3rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m. and read prayers.
Progress report (No. 1) presented by Sir
John Quick, and read by the Clerk, as follows -
The Select Committee appointed to join with a Select Committee of the Senate to inquire and report as to the best procedure in cases of Privilege and other matters have the honour to report that they have made progress, and request leave to report the Minutes of Evidence from time to time.
John Quick, Chairman.
Committee Room,9th April, 1908.
– The libellous statements of the Bulletin, alleging that bribery has taken place in connexion with members of this House, were, I think, brought under the notice of the Prime Minister by the Secretary to the Sydney Chamber of Manufactures, of which, I understand, Mr. Beale, who has also made grave charges against honorable members, is the President. Has the Prime Minister received a letter on the subject from Mr. Beale, and will he lay on the table all the correspondence relating to it?
– I do not know that the statements referred to contain libels of honorable members, nor am I aware that Mr. Beale is the present President of the Sydney Chamber of Manufactures. I have not received a letter from him on this subject.
– Will the honorable member lay on the table the letter from the Secretary to the Chamber?
– I beg to ask the Prime Minister if he will request the Premier of New South Wales to have a return furnished, showing, of areas within twenty miles of Dalgety and Canberra respectively : (1) The persons to whom Crown lands have been alienated since 1st January, 1902 ? (2) The persons to whom real estate other than Crown lands has been transferred since 1st January, 1902? (3) The present holders of real estate? (4) The present holders of leases convertible into freehold?
– I shall do so.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Trade and Customs if it is a fact that he has received a telegram from Cooma stating that, after years of effort, they have at last succeeded in growing there a wonderful citron melon, weighing no less than 34 lbs. ?
– The Inspector-General of the Military Forces, in his report circulated to-day, states that the minimum approximate cost of a junior officer’s uniform is£44 8s. 6d., in which is included £4 for a sword, a weapon that for actual use has been discarded in the British Army for more than ten years. Does the Minister of Defence propose to embarrass new officers obtaining commissions with unnecessary expenditure of this kind?
– As the Prime Minister has informed Parliament, the subject of military dress will be dealt with drastically in connexion with the new defence scheme. The present cost of an officer’s equipment is ridiculous. No doubt the sword is an ornament rather than” a weapon, and the propriety of continuing or discontinuing its use will be considered.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers: -
Federal Capital Site - Further correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Premier of New South Wales, 1st to9th April,1908. Electoral Rolls, New South Wales, 1906. - Removals and Additions of Names.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
After this financial year it is not proposed to subsidize immigration leagues in Australia.
Arthur in respect to the proposal mentioned in the Department. It must be clearly understood that no person is ineligible as an immigrant because he is a Russian, or a Jew, or both.
SUPPLY . (Formal.)
Post and Telegraph Department :
Question. - That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply - proposed.
– I move -
That all the words after the word “ That “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ the consideration of the Order of the Day be postponed until to-morrow.”
The debate on the Capital Site has reached a stage at which it would be highly undesirable to interrupt it, while the plea that the discussion of grievances is urgent cannot be made, seeing that we have only just dealt with the Estimates, and will very shortly have under consideration the Additional Estimates. Every possible grievance in connexion with the various, branches of the Service has been, or .can soon be, ventilated. Consequently, I venture to submit that in the interest of public business, and with a view to closing the session within a reasonable period, it is not necessary to set apart to-day for that purpose, especially as to do so would interrupt the important debate on the Capital Site now proceeding. An arrangement embracing all parties has been arrived at. I trust that my proposal will commend itself to the House. .
– I rise to a point of order. The Standing Orders provide specifically that every third Thursday shall be set apart for this particular motion to go into Committee of Supply,, and I doubt whether the motion can be postponed for any time.
– The standing order to which attention has been called is No. 241; and after setting out that the Speaker shall leave the chair when either the Committee of Supply or the Committee of Ways and Means has . reported progress, it goes on to say -
Except that while the Committee of Supply and Ways and Means are open, the first Order of the Day on every third Thursday shall be either Supply or Ways and Means, and on that Order of the Day being read, the question shall be proposed “That the Speaker do now leave the Chair,” to which question any member shall be at liberty to address the House, or move any amendment thereon.
Every point in that standing order has been satisfied- The order of the day has appeared on the third Thursday, and I have read- it as required; and any honorable member, the Prime Minister be in: one, may speak to the motion, or may move an amendment, as he has done. The whole matter is, therefore, fully in order.
– Will you, sir, accept an amendment on the amendment proposed ?
– The honorable member will see that the question put from the Chair is, “ That. the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question.” If the words are- left out it will then be open for any honorable member to move an amendment, adding to or subtracting from the words proposed by the Prime Minister j but I cannot accept an amendment until the question, whether the words shall or shall not be struck out, has been dealt with.
.- I am more than surprised at the action of the Prime Minister.
– Does the honorable member mean to say that he did not know this amendment was to be proposed?
– I always say what I mean, and I am not at all inclined to bury any knowledge that I have. For. several months past, in ‘the interests of Government business, we have been . deprived of the time usually allotted to private members’ business, and we have, therefore, not been able to ventilate some questions of great public importance. I do not ‘chink that the motion to-day is & fair return for the consideration which has hitherto’ been shown to the. Government.
– These questions have waited so long, that they might well wait another day until ‘the Capital Site question has ‘ been disposed of.
– Now that the consideration of the Capital Site question has been entered upon, it does not matter whether it occupies a day or two, more or less. Grievance day is the only chance which private members have to submit questions which they regard as important in ‘the public interest. For something like six months past I have had a motion on the notice-paper, and I had intended to submit it to-day- under the standing order which has just been quoted. I desired to move that the words of the motion be deleted, with a view to inserting an. amendment to the effect that a Royal Commission be appointed to report on the organization and working of the Post and Telegraph Department.
– The honorable member has “jumped” my proposal.
– Later on, if I have an opportunity, I shall tell the honorable member the reason I have taken this course. If one question more than another should receive the sympathetic consideration of the Government, it is the question involved in the proposal I have just foreshadowed. I do not intend to discuss the matter now, but merely to express the hope that the Prime Minister will recognise the rights of private members, ‘ and afford them the opportunity to which .’they are entitled. Honorable members certainly ought to have some consideration shown to them, in view of the consideration which they have shown to the Government’ for many months past. The sole object of my proposal is to obtain an effective inquiry into the anomalies and injustices which are alleged to exist in the Post and Telegraph Department.
.-I, too, am surprised at the attitude of the Prime Minister. I take the view that no such step as that now proposed should be taken - that the recognised order of business should not be interfered with - without honorable members having extended to them the courtesy of a notice of intention to that end on the part of the Government. It is known that opportunity is offered under standing order 241 to honorable members to ventilate questions ifthey so desire; and, therefore, I repeat that it would have been only courteous on the part of the Prime Minister to signify his intention to submit an amendment of this kind.
– The proposed postponement is only until to-morrow.
– When does “ tomorrow ‘ ‘ come ? Does the honorable member for Corio think I am simple enough to think that the Prime Minister is likely to give honorable members an opportunity tomorrow? If the Prime Minister will say that he will allow private members’ business to be debated to-morrow, I shall sit down.
– That is not my motion. It is now proposed to go into Supply ; and private members’ business cannot be dealt with in Committee of Supply.
– The Prime Minister knows that it is possible under standing order 241 for an honorable member to introduce certain items of private business.
– That can be done tomorrow.
– Nothing of the kind; but if the Prime Minister will give me an assurance-
– No assurance is needed.
– I know the honorable member does not ask for any assurance ; he is apologizing now for an extraordinary position.
– I am merely stating a fact.
– In my humble judgment, it is not a fact. If the honorable member for Gwydir is not able to introduce his proposal to-day, it will of course, be postponed until the third Thursday from now, and I understand that the Prime Minister anticipates that the Government will then be safely in recess. The Prime Minister had reason to believe that the honorable member for Gwydir, on the motion that you, Mr. Speaker, do now leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply, intended to submit an . amendment expressing very definitely his views regarding the chaotic state of the Postmaster-General’s Department, and I ask him whether he thinks that his Government is taking up a decent attitude in refusing the honorable member the only opportunity open to him to take; that course ?
– The amendment before the Chair is that the motion be postponed until to-morrow.
– Does the honorable member think that, if the Prime Minister’s proposal were agreed to, we should be in a position to discuss grievances to-morrow? Does he not know that Government business in the ordinary course takes precedence ?
– I rise to a point of order. The amendment provides that the question of the House resolving itself into a Committee of Supply be postponed until to-morrow. The terms of standing order 241, however, are clear, and undoubtedly confine the discussion of grievances on a formal supply motion to the third Thursday in every month. That being so, I should like to know, Mr. Speaker, whether we should be able to-morrow to discuss grievances in the terms of the standing order.
– If there is any doubt on the question, I should like to be heard. The motion that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply affords honorable members an opportunity to bring forward grievances. My object in moving its’ postponement is that we may resume and complete, according to our express understanding, the debate on the Seat of Government Bill. Provided that is done, it is my intention to-morrow to ask the House, in the terms of the amendment, to go into Committee of Supply to deal with the Additional Estimates. The consideration of those Additional Estimates will offer exactly the same opportunity for the discussion of grievances as does this motion.
– But could we proceed with the formal motion to-morrow?
– The honorable member for Gwydir could move that an itemin the Additional Estimates be reduced by£1, to enable him to discuss the Royal Commission or any other question.
Mr.Frazer. - But he could not submit the motion which he has indicated, and the Prime Ministerknows it.
– He could take an exactly equivalent course, which would enable the question to be brought forward in a most effective way, and with the same result.
– As a matter of courtesy to the House the Prime Minister should have given notice of his proposal to vary the terms of standing order 241. I apprehend that however fully disposed the Prime Minister may be to carry out what he suggests, there is a serious difficulty in the way, because no resolution of this House can alter the terms of a standing order. The Standing Orders remain supreme. If the course outlined by the Prime Minister were adopted, it would be open to-morrow to any honorable member to call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to standing order 241, and in view of its terms I am afraid that it would be your duty, sir, to rule that there could be no discussion of grievances in the House on the motion that you do leave the chair, and that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply, save on the third Thursday in every month. Since the honorable member for Gwydir has intimated his intention of taking advantage of the undoubted right possessed by every honorable member under standing order 241, to review the actions of the Government - since the honorable member has given notice of his intention to do so-
– When did he give notice?
– A few moments ago. The Prime Minister only gave notice of his intention to submit theproposition now before the Chair a few minutes before then. This difficulty might have been avoided had the Prime Minister taken the House into his confidence yesterday. I am afraid that if the honorable gentleman’s suggestion be adopted, and a point of order is taken to-morrow, you will have to rule, Mr. Speaker, that under the standing order in question you cannot permit the discussion of grievances on a formal Supply motion on a Friday. I think that since the honorable member has intimated his intention of reviewing the conduct of the Government on this Order of the Day, the Prime Minister is bound, as a matter of dignity, to withdraw his proposal.
– Then the debate on the Seat of Government Bill is not to be resumed to-day ?
– I should rather have that debate resumed.
– It does not seem so.
– I understand that the Prime Minister contends that if the amendment moved by him is carried there may be an opportunity for the honorable member for Gwydir to-morrow to bring forward what is substantially the same motion as he now desires to submit. Standing order 241 seems to make it fairly clear that there will not be the same opportunity. The honorable member would certainly be unable to bring forward the question in the House, although he might ventilate it in Committee.I do not know what his object is, but under standing order 241 every honorable member is intended to have an opportunity to bring forward any grievance in the House while you, sir, are in the chair.
– And to press it to a division.
– And to press it to a division in the House. Although, as suggested by the Prime Minister, the honorable member might be able in Committee to debate the same subject, the initiation of a general discussion upon it in Committee might be totally foreign to the honorable member’s purpose. The. standing order reads -
On the Order of the Day being read for the Committee of Supply or Committee of Ways and Means, the Speaker shall put the question “ That I do now leave the chair “ ; but where either of these Committees has reported progress, the Speaker shall leave the chair without putting any question, . on the Order of the Day being read.
In ordinary circumstances there can be no debate in the Houses-
Except that while the Committee of Supply and Ways and Means are open, the first Order of the Day on every third Thursday shall be either Supply or Ways andMeans, and that on that Order of the Day being read the question shall be proposed -
That is in the House - “That the Speakerdo now leave the Chair,” to which question any member shall be at liberty to address the House, or move any amendment thereon.
Thus the honorable member would have a full opportunity on such a motion to discuss in the House the subject to which reference has been made.
– I doubt whether he could do so on the Additional Estimates.
– It is very doubtful; I do not think the Standing Orders could be so stretched as to enable him to reach the point that he desires.
– I had no hesitation in determining the ruling which I ought to give. I listened to the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, and the honorable member for Flinders, because, as there seemed to be some feeling in the House, 1 thought that if any light could be thrown upon the matter, I ought not to refuse to allow that to be done. My unhesitating opinion is that the action which has been taken so far is well within the powers and directions of the Standing Order. But, of course, it is most clear - as has been pointed out by the honorable member for Flinders, the right honorable member for East Sydney, and the Prime Minister - that the carrying of this .amendment will dispose of grievance-day for three weeks, and that whilst the Order of the Day for going into Supply would - if the amendment were carried - be set down for tomorrow, I should leave the chair upon that Order of the Day being reached without any motion whatever. ‘There is no doubt upon that point.
– Does that mean that the consideration of the Seat of Government Bill must be postponed until after grievances have been discussed ?
– The honorable member will see clearly that we must proceed with the consideration of Supply until a decision has been arrived at upon the amendment submitted by the Prime Minister.
– Now I understand the action of the Opposition.
– I trust that the honorable member for Laanecoorie, who was so dogmatic in his utterances a short time ago, has since received a little enlightenment upon the meaning of the standing order to which reference has been made. One might have, expected more accurate advice from an ex-Chairman of Committees than was forthcoming. It is refreshing to’ know that the action of the Prime Minister this afternoon was deliberately designed to prevent the honorable member for Gwydir pressing to a division his motion in regard to the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the administration of the Postal Department.
– The honorable member has no right to say that the Prime Minister’s amendment ‘was deliberately designed to achieve that result.
– The Prime Minister himself has admitted that if his amendment be carried, the honorable member for Gwydir will be able to ventilate his grievances in regard to Postal administration only by moving for a reduction of the amount provided for
Postal purposes upon the Additional Estimates. I have not been a member of thi; House for a number of years without getting beyond the childish stage, and without learning that it will be impossible for the honorable member to obtain satisfaction by following that line of action. The only wax in which the honorable member can obtain satisfaction is by submitting a definite motion. If the Government are prepare, to justify their administration of the Postal Department, why do they not give him an opportunity of bringing forward his proposal ? But instead of doing that the Prime Minister practically proposes to shelve the motion of the honorable member foi* three weeks, knowing full wel 1 that by the end of that period he hopes to be in the safe haven of recess. It is grossly unfair that the Prime Minister should submit an amendment of this character without notice, and thus place honorable members who oppose it under the imputation of delaying the transaction of other important business. The Prime Minister has been in office for six years, and yet he has only to-day manifested this burning anxiety for the settlement of the Federal Capital question. His wonderful enthusiasm to get that question settled immediately is positively alarming. Strangely enough, it is manifested on the last Thursday afternoon upon which private members have an opportunity of ventilating their grievances against the Government before going into recess.
– The honorable member knows that his statement is not correct.
– Private members have had since Christmas only one Thursday upon which to air their grievances, and by common consent that was devoted to the discussion of the question of old-age pensions.
– But I am speaking of the Federal Capital question.
– Does the honorable member deny that the Government have been .in office for a number of years without dealing with that matter?
– The question was settled years ago.
– When the discussion upon it is resumed I intend to take up the attitude that the selection of the Federal Capital has already been definitely determined. But the Government do not take up any such attitude. On the contrary, should the name “ Dalgety “ be deleted from the Seat of Government Bill ‘they are willing to begin the whole proceedings de novo. I do think that the Government might, at least, have given notice of their intention to move in the direction that the Prime Minister has done.
’.- In listening to the remarks -of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie one might almost be tempted to imagine that the Prime Minister had committed a great wrong. But I would remind him that upon last grievance day the privileges of private members were filched from them by the leader of the Labour Party, who made use of the. verymachinery which the Prime Minister himself is employing to-day.
– With the encouragement and support of the Government.
– To-day the honorable member for Kalgoorlie laments the employment of that machinery by the Prime Minister, although he applauded its use three weeks ago by the leader of the Labour Party. I cannot understand why the honorable member for. Kalgoorlie, who to-day has uttered a tirade of abuse against the Prime Minister for taking away the privilege of discussing grievances,’ allowed the leader of his party, on our last grievance day, to do the very same thing. I am desirous of settling the Capital Site question ; butt I cannot help saying that the Prime Minister has set a bad example in blanketing the honorable member for Gwydir and others who desire to take advantage of the formal motion to go into Committee of Supply. At the same time, I ask what will become of grievance day, if honorable members who have put notices on the business-paper are allowed to withdraw them r.t the last moment, and practically .move them as amendments to the motion to go into Committee of Supply. Is it to be in future a case of first come first served?
– Yesterday I arrived at an arrangement with all ‘ the leaders of the House for taking at about half-past 5 this afternoon the division on the proposed amendment in the Seat of Government Bill, so that, if necessary, there could be a final ballot to-night. That agreement embraced all sections of the House.
– When the understanding was arrived at, ‘the fact that this would be grievance day was not mentioned.
– That is so. . Had it occurred to me then, I should have given notice of my intention to move the amendment, as in the ordinary course would have been my duty. But after the assurances received from all sections, I assumed it to be the desire of the House, as it was the desire of the Ministry, to dispose of the Federal Capital question definitely to-day. Under the exceptional circumstances of the session, I never anticipated any opposition even to-day, having found that the grievance motion was due, except from honorable members who desired to submit specific questions for consideration. As in not giving notice of my intention to move the amendment, I have taken them at a disadvantage, and the explicit understanding 1 mentioned is being departed from by the Opposition, the- House being threatened with a long debate on the amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it.
– I wish to debate the question.
– An amendment can be withdrawn only by leave of the House. Is it the pleasure of honorable members that the Prime Minister have leave?
– I wish to make an explanation.
– Why does not the honorable member say that he wants to block the Seat of Government Bill?
– That is as mean as ‘the speech which we have just heard.
– I shall have to name an honorable member if interruptions continue. The question cannot’ be debated.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. . .,
.^! move -
That all the words after the-word “That” bc left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire into and . report upon the Postal, Telegraph, and Telephone systems of the Commonwealth, and the working thereof.”
For some months I have had on the noticepaper a motion for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, while another honorable member has given notice of, his intention to move for the appointment of a Royal Commission!. I gave notice of my motion at the beginning of the session, when ‘there was ample time for the Committee to make considerable progress with the inquiry; but we are now so near to the end of the session that it would be useless to proceed with the motion, because nothing could be done under it. The Prime Minister has told the House that I shall have an opportunity to place my views before honorable members during the consideration of the Additional Estimates, and that I had such an opportunity during the discussion of the ordinary Estimates. That is so; but I did not take that course, because of the importance which I attach to the subject, and because, as honorable members are aware, it could have had no practical result. As to the comparative advantages of a Select Committee and a Cabinet Committee for the purposes of inquiring into the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, there can be no question, though the Postmaster-General declared the other night that a member of the British Parliament once stated that a Committee could not investigate the affairs of so intricate a Department. My present action is not taken with a view to censure the Postmaster- General. I have no quarrel with the Government. My desire is to assist in the solution of a difficult question, rather than to harass those who differ from me in regard to the method of investigation. The statement of the Postmaster-General was opposed to the practice of a number of British Governments, which have from time to time agreed to the appointment of Committees to investigate postal administration. In 1903, a Committee of private individuals was appointed by Mr. Austen Chamberlain to investigate the conduct of affairs by those in charge of the British Post Office. That Committee, although composed of business men, recommended increases in wages and salaries of from 10 to 15 per cent. Parliament, however, decided not to act upon its report. Since then we have had in England the Tweedmouth Committee and the Hobhouse Committee. The report of the last-named Committee induced the British Postmaster-General to accept its unanimous recommendations, although they involved an additional expenditure of something like £1,000,000. Mr. Buxton, instead of adopting the attitude of our Postmaster-General, thought that, in fairness to both the Department and the public, a Committee should be appointed, and the Hobhouse Committee was appointed on the unanimous vote of the members of the House of Commons. Speaking before the Committee was appointed, Mr. Buxton is reported to have said - and I contrast this statement with that quoted by the PostmasterGeneral the other night -
When he took up the honorable position of Postmaster-General it appeared to him that the position was such that the various grades of the service were entitled, not to the sort of inquiries it had had previously in regard to questions of conditions and pay ; but to go before the highest tribunal in this country - a Parliamentary Committee - and ask that they should consider the questions on the evidence put before them from various quarters, and that their decision should for the moment at’ any rate, be taken as final. He was sure whatever may have been the difficulties experienced in the past in this matter, that such an inquiry would do a great deal of good. He felt very strongly that the personal relations between the various grades did far more to lead to a satisfactory settlement of difficult questions than any number of memorials, letters, petitions, and such like, because those sometimes led to misunderstanding, and often aggravated the position.
That was the advice of the PostmasterGeneral of Great Britain shortly after his accession to office. The Commonwealth Postmaster- General has practically just succeeded to the position, and the circumstances here are similar to those which prevailed at Home. And I do not think he could do better than follow the example of Mr. Sydney Buxton, and remit the inquiry to a Select Committee or a Royal Commission. The objects I have in view are very similar to those which the British PostmasterGeneral sought to attain, as will be seen from the following subjects of inquiry by the British Select Committee -
Favoritism, pensions, sick leave, chief medical officer, sanitation, auxiliary or temporary labour, board of works, promotion, lavatory accommodation, bank holidays, telegraphists’ leave, the wages of male telegraphists, Sunday duty of female telegraphists, wages of London postmen, sub-postmasters, provisional inspectors, and provisional overseers.
I am sure that any one who has seen the report of that Select Committee would welcome similar results in the case of the Commonwealth Post and Telegraph service. It is not necessary for me to express my own opinion as to those results. It would be better to quote the British PostmasterGeneral on the point. Speaking at Southampton, Mr. Sydney Buxton said -
The demand of the staff for the appointment of such a Committee appeared to me to be a reasonable one, in view of all that had gone before.
The British Postmaster-General, it will be seen, did not propose to appoint any Cabinet Committee, but to move for the creation of one of the highest tribunals, namely, a Select Committee. Before this Select Committee was appointed in England, the various associations of employés - which, very rightly, are recognised by the authorities in Great Britain just as they are in Australia - held a referendum as to whether an investigation of the kind should be asked for. The voting was overwhelmingly in the affirmative ; and thereupon the PostmasterGeneral took action. That honorable gentleman, in his speech at Southampton, went on to say -
I therefore proposed, quite early in the first session of this Parliament, the appointment of a Select Committee, and its appointment was receivedwithgratification.
And I venture to say that the appointment ofa Royal Commission, such as I propose, would be received with gratification, not only by the officers of the Department, but by the public generally, who have suffered suchseriousinconvenienceduringthelast few years. The British Postmaster-General vent on to say -
The Select Committee appointed by theHouse was representative of all parties inthe House, the terms of reference were wide, and the various classes of post-office servants (except in somesmallerclasses)statedtheircasetothe Committee. The fairness and thoroughness of the Committee was acknowledged atthe time. The Committee, after exhaustive inquiry, presented a report unanimous in regard to thequestions of remuneration.
Are these words not sufficient to induce the Prime Minister to take a more practical and up-to-date view of this question?I have had a notice of motion in regard to his matter on the notice-paper for about six months; and I venture to say that in August last, when I drew aside the veil, and disclosed the sweating and unrighteous treatment suffered by officers, who are loyally serving the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General were just as much surprised at the disclosures as were other honorable members and the public generally. It seems to me, however, that those honorable gentlemen could not have realized the extent of the evil which is honeycombing this great Department. I quoted from no hearsay stories, or from the. evidence of any who might be described as spies, but from the official reports of the Department. In answer to me at that time, the Postmaster-General said he would have inquiries made, and later he informed me that a subsequent report did not indorse the statements I had made previously. However, a very long time afterwards I obtained a copy of that subsequent report, and though I am inclined to think that the delivery was unnecessarily delayed, I am of the opinion that it does not seriously affect the general question. However that may be, I can inform honorable members that that subsequent report practically indorsed all I had said when I spoke in August last. I then stated that 32,000 hours of overtime had been worked in the General Post Office, Sydney, by the clerical and other branches; and, on that point, the subsequent report does not deny the fact, but arrives at another conclusion by calculating on a different basis. In the first report the overtime was calculated from half-past 4 o’clock in the afternoon, whereas in the second report it is calculated from half-past 5 o’clock; and thus, of course, there is a difference in the total number of hours. . If any further proof be needed of the statements I made in August last, as to a condition of affairs which has become more intense year by year, I refer honorable members to the Treasurer’s statement that, since that time, 1,500 additional hands have been appointed in the Sydney General Post Office. That fact speaks much more forcibly than any language at my command.
– Has not the appointment of these 1,500 additional hands cured the evil?
– I am sorry to say that the mere appointment of men cannot cure the evils which are so deep-rooted in this Department. According to the Treasurer, there is a still larger number of temporary hands than before, and, though I may be wrongly informed onthe point, I cannot quite understand the position. I may point out that the 32,000 hours of overtime in the clerical and other branches of the General Post Office, Sydney,do not by any means represent the overtime worked by postal officials throughout the State of New South Wales. That overtime represents about 800 official weeks of labour given for nothing - a wearing down of men, a breaking of hearts, and the forcing of good officials out of the service before their time. The PostmasterGeneral and the Government have had an opportunity to make full inquiry and apply a remedy. In the subsequent report to which I have referred the officers compute the total overtime at 28,030 hours ; and this isjust about the figure that would be arrivedat by deducting the hour as representedby the difference between half-past 4 o’clock and half-past 5 o’clock in the afternoon. On this point the reply of the Postmaster- General was -
The hours of overtime worked in clerical branches amount to 28,030 ; the period covered being from 1st January, 1906, or various subsequent dates, to 30th September, 1907, with one exception, viz., from 9th June, 1905, to 30th September, 1907 - and that, with the exception of the usual tea money allowance, no payment for overtime has been made, nor time off in lieu thereof given.
I propose now to place before honorable members some details as to the extent to which the system of employing temporary hands has prevailed in the Department, and am sure that the figures I am about to quote will satisfy the House that my complaints in this regard have been well founded. In 1903-4, 1,173 temporary hands were employed in the Department at a cost of .£7,651 8s. 9d. ; in 1904-5, 1,459 at a cost °f .£8,287 9s. 3d. ; and in 3905-6, 1,828 at a cost of £8,918 18s. 9d. I come now to the figures for 1906-7, which show that, following upon the com- < plaints made in this House, an effort was made by the Government to redress some of the grievances under which the service had laboured. In that year no fewer than 2,861 temporary hands were employed in the Department at a cost of £17,752 5s. 6d. The practice of employing temporaryassistance - or, as it is- called in England, “ auxiliary labour “ - was very strongly condemned by the Committee which inquired into the administration of the Postal Department of the United Kingdom. There was good reason for its condemnation. In New South Wales the-Department has been literally starved, an’d great inconvenience has been suffered by reason of its failure to train permanent employes _to discharge the duties allotted to higher grades. Temporary hands have been employed all along the line. In many cases the permanent officers would have done better without them. These hands have to be trained -in the work of the Department, and just as their services become valuable they are called upon to stand clown for six months or longer and a fresh batch is engaged. That has been the practice for several years. It is unnecessary for me at this stage to deal at length with the evils of overtime, the employment of casual hands, and the many other objectionable features of the service which confront the present Postmaster-General. I have no desire to make this a personal matter. I freely admit that I am pleased with the steps that the Postmaster-General has taken to redress some of the evils which have so long existed in the Department. The Treasurer has come to his rescue by providing additional funds, and the action recently taken by the Government proves that our criticisms of the Department have been well founded. I give the Government credit for what they have done recently, but utterly fail to understand why a Committee of the Cabinet, instead of a Royal Commission, should have been appointed to investigate the working of the Department. There is no precedent for the . action of the Government. Whenever the anomalies of the postal service in Great Britain have become so great that the Postmaster- General or Parliament has found it impossible to adjust them, a Parliamentary Select Committee has been appointed to inquire and report. That course has been adopted again and again, but here the administration of the service is to.be inquired into by a Cabinet . Committee. The evident disinclination of the PostmasterGeneral to state whether that Committee will sit continuously and prosecute its inquiries step” by step until the whole administration of the service has been dealt with leads rae to believe that that will not be done. It would seem that the Minister himself, accompanied by the Secretary of the Department, proposes to proceed to Brisbane to take evidence. Such an ‘investigation cannot be attended by the desired results. In the first place] the evidence that would be forthcoming before a Royal Commission will not be obtained by a Cabinet Committee. The employes of the Department will not run the risk of being penalized by giving evidence before it. If we are to have a full, fair, and complete inquiry, we must have a Royal Commission, which can take evidence on oath and protect the witnesses examined by it. ‘
– Even a Royal Commission could not fully protect them ; they would become marked men.
– It would grant them more protection than they could hope to obtain from a Committee of the Cabinet. Another objection to the Government proposal is that the evidence tendered before the Committee will not be given in public. I am sure that the Postmaster-General is sincere in his desire to place the service on a better footing, but in fairness to himself and to the Department, a Select Committee or a Royal Commission should be appointed to make a searching investigation.
– Why not have a Royal Commission?
– I am moving that a Royal Commission be appointed. Having justified my action in urging the appointment of a Royal Commission, and opposing an inquiry by a Committee of the Cabinet, I propose now to indicate the work that lies before those making the investigation. In the first place, consideration must be given to the requirements of the public in respect of a Department which is really one of the chief arteries of commerce. Through its agency the people of the Commonwealth carry on business with each other and with the rest of the world - they have to make good any deficit in the working of the Department - and their interests should be the primary consideration. In the second place, the service itself must be considered ; and thirdly, attention must be given to the various, systems prevailing in this and other branches of the Commonwealth service. It is unfortunate that I should have been called upon to deal with this question at a time when honorable members were expecting to be called upon to resume the debate on the Seat of Government Bill, and when, according to report, they believed they were to be asked to vote upon that measure. As a matter of fact, they, should not have expected anything of the kind, since the motion that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply was set down for consideration to-day. lt was with regret that I had to interpose and break the continuity of the debate” on the Bill, but I felt that the importance of the question with -which I desired to deal justified my intervention at this stage. We are all familiar with the inconveniences to which the public have had to submit, for three or four years, in their dealings with the Department. We have been harassed by inquiries, while complaints as to the working of the service have long been of daily occurrence. In countrydistricts, employes of the Department have been working long hours with the object of improving the service. For some months I, in common with other honorable members, have been endeavouring to secure the removal of injustices under which employes ii the Department labour, and a few days ago was informed that four additional permanent, officers were to be- appointed to two offices in my electorate, where there are from seven to ten men employed, as well as several temporary hands. My constituents have long been up in arms regarding their treatment by the Department, and have complained with good reason of its failure to provide them with” anything like adequate conveniences. There has been a large number of complaints regarding the unsatisfac- tory condition of the telegraph service, and messages have been delayed to an unreasonable extent. In one case, three hours after; sending a telegram to an address 100 miles distant, 1 set out by rail for the town in question, and reached it before the telegram was delivered. That was ‘my own experience.
– I frequently have a similar experience.
– Then I am very sorry for the honorable member. Of course, I may be asked how these evils can be remedied by the appointment of a Royal Comm’ission. ButT think it will be conceded that such a body empowered to take evidence upon oath would be in a position to probe the causes of the disorganizationwhich exists. It would merely require to loosen the tongues of officers who can supply it with expert information. We all know very well that what is known as the “.condenser” system was introduced into the Department by a previous PostmasterGeneral with a! great flourish of trumpets. He proclaimed it a cheap- and effective means of linking up the residents of the towns with those of the country. But to- day we know that it is little short of a curse, lt has induced persons to apply, for the establishment of exchanges under the impression that they would be able to communicate with subscribers hundreds of miles distant in the district around them.
But, as a matter of fact, they cannot secureany communication beyond that provided bv the local exchange. My own opinion isthat, in many places, the telegraph linesrequire to be duplicated if satisfaction is. to be afforded to the public. In the General Post Office, Sydney, I know that the delay for which telegraphists are frequently blamed lies at the door of the condenser system. Whilst the operators are endeavouring to “ take “ wires coming through on the Morse system, they are interrupted by the telephonic communication which is taking place on the condenser lines. In regard to the telephone service, I need scarcely point out what the public have been suffering for years. To-day they are suffering from ineffective administration and absolute disorganization. The whole telephone system is in need of radical reform. The Department has endeavoured to introduce too many innovations without making adequate preparation, and the result ischaos. With a knowledge of all the telephonic systems that are in use throughout the civilized world, a previous PostmasterGeneral decided to introduce the toll system, under which subscribers were to be allowed a maximum of 750 calls annually for a fee of£5. But a “ howl “ immediately went up from the Chambers of Commerce and the big business men of the community,andthisspeedilyinducedthe Minister to climb down, to the detriment of the revenue and of the public generally.
– Does the honorable member say that the toll system does not pay?
– I say that it ought to pay far better than it does. The maximum number of calls allowed annually in any Continental country -notwithstanding that their population is so concentrated - is only 750. Yet, in a scattered population like that of Australia, the Department has endeavoured to supply subscribers with a cheaper service by allowing them a maximum of 2,000 calls annually.
– What does it matter so long as the service pays well ? Surely the honorable member does not want to levy black-mail ?
– The Government are giving the commercial sections of our great cities the benefit of a telephone service at a lower rate than that charged in countries where the business done is from ten to fifty times greater. Of course, it would be the function of a Royal Commission to inquire into all aspects of postal administration. It will be readily admitted that unless we have a contented service we cannot get a satisfactory service. We must deal out justice to the officers of this Department if we are to obtain from them a fair return in the form of loyal and efficient service. A Royal Commission would have to inquire into all the evils which have grown up in the Department from the top to the bottom - from the secretary of theCentral Administration down to the little boy who delivers telegraphic messages in connexion with a contract post-office. It is exceedingly unfortunate that friction should exist between the permanent head of the Postal Department and the Public Service Commissioner. Unless the departmental head is allowed great freedom we know perfectly well that discipline is impossible, and in the absence of discipline there must be confusion. One of the great evils associated with this Department has been the centralization which has taken place in Melbourne. When the PostmasterGeneral visits the General Post Office in this city he, perhaps, sees mailmen who are required to work excessively long hours, and he at once issues an order that this abuse is to be remedied. But he cannot see whether a similar state of things obtains in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth. Thus the policy of centralization which has been adopted has led to deplorable results. I was extremely sorry to hear the Postmaster-General declare theother day that the Deputy Postmasters-General had not been as loyal as they should have been. In other words, he practically charged them with not having done their duty to the best of their ability. . My experience is that the Deputy Postmaster-General for New South Wales has exercised to the f ull, and as well as he can, the powers bestowed on him. He cannot exercise powers which he does not possess. I have time and again visited his office, to discuss some matter concerning the administration, and although he could tell me what he thought should be done, nothing could be done until the matter, however trivial, had been referred to Melbourne. We are suffering from centralization in many ways which could be brought to light onlyby the investigations of a Commission, and which the Cabinet Committee will not discover. There is great discontent throughout the Postmaster-General’s Department, and rightly so. The officers have been treated in a manner calculated to smother ambition, and to deprive them of that content which only fair treatment will give. The service has been over-worked and undermanned, and the chances of promotion are small, so that some of the officers have preferred to leave it, although they had spent many years in it, and take all the risks of striking out afresh in a new life outside. In the clerical branch a great deal of overtime has been worked without reward in the shape of monetary compensation or time off. The Minister promised that these men should be paid for the overtime worked. Eight hundred weeks of overtime have been worked to meet the demands of the Department. Has this overtime been paid for, or has any provision been made for paying for it?
– It is impossible to make provision on the Supplementary Estimates, but I have promised that it shall be provided for on the General Estimates, and the Public Service Commissioner is cooperating, so that that may be done. The returns are not vet ready.
– The policy of Ministers is always to postpone. When Estimates are under discussion, honorable mem bers are always promised that changes will be made, and that everything will be speedily put to rights. But, as a rule, these promises are made merely to obtain supply, and once the “Appropriation Bill is passed one can complain until he is black in the face without much chance of getting redress. The officials in the country districts are under disabilities which I cannot go into to-day, because time will not permit. The legitimate complaints and grievances of the officers throughout the service cannot be removed merely by the appointment of additional hands. Notwithstanding the amount of overtime which has had to be worked, men have been waiting in vain for the increments which the law says shall be paid to them. If a Commission of Inquiry were appointed, I could bring forward shoals of complaints. I have a box full in my room. Some of the letters which I have received are from wives of officials whose sympathy for their husbands has compelled them to ask that the bread-winner be relieved from the sweating to which he is subjected. The Postmaster-General, if he makes inquiry, will find that injustice exists in the Telegraphists’ Branch at Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, and Hobart. Many men on the day staff, who are supposed to work only six hours at a stretch, are frequently kept at work for eleven hours without consideration or reward.
– Not frequently.
Mr. WEBSTER.Too frequently. The answer is on a par with that made to my statement that’ 32,000 hours of overtime were worked in 1907. I can give the PostmasterGeneral an exact statement of the hours which have been worked after the ordinary day’s employment. Men have been kept at work all the afternoon, and until 2 o’clock in the morning, without being paid tea money, or being given any concession.
– There is provision on the Estimates for making amends to them.
– After the trams and trains have ceased running, these nien have had to get to their suburban homes as best they could, the . Department being mean enough to refuse even a telegram when they wanted to let their wives know that they were detained.
– I gave instructions that that was to be allowed, and that cabs were to be provided where necessary.
– I do not wish to be unfair to the Minister; but I am speaking of what I know has occurred.
– The honorable member ought to tell the House that, directly the matter was brought under my notice, I gave instructions that -a stop should be put to the practice.
– I am not making statements which I cannot bear out. It would take me a long time to recite all the Minister’s promises, though I admit that he desires to do something.
– A great deal has been done.
– I admit that, too. The appointment of an additional 1,500 permanent hands is evidence that something has been done, though whether wisely or not I cannot say. I could occupy an hour in illustrating the disabilities of the officers in the clerical and professional branches, and in corroborating, from notes I ‘ have with me, the statements which I have made. The telegraph messengers also complain of the inhuman treatment which they have received. In the country districts they work, as a rule, from 8.30 a.m”. to 10 p.m., and for years the staff has been undermanned, so that they are kept at full tension all the time. The Department does not provide them with overcoats to shelter them from the rain and cold, although messengers’ in other parts of the world are so provided, and, further, they have little prospect of advancement. No young man who wishes to make his mark in the world would wish to begin as a telegraph messenger. In regard to holidays and Sunday work, the treatment given by the Department to its officers is such as is not given to the employes of any private firm. It is absolutely devoid of equity. For Sundaywork, the officials of the Telegraph Department get a day off ; but officers of other Departments are much better treated, and, in many cases, get double pay for Sunday work. Then, in private employment, Good Friday and Christmas Day are generally counted as Sundays, and are paid for. But in the Telegraph Department they are counted as ordinary days. I should now like to refer to the question of the fidelity bonds into which certain of the officers are asked to enter. No doubt these bonds were considered a very good idea when the system was first introduced, but they have proved not to be so equitable as anticipated. All officers who have any financial responsibility are requested to pay a guarantee charge of 5s. a year, and, if an officer also handles State funds, as in the case of the Savings Banks, he has to pay another 5s. I may say that, so far as I know, a charge of this kind is made in no other British Possession.
– And at the same time the officers receive no extra pay for doing State work.
– And the lowest paid officer has to enter into the same bond as the highest paid officer.
– That is so. In England these fidelity funds are vested in, and managed by, the associations of the employes, and the result is that the charge, on the individual officer is not nearly so much as is the case in the Federal service. It officers have to enter into these bonds, they should at least be allowed to administer the funds. I may say that in England al! (he fines imposed on officers for breaches of regulations, and so forth, go to swell the guarantee fund, and this, again, makes the burden lighter all round. This is a matter which I think might well be inquired into with a view of ascertaining the best system to adopt. There is certainly’ no warrant for allowing these fidelity funds to accumulate beyond the amount necessary to meet requirements, and if the funds were controlled by the associations of employes, individual charges could be reduced, or there might be a distribution of the surplus. I do not propose to deal in detail with all the subjects which suggest inquiry. There is, however, the question of furlough, which has- given rise to serious discontent. According to the regulations, a public servant, after twenty years’ service, is entitled to leave of absence for. six months on full pay, or twelve months on half pay ; but I am informed, and believe, that the regulation is not equitably carried out - that some men are allowed to exercise the right or .privilege while others are not. In ‘my opinion, if the regulation be a proper one, it ought to be enforced in every case; and here again some inquiry would be useful. Then, in the telephone branch, it is nothing for a man to work until 9 o’clock at night continuously ; indeed, that has been the practice, especially in New South Wales. As I said before, there is trouble in most of the branches, but I am now only briefly referring to the more striking cases which suggest themselves as proper for investigation. The men engaged in the technical work of erecting and equipping telephone exchanges are placed in the general division, which means that they are unable to rise above a cerain standard ; and I con tend that these men, being more skilled than are most of the other workmen in the service, ought to be placed in a technical or mechanical branch by themselves. Another grievance is that telegraph messenger boys and letter carriers are taken away from their ordinary duties to go round collecting the money from the pennyintheslot telephones, which the PostmasterGeneral instituted some time ago, and which give you three minutes’ conversation for the coin - if you can get your man. By these boys being taken away from their legitimate work, of which I am sure there is plenty, the Public Service must suffer; and it is a question whether the work of the branches should be mixed up in this way, satisfying no one. . As to the mail branch, if any one goes down into the vaults of ‘ the General Post Office, Sydney, he will find men kept there, owing to the. pressure of work, for three or four hours beyond their ordinary time, with no food provided, and, indeed, no opportunity to eat it if it were provided!
– The mail rooms are practically underground vaults.
– And the lighting and ventilation are not of the best ; indeed, in my opinion, the conditions under which the men of the mail branch work are scandalous, because practically they do not get a breath of fresh air during the whole time they are on duty. The atmosphere is contaminated owing to the number of men in the place, and the ventilation, as I have already indicated, is quite inadequate. One of the main branches of inquiry by the British Select Committee was as to ‘sanitation and ventilation, and the opinion was strongly expressed that the Government had the duty, not only of paying the public servants, but of seeing that they enjoyed healthy conditions in their work. “ I should now like to refer to contract post-offices. If ever there was a deplorable condition of affairs, it is in connexion with these offices. I know an office where the allowance is £100, and another where the allowance is ,£1.10, and in the latter case the postmaster has all the telegraphic and postal work to do. Out of his allowance he has to provide a messenger, and also accommodation in which to transact the Commonwealth business ; and, naturally, he employs the cheapest labour he can find. Very often, the assistant he employs is a boy thirteen years, of age, who has just left school, and vet that lad is intrusted with the responsible duties of telegraph messenger and letter carrier. Only the other day, in a district where there is a contract office, the message boy, in going his rounds, saw some of his old schoolmates playing marbles, and joined in, laying his letters, in the meantime, on the ground. Of course, this meant delay ; and goodness knows what would have happened had there been a high wind. I merely mention this as an illustration of what occurs under this contract post-office system. The Commonwealth has no greater right than any private individual to expect good service for inadequate pay ; and such allowances as I have mentioned encourage sweating of the worst type. Then, I have a complaint to make in regard to the Money Order Office in Sydney, where the public are seriously inconvenienced, owing to the lack of accommodation. The Postmaster-General does not seem to be able to appreciate the growth there has been in the business. While the public are crying out about the inconvenience they suffer, and the employes are complaining of their conditions, the Government seem to be perfectly satisfied, and unaware that the present-day needs have outgrown the old arrangements and accommodation. In the Sydney Money Order Office people have to wait a most unreasonable length of time before they can be attended to, and similar conditions prevail in the Parcels Post Office. It really ought not to be necessary to point these matters out to those who are responsible for the administration. I should like to mention also the dual position of postmaster and electoral officer, the remuneration paid in connexion therewith, and the need for some alteration in the present arrangement. The inland mail branch of the service calls for an inquiry of the most searching character, for there are associated with it conditions which would bring a blush of shame to the face of any just man who heard of them. The position of the despatch officers in the Inter-State mails branch is also deserving of inquiry. I have a number of facts and figures relating to these branches of the service, but it would take too long to put them before the House. I had thought that the Government would agree to the appointment of a Royal Commission. A point which I should like to emphasize is that the Hobhouse Committee, in a report which has been accepted by the PostmasterGeneral of the United Kingdom, has made a recommendation which is well worthy of our consideration. We have determined that officers of the Commonwealth Service shall be entitled to a minimum wage, but we have not recognised that provision should be made to enable our employes on reaching a certain age to assume the full responsibility of citizenship. Honorable members frequently express a desire that the Commonwealth should grow in population and prosperity, but we have not yet thought of doing that which the Hobhouse Committee has recommended - we have not thought of granting what is described by that Committee as “age pay.” The Committee recommended that in one class officers up to nineteen years of age should receive 19s. per week, but that on’ reaching the age of twenty-four years - a marriageable age - they should be entitled to 24s. 6d. perweek.
– To what class did that recommendation refer?
– I shall be glad to hand over to the right honorable member a copy of the report. The Commission recommended that a man who had been five years in the service should not receive less than 19s. per week, and that on attaining the age of twenty-four - an age when he might be expected to marry and assume the full responsibilities of citizenship - he should receive an increased salary. It recognised that if a man were not fit for the service he should not be allowed to remain in it; that the mere fact that he had passed an examination was not in itself sufficient. The granting of “ age pay “ is a development necessitated by present-day conditions. The Government should not only recognise that employes in the service are entitled to a reasonable wage, even when they have no dependents, but that an increased allowance should be granted to those who have others depending upon them for a livelihood. I wish now to refer briefly to a movement on foot in the service to establish a superannuation fund. The matter is one that calls for inquiry on the part of the Postmaster-General. Under the present system employés of the Department are compelled to assure their lives, and those receiving only a small wage find it difficult to make provision for the payment of a large premium. It is all very well to call upon those receiving high salaries to pay a certain premium in respect of a policy of assurance for a certain amount, but the position is difficult in relation to the lower paid men in the Department. Is it any wonder that they should desire to establish a superannuation fund ? Parliament should take care that the fund is established on sound and economical lines.
– It would be on an actuarial basis?
– On what other basis could it be properly established ?
– Then those who subscribed to it would obtain from it no greater advantage than they secure from life assurance companies.
– I pity the honorable member’s knowledge of insurance principles generally when he makes that statement.
– I have had a good deal to do with the business.
– I do not say that the honorable member has not; but the statement made by him caused me some surprise. In dealing with the proposed establishment of a superannuation fund, I am reminded of the conditions with regard to fidelity and guarantee charges. According to a statement supplied to me by the Department, postmasters in the second class are called upon to pay 12s. 6d. per annum in respect of a guarantee of £500; those in the third class pay 10s. for a £400 guarantee ; those in the fourth class 7s. 6d. for a £300 guarantee ; and those in the. fifth class 5s. for a £200 guarantee; whilst semi-official postmasters have to pay 5s. per annum in respect of a guarantee of £200. These officers consider that they are harshly treated in being called upon to make such payments out of their own pockets. Let me refer very briefly to the position in regard to the relieving staff. For some years there has been in vogue a subtle system of securing superior services for inferior pay. In relieving postmasters in the country offices, it has been the custom to place in charge assistants who are receiving from £110 to £126 per annum. The Department’s definition of an assistant is, “ One who can take charge of an office.” Instead of having a proper staff of relieving officers, the Department appoints an assistant to take charge of an office whilst the postmaster is on leave. The work of postmasters receiving from £200 to £300 per annum has often been handed over to assistants receiving only £110 per annum. These assistants have just cause to complain. Their lot is by no means an easy one, and their prospects of advancement are very remote. They are classified in the general division, and it is difficult for any of them to secure a transfer to the clerical or professional divisions. They receive a minimum wage of £110, and a maximum of £126; and, although it is true that, by passing certain examinations, they may qualify to receive a salary of£138,such an increase is very rare. These men are often called upon to perform the work of two superior classified officers, and they receive no reward for such additional services. Since the adoption of the Public Service Commissioner’s classification scheme, they have been marking time at a salary of £110 per annum, and they will be called upon to do so to the end of their career in the Service, unless we have some such investigation as was made by the Hobhouse Committee. That Committee inquired very fully into the position of assistants, who are known by another name, in the Postal Department of the United Kingdom, and urged that greater prospects of advancement should be held out to them. We hear, from time to time, many complaints about bank clerks being ill paid. Having regard to the responsible duties which they perform, they certainly are poorly paid, but they have never been treated as theseassistants are being treated by the Commonwealth.
– I have my doubts as to the correctness of that statement, and I speak as an old bank clerk.
-I am alluding to bank clerks who are called upon to discharge duties similar to those which postal assistants - who have to work behind the counter, serve the public, and handle hundreds of pounds - have to do. Some of these assistants have been in the Service for fifteen or twenty years without any promotion, and their chance of advancement is infinitesimal. They have no influential friends to speak for them. I do not wish to suggest that unfair tactics are resorted to by any one, but we must recognise that the more attention is called to the disabilities of the Service the more likely we are to have those disabilities removed. Napoleon laid down the dictum that if we want men to work well we must feed them ; and, certainly, if we want men to work well in this Department, we must pay them a. reasonable living wage. I do riot know that I have any. further observations to offer. I have said sufficient to indicate to the Government that when I submit a motion of this character I do not bring it forward merely as a placard. During the last recess the whole of my leisure was devoted to an investigation of the position of the Postal Department,and, consequently, Imaybepardoned for having interrupted the debate upon the Federal Capital Site question to make an appeal to the House to grant an inquiry into the administration of that Department. The appointment of a Royal Commission is absolutely necessary in order that it may compel, if necessary, unwilling witnesses to appear before it. I submit this motion with a strict regard to what I conceive to be my public duty. If the House is of opinion that an inquiry by a Committee of the Cabinet will suffice, I bow to its decision. But, in my opinion, such an inquiry will not result in the cure of existing evils. The PostmasterGeneral has pointed out that since the consummation of Federation six different postal departments have, had to be amalgamated. I admit that that has been a stupendous task, and I give the Public Service Commissioner credit for the manner in which he has performed his duty in this connexion. But although he has done his duty faithfully, he is merely human, and if the law does not permit him to mete out justice to officials the fault is not his.
– It is not a question of what is the law, but of Ministers interfering with him.
– The honorable member dealt with that aspect of the matter so thoroughly the other evening that I have purposely refrained from touching upon it. The Postmaster-General ought not to interfere with the Public” Service Commissioner.
– Where has there been any interference?
– The Public Service Commissioner should not be interfered with either by the Postmaster-General or by the departmental head of the Post Office. No friction should be engendered. If there be cause for friction, and the law does not pei mit of its being obviated, the law should bc altered so as to produce better results. Not only is it necessary that we should have a searching inquiry into the administration of the Postal Department, and into the various systems that obtain there, but it is necessary that we should discover why anomalies exist which render proper administration impossible. I admit that a Royal Commission such as I propose would have a stupendous task to perform. But it is’ a duty which we owe to the departmental officers and to the public generally. Moreover, it is due to the Department itself that its operations should come under review from time to time, especially when we recollect that it merely represents a growth which is the result of the change brought about by Federation. If it be necessary from time to time to review the operations of an old-established Department such as that which obtains in Great Britain, surely it must be more necessary to review the administration of a new-born institution such as our Commonwealth Postal Service. I say that the position has become so serious that no time should be lost in effecting a. reform of the Department. We require, straight away, a full and searching inquiry into its administration. I felt very much hurt this afternoon by the action of the Prime Minister. I was grieved to think that I could not submit this proposal without giving umbrage to certain honorable members whom I have no desire to offend, because a matter of this kind should be above all party considerations. It is one that should rise far above the narrow sphere of party politics, and which should be dealt with in an effective manner with a view to securing the best and most lasting results.
– I have no fault to find with the spirit in which this amendment has been submitted. The Government are not opposing the appointment of a Royal Commission at this stage because they entertain the faintest objection to the fullest inquiry into both the work of the officers of the Postal Department and into its administration. But they are of opinion that steps have, already been taken which will have tFe effect of remedying many of the complaints to which my honorable friend has alluded. They are also of opinion that the mos’t expeditious, the least costly, and the most effective way of dealing with the existing evils is that which they have. proposed. But as both tha Cabinet Committee and a Royal Commission would merely be means to an end, and not an end in themselves, I have no hesitation .in saying that if, during- the progress of the inquiry, it becomes evident that the machinery of the Government is not effective, they will favorably consider the question of the appointment of . a Royal ‘ Commission.
– I think that that is a most reasonable suggestion. Only we shall have to make the Government appoint the Commission a little more quickly.
– The House, I amsure, will recognise, that the difficultieswith which the Department is at present beset have accumulated chiefly during thepast few years. Certainly they have become intensified during the past twelvemonths by reason of the abnormal condi- tions which we have been called upon to face. Seeing- that the Government have frankly recognised that these difficulties do exist, and that they are prepared to take measures to remedy, them, I can scarcely believe that the House will be so unreasonable as to take up a different attitude.
– Why should the evils have accumulated? .
– I will tell the honor-‘ able member. They have accumulated only during the past two or three years - : a’c any rate, they have become most acute during that time, so far as they affect the employes.
– But that is only one of the evils of which complaint is made.
– The honorable member will ha.ve his chance presently. Give the Minister a show.
– I have to thank the honorable member for Franklin for his kindness and for his admission that I have made an- earnest effort to cope with these difficulties. I have also to thank the mover of this proposal for his acknowledgment of my efforts. He is certainly more generous than are some newspapers., lt would be quite impossible for any Minister, with, the existing machinery at his command, to do more than I have done during the period that I have occupied my present position. The very fact that the Government have provided for the appointment of a large number of additional employes, and that a considerable concession has been granted to a number of officers during the past six months, goes to show that we are endeavouring to meet the position which has arisen. The difficulty in this connexion has really become acute during the past two or three years. In 1904 - about three and a half years ago - -‘the Public Service Commissioner reported that he had apportioned a full supply of officers to all the branches of the Postal Department in all tha States, including New South Wales, and that there was an excess of 159 officers. So that, whatever undermanning may have taken place, must have occurred during the past two and a half years. That undermanning is due to various causes, which have been mentioned during the course of previous debates, and also to the abnormal increase of business which has taken place during the past two years. I suppose that even the author of this amendment will. ad mit that, prior to two years ago, these complaints were not heard of if they existed.
– They have existed for years.
– Yes, there were.
– Honorable members, in affirming that it has been going on foi years, take up the position that the Public Service Commissioner was wrong when, three years ago, he stated that all necessary provision had been made.
– I do not think thai the Minister will be better off by getting behind the Public Service Commissioner.
– I am not trying to do so. Can it be asserted that I have tried to do so by quoting his report ?
– The Minister has quoted only a little bit of it.
– I quoted all that is pertinent.
– Does the Minister agree with the Commissioner?
– I am not in a position to know the facts.
– Then what was the object in quoting the report t
– To show that, in 1904, the Service, in the opinion of the Commissioner, contained all the officers required. That statement was either, right or wrong. If it was right, and there were 159 officers in excess three and a half years ago, the whole trouble must have accumulated since then.
– Does the Minister say that there has been no trouble in the post-office but shortage of hands?
– The shortage of hands. is the trouble with which I am dealing., and I say that it has come about during the last two years. The moment it was discovered, steps were taken to remedy it, and last year 1,760 temporary hands were appointed to the Sydney office in excess of the number in the previous year. We fell that the office was under-manned, and cla the best we could under the circumstances.
– Did the Commissioner concur?
– He acknowledged that a mistake had been made, and that more temporary hands should be appointed. We asked for 1,000 permanent officers anc were given 600.
– The Minister cannot separate the actions of individual Ministers in thai way.
– The Treasurer acted on the advice of the Public Service Commissioner, who feared a drought. Had 1,000 hands been appointed, the congestion would have been largely avoided. Honorable members ought to be reasonable, and to recognise the magnitude of the Department. In obtaining the appointment of permanent hands, we had to set in operation all the machinery which Parliament in its wisdom has created. The procedure is that the need for additional assistance must be certified to by the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, the Permanent Head, and the inspector of the Public Service Commissioner, and finally, the Public Service Commissioner has to certify to the appointments. That long, and often irritating, procedure had to be followed before appointments could be made. A large number of hands should have been appointed sooner.
– The more reason for an inquiry by others than Ministers.
– An inquiry on- the lines suggested would intensify the evil. Through it an enormous amount of additional, work would devolve upon the Department. Many employes would be called from their ordinary routine duties to give evidence.
– Only one man at a time.
– All the witnesses would not be summoned at once.
– If the experience of my honorable friends is the same as mine, they will know that the investigations of Royal Commissions are costly, lengthy> cumbersome, and irritating to heads of Departments and officers alike.
– The irritation cannot well be increased.
– I do not admit that. It has been greatly exaggerated. I meet with and know a large number of the em ployes.
– There are about 12,000 persons involved.
– Two-thirds of them are happier, and are working under better conditions, than any similar number in private employment in any part of the world. An inquiry would prove that to be so, and the applications for employment which we receive support my statement. I admit that there are grievances, that, inordinately long hours have been worked, and overtime has accumulated; but I have taken the preliminary steps to remedy them, and before a Commission could be appointed, many of them would have been removed. . The fidelity guarantees referred to are exacted in every Department of the Commonwealth.
It is unfair to speak of them as a special grievance” of postal officials. The Treasurer, however, stated this week mat it was proposed to reduce them to a minimum, or to abolish them, so that that grievance will soon be removed. The fact that officers of the Postal Department are called upon to do electoral work for the Department of Home Affairs, and Savings Bank work for the States Governments, is a source qf complaint, especially in South Australia..
– The officers concerned do not object to the work ; but they object to being deprived of the pay they should receive for doing it.
– That is a grievance in every State.
– In South Australia, more was received from the State Government for this work than was paid in the other States, and a considerable loss has been suffered, by many officials, especially in the Telegraph Branch. But the value of this work was appraised by the Public Service Commissioner, who has emphatically stated that in fixing salaries he” took into consideration all the work to be done by the occupants of the various offices. I brought the matter under his notice on my return from Adelaide, and he assured me that, while there had been a reduction-
– He said in his report that there had not been a reduction.
– I promised to bring the matter under the notice of the Prime Minister and the Public Service Commissioner, and the latter informed me that it was necessary to establish, as far as possible, uniform rates of pay throughout the Commonwealth, and that, in fixing salaries, consideration had been paid to all the duties attaching to an office. He said that, while it was hard on some officers that they should have to come down, it was imperative to secure uniformity. The Postal Department is not to. blame, although these facts furnished the honorable member for Gwydir with one of his strongest reasons for the appointment of a Royal Commission.
– I said very little on the point.
– It is one of the matters in regard to which there should be an inquiry, so that justice may be done. The Post Office employes are certainly affected.
– It should not form the subject of an inquiry into the administration of one particular Department. The
Cabinet Committee will act as drastically in regard to this matter as any Royal Commission could be expected to do in the way of putting it clearly before the House.
– Its members will be handicapped, because they are Ministers.
– That is a pure assumption.
– Who is going to furnish the Committee with information?
– We have most of the information, and my experience is that public servants are inclined to make their grievances known to the full. Does my honorable friend suggest that I, as head of the Department, will not receive from and give to the humblest member of the service the fullest confidence ?
– I know from experience that the Minister will not receive it .
– I feel sure that not a complaint comes to the honorable member which is not brought to my knowledge, and there is not a well-grounded complaint which I have not attempted to remedy ; in many cases successfully. It is admitted that complaints exist, and the Government have taken steps to find a remedy ; and our contention is that the remedy will be found more quickly and completely by the means we propose. After all, the only question is one of the means to be adopted ; and I repeat that if it be found that the Cabinet Committee is not effective, I shall recommend the Government to adopt the course foreshadowed in the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir.
– But the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir should not be taken as a reflection on the Government.
– The Government cannot regard it as anything else but a reflection. When the Government frankly admit to the House that the complaints made require thorough investigation, recognise that the machinery of the various Departments needs re-adjusting, and show that they are prepared to take immediate steps to secure reform, they cannot but feel it as a reflection if the method which they consider to be the best is not accepted by the House.
– Surely the House is entitled to express an opinion ?
– Certainly ; the House has the power to take over the whole management of the affair ; but honorable members cannot have confidence in the Government and at the same time demonstrate by such a motion as this that they have no confidence in the Government.
– Is the Cabinet Committee prepared to take evidence?
– Unquestionably ; and already we are being supplied with evidence.
– The Government are going to judge in their own cause !
– It is not a question of judging our own cause; or, if it is, then the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir is the more serious.
– Supposing the Government find that the Department is in a shocking state of chaos through mismanagement, will they say so to the House?
– If the Government find that the steps they are taking are not adequate to meet the demands of the public, or to do justice to the officers, they will not wait to come to the House, but will take a more effective way of getting over the difficulty.
– That is to say, if need be the Government will take such steps as will bring about the most effectual condemnation of their policy ? Absurd.
– The honorable member may place that construction on the position if he likes.
– It is the only construction.
– If so, that construction is still more applicable now, because it is a challenge to the Government at once. By the voluntary step they have taken, the Government admit that the branches of the Post and Telegraph Department in the six States, each representing a different piece of machinery, do not, with the means at present at our disposal, work as smoothly as we could wish.
– They worked more smoothly during the first years of Federation than during the past few years.
– That is only natural. There was no Public Service Commissioner until 1904 -it is only some three and a-half years since this highly complicated piece of machinery of the federated Departments was put into motion. I submit that the position of the Government is most reasonable. We admit that the whole relationship of the one Department to the others must be considered, and that the Departments are in experimental stages. We are prepared to admit that there has been abnormal development, and that officers have been placed in positions that they ought not to occupy.
And, in the face of all this, we cannot but regard a proposal of this kind as most serious.
– The allegation is that the Government do not admit mismanagement.
– What is mismanagement ? There is a great deal of talk about decentralization. But what are the facts? At least eight-tenths of the appeals made to this House are from the decisions of the Deputy Postmasters-General, to whom we have delegated powers of administration, and the very members who plead for decentralization are those who, in their anxiety to serve their constituents, prevent decentralization. Let me give a concrete instance : The Deputy Postmaster- General of Western Australia, and the Inspector, both reported that, in their judgment, an extra post and telegraph office at the Customs House there was not needed - that its provision would be a waste of money and unjustifiable. But the honorable member for Perth and others made such representations that the change was made.
Mr.mc Williams. - Against the recommendation of the officials ?
– Against the recommendation of the officials. Nearly every induction in mail services,from twice to once a day, or from three times to once aweek, has been on the recommendation of the Deputy Postmasters-General ; but honorable members rise in their places, and ask why their constituents should be deprived of postal facilities which they have enjoyed for the last twenty years. It would appear that honorable members do not believe in decentralization when it affects their constituents.
– The Minister is implying that his decision would be in favour of continuing the services as heretofore.
– No; I am pointing out the great difficulties there are in administering a Department of this kind with new and complex machinery.
– What about the arrangement to take a vote upon the Federal Capital question at half -past 5 o’clock?
– I am not responsible for that arrangement. I should be glad if the honorable member for Gwydir, in view of what I have said, could see fit to withdraw his proposal ; but I desire to impress on the House the serious manner in which the Government regard it. The Government are asking for an opportunity to carry out the method they have proposed ; and if the House says that the Government are wrong, the House must take the responsibility.
– In reply to an interjection of the honorable member for North Sydney a little while ago, the PostmasterGeneral seemed to imply some reflection on the Public Service Commissioner.
– I have endeavoured to avoid even the appearance of casting any reflection, because I recognise the difficulties of that gentleman’s position. But I have said publicly, and also to the Public Service Commissioner himself, that I believe the machinery is so complex, and the business of the Department so farreaching, that it is quite impossible for one Commissioner to adequately deal with the whole of the service.
– The Public Service Commissioner wants backing up, as he would be backed up after a full inquiry by members of this House.
– The Public Service Commissioner can be backed up at the right time, and in the right place; and the Government believe they have proposed the most effective and quickest way. The Government have already promised to introduce a Public Service Act Amendment Bill, when the whole matter can be discussed.
– It is not a matter of discussion, but of obtaining evidence as to the cause of the friction.
Mr.MAUGER. - Evidence has been accumulating for some two years and it is quite sufficient to warrant the Government in taking immediate steps.
– The Government will take further evidence?
– Of course.
– On oath?
– If necessary.
– The Committee could not take evidence on oath.
– There is no occasion to take evidence on oath. At no time has any reflection been cast on the Public Service Commissioner ; and I have no desire that my words should bear that construction,. But I say, as my individual opinion, that the machinery is too complex, and the work too great, for one man to do with satisfaction to himself, the officers, or the public.
– Then, owing to the defects of the Act, the Commissioner is not doing what ought to be done in the interests of the service.
– The defects of the Act could only be made known after the experience we have gained; and it is impossible for the Commissioner to. do justice to this or any other Department, not from lack of capacity, or a sincere desire carried out very often at sacrifice to himself, but in the absence of adequate machinery. The honorable member ‘for Gwydir also suggested that a technical branch should be formed in which die more skilful artisans employed in instrument fitting and so forth should be classified. As a matter of fact, a proposal to that effect has already been made, and the head of the Department has submitted a suggestion to that end to the Commissioner. Does the honorable member think that the realisation of his idea will be facilitated bv referring the question to a Royal Commission ? I could deal with a great many other subjects, but I think that I have shown clearly the position in which the Government find themselves. I should like; however, to give one or two illustrations of the difficulties which those who administer the Department are called upon to face. I am sorry that the honorable member for Kooyong is not at present in the chamber, because through him a number of complaints have been made by the Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Sydney - complaints which the honorable member said were- well founded. One of the most serious was to the effect that, on a telephone subscriber in Sydney notifying the Department of his intention tq change his residence, the Department adopted a most unbusinesslike method. This subscriber was changing addresses with another subscriber ; and it was complained that the Department insisted on the actual telephone instruments also being exchanged as between the .residences. It was urged that this caused irritating delay, and that the action was altogether outrageous. The fact is, however, that it was at the earnest request of the persons who were changing residences that the arrangement was carried out. Representations were made to the officials, and it was asked that they might be permitted to continue the use of the same machines as hitherto. Reports’ from officers were. called for, and paragraphs were published in the newspapers about this matter.
– Who made the com plaint?
– The Chairman of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce.
– At whose instance?
– I am trying to find out ; but it was certainly not at the instance ot the subscribers concerned. In nine times out of ten complaints are found to have no reasonable grounds. These are matters which ought to be settled by the Deputy Postmasters-General, but they are raised here by the very persons who talk about decentralization. Another serious complaint made, in the metropolitan press was that a mail-man at Balwyn was called upon to carry heavy loads on a bicycle, and that the Department was guilty of gross sweating in requiring him to do so. Half-a-dozen letters on the subject were addressed to me personally.. But what are the facts? The contract provides that a horse shall be used ; but at the special and earnest request of the man himself ‘the use of a bicycle was permitted. Charges of this sort f.re constantly being made, as illustrating the mismanagement of the Department.
M.r. Joseph Cook. - The honorable gentleman has quoted several cases in which the Department has proved the public to be wrong. Will he now cite cases where the public have proved the Department to be wrong?
– In nine cases out of ten the complaints - except where they rek te to services which depend upon funds being available, or to the provision of switch-boards or machinery, which depends upon the exigencies of the service - have no foundation, so far as the Department is concerned. A perusal of the reports of the Postal Departments of other countries shows that there are fewer complaints and mistakes in connexion with the Commonwealth Department than there are in connexion with the Post and Telegraph Department of any other Dart of the world.
– Then there must be a good many mistakes elsewhere.
– There are.
– If the facts are as stated bv the honorable member, what a farce it is to institute an inquiry.
– I do not think an inquiry is necessary to the extent suggested. What we need to do is to collect these facts, to put them into concrete form, and to appeal to the House at the earliest opportunity to provide the means to remedy grievances and provide better machinery. I wish to get at the heart of the trouble without any delay, but the proposal made by the honorable member for Gwydir would render it impossible to do so for a very long time.
– The honorable member, as a member of the Cabinet Committee, can do no more than he can as PostmasterGeneral.
– The honorable member is speaking without knowledge.
– I am not.
– I shall show that the honorable member is. The changes that are necessary to secure an improved service are by no means confined . to my Department. In other words, the machinery of the Government is so complex that the Post and Telegraph Depart ment is, so to speak, wrapped up with the Department of Home Affairs, the Public Service Commissioner’s Department, and the Treasury. The object of the Government in appointing a Cabinet Committee to make inquiry is to determine what is absolutely necessaryin regard to the relationships of the Treasury and the Post and Telegraph Department.
– Is not every Postal Department wrapped up with the Treasury ?
– The Postal Departments of other parts of the world have already made proposals to overcomethat difficulty. The Postal Department of the United Kingdom, for instance, is not dependent upon the Treasurer for. the time being. A system of works annuities is in vogue. A schedule of works is prepared; these works annuities are presented every year to Parliament, and apportions are made, the payments being spread over a series of years, according to the life of the works proposed to be executed.
– Has the Minister ever had a sixpence taken off his works Estimatesby this House?
– Notby this House.
– Then what is the trouble ?
– The trouble is that which I have indicated - that the relationships of the several Departments need to be more clearly defined.
– When I was TreasurerI had no complaint from the PostmasterGeneral as to failure on my part to provide sufficient funds for his Department.
– The right honorable member cut down the Estimates of my predecessor.
– I did not.
– The practice is not peculiar to the present occupant of the office of Treasurer. Sir George Turner gained his reputation in Victoria by cutting down, by £50,000 or £60,000 a year, the Estimates for necessary works.
– More than that. He would reduce the Estimates of one Department by that amount.
– I was speaking of his treatment of the Estimates of the Postmaster General’s Department.
– Does the honorable member suggest that Sir George Turner is responsible for the present state of affairs?
– No. I say that the duty of the Treasurer, whoever he may be, is, in present circumstances, to keep his expenditure within his receipts. Sir George Turner will indorse my statement as to his treatment of the Estimates, and he says that the difficulties have arisen owing to the failure to adopt some such system as I have indicated. Estimates are not only reduced before they reach the House, but are passed so late in the session that many works to which they relate cannot be completed within the financial year, and the votes in respect of them consequently lapse, while the difficulties of the service are intensified. I am not casting any reflection on either Sir George Turner or the present Treasurer of the Commonwealth.
– Then why drag in the name of Sir George Turner ?
– I simply referred to his practice by way of illustration, and did not drag in his name with the object which the honorable member suggests.
– As a man who would not give the Postmaster- General all the money requisite to carry on the service?
– He did good service for his State.
– I have not suggested that he did not.
– Every Treasurer has to cut down the Estimates of the Departments if he is going to keep them within bounds.
– Certainly. But when we have to make provision for works and business expansions in respect of telephones
– There is a reasonable limit in those cases.
– When the public demand increased facilities-when, as is “the case in Sydney to-day, applications for hundreds of telephones are being received, surely 1 am not making an unreasonable demand in asking the House to provide for such services?
– There is no fairness in saying that the present Treasurer and. his predecessors, with the exception of Sir George Turner,- were all right - in other words, that Sir George Turner was all wrong.
– I have not said anything of the kind. I said distinctly that Sir George Turner would subscribe to my statement, and I cast no reflection upon him. Let me refer for a moment to the relationship of the Department of Home Affairs to the Post and Telegraph Department. A works branch has’been established in connexion with the Department of Home Affairs, and some time must necessarily elapse before we can determine how that machinery will work.
– It does not work at all.
– That is the trouble, and the Government recognise that the time has arrived when proposals should be made to make it work.
– Yet the Government’ is increasing the Estimates of - the Department of Home Affairs.
– The Department ot Home Affairs has a lot of work to do. for the Postmaster-General’s Department. It even manufactures silent cabinets for telephones.
Mr.- Crouch. - Does the honorable member say that that Department is mismanaged ?
– No; I say that we need to give consideration to its relation to other Departments. Those -who have held office as Postmaster-General during the last four of five years have foreseen the present trouble. There is great difficulty in carrying out works. We have to depend upon the Public Works Departments of the States and they put Commonwealth work a long way down their lists.
– That is not a fair charge.
– If my honorable friend says that all the Public Works Departments of all the States do not adopt that practice I agree with him ; but I do not think he can deny the assertion that two- thirds of them do. Special arrangements had to be made last year for the appointment of draughtsmen in order that telephone exchanges, which were absolutely necessary to prevent a block, might be provided.
– There again centralization is the trouble.
– No; the fault lies with the Public Works Departments of the States.
– Decentralization is the trouble.
– It is. If we had a central Public Works Department, with a staff of inspectors who could see’ that the works provided for on the, Estimates were carried out, our present troubles would be greatly minimized.
– Will the Cabinet Committee sit in public? .
– It will whenever it is necessary to do so.
– Do I understand the Postmaster-General to say that if the Cabinet Committee’s inquiry is found, when completed, to be unsatisfactory, the Government will favour the appointment of a Royal Commission?
– I go further and saythat if we discover that changes must be made, and that the Committee is unable to obtain the evidence that ought to be collected, the Government itself will take that step. That I think is a reasonable proposition. The course proposed by the Government will save time and avoid irritation and unnecessary work and expense.
– If the Committee finds out that the Government is censurable then the Government will appoint a Royal Commission to find that out for them. That is altogether too thin.
– The honorable member may, if he please place the most ungenerous construction upon my remarks. That appears to be a habit of his. When I referred in a friendly way to Sir George Turner a few minutes ago he immediately suggested that I was reflecting on him.
– It is a great shame that any one should differ from the honorable member.
– I do not object to any one differing from me, but I do object to misrepresentation.
– What misrepresentation ?
– The honorable member was guilty of a gross misrepresentation in suggesting that I had either directly or indirectly reflected on Sir George Turner personally, or on the services he had rendered the country. It is also a gross misrepresentation to say that I have reflected on the Deputy Postmasters-General.
– The honorable member is constantly making statements and withdrawing them.
– It is easy to make such an assertion, but it is difficult to prove it. If the honorable member were to cultivate a little of that suavity which becomes a gentleman it would be better for him and the House. I endeavour to be friendly and to respect him, but he appears to avail himself of every opportunity to be unfriendly.
– I take my own course despite the honorable member’s lectures. I do not think I shall go to the honorable member for any advice as to what is gentlemanly conduct.
– I was not lecturing the honorable member. I think I have fully explained the position which the Government take up in regard to this important matter.
.- I do not wish to occupy the time of the- Committee in discussing this amendment at this juncture in detail, for I recognise that, honorable members generally are as anxious as I am to proceed with the debate on the Seat of Government Bill, and to arrive at a decision in regard to it. I desire, however, to avail myself of this opportunity to make something in the nature of a personal explanation rather than a speech on the subject-matter of the amendment. I was somewhat surprised when I found that the honorable member for Gwydir had sprung it on the House. It will be within the recollection of honorable members that some time ago I gave notice of motion for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the working of the Post and Telegraph Department. The notice of motion read -
That a Royal Commission be appointed to inquire into the administration of, and the general conditions prevailing in, the working of the Postmaster-General’s Department of the Commonwealth Public Service.
You, sir, will recollect drawing my attention to the fact that there was already upon the business-paper a notice of motion - which had escaped my attention - in the name of the honorable member for Gwydir for the appointment of a Select Committee for practically the same purpose. Acting upon your suggestion, I altered my notice of motion so as to make it take the form of an amendment upon the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir, which read - .
That a Select Committee be appointed, with power to call for persons and papers, to inquire into and report upon the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic systems of the Commonwealth, and the working thereof.
The reason why I desired to move for the appointment of a Royal Commission was that I realized that the powers of a Select Committee were necessarily very much more limited than, were those of a Royal Commission. Now, it so happens that there are in my constituency a very large number of officers employed in the Postal Department who are victims of the various disabilities about which we have heard so many complaints, and it was in pursuance of a promise which I made to them that I brought forward the notice of motion to which I have referred. Some little time afterwards the honorable member for Gwydir came to me-
– I have already explained that.
– No; the honorable member has not attempted tq do so, and that is my reason now for doing so myself, because his neglect to do so would otherwise have put me in a false position. Some little time subsequently the honorable member asked me to withdraw my notice of amendment because he had good reason to know .that the Government would not agree to a Royal Commission, and that whilst it remained upon the business-paper it would prevent him from obtaining the appointment of a Select Committee. He went on to explain that if I would withdraw my notice, he had what practically amounted to an assurance that the Select Committee which he desired would be appointed.
– I never said anything of the kind.
– That was the inducement which the honorable member held out to me for the purpose of inducing me to withdraw my notice of amendment. He led me to understand that he had a reasonable assurance that a Select Committee would be appointed, and that when the session terminated it would be converted into a Royal Commission. In reply I told him that I would not immediately decide whether I would withdraw my notice of amendment, but later on I informed him that if it were true that it was likely to prevent his motion from being brought forward I would remove it from the business-paper, as a Select Committee would achieve the result that I. desired, if at the close of the session it were converted into a Royal Commission. Accordingly I removed the amendment from the notice-paper. The honorable member’s motion and my amendment were set down for this very day. Yet the honorable member for Gwydir now urges, as a reason for the appointment of a Royal Commission, that the session is too far advanced to hope that any good result would flow from the appointment of a Select Committee. When he approached me upon this matter he knew perfectly well that his motion and my notice of amendment would in ordinary circumstances have Been brought forward to-day. I do not object to the honorable member, or any other honorable member bringing forward this proposal, but I do object to the unfair tactics resorted to by the honorable member for Gwydir to induce me to withdraw my proposal in order, apparently, to gain credit at my expense. Honorable members will see that in the absence of an explanation on my part 1 might be placed in a very false position. A number of my constituents are interested in this matter, and, had I withdrawn my notice of amendment without offering any explanation I might have been accused at election time of having backed down. I know from bitter experience that under such circumstances some members of the Labour Party would not have hesitated to place me in a false light before my constituents. I do not say that the honorable member for Gwydir would do so, but there are members associated with the party to which he Belongs who have done similar things to me in the past. In order to protect myself I have explained the reason why my .notice of amendment was withdrawn. The honorable ‘ member for Gwydir would have saved me the necessity for making this explanation if he had been gracious enough to narrate the circumstances himself. As I was tlie originator of the proposal to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the administration of the Postal Department it necessarily follows that I am heartily in accord with this amendment, and that I shall support it. But the honorable member for Gwydir is not going to arrogate to himself the role of the only champion of the rights of our public servants without his position being challenged. I call the attention of the public, through Ilansard, to the fact that the grievances of officers employed in the Post Office, and’ the Customs also, have been repeatedly brought under the notice of the House by myself and other honorable members upon this side of the chamber. No member of any party has a right to assume that he is the only person who desires to see justice and right prevail in our Public Service. I do not propose to enter into the details of those grievances, because I have done so on more than one occasion before. The Government themselves have admitted the necessity which exists for inquiry by appointing a Committee of the Cabinet to investigate the administration of the Department. In regard to their action there is room for a difference of opinion. In my judgment it was taken with a view to shirking the responsibility of appointing a Royal Commission. Honorable members are so familiar with all the grievances of our postal officials that there is no need for m£ to occupy time in detailing the various causes of complaint. We have the assurance .that they will be investigated. I rose chiefly because I felt that to some extent I had been made the victim of a political confidence trick, or something very much in the nature of one. I can only say that this experience will be a warning to me to beware of the Machiavellian devices on the part of honorable members who, in mellifluous accents, endeavour to induce me to do something which will enable them at a subsequent period to place me in a false position.
.- The honorable member for Lang is scarcely a cordial supporter of the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir.
– That is hardly a. fair statement to make. I said just now that I would support his proposal.
– The honorable member seems to be. more concerned about who will get the kudos for taking action in this matter than anything else.
– I merely objected to being placed in a false position.
– Nobody desires to place the honorable member in any such position. If he has felt it necessary to inform his constituents that he is still in favour of a Royal Commission - not withstanding that he withdrew his notice of amendment - I make no complaint.
– The honorable member would like to get the Easter bun when he had worked for it?
– The honorable member for Gwydir is entitled to credit for having first brought this matter forward in a definite form. As far back as August of last year he proposed the appointment of a Select ‘Committee to inquire in’co the working of the Postal Department, and we all know that in the natural order of things such a Committee would have been converted into a Commission at the termination of the session. lt is quite an unnecessary piece of advertisement for the honorable member for Lang to tack his amendment on to the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir. For him ‘to accuse the honorable member for Gwydir of having attempted to rob him of the credit of having first brought this matter before the’ House is pretty conclusive proof that he is not a very strong supporter of the proposal under, consideration.
– I have already said that I intend to support it.
– A strong supporter of any proposal does not usually submit an amendment upon it.
– The honorable member knows perfectly well that a Select Committee does not possess the powers which are possessed by a Royal Commission.
– When the- honorable member for Gwydir first placed his proposal upon the notice-paper it very properly related to the appointment of a Select Committee. But ‘to move for the appointment 6f such a body at the present stage of the session would be ridiculous. Consequently, the honorable member is right in asking that the inquiry into the Postal Department shall take the form of a Royal Commission. There is no reason whatever why the honorable member for Lang should complain of the action of the honorable member for Gwydir. Coming to the more important question, whether the House should vote for the amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir, I admit that the Government have attempted to meet the position*. Minhters have recognised that there is considerable dissatisfaction throughout the service, and on the part of the public, and Parliament, in connexion with the administration, of the Post Office. The appointment of the Cabinet Committee is such a recognition. I do not wish to again, go over the ground which I covered t the? other night, but I desire to impress upon Ministers trie fact that, in order to make reforms, they must have the support of Parliament. the report of the ‘Cabinet Committee will be simply a statement of the opinions of Ministers, but we desire a report from arn independent Committee.
– What is the difference?
– The report of an independent Committee will carry weight; but the report of the Cabinet Committee will be looked upon by the community as a mere white-washing of the Government.
– Does the honorable member mean that’ the Cabinet Committee will not deal with the proposals on their merits ?
– Why does the Postmaster-General associate with him in this inquiry two of his colleagues, if it is not to strengthen him in ‘ the reforms which he wishes to propose? The report of the Cabinet Committee will therefore not have the weight of a. report by a Committee of this House. For instance, Ministers will find it difficult to report upon the relations of the Government with the Public Service Commissioner. They cannot bring charges against the Commissioner, because it is their duty to recognise his independence, and to protect him in it. Personally, I am of opinion that most of the troubles which have arisen are due to the ^arrangement under which the Public Service Commissioner runs all the Departments. A modification of the present system might work well ; but I have contended ever since we were dealing with the Public Service Bill that it would break down in practice, and, I think that it has done so. The Commissioner performs a very difficult task remarkably well, and I have never said a word against him personally. But the task is not one within the powers of any man. Honorable members have spoken of the Deputy PostmastersGeneral ‘ as merely cyphers, matters being decided largely by the Central Office ; but one of the reasons why they are cyphers is that they have no control over those under them. The promotion and transfer of officers is entirely in the hands of the Public Service Commissioner. Thus the public servants are really independent of those to whom they are immediately responsible, who are charged with administering the Departments in the public interest. Such a system must, in the long run, break down, and has already broken down in connexion with the Postal Department. I have already asked the Minister, and ask him again, to, even at this late hour, strengthen the proposed Committee by adding to it members of the House and others, and make it a Royal Commission.
– If it be found necessary to add to it, that will be done.
– The House must have something more than the assertion of Ministers that reforms are. necessary.
– The honorable member has already made up his mind. He does not need a Commission to inform him.
– I have for a long time paid considerable attention to the question of Public Service organization, and the relations between the higher and lower officials, and therefore should like to have the opportunity to obtain further information in certain directions.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Cabinet Committee’s report is already in type ?
– No; but the PostmasterGeneral has already made up. his mind in regard to many matters, and I suppose he wants the opportunity to show the Minister of Home Affairs and the VicePresident of the Executive Council that conditions are as he has pictured them. I wish him to associate with the Committee members representative of all parties. As the honorable member for Gwydir has moved the amendment, I shall be compelled to vote for it. There should be a wider inquiry than a Cabinet Committee can make, and the promise to extend the scope of the inquiry, if necessary, is a concession which more than justifies the honorable member for Gwydir in the action which he has taken. I feel strongly that a fuller inquiry should be made.
Motion (by Mr. Fisher) proposed -
That the debate be now adjourned.
– I wish to know from the leader of the Labour Party when he proposes to allow the resumption of the debate. Is the matter to be further considered?
– Can the motion for the adjournment of the debate be discussed?
– There are two questions put to the House. The first - That the debate be now adjourned - determines whether it shall or shall not be adjourned, and then comes the question - That the adjourned debate be an Order of the Day for a certain date- which gives to the House the right to alter the date proposed for the resumption of the discussion.
– An indication should be given by the mover of the adjournment as to when we shall have another opportunity’ to discuss the matter, since that must determine our attitude towards the motion. I think that he should not have moved it just now. He has prevented other honorable members from speaking.
– I cannot allow the honorable member to proceed. The motion fixing the date for resuming the debate will be moved subsequently.
– On a point of order, I wish to suggest that it is all-important that something more should be said upon the question raised by the honorable member forParramatta. If the House is compelled to deal with the proposal for adjournment in the abstract without any consideration as to the time to which that adjournment should take place, it will, if the abstract motion be carried, have committed itself. I take it that a number of honorable members, although willing to agree to the adjournment of the debate, if there is to be a resumption of proceedings within a reasonable time, are not prepared to agree to an indefinite adjournment; and I submit that the honorable member for Parramatta is at least entitled to ask the honorable member for Wide Bay when he proposes to fix the date of resumption, before agreeing to the bare proposal for an adjournment.
– I remind honorable members that the Standing Orders we passed on the 24th November, 1905, included the following : -
The following motions are not open to debate, shall be moved without argument or opinion offered, and shall be forthwith put from the Chair without amendment and the vote taken : - (b.) A motion, That this debate be now ad journed.
However desirable it might be to discuss the question, I have no option but to put it without debate.
– If it be the desire of honorable members to further discuss the question, I ask leave to withdraw the motion;
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Sitting suspended from 6.27 to 7.45 p.m.
.- In view of the urgency of an early vote on the question of the Capital Site, I had decided to hold over the few remarks I have to make on the motion immediately before us until a later period. It seemed that there would be an adjournment of the debate, and I thought the Seat of Government Bill might very properly have precedence, in view of the general desire for a final determination. It appeared, however, that members of the Opposition particularly had a strong objection to an adjournment of the debate.
– What !
– I say that just before the dinner adjournment, when the right honorable member for East Sydney was not present, there was evidently a strong desire on the part of the Opposition that the debate should not be adjourned.
– Not at all !
– Why, the honorable member for Parramatta himself rose to object to an adjournment of the debate !
– The honorable member is incorrect again.
– I am absolutely correct, and I further say that the honorable member for Parkes also raised an objection to an adjournment of the debate. A reference to the Hansard report will prove what I say. However, if the Opposition would rather have an adjournment, and there is a general desire in that direction, I am quite prepared to sit down.
– When wouldthe honorable, member be prepared to resume the debate?
– I am not prepared to fix a date, but I should not object to resume the debate next week.
– As a matter of fact, the honorable member is prepared to allow the debate to be adjourned indefinitely - he does not care to fix a date.
– It is all very well to throw the taunt that honorable members on this side have no desire to fix a date for the resumption of the debate, but it must be acknowledged that the questions asked from this corner in regard to the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department show that our object is to have the affairs of the Department not only inquired into, but placed on a firm basis.
– All blank cartridge !
– Have not similar questions been put from this side of the House ?
– Yes; the direct Opposition have made a very good second in this matter. The honorable member for
Lang was quibbling a few moments before we adjourned for dinner, but-
– I think the honorable member for Lang was entitled to say something after the way in which he was “blanketed.”
– The honorable member for Lang was not “blanketed.” The honorable member for Gwydir gave notice of motion for the appointment of a Select Committee, and the honorable member for Lang, thinking he was very cute, went one better by giving notice of motion for the appointment of a Royal Commission. This, however, was only a second thought on the part of the honorable member for Lang, and his desire was to “ jump the claim “ of the honorable member for Gwydir. The honorable member for Lang subsequently withdrew his notice of motion. Thinking, however, that he had put himself in an invidious position, the honorable member for Lang apologized, and made some remarks about “ a political confidence trick,” or words to that effect. I recognise that the Postmaster-General is placed in a very unenviable position, and certainly do not blame him for the whole of the trouble that has occurred in connexion with his Department. I hold, however, that the present Ministry are responsible for it. For the last three or four years there have been complaints on the part of the public and officers of the service respecting the unsatisfactory nature of the administration of the Department, but it seems that we are expected to go on for all time accepting the promises of Ministers that inquiries will be made and explanation after explanation follows as to the futility of such inquiries. The proposition submitted by the honorable member for Gwydir is designed to secure a more satisfactory result than we have been able to obtain from departmental action. I do not approach the consideration of this question with any hostile feeling towards the Government, nor do I desire to view it from a party stand-point. But when the Postmaster- General appeals to the House to say whether or not the course decided upon by the Government is the best that could be adopted, I for one do not feel disposed to indorse it by my vote. I have no doubt that the Cabinet are actuated by the very best intentions, and I certainly had no desire to break in upon the consideration of the Seat of Government Bill. But week afterweek and month after month grievances on the part of employés of the Department and the general public are brought under our notice - we know that there are thousands ot grievances - and it is time that we were able to give some explanation to those who’ sent us here. Hitherto the only explanation . we have been able to make is that inquiries are being made, and that the redress of grievances is promised. What we need, however, is not promises but results, and we have not yet been able to obtain them. With’ due respect to the PostmasterGeneral and the Government generally, I cannot help thinking that the proposed Cabinet Committee of inquiry will -be little short of a farce. The Postmaster-General tells us that the Committee will have the confidence of officers of the Department. 1 have here a letter from an officer in touch with the whole, of the PostmasterGeneral’s staff in Sydney, in which he writes -
The opinion of every officer I have come into contact with re this Cabinet Committee appointed to inquire into our grievances,. Sc., regards such modus operandi as an action of the Government to shield the inefficiency of the responsible Executive.
– That is a statement by a departmental officer?
– Yes. If that is the feeling, in the service, what confidence will the employes have in the proposed Committee? There is another aspect which is also worthy of consideration. The Cabinet Committee will conduct an inquiry at the General Post Office, Sydney, as well as at other offices. The letter carriers, for instance, amongst others, will be asked to give evidence respecting the administration of their branch of the service. As soon as they begin to give evidence against the Superintendent of their branch it will be a case of either .him or them for it. They must either establish a .case that will justify his removal from that office, or be prepared to go themselves. It may be said that they will be protected against any action which a superior officer might take in consequence of their evidence, but those who have had experience of the working of public Departments know that there are a hundred and one ways by which a superior officer may persecute those who have given evidence against him, and that those opportunities are availed of. I am not referring in particular to any individual officer. That is likely to be the position throughout the Department, so that it is absurd to ask an officer to appear before the Cabinet Committee to criticise his superior whose good opinion is essential to his advancement. That being so, it would be nothing short of a farce to set up an inquiry within the Department to secure the redress of the grievances of employes. When the present Minister of Trade and Customs was Postmaster-General, he made numerous inquiries, and gave many decisions designed to improve the administration. The present Postmaster-General then came into office, and the plea was advanced that it was unfair to criticise his Department, since he had been in charge of it for only a short time.
– I have never said that.
– That, at all events, has been the tenor of remarks made on several occasions by the honorable member. The plea has been put forward on his behalf that, since he has been at the head ot the Department for only a few months, he has not had time to redress many grievances. If a few months hence we have another Cabinet reconstruction, and another member of the Ministry is appointed PostmasterGeneral, the same excuse will again be put forward, and from the view-point of both the public and the employes of the Department, the situation will continue to be unsatisfactory. The Government should not regard as hostile to them a proposal that an independent inquiry shall be made into the administration of the Department. It has long been demanded, and a notice of motion providing for such an inquiry has been on the notice-paper for some time. A departmental inquiry will be unsatisfactory to honorable members who have been fighting for years to secure the redress of grievances, and the men in the service do not consider that it will have a satisfactory issue. The Postmaster-General tells us that if the proposed Cabinet Committee inquiry is found unsatisfactory, the Government will themselves urge the appointment of a Royal Commission. ‘
– We can appoint a Royal Commission at any .time.
– Then why not appoint it at once, and get rid of this trouble?
– Because we object to being forced to do anything of the kind.
– Surely the Minister does not wish to imply that pressure is being applied from this quarter with any hostile intent?
– I do not think it is ; but I have explained the seriousness of the position.
– Because the Minister states that the position is serious, are we to waive our rights and fail to give satisfaction to our constituents? Should the Cabinet Committee’s inquiry not prove satisfactory, who will say that it is unsatisfactory? Will the Government then ask this House to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the administration of the Department?
– The Government can appoint a Royal Commission at any time.
– Only if they find themselves incapable of doing the work that they set out to do.
– Exactly. The Postmaster-General hastold us to-day that the machinery of the Department is totally inadequate.
– It is inclined to clog.
– It has been clogged and jambed during the past three years, at any rate. As a matter of fact, the situation has been tinkered with until it has become intolerable, and honorable members, in the interests of their constituents, are obliged to come forward and demand an independent inquiry. The position is not so much the result of the want of additional hands as of bad administration.
– Is it bad administration in this Department or bad administration in another Department? The honorable member for Boothby said that it was bad administrationinanother Department.
– The honorable member for Boothby has his own opinion and I have mine.
– If the fault rests with another Department, the charge is worse than ever. It is intolerable that the Public Service Commissioner should be charged with a fault like that.
– I make no charge against the Public Service Commissioner.
– If the existing machinery is not sufficient, the Government should have introducedan amending Bill for the purpose of placing the Department upon a proper footing. Only last year theDeputy Postmaster-General of New South Wales asked for 1,000 additional hands to enable him to cope with the work of the Department, but the Public Service Commissioner said that only 600 additional hands should be employed.
– The Commissioner did not say that. I gave the Deputy Postmaster-General of New South Wales more than 600 additional hands.
– The Deputy PostmasterGeneral of New South Wales said that it was necessary for him to have 1,000 additional hands, but somebody else in higher authority - it mattersnot whether Public Service Commissioner or Minister - who was not responsible for the working . of the Department, replied, “ Your judgment is not supreme. You may consider that you require that amount of assistance, but I will not let you have it. I shall give you half the number of hands that you say you require.”
– Upon the recommendation and certificate of the Public Service Commissioner, I gave the Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, 669 new officers, and I provided money with which to pay temporary assistants in order that he might see whether their services were ultimately required.
– The PostmasterGeneral stated some time ago that he had asked for the employment of 1,000 additional hands, but that he could only obtain 600. What is the use of Ministers endeavouring to shift responsibility from one shoulder to another?
– I am not endeavouring to remove responsibility from my shoulders.
– It was a very proper thing to appoint temporary hands.
– Were the Government asked to appoint permanent hands?
– Yes,they were.
– Surely the Government did a fair thing.
– The officer charged with the administration of the Department in Sydney did not think that it was a fair thing.
– I will guarantee that this House thinks it was a fair thing.
– This House is not competent to say how many additional hands were required.
– The Government said that they would put on 300 hands temporarily in’ order that they might see whether the demand for their services was permanent.
– The Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Sydney, obtained more than 1,000 additional hands, including temporary assistants.
– The Treasurer knows perfectly well that temporary assistance is not satisfactory.
– These temporary hands can be made permanent if they are useful men.
– The superintendent of mails, Sydney, has recently informed me that a certain temporary officer is a most valuable officer, and that if he had the power he would retain his services permanently. But he has not the necessary power, and consequently the officer has to be dismissed at the end of nine months’ service.
– That is the law.
– He can be appointed a permanent officer upon the recommendation of the Commissioner.
– One Minister says a temporary hand can be made permanent ; the other says it is the law not to do so. The Deputy Postmaster-General can apparently continue to ask for the necessary assistance until he becomes grey, without getting it. We have heard the PosmasterGeneral say that he desires decentralization and that he is anxious that the departmentalheads of the different States shall be endowed with a certain measure of responsibility. Yet when they ask for requisite assistance to carry out the work of the Department they cannot get it.
– If the head of a Department asks for the services of four additional men, and three permanent hands and one temporary hand are appointed, with an intimation that if the services of the temporary hand be required he will be made permanent, surely that is a fair thing?
– The Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, cannot pay his temporary hands.
– As a matter of fact,I do not think it is necessary to prove that the Department in Sydney has not had authority to employ sufficient hands to cope with the departmental work. The PostmasterGeneral has said that if a Royal Commission were appointed to inquire into the administration of the Department, the preparation of evidence would be so costly and the work would take so many men away from their ordinary avocations, that it would be very difficult to carry on the work of the Department without inconveniencing the public still more. If that be so, how will the Cabinet Committee which has been appointed conduct its inquiry?
– The honorable member is favorable to the appointment of a Royal Commission and opposed to a Cabinet Committee of Inquiry ?
– Exactly. I do think that there is something wrong with the administration of the Department, and with the way in which some of the higher administrative officers discharge their duties. The very characteristics of the Minister, which make it difficult to prefer an attack against him -his courtesy in relation to honorable members, and his’ honesty of purpose, which we all recognise - are, I am afraid, qualities which induce him to deal too leniently and gently with administrative officers who refuse to carry out his instructions. We want some one in charge who will put his foot down very solidly, and have sufficient strength of character to see that his directions are obeyed. The PostmasterGeneral, speaking last week, made pointed reference to the manner in which the Deputy Postmasters-General were failing to assist him in giving effect to his policy of decentralization. He did not say that they deliberately neglected his instructions, but that they strangely misunderstood the policy that he was trying to pursue. If there were at the head of the Department a Minister determined to carry out his own policy, these men would soon knuckle down. The Minister wants a little more iron in his composition in dealing with men who indulge in passive resistance of this kind. I know of an instance where the Postmaster-General gave instructions that letter-carriers’ work was no longer to be done by boys. Result - in North Sydney one boy is delivering letters to the business portion of the community six hours a day, and he is then delivering telegrams till eight at night. At the Petersham office, also, boys are engaged in doing men’s work. . Representations were made to the Minister by associations of postal servants when he went to Sydney. He gave instructions that certain practices must stop. But they have not stopped. They continue, and the departmental officers seem to seek for means of getting round the decisions of their Minister. That is a most serious position.
– What would be the effect if there were no control from head office at all?
– It does not excuse the Minister to say that things would be worse if there were no control from head-quarters. Some control is better than no control, but what we want is much more effective control than we have at present.
– We want the best control.
– Exactly. At Junee, the Town Council has taken up the matter of the work of men being done by boys.
Mr.Liddell. - The Department intrusts the delivery of telegrams to babies.
– Surely there is need for inquiry in relation to these facts. In regard to the telephone assistants, the duties cannot be so light as they seem, for there are five telephone assistants in the Callan Park Lunatic Asylum to-day. The doctors say that the cause of their failure in health is nervous pressure. At the Newtown Telephone Exchange, Sydney, where there are 470 telephone calls per hour- one every eight seconds - one of the attendants is on duty four hours at a stretch. In the Newtown Post Office, boys sixteen years of age are left in charge the whole night long. There are sometimes hundreds of pounds in the office. I have been told by relatives of the toys that they are frightened out of their wits to go to the door if a knock comes during the night. These boys are receiving only 12s. 6d. per week. It is true that Newtown is a thickly-populated part of Sydney, but every one knows what the danger is. It is not a fair thing to leave a boy, sixteen years of age, in charge of a post-office, practically as a night watchman,at a wage of 12s. 6d. per week. I could give a number of instances upon the same lines. These cases surely reflect upon the administration of the Department. The administrative officers in charge ought to put matters right. They ought to have power to do so. If the Minister had sufficient authority over his Department, Parliament would not be troubled with these little, tinkling matters. It is most humiliating for members of the national Parliament of Australia to have to get up day after day voicing these grievances.
– If they are small, why take notice of them ?
– Because, though they are small, the multitude of them compels honorable members to take action. It is no pleasure to me to be continually pecking at the Postmaster-General. I should be very glad indeed if the employes of the Department had some other means of remedying their grievances. The administration of our railways has been so far perfected that members of the States Parlia ments would not think of opening a running fire of questions concerning the employes.
– They have done it in New South Wales.
– Very seldom indeed.
– If the employés under the Railways Commissioners in Victoria attempted to influence members of Parliament, it would be more than their billets were worth. They have any number of grievances.
– But theyhave departmental redress for them.
– Have they ? Ask them !
– Speaking from five years’ experience as secretary of an association of 5, 000 State railway men, and secretary of 25,000 men in the Federal organization, I can say that the railway servants can get satisfaction, generally speaking, in the Department.
– They cannot in Victoria. When they try to get satisfaction they “ get the run.”
– I can state, as a matter of fact, that in Victoria the Railways Commissioners meet the Employés’ Association every quarter, when grievances are discussed.
– There are signal men working twelve hours a day within five miles of this building.
– Do we want to imitate that sort of treatment in the Post Office?
– Who said we did ?That is an irrelevant interjection.
– The Minister can, I am satisfied, learn a great deal from the way in which the railways of the States are administered. I can give the Minister another instance in connexion with the Postal Employés’ Appeal Board. A postal employé was dismissed from the service in New South Wales, and I had statutory declarations handed to me, which seemed to show that he Had been so very badly treated that there was urgent necessity for some rehearing of his case. I made representations on the subject, and, after trying for twelve months, I was successful in having the case re-opened. In order to satisfy myself as to the justice or otherwise of this man’s claims, I attended the inquiry by the Appeal Board, and took charge of the case myself. A decision has been given against the appellant, and I have no more to say at present on that point, as his case was fairly. put But what I wish to refer to is the fact that one of the officials sitting on the Appeal Board - and I wish to say nothing against him personally - had previously been elected as an employes’ representative. When the time for such an election came round again, he submitted himself for re-election, and thepostal employes chose another person in his place by an overwhelming majority, thus practically telling this gentleman that in that position he had forfeited their confidence. I was naturally surprised to find that, although the employes did not wish this man to be a member of the Appeal Board, the Department appointed him to the position of departmental representative. If, after an .em’ploy stands for election as sn Appeal Board representative, and ‘ is told that his fellow-employes have no confidence in him, the Department is to turn round and appoint him to represent them, what sort of confidence can we expect the employes to have in a Board so constituted? I have no doubt that, the Postmaster-General will admit that the discontent in his Department is costing the country many thousands of pounds.- A discontented service is the most expensive service we can have. Men will not do their work with any heart if they are .dissatisfied and will do only a fraction of the work which they would do if they were working contentedly. It is admitted in railway management that the cheapest, service is a contented service, and that, entirely apart from the rates of wages paid, the most expensive service is a discontented service. From the point of -view, therefore, of securing the best return for the expenditure of public money, a contented service in the Post and Telegraph Department should be established at the earliest possible moment. I favour very strongly the appointment of a Board of Commissioners, such -as we have managing the States Railway Departments, independent absolutely of all political influence.
– That would be a nice thing. How would the public servants air their grievances then ?
– I should make the Postal Commissioners employers under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, and should permit the employes associations to register under the Act. They might then settle their differences by means of a Board appointed for the purpose. I do not say that 1 am likely to succeed in bringing about what I advocate; but, in my opinion, it would be the best course to pursue. I should hope that we will not continue .indefinitely the very unsatisfactory state of affairs which has existed for the last two or three years, under which this House is made an institution for the ventilation pf grievances of postal and other public servants. I’t must be admitted that there does not appear to be the same amount of discontent in the other public Departments that there is in the Post and Telegraph Department. The National Parliament of Australia has certainly more important work to do than to be continually listening to a recital of the grievances of public servants.
– Which of the previous Postmasters-General is responsible for the existing state of affairs?
– In my opinion, the Government are responsible. We have a continuous Administration, and the fact that a different Minister is from time. to time appointed Postmaster-General does not relieve the Government as a whole of responsibility for the state of affairs existing in the Post arid Telegraph Department. I think that a sufficient case has been made out for the appointment of a Royal Commission. It could be composed of experts.
Mr.- Mathews. - Where shall we get them?. In the Department?
– Does the honorable member really think that it would be impossible for us to secure the appointment of experts as a Royal Commission to deal with the grievances- of the Post and Telegraph servants? In the interests of the postal employes, the public, the business of this House, and of Ministers themselves, and if the Commonwealth is to lay claim to be able to conduct a Public Service effectively, it is necessary that some drastic action should be immediately taken to remedy the unsatisfactory state .of affairs that has existed for so long. This is a question which has a special interest for members of the Labour Party. We look upon the Post and Telegraph Service, or any of the great Public Services controlled by the State, as affording examples of the benefits of the adoption of a system which we desire to see extended in other directions. To justify our faith in the system we advocate, it is absolutely necessary that the Post and Telegraph Department, .as a great public Department controlled by the State, should be administered effectively, and that in the public interests we should have in it a body of contented servants.
.- With the indulgence of the Chair, and the House, I should like to make an explanation which I was prevented from making when the Prime Minister rose to withdraw his amendment, because debate was not then admissible. The honorable member for Parramatta and myself were, at the moment, drafting an amendment which’ would have had the effect of carrying out the Prime Minister’s wish to adjourn this, debate, and would at the same time have safeguarded the “right of the honorable member, for Gwydir to another opportunity to move his motion. That amendment was completed and written out at the table, with an alteration I suggested, when the Prime Minister suddenly rose and asked leave to withdraw his amendment. Honorable members were unable to say a word, and had to allow that to be done. I. strongly sympathized with the desire of the Prime Minister to adjourn this debate.
– The honorable gentleman took a queer way of showing it.
– Will the Prime Minister allow me to explain? He. is not often here.
– The honorable member is always explaining when he is here.
– When I was Prime Minister, I was here constantly. The honorable gentleman’s health plea has gone now. We were all fairly indulgent when he was ill. But now that he is well, we should be glad to see him a little more in the chamber than we do. An amendment was written out by’ the honorable member for Parramatta and corrected by me just at the’ moment the Prime Minister rose to ask leave to withdraw his amendment. We proposed to meet the wishes of the Prime Minister by adjourning this question, but at the same time not jockeying the honorable member for Gwydir out of his rights. That was a. move that we were udt prepared to join in. If I had had the ‘ opportunity I should have moved an amendment which would have enabled the honorable member for Gwydir to bring this important matter before the House, as he’ was entitled to do. The’ moment I arrived here on Tuesday, and had an opportunity, without any idea that the honorable member for Gwydir was going to take the step he has .taken,I expressed my views in the strongest possible manner upon the absurdity of the
Committee which the Ministry had appointed. At that time I made no hostile move - no endeavour to move any amendment or bring any party -feeling into the question. I confined myself to as strong a protest- as I could make as to the absurdity of such ‘ a Committee to deal with the widespread dissatisfaction and grievances that exist in this Department, which- is under the control of Ministers. To ask the Minister to sit upon’ grievances alleged against his administration, or to ask his colleagues to do so, is one of those freaks which are rare in the history of parliamentary government. I have never heard of such a case. I have heard of cases which are- quite apart from any question of .grievance or dissatisfaction in which Ministers have formed a sub-committee. For instance, on defence and matters Of that sort, sub-committees are quite common, but where the administration of Ministers themselves is being arraigned in Parliament and by the public, then Ministers never appoint a Committee to whitewash themselves. They might have declined to appoint any Committee whatever,, and it was perfectly within the rights of the Ministry to say to the House and the country, -“We are aware that matters are not satisfactory in this Department,- but we ask you to trust us by the ordinary methods of administration to bring about a remedy of .existing grievances.” But the Ministry took no such step. They have taken the unusual step of asking Ministers who are in charge’ of other Departments - the Minister of Home Affairs is one - to leave their Departments and become members of a Committee which will be -an absolute waste of time and energy unless it visits, not only the large centres of population, but the remoter centres of Australia, where these grievances are felt far more bitterly than in cities like Sydney and Melbourne. The other day an extra delivery was given in one of those great cities, which already has, I believe, four deliveries a day. A fifth delivery, which cost thousands of pounds, was granted, whilst there are many places in the country which do not get a delivery once a day.
– Once a week.
– If the inquiry is to be a thorough one, it must travel all over the Commonwealth. It must take into consideration the grievances of people in the outlying districts of Australia, as well as in the large centres of population. How can the Postmaster-General, with this enormous Department upon his shoulders, give up the time necessary for such an in’quiry? How can ‘the Minister of Home Affairs do so? It is physically impossible that those honorable gentlemen can discharge the duties of their offices and perform also the duties of such a Committee. Who are concerned in this ? Some honorable members like to assume that they are the chosen representatives of the workers of Australia. They claim that they are also the representatives of the workers in these great Departments. We desire to claim an equality - no more - with them in our desire to look after the legitimate grievances of the workers of Australia. The honorable member for Gwydir - I do not know whether his action was contrary to the wishes of the Labour Party or not - has brought this matter up. It affects 12,000 workers in the Commonwealth - a pretty large body of persons, whose interests ought to command some regard, not in one corner’ of the House alone-
– It affects the public, too.
– I shall deal with that part of it . presently, but I begin in the inner circle, with the Department itself. According to the report of the Public Service Commissioner, there were, at the end of 1906, 10,349 permanent hands and 1,527 temporary employes in the Post’ and Telegraph Department. There must be 1,000 morenow, so that there are about 13,000. hands of all grades - Australian workers - employed in this Commonwealth service. Surely their grievances are not to be the subject of political manoeuvring.
– That is what the right honorable member is making them now.
– 1 have not -brought this matter up.
– The right honorable member is pushing it on.
– They ought to be able to get redress elsewhere than here.
– I should hope so. This is the last resort. This matter should never have had, to come before Parliament at all. It comes before Parliament only when the grievances become sufficient to, force themselves upon the attention of honorable members. I did not manoeuvre the honorable member for Gwydir into taking this step. Does the Postmaster-General suppose that I put the honorable member up to do this?
Surely I am entitled to repeat the. opinions that I expressed a week ago upon this matter.
-. - I think I have indicated my intention for months past.
– The honorable member has brought the, matter before the House for months past. Does the Postmaster-General expect me to recant the views I so strongly expressed some days ago, when there was no political complication in the matter at all, and when I sought to make none ? Surely the honorable member cannot complain when I take advantage of this opportunity to repeat my objections to the course which the Government has taken. I do not think I am to be accused of political ‘manoeuvring in doing so. I am asserting the same right as the honorable member for Cook has just asserted. Does the Postmaster-General say that the honorable member for Cook was guilty of political manoeuvring in addressing the House in support of the honorable member for Gwydir ? Why should there be one law for a man on one side of the chamber and another law for a man on the other side ? That imputation is an unworthy one, and suggests what will probably . take place. Now that the honorable member for Gwydir has seized the opportunity, which was nearly snatched from him, of bringing the matter forward in a pointed way, an inconvenient situation has arisen. What is the way out of it? To do what the Prime Minister tried to do a little while ago-
– No. The leader of the Labour Party.
– The Prime Minister first, and then the leader of the Labour Party. The Prime Minister endeavoured to shelve the debate by an amendment adjourning the consideration of the Order of the Day, and, a few hours later, the leader of the Labour Party repeated the attempt.
– This is not a Labour Party question.
– So I hope. I am spoken of as the leader of the Opposition, and, similarly, I refer to the honorable member for Wide Bay by his official title, which is frequently applied to him personally. He knew when he moved the adjournment of the debate that the effect of carrying the motion would be to shelve the opportunity to obtain a decision on the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir.
– My motion was moved for other- purposes, and with the object of bringing the matter to a conclusion.
– I accept that statement. Did the honorable member explain how it could “be brought to completion?
– It would have been out of order to do so.
– That is why the honorable member took that course, 1 suppose. ‘
– I do not say that. If he tells me that he had it in his mind to secure the adjournment of the debate in order to enable the matter to- be dealt with at a more convenient opportunity, I accept the statement at once.
– Hear, hear. I happen to know that he was going to do it.
– Perhaps innocent Willy put him up to it.
– Perhaps the honorable member for Wide Bay will give me the benefit of the suggestion which he was going to make as to when the matter should be dealt with?
– In good time, before the session ends.
– That is an extraordinary statement. The session may not end for weeks.
– Is the right honorable member so desirous for a week or two of office? A week will not make much difference. I remember when he reproached me- with desiring another week of office.
– I did, and I am sorry for it. But I assure .the honorable member that he will never see me in office again under the humiliating conditions under which he and I have occupied it. If these humiliations were not enough for him, they have been enough for me.
– It was quite enough for me.
– That was the only occasion when I realized the beauty of the national song “ The Campbells are coming.”
– The “March of the Cameron Men.”
– Yes. There are serious grievances being suffered by a large number of the public servants of the Department, and in my view it would be a cruel and dastardly thing to allow the Minister who is responsible for them to inquire into them. The honorable member for Maribyrnong may not be individually responsible, but his colleague, the exPostmasterGeneral, is. ‘ The Minister of’ .Trade and Customs is responsible for his administration of the Postal Department, and the present Postmaster-General has inherited that responsibility. The Ministry is responsible for the administration of the Department since it has been in office, as any other Ministry would be. Not only is there intense dissatisfaction in all ranks of the service, but the public of Australia is dissatisfied. The administration of the Department can never be sound until it has been scrutinized by a fearless and competent body of men. It is not for us to say who the Royal Commissioners should be. That is the function of the Executive. They must decide the matter on their responsibility. All that the honorable member for Gwydir did was to seek to, give an opportunity to the House to express the opinion that the inquiry which Ministers have* entered- upon should be conducted, not by Ministers, but by. Royal Commissioners, . a position which almost every honorable member must in his heart and soul approve. When honorable members who are able to vote on the proposal before the House do not wish to do so, the only thing to be done is to adjourn the debate. The alternatives are to come to the scratch and vote like men, or to run away. My honorable friends wish to run away. Will the Government allow these tactics ? When their position is challenged, do they ask friends below the gangway to save them by a retreat?
– If we des%ire advice on tactics, we shall go to the right honorable member.
– The honorable and learned gentleman has shown a .political dexterity which makes Machiavelli himself seem a primitive Italian peasant. He has now acquired an appetite for a state of things which, in the estimation of almost every man in Australia, is personally humiliating. That appetite may lead him to clutch at the friendly hand which will take him away from the challenge which has been put before the House. The honorable member for Gwydir, in his amendment, has thrown down this challenge to the Government : “ I ask you to appoint a Royal’ Commission. If you will not, I shall give a vote which may affect your position.” If the honorable member did not know, that, he has the rudiments of parliamentary procedure to learn. I am sure that he knew it. The position he took up was that to him the interests of the Government are not as important as are those of 12,000 postal employe’s and of the general public of Australia, and that in the performance of his duty to the Department and to the public he must take a course which he would probably have avoided could he study the exigencies of political warfare. I have not invented the situation; it has arisen independently of me. But surely it is not expected, when such a situation arises, that I should abandon the view which I have taken on other occasions. I repeat with greater earnestness my belief that one of the greatest services that can be rendered to the public of Australia is the putting of the affairs of this Department on a sound and more satisfactory footing. That can never be done by Ministers, because the responsibilities upon them are such that if they were to leave their Departments in order to conduct the necessary investigation, “ confusion worse confounded “ would follow. Is it not an extraordinary way of reforming a Department to send the man at the nelm of affairs away from the central Seat of Government - the place from which he can do his best to administer these varied interests throughout the Commonwealth - to send him on a travelling Committee of inquiry ? It is only an excess of party loyalty and devotion that can justify such a preposterous proposition. It is bad in itself. It is a sort of revival of the StarChamber inquiry of former days. Where would the men of liberty have been centuries ago if they had had to bring their grievances before the Ministers of Henry VIII. or Queen Elizabeth, or Charles I. ? Where would they have been if they had had to go before an authority of that sort to ventilate their grievances against the Government? Fortunately, we live in different days, and in these enlightened times, when men have grievances to be investigated, we endeavour, as far as we can not to make the judge of those grievances the man or men of whom complaint is made and who are responsible for their existence. If honorable members are prepared to justify that sort of inquiry the issue is a very simple one. We do not need to run away from it. We can easily vote on it one way or. the other, and I do not think it is likely that the Prime Minister will throw any influence into the scale of endeavouring to prevent the issue, now that it is raised, from being decided. I endeavoured to make a suggestion when the rules of the House prevented me, but now that this debate has proceeded, what an absolute waste of time it would be to postpone it in order to renew it on another occasion - unless there is some other motive !
– The Prime Minister will tell us that, in view of the state of public business, he cannot possibly force it on.
– I think that that would, be very likely to happen. If any definite day can be given to the honorable member for Gwydir to renew this matter in some pointed way, and personally I do not wish to throw any obstacle in the road- -
– What about Good Friday ?
– That is no doubt the sort of day that would be appointed for the purpose. Now that the matter has occupied the time of the House, I think that it ought to be got rid of. It is a simple proposition, namely : Should this Committee of inquiry proceed or not? The Post-. master-General makes a propositionto meet the stress of the occasion which, in my opinion, is only another eccentric joke in the way of government. . The first eccentricity was the appointment of Minis-! ters to investigate complaints against themselves. But that is succeeded by a proposal more eccentric still. The Minister now tells us that if he should find that he and his brother Ministers were incapable he would pass a vote of censure upon himself, and them, and supplant -them by a Royal Commission. That is one of the additional follies of this most foolish situation. Whether the matter ranges from a mail contract down to the. quantity of. beer which the miners of Kurri Kurri consume, when was the Postmaster-General otherwise than confident of his complete ability to deal with every situation which might arise? That is not what the public want. They do not look to the Department for reform. They look for a searching inquiry which would cast a flood of light upon the whole of the operations of this Department. I should like to read to the House a sentence or two from the report of the Public Service Commissioner, whose . name has been brought into these debates, in my opinion, in a most objectionable way. There have been attempts to interpose that officer between the Ministry and their responsibilities. That is an absolutely wrong thing to do. . If we put a man in the position of Public Service Commissioner, he should be protected.
– If he, as a matter of policy and public duty said that certain. appointments should not be made, surely there is no objection to that being stated?
– I should not like to draw the rules too tightly, but I have noticed a desire to drag his name into this discussion as if he, in some way or other, were responsible for the existing state of things.
– He is responsible for more than half of it.
Mr.REID. - The honorable member has the good fortune to be able to make that statement, and the Commissioner the ill-fortune to be unable to reply to him.
– Is he not supreme?
– Within certain limits.
– And they affect this issue?
– But he does not put these youngsters of sixteen years of age into the post-offices all night to look after them.
– That is exactly what he does.
– That is just what he does.
– He puts juniors over seniors.
– I am very sorry that I have drawn these remarks. Whenever a man is in the position of a Public Service Commissioner, honorable members can easily open the flood-gates upon him. He has few opportunities, if he is an honorable officer, of being an amiable officer. But he has many opportunities of incurring unpopularity and dislike. I regret that I have introduced his name if it is to be the means of reviving these attacks upon a man who is unable to defend himself.
– Will the honorable gentleman withdraw his statement that the Postmaster- General was responsible for the introduction of boys of sixteen years of age into responsible positions?
– I do not withdraw that.
– It is a fact that it has been done.
– I do not hold the Public Service Commissioner responsible for that.
– No ; because I do not believe that he did it.
– I can cite an instance where it was done in my electorate.
– We want tofind out if he is responsible for it.
– If thePublic Service Commissioner is involved in any way in this matter, that only creates another objection to an inquiry by a Cabinet Committee. There have been strained relations between the Department and the Commissioner as to the position which a certain assistant secretary should occupy. Does not that show the wrong of appointing a Minister to sit in judgment upon matters which involve an officer with whom he is inconflict in the administration of his Department? It only points to the unfairness of the course which has been taken, and I am much obliged to honorable members for their interjections. I want to draw attention to. some observations of the Commissioner which honorable members have reiterated. In his annual report, he says -
In previous reports I had occasion to refer to the circumlocutory and unbusinesslike methods that mark the administration of Government Departments generally; and, although I am pleased to observe that some improvements are noticeable in this service, I nevertheless feel that there still exists much scope for bettering the systems on which Federal Departments are administered, particularly by the introduction of a policy of decentralization.
I believe that we never can have an efficient postal service for the Commonwealth, unless we have a system under which the responsible heads in the States do the executive work, subject to review in important matters by the central authority. From the little I know of the relations between the head office and the State officers, I should not like to express an opinion positively ; but I have a very strong suspicion that the main reason for the chaos which exists in this Department is the absurd and impossible attempt to govern on principles of red tape a continent containing 3,000,000 square miles.
– By one man?
– By one man.
– The Commissioner?
– He is the best man who could be obtained in Australia.
– As the honorable member for Macquarie knows, it is Parliament which is responsible for the existence of the Public Service Commissioner.
– I know that the Parliament has conferred upon him absolute power.
– In his last report, the Commissioner points out that he is decentralizing his own Department by giving the State inspectors greater power.
– I do not care whether the principle is adopted by the Commissioner or any one else - it is an absolutely sound principle. In my opinion, we shall never have satisfactory results unless the heads of these States Departments have almost as much authority as they had in preFederation days, in the actual management of the Department, and in the effort to study the convenience of the public.
– The Postmaster-General said that powers have lately been given to the Deputy Postmasters-General.
– And I have a list of the powers here.
– I ask the honorable member for South Sydney whether he approves of this Ministerial Committee of Inquiry?
– I shall be prepared to answer that when I am on my feet - I am now referring to a different matter.
– I hope the honorable member is not offended at the question.
-No; I think it is very amusing.
– I do not see why it should be amusing. It is the adjournment idea that is amusing.
– There is much that is amusing about this debate !
– Is that what wreathes the countenance of my honorable friend with smiles? How care-worn some honorable members looked before the dinner adjournment, but how happythey look now that the strain is removed.
– Thank goodness, there is no strain for me either way!
– I should like to ask honorable members to listen to some words from the annual report of the Public Service Commissioner.
– Is it wise to go into these matters?
– These are matters upon which we may betaken to be all agreed.
– The question raised is one of administrative detail.
– My only desire is to get the benefit of the experience of the Commissioner on a question, not of personal management, but of the general administration. This is what he said - . . . the future condition of the Federal Departments must necessarily depend in no small measure upon the principles of administration adopted and pursued in the early stages of their career.
Let me stop there. The proposed Cabinet Committee will have to sit in judgment on the principles adopted by their colleague in the management of this Department. Is it not absurd to ask one Minister to sit in judgment on another?
– The present Ministers did not invent those principles of management. The right honorable member himself administered them.
– May I suggest that I am not still responsible for what went on in the years 1906-7-8? Surely the most rabid degree of political hatred cannot go so far as to suggest that? Surely I can review the conduct of Ministers during the last two and a half years ? Surely the Ministers are on their own responsibility, and are not mere childrentocopytheblundersofothers?
– How about the blunders of the right honorable member’s colleagues ?
– If there were blunders the present Ministry ought not to be such children as to copy them. However, the Public Service Commissioner goes on to say -
The time is therefore opportune for the summary checking of any tendencies that may be now insinuating themselves into official life, and which may ultimately have the effect of bringing upon Australian administration that opprobrium and ridicule to whichother services have been subjected - when it is then all too late toeffect any substantial reform.
I should look to a Royal Commission to render great public service to Parliament by throwing a. flood of light on the operations of the Department, and by making recommendations which would prove of infinite assistance, not only to the present Ministry, but to those who may succeed them. We can quite realize the complication which would arise in the Cabinet on recommendations being presented affecting the administration of its members. The initial consideration of any report from the . Cabinet Committee would involve a number of difficulties which could not arise in the case of an independent Royal Commission. We have had Royal Commissions on questions of much less consequence. There was a Royal Commission on the Drayton Grange affair, on bonuses, on navigation, old-age pensions, the administration of Papua, and an expert Commission on the Federal Capital Site. If the unfortunate blacks of New Guinea are worth a Royal Commission, surely the 12,000 men in this Department, and the public of Australia, are worthy of similar consideration.
– The right honorable member has forgotten the Secret Drugs Commission.
– Was that a Royal Commission ?
– Then I am glad that the gentleman who formed the Commission had the opportunity of travelling in state, because he is a very worthy man as an individual citizen. In view of these previous Royal Commissions,can it be said that it is not worth while to have an inquiry of the kind into the grievances of the 12,000 workers in the Post and Telegraph Department- into the allegations of overworking and sweating? Surely, those honorable members who look on overwork and sweating as blots on modern civilization, and who are anxious toturn things upside down in order to prevent such evils, will now assist the cause of the workers, whom they are supposed to represent? Now that the grievances of the Post and Telegraph employes have been voiced by a member who is supposed to represent these men, we shall surely have the members of the Labour Party, and the champions of social reform generally, joining in the campaign against sweating in the Public Service.
– This is quite pathetic !
– When the honorable member for South Sydney was on the hustings he strained his throat with pathetic pleading, and his eyes were filled with tears as he pictured a time when sweating would be unknown. Now, however, when he is seated on his well-stuffed cushion in Parliament, the wrongs of the 12,000 workers in the Postal Department are a subject of merriment.
– No: the merriment is due to the right honorable member’s funny way of saying things.
– I think the proposal for the appointment of a Royal Commission is a good one. It is not in itself a party proposition, and has not been submitted in a party spirit. I quite admit that, brought forward as it has been, it is a proposition which the Government may have to take into consideration; but all I now say is that the proposal having been laid before the House, it is our duty to deal with it. If honorable members think that the proposition is one that should be supported, let them vote for it ; or if honorable members think it is a proposal that should not be supported, let them vote against it. But the flag ought not to be hauled down at the first sign of fight - do not sneak out of the conflict. Come up to the scratch like the men you have always professed to be. Will you all run away?
– Will the honorable member address the Chair?
– I ought to have asked whether all honorable members in the Labour Party will run away?
– Why this anxiety?
– I have no anxiety at all on the subject.
– The honorable member does not even desire an adjournment.
– I do not even desire to prolongthe debate.
– The right honorable member desires to make party capital out of the question.
– That is a nice thing to say ! I am only saying what I said when there was no issue of this kind before the House. That may be a reason why I should not repeat myself, but it is only what I laid before honorable members when there was no party issue involved. I have no desire to push this question to a sudden division, ifthe honorable member for Cook will name some reasonable day for the resumption of the debate.
– The right honorable member’s party prevented an adjournment before dinner.
– The honorable member must be fair. May I suggest to the honorable . member that, in common fairness, even to an opponent - because that is where fairness comes in-
– We do not get much fairness from the Opposition.
– Might I suggest to the honorable member that when an honorable member in moving the adjournment of the debate is prevented by the Standing Orders from explaining his object in doing so, the whole House is placed at a disadvantage.
– Some one at the time desired that the House should proceed with the debate on the Seat of Government Bill.
– The adjournmentof this debate without an arrangement as to when it should be resumed would be very unfair.
– The honorable member who objected did not care when it was to be resumed.
– That is a matter of comment, not of fact.
– It is absolutely incorrect.
– It is correct.
– When the temperature rises sometimes, we get a little unfair, but I believe that every honorable member in cold bloodwishes to be fair to his opponents. I should like to point out that if an honorable member moves the adjournment of a debate without mentioning when it is to be resumed-
– The honorable member did not wait for a date to be mentioned.
– It would be the next question.
– The debate having once been adjourned, there would be no “ next question.” If the honorable member has in view some definite date, within a reasonable time, for the resumption of the debate, well and good. I am prepared to agree to its adjournment for three weeks. That would give the Government time to appoint a Commission, and there would then be no party trouble.
– That is fair.
– I am speaking only for myself ; I have not consulted my party.
– This day three weeks will be the next grievance day.
– I did not have that in mind; I am not dreaming of making such a concession. What I say is that if the debate were adjourned until the first day on which we meet after the holidays, I should be satisfied. I do not wish to push this question to a division with undue haste. If the honorable member wishes to know my real opinion, it would not be at all to my interests to precipitate a crisis at the present time. I have no particular interest in forcing on, at the present time, a division on this question, but I have a very strong opinion upon it, and wish to give effect to it. If the Government will consent to the adjourned debate being made an order of the day for the first day on which we meet, after the holidays, I shall not object.
– Why should the Government give a preference to one and not to another?
– The only reason is that we have the floor, and that when honorable members are asked to give up possession, they are entitled to some consideration. If any reasonable arrangement can be made, I do not wish to push the question to a division now ; but if no reasonable arrangement is come to, it isonly right that we should settle it, now that it is before the House.
– I should not have risen, but for the change in the attitude taken up by the right honorable member for East Sydney. The attitude that he assumes when he wishes to gain a point is historical. He has addressed the House to-night in his old style - with his claws gloved but ready to pierce the Government at any moment. He imagines that by special pleading, by special suavity of manner, he can impose on men who know him as well as he knows himself. He would make honorable members believe that all he desires to do is for their good and not for his. I venture to think that the right honorable member’s political character is too well known to permit of his imposing on any one. He has endeavoured to-night to throw into the vortex of party feeling and party voting a proposal introduced I believe by the honorable member for Gwydir without any desire that it should be made a party matter. He is very much mistaken if he thinks that he is going to succeed. His statements tonight mean, if anything, that he wishes to create a situation that will disturb the Government.
– What a horrible offence. I plead guilty.
– The honorable member has been stirring this way and that way to ascertain the temper of the House, and finding that it is opposed to him he has decided that it would not be reasonable to do anything to-night. That is his usual attitude. He does not come out boldly and accept the responsibility for an attack upon the Government ; he tries to shelter himself, and in order that he may reap the advantage endeavours to work up party feeling in respect of a proposal made by another honorable member. I do not think that he will be able to do so on this occasion. What is his political history as to the redressing of grievances ? When he was in office the condition of affairs complained ofexisted in the Post and Telegraph Department very largely as it does to-day.
– Nothing like it.
– At that time he did not raise his voice against it or attempt in any way to change the system. The attitude assumed by the right honorable member ill becomes him.No one can accuse the Government, and especially my honorable colleague, the PostmasterGeneral, of not having the greatest sympathy for the Public Service. My complaint against the Postmaster-Generalsometimes is that he bends too easily to clamour.
– Does the fault lie at the door of the Treasurer because he would not provide the money ?
– I am going to refer to that, but I wish first of all to deal with the attempt of the leader of the Opposition to cajole honorable members into the belief that he is acting in their interests and in those of the public servants of the Commonwealth.
– How did he treat the Public Service of New South Wales ?
– With one stroke of his pen he reduced by£301,000 the salaries of public servants in New South Wales. He said to the Public Service Board, “ You have to reduce salaries to that extent.”
– That is not true.
– It is absolutely correct.
– I ask the leader of the Opposition to withdraw that remark.
– Certainly, sir, I withdraw it until the honorable member has finished.
– An honorable member should rise to withdraw a remark.
– I thank you, Mr. Speaker; but it is hard on me.
– I do not want to do the honorable member an injustice-
– Will the honorable member allow me to say that the. reduction of salaries by£301,000 was made on the report of the Commission which I appointed to inquire into the service.
– The amount of the reduction was not fixed by the Commission.
– If I am wrong I apologize to the right honorable member, but I do not think I am. The right honorable member threw into the lap of the Public Service Board his ultimatum that salaries were to be reduced to that extent.
– Absolutely no. It was the recommendation of the Commission.
– The determination to make that reduction was not conveyed in the ordinary way to the Public Service of New South Wales. Many of them learned of it for the first time by having a notice of dismissal placed in their hands when they reached their offices, while others on returning home at night received an intimation that they were dismissed from the service. Ihave no desire to further discuss the matter. I was led to refer to it as illustrating what the right honorable member is prepared to do when it suits him. I repeat that no one can justly accuse the
Postmaster-General of not being in sympathy with the Public Service. I do not think that any man can accuse me of lack of sympathy with it. My past history is evidence of that. In New South Wales I was instrumentalin securing the enactment of legislation which insured the payment of good salaries to the public servants of that State. The honorable member for Cook has referred to the action of the New South Wales Railways Commissioners, and, in that connexion, I would ask him who prevented the questions which were being asked in the New South Wales Parliamentby dozens and dozens concerning the disabilities under which the railway employés laboured?
– I rise to a point of order. I ask your ruling, sir, as to whether the Treasurer’s remarks arerelevant to the question before the Chair?
– The Treasurer appears to me to be justifying his present action and any proposals that he contemplates by a reference to his past action in similar circumstances. In doing that, he is perfectly in order.
– The honorable member for Cookdeclared that the railway servants of New South Wales did not, through their representatives in Parliament, shower upon the Government of the day questions regarding their disabilities. I may say that these clamours continued until the Commissioners appointed a Board of Appeal. The railway servants desired that one of their officers should be elected to sit upon that Board, and I was responsible for the introduction of a measure which was passed bythe State Legislature, and which enabled them to attain their object. From that time forward, scarcely any questions were asked in Parliament in reference to their troubles.
– The Treasurer will remember that the Labour Party was sitting behind him then.
– I have always admitted that the Labour Party helped me to pass the best legislation in regard to the Public Service that has been enacted in Australia.
– “ Codlin is your friend, not Short.”
– The honorable member has been my friend a good many times recently.
– Does the Treasurer want an adjournment of the debate ?
– The right .honorable member has stated that the Prime Minister deliberately attempted to prevent the honorable member for Gwydir from getting this motion discussed. Any person who knows the Prime Minister must be aware that he would not be guilty of an act of that sort. I -happen to know what are his views upon this question, and I also chanced’ to be sitting close to the honorable member for Wide Bay when he jumped up and moved the adjournment of the debate. I turned to him, .and said, “ You had better fix a day,”. and’ he replied, “I am going to do so.” That is how I knew that he intended to fix a. da.y upon which the debate could be resumed.
– It could not come on otherwise.
– If an agreement were arrived at that- the debate should be resumed on a special day, there would be nothing to prevent that course being adopted. The Prime Minister does not wish to prevent the honorable member for Gwydir from dealing with this question upon a future date. Some honorable members apparently desire to blame the Public Service Commissioner for the existing state of affairs. From the speech which I delivered the other evening, and which was intended to make my position clear in regard to the increased expenditure in the Postal Department, it must be plain that 1 have no feeling against the Commissioner. On the contrary, I support him. I say that if I were to search the whole of Australia, I could not obtain a man in whom I have greater confidence.
– He is -the only good officer whom the Treasurer has ever appointed.
– I have appointed a good many. The Commissioner may not see eye to eye with other ‘heads of Departments, but I would not dare to ask him to do a thing which he thought was wrong unless I could show him good reason for doing it. He would stand against anybody in his effort to do that which he conceived to be just. Do honorable members desire to go back to the old times experienced in New South Wales, when political influence was constantly “being brought to bear upon -Ministers?
– That is a matter which ought to be fought out in Cabinet?
– I never wish again to sit in a Cabinet in which I have to deal directly with public servants. I am responsible for the measure under which the
Public Service Commissioner was appointed. I was allowed by the Prime Minister to nominate that officer.- He was appointed as a check between those who desire to obtain appointments in our Public Service and those who wish to obtain increases in their emoluments, and Ministers who would otherwise have political pressure brought’ to bear upon them.
– But a lot of civil servants have no appeal to the Commissioner.
– I think that there ought to be some appeal.
– The Commissioner will not object to that.
– I am sure that he will not. At present, he has such a weight upon his shoulders that he will be glad to be relieved of some of it.
– We are lucky to have such a good officer. 1
– I pin my faith to the Commissioner because of his strength of character ‘and honesty. Let me take the case which has been referred to by the honorable member for Cook in regard” to the matter of- appointments’. Ohe thousand appointments of a permanent nature _ were required in this Department. The Commissioner never said that the additional officers were not ‘wanted, but I impressed upon him and upon the Department that to appoint a thousand new permanent officers in a boom year might place us in a very awkward position if the boom” ceased, and we could not get rid of those who were afterwards found to be unnecessary. I maintain that that was a sound principle to lay down1. I agreed to the appointment of 669 out of 1,000 as permanent officers, and I told the Commissioner and the heads of the Department to make . temporary appointments for the amount of work that the 669 additional permanent hands could not do. We have now ar- rived at the stage when we must either permanently appoint those temporary hands who have proved to be worthy of appointment, or other permanent officers up to the number required. I feel that I did theproper, the constitutional, and the necessary thing in adopting the course which I have explained.
– Is not that political influence ?
– No; I have not made one permanent appointment without the certificate of the Commissioner.
– The Minister influenced the Commissioner.
– I never spoke to him about any appointment.
– The Minister merely gave the Commissioner a commission to make appointments.
– I gave the Commissioner authority by finding the money, but without exercising any control as to who were to be appointed. I gave the Commissioner power to make permanent appointments, and gave the Department money to pay the extra permanent hands.£9,000 was provided for this purpose, and I have also provided £20,000 out of the Treasurer’s Advance to meet the rush of extra work.
– That shows that a rotten state of things must exist in the Department.
– I do not admit that the Department isin a rotten condition. I think that it will be organized on a perfectly satisfactory basis if time is given for experience to show where certain alterations should be made. I think that it can be organized into a very perfect Department.
– But has the Minister time to look after the re-organization of his Department, and to attend to the Cabinet Committee aswell ?
– If I were at the head of the Department I would not allow any one else to interfere in its organization.
– The honorable gentleman would have no Committee ; he would do the work himself.
– I might have some of my colleagues to help me if I found the work very heavy, but as the Minister at the head of a Department I would not agree to the appointment of any outside Committee. I should regard that as an act of censure upon me.
– Is the honorable gentleman against the appointment of a Royal Commission ?
– The right honorable member is not going to catch me with a question of that kind. I have agreed to the appointment of more permanent employés on the assurances of the heads of the Department that they were necessary. But I throw the responsibility upon them and upon the Public Service Commissioner, who assured me that 1,574 new officers were required. I have put a sum of money on the Estimates to enable them to be appointed. What more could I do, as far as relates to liberality in making appointments? I should like to refer to an observation that has been made - I think by the honorable member for Cook -that the Commissioner has appointed boys of fourteen or sixteen years of age to take charge of post-offices at night.
– The leader of the Opposition said, in effect, that the Minister had done so.
– The Minister is responsible.
– It is true that the Minister is responsible; but if the honorable member for Cook ever has the luck to be placed in charge of a Department like the Post and Telegraph Department, he will know how impossibleit is for the Minister to have a complete knowledge of all the details of the work. But I know so much of the Commissioner, and so much of my honorable friend and colleague the Postmaster- General - so much of his tenderness of feeling for his employés - that I am certain that if he knew that such a state of things existed, or that if the Commissioner knew, both of them would be quick to say that it ought not to have been done.
– Whenever such a case was brought under my notice, it has been altered immediately.
– I gave the Minister instances.
– How much does the Public Service Commissioner know about the Post and Telegraph Department?
– The Public Service Commissioner has been in the Public Service longer than the honorable member has been alive. He has risen from one of the lowest ranks in the railway service in New South Wales, to be Under Secretary for Mines and Under Secretary for Works. Holding high positions as he has done, he has risen through his own energy, and through the faith which those who have had relations with him have had in his ability and integrity.
– The Commissioner has too much to do to understand the details of the work of the Department.
– If the honorable member would take the trouble to have a conversation with the Commissioner for an hour or two - and I am sure that that officer would be very glad to converse with the honorable member - he would be satisfied that the Commissioner knew everything about the Department. I am sure that no man in the Commonwealth knowsas much he does.
– The Treasurer has just admitted that the Postmaster-General could not know all the details.
– But how long has the Postmaster-General’ been at the head of the Department? Only a few months; whilst the Public Service Com-‘ missioner has been in the Public Service from childhood. He knows nearly all the officers in New South Wales, and is intimately acquainted with the working of every Department under the control of the Commonwealth.
– He would be more than human if he were.
– The Commissioner is a’ marvellously ‘clever, energetic, -and persevering man. I very much regret that his name has been introduced in the debate. I do not think that it is fair that we should discuss the Commissioner on a motion of this kind.
– I did not introduce the Commissioner’s name.
– I know that the honorable member did not. I have replied to a few interjections because I thought that some of them were rather unfair. ‘I am sure that honorable member’s do not desire to do the Commissioner an injustice, and I am satisfied that all who know him share my opinion of his great perseverance and his integrity. I am glad of this opportunity of showing my confidence in him, especially as he has no opportunity of defending himself.
– That is not the question.’
– I am satisfied, too, -that the Postmaster-General and his officers will be able to work in the most harmonious way with the Public . Service Commissioner. He is not a quarrelsome man, and I have been surprised that there has been any friction whatever between him and the heads of the Post and Telegraph Department. I believe that a great deal of good will be done by the Postmaster-General and those associated with him in the reorganization of the Department. Probably the details will have to be carried out by persons having more time at their disposal than the members of the Cabinet Committee will have; but the Government as a whole will not take up the. position that the intricacies of the Department are not to be inquired into. Indeed, the Government have insisted upon such an inquiry, as the PostmasterGeneral said a short time ago. Before I sit down, I cannot help saying that although the leader of the Opposition was so glib just now in trying to cajole the honorable members of the Labour Party, he has to-night, whatever he may say to the contrary,, absolutely blocked the opportunity of dealing with the Federal Capital Site question. Honorable members opposite have been clamouring during the last six or seven years for the settlement of this question, but when they had an opportunity of settling it to-night, they blocked it, blocked it, blocked it.
– It was arranged that the division should be taken at half-past 5 o’clock this evening.
– I also understood that the division was to be taken at half-past 5.
– The Prime Minister did not know himself that it was grievance day. I did not know.
– When the right honorable member sees an opportunity of putting the Government in a hole, he is always pretty glib and slim in his efforts to do so. But on this occasion, his efforts will not succeed.
– I suppose that the Government will move the adjournment to get rid of the difficulty?
– What will happen will not have the effect that the right honorable member hopes for. It would be unfair to the honorable member, for Gwydir not to give him an opportunity to deal with a question in which I know he has taken a very great interest for months past. In defence of the Treasury chest, if for no other reason, I personally desire that there should be some immediate inquiry, and I am satisfied that an inquiry by the Postmaster-General and his colleagues should lead to some re-organization of the Department which should prevent continual demands being made upon me to dole out money.
– I think that an inquiry by a Royal Commission would be better.
– A Royal Commission would probably not bring up a report for a couple of years. As the honorable gentleman has said, it would be expected that a Royal Commission should travel to the north, south, east, and west ot Australia to take evidence, and Heaven only knows when such a Commission would be able to bring up a report.
– It has been promised that the Cabinet” Committee will do that.
– Ministers forming the Committee of the Cabinet will not be expected to travel from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. I should not think that it would be necessary for them to do anything of the kind. I may lie egotistical, but with my experience between the Treasury and the Post and Telegraph Department, I fancy that I could put my finger on certain weak places which, if attended to, would relieve the trouble complained of in many directions. I have no doubt that the Postmaster-Gene-
Tal and his colleagues will be able to do the same, and will not need to go very far or to occupy any considerable time in taking evidence. I believe it will be found that they can carry out the inquiry quickly, and that is what I want.
– A good deal more than that is wanted.
– The inquiry could not be conducted quickly if those engaged upon it had to travel to every part of Australia. I have no doubt that what the Committee of the Cabinet will do will be to consider the foundation of the organisation. They should be able to deal with that very quickly, and should, in doing so, discover the reasons for much of the trouble that has arisen. We should then have an improvement in the condition of affairs within a very few months, and that is what I desire. I certainly do not desire that it should be necessary for me to bring forward another set of Additional Estimates like the last.’ I wish to be assured that the greatest economy^ is being practised. I do not think that it is necessary that I should say any more, but I do hope that this will not be converted into a party question in the manner in which the right honorable member for East Sydney has attempted, both by his speech, and by his attempt to get under the wing of the Labour Party.
– It is generally admitted that there are very serious grievances in the Post and Tele.graph Department. In common with other honorable members who have spoken, I could enumerate quite a number of them, hut it seems to me that, in common justice to the Postmaster-General, we should make some allowance for the fact that he has recently taken charge of a service which, for- some time past, has been badly in need of repair. Almost the whole of the -appliances are practically worn out, and means have not been provided “to cope with the great expansion of business which has largely been due to the enterprising innovations of Commonwealth administration. We have had an assurance that it would require an expenditure of something like £3,000,000 to put the Department in a thoroughly efficient condition as regards plant and offices. I - believe that to adopt the course suggested of appointing a Royal Commission of -Inquiry would only delay the alleviation of the grievances of the officials. No one will charge me with any, lack of sympathy for the public servants. I think that, in connexion with the administration of this important Department, it might be said that, whilst the PostmasterGeneral proposes the Public Service Commissioner disposes. In this connexion also we have a right to bear in mind the existing unsatisfactory system, for which I think Parliament in a large measure has itself to blame. I believe that the Public Service Commissioner is an admirable man, and the best man available for the position which he holds. I do not desire to reflect upon him in any way, but I say that he is asked to carry out a superhuman task. How is it possible for any one man to familiarize himself with all the details of administration connected, with the largest public business in Australia to such an extent as to be able to say what particular officers should be appointed or promoted. I should not for a moment advocate the introduction of political influence in connexion with the management of such a Department, but we should divide the responsibility for its management. We can best do that by investing the Deputy PostmastersGeneral with greater powers. # They should not be under political control, or even suggestion, but we should make them permanent heads or managers of the Department within their respective States. If we were running a commercial concern doing business throughout Australia, we should’ not dream of making one man to such an extent the sole administrator as to call upon him to deal with promotions and appointments in every part of the country. It is impossible for the Public Service Commissione’r to toe conversant with the circumstances of every case, and to be able to say that a particular man should be promoted to a certain position, or that an additional hand is required in a particular post-office. The Deputy PostmastersGeneral, whose inspectors are more numerous and more closely in touch with the ramifications of the Department in the various States, should be in a much better position to decide such questions.- It would have been very much better to adopt a system under which it would be their duty to deal with such matters than to create an autocrat, as we have done. 1 use the term advisedly, but without any reflection upon the Commissioner. I believe that he does the best he can in the circumstances, and better than many others who might have been appointed to the position would have done. But we are asking . him to do a great deal too much. We are blaming the Postmaster-General far stagnation in his Department, though his suggestions for the improvement of the condition of affairs might be checkmated by the Public Service Commissioner, who, in his- turn, would no doubt do what he believed to be best in the circumstances. The improvement in the service, which we are all anxious to see, might have been effected had the Deputy Postmasters- General been made managers of the Department in their respective States rather than mere clerks, who must do -practically what the Public Service Commissioner tells them to do. I have great hopes of the inquiry now being made -by the Cabinet Com-‘ mittee, before which every employe may give evidence, and be protected. I have every confidence in the PostmasterGeneral as a sympathetic administrator. Altruism in an. administrator is a better qualification than an adherence to hardandfast business principles. The conclusions arrived at by the Committee of the Cabinet as the result of their inquiry must come before the House for discussion; and we can apply hard calculating business acumen to the consideration of their recommendations, if it should be considered necessary to impose a check upon the adoption of proposals due to the too kindly nature of the Postmaster-General. I . prefer the inquiry entered upon by the Cabinet Committee to an inquiry by a Royal Commission at present.
.- The woes of the Public Service, especially in the Post and Telegraph Department, are well known. I think I have heard of them for the last fifteen years. Sweating, long hours, and overtime have frequently obtained. But I know, and have confidence in, the present PostmasterGeneral, because I have worked with him. He was the principal means of having the inquiry which obtained the first Royal Commission on factory legislation in Victoria. That was the origin of the present factory law in this State. I know no man who is his superior for his present position, in so far as he is afforded an opportunity for putting down sweating.
The leader of the Opposition says that the proposed Royal Commission should go into every part of the Commonwealth. To that suggestion the words of the comic song can most fittingly be applied - it would be “ Years and years, and years and years, and years “ before the Commission reported. I have not yet known of a Commission that has not wasted time and’ delayed action, and their results have not been worth half what they have cost. The right -honorable member spoke of the Commission on the Public Sendee in New South Wales. I should have thought his bitter memories of that affair would cause him to leave’ it alone. What good did it do? It simply delayed the settlement of the question. If we are honest; we have this matter in our own hands. If the hours are too long, let us pass an Act tha’t no employ^ in the Department shall work beyond eight hours, and wherever an employe- has to work longer, let him send in his account and lie paid. Let us provide the money, and not compel the Treasurer to refuse to make fresh appointments. What Treasurer, has done as much as ‘the present Treasurer has? The Post Office authorities said that they wanted 1,000 extra employes to put an end to the present system, bu’r only two-thirds of that number could be provided because the Treasurer could net supply the money required. With regard to. Commissions, I may fairly quote the words of ‘the cynical German philosopher,- that “ If ‘the Almighty had placed the making ‘ of the earth in the hands of a Commission, it would not have been made yet.” I speak with a knowledge of many Commissions. I have been on them, and know how delay takes place. If the present Postmaster-General were appointed as a Commission ro deal with this great question, I should have every confidence in the result. I know no man who has done more than he has in the fight against sweating. With Mr. Stephen Barker as organizer, he and the Rev. Mr. Edgar, Mrs. Muir, and others .did splendid work as a Committee against sweating. I am sure ‘the Prime Minister, if he were pre-sent, would indorse that statement. The first complaint in regard to the conduct of the Department is ‘the long hours. This Parliament can stop that, or say that every man who works overtime shall be paid for it. Another complaint is tha’t it is hard for the employes to advance. There must be great difficulty in such a large Department in satisfying every one who wishes to be advanced. I am a great believer in examinations, and should like to see some form of examination adopted, by which those in the fifth class could prove their fitness for promotion to the fourth class, and so on through the service. If there were ten carpenters working together, one week would be quite sufficient to show who was the best workman amongst them. I thought it only fair to my friend the Postmaster-General to give him my meed of thanks for the workhe has done. To show that I have full confidence in him, I shall vote against the proposed Royal Commission unless I am fully convinced that it can getthrough its work in a short time. The honorable member for Cook suggested the appointment of a Commission to control the Post Office independently of this House, but the splendidly officered body of which he is the secretary, and therefore the directing officer, would not seek for any one outside their ranks, over whom they had no control, to fill his place if he resigned. Parliament should keep full control of the Department.
– I urged the appointment of a body of Commissioners, like the Railways Commissioners, but with a Wages Board and an appeal to an Arbitration Court for the redress of grievances.
– I will give a slight example of what has happened under the Victorian system of the control of the railways by Commissioners. Under that system, one man’s salary was raised from £16 to £70 a week. The honorable member for Flinders was Premier at the time, and his Minister of Railways was Mr. Bent. I challenged both of them to deny my statement, and they dared not do it. The railways in Victoria were never better managed than they were when Mr. Bent was previously Minister of Railways, and directly under the control of Parliament.
– The honorable member’s argument is a condemnation of the present system of control of the service bya Public Service Commissioner.
– I am not speaking against the three Railways Commissioners personally. They are fine men, for whom I have the highest regard and respect. I am speaking of the system. There is much more sweating in the Victorian Railway Department to-day under the Commissionersthan there ever was under any Minister of Railways who was answerable directly to Parliament. I am always pleased to see the leader of the Opposition present. No matter how he maytry to cajole us. he always raises a laugh, andI should like to see him oftener in his place.
– He got the honorable member’s party into trouble to-night.
– He can never get our party into trouble. We are ready to oppose him at every opportunity, and will beat him next time if he is not careful. We shall have the honorable member for Dalley with us before very long.At any rate, I guarantee that he will vote more often with us than against us.
– I vote as a free agent.
– Many of usthink we are free agents when we are not. I am afraid the honorable member is one of that kind. I am totally opposed to the appointment of a Royal Commission. I am content to await the report of theCommittee already appointed by the Government, and must compliment them upon the man whom they have in the position of Postmaster-General .
– I do not indorse the opinion of the honorable member for Melbourne that Commissions are useless. The experience of this Parliament is that they do useful work. I can scarcely imagine a more onerous and intricate task than that intrusted to the Tariff Commission ; but it was disposed of expeditiously. The proposed departmental inquiry would not be nearly so heavy, and the public investigation of competent and independent Commissioners would give general satisfaction to all concerned. That an investigation is necessary is no longer open to question. The PostmasterGeneral now admits that the Department is not in as satisfactory a state as can be wished, and the Government has recognised the need for reform by appointing a Cabinet Committee of Inquiry. That Committee may do useful work. Its members may discover the cause of much of the friction and dissatisfaction which exists, and may submit proposals, the adoption of which would do much to remedy the trouble; but they cannot deal with the subject as a Commission such as that advocated by the honorable member for Gwydir could do. The departmental officials will not have the confidence in the Cabinet Committee that they would have in an independent Commission, because they will naturally argue that this and previous Administrations are responsible for the existing state of affairs, and, therefore, not too ready to bring about reforms. Even if the Cabinet investigation is made, the Government will ultimately be forced to appoint a Commission.
– The Cabinet Committee will do a great deal of practical work in a short time, and, at least, clear the way, if it does not satisfy every demand.
– It may clear the way for a wider and more thorough investigation ; but this is practically all that can be expected from it. By appointing it, the Government is only staving off the appointment of a Commission. It would be better, in the interests of the public and the service, to at once comply with the demand for a more thorough investigation at the hands of an independent body. The cause for the present dissatisfaction must be removed. If it is not removed, the demand for the appointment of an independent Commission to control postal administration will become so strong as to be irresistible. I do not desire the appointment of an independent Commission, because I think that it would prove inelastic and conservative. I would rather see the present administration made efficient. I disagree with those who say that the . existing dissatisfaction is due chiefly to the fact that officers cannot get the promotion to which they think themselves entitled, and thus nourish grievances against their superiors or the Public Service Commissioner. The causes of the friction are deeper than that. I believe that the source of the trouble is that a wrong policy has been pursued since the beginning of Federation in centralizing a wide stretching organization in Melbourne. To the six heads of Departments who previously existed in the States there has beenadded a seventh, and the desire has been to concentrate the vast and intricate work of local administration in the Central Office. On this policy, the Public Service Commissioner has joined issue with the Post Office Administration. In his report, he points out that the tendency all over the civilized world, particularly where there is advanced democratic legislation, is to decentralize; but that we are moving in the opposite direction. At present, if a telegraph messenger asks for a holiday, or a promotion, or a transfer on the ground of ill-health, the application has to be investigated locally, and finally submitted to the
Central Office for a decision. The heads of the States Department have been practically shorn of administrative power. Force of circumstances has compelled the Postmaster-General to confer on them certain powers ; but it has been done unwillingly, and with ill-grace. Not very long ago, it was necessary to expend or a few shillings, in carrying out some urgent work in a little country office. But, before anything could be done, the matter had to pass through miles of red-tape, until it reached the head office.
– The central Department had to fight hard before it could get a change made in that direction.
– I am glad to know that some change has been made ; but it does not nearly meet the position. At the present time, there is far too much centralizing, in the head office in Melbourne, of the purely administrative work of the State Departments, and consequently the whole work of those Departments is congested. That is one of the reasons why additional men have been required, and why the offices have been unable to compete with the demand for increased work. Sweating conditions had to be introduced in the absence of the additional assistance which was required.
– The question of the amount of money which can be spent, and the question of appointing employes are two distinct things; they have nothing whatever to do with each other.
– My contention is that on account of the wrong policy which the Central Office has pursued ever since it was created, the work has been duplicated, and to such an extent that the duplication is largely responsible for the introduction of sweating, and for the chaotic condition which is now making itself manifest. Until a greater amount of decentralized administration is permitted, that must continue. That is a matter of policy, but apparently the Minister, as well as the Government is satisfied with the present system. How are we to expect from the investigating Committee a report that will condemn the policy of the Department and the Government?
– They may recommend a new policy.
– They may recommend another policy. Why do the Government not recognise the difficulty and adopt a policy without the assistanceof a Committee of inquiry? I do not wish to elaborate the matter which I brought up here the other night. But an indication of the trouble that exists . is to be found in the report of the Public Service Commissioner. He is placed in a very responsible position in connexion with the control Qf the public Departments. I agree with every word that the Treasurer has said with respect to his capacity to fill that position, and his honesty of purpose in administering the law to the best of his ability. Yet this chaotic Department which is meeting with universal condemnation, sets itself up to override his recommendations.?. There are no less than three important items in his report in- which it is clearly shown that the administrative head of the Post arid Telegraph Department is in conflict with’ the Commissioner on matters of administration. First of all, there is the question of retaining men who have passed the allotted age, and who, according to the Public Service Act, should be retired, provided .that other men in the service can be found to fill their positions equally well. The Commissioner is in conflict with the Postmaster-General on that particular matter. We are informed that there is a number of cases where men have been retained after the age limit has been reached. We want a Commission to find out why. some officers have been retained, and why others have been dismissed in terms of the law. What is the reason for making a distinction between a man serving here and a man serving elsewhere? In this report, it is also distinctly shown that the Postmaster-General interfered in the matter of the classification of an officer. In face of an adverse report from the Commissioner, and in face of the fact that. that officer, though appealed to again and again, refused to make a recommendation, an officer was promoted to get an increase of salary outside of his classification by a transfer from the clerical to the administrative division. That is another point on which the Commissioner and the PostmasterGeneral are in conflict. In his report, the Commissioner urges upon the head of the Department the need of decentralizing’ the service, and the gain and advantage which would accrue therefrom. The Postmaster-General admits that a certain amount of decentralization has taken place, but it is as nothing compared with- the amount which the Commissioner desires should take place, and which he indicates is in the interests of the efficient working of the sendee. Here is a paragraph in which he expressed his views as to the present position of the Department in that respect -
I cannot fail to see there is a tendency upon the part of the Central Office to retain all the administrative functions they safely can without causing public complaint, the reason advanced for taking up this attitude being that it is necessary to insure uniformity of action throughout the Commonwealth,. and that it is wise to transfer as little control as possible to the administrative officers in the States.
That is a deliberate statement of the Commissioner with respect to his efforts to secure greater decentralization on the part of the Central Office of this Department, and the feeling that he finds emanating from that office towards the policy which he has laid down as a wise one in dealing -with this matter. .
– What is the good of “ flogging a dead horse”?
– The horse was very much alive a little while ago. I do not desire to go into the details of grievances, particularly those of a personal character ; but I must say that the present central method of management has duplicated and immensely increased the work, while not providing any additional means of carrying it out, or additional pay for the officers. For instance, the other day .1 was informed that, in consequence of some frauds involving a sum of about ^300, the
Central Administration had devised a new scheme for preventing similar frauds in the future. These frauds were of an exceptional character; but new regulations were issued, and they involve much duplication of work, clerical and otherwise. Where before one or two messages were necessary in the telegraphic branch, four or five have now to be transmitted ; and I think that an investigation by a Royal Commission would show that the new . regulations not only increase the work but also’ increase.. the expenditure by many thousands a year. In the telephone branch, the work of checking, and otherwise dealing with telephone calls, has been so much increased that the service requires strengthening to an extent never before contemplated. I told honorable members the other night how I had’ been informed that, in a little telephoneexchange in the country, this additional, checking involved twelve hours extra labour at the end of each week ; and, while in-, creased- facilities are, justified, the administrative regulations to which these facilities: give rise mean much extra work and additional cost. My opinion is that the whole matter can be thoroughly investigated only by the appointment of a. competent Royal Commission, which should include at least one of the public servants who are interested in having reforms brought about, and whose knowledge would greatly assist in eliciting the necessary evidence. A Cabinet Committee can do no more than touch the fringe of the work, and thereby only result in delaying the necessary remedies. If I am not very much mistaken as to the causes of the present dissatisfaction, the Government will ultimately have to adopt the proposal of the’ honorable member for Gwydir, which has been made in no hostile spirit, but. with a view to improving the organization of the Post and Telegraph Department. I agree with the honorable member for Cook as to the vital importance of the administrative work being placed on such a basis that it can be carried on with as little friction as possible, and the maximum amount of satisfaction to the public and to the public servants.
Motion (by Mr. Hall) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The House divided.
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I desire to move-
That the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next, at the usual hour.
– I would point out to the Prime Minister that there is a motion before the Chair, and that until it has been disposed of, I cannot accept the motion he has just submitted. The question is” Thatthe words proposed to be left out stand part of the motion.” .
– I do not wish atthis late hour to unduly detain honorable members, but having moved the adjournment of the debate, I think it right to say that I am not prepared to go further in that direction. I propose now to vote forthe amendment moved by the honorable member for Gwydir, providing for the appointment of a Royal Commission. I shall do so, realizing the possibility of serious results following the carrying of that amendment. I should vote for it with much less regret if the Seat of Government Bill and the Tariff had been disposed of, but as I am thoroughly in favour of the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the serious grievances existing in the Postmaster-General’s Department at the present time, I intend to vote for its appointment whatever the result may be. I haveno doubt that whether the present Ministry remain in office, or some other party take possession of the Treasury Benches, the wishes of the House will be respected, and that if a majority desire the appointment of a Royal Commission, that Commission will be appointed.
– Perhaps, after all, Mr. Speaker, I shall serve my purpose better by expressing the hope that we shall at once proceed to a division on this question, and intimating that if the Government are defeated upon it they will regard it as an indication of the desire of the House that His Excellency the GovernorGeneral shall find new advisers.
– Is this a rallying cry ?
– The Prime Minister is showing us that he has some pluck.
– I am one of those who, although the hour is late, desire to speak to the question. Much as I appreciate the implied attitude of the leader of the Government, I do not think that it should debar us from expressing our views on the point at issue. I should have preferred the debate to be adjourned so that honorable members might give expression to their opinions upon the question without being called upon to remain here until an inconvenient hour. I think that it would have been wise to allow a little time to elapse so that the situation might be considered.
– The leader of the Opposition said that he had no objection to that.
– Quite so; and with his usual consistency, he voted the other way.
– Do not say that. I said that I had no objection to the adjournment of the debate if a definite date were fixed for its resumption, but no one suggested a definite date.
– I was underthe impression that a date had been fixed.
– Oh, no.
– Whilst he was addressing the House, I understood the right honorable member to intimate that he was willing to agree to the debate being adjourned to a convenient day if a day were fixed.
– I mentioned the very day. I said that if it were agreed that the debate should be resumed upon the first sitting clay after the holidays, I was quite in favour of its adjournment ; but, up to this moment, no such suggestion has been made to me.
– I was under the impression that the head of the Government had stated that a specific date would be fixed for the resumption of the debate. In my opinion, there is need for an inquiry into the Post and Telegraph Department. There is no doubt that for a considerable time past a great deal of friction has been created in that Department, part of which I fear is due, not to the officers at its head, but to this Parliament. In the first place, we know that friction has arisen between the Public Service Commissioner and one of the Ministers. I wish to say here that there is no officer in the Public Service for whom I entertain a greater respect and admiration than I do for Mr. McLachlan. I think that he is a man of firmness of purpose, whose temperament peculiarly fits him for the office which he fills. He is also a man who has a wide grasp of the working of the various Departments, and who possesses considerable ability in other directions. But, in my view, Parliament has a right to criticise his policy, and I contend that the policy which he has carried out, of placing junior officers, in every instance, in important positions in expanding Departments, is not a good one. Departments which are rapidly expanding call for the services of at least a reasonable proportion of men of experience. The Public Service Act gives to the Commissioner power to grant to officers certificates of exemption from the ordinary routine prescribed, if the circumstances of the case should warrant it. In my view, the’ Public Service Commissioner has adopted a wrong policy in respect of the Post and Telegraph Department. That Department has had to bear the result of an unwise policy upon his part. In addition, We know that the Treasurer of any Government is always anxious to cut down the Estimates as much as possible. I was such a short time in the office of Treasurer that I had not an opportunity to exercise any malign influence in that direction.
– The honorable member tried to do so.
– I did in some respects. It is only natural that every Treasurer should attempt to cut down the Estimates of the various Departments - especially the Estimates of a large and growing concern like the Post and Telegraph Department. All this shows that there is a necessity to reconsider the whole position so far as this Department is concerned. After having given the matter a great deal of consideration, I am of opinion that the Department has grown to such proportions that nothing short of placing it under an independent Commission will meet the possibilities so far as its expansion and management are concerned. . I am strongly of opinion that it must be withdrawn from the direct control of Parliament, and that its finances must be placed on a much more independent footing before we can expect to achieve any satisfactory results. That being so, I say that there is a need for inquiry into its working. In regard to the action taken by the Government, I wish to say that there is a good deal in the contention that it is a mistake for Ministers to think that they are necessarily the best judges ofthe new duties which should be cast upon the shoulders of the Public Service Commissioner. In my opinion, they have come into conflict with the Commissioner in many instances, and, consequently,’ their judgment as to the best means of overcoming the difficulty which has gradually sprung up is, to some extent, warped. That being so, I should prefer to see an inquiry conducted by an independent Commission, rather than by a Cabinet Committee. But the amusing feature of the situation to- night is that honorable members upon your left, sir, have shown a unanimity and yearning for the appointment of a Royal Commission that is nothing short of marvellous. Those honorable members who tonight clamour for the immediate appoint- . ment of a Royal Commission, without even affording time to allow two or three little urgent matters to be fixed up - for example, even the Federal Capital Site question - who urge that justice shall at last be done to our public servants-
– Is it not time that something was done?
– I dare say. But the gentlemen who are so unanimously clamouring for the appointment of a Royal Commission would have expended just as much’ vocal energy in denouncing the Government for shedding their responsibility had they appointed, such a Commission.
– How can the honorable member say that, when, as a matter of fact, a member of the Opposition has had a motion relating to this: very matter standing upon the business-paper for some time ?
– I do not include that honorable member in my remarks. The unanimity of honorable members opposite is simply marvellous, whilst to- an extent it is amusing.
– There has been a wonderful unanimity upon the honorable member’s side for some time.
– I do not know that it has always been manifest. It- was rather entertaining to find that there had suddenly teen developed amongst both sections of the Opposition a desire to have this matter settled out of hand. From appearances, it looks as though they will have an opportunity - during a short period, anyhow- of doing something in that direction. I trust that we shall find a proper recognition of the pathetic picture put before us by the leader of the Opposition to-night. If he has an opportunity to do anything in this connexion, I hope that we shall not have to wait too long for his plan of alleviating the condition of those public servants who are suffering from injustice. I quite agree that there has been a great deal of sweating in the Central Offices of the Department in the various big cities.
– And in the country offices as well.
– Yes; but the overwork has been more pronounced in the big offices than in the country offices. There has been a great deal of sweating that has not been creditable to the Department, no matter- from what stand-point it is regarded. I trust that my honorable friends will show a little more anxiety later on than ‘has been exhibited to-night, both in regard to the object aimed at, and the reforms that it is desired to accomplish.
– I think that what we are doing to-night ought to be made- quite clear. The honorable member for Gwydir submitted a proposal towards which honorable members of all parties had expressed their entire sympathy many weeks ago. It was put to us to-night that surely we would not vote in such a way as to prevent some honorable members from speaking on the question at issue. It was with the object of giving some honorable members who desired to speak an opportunity to do. so, th’at I voted against the adjournment of the debate. I did so with the knowledge that if those with whom I voted succeeded, we should give a further opportunity of speaking on this question. That is the position:
– The honorable member is quite wrong.
– I am quite right. The honorable member for Wide Bay must know that if the adjournment had been assented to, the question in dispute could not have been dealt with again this session.
– Yes, it could. .
– The honorable member must not attempt to put other honorable members in a false position. There is this one opportunity of discussing the question and bringing it to a final issue. We have, in my opinion, taken the proper course in attempting to bring it to an issue. As to what the Government choose to do - that is their look-out. I am not going to say whether the Government have done right or wrong. That is for them to determine. I, fpr my part, think that they made a. serious blunder in appointing a Committee from their own ranks to take evidence that will certainly never be tendered. 1 have, for a considerable time, been in favour of appointing a Royal Commission. In my view, the least the Government could have done, when they knew that there was a notice on the businesspaper standing in the name of the honorable member for Gwydir, was to take the House into their confidence by saying, “ The way in which we propose to deal with this matter is to conduct an inquiry ourselves.” At all events, they should have taken into their confidence the. honorable member for Gwydir.’ They should have said to him, “ We recognise that you have a motion on the paper, and, as we have suspended private members’ business for the remainder of the session, and there will be very few opportunities of dealing with your motion, we should like to know what your opinion is as to what should be done.” It might have made a great difference as to the attitude of the honorable member for Gwydir had the Government taken that course. I think that those who voted as I did on the last division, took the only possible course, with the object of securing the appointment of a Royal Commission to deal with the matter.
.- The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has said that those with whom he voted on the last, division took the only course they could have taken towards securing the appointment of a Royal Commission. I presume that the honorable member has taken some interest in political life and political methods. If he had the least suspicion of what generally occurs in political life in such circumstances, he should know that a Government could not remain in office in. the fact of such a vote as has just been taken.- . I say that if the Government remained in office in face of the last vote, they would be the most contemptible set’ of men who ever held office in the history of Australia. If the next division goes against the Government they will certainly go out of office ; and what chance has the honorable member for Gwydir of getting his Royal Commission then ?
– Every chance.
– Does the honorable member for Gwydir hope to appeal to the right honorable member for East Sydney and his party to secure the appointment of this Commission?
– Now we know exactly the position in which my honorable friends have placed themselves.
– What chance have we of securing a Commission from the present Government ?.
– We now know exactly how my honorable friends are situated. If we had been voting on such a question as old-age pensions I could quite understand the attitude of my honorable friends. 1 could understand their desiring to go to the country fighting the battle of the poor unfortunate man who has to travel this country from one end to the other looking for work and rarely earning more than 30s. a week. I could understand their being anxious to promote the interest of the poor labourer who is half of his time out of work, and has no opportunity of saving to provide for himself in his old age.
– Is the honorable member against the appointment of a Royal Commission ?
– Does not the honorable member think that he is “ playing it rather low down?”
– What is the game?
– Cheap falk.
– Well, I am prepared to go to the country to-morrow, but I am afraid that very few of my honorable friends would like to do so on such an issue as they have raised to-night.
– When we go to the country we go on j£i 2 per week, not 30s.
– For goodness sake, do not talk about going to the country !
– No, do not talk foolishness like that !
– .What I am surprised at is that my honorable friends have made this a purely party question.
– The Government made it a party question in the first place.
– That it was a party question was shown by the fact that not a solitary member of the Opposition voted on this side of the House, on the division for the adjournment of the debate.
– Did a. member pf the .Government party vote in the negative?
– No, but some of the members of the party to which I belong voted with the Opposition, and so gave them a majority, which shows that it was not a party question with us.
– Is this relevant to the question ?
– I think that so far the speech of the honorable member for Kennedy has been absolutely relevant, but an interjection made just now by the honorable member for East Sydney was decidedly disorderly.
– I do not know whether it is due to the burning anxiety of honorable members of the Opposition to get on to the Government benches ; but what has amused me most in connexion with to-day’s proceedings has been the way in which they have treated a certain question. A great public question has been, for the last six or seven years, agitating the minds of the people of New South Wales to such an extent thatthey were prepared, at one time in our history, to bring about a revolution in the Commonwealth if it were not immediately dealt with. I refer to the question of the selection of the Federal Capital Site. Honorable members opposite have, however, to-day been prepared to waive that great question, because they have raised all sorts of objections to the adoption of any course which would insure its being decided to-night, in orderthat they might obtain a victory over the Government which might land them on this side of the House. I find no fault withthem if they consider that good parliamentary tactics.
– All this comes of voting for a motion which proceeded from the Labour corner. There is no satisfying honorable members ofthe Labour Party.
– It does not come from voting for a motion to prevent this debate being adjourned. It has arisen because the right honorable member for East Sydney, and the honorable member for Parramatta, refused to allow the Prime Minister to carry anamendment which would have enabled the House to deal with the important question of the selection of the Federal Capital Site, for which they have previously professed themselves willing to die. That is what brought about the crisis. I think that, in the circumstances, we had better’ at once settle the Capital Site question by voting solidly for Dalgety. I have nothing further to say. The Opposition may take advantage ofthe position which has arisen, but I must compliment the Prime Minister upon the action he has taken. It was the only honorable and straightforward course which he could take in the circumstances.
.- I wish to speak upon a subject of very great interest - the appointment of a Royal Com mission to inquire into the Post and Telegraph Department - but as it is now very late, and as I understand that the Prime Minister has definitely stated that he is willing that the debate should be adjourned until Wednesday next, and then resumed, I move -
That the debate be now adjourned.
– The Prime Minister said no such thing.
Mr. Speaker having risen and several honorable members interjecting,
– The Standing Or ders specially require that honorable members should give their attention while the Speaker is addressing the House. Honorable members will see that inattention then might lead to serious misunderstandingafterwards, and I therefore ask them, if not out of regard for the Standing Orders, at least for their own sakes, to permit meto speak without interruption. An honorable member, an moving the adjournment of a debate, is required to do so without speaking to the question. As the honorable member for Corio has spoken to the question, I cannot receive his motion for the adjournment of the debate. I therefore call upon the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.
– Have I not the right to continue my speech ?
– No; the honorable member resumed his seat.
.- I do not wish that this debate should be immediately concluded. An anxiety was displayed earlier in the evening to get rid of this most interesting subject. I must say that I have been somewhat surprised by the speech delivered by the honorable member for Kennedy. The honorable member has adopted a role which is new to him.
– Hear, hear.
– The honorable member should be careful when he is cheered by the Opposition.
– I care very little whether the Opposition are cheering or hooting. I was not aware that the honorable member for Kennedy had been appointed lecturer-in-chief to honorable members who take a different view of this matter from that which he takes. I have yet to learn the reason for the extraordinary anxiety the honorable member has now displayed for the continued existence of our present paternal Government. I am quite well aware of the condition of the suffering unfortunates who travel the interior of the Commonwealth, and very often get less than 30s. a week. I have looked through the Government programme; I have heard many of their protestations; I have assisted in passing some of their measures, but I must add that the honorable member for Kennedy has himself mentioned one measure which they have not introduced. The honorable member is aware that although the Prime Minister has for six years held a position as head of the Government, or has been a prominent member of a Ministry, the people to whom the honorable member for Kennedy has referred are still in an unfortunate condition, and have not been relieved by any measures submitted by Ministers. The Prime Minister directly ‘ intimated three weeks ago that the passing of a measure to establish old-age pensions in this Parliament depended upon his ability to securean agreement with the Premiers of the States.
– That is - not correct.
– Will the honorable member for Kalgoorlie take his seat. The honorable member for Kennedy said something two or three times about men earning 30s. a week, but I was not aware that he referred to the question of old-age pensions.
– The honorable member did mention old-age pensions.
– I was not aware of it. If the honorable member for Kennedy did incidentally refer to that question I shall not, as I intended, prohibit the honorable member for Kalgoorlie from referring incidentally to the question.
– I thank you, sir, for that consideration, and will take advantage of it first by replying to the interjection of the Prime Minister. I said that the honorable gentleman had stated in this House that his ability to pay old-age pensions during this Parliament’ depended on ‘ a satisfactory arrangement with the States Governments, otherwise an old-age pension system could not be initiated until the expiration of the Braddon section.
– That is not correct. No later than this morning I pointed out that the Government were considering alternatives in the event of the States Governments not agreeing.
– If it be shown that my memory has played me false in this matter I shall give the Prime Minister an ample apology, but I shall be very much surprised to learn that the honorable gentleman did not reply to me when speaking in this House that, so far as the Government proposal in connexion with oldage pensions during this Parliament was concerned, it depended upon a satisfactory arrangement being made with -the States Governments. I put it to the Prime ‘ Minister to say why, if . an arrangement- of the kind was not necessary to finance the Government proposal, he has waited so long before introducing it.
– It is not necessary that I should answer, the honorable member. He knows the answer to his question.
– I do not expect the Prime Minister to answer questions tonight. I do not intend to deal further with ,the statements off the honorable member for Kennedy, who has been long enough in’ Parliament to know that honorable members have a habit of .accepting responsibility for their actions when they have done what they believe to be right. I believe that there is a condition of seething discontent in the Postmaster-General’s Department so far as the officials are concerned, with a maximum of inconvenience to the public. Whilst the Minister has been running here and running there expressing opinions about the sobriety of miners in other places, and all other questions; his Department has been getting into such a state that the majority of honorable members deem that there should be an impartial inquiry into the conditions existing in it. The amendment was submitted in the most friendly fashion by the honorable member for Gwydir, and the Government chose a position for themselves, and they will not make me alter my vote by any threats of possible consequences. I have heard a few threats before in this House. They can adopt the attitude which they believe . to be in accord with their dignity. They have perfect liberty to interpret their responsibility in any fashion that they desire. I have made no complaint of that. They cannot say that 1 have broken faith with them, that I owe them any particular consideration, or that they owe me any. Those who voted against the adjournment to-night did so for the purpose of getting a Royal Commission of Inquiry. A proposal was submitted earlier to-day by the Prime Minister, which indicated that he wanted to take the time in which this motion could be . debated and decided. The House was against him, and proposals have been submitted all the afternoon to overcome the difficulty. Members who favoured the motion were agreeable to the fixing of any date, so long as they were satisfied that the motion could be forced to a conclusion before . this session ended.
– I was pledged to that, and the Prime Minister agreed to it.
– The honorable member for Wide Bay, as the result of investigation, assured me that it was possible for the motion to come up on the next grievance day - three weeks ahead - but, if we happen to be here then, somebody else with a grievance may get in front of this particular grievance.
– I thought I could give an assurance that that would not happen.
– If the honorable member for Corio desires to speak, and if the Prime Minister will say that the question will be brought to a conclusion - I under-, stand that there is now an agreement to that effect-
– There was from the first.
– There was one before the last vote was taken.
– We were not made parties to it.
– I hope the Government will go to a vote to-night.
– That will suit me admirably. If the Government had stated this afternoon their readiness to make a day available within a reasonable time for the consideration of this question, the members of the Labour Party, who are voting for this inquiry would have agreed to that course being taken. I understand that a proposal to that effect has been submitted now in an informal way, and that the Government desire to continue the debate next Wednesday.
– Hear, hear !
– If so, I think I can speak for the members of the Labour Party who voted on this side when I say that, upon that understanding, we will not further oppose the adjournment to-night.
– If there is an understanding to take a vote which the Government have declared that they will regard as a vote of want of confidence ! .
– I make no secret of the fact that I want a Commission appointed, and intend to vote for it. Those associated with me have not taken up this attitude to embarrass the Government. If the Government like to make it an embarrassing motion, that is their responsibility. I have no particular regrets about it. If the Government choose deliberately to assume a certain attitude, what have I to cry about? It is due to the members of the Labour Party, who voted on this side, that they should get a direct indication from the Government as to when the division is to be taken. _ If the Government say : “ Take the division to-night,” I am quite prepared for it. If they say : “ Take the division next Tuesday,” we are prepared to give them until Tuesday to make up their minds to agree to the appointment of the Commission.
– What good is there in putting it off beyond to-night?
– Vote to-night,
– This is an illustration of how informal arrangements sometimes lead to trouble between members.
– The honorable member promised to agree to an adjournment.
– I will agree to it now.
– The honorable member is doing everything he can to prevent it.
– The Government have intimated through the honorable member for Corio that they want an adjournment till Tuesday or Wednesday.
– No; they have agreed to it at my request. I wanted to speak, and the honorable member spoilt my speech. I could say more in five minutes than the honorable member could in five hours.
– If the Government say that a division must be taken to-night, I shall be abundantly satisfied. I shall conclude by referring again to the statement of the Prime Minister in connexion with old-age pensions, reading from a clipping his actual words. When speaking on the subject, I said -
The Prime Minister thinks that he will then be able to make a statement that will be satisfactory to all.
– I propose to lay all the proposals relating to the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, involving old-age pensions, on the table.
– Will the Prime Minister indicate to the House how. -near that will bring us, in the event of ‘the House being agreeable to the adoption of the Bill, to the provision of old-age pensions?
– I could not say that now.
– The Prime Minister having said that he is going to introduce a Bill, must accept the responsibility of admitting that he is not in a position to say when pensions, in the event of the Bill being passed, will’ be paid to the old people. The Prime Minister nods an assent, and I admire the honorable gentleman’s frankness. He does not appear to be sanguine as to the possibility of doing anything until the expiration of the Braddon provision.
– Quite true.
That was the promise made on 21 st March. But to-night the Prime Minister sat on a rail, when I said that the making of provision for the payment of old-age pensions by the Government in this Parliament depended on a satisfactory arrangement being arrived at between the Government and the Premiers of the States.
– Not at all. I pointed out the alternatives before, arid I did so again to-day.
– When I said what the Prime Minister’s” statement was, he disputed my accuracy.
– I do now.
– Then the honorable and learned gentleman had better read the report for himself. I am prepared to vote for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the state of the Post arid Telegraph Department. I believe that the investigation of a Royal Commission - which I have no doubt will be made - will minimize the discontent of those employed in the service and give great satisfaction to the public.
– With reference to the later remarks of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie on the subject of old-age pensions, I desire to say that I cannot allow any other honorable member .to refer to the matter. While I was being consulted by the honorable members for Wentworth and Corio on points of order, the honorable member for Kennedy, I understand, spoke on the subject, and had I been listening to him, instead of attending to other official business, I should have called him to order ; but as he went so far, I have permitted the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to do the same. I cannot, however, allow other honorable members to discuss the matter.
.- I regret that there should be any heat in this discussion, because there is no necessity for it. A number of honorable members, including members of the party to which I belong, are desirous that a Royal Commission shall be appointed; I do not take thatview. I think a Commission unnecessary. Honorable members must, of course, vote as they see fit ; but I personally am opposed to the appointment of a Commission. Indeed, I regret that the Cabinet Committee has been appointed. No doubt there are matters which want rectifying; but a sympathetic Minister could remedy every grievance in the Postal Department. Therefore, I shall vote against the amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir. Those who voted in the last division may be divided into two classes. In the one class are those who honestly think that the present Administration should not be in power, and that they could render better service to the community’. They were justified in voting as they did. In the other class are those who regard the appointment of the Royal Commission at the present time as the most important question affecting the interests of the Commonwealth. Even if I thought the appointment of a Royal Commission necessary, I should consider that there are matters pf even greater importance than the rectifying of the grievances of the Postal Department. I am delighted with the stand which Ministers have taken, and trust that they will remain firm. I know of no real reason for postponing the taking of the division. Those who voted against the adjournment of the debate must feel so strongly on the main question that I cannot imagine that any change of opinion will occur within twenty-four hours, or betweennow and next Wednesday. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has stated frankly that an adjournment would make no difference to his view.
– But if the Prime Minister, through a private member, requests an ad- journment until Wednesday, I shall not oppose it.
– The real question is: Shall a Royal Commission be appointed? I admired the honorable member for Kalgoorlie for the frank way in which he has spoken. The honorable member does not object to the debate being adjourned for a few days, but I venture to say that if it were adjourned he would be of the same opinion at the end of a few days as he is to-night.
– Then let us settle the question now. If it is considered that a Royal Commission should be appointed, let it be done to-morrow. If there is seething discontent in a great Department of the Public Service, the sooner action isI taken the better it will be for the country and the Department. I trust that the Government will consent to a vote being taken. I regret, sir, that, under your ruling, we are not allowed to make any reference to the” question of oldage pensions. If it hadnot been given, I would have said that one reason why I. should be very sorry to see the Government displaced at the present moment was that they , have given us a promise of establishing a system of old-age pensions.
– Say it again.
– However great may be the grievances of the men in the Post and Telegraph Department, I should prefer to go to my constituents with a Federal Oldage Pensions Act in my hand rather than with a statement that the Government had appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the grievances of the employes in a Government Department.
– I submit, sir, that the honorable member is flouting the ruling which you gave a few moments ago by introducing the subject of old-age pensions for the definite purpose of belittling other honorable members. I ask you,, sir, to rule him out of order.
– If the honorable member was guilty of such action as that which has been attributed to him, I am sure that he will now observe my ruling.
– I should be very sorry. indeed, to belittle any member of the House, even if I could, particularly a member of my own party. I have been supporting the Government on this question, and I have to give some reasons why I take a different view from those who have spoken so strongly. The position I take is that we have a greater chance of getting what we want from this Government than from any other.
– We propose to vote for the appointment of a Royal Commission, and not against the Government.
– In the last division I voted with the Government, because I thought that . if they retained office we should have a better chance of getting certain matters which I consider to be of greater importance than even the appointment of a Royal Commission dealt with. If, however, I had thought that the appointment of a Royal Commission was of more importance than the settlement of those matters, I would have unhesitatingly voted for its appointment. I understand that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie has expressly spoken on behalf of the Labour Party.
– No, he spoke on behalf of himself.
– He used the words, “ On behalf of those who voted against the motion,” and no one disputed his statement. I am not questioning the vote of any member of the Labour Party, or of any other party. Every one has the right to vote as he likes. I am not finding fault with any honorable member for the vote which he has given, but surely I am entitled to state the reasons for the vote I am about to give. The honorable member for Werriwa has stated that, although he voted in favour of an adjournment of the’ debate, still, if the issue were raised, he would vote for the appointment of a Royal Commission. He is quite entitled to take that stand, just as I am entitled to say why I intendto vote in the opposite direction, and that is that, in my opinion, we are more likely to get a system of oldage pensions from the present Government, though, of course, I may be wrong in my view.
– The honorable member is at it again.
– I hope that we shall soon go to a division. There need be no heat or passion.
– Hear, hear !
– It is simply a question of whether or not a Royal Commission should be appointed. I amopposed to its appointment, and I cannot conceive that anything which could be said would cause me to alter my view. I venture to think that there is not one honorable member whose vote would be altered by discussion, and, therefore, I suggest that we might as well go to a vote to-night.
Motion (by Mr. Chanter) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The House divided.
Majority … … 9
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I am not quite clear as to what has occurred.
– Is the honorable member rising to a point of order?
– I desire to address myself to the question of the adjournment of the debate until Wednesday next. I understood, sir, just before leaving the chamber, that the Prime Minister declared that the passage of this motion would be regarded as a direct vote of censure on the
Government. I think the honorable gentleman’s words were that he would advise His Excellency to seek fresh advisers. I, therefore, understand the position to be that the Government are still of the same opinion respecting the merits of the question, and, believing that the proposal to be made on Wednesday next threatens their existence, they deliberately set aside Government time for the discussion of such a private member’s proposition.
– Quite right, too.
– All I can say is, that if these are the terms on which Ministers hold their seats-
– What else could they do?
-The question before the Chair is the date for which the resumption of the debate shall be set down - that is the only point that can be discussed. Of course, if the honorable member for Parramatta desires to suggest some other day, he is at liberty to do so, but the conduct of the Prime Minister, or the question whether or not the Prime Minister will retire, is not before us.
– Am I not in order in discussing the action of the Prime Minister in fixing next Wednesday asthe day for the resumption of the debate?
– The honorable member is perfectly at liberty to discuss the question whether the adjourned debate shall be set down for Wednesday or for some other day, and that question only.
– I think I was doing so.
. - I understand that the Prime Minister has stated that the motion, as it stands, is one threatening the existence of the Government. The practice that I believe is always followed on such occasions is that the Government will not continue to conduct ordinary parliamentary business.
– The Prime Minister has said so.
– I have said so, and I have tried once before to address honorablemembers.
– The Prime Minister said an hour ago that he would move that the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next.
– I think I should be allowed to say a word, seeing that I have not spoken to-day on any subject. If the
Prime Minister states that the House is to be adjourned until the motion can be dealt with that removes the only difficulty. I am simply seeking for information.
– The Prime Minister, an hour ago, stated distinctly that he would move that the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next. In fact, I think the Prime Minister did so move; but Mr. Speaker pointed out that there was another motion then before the Chair. Practically, therefore, it was stated an hour ago that no. business would be taken prior to the settlement of this motion.
– The honorable member will excuse me forsaying that the motion as to the adjournment of the debate was indicated before the Prime Minister stated that he regarded the motion before the Chair as one of want of confidence.
– That isnot so; the honorable member for Flinders is mistaken. The suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta seems extraordinary. He evidently implies that the Government should go on with business while this vote of censure is hanging over their heads.
– I never suggested any such thing.
– That surely is the inference. The Government have indicated that no other business will be taken, and that the debate on the motion before us is to be resumed on Wednesday next.
– I regard these as degrading tactics.
– I dare say a few remarks could be made in reply to that statement, but it is not worth while making them.
– What I understand took place is that, after the division the Prime Minister rose, and stated that he proposed to move that the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday.
– I think the strict accuracy of the ruling I gave a few moments ago, when the honorable member for Parramatta was speaking, is now apparent. We are clearly getting away from the question of the day to which the debate is to be adjourned. I must ask the House to adhere to that decision.
– I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether this matter is to take precedence of all other business on Wednesday?
– It is.
.- I should like to know why we are not to meet to-morrow as usual. If it were necessary for the Government to exercise private suasion on honorable members who voted against them earlier this evening it might be advisable to adjourn until Wednesday; but as I know that the Prime Minister would be the last to resort to such tactics I feel justified in asking if there is any special reason why we should not meet as usual to-morrow instead of adjourning until Wednesday next?
Ordered. - That the resumption of the debate stand an order of the day for Wednesday next.
Position of the Government.
Mr. DEAKIN (Ballarat- Minister of
External Affairs) [11.52]. - In moving -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Wednesday next,
I desire to state that we propose that adjournment to enable the Government to consider its position, in relation to this vote.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from Senate without request.
Position of the Government.
Motion (by. Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I wish to clearly understand the remark just made bv the Prime Minister that he required an adjournment until Wednesday next so that the Government might consider its position with regard to “this vote.” What did he mean by the word: “this”?
– He will tell the honorable member on Wednesday.
– Have you done?
– Order ! A remark was made just now, which wasnot quite proper, that honorable members were being heldvery tightly. The present condition of the House and the frequency of interjections: show that, the reins need to be held tightly. I ask the. House at this time of special excitement to support the Chair as it is accustomed to do.
Honorable Members.-Hear, hear.
– I desire to know whether the Prime Minister intended to refer to the vote just taken for the adjournment of the debate or to the vote that is to.be taken next Wednesday on the amendment moved by the honorable member for Gwydir on the question that the House resolve itself into Committee of Supply.
– I cannot sever the two motions. I intended to refer’ to the decisive vote on the motion that has yet to be dealt with.
– Might I ask-
– I ask the honorable member, as a leader of one of the parties in the House, not to act in such a way.
– I want to ask a question.
– The right honorable member knows that the time for asking questions has passed.
– Can I not speak on the motion ?
– The right honorable member is aware that the Prime Minister has- just . replied, and that’ the debate is therefore closed.
– He merely replied to a question.
– The Prime Minister replied to the debate, and therefore no further debate can take place.
– -Might I ask him through you, sir, a question?
– No one knows better than does the right honorable member that that cannot be done, and he is therefore refraining from giving that support to the Chair for which I appealed to the House a few moments ago.
Question resolved- in the affirmative.
House adjourned- at 11.56 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 April 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1908/19080409_reps_3_45/>.