3rd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 4.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have been informed that the employes in the imported harvester distributing houses frequently work on Saturday afternoon and night, and’ throughout Sunday. My informant tells me that recently, some of them worked until 2 a.m. on Sunday, and that a number of boys worked throughout Sunday and Sunday night, and until 1.30 a.m. on Monday. They had then to walk considerable distances to reach their homes, but were expected to return at 8.45 the same morning. It is said that lady typists frequently have to work until 10 p.m. Inview of these allegations of sweating and’ bad conditions of employment in the imported harvester distributing houses, will the Prime Minister, if necessary, widen the scope of the Royal Commission which;. he intends to appoint, so that all the facts as to wages, conditions, &c, may be made known, to furnish data for the ascertainment of the relative value to the people of the Commonwealth of the manufacturing and distributing businesses in this industry ?
– The honorable member is right in assuming that we intend to convert the present Select Committee into a Royal Commission. It is our desire to give it power to investigate all matters necessary for the ascertainment of information as to the cost of harvesters, selling prices, and conditions of manufacture and sale. We wish to clothe it with all necessary powers.
– Do I understand that it is proposed to extend the scope of the inquiry ?
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the reports which are current to the effect that large numbers of Chinese are coming into the country ? If they are true, will he make a determined effort to put an end to the introduction of these aliens?
– I am glad that the honorable member has asked the question. Ministers are alive to the difficulty of finding out and apprehending those who are surreptitiously introducing prohibited immigrants, and, if Parliament will pass a short Bill which we intend to introduce, it will very greatly strengthen our hands in dealing with the matter. Every resource that the Commonwealth possesses must be used to catch delinquents, both the aliens themselves and those who are, at least, conniving at their importation. I cannot think it possible for large numbers of Chinese stowaways to be brought to Australia without some of the responsible officers of the vessels on which they come knowing of their presence there.
– Has any decision yet been arrived at with regard to the proposed simplification of uniforms? If not, is it likely to be given before the end of the week?
– The Minister is obtaining evidence on the subject throughout the Commonwealth, and will come to a decision when it is complete. I cannot say whether his decision will be made before the end of the session.
– I understand that a Mr. Drakard has been appointed an agent for the advertising of Australia in Great Britain, and is leaving this country immediately, if he has not already left. It is stated that he is to tour the rural districts of Great Britain, under conditions fully set out in the newspapers, whose reports the Prime Minister has, no doubt, read. I ask the honorable gentleman if those reports are correct, and, if not, under what conditions is Mr. Drakard to act for the Government.
– I am not able to reply to the honorable member, because I know nothing about the matter. I therefore ask him to put his question again to the Minister of External Affairs.
– According to the newspapers, Mr. Drakard has already left for London. Are we to understand that he has done so without the knowledge of the Prime Minister?
– I know nothing of the matter, my first intimation in regard to it coming from the press.
– Does the Prime Minister know whether Mr. Drakard has left?
– I understand that Mr. Drakard is to have the right of publishing whatever advertisements he chooses in the pamphlets containing information about Australia which he is to distribute. Will steps be taken to prevent the Commonwealth from being made sponsor for advertisements with which we should not care to be associated? If so, what supervision is to take place?
– As I know nothing about this matter, I ask the honorable member to address his question to my honorable colleague. The Government ‘ will not give any person carte blanche in this matter.
– Will the Prime Minister see that no one city of Australia is singled out for detraction, to the advantage of the others?
– I hope that whoever is sent on a mission of this kind will remember that only one place is to be advertised, and that is Australia.
– It was done before.
Fifth Class Telegraphists.. - Post Office and Telephone Works. - Messrs. Freeman and Wallace : Embargo on Correspondence.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In view of the fact that certain 5th class telegraphists have suffered monetary loss to the extent of nearly£5,000 through an examination which has since been abolished, is he in favour of recouping these officers their loss.
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
Under the law all salary increases were discretionary, and the increments of the telegraphists referred to were not granted, as they failed, when required to do so, to show that they had attained a reasonable standard of telegraphic efficiency.
The examination was abolished, as it had served its end of providing for promotion of the more efficient telegraphists, and as new en trants to the class were all required to pass an adequate test before admission.
The advancement of the residuum of unqualified 5th class telegraphists was allowed eventually as a concession in view of their length of service and general good conduct, but as the reason for denying promotion when the examination was in force was adequate, there is now no more justification for granting the equivalent of the unearned increments than there is for granting increases to others from whom they have been withheld for good and sufficient reasons.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
In regard to delay in carrying out post and telephone works which have been approved of - and in some cases where ministerial instructions were issued by the late Postmaster-General to his responsible officers to at once proceed with the work - is he taking any steps of a definite character to have necessary funds provided.
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
Yes. When it is considered practicable to carry out much work during this financial year, the Treasury has been asked, if possible, to provide funds therefor.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
If he will lay upon the table of the House or Library the entire correspondence, if any, relating to the removal by a previous Government of the embargo on the transmission of Messrs. Freeman and Wallace’s correspondence through the post office ?
– The correspondence referred to will be laid upon the table of the Library.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Instructional Staff : Examinations. - Karkakatta Rifle Range. - Adjutants : Militia and Volunteer Regiments
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
English Composition, Geography,
English and Australian History
The Matriculation Examination of a British or Australian University. or
The Senior or Junior Public Examinations of an Australian University.
Yes. It is necessary that candidates should pass an educational standard for appointment to such important positions.
The question is being considered with a view to revision.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorablemember’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether he intends to appoint permanent Adjutants to the Militia and Volunteer Regiments, for which purpose provision was made in the Estimates 1907-8, such officers not yet having been appointed ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows : -
No provision has been made on the Estimates for1908-9or the appointment of permanent Adjutants to Militia and Volunteer Regiments, the question having been held over pending the re-organization of the Military Forces recently contemplated.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 4th December, vide page 2758) :
Department of Trade and Customs
Division 37 (Central Staff), £28,054
Mr. THOMAS BROWN (Calare) division for what is apparently a new position, that of Assistant ComptrollerGeneral, at a salary of £1,000 per annum. In last year’s Estimates no such item appeared.
– I think that we ought to have from the Minister a statement as to why this new position has been created.
– Until recently the whole of the work relating to the interpretation’ of’ the Tariff and decisions thereunder was invariably referred to the Victorian office, and the duties of the Central staff grew so largely that Mr. Lockyer, who was Collector of Customs in Sydney, had to remain in Melbourne, for the purpose of giving these decisions, for four out of the last seven and a half years. The Public Service Commissioner, apparently recognising, through the Minister, the necessity for this appointment, created the position, and advertised it, with the result that Mr. Lockyer, who had been doing the work for something like three and a half years, was appointed at a salary of £1,000 per annum. That is slightly in excess of the remuneration he received as Collector of Customs in New South Wales.
.- I wish once more to emphasize the view that I have long held that it would be advantageous to the Department, and possibly of some benefit to the people of Australia, if inspectors and other officers responsible for the landing of cargo were transferred, at reasonable periods, from one port to another. Unfortunately, we have had from time to time exposures in connexion with the Department showing that in the various States officers have been deceived, and considerable loss of revenue has resulted. Apparently this is due in some cases to the fact that an officer, having remained in the one position for some years, has falleninto a beaten groove, and has been induced to accept the word of certain importers who were believed to be reputable business men. In this way the revenue of the Department has been seriously depleted, while in other instances frauds have been committed in consequence of inattention, if I may so describe it, of certain Customs officials to the duties they are expected to fulfil. In addition to these leakages of revenue, there have not Seen wanting indications of a considerable influx of aliens into the various States notwithstanding the efforts of officers charged with the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act, who, for the most part, are attached to the Department of Trade and Customs. The Minister is at present possessed of information as to certain imports being undervalued for the assessment of duty. It would be of immense value to thepeople of Australia if responsible officers were periodically removed to other States; and this is a view I have previously advanced. In my judgment, it is possible for a. Customs officer, who has been for long in one place, to give certain latitude to importers, whom he believes to be honorable men ; and experience has proved in the past that such confidence is ‘ sometimes misplaced, with disadvantage to the revenue. If my idea were carried out, it could not seriously interfere with the officers’ convenience, and would do much to prevent evasion of the Customs. I should like to hear the views of the Minister on this point.
– I hope that the Minister of Trade and Customs will not act on the suggestion of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. I speak with some experience, and I know that the men at the head of these branches of the Customs Department are honorable men. I can only suppose that the honorable member, in his remarks, refers to the cases in South Australia, where, no doubt, there was serious fraud; and I should like here to say that I could never understand why another prosecution was not proceeded with, as it would have been had I remained at the head of the Department.
– Itis not too late to proceed now.
– At any rate, the prosecution was not proceeded with ; and, though I do not desire to mention names here, I shall have no objection to give them to the Minister. Before I left office, I satisfied myself that a prosecution would lie and gave that instruction.
– The honorable gentleman’s successor, who was in the same Government, was in office several months afterwards.
– I shall not say anything as to that. Let it be clearly understood I do not blame the Minister, who was anxious to sheet the crime home ; but the parties havenot yet been punished as the information submitted to me showed they should be. I was very much astonished that the principals in the case I refer to were not brought into Court.
– Is the honorable gentleman referring to the prosecution of agents ?
– No; I am referring to a case where the underlings were charged, and the principals were not; and I could never understand why.
– Why did not the honorable member place that view before his successor ?
– Never mind as to that; I am talking about the matter now; and I am a freelance at the present time.
– Hear, hear; and a good one, too !
– I was surprised that no prosecution was instituted. In the other case, there was the prosecution, in which fraud was proved and sentence passed.
– Surely the case in South Australia is not the only case? What about the fish business?
– The South Australian case was the most important case whilst I was Minister of Trade and Customs; but, of course, there were others. Who will say that the Comptroller-General is not an infinitely superior man to be at the head of this Department?
– I did not say anything about that officer.
– But supposing the honorable member’s idea of periodical removal were carried out, and Mr. Lockyer or Mr. Smart were removed from this State, does he think that the results would be beneficial ? Could Mr. Smart do better service anywhere than he does in Victoria, where he has lived all his life, and where he knows every individual, importer ? Then, in Sydney, there is, perhaps, no officer who has a better knowledge of the local importers than has Mr. Baxter. Why should that officer be removed to some other place, and some one less competent substituted ? If we appoint proper men to these offices, we ought to trust them; and I know that a great deal of latitude has to be given to various firms in the importing business. The Department has to depend much on the character and record of honour of firms.
– That was not the idea of the first Minister of Trade and Customs.
– I am now speaking merely of my experience as Minister; and I depended on my officers to find out which firms could be trusted and which could not. It would be a, deathblow to proper administration if officers were kept moving about.
– The only reason for removing officers must be that we do not depend on them.
– That can be the only reason. I have instanced Mr. Smart; and I can further say that it would be difficult to find a man to take the place of Mr. Lockyer, who is one of the ablest officials in the Department. It is necessary to find men of ability and the greatest integrity for such positions ; and unless we can get them we had better be without any. Having got such men, however, we ought not to unduly move them about.
– It is a most dangerous doctrine that, because an officer knows the importers, he ought to be kept in one place.
– There is no danger if the officer be honest ; and it takes men in such a position half their lives to find out whom they can, and whom they cannot, trust. If we have a man of integrity in such, a position, the knowledge he acquires in a port greatly assists administration ; and, in my opinion, repeated removals would only lead to confusion and congestion.
– The honorable member has advanced two premises, one of which he has himself denied time after time, namely, that the importer is an honest man.
– That is so; and the honorable member is very unfair. I have said that some importers are not honest; but I have never said that importers, as a whole, are dishonest. I know from experience of dishonest importing; and I also know many who, in branches of business other than importing, cannot be trusted. But I think that the Minister would be ill-advised if he were to move our officers about as suggested. The Minister soon knows when he has a good officer upon whom he can depend, and when he finds such a man he should keep him where he is doing good work. The Minister is new to the Department, and I venture to tell him that he will have to depend to a very large extent upon his officers. It is impossible for a Minister to know everything. It is impossible for him to worry out all the details for himself, and to dive down to the lowest depths of the intricacies of administration, in regard to every case that comes before him. If he cannot rely upon the Comptroller-General and a- Collector he had better get rid of those officers.
– The Minister will have a pretty tough job if he- tries to worry out all cases for himself.
– I can do as much work in a day as most men can, and I know how impossible it is for the Minister at the. head of the Department of Trade and Customs to do his duty without depending upon his officers. There may, of course, be cases where it is desirable to move officers about to some extent.
– It is a good thing to shift all civil servants every five years.
– That remark shows how little the honorable member knows about the subject. Of course, I know nothing about it, as the honorable member infers; but nevertheless I say that it is not a good thing to shift officers about.
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Hume has put into my mouth words that I never uttered. He said that I stated that he knows nothing about the Departments. I know that he knows a good deal.
– The honorable member, from his tone, rather suggested that I knew nothing about the administration of the Department of Trade and Customs.
– I neither said nor implied that.
– Perhaps I made a mistake. I simply wish to repeat that the Minister should not think of shifting officers when he knows that they, are doing good work.
.- The honorable member for Hume has made a statement that I think requires further explanation. The purity of the administration of the Department has been rather called in question in regard to matters which have taken place in South Australia. Now, if there is a Department of the Commonwealth in which there should be absolute purity of administration, it is the Department of Trade and Customs. It is from that Department that the bulk of our revenue is derived ; it is by that Department that the imposts levied by Parliament have to be collected. The honorable member has said that if he had remained Minister of Trade and Customs a little longer, the principal of a certain firm in South Australia would have had to stand his trial for defrauding the Customs. That is as serious a charge as I have ever heard during the discussion of the Estimates in this Parliament. The honorable member said that he would not mention names, although he would tell the Minister privately to whom he was referring.
– The matter is all over now.
– It is not all over. Time does not wash away guilt or shortcomings in regard to the administration of the Customs Department.
– Why did not the ex-Minister of Trade and Customs take action ?
– The question is a pertinent one, but nevertheless the fact that the late Minister took no action does not excuse this Parliament from insisting that action should be taken. The inaction of the ex- Minister simply, points to the relationships existing between one member of the late Cabinet and another. But the point that we have to consider is, that to-day for the first time we have been made acquainted with the fact that a firm in South Australia was guilty of such practices that the honorable member for Hume says the principal of it ought to have been prosecuted. To whom, did he refer? Had I known previously that a prosecution ought to have taken place in consequence of fraud upon the Customs, I should have considered it to be my duty to press the matter upon the Government until an inquiry was made. But I have been seised of the facts for the first time to-day. The present Minister of Trade and Customs, for the credit of his Department, should immediately institute an inquiry. The honorable member for Hume is to be thanked for mentioning the matter. Notwithstanding the attacks that were made upon him for some years, he has always been, as far as I know, a clean and honest administrator. That is my impression. That impression has been strengthened by his straightforward statement that if he had remained in office longer he would have instituted proceedingsin the case to which hereferred. The present Minister is new to the office. Surely he will recognise that he owes a duty to the Department and to himself. I wish to state that I cannot conceive of a more important Department than that of Trade and Customs.
– It is the most important Department that I have ever administered.
– I agree with the honorable member for Hume that the Minister may be compelled to rely upon his officers to a very large extent. But nevertheless, the honorable gentleman must not consider that he is relieved of responsibility simply by making himself the mere echo of the views of his expert officers, however able they may be. I know of no Department that requires more attention than does the one under discussion, and I cannot conceive of a conscientious Minister of Trade and Customs sheltering himself behind expert officers in reference to important matters of administration. I can quite understand the advice of the officers in reference to the interpretation of the Tariff being accepted by the Minister, but there are other matters as to which I hope he will make his own inquiries. Two courses are open to him in the discharge of his duties. Either he must echo the advice of his expert officers, or else he must be an industrious Minister, determined to master the details for himself. I do not think that the present Minister, who is a young man, and full of energy, means to shelter himself behind his officers. Here is his opportunity. The charge has been publicly made that a certain firm has defrauded the Customs. For some reason or other that firm has not been prosecuted.
– I said that the heads of the firm had not been.
– Instead of the heads of the firm being prosecuted they have been allowed to escape. There has been too much ground for the belief in this country that there is one law for the rich, and’ another for the poor. The present Minister is not likely to give further colour to that belief, and he would do well to inaugurate his introduction to the Department by instituting an inquiry as to the statement made by the honorable member for Hume. I agree with that honorable member that it would be dangerous to transfer officers from State to State repeatedly. Take the case of Dr. Wollaston. He is well acquainted with the practices and stability of various firms doing business in the port of Melbourne. He knows those firms which can be trusted and those which would be likely to be guilty of shady practices in business. Mr. Baxter, in New South Wales, is similarly well acquainted with the stability and practices of firms doing business in Sydney. Mr. Lockyer was brought over to Melbourne to assist in the interpretation of the Tariff, the original Commonwealth Tariff requiring a large number of decisions. I agree with the honorable member for Hume that it would be unwise to transfer these officers, who have gained complete knowledge of the way in which the business of importing is carried on in each State. Mr.’ Lockyer was brought over to Melbourne to assist in special work of interpretation.
– What should we do if those men died?
– The next best men would get their places. I do not put the heads of Departments on such a pedestal as to believe that they could not be done without. What I say is merely that a man who has been trained in the office in Melbourne is likely to do better work here than he could be expected to do if transferred to Sydney. Of course, in each case there is an understudy, who can take the place of the man above him at halfanhour’s notice.
– There would be a risk of a difference in the interpretation of the regulations in each State.
– I believe I am correct in saying that that matter is attended to by Mr. Lockyer of the Central Staff, and that he advises as to the regulations, not for Victoria only, but for the whole of the Commonwealth. I hope that the matter to which the honorable member for Hume has referred will not be allowed to pass without some action being taken by the Minister of Trade and Customs.
Dr. CARTY SALMON (Laanecoorie) (5.12]. - I hope that the Minister will pause before accepting the suggestion of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. The officers referred to by the honorable member have, for a considerable time past, been doing very valuable work in each of the States. The Comptroller-General of Customs, of course, has now a very fair knowledge of the conditions obtaining in all of the States. The Collector of Customs in Victoria has acquired a very complete knowledge of the conditions obtaining in this State by a very long and very honorable connexion with the Department. In Dr. Wollaston we have an admirable officer, who has shown his fitness for the position to which he was appointed at the beginning of Federation, and a man whom it will be very hard to replace ; but I agree that there is no officer who is altogether indispensable. Mr. Smart is not so widely known to honorable members and to the public, but is very favorably known in Victoria.
– Why was Dr. Wollaston sent to the other States to fix up matters if the local officers were able to do what was required ?
– Things do not require to be fixed up in Victoria. I do not say that our importers are better than those carrying on business in the other States, but we have at the head of the Customs Department in Victoria a man who has a complete knowledge of the various little ways for which some importers are famed.
– And manufacturers also.
– I do not dispute that, and I should be prepared to trust Mr. Smart’s opinion on Excise matters, because he is a thoroughly reliable officer. I would point out to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie that a Collector of Customs is scarcely in the position of a detective. There are plenty of officers under him who can carry out that class of work.
– I would shift some of them also. I should have periodical changes throughout the staff.
– I am inclined to agree with the honorable member that it might be wise to transfer men engaged in the work of inspection, since it is well that they should not be personally known to importers, but I feel that it would be a grave error to remove officers who had risen from the lowest to the highest positions inthe service from the States in which they had gained their information. To do so would be to lose the benefit of the information which it has taken them so many years, and so much pains, to acquire.
– I did not mention any particular officer. I referred chiefly to the men acting directly between the Department and the importers of goods.
– Then there is much to recommend the honorable member’s suggestion. I was speaking chiefly of the higher officers of the Department, who in Victoria, to my own knowledge, have done, and are doing, very valuable work, and whom it would be difficult to replace. I agree with the honorable member for Dalley that if the honorable member for Hume had at any time in his possession, as Minister, evidence which he believed would warrant a public trial of any importer or manufacturer for evasion of the law, he would not have done his duty if he had not placed it in the hands of the proper authorities.
– I advised prosecution on more than one occasion.
– Then I am sorry that the honorable gentleman’s advice was not followed. During the period in which I had charge of the Customs Department in Victoria, I learned how difficult it was to secure a conviction in such cases. But the Commonwealth Customs Act is a very much more perfect measure than was the State Act, and under it a great deal more might be done in the Courts. I urge that a trial should be made of the Act, to see whether it would not meet the case which has been referred to. If any importer, or any one who has dealings with the Customs Department, has been wilfully breaking the law for his own advantage, he should be brought to book. I trust that the present Minister will look into the matter, and if he finds the facts are as stated by the honorable member for Hume, I have no doubt that action will soon follow.
.- It may shorten the debate if I explain that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is already being carried out.
– Is the Minister quite sure that his followers wish to shorten the debate?
– I do, whether they do or not. Three inspectors have been appointed, as I think is known to every member of the Committee, and the intention is that every port in the Commonwealth shall be visited at least once a year, not only in connexion with Customs administration, but in connexion with the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act. It is intended that these inspectors shall make inquiries and see that the charges levied in all the ports are the same. One of the principal Victorian officers has been sent to South Australia, and one of the New South Wales officers has been transferred to take charge of the Landing Branch at Fremantle.
– They are not Collectors.
– I understood the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to suggest that transfers should take place of officers directly connected with the landing of goods.
– I do not think that it would do any harm if the Collectors themselves were sometimes transferred from one State to another.
– The Collector of Customs for Victoria was sent to South Australia to make investigations in connexion with the frauds which were brought tolight there.
– It was Mr. Smart who discovered them.
– That proves the wisdom of the suggestion made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.
– It proves that the inspectors who have been appointed are required.
– Is it not the best argument that could be submitted in support of the suggestion made by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie?
– No.; because the inspectors to whom I have referred will be able to do this kind of work in addition to making inquiries into the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act. I had before me the other day a very important report from an officer who has been visiting the north-west coast of Western Australia, and who dealt with the whole of the conditions obtaining at places at which these aliens might easily obtain admission to Australia. That report clearly demonstrates the necessity which exists for the exercise of greater supervision in this connexion. Regarding the matter to which reference was made by the honorable member for Hume, I do not know whether a verdict has been given against the firm in question. The honorable member stated that its “ underlings “ had been prosecuted.
– Yes; but the firm was not prosecuted.
– I believe that the firm was prosecuted and judgment was recorded against it.
– Its underlings only were prosecuted.
– At any, rate, the newspapers stated that the firm had been prosecuted. I believe that the honorable member is referring to the case of Messrs. Harris, Scarfe and Company.
– Will the Minister lay the papers relating to the case upon the table of the House?
– I am quite prepared to lay them upon the table of the Library so that honorable members may peruse them.
– Was it not the principal who prosecuted the agent in that case ?
– I do not think so. The honorable member has in mind the case of Messrs. Martin and Company, of Gawler, which is sub judice at the present time.
– Why has not that firm been compelled to pay up?
– So far as Messrs. Martin and Company are concerned, it is admitted that it paid every penny of duty to which it was liable. It was its Customs agent who robbed it.
– That firm owes £60,000.
– Its agents received every penny of the amount due. Further, the firm did not owe the whole of that sum to the Commonwealth. A great deal of the shortage occurred prior to the establishment of the Federation. I believe that the firm has been prosecuted and convicted of the offence.
.- Concerning the desirableness of removing Customs officers from one State to another at intervals, I think that the honorable member for Hume has given away the whole show. He has stated that the officials in South Australia could not discover the leakage which existed-
– I did not. I said that they did not discover it.
– Well, I will say that they “ did not “ discover it. There was, however, an idea that a leakage was occurring, and the honorable member for Hume declares that as a result he had to send a Commonwealth officer from Melbourne to Adelaide to investigate the matter.
– I sent Mr. Smart.
– What the honorable gentleman did upon that occasion is all that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is contending for. Why not send one of these smart Customs officers to Brisbane and another to Fremantle? Why not bring officers from some of the other States to Victoria to see that everything is being done right?
– The recentlyappointed inspectors are supposed to look after that.
– I have noted the evils which flow from permanently stationing our public servants in one particular locality, and my experience induces me to say without hesitation that they ought to be removed to fresh fields at least once every fiveyears.
– Then we must pay them salaries which will cover the cost of. their removal.
– Does the honorable member mean to tell me that an officer who is stationed at Brisbane is in any worse position than an officer who is living in South Australia ?
– I do not suggest that But if every five years we are going to remove our officers, lock, stock, and barrel, half-way round the continent we must pay them accordingly.
– Certainly; and the Commonwealth should be prepared to foot the bill.
– The present practice is to remove State school teachers from one place to another at intervals.
– No honorable member has attacked a single officer of the Customs Department this afternoon. The honorable member for Hume has declared that Mr. Smart is a good officer - one of the keenest in the Customs Department. I believe that every honorable member entertains a similar opinion of him. But at present we are dealing not with Mr. Smart, but with the conditions which obtain. If it was necessary for the honorable member for Hume to send Mr. Smart from Victoria to South Australia to discover a leakage in the Customs revenue-
– That statement is not correct. The leakage was discovered by a man named Skinner.
– A report was received which caused me to despatch Mr. Smart to Adelaide.
– At any rate, Mr. Smart was sent over to investigate matters, and he laid bare the whole position. I suppose that the ex-Treasurer, like the policeman in our Police Courts, acted upon “ information received.” That was all right-
– But when it came to the Ministry it was all wrong.
– No. The Department prosecuted, and as a result an ex-legislator of South Australia is now “bottled up.”
– No. He has completed his sentence, and is now at liberty.
– I am pleased to think that the brother is free.
– What about the £60,000 which the honorable member for Hume alleged is owing to the Department by a South Australian firm?
– The Minister has affirmed that that statement is all moonshine.
– I say that the firm in question paid the whole amount to its agents who robbed the Department, and who have since been gaoled for their offence.
– The Minister declares that the principals of the firm did not rob the Customs Department, but that its agents did so, and that those agents have since been punished. That case, I contend, evidences the need which exists for the removal of Customs officers from one portion of the Commonwealth to another at stated intervals. I come now to the case in which New Zealand cod was being introduced into Victoria as Tasmanian trumpeter, thus escaping the duty which was properly payable upon it. This thing happened in Melbourne directly under the nose of this ‘ smart ‘ ‘ officer to whom reference has been made. Yet he did not discover it, and it was only when one man who did not get his proper share of the proceeds “ peached “ upon the remainder of those involved in the fraud, that Mr. Smart was smart enough to run it to earth. Two or three Customs officers were involved in that fraud. I think that if they were not to be dismissed they should have been shifted to a Customs House outside Victoria.
– One was dismissed, and another disrated.
– What would the honorable gentleman do with a man who took money out of his pocket? He would send for a policeman, and put him in gaol. With regard to the three inspectors who have been appointed, are they to be stationed in a particular State, or are they to travel from State to State, and inspect not only the Customs’ books, but also the importers’ books?
– Their duty will be to obtain all the information they possibly can with regard to Customs and Excise matters.
– Will any one of the three officers be kept in a particular district?
– No. One officer has already been round the North-West coast of Western Australia, while another has been to Port Darwin.
– If, as the honorable member for Hume said this afternoon, everything was all right under the able administration of the different Collectors of Customs, why was it necessary to create three new positions worth£1,200 a year each? I really cannot understand why the positions were created if there was no leakage. Was it suspected that the Department was being got at in any way other than by stowaways?
– The Minister has already learned how to hold his tongue.
– We could soon draw him if we wanted to make him talk.
– The three inspectors were appointed at least seven months before I took office.
– Why were they appointed if everything with regard to the Customs was all right?
– In order to make sure that the administration of the Customs was uniform throughout Australia.
– Then they had an idea that something was wrong, and that is a satisfactory explanation to me - thatthese officers were needed for performing special services.
– That is the best argument in favour of the suggestion of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.
– It is one of the best arguments which could be adduced that these officers should be shifted. The exTreasurer interjected that that was why he sent an officer from another State. If it was good then, it stands good to-day. I do not suppose that any honorable member would ask the Minister to shift the Collectors of Customs, but certainly those who are in close touch with importers and agents should, in the interests of not only the service, but also the Commonwealth, be shifted periodically. I know that in a little bush town the police magistrate sets up a little coterie, and that his example is followed by the postmaster, the policeman, and the school teacher. One lot becomes golden-tails; another lot becomes silvertails; another lot becomes copper-tails; and God knows where the public come in ; they often get their tail jammed in trying to cross the threshold of the houses in which .these gentlemen are gathered. These officers should be shifted periodically, in order to burst up the little cliques. If little cliques exist in bush townships, larger cliques are bound to exist in big cities. I shall deal next with the question of Ministerial Courts. I cannot understand why the name of a man who has committed a crime against the Customs or Excise should be kept out of the press.
– That is a new arrangement since Mr. Kingston left the Department.
– Yes; but he used to do things in a very arbitrary manner.
– It is only fair to Mr. Kingston to say that he drafted the very regulation under which the Ministerial Courts are held.
– I ask the Prime Minister if Mr. Kingston stated in the regulation that the names of any offenders should be withheld from the public?
– They are all published.
– Some are not published.
– The names are all published in the Gazette.
– I can give instances where the names were not published in the press.
– They were published in the Gazette.
– I am talking about the publication of names in the press. Who reads the Gazette? I guarantee that the honorable gentleman has only read that publication since he became a Minister. I “feel sure that, as a private member, he never read it, unless there was something special which he desired to know.
– In every instance the names are published in the Gazette. If the names of offenders are not given in the newspapers, the responsibility rests with the conductors of them.
– If the newspapers, like to keep out the names, they can.
– So long as every name is published in the Gazette I am satisfied. I was very pleased to hear the Minister state that it is intended to shift certain officers periodically.
– The duty of the inspectors will be to go round the States.
– An inspector will not go continual lv over the same ground?
– I think that that will meet the case.
– What is the intention regarding the landing waiters?
– Landing waiters have been moved to different places; but there is no fixed rule.
– - f do not quite agree with the honorable member for Maranoa that there ought to be a wholesale shifting of these officers.
– I did not suggest a wholesale shifting, but a shifting of those who are in personal contact with importers and agents.
– I do not see the necessity even for that, except for some good reason shown. The honorable member’s analogies do not quite fit the case, I think. A police magistrate is usually left in a town, unless he wants promotion.
– But the honorable member knows that these things do happen.
– I am a.ware that they happen - very occasionally. So far as I know, if a postmaster does his duty, and desires to stay in a town, he is allowed to do so. He is removed, as a rule, for promotion.
– Very often there is a doubt in the case.
– No; he is removed for promotion, and for no other reason that I know.
– Why do they shift the police? To give them promotion?
– In order that they shall not get too friendly.
– I do not think that a State shifts a policeman or a school teacher unless there is some good reason for it, or for promotion. The honorable member knows that there is sometimes in the back country a hamlet in which a teacher lives and dies.
– I have seen them. They are ali anxious to get out of the hamlets.
– Yes; only because they are not qualified for promotion to a higher school, or for some other reason, they are not moved out. Opportunities for promotion do. not come, and the qualifications for promotion may be absent. The authorities do not move the teachers for the sake of moving them. There is no reason to do so. I consider that there is quite enough moving of officers in connexion with our Public Service. Some very painful cases occur even where promotion is the object sought. Only the other day a friend of mine, who is an engine-driver, told me that he has had to break up his little home and go away 200 miles into the interior in order to get promotion. Either he had to do that, or some one else would have stepped over his head and obtained a better status. It is bad enough for a man to have to betake himself to another part of the country, even when there is promotion to be gained by it.
– There is a great difference between a case of that sort and that of a man who is responsible for admitting into the Commonwealth, free of duty, goods worth thousands of pounds.
– I admit there is a difference; but officers should not be moved about Australia at immense expense, and so far as I can see, with no practical benefit resulting.
– Surely the amount - £66,000 - in the one case given,would pay the expenses of moving a large number of officers for a considerable time?
– The honorable member proceeds on the airy assumption that the mere moving of officers would prevent fraud. I doubt if it would. The honorable member for Hume referred to officers becoming acquainted with the details of firms’ businesses, and knowing whether the firms were honest or otherwise. The honorable member very clumsily stated a matter which is obvious to any one who thinks for a moment. I do not agree with him that officers should be left alone because they get to know which firms can be trusted and which cannot. I can conceive of no more dangerous doctrine than that a man should be allowed to exercise discretion between various firms as to which should be prosecuted and which should not. A Customs official ought to know neither friend nor foe, but should do his duty by the Department, irrespective of what the reputation of the firm may be.
– That is what the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is aiming at.
– It is what we are all aiming at. The only question is as to the best means of attaining it. One means of obtaining a salutary condition of things would seem to be the occasional removal of the Government. I am not speaking of the present Government, who are doing everything they could do, and are certainly following in the footsteps of their predecessors in almost every particular. I hope they will avoid their predecessors’ mistakes. It is peculiar that we have only heard of this case now that the late Government have left office.
– I think that the honorable member for Hindmarsh referred to it a dozen times.
– What is the good of referring to it? Honorable members opposite had the power of bringing; the late Government up to the bull-ring instantly. . Why did not they do it? Now that that Government are out of office the ex-Treasurer and ex-Minister of Trade and Customs can tell us all the details. He says he is surprised that nothing was done to prosecute this particular firm in Adelaide. He need not be surprised. He was in the Government; and, when leaving the Customs Department, left a recommendation that a prosecution should be instituted. He states that he intended to prosecute if he had remained in charge of that Department. He says he does not know why his colleagues did not order a prosecution. I do not know why he should be surprised, after all these months. We are the parties who should be surprised at having the matter sprung upon us by the honorable member the moment he leaves office.
– How could we know anything of the circumstances? Only Ministers could deal with cases of that kind.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs stated by interjection just now that the honorable member for Hindmarsh referred to the case several times in the House.
– We did not know the details any more than the honorable member for Parramatta did.
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh was always endeavouring to elicit the details.
– The matter cannot be allowed to rest where it is. The Committee ought to be informed, even now, why no prosecution was instituted. The ex-Treasurer, who was previously Minister of Trade and Customs, has given us the inside view of the matter.
– On the newspaper report of the case in the Court, it looked as though it was a similar case to thatof Martin and Company.
– It is of no use to rely upon a newspaper report of a case. The ex-Minister himself, speaking from inside knowledge, states that there was a case, and that he intended to prosecute. He expresses his complete surprise that his successor in office did not proceed in that direction.
– Not the present Minister.
– I mean the ex-Minister of Trade and Customs, who succeeded the honorable member for Hume in that position. We have a rightto know why a prosecution was not instituted. The present Minister has promised to furnish us with the papers. That is all he can hope to do for the present. I trust that the whole case, as it presented itself, both to the honorable member for Hume and to his successor, will be put before us. The House and the country have a right to know why, the moment one member of the late Government left the Department, another member of it quashed a prosecution that was in contemplation. We can only leave the matter now until we see the papers. I hope it will be cleared upfor the sake of our credit, and the credit of the Department.
.- There is an old axiom that new brooms sweep clean, and from that point of view, it is highly desirable that Customs officers should be shifted round a little. The statement of the honorable member for Hume is too serious for the Committee to pass over. He asserts deliberately that a firm in South Australia ought to have been prosecuted, and would have been if he had remained Minister of Trade and Customs. He says, in effect, that the firm defrauded the Department of some £66,000. Such a statement, even if it came from a private member, could not be ignored ; but, coming from an ex-Minister of Trade and Customs, who was in the “ know,” the Committee certainly cannot afford to pass it over in silence.
– Does not the honorable member think that the honorable member for Hume was mixing up Martin’s and Harris, Scarfe’s cases?
– No. No honorable member has the right to make such a statement as that made by the honorable member for Hume, which is calculated to injure a number of firms in South Australia, because he mentioned no names. If he has any justification for such a statement, a prosecution should be instituted. The firm prosecuted an employe of theirs, named Frewin, on a charge of manipulating the Customs ; but the Court dismissed the case. The Customs authorities then instituted a prosecution against Harris, Scarfe, and Company, for certain irregularities in connexion with their invoices. It was fixed up. The matter was ended by the imposition of a penalty, the defence of the firm being that its officer had been paid by them the sum due to the Customs, although there is evidence that they were interested.
Mr.W. H. Irvine. - What defence was raised on behalf of the clerk?
– I think he got off on the plea that he was acting in accordance with the instructions of his firm. He was defended by Senator Sir Josiah Symon. Is the imposition of a fine sufficient when the revenue is defrauded ?
– The exTreasurer holds that it is not.
– I should not have risen but for the emphatic remarks of the ex-Treasurer, who has himself been Minister of Trade and Customs. The late Mr. Kingston in every case left it to the Court to decide whether a mistake had been committed or a fraud attempted. Whenever a firm is brought to book, it is alleged that a mistake has been made by a clerk, and an underpaid hireling is brought forward as a scapegoat. It was the Victorian system to bring offenders before a Minister or an officer of the Department, and in the two-and-a-half years prior to Federation!, no less a sum than . £15,000 was paid in fines by those called upon to make such appearances. It would be a hundredfold better for the Commonwealth to go back to the Kingston regime, and prosecute in every case. It should be left to an independent tribunal to say whether those charged with offences are or are not guilty. At present the public never knows who are brought up and carpeted, because no names appear in the newspapers.
– That is the fault of the newspapers. The names are published in the Gazette for every one to see.
– If the newspapers will not publish them, the names should be reported to the House, and printed in Hansard. The present system is not fair to honest business men. An ordinary South Australian citizen . probably could not name a firm which has been carpeted, and consequently, of course, suspicion attaches to all firms. Moreover, the present practice is a dangerous one. Customs officials should not arbitrate in these cases. They should be dealt with by those who have no other end to serve than the due administration of justice. I venture to say that hardly a member of the Victorian public knew what firms paid the ^15,000 to which I have referred.
– Does the honorable member suggest that, even where a mistake has been made, the person charged should be prosecuted? .
– It is dangerous to allow these cases to be dealt with anywhere but in a Court. Customs officials are only human.
– Why should a firm, merely because of the mistake of a clerk, be put to great expense in defending a Court case?
– It is strange that whenever an offender is charged he blames a clerk. I have heard of an instance in which clocks and theodolites were invoiced as lenses - the mistake of a clerk ! In another, seventeen cases of goods were entered as containing linens and calicos, but packed in the middle were valuable silks - again the mistake of a clerk ! That incident occurred in South Australia many years ago, and the firm involved was supposed to be a reputable one.
– Such cases are not always occurring. There may be one in thousands.
– But they are not always found out. If such offences, when discovered, are to be covered up, and the names of the offenders withheld from the press, they will naturally be encouraged. I contend that the charge made by the honorable member for Hume, that a South Australian firm had defrauded the revenue of many thousands of pounds, and that it ought to have been prosecuted, should not have been made unless the honorable member had proof of his statement. I ask the Minister of Trade and Customs to make inquiries, so that justice may be done to the firm in question.
– I do not think that any good can come of a discussion of this kind. A definite charge appears to have been made by the honorable member for Hume, that whilst the Administration of which he was a member was in office, a certain firm should have been prosecuted for offences against the Department of Trade and Customs. That complaint, however, does not lie against this Government. I may say at once that we shall do nothing to keep out of Court a case that should be dealt with by it. At the same time, I do not wish the honorable member, for Grey to think that there are no offences that cannot more properly be dealt with by the Collectors in. the various States.
– Are we to understand that all Customs offences are expunged by the coming into office of the present Administration ?
– Certainly not. I do not think that there is any limit to our right to deal with Customs frauds, no matter when they occurred. The Government will accept its own responsibility, as welt as that of any of its predecessors, in dealing with cases of fraud that are discovered, and seeing that offenders arebrought to justice. There are, however,, cases where fraud cannot be proved - where,, indeed, there has been no attempt to defraud - and they are dealt with by theCollectors of Customs. I once saw in the hands of the late Mr. C. C. Kingston thedr’aft of a Bill by which he intended tobring into operation the very machinery now in force for dealing with minoroffences. It is unfortunate that the honorable member for Hume should havemade this wide charge without adducing any proof of it; but, as the Minister of Trade and Customs has said, honorablemembers will have an opportunity, as far as’ possible, to inspect the departmental papers, and, where wrong has been done,, action will be taken. I certainly shall not cast reflections upon any of the people of South Australia until we have before us. better evidence than has been submitted by the honorable member for Hume.
– Does the honorablemember think ‘that he ought to have madesuch a statement?
– I do not.
– Under the heading of “ Miscellaneous,”” we have three items, which, to my mind, disclose a truly marvellous state of affairs. The first of these is the item of ;£i 2,500- to reimburse the States the cost of carrying out the provisions of the Commerce Act- 1905. When, a few weeks ago, I accused; the late Government of being unprepared to administer that Act, the honorable member for Hume, who was then Treasurer, replied, by way of interjection, that it was being administered by the Department of Trade and Customs. Notwithstanding that statement, we now find on these Estimates items totalling .£15,300 to reimburse the States the cost of administering, not only the Commerce Act, but the Bounties Act, for which ,£800 is provided, and the Australian Industries Preservation Act, for which .£2,000 is set apart. If this is to be continued, I do not know where our expenses will end. I repeat that the late Government were not in a position to administer the Commerce Act, and that they were compelled to depend to a very large extent on officers of the States to assist them in that work. Last year, ,£12,077 was paid to the States in respect of the cost of carrying out the provisions of the Act, and it seems to me that the late Government did not display that activity which might have been expected of it in dealing with trusts and monopolies under the Australian Industries Preservation Act. I enter my protest against this piling up of expenditure in respect of Acts which ought not to have been placed on the statute-book if the Commonwealth Government were not prepared to administer them.
– This item of _£i 2,500 seems to be a large amount to pay in respect of the cost of carrying out the provisions of one Act.
– As the honorable member for Flinders has just interjected, .£12,500 is a large sum to pay to reimburse the States the cost of carrying out the provisions of one Act; and from all I can hear, the administration of that Act is not giving satisfaction to exporters of produce. There seems to be widespread complaint against the way in which it is being administered by the Central authorities. We pass Acts of Parliament, and, I am afraid, set out to administer them without pausing to inquire what will be the result of our administration. A week or two ago, I attended a deputation of fruit-growers which waited on the then Acting Minister of Trade and Customs, Senator Best, and preferred a request that the administration of the Act, so far as it applied to fresh fruit and fresh produce generally, should remain in the hands of the States. Instance after instance was cited in which fruit left here for London in a sound condition, and on arriving at its destination was found to be rotten, although packed in cases bearing the Government brand “ Sound.” Honorable members will see what that may do, and is doing, according to the statements of reliable members of the deputation, for our reputation abroad. Every one knows, for instance, that certain diseases affecting the skins of oranges and other citrus fruits may develop on the voyage Home. An orange or a lemon may leave here in a comparatively clear, condition, and arrive in an absolutely bad condition at the other end of the world. For instance, bitter pip in apples is a very serious disease, which is puzzling the best brains of the world as to its origin and nature, and is ruining many of our orchardists.
– A deputation requested that a Bureau of Agriculture should be established for the purposes of scientific investigation.
– I was with that deputation, which asked for a special inquiry, in view of the fact that the best investigators of the world confessed themselves in a difficulty as to the origin of the disease. Apples may arrive in London ruined by this disease, and still the boxes are marked “ sound.”
– And the apples are sound when they leave Australia.
– That may be, and the same’ applies to other fruits and diseases Yet, we are guilty of the consummate folly of branding, the fruit “sound”.; and I am. told that this is affecting our trade very adversely, not only in London, but all over the Continent. The Minister will promise nothing beyond that he will make inquiry - that seems to be the best he can think of doing.
– I remember when the honorable member himself was a very “promising” Minister in New South Wales.
– I dare say, though I do not know exactly to what the honorable member is referring. I know that there were a great many problems which I could not solve, and I did not, as some heads of Departments do, pretend to solve them. However, the present system is enough to destroy our reputation and business, as was proved conclusively by some gentlemen who came from London on the deputation referred to. All we ask is that the Minister shall exercise some discretion.
– What does the honorable member suggest - that the fruit should be certified sound at the time of examination ?
– I say that it is absurd to brand fruit “sound,” when we cannot possibly know what will happen to it during a six weeks’ voyage.
-The honorable member thinks that fruit ought not to be within the provisions of the Commerce Act?
– I think this matter ought to be left to the States, the officials of which know more about the condition of fruit than the Federal officials possibly can. At any rate, as to fresh fruit, the branding might be altogether stopped.
– It should be inspected all the same.
– I have no objection to inspection under the Commerce Act, inspection being one of the objects of that measure ; but in this connexion, again, I think there is a lot of nonsense. For instance, when some of the delegates from New South Wales went to the Victorian markets in Melbourne, they saw the inspectors, not content with looking at the fruit inside the case, and inferring that it was sound, tipping all out on the floor, and, after examining it, packing it again. I venture to say that the repacking was not done with as much care as the original packing, and must result in a great deal of injury to the business that the Act is intended specially to guard.
– The examination of one or two specimens would not be a thorough examination.
– I venture to say that a skilled man could open a box of oranges, and, after looking at it, fairly judge the entire contents.
– The honorable member is assuming an honesty that does not exist.
– Not at all; it would be easy to a skilled and practical man. This tumbling about is a way to injure fruit and, so far as I can see, the present procedure must result in damaging the business. There are similar circumstances, I believe, in the case of butter. A rancid taste may be developed on the voyage, though the butter may have been perfectly sweet when despatched. It is we’ll known that much of the taint in butter develops on the ship, or some days after the examination has taken place; and I think we might do a little in this respect to help the growers and producers of Australia. I should like the Minister to promise to look into this very important matter practically, as it affects the growers of fruit all over Australia. The honorable gentleman will find that in his own State there is very strong feeling about the clumsy and unskilful way in which the whole business is conducted.
– There must be some supervision by experts.
– What I am pointing out is that an expert cannot guarantee that an apple which is sound when despatched, will be sound when it reaches London.
– But an inspection is of value in rejecting fruit which is bad before it is sent on the voyage.
– I am not talking so much about the inspection as the branding. Fruit is guaranteed sound here so far as is known; and there it seems the matter ends.
– It seems to me that there ought to be some mark to show that there has been inspection.
– But how can it be guaranteed that the fruit will be sound six or eightweeks hence? I ask the Minister to exercise a little common sense, and not subject the Department to ridicule in other parts of the world, and our growers to inconvenience and damage.
.- This is a very important matter ; and I should like to know from the Minister what is the total cost of the administration of the Commerce Act. We are told that , £12,500 has to be paid as reimbursements to States officials. It is proper that our exports should be thoroughly examined, so that they may sell to the best advantage in the markets of the world ; and to that end the duty should be performed, not partly by the States and partly by the Commonwealth, but by one or the other - only one authority ought to be responsible. Divided authority always leads to trouble. Perhaps it would be better to leave the whole of the work in the hands of the Commonwealth, which could do it very well. It seems a great pity to have the work partly done by the States and partly by the Commonwealth.
– The work is all done under the authority of the Commonwealth ; but we pay States officers for doing our work.
– I did not understand that that was the case. I understood that some of the export work was done by States officers. Does the total set down here cover the whole cost of administering the Act?
– There is an additional expenditure of about .£1,000 for our own officers.
– For such an important business as the inspection of exports, a sum of ,£12,500 is not excessive. But I should like to see the Commonwealth wholly in charge and thoroughly responsible.’ Why should we be dependent upon States officers?
– Simply because we do not employ them for the whole of their tune.
– I was under the impression that we spent a very large sum over and above the .£12,500. This amount is not excessive. As to the inspection of fruit referred to by the honorable member for Parramatta, the Minister might well take a note of the criticism that has been offered. The Commonwealth brand ought to be above reproach. No rotten fruit branded by the Commonwealth should be offered for sale in any part of the world. If the Minister could make arrangements to have certain exports inspected again in London, it would be a good thing. To do so might entail a great deal of extra machinery, and might require looking into. But I indorse what the honorable member for Parramatta has said, and agree that the subject is worthy of inquiry. I notice the sum of ,£2,000 on account of the ‘administration of the Australian Industries Preservation Act. I suppose that expenditure is occasioned by the law suit with the shipping companies.
– We shall be luck if we get off with an . expenditure of £2,000. I am afraid that the outlaywill be larger than that before the matter is disposed of.
– The item under consideration is one concerning which the Committee are entitled to have a little more information.
In interjecting that the sum was a large one, I did not mean to indicate my opinion that ,£12,500 would be a large sum of money for the effective carrying out of the policy of the inspection of our goods for export. But, as the leader of the Opposition has pointed out, there are instances in which the operation of that Act is not only ineffective, but positively mischievous. Would it not be possible to give the Committee more details with regard to this expenditure?
– As to the expenditure in the different States?
– Not so much with regard to the expenditure in the different States, as with respect to the different kinds of exports upon which the money is expended - the amounts for the inspection of butter, fruit, and other commodities. We should also have some information as to the particular work which is done by States officers. I agree with what has been said by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat, that the administration of Federal functions by States officers, when it can be avoided, is unsatisfactory. There are certain functions that it is more economical to perform through the instrumentality of States officers.
– The cost would be enormous if we did not, in some instances, avail ourselves of- the help of States officers.
– I am not condemning the practice ; there are certain functions that have to be performed, practically and economically, through State officers. But I think that in those cases it is highly desirable that this Committee should be given the fullest information as to the particular class of work that is done by each class of officer, and the proportion of time taken up in any particular class of work - not, of course, in minute detail. The Committee should have a great deal more information about the way in which the work is carried on, because we are dealing, not with officers of the Federal Government responsible to our own heads of Departments, but with the officers of the States. We ought, in other words, to have some definite information as to what we are paying for.
– Federal work is being done by States officers in other Depart- ‘ ments than the Department of Trade and Customs. It is done in the Home Affairs Department and in the Treasury.
– The system runs through several of the Departments. In those Departments in which the Commonwealth is availing itself of the servicesof States officers, it would be desirable that the Committee should have presented to it in greater detail information as to the nature and amount of the work actually so done.
– The principal lines of exports that are inspected at present axe butter, leather, fruit, game, seeds, plants, and meats of all kinds. The amount of the expenditure is . £12,500. In addition to that, there is an expenditure of about £1,000 paid to our own officers in respect of the same class of work. It would be impossible for the Commonwealth, under present circumstances, to have the whole of the work done by its own officers. For reasons of economy we utilize States officers, and pay them for the work. I have not the details of the work before me at the present time, but honorable members must know that it is so extensive that the expenditure naturally runs into a good sum. I am aware, of course, that the opinion is held by a good many growers that the work of inspection should not be done by the Government at all. But that is a point of view which affects the policy of the Act itself, and not the administration of it.
– Not necessarily, because the Act is administered by regulation, and the regulations can be amended.
– I admit that.
– Does the Minister think it wise, in the interests of the Commonwealth, that , the Government brand should be put on articles to indicate that they are prime, when, as a matter of fact, they are not?
– I take it that a person who buys fruit that bears the Government brand knows that it is intended to indicate that the fruit was sound at the time the brand was put on the box. It can indicate nothing more than that. I have heard the tanners state that the branding has been of the utmost benefit to their trade. That statement was made at the tanners’ dinner recently. I believe that when the whole of the exporters come to know more of the administration of the Commerce Act, they will not think it hurtful to their interests. The Act is working very harmoniously, and our work is being efficiently done by
States officers. In fact, I think that the work is being done better than would be the case if Commonwealth officers did the whole of it.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 37A (Analyst), £1,820, agreed to.
Division 37B (Fisheries), , £3,574.
.- Will the Minister say when he “expects that the trawler will be put into commission, and whether the Director of Fisheries and the Assistant Naturalist are to accompany the trawler upon her expeditions for purposes of scientific investigation ?
– I marked this vote and the previous vote for the Analyst in order to make some reference to them when they came up for consideration. They involve the establishment of two entirely new subDepartments, one at a cost of £1,820, and the other at a cost of £3,574, and I should like to ask the Minister if he can inform the Committee whether any arrangement has been made with the States in connexion with these matters, and whether there is to be any corresponding decrease in State expenditure under these heads. These Estimates are piling up with wonderful acceleration year by year.
– How can we say whether there will be any corresponding reduction in State expenditure?
– I expect there will be no reduction of expenditure in connexion with fisheries, but if the honorable member had been present and had made inquiries when the vote for the Analyst was put to the Committee, I could have informed him that the whole of the amount involved is now being spent either by the State or Federal Departments.
– My point is that these are additional Departments which the Federation is setting up, and we should know whether they are to do work which is now being done by the States or something in addition. We appear to be duplicating work which is now being done by the States Governments, and it was understood that the transfer of these Departments to the Commonwealth would be accompanied by a. reduction in State expenditure.
– That is a matter for the States Governments.
– I am aware of that. I am asking whether the States Governments have been referred to or whether this work has been undertaken by the Federal Government irrespective of the States. We were given to understand that the coordination by the. Commonwealth of work hitherto done by the States would lead to greater economy and efficiency. I am afraid that that has not been the case up to date, and the question is, how far we should go in multiplying these agencies, if nothing is being done to relieve the taxpayers, who are the same all the time, of expenditure which now takes place under the States. I suppose there is no help for it, and that we must go on with our work.
– We cannot hold our hands and wait the convenience of the States Governments.
– I am not suggesting that we should, but that when we take over the administration of additional departments an effort should be made in conjunction with the States Governments, to see whether we could not relieve the taxpayers of some of the expenditure which they now have to meet.
– I believe that New South Wales is the only State that has hitherto made any provision for a Fisheries Department, and the expert official of the New South Wales Department, Mr. Dannevig, has been appointed Director of the Commonwealth Department. Whether the New South Wales Government will duplicate that office I do not know. It is not within my province, I think, to suggest either that they should- or should not do so. The trawler is nearing completion, and will, I believe, be ready to be put into commission at the latter end of January or the beginning of February next. Applications have been advertised for to fill the positions of master, first and second mate, first and second and junior engineer, and three fishermen, and it is expected that these positions will be filled “this_week. The work to be undertaken by the trawler, the investigation of the fisheries around our coast, is being undertaken at the desire of a majority of the members of this Committee. I do not shelter myself behind the plea that this is a proposal of my predecessor, because I am one of those who voted for it and I believe in it.
– The New South Wales Government has not indicated any opposition to the proposal.
– No, nor so far as I know has the Government of any other State.
– Has the Commonwealth sought the co-operation of the States Governments ?
– That I do not know. I believe that no State Government ever had a trawler to carry out an investigation of the fisheries outside the territorial limits of the State. That is the work intended to be carried out by the Commonwealth trawler, and I hope it will prove successful. If any question had been asked in connexion with the vote for “ Analyst,” I should have been able to inform the Committee that the work has been previously paid for under different headings, bv the Central Commonwealth staff or by the Victorian State Department.
– - I am afraid the Minister did not grasp my point. His reply proceeded on the assumption that this sub- Department is being set up merely for the purpose of trawling.
– For fisheries investigation.
– As I understand the matter, the Department will have very much wider functions. Surely we have not engaged Mr. Dannevig at ,£600 a year merely to undertake the work of trawling? I take it that it is intended to set up a complete and scientific Fisheries Department. There have been such departments in most of the States.
– I do not think there is such a Department in Victoria.
– There is a very efficient Department of the kind in New South Wales, with hatcheries and all the necessary equipment. Are we going to undertake similar work under Federal control? There should be Federal hatcheries, and we should proceed under the Federal aegis to equip and control a scientific Fisheries Department of the Commonwealth.
– Are these not proposals which the Director of Fisheries should make ?
– Yes ; and I think that before any money is voted we should have a report presented from the Director.
– Before he is engaged?
– He is engaged, and has been at work for some months now.
– We must vote his salary.
– I am not saying that we should not. I am complaining that we have no report from him as to the scope of the operations to be undertaken by this Federal Fisheries Department. It is quite a mistake to suppose that we are setting up this Department merely to trawl outside of territorial waters. We are, I hope, setting up what will be a fullyequipped scientific Department, which will busy itself with the acclimatisation of various fish, their breeding and distribution throughout the length and breadth of Australia, and the study of their habits, with a view to making our river as well as our coast fisheries of value. Good work has been done in New South Wales in the stocking! of suitable streams with various trout ova to provide a supply of edible fish in the interior. I can conceive of no more useful work which a Fisheries Department could undertake. We are asked to vote ;£3o74> which includes the salary of the Director of Fisheries, in the absence of any scheme for the Department having been made public, so far as I am aware. The trawling which is to be undertaken is. I believe, merely an incident in the work of the Department. I hope that the experiment will be successfully undertaken. But even if it should fail, what then? Surely we shall have a Federal Fisheries Department which will have important functions to discharge in regard to the whole of our Australian fisheries ! I say, therefore, that the Minister might very well ask the Director of Fisheries to submit to him a scheme of operations, so that he may know what is to be the scope of the Department, and whether it is to dovetail in with the excellent work which is now being undertaken by some of the States, or whether it is to supersede that work. A Federal Fisheries Department should occupy very much the same relation towards the State efforts in a similar direction as the Federal Agricultural Bureau will, I hope, occupy towards the States Agricultural Bureaux. There is a Federal function to be discharged, and its discharge need not necessarily clash with the performance of State functions. So far as that function relates to the whole of Australia, and to fish in general, there ought to be Federal and not State control of the industry. Therefore, I should like to see a sketch prepared by the Director of Fisheries of what he regards as the proper scope of a Federal
Fisheries Department. We ought to entirely rid our minds of the idea that theonly function of this Department is to trawl in the deep seas outside our territorial waters. If properly directed, I maintain that this Department will do its best work in regard to edible fish in inland waters. At the same time, we can drag the sea for the purpose of ascertaining . whether the industry can be developed in deeper waters. We are giving the Director of Fisheries a very good salary to begin with, and I venture to say that, at theearliest possible moment, we ought to know what are to be the functions of the Department.
.- I would point out to the leader of the Opposition, that the Department has already decided upon the scope of the work that Mr. Dannevig will be called upon to perform. Although no statement has been made in this House regarding it, the plan which theDepartment has in view was clearly indicated when applications were invited inthe Commonwealth Gazette for the position of Director of Fisheries. The advertisement in that publication enumerated the qualifications which applicants must possess, and these covered every one of the functions which the honorable member for Parramatta thinks should be discharged by the Department. Applicants were required to possess a knowledge of the habitsof fresh and salt water fish, of the kinds of fish that can be acclimatised in> Australia, of our estuaries in which fish chiefly spawn, and of suitable places for the establishment of hatcheries. Ailthat we are asked to assent to to-night, however, is expenditure in connexion with trawling experiments.
– The leader of the Opposition has rendered a service to the Committee by raising the point to which he has directed attention. It seems - to me that we require more information a? to the scope of the work of the Fisheries Department. These Estimates merely provide for a very small professional staff and for a trawler. They do not make any provision for the development of the fishing industry in other directions, such as ihe establishment of hatcheries or the importation from oversea of fish which may be deemed suitable to Australian waters. The suggestion of the honorable member for Parramatta that the Government should open up negotiations with the States Governments, with a view to ascertaining the extent to which they are prepared to co-operate with the Department in the development of the fishing industry, is a good one. I recognise that the Commonwealth can accomplish very much more in this connexion than it is possible for any State to accomplish. If it be possible for us to arrive at an understanding with the States as to what are the functions of the Commonwealth and of the States respectively, I think it is desirable that that course should be adopted. Perhaps New South Wales has developed the fishing industry more than has any other State. I am aware that Tasmania has done a good deal in this direction ; but it must be recollected that New South Wales has devoted special attention to it, so much so that they brought out from the Old Country an expert who is now at the head of our Department. A considerable amount of work has been done in that State, but the authorities have experienced difficulty in dealing with the trawling question and cognate matters. So far as I could gather, it was the desire of the State Government that the Commonwealth should take this matter in hand and deal with it. It has been prepared to assist the Commonwealth to that extent, but to what extent it is prepared to relinquish to the Commonwealth the work which it has in hand, and to what extent the other States who are engaged in this work may be prepared to go in the same direction, no one seems to know. Now that we have established a Department we should arrive at an understanding with the States as to what are to be the respective spheres of the Common wealth and the States, and have a clear-cut policy with respect to our own functions. It would be advisable for the Minister to obtain from the Director an annual report as to the work done and contemplated, and publish it for the information of honorable members prior to the consideration of the Estimates. The mere publication of a bald statement with only imperfect information which may be elicited from the Minister, is scarcely sufficient for their guidance.
– In Tasmania we have a Fisheries Commission, which has been doing very useful work for many years by placing fish in different streams and lakes. Only this week some accommodation houses were opened at the Lakes. Altogether, Tasmania is doing very good work, and now that the Commonwealth has obtained the services of an expert, no doubt that State will be quite willing to ask for his advice on any question which may arise. He will be a very useful officer in Australia, and, perhaps, the means of stirring into activity some States which have not yet taken any action in this direction. I assume that it will not be necessary for New South Wales to employ an officer in the place of Mr. Dannevig,” because, no doubt, his services will be readily placed at the disposal of any State which may need his ‘ advice. In Tasmania we have many enthusiasts who take a keen delight in providing good fishing in waters and streams in which previously there were practically no fish. I am very pleased that the Commonwealth has engaged an expert, and I trust that he may be the means of doing much good for the people.
– In reply to the remarks of the honorable member for Parramatta, I desire to say that I shall do my best to obtain the co-operation of the States in connexion with this Department. If they are willing to co-operate, I have not the slightest doubt that they will find that the Federal Department, no matter who the Minister may be, will do its best to reciprocate. But unless they do, the Fisheries Department will not be in a position to experiment in any waters inside the three-mile limit. So far as I know, no State has yet established a saltwater hatchery, although in some States there are private and public freshwater hatcheries. That is a branch of the industry which should be taken in hand.
– What about the hatchery in Gunnamatta Bay, at Port Hacking?
– I was not aware that a single State possessed a saltwater hatchery. I spoke to a representative of New South Wales, and he did not know that one had been established.
– Oh, yes.
– I believe that, with regard to that branch of the industry, New South Wales is more advanced than any other State. If we can secure the cooperation of the States, we shall be pleased to assist them in every possible way.
.- I agree with the Minister that we ought to get the co-operation of the States. It seems to me that, with the consent of the States, we might take over the saltwater fisheries, and leave the freshwater fisheries and hatcheries to the States. Extensive experiments have been made in both New South Wales and Tasmania. I am glad that the Commonwealth has taken over from New South Wales Mr. Dannevig, who was certainly one of the most able officers which it had, and who is, I believe, one of the ablest experts on fisheries to be found in any of the States. At the present time there is much to be done with reference to not only saltwater fish, but also freshwater fish. One wonders where all the salmon which are turned out in Tasmania get to. Whether the salmon are preyed upon by other fish, or whether they are not properly acclimatised, and die when they get into deep water, we are unable to say. In view of the number of fish which are turned out from the Salmon Ponds, the whole sea ought to be swarming with them. But we all know how hard it is to get any salmon. In New South Wales the authorities have conducted a good many experiments, especially in reference to trout and pike, in running streams, and, therefore, they have acquired a considerable amount of practical experience. From time to time the waters of the Snowy River have been stocked, principally with trout. I think it has been found that the different kinds of trout do not always live together. In almost every stream in which the rainbow trout have been put, they seem to have killed or driven out in some way the ordinary brown trout. I sincerely hope that we shall do something more than carry out a few fishing excursions with the trawler. We require to have something more than experimental fishing. There is one question which I think has not been mentioned here, and that is - what is to become of the fish which are caught during the experimental expeditions. ? If the trawler should bring in a good haul, and the fish were sold, it might be said that the Government were competing with private enterprise. But the fish, instead of being placed on the market, could be sent to some of the charitable institutions of the different States. In any case, we need to watch very carefully that, in our efforts to encourage the ‘ fishing industry on our coast, we do not enter into too severe competition with the fishermen. I hope that, in the case of not only freshwater fisheries, but also saltwater fisheries, we shall have the co-operation, which the Minister has said he will welcome, of the States. A few weeks ago, a New Zealand firm offered to lend a trawler to the New South Wales Government for the payment of the expenses incurred, in order that that Government might try trawling on their own; account within the shallower waters of the three-miles limit. I understand that the offer was not accepted. The Commonwealth should work as much as possible in harmony with the States in this matter. We all recognise that there is a great work to be done, and I hope that when the next Estimates are brought down it will be found that this Department has been much extended, that its scope has been enlarged, and’ much useful work done in connexion; with it.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 37c (Quarantine), £8,500
.- What do the Government propose to do in connexion with quarantine? Last year £8,500 was voted, but only £112 wasspent. The time has come when the work ought to be taken over by the Commonwealth, and I do not understand why thedelay has arisen.
– The States are1 not very anxious for the Commonwealth, to take it over.
– But the CommonwealthParliament has passed legislation, and unless that legislation is to be a dead letter, we ought to take control of quarantine. I’ recognise that there is some difficulty withthe States, especially with New SouthWales, with reference to the quarantine properties. The North Head reserve isvery valuable, and the State Government wish to keep it as a reserve for public recreation instead of its being a perpetual” quarantine ground. I urge the Minister to fall in with the wishes of the State, if possible, in this matter. The North Head” reserve is an ideal spot for a recreation reserve, but not for a quarantine reserve. The town of Manly is growing further and further out from the quarantine area, and the public are continually casting longing eyes upon this extra land. They are shut off” completely at present from any access to the North Head bv the quarantine reserve. When the American Fleet entered Sydney Harbor, the State Government, as there were no infectious cases in quarantine, threw the reserve open to the public, who availed themselves gladly of that one opportunity of getting on to the North Head. To- those on the South Head, the people appeared to be ‘swarming over the North Head like ants. We. do not want to saddle this sub-Department with any greater capital cost than we can help. We can surely find, either in Broken Bay or at some other spot, a suitable reserve for quarantine purposes, which will be much less costly than the North Head reserve would be.
– The States have fallen into line, with the exception of one, which the Comptroller-General has not had the opportunity of visiting. There are to be three conferences with State officers.
– I am glad to hear it. I may take it, therefore, that the Trade and Customs Department intend to go on with the work of quarantine, and that this is not to be a mere idle vote, as it was last year. I trust that the Government will take into consideration the representations of the State with reference to the North Head reserve. If they can see their way to meet the desires of the State, and at the same time satisfy the requirements of a quarantine ground, I hope that they will do so. If we had to take over the whole of the North Head at the current market value, we should saddle the Department with a primary cost very much in excess of what ought to be incurred.
.- Is it really seriously proposed that the Commonwealth shall acquire the freehold of all the quarantine stations?
– They will come under the transferred properties.
– Then the! payment for them will be by way of interest.
– It will be subject to the agreement arrived at in regard to the transferred properties.
– What is being done in the direction of securing a uniform system of quarantine ?
– Some conferences have been held, and there will be others before the proclamation is issued.
– What is the ^8,000 needed for?
.- It was thought that ‘the Department would be taken over from the 1st January next, but that is now found to be impossible. The money is required to pay the officers who administer the quarantine laws. They, instead of being paid by the States, as at present, will, in the future, be paid by the Commonwealth.
– There is to be no duplication of staff?
– No. Western Australia is the only State still unvisited by the Comptroller-General ; but he hopes to gothere within a week or ten days.
– The whole of the money will not be spent, but it is better to leave the vote as it stands.
.- One of the chief reasons for passing the Quarantine Act was that it would put theadministration! of the quarantine laws under one authority, without increasing expenditure.
– There will be no increase in expenditure.
– I understood that the work would be done largely by the Customs Department ; but now we are beingasked to vote ,£8,000 to pay additional officers.
– Not for additionalofficers; for those now doing the work for the States, who will continue to be employed.
– Is there to be no reorganization ?
– There will have to be some re-arrangement. A chief officer must be appointed.
– Will not the chief medical officer in New South Wales beeligible for the position?
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 38 (Patents), .£14,417
– Some time ago serious charges were made against an officer of the Patent Office, a Mr. Brown. What was the result of the inquiry into them? How does, the matter stand now ?
– The papers, connected with the case - a legacy from my predecessor - make a very large bundle, and I have not yet had time to go through them. The officer in question fills the position of senior clerk and accountant in the clerical branch.
– What is to be done with him ?
– I do not know yet.
.- This matter has been hanging fire for two years.
– Yet the honorable member thinks that I should have dealt with it in a fortnight.
– I would deal with it in five minutes. The Ministerial heads of this Department seem to have been afraid to deal with the case. Some conclusion should be come to. Apparently, Parliament, or the Commissioner, is being flouted. I believe that the Commissioner recommended the removal of this officer. No Minister has had the courage to remove him. It would be a good thing to move the reduction of the item by £1.
– I think the recommendation was that a place should be found for him elsewhere.
– Cannot that be done?
– Not until there is a vacancy.
– Does the honorable member say that a suitable vacancy has not occurred ?
– The Public Service Commissioner seems to think so.
– I hope that the Minister will deal with the matter speedily. For the sake of the Department this officer should be removed.
.- It is most unsatisfactory for this officer, for the Department, and for the public, that the charges against him should be still undealt with after an interval of eighteen months or two years. I trust that the Minister will take an early opportunity to give a decision in the case. I notice that every officer in the professional division, with the exception of the classification officer, is recommended for an increase.
– They are the ordinary increments, except that the Public Service Commissioner had nothing to do with the Commissioner’s increase.
– That increase is recommended by the Minister in the same way as increases to other heads of Departments were recommended?
.- The Patent Office is one of the most important Departments in the Commonwealth, but there appears to be some dissatisfaction as to the manner in which it is administered. Some people doing business with it complain that they suffer greatly by reason of its dilatory methods, and its generally unsatisfactory conduct of affairs. No doubt, a large margin must be allowed for personal irritation and resulting exaggeration; but, on the face of these strictures, an explanation of the increases in salaries should be given. It is strange that the deputy commissioner and chief examiner, the examiners, deputy examiners ‘ and assistant examiners should all receive increases, while the lower-paid officers get nothing.
– Except in the case of the Commissioner, these aire ordinary increments under the Public Service Act.
– There seems to be a tendency, not only in this Department, but throughout the whole service of the Commonwealth, to grant increases to men already receiving very good salaries, to the detriment of those in the lower grades. I do not .know who is responsible for this; I suppose that the Public Service Commissioner may be said to be nominally responsible, although he has to rely largely upon the recommendations of his subordinates.
– He has to take the responsibility for what is done by his officers.
– At the same time, we cannot expect one man at the head of the service to make himself familiar with the merits of every case brought before him. I do not say that there is favoritism, but we have to guard against -the possibilities of such a thing. Human nature is human nature, wherever it may be found.
– Does the honorable member suggest favoritism on the part of the Commissioner?
– Certainly not. I say that he has to depend largely, if not wholly, upon the reports of his subordinates, and that they in their turn have to depend upon the recommendations of heads of Departments. Such a thing as favoritism is not unknown in the history of the public services of the world, and some officers may receive advantages to which they are not entitled.
– How can that be avoided when we have to depend upon men to carry out the work of each Department?
– I do not know, but we have to regard it as a possible factor in so far as some of these increases are concerned. Except in special cases where men performing important duties have been underpaid, I think that unless very good reason can be given for these increases year after year, they should not take place while other officers throughout the Public Service, at least equally deserving, are constantly complaining that they do not receive the annual increments to which they think they, are entitled.
– The honorable member for Lang, in speaking of the “ inefficiency “ of the Patent Office, scarcely does it justice. I have had dealings with it on behalf of constituents and others interested in securing patents, and have found the officers most courteous and obliging, and prepared at all times to do their best to help inventors. If an inventor has not the money to enable him to employ an agent, the officers are ready to help him; they are always ready to assist a poor man. I have not heard of any complaint against them, save on the part of certain agents, with whose grievance I have no sympathy. They complain very largely against the office for so simplifying its methods of procedure that people may do business with it without their intervention. The Patent Office has been, and is, doing good work in assisting men with little means at their disposal to patent their inventions, and to obtain the full benefit of them, without the intervention of an agent. The case of the officer to whom I have referred needs to be specially investigated. Unfortunately, there is some friction between him and the Commissioner, or some of the head officers ; but who is responsible for it I do not know. Mr. Brown is not connected with me, but he was, for many years, in the New South Wales Patents Office, and earned there the reputation of being an efficient and excellent officer. It is about time the disagreement was settled.
.- As one who has had occasion to interview the officers of the Patent Office, I should like to add my testimony as to its efficiency. I have always found the officers most obliging, and, indeed, I do not know of any Government Department which lays itself out as this one does to assist the general public having business dealings with it. The requests made to it are numerous, and often ridiculous. Many of its correspondents are ignorant men, and the officers go out of their way to assist them, and to help all who are not familiar with its procedure. I must express my appreciation of the efficiency of the Department, and of the courtesy and consideration which its officers extend to the general public.
– If the honorable member for Lang will give me definite details as to want of efficiency on the part of the Department, I shall have them investigated. I shall also do my best to bring about a settlement of the case mentioned by the honorable member for Calare.
– I am glad to hear this eulogy of the Department on the part of the honorable member for Calare and the honorable member for Nepean ; I hear quite different stories. I am told on the best authority that there is very general dissatisfaction in Melbourne with the administration. I know nothing personally - indeed, I do not know the gentleman who controls the Department - but I am informed that it is very difficult to get a difficult matter passed through.
– Even a simple matter.
– All I know is that there is much patents litigation in one. form or another.
– Surely that would indicate the necessity for extreme care before giving registration ?
– It may be owing; to trouble in the Patent Office that people prefer to take their cases before the Court in order to get a definite settlement. If there is one thing that should be aimed at. in the transaction of business in this Department, it is cheapness; the poor inventor ought to be able, without trouble, to have his invention made his own. After a man has cudgelled his brains for years and exercised his skill and ingenuity, maybe beggaring himself in the process, he should be subject to no undue inconvenience, delay, or expense.
– If a man has a good claim he is not subject to inconvenience or expense; the delay occurs only in the case of doubtful claims.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- I hope the honorable member has been successful in his dealings with the office; he seems to have a high opinion of its efficiency.
– I know that the poor man has a better chance in the Federal Patent Office than he had in the States offices.
– I have had a few dealings with the Patent Office, and I can say that I have no cause for complaint.
– I am glad to hear all this; but I must say that I have heard complaints of protracted litigation.
– From patent agents, who wish to “ run the show “ !
– I am glad to hear that the administration of the Patent Office is so satisfactory to the Labour Party.
– The honorable member for Nepean is not a Labour member.
– I am speaking of the chorus of approval from the benches opposite. I can say that I have heard statements of a very different character, indicating that there is great difficulty in the settlement of claims, which have eventually to be taken to the Court, the result being protracted litigation.
– The Commissioner practically occupies a judicial position.
– That is so.
– And there are appeals, even from Judges’ decisions.
– Sometimes ; but it is a sorry day for the inventors of Australia when they have to appeal to the Court from the Patent Office.
– There are not many cases.
– My friend may be able to afford money to go to Court with, but-
– No good claims have to go to Court.
– But all the cases should be settled in the Patent Office. An expert Patents administrator ought to know a good deal more than even a Judge about such matters. A Patents Commissioner has a life-long experience and practice behind him; and the Patent Office is the place where difficult cases ought to be settled ; it is not in easy, but in difficult matters, that we rely on the skilled experience of the patents officials.
– The Commissioner does settle cases so far as he is concerned, and it is his decisions from which appeal is made.
– I am told it is a costly business sometimes to get the claims settled. ‘
– It is, perhaps, the best Department of the kind in- the world.
– What percentage of the appeals succeed ?
– I have been told that a very good percentage succeed.
– A very small percentage !
– At any rate, I have no concern with that point. I simply heard of complaints, and thought it my duty to mention them. Above all, there ought to be every facility in the way of obtaining patents rights. It is bad enough that a man should experience failure for years ; when he does succeed he should not have any trouble in obtaining his rights. I was reading the other day that nine out of every ten claims for patents fail.
– That seems to indicate that nine-tenths of the inventions, or at any rate, a portion of them, have been previously patented.
– That may be the reason in some cases. Not long ago I was talking to a /gentleman who, after years of study and experiment, invented an arrangement by which vessels mount the waves instead of cutting through them.
– Personally I wish that Invention to succeed !
– It did succeed ; but I was informed that a Russian had got hold of it, and, by its means, had made a vessel to run forty-two miles an hour. The original inventor is, I believe, an Australian. Owing to difficulties, he could not take out his patent in sufficient time, and found himself forestalled in Europe.
– The honorable member does not blame the Commissioner for that?
– Not at all; I merely wish to point out that nine-tenths of the claims for patents fail, so wasteful, it seems, is human effort; and there is all the more reason why the tenth case should succeed by the provision of easy methods of securing patent rights^ I hope that the Minister will see that this Department is put on a proper footing.
– I promised the honorable member for Lang that if he brought cases before me I should have them inquired into. _
– I have’- heard of some cases only to-night.
– If the “honorable member will submit them to me I shall have them inquired into.
– Above all, this Department should be easy of access, and every facility afforded for granting patent rights in proper cases.
– I cordially agree with what has been said by the leader of the Opposition, whose remarks ought to weigh with the Minister.
The honorable member for Parramatta has quoted several instances in which inventors have not received that satisfaction from the Patent Office that they are entitled to.
– The honorable member did not give one concrete case.
– If he did not give concrete cases, he promised to do so.
– Promises are like your debts - never paid !
– I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that remark.
– I mean people who do not pay the honorable member his fees as their medical attendant.
– That is a different matter altogether. I did not know that the honorable member was talking of his own debts. In a young country such as this, we should do everything possible to encourage young inventors, rather than put obstacles in their way. We have historical instances to show the necessity of doing so, I. believe that the unfortunate individual who invented the pneumatic tyre derived very little benefit from his invention, which was practically stolen from him by business men who were cuter than he was.
– It is the secondary men who benefit from patents.
– The secondary men exploit the inventors. I have a personal friend who has succeeded in inventing a pneumatic tyre for motor cars. I suggested that he should take the necessary steps to have it patented. He informed me that he was going to sell his patent as soon as he could, because his experience had been that no sooner had he evolved from his brain an idea of commercial value, than it was exploited by other people and taken out of his hands. I heard of two young men in Melbourne who had hit upon a most admirable device for doing away with the use of hydrochloric acid in soldering, by means of a mixture of various chemicals. The material they produce is ridiculously cheap. But they do not propose to obtain patents in the Commonwealth. They know a thing worth two of that. They intend to keep the secret entirely in their own hands, and are even selling the material at a cheaper rate than they would like to- do, simply because they fear to trust their invention to the hands of this Government.
– That is a joke, I think.
– It is not a joke; it is an absolute fact. I believe that the invention has been taken up by various manufacturing firms, which are simply rushing to buy as much of the product as these young men can make in their own factory. They are afraid to trust their invention to the Commonwealth Office.
– They can protect it immediately for
– Unfortunately, it is the practical experience of inventors to which I am drawing attention. I do not know why it is so, but an ounce of proof is worth a pound of theory; and there is proof positive that there is something wrong with our laws when practical business men are afraid to trust their inventions to the Patent Office.
– Ours is the cheapest and best patent law in the world.
– It is not the Commonwealth that they are afraid te* trust, but other countries.
– I call attention to the case of Mr. Brennan, the. inventor of the Brennan torpedo, who, as honorable members know, has invented a mono rail appliance. Inasmuch as he is an Australian, I hope that the Commonwealth Government will encourage his invention. I recommend; his case to the consideration of Ministers.
.- That is a nice tale that the honorable member for Hunter has been telling us !
– It is just a yarn.
– It is no more than a yarn. No one knows better than the honorable member that any inventor in the Commonwealth can have his invention protected for £1 for nine months, and for a further period at the end of that time, on paying an additional small fee. Yet, the honorable member says that inventors are afraid to trust the Government. Why this Government, any more than any other Government? Does the honorable member think that the members of this Government would give any inventor’s “ show “ away? As far as the Patents Commissioner is concerned, the only people in the country who “have him set” are the patent agents. Whenever one goes about in Sydney, Melbourne, and even in Brisbane, one meets these patent agents who, simply because the Commissioner will not allow them to run his office just as they used to run the Patent Offices in the old State days, ih.ave a grievance against him. The Commissioner is impartial. He occupies a similar position to a Judge, except that he requires to possess a greater amount of technical knowledge than a Judge does. I have seen inventors in the Office laying their inventions before him, and know the consideration with which he treats them. But all inventors are not reasonable people. I know one man who thought that he had invented a flying machine. I went down bt. Kilda-road to witness a trial of it. I got the machine on to my back. When the inventor started! the motor, the machine nearly took me up in the air and landed me in a big bush. I almost became the flying machine instead of the apparatus. When be took his drawings to the Patent Office, with the object of obtaining a provisional patent, he wanted to know straight off whether there was anything novel in his invention, and because the Commissioner could not tell him there and then over the counter, he said he would not allow any one to see his plans, and took them off. What does it matter to the Commissioner whether a man’s secret, is known to others? He has not a brass farthing of interest in it. All that he does is to tell the inventor whether there is anything novel in his invention. It rests with inventors themselves to take further steps if they think necessary. Whenever I have taken inventors to the Commissioner, he has assisted them in every possible way. If an inventor were poor, I feel sure that Mr. Townsend would help him in every way. If honorable members are going to attack a man for doing that sort of thing, I do not know what they would praise him for. The Commissioner does all he can to put inventors in the way of obtaining the protection to which they are entitled. That is the reason why the patent agents “ have him set.” Their object is to get fees from inventors. I know Mr. Townsend very well, and can, of my own personal knowledge, say that he has given valuable help to inventors. I am sure that the honorable member for Lang would not desire to attack an officer for conduct of that kind.
– I have not attacked anyone.
– Mr. Townsend sympathizes with, those who go to him, and does not treat them in a rough off-hand manner. If there is nothing novel in their inventions, he shows them where they have failed. That is the reason the patent agents do not like him. They want him to be removed, because it is their business to draw fees from inventors.
– I suppose that most of the honorable member’s inventions are not patentable.
– I have not an inventive brain like that of the honorable member. He has a peculiar talent for inventing things about the Labour Party. I am sorry that he is unable to get a patent for them. I feel satisfied that if the honorable member for Lang will inquire, he will find that the only reason why patent agents attack the Commissioner is because he will not allow them to run the Patent Office so as to bring grist to their mill.
.- I am sorry that the honorable member for Maranoa should have suggested that I have attacked any officer. I have done nothing of the kind. I do not know the Commissioner, or any one of the officers in the Patent Office, personally. But as certain complaints were brought under my notice, I felt it was my duty to mention them. I am very pleased indeed to have listened to the statements of the honorable member for Maranoa^ who appears to have been acting in the capacity of parent agent for various people, and am glad to hear his version as to the manner in which inventors whom he has introduced to the Department are treated. But we all know that members of Parliament are usually treated courteously by the officers of the several Departments. It would not pay the officers to “do otherwise. It would not be wise for them to treat otherwise members of Parliament, who have control over the purse and the voting of their salaries.
– It is not members of Parliament, but inventors who are treated in that way.
– I am not suggesting that because members of Parliament are treated courteously by the officers of these Departments it necessarily follows that the outside public are not treated in that way. But I say that, even if officials were disposed to be abrupt in their dealings with the public, they would hesitate to mete out the same treatment to those who have the voting of their salaries, because they would feel that they might be putting a rod into pickle for their own backs. My point is that we cannot invariably gauge the official treatment of the general public by the official treatment of members of Parliament. I do not know these officers personally, I am not actuated by any personal feeling, nor do I take any responsibility for the accusations of discourtesy which have been made. Such complaints have been made by patent agents, and by persons who are not patent agents. The complaint of the latter appears to be that when they wish to deal directly with the Department, there has seemed to be a desire on the part of the officials that they should employ an agent to represent them.
– How can a poor man be expected to do that?
– With the Commissioner’s assistance, I got one or two applications through for poor men.
– Some poor men cannot afford to employ a patent agent, and they are under the impression that the officers of the Department expect that their business shall be done through an agent.
– There may have been some cases in which men who were unable to state their claims were advised to employ an agent, but if an applicant for a patent could state his claim intelligently, the Department would prefer to deal W itr. him directly.
– I have heard members of the Committee mention cases in which applicants for patents have been given the opposite impression.
– The honorable member might take the next applicant who complains down to the Patent Office.
– That would be no test. I can readily understand that if a member of Parliament accompanied an applicant to the Office, his business would probably be put through more quickly than it would if he went there alone. When complaints such as those to which I have referred are brought under the notice of members of Parliament, I think it is their duty to submit them to the Minister for inquiry. If, upon inquiry, it is shown that there is no real ground for complaint, no one will be more pleased than I. I am glad to have heard the commendations of the Patent Office, and I sincerely hope they are de- served.
– I think we should be given some explanation of items in the “Contingencies” subdivision. The total vote shows a large increase upon last year’s expenditure. For instance, the vote for “ Office requisites, exclusive of writing-paper and envelopes,” shows an increase of £100. Then there is an item, “ Account, record, and other books, including cost of material, printing, and binding,” which apparently remains about the same every year, but there is an additional item “ Other printing,” for which a vote representing an increase of no less than £-1,000 is asked. That surely requires some explanation ? We should” know what this “ Other” printing “ comprises. We are in the place of stewards of the public, and owe something to those whom we represent in the scrutiny of this expenditure. Then I notice an increase of £50 in the vote for travelling expenses. ‘ The total increase in the vote is shown tobe no less than .£1,060.
– The amount representsonly £3 more than was spent last year.
– I think that the itemsrequire some explanation.
– - The first item towhich the honorable member has referred, namely, “office requisites,” is intended tocover the cost of a part installation of the card index system. The introduction of that system will eventually result in a saving. ‘ In respect of the item “otherprinting, .£5,500,” I would point out that the amount voted last year was only sufficient to cover the printing for that year. During the first few years of the operationof this Department, a certain amount of arrears accumulated in the Government Printing Office. It is to enable thosearrears to be overtaken that the additional £1,000 has been allotted.
– The Minister’s explanation of the item- ‘ other printing ‘ ‘ is scarcely sufficient. Last year ,£4,500 was appropriated under this heading, and ,£4>->75 was expended. Under the circumstances, it appears to methat if we made an appropriation, of £[5,000 this year that would be sufficient. Of course, I quite recognise that the installation of the card index system will eventually result in ai saving, and that, therefore, the expenditure proposed in thisconnexion, is justifiable. But in respect of “other printing” £[5,000 should be ample for the purposes of the year.
– I can assure the honorable member that there will be no extravagance.
– I know that the Minister will do what he can to prevent extravagance, but in administering a large Department like this, it is scarcely possible for him to exercise close supervision in respect of every item. In my opinion, he will be working in the interests of economy if he himself moves the reduction of the item “other printing” by , £500.
– I think that the Minister might very well agree to the suggestion which has been made. Some explanation of the item “ other printing “ is certainly necessary, seeing that last year £4,675 was expended under this heading, and that it is now proposed to appropriate . £5,500. There seems to be some reason, which does not appear, for the additional amount which has been placed upon these Estimates.
– I have already explained that the additional sum is intended to enable the Department to overtake arrears of work which have accumulated during the past few years.
– To what are those arrears due? Are they the result’ of the employment of an insufficient staff? Is the Department so undermanned that it cannot perform the year’s work within the year?
– The Department could not get some of the printing done at the Government Printing Office. That office, however, now possesses facilities for doing that work, which it did not formerly possess.
– Another item to which I desire to direct attention is that of “ temporary assistance,” the expenditure under which runs into many thousands of pounds in the various Departments. Even in a small, though important, sub-Department like the Patent Office, it seems that we cannot get rid of this familiar item. In my judgment, it is high time that the system of employing temporary assistance was abolished, so far as it is possible to abolish it. It is one of the curses of our Commonwealth Departments. Honorable members are constantly being appealed to by persons who desire to secure temporary positions in the various Departments. The trouble has assumed the proportions of a gigantic evil. What do temporary assistants know about patents work ? Are these employes merely assistant clerks? “ Temporary assistance,” “other printing,” “ miscellaneous,” and “ incidental expenditure “ are all practically n.e.i. items, the aggregate expenditure in connexion with which is more than £6,000 for the year. That is a very large sum to ask Parliament to vote for the Patent Office in the absence of information as to how it is to be expended. I think that we should get more information about these items, seeing that they recur so frequently throughout the Estimates, and assume formidable proportions even in the case of the smallest Department. I for one am not prepared to allow these Estimates to go through until I know something about this matter. I move -
That the item, “ Other printing, £5,500,” be reduced by £500.
Question put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 23
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I think that the Minister is treating the Committee very discourteously.
– I stated distinctly what the vote is required for. Whether the honorable member was in the chamber at the time or not I do not know.
– I have not been out of the chamber since the Committee resumed after dinner.
– I told the honorable member that the vote is required for arrears of printing.
– The Minister certain!)’ explained that the vote is needed to cover arrears of work which had gone over from last year.
– Which had accumulated over more than last year.
– I asked the honorable gentleman to state whether the accumulation of the arrears was due to the Patent Office being insufficiently manned. What led me to believe that it must be insufficiently manned is the large amount which is put down for temporary assistance, namely, £200. If the office is efficiently manned there should be no need for temporary assistance. If it is not, it ought to be brought to the requisite state of efficiency, so that provision for temporary assistance shall not be a permanent item on the Estimates. I move -
That the item “ Temporary assistance, £200,” be left out.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 39 (Trade Marks, Designs, and Copyrights), . £3,843.
.- I recognise that under Federation it is difficult to avoid centralization, but where it has to take place the trading community should be considered, whenever possible. I have a complaint to make with regard to the examination of trade marks, concerning a case which came under my own observation. If a trader in any State wishes to have a trade mark registered he is first put to the expense of having the mark or brand prepared, which costs from £4 to £4 10s. Then a miniature facsimile ‘of this must be made, and half-a-dozen prints of the fac-simile sent to the examiner, before the application can be considered. Any ordinary business man, before putting a trader to that expense, when there is a chance that the trade mark may not be granted, would ask simply that the design be sent on, so that it might be ascertained if it had already been applied for. If it had not, the trader could then proceed to make it. It is a serious matter for some of the trading community, who may have three or four different trade marks, that they should be compelled to incur all this expense before the examiner decides whether the application can be granted. I trust that the Minister will convey to the examiner, or whoever is responsible, my suggestion that the applicant should be asked simply to send in a copy.
– The examiner cannot alter the law. The Trade Marks Act says that these designs shall be sent in.
– If the law says that, the law is an ass.
– The idea is to have a copy in each State.
– Would it not be equally satisfactory to have a copy in each State after the application is granted?
– The design might infringe some trade mark in one of the States.
– It seems extraordinary to ask any man to go to the expense of about £8 when applying for a trade mark, and run the risk of being told that it has been applied for before. Surely the Department can find out from the various States whether the mark has been registered before or not. I take it that a copy of every trade mark registered in the Commonwealth is filed at the Central Office.
– We gave protection in the Trade Marks Act to the trade marks which were in existence at the time in the States, but some of the State Departments have refused to give up their records to the Commonwealth Department. I think that is the explanation ; but I shall have the matter inquired into.
– If that is the explanation, any person who has a trade mark and refuses to deposit a copy of it with the Central Office should get no protection. The object of the Trade Marks Act was that all Australian trade marks should come under Federal jurisdiction, so that one Department could control the whole matter. I applied for several trade marks in my own line of business, and before anything could be done we had to go to an expense of about £8 in each case.
– One reason for requiring six designs of any trade mark is to have one to send to each of the State capitals, so that those wishing to know whether application has been made for the registration of any particular mark may be able to obtain that information at the local Patent Office. This provision aims at decentralization.
– I do not object to it so far as it concerns trade marks which have been granted.
– I shall have the matter inquired into, and if the present system can be simplified without decreasing the protection afforded to those who register trade marks, I shall be glad to authorize a change.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 40 (Customs - New South Wales), £78,926, agreed to.
Division 41 (Victoria), £63,374.
.- Last year, according to a return presented at the last Conference, the net profit to the States from the dues collected in respect to lighthouse services was £40,000. Mr. Kingston promised the first Parliament that the control of lighthouses would be taken over by the Commonwealth within a few months, and, although that promise has been repeated from time to time, nothing has been done. This- should be a Federal, not a State, matter. The Constitution specifically empowers us to take over the lighthouses.
– A Bill in connexion with the talcing over of lighthouses is in rough draft, but no such measure has yet been presented to Parliament, nor could it be dealt with this session.
– Is an Act of Parliament necessary ?
– I believe so. There must be negotiations with the States to find out how they will co-operate -with us.
– The remarks of the Minister are unsatisfactory. Late last year, or early this, the ComptrollerGeneral of Customs visited the various States, to inquire into matters concerning quarantine, and the control of beacons and lighthouses.
– The transfer of lighthouse control to the Commonwealth has been promised every session.
– Except this.
– It was promised this session, but not by this Ministry.
– If, by taking control of the lighthouses, we deprive the States of a revenue of £40,000, we shall hear something about the infringement of their rights.
– I would point out that this matter ought to have been dealt with when the first item in this Department was before the Committee. However, as the question has been asked, I shall permit the Minister to reply to it.
– The ComptrollerGeneral of Customs visited Queensland to make inquiries regarding the transfer of quarantine control, and, nodoubt, thought it advisable to at the same time obtain information about the administration of beacons and lighthouses.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 42 (Queensland), £58,524.
.- What is meant by the “ probable savings in salary “ referred to in several items? Are officers to be dispensed with?
– The official explanation is that, owing to resignations, deaths, transfers, &c, savings occur from, time to time. Against each office isplaced the salary now payable to the present occupant, but should a junior be promoted to it, he would ,get less, andthere might be a slight saving.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 43 (South Australia), £31,574-
– The sum of £803 is asked for the hire of a steam launch at the Semaphore. That is nearly £3 per working day. Why hasnot the Department a launch of its own?
– Honorable members opposite objected to the purchase of a launch, for the use of the Department in Sydney.
– We objected becausethe vessel was unsuitable, and the Department paid more for it than it was worth.
– - Hitherto thehire of this launch has been paid by the Department of Home Affairs.
– Is the vessel used for picnics ?
– No. The CustomsDepartment has not a launch at Port. Adelaide. To put such a vessel in commission, it would be necessary to employ a crew of from five to eight men. Wehave found that it is cheaper to hire alaunch than to have one of our own. The proposed extension of the tender was oneof the first matters that employed my attention on taking office. I agreed that itshould be extended, but directed that thematter should be looked into with a view to determining whether it would not becheaper to have a launch of our own.
– It is a big amount topay in respect of hire.
– We have to remember the wages of men employed on such a vessel. The Customs launch has to meet every steamer at the Semaphore, and it would cost us more than this to maintain a launch of our own.
– I think that the Minister’s explanation is eminently satisfactory.
.- I should like the Minister to state how the salaries of the officers of the Department in the Northern Territory compare with those paid to officers discharging similar duties in other parts of the Commonwealth. Those stationed in the Northern Territory should receive far more than is paid .to officers stationed in any other part of the Commonwealth, save Northern Queensland. The Customs officers at Port Darwin have very important duties to perform. It is the first port of call for all the traffic from the East, and the Customs officers there have to exercise great care to prevent the illicit introduction of opium.
– They are classified by the Public Service Commissioner.
– When I was on a visit to Port Darwin I came to the conclusion that the higher salaries received by the officers there as compared with those paid to men in the Southern States were not sufficient to compensate them for having to live in a tropical climate, and for the very special work that they have to do. They have to keep a watchful eye, not only on the Chinese, who comprise the bulk of the population there, but on the Malays, to prevent poaching on the pearl fisheries. They have a very extensive area to control, and should receive special remuneration.
– They receive the highest district allowance paid to any officers in the Commonwealth.
– And I think that their rates of wages should be higher than those of officers discharging similar duties elsewhere. They live in a tropical climate, and should receive special consideration.
.- I should like to obtain from the Minister an explanation of the item -
Gratuity to widow of late E. J. M. Newman, sub-collector, Adelaide, equal to 6 months’ leave, £igo.
– I have before me a : statement showing that Mr. Newman died, after thirty years’ service, on 13th Septem ber, 1907, and that his widow made application to the Government for consideration in view of the following facts : Her husband had, from November, 1901, to August, 1903, worked many hundreds of hours overtime whilst engaged in the Central Office. He .was employed under the late Mr. C. C. Kingston, who, as Minister of Trade and Customs, then had charge of the first Federal Tariff before this House. He received no compensation for this extra service in the Central Office, and at the date of his death he was entitled to six weeks recreation leave, and six months furlough, which, owing to pressure of work, he was unable to take. Mr. Newman left a widow and seven children - the eldest being seventeen years of age, and the . youngest, two - somewhat inadequately provided for. In view of all these circumstances, I do not think that honorable members will object to the proposed grant.
.- I certainly have no objection to it.
– The widow should have received a grant equal to twelve months leave.
– I agree with the honorable member. I should like to know, however, whether the widows of former officers in other branches of the service will receive similar consideration?
– Officers* who died through overwork?
– If an officer, after years of faithful service, dies when he is entitled to six months furlough - and we had two cases of the kind in New South Wales - his widow should receive special treatment.
– The Department should have some regulation applying to such cases.
– Parliament is the worst place in which to deal with special cases.
– I have never known this Parliament to refuse a bond fide application of this kind.
– But there are many bond fide cases that do not come before Parliament.
– Who is responsible for that ? This is a bond fide case, and no one has objected to it. I certainly think that a regulation should be passed under which the widows of deserving officers who have died in harness would have special treatment accorded to them.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 44 (Western Australia),
.- I find, in connexion with the item, “ Collector of Customs, £700,” the following footnote - “ With house allowance of £100.” I should like to know if that allowance is in addition to the salary of £700. I notice that the Collector of Customs in South Australia receives only £650, and that the Collector of Customs in Tasmania receives £550. What is the reason for this discrepancy?
– I am informed that the house allowance of £100 to the Collector of Customs in Western Australia is in addition to his salary of £700 per annum. It is an allowance which he obtained when in the service of the State, and which we have no power to withhold from him.
– I should like to have an explanation as to the item, “ Refund of duty paid in consequence of misreading of a Tariff item, £73.” This appears to be a common complaint, so far as importers are concerned. They seem to think that a great many of the Tariff items are misread, and that they are often called upon to pay duty when it was the intentionof Parliament that no duty should be paid. I desire to know whether this particular item refers to one of those cases in which the Department has really awakened to the factthat there was a genuine case of a misreading of the Tariff by one of their officers? Several such cases have come under my notice, and I am inclined to believe there are many. Certain officers seem to excel in ingenuity in misreading, or, perhaps, I had better say in trying to strain the meaning of the Tariff in such a way as to cause duty to be paid on articles which Parliament intended should be free.
– It is the admitted policy of the Department, where there is a doubt, to ask for a duty.
– When there is a genuine doubt, it may be sound policy to conserve the interests of the revenue; but, in some cases, I think the officers go out of their way to look for “ doubts.” Of course, we know that they are looking after the revenue, but there is such a thing as over-officiousness and a desire to show extra smartness. Such a ten dency ought not to be encouraged, because it is a fruitful cause of inconvenience and injustice.
– Would it not be dangerous, on the other hand, to discourage the tendency ?
– It would be only, fair, in my opinion, to try to preserve the happy medium. The responsible heads of the Department are, I think, sufficiently just, when officers under them appear to be over-officious, to look into the merits of cases, and, so far as they can, strike the happy medium.. The desire to strain the meaning of the Tariff is not so much on the part of the heads of the Department as on the part of some of the subordinate officers.
– The official explanation is as follows -
On 29th August, 1907, the Producers’ Union of Western Australia wired the Central Office asking rate of duty on timber undressed, measuring 13½ x 5½ x9-16 inches for the manufacture of fruit cases. A reply was sent on 30th August stating that this timber was dutiable at 1s. 6d. per100 superficial feet (Item 303 (a)). A shipment of case-boards for the manufacture of 25,000 fruit cases consigned to the Producers’ Union, Perth, arrived at the end of September, 1907, and entry was passed in accordance with wire received from Central Office, viz. : - Item 303 (a) -1s. 6d. per 100 superficial feet. The Collector, Western Australia, demanded duty under Tariff Item 303(d) at 2s. 6d. per100 superficial feet, and on reference to this office it was ascertained that a mistake had occurred in the Central Office through the misreading of a Tariff item. The Producers’ Union then made representations to. the Department asking to be recouped the loss sustained through the incorrect information given. Full inquiries were made, and it was ascertained that the company, immediately on receipt of the telegram, sent circulars to their customers quoting their price, including the lower rate of duty. It appeared, also, that the importers on payment of higher duty could” not and did not increase the price of boxes, and upon the adjustment of accounts in connexion with the shipment it was found that they made a loss on the 25,000 cases entered for home consumption of£72 2s. 3d. In view of all the circumstances the Minister decided to provide that amount on the Estimates to recoup the importers for the loss sustained by them.
This, of course, was done by a previous Minister, but I have no doubt I should have taken precisely similar action.
– I am glad to have heard the explanation given, because I have had brought under my notice a case in which a merchant was charged a higher rate than was necessary after he had sold hisgoods at aprice which the high. duty would not justify ; and the goods having been distributed, he had no redress. This was owing entirely to the fact that the Department would afford the merchant no information.
– In the case I have just quoted, the Department did afford information, but, unfortunately, it was wrong information. No money can be refunded unless it is provided in the Estimates.
Dr.LIDDELL.- Then I think a great injustice is done to importers; and the fact reflects most discreditably on those who administer the Department, and actually rob the people of their just rights.
.- I, too, am pleased to hear the explanation by. the Minister. When the Tariff was under discussion, I drew particular attention to the interpretation of a certain item ; and when I stated that the Department had misinterpreted the Act, the then Minister of Trade and Customs contradicted me. It appears, however, that there is now a different meaning read into the Act.
– I do not say that ; I say that, in the case I quoted, the Central Office gave a wrong interpretation, and, finding that that had been done, a refund was provided for.
– During the Tariff debate I stated that the Department was charging on the four sides of box timber, and calling it superface measurement, but afterwards the Department decided to charge only on two sides; and that is one reason why I fought so hard to have the word “superface” defined. I am glad the matter has been decided, because it is of great importance.
.- The discussion shows, I think, that the Department very often puts a strained interpretation on the Tariff regulations.
– In the case I quoted, the interpretation was not strong enough.
– It is very strange if that be so. This item in the Estimates is not to refund a duty which has been overpaid, but to rectify a mistake made by the Department in the interpretation of the Tariff. As a rule, the mistakes of the Department are in the other direction ; and these efforts to obtain higher duties than ought really to be paid are very harassing and unfair. On all such points a fair and reasonable interpretation ought to be aimed at. Rather than adopt a method which is harassing, annoying, and worrying to importers, the Department should have some consideration for them, and the Tariff should be administered in a more reasonable spirit than is the case at present.
.- As a member of the Tariff Commission, I have had some experience of the administration of the Department of Trade and Customs, and know something about the questions that it has to tackle. I must admit that although I started upon the work of the Commission with the idea that the officers did not exercise that fair and independent judgment that we expect from them, the course of the inquiry gave me a totally different impression. No one can have any idea of the variety and number of the questions which have to be met and dealt with by the Department of Trade and Customs. On the whole, I consider that the work is very well done indeed. It goes without saying that if there is a matter of doubt, the question of revenue is not lost sight of by the officers. I am particularly pleased that when a mistake is made the Department so readily acknowledges it. A Government official too often takes up an infallible attitude, and if he makes a mistake thinks that there is all the more reason for sticking to it. In this instance the officers have been thoroughly reasonable, and I have to congratulate the Minister on the way in which a mistake made by the Department has been promptly acknowledged.
.- The honorable member for Lang has referred to the officers of the Department of Trade andCustoms, and has said that whilst the higher officers exercise their functions judiciously, some of the subordinate officers are rather severe, and show an inclination to inflict unnecessary hardship on importers. I believe . that the officers throughout Australia have a difficult task to perform, and it is natural to assume that if they wish to make their life as pleasant as possible, they will be likely to interpret the Tariff liberally and fairly towards importers. As far as I know the Customs officers, they do their work faithfully and justly, to importers and to the Commonwealth, and endeavour to interpret the intentions of Parliament in a proper spirit. Mistakes will inevitably occur, but it is pleasant to notice that when they are made the Department is willing to acknowledge them. Some of the mistakes have emanated from the Central Office. When a change of the Tariff is in progress it is only to be expected that mistakes will occur. It is a matter for congratulation that only one small mistake such as that which has been considered has had to be rectified. I am convinced that we have throughout .Australia excellent officers who are performing their duties well.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 45 (Tasmania), £8,968, agreed to.
Bill presented by Mr. Batchelor, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until to-morrow at half -past two o’clock p.m. .
I desire to intimate that I may have to ask the House to sit a little later tomorrow - perhaps, fairly late - to give us an opportunity to get on with business.
.- Perhaps the Prime Minister will intimate to what hour he intends to ask the House to sit to-morrow?
– It will depend upon how we progress with business.
– Some honorable members have a conscientious objection to sitting up all night. They feel that after Parliament has been sitting during the whole of the afternoon and evening it is only reasonable they should’ go home at midnight. They cannot do their duty to their constituents if the House sits unreasonable hours. Provided that there is no attempt to block business to-morrow, it would not be reasonable to expect honorable members to sit later than about midnight or 1 o’clock a.m.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Clerk laid upon the table the following paper -
Coinage (Commonwealth) and use of Perth Mint - Return to an Order of the House dated 2nd December, 1906.
House adjourned at 10.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 December 1908, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1908/19081207_reps_3_48/>.