3rd Parliament · 4th Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) agreed to -
That leave of absence for two months be given to the honorable member fot EdrnMonaro (Mr. Chapman), and the honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Knox), on account of illhealth; to the honorable member for Brisbane (Colonel Foxton), absent from the Commonwealth on public service ; and to the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Watson), absent from the Commonwealth on urgent private business.
Mr. DEAKIN laid upon the table the following paper : -
South African Union - Reply to cablegram of felicitation from Prime Minister.
– The following paragraph appears in to-day’s Argus: -
There is abundant evidence of the neglect to which the cadets have been subjected. In every company there are boys without belts, boys without bayonets, boys without rifles. In most companies there are some boys without any equipment at all, while 13 full companies marched past the saluting-base without Government equipment. All they had was their uniforms, and these they provided themselves.
I wish to know from the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Minister of Defence, whether, as a result of the recent Conference, immediate action is likely to be taken to place all the boys serving as cadets on the same footing in regard to equipment?
– Pending the determination of the motion of want of confidence, Ministers are not answering questions, but the circumstances to which the honorable member has called attention will receive my colleague’s consideration.
Suspension of Standing Orders - Supply Bills. - Budget.- - -Financial Relations of Commonwealth and States. - Financial Proposals of the Government. - Old-age Pensions : Administration. - Loan Proposals. - Telephone Rates. - Expenditure in Post and Telegraph Department. - Treasurer’s Advance Account. - Works and Buildings.
Motion .(by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the consideration of all other public business be postponed until after the consideration of Government business, Notice of Motion, number i.
.- 1 presume that the intention of the proposed postponement is to enable a motion for the introduction oE the Supply Bill to be moved. A great deal of special pleading has appeared in the press in regard to this matter, the attempt being made to cause the impression that injustice will be done if the Supply Bill is not passed immediately. On a previous occasion, the Minister of Defence protested against procedure of this kind as most unconstitutional, though he afterwards agreed to what was done, on the ground of urgency. I suggest, however, that at the present time there is no justification for asking for two months’ Supply, including a vote of .£100,000, or 50 per cent, of the whole vote for the year for the Treasurer’s advance account. If the Government recognised its position, and gave to honorable members the consideration which is their due, it would ask merely for one month’s Supply, and to such a request consideration would’ be given. The other proposal is quite unreasonable. Of course, there are circumstances under which Supply must be granted at once, but at the present time it is being attempted to introduce a Supply Bill earlier than it is needed to meet the public necessity, if not the convenience of the Government.
.- The Prime Minister moved his motion in so low a tone that many of us who were listening attentively thought it to be one for the suspension of the Standing Orders to enable a Supply Bill to be taken through all its stages at once. I understand now that it is for the postponement of business on the notice-paper, to enable such a motion to be moved. This procedure is most unusual, when a motion of want of confidence is under discussion. There seems to be no urgency for the granting of supply at the present time.
– We must pay our creditors.
– Were the honorable member acquainted with financial administration, he would know that, until the end of the present month, the needs of the Government can be met by the Appropriation Acts of last session. We have it on the authority of the ex-Treasurer that no Commonwealth liabilities for which provision has not already been made will fall due until at least the 6th of next, month, by which time it may be expected that the motion challenging the right of the Government to continue in office will have been disposed of.
– The Supply Bill” will have to pass through the other House as well as this.
– Why does not the Treasurer give the reason for asking for Supply now ?
– The honorable member will not let him.
– Had I not risen, I believe that consent would by now have been given to the course proposed by the Government. Those who are responsible for administering the Departments owe it to the House to state the reasons for their extraordinary attitude in seeking Supply when their very existence is questioned by a direct vote. Unless a. satisfactory explanation of the urgency in connexion with this case is forthcoming, it will ‘be the duty of honorable members to refuse to the Government, in the almost silent request that has been presented by them, the consideration that they desire. There are in the Supply Bill which it is proposed to introduce features which demand an explanation from the Government, particularly with regard to the large amount asked for towards the Treasurer’s Advance.
– Hear, hear; toomuch of that.
– Honorable members opposite may smile at the remark of the honorable member for Hume, but who can speak with greater authority on the subject ? Who can better warn the House of the dangers of giving the Treasurer this unconditional amount?
– Especially the present Treasurer.
– The present Treasurer on one occasion put the historic question, “ What is a million?” He may, if he is lucky enough to get this Treasurer’s Advance in the exceptional manner suggested, ask, *’ What is a hundred thousand pounds ?” It is due to the House that the Treasurer should make an explanation before the Government persist with their request. The Prime .Minister gives rr.e an assurance that the Treasurer will explain, and, as that is so, I am prepared to listen to the right honorable member’s justification and express an opinion on it afterwards.
– - An explanation is, of course, necessary, and would have been given had I thought that the proper opportunity to give it would arise before we moved for the suspension of the Standing Orders. However, I am quite as willing to give all the information of which I am possessed at this stage as at any other time.
– The only matter with which the Treasurer or any -other honorable member can deal at this stage is the question of the urgency or otherwise of the proposed Supply. It will not be in order now to go into the details of the Bill.
– It seems, then, that I was not so far wrong. lt is not easy to give the reasons for urgency without going into the mode of expenditure of the money. The principal reason is well known. When we reach the end of the financial year fresh Supply is necessary.The Treasurer is not legally possessed of any money after to-morrow, and I should! have thought it would be patent to honorable members, coming as. they do from all” parts of Australia, that in the variousStates works are proceeding that will require to be paid for. One very important consideration is that no money is provided, for any of the new works and services that are going on all over Australia. It has been-, the custom in “the past to pa)’ out of theTreasurer’s Advance all accounts that come in for payment before the Budget is introduced and before the House has passed an> Act of Appropriation for New Works and’ Buildings. That is one of the reason’s why we want Supply.
– Why do the Governmentwant it to-day ?
– Because thequestion has to be dealt with, not only by this House, but by the Senate, to which duecourtesy must’ be shown. If the Government had delayed the introduction of theBill until the last moment they would have been blamed. We have brought it in- early so that honorable members can deal with it without being unduly hurried. We haveno desire to rush things through. Thereasons for the introduction of the measureare that it is customary to get Supply before the end of the year, or certainly immediately after it, and that in the caseswhere that has not been done it has beenbecause of some extraordinary reason existing why it should not be done, or becauseParliament has not been in session. The ‘ Government would be greatly to- blame if they went on authorizing expenditure alii over the continent without Parliament having voted the money to meet it.
– The present Govern- ment authorized the expenditure of ^2,000,000 without asking the House tovote it.
– I am not talking about that matter. The honorable: member cannot keep his tongue to himself for a minute. Apparently he must havehis say, whether he is right or wrong. There is nothing unusual in the Bill. It has been, customary ever since we have been a Parliament, when we have been in session at the beginning of the financial year, to in.troduce a similar measure.
– - The Government have taken a most unusual’ step in interrupting the debate on a motion’ of want of confidence. They give as thereason for their action the fact that they are actuated by an overmastering desire to go on with the business of the country. My opinion is unchanged, and I am confident that the Government have an overwhelming desire to do nothing but to remain where they are. This Bill which the Treasurer says is not unusual is, on the face of it, most unusual. Why do the Government want Supply for two months in the first place ?
– That is not the question before the House.
– I can quite understand the peculiar position in which the right honorable member is placed in being asked to inform the House why Supply is wanted. If there is any person in this country who is less capable of affording the House that information, I should like to see or know of him. Personally, I do not believe there is such a person.
– The honorable member’s stock-in-trade is personality.
– I am not indulging in personalities. Of course, the truth is sometimes not at all agreeable, but I have never heard it stated by any moralist or dabbler in ethics that the truth was to be dammed back because it happened to bump up against somebody’s personality. The honorable member’s gamut in politics, so far as we have seen him run it in this House, has gone so far that when the Watson Ministry approached the House some four years ago he proposed to cut its existence short the same afternoon.
– Will the honorable member kindly discuss the question before the Chair?
– The right honorable member’s interruption naturally threw me off my somewhat delicate poise. We are now discussing whether the Government have a right to live or not. We say they have not the confidence of the House or the country. Yet the right honorable member for Swan, apparently repeating what he lias been told by the Prime Minister, asserts in the calmest way that Supply must be granted, or the country will go to the dogs. The country would be ail right if honorable members on the Ministerial side would only do what is decent and proper. I shall not agree at .’this stage to allow the business of the House to be interrupted. I am aware that Supply must be granted at a later stage, and, when the House has voted on the question of whether the Ministry has or has not its confidence, I shall be quite prepared not to offer any factious opposition to the grant of Supply, but to discuss the motion with the ‘ amount of criticism that the circumstances warrant. With the leader of the Opposition, I am nf opinion that there is no necessity for Supply for more than one month, though personally I should not feel inclined to givethe Government even that. The propercourse is to proceed with the motion of want of confidence; and then, if the Government show that they have the confidence of the House, they can proceed with other measures.
.- I trust that the House will proceed to this business, and get through it at the earliest possible moment. We are perfectly aware that there are public works which stand in danger of being hung up indefinitely if the necessary money is not voted ; and I know of one case myself in which a number of working men will, in all probability, be thrown out of employment if we do not proceed with the measure laid before us by the Government. I, for one, would .point out that even before the importance of the debate carried 011 hopelessly, and without definite object, as shown by the numbers already indicated in the House, the measure submitted is one which ought to be carried through; then honorable members, who desire to speak on the motion of want of confidence - though it appears to be to me more or less purposeless - may do so afterwards.
.- I am a little amused at the proposals submitted by the Government; and I cannot help calling to mind the attitude assumed on a former occasion, and more particularly by the present Minister of Defence, when, in a case of much greater necessity, I, as Treasurer, asked for Supply.
– When was that?
– Last year, or the year before, though I cannot give the exact date.- I realize that payments undertaken by the Government must be made, though I also realize that at the present moment we cannot discuss the amount asked for, or the time over which Supply is to extend. My own opinion is that it would have been well to clear- the motion of want of confidence out of the way before asking for Supply. We have not had a single hint as to how this, money is to be provided ; and, knowing as much as I do of the difficulties of the Treasurer, we ought to be given some idea as to how the Government propose to provide for the ^883,000.
– I have already ruled that the only mattex open to debate is the question of urgency of Supply ; the amount of Supply, or the time over which it extends, must be discussed at a later stage.
– Once the motion before the House is carried, a Supply Bill must be introduced; and I have no doubt, in view of the peculiar constitution of this confused House, the proposal of the Ministry will be carried. At the same time, I may be permitted to say, generally, that the course proposed by the Government is an extreme one, unless money is urgently required. The only ground for such action is urgency ; and the question we have to decide is whether the money is really required before the first or second week in next month. As to trusting the Government, I would not trust them with the care of a rabbit ; at the same time, I do not wish to stand here to object seriously to the proposal of the Government, though, when I was Treasurer, the present Minister of Defence carped at what I did, and called me all sorts of nasty names. The Government say that they must have money ; and the question of how much they are to have or how long a period Supply should extend over, will come up for discussion after we have decided the matter of the suspension of the Standing Orders. I suggest that it is not wise to take a vote on the motion before us; I have known the pinch as Treasurer. The only question, as I have already indicated, is whether this is the right time for the motion - whether we should not wait until next week.I wish to place on record that it is most unusual, in view of the fact that Supply is not required for ten days or a fortnight, to move for the suspension of the Standing Orders. Honorable members may say that the motion of want of confidence represents a hopeless fight ; but I cannot agree with the honorable member for Perth in turning on his own party as he did just now.
– The first bid for the Conservative vote !
– Probably. The Opposition have their duties, just as have the Government, especially in connexion with motions for the suspension of the Standing Orders. They are entitled to take any course they please, and, having regard to the peculiar circumstances with which we are confronted, there is a special reason why they should be very careful tc see that there is no topsy-turvy business so far as money matters are concerned. ] would suggest, however, that the motion be allowed to pass, so that the SupplyBill may be introduced. We shall then have an opportunity, in discussing the items, to deal with many matters that cannot be referred to during the debate on this motion.
.- I wish to offer to the honorable member for Perth - who is not in his place, and, I suppose, will be away, as usual, for the rest’ of the day - my congratulations on his first bid for the Conservative vote. Doubtless, in the Argus and Age to-morrow he will get the nice little pat on the back for which, no doubt, he was looking when he spoke. I object, however, to any honorable member dictating to me what course I should take. I object to dictation even on the part of the honorable member for Perth, although at one time he may have belonged to the party of which I am. a member.
– And would still have belonged to it had he been selected as a member of the Labour Ministry.
– Probably he would. We are asked to take an unusual course, and I hooe that the House will not agree too readily to set up a. bad precedent. I have always objected, both in State and in Federal politics, to motions for the suspension of the Standing Orders, so that a Supply Bill may be hurriedly passed. Such a procedure does not conduce to the proper conduct of business. The Treasurer has shown that the only reason he has for asking us to agree to this motion is that he wishes the Bill to reach the Senate tomorrow.
– The Senate desires to adjourn for a week.
– The business of this House should not be conducted with a regard solely to the interests and desires of another place.
– I did not know that members of another place desired an adjournment.
– I do not think that the right honorable member did.
– I thought that they might wish to have some time to discuss the Bill.
– And we may desire to take some time in discussing it.
– That is an additional reason why we should proceed with the Bill now.
– Surely the Treasurer does not think that we should do cer- tain things merely because, in his opinion, the Bill should be sent to another place a day earlier than would otherwise be the case. The honorable gentleman has taken up an extraordinary attitude, and I hope that in future our debates will not be curtailed at the dictation of another place.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That the Standing Orders be suspended in order to enable the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means to be appointed before the Address-in-Reply to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral’s Opening Speech has been agreed to by the House, and to enable all other steps to be taken to obtain Supply, and to pass a Supply Bill through all its stages without delay.
.- This motion is obviously necessary if the Bill is to be dealt with expeditiously. I should like to say in reply to the honorable member for Perth that it is absolutely incorrect to say that if the course proposed by the Government is not adopted, working men will be kept out of their money. Wages are paid fortnightly, and the first payment under this measure will not be due until the middle of next month.
– Does the honorable member say that is so in regard to day labour; some demands, I am told, will be due within a week ?
– No. There are no wages demands under a fortnight.
– There may be casual day-to-day payments falling due, but amounting to not more than petty cash expenditure. The statement that day wages men will be thrown out of work because of our failure to pass a motion of this kind is altogether too mean and paltry to be discussed in a national Parliament. The last occasion on which we were asked to pass a Bill of this kind was. on the 3rd or 4th July last, and the present Minister of Home Affairs then made a speech, extending over five pages of Hansard, in which he pointed out that the proposed procedure was altogether wrong. Why attempt to bolster up a wholly untenable position by the paltry statement that unless we agree to the Government proposal workmen will be deprived of their wages. Undoubtedly the public responsibilities ought to be met, but there is no justification for the request for two months’ Supply. This is the only occasion when under like circumstances two months’
Supply has been asked for. In all other cases there has been a demand for only one month’s Supply. The Prime Minister proposes now to double the Supply asked for, just as he has doubled the number of Honorary Ministers.
– I am told that as much as three months’ Supply has been obtained.
– That was to enable Parliament to remain out of session for a certain period, in order to pay an international courtesy to the visiting American Fleet. Surely it is not pretended that the circumstances to-day are the same.
– No ; we are not asking for three months’ Supply.
– On the 3rd July last, we agreed to one month’s Supply.
– Parliament met the day before.
– And we were then asked to grant only one month’s Supply. Another occasion was the 28th June, 1906. These are the only occasions upon which Supply has been asked for before the adoption of the Address-in-Reply, and then the grant of it has been limited to one month.. The Government are certainly not justified in now asking for Supply for two months. Provision for one month’s Supply would be sufficient.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motions (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to-
That the House will this day resolve itself into a Committee to consider the Supply to be granted to His Majesty.
That the House will this day resolve itself into a Committee to consider the Ways and Means for raising the Supply to be granted to His Majesty.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair, and the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.
.- If this motion be agreed to I desire to know whether it will be possible under our Standing Orders for honorable members to indulge in a general debate upon the items covered by the Supply? I think that at this stage it is possible to engage in such a debate, but, if not, I should like to be informed of the real position.
– The motion now before the Chair is, “That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply,” for the purpose of dealing with the whole matter.
In Committee it will be competent for honorable members to discuss, not merely the length of time for which Supply should be granted, but every other detail.
– I desire to ask the Treasurer when he intends to deliver his Budget?
– Towards the end of August, I think.
– I was under the impression that it would be delivered much earlier. [ do not know of any difficulties in the way of the Treasurer making his Budget statement before the end of July.
– We have only just received the Estimates. I have not seen them yet.
– The Prime Minister stated again and again in the country that the present session was to be a financial one. That being so, we ought not to allow three months to elapse before we know the financial proposals of the Government. For honorable members to be called upon to sacrifice two valuable months, after the Ministry have had one month in which to consider the financial position, is altogether out of keeping with my ideas of responsible government.
– We have not yet considered the Estimates.
– When the late Government left office, the preparation of the Estimates was as complete as it has ever been before at that period of the year.
– Perhaps that may not be saying much.
– I venture to say that no Treasurer ever left the Estimates in a better position than I did. I challenge the right honorable member to say anything derogatory to the way in which the Treasury was administered by the late Government. Any insinuations of that kind will be met-
– I do not want to say anything nasty.
– Any insinuations of the character referred to are unworthy of the Treasurer. The employment of such methods may answer very well under other circumstances - it may answer in the press or on the public platform; but it will not serve any useful purpose here. The right honorable member must make good any insinuations of that kind. When the late Government quitted office, the preparation of the Estimates was. as forward as any man could make it at the time. The statement that it will be the end of August before the Budget is delivered-
– Towards the end of that month.
– The statement that the Budget will not be delivered until towards the end of August is a declaration that the Government are not readv with anyfinancial proposals whatever. It is an intimation to this House and the country that they have no policy at all, because upon more than one occasion the Prime Minister clearly stated that he considered this Parliament should have been convened earlier, in order that it might deal with the vast financial problems that await our attention. But now that it has met somewhat later than he desired, we find that the delivery of the Budget is to be deferred for a period of three months.
– What is before the House now?
– The broadest question that can be discussed. Is that the Treasurer’s trouble? The trouble is that our Standing Orders permit us to discuss the absolute incapacity of the Government to frame a financial policy until three months have elapsed from their assumption of office. The members of the Government are not new to Ministerial office. Of course, I recognise that we shall have ample opportunity to discuss these questions at a later stage. I repeat that the intimation of the Treasurer that he will not be able to make his Budget statement until towards the end of August amounts to a declaration to members of this House, and to the country, that the Government have no financial policy whatever, and are merely waiting the drift of events to enable them to overcome the troubles which face them.
.- The present seems rather a fitting opportunity for me to make one or two observations regarding the statement of the Treasurer as to the time when he will be in a position to deliver his Budget. It will be recollected that the right honorable gentleman left the office of Treasurer in the last Deakin Administration rather suddenly, and I say that he left the finances in a worse state than they have been since the establishment of the- Commonwealth. Upon his retirement I was practically forced - owing to the kindly feelings wriich I had entertained towards the Prime Minister, who was ill at the time - to take control of the Treasury. I did so, and I think that I made mv Budget statement within a fortnight or three weeks thereafter.
– The Estimates were nearly all ready when the honorable member took the office of Treasurer.
– Nothing was ready. A commencement had scarcely been made in the preparation of the Estimates. Indeed, the only work” which had been done related to a reduction of the Estimates by £70,000 or £100,000, which the right honorable member had ordered without consulting his officers. It was attempted subsequently to fasten on to my shoulders the Warne attaching to his action. That he ordered the reduction was evidenced in documents which I afterwards submitted to the House - documents to which his initials were attached. For the right honorable member to say that he cannot make a Budget statement for three months after the meeting of Parliament is absurd. It is a token of incapacity and of want of knowledge of the Department over which he has been presiding for a considerable time. When I assumed control of the Treasury, the officers of that Department probably thought that I was a slave-driver, but I told then: that the work had to be done because Parliament wanted the Budget within a very short time. The UnderSecretary informed me that more than 100 men would be required to do the work within the period that I indicated. My reply was, “ Get as many men as are needed, but the work must be done.”
– I think that the honorable member delivered his Budget on the 8th August of that year.
– At any rate, I had assumed the office of Treasurer only about a fortnight previously. Yet I made a Budget statement as complete as any that has yet been delivered in this House. The only complaint urged against it was that I read it. But I didoso because I wanted to be in a position to give the House accurate information, and I say that if any Treasurer attempts to deal with the mass of figures that are incidental to a Budget by relying upon his memory, he will make a mess of his task, just as the right honorable member for Swan did on two or three occasions. I did not attempt anything of the kind. I had the figures typed, and, as a result, the House obtained correct information. I notice that my example has recently been followed by a very good man in the House of Commons - I refer to Mr. Lloyd George. The best way in which to deliver a statement which contains so many figures as does a Budget is to read it.
– The Prime Minister followed the honorable member’s example the other day.
– But his statement did not contain figures. It related only to a placard. We should have forgotten most of the placard if the Prime Minister had not read it. I find from the volume of Hansard which has now been placed in my hands, that I delivered my Budget Speech on the 8th August. At that time I had been a very short while in the Treasury, and practically there was no material to help me.
– If there had been no material there I will guarantee that the honorable member could not have done it.
– The Treasurer seeks to cast a reflection upon me. I have no wish to take any credit that is due to the officers of the Treasury. I acknowledge that they assisted me. I checked the material which they placed before me. But they received my policy from me, and worked it out. Any Treasurer who thinks that he can work out figures ‘ without the assistance of his officers is mistaken. No human being can do work of this kind unless he is a skilled accountant. But I repeat that I had not been more than three weeks in the Treasury when I delivered my Budget statement; andI also state most definitely that there was practically nothing ready when I became Treasurer. In fact I had to undo a great deal that the present Treasurer had prepared - if one can call it preparation. One thing that I had to do I felt very sore about at the time, because there was cast upon my shoulders the blame which arose from the right honorable member who preceded me at the Treasury having unwarrantably cut off £70,000 from the Estimates. I am not sure as to whether there was not another sum of £35,000, or whether the amount was £70,000 on the whole. I was blamed for having done that.
– Did I say that?
– The right honorable member said it more than once ; and when I produced documents bearing his initials, he refused to acknowledge them. But they are in the Treasury now, and any one who has ever seen his initials will know them again. This House ought to have a statement of the finances of the Commonwealth ‘ inside the time the Treasurer has referred to. At present this House has no idea as to what the intention of the Government is in regard to finding the money that is required for the Post and Telegraph Department. While I am on that point I will take the opportunity of saying that a great deal of the trouble that was caused financially affecting the Post and Telegraph Department, when I became responsible, arose out of the promises which the previous Treasurer had so lavishly made. A great many contracts had been, entered into, and many promises had been made. I had to find the money for these purposes, and that was one of the things that caused the great trouble that I had in connexion with the Post Office.
– Who made the promises ?
– The right honorable member made them.
– What were they ?
– This is not a matter to be the subject of chaff or to be laughed over.
– I was not PostmasterGeneral.
– We have looked up the dates and find that the honorable member for Hume had been Treasurer only eight days when he made his Budget Speech.
– I am glad to be reminded of the actual dates. I prepared my statement after having been only eight days at the Treasury. Now what has the Treasurer to say? The position was an extraordinary one, because. I repeat, the previous Treasurer had let matters drift, drift, drift; and, after he had allowed things to get into that position, he turned round and sold his chief, who had been ill. That is what the right honorable member did.
– I ask the honorable member for Hume to withdraw the remark about the right honorable member for Swan having “ sold his chief.”
– I do not think, sir, that the Treasurer took any notice of it until you drew attention to it. He has been told this so often. But still, Mr. Speaker, I will withdraw the remark. I will put the matter in another way, and will say that he remained in office until the Prime Minister became very ill ; and, in the midst of that illness, the right honorable gentleman, after correspondence, resigned office. At that time, I say again, he had done practically nothing towards preparing the financial statement, which, indeed, should have been made be fore he left office. It was intended to havebeen made earlier, and would have teen except for something that occurred. I waspressed to take the Treasurership. I did’ not wish to do so. I did not desire to’ leave the Department of Trade and Customs. I suggested to the Prime Minister the name of another gentleman, but he said to me, “No; you have been Treasurer before, and you will have to take the position.” Accordingly, I took it, and1 Hansard shows that I was only in office eight days when I made my Financial Statement. I had to put great pressure upon my Department in order to do it. I made the officers work up to the full extent of their power. I was told by Mr. Allen, the Secretary of the Treasury, who is one of the best officers, and one of the most loyal men I ever had to deal with, that what I desired to do was not possible. But I replied, “The Prime Minister wants this Financial Statement made as soon as possible. The House also wants it to be made early. If you have not sufficient men inthe Treasury to do the work in the time, get more.” After I had delivered the Budget the Secretary of the Treasury told’ me that such a thing had never been attempted before in connexion with the Commonwealth Treasury since it had been established, and he also said that he did not think that such a thing had been done in any of the States. It is, I think, creditable to Mr. Allen, to Mr. Collins, and to the whole of the staff of the Treasury that the work was done in the time; and mr Budget was, I believe, the most completestatement and the most readable one-
– The honorable member read it all.
– And I am not ashamed of that. It is recorded in Hansard, and it will compare favorably withany other Budget statement since the Commonwealth was inaugurated.
– Mr. Allen prepared it, and the honorable member read it.
– Mr. Allen and myself prepared it. I never said that I prepared it entirely myself. If any Treasurer wants to make a jackass of himself, let him try to prepare a Budget without the assistance of experts. Of course, I used the officers who were at my command. I checked their figures. But there was no delay. It is ridiculous, it is absurd, for Ihe Treasurer to say’ that he cannot prepare his Budget statement in less time than he has mentioned - that is to say, if he knows what he is going to do, and if the Government know what their policy is. At the present time we do not know, as a House, and as a Parliament - the country does not know - whether we are going to have a lot of borrowed money for Commonwealth purposes. This is one of the principal things that we want to know. I hold that, except under very extraordinary circumstances indeed, there should be no borrowing policy. I will stand here as long as I am able to stop the commencement of a borrowing policy.
– The honorable member has borrowed a great deal of money in his time, I think.
– I never borrowed while I was at the Commonwealth Treasury, and I never borrowed much as- a State Treasurer, except for the purpose of resuming properties in New South Wales that never ought to have been sold. I hold that if we commence borrowing it will lead lo extravagance. We shall have plenty of money for the purpose of carrying out everything that we want to carry out, if the Free Trade half of the Government do not force the Treasurer to give too much back to the States. That is the true position. We used only one-fourth of the Customs and Excise revenue in the past.
– Less for a time, and we gave back to the States much more than should have been given.
– We are retaining less than one-fourth now.
– Probably less now. If an arrangement made, or that it was intended to make, when I was with the Prime Minister were carried out, we should have in 19 10 plenty of money at our disposal, and no borrowing would be necessary . The position is a very serious one. When I was at the Treasury a proposal was made t.) borrow money on short-dated bills for Post and Telegraph purposes. I objected to it, and what was proposed was not done. I said that even if it were found necessary to finance affairs up to the time when we could claim our own in 1910, we could do it easily without entering upon a system of borrowing.
– And keep back important works all over Australia.
– There was no necessity for that either. Our revenue last year amounted to about £15,000,0*00, and without the Post Office revenue to about £11^600,000. Will any one tell me, although we were entitled to use only onefourth of that, that that was not sufficient to carry us on up to the time I have mentioned? It is all very well to say that we must return something to the States to keep them going. I admit that we have to consider the States.
– But we have to pay our way first.
– I also say that we have to pay our own way, and I say very emphatically that the State Governments must not be extravagant at our expense. State extravagance has taken place in the past. I have said no more than that, but I will say further now, while I am on this topic, that if that extravagance is to be continued, unquestionably we ought to see that Commonwealth revenue is not used to encourage it. The only way by which we can bring about harmony in the financial relations between the Commonwealth and State Governments, is to keep their finances absolutely separate. It can be done in no other way, and it cannot be done by postponing a real settlement of the question for five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years.
– Was- not that the policy of the Prime Minister up to the present time?
– It was his policy, and one which he urged very strongly, whilst I was a member of his Ministry in charge of the Treasury. In fact, the honorable gentleman went a great deal further than I did in this direction. He convinced me that this is absolutely the correct policy to pursue. I attended with him the Premiers’ Conference in Melbourne, and advocated that policy, as he did. He was even against postponing for five years the payment of the £2,000,000 odd of interest out of the £8,000,000 odd. He desired that the surplus should be deducted every year.
– Is this another Cabinet matter?
– No. It was spoken of publicly before the Premiers. I contend that the coalition has brought about such a position of affairs that everything ought to be made public, and everything should be done which may be necessary to prevent a repetition of what has taken place. I feel that it is time that we knew, and I hope the Opposition will insist upon getting the information, what is to te the policy of the Government for the raising of money. To borrow is an easy and an extravagant way of raising money, but it must be remembered that borrowed money has to be repaid. If there is one thing that the Governments of which I have been a member since the establishment of Federation have a right to be proud of, it is that they did not commence to borrow money. I know that the electors are proud of that. One may attend any meeting of particular or mixed parties in city or country, and he will find that the one thing for which previous Governments are praised is that they did not initiate a borrowing policy. I propose to say something with reference to old-age pensions, but before I do so, let me say that, in my opinion, the Prime Minister should also be Treasurer of the Commonwealth. The ex-Prime Minister was Treasurer in the Government which he led, and he had an opportunity, which I had not, to prevent other Departments incurring expenditure which there was no money in the Treasury to meet. I hope that my suggestion in this regard will be taken into serious consideration. Sir George Turner, when in the Victorian Parliament, was Premier and Treasurer of the State, and he was thus enabled by dictating to the Government” Departments, to bring down and keep down expenditure in Victoria. He could not have done that if he had been Treasurer and not at the same time Premier. If the Treasurer of the Commonwealth is not also Prime Minister, he may be told, as I was told by Ministers, and by one in particular, “You have to find the money which I think should be appropriated, and you have nothing to do with the appropriation.”
– That was responsible government.
– That was responsible government, but if I had been Prime Minister as well as Treasurer, this gentleman would not have said that to me. However, when that was said to me, I shut down on everything, and would not give the money. What was done then was that members of this House were invited to attack the Treasurer because he would not find the money for certain purposes. Honorable members, like the roads and bridges member I see on the other side, complained that they could not get public works carried out in their electorates because the Treasurer would not find the money.
– What about the post- office clock?
– There was a post-office clock which the honorable member wanted and did not get, and he will not get.
– It was passed on the Estimates.
– The Newcastle clock?
– No, the Corona clock.
– No, not the clock.
– They got the tower.
– Money for the clock had never been voted. Let the honorable member be fair. I never went behind my word. I told the Government I would not ask for the clock at that time, and I did not do so. It is of no use to go- into that at the present moment, but I might have something to say regarding the action of the Prime Minister in connexion with that clock.
– I helped the honorable gentleman over that matter.
– The honorablegentleman did try to help me. He passed the money, and then the Prime Minister prevented it being spent.
– The honorable gentleman refused to build the tower at Newcastle, but he built the tower at Corowa.
– Yes, I got the tower built. The honorable member whose voice I hear behind me has been the greatest roads and bridges, public school, postoffice, and telephone member I have ever known.
– Who is this?
– The owner of a voice I have heard behind me.
– The honorable member for Laanecoorie.
– I did not mention the name. The honorable member got more, perhaps, than he had a right to get. I was contending that the Prime Minister should also be Treasurer of the Commonwealth, because there is no doubt that the Treasurer is at a serious disadvantage if he is not also Prime Ministei. I had, when in charge of the Treasury, to cut and carve in every possible way to save money in the Advance Account to meet the demands of a great many officers for expenditure which should not have been incurred. But the practice has been to commence a certain work, which must afterwards be proceeded with, and the Treasury is then drawn upon to find the necessary money, even though it must be provided from a source which should not be called upon for such expenditure. A system has been initiated of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I stopped it as far as I could. Money voted for one purpose has been spent for another, and I hold that that is not a proper thing to do. The practice used to be followed in Sydney under a roads and bridges schedule, and I stopped it there. I do urge that if the Government propose to raise- money by loan, the fact should be made public now. I do not wish to deal with small amounts, but with large sums involved in carrying out important matters of policy which the Government have to face. A few minutes ago I was going to say -that, in regard to old-age pensions, about which so much was said in this Chamber the last time I brought in a Supply Bill and a Budget statement, the late Prime Minister knows that I intended to use the money set aside out of the Surplus Revenue Fund, and then to finance six months of the time, until we got control of the Commonwealth revenue in 1910. That is all known. If it could be done then, it can be done now ; but it cannot be done if the Government is going to put off dealing with the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States for five years longer.’ The States have had greater consideration, and received larger sums of money, than they could ever have expected to get, in consequence of the large revenue we have derived from Customs and Excise. If we put off the consideration of this question any longer, and the Government is going in for a borrowing policy, then all the good which has been done by preventing an appeal to the London or Australian markets will be destroyed, for the people at present believe we can be trusted to deal with the finances. It will be a good thing for the Opposition, and those who act with me, but a very dreadful thing for the Government, if they start that game. We ought to know before August what is intended to be done, and that is a point I press home at the present moment. I did not mean to speak at this length to-day, because I had intended to speak to the other motion on the notice-paper, when I should have dealt with some of these questions. But this particular question is so important and urgent that the House ought te take action immediately, unless it can get some satisfaction. The people of this country will back us up by taking the most -extreme action in regard to a question of this sort, which is bound up with the prosperity of the Commonwealth and of every individual in the community, especially, with the finances slacking, as they are now, to some extent. If we are not made acquainted with the intention of the Government, and do not press by all means this question, it will be our own fault, and we shall be blamed. If we are defeated, all that we can do will be to appeal to the electors at the earliest possible moment. But do not let us make a mistake about the urgency of this question. , It is one of the strongest points on which any party can. go to the country. I think that there is no question so strong as that of stopping the lavish borrowing to which the States have resorted. We should not defer for one moment the settlement of the financial relations between the States and the Commonwealth. The proposal which was made on a. previous occasion was taken, some of it from the scheme of the honorable member for Mernda, some of it from the proposals of others, and a little of it from the statements of Sir George Turner, and some of it originated with myself. I am never desirous of taking credit from any one to whom it is due. I admit freely that the basis of the altered scheme came from the honorable member for Mernda. That was worked out with the great assistance which was given to the Treasury officials and myself by the Prime Minister when he was Minister of External Affairs. His anxiety was never so distinctly shown to me as it was then to clear up the accounts of the States at once. He will find all he said on the subject -in minutes in connexion with the Department of External Affairs, and in the report of the Premiers’ Conference. That was one of the strongest points which he pressed upon me as Treasurer, and in connexion with the matter he told me many things which I shall not repeat now. When the trouble arose with the honorable member for Swan, he attacked me because I did not do what he proposed to do when he was at the Brisbane Conference. There he showed his hand, and disclosed that he was more a State Minister than a Federal Minister.
– He always was.
– He showed it there.
– And he is still.
– The Prime Minister did not authorize the honorable member for Swan to say all that he did say at Brisbane, as I told him before in this Chamber. When I went as second to the Prime Minister to meet the Premiers in Conference at Melbourne, he commanded my admiration for the way in which he handled them, and the strong points that he brought out in urging that there should be no delay in settling this question. I have been very much amazed to read in the press rumours and statements that it is to be deferred for five years for breathing time, and then Heaven knows how much longer it will be deferred before it is actually taken in hand. I repeat that the end of 1910 will be the time to deal with the question. We should not follow the system of drift, and continue the fight, which must be continued if we do not lay down a certain rule as to what we shall do with the revenue from Customs and Excise. We shall have a constant bickering so long as the finances of the Commonwealth and the States are not divided in a proper way. I hope that the few words I have uttered to-day will cause honorable members and the public to think as to the very serious position of the finances. Let us have no medley of borrowing money and raising revenue, no hocus-pocus statements, no further time lost, as it has already been lost by the Ministry in asking for an adjournment of three weeks when one of ten days would have been quite sufficient for them to prepare what they have prepared. Indeed, so far as I can see, there is nothing prepared now after an adjournment of three weeks. Ministers did not put their shoulders to the wheel as I did when I was in the Treasury. When a Minister undertakes to perform a task, it ought to be done, or be should leave his position. That is the attitude which honorable members ought to take up. I hope that this debate will not be allowed to close until we get some statement as regards the future administration of the finances. We have to get a statement regarding many other things. We want to know, for instance. about the written compact between the Protectionist party and the Free Trade party. We want to know about a number of things on which we have not yet been taken into the confidence of the Ministry. When I was sitting on the Ministerial side of the House, and the honorable member for Parramatta, with his supporters, was sitting on the Opposition side, the latter were always wanting’ to know what agreement we had with the Labour party. That was the subject- matter of almost every discussion, and of the bulk of the questions which were asked. I, for one, desire to know what agreement has been’ entered into in this unholy alliance. We shall be found in possessionof plenty of voice and stamina tosee that these matters are brought to light, and that the people of this country are not kept in darkness, asthey are kept now, without one word being said on either finance or anything else. As regards finance, what was the proposal which was built up mainly on the scheme of the honorable member for Mernda? We were to take over the State debts, which amounted to ^244.000,000’ or ^246,000,000, and which amount now, I believe, to ^,”252,000,000 or £254,000,000. It was proposed that the Commonwealth should assume the responsibility for the whole of that indebtedness by the States.
– I desire to remind the honorable member that there are already three debates set down on the noticepaper, namely, a debate on the question, as to whether or not the Government enjoys the confidence of the majority of this House, a debate on the Address-in-Reply, and a debate on the policy of the Government. So long as general principles have been touched upon, I Have not interfered with the honorable member, though he was going very near to several of the questions covered bv those three Orders of the Day. But if he proposes to go into details asto how many millions are owed by the States, the distribution of the millions, and so on, he will see very clearly that he will be anticipating one or more of the debates on .the notice-paper. I ask him not to proceed in that way.
– I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, though I did not know before that a debate such as this, in which, ordinarily, every grievance that can be thought of, may be mentioned with a view to redress, can be limited because of other matters on the notice-paper under which such questions might be dealt with. I thought that the redress of ‘grievances took first place when Supply was asked1 for. Had I been allowed to say two or three words more, I should have finished’ what I had in my mind, and, if I may be permitted, I should like to do so.
– I have not interrupted the honorable member in dealing; with general principles, though he pro-t ceeded a considerable distance j but he may not discuss the actual details of certain occurrences.
– I had nearly finished what I wish to say.
– I ask the honorable member not to finish, because, if he is allowed to proceed further, other honorable members will be entitled to follow his example.
– I am sorry that I may not finish my remarks, because their curtailment now will make it necessary to refer to the matter in another debate. However, I shall not proceed further, for two reasons : first, that I think you are the best authority we have in regard to matters of this kind, and, secondly, because I would not wish to do anything which you do not desire me to do. I shall repeat what I have already said, in as forcible language as I can command, though I shall try to be as little offensive as is possible under the circumstances. This is a time when no honorable member should hesitate to call a spade a spade. I have done so as plainly as I can, without being unduly offensive. I think it is my right so to speak without apology to the House. Two matters upon which I feel very strongly are the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, and Commonwealth borrowing.
.- We have just listened to a speech charged with admonition and warning in regard to the criticism and supervision which honorable members should exercise in respect to the financial proposals of the Government. I do not think that any honorable member would deny that such proposals must be keenly scrutinized, but I refuse to admit that such scrutiny is the province of the Opposition alone. In my opinion, the close supervision of financial administration’ is a duty attaching to every parliamentary representative. The fact that a man has moved his seat from one side of the Chamber to another does not alter his responsibility in this matter. Since the first Commonwealth Parliament was opened I, with others, have been “ a voice crying in the wilderness “ in protest against the introduction of Supply Bills. One would think, to hear the honorable member for Hume this afternoon for the first time, 0 -that he is a model parliamentarian. He now says that Supply Bills are iniquitous, rand that to hold back a Budget statement may be dangerous. But if you, Mr.
Speaker, will allow me to refresh your ready memory, I shall point out that the honorable member during the present financial year has introduced no fewer than four Supply Bills. Therefore, his objections to the practice of obtaining Supply in this way are rather belated. Similarly^ the members of the Labour Party were not formerly heard in protest against Supply Bills, but now their sense of what is right is outraged by the proposal of the Government. I am delighted that they have awakened to the fact that honorable members are recreant to their duties if they permit the passing of Supply Bills under other than most exceptional circumstances. They are saying now that the most important thing in parliamentary government is the control by members of the public purse strings - a tardy recognition of a fact of the greatest moment. I am pleased that their removal to the Opposition benches has brought about this change of view. The honorable member for Hume has also protested against Commonwealth borrowing. He tells us that he, and every Government in which he has been a Minister, has been opposed to borrowing. He was cheered for that statement. But let me again refresh your ready memory, Mr. Speaker. Sir George Turner, as Treasurer of a Government in which the honorable member for Hume was Minister, brought forward a proposal for borrowing which was defeated by a vote of the House, I being one of those’ who voted against it. Unquestionably the public must be delighted that we ‘ have not piled up a national debt, but it has not to thank the honorable member for Hume for this. No doubt it is unfortunate for his reputation for consistency that I have a retentive memory ; but since he has admonished the House as though he stands on a pedestal, and is not playing the part of a strict guardian of the public purse merely for the edification of those outside, it is necessary to refer to these things.
– He thought that we had forgotten them.
– I hope that the present Government will forget to bring forward any proposal for borrowing. In my view, the States must either be content with a smaller return from Customs and Excise revenue, or must expect the Commonwealth to adopt other sources of taxation to obtain the revenue required for its needs. If the States insist upon being paid yearly three-fourths of the revenue from Customs and Excise taxation, they must expect us to obtain from other channels the additional money we may need to give effect to thepowers intrusted to us by the Constitution for the development of Australia. Sovereigns do not materialize from vapour, and revenue can be obtained only by taxation, direct or indirect. If the requirements of a Department such as the Post Office can be met out of ordinary revenue, there should be no need to borrow. It is monstrous to think of paying old-age pensions and providing for defence by borrowing. If the ordinary revenue of the year obtained from indirect taxation is not sufficient to pay oldage pensions, they should be provided for bv means of direct taxation on the wealthy. There is no escape from that position. The funds for defence must also come from direct taxation. I do not wish to go into the general principles of that question, or to debate at this stage what sources should be tapped by direct taxation, or what should not. I shall have that opportunity, as you, sir, have indicated, during the debates on various motions that will come before the House. The Government are failing on the very threshold of what they call responsible government, by asking the House to vote two months’ Supply. They have blazoned out to the public the fact that they have taken office to restore representative and responsible government. I could understand their asking for one month’s Supply in the exceptional circumstances of their taking office, but there is no justification for a request for two months’ Supply, and the consequent delaying of the Budget, the settlement of the financial problems of the Commonwealth, and what the press and the Government themselves prophesied would be responsible government in excelsis. We were told that for the first time in Federal history, we were to have Ministers who would take charge of the affairs of the Commonwealth on the plain and beaten lines of responsible government. I may be accused of taking too strong a view of the question, and consequently of not playing the game, but no one can with justice complain of me for adhering to the fundamental principles on which responsible government is built. It may be through over earnestness, or because I lack good advice, or proper experience in parliamentary affairs, or it may be that I do not know how to play the game, that I find it necessary to refer to these matters, but I must point out that the Government told the people that the difference between them.selves and honorable members who now sit opposite was that they would restore responsible government, with its accompaniment of representative power. For the Government to introduce a two months’ Supply Bill without telling the House when the Budget is likely to be introduced is inthose circumstances to trifle with the very principle which they took office to restoreIn the last twelve months four Supply Billswere introduced by the then Government, and readily supported by those honorable members who are now sitting in Opposition. Not one word of protest came from them,, and they gave no assistance to those few of us then sitting on that side, who were foolish enough to oppose those Bills. They arevery studious in regard to these matters tonight, and rightly so, but I am sorry their studiousness did not come earlier. By means of those four Supply Bills, the House was rendered comparatively powerless in matters of finance. The discussion or criticism of Estimates became a myth, a farce, and the custody of the purse, so taras the interests of the public were concerned, passed from members of Parliament whenthey surrendered the control of finance to the Cabinet. Are we now, on the threshold of a new Administration, to be met with a continuation of the policy of introducing Supply Bills until the Estimates are presented to the House? Until the Budget is submitted we cannot obtain the Estimates. I for one refuse to debate Estimates after the money with which they profess to deal1 has already been voted. I hope the Government will reconsider their proposal to ask for two months’ Supply. One plea is that they want time to prepare the Budget. Thehonorable member for Hume, who is soquiet and inoffensive, although I admit that occasionally he uses the capital “I,” said* he had only eight days to get his Budget ready. I interjected that the’ world was made in six. The honorable member alsorevealed the fact that the Treasury officialsreally wrote his Budget, he being on lv responsible for the policy and reciting it tothe House. Apparently that is what is totake place for the future. The Government of the day will have their policy, and’ the Treasurer will simply marshal the figures as he finds them, and present them tothe House. The Financial Statement, instead of being a Budget as we have knownBudgets in the States, or read of them in the British House of Commons, is rapidly becoming more or less an accountant’s statement of accounts. I see no reasonfor pleading for two months’ delay. The statement of Ministerial policy now before us outlines to a great extent the policy as it will be presented in the Budget. I trust this will be the last occasion on which the Opposition will have to warn honorable members that in allowing Supply Bills to go through they are treading a dangerous path. I know it. If we give the Government two months’ Supply we shall have surrendered one-sixth of our control of the Estimates for the year. I am sorry that all Governments seem to avail themselves of this slovenly treatment of matters of finance. The honorable member for Hume must, to say the least of it, have had a treacherous memory. I cannot say that he uttered an untruth when he addressed the House just now, but he is certainly one of the guiltiest among those who have been guilty of rushing Supply Bills through.
Mr. FRAZER (Kalgoorlie [4.37].- The Government have miserably failed to justify their request for any Supply at this juncture, and they have undoubtedly failed to justify their request for two months’ Supply in any circumstances. It has been established beyond doubt that there was no justification for intervening with this matter when the existence of the Government was challenged. The Treasurer has been unable to mention any obligations that are likely to fall due before the 6th July - the date specified by the late Treasurer, who is now leader of the Opposition. The Treasurer makes no reply to that statement, but this Administration are getting into a habit of refusing to justify anything. They pitch their proposals on the table, and rely upon that free majority behind them - a majority who, according to their own ideas, are at liberty to do what they like - to force them through without explanation. As the honorable member for Dalley has proved, if we agree to the present proposal, we shall hand over to the Government one-sixth of our control of the year’s finances. I agree with the honorable member that the practice has been too frequently adopted of passing Supply Bills before we are able to discuss the general financial proposals of the Government. The Treasurer might have indicated to the House when he expects to be able to bring down the Budget.
– He said towards the end of August.
– That is a nice proposal ! A Government who come into existence at the beginning of June are to take until the end of August to make up their minds as to the financial proposals and .Estimates which they will submit for the year. Finance and its control are questions that have not received from honorable members the attention that they ought to have, especially at this stage of the existence of the Commonwealth. The period which we are approaching is .more important from the financial point of view than have been any of the periods that we have yet passed through, and yet the Government ask the House topi ace them in the snug position of being, able to say - “ If you pass this Bill, you may take any view you like, but we can go. into a temporary recess to-morrow morning.. because we have obtained Supply to carry us to the end of August. “ The position is eminently unsatisfactory. “The least we can expect, after three weeks’ adjournment, is that the Government shall explain their attitude in regard to the doubtful words in their programme that “ a new departure is called for.” Is the Treasurer in the position to inform the House whether he will sanction a loan in order to put the Post and Telegraph Department into a reasonable state of efficiency ?
– That has nothing to do with the Supply Bill !
– It has a great deal to do with the Supply Bill. How can the honorable member for Mernda justify his statement that a borrowing proposal on the part of the Government has nothing to do with a Supply Bill, when the Government are asking for authority to proceed with their functions without respect to the opposition of the House?
– That is a different question.
– Does the honorable member for Mernda approve of borrowing ?
– The honorable member foi Mernda is “not in the witness-box, but is now assuming the attitude of adviser to the Government on the Supply Bill ; and I think that the borrowing proposal may have much influence on the judgment of honorable members. I desire it to be distinctly understood by the country - if no impression can be made on honorable members - that those who support the Supply Bill are supporting a Government who propose to borrow money on behalf of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Mernda may laugh ; for several years past he has sat in the corner, and, looking wise, put in an interjection now and then, usually pf no importance. I have never heard the honorable member give any information of value to honorable members on an important question before them. Until the Government are prepared to show their intentions, the limitation of one month’s Supply urged by the honorable member for Dalley is the extreme that I can support. I know that a number et honorable members on the Government side take the view that the strength of numbers will carry them through, and that there are nine months during which a cloak can be thrown over their betrayal. But, at the same time, it is of some urgency that intelligent interest should be devoted to the financial interests and obligations of the country. When we have a Supply Bill for the expenditure of a sum of money in the vicinity of £x, 000,000, the least we can expect is that, at any rate, half-a-dozen supporters of the Government should be present to listen to the debate. I suppose we are to conclude that they are out studying the details of the measure in some room within the precincts of the House, though I have the greatest doubt on the point. (Quorum formed-l Before we can be justified in .granting Supply for two months, we should know the intentions of the Government in regard to borrowing, and also rs to what they mean by the temporary settlement of the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. Do the Government propose to adopt the idea of the present Treasurer, and continue the operation of the Braddon section for a number of years? Does the Treasurer still believe in the proposals he submitted’ at the Brisbane Premiers’ Conference in the name of his Government - proposals which were afterwards repudiated by his colleagues? The only thing we can get from the Treasurer is a smile,, and the only time we can get a smile is when he is sitting on the Ministerial benches. The right honorable gentleman was one of the saddest personalities I ever had the privilege of gazing on during the months he occupied a seat in the Opposition Corner; and he got back to the Ministerial benches as soon as possible, and now is smiling again. Seeing that he is in such a mood, perhaps he would be pleased to tell us what the Government propose to do in regard to the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States?
– I shall tell the honorable member as soon as I can.
– Are we to assume that the Government do not know their own mind on this important financial question, and that they are seeking time to consider it, by asking for two months’ Supply ? We have, at all events, an admission by the Treasurer that the Government at present do not know what they are going to propose. We may also gather from their silence on the subject that they have not yet made up their minds whether or not to proceed with the proposed loan to carry out certain works in connexion with the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. Then, again, we have had no statement from them as to what they intend to do in regard to finding the money that may be required for a Dreadnought. I think the Treasurer led us to believe that it was the Minister of Defence who said, in effect - “ Never mind about the money until we see whether the British Government are going to accept cur offer.”
– The honorable member has misunderstood me. I have never led him to believe anything of the kind.
– I saw the statement attributed in print to a member of the present Government.
– To the Minister of Defence.
– I believe that it was.
– The Treasurer, like the honorable member, is a Scotchman, and he will think.
– He is not thinking aloud at all events, and is not giving us any information as to the intentions of the Government -with regard to facing our financial obligations. In seeking leave to introduce the Bill, the. Treasurer said that the large sum for which he asked in respect of Treasurer’s Advance, was required to pay for works in anticipation of their being authorized bv Parliament.
– No; I said we required to pay for works that had been authorized and were in course of construction.
– If it is required to enable works that have been authorized by Parliament to be completed, there can be no serious objection.
– But no payment will be due in that regard until the middle of July next.
– I agree that there is no urgent necessity for the Bill. The Government have not shown that it is urgent ; they are simply relying on their “ thinking “ majority to pass it. When items relating to new works and buildings have been submitted, in some cases the Minister of the day has told us that certain works had reached a certain stage-
– The Treasurer’s Advance Account is recouped from a re-vote.
– I agree to that course of procedure for the time being, but I object to the Treasurer authorizing new works in anticipation of Parliament approving of them. That has been done before in this Parliament.
– I think not, except perhaps in some small cases. *
– The method is most objectionable.
– The object of the Treasurer’s Advance is to provide for unforeseen or unexpected expenditure.
– The honorable member will find that some of this money is wanted to pay for the extension of contracts approved by departmental officers, and now before the Treasurer.
– If that is so, it is a serious matter.
– It is serious, and that is why I tried to stop the course proposed.
– If the financial statement is not to be made until the end of August, we shall probably find that something like £50,000 has been paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance in respect of works that may not subsequently be authorized by Parliament.
– No. We do not do that. The Treasurer’s Advance is to provide for unforeseen expenditure.
– What does the Treasurer estimate that extraordinary expenditure will be?
– Very little.
– And yet the right honorable gentleman is asking for an advance of £100,000. If it is really necessary to vote anything approaching £100,000 to admit of the completion of works authorized last year, the departmental officers must have been lacking in energy in proceeding wilh them.
– The Appropriation Bill was not passed until some months after the beginning of the financial year.
– Quite sp; and bygranting two-months’ Supply we offer the Government no inducement to submit their financial proposals earlier than they did last year.
– Did not the honorable member assist in what was done last year?
– I have never agreed to any proposal that would delay or render impossible a general discussion on the financial proposals of the Government of the day.
– Three-months’ Supply was granted last vear.
– The ‘Treasurer knows that that was to permit of Parliament being in recess during the visit of the American Fleet.. If we are to have Supply Bills of this kind introduced from time to time, we shall never have a general discussion on the financial proposals of the Government. Another complaint that I have to make against the Treasurer is that he did not explain why the Government do not propose to make the first payment to old-age pensioners under the Federal Act until the 28th July next. The Act has been in force for almost twelve months.
– And the Labour party have been in office during most of that time.
– The ex-Prime Minister will agree with me that, had he remained in office, the old:age pensioners all over Australia would have received their first payment on the 14th July.
– I do not think so. It has been the custom in New South Wales to pay the pensions monthly.
– The Treasurer has heard so much in this House of what is done in New South Wales that he thinks the practice there should rule Australia. The fact that pensions under the old system have been paid only once a month in New South Wales does not rid us of the obligation of the Commonwealth to meet its demands as they fall due. It was intended that the first payment of old-age pensions under the Commonwealth Aci should be made all over Australia on the 14th of July.
– I was going to pay old-age pensions on 1st July next.
– The Act does not become operative until 1st July next, so that if the honorable member had made the first payment upon that date he would have been paying claims a fortnight in advance.
– I have not altered the arrangements made by my predecessor.
– If the right, honorable member seriously makes that statement, there is a big discrepancy between it and the* assertion of another honorable member ot” this House.
– I have given noinstructions. The matter was settled before I assumed office.
– Why cannot the Treasurer make the first payment throughout Australia about the middle of next month ?
– The honorable member does not realize the difficulty of preparing for this great event.
– The Treasurer must know that the officers of the Department have had a year in which to prepare for it. I am satisfied that if our aged poor had had to rely upon the right honorable member and his party they would have had to wait five years before they would have obtained pensions. It was only the action of the Labour party which forced their hands-
– Is the honorable member the only pebble on the beach? There are other men here quite as good as he.
– But they were not sent from Indi. I repeat that if the late Prime Minister had remained in office old-age pensions would have been paid throughout Australia on the 14th July next.
– He has been in office.
– But he is not in office now. Unfortunately for the aged poor of the community, the Labour Ministry were deposed about a fortnight too soon.
– Poor things.
– The honorable member can afford to sit in this Chamber and regard our old-age pensioners as “ poor things.” But I would remind him that to the person who is in need of the pension of ten shillings a week it is a matter of serious concern whether he receives his first payment on 14th July or on 29th July. The Government ought to be able to offer some explanation of their inability to mate the first payment of old-age pensions throughout Australia about the middle of next month other than that they have permitted the officers of the Treasury to take their own course. Such an explanation ought to be presented before they are permitted any longer to discharge the functions of a Government. Even if Ministers entertain a contempt for the Opposition in this Chamber, it is their duty to indicate their proposals in regard to the adjustment of the future financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States, the taking over of the State debts, and other matters of vital importance, without delay. There also rests upon them an obligation in respect of the payment of old-age pensions. Until a satisfactory explanation upon these matters is forthcoming, I am not prepared to vote in favour of granting them more than a month’s Supply.
.- I propose to detain the House only for a few moments. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has stated that it is the duty of the Government’ to outline their policy -in respect of all questions claiming attention, « whenever temporary Supply is asked for. Such a contention is not one which will be patiently listened to by honorable members. But I have risen chiefly because of certain remarks of the honorable member for Hume, who, in his opening periods, referred to the truly awful state in which he found the Treasury after the retirement from the last Deakin Administration of the present Treasurer. The honorable member did not say so - but, no doubt, it was equally true - that whilst upon taking control of the Treasury he found it a veritable Augean stable, he left it, after a few months, absolutely cleaned out ! That being so, no doubt the right honorable member for Swan will find it very difficult to submit a financial statement as early as his predecessor may think desirable. To my mind it is rather unfortunate that disparaging remarks concerning the Treasurer should emanate from a gentleman who has recently been ousted from that office. In this connexion I am forcibly reminded of a saying of Professor Mahaffy, the celebrated Irish wit, to the effect that what a certain dean, who had been disappointed in a bishopric, missed “ was not the goodly fellowship of the prophets, but the goodly profits of the fellowship.” Should the Treasurer deliver his Budget speech at an early date, I hope it will be a better deliverance than that to which honorable members listened when the honorable member for Hume occupied that position. I recollect that the honorable member for Corio described his Budget speech as having three main faults. He said the first fault was that it was read, the second that it was read badly, and the third that it was not worth reading. I sincerely hope that when the right honorable member for Swan presents his financial statement, it will be worth hearing, and afterwards worth reading and digesting. It would be a pity if any Government were permitted to fall into the practice of submitting its Budget statement and the accompanying Estimates so late in the year that it would be impossible for the Departments to gauge their next year’s requirements by the actual expenditure for the preceding year. Of course, I recognise that the present Ministry occupy a rather disadvantageous position, in that they have been in office only a short time. The Leader of the Opposition has. declared that upon assuming control of the affairs of government, they ought to have been prepared to submit their policy to the House ; but he apparently forgets that it took his Government a whole recess in which to frame its policy. Do we not recollect that while Europe was on the verge of an awful cataclysm, we could get nothing from the honorable member other than a statement that in a few days - always in a few days ! - at a place called Gympie, he intended to say something which would shatter the hopes of the German Emperor? We have not yet seen his proposals embodied in a Budget.
– The honorable member took good care. that he would not.
– I trust that my honorable friends opposite will extend a certain amount of leniency to me, because they know that, in speaking from this side of the House, I occupy a somewhat unusual position. But whilst I experience some difficulty in adjusting myself to the altered political circumstances, I congratulate my honorable friends upon the ease with which they can get up and declaim against horrible injustices which year after year when on this side of the House they permitted to pass unnoticed.
– The honorable member will have his turn now.
– No, I shall not, because I shall not forego my right, nor do I think the Prime Minister expects his supporters to forego, their right of free criticism. But while we enjoy that right, it is our duty to extend sympathy and latitude to the present Administration, seeing that they have only just assumed office. I hope that the Government will be able to give the House full and adequate reasons why they are asking for two months’ Supply. I believe that such reasons will be forthcoming.
– Should not those reasons have been given earlier this afternoon?
– I have never heard of such a course being adopted until after the House had resolved itself into a Committee of Supply, But I think that honorable members will do this Government the justice of seeing that they get sufficient Supply to carry them beyond the immediate neces sities of the position. There is at present a motion of no-confidence pending. The discussion on that motion may last - if the speeches delivered this- afternoon are any indication - for months. The Public Service of the country must be carried on in the meantime.
– The honorable member has been reading the Age newspaper.
– I always read the Age newspaper. I find it an excellent guide as to what are not the facts. I have always read it for that purpose.
– It is the honorable member’s official organ to-day.
– Ah ! the honorable member for Yarra has not seen the Age’s description of me.
– It was the honorable member for Yarra’ s organ at one time.
– I trust that honorable members generally will do the Government the justice to proceed at once with the discussion of this Supply Bill, and so enable the services of ,the country to be carried on. Honorable members opposite will be able to give further vent to their indignation at having been ejected from office after the Supply Bill is disposed of.
.- When the honorable member for West Sydney was speaking some time ago, he asked what act of maladministration the Fisher Government had committed. I think that it was the honorable member for Fawkner who said, “ What about the telephone rates?” I understood from that remark that the honorable member considered that an act of maladministration had been committed by the Fisher Government in their proposed alteration of the telephone rates. As that matter was connected with the Post and Telegraph Department, in which I was interested at the time, it will not, perhaps, be amiss if for a little time I deal with the question of the telephone rates. I may, at the commencement, deal briefly with the history of the telephone service so far as the Commonwealth Government is concerned. When the Post and Telegraph Act was passed, as honorable members are aware, not only did the Commonwealth take over the ordinary postal services, but also the telegraphic and telephonic services. At that time, in every State in Australia, the telephone rates were on what is known as the flat rate system. That is to say, a certain sum of money was paid every vear to the Department by each subscriber, who was permitted to have an unlimited number of calls. I believe that in Sydney and Melbourne the business man had to Pay £9 P61” annum for his telephone, while the private, subscriber paid £5 per . annum. In Adelaide the business man paid £10 per annum, and enjoyed an unlimited number of calls; whilst in Brisbane he paid I have not at the moment the figures for Perth and Hobart. In 1901, when speaking on the Post and Telegraph Bill, I protested against what I thought was an unfair system, namely, that subscribers should be charged alike, irrespective of the use made of the telephone. I thought that the flat rate was unfair, unjust, and unbusinesslike. I mention this” because some of the metropolitan newspapers - I refer especially to the Melbourne newspapers ; the principal dailies in Sydney said little of an unfair character about the proposed alteration of rates - accused me of being altogether swayed by the opinions of the officials of the Department in the policy which I proposed to inaugurate. In view of that charge, I may be pardoned for reading one or two extracts from” speeches made by me in this House. Speaking on the 13th August, 1901, I said -
I think a different system from the one we. have now, of simply charging so much for business places and so much for the householder, might well be adopted. I do not know what the charge is in Victoria, but in New South Wales, if a person desires to have the telephone laid on to his business house he pays £10 a year, and if to his private house £5 a year, irrespective of the extent to which the telephone is used. It seems to me rather absurd that an hotel like the Hotel Australia should pay a rate of ,£10 per annum for a telephone that will probably be working all day and all night, while a business person will have to pay exactly the same amount for a telephone which he may not use for more than half an hour in each day, and that the same anomaly should exist with regard to private houses irrespective of their size.
I find that I made a slight mistake when I spoke of business houses having to pav ^”10 a year in New South Wales. It should have been £9. On the 17th November, 1904, I spoke for a considerable time on postal affairs, dealing at length with the toll system. I pointed out that the system was being universally adopted, and gave quotations from England, America, and various other parts of the world, showing the advantages of the toll system over the flat-rate system. On the 22nd November, 1905, I asked some ques- tions of the then Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. In his reply, he informed me that the Grand Hotel, Melbourne, was paying ^18 per annum for two telephones, and that the Hotel Australia, Sydney, was paying £35 per annum for its telephones; and that the fees paid to operators alone on account of the Grand Hotel, -Melbourne, came to £40 13s. 9d., and for the Hotel Australia, ^£34 14s. 9d. per annum. On the 16th December, 1905, I asked the following question of the Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro -
Has the Postmaster-General made up his mini) to adopt the toll system of charges, for telephonic services?
The reply given was -
Both the toll and flat rate systems are under consideration, and when a decision is arrived at I shall be glad to inform the honorable member.
Speaking on the” Estimates,” on the 7th November, 1908, when, I think, the honorable member for Maribyrnong was PostmasterGeneral, I raised the question of the telephone system, asking him whether he intended to make the toll system universal! throughout Australia. I pointed out that, under the then system of compelling all new subscribers to come in under the toll system, but permitting those under the flat rate to remain so if they desired, we were acting unfairly. I stated that if we were not prepared to make the toll system universal, we should do away with it altogether, and allow those at present under it to come in under the flat rate. I expressed the hope that before the session was over the Minister would be able to inform the House that the Government were prepared to adopt the toll system. Later on, in the same sitting, whilst the PostmasterGeneral was replying to criticisms upon the Postal Estimates, I again asked him, “ What about the toll system and the flat rate?” His reply was -
That is too big a question to deal with tonight. I am going to consider the matter. The honorable member should not expect me to say right off what I am going to do on such a great question.
I think that by these quotations I have been able to show that whatever I may have done whilst Postmaster-General, I was not necessarily influenced, in proposing to substitute the toll system for the flat rate system, by any pressure brought to bear upon me by officials in the Department. I had spoken several times on this question in the House, as had other honorable members, including the honorable member for Gwydir, who also advocated the substitution of the toll system for the flat rate system. A report on the subject had also been obtained by the then Deakin Government from Mr. Hesketh, the electrical engineer, who had been to England and America for the purpose of inquiring into the matter. He presented a very valuable report upon telephonic services. The Government of the day, after the presentation of that report, announced that they intended to make some alterations in the telephone rates. Immediately that announcement was made, the big users of telephones were up in arms. The newspapers started at once to thunder against any alteration in the charges. There was a very big outcry made by Chambers of Commerce and newspaper proprietors. The Government of the day commenced answering some of the objections that were raised to the proposed alteration, by stating that the charges they were then making were practically lower than the charges levied anywhere else in the world. Some figures were given to the press at that’ time, which showed that the charges in London, Berlin, Philadelphia, Chicago, and other places were considerably higher than those which prevailed in Australia. One result was that the Argus came out on 13th March, 1906, with some statements which I feel sure will be heard now with very great pleasure by the “honorable member for Darling. The honorable member has always contended that competition does not make things cheaper. He has always insisted that competition means waste, and that its effect is to make things clearer rather than cheaper. The Argus, in replying to the information supplied at the time by the Department, made this statement -
In the United States competition has greatly increased the cost of telephoning.
That is something which will be read with pleasure, not only by the honorable member for Darling, but also by those who, like myself, have some leanings towards the theories and aims of Socialism. The Argus went on to say -
Private companies anxious to provide the best services think nothing of “scrapping” switchboards and other apparata, superseded by later “inventions, in wholesale fashion. Hence their capital outlay has grown enormously, and a very large revenue has to be earned to pay interest and maintenance charges. And in America the telephone is not, owing to the rates, anything like as popular as might be expected in view of the density of population.
Here, in Australia, the Postal Department has not got to meet competition. It has a monopoly. There is no necessity for it to spend money on improvements, and it can keep its expenses down to a minimum.
I was rather pleased at the time to read that statement in the Argus, which certainly is not a Socialistic paper. After this agitation had been going on for some time, the then Deakin Government announced that they were not prepared to make it compulsory for any one on the flat rate to come under the toll system. They intended to introduce the toll system, but would not make it compulsory for any one on the flat rate to come under that system. They decided, however, that all new subscribers should be given no alternative, and must start under the toll system. Immediately this was announced, the opposition ceased to a very great extent, because all the big users learned that, if they so desired, they could continue under the flat rate system. At that time it was not considered necessary for the Deakin Government to make any special inquiry before taking the action they proposed to take. When it was proposed to substitute the toll system for the flat rate system a special inquiry was demanded, but immediately the Government announced that it was to be optional with existing subscribers under the flat rate system to come under the toll system, the agitation for the special inquiry ceased. In the circumstances, I should now like to ask Ministers, why, if they cannot bring all people under the toll system ‘to-day without a special inquiry, the previous Deakin Government were able to bring all new subscribers under that system without such an inquiry? Of course, the reason is obvious, that in dealing with big users the Government were dealing with big men, and with some Governments apparently it is necessary that big users should be dealt with in a different way from that in which small users are. Immediately the big user knew that he could remain under the flat rate system there was no necessity for further inquiry ; but when I, as Postmaster-General, said that all men, rich and poor, should be treated alike, it was declared to be necessary that there should be a special inquiry. That inquiry has been granted by the present Government, and we understand that nothing can be done until it is completed. In 1905 I was informed by Mr. Austin Chapman, who was Postmaster-General at the time,’ that the Grand Hotel was paying £18 a year in revenue to the Department, and received for this payment services involving an expenditure by the Department of £40 13s. gd.in operators’ fees alone, leaving out the cost of telephones, switchboards, and the cost of looking after the telephones. The Grand Hotel Company were paying the Government £18 for an average of 185 rings per day on two telephones, and £40 13s. gd. was expended in operators’ fees alone in supplying the services rendered. As the Postmaster-General is present, I should like to ask him as a business man - for we are given to understand now that business men are in charge of affairs - whether he thinks a special inquiry was necessary to find out if it paid the Department to receive £18 from a big corporation like the Grand Hotel Company and pay £40 in operators’ fees alone to supply the services rendered. I shall be very glad to know, if he cares to reply to my remarks, why it is necessary to have a report prepared by special accountants in order to discover matters of that kind. To show the very glaring anomalies in connexion with our present system, a record of the calls over the Sydney net work for a week was taken. It was found that large business houses averaged from ten to one hundred rings per day over each line, for a. payment of £9 a year. Small business houses averaged from two to ten calls per clay over each line for a like payment. As regards large hotels and boarding-houses some averaged five rings- a day, and others sixty-one rings a day, for a payment of £9 a year. Medium hotels and boardinghouses averaged from five to forty -five rings per day over each line, while small ones averaged from three to ten rings a day over each line. As regards private houses where the flat rate of £5 a year prevailed, it was found that they averaged from two to fifty-four rings per day over each line. I do not know why a special committee of actuaries or accountants was required in order to prove that a system like that, containing as it does so many anomalies, ought to be altered at the very first opportunity.
– Has the honorable member given an average of the calls, or has he only picked out figures, because some places are not rung up once a day ?
– The Department took a record of the calls for a week. In some cases private houses averaged fifty-four rings a day for seven days, while others averaged only two rings a day for the week. Thatwas taken to be the average number of daily calls throughout the year. The Deakin Government decided to aban don to some extent the flat rate. They announced that all new subscribers must come under the toll system, under which every one has to pay a rent of £5 a year, and is entitled to 2,000 free rings. This seemed to me a very absurd arrangement, because business people and private persons had to pay exactly the same ground rent, and were allowed the same number of free rings. Most business people, even in a small way, used practically 2,000 rings a year, which represent, I think, six or seven rings a day. Private persons, however, did not by any means use their allowance. In fact, in suburbs, if we leave out business people, 80 per cent, of the subscribers would not use 1,000 free rings a year. The concession was practically of no use to private people, because they did not use the telephone to the extent of the limit for free rings. While I was at the Department I had a summary made of the daily calls from the exchange at Malvern, which I should think, a very fair sample of the suburbs of Melbourne. As regards private residences we found that 20 per cent, of the subscribers averaged one call, 39 per cent, two calls, 13 per cent, two and a half calls, and 9 per cent, three calls. In other words, 80 per cent, of the subscribers did not use their telephone three times a day, showing that the concession of 2,000 free calls a year was of very little use to them. Some business men, of course, exceeded the limit, but the great majority did not go over it very much. These are the anomalies which I found when I entered the Department, and I thought it was my duty, without loss of time, to make arr alteration. I announced that I intended, with the consent of the Government, to make the toll system universal. We issued our charges, and were told by some newspapers and some Chambers of Commerce that they were exorbitant. I understand that the Sydney Chamber of Commerce was fairly . well pleased with our scale, but there was a big outcry on the part of anumber of business people, and our charges were declared to be exorbitant. We decided to charge a giound rent of £4 a year,’ to allow no free calls, and to chargeone half-penny per call up to 2,000 calls, and over that number one-third of a penny per call. I did not act without having had’ figures supplied to me by the officials of the Department. Not only was I strengthened by their figures, but the rates charged’ in other parts of the world justified my action. If we leave out Sweden and
Switzerland, where wages are nothing like so high as they are in Australia, no other country has so cheap a telephone service as ours. I was told by one authority that the difference between the wages paid in Switzerland and those paid to our operators is equivalent to a difference of as much as £2 in the working of each telephone. With the exception of Sweden and Switzerland, there is no place in the world where a network of lines such as there is in each of our main centres of population costs the subscribers as little as ours would have to pay were the rates which I attempted to impose in force. The Birmingham rates come nearest to those. There a ground rent of £3 3s. and an extra one penny per call is charged. A Birmingham subscriber who used his instrument on the average only once a day would pay £4 13s. 3d. annually, and an Australian subscriber, charged the rates of the Fisher Government, would pay £4 15s. 2d.; but while the Birmingham subscriber who used his instrument on the average twice a day would pay £6 3s.10d., an Australian subscriber . would pay only £5 10s. sd. In the newspaper report of an interview with the present PostmasterGeneral, a Mr. Alcock, a member of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, is represented as having said that he pays £9 a year for the use of the telephone, whereas, were the charges which I endeavoured to impose in force, he would have to pay £28 10s. a year. If he were a Birmingham subscriber, and used his telephone as much as he does here, he would have to pay £65 a year for the service. I have asked for exact information on the subject in the following question : -
Whether it is a fact that a Mr. Alcock - a member of the Chamber of Commerce, Melbourne - at a deputation that waited on the PostmasterGeneral re the telephone rates, made the following statement : - “ That he found that on one of the telephones for which he was paying £4 10s. per half-year, he would under the new telephone rates (i.e., the Fisher Government rates) have to pay£28 10s.” - and to ask -
If this statement is correct, how many rings per dav of 312 days per year would there “be?
And how much would be paid in wages to the operators alone for attending to these rings?
No doubt, the question will be answered directly the motion is disposed of, unless, of course, the Opposition ds fortunate enough to carry it. My question deals with a year of 312 days, because it is not usual for business men to use their office telephones on Sunday. Mr. Alcock apparently makes about 50 rings a day, which must cost the Department from £10 to £11 in operators’ fees alone, although the Government receives only £9 from the subscriber.
– Any calculation of cost must be a very complicated one.
– I make my statement on the strength of figures supplied to me, not when I was Postmaster-General, but when the honorable member for EdenMonaro held that office, and I asked for certain information regarding the expense of attending to the telephone at the Grand Hotel, Melbourne.
– I doubt the correctness of those figures, in the light of subsequent investigations.
– At any rate, my deduction cannot be spoken of as an unfair one. I do not profess to be a business man, though I understand that we have now a Ministry composed of business men.
– Not one of the Ministers is a business man.
– I understand that the administration is now to be carried on strictly on. business lines, though it seems to be necessary to make a special investigation to ascertain whether a service for which the Government receives only £18, and on which it expends £40, is to be regarded as profitable. In Mr. Alcock’s case the Government receives £9 and spends £10 or £11 in giving the service. I have also asked a question as to the number of. rings made . by the Argus office. I might have asked for similar information regarding the Age, but I did not wish my questions to be too long, and no doubt what will apply to one office will apply to the other.
– Perhaps the honorable member discriminates because the Age is more favourably disposed towards him than is the Argus.
– Honorable members may gather what I think of the two newspapers when I say that it is the Argus which is delivered at my house every morning. It will be found, when the information which I require is supplied, that the telephone service given to . the Argus costs in operators’ fees more than the newspaper’s proprietors pay for it. The Government rightly objects to telephones leased under the flat rate being used by any but the subscribers themselves, or on their business. That rate gives to each subscriber, for a certain annual charge, a service allowing an unlimited and unmeasured number of calls. Nonsubscribers are not permitted to use these telephones, nor are subscribers allowed to charge non-subscribers for their use. If the Department knows that a non-subscriber is using such a telephone, it has the right to disconnect it. There has, of course, been great abuse in this matter, but the rule, in my opinion, is a fair one. If a subscriber on the flat-rate system allows a non-subscriber to use his telephone, and charges for the ring, he ought to be summoned and punished. To some extent the late Government introduced the toll system, which meant that, for a fee of £5, the subscriber could have 2,000 rings, with a subsequent charge of Jd. a ring. In this connexion the following is a question which I placed on the notice-paper: -
I wrote a letter to the Postmaster-General this morning, informing him that I intended to speak to-day, and asking him whether he would be good enough to answer the question I have read. The PostmasterGeneral has been courteous enough to send irne a reply, and in each case that answer is “Yes.” I should like to point out what this means. We have now had for some time a system under which a person, for £5per year, is permitted to have 2,000 calls, and he may allow non-subscribers to use the telephone at a charge of1d. per ring. Does it appear necessary to have a special Committee of Inquiry to investigate an anomaly of this kind, under which the subscriber pays £5 per annum, for his telephone, and may charge £8 6s. 8d. for the use of it?
– The subscriber may exhaust only half the rings.
– The subscriber may exhaust every ring, and some do, though 80 per cent. do not.
– Such subscribers would not keep a penny-in-the-slot telephone.
– But they can do so if they like.
– Only big establishments like hotels would do so.
– In some of the hotels the rings do not average more than two per day on business, the whole being exhausted, it may be, by their customers; and I am perfectly amazed at the present PostmasterGeneral defending what I know is not one of his little pet schemes.
– It is a regulation.
– I am sure that the present Postmaster-General is not responsible for so idiotic and absurd an arrangement.
– They say it tends to develop business.
– Is that the view of the Department ?
– They say it tends to develop business.
– Departments, like people, are liable to make mistakes ; and in the case of the Department it is necessary 10 cloak the mistake up. However, I have too much respect for the Postmaster-General to think that he is seriously prepared to defend so idiotic an arrangement. What happens with the subscribers who have 2,000 free rings is that, as they cannot use the telephone themselves, they place the machines at the disposal of their friends. I have been told of a lady, who had a telephone installed simply in order to be in touch with a doctor, on account of a sick child ; and as she had to pay for the 2,000 rings, whether she used the telephone or not, she placed it at the disposal of a friend. I was at dinner with a lady friend a little while ago, and I was told that the little girl of my hostess, immediately she got out of school, went wth her friend, Florrie, and rung up all the friends they knew. Of course, from a departmental point of view, it does not matter whether the rings are on business. or pleasure, so long as they are paid for. Mr. Alcock stated that under the regulation of the late Government, he would have to pay £28 10s., instead of £9, under the old regulation; but, if the matter be worked’ out, I think it will be found that, under the Chapman rate, Mr. Alcock would have to pay rfrom £22 to £23 per year. The Government do not allow any person now to start a telephone on the flat rate system; but I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether he thinks it is fair that a person, who started business a few years ago, should be permitted to have fifty or sixty calls per day for £9 per annum, while a man, who started business later, has to pay, perhaps, £23 per year? Does it require a special report of accountants to expose the idiotic nature of such an arrangement? I have not the slightest objection to the Committee that has been appointed making the fullest possible inquiry into this matter. I have no objection to some one outside the Department being associated on the Committee with someone in the Department, if in that way greater confidence will be given to the general community. But, in view of the anomalies I have pointed out, the Government ought not to have stayed their hand. Am I not right in saying that the Postmaster-General stated publicly that the tol 1 system had come to stay ?
– Yes, it is staying. It is the regulation now. It came with the system brought in when the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was PostmasterGeneral, and that system is staying.
– Then does the honorable member also admit-
– We are not here to be interrogated.
– We were getting along very nicely until the Treasurer came in. As the Postmaster-General does not deny that he made that statement, I presume he intends to do away with the flat rate. May I go so far as to say that the principle of the toll system has been accepted by the PostmasterGeneral ?
– The honorable member should not cross-examine me.
– The honorable member will not reply now that his master has come in. The honorable member may have made the statement which I previously quoted without consulting his masters - the newspapers and the Treasurer. The principle of the toll system, if it has not been, will have to be accepted. The people will see that it is. Whether the newspapers suppress these facts or not, they will be brought out on the public platform. The end may be’ delayed for a little while, but the flat rate is doomed in Australia. I take it that the Government have appointed the Committee of Inquiry with the legitimate object of having a report made to the House. Then, having accepted the principle of the toll system, and thrown overboard the flat rate, where was the -necessity to suspend what the Fisher Government did ? ‘ The Prime Minister has told the House that the Government hope to have a report from the Committee within three months. If the report is presented in that time, we shall know within three months whether the Government intend to alter the rates which I introduced. They cannot alter them very much, as will be obvious to anybody who has studied the figures in connexion with the telephone business. The Government might well explain now why they suspended the Fisher rates. Under the system which we introduced, no one would have to pay more than £2 for the first half-year. Under the existing systems every man who has a telephone in the big centres of population, must pay more than £2 for the first half-year. If under the old flat rate he would pay £4 ios., and’ if under the Chapman arrangement, £2 ros. I admit that under our proposal, as there would be no free calls, he might have to pay a good deal more than £2 during the second six months. But if the Government are sincere in asking for a report, and really mean business - if it is not merely a device to gain time - they could find out within six months whether the rates we proposed were too high or too low. If they were too high, the matter could be rectified in the payments that would have to be made in the second six months. For that reason there was no necessity to suspend the rates we introduced. Some people regard a ground rent of £4 as exorbitant. If that was found to be so, it could have been allowed for in the second six months. The officers of the Department presented me with a statement showing that the capital charge for each telephone, covering the cost of conducting the exchange, and giving a complete service, including switchboards, cables, &c, was at least _ £39. Those figures may be wrong, and I sincerely hope that the report will show that they are toohigh. But, on comparing them with figures presented to me in relation to other countries, I found that £39 was not an unfairly high estimate. I have no objection to the Committee being appointed, and in fact I promised the commercial classes that while I was Postmaster-General a full account would be given. It is only right and fair that it should be given. The Committeemust bring in one of three reports. They may report that the Fisher Government’scharges were not exorbitant, but fair, just, and equitable. If they do, that will be a personal triumph to myself and the Government of which I was a member. They may report that the charges were too low, and if they do there will be weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth among, at least, some of those who have been agitating.’ If the Treasurer had not been present, I should have asked the PostmasterGeneral whether the Government are prepared to say that the telephone service should return its bare cost. If they are, they may find it impossible to make it do so unless they raise the charges higher than those fixed by the Fisher Administration. The Committee may report, either, that the rates fixed by us are just, or that they are not high enough ; or, thirdly, they may be able to show conclusively - and I hope they will - that the rates fixed by the late Government were too high. I should like to see the telephone in as many homes as possible, and, therefore, I should be very pleased if the Committee could show that our charges were too high, and that lower rates should be fixed. We should then be able to tell the people that a State-owned and State-controlled system could supply a cheaper service than could any private enterprise of the kind in the world. It will thus be seen that, from a. certain standpoint, the report, whatever it may be, will be satisfactory to me. One feature of the controversy that has given me great pleasure is the announcement by the commercial men, who have asked that the old rate shall be reverted to, that they are willing that such a rate shall be levied as will make both ends meet. We should be thankful that they are ready to pay the bare cost of the service provided that there is no waste j that, in other words, they desire that the Commonwealth shall provide them with a good service without making a profit from it. I am pleased that they take that stand, because I think that, not only the telephone, but every other service should be supplied at bare cost. Since the commercial classes asked that the Commonwealth shall provide them with a good telephone service without seeking to make any profit from it, I see no reason why the people should not ask the commercial community, in return, to supply at bare cost the services which they render.
– They have to live.
– But if they are not prepared to “ provide their services at bare cost, why should they expect the Government to do so? If the Commonwealth is to render to the trading classes and the people generally telephone services at bare cost, why should not the Government undertake to supply the people with all the necessities of life at cost price.
– Does the honorable member act up to that principle himself?
– The honorable member is now putting questions’ to me. I have never been in business, and have never professed to be a business man. The only business men in the House are those now on the Treasury bench ! The Labour
Party, of course, does not consist of business men.
– And seven of the ten members of the present Government are lawyers.
– It is true that there are some lawyers in the Ministry. A member of a deputation that waited on the present Postmaster-General in regard to the telephone charges - I refer to Mr. Berry - said that they insisted that before the rates were altered a full and complete statement should be supplied as to the cost of the service.
– Was that direction carried out?
– Yes; the rates that we fixed have been suspended. The Prime Minister has stated that it is intended that the Committee appointed to inquire into the system shall report within three months. The Age, which, I understand, dictates the policy of the Government, declares that it will be necessary for the Committee to inquire fully, not only into the telephone service of Australia, but into the government and municipal services of a like character in England and elsewhere. If this is to be done, some time must elapse before the Committee will report, and I trust, therefore, that the PostmasterGeneral, in the interests of the general public, will see that, in the meantime, fair charges are imposed. One of the members of the deputation which waited on the PostmasterGeneral stated that, prior to Federation, the telephone system was a payable one. Why is it not paying now? Prior to Federation, every business man in Sydney and Melbourne, under the flat-rate system, paid £9 per annum for his telephone, while in Adelaide the charge was, and still is £10per annum. Whether a man had two calls per day or a hundred, the charge was the same. But the late Deakin Government made the astounding- proposal that any person who desired might come under the measured or toll system at £5 per instrument, with 2,000 calls per annum, or if it were so desired, could still remain under the flat-rate system.
– Those who were then subscribers could do so, but not new subscribers.
– Quite so; new subscribers had to come under the toll system. The result of this change was that the Department lost tens of thousands of pounds. . Every subscriber who found that he had only six or seven calls a day im- mediately took advantage of the. toll system, whilst those who had unlimited calls elected to remain under the fiat-rate system. Thus the Government lost tens of thousands of pounds without calling upon the big users of the Telephone Service to make up the deficiency. If, prior to Federation, the service was a paying one, the loss sustained bv the Department as the result of subscribers like Mr. Alcock, making perhaps one hundred calls a day, had to be made ip by the small users of the telephone, who might perhaps make only nine calls per day. Now, however, if the service is not a paying one the general taxpayer has to make good the deficiency occasioned by the large users of the telephone. The Postmaster-General should have been prepared to tackle the anomalies which I have pointed out quicker than he has done.
– The honorable member had six months of Ministerial office in which to effect these reforms, whereas the present Postmaster- General has had only one month.
– If the honorable member for Bendigo had continued the rates which I introduced, no subscriber for six months would have had to pay more than £2. During that time full inquiry might have been made into the matter, and at its end the charges might have been readjusted had the adoption of the course been found to be necessary. Surely it is a sound principle that people should be called upon to pay the State in proportion to the services which it renders them. Personally, I entertain no objection to the appointment of a Committee of Accountants to determine what rates it will be necessary to charge in order to make the Department a paying one. ,1 shall not allow the Postmaster-General to forget that such a committee has been appointed, and if within three months it has not reported, I shall want to know what has become of it. I welcome its appointment, because I believe that the result of its inquiry will be the abolition of the flat rate and the general application of the toll system, although I realize that, if only for the sake of appearance, some alterations will be made in the rates that were chargeable under the regulation which I framed, even though those alterations are not of a vital character.
– I think that under the special circumstances of the case my predecessor in office had a perfect right to ventilate the subject of the telephone rates even to the extent that he has done this afternoon. I can assure him that the task of considering and advising the Executive to suspend his regulation was a very disagreeable one to me. But he must recognise that the Gazette notice which contained it invited the commercial public to lodge objections to the proposed increase of the telephone charges if they entertained any. Consequently he can scarcely complain if private individuals/ as well as the commercial people of Australia, accepted his invitation and inundated the PostmasterGeneral’s Department with objections. When I assumed control of the Department the office was filled with complaints, and a regular storm of indignation was raging.
– Then those complaints must have been received within twenty-four hours after I quitted office.
– I found a long list of objections awaiting me upon the very day that I took office, and those objections continued to accumulate. I believe that if the honorable member for Barrier had seen the accumulated protests, founded upon commercial and financial grounds, he might have recognised the necessity of reconsidering some of his proposals. The honorable member has expressed his approval of the appointment of an actuarial committee to determine what rates it will be necessary to charge to make the Telephone Service a remunerative one. But I wish to point out to him that he made a mistake in framing his regulation first, and approving of an inquiry into it afterwards. ‘ My policy is first to appoint the committee to ascertain the grounds, the data, and the principles upon which a new regulation can be framed. It was not wise to frame a regulation first and to subsequently hold an inquiry into the rates which it imposed. I am sure that if my honorable friend had had an opportunity of appointing a committee to inquire into this most complicated question, he would not have assumed the very great responsibility of passing the regulation which he did - a regulation which provoked a storm of indignation throughout the Commonwealth.
– Not throughout the Commonwealth. The objections to it were confined to Melbourne.
– I can assure my honorable friend that objections to it poured in from all the States, with the exception of Western Australia. Up to the period when the late Ministry were deposed, probably the people of that State had not realized its true import-, otherwise they would have joined in the volume of opposition which I had to encounter.
– Why were not those protests forthcoming whilst I held office?
– Because it was only about the time that the provisional regulation would have become absolute ‘that the people woke up to its probable effect. I think that the honorable member would have saved himself and the Department a lot of trouble had he seen his way clear to have followed the clearly expressed advice of the late chairman of the Postal Commission. In a report wh’ich he forwarded to the Governor-General on the occasion of his resignation from that office, the honorable member for Bourke recommended the appointment of a committee to investigate the question of the telephone rates which should be charged, with a view to making the service a payable one.
– Was that the report of the Commission?
– It was the report of the retiring chairman of the Commission.
– It was the report of a man who was backing down from doing what he ought to have done.
– As a public man, who had been chairman of the Commission for a considerable time, the recommendation of the honorable member for Bourke in favour of the appointment of a Committee of Accountants was entitled to considerable weight.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7-45
– The motion before the Chair being one for going into Committee of Supply, I have hardly time, and this is not a fitting opportunity to do justice, either to myself in reply to the honorable member for Barrier, or to the subject. It would take a considerable time to go over the whole of the ground that he has covered, as well as to use the materials which I have in readiness to vindicate my own attitude! and to explain the reasons why the regulations in question were suspended.
– It would require a good deal of explanation.
– This, I say, is hardly a fitting opportunity, and it would ill become me as Postmaster-General to take up much time, and prevent Mr. Speaker from leaving the chair. .
– Are those the instructions which the honorable gentleman has received ?
– I intended to make that my opening observation. The honorable member, having been PostmasterGeneral himself, will appreciate the force of what I say. Inasmuch as my predecessor in office has admitted that a Committee of inquiry was necessary, he has practically acknowledged the overwhelming force of the argument in favour of the suspension of the regulations.
– I said that I had no objection to the Committee.
– It would be an ab- - solute mistake to impose regulations levying heavy charges, amounting in some cases to taxation, on subscribers whilst making inquiries as to the justice of those charges.
– The honorable gentleman admits that there are anomalies. But as long as the fat man is greased, it is all right.
– It is admitted that there are anomalies in the regulations. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro, when Postmaster- General, admitted that long ago. He tried to solve the problem, but found it to be very difficult indeed. My honorable friend the member for Barrier, also attempted to solve the problem, but found that it was a very difficult one to solve in a satisfactory manner. The only solution, and the proper one, is that of which he now admits the propriety. The course that I have adopted is confirmed by the recommendation of the officer, Mr. Hesketh, upon whose advice, no doubt, the honorable member, when in office, based his regulations. Mr. Hesketh, after I had discussed this matter with him fairly and squarely, for two or three days in the Department, going over the whole of the ground, and examining the regulations which had been framed, frankly admitted that the problem was one which should be investigated by a Committee. Having regard to the great diversity in the cost of construction, and the lack of uniformity as to the method of apportioning the expenses of the various telephone systems, he recommended that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the charges, of whatever nature, relating to the telephone branch of the Department, under their several headings, and also the basis on which the charges for services should be determined. That recommendation practically terminated the controversy so far as I was concerned, because it would be monstrously unjust to subscribers, and to the community, to enforce a system of new charges concerning the accuracy > the justice, and the fairness of which there might be reasonable doubts. Mr. Hesketh, while standing by his previous opinion as to the cost of working the telephone service, admitted that it was a matter for inquiry by experts. I may tell the honorable member that the reason why a partial system was not adopted, and the flat-raters brought under the toll system by a modified regulation, was that if they had all been brought under the Chapman regulations, which admitted of 2,000 odd free calls per annum, there would have been a great loss of revenue, because, as between the flat-rate system and ‘the toll system, the flat-rate subscribers were the most profitable subscribers of the Department. It would have been a tremendous mistake in policy.
– Does the honorable gentleman know what he is talking about ?
– Yes ; there would have been a loss of revenue, because the largest amount of revenue was derived from the flat rate subscribers. Indeed, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro seemed to reckon that the toll rate subscribers were treated with undue liberality.
– It was optional for the flat rate subscribers to come in under the toll system.
– I point out to the honorable member for Barrier that during his speech, which occupied some time, the Postmaster-General, as far as I remember, made no interjection whatever, except to answer questions expressly addressed to him. I ask the honorable member to mete out the same treatment to the PostmasterGeneral.
– It would have been a mistake, in my opinion, to have dealt with this question in a piece-meal manner. The whole question ought to be taken into consideration. We should not deal with one class of telephone subscribers, leaving the others unaffected. If we were to have an inquiry, the right thing to do was to suspend the regulations, and to allow the whole subject matter to be investigated. Again, there are reasons why a tremendous rush of flat-raters should not be brought in under the toll rate regulations, because no ample provision was made for recording the” calls. If 5>339 flat-raters in Melbourne, and 8,322 flat-raters in Sydney were placed under the toll rate system, the result would be to create an immense volume of additional work for the attendants, that would involve a great reinforcement in the number of hands, and also a great addition to the number of those engaged in making up the accounts. No provision whatever had been made for this in-rush of additions to the toll rate subscribers’ list. There was great consternation in the Department as to the possibility of this immense volume of work being imposed upon the already overworked telephone attendants. Evidence to that effect was given, in Sydney, where it was stated that the officers viewed with alarm the possibility of having increased work imposed upon them without provision being made for the employment of an increased number of hands. Then, again, subscribers complained that no proper method of recording calls was in force that would give some guarantee of accuracy as to the number of calls recorded. Evidence of the difficulty exists in the fact that people who are already under the toll system complain of the imperfect method of recording calls. The Department has had under consideration an improved method of recording them, which will, no doubt, in time come into force. These are the reasons why I could not advise my colleagues to transfer the flat rate subscribers to the toll rate system ‘ forthwith. The whole thing ought to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. Again, I was led strongly to- suspect that excessive rates were being imposed on subscribers under the heading of capital charges. I discovered these figures myself, as the result of questioning Mr. Hesketh. Honorable members will probably know that under the new system £4 was charged in Melbourne and Sydney against subscribers ai a capital charge. I found out from investigation that in Melbourne, where the capital expense of a line amounts to £39> the charge by interest and depreciation, at S£ per cent., amounted to only £3 6s. 3d. As against a charge of £4 in Sydney, the actual capital expense per line was set down at £35 16s., on which interest and depreciation, at 8 J per cent., would amount only to £3. Yet subscribers were charged £4. In Ballarat, to take a typical country case, the expense per line was set down at £23 8s. 6a.. upon which interest and depreciation, at 8
– Can the honorable gentleman rely upon those figures ?
– I got them from the Department. It is true that they do not include provision for a sinking fund, but they include interest and depreciation to the extent of 8½ per cent.
– They do not include working expenses.
– No, working expenses are included in the charge per call.
– Do they include interest on the capital outlay necessary to make the system perfect?
– No. In some instances the estimate is based upon the actual capital expenditure, in the case of the figures for instance relating to Sydney, Bendigo, and Ballarat : but the figures relating to Melbourne are based upon the amount which ought to be spent to make the lines payable.
– Do they include the cost of the switchboard in the central exchange ?
– The Melbourne estimate includes everything, telephone, exchange equipment, line, instruments, and wall fittings. The only point in debate is as to whether provision for a sinking fund ought not also to be included as a charge against subscribers. In the present condition of our law, that in my opinion is open to question, and to consideration, at the hands of experts. Sufficient is allowed for depreciation.
– What is allowed for depreciation ?
– An allowance of 5 per cent, is made for depreciation, and 3½ per cent. for interest.
– For a. 20 years’ life? I do not think that is sufficient.
– That is what the Department suggested. The only matter in question was as to whether an allowance should be added for a sinking; fund. I thought that a debatable point, and one which I could not settle. I think that no Postmaster-General, without actuarial advice, could settle it. That is the reason why I agreed to. recommend to my colleagues that this matter should be inquired into. I think that in the interests of the subscribers as well as of the revenue, it should be inquired into. I believe that these works should be treated in a businesslike manner, and the charges based on commercial considerations. The subscribers say that if as a result of the investigation it is shown that the rates ought to be increased they will cheerfully pay the increased rate.
– What subscribers say that? Can the honorable gentleman mention one?
– The deputation representing the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce told me that.
– They were pulling the honorable gentleman’s leg.
– I do not believe that they were. At any rate these figures are sufficient to create a doubt as to the justice of the respective charges of £4, £3 ios., and £3 against subscribers. Upon submitting them to my colleagues it appeared to us wise to suspend the regulations pending a thorough inquiry. There is no desire to shelve the matter. The Committee appointed is not intended to be a shelving Committee. It is; limited to three months, within which to submit its report, and the object of its appointment ‘is to secure authentic information upon which a fresh scale framed on businesslike lines may be brought into force.
– Why did not the honorable gentleman refer the matter to the Royal Commission on Postal Services now sitting.
– As I have said, I do not feel at liberty to enlarge more fully upon that aspect of the case, because I do not wish to delay the passing of the Supply Bill. But if my honorable friends opposite will challenge me on some future occasion I shall be prepared to give more complete information upon the subject, and to vindicate the action taken by my colleagues and myself.
.- I think that the honorable member for Barrier and other honorable members who have spoken should extend a little more consideration to the Government, in view of the fact that they are a very slow going Government. We know that as Treasurer the honorable member for Hume was ten times as quick a man as the right honorable member for Swan. If he were now occupying! the office, the honorable member for Hume could get out a complete Budget statement, dealing with public works and every financial question, including the financial relations with the States, in eight days.
– The honorable gentleman would have it prepared for him.
– The right honorable- member for Swan will have his Budget prepared for him also.
– It appears that the Treasurer of the “ fusion “ crowd requires eighty days to get out a Budget. In the circumstances we cannot grumble that the Postmaster-General should keep the same pace. It would never do to have one section of the political team miles ahead of another. They are in a sufficiently bad tangle already, and if any one of them were to set about doing things he would disorganize the whole team. In common with other honorable members, I protest against the demand for two months’ Supply. As a matter of fact, I object entirely to the practice of introducing Supply Bills. As no reason, so far, has been given by the Government for demanding two months’ Supply, I propose to give one. It is that the Government require time to consider the financial problem. They are such a mixed team, and there aVe so many differences of opinion amongst them that it is necessary for the Treasurer to consult the State Rights party, and there has not been time to call them together. As the Government tell us nothing, we must obtain information where we can. A time limit appears to be imposed upon members of the Government who desire to speak. We saw that just now when the Postmaster- General was so evidently called off, lest he should make some mistake. The honorable gentleman strayed away in his own electorate and let out something about a £2,000,000 loan, and he had to make an explanation the next day, He had to apologize and explain that he did not mean what he said. If the honorable gentleman had not been called off on this occasion we might have learned a little more from him. I am watching affairs, and I .hope that we shall know something of the policy of the Government in two or three months’ time. It is clear that it would be no trouble to the Treasurer to prepare a Budget statement. What is worrying the right honorable gentleman is that he must consult the outside people who are ruling him. In other matters of policy the Government must consult outside bodies, but in the matter of finance consideration must be had for the amount to be returned to the States and whether it is advisable to continue the Braddon section. The Government appear to be absolutely sure that they have a majority and intend to take their time, no matter what we may say. In the matter of the introduction of Supply Bills, the present Government is only worse than previous Go vernments, and seeing the elements of which it is composed honorable members could not have expected anything else. Every Government that has yet held office in the Commonwealth has been guilty of the practice of depending upon Supply Bills. Delay in the delivery of the Budget has a serious effect in connexion with the construction of public works. For instance, a lengthy debate takes place upon Works Estimates which must be passed before the works can be undertaken. If it is desired to erect a new building, after the Works Estimates are passed, the Department’ concerned sets out to look for a block of land on which to erect the building. Negotiations for its purchase involve delay. When it is secure’d there is delay caused by the State Public Works Department, upon which we must depend to get our business done. It is the practice of the Works Departments of the various States to make Commonwealth business second to State business, and they would forget the Commonwealth business altogether if Federal members for the districts interested did not stir up the Home Affairs Department, and get that Department in turn to stir up the States Public Works Department. It is possible that after a delay of six months, specifications may be prepared for the building. Then tenders are called for. Very often there is found to be something the matter with the tenders, and fresh tenders have to be called for. So there is further delay, and the financial year expires before the work can be undertaken, and it must then be delayed until a new Budget is submitted, and fresh Estimates are passed in August, September, or October. However, the present Government claims to have brought in the millenium politically in having secured responsible government for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth. We might have expected, in the circumstances, that they would have proceeded on model lines. But they do not seem to have yet awakened to the stupidity of postponing the Budget and the Works Estimates, until the end of August. The Treasurer is a man of vast experience, who ran affairs in Western Australia for a great many years, and as Treasurer of that State, handled the funds of the State, and he should be able to set a good example in the Commonwealth. I wish to emphasize my objection to the introduction of Supply Bills. A Government that claims to have restored responsible government to the Commonwealth, might have been expected to invent some” system which would have made their introduction unnecessary. It is absolutely inexcusable that they should ask for two months’ Supply. They obtained a recess of three weeks after taking office. That was in the beginning of June. We are now at the end of June. They have been four weeks in office, and Ministers should have been prepared with necessary legislation. What has our experienced Treasurer been- doing? Apparently nothing. The honorable gentleman has not his Budget ready, nor has he any financial proposals prepared for submission to Parliament. I suggest to the Prime Minister that he should not keep a Treasurer like that in office. He should get rid of the right honorable gentleman, who is a dead failure, if in four weeks’ time he can do no more than submit a few figures which his officers have prepared, say that they represent the running account, and ask for two months’ Supply. In my opinion’ it is a great loss to the fusion that they did not secure as Treasurer, the gentleman who could prepare a Budget in eight days. If they had done so, we should have had the Budget submitted at the close of the financial year. I shall not vote for two months’ Supply. The Treasurer has given no excuse for the delay which we are informed is to take place before the delivery of the Budget. We recognise that as the financial year is just drawing to a close/ he could not be expected to present his Budget at once, but it should not take him two months to prepare it.
– It will not take so long.
– Then he should have it ready in a fortnight.
– The figures will not be ready for three weeks or more.
– It is not as if the right honorable gentleman were an apprentice. He is not new to the work of Treasurer. He has had experience of a great many years in the office, and ought by this time to ‘ be specially smart. I do not know whether the honorable member for Hume had as long ani experience in the Treasury as the right honorable gentleman - I do not think that he had - but he required onlyeight days for the purpose. Apparently it will take the present Treasurer ten times as long as it took his predecessor. In my opinion sixteen days would be a fair allowance of time
– My- predecessor’speriod of eight days was after the end of July, not after the end of June.
– It does not matter when it was.
– It -was eight daysafter I took office.
– But it was after the end of July.
– At any rate, the figures should be available to the Treasurer within a fortnight, and therefore heought not to ask for two months’ Supply. The principle of voting Supply in thisway is wrong, and some arrangement ought to be . made to do without Supply Bills. So far as public works are concerned we shall be forced to make a departure from the present system. In my district, for instance, the construction of a public work has been delayed for six years ‘owing to vote after vote lapsing, and revotes being required. The present system is bad, nor is it right to be obliged to pay out of the Treasurer’s Advance. It is not a. business-like method. It is asurprising thing to me that the Government have had the temerity to ask the House for two months’ Supply, and at the same time confess that they have no financial policy, and do not know what they intend to propose. They have not had’ time to come to an agreement. When they asked for an adjournment of three weeks they promised to be ready with their business at its expiration, but they do not know what they intend to propose for our consideration.
– They know that.
– I doubt if they do. At any rate, they are very clever in keeping their plans dark. We have had a short statement of some business they propose to submit, but not one word of explanation as to what is to be associated with that business. I am hopeful that in about three months we shall get some information about the intentions of the Government, if we do not succeed in sending them to the country before the lapse of that time. I join’ with some honorable members who follow the Government, ir* protesting on principle against this system of bringing down Supply Bills. I think that if one month’s Supply is voted it will be quite enough.
.- In the Supply Bill I noticed one item to which I wish to refer.
– The Supply Bill is not before the House at the present time. It cannot be introduced until resolutions have been received from Committee of Supply. I cannot allow any reference to its contents.
– I shall not refer to that matter, sir, but there is one item on which I think the House should be enlightened, and that is the Treasurer’s Advance. He is allowed an advance of £200,000 per year.
– I ask the honorable member not to discuss any items until the House goes into ‘Committee of Supply.
– I shall not transgress your ruling, sir. I notice that the face of the Treasurer weais quite a different aspect now that he is sitting at the table, instead of in the Opposition corner. So long as he is satisfied ‘with himself I shall not grumble. This afternoon the honorable member for Dalley pointed o’ut that two months’ Supply represents one-sixth of the total appropriations for the year. Why does the Treasurer ask for two months’ Supply when one-half of that amount would be sufficient to enable him to carry on ? On some occasions the larger part of the money has been expended before the consideration of the Estimates has been reached. The late introduction of the Estimates has been the cause of many works and buildings not being proceeded with within the financial year. I’ do not know whether it was done designedly or not, but during the last financial year many works which should have been proceeded with in my electorate were neglected.
– Whose fault iwas that ?
– I suppose that the Treasurer was to blame for not bringing down the Works Estimates in time to allow tentiers to be called within the financial year. In one instance, if I had not brought the matter up week after week, the tenders for a post-office in which I. was interested would never have been accepted, and, as it was, the matter was drawn out from October last until the 22nd of this month. Surely the departmental officers now know what works and buildings will be proceeded with during the next twelve months ?
– Yes; all the estimates are now in.
– Then why does not the Government introduce the Works and Buildings Estimates, and have them passed in advance of the ordinary Estimates, as was done last year?
– Would the honorable member have us do that while there is a motion of no-confidence under discussion ?
– If it is a right thing to introduce a Supply Bill, asking honorable members tovote £800,000, surely it would be right to introduce the Works and Buildings Estimates? These Estimates must be introduced and passed whatever Government may be in power.
– The Treasurer has told us that he will not deliver the Budget speech . until the end of August.
– I said “ towards the end of August.” I hope that it may be delivered earlier.
– Then the Government must introduce a second Supply Bill. It will not be possible to pass the Estimates in two or three weeks, so that Supply for another month or two will be needed, and, no doubt, the Opposition will be blamed if it shows any reluctance to nass such a Bill.
– There will be nothing new in introducing a second Supply Bill. That has always been done.
– Is it right to always do wrong? We have been told that this is a Heaven-sent Government, although its leader has spoken of some of those behind him as the “ wreckage of every party in Australia,” and as the “ rag-tag and bobtail party.” Since the Government is supposed to have the support of the brains of every party except the Labour party, it might do better than follow the lead of its predecessors. Its action so far reminds me of the practice of a Justice o”f the High Court, of whom it used to be related that he was always content to say “ I concur “ to the judgments of his fellow Justices. This Government has stolen the clothes of its predecessors, and Ministers merelv say “ We concur.”
– That is all they have to say.
– Some of them. have plenty to say outside. The Postmaster-General stated in his electorate recently that the policy of the Government would be to borrow.
– I did not say that. I said that £1,500,000 is needed to place my Department in an efficient working condition.
– The honorable gentleman said that there are only two ways to get the money. We must draw our own inference. If the Government intends to borrow, why do- .not Ministers announce that policy?
– We are going to wait for Gympie.
– The Treasurer may have an announcement from Gympie sooner than he expects. I should like to know why the Government have asked for two months’ Supply when one month’s Supply would be ample. The Labour party have no wish to prevent the payment of wages, or other Commonwealth liabilities, as they become due.
– Perhaps the Government asked for two months’ Supply in view of .an approaching dissolution.
– If the Government asked for four months’ Supply to enable an election to take place forthwith, I should vote for the proposal. I desire to hear from the Treasurer an explanation of the items in this Supply Bill. The proposal has been thrown to us like a bone to a. dog, to worry as best we can : but I understand that the Bill contains items which need a lot of explaining,- and I wish to have the necessary explanation.
. -Last month, when the Government asked for an adjournment of three weeks, I said that, in my opinion, the House should adjourn for a fortnight only, because of the necessity for making proper financial arrangements before the end of the year. Now Ministers ask for two months’ Supply, which is too much. The Treasurers of the States are anxious to know in what position they stand. They cannot make their financial statements until they know how they will be treated by the Commonwealth, and we have been told by the Treasurer that his Budget speech will not be delivered until towards the end of August, which, of course, will mean the end of August.
– Or the middle of September.
– This postponement of the Budget will delay the preparation of the financial statements of the Treasurers of the States, a delay which has continually occurred in the past, and about which there has been great complaint for a number of years. I was surprised to read in Saturday evening’s newspaper that the Commonwealth old-age pensions are to be paid in Victoria and Queensland on the 15th July, and in Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia, on the 29th July. As Australia is now federated, whatever is done should be done on the Federal principle. All the States should be treated alike. If pensions are not to be paid until the 29th July in the three States which I have named, the other two States should not be treated differently. If the officials who have had charge of this matter for the last twelve months are not capable of making arrangements for paying pensions in accordance with the decision of Parliament, they should make way for others who will l>e able to do so. It is a long time since the pensions application papers were sent out in Tasmania. There the old people have been looking forward to getting their few shillings, to which they are more entitled than we are to the remuneration which, as members of Parliament, we receive each month. I have no regard for officers, * or members, who would deprive poor old men of pensions which they have been expecting for the past year or eighteenmonths.
– They will not be deprived of their pensions. These will be paid out of a trust fund.
– I take it that the statement to which I refer was official, though ,it is strange that we should have to depend upon the press for most of our information, instead of getting it directly from Ministers in this Chamber.
– In Victoria the pensions have always been paid on the “15th of the month.
– The Treasurer did not contradict the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, when he said that in Victoria and Queensland they were to be paid on the 15th July.
– I said that they were to be paid on that date in Victoria only. In New South Wales, the pensions will be paid on the 29th. The arrangements were made by the last Treasurer, not by me.
– Can the Treasurer find evidence of that?
– The Secretary to the Treasury told me that that is so.
– The statement of the Treasurer is a scandalous one, if he cannot prove it.
– I have, on two or three occasions, asked honorable members not to break the rule of debate by carrying on conversations across the Chamber, to the interruption of the member who is in possession of the Chair. If this is to continue, I shall be driven to the alternative of naming some honorable members.
– In New South Wales the arrangement has been previously to pay monthly, and the Federal Government intend to continue the same practice.
– Only so far as regards the first month; the payments will always be fortnightly after that.
– I am not responsible for what the previous Treasurer or Government did. I understand that the previous Treasurer denies that he is responsible, but if he did make the arrangement the present Treasurer ought to alter it. I trust that even yet the right honorable member will make arrangements for these old men to get their few shillings on the 15th July.
.- I should not have spoken but for the accusation made by the Treasurer against the late Treasurer of making the arrangement complained of.
– I stated what I was told by the Secretary to the Treasury.
– The right honorable member said, first of all, that it was the late Treasurer’s arrangement, and not his. When he was further challenged, I should say, if it were parliamentary to say so, that he was contemptible enough to state that an officer of the Treasury Department had told him.
– Is that remark in order, sir? This is the Chairman of Committees speaking !
– The Treasurer should know that that is a very improper remark to make. I must ask the honorable member for Kennedy to withdraw the remark that he made. If I permitted honorable memhers to say that they would say so-and-so if it were parliamentary, they would be able under cover of such a qualification to say anything.
– I withdraw the expression, and apologize for having used it.
– The Treasurer said “ This is the Chairman of Committees speaking.” On a point of order, has not the honorable member for Kennedy the same rights and privileges on the floor of the House as has any other honorable member ?
– Certainly, the Chairman of Committees has the same rights on the floor of the House when the House is not in Committee as has any other honorable member. When the Treasurer made that remark 1 said to him that it was a remark that should not be made.
– I simply meant noblesse oblige.
– Ministers are getting to a very low political ebb when they are prepared to shelter themselves behind officials of their Departments. That sort of thing ought not to be introduced into the House, and if ever I hear a Minister or other members who have dealings with officers in the Departments attempting to shelter themselves behind what has been told them in that way, I shall raise my voice against it. The officers when asked for information in that way cannot well refuse to give it, and it is not right for Ministers to tell the House that they have got the information from the Under-Secretary or other officer so that they may evade the responsibility for some statement that they have made themselves. The Treasurer first made the deliberate statement that the arrangement was made by the late Treasurer, not by himself.
– It was accurate, too. I did not make the arrangement.
– Yet when asked to produce a record of the late Treasurer’s order, he turned round and said that he was told by the Secretary of the Treasury.
– 1 said that I had not made any alteration, nor have I.
– The right honorable member made a deliberate charge, and could not prove it when challenged to do so. If he found that the late Treasurer had made a mistake, why did he not alter it ?
– I thought he acted very wisely.
– The Government were very willing to alter the action of the Fisher Government regarding the telephone rates when asked to do so by the Chamber of Commerce and the Federated Employers’ Union, but the Treasurer is not prepared to make any alteration where only the unfortunate people who helped to build up the wealth of this country and got so little for their unremitting toil, are concerned. He does not think that those people are likely to give him any support, but when it is a case of the people who are prepared to put down hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of pounds to help the Government party at the elections, the Government are quite ready to say, “ Yes, Mr. Employers’ Federation, whatever you desire we are prepared to do.” The honorable member for Hume told the
House this afternoon that when he took over the -Treasury after the right honorable member for Swan had deserted his Government and taken a seat in the Opposition corner, he found the Treasury in such a state of chaos that it was impossible to know how things stood for a considerable time. If we are to have such incompetent persons to take up the position of Treasurer from time to time, as the honorable member for Hume has proved that the right honorable member for Swan has been in the past, how are we to conduct the business of this great Commonwealth? We have seen on previous occasions the most lamentable exhibition of incapacity by the . right honorable member in dealing with financial measures that he knew absolutely nothing about. Yet he asked the House to pass them. On one occasion the honorable member for Parramatta, when leader of the Opposition, could have made one of the greatest possible exposures of the right honorable member in connexion with a particular measure, but he generously refrained from doing so. If he had done so the people of Australia would have been astonished: The right honorable member knew nothing at all about the measure and the House could not even drive into his head a comprehension of the slight amendment that was required. I regret that the PostmasterGeneral has not given to-day all the information that he said he was prepared at a later date to give regarding the telephone service. The honorable member for Barrier showed clearly the position taken up by him while Postmaster-General in dealing with the toll system, and the poor excuse made by the present Postmaster-General is not creditable to the Government. If the Government wanted to do the right thing, why did they not allow the temporary regulations issued by the Fisher Government to remain in force until the further inquiry decided upon was made ? Would not that have met all the demands necessary, instead of changing back to the old mixed flat rate and toll system? What position does the Postmaster-General take up? The honorable gentleman says that the reason the Government went back to the old regulation was that they would lose revenue if the flat -rate were abolished. But if that be so, why did not all the flatrate subscribers choose to come under the toll system?
– Thev were not flats !
– The honorable member is quite right. 1 agree with the honorable member that the time has arrived when we should have some other method of dealing with- Supply Bills. We have voted temporary Supply Bills month after month, and I believe, in one year, practically three-fourths of the revenue was voted in that way. That, of course, meant that there was no use whatever in criticising the Estimates. The Budget ought to be introduced at the earliest possible moment, and dealt with; but, under the present system, the Estimates are passed so late in the year that by the time the necessary plans and specifications have been prepared and tenders called-, the votes have almost lapsed and very little work is done. In the past, when the money has been voted and not spent, it has simplv gone to. the States, and I hope- that the Government will take action to rectify this in. the future. The Treasurer has told us that he is not coming down with his Estimates until the end of August.
– I did not say that quite.
– I notice that the Treasurer is always prepared to come down a little when pressed. I suppose, however, that when he does make his Budget statement the debate will be adjourned for a couple of days, and continued for three or five weeks.
– I do not think the Government care how long the debate takes.
– I think the honorable member is quite right ; the Government are not, in my opinion, in earnest in a desire to have business passed. When the Postmaster-General spoke of a loan of £1,500,000 or £2,000,000, we had big headings in those newspapers which are strong supporters of the Government, but the honorable gentleman now shelters himself behind the statement that he was misrepresented. It is extraordinary that the Prime Minister, in order to allay public feeling, had to contradict that statement, as it appeared in several of the newspapers’; and even in the case of the honorable member for Brisbane it had to be pointed out that his speech, made before he went Hometo the Imperial Defence Conference, did not represent the opinions of the Government.
– They ought to have a rehearsal.
– Quite so ; and I commend their action in presenting the policy of the Government in a printed document. The leaders of the Government are so distrustful of one another that they could not risk speeches, which might differ, being delivered in the two Houses. I remember the honorable member for East Sydney, and, indeed, the whole of the then Opposition, saying that they would take no promise from the present Prime Minister that was not in writing, and even a written promise the former found to his cost meant the taking of the whole responsibility on his own shoulders: I hope that the Treasurer - if he will take any advice from me - will, the next time he makes a statement in the House, even if he has the statement from the Secretary to the Treasurer or any other Department, will have sufficient manliness
– I do not care for the honorable member’s opinion. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.
– I hope the Treasurer will have sufficient manliness to take the full responsibility for his own statements, and not place it on some one else, who is not in a position to defend himself
– Complaint has been made of delay in preparing the Budget, and regarding my observation that it would be submitted, probably, towards the end of August. The financial year closes tomorrow. As every honorable member who has held office as Treasurer knows, it is only at the end of the financial year that the Treasury officials are able to marshal the facts and figures connected with it, and it is upon the results so obtained that we are able, to a large extent, to frame a fairly accurate estimate for the ensuing twelve months. If it be desired that the Budget shall be presented as soon as Parliament meets each year, either the date on which the financial year closes, or the date of the meeting of Parliament must be changed. Failing the adoption of either of those courses, the Budget would have to be presented to the House without an exact knowledge of the finances of the previous year.
– Fourteen days is quite enough.
– The honorable gentleman has had such an immense experience that he can say that a Treasurer should be able in fourteen days after the close of the financial year to prepare the Budget statement. I venture to say that the Treasury officials would not even have the facts marshalled within that time.
– The honorable member for Hume has had some experience of the management of the finances. I shall1 read to the House dates upon which the Budget has been submitted every year since the inception of the Federal Parliament.
– Will the Treasurer say that if the fate ofthe Government were hanging in the balance the Budget could not be presented by 1 st August?
– Perhaps it might. I am fortified in that opinion by the fact that in 1906, when I was Treasurer of the Commonwealth, the Budget was submitted as early as 31st July. In the first year of the existence of the Parliament - in.1901 - it was delivered on the 8th October; in 1902, on 23rd September; in 1903, on 28th July ; in 1904, on the 18th October; and in 1905, on 22nd August, or one month and twenty-two days after the opening of the financial year. That was my first Budget. The following year I presented the Budget on the 31st July. In 1907 it was submitted on 8th August. .
– Was that the right honorable member’s Budget?
– No, it was presented by the honorable member. I left office about the end of July, and in eight days the honorable member for Hume was able to make his Budget statement.
– And from a blank sheet, too.
– Any one acquainted with the magnitude of the work would naturally draw the inference from the fact that the honorable member for Hume was able to make his statement eight days after he became Treasurer that when he entered the office he did not find matters in a very bad way.
– My word, they were in a mess.
– The role which the honorable member seems now to have assumed - that of disparaging the person who preceded him in office - does him no credit.
– The honorable member has been doing that all day.
– I deny that statement, and will prove that I have not said a word reflecting on my predecessor, the honorable member for Wide Bay. If I have, I shall certainly withdraw it and apologize. Tt is not my custom to disparage those who have preceded me in office and who have tried, just as I have done, to do their best.
– The right honorable member tried to do that with me.
– At the proper time I shall have a good deal to say about the honorable member. I am not going to refer to him now, because I do not wish to delay the passing of this Supply Bill. At the right time, however,I shall prove that he has been making unjustifiable and improper statements in regard to me. The honorable member may try, but he cannot discredit me where I am known, although he may discredit me where I am not.
– The right honorable member is known here.
– I speak of the State where my life’s work has been done, and where I am known better than in other parts of the Commonwealth. I take my stand on the verdict of the people who know me best.
– So do I.
– I think I have shown that, as compared with what has hitherto been done, it is not proposed this year to delay the presentation of the Budget. It will give me great pleasure if I am able to present it early in August, and at the earliest possible moment. There will be no delay on my part, but I prefer to err, if at all, by saying that its presentation will be later than it will actually be rather than by fixing an earlier date and disappointing honorable members.
– The honorable member on a previous occasion presented the Budget at an earlier date. Why should he not do so again ?
– I shall try.
If I may do so without implying any blame on any one - and nothing is further from my thoughts or wishes - I should like to point out that the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure have not yet been seen by me. They only reached the Department yesterday, and are still in the hands of the officers. They will be submitted to me in a day or two. As a matter of fact, although they only reached the Treasury yesterday, I think they are earlier than usual.
– Hear, hear !
– Even if the honorable member had occupied my position, he would not have been able to obtain them sooner, although he would have done his best, as I have been endeavouring to do, to get them in without delay. I hope that the Budget statement will be der livered at the beginning of August, but I cannot say definitely that it will. A fortnight hence, no doubt, I shall be able to give a more accurate forecast.
– Will the Treasurer bring down the Works Estimates as soon as possible ?
– I would remind the honorable member that the practice is to introduce and deal with the Works Estimates as soon as the Budget debate is over, so that the authorized works may be proceeded with as soon as possible.
– That has only been done twice.
– It was done before I first assumed office as Treasurer of the Commonwealth, and the same practice was followed in that year, 1906, as well as in 1907 and 1908.
– The honorable member for South Sydney was the first to do that. I was the second, and the right honorable member did not do it at all.
– Is it worth while contradicting a reckless random statement for which there is absolutely no foundation? The honorable member for Kennedy has tried to suggest that I have said something reflecting on the Leader of the Opposition in regard to the payment of old-age pensions. All I can say is that I have not in the’ least degree altered the regulations in regard to old-age pensions, or the mode in which it has been decided to pay them. I have simply accepted what was done before I assumed office. Although in New South Wales and Queensland pensions have been paid monthly, complaint was made this afternoon that for the first month under the Federal system it was intended to adopt the same system. I replied that thereafter the payments would be made fortnightly, and that the whole matter was arranged by my predecessor before I took office. It has been said that my statement was not an accurate one, but I have since fortified myself by asking the Secretary to the Treasury what the arrangement really was. He has informed me that what I stated was correct, and that it was arranged by the late Treasurer, that for the sake of convenience - because as honorable members can readily realize, it has been a stupendous undertaking to get the necessary machinery in order all over Australia - the first payment should be made in States other than Victoria on 29th July, and that thereafter they should be made fortnightly in all the States. Every post-office throughout the Commonwealth nas been instructed to pay old-age pensioners who may come to the different centres upon the date named, and is it extraordinary that a difficulty should have been experienced in providing for uniformity as to the first payments? The arrangement made is one of which I heartily approve, because I regard it as reasonable.
– The arrangement was that the pensions should be paid at the earliest possible moment. My only complaint against the Treasurer is that he has seen fit to refer to an officer of his Department .who ought not to have been dragged into this debate. He ought not to have, done that.
– My complaint is that an attempt has been made to manufacture a grievance where none exists: In States other than Victoria the pensions cannot be paid under existing conditions until the 29th proximo. That fact was realized by my predecessor, and I acquiesced in the arrangement as a reasonable one. Why should an attempt be made to manufacture a grievance where the difficulties experienced have been so great in arranging for the payment of pensions to all the deserving poor throughout Australia ?
– The difficulty is simply a bogy on the right honorable . member’s part.
– -The honorable member apparently desires to get a little kudos for himself.
– I am thinking of the aged poor.
– I suppose that the honorable member is fonder of the poor than I am.
– I think he is.
– And I suppose that he has done more for them ?
– Yes, I have.
– I do not see why he should find fault with this Government or with the late Government, both of whom have endeavoured to initiate the payment of oldage pensions at the earliest moment practicable. The proposals of the Ministry will be submitted in a few days._ and as soon as an opportunity presents itself we intend to submit a Bill in which provision is made for reducing the period of 1 eS1dence necessary in Australia to qualify any applicant for a pension from twentyfive to twenty years, and also to permit of those ‘who have been .twenty years in the Commonwealth, but who have not be-., come naturalized, taking out letters of naturalization up to 31st December next.Yet we hear nothing about that. I do not wish to take credit for our action in that connexion. It seems to me that it isa just thing to do. The late Govern-, ment proposed to submit that Bill, and they are entitled to as much credit for their action as we are.
– How can the Treasurer discuss that question upon this motion?
– A good many things have been discussed upon this motion. In regard to Supply, the procedure that we have adopted to-day is in accordance with precedent, and the amount which we have asked for does not exceed that which has been granted upon previous occasions. On the 27th September, 1904, when Sir George Turner was Treasurer, Supply being required while a motion of noconfidence was under consideration, the then Leader of the Labour party, the honorable member for South Sydney, said -
I admit that it is unusual to interrupt debate upon a motion, of want of confidence with a proposal of this character. But I do not see any escape from the situation. We must meet the engagements of the Commonwealth, and in view of the assurance of the Treasurer that the Bill contains no items beyond those usually included in such measures I think that we may safely agree to pass it.
– That ‘was within three days of the termination of the period for which Supply had been voted.
– And we are now within one day of the termination of the period for which Supply has been voted. Again, on the 4th July, 1907, when I was Treasurer - the -House having met on the previous day - before the AddressinReply had been agreed to, the Acting Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Joseph Cook, said that if the Government were so pressed for money as to make this step necessary, he would offer no opposition, and Supply was granted accordingly.
– There was no motion of censure under consideration then.
– But there was upon that other occasion to which I have directed attention.
– Why does the Treasurer desire to get two months’ Supply ?
– I will defer answering that question until a later stage. I think I can give a very satisfactory explanation of the reason why two months’ Supply is sought. I have had considerable experience of financial matters in my own State, and I have never known of an instance in which there has been any great opposition offered to the passing of a temporary Supply Bill.
– The right honorable gentleman had no Opposition to fight in those days.
– The honorable gentleman knows a great deal more about it than I do, notwithstanding that I was there and he was not. A temporary Supply Bill is merely a means of legalizing payments that must be made. As a rule nothing of a new character is included in it,’ and it is usually, based upon the votes for the previous year. Should anything fresh be provided for in such a measure, a. full explanation of it is always given to the House before the latter is asked to approve of it.
– Will the Treasurer tell us anything about his borrowing proposals ?
– Not until the Budget is before the House.
– We want to know the nature of those proposals before the Budget is delivered.
– Then the honorable member will not be able at present to obtain that information from me, and I know that I would not get it from him if he occupied the office which I now fill.
– -I am always open and above board.
– The honorable member is so open and above board that he goes about the country making all sorts of disparaging statements concerning his political opponents.
– Will the Treasurer say whether the old-age pensions payments are in danger ?
– They are not in danger. No provision is made for those payments in this Bill.’ The old-age pension!? will be paid out of the trust account.
– The Prime Minister said that they were in danger.
– If he did say so, his statement was made inadvertently. I have not heard him say that they were in danger.
– Twenty times from the platform.
– I do not think that there is anything singular or new in asking for temporary Supply. Honorable members opposite are just as much bound to give it as we are to ask for it. It is not a party matter. Money must be voted to carry on the public service. I feel under no personal obligation to any one on this side of the House, or on that, when Supply is asked for. It is our public duty to see that the public service is carried on, and that public obligations are provided for. Therefore, all this trouble - except in regard to the expression of opinion as to whether Supply should be granted for one month or two - is beside the point. It is probable that a month will elapse before we get rid of the debates on matters of policy.
– What guarantee is there that the Government will not shut up Parliament when they get Supply?
– There is no intention to do that, but at the same time I doubt whether it would be an unmixed evil if it was done.
– I confess that if I had not had an opportunity of hearing the Treasurer before speaking earlier during the sitting, I should not have been so emphatic in my objection to the granting of Supply, and to the interruption of the other business which appears to me to [be most properly and naturally before this House at the p’resent time. For having listened very carefully to the right honorable gentleman, I cannot refrain from an expression of regret that the honorable member for Hume has seen fit to disparage him in his character as Treasurer. It would appear that during those* two years in which the right honorable gentleman delivered Budget speeches, this country was singularly free from financial troubles of any kind, and that order and system reigned throughout the Department, in which, however, the honorable member for Hume declares most positively that he found nothing but chaos when he entered it.
– Hear, hear.
– I am surprised to learn, however - for I desire to be perfectly candid in dealing with both honorable members - that the honorable member for Hume reduced the Department to order within the short space of eight days. There appears, therefore, to be a misunderstanding between the two honorable members which, I regret to learn, is not to be cleared up this evening, for I confess that I looked for- ward to a “setting of the house in order” as between the honorable member for Hume and the right honorable the Treasurer with considerable interest, and 1 am sure that the country would have been even more delighted to hear the Treasurer on the honorable member for Hume, than to have heard that exposition of finance which I venture to say that you, Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding your long occupancy of the chair, never heard equalled before. The right honorable gentleman has told us that everything is very well in the Treasury, and that nothing is unusual outside it j that the affairs of this Government in general, and in regard to finance in particular, are, now that he is in office, and presiding over the Treasury, not only beyond suspicion, but beyond criticism. It is a little unfortunate, however, that the purpose for which this fusion was chiefly constructed-
– The honorable member has fusion on the brain !
– The Treasurer has it in the pocket !
– I feel quite sure, Mr. Speaker, that it is rather to interjections than to set and orderly speeches that the future gleaner of political history in this country will go for information. But, as I was saying when that interjection fell upon my ears, it was for a session of finance that we were called together. It was owing to financial considerations that the fusion was formed. It is, of course, perfectly natural, as the honorable member for Hume said, that it was to that consideration that Ministers first directed their attention. Whatever else they did during the three weeks of adjournment, there is no reasonable doubt that they did everything that was necessary and proper to be done so far as finance was concerned. But the Prime Minister, if you remember, Mr. Speaker, in most of those speeches which he made upon various subjects, and upon various sides of those subjects, during the recess, dwelt, towards the latter end of the campaign - so far as I gather, the matter did not strike him during the earlier portion - upon the necessity and urgency of the earnest consideration of the financial position of the country. He declared that old-age pensions were in danger. Now the Fisher Ministry had committed its fortunes to a very large extent to this very measure. We had, in common with the Deakin Government, suffered some amount of obloquy in supporting what is known as the Surplus Revenue Act, which was the basis of our old-age ‘pensions system, and is now the source from which the pensions are in the main to be paid. When we had, as it were, initiated this system, and had endured criticism and misrepresentation in connexion with it, the statement of the Prime Minister that oldage pensions were in danger was an attack upon our policy and methods that went to the very heart”. It was done, no doubt, with a deliberate object. What that object was is perfectly clear. It was intended to create in the minds of the electors of this country the impression that the policy which was to come into force on the 1st July, and as to which the then Prime Minister, the honorable member for Wide Bay, had declared most emphatically that whatever came or went old-age pensions would be paid from the first of that month, was in danger. That being so, the declaration of the present Prime Minister was a deliberate criticism aimed at the very heart of our policy. Now this fusion has come into office. We see before us a Treasurer who, after some four weeks’ occupancy of office, is primed to the very lips with all the information that the Department has at its disposal ; he comes before us, and in a most bluff and kindly and good-natured way showers information upon us as manna was showered in the wilderness years and years ago, long before the right honorable member’s time,’ even. He tells us now that oldage pensions are not in danger. I venture to say that the right honorable gentleman, who is a man who at any rate is perfectly candid and straightforward, will say that they never were in danger from any party during any period when the Fisher Government was in office. Does the right honorable gentleman agree to that?
– I do not think they were.
– That being so, and it being a perfectly clear and obvious thing that it is so, what are we to say of the deliberate statement made by the present Prime Minister, which, as the right honorable the Treasurer said in reference to an interjection of the honorable member for Hume, rests upon absolutely no foundation, and is without excuse or justification of any sort or kind? It has, however, been made abundantly clear to the House, and the country, that during the regime of the Fisher Government, before it, and since, there never has been any moment at which the provision made was not adequate and ample for the payment of old-age pensions.
– The Prime Minister might have meant that the provision made was not sufficient for the year.
– The honorable gentleman said that the old-age pensions were in danger, and he repeated that statement.
– He must have known that there was £500,000 or £000,000 in the fund.
– Not then.
– We added to it during our regime, £90,000 odd more than the estimate.
– ,£500,000 altogether.
– Yes, £”500,000 altogether. I repeat that the provision was ample, and there never was a time when the pension fund was in danger. I shall leave that for a moment, while I say a word to the Postmaster-General. I confess that we are all very much in the dark as to the figures put forward, both by the honorable gentleman and by the late PostmasterGeneral, which are based, as they must necessarily be, on reports furnished by the Department, and on the exercise of that commonsense, which I hope is shared indifferently by honorable members in every part of the Chamber. But if the amended statement made by the present Postmaster-General be accurate and reliable, I should like to ask the honorable gentleman this question : If we can afford to give telephonic communication at the existing flat rate, in Australia, where wages are higher and the. cost of material, or of the finished product, by reason of distance from the place of origin, must be very much greater than it is in Europe or America, what are we to say of the rates charged in other countries? The PostmasterGeneral says that the information at his disposal is such as to lead him to believe that the rate suggested by the late Government, is in excess of that absolutely required to put our telephonic services on a sound and businesslike footing. If that be a fact, what are we to say. of the rates charged in England, Germany, and America, three typical countries, in every one of which some of these instruments are made. In London, at the very hub of the universe, where one would imagine things could be obtained cheaply, where labour is at any rate cheaper -than it is here, and where every convenience can be obtained 1 for setting up telephonic communication, we find that the rate charged for 2,000 calls, which was proposed to be fixed at £”5 in Australia, is ,£13 6s. 8d. In the northern provinces, England, it is £9 12s. ; in Germany, £9 I0s- ; in New York, £21 16s. > in Chicago, £16 16s. ; in Philadelphia, £24 15s. ; iri St. Louis, ,£19 5s. ; in Boston, £21 15s. ; and in Baltimore, £”20 10s.
– They have a bigger network of wires for their telephones in those places.
– But we are speaking now not of the cost of working, but of the cost of materials, the telephone, the receiver, the switchboard, and the wire. A person speaks through his instrument, and thence via the switchboard to the person who is listening.
– It is always recog<nised that the greater the network the greater is the charge to the subscriber.
– The greater is the charge upon the system, but it is the charge of labour. Compare Philadelphia with a population of about . a million, with Melbourne with a population of 500,000, or with Sydney with a population of 600,000, and we get this fact, that in Sydney it would be possible under the toll system to get a service of 2,000 calls for £5, while in Philadelphia, with its far greater population, the service costs £24 15s. In Baltimore, on the other hand, which has not so large a population as has Melbourne or Sydney, the service costs £20 10s. I venture to say that in Melbourne and Sydney the resort to the telephone is as frequent both by business men and by the average public as it is in Philadelphia or Baltimore. It is the men outside the business circle who keep the telephone going. In any case the business man wants to communicate with his own home. His wife does not talk to him about business all the time; she refers to other matters. Then again the non-business people use the telephone most extensively. Of what service would it be to a retail shopkeeper ? I am informed that a butcher in Sydney sits down every night and rings up a hundred customers. Each one of those persons must be on the telephone, and so it is the non-business people who form the bulk of the telephone clientele. I commend these facts to the PostmasterGeneral, who has made certain calculations. While I am quite unable to check his figures, because I have no data other than what has been supplied to me in the usual way, I submit that on the face of things there must be something alarmingly wrong, because if it were not so there would not be such a wide discrepancy between the rates in these other places and our rates. Although in very many countries^ - I think in nearly all except Germany - the telephones are run by private companies, yet, as a matter of fact, unless they are getting such extortionate profits as to formulate a condemnation of private enterprise, which I submit the Minister and hi? colleagues are not quite ready to do, his figures stand condemned. Every country in the world where private enterprise is running a telephone system charges four times as much as our Department propose to charge under the business-like system suggested by my late colleague. While the Postmaster-General has the right to make all these inquiries and every calculation that he can to check this departure, which I, of course, admit very freely is open to argument, as everything of that nature must be, yet I venture to say that the representatives of the commercial community who waited on the honorable gentleman and insisted upon a reversion to the old system - I refer to the Chamber of Commerce - are singularly happy in the fact that such a Ministry as this is in office. Had we been in office and a trade union had waited upon us and suggested that we should do something to establish a service on a non-paying basis, I do not believe that there would have been sufficient black type in the possession of the daily press to express their horror and condemnation of our dastardly conduct. But the Chamber of Commerce can wait upon the PostmasterGeneral, make a suggestion to him, and insist upon its being carried out. It may be’ only a coincidence that it is carried out. I say nothing at all about that.
– Before I came into office, I asked the honorable member forBarrier to suspend the regulation.
– Yes, because the Bendigo Chamber of Commerce had asked him to do so. It wrote to him, and he sent the letter on to me.
– Certainly ; the honorable gentleman ought not to have introduced the regulation during the recess.
– I admit that that explanation alters matters. If the honorable gentleman did something before the deputation came to see him, and he is doing it now ; if, in short, at two intervals widely separated he is of the same opinion, I would ask him a question : Since he told his constituents that he would give the late Government a fair show, why does he say something different now?
– I did give the late Government a fair show. Did I not help them to get into recess?
– I was proceeding to deal with the honorable gentleman in a logical, and, as I thought, perfectly fair way, and to demand from him some sensible and logical reply; but I find that I cannot get it. This is the first time I have ever heard it seriously argued that the State should do something for less than cost price. What business firm can afford to do that, except, of course, for the purpose of getting more business ? A man can do it on a side line ; but if it is his main business, as the telephones are in the Government service, on which we are employing thousands of persons, and in which we have invested millions of pounds, we cannot afford to do it merely because a Chamber of Commerce waits upon us and asks for something. We must insist that the subscribers shall pay at least the cost of the service, and a fair return on the capital invested. That is only a fair business proposition, and although I am a Socialist, I still do insist upon plain businesslike methods being introduced into everything, into politics even. If a greater network of lines means a greater charge, I ask the Minister why the rate in Adelaide is £10, and in Melbourne and Sydney only £9?
– That originated under the old State laws.
– The honorable gentleman has gone back to the old system. ‘
– This Government is of a temporary nature. Everything it does is of a temporary nature. It came in to reestablish responsible government, and its first official act was to bow to the Chamber of Commerce. It came in to establish a sound system of finance, and the first overt attempt it made at that was to publish a solemn declaration that it proposes to continue the Braddon “ blot “ for the next five years, until’ it gets time to look round.
– When did it say that ?
– The Prime Minister said that the other day.
– He did not say anything of the sort.
– I cordially agree with what the honorable member for Kennedy said. In the case of this Government, we shall have to insist upon having a dress rehearsal. They come down here with the most imperfect preparation. They know neither the characters they are to play, nor the words of their parts. Here is a man who has twice denied his Prime Minister in one evening.
– I never did anything of the sort. The honorable member is misrepresenting me this time.
– If the right honorable gentleman does it a third time, I shall listen to hear the cock crow.
– It is very amusing to everybody to hear these misstatements. I do not think that it is a thing for the honorable member to be proud of.
– If I can be amusing on such an unpromising subject as the right honorable gentleman–
– It is only amusing to those behind the honorable member, not to me ; he is accustomed to this sort of tiling.
– I certainly was under the impression that honorable gentlemen sitting behind the Treasurer, and even some of his colleagues, were smiling. However, I may have been wrong; I am sure they would not have done such a thing as that.
– They were laughing at the honorable member.
– The PostmasterGeneral is doing his level best to look as solemn as the circumstances demand. We have a right to expect different conduct from a Government which came in to introduce a new era - responsible government and majority rule. When he was in the previous Deakin Government, the honorable member for Maribyrnong was “ the stupendous joke of the century.” There are other honorable members who did not then get even honorable mention. Nobody knew that they were alive. They were alluded to as the tail of the dog. They had to do as they were told. They could not constitute a majority, no matter what they did. They did not even rise to the dignity of political tailors; they were not the ninth part of a man. But now, blown out in some mysterious way, they have become statesmen, and pearls of wisdom fall from their mouths. They even bubble forth with humour. The other morning the honorable member for Corio, who formerly was never suspected of the least humour, became a regular comic opera. Not only has the party become humorous, it has also become numerous. Gentlemen who, when they supported the last Deakin Government, did not constitute a majority, now are a majority. For the first time, we are told, there is majority rule in this Chamber. How has that happened? How is it that when on one side there were forty-two members opposed to thirty-two on the other it was not majority rule, and that now that there are forty-three opposed to thirtyone it is? When there were forty-two members, elected upon common principles, in alliance, we were told that there was not majority rule, but now that there are forty-three members on one side, whose principles are in direct opposition, and who, until they came together for some nefarious purpose, were trying to cut each other’s throats, there is majority rule. This is a matter upon which we could all speak for a very long time. I rose merely to call attention to these two circumstances, which, with any other Government in power, would be sufficiently notable to excite something more than passing criticism. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, must have observed how easy in politics, as elsewhere, is the downward path. Ministers, no doubt, made good resolutions when they took office, but what have they done after being in power for a month ?
– What did the Fisher Government do?
– We tried to carry out the programme upon which we. were elected. That has never been done by the right honorable gentleman in the whole of his career.
– The honorable member does not know anything about my career.
– I must be not only deaf, but foolish, if I have shut my mind to the rumours which have drifted across the sandy deserts of central Australia. What has the right honorable member done? Was there not a time, in his halcyon days, when in some of the electorates of Western Australia only forty or fifty persons were on the roll? Every country- deserves the politicians which it gets ; but I can conceive of no more terrible and appalling fate than for a country to have deserved the Government that Australia has now. I shall not pursue the right honorable gentleman’s career in days when the abuses of old Sarum and the rotten boroughs of England were outdone. The Fisher Government stuck to its programme, but in what respect do the prin- ciples upon which honorable members opposite were elected coincide with their programme?
– They coincide very well.
– Then I say, in all soberness, “ God help the country.” This is a plain declaration that the Government is committed to the programme of the right honorable gentleman, of whom the Age once said that any Ministry which included him must be Conservative and reactionary. I have not a copy of his programme in my pocket now, although for days I have been carrying it about to commit it to memory. But it is upon that programme that we are to be governed !
– Does not the honorable member mean the programme outlined in the statement of the Prime Minister? I am in accord with that.
– The Prime Minister said the other night that he had drawn out that programme entirely by himself, but now the boyish exuberance of the right honorable member leads him to declare himself the joint author of that statement.
– I am equally responsible with the. Prime Minister for it.
– We must leave it at that. If the right honorable gentleman is responsible for it, we shall know what to do with it. I hope that the Government will give us an opportunity to deal with serious business at the earliest possible moment. We do not desire that the measures which this Government declares it was formed to propose shall be longer kept from us. The chief, of these, I understand, deal with finance. We ought to have a Budget statement. In eight days, the honorable member for Hume, after the elephantine tread of the right honorable member for Swan in the Treasury for two years had created a condition of things which he rightly declared to be chaotic, came down with his Budget. But now that the right honorable member has again been Treasurer for a month, there is no more prospect of the delivery of a Budget than there is of his flying.
– He would look well flying.
– If Wilbur Wright would take the right honorable member up and drop him down he would be dointr a great service to this State, provided that -he dropped him out of it. I hope we shall proceed now to consider the Supply Bill in detail, although one month’s Supply would have been ample in the present instance.
– I was asked just now across the table by the leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for West Sydney whether the statement made by the Prime Minister that the old-age pensions were in jeopardy was accurate, and innocently I said it was riot; that I did not think they were in any jeopardy. Nor do I think so now. What I meant was that there would be no difficulty whatever in paying the pensions at the beginning, as there is nearly £700,000 in the Treasury, but I do not wish to be understood as “saying that there is anything like sufficient for the whole financial year, as every one knows that it will take more than double that sum. I should have liked to say, also, that no provision whatever had been made for financing old-age pensions so far as I could find out by the late Government, and that was probably what the Prime Minister was referring to.
– There was £500,000 for this year, and £500,000 for ‘ the coming year.
– Even that would not be enough: I did not hear the Prime Minister’s statement, nor did I read it.
– In spite of the fact that a no-confidence motion is hanging over the Government, I should not object to a grant of Supply if urgency were shown, but I have heard nothing to-night to show that there is urgency, or in any case that two months’ Supply is needed. The Treasurer has made the serious statement that we shall not get the Budget until probably the end of August.
– I said towards the end of August. I can tell better in a week or two.
– I would point out to the Treasurer the serious position that the Commonwealth finances are in at the present time. We are in an entirely different position now from the old days when the right honorable member was Treasurer before, and when the honorable mem ber for Hume was Treasurer. In the old days we not only had sufficient monev to carry on the government, but hundreds of thousands of pounds in addition to hand back to the States. We are not in that position to-day.
– We have to hand back three-fourths.
– And more than the three-fourths, unless the money appropriated is spent. We ought to have the Works and Buildings Estimates before us much earlier than before, because many urgent works are required, and, by the time the specifications are prepared and tenders called for, the financial year will have expired, the money will be handed back to the States, and the works will not be gone on with.
– There is an appropriation.
– But what is the use of it before tenders are called for and specifications prepared ? The financial year expires, and the States get the money. That has happened in the past, but we were then in a position to appropriate another sum in the following year, because the money was there. The Treasurer knows, however, that now the money is not there. He had to admit that the Prime Minister had even stated that there was a danger of old-age pensions not being paid.
– If he said that, he must have meant that no provision had been made.
– No provision at all would have been made for old-age pensions if the Treasurer had had his way. He opposed the Surplus Revenue Bill. Where would old-age pensions have been but for honorable members on this side? If the Treasurer had had his way it would not have been possible to pay pensions until special taxation had been imposed.
– I did not believe in providing for them out of the surplus revenue.
– The right honorable member has been blundering along the whole night. He does not know what is in the mind of any of his colleagues. He stated to-night that the Prime Minister had not said that the Braddon “ blot “ was to be continued for five years. The Prime Minister, as reported on page 385 of Hansard for this session, said -
In order …. to allow an advance towards a final settlement, a scheme is being prepared by the present Treasurer that will enable us to make an interim arrangement for a period as long as will be necessary to permit the vaster financial problem to be studied.
The honorable member for Grey interjected, “How long?” and the Prime Minister replied -
Five years, I should think, will be the shortest time within which the question in all its aspects, can be studied by both the Commonwealth and the States.
– He said nothing, about the Braddon section there.
– He must have been referring to the Braddon section. The right honorable member does not know what he is talking about. He knows as little about’ the Treasury as he knew when he left it previously.
– What is the good of talking like that?
– I shall have a good deal to say unless the right honorable member accords me the same courtesy as he expects from others.
– I have striven to show as much patience as possible during this debate, but the Treasurer, unless he discontinues this running fire of interjections, will presently drive me to the extreme step of naming him.
– I am very sorry sir, but the honorable member was so outrageous in his statements that I could not help it.
– I was simply reading a statement made by the Prime Minister. No doubt that is outrageous from the Treasurer’s point of view, because the Prime Minister says one thing and he says another. The Prime Minister said, in answer to the honorable member for Grey -
Five years, I should think, will be the shortest time within which the question in all its aspects can be studied by both the Commonwealth and the States, and, if necessary, submitted to the people of Australia at the general election after next.
There the Prime Minister states that the question cannot be discussed before the public, even at the next election. Is that clear enough? That is the lesson that the Treasurer ought to learn before he speaks again.
– The Government cannot agree upon it in the meantime.
– The Government do not know what they are agreeing about or talking about. In answer to the Treasurer’s statement, that no provision had been made to pay old-age pensions, I would point out that the late Treasurer provided £90,000 more than was contemplated : when the Surplus Revenue Bill was passed, so that old-age pensions were never in danger, in spite of all that the Prime Minister said. I am quite satisfied that if the Fisher Government had remained in office the promise of the then Prime Minister, in regard to the payment of old-age pensions, would have been carried out. One other matter to which I should like to refer is that of the telephone service.
– Will this not keep until to-morrow, in order that we may get Supply through ?
– I have only two or three words to say on the point. The Postmaster-General was in a great hurry to do something at the bidding of the Chambers of Commerce, and I should like him to do something now at my request. A few days ago-, I pointed out to the PostmasterGeneral that while a business man in Adelaide paid £10 for his telephone he paid£6 in Brisbane, and I think that no one will deny that that is inexcusable. The present Postmaster-General, at the behest of the Chambers of Commerce, could overturn everything done by his predecessor, and surely this anomaly could be put right to-morrow.
– What does the honorable member suggest - that the charge should be £6 ?
– I suggest that all business men should, in this connexion, be put on an equal footing, so that the spirit of the Constitution as directed against discrimination, may be carried out. I take the strongest exception to the PostmasterGeneral cancelling what was done by his predecessor without first making full inquiry.
– The Postmaster-General says that the greater the network the greater the cost.
– I say that the greater the network the greaier the charge.
– But the action of the Postmaster-General is directly against that idea.
– It is precisely the reverse, as the Postmaster-General will find out when he gets the report of his Committee. I have no desire to delay the passing of the Supply Bill ; but I think that we should have more reason given to us for asking for Supply for two months. I am glad to hear the Treasurer say “that there is a likelihood of our having the Budget statement much earlier this year, for, otherwise, a great many of our public works mav be delayed for want of money.
.- I desire to say only a word or two in regard to the telephone and general postal administration. It is deplorable that there should be this groping in the dark - for it is nothing else - by either the present or any other Postmaster-General. Under present circumstances it is impossible for those responsible to receive the guidance necessary to a solution of the difficulties which face them in the administration of this great Department. In my judgment, the action taken, even by the late PostmasterGeneral, was not such as conditions warranted, nor was it action likely to meet the case ; but it was more equitable by far than that taken by the present PostmasterGeneral.
– Will the Royal Commission, of which the honorable member is a member, submit a report?
– When we have the information necessary to formulate a report it will be presented to Parliament at the earliest possible moment.
– When the Commission has cost enough money !
– The honorable member can never make an observation with due recognition of the importance of the subject. If he is prepared to give the same time and attention as I have done, for practically no remuneration, he will show a better disposition to public work than that with which I can now credit him.
– Will the Royal Commission help me by sending in a report?
– As I have already said, until the Commission possess the necessary knowledge they cannot present a report creditable to themselves and beneficial to the country; if we undertook to present a report on insufficient ground we should be false to the trust reposed in us, and doing exactly that to which I have objected on the patt of those responsible for the administration of this great Department. I rose simply to say that, to my mind, the whole action of the Government in this connexion is absolutely deplorable, and likely to lead to worse confusion than that with which we are faced at the present time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply :
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That a sum not exceeding£883,699 be granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the services of the year ending 30th June, 1910.
.- In pursuance of the statement I made earlier in the evening, that I did not think the Government are justified in asking for Supply for two months - and nothing said on behalf of the Government has supported the request - I move -
That the proposed sum be reduced to ^450,000.
– I regret that the Leader of the Opposition has seen fit to submit this amendment, because it is not unusual to ask for more than one month’s Supply.
– Such a request was never made before in like circumstances.
– On 3rd July, 1907, one month’s Supply, amounting to £457,000, was asked for, the amount in respect of the Treasurer’s Advance being , ,. On the 13th August three months’ Supply, amounting to £1,003,744, was asked for, of which the Treasurer’s Advance covered .£20,000. On the 8th November Supply amounting to .£787,000 was asked for to cover two months.
– While we were discussing the Tariff.
– On that occasion the Treasurer’s Advance amounted to £50,000. On the 19th November another Supply Bill providing for the sum of £^704,000 was passed, and the Treasurer’s Advance on that occasion was £25,000. Thus in 1907 four Supply Bills, covering the sums I have named, were passed. In 1908 there were three Supply Bills, one, on the 7th March, for ,£760,000 ; one, on the- 10th June, for £1,412,000, including the whole of the Treasurer’s Advance - a sum of £200,000 - and one on the 14th October. As to the complaint in regard to the amount proposed to be voted in respect of the Treasurer’s Advance, I would point out that £30,000 is required for the Postal Subsidy, and £28,000 is due on the 1st July to the Western Australian Government, who will remit the money to London on behalf of the Commonwealth. Then, again, weekly wages for men employed on day labour have to be paid, and the Treasurer has no money whatever for the purpose.
– One month’s Supply would cover that.
– Quite so, but I am speaking more particularly of the Treasurer’s Advance.
– If the amendment be agreed to the Treasurer will have .£50,000 in his Advance account.
– That would not be sufficient to cover the items I have already specified. Then, again, special pay for the squadron has to be provided whenever asked for, and mail contractors and others have to be paid. We have to make progress payments on contracts, petty cash payments, and payments in respect of new works and buildings, including telegraph and telephone construction, tunnels now being proceeded with, and buildings under contract and in course of construction. A sum of £[80,000 will be required for two months in respect of these works. The advance for naval pay and Government printing will come to another j£i 2,000, and it is estimated that during the two months under review we shall require the whole of the proposed vote of £[100,000 to meet liabilities that will fall due. It is solely as a matter of convenience that we- ask for two months’, instead of one month’s Supply. The Government do not wish to take advantage of the House by obtaining two months’ Supply, but we know that busy times are ahead of us. No one knows how long it will take to dispose of the three motions that are before the House, and it would be unprofitable and unnecessary to interpose another Supply Bill during their consideration. -I see no reason why two months’ Supply should not be granted, or why exception should be taken to the Bill since it provides merely for the ordinary services of the year. It covers nothing that has not already been voted in this House in previous years. It provides merely for an interim Supply, and is based on votes passed by this House last year. The Treasurer’s Advance of £100,000 is the only item which will be used for new works and services, and. even those are services for which votes were passed on existing estimates, but will lapse with the close of the financial year, to-morrow. The only reason I can assign for the disposition shown by some honorable ‘ members not to grant two months’ Supply is that they think that the Government is trying to gain some advantage. I fail to see what advantage we can secure. So far as the position of the Government is concerned, there is no reason why we should not ask for one month’s, rather than for two months’, Supply. We consider, however, that it will be more convenient, having regard to all the circumstances, to ask for two months’ Supply. Honorable members may discuss any matter they please on this Bill, and before we dispose of the Address-in-Reply and the noconfidence motion another month will be upon us. I repeat the statement del .berately that the Government have asked for two months’ instead of one month’s Supply only as a matter of convenience. I did not anticipate that exception would be taken to the Bill. We are adopting the usual procedure. If we were asking for something that had not already been voted upon during a previous session, there might be some cause for complaint. The Bill, however, has been carefully framed by the Treasury. It contains nothing to which honorable members have not assented on previous occasions, and to which they will assent and will have to assent as part of the expenditure is necessary for the public administration of the Commonwealth. I, therefore, ask honorable members to pass the Bill as it stands.
.- There, is nothing in the records of Parliament showing that two months’ Supply has been asked for in like circumstances. The only other point I wish to emphasize is that the reason three months’ Supply was granted last year was to allow an international courtesy to be paid to the visiting American Fleet.
.- There seems to. be a singular desire on the part of the Opposition to take a vote upon this question.
– By arrangement with the Government.
– Do I understand that the Leader of the Opposition desires that I should not make any remarks upon this occasion ?
– I make no request.
– The remarks of the Treasurer were accurate as far as they went, but I scarcely think they met the objection which I outlined this afternoon in all friendliness to the Government. The feeling which I entertain in regard to the practice of granting temporary Supply from time to time is not a new one. I am convinced that unless we deal with the Estimates at the beginning of the financial year so as to insure that the money which we vote shal1 be expended during that year, the Departments will have no opportunity whatever of basing their new Estimates upon the expenditure of the previous year but will be compelled to base them merely upon the Estimates for that year. This is a very serious matter from the stand-point of the finances of the country. I know that in one Department there are numerous directions in which economies might be effected, but those economies are rendered impossible because of the practice which has grown up of granting temporary Supply from time to time, and of dealing with the Estimates only towards the close of the session. I sincerely hope that the Treasurer will see his way to overcome this difficulty at an early date. His main justification for his present action is that he is following precedent. But I may say at once that it is a precedent to which a number of honorable members, including myself, have always objected.
– So have I.
– The right honorable member has been one of the worst offenders.
– I am not a right honorable member.
– No. The honorable member is a grade lower than the knight whom he has been attacking. In his political contortions he reminds me of nothing so much as the definition which a lady gave of a line - “something of indefinite length lying consistently between two extremes.” The view which I have urged upon the Ministry in all friendliness is one which I hope they will consider in order to avoid the possibility of alienating support upon occasions of this kind. I hope that this is the last time that Ministers will ask for Supply for more than one month. It is rather a pity that a Supply Bill should have to be interposed in the midst of a no-confidence debate, and in view of these special circumstances, I think that [he Government might well have asked for only one month’s Supply. I do not wish to be regarded as taking an unfriendly action, but only as uttering a warning as to the possibilities such actions may bring forth in the future. I hope that the bad habit of passing temporary Supply Bills, which has been largely fostered by the action of the honorable member for Hume when he was in office, will be discouraged.
– Independent of any procedure that may have been adopted in the past, the Opposition certainly cannot accuse the Government of .being dishonest, even if they secure a grant of more money than they require at the moment. There are numerous works in progress throughout Australia, and it is absolutely necessary that any body of men charged with administering the affairs of a country like this, should be able to see more than one month ahead of them. It is impossible to run a small contract worth only two or three thousand pounds without having cash available with which to pay the employe’s. In Western Australia, the work of undergrounding the telephone wires is now being proceeded with, and it may be necessary to pay off men there any day.
– Has the honorable member any contracts on hand ?
– If I had, I should be looking after them instead of being in this Parliament. My opinion is that it is a little bit paltry’ on the part of honorable members opposite to endeavour to prevent the work of the country from being carried on.
– Two months’ supply has never been granted before under similar circumstances.
– That is no reason why it should not be granted now. Many things have been done by the present Opposition which have not been done previously. Surely its attempt to count out the House to-day was a disgraceful one. In this Parliament, . many things have not been done which should have been done, and which I believe will be done if the present Ministry are retained in office. I am satisfied that if they continue to occupy their present positions, many things will be done for the good of Australia which hitherto have not been done, regardless of the windy spasms and yaps emanating from honorable members opposite. To-day we heard the late Postmaster-General talking about how many telephone rings there are daily in one place and how many in another, but he did not tell us what it costs to run a telephone in Melbourne, or in Sydney, or Adelaide. Why did he not show that the cost is more in one place than it is in another? Why do honorable members opposite not analyze the cost and talk sense? What is the use of interrogating a poor telephone girl upon the subject? Do honorable members opposite, think that they will ever learn how to conduct a Department by worrying the employes? The honorable member for Gwydir has been good enough to throw a few remarks at me across the chamber, because I ventured to ask what was the cost of the inquiry that is now proceeding into the administration of the Postal Department. As I said then, I and other honorable members are determined to find out the cost. At the time when the Royal Commission was appointed, I am sure that no honorable member expected that it was intended to harass and worry the telephone employe’s.
It was intended to have a proper inquiry into the working of the Department, and to obtain a report which would be of some value to Parliament. Some months ago I mentioned the work done by the Keep Commission in America. We hoped to obtain something of that kind here. If the Commission would find out where leakages occurred, they would do some sort of good, but they will do no good by- worrying the telephone girls and officials. They have been travelling from one end of Australia to the other, and really I do not think they know what’ they are after, any more than a lot of bandits. They are all after what they can catch.
– I must ask the honorable member to withdraw that remark.
– What am I to withdraw, sir?
– I understood the honorable member to refer to the Royal Commission as being out for what they could get.
– Oh, no.
– The honorable member, as I understood, distinctly referred to the Commission as being there merely for what they could get out of it. If the honorable member disclaims that meaning I accept his assurance.
– I have been misunderstood. I said the Commission had been travelling round the country like a lot of bandits, and bandits go after what they can get. If that remark is not in order, I withdraw and apologise. I rose principally to assure the honorable member for Gwydir that we intend to find out what the Postal Commission has cost.
.- I shall not attempt to reply to the honorable member for Fremantle, who does not know what he is talking about ; therefore he is not worth replying to. But I wish to reply to a remark made by the Treasurer when he referred to my position in bringing forward the old-age pensions . matter. He stated that I did it for the sake of kudos. I have never descended to appeal to any man, poor or rich, for the sake of kudos. I can afford to treat the right honorable gentleman’s observations with the contempt they deserve. I hope I have been better brought up than to apply insulting terms to any member of this House.
– One consideration has been lost sight of, so far as I have been able to follow this debate, and that is the reason why two months’ Supply is asked for. Independently of the precedents and illustrations already given, and of the immediate necessities of current contracts, it is because on no other occasion in the history of the Commonwealth has there been a Budget associated with questions of such importance, or with a variety of financial changes of such immense magnitude, as those which we have to face in a couple of months. The Government were faced with the alternative of coming down with a request for one rnonth’s Supply, and then again before the Budget could be prepared for another month’s Supply, or of submitting a proposal for two months’ Supply at the present time. Not that the Budget will be postponed a day longer than is necessary. On the contrary, it will be submitted at the earliest possible date. It may be submitted by the middle of August. In fact that was the date which the Treasurer rose to mention ; but it was pointed out to him, that for precautionary reasons, he had better indicate that while the Budget would be brought forward as soon as possible, it might not be so soon as the middle of August, although it will be even earlier, if possible. What we have to face first is the payment of the old-age pen- sions, for which object we must look not only at the current six months, for which we have either a sufficient sum or a very large proportion of that sum ; but recollect that Budget proposals must allow for the provision of at least as much more, and probably a larger amount than the existing trust fund, now amounting to barely £700,000. Despite the fact that the Surplus Revenue Act has enabled us to put aside, say, one-half - probably it will be less - of the total, no previous Treasurer of the Commonwealth has been faced with the responsibility of finding any such new sum within the Commonwealth fourth.
– The Prime Minister advised me what to do.
– I put aside £500,000 this year.
– No Treasurer under the Commonwealth has been faced
– I say that that is an absolute misstatement.
– Order !
– It does not matter, sir.
– It does matter. I will make it matter before I have done with you - traitor!
– The honorable member for Hume must withdraw the remark which he has made concerning the Prime Minister.
– By your direction, sir, I will withdraw it; but the Prime Minister is stating what I shall show presently is absolutely incorrect.
– I must insist upon the honorable member withdrawing the remark unconditionally.
– I will withdraw it, so as to have no more bother about it.
– My object is to be as brief as possible.
– The Prime Minister wants to be. I am not going to be hoodwinked.
– Honorable members are aware of the anxiety that has been felt in order to set aside the sum necessary for the payment of old-age pensions. - We have yet to be assured of finding this sum and sufficient income for the present year from the ordinary sources. With that uncertainty before us, I think that honorable members, on consideration, will see that the seriousness of the question raised by the payment of old-age pensions during the next eighteen months has not been in the least degree overstated. It is a very serious contingency, which requires to be provided for. Nor does it stand alone. In addition to that, in the present circumstances, not only of Australia, but in the present circumstances of international relations, it will be necessary for the Government to consider what sums of expenditure will be required during the twelve months, in order to make more adequate provision for the defence of Australia - nrfval and military. This constitutes a very serious demand upon the public purse, for which provision will have to be made. In addition, we are faced, in the Post and Telegraph Department, as well as elsewhere - but particularly in that Department - with instruments which have become due for replacement, and demands for more effective appliances, involving larger expenditure for the improvement of the Department than has been contemplated in any year since Federation. In these three directions, therefore, we have new demands of a very serious character, which, when added together, occasion the complexity and the gravity of the present- financial situation. In addition fo that, the ‘Cabinet, has again to review the proposals for the relations of Commonwealth and State finance. I am informed that whilst I was absent from the chamber, the intentions of the Government have been interpreted as implying a continuance of the operation of the existing Braddon section in the Constitution for another five years. No such proposal has ever been made by me, or to my knowledge, by any member of the Government. What is proposed is that during some period which will allow of an exhaustive examination of the financial relations * with a view to a permanent settlement, there shall be a new division of the Customs and Excise revenue other than that provided for by what is popularly known as the Braddon section, with, perhaps, some other serious financial conditions attached to it.
– Hear, hear; that is what is the matter.
– This, too, will require to be dealt with in that Budget of the Treasurer, ‘which is due before the close of August.
– I suppose the honorable gentleman intends inviting the States Premiers to another Conference.
– Under these circumstances, the three great demands for oldage pensions, the Post Office, and for defence, taken together with a reconsideration of the whole of the financial arrangements on which hitherto the Budgets of every year have absolutely depended - which it is proposed to recast in a new form, for a few years, preluding a still further departure - these facts must, I think, satisfy honorable members that the Budget about to be submitted has not. had, and could not have had, any parallel in the history of the Commonwealth up to this date. The proposals to be submitted will be of an extent and a gravity demanding the closest consideration, first of the Government, and then of this House.
– The .honorable member for Flinders told the honorable gentleman that two and a-half years aso.
– Then it is to the credit of the honorable member for Flinders, from which I do not desire to detract. All that I am concerned to point out to the House is that this request for two months’ Supply is one for which there is a series of precedents, as there are precedents for the granting of Supply for even longer periods, at other times of the year. For making it at this time of the year I have given strong and convincing reasons. The necessity . for obtaining an opportunity of fully and closely considering these proposals before we submit them to the House is the heaviest task that rests upon the Government to-day. As the Leader of the Opposition reminded the Committee, I have often pointed out that this must be practically a financial session. Every subject to be dealt with will, of course, affect finance, but on this particular occasion these great demands are related in quite an exceptional way. If there has been no precedent of this kind at the commencement of any preceding session, it is because at the commencement of no preceding session have we been called upon to face problems approaching in magnitude, and complexity the problems with which we are confronted to-day.
– Do not talk nonsense. The honorable gentleman cannot explain things away.
– Every member who gives these matters consideration, and realizes his responsibility as a member of- this Parliament, must feel it rest more heavily upon his shoulders now than ever before. I am sure that the country, realizing what this must mean, will be satisfied that in the course proposed by the Government there is a wise saving of parliamentary time. There has been no attempt to obtain any financial liberty, ot to ask for expenditure that has not been previously approved. We are proposing to expend the money asked for only upon works already authorized, and to meet demands about to be made, which, as the return from the Treasury shows, will absorb the whole of the amount available. We have taken the only practicable business-like course it is possible to take in an emergency of this sort, if this House is to rise to the level of the occasion, and meet its great financial responsibilities promptly within the few weeks prior to the Budget.
– That speech must not be taken seriously ; and it will not be either.
.- It is remarkable that we should have had to wait until the very end of this debate to learn the real reasons for the action taken by the Government. Honorable members are aware that the reason given by the Trea- surer for the action proposed had no reference to the great and urgent matters referred to by the Prime Minister. The Treasurer relied upon the precedents of previous occasions. He’ contended that the Government were proposing to do to-day only what had been done by previous Governments. Now the Prime Minister admits that there is no precedent at all to support the action of the Government.
– There is no precedent for this financial situation.
– Nor for this composite Ministry.
– I question whether any member of the House ever saw a political situation like this. It is unprecedented, I believe, in the history of responsible government in the British Dominions. The Prime Minister has abandoned the reason given by the Treasurer for the action of the Government. At the request of the Minister of Defence I asked honorable members on this side to refrain from speaking at length.
– I had no idea that the honorable gentleman proposed to launch another motion of censure.
– Did I not say that I could not think of granting two months’ Supply, and that, in my opinion, one month’s Supply would be ample to meet the situation? I stated that in unmistakable language.
– Nothing of that was mentioned between the honorable member and myself.
– The honorable gentleman said, “ We will take the vote. ‘ ‘
– The arrangement was to give us the other motion, and we should take the Bill for Supply to-morrow.
– I wished to be very careful, and after the honorable gentleman had said that we would take the vote, I went back and said, “You said you would take the vote?” and he said, “Yes.”
– I meant the other vote.
– I have been mistaken or misunderstood two or three times recently.
– Have it in writing.
– I went back to the honorable gentleman to make sure that he said he would take the vote, and .this is the only vote that I know of.
– We are ready to take a vote.
– May I remind the Prime Minister of his many statements on the public platform that the old-age pensions were in danger?
– They were.
– Nothing of the kind.
– -They were until the honorable member explained what his financial proposals were.
– The Treasurer denied it.
– That was owing to. a misunderstanding.
– A statement of such a far-reaching character ought not to have been uttered by a gentleman in the responsible position of the honorable member for Ballarat.
– I would make it again.
– Stick to the. truth.
– At the end of 1907-8 there was £[193,000 to the credit of the fund. This year £500,000 has been paid to its credit, and on the same basis £500,000 would have been added during the next financial year, making a total provision of .£1,200,000. Is it beyond the capacity of this Parliament to find a few extra hundred thousand pounds for this purpose? A suggestion to the contrary is altogether ridiculous. When a leading public man, who claims to have an Australian record, goes upon a public platform and leaves an impression in the minds of the public that the payment of the oldage pensions was in danger, it is a reflection upon his capacity and his position in this House. The payment of the pensions was never in danger. What about making provision for defence? Is that a new matter? Long ago I heard the Prime Minister explain the difficulties of the defence question. Two years ago he said that the question of defence was urgent, and yet nothing has been done. The question of the administration of the Post and Telegraph Department is not a new one. The Prime Minister was aware of the trouble with the Department. It is a great deal worse since the present. Government came into office. The late Government were prepared to tackle the men who derive advantages from the telephone service. In the country the telephone pays reasonably well, but in the big centres of population there is a great loss, and yet the present Government undid what was done by their predecessors. They want time to introduce their own scheme, but when they were pressed by the Chamber of Commerce it did not take them a week to reverse our action. The next reason given by the Prime Minister was characteristic of him on an occasion of this kind. “ A period,” he said, “ must elapse which will give us time to make exhaustive inquiries into all the material facts which surround this enormous problem.” That is something like the phraseology we heard. Now in matters of finance two and two make four. If the Government will ascertain how much they want to raise they will know exactly what they can spend. If they desire time to manoeuvre, they should say so. But if they desire to carry on the government as it ought to be conducted, they will accept one month’s Supply and meet the situation, because a Treasurer with the experience of the honorable member for Swan can submit a Budget to the House within three weeks.
– I cannot allow the speech of the Prime Minister, bristling as it did with inaccuracies, to go unchallenged. He said that never before was there a financial position such as there is now. He knows what the position was before. He knows that I never took one step or one action without consulting him. He approved of every step I took, and we were ready to deal with the whole question at once. Because he has jumped from an honest Ministry to a mixed Ministry is that a reason why he should turn himself inside out, so far as finance is concerned? His statement tonight astounded me, and it takes a lot from him to astound me. He said that never before was a Government required to face such a serious financial position. I had to face a serious financial position. We agreed to a programme for that purpose with the concurrence of my leader, whom I then respected, and who, I thought, was going to be true and honest with me in his dealings. But now he turns absolutely upon himself and says - “ In view of this serious financial position, we have to take time to consider our policy.” The financial position is probably no worse to-day than it was then, but if it is the fault lies with this mixed Ministry. I know that the financial position was improved by the administration of the late Government. I took the trouble to find out the power which had been exercised by the late Prime Minister in controlling the Departments, and thus I got to know what the financial position was. It was better than it was when we left office, because I had not the same power to control the Departments as he had. A Prime Minister of topsy-turvy tendencies says that the financial position is worse to-day than ever it was. There is about £700,000 to the credit of the oldage pensions fund. Who was it who stuck out for a sum of money being put aside for that purpose?
– Not the honorable member opposite.
– No, I had to fight pretty hard for the reservation of the money, but I got a commencement made with trust funds for old-age pensions and defence. I obtained the concurrence of the Prime Minister in what I did. I also got his concurrence to work out the problem of meeting the financial requirements of the old-age pensions system until 1910. He knows well that that was all fixed up, and I cannot understand a man who calls himself a straight, honest politician coming down here to-night and making the statement he did.
– Is the evidence in the Treasury? I have not seen it, and I would like to know what the scheme is.
– The Prime Minister knew then what it was. I said that I was going to finance the system for six months.
– How was the honorable member going to do it ?
– It is an easy matter for the Commonwealth to finance a thing.
– Was the honorable member going to borrow the money ?
– The Prime Minister knew what I was going to do.
– What does the honorable member mean bv financing?
– If the honorable member has a big surplus he can borrow from the banks, and so we can borrow from the banks for six months.
– How was the honorable member going to finance it ?
– I cannot attend to the chip-chapping of the honorable member. My proposal was agreed to, and yet the Prime Minister came down here to-night and made the most astounding statement that I have ever heard from any man who calls himself a straight-out, honest politician.
– He does not call himself that, surely?
– I do not know; others do, but they are very few now. In reference to defence, the Prime Minister- says that we have to deal with the great problem of expenditure. I put £250,000 to the credit of a trust fund at his instance, because I knew what he wanted. It was agreed that we should build, I think, three torpedo destroyers, and that by the time payment was required the money would be available. I am not sure that that sum would not have paid for them. What did the next Treasurer do? In a period extending over three years, he proposed to procure twenty -three torpedo destroyers.
– Where was the honorable member going to get the money from ?
– Never mind about the overdraft. We can get the money, but we will not give any money for a Dreadnought.
– Was he going to borrow it?
– No. We can get the money by applying to our own people and not to any one else. I am making these remarks because I was amazed just now at the statement of the Prime Minister. I did think that he had some regard for his word and his knowledge. I can only imagine that his head has gone cronk. The statement which came from him is the most damaging that he has ever made. When I see together the Prime Minister and the honorable member for Parramatta, one with a face as long as the distance from the lights above us to the floor, and the other laughing, I know which has got the better of the other. Everything in regard to defence was arranged, so what need was there for delay?
– Why all this heat?
– Be quiet with’ your chipping in. The right honorable member for Swan is becoming a duck. He will not let me have a show. He can take my word for it that my life is going to. be devoted to showing up the political dishonesty that has lately taken place.
– I hope that it will be short, then.
– The honorable member’s political life will be that. There are those who have failed to recognise truth and honesty in their attitude towards their former colleagues, and, so long as my life lasts I shall try to get them down. The Prime Minister told me once that things can be explained away. They will take a lot of explaining so far as he is concerned, especially after the outrageous speech which he has made to-night. He absolutely turned upside down everything that was honest, and should have been treated so. He went behind his own principles and policy, and, if I may be allowed to say it, behind what I conceive to be his own honesty. His speech to-night will live as long as he does, and a great deal longer. So, too, will the history of what has taken place and been brought about by this communistic, composite, antagonistic-
– Anarchistic !
– Capitalistic. Give us the lot.
– And capitalistic combination. It will live to the degradation of those who have formed it. The Prime Minister went on to talk about the Post Office. I know what was attempted in that connexion. A Ministerial Committee was appointed which had the audacity, if I may so term it, to make a report in which the borrowing of money was recommended. I opposed that from the jump, and I stopped it. Let those who say that I did not make that declaration say so publicly, and I shall bring evidence to prove my statement.
– Then, I suppose, the honorable member’s supporters were against him.
– They might have been, but my life will show that I do not pay much attention to supporters when I think that they are wrong.
– The honorable member has a good eye to the main chance.
– The right honorable gentleman has a better. Honorable members call me the underground engineer, and the right honorable member has asked me how it is that I get on top every time. He is on top for the time being, and that proves that he is the boss underground engineer, not only of the Commonwealth Parliament, but of Australia. I have always said that he was this. He has a suave, nice, insinuating manner, but, look out, there is , the mailed fist there all the time. I resisted the borrowing of money for paying for Post Office work.
– The honorable member is responsible for it.
– I am not responsible for anything of the kind. I am responsible for seeing that more money was not spent than we had means to pay. I did not starve anything. The right honorable member for Swan is the starvation man. He started it, though he does not starve himself. I had a regard for my reputation - because I was a Treasurer before I became Treasurer of the Commonwealth - and I was not going to permit any one to say to me, after I had left office, that I had allowed a large expenditure to take place which we had not means to meet. That is. why they say that I starved the Departments. It was because of what took place when the right honorable member was Treasurer that that difficulty was created. He succumbed to the importunities of some of the officials, and agreed to certain expenditure before I became Treasurer. When I entered the Treasury, and found that 1,500 new hands were to be appointed at once in two or three Departments, and others in other Departments, it made me think. It was to a large extent the authorizing by the right honorable member of expenditure which I had not means to meet that caused that difficulty.
– He has never said a word about that.
SirJohn Forrest. - The statement is absolutely incorrect. . I deny it.
– The right honorable member has denied his own initials on papers which I have produced. He will deny any mortal thing. I say, with reference to the Post Office, that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have no right to ask for time. It was known when the last Deakin Government, of which I was a member, left office what should be done. Why, then, all this delay? It is because Ministers require time to propound something else. The Prime Minister has turned his views absolutely inside out to meet the honorable member for Parramatta. They have run the rule over him as they have run the rule over the honorable member for Brisbane.
– The honorable member is insulting every one to-night.
– I am not insulting any one. The right honorable member has insulted me two or three times. If telling the truth is insulting, honorable members must receive their deserts. I am telling the truth. I have never told a lie in my life.
– I must permit the honorable member to be insulting if the Chairman does so.
– I call upon the honorable member for Parramatta to withdraw that remark.
– What remark?
– The honorable member has stated that the honorable member for Hume has been doing something that I would not allow another honorable member to do.
– Apparently you are, sir. I withdraw my statement if I must do so; but the fact remains that you are permitting the honorable member for Hume to indulge in the most insulting observations without taking the slightest notice of them.
– I would make the honorable member withdraw that.
– I feel that the remark of the honorable member for Parramatta requires something more than a mere withdrawal of it on his part. If I am to be insulted, I shall not retain my position. I have been elected by the House, and, in the interests of its own honour, the Committee should protect me, even from a Minister of the Crown. If some action is not taken in connexion with what has just been said by the Minister of Defence, I shall refuse to occupy the chair any longer. I ask the Prime Minister to take action, and, to bring the matter to a head, so that I may know what position I am to hold, I name the honorable member for Parramatta for disorderly conduct.
– I do not know what the position is.
– Be a man.
– Am I to be insulted all round the Chamber? I shall be glad to do what ought to be done in the circumstances if I am permitted, but Ishall notbe bullied by honorable members in this way. I do not care what the Committee does, I shall not submit to this kind of bullying.
– I would ask honorable members to refrain from interjections during this crisis, for it is a crisis so far as I personally am concerned.
– The innocent remark which apparently has caused all this trouble had reference to some very rude andimpertinent remarks that were being made by the honorable member for Hume regarding myself. Apparently no notice was taken of them, and I remarked that I should have to permit the honorable member to continue in that strain, as apparently the Chairman was doing, meaning to indicate only that you, sir, did not regard the remarks as impertinent. I had no intentionof reflecting upon the Chair, and if I did so I am sorry. My intention was to call attention to the impertinence of the honorable member for Hume, and I think it is time some notice was taken of it.
– I did not hear any impertinent remarks, if they were uttered ; but at the time there was a good deal of noise. If they were uttered, the Minister of Defence had a proper course to follow. He should have called my attention to them, and I would have called upon the honorable member for Hume to withdraw them. Apparently the Minister preferred to take another course, and went even further, for in his second explanation he took up the position that I was deliberately allowing the honorable member for Hume to say certain things that I knew he had no right to say. If the honorable member disclaims that, I must accept his explanation. There is, however, a proper course to take in these matters, and I hope honorable members will take it. While I occupy the position of Chairman, if I feel that I cannot honestly carry out my duties, I hope I shall have sufficient manliness to resign.
– I did not think I said anything that offended against the ordinary rules of debate, and I must be excused if I speak hotly when I feel as strongly as I do upon the speech made by the Prime Minister to-night - the most extraordinary that I ever listened to, knowing what I do of his past determination, and of his agreement to do things that I wanted done. If I have said anything that goes beyond the limits of orderly debate, I am willing to withdraw it at your instance, or even without it. I have dealt with defence and old-age pensions as touched upon by the Prime Minister. I wish now to say that the Post and Telegraph Department could be conducted and made efficient, to the satisfaction of honorable members and the people, without the borrowing of money, if we could only get a Ministry who would stand up for their own rights and keep their own money. We want no borrowing, and I do not think that the country will allow it.
– It is necessary to spend a lot more. Many of my constituents are cut off from communication with the outside world.
– If we had kept the money we had in the past we could do it. I know that more work is necessary to be done. No one’ knew it better than I did when Treasurer, and no one was in a falser position than I was when I had not the money required to do it. We have not reached 19 10, but we are getting closer to it, and the closer we get to it the further off appears the settlement of the question of what money we can command. The honorable member said that the dealings between the Commonwealth and States required considerable time and serious consideration, and that is the gist of the whole thing. We are approaching the 1910 period, when we ought to have money to cany on all our Departments. In New South Wales, the year before I left office there, I financed the whole of the Departments for a little over £[9,000,000, including the Defence, Post and Telegraph, and Customs Departments. Yet last year New South Wales spent .£[15,000,000 in doing the work I did for a little over £[9,000,000. Where did that money come from? It came from the Federal Treasury. I silenced those who were carping at the Commonwealth and charging it with extravagance in a speech I made in Sydney. They have never held up their heads since, because they cannot refute my figures. What I intend to fight for is a definite arrangement to be come to at once, or not later than 1910, between the Commonwealth and the States. The settlement suggested to the Premiers’ Conference in Melbourne, primarily by my then chief, the honorable member for Ballarat, and supported by myself, was based upon the scheme of the honorable member for Mernda, and other valuable schemes on record in the Treasury. ‘ It was the Prime Minister who converted me then, if conversion were required, to the view that the State and Commonwealth finances must be kept separate if we are to have harmony. He urged upon that Conference more strongly and lucidly than I could hope to do it, that that must be the groundwork of any agreement. We offered to take over the whole of the State debts, to give the States at once £[6,000,000 per annum, and to allow the remaining two millions and some hundreds of thousands of interest - the interest bill being some hundreds of thousands over eight millions - ;to remain for five years. At the end of that period a commencement was to be made to pay that off at the rate of one- thirtieth per year for thirty years. We were to pay one-thirtieth off every year for thirty years, and take the whole responsibility as a Commonwealth, and pay off a national debt of what is now £254,000,000. That would leave the States absolutely without a debt of any kind, and it was the offer that the present Prime Minister made when he fought better than I ever saw him fight in a Conference of the kind In his speech to-night, however, he says practically that we do not know what ought to be done, and that we want time to decide. All I can say is that there is going to be an absolute alteration of our financial system - that there is going to be instituted a system of borrowing, and some undesirable alteration in the arrangement between the Commonwealth and the States. This represents such a complete change of feeling and opinion on the part of the Prime Minister that we ought to have some explanation. I speak strongly, because I feel strongly on this combination of impossibles, this confusionist Ministry. Since the present Government have been in power, things have happened which show that the Prime Minister has not the power that a Prime Minister ought to have.
– The State Rights party are on top now !
– I do not wish to say anything against the States, but to give them fair play. Whenwe take over the whole of the responsibility for the debts it is a big undertaking.
– Leaving them the whole of their public works, except those taken over under the Constitution.
– Quite so. As I told the late Prime Minister, the only trouble was whether we were not making a bargain we could not carry out without further consideration. In any case, the Commonwealth should be the first power in Australia; and if the Customs and Excise are not sufficient, it is our duty to find the extra money from other means of taxation. However that may be, we must take the responsibility, and put up with, the consequences; and the proper step I was prepared to takewith the concurrence and the assistance of the present Prime Minister.
– I am sorry to hear the honorable member for Hume and the right honorable member for Swan, who ought to be giving us the full benefit of their knowledge and experience, indulging in recrimination. We have had to-day more buffoonery than I have known in any other Parliament in Australia.
– The honorable member has no right to say that.
– What I say is that the advice and knowledge of the honorable members I have mentioned ought to be placed at our disposal ; and I am sorry to see them losing their temper, and setting such a bad example to the young men of the country. There was never so much need for legislation in the Commonwealth as to-day. In my own State we were told that in the matter of the debts, some £30,000 per annum would be saved, and we have saved nothing. Then, before Federation, the Post Office in Australia was a credit to the country, whereas now, according to the evidence before the Commission, it is a disgrace. The honorable member for Gwydir is held up throughout Australia as one who, whether on the right track or the wrong track, is trying to do his best. In connexion with the telephone branch, £14 was collected in one centre in my electorate as a guarantee thirteen months ago, and, since then, nothing has been heard of the telephone, and something certainly ought to be done; but instead of useful work, we have men of age and experience wrangling, and blackguarding one another.The ex-Prime Minister is a man of whom Scotland ought to be proud, and Australia need not be ashamed. I was extremely sorry to hear the remarks made from the Chair to-night, because I look on you, sir, as one of the most honorable and fair men who ever sat in this House. I hope I shall never hear such language or witness such a waste of time as I have witnessed to-day, as it is a disgrace to modern civilization and to our political institutions.
.- I have followed the debate with very great interest, and with considerable patience, and have felt tempted more than once to raise a question of much greater importance than any discussed to-day - a question in respect to which, I think, we ought to have had a statement from the Government. If there is one question more important than any other before the Commonwealth Parliament it is that of the financial relations of the Commonwealth and the States. Honorable members generally must candidly admit that it is impossible for us to carry on under what is known as the Braddon sec- tion of the Constitution, and that under it we have been hampered in every direction. We are so fettered (Eat we cannot carry out any of the large works that have been forecasted. It appears to me to be mere hypocrisy to talk of bringing the PostmasterGeneral’s Department up to date, to pay old-age pensions, to take over the Northern Territory, and to connect the Eastern States with Western Australia by means of a transcontinental railway, unless we adopt a financial scheme very different from any that has yet been propounded in this House. With the approach of 1910 there is a possibility of doing something to alter this state of affairs, but in the Ministerial statement submitted by the Prime Minister, there is an indication that the existing arrangement is to be continued for an indefinite period.
– The Prime Minister did not say that the same arrangement would be continued. It is not intended to propose the continuance of the same arrangement.
– An arrangement on similar lines to that now in force is to be proposed by the Government.
– I am not prepared to say what are the lines proposed.
– The right honorable member knows, although he may not be prepared to admit it, that the Government intend to introduce a scheme providing for the continuance of the Braddon section for some years.
– No such thing.
– The arrangement proposed is to carry on a system which every honorable member with a knowledge of finance has condemned for the last eight years.
– There is no such statement by the Government.
– Then what does the Prime Minister’s statement mean?
– That is what he said most emphatically in his statement of the Ministerial policy.
– And he said it just now.
– Quite so. We are to have an interim arrangement - a continuation of the Braddon section, in, perhaps, some modified form - for five years. I speak to-night, not as a party man, but as one who feels that the great question to be faced in this Legislature is not whether we should have the toll system or the flat rate in connexion with our telephone service, but whether this Parliament, as opposed to the Parliaments of the States, is to be supreme. Is the Commonwealth Government to go, cap in hand, to the State Treasurers, and to ask them how much we may retain of the revenue that we collect, and what we are to do in regard to our financial proposals? Are we to go to them, cap in hand, before we dare to step out on new lines ? Are we to consult, and actually submit first of all to the State Parliaments, and the Treasurers of the States, any proposals that we may make in this regard? That would be a most undignified position for this Parliament to occupy. I care not, except in so far as administrative matters are concerned, who are on the Treasury bench; but the Parliament should speak with one voice as to what shall be our financial relations with the States. No one .knows better than do honorable members opposite that at the end of 1910 the Braddon section must be abolished, and some new arrangement made. I repeat that it is little short of hypocrisy to talk of taking over the Northern Territory, of constructing the transcontinental railway, or m of bringing the Postmaster-General’s Department up to date, unless we can build on a solid financial Basis, without having to go to the States. What I fear is that honorable members forming the Coalition party have sold the birthright of this Parliament to the State Parliaments.
– Not yet.
– There is, at least, grave danger that at the next general elec- . tion the combination on the Government benches will try to placate the State Parliaments, and so make their return sure by selling the birthright of the Commonwealth. If they were in Opposition I venture to saythat none would be louder than they would be in their protests against our being financially “cabin’d, cribb’d. condin’d” as we are.
– We shall sell no one’s birthright, but will try to do the fair thing by the honorable member’s State.
– I am not raising the question of my State.
– The honorable member is.
– I am speaking as a member of the Federal Legislature,, and repeat that this Parliament should not have to go, cap in hand, to any State Parliament. We have been treated with the greatest contempt by some of the State Legislatures.
– And are being so treated.
– Undoubtedly ; up to the present moment.
– All we desire is to be fair to the States.
– The Minister of Defence cannot formulate any scheme providing for the continuation of the Braddon section which will leave this Parliament as free as it ought to be. I take it that the paragraph in the Ministerial statement to which I have directed attention is tantamount to a declaration that that section is to be continued in a modified form.
– There is no suggestion of that kind.
– Ministers affirm that the paragraph in question does not point to a continuance of the Braddon section.
– Surely we had better wait till we hear what it means.
– I am responsible for my own opinions. , On the 24th inst.. in speaking of the financial future of the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister said -
In order to meet its difficulty and to allow an advance towards its final settlement, a scheme is being prepared by the present Treasurer that will enable us to make an interim agreement or arrangement for a period as long as will be necessary to permit the vaster financial problem to be studied.
At this stage I interjected -
How long ?
To that the Prime Minister replied -
Five years, I should think.
If that statement does not mean that the Braddon section of the Constitution is to be continued, I do not understand what it means.
– I may tell the honorable member that it does not mean that.
– The financial question is the greatest one that this Parliament is called upon to face, and if we settle it satisfactorily, we shall have done extremely good work. Nobody will be more pleased than I if the Braddon section is abolished, and if the Commonwealth has reserved to it a sufficient revenue from Customs and Excise to enable it to give effect to our national aspirations. What has this Parliament done already in the matter of old-age pensions? It has relieved three States of their liability to pay these pensions ? It has also shouldered the obligation of the three remaining States to grant such pensions. Then is it too much to ask that the States shall grant to this Parliament the full amount necessary to enable it to pay these pensions?
– They have agreed to do that.
– Only subject to certain conditions. I say that the States ought not to hesitate a moment, but ought to grant to this Parliament out of their three-fourths of the Customs and Excise revenue a sufficient sum with which to pay old-age pensions. I cannot understand their attitude upon this question. They declare that they must have three-fifths of the Customs and Excise revenue returned to them, and they stipulate that the minimum amount returnable in any year shall be £6,500,000, with a special grant to Western Australia of £250,000. The States are endeavouring to prevent this Parliament from imposing direct taxation. On the one hand they say. that they want their full pound of flesh so far as the Customs and Excise revenue is concerned, and on the other they declare that this Parliament must not encroach upon their preserves in the matter of direct taxation. It must be patent to every honorable member that if the Commonwealth is to face its obligations in the way that it should do, there can be no continuance of the Braddon section. We must have sufficient finances to carry on the affairs of the Commonwealth, and I trust that the question will not be raised as a party one by honorable members on any side. We should put our House in order and place our affairs upon a proper basis. But . while I say that, I have no wish to do an injustice to the States, which must have the means with which to carry on. I trust that before long the present Government will tell us what they mean by this interim period of five years.
– After listening to the remarks of the Prime Minister, I have come to the conclusion that his opinion is that it would take five years to bring about a regulation of the State debts. I remember very well when the honorable member for Flinders about two years ago warned the Government as to what would happen. The same Treasurer was in office then as is in office now. The honorable member for Flinders pleaded with the Government to bring about a settlement of the financial problem between the Commonwealth and the States. No Government since that time has done anything whatever to solve the problem. Now we have the Premiers of the States congratulating the Prime Minister on getting into office, because they hope for specially favorable treatment from this Government. There is not a member of our party who wishes to injure the States. But as the honorable member for Grey said, this is a national question, and should be settled without party prejudice. I was sent here as a member of the National Parliament, not as a “ State frights “ partisan. I am well aware that at the next election we shall have to face the State rights advocates. Mr. Kidston, the Premier of Queensland, said as soon as he landed at Fremantle from England, that he intended to fight the Labour party at the next Federal election in the interests of State rights. I welcome that announcement. The same people who return us to the Federal Parliament also return these pettifogging State Premiers and their supporters. It is not reasonable to assume that any one wishes us to injure the State with which his reputation as a. politician is bound up. Neither do we wish to injure other States than our own. I should be sorry to see Victoria injured, for instance. But I want to see the National Parliament secure a fair and square deal. Perhaps I may not be here very long. Many of us may be politically dead after the next election.
– That is too pathetic.
– Personally, I hope that every honorable member who is here now will be here again after we have faced our masters. I have no ill-feeling towards any honorable member. I have no ill-feeling towards my strong and burly opponent, the honorable member for Echuca, although he so often tries to bully me. Had the advice of the honorable member for Flinders been taken two years ago we should have been on the way to settling the difficulty. But I trust that whatever Government is in power the interests of the National Parliament will be considered first, and those of the State Parliaments afterwards.
– I think we should have a quorum present. [Quorum formed.]
– I am satisfied after the explanation of the Attorney-General that there cannot be an extension of the “ Braddon blot “ without an alteration of the Constitution. But may I ask the honorable gentleman this: If this Parliament or the’ succeeding Parliament should bind the Commonwealth to accept an interim arrangement for a period of years, will succeeding Parliaments be bound by that arrangement ?
– They will not be bound by it, but “ until Parliament otherwise provides ‘ ‘ means that every Act pro tanto . makes an alteration.
– If we do nothing, the present state of affairs continues.
– Under the Constitution, we cannot permanently bind ourselves.
– That is satisfactory.
– Arrangements made with the States are not worth anything.
– I am satisfied that when this issue goes to the country and is explained to the people they will decide in favour of a national policy. I am in favour of waiting until after the general election. It is not long to wait. We can then determine what shall be done. I have read accounts of meetings addressed by the Minister of External Affairs in Queensland, not only in his constituency, but in other districts. He then said that the National Parliament must be paramount in everything except industrial business, and that financially the Commonwealth must work out its own destiny irrespective of the States. But now we see him sitting with the State Rights party. The Premiers of the States are hopeful of what they will get from this combination. Directly the present Government was formed, Mr. Kidston,. the Premier of Queensland, wired to the Prime Minister, not in these words, but to the effect, that now that the Labour party had been put in their proper position he felt that State rights were secure. They know that they have reason for hope from this Government, The honorable member for Parramatta, when leader of the Opposition, was never tired of advocating State rights as against Commonwealth interests. Whenever there was an opportunity of advocating the interests of the States as against those of the Commonwealth, he never lost it. How can we hope for anything else from him now that he is in a Ministry, than a policy in accordance with what he advocated in
Opposition ? I did not expect anything else from the honorable member, but if he is capable of swallowing his life-long principles in this way he is not the man I took him for.
– This would not be the first time the honorable gentleman did it.
– If it be shown that, inside of a month, he can swallow all that he said while on this side, I shall be surprised. We know that a discordant note has already been heard amongst the supporters of the Government. I find, under the heading of “Finance” in the Ministerial statement, the following paragraph
A temporary arrangement for a term of years to replace the existing distribution in which the obligations of the Commonwealth are recognised is being prepared for submission.
Ministers must have discussed this question, and why do they not take the House into their confidence, and say plainly what they are going to do, instead of submitting a vague paragraph like that I have just read. The people who created this Parliament, and honorable members, as the representatives of the people, have a right to know what the Government intend to do in dealing with financial matters. Honorable members opposite were in a terrible hurry to know what the Fisher Government proposed to do in dealing with finance in the future. But the present Government have now been in office for nearly five weeks, and they require a further delay of two months before they will be prepared to bring down their financial proposals. The Prime Minister said that this business was practically to be the one thing done in this session, and yet the only reference made to it so far is the very vague paragraph which appears under the heading of “Finance” in the Ministerial statement.
– If the matter is of so much importance, why did not the Government deal with it when considering their policy ?
– If it is to be the important business of the session, why do not the Government deal with it at once?
-Why will not the Treasurer explain the matter?
-In reply to an interjection the Treasurer explained that he would accept responsibility for the paragraphs appearing under the heading of “ Finance.” If the Commonwealth Par liament is to be paramount, I want to know from the Treasurer-
– When the Budget statement is opened, the honorable member will know everything.
– But that will be two months hence. Honorable members opposite demanded that Parliament should be called together in May because there was urgent business to be done.
– And honorable members will not let us do it.
– The Government are praying to God that we shall notlet them do it. They want to “stand easy” all the time and throw the onus of delaying business upon us. Let them bring business before Parliament, and we shall do it. We cannot accept a Ministerial statement giving expression to a number of maudlin sentiments and call that business. Let the Government come down with something concrete. Let them inform the House of their intentions, and they will find that we are ready to do business. So far as the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States are concerned, I feel that I can say, not only for myself, but for every member of the party to which I belong, that in dealing with them we shall be bound by no hard-and-fast rules drawn on party lines. The Labour party, as a whole, is as anxious to do the best that can be done in the interests of Australia as are honorable members on the other side.
.- It appears to me that there is only one matter which should properly have been discussed this evening, and that is whether Supply should be granted for one month or for two months. Every other matter discussed might have been dealt with later. I was very anxious to hear from the Prime Minister why two months’ Supply should be granted. I listened to the honorable gentleman very attentively, and I must say that nothing that he said convinced me that two months’ Supply is necessary. I read for years before I came here that member after member protested against the practice of carrying on the business of the country by means of Supply Bills; but I have never yet known a Supply Bill to be refused, and I often think that it is time these protests were dropped altogether. At the same time, at the beginning of a session, unless some unforeseen circumstance has arisen, it appears to me that it is quite sufficient for the Government to ask for Supply fora month at a time. That would give the House control of the finances, and there would be no objection to the granting of a further month’s Supply if it were afterwards found to be necessary. Very little time would thus be lost, because even if another Supply Bill were discussed even at the length at which this Bill has been discussed, it would still go through in twenty-four hours, and in all probability that time could easily be spared from the general discussion that might be going on at the time. If the Government had asked for one month’s Supply, I believe that the Bill would have gone through without any delay. The discussion which has taken place has been due to the demand for two months’ Supply. The only reason given for the demand is that the Government has got financial problems to wrestle with in Cabinet.
– And we got that reason only as the last word.
– We were given that reason by the Prime Minister only at the last moment. I was not in the chamber when the Treasurer spoke, and so I do not know what reason he gave for the request for two months’ Supply.
– He said that there was 110 particular reason for two months’ Supply any more than for one.
– If the Treasurer said that, the House has no justification whatever for passing two months’ Supply. The Prime Minister told us that the Government required two months’ Supply because there were great problems which they had to wrestle with in Cabinet before the Budget statement could be put before the House. If that be so, I must say that I have no sympathy with the Cabinet whatever. The Government took office cheerfully, knowing that they would have these great problems to deal with. They are not new. They have been confronting the leading members of this House for many years. . Honorable members opposite knew of them last year, and if the present Ministers considered these problems so desperate and so important that their consideration . would require a great deal of time, why did they not fuse before the recess, and take the whole of the recess to think them over ? Why did they waste all that time, and then on the meeting of Parliament at once defeat a Cabinet that was given no opportunity to make their proposals, take office without hesitation, postpone the business of the session for three weeks, and then, after another week, ask for two more months within which to deal with questions of finance? .If they took one month’s Supply, and at the end of the month were not ready with their proposals, I am satisfied that the House would give them still another month. Certainly I should be prepared to do so without any discussion whatever. But at present, I see no reason why the Government should be given Supply for more than one month.
– Ever since I have been a member of this House, I have protested strongly against these Supply Bills. It is not fair to the House or to the country that the business of the Commonwealth should be carried on by means of Supply Bills. I recognise that at a time like .the present, when we have reached the end of the financial year, and it is necessary that the Treasurer should get certain information in order to prepare his Budget, some little exception might be made. It may be necessary to cover such an interval with” a Supply Bill ; but the whole tendency of the Commonwealth has been practically to live on such Bills for a considerable portion of the financial year. By that means a great deal of the useful work that might be done in considering a Budget statement is lost to the House, and there is a lot of useless criticism on Supply Bills. In view of the conditions which now obtain I am prepared to vote a month’s Supply. What struck me as unusual was the request for two months’ Supply. There does not appear to have been advanced a sufficient reason for covering that period. The financial year of the States is about to terminate, and their Parliaments are about to assemble. The State Treasurers will not be in a position to make their financial statements and bring forward their Estimates pending the delivery of a financial statement by the Commonwealth Treasurer.
– This will not affect that in the slightest degree.
– Surely the delay in the delivery of the Budget speech will affect the proposals of the State Treasurers ?
– There will be no delay on my part. We are in the greatest hurry_ to bring down the Budget.
– The honorable member led us to believe that one of the reasons for asking for two months’ Supply was that he would not be in a position to deliver a financial statement until the end of August. Since then, he has intimated that he will use his best efforts to deliver it earlier if he can, but I want him to consider the awkward position in which the State Treasurers will be placed if its delivery is unduly delayed. One of the complaints which the States have had against the Commonwealth has been the length of time which it has taken the Federal Treasurer to prepare his Budget, and so put them in a position to disclose their own financial position. What I urge upon the Treasurer is that, in view, of these criticisms, there should be no undue delay.
– I am doing my very best to hurry the delivery of the Budget speech.
– Of course, I do not know what difficulties a Treasurer has to contend with.
– There is no quorum, Mr. Chairman. [Quorum formed.]
– His financial statement ought reasonably to be made during the first month “ of the financial year. It should certainly not be necessary to defer its delivery to the second month of that year. It is only a reasonable thing to ask that this Supply Bill should be limited to one month’s Supply. If at the end of the month any unforeseen difficulties should arise or sufficient reason should be advanced for delaying the delivery of the financial statement, and a further Supply is asked for, I’ think that honorable members will consider the position on its merits. At the present stage, however, it is most unreasonable to ask the House to surrender for two months its power of bringing pressure to bear upon the Government. I propose to support the proposal to limit the Supply to one month if it is pressed to a division, but I hope that, on consideration, the Government will see the reasonableness of our request, and if at the end of the month they find that it is necessary to introduce a second Supply Bill, I have every confidence that they will receive fair and generous treatment.
Question - That the sum proposed to be granted be reduced to , £450,000 - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … …8
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– The honorable member for Wide Bay has alleged, by innuendo, that an agreement was about to be broken. What took place between him and me is this. I crossed to the Opposition side of the chamber, and suggested that if be would give us the motion, meaning that for the suspension of the Standing Orders, we would leave the Supply Bill over till to-morrow. He afterwards came to this side and said to me that he hoped that there would be no misunderstanding about the vote. I took him to mean the vote on the motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. That is the only agreement I made with him, and I regret that it has not been kept. It is two and a half hours since it was made..
– Explanations beget explanations. I shall make no explanation. I shall state the facts. The honorable member for Parratmatta came to me and asked me whether I was willing to close, and I said “Yes, certainly, after we have taken the vote.” Being in doubt whether the honorable member meant the motion that was before you, and that was not opposed, and to which there was no suggestion of opposition, I purposely used the word “vote.” My meaning was that after we had taken the vote we should adjourn. That was agreed to. A vote can mean only one thing - a vote taken in division by honorable members who differ upon a particular subject. It. had been declared by every honorable member on this side that we were quite willing to grant Supply for a month, but not for two. The vote on that question was the only vote that could be referred to. To make doubly sure, however, I went back to the honorable member for Parramatta and said : “ It is clearly understood that it is after the vote that we shall adjourn.”
– In justice to the honorable member for Parramatta I wish to say that I was speaking to him before he went across to the leader of the Labour Opposition. I asked him what course was proposed for the evening, and he told me he was going to try to get the Leader of the Opposition to agree to take the resolution to go into Committee of Supply and adjourn the business of taking Supply until to-morrow. I state this to show that there must have been a misunderstanding between these two hon-‘ orable members.
– The word “ vote “ was used.
– But the honorable member for Parramatta may possibly, have obtained the impression, which I confess that I shared, that some vote might be taken on the resolution to go into Committee of Supply.
– That was in my mind.
– I could quite understand such a misapprehension arising, but I wish to make the position clear, because I think the honorable member for Wide Bay would be the last to wish to harbor an ungenerous suspicion of the integrity of other honorable members.
– We do not want soft soap.
– We may hold a different opiniori as to what the honorable member for Hume does need. I rose simply to endeavour to clear up a misunderstanding that has arisen between two honorable members, both of whom I respect.
– While I was speaking I received a note asking me not to speak long because a vote was to be taken. I had just said previously that I saw no reason for granting Supply, at any rate for more than a month, but that I was prepared to give a month’s Supply if it . was . urgent. I sat down on the understanding that there was an arrangement between both sides to take a vote. What was my surprise when I saw the honorable member for Wentworth rise to speak 1 I saw at once that the Government had not the numbers present, and wanted to get them. Then the honorable member for Fremantle rose because they had not the numbers. I . wished to rise and explain that I desired to speak again, and had only sat down on the understanding that the vote was to be taken.
– We were never without the numbers.
– When I wished to explain my position I was again told that the vote was to be taken, but . what was. my astonishment to see the Prime Minister get up and make one of the most extraordinary statements I have ever heard in the House.
– It altered the whole basis of discussion.
– That is quite true. I had a number of grievances to put before the House, but I was quite willing to treat the Government fairly by allowing them Supply for a month, which was quite enough to carry on, and then I found that the compact was of no value because it was not in writing.
– The honorable member for Parramatta came to me and asked me whether, after the vote, which I understood to be on the question of suspending the Standing Orders, was taken, we would adjourn. I said “Yes.” He said he would go and see about it. He came back and told me’ it was all right. After all there was only a misapprehension. I am sure the honorable member for Wide Bay misunderstood what was intended, or at any rate we did not have the same impression.
– I used the word “vote;”
– A vote is a vote without a division just as much as with it.
– In last week’s Hansard an inter,jection has been attributed to me which I never made. It is to the effect that the honorable member for Brisbane should never have been included in the Ministry. I should have been very loath to make any such statement.
– I was not acquainted with ‘ the arrangement made, but I came into the Chamber prepared to speak on the financial relations of the States and the Commonwealth. When I rose I was informed that an arrangement had been made to take a vote, and was asked to curtail my remarks, with the result that I did not touch on the matter that I had intended to deal with, but dealt simply with the question of the month’s Supply. The leader of the Opposition was therefore instrumental in inducing me not to make the address I had come prepared to make, in order to Have the vote taken and the matter concluded.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.34 (Wednesday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 June 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1909/19090629_reps_3_49/>.