3rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– There is, in this morning’s issue of the Argus, a paragraph to the effect that information has been received by the Prime Minister that the ActingAdministrator of Papua., Judge Murray, has suspended the Surveyor-General, Mr. Drummond. I should like the Prime Minister to state whether that information has been received by him, and upon what ground the Acting Surveyor-General hasbeen suspended?
– Perhaps the best answer would be to lay the papers onthe table. The Surveyor-General has been suspended, not by a personal act of the Acting Administrator, but by resolution of the Executive Council. In laying the papers on the table, let me addthat the suspension relates to the land transactions of officers. As previously mentioned, so soon as we heard of those transactions, and before any direct charges had been made, I addressed to the Acting Administrator a, strongly -worded memorandum setting forth the only conditions on which officers should be allowed to have dealings in land.
– Was the Prime Minister aware of this when the Estimates relating to Papua were under the consideration of the Committee?
– Yes, I had just received information.
– When the Estimates were under consideration honorable members were happy in the belief that the administration of Papua was running smoothly.
– I was asked a direct question on the subject, and replied that the contrary was the case.
– Then, I misapprehended the honorable gentleman. In future cases of a similar nature will the. Prime Minister give the House information at the earliest possible moment, instead of waiting for the activities of the press to enlighten honorable members?
– I have not waited for the activities of the. press to enlighten honorable members on this subject. The papers were submitted to me on the very day that the Estimates relating to Papua were before the Committee, and, in reply to a question, I then stated that I was sorry to say that affair’s in Papua were not running smoothly ; that charges had been made against! officers, and that a charge, for which, apparently, there was noprima facie justification, had been laid against the Acting Administrator.Following up that statement, I said more than once, in answer to questions, in the course of the debate, that I thought the. Committee might take it for granted that the present Acting Chief Surveyor would not be continued in that office. That was as clear an intimation as possible.
– I regret that I did not hear it.
– As a matter of fact I brought to the House the papers which I had dealt with that afternoons and should have laid them on the table had the discussion taken a more direct turn, or had any honorable member asked for information. I am not satisfied with the recommendations made in this connexion, and, consequently, as regards penalties, at all events, the case is still sub judice. I did not wish, unless asked to do so, to intervene By laying before the Committee the propositions submitted to me, since they could not be dealt with for at least six weeks or two month’s, the time that must necessarily elapse before a reply can come from Papua.
– Then, there is much turmoil in Papua?
– I expressly mentioned that fact, but did not wish to plunge the Committee into the incomplete inquiry at the time, since certain recommendations had been questioned by me.
– Having regard to the unsatisfactory condition of affairs in Papua, does not the Prime Minister think that it would be advisable to appoint an Administrator without delay, and to vest him will full power?
– We already have an Acting Administrator. The honorable member has evidently in mind an independent appointment. I do not think it desirable to make such an appointment until the issues raised by these charges and counter-charges are clearedup.
New South Wales Loan
– In view of the reported partial failure of the recent New South Wales loan, will the Government introduce without delay a Bill to consolidate the States debts, and thus save other States from a similar experience?
– I do not know that the Commonwealth would be able to obtain better terms.
– I am satisfied, on the authority of the directors of the Bank of England, and the advice of leading financial experts in Great Britain, that the Commonwealth could secure much better terms. I should not venture to offer my own opinion on the subject as having special weight. When in London recently I found no two opinions with reference to it. Every financier consulted stated that if the Commonwealth appeared in London as the only Australian borrower, the immediate result would be an’ appreciation of Australian securities.
– When the Prime Minister expresses the opinion that in attempting to float a loan on the London market the Commonwealth would meet with a much better reception than would the eldest State of the Union, has he in mind the report made two years ago by Mr. Coghlan, in which, after commenting upon the fall of Australian stocks from ^99 to £87 since Federation, he said that, having consulted the Stock Exchange, he found the objection to Australian loans was due not to the prospects of the country but to the class of legislation being passed by the Commonwealth Parliament ?
– I did not remember that statement, but that by no means implies ‘‘Shot “something of the sort may not occur in’” Mr. Coghlan’s memorandum. Even if that opinion ‘Was expressed, I am happy to’ have bean convinced on the spot that there has since been a steady improvement in the standing of- Australia. I made no reference to the loans of any particular State. Being asked a direct question in regard to the flota-‘ tion of a loan by one of the States, I deliberately replied in the most general terms. I merely expressed the opinion that Commonwealth loans on the London market would meet with a better reception than those of any State, particularly if Autralia had only one borrower, and gave my authority for that view. I by no means reflected on the opinions expressed two years ago by Mr. Coghlan. If it is not irrelevant, I may mention, as further illustrating the’ necessity and value of placing the public of Great Britain in possession of fuller information upon the affairs of the Commonwealth, that one of the largest firms-
– I am afraid that the honorable gentleman is now proceeding to debate the question.
– The information I am about to give affects the prospects of future flotations of loans. One of the largest firms of brokers in London informed me, without my seeking the information - having called on me in regard to other matters - that immediately after the recent Conference in London, their business in Australian securities increased fivefold. Inquiries were so numerous that they were sending one of their partners to Australia to obtain more information to enable them tq assist their clients by advice respecting Australian investments. I merely point the moral that as we are better known, and better understood, our securities improve, and will continue to improve,- on the London market.
Mr. -WEBSTER.- Does the PostmasterGeneral think that, having reg’ard to its disorganized state, he is justified in withdrawing from the New South Wales branch, of the Department one of its ablest officers, Mr. Bramble, to act as secretary to the Cabinet Committee? To my mind, Mr. Bramble is the king-pin of his branch in New South Wales, and it is a mistake to take him away from his work when a less responsible officer could discharge the duties of secretary to the Cabinet Committee. ‘
– In the circumstances, I think I am fully justified, and if proof of that justification were wanting it would be found in the facts which the honorable member has mentioned.
– Has the Prime Minister read a sub-leader in to-day’s Age, which shows clearly that poisonous foods are being exposed for sale in Victoria? I put this question to him in view of the necessity of the Government endeavouring to preserve the lives of the people already here, as well as seeking to induce immigration to Australia. Will the Prime Minister endeavour to induce the States to put down with a strong hand the sale of impure foods?
– I understand that there is a stringent Pure Foods Act in Victoria, and that its administration has led to the discoveries referred to. So far as the Commerce Act permits us to deal with imports, every precaution is being taken to protect the public. I quite agree with the honorable member that such a safeguard is absolutely essential.
Land for Settlement
– In view of the debate on the question of immigration which has taken place in connexion with the Estimates, I wish to know whether the Prime Minister has had his attention called to a telegram published in the press that yesterday at the Wagga land office, 249 applications were lodged for one block of 630 acres on a conditional lease, at a rental of is 6d. per acre, and whether he considers it discloses a condition of affairs that should induce us to invite the immigration of a class that is desirous of settling on the land?
– Were all the applicants landless?
– Yes, nearly all of them.
– I had noticed the telegram. I am noting and recording such information in regard to all the States, because it is material to questions which will be raised presently ; but which are not matters for direct consideration by this Parliament at this moment.
– Following the question put by the honorable member for Calare, I desire to know whether the Prime Minister has read a cablegram in this morning’s papers reporting that Mr. Price, Premier of South Australia, in a speech delivered at Bristol, said that there was plenty of land available on easy terms in South Australia, and that there was room there for millions of people.
– I also noted that telegram with great satisfaction.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that Mr. Strawbridge, the SurveyorGeneral of South Australia, has lately visited America to inquire into the Campbell system of farming, which is reported to be suitable for the cultivation of land in dry areas, and will the honorable gentleman communicate with the South Australian Government with a view, if possible, of having the report circulated throughout the Commonwealth ?
– The Victorian Government have already received a report on the subject from Senator McColl.
– As I am remindedby the honorable member for Wide Bay, the Victorian Government obtained a report from Senator McColl, giving the result of that gentleman’s recent visit to America. The South Australian Government have had an officer lately reporting on the same subject.
– Senator McColl’s report was made some time ago.
– Yes, and the report referred to by the honorable member for Fremantle is recent ; America is a progressive country in agriculture as well as in everything else. I agree with the honorable member that such information cannot be too widely circulated. One of the best methods of obtaining publicity is to call the attention of the press to the matter, when I have no doubt the report will be reproduced.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he has had inquiries made as to the delay in commencing work at the Northam post-office ?
– I find that there has been a misunderstanding of my previous reply. Being asked, without notice, if I knew of this case, I mentioned that I had known public works delayed incertain States owing to pressure. I did not know the Northam case, andthe statement I made did not refer to that post-office. Inquiry shows that there has been no such delay in the case of the Northam post-office. The plans have been returned to the Department of Home Affairs, and it is some question in regard to the nature of the work that has caused the delay.
– Is there likely to be any further delay?
– I shall ascertain the exact facts.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister if he will ascertain whether the Victorian Government have decided to repatriatefrom Western Australia 100 families reported to be stranded there. I may say that I am asking this question in consequence of a telegram which I have received from Tasmania. I am informed that the Western Australia lecturer has unsettled several families in Tasmania, and I desire to know whether there is any truth in the report that there are 100 Victorian families in Western Australia who desire to return to their own State?
– I have to inform myself on many matters in order to satisfy honorable members. My last information on this question was an indignant reply from the Premier of Western Australia, pointing out that no Victorians who were desirable settlers had been “ stranded “ in that State, that there was ample opportunity to obtain land, and that he was making arrangements in regard to employment. I believe that the Premier of Victoria stated to the newspapers that, under the circumstances, he intended to take no action in the matter.
Loss of Articles Posted at Eaglehawk - Inquiry Fee - Cancelled Mail Contract : Guarantee.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers , tothe honorable member’s questions are as follow -
In all instances in which the fault lies with the Department the fee is returned to the sender.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
What is the exact cost to the Commonwealth in actual cash, of the failure of James Laing and Co. to carry out their contract for the carriage of the Commonwealth mails?
– In view of the fact that this matter is now the subject of legal proceedings, it is not considered advisable to make any statement on the subject at present.
askedthePrime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the recommendation of Dr. Jones, given in his evidence before the Royal Commission on Papua, has been given effect to, namely, that a medical man with tropical experience be sent to the Northern Division for a sufficient length of time “ to determine what the cause of this alarming death rate is “ ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows -
Yes. Dr. Beaumont, the chief medical officer, visited the Northern Division and inquired specially into this matter; and since then Dr. Strong has been appointed to a post in the Division.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he, before consideration of the Federal Capital Site Bill, communicate with the Premier of New South Wale’s with a view of ascertaining fromhim whether, in the event of the Canberra site being chosen, he will be prepared to deal liberally with the Federal Government in regard to the area of land required ?
– I shall have pleasure in laying before Parliament any communication thatthe Premier of New South Wales thinks fitto send relating to any proposed Capital Site.
– Will the Prime Minister communicate with the New South Wales Premier now ?
– If the honorable member wishes me to do so. The intimation given will cover any otherinformation desired. I take it that the honorable member requires this particular information, and also intimates that any further information will be welcomed.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– Careful inquiry will be made as to the statements of the honorable member.
asked the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
– May I remind the Prime Minister of a question which I asked yesterday about further correspondence in the way of letters, telegrams, or cablegrams from the Admiralty, which he said he would be willing to lay on the table ?
– I have not bad time this morning to look into the file. I have some doubt whether the cables have been published, but shall consider whether any more papers can be laid on thetable before our next meeting.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Mr. MAUGER laid upon the table the following paper : -
Post and Telegraph Department - Papers respecting the retirement at the age of 65 years of John Brown, late clerk, Accounts Branch, Postmaster-General’s Department, General Post Office, Melbourne.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from 26th March (vide page 9734)
Department of Home Affairs
Division21 (Administrative Staff), £9,846, agreed to.
Division 22 (Electoral Office),£6,658
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, whether any provision has been made for’ an amendment of the Electoral Act, in order to overcome several weaknesses, which were made apparent during the last election. This matter has been discussed here before, and it is only right that we should be informed whether an amending Bill is in course of preparation, and as to the lines on which it will proceed.
– The whole of the complaints and suggestions which have been placed before the Government from time to time, have been noted by the Electoral Department, and consideration is now being given to an amending Bill, with a view to remedying the defects referred to here, and in another place. But the principal consideration will be given to complaints which turn on postal and absent voting, and the conduct of the scrutiny. In addition, efforts will be made to bring the rolls, and the divisions to which they relate, into line with the rolls and divisions of the States electorates. It will be remembered that efforts have been made to simplify and cheapen the system, by inviting the States Governments to work in harmony with the Commonwealth Government in reference to the rolls, and all the States, except Tasmania and South Australia, have accepted the invitation.
– The Tasmanian Government have taken that course.
– It is true that the Tasmanian Government have given an intimation to that effect, and we understand that the South Australian Government will also do so. It is anticipated that very shortly throughout Australia there will be a much cheaper and better system in connexion with the rolls.
. - I desire to bring under the notice of the Government complaints by electoral registrars in various places within my district as to the miserable allowances they receive. I am informed that in some instances the allowance is not more than 5s. or 10s. a year for duties which include the supervision and revision of the rolls every year, and answering inquiries and engaging in correspondence with the electors. If this work is to be properly done, some better arrangement will have to be made. I feel ashamed to answer complaints in reference to such wretched pay. It is a farce that an officer of this kind should receive a few shillings a year; and it would be better to hand it over to some officer already employed, perhaps, in connexion with the Post Office. There must be some consolidation of duties in order that the Commonwealth may not be brought into contempt, and almost disgrace, by such sweating allowances. Complaints reach me so often, that I think the glaring evil is not confined to my district, but must extend over the Commonwealth; and I hope inquiries will be made with the view of the application of some drastic remedy.
.- I expected a more elaborate answer from the honorary Minister. Had the Estimates been dealt with as soon as Parliament met, more honorable members would doubtless have directed attention to the matter of an amendment of the Electoral Act. It is simply because twelve or fourteen months have elapsed, and an election is apparently a considerable time ahead, that the matter has been, as it were, allowed to drop. We are told that the Electoral Department has noted the complaints, but the Department can do nothing less than note ; and what I want to know is the proposed action of the Government. The reply I have received this morning is something like the stereotyped letters which one receives occasionally from Government Departments. To men of the world the answer of the Minister is merely a child’s answer. I desire to know whether an amending Electoral Bill has yet been drafted. The Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs referred to the absentee vote and to the postal vote. The provisions relating to the registration of these votes are shockingly defective.. I did expect that the Minister would have placed some new scheme in this connexion before the Committee. Then, we heard no defence of the enormous expenditure to which the Commonwealth has been subjected, owing to elections which have been badly conducted by our officials, and of which the disputed Senate election in South Australia is a noteworthy example.
– It took the senator who was elected sixteen months to obtain his seat.
– Exactly. I think that the Minister ought to have outlined the way in which the Government intend to amend the Electoral Act. I would further point out that we can no longer rely upon the police - who are Stateofficials - for the compilation of our electoral rolls, and I had hoped that the Minister would have intimated the intention of the Government to establish a separate Department to deal with electoral matters.
– That is what we have always been promised.
– Many honorable members have asked for that, but, so far as I am aware, no Minister has yet promised it.
– Have we not got a separate Electoral Department?
– No. The electoral office is a branch of the Department of Home Affairs. The presiding officers at elections are only called upon to perform their duties once in three years, and it naturally follows that they are not possessed of the requisite information to enable themto successfully administer an exceedingly intricate Act. It would be cheaper for the country, and we should obtain more efficient service, if this work were undertaken by the officials of a separate Department. I strongly object to postal officials, especially in the outlying districts, being called upon to administer such an intricate Act. It is impossible to get the ordinary citizen to master its provisions. So far as electoral matters are concerned there is no room for the exercise of parsimony. I can never understand any Department urging that elections should be conducted upon the most economical lines. What does it avail if, when leading public men ask the electors to register their votes, the machinery necessary to enable them to do so is faulty? I strongly advocate the expenditure of a sum of money sufficient toenable us to secure as nearly as possible a perfect electoral system.
– Was not this subject discussed at length on a previous occasion, and was not a statement made by the Attorney- General in reference to it?
– I admit that it has been discussed, and that we have received the stereotyped answer that our representations would be considered. But is that to satisfy the Committee ? What I desire to know is whether an amending Electoral Bill has been drafted, and if so, what is the general character of its provisions. There are a number of other matters to which I might refer, as, for example, the question of contingent voting, and that of the second ballot. These are matters upon which great difference of opinion exists, but which are of great public concern. Upon public platforms Ministers have repeatedly acknowledged the necessity for amending the Act. Some have suggested the adoption of the system of contingent voting, and others that of the second ballot. Certainly the present system is very unsatisfactory from the point of view of the facilities which it offers to the electors for registering their political opinions.
– A Bill has been draftedto deal with most, if not all, of the matters to which the honorable member refers.
– If the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs had made that statement it would have saved considerable time.
– If the honorable member had listened carefully to my remarks, he would have gathered that that was so.
– I did listen to the honorable Minister’s remarks very attentively, but the only thing I could gather from them was that the need for an amendment of the Electoral Act had been “noted.” Such a statement may serve its purpose very well at an afternoon tea party at Brunswick, but it is not sufficient here. You, sir, must be satisfied that the machinery of our Electoral Act is exceedingly faulty, because in Queensland the electorshave grave cause for complaint regarding the facilities afforded them for recording their votes. The provisions relating to the registration of postal and absentee votes are an absolute scandal.
– Wipe out the absentee vote.
– Does the honorable member suggest the abolition of the absentee vote? Why, the party to which he belongs pioneered that proposal.
– Experience makes fools wise.
– Had these Estimates been considered within a reasonable period of the last election, I am satisfied that almost every honorable member of this Committee would have voiced most serious complaints. There is scarcely an honorable member who, under the provisions of the Act, would not have been unseated had his election been disputed before the High Court. The honorable member for Riverina and the honorable member Tor Echuca have had costly experiences in this connexion. I do trust that very shortly an amending Electoral Bill will be introduced.
– - I listened very attentively to the remarks of the honorable member for Dalley, and also to the interjections of the Treasurer and the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, with a view to ascertaining what alterations of the electoral law are contemplated by the Government, but I failed to gather even the remotest idea of the nature of those alterations.
– It is not possible to give details now.
– I do not ask foi details. But if any alterations of the existing law are contemplated, I should like to know the nature of them.
– I interjected just now that we are dealing with most, if not all, the objections raised by the honorable member for Dalley.
– The objections raised by the honorable member related to the administration of the Act rather than to its faulty provisions.
– They related to both.
– The honorable member referred to the need for amending the present method of registering absentee votes, but nearly all his remarks related to matters of administration.
– I referred to the question of contingent voting, and to that pf the second ballot.
– The honorable member for Boothby held this Parliament up for nearly two days while he discussed the proposal relating to this nomadic vote.
– I have not held this Parliament up for two days in regard to any matter.
– The party to which the honorable member belongs did so.
– The honorable member is wrong. The Labour Party strenuously advocated the making of provision for the recording of the votes of electors absent from their divisions. But postal voting, in which there is no secrecy, is quite another matter.
– By what other system could the votes of persons living in isolated places be recorded ? .
– I admit that the abolition of the postal voting system would prevent the recording of a certain number of votes but, no matter what system is adopted, there will be some electors unable to vote. The danger resulting from the destruction of the secrecy of the ballot occasioned by postal voting is not compen-sated for by the opportunity given by the system for the recording of votes from places distant from polling! booths. As a matter of fact, most of those who have hitherto voted by post could have recorded their votes at polling booths had they chosen to do so. Electors unable to vote at the polling booths at which their names are enrolled can, at present, vote at any other booth at which a divisional returning officer is stationed.
– We might improve our methods.
– Yes ; but postal voting is an engine for trickery, corruption, and coercion. There has been a considerable attempt to use the postal provisions of the Act to coerce employes.
– They have been used by the Labour Party.
– During the last Queens-‘ land elections, supporters of the Labour Party witnessed hundreds of postal votes.
– Then it is time that provisions which make for wrong-doing were abolished.
– There have been all kinds of abuse in Melbourne.
– Not by the Labour Party.
– For the purposes of my argument it does not matter who isresponsible for the abuse; the fact that there has been abuse shows that the system should be altered. Does the Government propose to alter it ? An Amending Bill to alter it would do good ; but the last Amending Bill altered merely for the sake of altering, without improving matters, and the .elections held under it soon afterwards gave the worst results that we have had. The Minister told us that we were approaching a time when there would be one system of collection and one Department for both Commonwealth and State elections.
– I said that the boundaries of the State electorates would be made coterminous with those of - the Commonwealth, to facilitate the using of general rolls.
– We have been trying for four or five years to bring that about.
– It has been brought ;about in Western Australia.
– Yes, but I gathered from the Minister that South Australia has not yet agreed to it, though I know that several years ago that State was desirous of making its electoral boundaries coterminous with those of the Commonwealth, and of having a joint Electoral Department. I am, therefore, at a loss to know why an agreement has not been arrived at.
– In both Tasmania and South Australia arrangements are now almost complete.
– Does the Ministei think that they will be further forward when the next Estimates are submitted?
– What is the cause of the delay ?
– Tasmania, as a matter of fact, has now adopted boundaries coterminous with Commonwealth boundaries.
-The recent Senate election in South Australia shows that the rolls are now in a very bad state. It is astonishing how nomadic our population seems to be, because, even in metropolitan districts, the rolls become almost useless after two or three years. One cause of difficulty is that persons, who apply to be enrolled as electors for the State, believe that that enrolment will make them Commonwealth electors too, and the reverse; whereas, it is one of the absurdities of our system that, although the qualifications are the same, separate applications have to be made on different forms. This, however, should be obviated by the creation of a joint Department, and I hope that Ministers will expedite the” change.
– I am among those who have had to suffer from the defects of our electoral system, and, in justice to myself, I may say, in reply to. a remark by the honorable member for Dalley, that no reimbursement has been made to rae, though it was stated, a long while ago, that there would be such a reimbursement.
– No doubt the money willbe voted on the Estimates. There have been four or five other cases of the kind.
– At any rate, I have received nothing yet. The defects of the electoral law lie greatly in its administration, though my personal observation leads me to believe that the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff are doing what they can to remove difficulties. I have a suggestion to’ make, which, so far as Victoria is concerned, at any rate, I think will prove valuable. At present, separate rolls are made up for- many small districts, .whereas the names of the electors residing in them could very well all be put on the one roll. This would make it unnecessary to use the absent voting provisions. Any elector whose name appears on the Tolls for that group should be permitted to vote at any of the polling places within the group. If that course were adopted, many of the difficulties which the electors now experience would be obviated, and the returning officers upon the day of election would be relieved of a good deal, of clerical work “in connexion with the “Q” and other forms. I wish now to refer’ briefly to the administration of the Electoral law. Whilst I make no complaint so far as the Justices of the High Court are concerned, I believe that it was the intention of the Parliament that the Court of Disputed Returns should not have regard to mere technical objections in dealing with a petition ; that no honorable member should be unseated on a mere technicality. I have no hesitation in saying, however, that in my own case, and, I believe, to a certain extent in other cases, the decisions of the Court have been largely, if not wholly, based upon technicalities. If it is the intention of Parliament that cases shall be determined according to equity and good, conscience rather than upon mere technicalities, I think we should take care to have that intention explicitly declared, so that it will be- impossible for a mistake to be made. There are other directions in which improvements might well be carried out. It is well known that many officers selected by returning officers ‘ make serious blunders in the discharge of their official duties. In the Echuca electorate, in connexion with the ‘first election at which I was returned, some of the most explicitinstructions by the Department were disregarded. It is monstrous that the Crown as well as candidates should be put to great expense (as .the result of such mistakes, whilst those responsible for them go free. Those officers, receive emoluments, and, as servants of the Crown, should be called upon to .bear some portion of the cost incurred by the Government as the result of their blunders. I put these considerations before the Committee with some diffidence, but, as one who has suffered, feel that I am justified in doing so. The fundamental principle of the Constitution is that every adult shall be entitled to exercise the franchise, and any violation of that principle should be rectified at the earliest moment.
– I would draw the attention of the Minister in charge of these Estimates, to the evident confusion which exists amongst the returning officers respecting the counting of votes. I do not know whether it obtains throughout Australia, but in some of the electorates at the last general election, ballot papers were brought to the assistant returning officer from various booths, and were evidently pooled in the office, the total result for the whole divison alone being announced. At the last election for the electorate of Echuca, the results of the” polling at all booths where more than 100 votes were recorded, were announced separately. The ballot-papers were counted at the counting centres, but the results were declared separately by the officer in charge. There appears to be some confusion on the part of returning officers regarding the interpretation to be placed on the section which enables them to pool votes and declare the result, and if that is so, definite instructions should be issued for the adoption of a uniform system. . Having regard to the confusion which had previously arisen, one may assume that the last election for the electorate of Echuca was conducted on strictly legal lines. As I have said on that occasion, the returns for every one of the booths polling more than 100 votes were separately announced. If that system is in accordance with the proper reading of the Act, I hope that - instructions will be issued accordingly.
.- I agree with all that the honorable member for Dalley has said as to absentee voting, and am sure that unless proper precautions are taken, bribery may occur in connexion with the system. As to the system of voting by post, we know that it is open to very grave abuse. I still hold ‘ a bundle of sworn declarations by persons who declare that they were compelled, on one occasion, to vote by post, in accordance with the desire of their employers. What occurred here at the last general election was- nothing to the experience of Queensland in connexion . with the recent general election for the State Parliament. When the honorable member for Boothby was speaking, the honorable member for Illawarra ‘ made an interjection which was scarcely fair, with regard to what the Labour Party had done in Queensland. I am sure that he will acquit me of any desire to put before the Committee an incorrect statement of the’ facts, from the point of view of his party, when .1 quote from the Brisbane Courier, one of the most bitter opponents that the Kidston party had to fight. That newspaper, in its issue of 6th February - the day following the general election - announced that the state of the poll then was “ Socialists, twenty-seven ; Kidston Socialists, twentyfive ; and Ministerialists, twenty.” At that time the postal votes had not been counted. The result . of their counting was that twenty-five Ministerialists, instead of twenty, were returned. As a matter of fact, the Philp party, as the result of voting by post system, won ten seats. How were those postal votes obtained? Mr. Philp was placed1 in power by the Czar:like ukase of the Governor, and his Government appointed no less than 315 justices of the peace, whom, it was said; could earn from £2 15s. to 10s., and expenses, per man, in collecting votes. And for whom? . Their creator, of course. They collected postal votes for Mr. Philp, and the country showed what it thought of them by returning the Kidston party, which swept them out of magisterial existence. To-day, they no longer disgrace the commission of . the peace. Honorable members will agree that, with the exception of the honorable member for Yarra, I represent the most compact constituency in Australia. In my constituency no polling booth is further, in some districts, than a quarter of a mile from the most distant elector; and yet postal votes were exercised at the general election to the large number of 1,095. But the report of the Divisional Returning Officer shows that, at the by-election which followed, the number of postal votes was much smaller; and the reason was that the officers of the Electoral Department were on the keen watch, and, therefore, the same system of bribery and corruption could not be carried out. as was proved in the High Court to have been carried out at the general elec- tion. Honorable members will be surprised to hear that there were more postal . votes exercised in Melbourne at the general election before the last than there were in the whole of Western Australia, or, it may have been, South Australia. And in one district of the Melbourne electorate which is the most thickly populated, and where no polling booth is more than a quarter of a mile from any elector, there were more postal votes than in all the rest of the constituency. Those who believe in the secrecy of the ballot, in the exercise of the freest franchise in the world, must give this matter their serious attention. If postal votes or absent votes are to be exercised it must’ be under such conditions that the papers should be free from the observation of the electors’ employers, or other interested persons. In 95 per cent. of the cases of postal voting in Melbourne the manner of voting was made known to interested persons, and in many cases the voting papers disappeared between the residence and the pillar box.
– In reply to the honorable member for Echuca, I may say there is a sum of money on the Additional Estimates in connexion with the subject he mentioned, but the question of the payment of the expenses, and especially the legal expenses, is under consideration now. In one or two cases the Government are in a difficulty as to what to do; because, if we paid all the legal expenses, we might be offering a great inducement to litigation. But for that fact, I should not hesitate for a. moment to pay the legal expenses.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 23 (Public Service Commissioner), £8,895
.- I desire to refer to the Public Service Commissioner.
– If the honorable member attacks the Public Service Commissioner, he certainly must attack me with him. The Public Service Commissioner is one of the best officers we have, and he must be protected.
– He is a man who has some backbone.
– There is an undercurrent of feeling against the Public Service Commissioner which I do not like.
– I shall be much obliged if honorable members will allow me to have a word. I do not propose to attack the Commissioner, and I merely made the remark I did, because I know the sore spot of the Treasurer. What I desire to dp is to draw attention to the item of £50 for the expenses of Courts of Inquiry.
– That item is in subdivision 2, whereas we are now dealing with sub-division 1.
– Then I will postpone my remarks.
– In discussing the Estimates for the branch of the Public Service Commissioner, we ought to avoid any abuse of that gentleman simply because we do not agree with the system, and there ought to be no attempt to shield the whole system under the pretence that to do so is to protect the Commissioner. I am sure that the great majority of honorable members have the very highest opinion of that gentleman, and are prepared to give him every latitude and fair play. Then, we should avoid the even more fatal mistake of attempting to cloak up every error on the plea that any criticism is an attack on the Commissioner. I have no intention of attacking the Commissioner, but merely desire to point out that there are many alterations urgently required in the existing system . First, there ought to be decentralization, and much greater responsibility placed oh the heads of Departments in the various States.Thereis a very strong feeling amongst officers in outlying positions that they have not the same chance of preferment that is enjoyed by those within the immediate ken of the Commissioner. I brought a case under notice yesterday, and showed that thedocuments inviting applications for preferment reached officers two days after the date on. which those applications had to be sent in. It is of no use to say. that the notification had appeared in the Gazette, because every public’ servant does not buy that publication.
– The Gazette can be seen at every post-office.
– I think this difficulty could be got over by making the documents or slips the first notification or advertisement, instead of, as at present, the last ; and I am glad to say that the Minister has promised to bring this suggestion under the notice of the Commissioner. Public servants in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and
Tasmania should have exactly the same opportunity to apply for preferment as have those in New South Wales and Victoria; but the present system has been goingon for some years, and ought to at once be altered. A much greater reform is needed in the constitution of the Boards of Appeal. I do not blame the Commissioner, because the fault lies with the Act; but there is practically no appeal against the decisions of the Appeal Boards, seeing that the Commissioner can veto or uphold those decisions as he likes.
– a public servant has the right to take civil action.
Mr.Mcwilliams.- But no public servant ought to be compelled to do that. The system of appeals in New Zealand is infinitely superior to that in the Commonwealth. In the Dominion, the Appeal Court consists of a representative of the Commissioner or the Government, and a representative of the public servants, and they sit with the stipendiary magistrate, whose decision is final.
– That is the system of which the honorable member for Maranoa complained.
– No; the positions are entirely different ; the contention of the honorable member is that servants should be compelled; to resort to a Court of law. There aremany public servants not in a positionto go to law, and many who think the game not worth the candle. No member of the Public Service should be compelled to go to law against the Commissioner. My information is that the system of appeal in New Zealand has been a complete success. Here our system of appeal is practicallv no appeal at all, because the Board of Inquiry is compelled to forward its recommendation to the Public Service Commissioner, who is vested with power to veto it.
Colonel Foxton. - It is an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober.
– Whilst I believe that the Commissioner should be vested with great powers, I do not hold that he should possess autocratic power. In New Zealand, the Appeal Court is a thoroughly impartial tribunal, and its judgment is absolutely final. I invite the Minister to consider the merits of the two systems. I hold that the system which has proved such an unqualified success in New Zealand is infinitely better than is our system. Further, the stipendiary magistrates throughout Australia would be trusted by the public servants of the Commonwealth to act in a fair way as between themselves and the Public Service Commissioner. If we are to make our Public Service a contented body,wemust assure fair play to our officers in any dispute which may arise between themselves and the Public Service Commissioner.
– I should like some information in regard to the salaries paid to officials in the clerical division of the Department controlled by the Public Service Commissioner. I notice that the registrar’s salary has been increased from £360 to £400, and that the senior clerk has advanced from £335 to £360, whilst, the salaries of four clerks have been increased from £730 to £915. I desire to know whether these increases are merely; automatic increases?
– They are the increments recommended by the Public Service Commissioner.
– There is no special increase?
– Then I should like some information in regard to the expenses connected with Courts of Inquiry and Boards of Appeal. Last year, I note that £150 was voted in connexion with Boards of Appeal, and £50 in connexion with Courts of Inquiry. How was that money expended?
– If the honorable member will put his question a little later, I shall obtain the information.
– What I desire to know is whether the amounts I have mentioned represent the total sum expended upon these. Courts of Inquiry throughout the Commonwealth? I do not think that it can. I should also like to know under what item the expenditure connected with Boards of Appeal is included. For instance, not long since, three officials had to travel from Brisbane to Toowoomba and back. Where would the expenditure incurred by them be shown ?
– Probably some of it is included under” travelling expenses,” for which Parliament is asked to appropriate £400.
– I do not think so. Then an amount is set down’ on these Estimate’s to cover the expense of holding examinations, including advertising. Last year, £300 was voted for this purpose, and this year we are asked to appropriate £500. Why is the increase necessary?
– Largely because extra hands have to be employed in the post-office.
– Do I understand that examinations are to be held more frequently ?
– If more persons are to be employed, they must be. Last year £425 was expended in this connexion, although only £300 was voted.
– Then there is an item relating to the expenses connected with the election of divisional representatives. Does that vote refer to divisional representatives for the Commonwealth, or merely for one State ?
– I shall obtain the desired information for the honorable member.
– I do not propose to attack the Public Service Commissioner for the administration of the Public Service Act, because I do not believe that he is to blame. The blame rests upon Parliament for having passed the Act in the form that it did. When that measure was under consideration in this House, I was under the impression that no regulations could be framed which would have the effect ofpractically overriding its provisions. We were repeatedly told that by Ministers, and I innocently accepted their assurance. But, like good wine, I have improved with age. When Bills are under consideration in future, I intend, if possible, toprevent matters being left to regulation. The regulations which have been framed under the Public Service Act practically deprive many public servants, accused of offences, of the right to have their cases tried before a proper Board of Inquiry. The power to take evidence is delegated to the stipendiary magistrates of the districts in which such cases occur, and is then transmitted to the Board of Inquiry. Under this system. I complain that an officer, located in Brisbane, who is being tried for his official life, receives a better trialthan do officers in remote portions of the Commonwealth. That is manifestly unjust. Further, it is unBritish. Every man has a right to a fair trial. We all know that in conducting an inquiry, it is an advantage to examine witnesses in person.
– Very often a man’s eye tells the truth, when his tongue does not.
– Recently, a friend of mine in Brisbane, who has had a long experience in connexion with criminal cases, told me that he knew whether a man was guilty of any offence charged against him after he had had ten minutes’ conversation with him. It is very rarely that such persons are deceived. As a rule, when one has a man in front of him whom he can question, he can tell largely from his manner whether his statements are true, and magistrates and others often base their decisions, not so much upon what a witness says, as upon the opinion of his character they form from his manner. I know that until the Ministry alters the regulation, nothing can be done; but if that step is not taken, I shall try to have an alteration made. I have been told, on good authority, that the regulation is ultra vires, notwithstanding the opinion of the Attorney-General, who is not infallible. Some of his decisions have been upset recently.
– The honorable member knows that both doctors and lawyers differ, and, in the one case, the patients die, while, in the other, they bleed. No one desires that injustice shall be done to employes who. are on their trial. Can the Minister inform me under what headings the expenses of the boards of inquiry are provided for?
– Last year there was no expenditure, although £50 was provided for boards of inquiry, and£150 for boards of appeal. Consequently, the votes this year have been reduced to £50ineach case. Similar remarks apply to the election of the divisional representatives. They cover the whole of Australia, and are not confined to any particular State.
– I think that this is a fitting opportunity to discuss the administration of the Public Service Commissioner. I should occupy a considerable time were I to discuss in detail the many matters in regard to which I find fault with that administration. It is useless to assume, because the Commissioner is an admittedly good man, that the administration of the Department is satisfactory. In many cases, it is exceedingly unsatisfactory, and much discontent is occasioned by grievances which could be easily remedied. The reports of the Public Service Commissioner, when one knows the facts, often make one’s blood boil. Is it not idle, for example, for him to report to Parliament that no reductions in salary have taken place in consequence of the classification of the Service when, as has .been pointed out repeatedly in this Chamber, many South Australian, postmasters have had their salaries reduced by .£150 and lesser sums? A piece of tyranny which recently came under my notice relates to the entrance examination system. Two young ladies in South Australia passed an entrance examination much more severe than was necessary to show their qualifications for the work which they desired to do, and were temporarily appointed as telephone attendants. I believe that the appointments were not made permanent, owing to a disagreement between the inspector and the Deputy Postmaster-General, as to how many persons should be employed. The Public Service Commissioner is charged with the duty of saying how many persons shall be employed in any Department, the Minister and departmental head responsible for the work to be done having no “ say “ in the matter. Tn the case with which I am dealing, the ladies gave the fullest satisfaction j but, after some months, were told that they must again present themselves for examination. On this occasion, not having opportunity for special preparation, they failed to gain a sufficient number of marks. I ask how many examinations must be passed by applicants for positions in the Public Service ? Every one knows that a person who has passed an- examination well might not be able, twelve months later, to pass the same examination, even if the same questions were set. But once having shown the possession of the necessary qualifications, .appointees who satisfactorily discharge the duties assigned to them should not be again subjected to the ordeal of examination.
– What time elapsed between the two examinations ?
– Over twelve months’, I think. Of course, the case is different where persons pass an examination, and are not appointed to the Service. If such persons presented themselves again after a long interval, it might not be unfair to ask them to. prove that they were still qualified ; but it is altogether unnecessary to submit to a second examination those who have given practical proof of their ability to discharge the duties assigned to them. I shall not enumerate all the other reasons for discontent and dissatisfaction. South Australian officers have reason to complain because there has been no reclassification there such as took place in Victoria, and, I think, in New South Wales. Had there been a reclassification, postmasters whose salaries were considerably reduced as a consequence of the original classification would have had an opportunity to get their positions improved because of the improvement in the business of their offices. These and similar matters, however, could best be investigated by a Royal Commission. If complaints are brought forward in this Chamber, and no action is taken, the effect is apparently to condone the administration. It would be, therefore, far better to have complaints investigated by a Committee or Royal Com-‘ mission. The appointment of such a body in the near future would allay a great deal of dissatisfaction.
– I have already said that I question the utility of much of the discussion on the Estimates ; but I cannot help expressing my opinion in connexion with this division that’, in the interests of the public and of the” Service, an amending Public Service Bill should be introduced. So many elements of discontent are now operating against the effectiveness of the Service that it is necessary that some such step should be taken. T believe that in the Public Service Commissioner we have an officer who is discharging conscientiously, fairly, and to the best of his ability, the duties of his position. It is beyond doubt that he is overweighted by having imposed upon him duties which no one individual could reasonably be expected to overtake. Complaints are constantly being made in the House as to dissatisfaction in the service, but we are debarred by the Act from any personal communication with the Commissioner. I am sure that honorable membersgenerally have faithfully observed the provision in the Public Service Act that heshall be free from any direct’ personal re- presentation by ais. I, personally, have had no communication with him in respect to any appointment, except in one case. As the law stands, Ave cannot see that justice is done in cases where we believe that, although the Commissioner himself has been actuated w ith a desire to exercise an impartial judgment, inequalities have occurred in the distribution of the advantages of the- service. I hope that at an early stage an amending Bill will be introduced, and that it will provide for the appointment of additional Commissioners to co-operate with and assist the present Commissioner in his laborious work. In expressing that hope, I do not suggest for one moment that Mr. McLachlan has failed to deal fairly with all cases with which he has been called upon to deal. But the time has arrived when that excellent officer should have additional assistance so that he may be able to devote more attention to general principles than to individual cases, the consideration of which, under present conditions, must largely interfere with his more responsible duties of general administration. Whilst I recognise that it is well that temporary employment in the Public Service should be available, I feel satisfied that the system requires to be better regulated. I have recently brought before the PostmasterGeneral cases relating to contract post-offices, and the discharge from the service of male and female employes who have done excellent work for the Department. Although I am sure that the PostmasterGeneral and his colleagues are in sympathy with the representations that have been made to them on the subject, those people are suffering a great injustice. If tor no other reason than to remove such injustices an amending Bill should be introduced at the earliest possible moment. I also think that it should provide for a Board of Commissioners, as it is unreasonable to expect one Commissioner to attend to the administration of a huge service extending over the whole Commonwealth. Such a change would be in the interests, not only of the Public Service, but of the people. It would be well to review, in the light of our experiences since the establishment of Federation, the whole of the conditions of the service. I hope that- the Minister in charge of these Estimates will convey my representations to the Minister of Home Affairs.
Colonel FOXTON (Brisbane) [12.39].- I, like other honorable members who have spoken, believe that in Mr. McLachlan we have an officer well fitted for the position of Public Service Commissioner. I am not personally acquainted with him, but gather from honorable members generally that he is a fair man, has a good grasp of the work of the Department, and, in short, is emi nently . qualified for the position that he occupies. I have often thought of directions in which the system could be improved. Like the honorable member for Franklin, I am strongly of opinion that, some such system as that which exists in New Zealand, if applied to the Commonwealth, would tend to a very large extent: to allay the undoubted dissatisfaction that permeates the service. The New Zealand, system, however, could be improved upon.. I do not approve of the rights and privileges of individuals, whether public servants or members of the general public, being adjudicated upon by a tribunal that is practically responsible -to no one.
– Does not the honorable member think that the Public Service Commissioner should be responsible to Parliament ?
Colonel FOXTON. - I shall deal pre.sently with that phase of the question, and the honorable member will find that I am in accord with him. The position of the Commissioner under the Act is such that it is only in respect of his general administration that there is an appeal from him to Parliament. It is difficult to bring an appeal to this House from the Public Service Commissioner’s decision in respect of an individual case,, and the aggrieved public servant has to go to law to seek redress: A very important improvement could be made upon the New Zealand system, which, as described by the honorable member for Franklin, permits of an appeal from the decision of the Commissioner to a Board consisting of a representative of the Commissioner, a representative of the complainant or that section of the Public Service which is interested in the appeal, and the stipendiary magistrate of the district. I understand that in NewZealand stipendiary magistrate’s are subject to the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commissioner. That might be regarded as a slight objection to the system. In the case of the Commonwealth, however, we should have as Chairman of the Board a stipendiary magistrate, who would be in no way under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commissioner of the Commonwealth. He would be absolutely independent of him, and might be expected therefore to be more impartial as Chairman of such a Board than he would be if he were under the control of the Commissioner.
– It would cost .£100,000 per annum to apply such a system to so vast a country as the Commonwealth.
Colonel FOXTON. - I do not agree with the honorable member. My own opinion is that it would not cost more than does the present system. I have had some experience of the system in force in Queensland, ‘which bears some resemblance to that in operation in New Zealand. The Board, instead of being the final Court of Appeal, is required in respect of every case to make a report and recommendation to the Minister. We should then get what the honorable member for Wannon desires, namely, the responsibility of the Minister to Parliament. It would require very good grounds for a Minister to disregard the report of such an independent board, seeing that for any action he might take he would be responsible ; and my suggestion would mean a considerable improvement on the present system, under which the Commissioner is practically an autocrat. I have nothing to say against the Commissioner personally, because I am satisfied he always acts with the best of motives from his point of view. But there is undoubtedly a very strong feeling of. dissatisfaction throughout the Commonwealth service, a dissatisfaction which the system I have suggested would tend to minimize. Although the Commissioner is eminently well qualified for his position, and is a man in whom, I am sure most, if not all, honorable members have perfect confidence, he necessarily has to see through the eyes of his inspectors. The question arises whether the inspectors in the outlying States are in all cases the best men for such positions; and my own impression is that they are not. There are cases - which I do not care to mention, at all events now - in which it has been made manifest that the inspectors have not reported equitably and fairly. We find that in the Department of the PostmasterGeneral, and especially in the Department of the Minister of Trade and Customs in Queensland, there is a great deal of dissatisfaction, and large bodies of officers openly state that they have been passed over in the most unblushing manner - that men have been pitchforked over their heads in a way for which there is no justification.
– In any large service there are complaints of that kind.
Colonel FOXTON.- Possibly, but we ought to do our best to minimize them. If there were only occasional complaints, one might hesitate; but when we find the complaints general - when we find that officers not personally interested join in the complaints - there is evidently something wrong. Having . regard to the high character of the Commissioner, I believe that the fault must lie in the reports of the inspectors, or of the heads of Departments. We sometimes find that the Commissioner is not in accord with the Government; and I do not blame him for that, because either side may be right or wrong. We have, however, been furnished with a printed paper in connexion with the Postal Department, having reference to the approval of the Commissioner as to the status of the. Assistant Secretary in the Post and Telegraph Department. That office having been created, the Secretary to the Department very naturally represented that the officer who was to assist him in his administrative work, should be placed in the administrative branch. To that the Commissioner simply replied that he was unable to fall in with the view presented, and refused his sanction. If the work of the Secretary is so great that it has to be divided, it necessarily follows that those who take on themselves a portion of the responsibility for the administration should, along with the Secretary, be placed in the administrative branch. I compliment the Postmaster-General on the fact that, notwithstanding the attitude of the Commissioner, the Government propose to give the Assistant Secretary a salary commensurate with the duties he has to perform. I hope that, if there is an amendment of the Public Service Act in contemplation, such a provision as that which I have suggested will be included, because I believe that would largely tend to allay the uneasy feeling there is throughout the service. From my experience of the Public Service Act in Queensland, I do not think that the expense would be anything like what the honorable member for Coolgardie suggests. The inquiries would not be more numerous, nor would the evidence be any more voluminous, than in the cases which are at present investigated ; the only difference would be a slightly different tribunal, whose recommendations would go to the Minister for final decision. With the Minister would rest the responsibility of dealing fairly as between the Commissioner and the public servants; and that, in my opinion, would provide a further check on anything in the nature of autocracy.
.- The honorable member for Brisbane suggests a plan of appeal from the decisions of the Public Service Commissioner. and raises the question whether it is desirable that those decisions should be reviewed by some authority. The proposal involves a reversal of the deliberate determination of Parliament some time ago that finality should rest with the Commissioner ; and for this purpose his office was invested with the security of , tenure enjoyed by the Judges of the Supreme Court. No step backward should therefore be taken without proof that the present system has failed and that better methods were available. Has such proof been given ? To my thinking, the suggestion of the honorable member for Brisbane would involve such a huge expenditure as to render it utterly impracticable as a remedy.
Colonel Foxton. - I do notsuggest a standing board, but a board which would probably be composed of different individuals for each case.
– That makes little difference as to the cost of the honorable member’s proposal. If the hearing of an appeal from the decision of the Commissioner is to be of any value, the board should investigate the case on the spot. That might work all right in a compact country like New Zealand, but in a spacious territory, such as that of the Commonwealth, it would entail on the people an enormous burden in the shape of travelling expenses and the payment of substitutes for officers who were engaged in hearing appeals. The honorable member may not be aware that this Parliament has already had some experience of boards of inquiry. Under the Public Service Act there is provision for boards of inquiry into any disputes or any charges levelled against officers.
Colonel Foxton. - That is not quite the same thing.
– I know it is slightly different, but the difficulties and troubles in connexion with those boards would be repeated and aggravated in the case of the boards suggested by the honorable member. At the present time, an officer feeling aggrieved may obtain a board of inquiry in certain circumstances. A large number of such inquiries have been held during the currency of the Public Service Act. The Public Service Commissioner summarizes the results in his report, and he states that there were twenty-six boards of inquiry in 1903, at a cost of £1,593; forty-four in 1904 at a cost of £3,656; seventy-six in 1905 at a cost of £3,255.; and forty-six in1906 at a cost of £2,008 - a total of 192 boards at a cost of £10,512 in travelling and other expenses spread over the four years. Then, in the case of Queensland, in the Post and Telegraph Department,there were three inquiries held in 1903 at a cost of £260 ; ten in 1904 at a cost of £1,268 ; eleven in 1905 at a cost of £925 ; and eight in 1906 at a cost of £615 - a total of thirty-two inquiries at a cost of . £3,058. That is a very expensive method “of correcting the possible abuses in the Public Service.
Colonel Foxton. - And is not going to law expensive?
– The honorable member does not advise his friends to go to law.
Colonel Foxton. - No, and I never go to law myself if I can help it.
– Quite right; the honorable member’s practice reinforces my contention. We should not encourage litigation in the Public Service at the expense of the country. We. ought to devise some cheaper and less cumbrous method of disposing of such cases.
– The honorable member would not deprive public servants of the right of appeal?
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– The principal argument which I have urged against the proposal to constitute local boards of inquiry, is based upon the ground of the expenditure which would be involved. But there are many other grounds which justify the Government in disregarding the suggestion of the honorable member for Brisbane. In the first place, these boards would arrive at different determinations regarding the value of similar positions in the various States, so that in a very short time anomalies would be created greater than those which existed previously, thus making uniform classification, or any other arrangement of the service, practically impossible. The proposal of the honorable member for Brisbane has been discussed previously in this House, and the Commissioner was asked to give his opinion upon it, which he did. Amongst other things, he points out -
If the proposed substitution were adopted, the Chairman would be a local State official., and the Commonwealth Government would be entirely unrepresented. The stipendiary magistrate or Judge, while possibly familiar with the general procedure adopted in administering the Public Service Act of his own State, would have no practical knowledge of the questions that would arise or the conditions prevailing in other States, or of -the difficulties that had to be overcome in order to produce a classification, based on a uniform system, and sufficiently elastic to embrace the thousands of officers working under widely differing- conditions, and whose rights were protected by the Constitution upon transfer to the Commonwealth.
I think that that statement of the position disposes of the contention of the’ honorable member. But in order that it may never be revived, I had better quote one or two other very conclusive paragraphs from the Commissioner’s report. For instance, he says -
Six separate Boards of Appeal constituted as proposed, acting in their respective States, and making recommendations entirely from local ex parte knowledge and evidence, each Board in its own conclusions differing from the other, and with but the scantiest knowledge of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, of its requirements, or of the operations that have taken place under it, to guide them, would in a short time produce a state’ of disorganization and chaos.
After referring to other aspects of the matter, the Commissioner proceeds -
If the Board’s conclusions were final, the result -would be a number of classification schemes, varying according to the different views of- the several Boards of Appeal in each State, a continuation of anomalies, and a fresh crop of appeals evolved by the difference of action as between Slates.
It may be taken for granted that what applies to appeals from classification beaTs with equal force and relevance on appeals against decisions as to other matters. So that it would be utterly impossible to get uniformity in respect of anything. Now, the main idea underlying the Public Service Act ‘is that uniform conditions shall prevail throughout the Commonwealth, due allowance being made to officers who reside in remote localities where the cost of living is high. The Commissioner adds - .
The object aimed at by the Act, that is, uniformity of classification throughout the Commonwealth would be defeated. There must be one controlling head ; if the recommendations of the different Boards were carried out the utmost confusion and dissimilarity’ “of payment for the same work would result, injustice would be inflicted on officers who were not appellants by others passing over their heads, and unless there was ‘one focussing centre, as in the Commissioner, the Service would soon become more chaotic than it was in the States.
It is unnecessary to dwell further on the suggestion “offered by the honorable member for Brisbane. But I should like to make a few remarks con- cerning the position which the Public - Service Commissioner occupies in regard to the Government of the day. Rightly or .wrongly, this Parliament has placed the Commissioner in a position of independence and freedom from parliamentary control similar to that occupied by a Supreme Court Judge, whose salary is not voted by Parliament, but is specially appropriated. We appointed him for a fixed term and gave him absolutely a’ free hand. After an experience of six years, I do not know that we can say that that complete independence of the Executive and of Parliament has been wholly justified. In’ saying this, I do not wish to cast any reflections on the Commissioner, because it would require somebody approaching an archangel to give absolute satisfaction in such an office. But it seems to me that there ought to be vested in the Executive of the day - either in the Cabinet or the GovernorGeneral in Council - authority to review the decisions of the Public Service Commissioner: in matters of policy. I do. not say that the Executive should be entitled to review every appointment or promotion made by the Commissioner, but in matters of policy affecting the Public Service” throughout the States and bearing intimately upon the financial results of our large Public Service Departments, the control should be in the hands of the Government. In this respect, the Commissioner exercises power which ought not to be conferred upon any one man. The -Government, for instance, should have something to say as to the grading and wages, not of individuals, but of large numbers of- public servants. It should be the function of Ministers, subject to Parliament, to say whether the cost of Departments was excessive, or whether a more liberal policy should not be pursued as to wages and conditions. .In such matters, the Commissioner ought to be more amenable to Executive control, and wherever a conflict arises between, him and the Executive, the latter’ should have a wider discretion, provided that tHe particulars of any conflict between the Commissioner and the Executive should be placed before Par-. liament forthwith. In that way we should secure the best results. A continuance of the system under which the Commissioner may pull one way, despite the fact that the Government is unitedly pulling another way, cannot safely be continued. Take the instance mentioned by the honorable member for Brisbane, where the Government decided that an officer discharging administrative duties should be promoted from the clerical division.
– He had been endowed with administrative duties with the Commissioner’s consent.
– Exactly. The Commissioner argued that the officer in question should be kept in the clerical division, though charged with duties belonging to a higher grade. If is difficult to follow, and still more difficult to agree with, such reasoning. Those who read the correspondence will be struck by the failure of the Commissioner to reply to one salient point. Though the highest salary fixed for the clerical division is £600, he himself classified one officer in that division as worth £650 per annum, and when the Commissioner leaves such a charge without answer, he discounts the remainder of his argument against the transference of this officer to the administrative division. Some reference may now be made to the attitude of the Commissioner towards the public servants of Western Australia. On many occasions since the Commonwealth assumed control of the Customs- and Postal Departments, I pointed out that the cost of living in Western Australia was considerably in excess of the cost of living in the other States. Anybody who is industrious enough to look up Hansard will find that I repeatedly brought that fact under the notice of the Government. The reply was that allowances were made to officials located in the tropical and gold-fields’ belts of that State. But I contended then - as I do now- that the cost of living - evenin the coastal districts and around Perth - is considerably in excess of the cost of living elsewhere. The Commissioner himself recognised the excessive cost of living in the gold-fields and tropical portions of that State, and allowances were accordingly paid to officers and residents in those areas. But he refused to recommend any increase of the general salaries payable to officers in Western Australia on account of the higher cost of living there. Quite recently, however, he has agreed to advance the salaries of all officers who are not in receipt of tropical or gold-fields’ allowances by 5 per cent. At the same time hehas committed theinconsistency of not advancing proportionately the allowances of the officers on the goldfields and in tropical latitudes. The relative disadvantages of life at these remote stations in comparison with life at more favorably situated places, have not diminished. Yet the Commissioner has reduced the disparity in the remuneration of the officers so placed, and in so doing has increased the difficulty of inducing officers located in Perth or on the coast to take up duties in the north-west and on the remoter gold-fields. This is not just to the officers, nor advantageous to the Departments concerned, nor is it in the interests of the public. It may refresh the memory of the Minister if I read the following questions and answers, which I put to the Postmaster- General on the 16th July last -
The reply to the third question is palpably evasive and unsatisfactory. It simply dodges the main point involved. If living now costs less than it did before, why should the public servants, whose right is now admitted, be denied an allowance for the period when it cost them more to live than it doss at present? The Minister should not allow himself to be the vehicle for conveying evasions to plain questions put in this House. If the Commissioner can justify his action, he ought to do so ; if he has no justification, then a frank admission of the fact is the straightforward course to take. Another practice of the Commissioner calls for some notice. He is empowered by the Act to suspend an officer who owes a single creditor an amount sufficient in law to entitle him to make him insolvent. But, apparently, public servants may. owe their butchers, bakers, drapers, and other tradesmen, small amounts, aggregating more than £50, without the Commissioner taking action, notwithstanding proof that they have been sued and verdicts obtained against them.
When a case of the kind occurred a few years ago, I thought that the Commissioner was in the wrong. A public servant was sued for a debt of less than ,£50, and, as he made no defence, the Court gave an order against him ; but the Commissioner refused to suspend him or to take any steps to compel the officer to pay up. In justification, he wrote -
It would, in my opinion, be a most undesirable precedent for a Department to interfere in money disputes between an officer and a tradesman who may, or may not, have a just claim.
I pointed out that the man had been adjudged by- a Court of law to owe the money, adding -
I am unable to agree with the dictum that it is “most undesirable” for the Department to intervene in monetary disputes between public servants and their creditors. It should not be undesirable to take action, which the Public Service Act authorized (if not required) the Department to adopt in certain cases…..
Respecting this particular case, it is to be observed that the creditor’s claim is not correctly, described as “ a dispute.”’ Having been adjudicated upon by a Court of law, which awarded the creditor a. verdict, there is no longer “a dispute” between a tradesman and a public servant. The issue now is whether the public servant is to be permitted to disregard an award of a Court of Justice. It would, I think, be an abdication of plain duty if .the administrators of the Public Service Act refused assistance in giving effect to a Court’s lawful decision.
The Commissioner’s statement was that -
Mr. Withers has not, so far as the papers in the possession of the Commissioner disclosed, given his version of the transaction leading up to, and including, the Court proceedings between himself and Mr. Palmer.
To which I replied -
That Withers has failed to give “ his version of the transaction”” is not now to the point.. His neglect to submit his defence to the Court should certainly not be allowed to operate so as to defeat the rights of a creditor, as appraised and recorded by a Court of Justice.
The Commissioner also said that -
It does not appear that it would be right or proper to put the punitive clauses of the Act into motion on the ex parte statement of a “party interested.
My answer was -
No request has been made that “ the punitive clauses of the Act should be put into motion on the ex parte statement of an interested party.” Action is not suggested because of Palmer’s statement, but in view of Wither’* failure to recognise a decision of the Court - a totally different matter. Although the Commissioner apparently considers that Withers should “ give his version of the transaction,” I am surprised to notice that he does not propose to ask for it. I do not see the applicability to this case of the Commissioner’s reference to “ probable extortionate demands.” All the creditor here asks for is compliance with a judgment of a Court of justice, and I apprehend it is not intended to apply the word “ extortionate “ to it. :
Here the matter ended, so far as the Commissioner was concerned ; but I believe the individual in question was ultimately suspended1, and that, as. the result of the action taken in his case, numbers of othersliquidated their petty debts with great promptitude. The honorable member for Brisbane says that a number of complaints have reached him about officers being passed over. Very probably. That is a general experience. But does he imagine that in any large army, such as the Public Service, some will not always be found who are convinced their merits are not being recognised? So long as promotion is by .merit instead of by seniority, complaints about partiality will be made. An officer’s estimate of his capacity often differs from that of his superior or of those working with him> ; and those who do not receive the promotion or the increase of salary to which they deem themselves en-, titled, naturally find fault. It has been my’ duty to investigate many of these complaints, and, with a couple of exceptions, there was no warrant for the belief that partiality had been shown in the promotions. If any complaint is to be made, it is not as to the exercise of political, but rather of social, influence. That, however, is impossible to trace. The Public Service Commissioner is largely in the hands of his inspectors, who, although vested with very large powers and privileges,, on the whole perform their duties fairly well. In the matter with which the Government dealt some time ago, of inspectors seeking appointment as Deputy Postmasters-General, I think that Ministers acted quite properly. As these inspectors are called upon to report upon the qualifications of other applicants, they, should not compete for the positions sought by those applicants. An inspector occupies an exceptionally favorable ground, and, if he chose to do so, could undoubtedly damn the chances of an opponent. There is one other matter to which I desire to refer. The Minister is aware that the secretary to the Public Service Commissioner will be due for retirement at the end of the present half-year, and I wish to know whether it is proposed that the salary which he was receiving, after nearly forty years of service shall be paid to his successor. The full’ amount of >C6oo is on the Estimates. On general principles, an officer appointed to a new position should not start at the maximum salary enjoyed by his predecessor.
– I think that the honorable member may take that for granted.
– I am glad to have that assurance.
.- I was pleased to hear the remarks made by the honorable member for Brisbane in reference to the manner in which the Public Service Commissioner has discharged the duties of his office. Most of the representatives of New South Wales had an intimate acquaintance with him in pre-Federation days, first, as UnderSecretary for Public Works, and subsequently as Under-Secretary for Mines in that State. In both those Departments he did excellent work, and in the service of the Commonwealth he has proved himself a very able and competent officer. A great deal of the criticism levelled at the administration of his Department to-day is founded upon conditions for which the Government, and not the Commissioner himself, is responsible. When we passed the Public Service Act, we had before us very’ limited information as to the general conditions of the service, and the Commissioner, who has to administer it, often finds his- efforts hampered, by its provisions. Having regard to the. circumstances under which it was passed, the wonder is that it has not proved more imperfect than it is. It has been in operation for some time, and its imperfections are well known both to the administrator and the Government. In the last Parliament, reform was promised. We were told that the Minister of Home Affairs had on the stocks a Bill to give expression to the knowledge gained in the administration of the principal Act. In other words, it was to remove ‘the blemishes of the system and to enable the service to run as smoothly as possible. Nothing, however-, has since been heard of it. The consideration of the Tariff has interfered, in all probability, with its. introduction, but, in justice to the public service, it should not be delayed one day longer than can be avoided. I hope that the Government have the measure well in hand, arid that under it we shall remove the cause of much of the adverse criticism directed against the Department, and a great deal of the friction now obtaining throughout the service. In making that statement, I feel that I am only doing justice to the Commissioner. I, in common with other honorable members, wish to see this important branch df the service strengthened and rendered more efficient; but my experience as a member of the Parliament of New South Wales leads me to hope that we shall not revert to the old condition of affairs which prevailed in that State, where the control of the Department was practically in the hands of the Ministerial head, and its administration generally was subject to political influence.
– There is more favoritism under the Commonwealth system than ever prevailed under that to which the honorable member refers.
– The honorable member has had a longer political experience than I have had ; but I should like to heaT what evidence he has in support of his assertion. I do not think that Mr. McLachlan would be swayed by political influence or any improper consideration in administering the Department.
– The favoritism! to which I refer is due, not to Mr. McLachlan, but to those who recommend him to do certain things.
– In that respect, an amendment of the Act could be made with advantage. The Public Service Commissioner is located in Melbourne, and cannot possibly be personally acquainted with the details of every case submitted for his consideration. He must necessarily act largely upon the evidence submitted to him, of which the reports of his responsible officers form a considerable part. Where there is a conflict between an aggrieved public servant and the officer called upon to report upon his case - an officer supposed to foe disinterested, but who may, nevertheless, be animated by most bitter feelings against the aggrieved party - it is only natural that the Public Service Commissioner should accept the version of the facts put before him by his responsible servant. If he finds that that officer is untrustworthy - that his reports cannot be relied upon - he can get rid of him. No matter who occupies the position of Commissioner, the situation in that regard must remain unchanged in the absence of an amendment of the Act. What we need to do is to provide a readily accessible, and not too costly, medium of appeal between the public servant aggrieved and the officer at the head of his Department. We should have a tribunal to investigate complaints impartially., and put before the Commissioner and the Executive the result of its inquiry. The honorable member for West Sydney has on the notice-paper a motion with that object in view. His proposal is that the Commissioner shall be permitted to avail himself of the services of police magistrates throughout the Commonwealth, and to constitute any one of them a Court of Inquiry to investigate a complaint, and to submit the evidence with a report thereon to the officer in charge. It is only by some such method that something like justice in the treatment of these cases can be secured. An attempt made to establish a Board within the Department was found in a large number of cases to be unworkable. The Commonwealth comprises such a vast territory, and our officers are so widely scattered - many of them being remote from centres of population - that the appointment of such a Board would mean the erection of a piece of machinery so expensive that I do not think Parliament would agree to it.’ The suggestion made by the honorable member for West Sydney has very much to recommend it, and I trust that in the amending legislation which the Government has in view something will be done to meet this difficulty. I am sure that the- Public Service, from the Commissioner downwards, would welcome any device of this character that would enable a correct understanding of the position to be a’rrived at. Whilst our Public Service comprises many excellent officers, animated solely by a desire to do their duty, it would be unreasonable to assume that it consists wholly of such men. It often happens that a man of grea’t ability has also great failings, and allows his personal prejudices to override his sense of justice, so that public servants under his control often suffer injustice, and have no redress. The report and the word of their superior officer always count against them, and, when a conflict arises, they, at the very outset, stand a discredited party.
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I suggest that the Government replace the present ineffective Public Service Act by a new piece of up-to-date legislative machinery.
– Is ‘the Act out of date in five years?
– Yes. The Act was brought into existence under conditions that render it a matter of surprise, not that it is imperfect, but that it is so perfect as we find it. We had to deal with the public services of the Commonwealth on imperfect information; but we now know where the Act is faulty, and are in a position to amend it. One of the amendments I advocate is the provision of some means to enable an aggrieved officer to appeal to an independent tribunal, and have his case properly’ investigated. The very nature of the service is such that it is impossible for the Commissioner to make himself acquainted with every case or every grievance, or to investigate it in a satisfactory manner. To the desired end, I - recommended a proposal that is before the House in the shape of a Bill introduced by the honorable member for West Sydney, who seeks to enable the Commissioner to constitute local courts of inquiry, presided over by police magistrates or other local justices.
– That is what’ the Public Service objects’ to.
– I am not aware that that is so. If may be that the Public Service has a better proposal, but I know that in one State, at least, the officers are very dissatisfied with the present state of affairs. I do not believe that the administration is responsible for the friction, but rather that, if inquiry were instituted, it would be seen that the administration is correct. But, in the absence of any inquiry or means of investigation of the character I have suggested, the officers feel there is injustice, and the dissatisfaction increases. The proposal of the honorable member for West Sydney would, in the end, make the Public Service more satisfied with the decisions, even if these turned out to be not very widely, different from those arrived at at present’. The services of police magistrates and other justices, who ‘ discharged similar duties in the States, would be always available in different centres of population, and the courts could be constituted at the minimum of expense. The suggestion does not mean the introduction of any foreign authority into the administration, but simply a tribunal to fake evidence locally, and ‘the forwarding of that evidence, together with the report of the presiding, officer, for -whatever it might be worth, to the Commissioner, who would then be placed in a better position to deal with complaints.
– Would the decision of the Commissioner be final ?
– To the same extent that it is- final at the present time; and I do not think that the decision of the Commissioner ought to be , disturbed by any higher authority except for very sufficient reasons. There is trouble in the lower branches of’ the service, owing to the fact that under the present system it is practically the decision of the superior officer that obtains, and, in many cases, the superior officer is actuated by bias to such an exten’t that the! public servant is placed in an unfortunate and unhappy position. There are other directions in which amending legislation is required, notably the condition that all junior officers, such as telegraph messengers, shall retire at a certain age if the Department is unable to promote them to higher grades. That condition not only entails great injustice, but is largely responsible for the unsatisfactory position into which the Department has drifted. I have now in mind an instance which came under my notice, and which will convey to the Committee how the condition operates. In a country ‘town a. telegraph messenger was appointed ; and was trained by the postmaster to such a state of efficiency that he could take charge of the office. He could do the. telegraphic operating work, and attend to all the postal work; and so satisfied was the Department with him that, when relieving work was required, the services of this young man were called into requisition. But, as soon as he attained the age of eighteen’ years, he was called upon “to retire, on the ground that, there was no opening for promotion at the time. Thus the Department lost the results of the training which had extended over a number of years, and, of course, the services of a bright and intelligent young officer. Another messenger was selected to fill his place, but he was a young lad who knew nothing of the routine work and had to learn everything of telegraphy ;’ and, in the meantime, the. business at the office had so extended that it was necessary to provide the postmaster, not, however, until there had been a lot of trouble and inquiry, with an assistant to practically do the work which had previously been done by the trained youth who had been thrown out on the world. The operation of the Act in this connexion has done a. great deal towards disorganizing and upsetting the routine work of the Department, and I believe it is recognised bv the Commissioner, and all the controlling heads, that something should be done in order to rectify the trouble that has arisen. Only recently, in order to .fill up gaps in the Service, and to secure the advantage of the training bestowed on” youths similarly circumstanced, the Commissioner held a special examination, and, in this roundabout way, a number of them have been re-appointed. There are many other provisions of the Public Service Act similarly faulty, and it is only by a comprehensive and complete amending .Bill that the anomalies and difficulties can be removed. In the meantime, it is in the nature of an injustice to place all the burden and opprobrium on the Commissioner. If there is any blame it should rest upon the Government for refusing to arm the Commissioner with the necessary efficient legislation to enable him to satisfactorily discharge the functions of his high office. The Commissioner cannot go beyond the bounds of the Act, no matter how he may feel disposed to do so; and, therefore, he has to hold his hand, and do the best he can with the legislation at his disposal. I trust that as soon as the Tariff and other business is out of the way, the Government will bestow on the Commissioner the necessary power- to smooth, away difficulties in order that the Public Service of the Commonwealth may be better managed and more contented than it can possibly be under present conditions.
– I have listened to-day to a great number of complaints, directed by way of criticism, against the Public Service Commissioner and the Act under which he works. My impression just now is that what the Public Service Commissioner needs more than anything is a little cordial support from the members of this House. The condition of affairs is not satisfactory by any means.
– The Commissioner is not altogether responsible.
– I am not sure that the Commissioner is not being made a scapegoat for serious and deep-seated trouble elsewhere. I do not know what the honorable member for Calare proposes to do by way of an amending Bill, but it seems to me that, if anything, -the .Act requires tightening up a little in some of its provisions, so as to strengthen the Commissioner rather than weaken his authority in any way”. I am afraid that a steadyprocess of undermining is permitted, which, if it is not corrected Aery soon, will make the Public Service Commissioner a mere byword instead of the respected ‘authority in the Service he ought to be. I shall not countenance anything which tends in that direction. Whatever faults and failures may be written down against the legislation which we have passed, better a thousand times the troubles we have, than have recourse to political influence such as some of us have been accustomed in the various States of the Commonwealth. I shall not say any more on that point now, because I have a suspicion that the matter will come up again, perhaps in amore acute form, later on. I should like to call attention to the fact that we have at the present time a well-officered, and, in some respects a highly-paid, staff of gentlemen connected with the Department of Home Affairs, who are supposed to look after our Commonwealth buildings and repairs of various descriptions. I believe that the time has arrived when a forward movement might be made in connexion with this Department. I do not see why we should continue to pay thousands of pounds to the States to do work for us which we are well qualified to do for ourselves.
– I would point out to the honorable member that we have already passed the first item of this division.
– I merely wish to say that the sooner the Minister of Home Affairs makes better use of the official staff which has already been organized, and which I believe tobe thoroughly competent, the better. The States, no doubt, do their best for us, but I do not think that they do as well for us as we can do for ourselves, with the aid of our existing machinery, which, if necessary, might easily be expanded at a very slight expenditure. I trust that the Minister will seriously inquire into this matter.
.- I do not intend either to condemn or praise the Public Service Commissioner. As a matter of fact, I know very little about that officer, but I do know that it is impossible for one man to be seized of the qualifications of all the public servants of the Commonwealth. Consequently he has to rely upon information which is supplied to him. But it is very questionable whether he acts upon that information in all cases.
– Naturally he accepts the statements of superior officers in preference to those of subordinates.
– Unfortunately he does not. Only the other day I put various questions to the Minister relating to the promotion of an officer in the Postal Department at Hobart. This officer, I believe, was about 34th on the list, and yet he was promoted over the heads of all his superiors, notwithstanding that the Deputy Postmaster-General of Tasmania recommended the promotion of another officer to the position. When the Public Service Commissioner promotes an officer he ought to be prepared to tell this Parliament the reasons which have prompted his action. In the absence of that information honorable members occupy a very difficult position indeed. I repeat that it is impossible for any single individual to be seized with the qualifications of all our public servants, and when the Commissioner refuses to act upon the recommendations of heads of Departments he adopts a very high-handed attitude indeed.I hope that, notwithstanding the evasive answers which have been given in another place, we shall yet learn the true reason underlying the promotion of Mr. Blakney in Tasmania.
.- There is no doubt that the whole of our Public Service is seething with discontent. In New South Wales I am constantly having brought under my notice cases in which gross injustice has been done. But I do not saddle the Commissioner with responsibility in this connexion. In order to prevent the exercise of political influence we appointed a Public Service Commissioner, who is absolutely independent of Parliament. It was pointed out at the time that officers were entitled to rise from grade to grade in the order of their seniority until they reached the highest positions in the service. Nobody could take exception to that view. But I am in a position to prove that in practice it has been absolutely departed from. In the service to-day seniority is of no value whatever. The increments paid and the promotions made are alleged to be based upon merit. I know of cases in which junior officers have been promoted over the heads of seniors who are capable of passing any practical examination relating to their work. Yet they have no remedy whatever. Of course the heads of Departments are supposed to inquire into certain matters and to report to the Commissioner. But in many cases their reports are purely of a formal character.
– Public officers have no appeal against the decision of the Commissioner in matters of promotion.
– I know of a telegraphist in an important office outside of Sydneywho has been in the service for twenty -seven years. He has not a single black mark against him, and his own immediate superiors, and also the head of the Department, declare that he is a first-class man. But somebody in the Central Administration in Sydney holds a different opinion. This officer has frequently been called upon to take charge of the Telegraphic Department, but, notwithstanding that he is thoroughly competent, and has a record extending over twenty-seven years, he has been refused promotion whilst those who have not half that term of service to their credit have been promoted over his head. I ask honorable members whether that is fair? Yet public servants who labour under these disabilities have no means of redress open to them. If they dare to approach a member of Parliament, and he ventures to put their case before the Minister or the Public Service Commissioner, they are at once told that they have committed a breach of the regulations. Thus a perfect state of terrorism prevails. Rather than submit to such conditions officers with a record of twenty years’ service have resigned. The Minister will do well to inquire into this matter. I do hope that very shortly we shall be asked to amend the present Public Service Act, so that justice may be done to the public servants over whom we are supposed to exercise control, but over whom we really exercise none.
– There certainly ought to be an effective method of appeal provided.
– Exactly. Although the old system of favoritism, under which Ministers were approached by members, no longer obtains, officers at headquarters are approached, in some cases by members of Parliament, and become biased, so that they do wrong to some individuals in trying to raise the status of others. We can only remove this evil by the introduction of an effective appeal board, which will allow of the investigation of complaints of injustice in the broad light of day. I shall notsay more on the subject how, because I have some remarks to make on the PostmasterGeneral’s Estimates. I bring no charge against any Minister or permanent head ; but I say that it is the duty of Ministers, when wrong-doing is alleged, to investigate the complaints made, and, if the machinery to rectify them is inadequate, to invite Parliament to legislate in the interests of justice.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 24 (Public Works Staff), £15,041.
.- The Minister has told us that there has been reorganization in this Department, and I am glad to know it ; but I should like him to explain what has been done. There is certainly a re-arrangement of the items affecting the Public Works Staff. The total salaries paid to the officers of this staff is £7,201, but it appears to me that the central, or executive, staff is proportionally too expensive. It has a DirectorGeneral at £900 a year, with professional assistants and clerks, making it cost about £3,000, or practically as much as the cost of what I may call the working staffs in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia. If we were criticising a business concern, we should say that the executive staff is overweighted. The honorable member for Parramatta has said that, in his opinion, it is time that we had a Public Works Department of our own, and I think so, too. At present we pay more than £6,600 per annum to States officials, I do not take exception to the total cost of the public works supervision - £15,041 - because the amount expended on additions, new works, buildings, and special defence provision is £819,874, upon which the cost of designing and supervising amounts to less than 2 per cent. That is not very much, seeing that recently an architect in the Old Country, who gained a competition for the design and erection of a certain building, made 35 per cent. commission out of it. The Treasurer used to be of opinion that we should control our own public works.
– I am of that opinion now.
– I think that we might very well do that. I should like to know why we have an assistant lighthouse engineer at £345 per annum, when we have not taken over the control of lighthouses. What are his duties? Is he a designer of lighthouses or an inspector? Surely one man could not inspect all the lighthouses along the Australian coast?
– In view of the high salaries paid by the Commonwealth, for the supervision of public works, I do not think that we should any longer depend on the Governments of the States for the carrying out of these works. If more men are needed toenable the Commonwealth to do that, they should be appointed and adequately paid to make our service effective. All who are interested in the construction of public works must know that now often an extraordinary delay takes place between the voting of money by Parliament and the carrying out of a work. A Minister has always been able to stave off applications for works by saying that parliamentary sanction must be obtained for them ; but under the present Commonwealth system months, and sometimes years, elapse after the money has been voted before public works are taken in hand. This state of affairs should not have arisen. We should have our public works undertaken with sufficient energy and activity to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth. A great deal of the congestion which has occurred is due to the manner in which this branch of the Department of Home Affairs has been organized. We accepted a superfluous officer from the Defence Department, and placed him in charge of the Public Works branch. That was a mistake. I do not think that he had the experience or the energy necessary for the proper performance of his duies.
– His energy is boundless.
– It must be directed in the wrong channels. The results would not lead one to suppose that he has any.
– He is a trained mechanical engineer.
– I do not pretend to be an expert in engineering ; but I fail to see the necessity for appointing a mechanical engineer as Inspector-General of Public Works. I frankly admit that until he was appointed I did not know of his existence, and do not know what are his qualifications. I am judging him entirely by his work, which, in my opinion, has been of an entirely unsatisfactory character. ‘it seems to me that we are paying too much for it.
– In what way ?
– We are not getting the work done.
– It may be that he has no working staff.
– Has he asked for a working staff? There is nothing to show that he has not such a staff. I do not know whether the Minister knows anything about this officer; I know very little of him. It seems to me that a mistake was made - that we should have obtained from one of the States a high-class officer having experience in the particular branches of public works that have to be carried out by the Commonwealth. A man may Le a skilled and celebrated mechanical engineer, arid yet unfit to carry out the majority of the works under the control of the Commonwealth.
– I think that the honorable member has misunderstood me. What I wished to convey was that Colonel Owen had had practical, as well as theoretical, training as an engineer. He is also a military expert.
– I understand thatthe whole of his training has been really in relation to defence works.
– He has been engaged in architectural work, as well asin the construction of buildings. His military work is merely secondary. He is a man of very high qualifications.
– The Government would have acted wiselyin securing from one of the States, as it could easily have done, an officer who had had practical experience in carrying out works of the multifarious character dealt with by the Commonwealth. We should not be satisfied to have in this position a man whose ability and training run in only one direction. What we need is a man capable of building a post-office or other public structure, and of inspecting repairs - a man able to advise the Commonwealth, and to direct an up-to-datebranch of public works which will give usmore satisfaction than we have at present. I am not prepared to allow this subdivision to pass until 1 receive from the Government a satisfactory assurance that we are going to have a very much better state of things in the Department. I think that it is a disgrace to the Commonwealth Service. Taking the Commonwealth Service as a whole, we have every reason to be proud of it, and may regard it as a marked improvement upon what prevailed in pre- Federal days. But I do not feel that in this branch we have anything like the service we are entitled to expect. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that in this regard the wishes and legitimate desires of the public will be more fully consulted than they have been during the last few years.
.- I hope that the Minister, in thinking out this matter, will judge for himself of the capacity and work of the Inspector-General, rather than trust to the exparte information of an honorable member who feels justified in speaking in the House of the unfitness of an officer for a position of this kind, without, as he admits, knowing anything about his qualifications. It is not just to any officer of the Public Service that his demerits should be canvassed, when the canvasser himself admits that he does not even know what are his qualifications.
– I know his work, or rather want of work,
– Does the honorable member mean to say that this officer does no work ?
– Judging by the results, he does not do the work we are entitled to have.
– The honorable member ought to know, if he has taken even the most superficial-
– I frankly admit that I do not know him as well as the honorable member does.
– It is obvious that the honorable member does not know the Department as well as I do. I have had cause for complaint with regard to the slowness - I shall not say the slackness of the central staff- of the Department in having work carried out. I know, however, that they have to depend on the Public Works Departments of the States. The States Departments will naturally do their own work first, and the Commonwealth work has to wait.
– It is not fair to charge the delay against our own officers.
– It is not fair to attribute it to any officer of the central staff.
– We have had to take work out of the hands of the States authorities after waiting for months to have it carried out.
– Exactly. I am convinced that that is the cause of the delay. I hope that honorable members will address themselves to this question in an entirely impersonal spirit. I am sure that it is their desire that we should obtain the best officers available, and a thoroughly up-to-date Department, but I do not think we shall do so by entering upon a canvass of the personal qualifications of officers, with which the Minister and the Public Service Commissioner arebest fitted to deal. I hope that when we do touch the trouble, we shall go to the root of it.
– Leaving the top alone, and getting down to the lower grades.
That, of course, is the honorable member’s idea.
– I do not wish to incur any further interjections from the honorable member. My suggestion is that we should endeavour to arrive at a better arrangement with the States - if we must have an arrangement with them - for the speedy carrying out of public works; but do not let us canvass the private qualifications of officers, especially when we ourselves confess that we do not know anything about them.
– Colonel Owen is a very good man.
– Dealing first of all with the alleged lack of qualifications on the part of the Inspector-General of Public Works,I should like to say that whilst . I have no personal knowledge of them, the facts submitted to me go to show that Colonel Owen is an officer of extremely wide experience, of large practical knowledge, and a man the like of whom it would be difficult to obtain, having regard to the peculiar position that he occupies. He has had experience, for some years, in an architect’s office; he has had some practical experience in building and construction works, and awide and varied experience in regard to the construction of fortifications and other defence works. From the facts that have been placed before me, I am satisfied that he is an extremely capable officer.
– At any rate he had a good reputation in New South Wales as an active officer.
– And he had a reputation in the Military Department ; we had some difficulty in obtaining his services.
– Any faults apparent in the administration largely arise from present conditions.
– And the system.
– And the system. The fact is that we are not quite ripe for a Public Works Department of our own, but the time is approaching when itwill be absolutely necessary to have one; and the reorganization proposed under these Estimates is a step in that direction. But honorable members must recollect that when Federation was inaugurated there were a very few public works in hand. If I remember rightly, only some £30,000 or £40,000 wasspent in public works in the first year, whereas the expenditure now is nearly £1, 000,000.
– The small expenditure in the first year was due to the fact that we did not get the Estimates through.
– But in the second year of Federation, the expenditure was nothing like whatit is at the present time.
– Is not the trouble due to the fact that some of the works are so long in hand?
– I shall explain that matter directly. As I say, we were not ready for a Public Works Department of our own, because there was not sufficient work to justify its establishment, and, consequently, the system was adopted by which we rely very largely upon the States officers.
– And in some of the States there are some really first-class men.
– Notwithstanding the fact that the officersin the States are capable men, the system is bound in some cases to involve a certain amount of delay, owing to the fact that plans and specifications have to be remitted to the central office for approval. Hitherto the practice has been, first of all, to have a sketch plan prepared by a State officer, and that plan has to be remitted to the InspectorGeneral here for approval. If the plan proves to be not quite right, it has to go back; and thus there is a constant flow of correspondence, plans, and I know not what between the central office and the States.
– What amount of work in ordinary repairs can be done without reference to the head office?
– Fifty pounds, I think, may be expended in that way.
– So that if an expenditure of £51 be contemplated, it must be sanctioned at the head office?
– I understand that it is proposed to increase that amount. In any case, under the new scheme it is proposed to have sketch plans prepared in our own Department. The reason for this is that very often the sketch plans originally prepared by States officers, are not at all suitable, or in conformity with the general plans and specifications applicablein theCommonwealth.
– Then the staff at the central office will have to be increased.
– Quite so.
– And the officers at the central staff will not be familiar with local conditions.
– More centralization !
– We desire those works to be done locally.
– It appears to me that honorable members desire an impossibility. They desire decentralization, and, at the same time, a Public Works Department centered in Melbourne. What we would really like, of course, would be to have our own staff doing our own work throughout the Commonwealth; but, as I said before, the works required are not sufficiently large to justify that step; and, therefore, we have to reorganize from time to time.
– Is that the reason we have all those unexpended balances?
– That is, in part, the reason.
-That we have not enough work ?
– No ; we have plenty of work, but we cannot get it done quickly enough.
– It is all circumlocution, just as inthe. case of the Northam Post Office!
– The remark of the honorary Minister is a censure on the Department.
– It is not a censure on the Department, but it is on the system. IfStates officers receive instructions from one of the States Premiers, and also receive instructions from the Commonwealth Department, which instructions will they follow? Under the circumstances, we have been more or less in the hands of the States.
– Why not do the same as is done in the Attorney-General’s Department? If the Crown Law officers cannot undertake work, they give it to outside solicitors.
– I do not know why that has not been done in the case ofpublic works ; but the suggestion, which has not been made before, is a good one. As I was saying, the work of the Department of Home Affairs is growing. For instance, the Government have just been asked to take over the control of lighthouses, beacons, and buoys. A vast amount of information has been collected and tabulated, and we have arrived at the stage when it is necessary to appoint an expert officer to make recommendations to the Government as to the works to be proceeded with first. Each of the several States has been asked to supply a report, setting forth what are. considered to be the principal lights, beacons, and so forth that are necessary, and the shipping companies have been asked to send similar information from their point of view. This information, as I say, has been collected and collated, and we have now to appoint an officer in charge to carry out the work for which provision is made in the Estimates. The same remarks apply to a large extent to the appointment of an Assistant Military Engineer.
– We will knock that item out !
– I do not know that the item will be knocked out, but in’ any case, I should like to say a word or two about it. The defence scheme necessarily involves some work in this connexion, and if we are to have the work done in Australia by Australians, it will probably be clone cheaper under the system suggested by the Government than if we import a military engineer of the Royal Engineers in Great Britain or from elsewhere. What is proposed is that the Director-General, being himself an expert, shall have the assistance of an Assistant Military Engineer, and that they between them shall carry out the works ordered from time to time by the Defence Department. As a matter of fact, the Director-General has hitherto, without any extra pay, and at great inconvenience to himself, done a large part of the work, but it is now proposed, and I think rightly that he should have the assistance provided for on the Estimates. Honorable members should not blame the Department-
– It is not the Department, but the system we blame.
– I think that honorable members ought to recognise that, under existing conditions, it is impossible to act differently. I ask honorable members, if they can, to give us information which will lead us to do better, because the Department is not above learning. But if it is proposed to establish a huge Public Works Staff, with an army of inspectors, to carry out small works and repairs all over Australia, it will prove much more expensive’ than the present system. The honorable member for Dalley desired to know why it was that there was such a large sum proposed on the Estimates for the central staff. The reason is that the staff is not only professional, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, but is a staff which does immense work in the preparation of plans and other details. The central office, being in the State of Victoria, the work can be done here without-
– What about the other States ?
– The Government can never see beyond Victoria.
– The Victorian staff being on the spot, we are taking advantage of the services of the officers in order to save money on the works carried out in this State ; and the same step would be taken if we happened to be in New South Wales. The fact that the central office is here, enables it to proceed with local work without any reference to the State Public Works Department. This, in some measure, accounts for the size of the central staff, and, in the light of that fact, the expenditure is not, by any means, abnormal.
.- The honorary Minister has, I think, rather missed the point, because no one really wishes to blame the Department. So far as I have seen, the Department does its work really well when it undertakes it; but the trouble is the delay in necessary repairs. Up to quite recently, if repairs were required to a small building in a country village, the central office had to be requisitioned, and all the routine gone through, before the work could be undertaken. This state of affairs was considered by the Government, with the magnificent result that up to £50 can now be spent on repairs without reference to the head office. If the cost of repairing a postoffice in the remote portions of Queensland, Western Australia, or Tasmania amounts to £51, the officer responsible for undertaking those repairs has to make an elaborate report to the central office in Melbourne, and thus delay ensues. The Inspector of Public Works in my own State - who is a thoroughly competent man. and who has to superintend a very large expenditure in connexion with the work of his State Department - is obliged to make a complete report to the central office in. Melbourne whenever a Commonwealth undertaking exceeds £50. Until we adopt a system of decentralization, and vest greater powers in the local authorities, delay is inevitable. As the right honorable member for Swan has asked, “ How can an official in the central office know the requirements of remote portions of the Commonwealth?”
The Department can be successful only by adopting a greater degree of decentralization than has hitherto been attempted.
– - I desire some information in regard to the offices of assistant military engineer and inspector of rifle ranges. I cannot understand why the Department of Home Affairs requires the services of these two officials. Whilst the present Treasurer presided over the Department of Home Affairs he appointed Colonel Owen as Inspector of Public Works.
– I did not appoint Colonel Owen. It was the right honorable member for Swan. As a matter of fact, I opposed his appointment.
– I have not time to look up Hansard, but my recollection differs from that of the Treasurer.
– Colonel Owen’s appointment was suggested to me, and I opposed it, because I did not believe in the duplication of the offices, and because I did not know very much about him.
– The honorable member recommended him to me.
– What was stated by members of the Labour Party, and some members of the Opposition, as likely to happen in regard to this Department, has happened. We said that the thin end of the wedge was being introduced, and that the Department would ultimately become very expensive. On the first “Estimates,’ provision was made for the appointment of an Inspector-General of- Works and a clerk, at & total cost of about .£1,500. I was afraid at the time that ultimately there would be the duplication which we now seem likely to get. I do not know why we should need a Commonwealth staff when there are States staffs to do this work. The States staffs have no more to do than they had to do prior to Federation ; there has been merely a transference of control. I know that in Queensland, Commonwealth and State works take their turn. Commonwealth work is not put on one side to allow State work to be pushed ahead. If votes have lapsed because State officials have shelved applications, Ministers have neglected their duty in allowing ‘ it. They should have called upon outside firms to do what was necessary. As for the Brisbane Post Office, I know that most faithful supervision is being given there ; in fact, that the contractors are growling that it is too much. The InspectorGeneral of Works was an officer in the Defence Forces.
– In New South Wales.
– Is that the trouble?
– Certainly not.
– I understand that General Hutton consented to allow him to join the Home Affairs Department only on .condition that he should continue his military work. A man recommended as Colonel Owen was - and ‘I have had a lot to do with him in connexion with works carried out in Queensland - must be an up-to-date engineer. In the construction of fortifications he is, no doubt, without his superior in the Commonwealth. We were lucky to get such a man. Of course, he has his fads, but we all have them.
– They show, at least, an active brain.
– Yes. Sometimes it happens that the State authorities pigeon-hole his instructions, and therefore works are delayed ; but he shows no want of energy. Generally speaking, I regard the Home Affairs Department as the fifth wheel of a coach. Its officers are so bound about by red tape that only a knife would cut through.. If a window has to be put into a postoffice on the Queensland and South Australian border, application to spend halfacrown has to be made to Melbourne, and at one time a broom could not be bought without getting authority from the head office.
– I know a postmaster who had .to pay out of his own pocket for a window which he put in.
– That system has been altered.
– At any rate, I do not believe in having an assistant military engineer and a military inspector of rifle ranges in ‘connexion with this Department, and I intend to move for the elimination of the two item providing for them. I move -
That the item “Assistant Military Engineer £345>” an(l the item “ Inspector of Rifle Ranges ^233,” be left out.
– When one tries to do his public duty apart from private or personal feeling, I protest against objections being raised to his course of action. This is the opportunity to bring complaints about the Departments before the Government, and I did what was right in drawing attention to the position of the principal officer of the Public Works Staff. It is not my custom to make personal attacks on individuals.
– I am afraid that the honorablemember did so in this case.
– The honorable member should be the last to make such a remark. It is not long since he made an attack upon another officer.
– I hope that the honorable member will be as sorry for his attack on Colonel Owen as 1 have been for the occurence of a few years ago.
– I have not the same justification.
– I think quite the same.
– Any attackI may have made has been couched in impersonal terms. The honorable member probably feels sorry when he remembers the language which he used in speaking of ah officer and a gentleman, and I object to an attempt to place my statement on the same low level. The cases are not parallel, as any one who cares to look up our records will see. I have not made an attack on any individual. I am not known personally to the Inspector-General. If I have offended an honorable member by speaking against an officer who happens to be a personal friend, I’ am sorry, though I think that in this Chamber we should leave personal considerations out of the question. There was nothing very vicious in what I said, and I spoke in the discharge of what I conceived to be my duty. No one had a right to accuse me of being actuated by personal motives.
– Is this heat the result of the Australian Natives Association’s Conference?
– Although there were 200 delegates at that Conference, no remark like that of the honorable member for Wentworth was made there. With regard to the statement made by way of interjection by the honorable member that my opposition to this branch of the Department was due to the fact that the InspectorGeneral came from New South Wales-
– I asked the honorable member if that was the reason for his opposition.
– The honorable member ought to have known, and doubtless did know, that it was utterly unnecessary to address such a question to me.
– The honorable member oughtto be the last to say a word against New South Wales.
– The honorable member for Wentworth desires to treat lightly a statement which, if uncontradicted, would do all the damage that he desired it to do. This is the first time that such a charge has been made against me in this House, and it is utterly unjustifiable. Never by word or deed have I shown the slightest animus towards any person appointed to the Commonwealth service from any other State thanVictoria. I defy the honorable member to show that I have done so. In these circumstances, his question was unjustifiable - I was going to say ungenerous - but since I do not expect any generosity from him, I shall not use that word. His remark was utterly improper, but it is impossible to pierce his pachydermatous covering. His laugh justifies my criticism. If he were at all sensitive, hewould receive this chastisement, which is entirely deserved, in a contrite spirit. His cachinnatory explosions show that he does not realize the seriousness of the position. It is unfortunate, but we ought rather to pity than to blame him. Coming to thequestion immediately under consideration, I may say that I do not. feel prepared to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Maranoa.
– What is the officer wanted for?
– I believe that Colonel Owen wants him.
– But there are two of these men.
– Then the InspectorGeneral should have their services if he requires them. I have brought under the notice of the Minister a state of affairs which I think ought not to be allowed to continue. I wish to see urgent public works, in respect of which votes have been passed, carried out without delay. Instead of this policy of laissez faire, we should have an up-to-date Department. In many cases money has been voted over and over again for certain public works, but we are unable to get them. ‘ I sincerely hope that some energy will be thrown into this particular branch of the service, in order that the people may obtain that for which they are prepared to pay.
.- I do not propose to follow the honorable member for Laanecoorie along the particular line of abuse that he has seen fit to adapt, and which does not appear to me to be quite worthy of this Chamber: I ask honorable members who were present to. say whether it is not true that his remarks, to which I objected, were directed, not against the administration of a public Department, nor to the way in which that Department could be made most effective, but against the Inspector-General of Public Works. The honorable member stated that that officer was- not the best man who could: be found for the position, but he admitted towards the close of his remarks that he knew nothing about his qualifications. I then rose and expressed the hope that the Minister would judge of this officer’s services, from his own knowledge, and not upon the ex -parte statements of an honorable member who, after canvassing his qualifications in this House, admitted that he knew nothing about them. If this attitude on my part has been responsible for the honorable member’s abusive frame of mind, it is no concern of mine. I am sorry that the time of the Committee has been wasted in such a. frivolous way.
Proposed vote agreed to.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn, may I say that the first business on Tuesday will be the second reading of the Surplus Revenue Bill.
.- Some two or three weeks ago, the honorable member for Lang, and the honorable member for Hunter, brought under the notice of the Prime Minister certain charges of corruption, made by way of innuendoes, against members of this Parliament. “It will be remembered that the honorable member for Lang asked the honorable gentleman’ whether his attention had been directed to the report of an interview with , Mr. O. C Beale, who, by innuendo, charged honorable members with corruption. His attention was also called, to an article in the Bulletin which, by inference, made a similar charge, against many honorable members. Trie Prime Minister promised that he would try to devise some means to sift such charges to die bottom, and to consider whether the law could; be set in motion. These charges have been the property of the public for something like three, weeks, and I should like to know whether the Prime Minister has yet given any consideration to the matter. I presume he will say that he could not force the people concerned to give evidence, but will’ he tell us what steps he has taken ?
– In the course of discussion recently, some statements were made concerning the present Acting Administrator of Papua. Although I did not attach much importance to them, seeing that Judge Murray has been amply vindicated by the report of independent Royal Commissioners, still I apprehend the Government will not permit these aspersions on a valued and eminent public servant to pass unnoticed. The Prime Minister having had no earlier opportunity of. dealing with the matter, this will, perhaps, be a fitting occasion to remove any doubts entertained that the present Administrator of Papua retains, undiminished, the full confidence of the Government.
– In reply to the honorable member for Dalley, I have, in accordance with my undertaking, communicated with honorable members in different parts of this House, with a view to the nomination of a Joint Committee of both Houses, to lay down a form of procedure to be applied to such cases.
– Then that Committee will not have power to inquire into these charges ?
– They will have power to frame a. form of procedure to be followed in any cases of this kind that may occur. If it be thought necessary, the power, when given, may be afterwards applied to charges already made.
– The Committee will have no power to summon the parties.
– They need have no such power at present. The proposal is that they shall prepare a scheme which will enable, in some effective way, and without ostentation or advertisement, charges of this kind to be tried in an expeditious and summary fashion; so that the offenders may be brought to book.
– One of the alleged offenders will be leaving for London next week.
– The honorable member has sources of information denied to me, if he knows who the offenders are. I ‘have stated the progress that has been made. It is. only to-day that I received the names of two- or three of the members who have kindly consented to act, and believe the list will be completed on Tuesday.
– When I say, “ one of the alleged offenders,” I mean one of the members accused. I do not want to be misunderstood.
– In reply to’ the honorable member for Coolgardie, during the time I was in the House no statement was made reflecting upon the character of Judge Murray. The only statement that 1. heard that could have been challenged, and that was challenged almost immediately, was to the effect that he hari been the ‘ ‘ head and front of the offending “ in connexion with the charges against the late Administrator of Papua, Captain Barton. The word “offending,” or the implication that there was ‘ any offence in giving evidence on that matter, is of course inappropriate, and cannot be sustained. Judge Murray, as he then was, gave evidence in that connexion of- a very important character. . That was his duty. He could not have avoided it if he had desired. - He was bound to state the facts as he knew them, and to give his own opinions. That he did. Although it is not unnatural that the friends of the late Administrator should resent his evidence, yet the only implication that I heard was the phrase I have quoted.
– Did not he repeat some private conversations at a dinner table ?
– My recollection is that he repeated conversations which took place on board the Merrie England - a public vessel belonging to the Government, and not to any private person - relating’ to the management of Papua and the attitude adopted towards white settlers. I am speaking from memory, bus that is my recollection. It was alleged on behalf of the. then Administrator that those conversations ought to have been considered privileged, because they took place at a dinner table. My recollection ‘ of the rejoinder is that this was practically a public dinner table, at which all the public officers on board attended without needing to be invited, and without being indebted to any one’s hospitality.
– And it was .stated mat Executive Council meetings were held in that room.
– It was alleged that even at meal times it was really an official gathering, and that- official matters were discussed in a way that did not preclude their being referred to outside. In any case, whatever may have been said in that regard, it would not have justified the imputation that an officer who gave evidence affecting the policy pursued in the Possession was an offender. The word did not imply a charge, because it forms part of a well-known quotation. I took it that the word was loosely applied. Moreover, the statement was replied to by the honorable member for Coolgardie or by others in a way that called for no further statement on the part of the Government.
– I called attention to the fact that the Royal Commission completely exonerated Judge Murray.
– That is so. The Royal Commission, which consisted of three highly competent and entirely independent persons, accepted the views that were’ put forward by Judge Murray and by others, but of course his evidence attracted more attention, because he was the next highest officer in the Possession.
– The Commission exculpated him from that explicit charge.
– Yes. If I had thought that there was any challenge of any Government officer in what was stated during the debate, I should at once have felt it my duty to deal with it. I heard none, unless the inference from a familiar quotation was so interpreted.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.40 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 March 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1908/19080327_reps_3_45/>.