complete the tower or remove it altogether. Of course, I am aware that many country districts are urgently in need of postal conveniences, and I know that some time ago the Postmaster-General ‘requested the various States Governments to reserve suitable sites for postal purposes in newlyestablished settlements. In my own constituency three such areas have been thus reserved. In the town of St. Leonards a splendid site is available for a post-office, and a great saving might be effected by the Commonwealth if it erected its own buildings upon it, instead of continuing to pay rent for offices. Adverting to the Launceston post-office tower, I feel disposed to move the reduction of the proposed vote by £5, in order to test the feeling of the Committee upon this question.
– Do not do that.
– I wish to know whether Launceston is to receive justice in this matter ?
– The question does not affect Launceston only. It affects all the States.
– The honorable member for Bass really desires an increased vote.
– But I cannot move in that direction. It is all very well for the Treasurer to make suggestions of that character, seeing that Western Australia is receiving four times as much in the wav of expenditure upon public works as is Tasmania.
– What does the honorable member want?
– I wish the post-office tower at Launceston removed. If it were demolished, the residents of that city would be quite prepared to rebuild it, and to make a complete iob of it. When the PostmasterGeneral was in Tasmania he promised to favorably consider their request, but no doubt when the matter came before the Cabinet the Treasurer was present, and prevented him from doing as he would have liked. In order to test the feeling of the Committee, I move -
That the proposed vote be reduced by£5.
– I hope that the honorable member for Bass will not persevere with his amendment. I need scarcely point out that Tasmania is not the only State which is prejudicially affected by the policy which is being pursued by the Postal Department. Other States have their grievances, and I am sorry to say that ray own electorate has one. The reason why I urge the honorable member not to press his proposal to a division is that if he does so honorable members like myself will be precluded from entering fully into a discussion of the Government policy in this regard. In my opinion, the matter can be better dealt with, either by resolution, or when the Estimates-in-chief are under consideration.
– I think that the honorable member for Bass has clone a public 3ervice in drawing attention to the outrageously unsightly tower of the post-office in the pretty city of Launceston. Apparently the design was prepared bv the State authorities, so that the Commonwealth is to a certain extent relieved from the imputation which would otherwise lie against it. The tower in question is the only eyesore which I observed during my two visits to Launceston.
– Has the tower been built?
– Yes; and its unsightly appearance is such as to justify the demand that it should either be improved or demolished.
– I do not think that it could be improved.
– It could be improved with ten pounds of dynamite. It is a most unsightlv tower with which to crown a substantial structure.
.- A little while ago, when I ventured to request information from the Minister of Home Affairs, the honorable member for Bass told me, in effect, that it was my province, not to seek information, but to hold my tongue.
– That is not a fact.
– The honorable member said that I should trust the Minister. The gist of his unsolicited advice was that I should simply say to the latter, “ Here is the money,” and that I should ask no questions.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– That was the purport of the honorable member’s remarks. The advice which he tendered to me this afternoon he might very well take himself at the present time. But I will be a little more considerate to the honorable member than he was to me. I understand that he proposes that this item should be reduced by £5. I have spent some very agreeable hours in Launceston, and I can certainly indorse his statement that the post-office tower there is nothing but a very unsightly excrescence. I understand that it is popularly known as the “ pepper-box,” and it more nearly resembles that little domestic article than does anything else I can think of. I would point out, however, that if the item were reduced as proposed, other works in Tasmania might be affected. lt would perhaps be better for the honorable member for Bass to solicit the friendly offices of the Postmaster-General, and to personally suggest to him the improvements which he thinks desirable. I feel sure that the Postmaster-General will lend a sympathetic ear to his complaint The item is a remarkably small one, and I, for one, shall not oppose it.
.- The object of the honorable member for Bass in moving this amendment was simply to draw the attention of the Committee to a matter which is worthy of serious consideration. The Launceston Post-office is a very handsome and commodious building, admirably suited to the requirements of the town. It was built bv the State, but a difficulty arose in connexion with the erection of a tower, and, as the result of parliamentary interference, a structure was run. up which absolutely destroys the appearance of the building. In view of the small sumrequired to improve the post-office, I think that this matter should receive the serious consideration of the Minister. The citizens of Hobart subscribed £1,500 for a clock and chimes, to be placed in position in the Hobart Post-office, and the inhabitants of Launceston are prepared to subscribe for a clock and chimes to be placed in the post-office tower, if a suitable structure be provided. The present one is not only an eye-sore, but is unsuitable to carry a clock and chimes. I should be sorry indeed, if anvthing were done that would attract attention to so unsightly an object.
From my knowledge of Launceston, I think I can honestlv say that in no other part of the Commonwealth have the people shown a greater degree of self-reliance or more determination to provide the town in which thev live with all the adjuncts of modern civilization. At a cost of a few hundred pounds what is a positive eye-sore in one of the prettiest town in Australia could be removed. I feel sure that the Minister of Home Affairs is not prepared to denv the request of the people of Launceston, since he shows a readiness to be somewhat lavish in his treatment of other parts of the Commonwealth.
– I shall support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Bass, and trust that he will press it to a division. It is about time that we received something more than a sympathetic hearing from the PostmasterGeneral when we make requests in regard to postal buildings. The honorable gentleman is always very sympathetic, but he gives nothing. The Launceston “ pepperbox “ monstrosity should be removed, and it is just as well that the Committee should register its protest against the way in which postal requirements are dealt with bv the Minister. I wish to refer to the position in regard to the clock in the Geelong Postoffice tower.
– We have dealt with the Victorian Estimates, and those relating to Tasmania are now under consideration.
– I think that I shall put myself in order bv moving that the amendment be so amended as to provide that the £5 by which the item is proposed to be reduced shall be applied to the erection of a clock’ in the Geelong Post-office tower.
– Such an amendment of the amendment would be out of order.
– Then I shall have to content myself by saying that I know of provision for a clock in a post-office tower, although the space left for its face is still vacant. If the representatives of Tasmania will assist me in drawing attention to the fact that post-office towers in other parts of the Commonwealth also need attention, I shall be prepared to support the amendment.
.- After listening to the debate, I am somewhat at a loss to determine what are the true functions of the Post and Telegraph. Department. I have always been under the impression that its chief function is to deal with the reception and transmission of letters awd messages; but I am beginning to think, after what I have heard during this debate, that one of its duties is to improve some of the cities that most need beautifying. The interest displayed on all sides with respect to this question leads me to believe that honorable members have in mind many prospective post-office clocks. This is a fitting occasion for the Minister to definitely state the Ministerial policy in regard to these matters. If we are to vote Government funds to one purpose,when they should be devoted to different purposes altogether, we shall deplete the revenue in a way previously unheard of. The Minister should clearly indicate that, in the opinion of the Government, it is not the duty of the Commonwealth to beautify buildings in the way suggested. Unless he does so, we shall have begging letters from almost every municipality in Australia, and the position of honorable members will be rendered much more difficult than it already is. I know ‘of an instance in which the Department has definitely refused to acquire some ricketty buildings in the neighbourhood of a postoffice on the ground that to adopt such a course would be to go beyond its functions. If it is not to preserve the health of its own officers by the abolition of unhealthy buildings in the vicinity of its offices, surely it will exceed its functions if it builds towers to replace certain unsightly edifices such as the “ pepper-box “ at Launceston. This craze is obtaining on Parliament a stronger hold than it ought to have. The Postmaster-General must recognise the force of my argument, and I hope that the Minister in charge of these Estimates will see that it is necessary to do something, before it is too late, to check this spirit.
.- After the discussion that has taken place, I do not intend topress my motion. Iwould point out that the situation in regard to the Launceston post-office is different from that of other buildings, since a tower has actually been erected. It was urged that a clock and chimes should be purchased and erected in the Town Hall tower, since that building belongs to the people of Launceston. I resisted that proposal, because I recognise that the post-office is also the property of the people.
– Hear, hear ! We are only trustees.
– In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 5 (Telegraphs and Telephones),
£ 37, 722.
– With all humility, and - in view of some of the speeches to which we have listened this afternoon - with some trepidation, I rise to seek information with regard to the first subdivision of this division. I have heard this afternoon, for the first time in any Parliament, the statement that honorable members have not a right to fully criticise a request from the Crown for the grant of Supply. I do not indorse such a doctrine, and no Parliament should indorse it. We ought to reasonably exercise our right to criticise; we should never allow Departments, Ministers, or officers to indulge in the unregulated and uncriticised expenditure of the money of the country. On the first page on which this division appears, an increase of £41,000 is shown, and of that increase £13,000 relates to the Estimates for New South Wales, and the remaining £27,000 relates to the Estimates for Victoria. The total increase is a very big one. Whilst they may be quite justifiable, I should like to know from the Minister the reason for these increases.
– My regret is that these increases are not greater. Last year £16,000 was voted for the construction and extension of telephone lines, and the placing of wires underground, and £19,058 was spent. This year we ask for £27,500, a sum which, my officers tell me, is absolutely necessary for new works. A great deal of the money will be spent in constructing conduits to place the wires in Sydney underground, while the balance will be devoted to the construction and extension of telephone lines, or used in providing instruments and material. It must be gratifying to honorable members to know that we have been able to do so much in the way of increasing facilities for communication out of revenue.
– I think it would be a good thing to apply a great part of the £27,500 provided for the construction and extension of telephones and the construction of conduits to the establishment of metallic circuits.
Although £9,000 was voted for that purpose last year, and .£8,833 expended, on 1 £5,500 is asked for this year. At the veryleast, £150,000 is required to provide metallic circuits throughout Australia, but the expense is a necessary one, because our telephone systems are steadily becoming worse, and will not improve until an independent return is arranged for. I urge the Postmaster-General to appropriate as much as he can of the votes for his Department for this very necessary work, because, until it is done, our telephones will not be as useful as they should be. When they have been improved, the business of the Department will be increased, and the public will get a great deal more satisfaction from the service.
– I agree with the honorable member for Parramatta that the telephone service requires improvement in the “direction indicated. At present it is not even private. The other day, when waiting for a call, I heard a subscriber say, “ Will you speak to So-and-So, Member of the House of Representatives,” and if I had taken the trouble I could have heard the whole message. Therefore, I hope that, if it can be done, the Minister will divert some of the votes to extending the metallic circuit. At the present- time our telephone system is- most unsatisfactory, and is certainly not cheap. Some time ago I drew attention to the unsatisfactory service given by the bureaux telephones. Since then the bureaux system has been almost perfect. If one wishes to be connected with expedition during a busy time like Saturday morning, for example, one can always get communication through a bureau, and if a mistake is made, the Department will refund three penny stamps. I should like to know, however, why the charge for a conversation has not been reduced from 3d. to id.
– It will shortly be reduced.
– I shall be glad to learn of the reduction. I draw the honorable gentleman’s attention to the fact that the condenser system is a failure, and ask him what he intends to do in regard to it. My own experience in two or three instances shows it to be wholly unsatisfactory, and the officers of the Department have confirmed my opinion. That being so, the Postmaster-General should inquire into the matter, and, if the system cannot be im proved, see that no more money is wasted on it.
.- Within the last few years telephone communication has been rapidly extended in the country districts, and in my electorate, where not long ago there were very few telephones, there is now a complete network of lines. Not only have we the condenser system, but we have also town systems constructed by the Department, and private extensions carried out at the expense of the subscribers. Upon .the inauguration of Federation, the Department was very conservative with regard to telephone extension, so that it was almost impossible to obtain its sanction for new works ; but its views were revolutionized by the honorable member for Macquarie when PostmasterGeneral, and I am pleased to find that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro is following in his footsteps. I do not agree with the honorable member for Robertson that the condenser system is a failure. In my electorate it has, in many respects, worked admirably, supplying a long-felt want, and the people would be loth to forego the advantages which they get from it. There are defects, but these, I am told, are due partly to the vibrations caused by trains where the wires run parallel to a railway, or bv the want of sufficient “ crossovers.” which. I understand, could be supplied at very small cost. As the use of more “cross-overs” would greatly improve the efficiency of the service, it is a penny-wise-pound-foolish policy to economise in regard to them. It would be better to incur a slightly increased expenditure, in order to insure an efficient service, than to make a saving upon an imperfect service. I wish to refer to the subject-matter of the guarantees that are demanded from persons who require telephone extensions. The general understanding is that if the estimated revenue falls short of the estimated cost of working and maintaining a proposed line, a guarantee will be accepted from the local residents in respect of any deficiency that may result. Most of these estimates are based upon what I may call conservative lines. Generally speaking, the revenue is underestimated, and the expenditure is overestimated - that is to say, a liberal allowance is made for contingencies. In a great many instances the departmental estimates have proved entirely misleading, because from the very outset the business has shown a profit, and the guarantors have not been called upon to make good ,any deficiency. For some time past I have been worrying the Department in connexion with an application for the extension of telephonic communication to a very promising settlement known as Yeoval, between Cumnock and Obley. I cannot understand why it is impossible to obtain a satisfactory decision from the Department. Yeoval is in the midst of a splendid agricultural area;, which is being steadily developed. Nearly two years ago the residents communicated with me, and intimated that they desired to be brought into telephonic communication with Obley. Cumnock, and Molong. I obtained an estimate from the Department, but under the old conservative management such a large deposit was required that the construction of the line was out of the question. Later on, when the new and more liberal regulations were introduced, I. obtained a further estimate, and the residents were prepared to enter into the necessary guarantee to make good any deficiency. To my great surprise, however, the Department refused to accept the guarantee, and stated that the line was one that the residents might construct for themselves. I should like to know upon what principle guarantees are accepted in some cases and declined in others ? At first I thought it possible that the Department were not satisfied with those who were willing to join in giving the guarantee ; but I found out afterwards that they were content if the guarantee were signed by substantial men, who would, in all likelihood,- meet their obligations. There was not much fear of any default in the case in question. I would ask the Postmaster-General to look into this matter, and ascertain why the Department have refused to comply with the request. When I noticed that the amount of £16,000 voted last year for the construction and extension of telephone lines had ‘been exceeded by £3,058. I thought that in all probability the officers of the Department were unwilling to trench to any greater extent upon the Treasurer’s advance account, and, if that is the explanation of their action, I shall have nothing more to say. I hope that the proposed vote of £27,500 will prove sufficient to meet all requirements in connexion with such cases as I have mentioned.
Mr. DUGALD THOMSON (North Sydney) [8.52j. - I agree with the honorable member for Parramatta that if there is to be any additional expenditure under the head of conduits and metallic circuits, the latter item should receive the greater amount of attention. In some parts of Sydnev the telephone service is becoming almost unusable owing to the lack of a metallic circuit. The electric trams interfere verv seriously with the conduct of business over the telephone lines, and I think that an increased expenditure might very well be incurred in rendering the means of communication available to the residents of Sydney more effective than at present. It is no doubt convenient that some of the telephone cables should be carried underground ; but it is of the utmost importance that something should be done to make the telephone service more useful than at present in certain localities, and particularly where the transmission of telephone messages is interfered with by the electric tram service. . I see that there is a considerable reduction in the amount proposed to be devoted to the establishment of metallic circuits, as compared with the sum spent upon similar works last year. I should like some explanation with regard to that matter, and also with regard to the portion of the metallic circuit system that is to be covered by the proposed expenditure.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) [8-551- - It occurs to me, upon looking at the Estimates, that there is nc provision for any new work of the kind referred to by the honorable member for North Sydney. £27,500 is to be appropriated for the construction and extension of telephone lines, and only £5,500 towards the establishment of metallic circuits in connexion with the telephone system. The latter amount will not more than cover the new work provided for, and therefore the construction of return circuits will really be at a standstill. I consider that this matter should be regarded by the PostmasterGeneral as one of the greatest possible urgency, and that at least £100,000 of the surplus revenue of the Post and Telegraph Department might very well be devoted to this purpose alone. It would be far better to spend the money in this direction than to fritter it away in the manner proposed bv the Treasurer. It seems to me that the Postmaster-General has presented to him an opportunity to convert the telephone system, and to give the people what they have never had in Australia, except perhaps in Brisbane, viz., a really efficient telephone service. The telephone service must be made more private than at present, in order to induce the public to make full use of it. When you are endeavouring to send a message you can hear conversations relating to every one’s business but your own. I hope that the Postmaster-General will endeavour to induce the Treasurer to make available more money than is now proposed to be devoted towards the establishment of metallic circuits, and that hie will be able to do a great deal towards removing the cause of the present trouble.
– A portion of the surplus revenue of the Post and Telegraph Department could not be better spent than in the direction suggested by the honorable member for Parramatta. I think that some of it might also be devoted to improving the telephone facilities available to residents in the country districts. It is proposed to throw away a considerable sum of money in the purchase of a trawler, and in establishing the penny postage system, and I am afraid that the position of the people in the country, who desire to share in the benefit of telephone communication, will in consequence be rendered more difficult than ever. Some honorable members have had very strange experiences in connexion with applications for the extension of telephone services. I have succeeded in obtaining what I have desired for my constituents only after a severe struggle. I think that telephone facilities should be provided at very much cheaper rates than at present. I understand that the Postmaster-General now has before him a new regulation, which will provide for a reduction of the charges now levied upon residents in the country districts who enjoy the benefits of telephonic communication, and I trust that it will be brought into force as scon as possible. Some of the charges which are made are simply enormous. A man who lived six miles outside a populous township, and desired to obtain telephonic communication with it, was asked bv the Department to pay £15 a year for the maintenance of the line, and to .guarantee that amount for seven years. It would have been much better if it had plainly intimated that it could not undertake the work. It would be in the interests of such persons if the new regulation to which I have referred were brought into operation at as early a date as possible.
A somewhat similar occurrence took place in another portion of my electorate. A man who lived twelve miles from a town desired to secure telephonic communication with that town, but the price which the Department demanded from him for the erection of the line was a prohibitive one. He saw me in reference to the matter, and I suggested that he resided only three miles from a receiving office in which a telephone had been, installed. I pointed out that by erecting his own line to connect with that office, he could secure communication with the town by transmitting his messages a distance of about twenty-five miles. The Postmaster-General lias always prided himself upon the fact that he looks after the interests of rural districts. I desire him to act up to his professions. There can be no doubt that, under the telephone system as it exists in Sydney, a person can Rear “ the other fellow’s “ business, but cannot get his own transacted. This, I understand, is due to the want of a metallic circuit. Yet only ,£5,500 has been provided upon the Estimates towards the cost, although £8,000 was spent in that direction last year. In my opinion it would be much better to expend in improving the Sydney telephone service the £8,000 which the Government propose to spend upon the purchase and equipment of a trawler to exploit the fishing grounds round the coast of Australia. I trust that the Postmaster-General will bring the new regulation to which I have referred into operation as soon as possible.
.- I heartily sympathize with the desire of the honorable member for New England to obtain greater facilities in connexion with telephonic communication and a cheapening of the service. But, whilst I admit that the Postmaster-General has made very great strides in that direction, there yet remains a good deal to be done, particularly in the matter of securing an alteration of the existing regulations, whereby the charges levied in the metropolitan area may be extended to populous centres just outside that area. I have conducted lengthy correspondence with his Department ‘ in connexion with this question, but with very little prospect of success. I have received several communications from Progress Associations in my own district bearing upon the matter, and particularly one in which the township of Sutherland - which is only just outside the metropolitan radius - is interested. I understand that the reason Why the regulations have not been amended so as to make the metropolitan rates apply to populous centres just outside the metropolitan area is that Western Australia stands in the way.
– Western Australia is always causing trouble.
– Western Australia is a stumbling block to the granting of necessary telephonic reforms in New South Wales. I have been urging an amendment of the regulations, with a view to extending the radius of the metropolitan area to populous centres immediately outside of it, but I have always been met with the objection that to bring about such a reform would involve a loss to the Department of £5,000 owing to the circumstances of Western Australia.
– I do not understand how that can be so.
– It has never been explained to me. I am quite willing to believe that it is a libel on Western Australia. But, if so, the Treasurer shouldhold the Postmaster-General responsible for it, because his Department is the author of it.
– In Western Australia the zone in which the cheap rates operate extends only about two miles from the metropolis.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral to seriously consider the advisability of altering the regulations in this connexion, despite any small loss which may result. When I see him so cheerfully agreeing to sacrifice a revenue from another source of about £200.000 annually, I cannot help feeling that in this particular he is “ straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.” One of his first considerations in telephone matters ought to be the convenience of the people, just as it is in postal matters generally. The telephone has become practically a necessity of modern times, and it is therefore necessary that something should be done in. the direction of cheapening the cost of the service, and especially of extending facilities for telephonic communication to persons who are resident just outside the metropolitan area.
.- I wish to ask the Postmaster-General a question in regard to the item “ New South Wales portion of trunk telephone line between Sydney and Melbourne, £23,000.” Last year the sum of £19,000 was voted for this work, but the money was not expended. This year a sum of £23,000 is provided for the purpose. Can the PostmasterGeneral explain the reason for nothing having been done last year with the £19,000 voted.
– The £23,000 to which the honorable member refers is the New South Wales contribution to the construction of the proposed line. The increase has been brought about by the enhanced price of copper wire. Last year, when tenders were invited for the work, it was found chat its cost would be verv much in excess of the vote of which Parliament had approved. Consequently the undertaking was not proceeded with”. This year every arrangement has been made for the carrying out of the work immediately the necessary funds for the purpose have been voted.
– I am rather disappointed with the explanation of the Postmaster-General. It now appears that the Commonwealth is about to enter upon a career as a speculator in copper. Lastyear certain sums were voted to enable this work to be undertaken, but, because the officers of the Department deemed that the price of copper was too high, it was not proceeded with. What guarantee is there that this year the price of copper will not be higher still ? What qualifications does the Postal Department possess to justify it in speculating in copper?
– We did not have the money available.
– The necessary amount could have been taken from the Treasurer’s Advance Account. Sums amounting to as much as £40,000 have been taken from that account in connexion with a single item. Does my honorable friend recognise that probably the officers of his Department are not the proper judges of the copper market. I trust that reasons of this kind will not in future weigh with the Department.
– I should like to say that I quite agree with the representations made by the honorable member for North Sydney. On looking through the Estimates, I find that the amount provided this year in respect to metallic circuits is practically the same as that provided last year, although made up in a different way. The sum of £1,450 for telephone cables- has been provided for under item No. 2, which relates to the expenditure ‘of a sum of £27,500. Another item of £1,450 for replacing cables will be charged to “ Contingencies,” instead of to the vote for metallic circuits. I agree with the honorable member that the telephone service is capable of great improvement. I shall, bear in mind the representations he has made. I am just as anxious as he is that the telephone system shall be improved, and no doubt we shall be able, by means of the metallic circuit, to improve it to a greater extent than is possible in any other way. In answer to the honorable member for Canobolas, I may say that I shall endeavour to see if I cannot meet his request. He appears to have made out a good case. I was surprised to hear the statement of the honorable member for Robertson that the condenser system is an absolute failure. It is after all only a commercial makeshift. It means telephoning over telegraph lines, with many breaks and “ cross-overs,” and in the circumstances the means cannot .be as satisfactory as is a line erected for telephonic purposes. If the honorable member will bring under my notice any case in which the condenser system has not worked satisfactorily, I shall be pleased to see whether improvements can be made. As the business under the condenser system increases, I shall be glad to ‘put in extra wires wherever such a step may be deemed justifiable, for my desire is that the people shall have the very best telephonic service. I have made a note of the point raised by the honorable member for New England, and shall see whether his request can be met. It seems to be a very reasonable one. Some trouble has arisen with regard to the question of the metropolitan radius, to which reference has been made by the honorable member tor Lang. The whole question is being reconsidered. Some time ago a certain radius was fixed for the city of Sydney, and the honorable member has been most persistent in his representation that some suburbs which have rapidly sprung, up should be brought within that radius. The difficulty is that we cannot bring in one without bringing in the whole of them. Such a change would involve a very serious loss of revenue. There are also other ques-‘ tions - such as the establishment of new exchanges, which would necessitate a large expenditure - which must be considered in connexion with his proposal. Quite recently some alterations have been made in Western Australia, and also in Newcastle, and if it is possible to meet the wishes of the honorable member I shall toe pleased to do so. We wish, if possible, to meet the requirements of those who settle at some distance from centres of population, and we shall try to give that which the honorable member asks. All these changes, however, cannot be made at a moment’s notice. They necessarily involve a large expenditure.
– Either shortly before or after the honorable gentleman assumed office as PostmasterGeneral,, he was very anxious that experiments should be made with the automatic telephone system, and I understand that arrangements were entered into forgiving it a trial. I wish to know whether that system is likely to be a success. Conscientious scruples against Sunday work have been raised by some of the telephone switch operators, and the trouble might be obviated by the use of automatic telephones, if they proved satisfactory .
– Very careful inquiries have been made with respect to the automatic telephone system, and we find that, although it has been a pronounced success in one city - I refer to the city of Grand Rapids, U.S.A. - it is being discarded in other countries where it has been tried. The officers of the Department, after careful inquiry, have come to the conclusion that what is known as the common battery system - a system which we have just installed in Hobart - is prefer- able. When some of the agents for the automatic system approached1 me, I said that I was prepared to allow them to instal it in one of the towns that are springing up, and require a telephone service, and that, if it proved successful, we should be prepared to deal with them. In view of the information I have obtained, however, I do not think that we should be justified in expending, a large sum of money in, installing the system in Sydney or Melbourne, more especially as, if unsuccessful, it would lead to the’ public being subjected to much inconvenience.
– How is it that it is a success in Grand Rapids ?
– Although it has proved successful there, in Germany and other countries where it has been tried it is gradually being discarded. In build- ing new exchanges, those countries are showing a preference for the common battery system. We have not yet established the common battery system in Melbourne or Sydney, but we are preparing to instal it in sections, and I believe that it will be found a great improvement on the present arrangement.
.- The Postmaster-General must be quite conscious of the fact that the Opposition have treated him very fairly in regard to the administration of his very important Department - a Department that must have caused him great anxiety. I wish to point out that the Postmaster-General in another Administration, of which I have still some recollection - I refer to the honorable member for Macquarie - set an excellent example to my honorable friend opposite - privately he is my friend, although politically he used a dagger on me - by furnishing, during, the debate on the Budget, a summary of the operations of the Department, which, in the matter of its completeness and the record of good work in a great Department, has not been excelled by. the information afforded by any Postmaster-General. The honorable member proved himself one of the most capable Postmasters-General that we have ever had. I repeat that he .gave the Committee a very long and lucid account of the operations of the Department, and I would remind the Committee that?, on this occasion, no such statement has been presented. I thought that in submitting these Estimates the Postmaster-General would have availed himself of the opportunity to give the Committee and the country some information - I do not ask for a long statement - in reference to the various projects connected with his Department.
– But we are dealing only with the Estimates relating to new works.
– I may not have another opportunity to refer to these matters ; I may be in another place when the. general Estimates are under consideration. Mr. Lonsdale. - Where is the honorable member for Gwydir?
– I find that the cry about members attending to their public duties in Melbourne is a most beautiful fiction. One can see scarcely an honorable member in the Chamber. The House has certainly not been crowded since I have been here, and I hope that when I am away honorable members will be more re- gular in their attendance in the Chamber. To- travel hundreds of miles in order to take part in the proceedings of the House and then not to attend here, is certainly, most ludicrous. As I happen to be present - it is, perhaps, a mere accident that I am - I desire the Postmaster-General, since he was not pressed for a statement during the Budget debate, to answer one or two questions with reference to the administration of his Department. In the first place, let me say that I am in favour of any expenditure under these, or any additional Estimates, to extend the conveniences of the Department throughout the length and breadth of Australia. I am prepared to vote any sum within reason to extend the benefits of the telegraph and telephonic system to the furthest corners of settlement in Australia. But I have no sympathy with the idea that the people in the pioneering districts demand penny postage. I do not suppose that they get a letter once in three months.
– I would remind the right honorable member that there is already on the business-paper a . measure relating to penny postage, and that he will be able to dea.l with that question when that Bill is under consideration.
– I wish to act in perfect obedience to your direction, Mr. Chairman, but I would ask you to consider whether your ruling would not prevent a fair discussion of matters of this kind in Committee of Supply. I think that by long usage the rights of the Committee of Supply are not interfered with in the way suggested. In the first place, we aire not in the House, but in Committee, and, in the next place, the Bill in question may not be proceeded with. It would be possible, by placing on the business-paper a certain Bill, to deprive honorable members of their only opportunity - in Committee of Supply - to discuss matters of this kind. I suggest that the Committee knows nothing about matters which may lie before the House, and that every honorable member has the fullest right to discuss any matter relevant to the vote under consideration. As this is a very important point, I shall not press for a ruling now, because it would be a pity to have it decided without full consideration, and as an old parliamentarian I advise you, sir, .not to give an opinion from the Chair until you are absolutely compelled to do so. I wish to know from the Postmaster-General whether he has yet abandoned his extraordinary project of charging for the telephone service by the number of calls answered?
– I have certainly not abandoned it.
– Does the Department propose to keep count of all the calls made in great cities like Sydney and Melbourne?
– The right honorable member is the first to object to it.
– I am surprised that that is so; but it is time that some one objected to it.
– The principle has not been objected to, but we have been asked to give a larger number of free calls.
– Many persons object to the principle, but ask, if it is to bo adopted, that the number of free calls allowed may be increased.
– My impression is that the system has been strongly objected to, and that it has been said, “ If you insist upon it, at least make your terms more reasonable, by increasing, the number of calls allowed for a subscription.” Speaking as one who is not an expert, it occurs to me that the labour of recording the calls will be enormous.
– The record will be kept automatically.
– No doubt the recorders will be something like the gas meters, which charge for twice as much gas as is used.
– Would the right honorable member think it reasonable for a gas company to charge a fixed subscription to each customer?
– That is scarcely a fair illustration. I am disappointed that the project has not been abandoned. My impression is that the telephones already yield a good return upon their cost.
– The Department does pot seem to know whether that is so or not.
– A Department which does not know that will not be able to keep an accurate record of the calls of its thousands of subscribers at all hours of the day and night. With regard to the proposed expenditure in extending the metallic circuits, the honorable member for Parramatta, who was Postmaster-General in an Administration, of which I had the honour to be the head, convinced us that this work was absolutely necessary, and we spent thousands of pounds in carrying it out, and in providing tunnels to enable wires to be placed underground.
– We only made a beginning. A sum of £150,000 is required to give metallic circuits throughout the Commonwealth.
– I should like to know what is now being done in this matter.
– The work is being carried on as rapidly as possible.
– But only half as much is provided for this year as was spent last year.
– Certain charges made against the vote last year will not be made against it this year.
– What is the “purchase” system referred to?
– An old system under which subscribers purchased their instruments.
– Is the proposed telephone between Sydney and Melbourne likely to prove remunerative?
– It is estimated that there will be a return of 6 per cent, on the outlay.
– It will be a great public convenience. Has the probable effect upon the telegraph revenue been considered?
– Yes, and due allowance made.
– Then I should like to know why, although’ £30,000 was voted for the work last year, not a penny was spent upon it, notwithstanding that it was referred to as a national undertaking of great urgency. It is a national calamity that the Postmaster-General was permitted to visit the City of the Seven Hills, because, meeting there distinguished representatives of countries absolutely dissimilar from this, he was carried away by the glamour of his surroundings in an assembly which he adorned, and entered into a project which will inflict a cruel injustice on at least the people of the smaller States. At the same time, he has left undone a great national work, which would return a fair rate of interest on the expenditure, and also provide a sinking fund. Parliament votes money with the intention that the works for which it is asked shall be put in hand.
– I have already explained that tenders were invited last year for the copper wire necessary for the telephone line between Syd- ney and Melbourne, and, as it was found that the cost would greatly exceed the amount voted, no tender,, was accepted, but new tenders were asked for, in anticipation of a second parliamentary vote, and an extra £7,000 has been placed on the Estimates for the undertaking. I do not know why the right honorable member suggested a sinking fund, seeing that the work is to be paid for out of revenue. With regard to the toll system, I shall be very pleased to let the right honorable gentleman see a list of the objections made to it by Chambers of Commerce and other parties. If he reads it, he will see that the principle was not objected to, although it was said that a sufficient number of free calls would not be given. The right honorable gentleman made a very unhappy comparison when he referred to the gas meters. Under the present, flat rate system there are subscribers in Sydney and Melbourne who cost the Department more for operators, without taking into consideration the interest and wear and tear on their instruments and connexions, than they actually pay.
– Then why does not the Department put the toll system into force ?
– I ask honorable members to give me time.. I believe that the original project can be liberalized, and I hope to be able to give a greater number of free calls. If I were permitted to do so, I could very easily reply to the statements of the right honorable gentleman with reference to the penny postage system.
– I cannot allow the Minister to discuss that question. He may make a general statement, but must not go into details.
– The right honorable gentleman was allowed to go into details, and if I am not to be permitted to follow his example, I shall have to postpone my reply until I move the second reading of the Postage Rates Bill, which I hope to be able to do, when we have disposed of some of the business at present before us. The right honorable ‘gentleman made one observation, which, although it was apparently uttered in the most jovial spirit, cannot be permitted to pass without my flat contradiction. The right honorable gentleman referred to me as his friend, but not his political friend, because I had used a dagger upon him. A remark of that kind, although it may be made in a jovial spirit, looks very bad in cold type.
– Did not the Minister sharpen up his dagger in the Botanical Gardens at Brisbane?
– The right honorable member has made a number of statements to which a flat denial could be given.
– I am afraid that I cannot permit this discussion to continue.’ I regarded the statement of the right honorable member for East Sydney as in the nature of a joke. If, however, the PostmasterGeneral feels aggrieved, I cannot in fairness fo him, deny him an opportunity to make an explanation.
– I have no desire to enter into details. I merely wish to show that if the right honorable gentleman took fright and committed political suicide, it was no part of my duty to go up with him in the explosion. For political purposes, he frequently makes statements such as he has uttered to-night with regard to me, and I would point out that he would be acting much more fairly if he made a clear and plain announcement .with regard to my conduct, or that of any other honorable member of whom he thinks he has cause to complain. If he has anything to say with regard to me, I shall be quite prepared to make a clear reply. What right has he to say that I used a dagger upon him ?
– I felt the dagger ; that is all I can say.
– The right honorable gentleman makes statements of that kind because he knows very well that when they are put into cold type they can be used with some effect for electioneering purposes. I am not the only member whom he has accused of using; a dagger upon him.
– I made the Minister stab me openly upon the front of the stage, instead of behind the scenes, that is all.
– I should feel disposed to say much more upon this matter, but I know that it would not help me in passing the Estimates. I shall have to avail myself of another opportunity to refer to it. The right honorable gentleman has uttered many statements which I have not considered worthy of replies, because they have been made in a jovial way. In connexion with his last charge, however, I publicly invite him to lay bare any trans actions that I have had with him, or any conduct of which he thinks he has a right to complain. If he thinks that I have driven a dagger into him, let him give his version of the circumstances, and I shall meet his charges in the most open and frank manner.
– I must reply to the Minister’s statement. I cannot permit that to go into cold type without some comment.
– So far as the right honorable gentleman is concerned, “ the least said the soonest mended.” I have no desire to rake up any unpleasantness, but I decline to allow the right honorable member to make such charges as he has done without offering some reply. He ought not to say one thing in this House and another outside of it. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman desires me to make any further explanation?
– The Minister will not give me any satisfaction.
– I regret that the right honorable gentleman should have made such a charge against me. I have no desire to quarrel with him, but if he is anxious to give battle, I shall be quite ready for him.
.- I cannot allow the statement of the Minister to pass without a brief reply. When I used the term “dagger,” I meant that I had every reason to believe that, by an elaborate course of manipulation, and by conferences with my direct political opponents, preparations were made for the political downfall of the Government of which I was the head. The whole transaction was of a secret nature, and did not arise out of any great question of public policy. It was of the character I have already described more than once. I admit that the Minister has never been a supporter of mine, although I have always acknowledged the ability and devotion, displayed by him in putting the Labour Party out of office. I have never refused to recognise in the most generous way his unwearied efforts to shift tWat partY from office. I take no exception to that, but what I do complain of is that the same unwearied efforts were devoted to the task of shifting me from office. The Minister carried out his work, not by making soul-stirring appeals in this House, but by indulging in a series of beautiful manipulations, which were very effective, and in connexion with which there was very little noise. But the Postmaster-General is a political baby compared with the Treasurer, in the art of inflicting destruction upon Governments of which he is not a member. If we had had those two Ministers in our Government, we should have been there to-day, and for ten years to come. The only mistake I made was that I did not take them in with me. When I next form a Ministry I shall try hard to include them - that is, if I can do so with due regard for political decency. But I am not one who remembers these things. After all, one is not injured personally by being relieved from the strain of office. The only two men that I know of in public life who never seem tired of office are my two honorable friends. The Postmaster- General is only a political baby compared to the monarch of the West. There is an earthquake at once if the latter is not in office. If I could only make sure that the use of the dagger would end their political existence as well as mine, there would be no need for adopting any special precautions to keep the weapon in its sheath.
– I gave the right honorable gentleman a good twelve months’ support.
– That was because the right honorable gentleman did not see his way to eject me from office. He was like, the shark that saw a piece of pork out of the water. He did not bite at .it until he got it within his reach, and then he went for it. The right honorable gentleman relishes a diet that is not half so appetising as pork. Even dust is to him an agreeable and stimulating food, if what he has said is to be believed. This affectation of innocence on the part of the Postmaster-General is altogether too much. One would imagine, from his assumed virtuous indignation, that he was not in the political transaction to which I have referred from the earliest stage. He went off to Western Australia to make special arrangements with the Treasurer, and I believe that some portfolios were offered, even before the Governor-General’s speech was delivered.
– Oh, no.
– I believe so. However, I will leave that matter for the present. I ask mv old friend the PostmasterGeneral, who has been my political enemy for so man v years, whatever else he may try to do. not to endeavour to look innocent.
– The only item under which the discussion to which we have recently listened could properly come is that of the construction of conduits, and the placing of wires underground. I do not intend to follow the Postmaster-General, and the right honorable member for East Sydney into the by-ways they have trod. I think the Postmaster-General was slightly mistaken when he said that the Chambers of Commerce were not opposed to the adop-tion of the toll system of telephone charges. I know that they made representations, and passed resolutions against the adoption of that system. The Postmaster-General probably alludes to the fact that they contended that, if the toll system were adopted, the proposed number of calls allowed for a fixed charge would not be anything like sufficient. They urged that the telephones would not be really useful to even comparatively small users unless an alteration was made in that direction. They pointed out that if the proposed scale of charges were adopted a number of persons would have to give up their instruments because thev could not afford to pay the heavytariff. I hope that before any proposal for the ‘adoption of the toll system is brought before us. the Postmaster-General will be able to indicate the extent to which the present telephone service is paying. We should have a balance-sheet presented to us before we are asked to make any change in our present system of charges. The Minister desires to adopt the system that has been followed by private companies, which, ns he has stated, are making excessive profits, owing to their high charges. If the State cannot adopt a more advanced system there will be no advantage in its retaining control of the telephone services. When’ a. proper balance-sheet is presented to us, we may see the necessity of introducing a change, in order that undue advantage mav not be obtained by the largest users of the telephones. Moreover, it mav be possible to suggest some scheme which would be preferable to the verv troublesome toll system. The PostmasterGeneral has seen the toll system in operation in other countries, and he must recognise that a great many troubles arise in connexion with it.
– All the experts in the world are in favour of it.
– That is because they almost invariably represent private companies, who make very heavy charges, and derive large profits from their services. There is one advantage in the present system, which applies to both large and small users, but which cannot attach to the toll system. The question is not continually arising as to who is responsible for the imperfections of the telephone service. Cases are constantly occurring in which calls have to be repeated, not owing to any fault on the part of the user of the telephone, but because of the defects of the system. Then the loss on one line may be made good by the other business that line brings. The very fact that a grocer’s shop or a draper’s establishment is connected with the exchange induces scores and hundreds of persons to have a telephone, who do not use it extensively, and would not otherwise have it. I say that the necessity for instituting a thorough inquiry into this question has been shown. That inquiry should set out not only the effects which may flow from the adoption of the toll system, but also the loss or profit which results from the present system.
– It will be optional with subscribers whether they use the toll system.
– The PostmasterGeneral has not yet proposed anything in connexion with that system. I say that the question is not to be disposed of by the bald assertion that most of the experts of the world approve of the toll system, and that most of the telephone companies adopt it.
– I was referring to Government telephones throughout the world.
– In what countries ?
– I say that all those countries which have tried the flat rate system have introduced the toll system. Take the case of London ‘as an example.
– I do not know that the flat rate system was ever in operation in London, and I am not aware that Norway and Sweden, which confer upon their people greater telephonic conveniences than does any other country in the world, have adopted the toll system The introduction of that system will not be an easy matter.
– A protest is sure to be made against any .proposal which affects the big users of the telephone.
– I am . speaking of the small users, and the PostmasterGeneral had no right to make that interjection. It may happen that some subscribers do not pay to the Department a remunerative price for the use of the instrument ; but the Postmaster-General must know that in a private house, where the telephone is only rarely used, a certain number of calls are made to which no response is received.
– We propose to make those calls effective under the toll system.
– Then, why not make them effective now? In my opinion, they will never be effective until the metallic circuit has been universally adopted. If subscribers are to be charged for calls which are not replied to, the life of any Postmaster-General will not be a happy one. I quite agree that if the large users of the telephone are getting a greater service than is commensurate with their subscriptions, they ought to be compelled to contribute an extra rate. But I am not satisfied that the toll system - fair as it may be in many respects - is the best that’ can be adopted. I should like to know from the PostmasterGeneral whether any provision has been made upon these Estimates for the introduction of the Marconi system of wireless telegraphy ?
– The sum of £10,000 is provided for that purpose upon page 259 of the Estimates.
– I think the Minister should make some statement as to the intentions of the Government in that connexion.
– It is only fair to the PostmasterGeneral that I should cite an instance in which the condenser system has failed. In the town of Wellington, in New South Wales, I may inform him it is a complete failure. I may also add that in country towns, situated a great distance from Sydney, where the condenser system is in operation, the Morse system of telegraphy has been injuriously affected. In view of my statement, I think that the PostmasterGeneral should call for a report from the officers of the Department upon this matter.
– I will.
– The honorable member for North Sydney has referred to the question of the proposed introduction of the toll system. Personally, I am of opinion that the large merchants who use the telephone should pay more for the ser vice which they receive, and1 that small users should pay less.
– Is the honorable member a small user?
– Yes. I pay £9 a vear for my service. What I complain of is that, whilst many private individuals pay as much as I do, numerous business establishments do not pay any more, although they use the telephone all day long. If the Postmaster-General can make out a strong case in favour of the toll system I think that he should be supported. At any rate, the existing telephonic system is not satisfactory. There is a good deal of force in the statement of the honorable member for Parramatta that the proposed vote could be better spent in making our telephone system more effective. If that were done, a large sum might be saved in the expense of working it. I can only speak of my own personal experience in connexion with this matter. I may tell honorable members that I frequently waste an hour at the telephone, and go away unsatisfied. If I lived closer to the General Post Office I would not be bothered with the instrument at all. For years I endeavoured to do without it, because I knew what a nuisance it was. I hold that it is the duty of the PostmasterGeneral to endeavour to provide us with a more satisfactory system.
.- Now that the Treasurer is present, I desire to refer to a statement which was made by the Postmaster-General a few minutes ago. I understood him to say that he was anxious to give effect to some of the improvements which have been suggested by honorable members, but that the Treasurer was the “lion in the path.” We all know that the right honorable member for Swan has very large ideas regarding expenditure when it affects Western Australia, but when it becomes a question of incurring expenditure in New South Wales there is a sudden tightening of the Commonwealth purse strings.
– That is the case if we are to accept the statement of the PostmasterGeneral.
– What did he say ?
– He said that he would be very happy to carry out some of the improvements suggested if he could only induce the Treasurer to loosen the purse strings. I wish the right honorable gentleman would display tq New South Wales a little of the liberality which characterizes his actions in regard to expenditure in Western Australia.
– Does Western Australia enjoy any advantage in connexion with these Estimates ?
– In proportion to her population she has a very decided advantage. So far, we have not dealt with the proposed items of expenditure in Western Australia, and it is questionable whether we ought not to oppose some of those items unless the Treasurer consents to treat the other States a little more liberally.
– I shall be delighted.
– The Treasurer assures us that he will be delighted, so now, apparently, there is no difficulty with him. The Postmaster-General and the Treasurer should confer and decide whether a little more liberality cannot be displayed by them in making provision for these necessary conveniences for the people residing in the outlying parts of New South Wales. I also hope that the Postmaster-General will be prepared to so extend the metropolitan radius as to include within it populous districts which are at present a short distance beyond it.
.- I desire to bring under the attention of the Postmaster-General some representations that have already been made to him by the City Council, the Stock Exchange, and the Chamber of Commerce of Bendigo, respecting the inadequate and defective telephonic service existing between that city and Melbourne, and also between Bendigo, Eaglehawk and suburbs. For upwards of twelve months, these complaints have been pressed upon him by myself, as well as by the representative bodies I have mentioned. The honorable gentleman has received them sympathetically ; he has expressed his desire to attend to and, if possible, remove them, but although many reports on the subject have been received, these grievances have not been removed. The Stock Exchange, as well as the numerous, traders carrying on business in Bendigo, which is a great centre of commerce, have been greatly inconvenienced by the fact that there is only one trunk line to Melbourne. During business hours, when communications are running at high pressure, there is a complete block of business. At the very time of day when the Department should be able to earn a considerable income by transmitting telephonic communications, and giving the people the accommodation they require, a block occurs, with the result that those who wish to communicate with Melbourne often leave the office without patronizing the service. It is all very well to say that these communications should be spread over the whole day. That is impossible.’ If the Department desires to extend and popularize the service, it must provide adequate means of communication. When the people find that the means provided are defective, they do not patronize the Department, and revenue is consequently lost. There are already two main trunk lines between Melbourne and Ballarat, ana I believe that there are three between Melbourne and Geelong, whereas there is only one between Melbourne and Bendigo. Bendigo is quite as important a centre of population as is either Ballarat or Geelong. Owing to this lack of accommodation and want of speedy communication, the number of subscribers to the Bendigo Telephone Exchange has been declining. The subscribers to the Ballarat Exchange now number 433, that at Geelong has 387 subscribers, whilst that at Bendigo has but 244. Formerly it had a larger number of subscribers than had the Ballarat Exchange, but owing to the defectiveness of the service, the number has been reduced. There are other districts where the Department, instead of popularizing the telephone system, has provided an inadequate service, with the result that it must lose subscribers and revenue. The refusal to duplicate the trunk line between Bendigo and Melbourne is a penny wise and a pound foolish policy. I would urge the Minister to grapple with this question. It has gone beyond the reporting stage; there is nothing more reportable. If the honorable member wishes to increase the business of the Bendigo Exchange, he must duplicate the trunk fine, and must also improve the installation of the local telephone lines. He must make the communication swifter and more complete than it is at present. I am also told that defective instruments are in use. Recently Mr. John Hesketh, the Commonwealth electrical engineer, was sent by the Minister to Bendigo to inquire into the condition of the lines and instruments in use there. He reported that the great bulk of the instruments were obsolete, that Berthon-Ader telephones were in use, whereas the best instruments were those known as the Ericsson telephones. The bulk of the subscribers complain that the Berthon-Ader instruments are out of date, and cannot do the work that is expected of them. The time has arrived when many of these instruments ought to be thrown, on the scrapheap. It would pay the Department to treat them in that way rather than to have an obsolete plant, earning only a small revenue. If the honorable gentleman wishes this service to earn the revenue that might well be expected of it, he must see that there is a proper supply of up-to-date instruments, and that the whole service is modernized. I fail to see why Bendigo and other inland towns should not be supplied with as good am installation and with as up-to-date instruments as are supplied in Melbourne or Sydney. The inland towns are just as much entitled to art uptodate service as are those cities ; but I believe that there is a tendency to send the best instruments to the metropolitan centres, leaving, the country districts with an unsatisfactory service. For years the complaint of Bendigo and other inland towns has been that! the service is inadequate, and unless their requirements are fully considered the Department will lose revenue. I once more publicly urge the Minister to deal with this question. He ought to take the matter into his own- hands ; it is useless to refer it to officers for further report He should place on the Estimates a sum sufficient) to provide for proper instruments, for increased trunk lines, and & general improvement of the service. I thoroughly agree with the views expressed this evening) by representatives of New South Wales with regard to similar complaints on the part of residents of that State. The time has arrived when this service ought to be placed on a proper basis. It is useless to tinker any longer with it. It must be dealt with boldly, comprehensively, and in a scientific manner. I agree with the contention that it would be well, as far as possible, to establish the metallic circuit system. I hope that the representations of honorable members from New South Wales, as well as the complaints that have been made by my own constituents, will receive attention. My desire is that the Minister will not saythat “ this matter will be inquired into,” but that “ this matter will be attended to and the grievances rectified.”
– I think that the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has some ground for complaint. I have given this matter special attention, and I hope to be able to’ remedy some of the grievances to which he has referred. It is extremely difficult to at once meet all these complaints, and especially to replace the Berthon-Ader instruments to which reference has been made. The honorable and learned member is mistaken if he thinks that their use is confined to Bendigo; they are scattered all over the Commonwealth. But it is extremely difficult, not only because of financial considerations, but because the Ericsson instruments may not be available whew we require them, to carry out the demand that the instruments now in use shall be at once discarded. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo knows that I have endeavoured to give special attention to the complaints of his constituents, and that I hope to be able to remedy, in the very near future, some of the grievances which he has voiced. I shall be glad to inform him of the steps that have been taken, and to receive any further suggestions he may desire to make. He has pressed me on several occasions to deal with this matter, and I shall be glad, as far as possible, to remedy any grievances relating not only to the telephone system in force at Bendigo, but to those in operation elsewhere.
– I hope that after these Estimates have been passed a considerable sum will be available for the extension ‘of the condenser system in country districts. Some time ago, I asked the Department to connect Westwood. Whycarbah, and Stanwell, well settled farming districts in my electorate, with Rockhampton ; but, so far I have not vet heard that anything is to be done in the matter. I believe that the Progress Association, of Whycarbah has written to the Minister, making a request similar to that which I have already pressed upon him. No doubt the honorable gentleman is always pleasant and affable to meet, and declares himself sympathetic ; but what I want is practical relief. It seems to me that he depends too much upon the reports of his officials, who live for the most part in the cities, and. not knowing the conditions of country life, are unsympathetic in regard to requests for improved facilities of communication. I hope that the honorable gentleman will urge upon his officials the desirability of treating applications more generously than they have done in the past. It would not cost a great deal to connect the railway stations in the district to which I have referred with Rockhampton by means of the condenser system, whereas the connexion would be of great advantage to the farmers who do business with that town. It is more necessary to them to have telephone communication than to obtain a reduction of the postage rate to a penny. The Progress Association has asked me what I have done in this matter.
– The honorable gentleman has done a great deal in, the way of worrying me to grant what the association wants.
– Yes ; but I have not yet been able to get the honorable gentleman to do anything. I trust that he will now see that something is done.
– I shall be very pleased to look into the case which the honorable member has brought under my’ notice. He has been most persistent in his applications to me for telephone connexion:, coming to see me as often as possible. I have made a note of the places to which he has referred, and hope to be able to give him satisfaction.
.- Last year I represented to the Postmaster-General in this Chamber the desirableness of improving the post and telegraph offices at Mount Barker. I then explained that the offices were erected forty years ago, and, while, no doubt, quite adequate for the requirements of that period, have become out of date. I suggested immediate action, and I thought that the wishes of the residents were to be satisfied. So, indeed, did they, because an officer visited Mount Barker, inspected the premises, and promised certain alterations, including the provision of private letterboxes by February last. However, nothing has been done. The case is put very fairly in the following paragraph, which I have taken from a leading article in the Mount Barker Courier: -
Recently post-offices in places of no greater importance than Mount Barker have been remodelled and brought up-to-date; but in no case could the need for improvements have been more urgent than here, where all that is necessary to meet the wishes of the residents and the just demands of the case could be done by the expenditure of very little money. What is wanted is a more adequate and convenient means of delivering the mails, private letter boxes of the orthodox kind, and a local telephone exchange on the toll system. The claims of the case should be patent to the authorities, who have gone so far as to make inspections and give certain promises, and when the matter of reform is commenced it is to be hoped it will be in no piecemeal fashion, but with a determination to bring the post-office thoroughly uptodate. The department will be conserving its own interests by immediate action.
I trust that the Minister will give the matter his immediate consideration, and, as far as possible, meet the wishes of the residents.
– I shall be very pleased to give attention to the matter.
.- I was sorry to hear some remarks a short time ago from an honorable member who seemed to begrudge the liberality of the Treasurer towards Western Australia. In my opinion, that State has not been treated properly, and, if anything, the present Treasurer has been slightly less generous to it than any of his predecessors. No doubt its distance has often led to the neglect of its just demands ; but, as one who represents an electoral division nearer the centre of government, I shall always be prepared to deal most liberally with its claims.
.- I believe that it is a departmental regulation that telephone extensions are not to be constructed unless there is a reasonable expectation of the return of a considerable percentage on the necessary outlay, and, while I do not advocate the construction of extensions without due consideration, I think that the conditions which have been imposed in many cases have not been satisfactory. Except under very extraordinary and special circumstances, I am altogether opposed to the policy of asking a State to guarantee any part of a Commonwealth undertaking. Though in the Black Range case such a guarantee was asked for, I hope that that policy will not be continued to any extent by the Postmaster-General or his successors.
– I have, on previous occasions, complained of the hard-and-fast rules of the Department. In my district a telephone connexion was asked for, which was estimated by an official to cost £142. The district in question happened to be immediately beyond the radius within which the charge was £3 per annum. The residents in the district referred to - Port Cygnet - offered to guarantee fourteen subscriptions of £3 per annum, or a total of £42 ; and yet the regulations of the Department were such as to preclude the construction of the ‘line. I contend that regulations which prevent the carrying out of works which would return from 33 to 40 per cent, per annum profit represented by cash in advance, and at the same time confer some benefit upon the community, are absolutely absurd. The Minister has met me most kindly in this matter, but he has apparently been powerless. Ever since the Federation was established, the regulations have been of a cast-iron character, and have prevented applications being dealt with upon their merits. It should be one of the chief objects of the administration to afford facilities to settlers in the back blocks, by, as far as possible, extending to them the benefits of telephonic communication. I believe that the Post and Telegraph Department requires to be thoroughly overhauled. I do not speak so much of the Ministerial as of the official head of the Department. We have established a system of routine and centralization which necessitates the transaction of all business of importance in the central office in Melbourne. It is absurd that matters affecting localities in Northern Queensland or in the remoter parts of Western Australia should have to be referred to the head office before anything can be done. We must decentralize our administration before we can achieve satisfactory results. I believe that the Deputy Postmasters-General are thoroughly competent men - if they are not they should be- .and we shall never effect an improvement until we give them a certain amount of discretion, and enable them to carry out works which will not involve the Department in any loss. It is time that we dispensed with hard-and-fast regulations, and conducted our business upon common-sense lines. The Postmaster-General has always treated me most courteously, and I know that the fault does not lie with him so much as with the system, under which it is impossible to deal with individual cases on their merits.
.- I trust that the money which it’ is now proposed to vote will be spent during the current financial year. I notice that, although we voted £8,000 last year for Tasmania in this connexion, only £2,000 was spent.
– The greater part of the vote would have been spent if the tenders could have been closed in time.
– I can bear out the remarks of the honorable member for Franklin as to the obstacles which are placed in the way of telephonic extensions. Some time ago the departmental officer estimated that the cost of constructing a certain telephone line would be £250, but it was afterwards ascertained that the work could” be carried out for £100. If all the departmental estimates are prepared in the same way, it is not to be wondered at that difficulties should be presented. In one case a gentleman who resided about a mile out of a certain town, applied to have the telephone line extended to his house, and was informed that the annual cost would amount to £15 per annum. These are the sort of difficulties which prevent our people from enjoying the full benefits which would otherwise be conferred by our telephone system. I do not know whether it is the fault of the central authority in Victoria or in Tasmania, but I do know that if a business man controlled the Department he would, send an experienced officer round to advise intending subscribers upon the spot, and the result would unquestionably be a material increase in the amount of revenue derived. I trust that some such officer will be appointed to visit each State in the Commonwealth.
.- I merely desire to emphasize the fact that the honorable member for Franklin has placed his finger upon a very weak spot in our postal administration - I refer to the evil of centralization. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral has more work cast upon him than has any of his colleagues. A good deal of that work is due to the system of centralization which has been adopted, and which is opposed to the efficient management of the service. Seeing that we have appointed in the different States high-salaried officers in the persons of the Deputy PostmastersGeneral, it seems ridiculous that thev should be required to refer the decision of the most trivial matters to the central office in Melbourne. If these officers cannot be invested with a certain amount of discretionary power, they ought not to be retained in the service. In my humble judgment, whilst this system of centralization is permitted to continue, the true interests of the
Department must suffer. The proposed vote in respect of wireless telegraphy is one upon which honorable members should be afforded some information. I have in my mind a speech which was delivered by the Postmaster-General at the installation of the Marconi system at Queenscliff - a speech in which he pointed out the great advantages which it would confer upon the sea-travelling public. I maintain that, if the sum of £10,000 is intended to provide for the erection of suitable wireless telegraphic stations around the cost of Australia, it is altogether inadequate for the purpose. If, on the other hand, it is merely designed to cover the cost of the existing stations at Queenscliff and Devonport, the amount is too large. My own knowledge qf the Marconi system leads me to say that it is a very expensive one to instal upon vessels. Certainly, the ordinary ships trading around our coast could not afford to be fitted with it. Upon the large Atlantic liners I am aware that the system is installed, but honorable members must recollect that they cater for a class of very wealthy passengers, who can afford to transmit Marconigrams whilst voyaging between Liverpool and New York. That condition, however, does not apply to the ships which trade along the coast of Australia. I would further point out that neither the captain nor the officers of most vessels could successfully employ the Marconi system. It requires a very expert telegraphist to handle the machines, and he needs to be possessed of mechanical knowledge in case they should get out of order. These objections constitute a sufficient answer to the speech of the PostmasterGeneral at Queenscliff. If he can remove those objections, I shall be glad to see the people of Australia enjoying as uptodate communication, by means of wireless telegraphy, as is enjoyed by any other portion of the world.
– I admit that the sum of £10,000 would not be sufficient to instal any complete system of wireless telegraphy along the coast of Australia. That system is an innovation in this country. But it has passed the experimental stage, ‘and is already being used with very great advantage in other parts of the world. The Government have placed this sum upon the Estimates, because - whilst we recognise that it is necessary to proceed with extreme caution - we cannot doubt the wisdom of introducing the wireless system into Australia, not only for commercial purposes, but with a view to protecting the lives of persons who “ go down to the sea in ships.”
– Does the PostmasterGeneral think that the ships which trade around the Australian coast can afford to be armed with the necessary wireless telegraphic instruments ?
– It appears to me that we may expect the greatest benefit to accrue from the installation of the Marconi system to the vessels which trade along our coast. As far as I can gather from the Estimates which have been placed before me, it will not be a very expensive proceeding to equip those ships with the necessary apparatus when once wireless telegraphy stations have been established. I trust that in the near future every passenger ship will be fitted with a wireless installation. I dare say that when the benefits of wireless telegraphy become better known, and people realize its usefulness, not only for business purposes and as a general convenience, but also in times of danger at sea, the Government will insist on passenger ships carrying the installation just as they are compelled now to carry life-saving appliances. However, the arrangements are at present only in the initial stage; and a number of suggestions have been made as to the places at which there should be installations, and as to the cost which may be incurred. I should be pleased to give honorable members further particulars on the latter point; but I have come to the conclusion that in regard to the adoption of any system there should be open competition. It is an advantage that we have complete control over our shores, and thus complete control over shipping.
– What will be done with the £10,000?
– The money will be expended where we consider it wise to do so in order to provide some of the benefits and conveniences of wireless telegraphy.
– What is the present arrangement by the Government with regard to the Tasmanian cable?
– The Government have given a guarantee to the Eastern Extension Company, and that guarantee does not expire for three years. While we should be glad to have wireless telegraphic communication with Tasmania, we must be careful not to come into competition with ourselves during the term of the guarantee. There are places, however, where there is no telegrahic communication of any kind, and suggestions have been made for resorting to wireless telegraphy in such cases. One suggestion is that there should be communication with New Guinea, and there is another suggestion that there should be a power station in New Zealand, and another on the mainland here, connected with Tasmania, King Island, and other places. We must proceed very cautiously, however, in order to ascertain, first of all, which is the best system. In the meantime, we cannot ask for definite estimates, considering that presently the rival companies may come into competition.
– What is the £10,000 for? Is it to purchase the stations at Queenscliff and in Tasmania?
– The Government have no idea of buying those stations, which were erected simply to enable the Marconi Company to demonstrate, as they did, what can be done by wireless telegraphy. Another company is prepared to offer their services ; and I have invited the representatives to instal communication between Tasmania and Sydney, so that we mav be enabled to judge as to the value of their system. There is the Marconi system and the International system ; and now we have been informed that there is what is known as the Lodge-Muirhead system, which has been very successful in India.
– What is to be done with the £10,000?
– We shall spend it, I hope.
– We hope to expend it in connecting places in Australia, though no definite decision has been arrived at.
– Why not open communication with King Island?
– The money will probably be spent in connexion with some places I have already mentioned. So far as expenditure is concerned, no preference will be given to any company or person, but open competition will be invited, and there will be every opportunity for honorable members to express an opinion as to the system to be adopted.
– Judging from the remarks of the Minister, I should say that the proposal to vote this money is premature. The £10,000 seems to be for the one and only purpose of opening up communication with King Island.
– New Guinea, too.
– That would not appear so from the information we have been given. There is already cable communication with Tasmania, and yet it is intended to establish a wireless telegraphy station so as to touch King Island. Until vessels have this installation, there is no necessity to vote this money. The large ocean steamers may find sufficient stations on the voyage to warrant their installing the plant, and when that has been done, there will be time enough for us to move in the matter. If this money is intended to give encouragement to some people or companies who are experimenting, we ought to remember that they have come out to Australia for business, and ought to take the risks. On the occasion of the recent visit to Queenscliff, I heard some rather florid speeches on the advantage of the system from the gentlemen who entertained us, but all he said only went to show that our installation would be of no use until the ships are fitted with the necessary appliances. King Island is a most insignificant place, which’ certainly does not warrant this expenditure, and I hope that the Minister, after consideration, will decide to strike out the item. The Minister himself has informed us that there are now three or four systems, and that the Government are not satisfied that the Marconi system is the best. My own opinion is that the northern part of Australia, where there are very dangerous waters, would present the best opening for wireless telegraphy. There vessels are likely to meet with disaster, and the svstem would be of importance in the case of the approach of an enemy.
.- Honorable members appear to have overlooked one fact, which has rather an important bearing upon this vote. Tasmania at the present time is connected with the mainland by cable, but we all know that cables, owing to the action of the waves, and the presence of rocks, are liable to chafe and part. Some years ago the cable between Low Head and Tasmania was cut by rocks, and some months elapsed before communication could be restored. The Marconi system at the present moment is installed between Queenscliff and Devonport. The expenditure in connexion with it is not considerable. It seems to me that it is better that it should remain as it is, even if it is not used, because no man can tell at what moment the cable may be cut. Even supposing the installation’ of the Marconi system between Tasmania and the mainland cost £1,000 or £1,500, the interest on that expenditure is comparatively small ; and I am quite sure that even the cable company would be pleased to have a system in operation which would enable communication with Tasmania to be restored immediately, in the event of the cable communication being temporarily impaired. The proposal of the Postmaster-General is, under the circumstances, extremely reasonable. Had it been to erect an expensive system at once, I do not know that, with my views on economy, I should have supported it; but, seeing that the system has been erected, it would be suicidal, for the sake of £1,000 or £’ >500j to block the policy of the PostmasterGeneral.
. Apparently the honorable member for Wilmot has not looked at the Estimates. The money involved is £10,000. The honorable member tells us that, owing to stress of weather, the cable system between Tasmania and the mainland is liable to become deranged. The Postmaster-General, however, has not told us how the money is to be spent. I like to see Australia keep up-to-date in all matters, but, in my view, if wireless telegraphy is to be installed on anything like a useful scale, the expenditure proposed is insufficient. If it is desir-able that we should have it at all, we should have the system right round our coasts. Certainly, £1.0,000 would not suffice for that. The remarks of the Postmaster - General regarding shipwrecked sailors were attractive from a sentimental point of view, but they really had no value, because all thats is at present proposed is, as I understand it, a system of wireless telegraphy between Australia and Tasmania. 6n the occasion of the installation at Queenscliff, it is remarkable that the Governor-General’s message and the PostmasterGeneral’s message got through all right; whereas the most angelic message sent by the Prime Minister never got through while we were there: It must, somehow, have got wafted up to the spirit regions.
It was so beautifully, worded that even the Marconi system broke down under it. That is a fact which the Treasurer cannot deny. His own message never got through, either.
– It was that beautiful line of poetry -
By the long wash of Australasian seas, which upset the apparatus.
– The message of the Prime Minister was even more angelic than, that of the Treasurer, and we have had no explanation as to why the Marconi machine broke down under it. It is all humbug to talk as though what is proposed is for the benefit of Australia generally. It is nothing of the kind. £10,000 will not nearly supply the coast of Australia with wireless telegraphy apparatus. What is more, wireless telegraphy can never be of much use to us unless the coasting vessels are compelled, under the Navigation Bill, to instal the system.
– Block all progress !
– It is all very well for the poetical Treasurer to be anxious about this matter. But he is not now travelling up the Mediterranean with dukes and duchesses and other frequenters of St. James’s Palace. It is not such people as those who will have to pay for wireless telegraphy in Australia. The hard working people of this country cannot afford to indulge in luxuries in quite so extravagant a fashion as can those with whom the Treasurer leads us to believe that he is in the habit of associating. I cannot see much utility in the proposed expenditure under present circumstances. Even if, as I have mentioned, the system were installed on all our coastal vessels, I am told on good authority that the officers ‘ of the ships cannot work the machines, and that highly trained telegraphists are required to manage them.
.- I am rather surprised at the opposition to this proposal, especially after the vote for the trawler this afternoon.
– Do not say that; only one member of the Opposition has opposed it.
– I am surprised, inasmuch as it is obvious that wireless tele.graphy is in the interests of the whole Commonwealth. It is particularly in the interests of those communities which at present are living under circumstances that deprive them of frequent communication with the mainland. Take the case of the people of King Island. The Commonwealth is at present spending something like £20,000 per annum on Papua, where there are something like 600 white people and a good many blacks. On King Island there is a community of 600 whites, who have very little communication with the mainland, or with Tasmania. A steamer calls once about every three weeks, when she is not prevented from doing so by stress of weather. The people on Flinders Island, and on other islands in Bass Straits, are similarly badly situated. I have known shipwrecks to occur of which no news has been received until three or four weeks after the occurrence in consequence of bad weather in the Straits. It is not fair for the Commonwealth to treat these people in the way I have indicated. If the Flinders Island group were not in my own electorate I should advocate their cause more strongly than I do. King Island is not in my electorate, and I repeat that, having regard to the consideration shown to other parts of the Commonwealth, it is not fairly treated. I have been endeavouring to secure a grant’ of a few pounds per annum to provide steam communication between these islands and Tasmania, and I certainly think that we ought to be connected with them by wireless telegraphy. Honorable members are perhaps unaware of the extent of the shipping passing through the Straits between Victoria and Tasmania, and of. the large number of wrecks which have occurred in the neighbourhood of these islands. If by means of wireless telegraphy we could establish speedy communication between the islands and the mainland many lives might be saved.
Mr.Mcwilliams (Franklin) [11.21]. - This is a very important item, concerning which the fullest information should be supplied, but I am quite prepared to accept the statement of Ministers that they do not intend to expend the whole amount at the present time. If experiments are to be conducted, by all means let them be carried out where they will be of practical use. Instead of erecting stations solely for experimental purposes, we should establish them where they will be of practical use. The honorable member for Dalley has referred rather slightingly to King Island, but in no part of the Commonwealth do people suffer greater inconvenience and receive less attention than do the residents of that important island. As the honorable member for Bass has said, there are practically as many white people on King Island as there are in Papua, where we are spending a large sum of money and getting little for it. If there is one section of the community which will be specially deserving of our consideration when these experiments are being conducted, it is that of King Island, which is now practically shut off from the rest of Australia. We have an opportunity to conduct experiments in wireless telegraphy which may be of practical use to the whole of Australia, and which will certainly confer an absolute blessing on people who are deprived of many of the advantages of civilization.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Treasury.
Division 6 (Government Printing Office), £1,500.
.- I wish to say, Mr. Chairman, that I intended to speak on the division with which we have just dealt, but that just as you were about to put the question I was inveigled into a private conversation by the Government Whip, and so lost my opportunity.
Mr.HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh) [11.25]. - The hour is rather late to enter upon the consideration of an item relating to a Department which involves a vast expenditure, respecting which much information is necessary. The proposed vote relates to machinery and plant for the Government Printing Office, and works in connexion therewith. This is a very expensive and unsatisfactory Department, and I hold that it is high time that we had a Commonwealth Government Printing Office. It is estimated that the Department will cost us about £13,000 during the current financial year. Notwithstanding the enormous sum which we pay for our printing, the bound copies of Hansard and the parliamentary papers for last session did not reach us until a few days before the opening of the present session.
– And we did not obtain until quite recently bound copies of the measures passed last session.
– That is so. Surely the Parliamentary papers can be bound and sent out more expeditiously than they are at present. I know a little about the printing trade, and have been looking at the cost of some of the items relating to this Department. If we are supplying our own machinery we are certainly paying an enormous price for our printing. I wish to know whether the machinery which we have provided is used solely for Commonwealth purposes? Jn the interests of the taxpayer, it is necessary that we should inquire into these items, and I trust that the Treasurer, to whose Department this matter relates, will be able to furnish an answer to my question.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh is aware that the Victorian Government Printer attends to the printing requirements of ; the Commonwealth. The resources of the State Printing Office are placed at our disposal, and the Commonwealth plant is used for State purposes. If it is found convenient to use the Commonwealth printing plant for State purposes, or to use the State plant for Commonwealth purposes, that course is followed. I believe, notwithstanding what has been said by some honorable members, that the arrangement is an economical one, and that it would cost us far more to conduct a separate printing office of our own.
– I do not think so, and I speak as a practical printer, who has looked into this question.
– I know that the honorahle member and some of the party he belongs to consider that it would be better for the Commonwealth to establish a great printing office of its own, but I think that we are under a great obligation to the Government of Victoria, who have placed at our disposal the services of the State printer, as well as their plant and buildings.
– Do we not contribute anything to the expenses of the State Printing Office? We ought to do so.
– We pay for the time actually devoted to Commonwealth work by State officers. Although I am anxious that every economy should be practised, still, I think that when we do establish a Commonwealth Printing Office, we shall find that our expenditure on printing will be much greater than it is under the present arrangement.
– I cannot say that the Treasurer’s reply is satisfactory to me. I have been a practical printer all my life, and have had experience in every branch of the trade. I have also had some experience in regard to the working of the Government Printing
Office in South Australia. I can assure honorable members that it is conducted upon anything but an economical scale, and that there is room for radical alteration there. I do not allege, however, that that is the case in regard to the Government Printing Office in Victoria. I know that in adding plant to that office-
– It will belong,to the Commonwealth.
– Exactly ; but, in the course of a few years, it will be quite useless.
– We use their plant, too.
– The plants in the Printing office are depreciating very rapidly. The Treasurer will find that if he makes a 20 per cent, reduction in the value every year, he is not making too large an allowance.
– Surely the honorable member does not expect the Victorian Government to supply the Commonwealth with a plant for nothing !
– No; and the Commonwealth pays for all its printing. If we did not have any plant in that office, our printing could be done for much less in an office of our own. We really do not know what our printing costs. I do not know whether we are paying a high figure or not, but I am aware that the bound volumes of parliamentary’ papers and Hansard are not produced as expeditiously as they should be. I only received my volumes of Hansard a few days before the beginning of this session, and some honorable members had not received their copies even at that time. I am quite satisfied with the manner in which Hansard is produced during the session. The expenditure is increasing so rapidly, that we ought to be careful in regard to every item. If it were not proposed to increase, the expenditure by £10,000 for one purpose, £50,000 for another, and £25,000 for, say, deporting kanakas, I should have no objection to this small item. It is high time, I think, that honorable members took more interest ira the Estimates for works and buildings, inorder to see that unnecessary expenditure is not incurred. The country is entitled to the information for which I have askedI shall have more to say on the subject when we are dealing with the Estimates ire chief.
– I suppose that the plant which it is proposed to purchase be useful for the Commonwealth.
– Yes ; it is all earmarked, and belongs to us.
– I hope that it will be some time before we establish a Federal Printing Office. Printing establishments involve an expenditure of thousands and thousands of pounds, and I think that by a judicious arrangement with the States, which have splendid printing offices, we can get our work done at a much more reasonable amount than we could in a printing office of our own. I agree with the remarks of the Treasurer.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Defence.
Division 7 (Special Defence Material), £130,000.
– I am very pleased to see the Minister representing the Minister of Defence in his place, because I wish to elicit whether tenders for saddlery have been called for in the open market, or whether a price has been fixed by the Department? There are striking peculiarities in connexion with the contracts which were let in the different States last year. According to the figures which have been published in the Gazette, we have in Australia, not only a shipping combine, but also a harness combine. All tin; tenderers for the supply of harness in the different States fixed upon the same prices to a penny. In the case of the Field Artillery equipment in New South Wales, the contractors were Messrs. J. J. Weekes Limited, whose prices were as follow : -
The contractors for the supply of harness to the Field Artillery of Victoria were Messrs. Guthridge and Company, who charged the same prices to a penny as did the New South Wales contractor. In Queensland, South Australia, and Western Australia, Messrs, Holden and Frost got the contract, and they charged the same prices to a penny, as did the other contractors.
– There must have been collusion between them.
– In Tasmania it is the same. In Western Australia, when some extra sets were required, Messrs. J. Colton and Company got the contract.
– At the same price?
– Yes. With regard to medical equipment, I find that the prices at which Messrs. J. J. Weekes Limited tendered for the New South Wales supplies were -
Messrs. Hunter and Company have the contract for Victoria, and their prices vary only in regard to the near wheel sets, in which there is a difference of 11s. 3d. Matthew Hemsworth had the contract for Queensland, and his prices were identical with those which I have given, as were also those of Messrs. Holden and Frost for South Australia.
– -What is the point? No doubt the lowest tenders were accepted.
– The surprising thing is that the prices are identical in each State. It seems to me that the Department is being taken down by some arrangement between the tenderers. Some time ago I was in correspondence with Messrs. Mountcastle and Sons, whose contract was cancelled in July.
– On what ground ?
– Because the Department thinks that each State should manufacture its own requirements. I believe in that. I do not think that goods required in Queensland should be made in South Australia, or that goods required in South Australia should be made in New South Wales. If harness or leather work is needed in New South Wales, it should be made there. Under the present system of calling for tenders in all the States there seems to be collusion as to prices, under which the Department suffers. I find that Messrs. Holden and Frost get the biggest share in the business.
– They are the best makers of harness in the Commonwealth. That was proved in the Boer war.
– There are harnessmakers in Rockhampton who hold certificates as to the excellent workmanship of the saddlery which they made for the Boer war. Those certificates prove that their work was done to the satisfaction of the Department, but not that it was better than that of any one else. The Department should see that it is not taken down bycombines.
– I am not prepared to give the honorable member any information with regard to this matter to-night, but I shall be able to furnish him with an answer tomorrow.
– I ask the Minister to promise that in future the requirements of the States shall, as far as possible, be made within their own borders. Each State should do its own work, and, moreover, each centre of population should have an opportunity to tender for local work. For instance, tenders should be called in places like Rockhampton and Townsville, instead of merely in Brisbane, because the people of the central and northern parts of Queensland do not take the Brisbane newspapers, and may therefore be ignorant of the fact that tenders are being called. I do not think that this system would result in the Department having to pay more for its articles, because in most country towns they can manufacture nearly as cheaply as in the larger centres. I have been” told that the halters and pickets used by the Defence Department are not manufactured in Australia. If that is so, I do not know the reason, because the ropes themselves can be easily made, whereas the pickets are merely pegs shod with metal. These articles could be manufactured in Australia, because they are composed mainly of rope.
– They are made by the thousand in Brunswick.
– All I know is that they are being introduced into the various States, and that no opportunity is given to the local manufacturers to show that they can produce them.
– Is the honorable member quoting from some official publication as to prices - is he satisfied that the prices are correctly quoted?
– Yes. I am quoting from the Commonwealth Gazette. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter, and see that the work is distributed over the various centres in something like an equitable manner.
.- At an earlier stage of the evening, I certainly expressed my willingness to remain here until the whole of the Estimates relating to new works and buildings were disposed of. Of course, I cannot go back upon that arrangement, but I must say that I did not calculate upon our having, at this hour of the night, to consider a division involving a proposed vote of £130,000 for military supplies. However, if the Government think it necessary, I am prepared to go on. I regret that very few honorable members seem to take an interest in proposal’s involving such a very large expenditure; although I must admit that we have a larger attendance now than at almost any previous stage of the sitting - we have nearly a quorum. I think that the honorable member for Capricornia has rendered a distinct service in calling attention to the matters to which he has alluded. I understand that the figures quoted by him are taken from the Commonwealth Government Gazette, and I cannot understand why the Treasurer fails to realize the seriousness of the case to which attention has been directed.
– I said that the prices quoted were those of the lowest tenderer.
– Yes; but when tenders are called in six different States, and the tender accepted in each case is for exactly the same amount, much sagacity is not required to arrive at an understanding of the situation. The honorable member for Capricornia has mentioned the names of several firms. If, after all, they are one and the same firm, it is as well that the Government should know it. When tenders of the same amount are received from a number of different firms, the Department mav consider that the price fixed is a reasonable one, but if the same firm tenders under a number of different names, a deception is practised on the Department.
– They are distinct firms, but they are working in unison.
– That is an operation into which we can all agree to look very carefully. If one firm is enjoying a monopoly in connexion with the supply of certain articles, we shall all feel indebted to the honorable member for Capricornia for having directed attention to the matter.
– We shall look into it all right.
– I quite agree with the honorable member for Capricornia that, given anything like equal prices, local tenderers should have preference.
– The preference is always given to local tenderers if the prices are the same.
– I should think it would be so1. But I understand, from what the honorable member for Capricornia has said, that that rule was not observed in the case to which he has referred.
– Tenders were sent in by a number of different firms, but in some cases they worked in unison.
– Passing from that matter, I desire to point out that a marvellous want of calculation is displayed in connexion with the item “Accoutrements, saddle-trees, stirrups, and bits.” We expect the Estimates to be framed with some regard to the necessities of the case. I find that last year we voted £42,750, but that the actual expenditure amounted to only ‘£41859- I notice further that we voted ,£22,500 for “ making saddles.” Therefore, we appropriated a sum of £65,000 for these two items of a similar character. No doubt it was assumed by honorable members that the public service required the expenditure of something like th’at amount upon these supplies, but we find-
– The right honorable member must remember that these were really his Estimates.
– That only shows that the Government starved the votes in order that they might spend the money in other directions.
– If the right honorable gentleman will look at the Estimates, he will find that, instead of spending the money upon accoutrements we bought rifles. We could buy saddles at any time, but we could not procure rifles with the same readiness.
– Does the Minister mean to say that, if we vote £42,000 for saddletrees, stirrups, and bits, the ‘Government can spend the money upon rifles?
– We informed the House, and obtained their approval.
– We are being introduced into a really marvellous field of amusement. The Government solemnly ask honorable members to vote a certain sum for stirrups and bits, and afterwards tell them that they are going to spend the money upon rifles. Honorable members, after having seen the items in the Estimates for two years, are told that the money is to be spent, not upon bits, but upon rifles. All that I can &a.y is that we are learning a lot in connexion with the way in which the public funds are disbursed. Surely, in view of the fact that the Government intended to use the money for an entirely different purpose, they might have amended the Appropriation Act.
– We used money out of the Treasurer’s Advance Account for the purchase of rifles, and saved al similar amount upon the vote for accoutrements.
– Apparently we never know under which thimble the pea is to be found. The Minister’s explanation makes the matter still more amusing. I hope that in the future the Estimates will be more reliable, and will convey more information to the public, because, if the practice pursued in the past is persisted in, we shall never have a proper system of accounts. I know that the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who takes a personal interest in the Defence Department - although he never visits it - will see that these matters are attended to. I suppose that we may take it that we have his personal assurance upon that matter.
– Certainly. The right honorable member has my assurance.
– In view of that assurance, I will defer some other remarks which I had intended to make.
– As it is the intention of ‘the Government to put through the works and buildings E stirmates to-night, I merely wish to say that wherever the expenditure of a large sum is involved, it should be very closely scrutinized, especially in view of the great change of opinion which: is coming over the minds of many in regard to our defences. We are all anxious to place the Commonwealth upon a proper footing, so far as its defence is concerned, but the question which arises is whether it would not be wise to expend upon our naval forces some of the large sums of money which are now being expended upon our land forces. Upon these Estimates a large amount is set down for the purchase of Lee-Enfield rifles. Most honorable members must have noticed in the press the other day the statement that the rifles which the Commonwealth has been purchasing are not satisfactory. Personally I have no desire to sanction the expenditure of a large sum for the purchase of defective rifles. We know very well that such weapons have been sent out to Australia in very large quantities. When the opportunity presents itself of discussing the Estimates of the Defence Department, I shall have something more to say upon this question.
.- I notice that the sum of £21,000 is provided upon these Estimates for the purchase of small arms ammunition, and a further sum of £15,000 for the purchase of artillery ammunition for our fixed defences. Is it not high time that the Government established its own ammunition factory in Australia, especially in view of the fact that the large stores of ammunition which are now in hand are yearly depreciating ? As a matter of fact, the authorities have occasionally to issue instructions to our forces to fire off some of this ammunition, which has become useless. Only some twelve months ago at Goat Island, in Sydney, certain members of our Defence Forces were amusing themselves, to the great annoyance of the public, by firing off useless ammunition for a period of five weeks. I had to get the medical authorities to interpose, in order to prevent the residents of the vicinity from becoming invalided. If we established our. own ammunition factory, we should not be called upon to waste money in. that way.
– Does not the use of the ammunition which is at present being manufactured burst the guns?
– I am aware that the Estimates of the Defence Department lend themselves peculiarly to a display of jocularity, but I can assure the honorable member (for Lang that there is no more serious matter to be faced than the urgent necessity which exists for establishing an ammunition factory within the Commonwealth.
.- The Defence Department is undoubtedly the great spending Department. It is so liberal in its expenditure that it is very necessary for us to keep a close watch upon the demands which it makes upon the Commonwealth. There are some very heavy items of expenditure included in these Estimates, but, as the leader of the Opposition is prepared to assist the Government to pass them, it is idle for me to offer any further protest.
– I merely spoke for myself, and for any honorable member who chose to act upon my advice, but I never dreamed that we should be discussing these Estimates at this hour of the morning. Personally, I think that there ought to be an adjournment of the debate.
– There are important items in these Estimates which ought to receive fair discussion. At this late hour, however, it is quite impossible to expect intelligent discussion of them.
– Upon the Estimatesin chief the honorable member will have a full opportunity of discussing the defence policy of the Government.
– But I shall not have an opportunity to debate this particular vote. I support the view entertained by the honorable member for Hindmarsh that greater consideration should be given to our naval defence than has hitherto been extended to it. Possibly some reduction, might be made upon these Estimates which would enable that to be done. I notice that it is proposed to spend a sum of £70,000 odd upon the purchase of ammunition and rifles. I should like to know when the Commonwealth is going to manufacture small arms for itself? That matter was discussed at the outset of the Federation, and we were assured that the Commonwealth would move in that direction. But to-day we occupy precisely the position which we occupied then. These are matters which should be discussed, and upon the Estimatesinchief I shall avail myself of the opportunity of debating the Government policy in this connexion.
– I should like an, explanation of the item “Field artillery, guns, harness, waggons, and ammunition, £53,040.” Last year we voted £58,000 for the purchase of these things, but only £10,000 of it was spent The result is that although during the past two years we shall appear to have voted £111,000 in the direction indicated, we shall in reality have only spent £63,000. All these figures are most misleading. I do not know whether the VicePresident of the Executive Council has any definite information to impart to the Committee, although I recognise that he has plentyof assurance. Can the honorable gentleman give any explanation how it is that the InspectorGeneral of Fortifications spent only £10,000 out of a sum of £58,000 voted for field artillery ?
– The information I have is that, first of all, there was some delay in ordering the guns in question, and then they were not delivered.
– What guns are they?
– They include 18-pounder quick-ruing guns, with waggons, limbers, and so forth.
Proposed vote agreed to.
That there be granted to His Majesty to the service of the year 1906-7, for the purposes of additions, new works, buildings, &c, a sum not exceeding £479,724.
Motion (by Mr. Isaacs) proposed -
That the Standing Orders be suspended in order to enable all steps to be taken to pass the Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill through all its stages without delay.
.- I recognise the wisdom of granting the Government these supplies at the earliest possible moment, but I hope this will not be taken as a precedent, because it is serious to allow appropriations to go through on the suspension of the Standing Orders. Hqwever, these public works are of great urgency, and I think we may safely depart from the usual procedure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution of Committee of Supply adopted.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to -
That towards making good the Supply gTanted to His Majesty for additions, new works, buildings, Sc., for the year 1906-7, a sum not exceeding , £479,724 be granted out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Resolution reported and adopted.
Ordered. - That Sir John Forrest and Mr. Isaacs do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolutions.
Bill presented by Sir John Forrest and read a first time.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
.- I donot wish to oppose the second reading of the Bill ; but before we consent to the appropriation of £479,000, we ought to have some information as to whether the Government intend at an early stage to erect an ammunition factory, in order to supply many of the items here mentioned. In the interests of the country, it is about time we had such a factory. I should not have risen but for the fact that the VicePresident of the Executive Council omitted to reply to. my question when we were in Committee.
. -In the immediate future, I shall make a statement and prove that either it is a wise or an unwise proceeding for the Government to undertake the establishment of an ammunition factory.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Billread a second time and passed through its remaining stages.
Motion (by Mr. Isaacs) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I should like to know when the Tariff proposals of the Government in regard to agricultural implements will be. submitted to the House?
– Probably next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.20 a.m. (Thursday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 22 August 1906, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060822_reps_2_33/>.