3rd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs whether his attention has been called to a statement by Mr. Paxton, President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, to the effect that the Customs House at Sydney is undermanned, and if that is correct, what steps he proposes to take to remedy the complaint?
– The honorable member was good enough to inform me that he intended to ask this question. The reply is as follows -
I have read the statements referred to, and propose requesting the President of the Associated Chambers of Commerce to afford me any. information at his disposal in regard to tie matters of which he complains, as the subject is not one that may suitably be dealt with by a discussion in the press. I may say, however, that complaints on the part of individual importers on the administration generally have been singularly few in number. We are rather hampered in the Sydney Customs House for want of sufficient accommodation, which it is hoped will be remedied at an early date. There have been very large additions to the staff of that branch of the service in the past two years, and as Iexpect to have some time in Sydney during the next few weeks, I propose to personally acquaint myself with the facts, in the hope that any possible reasonable excuse for complaint may be removed. Honorable members will fully appreciate the necessity for the precise and careful examination of invoices with entry and the attendant examination of goods. These operations necessarily take some little time; and cannot be dealt with in any perfunctory or mechanical manner. It is possible that this important requirement is not generally understood.
– Has the Treasurer made an arrangement with Mr. Summers, son of the sculptor, to search for deposits of Australian marble? If so, will he inform the House the nature of the arrangement ?
– I have not seen Mr. Summers for about fourteen months. When I held office as Minister of Trade and Customs, and prior to my visit to England, I saw him many times, and on one occasion sent him to report upon deposits of marble in the neighbourhood of Orange and Bathurst. The report I received from him is now in the Treasury. Subsequently I think the State Government sent him to the head of the Murray, where he discovered very valuable deposits of marble. I have not- seen him since, nor have I employed him.
Provision for Expenditure - Telegraphic Delays - Telephone Bureau : Barwon Heads - Estimates : Reductions by Treasurer - Freeman and Wallace Case.
– Yesterday, I asked the Postmaster-General how he reconciled the statement in the progress report of the Cabinet Committee that the funds necessary to carry on the work of his Department could not be provided out of current revenue, with the fact that during the last seven years about £6,000,000 had been returned to the States out of the onefourth of Customs and Excise revenue which the Commonwealth had a right to expend, the annual average return of surplus revenue being about £800,000. The honorable gentleman replied that he was able to reconcile these facts by the statement that the Estimates of the Department had been censored by such a Treasurer as the right honorable member for Swan, and that money required by the Department had been returned by him to the States. The honorable member may consider that that was a very smart reply, but I should like to ask him now whether. he still adheres to his statement, and, if so, to inform the House on what occasion, and to what extent, I refused, when’ Treasurer, to provide funds for the extension or improvement of the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic systems of the Commonwealth. I should also like to ask him whether he considers it is usual for a Minister to cast upon the Treasurer the responsibility for the unsatisfactory condition of his Department, while he remains a member of the Government.
– I answer the right honorable member’s last question ‘ first of all bv replying that I have not done what he ‘infers. As to the first part of his inquiry, I would point out that when Treasurer, the right honorable member reduced the Estimates of the Department - which had already been severely censored by the Central Department - by something like £70,000.
– What items did I reduce ?
– They were in the main construction items.
– I do not think that is an accurate statement. It is incomplete and inadequate.
– I may not have stated the exact amount by which the Estimates of the Department were reduced by the right honorable member, but I am informed by an honorable colleague that it’ amounted to about. ,£70,000. Had that money been expended by the Department, instead of being returned to the States, some of its present troubles might have been avoided.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. I resent the answer made to me by the PostmasterGeneral to the effect that I had been instrumental .in striking off the Estimates £70,000, with which a great deal of good, as he said; might have been done in the Department. While I was Treasurer, the present Minister of Trade and Customs was Postmaster-General, and I never had any difference with him. in regard to the Estimates, nor did he ever, press me for any sum which I did not give him. I think that the Postmaster-General has fallen into an error. In order to get a balance, Treasurers, in view of the fact, probably, that all the moneys voted will not be expended, have been accustomed to deduct a certain sum with the explanation that it is not likely to be used. There may be, for instance, a considerable sum left over from the Defence or other Estimates, but when I was Treasurer there was always a clear understanding, not only with the Postmaster-General, but with other heads of Departments, that if the money asked for were found to be required; it would be provided out of the Treasurer’s advance. That fact was stated when the Estimates were being passed.
– I desire to ask the. Postmaster-General . a question with reference to the experience which Mr. Charles Binney, of Baan Baa, has had in connexion with his Department. In the first place, Mr. Binney complains that a telegram sent from Sydney to Walgett was five hours in transit; secondly, that a message which he had despatched at ti a.m. from Walgett to . Cryon, 35 miles distant,” was not delivered until 3.30 p.m. on the following day; thirdly, that a telegraphic message handed in at Walgett at noon, but. recorded by the
Department as having been received at 3 p.m., did not reach Cryon till 3.30 p.m. on the following day; that a message handed in at the Sydney office at 9.42 a.m. did not reach Baan Baa till 6.45 p.m., and that a telegram’ sent by him from Spring Ridge, giving an address for important wires to be sent to him, was so mutilated that the word “ Curracabah “ was transposed into “ Currabubula.” These delays might have meant the ruination of Mr. Binney’s business. I have the telegrams here to verify these- complaints, and desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether he will make inquiries, and see that there is not a recurrence of these delays?
– I certainly shall, and have no doubt that there is a departmental side to the whole, question.
– On the 14th January, 1908, a letter was sent to the Postal Department, urging the opening -of a telephone bureau at Barwon Heads, and on 30th Mardi a reply was received, stating that although the work had been approved the expenditure could not be incurred before the assent of the Treasurer had been obtained. . I believe that the total cost will be about ^70.’ I desire to ask the PostmasterGeneral whether the assent of the Treasurer to the granting of this very much desired convenience to the people of Barwon Heads has yet been obtained ?
– I do not know whether the assent of the Treasurer in this particular instance has been secured, but the application was” one of a number involving a very large expenditure,- which the Treasurer had to consider carefully before deciding tq provide for them out of the ordinary revenue.
– I wish to ask the PostmasterGeneral whether it is not a fact that sums provided on the Estimates of his Department for necessary expenditure in connexion with South Australia were struck off by the present Treasurer?
– The experience of the Treasurer is in keeping with that of all his predecessors, save that the immense increase in the business of the Department of late has. intensified his difficulties. He has found it necessary to reduce certain proposed votes ; but in- two cases covered by the question put by the honorable member, the Treasurer advanced out of his Advance Account a sum of LIT,000 in excess of the provision made on the original Estimates.
– In one case alone I advanced ^11,000.
– I desire to ask the Postmaster- General whether his attention, has been called to’ a leading article in Comments, a Melbourne publication, under the heading of “ The Freeman and Wallace Case,” and part of which reads as follows : - .
It desires to ask, in the first place, why the Federal Parliament, or the Postmaster-General, or any other Federal official or authority whatsoever, should waste any time over what appearson the facts to have been merely a dishevelled attempt at blackmail. If the Age had only beenhonest, and if the Argus had made some sort of effort to live up to its text, the public would long ago have made its voice heard, and the whole affair would have been settled in the right place, viz., the Criminal Court. If it had knownthat a member of the detective force concocted a scheme to blackmail Freeman and Wallace, and that the precious O’Callaghan, along withDeakin and Mauger, winked at that fact, it would have expressed itself in a way that would probably have entailed the heaving of our remarkable Commissioner of Police out of his expensive job. But the big dailies take care totell the public as little as possible about the real facts of things; and that is why it falls to this’ paper to rip off the mask and reveal the actual circumstances of the case. And right here let Comments say that it holds no brief for Freeman and Wallace, or any other -firm, or interest whatever. It is simply very tired of seeing the public fooled, and therefore it intends to speak out - no matter who may squeal. To begin with,, then, will Chief Commissioner, of Police O’Callaghan say-
– Will the honorable member allow me? It is only permissible to read matter which is necessary to make a question plain, so that there may be no mistake in regard to- its nature. Personally, I cannot conceive what the matter,, which has just been read has to do with the making of any question plain. I ask the honorable member to put a question sp that it may be possible to discover whether the matter read has any bearing on it.
– If I were allowed to continue I think the article would show the connexion of the Postmaster-General with the comments - made. My intention is to ask the Postmaster-General what action he proposes to take.
– If the matter be read first, I might have to submit to hearing half-a-column, or a column, read beforeI could form any idea of the relation of the matter to the question. I, therefore,, ask that the question be put first, so that I may be in a position to judge whether the matter read be relevant.
– Of course, I bow to your ruling, sir. The article is very condemnatory, and connects the Postmaster - General with the case. I desire to ask the honorable gentleman whether he intends to take any action by instituting some charge so that the whole affair may be dealt with in a court of law ?
– The people interested always have the courts open to them if there has been any blackmail, or attempted blackmail. I have not read the article, so I cannot say what I would, or would not, do in connexion with it.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral a.ware that Messrs. Freeman and Wallace have not had an opportunity of appealing to any court? As this article mixes up the Postmaster-General with the detectives mentioned, and thereby directs a grave charge, as affecting the liberty of the subject, will he cause some action to be taken so that the whole affair may be ventilated in a court?
– I can only repeat that if the members of this firm believe that they have been blackmailed, or that anything has been said or done reflecting on them, they have their rights in a court of law. I am so satisfied with my own action, and my position, that I do not intend , to take any further steps.
– Some days ago, I asked the Minister of Defence a question in regard to a gun explosion at Thursday Island. The honorable gentleman then promised to make inquiries, and I should like to know the result.
– In accordance with my promise, inquiries have been made. The military report is not complete. The assistance of the police has been utilized, and the detective force has been consulted. The military and police are working together, and when the report is received I shall communicate it to honorable members.
– There is one phase of the question to which I attach a great deal of importance, but to which the Minister has not referred. I desire to know whether it is true that alien servants have been employed by officers of the Defence Forces ?
– When the honorable member asked the question some time ago, I immediately communicated with the Com mandants, not only in Queensland, but all over Australia, and I am informed that no alien servants are employed now.
– What about then ?
– I am informed that no alien servants are now employed. If alien servants were employed in the past, that is not of so much importance as providing that they shall not be employed in the future; and instructions to that end have been given in the most definite form.
– Does the Minister think that the Japanese Government would allow British subjects to act as servants to officers in Japanese forts?
– The inference to be drawn from that question is that no aliens should be permitted to occupy the position of servants in connexion with the forces in . Australia, and, in reply, I can only repeat that very definite instructions have been given in the matter.
– Is it. not a fact that a certain officer in the State of Victoria has a Japanese servant at the present time ?
– I shall make inquiries, and inform the honorable member.
asked the Minister representing the Vice-President of the Executive Council, upon notice -
– I ask the honorable member to wait until the consideration of the Tariff has been completed, when a full analysis will be made.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– At present the Commonwealth has only one source of revenue, and however interesting and important the honorable member’s proposals are, I hope he will reserve their consideration until the matters referred to are being dealt with.
asked’ the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and replies will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
How much per parcel do the contractors receive for delivering parcels in Melbourne -
– The Acting Deputy Postmaster-General, Melbourne, has furnished the following information -
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the Prime Minister to make a Ministerial statement to the House in regard to the Department of the Postmaster-General.
– I take it that honorable members will desire to follow the usual course, which is, that after the Ministerial statement has been made other leaders of the House may follow. It will be very undesirable to suspend the whole of outstanding Orders. Only so much of the Standing Orders should be suspended as will enable the Prime Minister to have free scope in making his statement’, and other honorable members, who speak later, to have equal freedom.
– How will your ruling, sir, affect honorable members in this corner, where we are all leaders ?
– I do not think that my functions include the appointment of a leader to any party.
Colonel Foxton. - I have no desire by word or hint to prevent the Prime Minister from making a statement, or any discussion ensuing thereon. Nor have I any objection to the leaders of the House taking part; but, as a private member, I claim my right to speak, if there is to be a discussion. It is impossible to say whether, during the discussion between the leaders of the House, some observations may not be made to which it will be necessary for honorable members, in their own defence, or in the interests of their constituents, to reply. For that reason I hope that, if there is to be a discussion, it will be general.
– May I suggest that I be allowed to alter my amendment so as to permit of any honorable member addressing the House?
– In my opinion, while the suspension of the Standing Orders applies to the subject of the Ministerial statement, it gives every member the same right that the Prime Minister and leaders have of addressing themselves to the question. I take it that the suspension of the Standing Orders applies to the particular subject which is allowed to be introduced under cover of such a motion, and does not do away with the custom under other circumstances of permitting leaders of the House to follow the Prime Minister ; that is a right which, the leaders have apart from any suspension of the Standing Orders. However, this is a question that has not been definitely decided, and which might just as well be decided now. If the Prime Minister is agreeable, he might conclude by laying some document on the table and moving that it be printed, which would enable honorable members to speak.
– It would be serviceable if we could so arrange matters as to throw the debate open to every honorable member.
– The understanding was that this debate was to take place after the Tariff became law.
– That is another question, but I do not think any one will be inconvenienced at. any time the matter is discussed.
– In reply to the points of order raised, I point out that the custom of the British House of Commons applies here when we have no rules of our own specifically dealing with a case. That custom does allow of the leader of the Opposition making such rejoinder as he likes to any statement of the Prime Minister, but it does not permit of a. general debate. However, the desire of the Prime Minister, just now expressed, as well as the desire of other honorable members, can easily be met if the Prime Minister will submit a motion to the effect that the Standing Orders be suspended to enable him to make a statement relating to the I Post Office, and to permit of honorable members generally speaking on the state ment. Such a motion will not form an undesirable precedent, and will meet the contingency.
– I have great pleasure in adopting that suggestion.
Motion amended to read -
That the Standing Orders be suspended to enable the Prime Minister to make a Ministerial statement to the House in regard to the Department of the Postmaster-General, and to permit members generally to speak thereon.
– I understand that the motion reads - “ That the Standing Orders be suspended, in order to enable the Prime Minister to make a statement relating to the Post Office.” If the motion be carried, will only so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as will permit of such a statement being made.
– If the motion be agreed to, only so much of the Standing Orders will be suspended as will permit of the Prime Minister making a statement, and of honorable members taking part in the debate.
– It will be very inconvenient for us to discuss the question of postal management at the present stage, especially in view of the fact that this House has affirmed a resolution that that question shall not be dealt with until the Tariff has become law. How can we go behind that resolution? If it were intended that no discussion should take place upon the Prime Minister’s statement I should not object to his making it, but it seems to me that we shall be debating this question under very difficult conditions, seeing that the Tariff has not yet been finally disposed of. I should like to ask whether, before this matter can be discussed, it will not be necessary to rescind the resolution at which we arrived on a former occasion.
– The point of order raised by the honorable member resolves itself into this : At the present time there is upon the business-paper an adjourned Order of the Day in relation to the motion submitted by the honorable member for Gwydir. If it were now proposed to proceed with the discussion of that motion the rescission of the order of the House setting it down for a certain day would have to be obtained.
– Until a certain contingency had arrived.
– If it were proposed to proceed with the debate at any period before the Tariff had actually become law, the rescission of that order setting the motion down for a certain day would haveto be moved. But I understood that the Prime Minister merely desired- to make a statement to- the House, on behalf of the Government. Other honorable members expressed a wish to discuss that statement, and, in order to permit of their doing so, the Prime Minister framed his’ motion so as not merely to permit of his making a statement, but of honorable members speaking after him, thus giving the-, fullest liberty to the House.
– I wish to point out that the nature of the debate which will take place upon this motion will depend largely upon the character of the statement which is made by the Prime Minister. That statement may be of such a nature as to open up’ the whole of the ground covered by the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir. I do not object to the Prime Minister making a statement, but we should clearly understand -what will be our rights and privileges in the event of his statement covering the ground to which I have referred.
– If the Prime Minister’s statement is not to be relevant to the motion submitted by the honorable member for Gwydir some time ago, the debate upon which has been adjourned, of course there can be no possible objection to his making it. But if it is intended to be directly relevant .to the same subjectmatter, I ‘apprehend, from your ruling, sir,’ that it will be impossible, without rescinding the resolution at which we arrived, to proceed with that adjourned debate. If the statement of the Prime Minister does not relate to the subject-matter of the motion submitted by the honorable member for Gwydir, there can be no objection urged to his making it. But if, as is generally anticipated, it relates directly to the subject-matter of that motion, I contend that in substance - that is, iri reality - we shall be defeating the Standing Orders by permitting it to be made, without first taking the opinion of the House, as to ‘ whether the resolution at which we previously arrived should be rescinded.
– I confess that I was taken by surprise when the ‘ Prime Minister adopted the course which he has followed. It was an absolutely unnecessary course, because by long tradition in all Houses of Parliament’ in the British Empire the head of a Government has a perfect right to make a Ministerial . statement before the commencement of the business of- the day. It is a right attaching to his office, and hedoes not need to ask for the suspension of the Standing. Orders in order to enable him. to exercise that right. I have never previously heard of such a course being takenas that which the Prime Minister has followed this afternoon. Of course, there are occasions ‘ when it is necessary to adopt such a course. For instance, if the Prime Minister had wished to make a statement last night after the ordinary business had been dealt ‘with, it would have been necessary for him to move the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable him to do so, because he would have been asking permission to make a statement at a time when hewas not authorized to do so. But before the commencement of the business of theday there is no necessity for him to act in the way that he has done. I should” like him to explain why he adopted that course.
– Because I consulted Mr. Speaker, and took his ruling as to whether or not I was required to take the course.
– I did not understand that it was necessary to suspend the Standing. Orders to enable the Prime Minister tomake a Ministerial statement so long as he made it at the right time, namely, beforethe commencement of the ordinary business. But the Prime Minister has evidently acted upon’ advice, and it is, therefore, unnecessary to pursue the matter further.
– I desire to point out that a very inconvenient position will be created if the Prime Minister - makes a statement bearing .upon the motion submitted by the honorable member for Gwydir. A’ few weeks ago the honorable gentleman chose to regard that motion as one involving the fate of . the Government. If he now proposes under cover of this motion to deal directly with a question concerning the fate of the Government, he will be dealing with it at a time when the’ hands of a large number of honorable members are tied.
– Has the honorable member read the terms of the motion submitted by the honorable member for Gwydir ?-
– It reads -
That all the words after the word “That”’, be le’ft out, with a view to insert in Heu 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.”
That motion is a comprehensive one. It covers all the dealings of the Post Office. Yet the Prime Minister now proposes to make a statement relating to the Post Office on . a question which he regards as of vital importance to the fate of the Government, in a House, the members of which for the next week or so will have their hands tied. If the honorable gentleman occupies the same exalted plane that he did a few weeks ago when he declared that it was a matter of indifference to him whether or not he remained in office he will see that he ought not to adoptthe course which he now proposes to take.
– I do notthink that any statement which the Prime Minister may make at the present time can affect the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir. Personally, I am of opinion that that motion has no right to appear upon the business-paper at all. We discussed it upon “ grievance day,” and the moment that the House adjourned upon that day I submit that it lapsed.
– But the Prime Minister stated that he would afford an opportunity for its discussion.
– That is entirely another question. The Prime. Minister may say that he will do all sorts of things which he is not entitled to do. We have adopted a standing order which permits honorable members to ventilate grievances upon one day in every three weeks. The old method of airing grievances was upon the motion that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply. But this House, in its wisdom, decided to set apart a particular day, which falls once in every three weeks, for the discussion of grievances. The first honorable member to break through that standing order was the honorable member for Wide Bay, who submitted a motion in favour of the omission of certain words, with a view to the insertion in lieu thereof of words which did not relate in any way to grievances. Seeing that that honorable member had successfully evaded the standing order, the honorable member for Gwydir sought to emulate his example. But in debating the motion which he submitted, he was really discussing a grievance, and consequently I contend that the moment the House adjourned upon that day his motion lapsed. It ought not therefore to again appear upon the business-paper. Under these circumstances, I do not think that anything which the Prime Minister may say to-day can possibly conflict with the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir.
– How could Mr. Speaker have left the chair if that motion had not been disposed of?
– The very fact that the debate upon it was adjourned is sufficient evidence that it lapsed. I maintain that everything came to an end with the conclusion of the discussion on that day.
– There was an adjournment until a specific time.
– I mention the matter now because I think it likely that difculties may occur in the future if the procedure to which I take exception is to obtain. It might happen on the first” grievance day “ of the session that a member might move an amendment omitting all the words after the word “ That,” with a view to discuss some definite proposition, and that the . discussion might be adjourned, leaving the amendment on the businesspaper. On the following ‘ ‘ grievance day, ‘ ‘ another honorable member might bring forward another proposition and so on, until the opportunity to discuss grievances generally on certain days would be taken away. I hold that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Gwydir ought not to. be on the noticepaper, and that anything the Prime Minister may wish to say should not be interfered with by it.
– Although the honorable member for Kenned says that the amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir should not be on the notice-paper, the fact is that it is. there with the consent of the House.
– In any case, if the Standing Orders were suspended, we could discuss the matters referred to by the Prime Minister.
– Quite so. The notice on the business-paper reads -
Supply- Resumption of debate (Mr. Chanter) upon the Question, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair (under Standing Order No. 241) - and upon the amendment moved thereto by Mr. Webster, vis.: - That all the words after the word “ That “ be omitted from the Question with a view to the insertion of the following words in place thereof-“ a Royal Commission. be appointed to inquire into and report upon the Postal, Telegraph, and Telephone systems of the Commonwealth and the working thereof.”
Many honorable members in this corner feel it to be of the greatest importance that the Customs Tariff Bill should become law.
– Their hopes are now vanishing.
– I believe that the Bill will become law within a short time, and we shall then be no longer tied. Our first desire is to get the Tariff out of the way–
– And then the Government.
– The interjection is opportune. No doubt the honorable member is expressing, if not the desire of the members of the Labour Party, as determined in caucus, the desire of supporters outside, that the party should occupy a position on the ‘direct Opposition benches. It. is generally known that members of the Labour Party desire to be in direct Opposition, as they feel that at present they have not a sufficient raison d’etre.
– What has this to do with the question of the Prime Minister’s statement ?
– The Prime Minister wishes to make his statement at a time when honorable members in the Opposition corner are more or less tied, because the Tariff has not been disposed of. If his statement has any relation to the report on Postal Administration, laid on the table a couple of nights ago, it must open up the ground covered by the amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir. It seems, therefore, undesirable that the matter should be discussed until that amendment has been dealt with.
.- I favour the suspension of the Standing Orders to permit the Prime Minister to make a statement in regard to Postal Administration, about which there has been a Cabinet inquiry, and a report by Ministers, with the promise of a statement. The sooner we hear that statement, the better will the interests of the public be served. I am not concerned with the interests of individual members. So far as the members of the Opposition corner party are concerned, one would think that there was to be a vote.
– The honorable member should speak for himself, not for the Opposition corner party.
– I generally speak for myself. I am answering those who ask me and the House generally to vote against the suspension of the Standing Orders.
Each member of his party who has spoken has said that to anticipate the discussion of the amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir until the Tariff has been disposed of would place him in an awkward position. I am not concerned with that.
– Nor apparently with the alteration in the tactics of the Government.
– No. I am concerned with the interests of the public. An important report has been furnished, and a statement promised which should have been made when the report was laid on the table.
– There is nothing to prevent that statement from being made now without the suspension of the Standing Orders.
– When the Prime Minister asked that he might make a statement, it was generally demanded that every honorable member who wished to do so should have a right to address himself to the question. I intend to vote for the suspension of the Standing Orders. I wish to look at’ this matter in the interests of my constituents and of the public generally. The honorable member for Gwydir, who is most concerned, has not complained about the course proposed to be taken.
– Why should he, if the honorable member is willing to do his work for him?
– I take responsibility for what I do. If the honorable member did more, I should think more of him. I do my own work in my own roughandready way.
– The honorable member must confine himself to the question.
– If you, sir, were in my position, and knew the sting of the honorable member’s interjection, you would probably reply more harshly. Some honorable members have complained about being placed in. an inconvenient position; I shall be placed in an inconvenient position if the Prime Minister is not allowed to make his statement’ at the earliest moment. I do not care what the statement is. I merely wish to hear it. The sooner the country is told what the Government wish to do, the better it will be for the public interest.
.- What the Prime Minister asks is a breach of an understanding between him and the House. He has declared it to be the first duty of the Government to place the Customs Tariff Bill on the statute-book. He stated on a former occasion that -
Our instant duty is to dispose of the Tariff before we take the Postal or any other business in hand.
That was a definite engagement with the House. Recurring to the same point he said -
I stand “ four square to all the winds that blow “ in this House, and upon no question is that more simply demonstrated than it is upon this proposal that the House shall fulfil its duty to the country by disposing of the fiscal question before it considers or disposes of any other question of a controversial character.
Now, although the Tariff has not yet been placed on the statute-book, the Prime Minister proposes to discuss the Postal administration, a question of a highly controversial character, and in suggesting this course he’ is making a breach in an honorable understanding between himself and the House. We should not permit him to suspend the Standing Orders to do this, and I shall vote against the proposed suspension.
– The honorable member wishes to block the whole thing.
– It will not block it.
– I wish the Prime Minister to keep his word to the House as honorable members have kept their word with him. We have assisted in the discussion of the Tariff, and as it has not yet been finally disposed of, the time has not arrived, according to his statement, for dealing with any other controversial question.
– This is not convenient to the honorable member.
– We should not suspend the Standing Orders to permit the Prime Minister to deliberately break his promise to the House.
– I am surprised that even the honorable member can make such a ridiculous statement as to say that a Ministerial statement can interfere with a motion on the business paper.
– I do not cavil at the Prime Minister exercising the right enjoyed by Ministers from time immemorial to -make a statement.
– That is whap the honorable member is doing.
– In the light of the honorable member’s promise to the
House, it is for him to consider whether he should make such a statement at this stage.
– My promise will be kept in letter and in spirit. The amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir will be brought on directly the Tariff has been disposed of.
– Then are we to have two discussions?
Mir. Deakin. - That is as the House pleases. Honorable members are asking for a. discussion now.
– We do not please. We prefer to have the discussion at the time stated by the Prime Minister to be the most convenient in the interests of the country, namely, when the Tariff has been finally disposed of.
– That is the time for the decision of the question. If honorable members do not wish to hear my statement now, they -need not do so. ‘
– Are the decision and the discussion of the subject te take place at different periods?
– I do not ask for a general discussion now.
– No doubt it would suit the Prime Minister to make a statement which could not be replied to, postponing any decision until a subsequent period. I hope that he. will not be permitted to make what I submit is a clear breach of his understanding with the House.
– I was undecided as to whether the Opposition knew what it was’ doing when, objection was raised to the making of a statement by the Prime Minister. But now that the deputy leader has spoken, it seems to me that there is a deep and dark design to create a situation which will result in disparaging the Prime Minister. I think I view this matter impartially. It seems to me that the Prime Minister has merely asked for permission to make a statement in regard to Postal administration. He has not asked the House to discuss Postal affairs. We desire merely to have a statement from the Prime Minister, and that statement having been made nothing further need be said. The honorable member has certainly not asked that the House shall be permitted to indulge in a general debate. If his statement is printed and, as. suggested by the leader of the Opposition, laid on the table of the House, it will be useful to honorable members when the general question is ‘discussed. . If honorable members of the Opposition generally are not afflicted with the obliquity of vision and perversity of mind which seems to trouble their deputy leader, the Prime Minister will be permitted to make this statement so that we may be better equipped later on to deal with the whole general question.
– I submit that the Prime Minister has taken the only course open to him. It is useless for honorable members to say that it is open to the honorable gentleman to make a Ministerial statement whenever he chooses to do so. As a matter of fact, he must obtain permission to do so.
– The proper time to make it. was when he laid on the table of the House the progress report of the Cabinet Committee.
– That -was at 11 0’clock 31 night.
– The honorable member chose his own time.
– I hold that the Prime Minister in adopting this course is not breaking faith with the House. I differ from the view expressed by the honorable member for Kennedy that when a question is brought forward on “ grievance day “ its consideration closes with the sitting. My contention is that a grievance once stated becomes the property of the House, and that a debate upon it may be postponed until any date desired.. The Prime Minister finds himself confronted with two notices of motion, one by the honorable member for Gwydir and one by myself, both of which relate to the Post and Telegraph Department, and unless the Standing Orders were suspended he might be prevented from making a statement on postal affairs. There should be no delay in the redress of grievances, and the statement which the Prime Minister desires to make may lead to the early removal of the cause of the complaint in this particular case. It will certainly serve a useful purpose and guide honorable members in determining later on how their votes should be cast.
.- My recollection of what took place when the Prime Minister intimated that he proposed to ask the House to postpone the discussion of the motion submitted by .the honorable member for Gwydir until the .Tariff had been dealt with is that the honorable gentleman said that the Tariff would be immediately taken in hand. It would be dealt with by this House and sent to another place, and only such business as could be disposed of by us during the intervals between the passing of messages between the two Houses in relation to it would be undertaken. As soon as the Tariff had been finally disposed of, what is known as Mr. Webster’s motion would, he said, be brought on for discussion. We have now almost completed our labours on the Tariff, and whilst the Senate is dealing with it the Prime Minister might well be avowed to make a statement of the position. There is.no reason why we should anticipate that the Prime Minister intends to make some serious announcement that will tie our hands.
– Certainly not. I wanted to help the House to save time.
– What an innocent . man the honorable member is !
– I am not’ going to discuss the technicalities of the question relating to the Standing Orders. The Government appointed a Cabinet Committee to investigate the working of the Department before the notice of motion given by the honorable member for Gwydir came on for discussion. That Cabinet Committee has submitted a report which has been circulated amongst honorable members, and I understand that the Prime Minister now desires to make a statement upon it. i fail to see why, in doing so, it should be necessary for him to refer to what is known as Mr. Webster’s motion for the appointment of a Royal Commission. If the Prime Minister’s statement is printed and placed in. the hands of honorable members, they will be afforded an opportunity to consider it in relation to the discussion which may arise on the honorable member for Gwydir’s motion. I am quite prepared, at the proper time, to fulfil my election pledges, and I am also prepared to accept the word of the Prime Minister that he wishes now to make a statement, and to allow the House, after the Tariff has been disposed of, to discuss the whole question as it may think fit. I regret that the Prime Minister did not decide to make a statement on the understanding that the leader of the Opposition should only be allowed to discuss it.
– That is exactly what I proposed at first.
– And that the House generally should not discuss the matter.
– I have been asked to give my ruling on three points of order, and I think that it is expedient that I should deal with them now. In the first place, I was asked by the honorable member for Lang whether the adoption of the course proposed by the Prime Minister would prevent an honorable member from intervening with a motion later on. No honorable member, at any stage of a discussion such as this, could intervene with a motion. The great disadvantage of Ministerial statements is that no motion is tabled in connexion with them, with the result that no vote is taken, and no point is reached at which it can be said that the matter’ has been completed in the House. At the same time, honorable members would not be precluded from dealing with the general question, at a later stage, in any way they pleased. The honorable member for Flinders asked whether it would be necessary, before the Prime Minister could do that which he has asked leave to do, to rescind an order setting down what is known as Mr. Webster’s motion for consideration immediately after Government business on the notice-paper to-day. The suspension of the Standing Orders will be sufficient to enable related matters to be debated without affecting the position of the adjourned motion upon the notice-paper. There is a standing order which prevents a debate in anticipation of a motion on the notice-paper, and it is in order to escape the operation of that provision that the Prime Minister has moved, as I understand, for the suspension of the Standing Orders. The leader of the Opposition also asked whether I had ruled that the Prime Minister could not make a statement at the commencement of the business of the House without a suspension of the Standing Orders. I have not so ruled. The Prime Minister inquired from me whether he could, at a certain time, make a statement to the House in regard to the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department. I told him he was free to make such a statement, but that he would have to be careful not to anticipate in any way the debate on the honorable member for Gwydir’s motion or on the motion of which notice has been given by the honorable member for Robertson. The honorable gentleman told me that he would find it difficult to comply with that requirement, and I pointed out to him that he could overcome that difficulty only by moving the suspension of the Standing
Orders. That, the Prime Minister has done.
– I wish to point out that the honorable member for Parramatta, in reading a few moments ago an extract from the report of a speech made by the Prime Minister, did what he very often does when he is quoting the remarks of other honorable members. He quoted only so much of the statement as served his particular purpose. In the report of the speech to which the honorable member referred, the following appears -
Our object now is to deal with the Tariff, and with no other question, except for the purpose of utilizing any necessary intervals of parliamentary time, for which we shall not be responsible. So far as is possible, we are anxious to deal with the Tariff, and with nothing but the Tariff. But we wish to put to some good use any intervals that may occur.
– Read on.
– I have read quite sufficient to show the unfair methods the honorable member adopts.
– Read the list of business which the Prime Minister said would be taken during these intervals.
-the referred to a number of items, -and made the general statement which I have given. The honorable member for Parramatta evidently desires to precipitate a party crisis at this stage, instead of waiting until the motion of which notice has been given by the honorable member for Gwydir comes on in the ordinary way. I think that he has taken up a most indecent attitude.
– It seems to me that the Prime Minister foresaw that the debate on what is known as Mr. Webster’s motion would, to some extent, involve thefate of his Government. Some honorable members are pledged to their constituents not to take any action likely to put the Government out of office until the Tariff is out of theway, and the Prime Minister to-day thought, it seems to me, that there should be no discussion on that motion until the Tariff had been finally dealt with. I am sure that he had a bona fide belief that he might make a statement which would not call for a general discussion at this stage, and that a general debate would cover, not only the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, but the question of the fate of the Government. If he did not recognise that fact when he. first made this proposal, he must see now that the temper of the House is such that if a general debate is now launched, time will be wasted instead of saved, as he desires. The debate would really be that which we were promised would not take place until our hands were unfettered. I do not pretend to be very familiar with the forms of the House, but if the Prime Minister wishes to make a bond fide statement on the result of the Cabinet Committee’s inquiry into the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department, I fail to see why there should be any objection to his doing so.
– That is all I propose; I am not responsible for anything else.
– But is that statementto befollowed by a lengthy debate?
– I cannot control other honorable members.
– If one honorable member is to speak, we ought all to have a “go.”
– I do not think that we ought to “have a go” until the Tariff is out of the way. I think the Prime Minister has a perfect right to make a statement; but, as he promised that the general debate should not take place until the Tariff was out of the way, good faith should be kept with the House.
.-I have some difficulty in understanding honorable members who are opposing the proposal that the Prime Minister shall make a statement. In deference to the wishes of honorable gentlemen opposite, the Prime Minister enlarged his motion so as to permit of a general discussion, although it was evident that he had no expectations of such a discussion when he arose.
– Hear, hear.
– The expectation was that the Ministerial statement would be followed by an address from the leader of the Opposition, and, perhaps, some remarks from one or two other leading members ; and that the ordinary business of the House would then be proceeded with. However, as I say, the motion was enlarged in deference to the wishes of honorable gentlemen opposite ; and, immediately that was done, the point was raised that such a debate would trench on the discussion of the motion which the honorable member for Gwydir has on the notice-paper. There is no evidence whatever to’ indicate that the statement or the discussion would in any way clash with that debate; but in any case, I apprehend that you, Mr. Speaker, would take care that there should be no discussion of the kind. Itseems to me that we are tying ourselves up in technicalities, when, as a matter of fact, the House and the country desire to hear what is the Ministerial policy in connexion with the Post and Telegraph Department. We are simply wasting public time in so doing, and in talking about promises or implied promises. . The words quoted by the leader of the Opposition did not debar the Prime Minister from at any time making a statement of the Government intentions in regard to the Post and Telegraph Department. Is it to be supposed that the Prime Minister, when he made a clear and definite statement in regard to the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir, was tying his hands so that he should not be at liberty to make a Ministerial statement?
– The words of the Prime Minister were: “Before we take the postal, or any other question, in hand.” There is no reference to the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir.
– I apprehend that the Prime Minister meant what he said, and still means what he said; and that his one motive now is to shorten the session. Honorable members desire that the House shall rise ; and it is facilitating business when the Prime Minister anticipates what is required, and states the policy of the Government. It is entirely in the hands of the House to say whether the statement shall be followed by a debate; but my opinion is that all debate ought to be reserved for the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir. The Prime Minister is not to blame for making a statement, which, I understand, is based on the report of a Committee appointed before the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir was submitted. At any rate notice of the intention to appoint a Committee was given; the report has now been presented; and the Prime Minister’s object is to state the intentions of the Government.
.- Mr. Speaker–
– I am disposed to think that the honorable member has already spoken.
– I desire to make a statement which, I think, may have the effect of shortening the debate.
Several honorable members interjecting -
– I think honorable members may safely leave the matter in my hands. If the honorable member for East Sydney desires- to make a statement in the nature of a personal explanation, he may do so, but .not otherwise.
– This really is art explanation, in view of your statement, sir, following my previous remarks. When I spoke, I considered that the Prime Minister had a perfect right to make a Ministerial statement without the suspension of the Standing Orders, and I took .up the position that it was unusual and improper to insist upon such suspension. In view, how- ‘ ever, of the statement ma3e just now by Mr. Speaker - that the Prime Minister consulted him, and that, in consequence of the consultation, it was found impossible to make a Ministerial statement without a suspension of the Standing Orders - I have no desire to take the responsibility of preventing the Prime Minister from making the statement’ he desires.
.- The leader of the Opposition has, I think, taken up the proper position. My feeling is that the initial mistake was made by the Prime Minister, when he did not take the usual course of simply asking the House to allow him to make a statement. It has now been indicated, however, that, after consultation with the Speaker, the suspension of the Standing Orders was the only course found open to him. The leader of the Opposition has now expressed the view that the Prime Minister ought’ to have the opportunity asked for, and in that I entirely agree with the right honorable gentleman. I do not see why any quibble should be raised ; and the only regrettable circumstance is the permission granted for a genera] discussion. The honorable member for Gwydir might himself have cleared the air by indicating that, notwithstanding any statement that might be made, it was his intention to proceed with his motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– May I say that with some parliamentary experience, this is the first occasion . I have ever known’ where a Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government upon a. matter of great importance to the public, has been met by an ‘ attempt to refuse him an opportunity to he heard. I may also add that, so far as I am concerned- ras you yourself know, sir - it’ was by the merest accident I learnt that it would be necessary to move the suspension of the Standing Orders. I had intended to rise, as I have myself risen, and seen other Ministers rise so often before, when ma.king a statement relating to Ministerial action, without the slightest expectation that I would be confined. I learned, however, by intimation, that it was desirable that Mr. Speaker’s opinion should be taken. I took the opinion of Mr. Speaker, and have been acting on that opinion. I desired merely to make a statement, which could have no result on any motion on the paper, or’ on any business of the House, but which would have economized time, and, having in view the approaching close of the session, would have permitted the House, before it came to the consideration of the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir, to know exactly where .the Ministry stand, and what the Ministry intend. There was no possible gain of a party character in that proposition - except the gain that always attaches to an opportunity of considering a speech prior to the actual resumption of debate, when a decision upon the question has to be given. That, and nothing more, was what I desired.
– And 1 suppose it never struck the Prime Minister that there might be no resumption of the debate at all after his statement?
– I know that the motion, being in possession of the House, must be called on in the House, and that, therefore, neither the Ministry nor the whole of the honorable .members on this side together, had the power of evading the debate. The motion must be called on and dealt with in some way. No one could stop it. What was the peril, then? This progress report was recently laid on the table late at night, in the middle of a discussion of the requests of the Senate, when to have made any statement would have been to interrupt the consideration of the Tariff. Consequently, I passed it by ; but yesterday I intimated to the leader of the Opposition that if, as anticipated early in the day, the consideration of the requests was speedily concluded, I intended to make my statement last night. As it happened, however, the Tariff occupied the whole of the evening; bitt my intention then was and -now is, as is shown throughout the whole course of my action, simply to place honorable members in possession of the views of the ‘ Government at the earliest possible moment. This progress report was prepared by certain members of the Government, . who went as far as it was possible for them to go in tendering advice to the Cabinet. After the report was presented to the Cabinet, it was, of course, considered by the Government as a whole, and it was decided to take certain action upon that report. It, therefore, became my duty, as I conceived it, at the earliest possible moment, to inform honorable members of ‘that intention - to allow honorable members to take their own means- of satisfying themselves as to the course proposed, and as to the grounds on which it is to be taken. Separating myself for a few moments from my three colleagues, who together prepared this report, may I say that, in my belief, it fully deserves its name as a progress report; it shows real progress made, further progress proposed, and indicates the directions in which later ‘developments may pro1ceed. If those gentlemen were not my colleagues I should express my obligation, and the obligation of the rest of the Cabinet, to them much more warmly. In this report we have, not merely the results of a month’s or five weeks’ work on their part, but the outcome of the assistance which they rendered to the PostmasterGeneral in ripening and bringing to fruition a great number pf those reforms which have been occupying his attention for a long time past. Owing to the interval presented to us by the postponement of this question pending the completion of the Tariff, they had an opportunity to lay, . as they have laid, in these few pages, a very solid basis for real postal reform. Although my remarks necessarily have a personal complexion, because’ the report appears here with the sanction of the whole of the Cabinet, and represents its views as well as the views of the particular members who drafted it, the work was so special, and was done under such circumstances of stress, that I think honorable members will excuse me for this short digression. Time does not permit of my entering into all the practical questions involved; and, in order to save time, I venture to assume that the contents of the report are sufficiently well known, or that honorable members will shortly be acquainted with them sufficiently, to justify me in relieving them from the task of listening to quotations and comments. The only thing I regret is that this document, plunging as it does in medias res, without the slightest introduction, and” only making oblique references to the past, could not contain - in view of its public circulation through the press - what would have been very useful, at all events, to citizens outside the House, that is, a short preliminary reference to the special principle upon which our postal and kindred services are intended to be conducted. We hear criticism incessantly - usually from outside, but sometimes within these walls - based upon the supposition that the Post Office is nothing., but a very large private business, conducted, it is true, for the purpose of supplying public wants, but which is to be measured by the rules ordinarily applied to the control, by private persons, of businesses conducted for their own gain. Nothing - as all those who have reflected upon the position know - can be further from” the fact. The Post Office is a great national institution, which proceeds upon the basisof recognising equality of citizenship inthe equality of the claims preferred by itscitizens, no matter where they may reside, to far more consideration than they could ever hope to receive upon a pounds, shillings, and pence basis. We are told that the cities and towns earn the revenue of the Post Office, and that it is spent in the country. So far as that statement is true - and it is only partially true - it reflectsthe very principle upon which the Post Office is conducted. It is intended to be a really national institution. When we consider other proposals in this report, it must always be kept in- mind that the ideal inview is not the making of a little extra profit here and there so much as it is of continuing to conduct its operations withthese high ends in view and subject to their keeping in touch, as far as possible, with business methods and management.
– This is all leather and prunella.
– When at last permitted to make my statement, I knew that Opposition alarm would cease from aparty point of view. But a general admonition must be given at the outset of my remarks. It may be unnecessary in thecase’ of the honorable member for Parramatta, who has a personal knowledge of the conduct of the Post Office, but if hewill read the criticism offered by outsiders’ he will find that it is most necessary toremove these grave misconceptions as tothe true tests of Post Office efficiency.
– Some things may be taken for granted.
– In dealing with the honorable member, I find that they must be very few. He is very generous in what he gives, but not in what he grants. Now, in regard to this very report, we have already been confronted with comments upon the disparity between the cost of certain proposed reforms and the income which would result from them. That is a fair consideration to be brought forward in connexion with every postal transaction. But it is not the first, the last, and the only consideration. At the end of the report which is in their hands, honorable members will find certain tables where Post Office finances are set out in totals in a strictly commercial manner, and without any regard whatever to the enormous advantages involved in them. They do not take us far. It is also necessary to make a brief reference to the fact that in the Post Office we have to face a problem which, so far as I know, has not existed in any country in the world - that is, the taking over of six separate Postal Departments, federalizing them in the first place, and decentralizing them in the second. No such difficulty existed in the United States when they commenced their Federal career, and no such difficulty, so far as I know, has existed in any other country. It is peculiar to Australia, and, taken in connexion with the special turn and special colour which has been deliberately given to Australian legislation by the Australian people in connexion with all great public efforts of this kind, we have to prepare ourselves, for our task of criticism by recollecting that very little experience in this regard, that will be of service to us, can be culled anywhere. In other words, we must find our own solution of our own special problems. We have to feel our way, and the responsibilities cast upon us are, therefore, the greater.
– We have had sevenyears to deal with the matter.
– We inherited these six postal systems, and have had seven years to deal with them. As a matter of fact, we have had rather less than seven years, because our Post and Telegraph Act did not come into operation immediately. Further, it was not until 1904 that the Public Service Act and the authority of the Public Service Commissioner were expended effectively to the whole of these services.
– They did not improve them, either.
– Whether they improved them or not, my point, is that this began only four years ago. When we recollect that we are faced with the task of federalizing these six Departments, and at the same time, for administrative purposes, of following an exactly contrary course to decentralize them ; and when it is recognised that we have to do that over a continent the size of Australia, with a scattered population of only 4,000,000, in such a way that our smallest outlying settlements are not neglected, we begin to realize our task. The carebestowed upon similar settlements in any other country under similar conditions, is not greater than that which we display. Hence, a great deal of the criticism showered upon the Post Office would not be forthcoming if these essential features were not ignored. When they are forgotten, the problem is. placed upon an utterly false basis. We have a task of immense and peculiar difficulty to perform. We have hardly any precedent to guide us. ‘We are necessarily making our own precedents. Under the circumstances the wonder is not that mistakes have been made, but that we have done so well.
– But things have been gradually getting worse instead of better.
– In relation to the business done they have been getting better.
– This is a growingand progressive service. It is much better than it was, when taken as a whole. In it there will always be room for reforms. Public demands increase steadily. Certainly all progress is not behind us. We are not making a beginning to-day. We began in 1901. If it were necessary to refer to political intervention, we could put our finger upon certain party causes which have operated to retard our progress very considerably.But a Ministerial statement is not the place for that.
– Why not deal with it now?
– Except so far as it is necessary to enable the report in the hands of honorable members to be understood, such reminiscences would be out of place in a Ministerial statement. Another misconception inthe mind of the public is that the Post and Telegraph Department is a unit standing by itself. Upon the contrary, it stands - as does every Department - in relation to every other Department - but in especial relation to two Departments. In the report, reference is made to a dual Ministerial control. As a matter of fact, there is a triple Ministerial control.- In the first place, there ‘ is the PostmasterGeneral. Then comes the necessity which attaches to every Department, of having its operations criticised by the Treasurer. If it were a private undertaking, it would be criticised by some of the heads of the firm who devoted themselves exclusively to financial considerations. But, being part of our parliamentary system of government, it is through the financial control of the Treasurer and of this House that we keep our grip upon the Post Office as we do upon every other Department: The association - between the Treasurer and the Post Office is closer than is the association between any other two Departments. In addition, there is the Home Affairs Department, upon which the Post Office has to depend for undertaking the numerous works and extensions throughout the Commonwealth, which are constantly requiring attention - new postoffices, telephone exchanges, &c. Here, again, we have to deal with a further set of circumstances which arise out of our present association with the States Public Works Departments. I have no complaint to make regarding them, except to say that these extra channels must undeniably increase the complexity of the operations which have to be conducted, and prevent some of the works authorized by this Parliament from being carried out as expeditiously as they would be if we had a Public Works Department of our own.
– We could never have a Public Works Department in connexion with each Department.
– I am aware of that. But we have to recollect the extent to which the affairs of the Post Office are intimately related to those, of other Departments. More exceptional than all, more utterly un- . like anything that exists’ in any private business the world over, is the perpetual and close association of the Public Service Commissioner and his inspectors with the Postal Department. I do not know that the evils of political management and con-‘ trol were ever as great as they were represented to be. But the very fact that complaints in this connexion were made - ‘ and continuously made - condemned political management, and made its continuance impossible. In order to prevent the suspicion of political patronage, Australia - like nearly every other civilized country - was compelled to devise a check to be placed, first upon Ministers, and, next, upon the principal officers of the Public Service, so that neither should be permitted to exercise authority in their own interests to the detriment of the public.
– The Government will not go back’ upon the existing system, Ihope.
– No. We may alter the methods at present being followed, but we shall never go back. To accomplish this indispensible achievement of assuring the public that political patronage should not exist to the detriment of. their services, we imposed a series of checks upon our Public Service, which are a comparatively small burden in the smaller Departments, but are very keenly felt in the largest Departments, where the task of oversight is necessarily more onerous. They are most keenly felt upon the commercial side of our greatest commercial Department - the Post Office. That, Department - as honorable members will see by reference to the tables contained in the report - is’ almost a service in itself.. In that service are over 20,000 employes - nearly 7,000 more than were in the services of the several States - while their telegraph lines have been extended to 44,000 miles more; and, the telephone lines to 46,000 miles, there being 53,0001 telephone connexions. This Department knocks at every man’s door. The telegraph reaches almost every settlement, while its telephones are being connected with many of the homesteads within reach of the capitals, and some in country districts.
– All who ought to he reached are not reached.
– There is a greater number whom it is intended to reach. Thus the Department comes into more intimate touch with all classes of the community, and all parts of the Commonwealth, than any other.
– Should not this be obvious to any child in our public schools?
– I hope so; but these facts are forgotten when the number of . complaints and mistakes is reckoned- up..
I am not indulging in irrelevant generalities. Although complaints are numerous, they are infinitesimal in comparison with the transactions criticised. Millions of letters are safely, regularly, and rapidly delivered, while comparatively few go astray, or are delayed. This is no plea for stopping the march of improvement ; it is merely a reminder that when the operations of the Department are criticised, their variety and extent must not be forgotten. Again it is not left to the heads of the Departments to make appointments and promotions. They must accept the decisions of an officer who is entirely outside the Department, although he makes every appointment and promotion in it. While this check is maintained in the public interest, the departmental heads claim that allowance must be made for the results upon them of a procedure unparalleled in any private business. Nowhere else are responsible managers without a decisive voice in the appointment of those under them.
– In business houses, heads of branches have to accept assistants appointed by the principals.
– The honorable member, who is a business man, knows that is a very slight qualification of my statement.
– The Public Service Commissioner cannot, in the nature of things, make appointments without considering the recommendations of the departmental heads.
– I gather from the report that cases in which those recommendations have been set aside are not as rare as may be supposed.
– The recommendations of departmental heads are often biased.
– Such recommendations must be considered when appointments are made.
– Yes ; but when they are not acted on, the departmental heads are placed in a very novel position, differing most seriously from that which they would occupy had they been able to select the men whom they thought best. We cannot get rid of this check, but we must recognise its effects. Finally, we must remember that the operations of the Department are governed by the Public Service Act, the Post and Telegraph Act, and a large number of regulations affecting its smallest business procedure. Remember ing the division of the departmental work, the operation of the check to which I have referred, and these legislative restrictions and regulations, it was only to be anticipated that an investigation would show the need for improvements every here and there. We must for a long time to come continue the adaptation of our machinery to the circumstances of Australia. At the same time we must face new problems, which are technical and scientific. In the telephone branch, particularly, instruments that are the best available at the time of their purchase soon become out of date, and after a few years have to be replaced at great expense, though to the great advantage of the service.
– Will not that happen when we have a navy of our own?
– I shall be ready to discuss that matter on the proper occasion. The telephone switchboards are getting more and more intricate and costly, and have from time to time to be replaced with others. The Post Offices of Canada and the United States of America, and, until recently, that of Great Britain, have not to bear the loss caused by throwing expensive appliances on the scrapheap, and obtaining new, because, unlike us, they do not carry on a large and rapidly expanding telegraph and telephone service. I have dwelt enough on the manifold difficulties which find reflection in the report, and must be taken into account in interpreting its meaning. That report not being concerned except with opportunities for amendment, the unconscious presumption in the minds of most readers will be that there is nothing to be said for the Post Office beyond references to the need for improvements and drastic alterations. What I have said imperfectly cannot cope with that wholly mistaken idea ; but I have not wasted the time of the House while reminding the community of what this great national institution does, and of our complex responsibility for the manner in which it is conducted. The Commonwealth has done its best to unite and improve the services transferred from the States, and no slur is cast upon them by the statement that the work of making them thoroughly efficient remains a great one. Parliament of course is responsible for the Post Office Acts upon the statute-book, for its criticism of the Estimates, and for the consequent action taken in regard to development, while the Government has its responsibility for legislation, for administra tion, and for the control of expenditure. Ministers are obliged to wield the great powers intrusted to them, in the face of the natural difficulties presented by the v’astness of the Commonwealth. It is their duty to remove the friction. inevitably generated when any part of the machine gets out of order.
– This machinery has been rusty for years.
– Machinery which has been in such constant use can hardly be described as rusty ; but I admit that some parts have become worn and others need replacement with something stronger. The report shows that the Cabinet is seized of its obligation in regard to administration and the need for improvements. Fifteen or sixteen changes in office management are enumerated in paragraph 25. They are intended to expedite the despatch and arrival of office documents so that they may as far as possible be placed simultaneously in the hands of alf who have to deal with. them. These changes mean the introduction of a more simple and direct method of placing remote parts of the Commonwealth and the various Departments and subdepart.ments in touch with each other. Small as they may seem, they will count for a great deal in expediting the work of those branches. At the end of the report honorable members will find about a dozen business recommendations to which effect has already been given by Ministerial order . or .amendment of regulations. I do not propose to occupy time to-night in reading them, but honorable members will observe that they are all practical, and that some must have far-reaching consequences. It is true that a few are relatively small and inconspicuous, but a little knowledge of the working of the Department is sufficient to convince us that even those will remove a great deal of friction which has been the cause of constant heat and difficulty during the last two or three years. We may fairly lie asked why we have lately witnessed an unusual outburst of complaints both on the part of employes within the Department and of the public outside in their capacity as customers and owners. We have received a shower of complaints, and have had demonstrated to the Cabinet Committee, and also to Parliament I think, the necessity for these and other- reforms.
– Where do most of the complaints come from?
– They are not classified yet.
– Were they not made election placards at the last genera! elec- tion ?
– Some of them may have been, and some of them will be again. Whatever they are we have certainly had a large increase of complaints during the last two or three years.’
– The Department has suffered more from want of capital than from anything else.
– I am about to approach that question. We have only to look at the figures supplied in this report to find an ample explanation of why the machinery at places is out of gear, and, at some other places, has threatened to break down. It is because of the extraordinary and exceptional increase of business recently imposed upon it. The old machinery carried on the old business fairly well. It was capable of improvement, yet it carried on, but when there came this great tide of new business, part of it produced by the general prosperity of the Commonwealth - a very happy cause - and part of it induced by the general reductions, made by Parliament and Administrations in the charges for the facilities it was offering, the system proved unequal to the strain. The demands made upon the ‘ Department were increased to such an extent that old switchboards proved quite insufficient for the number of lines required, the old instruments were- objected to because new and better ones were becoming available, and the staffs at the old exchanges became overworked owing to the increase of new lines. The pressure of this incoming tide of new business found out almost every weak spot in the working of the Department. In that way the number of complaints has been magnified, and the difficulties of the officers of the Department, in enabling it to continue to discharge its important public functions, have been increased. In that unexpected and unprecedented tide of new business we have a complete and ample- explanation of the whole of the discoveries with which we are now dealing;, and, except where machinery is passing out of date, of the cause of almost all the difficulties that at present surround the Department.
– Does not the fact that the head officials could not foresee these increases prove want of capacity on their part ?
– I do not know where we shall be able to find public officials who can exactly forecast the relation between a certain measure of prosperity and a certain increase of business. I am afraid that that task would baffle the most expert officers that we possess. It would most certainly baffle those of us who, in this sphere, have to consider the whole question from the stand-point of Parliament. Some increase has. to be expected, but at what point that increase will come, when it will come, and how fast it will come, no one can foresee. One of the most curious things that one detects in an examination of the affairs of the Department is, for example, the extraordinary difference in the character of the business done in Sydney and in Melbourne. Taking a general outlook, one might assume that there would be, at all events, a close approximation in the habits of those using the Post Office in the two cities. That is not the case. The business done in the General Post Office, Sydney, is very different from the. Melbourne business. It is weak where the Melbourne business is strong, whilst Melbourne business is weak where’ Sydney business is strong. The officers in Sydney know what the business is there, and the officials in the Melbourne office are familiar with the business here, with the result that the public do not suffer; yet, when we seek to provide in’ advance for public wants, we are met by curious contrasts in the habits of people doing business with the Post Office in two. of our principal cities not a thousand miles apart. The expansion of the business of. the Department is shown in this report. I am able to add one line to the figures, on page 16, in the table relating to the increase of expenditure in each financial year. It cannot be said that there has been a steady increase, because, as the second column shows, the expenditure, although it has steadily gone up, has increased in a different ratio.’ But it may be worth remembering that, whilst in 1906-7, the total expenditure of the Department, including new works and buildings, was under ,£3,000,000, this House has most liberally voted, for the same purpose, for the present financial year, only £3,000 short of .£3,500,000. That is to say,’ during the financial year just closing, the expenditure authorized on the Department has increased by £500,000. The earlier percentages of this increase range up to 6 1 per cent. - the increase for 1906-7. The increased expenditure thisyear has been 17.93, just short of 18 per cent. The remarkable increase in bush ness, and the demands of the public on the post-office, have produced most generousgrants.
– What is the ratio of the increase in expenditure, as compared with the increase of revenue?
– It is shown in another part of the table, but the figures for last year are not given.
– Since last year the revenue has increased by only 6 per cent.
– As against an increase of 10 per cent, for the year before, and of 7 per cent, for the preceding year.
– I am not quite sure of my figures, but I shall look themup. .
– Before leaving thisquestion of the possibility of forecasting the expansion of business, may I remind honorable members that when the toll telephone system was introduced, all our critics predicted failure; every one said’ that the public would nol respond, and that the effect of it would be to check the growth of the telephone business.
– Did not that forecast come from the newspaper offices, and big. business houses, rather than from the general public?
– A number of deputations, which, I presume, echoed, as deputations often do, the opinions of the newspapers, also waited on the Minister.
– When the present Minister cf Defence was Acting Postmaster-General, he was waited on by a big deputation of citizens of Brisbane, who asked that the tol t system should not be introduced.
– -Chambers of Commerce passed resolutions in opposition to it ; public meetings condemned it, and newspapers were filled with denunciations of the proposal, which, it was said, would check, the growth of the telephone system. . Instead of doing so, it has operated as a most remarkable stimulus, and a great number of the difficulties with which the management of the telephone branch is now. confronted, are due to the extra public demand for telephones under the toll system-.
– When are the Government going to bring all under that system ? A lot of wealthy people are still under the flat-rate system.
– Many are still under it, but some have chosen to change to the toll system. The applications for telephone connexions, under the new system, are four times as great as under the old. If the Department is now being censured by some newspapers and critics for nol being able to foresee the exact form which the growth of postal business would take, we are able to reply, with the tu quoque - “What about your own . predictions ?”
– I find that the increase in the revenue of the Department this year, as compared with last year, is 5.6 -per cent., whilst the increase of expenditure, if we allow for one-tenth of the additions and new works, is 11. 5 per cent.
– I took into account all the expenditure on new works now made available. It represents money that’ Parliament has voted, and I am looking at the question just now from the stand-point of parliamentary liberality. *
– Then this does not represent the whole expenditure ?
– We cannot say until the end of June what the actual expenditure for this financial year will be. There are- sure to be large savings. When we place a finger upon the cause of the complaints and difficulties that have arisen in connexion .with the Post and Telegraph Department, I- recur once more, for another purpose, to the distinction to be drawn between the Ministerial responsibility of the Government and the responsibility of Parliament. When the proposal for a Royal Commission was submitted by the honorable member for Gwydir - a proposal which I am not going to discuss in the slightest degree, even inferentially - Ministers met it by saying that to their knowledge the pressure of new business had disclosed to them certain wenk joints in- the Post Office armour, which they themselves, within their ad- ministrative powers, had sufficient authority to remedy ; in regard to a great many of the leakages, they could stop the leaks, and they could re-adjust the plates of the armour, so that sundry joints should no longer remain weak. The position the Government took was that their obligation as a Government was to accomplish this work first, it being within reach of their hands and in the line of their direct responsibility. It was their clear duty, before any Royal Commission was appointed, to do as much as was possible, with the powers they possessed, so that little or nothing would remain in merely administrative work to be done or decided for them.
– Hear, hear.
– I am glad that the honorable member most concerned admits that this is how our case- was put. We submitted to the House that we could not be relieved of that responsibility, and that, if a Royal Commission were appointed just at the time when this work was being done, the result might be to postpone it ; and that though a Royal Commission would relieve us of responsibility, it would not permit the public to obtain promptly the services they rightly desire. A Commission is always a great relief to any Government for the time it lasts. It affords a very convenient interregnum in most cases. As I have said, I do not propose to discuss the merits of the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir, even indirectly. But this report - with its record of those reforms actually made, and its concluding five proposals for reform which the Government intend to submit to Parliament - represents our discharge of our duty -to the fullest extent that has been possible in the time at our disposal. It proves the correctness of the statement that there was work to be done which could be done administratively, and which, therefore, ought to be done administratively.
– Most of the report is based on the state of -affairs in the Sydney office.
– Both in the Melbourne and Sydney office.
– But mainly in the Sydney office.
– The complaints and difficulties appear to have been mainly in the Sydney office, for the simple reason that the growth of business is greater there than elsewhere.
– The inquiries of the Committee have been practically confined to Sydney.
– Practically ; but theMelbourne office was considered, and there have also been communications from the Deputy Postmasters-General- throughout the Commonwealth. However, the Honorable member for Dalley is correct; it is in Sydney, ‘owing to the -pressure of new business, that the ‘ difficulties have chiefly arisen.
– Did the inquiries include services in the country districts of New South Wales?
– Only indirectly, and very imperfectly.
– The inquiries covered telegraphic communication in the country district’s of New South Wales.
– And steps were taken to obviate some of the complaints.
– The inquiry only covered telegraphic communication, as viewed ‘from the central office and as centrally administered. . ‘ The report has a special paragraph relating to the extension of postal, telegraphic and telephonic facilities in country districts particularly in remote and sparsely populated parts, where it is set forth that this question demands more exhaustive inquiry than it was open to us to’ make. This is one of the matters that remains to be inquired into. It must be remembered that this report covers action taken prior to the actual . moving of the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir - although, of course, long after that motion had1 appeared on the notice-paper - action taken on certain ground’s, which this report’ entirely justifies from the point of view of the Ministry. The report justifies the Ministry to the extent of showing that there were matters capable of being remedied in a few weeks, and it also justifies the statement that it was our province to remedy them as matters of administration. We did our duty constitutionally, as we had asserted it. As to the proposed Royal ‘Commission, the Government made its attitude perfectly plain. I quote from the report of the speech of the PostmasterGeneral on page 1041 6 of Hansard, where he practically commences his reply to the honorable member for Gwydir -
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 the effect of remedying many of the complaints to which my honorable friend has alluded.
That means by the action of the Committee’ of the Cabinet’.
They are also of opinion that the most expeditious, the least costly, and the most effective way of dealing with the existing evils is that which they have proposed. .But as both the 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.
Again, three pages further on, he said-
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.
Then .the honorable member for Hindmarsh came right to the point with a direct question : -
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 ?
To that’ there was the equally direct answer -
I go further and say that 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.
Nothing could be more emphatic than that statement as to the intention of the Government, and nothing could be more constitutional than the attitude of the Government in regard to the proposal. I mightcall attention to the fact that in the Mother Country, within ‘the last few years, there has been quite a succession of Select Com- mittees appointed to inquire into the administration of the British Post Office. These Committees were mostly, if not all, appointed on the nomination of Ministers who adopted this means of assisting themselves in the work of administration ; and this is not a new principle. Honorable members will recollect those passages in Todd, with which I have recently been refreshing my memory, in which he points out that Royal Commissions are nowadays directly helpful to Ministers, are recognised as a part of our governmental machinery, and are rendering invaluable service in the working of parliamentary government. These are strong statements; and the frequency of their application may be gauged from the fact that the Campbell-Bannerman Government, when it took office recently, appointed no fewer than six- separate Commissions in the first year of its existence.
– Did the British- Government pay any respect to the recommendations of those Commissions?
– My knowledge of British politics is not ample enough to enable me to say. Their neglect is but one of their obvious disabilities.
– Our own experience is that the Government do not pay respect to the recommendations of Royal Commissions.
– The British Government do not appoint Royal Commissions at the point of the bayonet.
– Yes ; even that has been done. I found, to my surprise, on looking through Todd, that a British Gorvernment has appointed Royal Commissions on a resolution of the House, against which the Government voted, and on which they were defeated - Todd, Vol. Ti’., page 94, note s-
– But what was the subject of inquiry?
– -Was it a Commission to inquire into the Government’s own administration ?
– I refer to Todd. There is no .doubt that not ‘ only will the appointment of <i Royal Commission in this case be .perfectly regular, but such bodies of inquiry are of inestimable service in the working of parliamentary government, are directly helpful to Ministers, and a recognised part of the Government machinery. Todd lays down the several restrictions which should .be imposed on them. One of these precisely justifies the ground which we took when the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir was tabled, namely, that the motion ought not to be adopted so far as or while it implied an evasion of Ministerial responsibility. Until the Government had themselves coped with the difficulties in the Department to the utmost extent of their power, we were not justified in consenting to the appointment of a Royal Commission. But when we had made a searching investigation - had marshalled the facts, and shown every point to which attention had been directed, stating them without selection or restriction - when we had. given honorable members an opportunity of examining the results of the whole of’ the inquiries which had been made- - when, in point pf fact, we had accepted full responsibility in so far as it could be made operative then and there - then and not until then, it became legitimate for us to accept the proposal for the appointment of a Royal Commission.
– Hear, hear !
– The Government have not only fulfilled their, responsibilities as an Administration, but we have qualified ourselves, and are qualifying ourselves, to prepare the scope of the Royal Commission’s inquiry in such a manner as shall direct attention, in the first instance, to the most, important and most grave of the questions requiring to be dealt with. When a Royal Commission is appointed, it is very undesirable that it should be launched on what may be called a merely roving commission. It is much better, as far as possible, to focus attention upon the known difficulties discovered by a careful study of the Department from within’, and a classification of the complaints from without; such service the Government will be presently able to render when it appoints the Commission. At the same time, I hold that a Royal Commission is a body of such dignity and authority that it would be improper to lock any door in its face, saying, “ Behind that door you shall not look or inquire.” It is the duty of the Government to indicate where the services of the Royal Commission will be most valuable to the public and to the Department.
– Is it intended to limit the Royal Commission entirely to the postal service ?
– To the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services - the whole of the group of services under the PostmasterGeneral.
– No other Department?
– No other Department, except in its relation to the Post Office; The inquiry to which the honorable member for Fremantle has referred was made in America in regard to every Department.
– And so should the proposed Royal Commission here.
– In America, it was a departmental inquiry by departmental officers.
– We have no other Department, the difficulties of which resemble those of the Post Office. The Post Office, with its allied services, is, though a branch of the Public Service, in ‘ many respects apart, and is brought into association with the public and other Departments in a different manner from its fellow Departments. Consequently, the proposed Commission will be directed in the way I have indicated. As I have said, we arc continuing the inquiries “which the Cabinet
Committee commenced. The Minister is pursuing has investigations as he has done consistently from the first ; and we hope to direct the Commission, as, indeed, the report itself indicates, on certain special lines, with which the Cabinet itself cannot hope to deal. Todd makes an allusion to the fact that, in later’ times, it has been found impossible for Ministers to sustain their whole burden of responsibility for the general, conduct of parliamentary and other business, and during the same period to pursue and complete inquiries involving departmental examination and extended studies of particular issues of magnitude. He points out that the growing tendency in the Mother Country is to increase the use of Select Committees and Royal Commissions for these purposes. To that I have ^already incidentally alluded. At this stage I wish to interpolate a small table which does not appear in the Committee’s report, with a view to showing the increases which have taken place in Post Office business between 1901 and 1906. Since then, there has been a. very great further expansion. The table’ is as follows -
– But the total increase during the five years averages only 5 per cent.
– I do not know how the honorable member arrives at that conclusion. It does not apply to telephones or postal notes.
– What is the increase in the number of employes during that period?
– In 1901 the employes numbered less than 16,000, and in 1007 more than 22,000! In other words, there has been an increase in the number of hands of 6,700 - an increase of more than 40 per cent.
– That is a large increase.
– Then there is an additional increase of 15 per cent, for the current year. «Mr. Page. - Will that make the total increase 55 per cent. ?
– Including this year.
– Taking the variousservices of the Department, .the increase in the number of employes is in vastly greater ratio than is the increase in the revenue returned.
– So it must continue to be if we are to ,have any regard to the _ telephone service, now extending so rapidly. ‘
– Has the expansion of that service injured the telegraph service in any way?
– It has made its development slower in certain respects. When 1 diverged, I was alluding to the various problems with which the Cabinet have been unable to grapple through want of time and opportunity. Perhaps it will be best for me to commence with the most general question of complaints. These are still coming in, and we are not in a position to say how far they cover serious or slight grievances. Probably those affecting the employes will make the least demand upon the time of those charged with conducting this inquiry. The case for the employes, so. far as they are asking for an alteration in the Public Service Act and regulations, and far a different method for the trial of offences, however important these may be to them,, can be set out by their representatives without occupying any considerable amount of time. To find a solution’ of this problem, which will be acceptable ‘ to the House, may be extremely difficult, but its statement ought not to occupy very long. Then there is the question of. the extension of services in country districts. Although there are wide divergencies in Australia, still the conditions ‘obtaining in outlying parts very closely resemble each other, and in this connexion, even, . an elaboration of .the evidence how those services can be best and most economically extended, ought not to take long.
– No answer can be given to a question of that sort which will’ apply to all time.
– But an answer can begiven which will apply for a. certain number of years. The evidence which will beforthcoming upon this matter - although nodoubt it will vary with localities - need not. be great in mass. The difficultiescan be easily stated- the real difficulty will be how to solve them. But I come now to two questions which involve very complex issues, and which* will require most careful consideration. These are the precise financial provisions that ought to be adopted, and the question of the re-organization of the Department having special regard to the proposals made by the- Secretary of the Postmaster-General’s Department, and toy the Public Service Commissioner. . They suggest - the one directly; and the other indirectly - that some limitation of political control should be introduced into the Department. The question of the financial policy to be preferred in connexion with the Department, was brought before this House in the early years, of Federation, when Sir George Turner, as Treasurer of the Barton Government, submitted his proposal to continue the old State practice of borrowing money to carry out what might fairly be described as reproductive works. Amongst other things, this report calls attention to the fact that when we took over the telegraph and telephone services from the States, a number of them were far behind the time, and fell far short of the then requirements of the public, whilst a good deal of their machinery was out of date. Sir George Turner, hesitating to make a stronger advance, submitted proposals to .meet these deficiencies by the old method of borrowing, which I think had been followed in every State. That proposal was- deliberately rejected -by this Parliament, which resolved that expenditure upon the Post Office must be defrayed out of revenue. Since then, large sums have been voted by Parliament from year to vear, in order to permit of the construction of reproductive works which, prior to Federation, were paid for out of loan moneys.
– Does not the Prime Minister think that some estimate of the cost of those works should be made, and attributed to annual expenditure? .
– Certainly, they require to be clearly distinguished. Our new services are continuously growing, particularly the telephone service, which is becoming a necessity of modern life, and the capacity . of which is only yet dimly perceived. There are those who speak with authority who tell us that we are not far from the time when these great States will find it possible to connect by telephone all their centres - even those of relatively small importance. This means expensive equipment, expensive switch-boards, and expensive instruments, as well as a great increase in the annual amount paid to employes.
– It means nothing immediately.
– It does. To-day the demand for telephones is not, being met, and the demands for switch-boards, even in our principal offices are not nearly supplied. We are overwhelmed with demands for greater facilities, the total cost of which has been set down by departmental heads at over .£700,000 annually for three years - a sum of more than ^2,000,000. Whether that estimate is an adequate one, we are not in a position to say. But if we do accept the view that this expenditure ls necessary, and that the Commonwealth, in discharging its obligations to its customers, must face it, Ave shall have the problem which was submitted by Sir George Turner brought forward again in a new form, i doubt whether there are any honorable members here who would support a return to the old borrowing policy, even for carrying out reproductive works. But we might consider the question whether we ought not- to put at the disposal of the Post Office, such a sum as the British Post Office has found necessary for its operations, conducted in that country by means of a system of terminable annuities. Under that system, the money is being, so to speak, 0 repaid from one source as fast as it is being expended in another.
– That is only one way of borrowing.
– But it is borrowing a sum which, if Parliament is consistent, does not increase its total.
– It is borrowing with a regular sinking fund.
– Under that system, the indebtedness never becomes greater, the money being repaid as fast as it is spent.
Mr.- Fisher. - The system has been tried in Australia, and in practice that did not prove to be the case.
– The system has existed a long time in the Mother Country.
– Can any analogy be instituted between the two countries in the matter of their rapidity of expansion?
– No. Our problem is entirely different. We have to make precedents for ourselves, and no analogy can be instituted between a small country like Great Britain, with its largepopulation, and a large country like Australia, with its extremely small and scattered population.
– It is more difficult here.
– Yes. Nevertheless we must face the situation. Can we increase our expenditure out of revenue sufficiently to keep pace with demands for necessary, but costly services, or can we invent some .system which will enable Parliament to finance reproductive works, or a certain proportion of their cost, and yet avoid the evils and risks of borrowing discovered by the experience of the States?
– We cannot drawon the future without borrowing in some way.
– If we provide for repayments within fixed periods, with adequate sinking funds, we can have at hand each year a- considerable sum for necessary expenditure.
– What the honorable gentleman proposes is to borrow, but to provide proper sinking funds?
– Yes. The Cabinet has glanced at several aspects of this problem, but has not had time to find a solution. Were the approaching recess to be of the usual duration, were it like those which ordinarily follow a session such as this, to last for five or six months-
– What is the usual recess of the Commonwealth Parliament? I do not know.
– I admit that there is not a usual recess, though when the right honorable member for East sydney was in power, we had a recess of over six months.
– There should be a settled course of business, and a regular recess.
– I agree with the right honorable member. Were such a recess in prospect, we should have an opportunity of dealing with this problem, which must be examined in the light of expert criticism, and after the careful scrutiny, of departmental practice, so ‘that proposals for expenditure may not be made a cloak for departmental . extravagance. Having discovered that a certain sum is needed for expenditure on reproductive works, the financial position would require consideration, and it can properly be referred to the body which the Government proposes to create. I may mention here a matter involving a considerable outlay in quite another direction - the questions affecting the employes under division’ vh., alluded to in paragraph 96, sub-paragraph 2. The report recommends - and the proposal has the sanction of the Public Service Commissioner, so that it can be put into force at once - that one of the chief sources of dis satisfaction among the employes in the general division, who comprise by far the most numerous class, could be removed by providing long service increments. Promotions amongst these men are very few, and occur only at long intervals, and it is suggested that for good and faithful service two long service increments should be given to all really deserving officers in this grade, . bringing their incomes, when they reach maturity, to £150 per annum, even without promotion. I think that Parliament will consider that proposal reasonable and moderate. It is just to the public, which finds the money, and fair to those who, having been in the service a large number of years, cannot seek other employment. Their duties, although almost mechanical, are highly responsible, since, they are entrusted with the delivery of letters and packets affecting in a thousand and one ways the business and other transactions of our citizens. This is one of the most important recommendations in the report, and shows the advantage of bringing together those concerned, and inducing the final consideration or a long-standing grievance. The other grave question, with which the Cabinet could not grapple without a long recess, concerns the questions associated with organization. The Post Office, although a Government Department, is essentially in all its branches a commercial institution. It earns its vast revenues by means of the smallest payments, and con- cerns the maximum number of persons affected by any Department. Its organization - the conduct of its business needing adequate supervision - is a great, problem, whose difficulty will increase as the number of the employes grows and the demand upon its services extends. The uses to which the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services are put to-day are,, we are assured, but small in comparison with those to which they will be put in the future. How then can efficiency be best secured ? A suggestion made in this connexion has been that Commissioners be appointed analogous to the Railways Commissioners of the States.
– This Department differs from the Railways.
– There are great possibilities in the appointment of Commissioners, and, when the inquiry commenced, I expected to -receive evidence’ which would materially strengthen my inclinations in this direction. But I found, when the subject was carefully examined, first that there is no precedent for the introduction of such a system in connexion with postoffice administration anywhere, and next my attention was drawn to the great difference between the powers conferred on their different sets of Commissioners by the Railways Acts of the States. Obviously, too, the business of the Railways differs from that of the Post Office. It is largely technical. Most of the railway employes belong to the General Division, and are skilled men, the clerical class being small in comparison. The- men are concentrated along fixed lines, and perform -a definite and precise service. But in the Post Office one . is confronted, not only with problems such as those arising in railway management, but also with many others totally different in different branches, while the employes, mainly clerical, are scattered over the whole Commonwealth - here, there, and everywhere.
– A great deal of the work of the Post Office is technical.
– I admit that.. In considering this matter, it is important to begin by examining the various Railways Acts to ascertain how their provisions could be applied to our circumstances. It is plain that the system of Western Australia, under which authority is vested first in the Minister and then in the Commissioner, though most like that of South Australia, differs from it, and is widely apart from those of. Victoria and New South Wales, where the powers of the Commissioners are the largest. Which precedent to follow, and how much of any particular scheme to adopt, becomes a complex question.
– Criticism upon government by Commissioners should be directed largely to the Acts under which any particular Commissioners are appointed.
– It is difficult to disentangle from the experience of the States precedents which it would be desirable for the Commonwealth to follow. Furthermore, the public is apt to be misled most grievously if it supposes that the so-called “independent” Commissioners are in any sense independent. Let us consider, first, their position in regard to finance.. A Treasurer must cut his coat according to his cloth ; the expenditure of any one year must be determined largely by its revenue. Parliament’s control of finance is absolute, even in regard to the Railways whose management has been delegated to Commissioners. It votes certain sums, and in many instances determines the particular applicatien of the expenditure. If finance is government and government is finance, the socalled independent Railways Commissioners are absolutely under the control of the Parliaments and Governments of the Stales. Their operations cannot be carried on without the consent of the Parliaments to which they are . subject. Similarly, any Commissioners appointed toadminister the Post and Telegraph Department would be subject, . in matters of finance, to parliamentary control. The Treasury control is now being complained of as if the Treasurer always had either an inexhaustible purse or a fixed income. Criticisms, .too, often owe all their point to the facts that are suppressed’.
– Furthermore, the Railways are not all controlled by any’ one head.
– It would be a bad look-out for remote districts if they were.
– Let us consider, next, questions concerned with construction. The making of railways is absolutely in the hands of the State Parliaments, and be-‘ yond the control of the Railways Commissioners. If we are to apply this precedent to the Post Office, if the Commissioners are to have nothing to say with regard t’o extensions of telephone lines, telegraph wires, or mail services, their powers will be very limited.
– They might as well put up the sign “To let.”
– I do not say that; but do not Jet us be misled into believing that the word “Commissioners,” in. relation to the railway services of the States, covers independent control’ of finance or construction.
–They have full control. of the administration.
– I want .to show how . small that is’ relatively. Before coming to what is sometimes called maintenance, might I point to the exact parallel between the railways and the Post Office at present in the procedure followed in this House in regard to mail contracts. Every mail contract of any importance, and particularly an oversea mail contract, is specially dealt with by Parliament, and dealt with, so to speak, absolutely outside the’ Post and Telegraph Department. The advice of its officers is received just as the advice of officers of other Departments is received, on subjects elating to them. But this
Parliament keeps absolute control directly over all large mail services, and indirectly over all others.
– For what reason?
– I am showing that the parallel between the Post Office and the Railways is complete, and that this control would not be affected by placing the Department under Commissioners.
– The revenue will be decreased by the appointment of these Commissioners, since we shall have to pay big salaries.
– As to revenue, in most if not all of the States, the rates and charges that may be made on the railways are fixed by regulations that require Ministerial approval, and must be gazetted. Thus, the income of the Railways is also under direct parliamentary control.
– The appointment of Commissioners simply means finding more billets for outside roosters.
Mr.DEAKIN.- I do not take that view ; but want to come to the real question at issue. I am pointing out the existing restrictions in connexion with railway services under the direction of Commissioners. The pay of State railway employes, their rights of appeal, and the terms of their promotion, are also fixed by Statutes. Where they are not, they are fully defined by regulations under Ministerial control. In all these matters, therefore, the Railways Commissioners are far from independent.
– They make recommendations which are approved.
– Are they generally disapproved ?
– No; but they are not always approved. The Victorian Act specifically reserves to the Government the’ power to lay down a policy which the Railways Commissioners are obliged to follow. The Government are also vested with authority to require the Commissioners to furnish a scheme to meet the needs of a particular policy, and if such a scheme be not forthcoming, or an unsatisfactory one is presented the Ministry may lay down a scheme for itself.
– Provided the Treasury supplies the money to give effect to that scheme.
– Exactly. I am led to give these illustrations possibly because for more than seven years having had no as sociation with State politics, the relatively small area to which the Railways Commissioners are restricted, and the slight extent to which the familiar term “independent Commissioners,” may be properly applied to them, had passed from my mind. When we were met with the suggestion that Commissioners might be found useful in connexion with this Department, we proceeded to make inquiries, and, so far as we could ascertain, Commissioners could be useful only under the same restrictions imposed in connexion with State railways, and perhaps some others which it would be necessary to impose, because of the peculiar character of the work done by this Department. In point of fact, the Committee have touched the right key-notein suggesting the desirableness of further inquiry as to whether a useful function might not be foundfor Commissioners in this Department, if it is to be found at all, in dealing with the work of the present central office, on a somewhat different plan. The title of “Commissioners” may or may not be conferred upon such officers.
– Is not the honorable gentleman anticipating the work of the proposed Royal Commission?
-I am trying to show that this great problem has only been approached, to a certain extent, by the Ministry, and that it remains for a future Royal Commission to deal with it.
– That is all set out in the report. Why belabour it.
– It is not. When this report came before the Cabinet, we had to take into consideration the paragraph in which the Committee expressed its views on this particular subject, and the House is entitled to know to what extent the consideration; given by the Cabinet to these suggestions, has been fruitful. Those who do me the honour of reading my speech will realize that thisproblem is not to be settled, as many might have thought, without making full inquiry into the particular functions allotted to the Railways Commissioners. Before making such an examination, I should have been inclined to pronounce much more dogmatically upon the limits of their functions than I am upon this question. The only point at which the suggestion seemed to us to touch the problem at once was in connexion with . the present central office. That office is central, since it receives communications from all parts of the Commonwealth, and sends directions and instructions to officers all over
Australia. The adoption of the proposals made in this report, for altering the documentary channels to and from it which have been followed, will save weeks of time. It will enable work to be done without delay.
– It is a wonder that this discovery was not made before, since it all appears so simple.
– Similar changes have been going on from time to time. These are the last relics of the systems of the six different States which have been taken over and have to be adapted to new conditions.
– Did the three Ministers make the discovery ?
– Their attention was called to the necessity for some of these changes, and they found that others were desirable.
– All this was well known.
– This is what has happened in the United States. There, as we were recently reminded, a Commission was appointed to inquire into the business methods of the Government Departments, and, as the result of its report, many improvements have been made. I dare say that the desirability of making some of these alterations has been recognised ; hut officers have had. to wait for the opportunity to make them. Returning to the question of the appointment of Commissioners. I would point out that the Secretary to the Post Office under the Post and Telegraph Act is the chief officer of that Department and is endowed with special powers. But he is tied fast to the Seat of Government and overwhelmed with mountains of correspondence. The consequence is that, although we have been fortunate in having as the occupant of that office a gentleman of high character, great ability, and long experience, he has been called upon to deal with all the new problems of Federation with no guidebut that of his past personal experience and now of correspondence.
– He has tied up the Deputy Postmasters-General fairly tight.
-They have been given a great deal more authority than most of them have used. They havesome ground for pointing out, however, that this is due to the fact that this being a central Parliament, its membersdemand to be supplied, and supplied promptly, with information of every transaction relating to the
Department throughout the Commonwealth, and that consequently everything that transpires has to be registered in the central office. If the work of decentralization is not yet complete that may. be in part due to this fact and to the possibilities of the new system not having been grasped. It may also be because here, as in England, a great part of the time of our chief officers is taken up in replying to inquiries in Parliament or some of the bodies appointed by it. Mr. Austin Chamberlain, Postmaster- General ot Great Britain,said recently that a third of the time of his principal officers was occupied in preparing answers to questions in the House of Commons, which relatively are much less frequent? and searching than they are here, and apply to a very small area as compared with Australia. When we call to mind these facts we must recognise what a heavy burden is imposed on the central office. It seemed to us that a practical question for inquiry and discussion is whether the central office cannot be remodelled in such a way as to make it a more effective means of co-operation with the Ministry and Parliament. A further suggestion has been made that we might have one man thoroughly in touch with the whole of the telegraph service, another in touch with the postal service, and a third in full touch with the telephone service - each possessing a general knowledge of the work of the other-
– And a financial man.
– And possibly a financial man. The honorable member knows the necessity for having such a man at the head of a big business. A question for consideration is whether we should not have a Board composed of such officers, each possessing a thorough knowledge of his own special Department and a general knowledge of the whole work of the service, so that when moving about the Commonwealth he may understand and report upon matters outside his own particular branch.
– Would they be confined to the Department ?
– They might for special training go elsewhere, but their general operations would be confined to the Commonwealth. A suggestion has been made that we should have three officers - they may or may not be called Commissioners - endowed with considerable authority, and called upon to keep in touch with the work of the Department in all parts of the
Commonwealth. These officers would fully examine, as well as conduct, the work of the Department, quite irrespective of complaints, but, at the same time, would be able to deal with complaints, and to settle many minor ones on the spot. We have been asked whether, by that means, we could relieve the central office, get in closer touch with all offices throughout the Commonwealth, and prepare the way for a better administration. That is a question we found ourselves unable to decide, but it seemed to promise a fruitful field for inquiry. I have occupied more time than I intended, but when one comes to close grips with this Department, one sees its great opportunities. We have been at close grips with it, almost without intermission, for four or five weeks, and are better equipped than we were for dealing with the broad general question. I think that I must at least have satisfied honorable members opposite that there was not the faintest tinge of party motive in my proposal to put this statement before Parliament. There is nothingin it that will deflect any censure that they may choose to pass upon us now or when the honorable memberfor Gwydir’s motion comes up for consideration. It has contained nothing aggressive. Had we been fortunate enough to dispose of the Tariff to-night, and the honorable member’s motion had come on to-morrow morning, I should have at once risen, and made this speech, adding certain other matter relating to the particular proposal, which is not called for now.
– The honorable member would have said more.
– I should have added something more, but should have said’ all that I have said to-night, by way of assisting the House to understand the attitude of the Government, and what our proposals are.
– Could the Prime Minister not have made a statement when he presented the report of the Committee ?
– No; the only opportunity I had of presenting it was while the Tariff was under consideration here; otherwise, I should have made the. statement then. Precedence was given tothe Tariff, and this is the first opportunity I have had of making a statement. Although I did not propose to discuss the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir, I have not been able altogether to avoid references to it or to the motion of the honorable member for
Robertson. I have not, however, dealt directly with either of these proposals; but if the Standing Orders had not been suspended, the honorable member for Robertson would have been perfectly right in taking the objection that I was unintentionally cutting into his ground.
– Quite unintentionally !
– Quite, so far as his motion is concerned.
– But it has been discussed by the Prime Minister, and we must reply.
– An opportunity will soon be afforded. Of course, the proposed Royal Commission will not, in any sense, be ofa partisan character. The responsibility of selecting its members will rest with the Ministry.
– Will the Royal Commission be confined to Australia, or will it be at liberty to make investigations elsewhere?
– There will be no need to go elsewhere.
– As I understand the speech of the Prime Minister, the Royal Commission might ask permission to visit the United Kingdom and the United States.
– We have to find our own experience and make our own precedents, except for expert officers in the technical branches of the service. The Government must take the responsibility of selecting the members of the Commission, although, of course, we shall be pleased to be in touch with every part of the House and hear any representations that may be made. As I have said, the Commission will be as definite in terms as we can make it in regard to the subjects I have mentioned, and, perhaps, one or two others, which are still under consideration and examination-. The Royal Commission will, therefore, start with a clear direction, so far as the Government can give one, aided by the officers of the Department, to the points which can be most profitably investigated. The order of procedure and methods must necessarily be left with the members of the Commission ; but the Government will be able to give the direction I have indicated, and also be ready to proceed from time to time with any proposals upon which it will be necessary to seek legislative authority. The Government propose, also, to keep in touch with the Royal Commission as far as possible, to carry out small reforms as they may be discovered to be necessary. Of course,the Government will take the Commission into its confidence so far as it can in order- that we may avoid the risks which attend, or have attended, Royal Commissions in the past. The scattering of their operations and their extension over an unconsciously long period of time, owing to their first dealing with one aspect of the inquiry and then another without concluding either at the time, often occasions delay in carrying out changes which appear to be of advantage to the public. I have already alluded to the fact that Royal Commissions form a necessary pail of modem Governments of our type ; and I should have added,’ at the same time, that such Commissions are open to special dangers, as we have already discovered. To go no further, we have had instances in the States of Royal Commissions operating as a real block to any5 advance ; we have seen large sums’ spent upon inconsiderable returns, and large volumes of evidence acquired which have ultimately proved of comparatively small value.
– And we have seen the recommendations of Royal Commissions disregarded !
– We have seen such recommendations repeatedly disregarded. I am not blind to the disadvantages of Royal Commissions ; and these we were bound to consider when confronted by the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir. With the help of the report of the Cabinet Committee, and of the suggestions and proposals which have been made, we hope to have a business-like Royal Commission, working in and through the Department, iri order to get into closer touch with public affairs, to remove any legitimate grievances, to insure from the employes their whole-hearted support in return for the generous consideration paid to them, and so that public confidence may be restored to a great national institution which plays so large a part in our life. It is about to play a larger part. There are measures to come before the House shortly of great importance to Australia, in which the Post Office will discharge a most important- function. There are other measures, which we more or less foresee, that will add to the usefulness of the Department as a great public agency. Consequently, at a time when we are not only rushed with new business in our* existing services, but when there is the prospect of enlarged functions, the evidence which has been accumulated by my. colleagues in this Report, set forth in sentences which make no pretension to polish, but which have been compressed as much as possible-
– What do I understand the Prime Minister to- mean when he speaks of the Royal Commission “ working in and through “ the Postal Department?-
– Every such Commission must work in the Department regarding which it is making’ inquiries ; and by “ through the Department “ I mean the recommending and carrying out from time to time of reforms which, though they may be comparatively small, are, I am informed, amongst the most immediately useful. When any reform of the kind is necessary and practical, the Royal Commission will not, I am sure, hesitate to work through the Department, without waiting until a long report is presented containing everything at once. In shorty the idea is to have progress reports, in order that certain reforms may be carried out as their necessity becomes evident.
– -The Royal Commission may become permanent.
– If the Royal Commission can justify itself, it may well become permanent ; but, judging by what we know of such questions, I see no reason why the whole inquiry should not be disposed of shortly after this year. It could riot be disposed of this year, owing to the time which will be taken up by parliamentary duties. If it is necessary to visit outlying parts of the Commonwealth, there would only be theforthcoming short recess in which to do that work. There will, however, be a. longer recess next year; and I think the Royal Commission might finish its labours before the meeting of Parliament next year.
– What is the Prime Minister’s intention in regard to the progress reports ? Does he propose to lay them before the House for consideration?
– When the reports refer ‘ to purely administrative matters, the Government .will deal with them, but when they go beyond that point, they will be laid before the House in connexion with legislation.
– Will the -personnel of the Royal Commission be purely political ?
– I am asked whether the members of the Royal Commission will be selected from the members of both Houses. I am not able to answer the question absolutely ; but, so far as I can judge, having looked into a number of suggestions for the appointment of outside persons, I have found none which would justify the cost involved.
– We have the best business men in the country in this House.
– We desire the best business advice and suggestions, and we can get them in evidence; but we wish the report to be governed by the recollection of the fact with which I commence and conclude, namely, that the Post Office is a national institution, and, while we keep a vigilant eye on its operations from a financial point of view, nothing will be sacrificed to that governing consideration.
– After the long address’ of the Prime Minister, I think it not unreasonable to ask leave to postpone my remarks until after the dinner hour.
– Quite so; I suggest that the sitting should be suspended until the usual hour of meeting this evening.
Sitting suspended from 6.0 to 7.4.5 p.m.
.- I listened with attention to the long statement of the Prime Minister, and I do not object to the free use which he made of his opportunities to educate the public of Australia upon the magnitude of the work of our Post and Telegraph Department, and upon the fact that under the best possible management complaints are bound to be made, difficulties are sure to arise, some things are certain to be left undone and some things done which might well have been left undone. But if the Prime Minister desired to dull the edge of the dissatisfaction with the working of this great Department either in this House or in the country, he will undoubtedly fail to accomplish his purpose. The most complete and crushing proof of the bad administration of this Department is to be found in the official document which he laid upon the table of the House two nights ago. That document is supposed to represent the conclusions which were arrived at by three Ministers as the result of a preliminary survey of the working of this great Department. In so far as those conclusions are confessions of bad administration, we may accept them implicitly, because they are confessions made by the Ministers themselves, including the Minister at the head of the Postal Department. Upon a former occasion the Prime Minister endeavoured to show that neither he nor his colleagues are responsible for the condition of the Post and Telegraph De partment. Surely he presumes too much upon the complaisance of honorable members when he thinks that we are so ignorant of ‘the first principles of the system of government under which we live. Under that system there is no principle more clearly settled than that Ministers are responsible to this. House, which consists of the representatives of the people, for the good government of the country, especially in the various Departments of State. That is a principle which nobody ought to desire to fritter away. It ‘lies at the very heart of the trust which Ministers owe to this House, and which; honorable members owe to the electors whom they represent. In no way can these vast powers of government be administered with harmony, to say nothing of efficiency, unless there be a clear sense of responsibility in the minds of Ministers themselves, and of honorable members. I propose to take the report submitted by the Government, and from it I shall select a number of extracts which will reveal, with touching directness and simplicity, the true secret of the demoralized condition in which this great Department is to-day. I take the very first paragraph of the report, which reads -
A glance at the figures showing the expansion of the Commonwealth Post Office during the past seven years, at once explains the origin of numerous anomalies and difficulties, the results of that extraordinary growth.
Could there exist in the mind of any Minister gifted with the most ordinary foresight, any doubt that this great Department of State When federalized would expand - that its volume of business would grow? Yet, here is a confession that that sort of thing has been going on year after year during the first seven yearsof our Federal history. We are then referred to appendix A. What does that show ? The Prime Minister has said that this Department ought not to be regarded as a revenueearning Department. That is absolutely true. But what do we find? That during the past two years the Government received into their coffers an increased revenue amounting to£500,000, and that instead of meeting this increase- caused by the expansion of the business of the Commonwealth - by increased expenditure, out.of that increased revenue they expended only 10s. in the £1 for the purpose of enlarging the resources of the Department.
– We spent an extra £500,000.
Mr.REID. - I am dealing with the report submitted by Ministers themselves, and I hope that the Prime Minister ,. will allow me to take that liberty. During the past two years the business expanded to the extent of £500,000,- but this’ increased revenue was not placed at the disposal of the Department. That is the main. cause of all the troubles which afflict it - a want of a proper supply of money to cope with its growing emergencies. Instead of treating the Department in a patriotic and sagacious way, and upon the lines so beautifully described by the Prime Minister, instead of carrying out the ideas which he so easily expresses, a policy of absolute starvation has been applied to this great Department when its- revenue has been increasing by leaps and bounds.
– The figures do not support the honorable member’s statement. .
– I do not think that the Prime Minister should say that, .because he* compels me to quote the figures in appendix A. These show that in 1905-6 -there was an increase of £191,797 in the revenue, and that in 1906-7 there was an increase of £304,726. Approximately,’ therefore, the revenue increased during those two years by £500,000. But the expenditure during 1905-6 increased by only’ £84,998’, and in 1906-7 by £181,109. In other words, there was an increased expenditure of £”206,000, during a period in which the Commonwealth received an increased revenue of approximately £500,000 from new business.
– I thought that the honorable member was also referring to 1907-8.
– What is the next admission in this statement by Ministers ? Paragraph 2 reads -
For some time past there has been an increasing recognition of the difficulties inherent in this rapid extension of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic business.
There has been a perception of it in rhetoric, but no perception of it has been, evidenced by the adoption of business methods. How do business men prepare for increased business ? Ministers are helpless enough to say, as if it were a sort of misfortune, that the increased business has arisen from cheapening the facilities provided by the Department. Does that conclusion require .the exercise of any genius of statesmanship? Could not an ordinary shopkeeper in the streets of Melbourne come to the conclusion that, if he cheapened facilities with a view to increase his trade, a common-sense precaution would be to prepare for the increased results that were expected to flow from that policy ? It is a cheap sort of statesmanship with which we in Australia are apparently to be content - that when measures are framed for the distinct purpose of increasing the volume of business of the Postal Department, the ordinary precautions of preparing to efficiently deal with that increased business are to be neglected. If there exists a necessity for foresight and promptitude anywhere, honorable . members know that the exercise of such qualifications are vitally necessary in this Department.
– The trouble is that every Treasurer has cut down the Postal Estimates - even the Treasurer of the Administration of which the honorable member was the head.
– May I remind the honorable member that in the public affairs which come before Parliament we. have not to deal with an historical museum, but with the Ministers who are, in fact, administering the Departments. I wish that I could have my actions construed with this marvellous liberality. There is no. transaction too remote in antiquity to prevent it being, dragged out against me. May I suggest to the honorable member for South Sydney that the Prime Minister, who displayed such marvellous acquaintance this afternoon with the most minute details of this vast Department, has been either Prime Minister, or the second member of the Administration, for six out of the seven years of our Federal history? May I also remind him that by common consent these troubles have arisen within the past two years?
– Oh, no.
– I am ‘ referring to the volume of them - to the increasing volume which made this question assume the proportions of a political crisis. These events have happened during .the past two years.
– Then the Prime Minister must accept six-sevenths of the blame, and the honorable member must accept oneseventh.
Mir. REID. - No, I must accept eleventwelfths of one-seventh of the blame.
– Whilst the honorable member was in office the revenue of tie Post and Telegraph Department increased by £127,000, and the expenditure upon it increased by only £2,000.
– If that be the case, honorable members may be sure that the pressure exerted at that time was not great. Bit may I suggest that I have expiated all my political sins, and that it is the last form of malignity to arraign a corpse? Let me read paragraph 6 -
It was stated in dealing with the unprecedented and unexpected increase of business-
Ministers cheapen facilities, tempt the public into using the post office, telegraph office, and telephone service more and more every, year, and when their appeal is responded to, and the business of the Department grows, profess to regard it as quite extraordinary that what they aimed at has happened. Men of ordinary ‘ business foresight would have provided for this increase.
– Had Ministers done so, the Opposition would have, charged them with extravagance.
– The honorable member’s interjections are generally sensible, but this is not. Paragraph 10 says that -
The want of adequate working space in the Mail Branch has been recognised by the management for some time.
It has been known to every man connected with the Department that, during the last two years at any rate, the want of space in the Sydney and Melbourne offices has made it impossible to properly transact business. .-Is it enough for Ministers to tell us that work cannot be done for want of space? Cannot the energy and ability - to say nothing of the rhetoric and poetry - of the Prime Minister find useful vent in grappling with practical business difficulties ? There is plenty of space to be got, if the Ministers are prepared to pay for it. Why should this great Department be starved and demoralized until its administration arrives at a state of chaos? The Prime Minister spoke of its business knocking at every door in Australia. His poetry may knock at every door in Australia, but certainly not his successful administration of business affairs ; that has not knocked at any door. Paragraph n contains a confession that the hardest-worked men in the Department, the letter carriers of the city of Sydney, have been suffering under a grievance for twelve years -
In regard to the representations that the beats of the city letter-carriers in Sydney have not been re-arranged for the past twelve years -
We know the growth of Sydney. That is a fact which might have pierced the dense comprehension of even. a Cabinet Minister; it is notorious to every other brain possessing the remotest knowledge of that city - and that the work is too heavy for the staff, the Postmaster-General has now directed that the strain should be relieved.
In the most rapidly-growing capital of Australia men have been overworked for a period of twelve years-, and, after the honorable member for Gwydir, and others, have knocked repeatedly at the Ministerial door, the Postmaster-General has “ now “ directed that an antiquated system, affecting the delivery of letters to a population of .500,000 persons, shall be reformed. It could not be thought of before. The strain is to be relieved - by the employment of temporary carriers.
What a brilliant idea has come to the PostmasterGeneral.
– He was the first man lo see it.
– That shows’ how blind his predecessors must have been. Were I in office, the honorable, member would not be talking of the misdeeds of my predecessor. He would consider that his public duty required him to criticise the way in which the Department was being managed at the present time. Is not that the practical question which we have to consider? Why should my honorable friend . desire to divert attention from the main point? Surely Ministers are not endeavouring to shirk their responsibility in connexion with the position of these letter carriers ?
– I agree with the right honorable gentleman that things have been wrong.
– We are discussing the administration of the present Government. We cannot punish Ministries which have disappeared.
– They have been punished.
– Yes. We have - to deal with those who are now administering the Department. I ask the House to read the next paragraph -
The need for the adoption of a uniform system of notifying the date of examinations or the character of tests, and the period of probation, in connexion with letter-carriers qualifying for promotion to the position of sorters is recognised, and steps have now been taken to bring about uniformity.
– The Public Service Commissioner is responsible, in that instance.
– Surely the Department has some power of initiative, and .does not hide behind the Public Service Commissioner?
Its heads have the right to make recommendations. Still, I do not wish to discuss any matter which Parliament has placed under another authority, and I am obliged to the honorable member for South Sydney for the interruption. Coming to paragraph 14, we find that -
The Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, and other officers, state that three-fourths of the trouble in his State is due to want of funds to provide stalls and facilities asked for.
The officer at the head of the New South Wales branch of this great Department knocks loudly at the Ministerial door, stating that his staff is not sufficient, ‘ and asking for additional assistance; but the methods of Ministers are not worthy of a national Department. They are not equal to those of an enlightened business concern.
– The attitude of the Premier of New South Wales does not favour increased expenditure.
– Money has been saved to the Governments of the States.
– Is that something of which we should approve? We are concerned now, not with the demands of the States, but with the administration of the Post Office.
– I quite admit that.
– Paragraph 16 contains a gross reflection on members of Parliament -
The Chief Officers admit that the powers vested in them are ample, but it is evident that the use of. these powers is largely nullified, owing to the frequency with which members of the public, through their representatives in Parliament, urge that matters which have been locally decided be reviewed by the Minister and the Central Administration.
That is a curious sort of complaint. Surely it is part of the duties of the representatives of the people to bring forward matters of this kind. The complaint in this Ministerial minute of a tired feeling ‘ because it is done, is evidence of a state of things necessitating thorough inquiry. In paragraph 17 it is stated that -
The Secretary to the Postmaster-General’s Department even goes so far as to say that there can be no approach to effective decentralization “while the Department’ is subject to political control under which every matter, however small, is liable to be brought under the immediate and personal noojee of the Minister.
In paragraph 20, we are told that -
It is practicable to greatly simplify the procedure followed under the Public Service Act and Regulations, and to increase the spending power of the Chief Officers in the States, to enable minor repairs to buildings to be more expeditiously, carried out.
The investigation of a Ministerial Committee was not necessary to ascertain that’ fact. The regulations can be altered by Ministerial authority.
– Why did not the right honorable gentleman read the following paragraph, which says that it will be done immediately ?
– Exactly. I am obliged to the honorable member. Everything is now marked ‘ ‘ immediate. ‘ ‘
– But the right honorable gentleman forgot to say so.
– No. My complaint is that what should have been attended to sooner is to be attended to only now. One of the most extraordinary confessions of ineptitude which a Government could make was made when this Government showed that it thought that these troubles could be dealt with by a Ministerial sub-Committee. The ignorance of Ministers cannot be proved more clearly than by the way in which they proposed to deal with this gigantic Department, which certainly condemns them as men of no business capacity. In paragraph 44, we are told that -
The evidence of the Public Service Commissioner and the principal officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department indicates that the cumbrous and costly procedure for ‘dealing with offences of officers prescribed under section 46 of the Public Service Act renders the maintenance of discipline within the Service a matter of great difficulty.
Surely the maintenance of discipline in such a service is of vital importance. It would have been simple enough, if there is a provision in the Acf which imperils and destroys this discipline, to bring down an Amending Bill of one clause to remove it. Ministers confess that discipline has been impossible in an army of 20,000 men, and yet have not proposed to introduce legislation to make it possible. Paragraph 49 reveals one of the worst features of the Post Office muddle. Ministers, in assuming office, take on themselves the obligation, to stand, as the Prime Minister says, four-square, and ought not to endeavour to minimize their responsibilitiesby reflecting on a colleague. What sort of code of Ministerial honour is observed by a Minister who endeavours to escape from his responsibility when trouble arises h connexion with the administration of his Department, by publicly imputing that a colleague is the culprit - that it is owing to his colleague’s parsimony that he is unable to conduct his Department with efficiency ? That is a most undesirable precedent to establish in the public life of this country. Yet it is carried to an extreme to which I invite the attention of honorable members. In appendix D to the progress report of the Cabinet Committee, the Government absolutely point the finger of censure at the Treasurer. In that appendix we have a return showing to the shilling and the penny the amount which the Treasurer refused to grant to his colleague the Postmaster-General.
– Surely not.
– Yes. That appendix consists of a statement showing the staff asked for, the staff provided on the Estimates, and the reductions made during the last three years. In paragraph 49, it is stated that-‘
The amount applied for - in respect of the present financialyear - was considerably reduced by the Treasury in the Estimates in Chief.
And appendix D shows the wayin which that reduction was made. Listen to the excuses which these Ministers offer. They talk in their poetic perorations about the administration of this national Department in a broad spirit, without reference to the revenue received. But what does this paragraph show -
The amount applied for was considerably reduced by the Treasury in the Estimates in Chief.
For what reason? To promote the efficiency of the Department?
– What Treasurer did this?
– The honorable member’s friend, the present Treasurer.
– No; my predecessor, the right honorable member for Swan.
– Then another old colleague is now , to be thrown over. What apity it is that the Postmaster-General, when speaking on the occasion of the Sydney harbor picnic, was not good enough to state that it was the right honorable member for Swan, and not the present Treasurer who was responsible for these reductions.
– I have said that the speeches made on that occasion were riot reported.
– I did not prepare the Estimates.
– I am sure that the right honorable member did not. The Post master-General cannot be even commonly fair to the right honorable member for Swan. Honorable members know that the Estimates for 1907-8 were submitted by the present Treasurer on the night that he laid before the House the Tariff that we have been considering for months. Let the Minister be commonly fair to a former colleague.
– They were not prepared by the present Treasurer.
– Did not the present Treasurer before submitting those Estimatesto Parliament go carefully through them? I do not think he would be so mean as to make such a statement. Whatever his faults are, he is not a crawler of that sort. The fact is that the present Treasurer submitted these Estimates to Parliament. At a time when the Department was disabled,” and a source of universal dissatisfactiona!: a time when its employes’ were cruelly overworked, the Postmaster-General asked thatprovision be made for an increase of hands, and the number he asked for, according to appendix D, was reduced by the Treasurer by no less than 545. The Department pointed out the trouble that it was in - I think that it wanted 1,100 additional hands - and the Treasurer, who is not generally so parsimonious, reduced the legitimate requirements of the Department in order to save £48,000. Honorable members will see that these statements by Ministers are the strongest condemnation they could offer to this House and the country of their deliberate mismanagement and starving of the Post and Telegraph Department at a time when it was clamouring for an increased number of hands in order to overcome its troubles. This is an extraordinary revelation to make.
– Does not the Public Service Commissioner deal with the question of the number of hands to be employed?
Mr.REID.- Might I suggest to the honorable member, as a younger member of the House than I am, that the Estimates are submitted, not by the Public Service Commissioner, but by Ministers.
– And the Public Service Commissioner recommended that the number be cut down in. view of a possible drought.
– The Public Service Commissioner is now offered up as the scapegoat. This is an extraordinary state of things. Surely if Ministersare impeded in the administration oftheir Departments by the Public Service Commissioner, they can introduce an amending Act to rid them of that state of affairs. Are we to accept this lame excuse? “ If the Public Service Act gives the Commissioner too much power, alter it; do not attack him.
– Are not the Estimates considered by the Cabinet?
– The Postmaster-General submitted these items to the Cabinet of which he is a member, and that Cabinet and not the Public Service Commissioner cut them down. That being so, surely Ministers cannot now turn round and say, “ Oh, the Public Service Commissioner was our obstacle.” I draw the attention of honorable members to paragraphs 52 and53-
In addition to the amounts asked for on the Additional Estimates 1907-8 for the requirements of that financial year, it was deemed advisable, owing to the approach of the next financial year, to ask for a sum of£304,435 for special works which were urgently required, and provision for which would, in ordinary circumstances, have been made on the Estimates for 1908-9, so that the work of carrying them out could be greatly facilitated by the formal preliminary steps of inviting tenders for the material and their construction, in anticipation of the amounts being passed by Parliament. The Treasurer, however, intimated the impossibility of this being done…..
Why was it impossible? If more money was required why did not the Government submit Additional Estimates? What was done the other day when the urgency of the situation was at last realized by them? Ministers submitted Additional Estimates providingfor an appropriation of many thousands of pounds. Here was a sum £304,000 absolutely required for works–
– No ; it was not required until next year.
– That is a remarkable statement. What have the exigencies of a great business department to do with the business of 1908-9 ? That is a question for the calendar. When the Ministry know that works are urgently required they are in duty bound to come to the House and to tell us that they are necessary, and that funds must be provided. In such circumstances no one would refuse to vote the amount required. Have we ever refused to vote amounts that were urgently required for public works?
– Do not talk what is absolute rubbish.
– I hope that the honorable member’s scanty supply of manners will last him for the evening. May I ask honorable members to read paragraph 54 of the report -
A shortage in staff has existed for some time, and the provision made to bring its number up to requirements on the 1905-6, 1906-7, and 1907-8 Estimates submitted to the Treasury was reduced each year.
– By the late Treasurer.
– Whoever he was he was a member of the Cabinet. I do not wonder that the Treasurer cannot understand why his predecessor resigned office without being kicked out.
– He would keep the nose-bag on for ever if he could.
– I want to interpose between the feuds of these two distinguished knights with a reference to the statement in paragraph 54 -
The total number - that is, of additional officers - requisitioned for was reviewed by the central office and reduced to the lowest workable margin, viz., by 238, and the Treasury made a further reduction of 307.
The Treasury cut down by 307 the number of additional bands considered to be absolutely necessary.
– He cannot say that I did that..
– Yes, the right honorable member did.
– That is absolutely untrue, and the honorable member knows it.
-I must ask the right honorable member to withdraw that interjection.
– Yes; but the PostmasterGeneral made an absolute . misstatement. The truth must be within the knowledge of the honorable gentleman ; and surely I may be pardoned for resenting an absolutely incorrect statement, based on no foundation whatever.
– I desire to make a personal explanation.
– The PostmasterGeneral must know that a personal explanation can be made only at the conclusion of a speech.
– The Postmaster-General should remember that in this case he cannot quote a sergeant of police for his authority. And may I suggest that it shows a very imperfect conception of the position of Ministers to forget that the Estimates of Expenditure are always- revised by the Cabinet sitting collectively? I believe I am correct iri taking that view of the present Cabinet ; but I am sure I am right in regard to other Cabinets, in saying that every Estimate of Expenditure is considered by the Cabinet in conjunction with the Ministers more immediately concerned. The PostmasterGeneral :was sitting at the Cabinet table to tell his colleagues, as against the Treasurer, -that these men were absolutely required,, and to appeal to them to prevent the Treasurer crippling the Department. This singling out of one Minister as against another in the matter of culpability is. I think, an unusual and deplorable circumstance in public life.
– All the Ministries have been guilty since 1905.
– The honorable member has a peculiar liking for trying the dead ; he seems to wander amongst the political tombstones, and wonder what offences the dead men have been guilty of. May 1 suggest that when Ministers go out of office they cease to be Ministers, and that when they come into office, they are the persons whose administration is in question.
– Hear, hear; but why blame the present Ministers for the sins of past Ministers?
– I am now referring to the Estimates for 19.07-8.
– The evil that men do lives after them.
– Yes; but in some cases it lives in an undiscovered country, while in others it is brought to light every day. 1 am happy to say that as regards my relations in public life, neither friends nor foes can say that I have been distinguished by bringing up the past in any series of attacks.
Mr.- Mauger. - The right honorable member ‘brought up the police sergeant just now !
– I do not look on that as an occurrence of venerable antiquity, but as one in the official life of a present Minister ; the honorable gentleman cannot cut himself u,p into daily compartments of responsibility. In paragraph 54 of the report, we read -
In the Additional Estimates 1007-8 the amount asked for by the Deputy PostmastersGeneral for staff contingencies . and new works amounting to ^224,019 was reduced by £55.588.
These works were absolutely necessary ; but the expenditure was reduced in a fashion that might demoralize the Department in a thousand different ways. The Ministry have acted in a sort of cheeseparing fashion, in view of pressing public requirements, which are urged by the officials themselves ; and yet the Government come before us now and enunciate such beautiful sentiments as those expressed “by the Prime Minister this afternoon. Paragraph 57 is as follows -
No delays in carrying out large works (buildings, renewals, maintenance, &c), under the control of the Department of Home Affairs, apart from those due to want of funds, are complained of by the chief officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department, but there are difficulties and delays in dealing with minor repairs.
All the chief officers indict Ministers for starving the Department and preventing them doing their duty properly. It is only Ministers who can submit Estimates to Parliament; and if those who are at the head of the branches are denied the means of insuring good administration, it is rather unfair that they should be blamed. How can the officials carry on this great concern to the satisfaction of the public, if the sinews of war are denied them ?
– The Treasurer says that he had no more money.
– Hear, hear !
– And he says that now. In paragraph 76, we read -
It was therefore impossible to commence many of the. works required to meet the public demands or improve the existing services.
Then paragraph 81 is as follows -
Under the system by which the funds for such works are provided by annual votes which must not be anticipated, and of which the balances, if any, cannot be carried forward into succeeding, years, it is impossible satisfactorily to carry out a comprehensive scheme of telegraphic or telephonic development.
Here is an obstacle; and why? Because there is something in an Audit Act which prevents moneys voted in one year being spent in. future years.
– This Government do not spend ,£2,000,000 without authority, as the right honorable member did.
– The Treasurer cannot, I think, say that this House has ever refused any demand he has made for money for the purpose of putting the Post Office in a state of .efficiency ; and it is mean to try to shift the responsibility for starving the Department on to honorable members.
– The honorable member for North Sydney blamed me for introducing Estimates which we’re, too large.
– If honorable members will turn to appendix F, they will find there a return referring to telegraphs and telephones, and showing the amounts asked for by each State during the last three years,” and the amounts provided. In the last columns, which deal with the present year, it will be seen that the amount asked for was £337,467, while the amount provided was only £209,688. There is no difficulty in realizing how the officials have been prevented from- treating their employes justly, and providing proper facilities for the public; and surely no Royal Commission is required to ascertain this one cause of trouble in the Department. I now desire to turn from the report, which I regard as one of the most damning indictments by Ministers of their own neglect, incompetence, and deliberate mismanagement, and to deal with a position which was referred to by the Prime Minister. There arises here a very important constitutional point, upon which, however, I have no desire to dwell, and shall only touch briefly. The Prime Minister enunciated the doctrine to-day that the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir really involves no constitutional point - that it is quite common in the Mother Country for Post Office Committees of the kind to be appointed. I think, however, that the Prime Minister would find it difficult to. discover any case in which an amendment to the motion to go into Committee of Supply has been accepted by a Government as a motion of censure, and in which the Government have afterwards appointed a Royal Commission in order to. escape from the consequences. The doctrine enunciated by the Prime Minister is a novel development of constitutional practice. If the Prime Minister, when the honorable member for Gwydir submitted his amendment, had taken up the position that there was nothing -in that proposal that called for serious attention, and had accepted it in a friendly spirit, despite the form in which it was put, it would have been a different matter. But that was not the attitude taken up, because the Prime Minister, when the proposal for the adjournment of the debate was negatived by three votes, immediately created a Ministerial crisis by jumping up and asking for leave to move that the House, at’ its rising, should adjourn from the Thursday until the .following Wednesday. Surely a motion to adjourn over ordinary sitting days indicates a Ministerial crisis. The Speaker could not receive that motion ; and, in the meantime, the motion for the adjournment of the debate was carried, and then, I may fairly say, the censure was removed. When the adjournment of the debate was carried, the Prime Minister appealed to the House to settle the matter at once, but immediately voted with his colleagues for postponing the question. I point out that after the House had practically nullified its previous motion^ and consented to adjourn the debate, the Prime Minister got up to move that the House should adjourn until the following Wednesday, and the motion was carried. I wish to avoid introducing, in any sense, the name of the representative of the Sovereign, and simply allude to the fact that His Excellency, who was in a distant .part of the Commonwealth enjoying a well-earned holiday, was hastily summoned to undertake a journey of some hundreds of miles to the Seat of Government. What possible object could there be in bringing His Excellency to the Seat of Government if it was not to receive the resignation of the head of the Government? The Governor-General is not introduced into- Cabinet consultations, or into communications between political parties, and he would not be lightly brought a journey of some hundreds of miles. It is a serious circumstance that the whole of the political affairs of the country were thrown into a position of crisis, and we were told from day to day that the Prime Minister was adamant. We can imagine the uncomfortable sensation of the political vertebras attached to the Prime Minister’s spinal column when they found it suddenly stiffening 1 What a sensation of intense discomfort every one of those Ministerial joints must have felt at the increasing rigidity of the Cabinet corporation ! It was a most painful crisis. We are told that upon the faith of this . adamantine rigidity a new coalition was arranged - not without difficulty, and with a certain amount of discontent. The Treasurer and the honorable member for Wide Bay were supposed to be in the throes of serious and anxious consideration, based upon the execrable fact that, the spinal column of the Prime Minister would for once remain rigid for a period of five days. But in a few days it was announced in the Ministerial organ that the Prime Minister - and we can imagine the agonies of discomfort which his colleagues suffered during those four days - might be induced to relax the rigidity of his political spinal column if a certain honorable compromise would be accepted by the House. By-and-by we were told that when the honorable member for Gwydir . introduced his motion, the. Ministry had declared that they were perfectly prepared to appoint a Royal Commission at a later stage if they thought, fit. Now there are words in the Hansard report of the debate which entirely support that statement. It is perfectly true that the Postmaster-General - true to the traditions of himself and his colleagues - carefully left the back door open. But I am going to show what the Postmaster-General said upon this question of the appointment of a. Ministerial Committee as against a Royal Commission. I am going to show that he considered the motion of the honorable member for Gwydir a reflection upon the’ Government. He held the view that the action which the Government had taken - the appointment of a Cabinet Committee - would meet the case. Upon page 10418 of Hansard, Mr. Batchelor is reported to have interjected -
The more reason for an inquiry by other than Ministers.
– An inquiry upon the lines of a Royal Commission would intensify the evil.
An inquiry upon the lines of a Royal Commission, he declared, would intensify the evil.
– Just what I thought.
– I do hope that the honorable member will allow me to proceed.
– Then why does not the honorable member treat the subject seriously ?
– I should like, the honorable member ‘ to recollect that I occasion ally encounter methods of cerebration which defy the ordinary rules of intelligent construction. I sympathize with the honorable member, but if he thinks that 1 am treating this matter in any humorous way it can only arise from the fact that accidentally I contemplate his seraphic countenance. It is quite an old parliamentary device to endeavour to divert attention from the main question, and in that connexion the honorable member serves a useful, though a very humble, purpose. Upon the same page of Hansard the’ PostmasterGeneral is thus reported -
– 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.
That is the statement of. the PostmasterGeneral. Upon the next page he is reported to have said -
It is admitted that complaints exist, und 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.
So that he- did open the back door, but at the. front door he met the honorable member for Gwydir with this challenge” Your method is wrong; our method is right. Your method will lead to cost, irritation, and delay. Our method will be expeditious, efficient, and not costly.” A little later the honorable member for Hindmarsh interjected -
But the proposal of the honorable member for Gwydir should not be taken as a reflection on the Government.
To that the Postmaster-General replied -
The Government cannot regard it as anything else but a reflection.
Here is a Minister who regards the proposal to appoint a Royal Commission as a reflection upon the Government.
– But he has reflected for three weeks since.
– He has not reflected - he was always ready - but the spinal column has relaxed. A little later the PostmasterGeneral said -
They cannot but feel it as ‘a reflection if the method which they consider to be the best is not accepted by the House.
There is the issue between the two methods. The. Government would regard it as a reflection upon them if the House adopted the method of appointing a Royal Commission. At this stage, the honorable member for Corangamite interjected -
Surely the House is entitled to express an opinion ?
To- which the Postmaster-General replied -
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.
There is the issue at once. The view held by the House was that a Royal Commission should be appointed ; that entertained by the Government was that the course which they had adopted was the better one. The Treasurer–
– What did I say?
– I confess frankly that when I read the smoothly-flowing passages attributed to the honorable gentleman in Hansard I do not always recognise them. I should like to say that the Treasurer also took up the challenge, as will be seen by a reference to page 10445of Hansard. Whilst he was speaking I interjected -
I think that an inquiry By a Royal Commission would be better.
His reply was-
A Royal Commission would probablynot 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 of Australia to take evidence, and Heaven only knows when such a Commission would beable to bring up a report.
That was the Treasurer’s view of the situation. After the adjournment of the debate had been secured, the honorable member for Flinders - as will be seen by reference to page 10460 of Hansard, said -
The practice that I believe is alwaysfollowed on such occasions is that the Government will not continue to conduct ordinary Parliamentary business.
The honorable member for South Sydney thereupon interjected -
The Prime Minister has said so. and the Prime Minister added -
I have said so, and I have tried once before to address honorable members.
So that the honorable member for South Sydney recognised that a crisis had arisen during which public business should not continue to be transacted, and the Prime Minister also took a similar view, and backed it up by interfering with the business of the House at a period when time was valuable, and by securing an adjournment from the Thursday to the following Wednesday. He also summoned the representative of the King to the Seat of Government. I admit that the resources of the Prime Minister areunrivalled, but how could even he rise in the House to-day and endeavour to convey the impression that there was one thing to which the Government were holding firmly, and that was the idea of carrying out what the honorable member for Gwydir had suggested? Of course, there are some persons who are prepared to receive such assurances with delight.
– I am.
– I do not wonder. I will say frankly that I think the honorable member is not singular in that regard. I do not think that any honorable member of this House is particularly keen about precipitating a crisis which might’ involve disastrous consequences. I have a perfect sympathy with that feeling. But in the public life of the Commonwealth there should not be a stoppage of business, a political crisis brought about upon a motion which is regarded as a motion of censure if just before that motion is to come before the House, just before the political executioner arrives with the black cap, the person who is condemned and to be executed is to get up and say that there is one thing for which he has been praying, and that is for the executioner to arrive. Of course, I admit that the Government must always be the judges of the propriety of their own actions. Whilst I have the right of criticism - I suppose it is one of the duties attaching to my position - I admit that after all the Prime Minister is the authority who has to consider these matters, and he; of course, has to accept the responsibility for his own action. But I venture respectfully to say that I have never known - either in Australian, British, or Canadian history - a case in which a Prime Minister has taken a motion as one amounting to a distinct vote of censure, and one the adoption of which would involve his resignation, and then - while the sword was suspended in. the air - come down to the House and seek to escape from the consequences, not only of that motion, but of his own deliberate conduct before the House and the country. The Government are now, on their own confession, escaping from a fatal vote by conceding the thing which saves their political lives. That is a position which they may occupy if they choose to do so. Honorable members may suggest, as they naturally will, “ Oh ! the Opposition have been looking forward to this crisis for some time. There was a ray of sunshine, and they are cruelly disappointed by the unexpected relaxation of the spinal column “ - already referred to. But I wish to say that in the present state of parties in this House we require a very pliable set of Ministers to exist at all. Let us recollect the condition of the Ministry.- Look at their scanty ranks. Ministers and supporters number only fifteen or sixteen- .
– We will give them the benefit of another. Ministers and supporters number only sixteen in a House of seventy-five members. How can they live if they are not pliable? When the mot-ion of the honorable member for Gwydir came, on I received word from the Opposition, whip that we were all right, and prepared to go to a vote at once. That is the unfortunate way in which a Ministry like the present has to exist. It has to fight the Labour Party by means of the Opposition when it fights the Labour Party, and it has to fight the Opposition by means of the Labour Party when it has to fight the Opposition. No doubt some honorable members are prepared for a Ministerial existence of that sort. Some have even been known to enjoy it.
– The honorable member had a majority of one.
– I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to protect me from these continuous interruptions.
-If the honorable member for Corio knows that his interjections are disconcerting, I am sure that he will refrain from interjecting ; but I do not think that the right honorable member has been subject to interruption beyond what might be expected during, the delivery of a speech of this kind.
M.r. REID. - I would remind you, sir, that the honorable member for Parramatta was asked not to interrupt.
– I do . not think that 1. have unduly transgressed. It is the right, honorable member, by his interjections on every possible occasion, who has taught me to interject. My remarks, however, are. intelligent, well conceived, and appropriate.
– As the right honorable member for East Sydney evidently finds the honorable: member’s interjections disconcerting, I am sure he will refrain from further interruption. The fact that I had to ask the honorable member for Parramatta not to interject shows that ininterruptions have come from both sides.
– So far as members on this side are concerned, the prospect of occupying office under the conditions under which’ it is held bv the present Ministry are not attractive. The ambition to become a Min ister of State for the Commonwealth is a high and honorable one; but the conditions now attached to such office must detract from its honour and dignity. In the present position of parties,, a Ministry possessing only eight or nine supporters’ can live only by pliability, to use an inoffensive term. When I was’ supported by a party of thirty-eight, and had a majority, according to, the Standing Orders, T felt my powers for usefulness to be greatly crippled, and my position was even worse than that of the honorable member for South Sydney, who had a much smaller following, because, included in my army was the present Prime Minister.
– And Mr. Cameron.
– A very fit couple to put together, because both were strongly inclined to throw me over. The Opposition, and the seven members of the Labour Party who, with the honorable member for Gwydir, voted agains? the adjournment of the discussion on his amendment, have reason to congratulate themselves on bringing about -the appointment of a Royal Com. mission. It- is inconceivable that a Government which created a crisis on the subject would have surrendered without a substantial reason for doing so. I do not ask the illustrious seven what sort of a time they have had since the 9th April, or how. many urgent appeals have been made to them to abandon their attitude.
– I remember the ferocious onslaught made upon them after they had voted. That took place in the knowledge of the House and of the country. ‘
– That was the first and last of it.
– The action of those honorable members and of the Opposition has been justified by the surrender of the Government. We did not require three Cabinet Ministers to travel to Sydney, and to sit in solemn conclave in Melbourne, to discover that the Ministerial project was preposterous, absurd, and unworkable. It has dawned upon Ministers that they made a stupid mistake, and must now sacrifice their dignity to regain the right track. I am delighted that a Royal Commission is to be appointed, because I have always thought that the proper course to adopt. But everything .will depend on its personnel. Will any solid good be achieved if it investigates only the shortcomings of unfortunate officers, while the Minister of the Crown who presides over the Department remains untried? Is his administration to be inquired into? If it is, the position is extraordinary, because we have the Ministry appointing a Commission to inquire as to the capacity of its Postmaster-General to manage and direct the Department. But if the humble sorter and letter carrier is to be brought to book, if every little offence and dereliction of duty or breach of discipline is to be inquired, into* is the conduct of the Ministerial head of the Department to escape investigation ? If it did, that would be outrageous. The Commission must investigate the conduct of the Minister. But, for the’ first time in the history of parliamentary government, we have a Ministry submitting a colleague for trial by a Royal Commission of its own creation. I assume that a thoroughly independent body of Commissioners’ will be appointed ; but in view of such an appointment, what an extraordinary thing it was for the Prime Minister to lay on the table a progress report - the term implies that the Ministerial Committee is to continue its sittings - indorsed by the Cabinet, containing the findings and opinions of Ministers? The Commission will commence its inquiry with that document staring it in the face, and must start by arraigning the administration of the Postmaster-General. The appointment of the Tariff Commission was a widely different affair. That Commission was appointed to collect information in connexion with a matter of public policy.
– And it did good work.
– It was an impartial body, both fiscal parties being equally represented upon it. It is unfortunate, however, that the Government, after stopping the wheels of Parliament with a crisis, have been forced to agree to what, when proposed, they regarded as a censure. Every member has an interest in maintaining the dignity of Ministerial positions. . I hope that there are many honorable members, younger men than myself, who aspire no high and honorable office. But there is no charm or enjoyment in office if the Ministers must be the servants of this party or that, and must lean one day on one set of members, and another day on another set. Now that, by the settlement of the fiscal question, what were vital lines of party demarcation have been removed, I hope that the Labour Party, with its youth, strength, and enthusiasm, will share with me the ambition not to stand behind another party whose decaying energies become smaller after each election, and will take an independent stand. It will be a grand thing for the country when the lines of ‘political difference are clearly marked, and, instead of the shifting of ballast, which degrades and cripples parliamentary powers - of usefulness, parties are divided by lines of great political principle, and their members associated by sympathetic aims. No ‘one envies the present Ministers their deplorable position. In the present state of parties, they are rendering a needful, though a humble, service, and we all make use of them-; but I hope that the time will come when the administration of the affairs of the Commonwealth will be vested in a Government which has a strong party behind it, and which, on appealing to the people, will be returned, not as a remnant, but’ as a solid parliamentary majority.
.- Every member of the party with which I have the honour to’ be connected will, I am sure, give consideration to the advice of the right honorable gentleman who has just resumed his seat. But I ask him where, if a Government were formed in this House at the present time, it would obtain a solid following ? The party with the largest numbers is undoubtedly .the Labour Party ; but there are in the Chamber four distinct parties, none sufficiently strong to carry oh the government by itself.
– Only a definite issue before the public will do it. .
– I am speaking now, not of the future, but of the present. It is about time that the public knew what is the position in this Chamber: The Labour Party hhas never shirked its responsibility, and the country ought to know that we are ready to do the best possible for the Commonwealth, whether there be a crisis or no crisis. It was the unfortunate parliamentary crisis, of which this is the last act, that caused some of us to think that the welfare of the country was of far more importance than any consideration as to theesire of of a few honorable members to gain office. That crisis occurred while we had under consideration a Tariff which concerns the whole, of the people of Australia, and it would have been most unfortunate had its final settlement been delayed. ‘ I am guilty of no breach of confidence in stating that, from the moment the crisis arose, I, and other members of our party, thought that it was our duty to see the Tariff out of the way before any actual trouble took place. I am not here to criticise the leader of the Opposition any more than the Min-; istry, but I have a few observations to offer with respect to the remarks that he made concerning certain members of our party who exercised that liberty which every member df it enjoys. I do not know what is the discipline of other parties, but every member of our party has a right to vote as he pleases, except on platform questions, to which we are pledged to our constituents. The. members of our party to whom the honorable member referred exercised their undoubted rights, as representatives of .the people, on the occasion in question, and, with the co-operation of the Opposition, left the Ministry in a minority. Parliament and the country must be delighted to know that what Kas taken place has greatly pleased the Opposition and satisfied the “Government, whilst the Labour Party have no complaint to make. I am sure that the country will be well satisfied with the result. The Tariff will now become law av. the earliest possible moment, and I trust that we shall have time to proceed this session with legislation which, from my point of view, is of the very greatest importance, more particularly to those who have few to speak for them, and few opportunities to claim that to which they are entitled, and which we are pledged to secure. I hope that the time at our disposal during the remainder of this session will be put to the best possible use. Coming to the statement made by the” Prime Minister, who delivered a very long, carefully-prepared, and eloquent speech, I can only say that I think that the public have benefited by the recent breach. It has certainly accelerated the wheels of government. Every crisis has that effect, and it is in the highest degree desirable that we should always have strong parliamentary criticism of every Administration. By that means the governmental machine is burnished, and the people reap the benefit. The advantage obtained bv the people will more than compensate for any little political delinquencies that may have arisen from the recent crisis. As to the report of the Cabinet Committee, I do not think that it is of .very great use. As a statement for the information of the public it may be beneficial, but, beyond that, I do not think that it will be very helpful. The Royal Commission proposed to be appointed will do good work if its inquiries are confined to . a particular direction and limited as to time.
– That is the honorable member’s personal view?
– Certainly, I am expressing my own personal view. The Commission should be definite in aim, and bring its labours to ‘a speedy conclusion.
– Cook. - A Public Service Commission in New South Wales took between three and four years to complete its work.
– It was with a knowledge of that fact that I expressed the opinion that the time within which the Commission should report ought to be limited. Such a restriction would be in the interests of the public, as well as the Public Service of the Commonwealth. As Lord Palmerston once said, if a Government wishes to delay dealing with any matter, it cannot do better than appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into it. A Commission may dawdle over its work for two or three years, and it is open to the Government of the day to say that the subject of its inquiry cannot be dealt with by them until a report is presented. It is for that reason that I suggest that the appointment of a Royal Commission, in some cases, may do more’ injury than good to the people whom it is desired to benefit. As to the devolution of duties from the central ‘ office to the Deputy PostmastersGeneral, an important matter was undoubtedly touched on by both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. Any attempt to give wider powers to the Deputy Postmasters-General is not likely to do away with what is taking place at the present time. If the Deputy PostmastersGeneral are endowed with wider powers, and one df them refuses to do something which an honorable member asks him to do, what will be the result? The member will immediate])’- appeal from his decision to the central administration, and finally to the Minister. Whenever a Deputy PostmasterGeneral grants a request everything will be satisfactory, but whenever he refuses a request on the part of an honorable member everything will be wrong. In the end, the Deputy Postmaster-General, if he is a man, will sim pi v refer to the central office every request that he cannot see his way to grant. As - long as there is an appeal from him to’ the central administration he must occupy an anomalous position, . and often be humiliated.
– The trouble at ‘ present is that the Deputy PostmastersGeneral have to refer everything to the central office.
– That system may he altered at any time ‘ by a Ministerial minute.
– If what the honorable member says is correct, then it is unquestionable that the matter must go to an independent Commission.
– I do not agree with that view. Even by granting wider powers to the Deputy Postmasters-General we shall not prevent appeals to the central office.
– We must have centralization.
– We cannot prevent it. My sympathy goes out to the Deputy Postmasters-General. , They .have onerous duties to discharge, and often find it difficult to do that which they desire. If one of them accedes to a request on the part of an honorable member his decision may be called in question by the Minister on the ground that he has agreed to do some-, thing for which no provision is made on the Estimates, while on the other hand, if he refuses a request there may be an appeal to the head of the Department at the instance of an honorable member. .
– That is the complaint of the Secretary. He says that it cannot go on.
– We are now seeking a better system, and let us admit the facts as they are. If honorable members are going to discuss this question further I should like them to indicate in what way they propose to protect the Deputy PostmastersGeneral, unless they are going to give them absolute authority to deal with certain matters.
– Is not the honorable member now anticipating what will be the work of the Royal Commission ?
– The whole debate is in anticipation of what the Royal Commission may’ do. I said that I. desired that it shall be characterized by brevity, and I am taking an early opportunity to give my evidence here publicly, as I have a right to do. I have before expressed the view that it is undesirable that Ministers should be criticising each- other’s administrative acts on the floor of this House, and in the country. I certainly do not think it is desirable that such ‘a state of affairs should exist, and I hope that we have seen the last of it. I entirely agree with the leader of the Opposition that a Cabinet ought to stand or fall together.
– As long as we have responsible government.
– Quite so. I do not know that there need be any reflection cast on the present Ministry. They went to the country on the fiscal question, and.hav. .. ing got a verdict, have properly continued in office. Honorable members associated with myself mostly think that their policy generally has bee’n more in accord with our own than is that of any other party. We are therefore seeking the higher interests of the country by giving them general support. That, I contend, is -an honorable upright position for us to occupy. I avail myself of this opportunity of saying again to the public that the attitude we take up is that we neither desire to coerce nor to persuade any body of men to doing anything which they cannot honorably do. I am not here to say ‘that there could be picked from this House any body of men who would subordinate their principles for the sake of office and all that it means. I sincerely trust whatever party is in possession during the remainder of this Parliament will receive the same honorable consideration. We have party names and party rooms ; even the telephone book shows a Corner Party room, a- Government .room, an Opposition room, and a Labour Party room.
– And there is the Wilks party.
– There are a number of ‘ . independent members, who have the right, of course, to take what action they choose. I place my own party last because it is the largest, and is exposed to the greatest amount of criticism. We neither desire , nor ask for consideration from any party. We believe that our policy will prove the most beneficial to the country, and that policy we intend to carry out to the best of our ability.
.- I do not desire to occupy time in what mav be called “ flogging a dead horse,” I think that- the position taken up by other honorable members and myself in regard to the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department has been fully justified this evening. I may say that I entered on this project of bringing about an inquiry without any thought whatever of the political significance which has been attached to it. From evidence I had been collecting and studying for many months I felt it my duty, as I suppose any honorable member would under similar circumstances, to lay the matter before Parliament and the coun try, with a view to the removal of the evils complained of. I must say that I was surprised at the turn events took; and I am not at all disagreeably surprised at the termination of the crisis which has lasted now for some weeks. I have no desire to traverse the subjects dealt with by the honorable member for East Sydney, and by the Prime Minister in his lengthy and elaborate speech ; but I desire to say a few words in regard to some of the matters which have incidentally been mentioned. When honorable members talk of limiting the functions of a Royal Commission of this kind, or of limiting the time which shall be granted for bringing up a report, they speak either without knowledge or without judgment, in view, of what has happened in the case of other Royal Commissions appointed to inquire into matters of much less importance. If the proposed Royal Commission is to have the results we desire, it will have no limit whatever placed upon it, in regard either to the scope of the inquiry, or to the time in which a report shall be presented. The whole subject of the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department should be inquired into until the cause or causes of the complaints and trouble are ascertained and a remedy suggested. Then and then only should the investigation cease, and then and then only will the members of the Commission have carried out their oath to do their duty. I have known Royal Commissions ruined, so far as results were concerned, by a limitation of their powers, and the narrowing of the scope of their in,quiry ; and, as I say, ‘ I hope there will- be no attempt in that direction in the present instance. The report of the Cabinet Committee has been discussed by the Prime Minister, and, I may say, impartially criticised by the leader of the Opposition ; and it is, I claim, a complete justification of the action which I and other honorable members have taken from time to time in connexion with the Department. Never was a more complete vindication of any representative’s conduct set down within the four corners of a report ; and that, of course,, is most satisfactory to myself and others. I may say that I have no feeling whatever in this matter. I do not find fault with the Government for appointing a Committee and furnishing this report, because I think it was essential under the circumstances that the more pressing reforms should be dealt with at once, so that parliamentary representatives, the members of the service, and the public generally might be relieved from the present intolerable conditions. It would have been cruel to refer the whole question directly to a Royal Commission without attempting at once to relieve pressing necessities. Some people are of opinion that we Labour representatives have regard only to the welfare of the employes of the Department, but, as a matter of fact, our first consideration, as it is the first consideration of others, is the public welfare,, and that alone. Both the public welfare and the welfare of the employes are involved ; and nothing but good can result from a re-adjustment of the machinery of administration. Representatives of country districts will” ‘ be pleased to feel that a day is coming when they will cease to be troubled and harassed by constant complaints, which, day after day, they have to lay before the Government within these walls in an endeavour to get some redress. The correspondence alone with which honorable members have to deal in this Chamber would justify some steps being taken; but apart from that, as 1 have already said, the interests of the public and of the service justify investigation and reform. We may confidently hope that what Mr. Austen Chamberlain referred to as the waste of time caused by chief officers having to reply to complaints made by public representatives on behalf of their constituents will be minimized if the Department be more practically and effectively administered. Instead of blaming the Government, I. compliment them upon having arrived at their present decision. If some -regard the Ministerial action as a sign of weakness, I point out that in political life the greatest strength lies with him who is not ashamed to appear weak. In the present case, the Prime Minister, after- deliberation,recognises the imperative necessity for inquiry, and is prepared to proceed along the lines which, in my opinion, can alone give relief to the public. If the scope of the Commission is broad enough, and it is composed of men who enter upon the work with the determination to thoroughly inquire into and solve the problem, I feel that good service will be done to the country. As stated in Todd, Commissions are becoming an essential part of political government. That is especially so in the case of gigantic Departments like that of the Post Office-; it is necessary that the public confidence in its administration may be restored, and the work of public men made less. At any rate, the way is clear for other business which awaits us ; and I hope that the Government may now be assisted to place on the statute-book an Old-age Pensions Act, which will afford relief to many throughout the Commonwealth. I should also like to see the question of the financial relations of the Com- monwealth and the States settled, or some indication of a settlement given, before Parliament prorogues ; and, further, it is most desirable that- our defences should be put on such a footing as to render the Commonwealth more secure. The way, as I say, is now cleared, and I hope that the public, who have returned us here to conduct the affairs of the country, will have some return for the confidence they have placed in us.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s Message) :
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) proposed -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act relating to the payment to the several States of the surplus revenue of the Commonwealth.
– I do not propose to discuss this motion at the present stage. I understand that it relates to the Surplus Revenue Bill?
– And that it is a purely formal matter?
Question resolved . in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir William Lyne) proposed -
That the report be adopted.
– Is this message intended to cover Order of the Day No. 5, which relates to the Surplus Revenue Bill ?
– It is.
– Then I wish to point out that the present stage furnishes a very convenient opportunity to discuss the whole question of that Bill, without any restriction whatever.
– I think that the amendment submitted by the honorable member permits of that being done.
– I wish to ask you, sir, whether it is competent for me to discuss the Bill at length upon the motion which is now under consideration?
– The Bill itself will come on for consideration later.
– Have I not a better opportunity of discussing the whole question now than will be presented when the Bill itself is being considered ?
– I have already spoken once upon the motion for the second reading of the measure; but’ I desire to discuss the whole question again. I think that I have a right to do that upon the amendment of the honorable member for Parramatta. But if I have a right to speak untrammelled at the present stage, I desire to exercise it. I should like to discuss the Bill generally from the standpoint of its constitutionality.
– The honorable member will recognise that the stage which we have now reached is simply the formal one of placing upon record the recommendation of the Governor-General, that a sum of money shall be appropriated for the purposes of the Surplus Revenue Bill. The very next Order of the Day relates to the ‘ consideration of the Bill itself. It would be improper for the honorable member to dis’-.uss the terms of the Bill upon the present motion, because he would be anticipating a debate upon a measure which is set down for consideration at a later stage. If he wishes to speak in an abstract way, he is at liberty to do so; but he cannot refer to the provisions of the Bill’ or discuss its form. I imagine that he can best accomplish what he desires by speaking upon the amendment of the honorable member for Parramatta.
– I wish to speak generally upon the Bill, and to advance reasons why it should not be passed.
– We cannot consider the Bill at the present stage..
– This is the time for the honorable member to do what he desires.
– You, sir, know exactly what I desire to do, and I am content to act upon your advice.
– The honorable member will see that the matter now under consideration is the message, which was re,ceived from the Governor-General upon the 31st March. That message reads -
In accordance with the requirements of section fifty-six of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Governor-General recommends for the House of Representatives that an appropriation be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act relating to the payment to the several States of the surplus revenue of the Commonwealth.
The only matter now before us is whether an appropriation of revenue shall be made for the purposes of that Bill. The honorable member cannot discuss the Bill itself, nor any of its terms, until it is under consideration at a later stage.
– Do I understand that an honorable member loses his right to speak upon this Bill if he does not address himself to it now?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
It has for its object the authorization of the publication of our parliamentary papers. The matter really arises in connexion with the powers and privileges of the Houses. Section 49 of the Constitution says -
The powers, privileges, and immunities of the Senate and of the House of Representatives, and of the members and the Committees of each House, shall be such as are declared by the Parliament, and until declared shall be those of the Commons House of Parliament of the United Kingdom, and of its members and Committees at the establishment of the Commonwealth.
The British House of Commons and House of Lords have authorized, by Statute, the publication of parliamentary reports and papers laid before them. It was decided by the Courts of the Realm that Parliament, by a mere resolution, could not authorize the publication of parliamentary papers.
– Is not this Bill intended to cover Mr. Beale’s report upon secret drugs, cures, and foods?
– It will cover that case. The Imperial Statute was enacted as the result of the case of Stockdale v. Hansard. In that case the Courts held that the House of Commons had no power, by mere resolution, to authorize the Government Printer to print and publish reports which contained defamatory matter. In order to enable parliamentary papers to be published under the authority of either House of the Imperial Parliament, a Statute was passed the [provisions of which we purport substantially to re- enact. All the Parliaments in Australia have enacted a law in practically the same terms. Of course, it may be contended . that, by virtue of section 49 of the Constitution, we possess all the powers, privileges, and immunities of the British House of Commons, and that amongst them is the power to authorize the publication by the Government Printer of parliamentary papers and reports. But the English Act and all the Australian Acts contain provisions relating to procedure which could not by implication be covered by such a provision. To put the fact beyond doubt, that either House has the power by a resolution to authorize the publication of papers laid before it, this short’ measure has been introduced. It sets out that it shall be lawful for either the Senate or the House of Representatives to authorize the publication of any document laid before it.
– Would a motion ordering a document to be printed be a sufficient resolution ?
– Yes. I intend to move a short amendment to cover that point. The Bill provides that -
No action or proceeding, civil or criminal, shallbe against any person for publishing any document under the authority of the Senator of the House of Representatives.
That is practically the provision which is contained in the Imperial statute. The next sub-clause lays down the procedure which may be adopted in this connexion. It declares that if a person does publish a certain document under the authority of Parliament, and an action is brought against him in respect of any matter contained therein, he may, by a simple procedure, file certain documents, and thus have the action stayed. The idea underlying that provision is that when once either House of Parliament has authorized the printing of a paper, the production of a certificate to that effect shall be suffi- cient to insure the discontinuance of the prosecution, or the action, as the case may be. Clause 4 deals with actions or proceedings, civil or criminal, for libel, which are brought against persons for the publication of any extracts from parliamentary reports. It provides that if these are published in good faith for the information of the public, no action shall lie against them. It also provides -
A publication shall be deemed to be made in good faith for the information of the public if the person by whom it is made is not actuated in making it by ill-will to the person defamed. or by any improper motive, and if the manner of the publication is such as is ordinarily and fairly used in the publication of news.
The last section provides -
Nothing in this Act shall derogate from any power or privilege of either House of Parliament, or of the members or Committees of either House, as existing at the commencement of this Act.
It merely confers a power upon the Houses of this Parliament, a power which they should possess, to authorize the publication of reports which affect the public interest.
– How will the Bill affect the earlier issues of Mr. Beale’s report?
– I intend to propose the addition of a clause to protect them retrospectively.
– Was not this Bill brought forward to cover that case?
– It was the case which gave rise to the Bill, but our real object is to have our rights and privileges clearly defined.
– Does “ publishing “ mean “distributing” also?
– It means issuing to the public. In a matter of this sort, it is, highly desirable that we should follow the example of other Parliaments by passing this short measure authorizing the publication of ourown parliamentary papers and reports.
.- It is unfortunate that we should be called upon to consider this Bill before we have received the full report of the Select Committee upon Parliamentary Privilege. As that report will shortly be presented to the House, it seems to methat the Government might well have deferred the introduction of this measure.
– The Committee have not dealt with this branch of the question.
– In reference to Mr. Beale’s report, which it is desiredto protect. I understand that Mr. Judkins complains that he is libelled by Mr. Beale’s report, and that a number of pill vendors object to some of its passages, while the proprietors of Hearne’s Bronchitis Cure have informed me that the statement that poisons are used in compounding their remedy is absolutely untrue. Undoubtedly, Mr. Beale, in preparing the report, acted in good faith ; but it seems hardly right to allow persons to publish extracts from it, with a view to damaging trade rivals. Furthermore, I wish to know if the publication of Hansard is protected by the Bill?
– No. The Bill deals only with the publication of Parliamentary papers.
– Would a member who forwarded to a constituent a copy of Beale’s report be liable, if it were proved to contain defamatory matter?
– Extracts from . the report, published in good faith, as news, would be protected. The publication of the Parliamentary debates is protected here, as in England, by the common law.
– Am I to understand that a member forwarding to a constituent a copy of a parliamentary paper containing defamatory matter, would be protected?
– The Bill is intended to confer on either House of Parliament the power possessed by the English Parliament to authorize the printing and publication of the papers laid before it, even though they may contain defamatory matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
In Committee :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
It shall be lawful for either the Senate or the House of Representatives to authorize the publication of any document laid before it.
– I wish to know whether a member circulating a publication, the printing of which has been authorized by Parliament, but containing defamatory matter, will, after the Bill is passed, be liable for libel ?
– The object of the Bill is to confer upon the Houses of this Parliament powers similar to those exercised by the English Parliament.
– Is this clause taken in substance from the English Act?
– Yes. The object is to authorize the publication of papers, which may contain defamatory matter, laid before Parliament in connexion with public proceedings. A resolution having been passed authorizing the printing of papers laid on the table, the Government Printer may print and circulate them in the ordinary course of business, and no action or civil proceeding will lie against any person, for publishing any document under the au thority of either House. Under clause 4 the publication of extracts must be in good faith.
– What is meant by good faith?
– The term is defined in sub-clause 2 of clause 4. The publication must be made for the information of the public, and the person by whom it is made is not to be actuated by ill-will to the person, defamed, or by any” improper motive, while the manner of the publication must be such as is ordinarily and fairly used in the case of the publication of news.
– Will the person who makes the publication have to prove good faith?
– Yes. .The English law on the subject is set out in an Act passed in 1840, because of a conflict between Parliament and the Courts arising out of the case of Stockdale v. Hansard. Reports had been published reflecting on certain .publishers, and the Courts held that an action for defamation would lie where publication was authorized only by resolution of the House of Commons. Therefore it became necessary to pass the Statute to which I refer, which deems it - essential to the due and effectual exercise and discharge of functions and duties of Parliament, and to the promotion of wise legislation, that no obstructions or impediments should exist to the publication of such reports, papers, votes, or proceedings of either House of Parliament as Such House of Parliament may deem fit or necessary to be published.
It was made lawful for any defendant in an action for libel to plead as a defence that the publication was authorized by either House of Parliament, ‘ and the procedure is .similar to that followed in the Bill. The publication of Hansard is protected at common law.
– There was a good deal- of doubt about that in the case of Grimwade end Co. v. The Argus.
– The English authorities are clear on the subject.
– Why not provide in the Bill for the publication of Hansard?
– Because to do so would lie to go probably beyond the order of leave. Under the common law -
Every fair or accurate report . of any proceeding in. either House of Parliament, or in any Committee thereof, is privileged, even though it contain matter defamatory of an individual.
– Would that apply to reports of the proceedings of the Commonwealth Parliament ?
– The common law in regard to libel prevails here, and therefore the protection which it extends will hold good.
– There is no common law protection where a libel is proved.
– Certain defences may be set up which protect against liabilty
– My recollection was that the reports of the proceedings of a court of justice are privileged at common law, but not Hansard reports.
– The passage I read was from Odgers on Libel.
– Would a newspaper reprinting the Hansard report be protected ?
– A newspaper account of the proceedings of Parliament, if fair and accurate, is privileged. Odgers says -
The analogy between such reports and those of legal proceedings is complete. Whatever would deprive, a report of a trial of immunity, will equally deprive a report of Parliamentary proceedings of all privilege.
A speech made by a member in this House is absolutely privileged.
– In Victoria statutory privilege must be obtained for the reports of court proceedings.
– It is clear that a fair and accurate report of the proceedings of Parliament is protected ; but it was held in Stockdale v. Hansard that a House cannot by a mere resolution protect the publication of parliamentary papers or re. ports ordered to be printed.
– Suppose that a slander were uttered in Parliament, printed in Hansard, and re-published in the press?
– A fair and accurate report of the proceedings of Parliament, like a fair and accurate report of the proceedings of a court, is protected. The speeches of members of Parliament are’ privileged. If a member makes a defamatory statement in the House and - subsequently causes his speech to be printed, and circulates it privately among his constituents, bond fide foi their information on any matter of general or local interest, a qualified privilege would attach to such report. . . . But if a member of Parliament publishes his speech to all the world, with tEe malicious intention of injuring the plaintiff, he will be liable both civilly and criminally. .
The law is that if a member of Parliament publishes a speech to all the world with the malicious intention of injuring some one, he is liable to both the civil and the criminal law.
– But if some one else publishes a report of that speech he is protected.
– If he publishes in good faith what is a fair and accurate report of the speech he is protected under the common law. This Bill purports to deal only with the publication of our own parliamentary papers, and protects the person authorized to print and publish, just as the Imperial Parliament, as well as the. Parliaments of Canada and of the Australian States have done.
.- It is questionable whether the words “ authorize the publication of any document laid before it ‘ ‘ cover a mere order, such, for instance, as a direction, by the House that a certain paper laid on the table shall be printed.
-7-1 have circulated an amendment to cover that point.
– When that amendment is proposed I shall raise the question whether it is well that a mere order to print a document should cover the publication of slanderous matter. I am inclined to think that it is open to question whether in the case of a document containing slanderous matter the House should not distinctly take the responsibility of deciding whether it should go into circulation. I do not think we wish to put slanderous matter into circulation, except in the public interest.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (No action for libel in publishing copies, &c, of Parliamentary papers).
.- I fancy that the words in sub-clause 2 -
A publication shall be deemed to be made in good faith for the information of the public if the person by whom it is made is not actuated in making it by ill-will, throw upon a person wishing to gain the protection of this clause the onus of proof. Sub-clause 1 makes the protection subject to the publication having been made in good faith.
– There is a similar provision in the English law.
– The onus is on the person publishing the libel to show that he published it in good faith. If that be so, the onus will be on him to show, under subclause 2, that he had no ill-will to the person concerned, and no improper motive. He would probably set up the plea of good faith, and in the absence of any evidence impugning his assertion, it would pass that he had published the report in good faith j but I do not know how his mere assertion would be proof against evidence of acts of ill-will.
– It is a question of the balance of testimony.
– The important point is that which I propose to raise later on as to whether we should allow slanderous matter to be protected unless we have’ definitely authorized the publication of the document in which it is contained. I shall ask the Committee when we have before- us- the amendment to be proposed by the AttorneyGeneral to consider whether it would not be a fairer protection to persons whose characters might be impugned to provide that the authority of the House shall be an authority for actual publication as opposed to a mere authority to print a document - an order which is agreed to as a matter of form, and which might be made without a knowledge of the fact that the document in question contained slanderous statements. We have a Printing Committee
– I think the provision is safeguarded by the fact that the Printing Committee recommends what, documents shall be printed.
– I do not think we would wish to protect the publication as news of something that we knew to be untrue, and I would rather put upon the House the onus of a direct authority to publish.
.- Let us assume for the purposes of argument that Mr. Beale’s report is defamatory of some person and consider what, under clause 4, would be the position of any honorable member who sent a copy of that publication to a constituent or a friend. I sub- mit that he would have to prove that the publication was for the information of the public. If I were to hand to any person outside a copy of a parliamentary paper containing a libellous statement, and that person passed it on, he too would have to prove that the publication was in good faith, and for the information of the public, just as a person selling a newspaper containing a libel is liable, to be sued for damages. In a court, all. parties to its distribution, principals and agents, are liable.
– I think there is something in the honorable member’s contention. It might be held that in such case the publication had not been made with the authority of Parliament.
– I think that we ought to strike out the words “ for the information of the public.” This clause seems to be directed more to the protection of newspapers than of honorable members. A man who sent through the post a parliamentary paper containing defamatory matter should be protected as well as a newspaper which published an extract from the same document.
. -I think that there is some force in the honorable member’s argument, and thatit will benecessary to consider the advisablencss of proposing the insertion of a new clause to meet the difficulty to which he has directed attention. This clause is intended only to cover the publication of news in good faith, and I am inclined to think that in an Act of which I have a copy there is a provision following the lines which the honorable member for Corio has suggested we should adopt. As to the question raised by the leader of the Opposition respecting the onus of proof under this clause, I would remind him that it was drafted from a section of the Queensland criminal code, prepared by the present Chief . Justice, and follows in substance a provision in the English Act.
– Has there ever been a case under it?
-I am not aware of any. The onus is undoubtedly on the defendant, and perhaps it is only just that it should be. If a man circulates a defamatory statement concerning some individual he has prima facie done an injury. In order to be protected under this clause he must show that he made the publication in good faith, and produce the Parliamentary paper from which he took it. This provision follows the English practice, and I think that it may be safely agreed to. I can, however, conceive of such a case as the honorable member for Corio has stated, and I shall have a clause drafted to meet the circumstances.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed -
That the following new clause be inserted to follow clause 2 : - “ When either House of the Parliament has ordered a document to be printed, that Home shall be deemed, unless the contrary intention appears in the order, to have authorized the Government Printer to publish the document.”
.- This clause seems to me to raise rather a serious question. The danger is that the mere motion that a document be printed would authorize the circulation of slanderous matter, which the House might not wish to circulate if its attention were drawn to it. I am inclined to think that the matter ought to be considered a little, and some precaution taken in the way of some special authority, such as the recommendation of the Printing Committee.
– I think the right honorable member rather exaggerates any danger there may be, and I put the supposition that, in the absence of any specific authority, if any matter were printed in the ordinary course, and did inadvertently contain defamatory matter, an action would lie.I think that if we take the ordinary procedure for the publication of parliamentary papers, there is no great danger. At present, I think, the rule is that the Printing Committee decide what papers shall or shall not be printed.
– I take it that if this clause is passed Ministers will be very careful.
– Certainly ; Ministers who lay reports on the table should take on themselves the responsibility.
.- Very, often the House orders a petition to be printed which contains very inaccurate statements, and if a person desired to circulate a libel which would be punishable if published in a newspaper, he might get it inserted in a petition, and thus have it printed. He would thus be protected, even after libel proceedings had commenced. Many petitions are ordered to be printed, through, I was going to say, the carelessness or good nature of honorable members.
– But I think the responsibility is thrown on the honorable member who moves that the petition be printed, and it is quite possible that the Standing Orders might deal with the matter.
Clause agreed to.
Proposed new clause 4A (Application of Act) agreed to.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
House adjourned at10.36 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 28 May 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1908/19080528_reps_3_46/>.