3rd Parliament · 4th Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Attorney-General a question, without notice, regarding the trouble which has arisen with respect to the free exchange between the States of agricultural and other produce. Has his Department had under consideration the constitutionality, of the various proclamations issued by the
State Governments with respect to imports from other States, notably of agricultural and horticultural produce? If so, will he inform the House of the result of such consideration ?
– I have had the matter under consideration. The honorable member for Darwin also referred to it last nighty but I did not reply then, as the hour wasl ate, and I understood that the subject was to be again raised by the honorable member for Wilmot. A specific case was submitted to me, and on it I gave advice. It did not particularly relate to the importation of potatoes, but the general reasoning upon which the opinion is based would be applicable to that case also. My opinion has been sent to the Department of Trade and Customs, and there my concern with the matter stops. The opinion was given merely on the case presented by that Department.
– Will it be available for honorable members?
– That rests with the Minister of Trade and Customs. It was asked for by his Department, and sent by the Department of which I am Minister. Personally, I have no objection to the text or effect of the opinion being made, known.
– Does the opinion declare that the Inter-State Free Trade, for which the Constitution provides, must continue, or is each State to persist in its embargo against Tasmanian potatoes ?
– I cannot answer the question, because the privilege of a client shuts my mouth. The honorable member should ask the Minister of External Affairs to submit the matter to the Minister of Trade and Customs.
– Is it within the power of a State Government to prohibit the importation of potatoes or other produce from another State if that produce be considered free from disease?
– If the opinion is to be disclosed, I would prefer the disclosure to be made by the Department to which it was sent.
– I ask- the Minister of External Affairs, as the representative in this House of the Minister of Trade and Customs, whether the Commonwealth has the constitutional power to prevent any State, by the imposition of taxation, or in any other way, from pro hibiting another State from shipping sound goods to it?
– I have not seen the opinion given by the Attorney-General to the Minister of Trade and Customs, but if the honorable member will give notice of his question for Tuesday, I will consult the latter about the matter.
– Is the Attorney-General aware that I, too, take a deep interest in this subject?
– Every one who knows the right honorable member’s public spirit will recognise that he takes an interest in this as in all other questions of the kind.
– I wish to make a personal explanation regarding the record of pairs on last night’s division which appears in this morning’s Age, which indicates that the honorable, member for Wentworth was against the Government, and the honorable member for Balaclava with it. The mistake was made in entering the names in the pair-book. It occurred in this way: Early in the evening, the honorable member for Newcastle obtained a pair for the honorable member for Hume, and wrote down the names as though the honorable member for Hume intended to vote for the amendment. In adding the second pair, I did not notice the way in which the first pair had been written in. The pairs should read: “For the Government, Sir Philip Fvsh and Mr. Kelly.” “ Against the Government, Sir William Lyne and Mr. Agar Wynne.”
Australian Copper Wire - Letter Boxes - Overtime
– It is stated in one, it not both, of to-day’s newspapers, that preference will be given to copper wire for telegraphs and telephones if made of Australian metal. I ask the PostmasterGeneral how his Department will be able to determine that the copper is Australian metal ?
– There may . be difficulty in identifying the metal as Australian, but the preference will be determined in this, as in other matters, on the evidence submitted, which must be the best available, as to the origin of the metal from which the wire is made.
– I wish to again direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to the long delay in connexion with the supply of letter-boxes in country districts. To my own knowledge, there are cases in which boxes applied for over two years ago have not yet been supplied. When I asked a question on the subject, I was informed that boxes were being obtained from England, and I ask the honorable gentleman now whether it would not be possible to obtain such simple contrivances locally? Does heknow when a sufficient supply will be available? These boxes return a direct revenue to the Department.
– The honorable member mentioned the matter to me some two months ago, when I informed him that a contract had been let for the supply of boxes. I am very much surprised that they have not been provided, but I shall make inquiries, and ascertain the cause of the delay.
– Is the PostmasterGeneral aware that since the question of overtime in his Department was dealt with in 1908, and cash payments made to wipe off arrears, there has been a new accumulation, and will he devise a plan of getting rid of it? Will he consider the placing on the Estimates of a sum to pay for this overtime, so that the Department may make a fresh start?
– Officers of certain classes are entitled to “ time in lieu “ instead of cash payments for overtime, and instructions have been given that they are to get it as soon as the state of business will permit. Probably there has been delay because of the shortness of the staff. In other cases, provision has been made on the Estimates for cash payments for overtime.
– I have received from the honorable member for Dalley an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., “ Certain public attacks made upon the Postal Commission.”
Five honorable members having risen in theirplaces,
– I think that I shall be able to show that I am not recklessly obtruding upon the House a matter affecting myself alone. The subject which I wish to discuss concerns not merely the Postal Commission, but you, Mr. Speaker, the Whip, members of the Ministry, and the House itself. I wish to reply to attacks which have been made publicly, and as a Standing Order would prevent me from saying what is necessary, I should like the House to agree to its suspension. I ask this, not because I wish to make a personal attack on a senator, but to obtain an opportunity to put the true position before the public. Honorable members will see the importance of the matter. If senators are allowed to attack members of this House, there must be retaliation, and the position will become unbearable. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker-
– The honorable member should appeal to the Prime Minister.
– I appeal, through you, to the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker. He will find that I shall not misuse the privilege which I desire. There is an important matter at the bottom of this.
– I hope that the honorable member will not take the. course which he suggests.
– It would be better for him not to follow a bad example.
– I regret the making of personal attacks by the members of one Chamber on those of another, or on any others who may be prevented from replying to them. The honorable member for Dalley will have the sympathy of the House and the public in attempting to protect himself and the Commission of which he is chairman against any personal charges that may have been made, but surely it is relatively immaterial by whom they were made. We happen to know, and deplore what has been said ; but surely we should be establishing a precedent which, in ways which will suggest themselves to honorable members, must prove prejudicial to the conduct of business between the Houses if we do what he asks.
– I am sorry to intervene,, but I think it better to do so in the interests of order. I understand that the honorable member for Dalley wishes to refer to statements which have been made in another place. That really raises a point of order, and under cover of it the Prime Minister can proceed.
– Who raised a point of order?
– What I am doing is for the protection of honorable members. I hope that my position will not be misunderstood.
– I can base my remarks on a point of order, and hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will consider them in that light. But, as a matter of fact, I wish to make this a personal appeal to the honorable member for Dalley. The Commission over which he presides, and he himself, car. make the position abundantly clear by dealing with the facts alleged without necessarily requiring any reference whatever to the source from which they emanated. The statements may have attained a certain amount of weight, because of their source ; but he can afford to disregard that. I am sure that the public generally and the members of both Houses will appreciate the honorable member’s attitude, and extend to him more sympathy, if he refrains from establishing a precedent, which he will see would be prejudicial to the harmonious relations of the two Houses.
– On reflection, I think that the object I had in view has been really attained, seeing that the matter has been brought under the attention of the House. I have no desire to retaliate on members of another place, because I consider my cause might thereby be weakened. If the case which I desire to put is not strong enough oh general grounds it will, of course, fail; and as members are apparently in a sympathetic mood I desire to put that case as calmly and dispassionately as I can. The press report contains the following: -
It was rumoured, he said, that members of the Commission residing in Melbourne were drawing pay for their services on Sundays. If that were true, then it was a public scandal.
The word “ scandal “ is repeated several times, and we know where it originated. The word means something notoriously reprehensible, worthy of public reproach - something that is injurious to reputation; and the charge made affects this House and Parliament, and touches the whole question of Royal Commissions. I should be the last to resent criticism of public institutions or public works ; and I may say that, as Chairman of the Commission, I have on every occasion instructed the Secretary to give the fullest information in response to inquiries made. No Com mission can complain of information being sought by the press or public representatives, because everything in connexion with an investigation of the kind should be done in the full light of day. As a matter of fact, I have instructed the Secretary not only to supply all the information asked for, but to give the information the fullest publicity ; and in this, I think, I shall be borne out by the Treasurer. Parliament resolved that a Royal Commission should be appointed, and the Prime Minister, in response to the will of the House, took the necessary step. Members of both Chambers were appointed, and the scope of the inquiry was fully set out in the commission of the Governor-General. You, Mr. Speaker, and also the Government Whip, were originally members of that Commission, and it will be remembered that you required some protection from charges that were made. I may say that the Postmaster-General for a time was Chairman of a very important Commission which inquired into Tariff matters ; and that the Minister of External Affairs has been on one Commission, and the Minister of Home Affairs on several. It will be seen, therefore, that this is a matter which affects this Parliament, the Speaker, the members of the Ministry, and, of course, the country. The commission of the GovernorGeneral was -
Know ye that we do, by these our Letters Patent, appoint you to be Commissioners to inquire into and report upon the Postal, Telegraphic, and Telephonic Services of the Commonwealth, and more particularly in relation to the following matters : -
When the Prime Minister was good enough to offer me a seat on the Commission, I asked for two or three days to think the matter over, pointing out that I was not prepared to visit every hamlet in Australia and so separate myself from my home life. I felt that, even if it meant visiting only the capital cities, the work would extend for about eighteen months if the report had to be of any use to Parliament and the Commonwealth. I think it is no breach of confidence tosay that I asked the Prime Minister why he offered me a seat, and whether the honorable member for North Sydney and the honorable member for Parramatta, whom I regarded as good men for such an investigation, had been asked to undertake the work. The Prime Minister informed me that those two gentlemen had been approached, but that they could not accept owing to other duties. I mention these facts in justice to myself, because the word “ scandal “ is used and money is mentioned. I have been many years in public life; and I resent the idea that a public man should be made the sport and toy of every one without offering some defence. The meaning of the word “ scandal “ is that the Commissioners are malingering over their work - are hanging on for the sake of what are called fees, but what are really a. return of expenses out of pocket. It is perfectly fair to criticise the methods of a Royal Commission, and criticism should not be resented; but the time to offer it is when the report is presented. I claim to have some reputation both inside and outside of Parliament, known as I am, not only in my own State, but pretty well all over Australia ; and it would be a serious thing to myself personally, and to the other members of the Commission, if, in view of the coming election, the charges were permitted to pass without rebuttal. I have not had time to obtain all the material, that I should like in order to deal with the question, seeing that we sat late last night, and that I arrived here only about ten minutes before the proceedings opened this morning. I think, however, that I shall be able to lay the true facts before the House and the public, and I trust that members of another place will pay me the courtesy to peruse my remarks. . The other members of the Commission are at liberty to defend themselves ; but it is my duty, as Chairman, to protect the body as a whole, if we are doing the right thing.’ If I am unable to absolutely justify my position, the charges suggested should be followed up by an indictment by the Prime Minister at once. The practice adopted by the Commission in regard to expenses is according to regulation, and has been observed by all other Royal Commissions for years. The allowance for expenses to members of the Royal Commission, when they are away from their domicile, is 25s. per day.
– Not when they are away from their domicile, but when they are away from their own States.
– There have been seventyseven sittings in Victoria, and on account of these I drew no expenses at all, because, although my own State is New South Wales, I regard my domicile as where my family is, and that happens to be Victoria. I may say that the honorable member for Bourke, Mr. Speaker, and the honorable member for Gwydir adopted a precisely similar course. I have no desire to draw comparisons between this and other Commissions, but ‘ I think that the Postal Commission will prove to be the cheapest, though I hope not the nastiest. I have to be rather careful of what I now say, in case my words may be twisted ; but I claim that if economy1 has ever been exercised, it has been by the Postal Commission. I have drawn up a sort of rough balancesheet, which shows that from the appointment of the Commission on the 27th June, 1908, there have been 206 sittings, mos>t of them during the six months’ recess. Including a few recalls 200 witnesses have been examined, and the witness now before us is the Public Service Inspector of New South Wales, who is replying to the statements made by the representatives of associations which number thousands of employes. His evidence deals with complaints about the service, the organization, the management, finance, and the Public Service Act ; and his written statement alone runs to over 200 pages. There are two other witnesses - the Public Service Commissioner and Colonel Miller - who have been intentionally left to the last, because they have charge of the Public Service, and will answer the complaints that have been made. There were two visits to Queensland, and five to New South Wales; and all the head officers, from the Secretary and Accountant at the Central Bureau, to those of all the branches in each State, have been examined; and, in addition, representatives of scores of associations who desired to be heard. At this stage, I remind honorable members that prior to the appointment of the Commission the adjournment of the House was moved day after day in order to ventilate complaints both within and without the service, and that another Commission, with an expert at five guineas a day, has been inquiring into the work of the telephone branch alone for over four months, and has not been able to hand in a report. If honorable members are to be attacked, in the .way members of the Postal Commission have been attacked, they will be very chary of accepting such appointments. One gentleman in the Senate referred to the Postal Commission as a public scandal.
– Why not mention the name?
– I do not care to do so, because that gentleman has known me for years. He did use the word “ scandal,” and I do not know whether I am justified in suggesting that, when he was in ill-health and visited England, it was a “ scandal “ that he should occupy the position he then did. It is reported that the Commission has cost £5,000. Those are not the correct figures. The total expenses to date are £3,700, ineluding the expenses of the secretarial and reporting staffs. That is the total sum which I as Chairman have passed for payment. The balance must be an estimate by the Government Printing Office for the cost of printing up to date, but the charge for printing has always been kept separate in the case of other Commissions. Imagine a Commission visiting six States, one of them five times, examining over 200 witnesses, dealing, not with individual grievances, but with general questions of management, organization, and discipline in a big Department, and drawing a total of only about £1,200 in expenses. In my own case, I have put in no claim for expenses for seventy-seven sittings held in Victoria. If remarks such as were made yesterday went out to the public unchallenged, the impression would be given that honorable members of this House did nothing but work up cases for Commissions in order to obtain seats on them, and draw liberal allowances. With regard to allowances for Sundays, the practice of the Commission since it first met has always been that if a sitting took place on a Monday, and not on a Saturday, no Sunday expenses should be allowed, even to members who were away from their homes. It is only in cases where there is a sitting on a Saturday, and another on a Monday, that allowance is made for Sunday. While Parliament is in session, Saturdays and Mondays are the only days on which members are free to attend to the work of the Commission. In a strenuous session like this, their time for the rest of the week is fully occupied with their Parliamentary work. To show the desire of the Commission to save expense, the Public Service Inspector of New
South Wales was brought to Melbourne to give his evidence. If the Commission had wanted simply to draw fees, we could have gone to Sydney, and examined him there. As it is, the Commission now meets in the mornings of Parliamentary sitting days, and that does not look as if its members were anxious to pile up expenses.
– And they get no expenses for those sittings.
– We get only kicks. I do not object to criticism of our work, but it is too much to be accused by members of another place of being simply malingerers, and hanging on to our job. The Prime Minister and the ex-Prime Minister know the extreme lengths to which I went to induce the ex-Chairman of the Commission not to resign his position. The difference was a matter of principle, but you yourself, Mr. Speaker, are aware of the attitude which I took. I cannot tell the public the full particulars, but if those who criticise the Commission in another place care to make inquiries from their fellow members they can obtain the exact history of the matter. The rough summary which I have given of the cost of . the Commission includes railway and steamer fares, postage, and stationery, typists, petty cash expenditure, secretary and reporters’ salaries, and what are called travelling expenses for seven Commissioners for a portion of the time, and for four Commissioners for the bulk of the time. I hope that as the result of this motion for the adjournment of the House, drastic steps will be taken to put the whole question of Royal Commissions on a proper footing. The matter requires to be taken in hand. I was never enamoured of Royal Commissions, and I have had more experience of them now. I am giving to the work hours of application of which the public know nothing. When a member of another place asks if the report of the Commission will be brought up so that it can be submitted to the electors at the next election, he asks a silly question.
– Order !
– I will say no more about that, but I only wish the presiding officer in another place had taken the same stand yesterday as you, Mr. Speaker, have taken here to-day. If the Commission was meant simply to be a cloak for political designs, it should have been shut up a week after it was appointed, but I’ did not take a seat on it with the idea that it was to be a futile body, or with the intention of making anything out of it. The total amount which I have drawn for eighteen months’ work is about£255. In that time I have visited six States, one of them five times. I have had the extra work attaching to the position of Chairman, and I have had to pay my own expenses out of that sum. so that I am not a. bloated millionaire through it. I will not say that I am out of pocket by it, because I am rather cautious in money matters, but it has taken very careful watching on my part to avoid being out of pocket, and there have been no banquets or flying round about the Commission’s work. I want no secrecy about the amount I have drawn, and when the public know the facts and the work- that has been put in, and the report has been drawn up, I am sure they will recognise that we have done nothing to be ashamed of. With regard to the preparation of the report, the Prime Minister will remember that I suggested that the Commission would take eighteen months. We have sat on 206 days, or . equal to about seven months of actual sittings, and the taking of evidence will be completed before the end of this session. If the report’ is to be of any value it cannot be drawn up in a week, a fortnight, or even a month. It has to be based on evidence which to-day covers about 50,000 questions, and is divided into six branches. We have to draw up a scheme of management and organization, to suggest improved methods of finance, and point out whether the associations are right or wrong, whether the Department is under or overmanned, and whether the services can be made to better serve the interests of the general public. If ever men’s capacity for dealing with a big subject is to be tested, it will be tested in the case of the members of this Commission. I recognise the gigantic nature of our task, and I tell the Prime Minister, the House, and the public frankly that I shall not linger over it. I shall do my best, but I want to do justice to all sides. I shall not be influenced by any prejudice for the service, but shall be guided by considerations of fairness to the employes, the Public Service Commissioner, and the public. I can say without hesitation that if the report is to be worth anything, it will call for an amendment of the Public Service Act. Fancy dealing with a serious matter of that kind in a week or two ! We shall court the closest inspection and criticism of our report when it is brought up. If the verdict is favor able, no one will be more pleased than I shall be; if it is hostile, we shall have to accept it. But I trust that all honorable members, irrespective of their political feelings, will make up their minds’ that the report, when presented, must be dealt with on its merits, and not shelved or thrown aside. If honorable members had not been too busy with their political work to take the trouble to read the evidence, they would have been astounded at certain matters which have come out.
– But the evidence never comes before us. The newspapers practically report none of it.
– The newspapers have been pretty good. Throughout Australia they have given a very fair amount of space to the evidence taken by the Commission, but they cater for the public taste, and have an idea that the public are tired of it. If, however, the editors of the newspaperswould only read some of the evidence given by important witnesses, and note its conflicting character, they would be so astonished that it would not require a motion for the adjournment of the House to induce them to give full publicity to it. It is a singular fact that other Commissions have gone through their work without any of these attacks from another place. I can scarcely believe it, but the tone of ‘the remarks of some of the members there would almost lead one to suppose that it was because the members of this Commission were not swells. At the same time, it does not require the possession of a large banking account, or what is called a stake in the country, to make a man desire to protect his own honour. I ask the Prime Minister and his colleagues and honorable members generally whether it is fair that criticism of a personal nature such as I have referred to should be allowed to go on. By all means, let every member ask questions to ascertain the facts, and let every member in a responsible position on a Commission give the fullest information in reply. Personally, I have always felt a dislike to the absence of the press, even at meetings in Committee, because the fullest publicity with regard to all our proceedings is the best safety for members of the Commission themselves. I have not referred to other members of the Commission, but it is my duty to protect them, and although we may differ in our views on certain matters, I can say that if ever a body of men have tried to do their work, they have done so. If the result proves that we were not able to do it, that will rest upon our own shoulders, but we shall all try to do our very best to bring up a workable and instructive report. I do not know whether the object of members of another place was to seek information, but if so they went , an unfortunate way about it, and if the word “ scandal “ is used they cannot expect the members of any public body to sit quietly under it. In conclusion, I would ask the press, not as a favour, but if they value ordinary justice, to give to the defence which I have put forward the same publicity as they have given to the attacks made upon the Commission.
.- I shall not add to what has been said by the honorable member for Dalley further than to state that my experience on this Commission, and the criticism - the attacks - made upon it has led me to resolve that, only a matter of very great public importance will ever drag me into the membership of another. Every country member knows that he must keep in touch with his electors and with their wants and requirements, but membership of a Commission like this involves throwing up all that, and never visiting one’s district. That is the result that must follow if a man devotes himself to such duties as I have undertaken on this Commission. The result may mean the possible sacrifice of any political ambition which one has, and the possible loss of the seat which one has already secured. That is a risk which a man has to run if he is in earnest in taking up such work. Another consideration is the loss of home life which service on a Royal Commission involves. A man who has a wife and family and values the companionship which only home can give should never consent to serve on a Royal Commission of this kind. It has been my misfortune to be absent from my home, as well as from my electorate,, nearly the whole year round. I have had to sacrifice myself in that way in order to be true to the oath which I took as a member of the Commission, and those who are prepared to give a man credit for trying to do his duty will freely admit that it is a big sacrifice to make. But something more has yet to be said. I would remind honorable members that I represent a very large electorate, the correspondence relating to which is something enormous. The better a representative of a country electorate attends to his constituents the more work he has to do, but as a member of the Royal
Commission I have been unable personally to do that which I was formerly able to do. I have had to employ a secretary at a weekly wage ever since I have been on the Postal Commission to insure that my constituents shall not be neglected. Yet we have some persons suggesting that the members of that Commission are trying to take from the country money to which they are not entitled. The suggestion is preposterous. As a result of my membership of the Commission I have had to employ a secretary. I have had to give up my home life and to absent myself from my electorate nearly all the year round, and that should satisfy our critics that a member of the Commission must necessarily make great sacrifices. I would rather not have spoken to this question. Hitherto I have taken no notice of what has appeared in the press or has been uttered in other quarters with regard . to the Commission. But as the honorable member for Dalley has said, when a man’s reputation is attacked - when it is implied that he is a party to a public scandal - it is time for him to defend himself.
– The imputation is that we are stringing out the work of the Commission for what are described as “ the fees “ for service upon it.
– That is so. During last session when the Government Whip was Chairman of the Commission-, it was decided that it should not sit on Saturdays, but I had to remain in Melbourne every week-end in order to attend the early Monday morning meetings. I was determined to do my duty. I took a special interest in my work, and, in order to attend the Monday morning sittings, had to stay here from Friday, when the House adjourned, until the following Tuesday, whilst other honorable members who were not on the Commission were able to return to their homes. My expenses during the week-end were far in excess of the one day’s expenses which I received in respect of the Monday sitting. Being anxious to attend to the work of the’ Commission, I was prepared to sacrifice even my Sunday at home, and yet certain members of another place have had the audacity to hurl at me the insinuation that I am doing something derogatory to the honour of a public man. The senator responsible for the statement of which I complain spoke to me privately a little while ago and gave me a hint of his view of the position. I then look the trouble to explain to him the work of the Commission. I pointed out to him the extent of . the task that had been set us, the work which it involved, the time that we were compelled to devote to it, and the distances that we had to travel. Having heard that explanation, he said that I had put the position to him in quite a new light, and had made out a reasonable case. Nevertheless, he has now the audacity to use in connexion with the Commission the word “ scandal.” No matter what our political differences of opinion may be, we should at least be able to respect those of our opponents who are trying to do their best according to their lights to carry out the trust reposed in them. A member of Parliament who cannot do that is less than a man, and has no sense of honour, such as should exist among members of all great public institutions. The officers of this House can bear out my statement that the work of a Royal Commission is not confined merely to the examination of witnesses. I confess that even the ‘examination of witnesses involves a. severe mental strain ; but, -in addition to attending the meetings of the Commission, I have week in and week out remained in this building until 10.30 .p.m. every Saturday reading evidence, and so forth, in order to obtain a thorough mastery of the subject. I have injured my eyesight in -that way. On Sunday after Sunday I ha.ve also been engaged in this building in the same way until 10.30 p.m. The work being a good one, I. felt that I was justified in devoting my Sundays to it. I have done this in order to fit myself to examine witnesses, to ascertain the truth., and to arrive at a proper solution of the problems set before us. Yet, despite all these sacrifices, despite my devotion to what I regard as a sacred duty, which must be conscientiously discharged for the welfare, not only of the country, but of the Department into whose work the Commission is inquiring, I, in common with the other honorable members of the Commission, have been subjected to this attack. I have worked in this way, believing that if I am to do my duty, I must not only hear the evidence of the witnesses, but carefully weigh and analyze it, in order to be able ultimately to arrive at a right decision. I have not spared myself time ar convenience, and yet it is said that I am a .party to a public scandal. It is one of the curses of public life that members of Parliament are not safe from attacks on the part of their brother parliamentarians, who ought to have some regard for their fellow- workers, and to refrain from scattering broadcast imputations with respect tomen who value their reputations. I value my reputation, because it is the only. wealth! I have, and the man who would take it from me is an enemy of his race, and a curse to those who produced him. I speak with feeling, because the criticismof which I complain strikes me to the heart. I have been working as a member of this Royal Commission, not for my own benefit, but for the welfare of the country to which I ‘belong, and yet I and my brother Commissioners have been assailed by men who ought to know better. It is humiliating, and even degrading, to find that even a man’s honour is not safe in Parliament ; that Parliament is an institution where a man is likely to lose his reputation more speedily than anywhere else. All Commissions have their history, and I do not desire to go into that of the Royal Commission on the Post and Telegraph Department. The members of it have an important duty to discharge, and, come what may, while my health lasts, I shall continue to attend to that duty to the best of my ability, without thought of the sacrifice and personal inconvenience which it involves.
– I am sure that honorable members generally appreciate the action of the honorable member for Dalley in refraining from moving the suspension of the Standing Orders, which would have allowed a criticism of persons, as well as of the allegations’ made. The House is> sensible that in circumstances of provocation the honorable member has adopted that course. Great as is the pressure upon the time of Parliament, and little as we have to spare from important questions of legislation, no one would seek to deny to the honorable members concerned an opportunity of making a prompt rejoinder to statements that have been given wide publicity. Royal Commissions, possessing exceptional powers and an authority,, in some respects almost unlimited, cannot expect to exercise them apart from the fierce light of criticism that beats upon all the acts of public men. To that criticism the Chairman of the Commission to-day has taken no exception. I assume that the impression that appears to have been conveyed by the critics to whom he has referred is largely due to the fact that up to the present they have obtained no knowledge of the proceedings of the Commission other than that gained from more or less imperfect, sometimes casual, and not infrequently, hostile, newspaper reports, or comments made in the press after such reports have appeared. No one can deny to either House of this Parliament the fullest fight to criticise a Royal Commission, even while it is prosecuting its inquiries. As the honorable member for Dalley himself pertinently remarked, the only time at which one can expect a comprehensive and final judgment upon a Commission is when it has presented its report. That, and that alone, justifies its existence, its methods and its findings. No one can offer more than a tentative and guarded criticism until that final stage has been reached. At the same time, when, as in this instance, the criticising body, as well as the body criticised, is Parliamentary, we have to realize that the mouth of Parliament cannot be closed either in respect of this or any other matter. Even during the continuance of the Commission one can take no exception to comments upon the length of its existence or upon its methods, provided they are phrased in obedience to those restraints that make discussion tolerable, by avoiding personal attacks and misrepresentations.
– And are based upon information.
– And are based upon full information. The honorable member made it clear that neither he nor his colleague who followed him shrink from the criticism of their public acts as public men. What they deprecate is hasty personal comments based upon imperfect knowledge of the facts. I should not be surprised if it were discovered that representatives of the Government in another place were not blind to these facts, and took an opportunity to suggest them when the criticism was offered. What interests a reporter in the gallery is a charge of a personal character. To lay down a precise code of rules which would apply under all circumstances to all criticism within or without Parliament has proved -an impossible task. Our Parliaments have gradually allowed currents of criticism to accompany their daily proceedings which, to some of their members at anv rate, appear misleading, by placing their actions before the public in an unfair and improper light. Any attempt to regulate, correct, or direct, criticism has been found impossible. Parliament long ago practi cally surrendered all endeavour to keep in touch with the public other than by appeals from the platform, and such fair reports as they may be fortunate enough to obtain by the discretion of the reporter and sub-editor. Royal Commissions, consisting of a smaller number of persons, are naturally more sensitive. As the Chairman had to admit, if the Commission were dependent on the reports, especially those in newspapers published at a distance from the scene of discussion, for the justification for its existence, it would be taken at great disadvantage.
– Newspapers cannot be expected to report our proceedings fully.
– Exactly. What interests the readers of a Perth newspaper is not telegraphed to, or if telegraphed, is not published in, newspapers appearing in other parts of the Commonwealth. The news published in eachplace is often a strictly local reflection of matters of local interest. The broad basic work and continuous investigations of any Commission thus slip out of sight and the public need to correct the impression created by such newspaper accounts from their own knowledge and judgment.
– No one complains about the newspaper reports, and the journalistic comment is the concern of those responsible for it.
– No newspaper reports at any place can convey a complete view of the full scope and character of an inquiry of this magnitude. We do hot blame those who have no better source of information for taking a narrow view of the work ofa Commission. They see if in the light of the press of a particular place, which deals only with particular points in particular evidence. The justification of this Commission is that this great Department, touching every interest of our industrial life, is by far the greatest organization under the control of the Commonwealth, and therefore affords such a field for inquiry that, until all the evidence is available, and the final recommendations published, it will be impossible for critics to do justice to their work.
– Will the Prime Minister mind passing an opinion on the subject of expense ?
– Thinking that the discussion might take a more technical turn while that matter was being dealt with, I was out of the Chamber running my eye over a recent judgment of the High Court, and_ the general principles affecting the investigations of Royal Commissions laid down in Todd’s Parliamentary Government, volume 2. I did not hear all that was said. But it appears to me that whatever statement of expenditure may have been published must have been apart from even a summary of the work which has been done. I understood from the honorable member for Gwydir that the attention of one critic, having been called to the expense, he at once admitted that he had been misled, and that his use of the word “scandal” was improper. Surely in any case it is inapplicable. I did not more than glance at to-day’s newspaper report. It seemed not to require serious consideration, appearing to me a flash in the pan, generated by some hasty; personal impression. As some of the Commissioners are members of another place, they, I presume, at once put the facts in the right light. The honorable member for Dalley and his colleagues have been good enough to restrict the discussion within limits which have enabled statements to be made here which, I am sure, will have weight with honorable members. I trust that the public will grasp the fact that this casual criticism of the Commission’s proceedings must have been based on so fragmentary a knowledge that it cannot be sound, full, or fair. It represents impressions made by particular facts or incidents regarded apart from their surroundings. ‘ Any one who reflects upon the vast extent of the Department of the PostmasterGeneral, and the great sweep of the inquiry, must recognise that comments of this kind can apply only’ to temporary and trifling incidents.
– I am sorry to have to speak on this matter. For thirty years I have taken an interest in public affairs, and have been a member of many public and private associations dealing with matters of trust and consequence, but this is the first time that my name has been associated with anything to which the term “ scandal “ has been applied. Therefore, I wish to make my position clear. I did not become a member of the Postal Commission, of my own choice. The Prime Minister of the day asked the party to which I belonged to choose a representative. I was in Tasmania at the time, and received a telegram asking if I were willing to act. My reply was, “ Yes, if the party thinks it necessary “ ; and subsequently I was informed of my appointment. I consider it the duty of a public man to undertake such, responsibilities as those associated with him may think him capable of performing. I attended the first meeting of the Commission in Melbourne, but did not ask what the remuneration of theCommissioners was to be, or how expenseswere to be paid. I have since not made any charge or kept any account, leaving, it to the Chairman and Secretary to follow the ordinary rules laid down for the control of Royal Commissions. I have not even checked the accounts in any way, so that the charge of having applied for payment for Sunday work cannot properly attach to me; nor, I think, to any other Commissioner. We have been content to work under the rules adopted for the guidance of Royal Commissions.
– The statement which has been made is a scandalous one.
– It is a pity that it was made in a manner which prevents it from being dealt with as it deserves. I hope that this will be the last time that anything of the kind will be done. There has been a sort of hitting behind the back.. As a public man, I do not take exception to criticism ; but I do not think that those who have been elected’ by the people to take part in the work of legislation should charge their fellows with discreditable conduct. The proceedings of the Commission are open to the public, and its evidence is printed, so that all may know what it is; doing. Some of those who make commentson the work of the Commission have not taken the trouble to attend its meetings or to read its evidence, to inform themselvesregarding it. Personal attacks should not bt- made under such circumstances. It is not necessary for me to go into the question of expenses, because the Chairman has done so. I would only point out that a little while since a Commission appointed in one of the small States to inquire into the education question cost about ,£3,000, while the Postal Commission, which has a larger number of members, arid has had to take evidence all over Australia, investigating the affairs of an immense Department, hasnc+ cost much more. During the fifteen or sixteen months that I have been a member of the Commission, I have not been inTasmania for more than ten days at a time. I have not benefited to the extent of onepenny by my attendances on the Commission, but have lost what I might have gained by attending to my private affairs. Having undertaken the responsibilities of public life, I do not complain of the loss entailed, but I shall not submit to accusations of scandal regarding my conduct when performing a public service. Attention has not been drawn to the many reforms which have resulted from the Commission’s inquiry, but that will be shown later on. The Prime Minister spoke of the impossibility of closing the mouths of critics, but in this case, unfortunately, the mouths of those who have been attacked have been closed to a great extent. I trust that nothing of this kind will happen again. Had the statements which have been complained of been made outside, we should have had our remedy ; but they have been made under a protection which prevents them from being dealt with as they deserve.
.-I think that there are ways and means of dealing in this Chamber with anything that may be said in another place regarding the conduct of honorable members here. The proper course has, I think, been taken in a matter which, though important to the individuals concerned, is not sufficiently large to justify the raising of a question of privilege as between the two Houses.
– The remarks should not have been allowed in another place.
– That is another matter. There is no doubt that this House has the power to resent such attacks by any institution of its kind not assembled within this building.
– It was my original intention to raise a question of privilege, but I thought afterwards the matter was not large enough.
– In power and dignity we may assume that a Royal Commission represents the very highest form of executive government, enjoying a protection equal to that of Parliament itself. But we are rather in a difficulty when another body, which claims to . be absolute within its own ambit, chooses- to criticise a Royal Commission.
– I do not mind criticism.
– I hope that no member of the House, or of any Royal Commission, is so thin-skinned as to resent criticism ; but there is no doubt that the words reported reflect on the personal honour of the members of the Postal Commission. This Commission, I may say, has had a most unusual and important history. It was brought into existence, not with the concurrence of the Government, but by a vote of the House against the wish of the Government.
– It was appointed by Parliament.
– It was directed to be appointed by Parliament, and the Government subsequently accepted the direction.
– The British practice for a long time was to appoint Royal Commissions on an address from both Houses.
– The Government at the time did not think the appointment of a Royal Commission the most advisable course, but subsequently they came to the conclusion that such an inquiry was necessary ; and the appointment was made. Then there arose some internal dissensions in the Commission.
– Some differences of opinion.
– And these caused certain dissent, with the result that during my term of office the personnel of the Commission was reduced from seven to four; and my opinion was that four members could do just as effective work, and present as good a report as a larger number. There was considerable outside agitation in favour of the Government terminating the Commission, but I thought then, and I think now, that that would have been one of the worst steps to take. The Commission has proceeded with its work, and it has been attacked from time to time in the press, with insinuations regarding the members. I deplore the fact that any sensible man should think there is any profit in being a member of a Royal Commission. There may be a man here and there able to save a few shillings out of the allowance for expenses but the veiled attacks do not reflect credit on those who make them. I have seen it stated in the press, though, of course, I do not know whether it be true or not, that the Government have been bringing pressure to bear on the Commission to terminate their proceedings as soon as possible.
– Nearly every Royal Commission, of course, is hurried up by the Departments concerned.
– There has been no pressure in this case.
– This is a fitting opportunity to have a matter of the kind cleared up. I am not a strong believer in Royal Commissions, which, in my opinion, are not productive of that amount of good that people imagine. I have never had any ambition to be a member of a Royal Commission; but those who think that such inquiries serve good purpose, and are prepared to give their time to the work, are entitled to every credit. I- hope and believe that no man in this House would, either directly or by way of insinuation, reflect on a public body of the kind, as has apparently been done in this case. I do not admit for a moment that the payments made to the members of the Royal Commission are in any degree an equivalent for the expense and inconvenience to which they are put ; and so long as they are doing the work they have been invited to do, representative men, at least, should refrain from reflecting on them in any way.
.- Mr. Speaker-
– There is no provision made for a reply on such a motion as this. If, however, the mover has not exhausted the whole of his allotted time, he may be allowed to reply to the length represented by the unexpired portion ; and the honorable member has two minutes.
– I have to thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the manner in which they have dealt with this matter. Putting the Postal Commission on one side, I am very glad to have had an opportunity to introduce the broader question. I can assure honorable members that I have no desire to make a profession nf the membership of a Royal Commission ; and while I do not wish to appear squeamish, I have thought it right, in the interests of the public and of myself, to submit this motion. I hope that, in a short time, the House will take into consideration the whole question of Royal Commissions, and see that the best men are appointed, whether they be within or without Parliament, and whoever accepts such positions shall not be paid expenses but a specific amount. It would be much better to have the payment for expenses done away with altogether than to allow it to get abroad that Parliamentarians, as a body, create Royal Commissions for the sake of what can be made out of them. I have to apologize for the delay that has been caused in the public business by this motion ; but I hope that the discussion will have a good result, and that honorable members will not neglect to pay proper attention to the Commission’s report when it is presented.
Question resolved in the negative.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
That the message be taken into consideration) forthwith.
Clause 28 -
A contract of marine insurance is inadmissible in evidence…..
Senate’s Amendment. - After “evidence” insert “ in an action for the recovery of a lossunder the contract.”
Clause 95 (Reference to slip or cover note).
Senate’s Amendment. - Insert at commencement of c.lause, “ Where a policy in accordance with this Act has been issued.”-
That the amendments be agreedto.
The two amendments are rather ofa technical nature. Taking advantage of the criticism of the honorable member for West Sydney, and, I think, of the honorable member for Werriwa, who urged the desirability of following as nearly as possible the text of the English Act, I recast clauses 28 and 95. The effect of the amendment in clause 28 will be to declare that a contract of marine insurance is not admissible in evidence for the recovery of a sum under the contract, unless it is embodied in the policy. It might appear that we were, to some extent, encroaching on the States’ sphere, in which they have, an exclusive jurisdiction, but, so far as the contract deals with the recovery of the sum insured, we are entitled to say it shall not be admitted asevidence unless it is included in the policy. As to the second amendment, the honorable member for West Sydney thought it best to follow the English Act as far aswe could, and that has been done by the insertion of the words. We do not speak, of a stamp, because that is a matter for the States.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
MINISTERS laid upon the table the following papers: -
Inter-State Commerce and State Exclusion). Laws - Opinion of the Attorney-General.
Ordered to be printed.
Defence Acts - Military Forces. - Regulation No. 118 Amended (Provisional). - Statutory Rules 1909, No. 122.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
– I move -
That on Wednesdays and Thursdays in each week the House shall, unless otherwise ordered, meet at n o’clock a.m.
This motion is submitted with the object of enabling us to avoid late hours, and also to enable Parliament to prorogue as early next month as the public business will permit.
.- I thought the Prime Minister would have indicated, in moving the motion, the business that he purposed proceeding with for the remainder of the session, and, as far as possible, in what order. That is usually done at this stage of the session on a motion of this kind. Members are now asked to devote the whole of their time to the work of this Chamber, and they should know what measures are regarded by the Government as urgent. I wish to make a request to the Prime Minister. I have found it very difficult to follow the Government’s method of proceeding with business. They bring a Bill up to the top of the paper, proceed with it for a certain time until it is about to be passed, and then let it slip down again. That is not the method of conducting business to which I was accustomed before I entered this House, and I do not like it. I may instance the High Commissioner Bill, which is not contentious. I communicated recently to the Prime Minister the fact that I was ready and anxious to assist him in passing it at any time. It is about ten days since it came back from the Senate with a few trifling amendments, but it is still on the notice-paper, although it could be passed while we are talking about it. I hope the Government are not trying to pile up a large number of measures on the notice-paper, with the object of afterwards telling the public that they were not able to get their business through. That sort of thing might be becoming in quite another kind of institution, but not in this Parliament. I am in favour of the motion. We ought to get to work, pass as much useful legislation as we can, and then depart for that wider sphere of influence that we are all anxious to reach at the earliest possible moment.
– We propose to proceed with the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill on Tuesday, and then the third reading of its accompanying measure - the Constitution Alteration (State Debts) Bill - would follow. Those two would go together. Then there is the Seat of Government Acceptance Bill.
– Why not take the State Debts Bill first?
– It has been regarded as a corollary to the Finance Bill. But we shall not keep the one for the other. I shall take advantage of the honorable member’s suggestion if for any reason we find ourselves unable to proceed with the first Bill.
– Do the Government intend to proceed on Tuesday with the Bill with which we dealt last night?
– I thought the Prime Minister said that if the amendment of the honorable member for Mernda were carried he would take the question to the electors ?
– I said if the Bill were not carried, not if that particular amendment were accepted- We can dispose of the High Commissioner Bill in ten minutes. The Northern Territory Acceptance Bill is the only other large measure, so far as I know, which is likely to provoke an animated, but, I hope, an abbreviated, debate. I have communicated with honorable members, and, although our time is short, am anxious to provide another sitting at which any crucial amendment of that measure can be dealt with. There has been a good deal of moving about of the business on the notice-paper, because such measures as the Bills of Exchange Bill, Patents Bill, Lighthouses Bill, Seamen’s Compensation Bill, and others, which have passed the Senate, are not, so far as I know, subjects of party conflict. There may be some criticism of them, but I think it will be independent, and not serous. These measures we have taken, and shall take, whenever it meets the convenience of the House. I shall be always happy, not only to inform the- Leader of the Opposition of the intentions of the Government with regard to the business, but, as is proper at this period, to consult him in regard to the order in which these measures can be taken, so as to meet the wishes of himself and his friends, and afford them full opportunities for criticism.
– What about new measures ?
– The only two that I know of are the small Public Service Bill, which I mentioned in reply to the honorable member for Calare-
– And the Sugar Bounties?
– There will be no Sugar Bounty Bill this session, so far as I am aware. It will be dealt with by whatever Government may be in power, probably in the first session of the next Parliament. Another new measure is the Preferential Voting Bill, which is very short and simple, and, in a rudimentary fashion, establishes the first principle of preferential voting. The word “preferential “ is used vaguely, to cover many complex schemes, but this Bill deals with it in a relatively simple form. I have not had an opportunity of consulting the Minister of Trade and Customs finally in regard to one or two short Tariff measures that he has in hand, but may be able to inform the honorable member regarding them next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Sugar Bounty - Conduct of Business - Iron Industry : Alleged Monopoly - Post and Telegraph Department : Supervising Staff : Allowance for Typewriting Machines : Telephone Attendants and Public Holidays : Administration, Deputy PostmastersGeneral : Launceston and Hobart Mail Service : Contract Post-offices : Wireless Telegraphy, King Island : Tasmanian Shipping Ring : Meekatharra Post-office : Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Facilities, Country Districts : Mount Ida : Bendigo to Echuca Telephone Line : Telephone Flat Rates - State Quarantine : Potatoes - Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta RailwayCase of ex-Stoker Anderson - Rifle Range, Riverina - Light Horse Corps, Deniliquin.
In Committee of Supply:
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to-
That a sum not exceeding £340,912 be granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the services of the year ending 30th June, 1910.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to-
That the Standing Orders be suspended in order to enable all steps to be taken to obtain Supply, and to pass a Supply Bill through all its stages . without delay.
In Committee of Ways and Means:
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That towards making good the Supply granted to His Majesty for the services of the year ending 30th June,1910, a sum not exceeding £340,912 be granted out of the Consolidatea Revenue Fund.
– I wish to lay before the Prime Minister one or two reasons why he is in error in thinking that it will be time enough to deal with the sugar bounty question in the next Parliament. The industry requires a considerable amount of security ahead of the present date. That is to say, it requires security for three or four years ahead for any sugar planter to safely engage in the industry, and, as the Commonwealth can lose nothing by extending the present Acts for, say, three years, I think the Government ought to move in that direction. I understand that the Government intend to appoint a Royal Commission to inqure into the question, and that the Prime Minister thinks that the appointment of that body and the prospect of the matter being dealt with by the next Parliament will give ample security to growers of sugar by white labour. But his experience should show him that probably, even if he ties that Commission down to a time limit, their report will not be presented within less than twelve months after they are appointed. That will bring any subsequent necessary legislation into 1 91 2, which is the year when the sugar bounty begins to decrease. The only effective protection which the grower of sugar by white labour has against the employer of coloured labour is the bounty, and the Government, the Parliament, and people of the Commonwealth can be at no loss by giving him a further security for three years. If any better method is discovered, and an alteration of policy is found necessary, that can be equally effectively dealt with after the Royal Commission reports, and the law in the meantime can be allowed to remain as it is at present. When these two Acts expire the Commonwealth will actually lose revenue by £1 per ton of sugar produced ; that is, when the Braddon section ceases to operate. There is, there- fore, no disadvantage but rather a distinct advantage, in keeping the present policy intact for a number of years. The best way to give some security to the growers would be to extend the Acts for three years. I wish to take this opportunity of correcting an impression which the Prime Minister has that I, when Prime Minister, made no statement of policy on this question. So far from that being the case, my view that this legislation ought to continue for a number of years was published broadcast. It is true that it did not take the shape of an actual Bill, because it was simply a matter of extending the existing Acts for a short period. I put the question a little more fully on the previous Supply Bill, and am putting it again now. I shall be glad if the Government can see their way to adopt the course I have indicated. If they cannot, and they think the appointment of a Royal Commission will be the better course, it is for them to announce the fact. I do not place much reliance on Royal Commissions in matters of this kind. The facts are known to everybody acquainted with the industry, and the legislation has worked so well up to the present that it only requires to be continued for a little while to overcome ,the main difficulties, I admit that there are other questions apart from those referring to the Bounty and Excise Acts, which may, and, perhaps, ought to be inquired into by an expert authority; but I am not now discussing them. I shall be glad if the Government have come to a final decision in the matter to know what it is. It is well that the growers should know their position at once rather than that there should be any uncertainty in regard to it.
– The honorable member, as Leader of the Opposition, and as one thoroughly acquainted with the working of the sugar industry, is justified not only in bringing this matter forward, but in exercising special supervision over proposals in relation to the industry. I am abundantly lacking in that definite knowledge, but understood it was made clear when the proposal for a Royal Commission was first framed, that it was to be a small body of two or three members devoted to a series of extensive inquiries with the nature of which the honorable member is acquainted.
– And to report five years’ hence if they have to deal with that matter.
– I understood that the various questions to be inquired into were to_be placed in order so -that any matters that ought to be taken into account by Parliament in determining the terms and the conditions of any continuance of the present law would naturally be first dealt with. There are other questions beyond, both large and important, that will take more time. I shall make further inquiries. The Minister of Trade and Customs has been consulting his officers who supervise the sugar industry in Queensland and northern New South Wales, as well as others in reference to the order and nature of the inquiry and other suggestions.
– The limitation in the original Act was inserted under a misapprehension on an even vote in another place.
– The honorable member has previously mentioned that fact. I shall ask my honorable colleague to look into the matter again, and will give the honorable member a definite answer as soon as I receive the information.
.- The practice of constantly bringing down small Supply Bills is to be deprecated.
– It is done everywhere.
– And. is protested against again and again.
– The position is that we have to deal with the Budget before Parliament is prorogued, yet the Treasurer keeps on obtaining Supply in small instalments, and will probably leave the consideration of the Estimates until the closing hours of the session, when matters of vital importance affecting the public welfare will not receive that attention which they deserve. The Estimates must be dealt with before the session ends, and why should they not be taken at the present time ?
– Would honorable members opposite allow the Appropriation Bill to be passed, and sent on to the Senate at this stage?
– I should like the Estimates to be dealt with at the earliest possible moment. The system that the Government are adopting amounts to a denial of the right of the House to deal thoroughly with the question, and to amply consider and criticise the expenditure of public money and the administration of public Departments. The Government is not treating the country fairly in postponing the consideration of the Estimates, which must be dealt with at some time this session. In regard to the mornings on which the House should meet - a question which was dealt with by resolution a few minutes ago-
– Order ; the honorable member had an ample opportunity a few minutes ago to deal with that matter. It has just been disposed of, and I do not think it would be right to allow it to be discussed again almost immediately.
– The Prime Minister rose to reply before some of us had an opportunity to speak. As a matter of fact, I desired to hear his explanation, and believed that I should have an opportunity on this motion to deal with it.
-The honorable member will not be in order in discussing the statement made by the Prime Minister.
– Should I not be in order in discussing the conduct of public business and the question of dealing with the Bills on the notice-paper?
– Not at this stage.
.- I desire to bring under the notice of the Treasurer an allegation that Messrs. G. and C. Hoskins, of the Eskbank Iron Works, who are receiving from the Commonwealth a bounty to assist them to produce iron, are establishing something in the nature of a ring of favoured customers to whom they will supply, and are refusing to supply others who desire to purchase their iron.
– Is that a fact?
– I have here a letter sent by Messrs. G. and C. Hoskins to a constituent of my own in which they say, in effect, “We cannot supply you; we have other orders.” At the same time, I am assured that they are supplying this man’s rival in the same country town with as much iron as he wants.
– That is an old game.
– It is; but the position is serious if a firm that is receiving a bounty is not going to supply its iron to manufacturers in Australia who desire to obtain it. It practically means that we are helping one set of men by means of a Government bounty to their suppliers, and leaving others to the mercy of foreign suppliers.
– It is open to very grave abuse.
– It certainly is. It means that we are going to see the growth of what is almost a natural monopoly enjoyed by Messrs. G. and C. Hoskins. Under the terms of the Act they have a monopoly in the manufacture of ironin Australia to-day, and it would appear that that monopoly is to be extended throughout the length and breadth of Australia, so that they will ultimately be in a position to crush out any one who wishes to use their products and to determine what firms should be permitted to do business with them.
– The system is resorted to to extort high prices.
– Quite so; the movement is yet in its infancy, and I ask the Treasurer to consider what would be the effect if Messrs. G. and C. Hoskins were allowed to continue this practice, and whether it would not be wise for us to make a move to withdraw the bounty unless the firm are prepared to supply all orders.
– We should give them an opportunity to deny the report.
– They may have a complete answer to the allegations. They may say, “ We should be glad to supply the second man in the town in’ question, but we have not the iron to send to him at the present time.” I can well -understand that the firm may not be able to supply every order as soon as it is received. But if it is true that they are giving unlimited supplies to one man, and refusing to grant any to another, the position is one that ought not to be allowed to continue.
– I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Minister of Trade and Customs.
– I am content, for the present, to accept that assurance.
Mr. THOMAS BROWN (Calare) £12.37]. - I wish to emphasize a point that I made the other day, in regard to a matter connected with the Postmaster-General’s Department. I then pointed out that by the passing of monthly Supply Bills much important work relating to the Department, and for which provision is made in the EstimatesinChief, is held up. Until the Estimates-in-Chief are dealt with, it is impossible for the Department to proceed with them. This complaint relates more particularly to the promised increase of the supervising staff, for which provision is made in the Estimates. The Department for the last two or three years has had but a limited staff at its disposal, and a great deal of work that has been approved by the House has been allowed to lapse, owing to its inability to deal with it. Owing to the delay in passing the Estimates, that unsatisfactory state of affairs continues. I appealed strongly to the Government a few days ago to ask the House to deal with the Estimates-in-Chief as early as possible, so that this cause of complaint might be removed ; but we are asked, apparently, to pass another Supply Bill on the old terms, and this unsatisfactory state of affairs in the Post and Telegraph Department is to continue. I trust that if the Government do not see their way to deal with the Estimates-in-Chief at an early date, and find it necessary to introduce another Supply Bill, they will take care in that Bill to meet the exceptional and undesirable condition of affairs to which I have referred. I now wish to bring under notice a matter relating to the Telegraph Branch of the Department in Sydney. Until last year officers using their own typewriters in the Department received no allowance in respect of them. A promise was then made that they should, and it was understood that provision would be made on last year’s Estimates for such an allowance. For some reason that promise has not been fulfilled. No doubt it was cut out in the pruning of the Estimates by the Cabinet. The honorable member for Barrier, when Postmaster-
General, decided, because of certain representations made to him on the question, to deal with the matter as a special one, but the provision made was not sufficient for the whole staff. For some years past, officers in the Victorian branch of the service have been receiving so much for the upkeep and use of their typewriters, but that allowance was not originally given in New South Wales. The injustice has now been remedied to some extent, but not fully. An officer desiring promotion to the metropolitan area, and particularly to the central staff, must show efficiency in typewriting. At any rate, expertness as a typist counts in his favour. When promotion has been gained, he has either to use an obsolete Departmental machine, or to provide a typewriter for himself. In reply to a question which I put to the Minister recently, I was informed that last year there were 202 telegraphists in the metropolitan district of Sydney, and 180 in Melbourne, and in this year’s Estimates provision is made for 218 in Sydney, while no change is made in the strength of - the Melbourne staff. But, although the Sydney staff is to be increased by 16 permanent hands, only 52 of its officers receive an allowance in respect to typewriters, and 85 in Melbourne, while this year it is proposed to give it to 54 officers in Sydney, and to 103 in Melbourne. The allowance is to be extended to 2 more men in Sydney, and to 17 more in Melbourne, notwithstanding th.it the Sydney staff is already larger than the Melbourne staff, and is” to be increased this year by 16. Thirty officers in Sydney who use their own typewriters for Departmental work do not receive any allowance. There are four typists in Melbourne in the same position, but it has been intimated that their claim for consideration will receive attention, so presumably they will be placed on the same footing as their fellows. I ask the Postmaster-General to look into this matter with a view to giving the same treatment to all officers. To my mind, it is a wise thing to allow officers to provide machines for themselves. Men get better acquainted with their own machines than with others, and take greater interest in and care of them. No doubt the Department intends to apply this policy to the whole Commonwealth. I do not know what is being done in regard to officers at Brisbane, Adelaide, and other centres, but the same treatment should be extended to all. I ask the honorable gentleman to give consideration to the claims of the thirty typists in Sydney who are not receiving an allowance, placing them on the same footing as their fellows, and to see that no difference is made between the Sydney and Melbourne staffs. Replying to a question which I asked a few weeks back, he said practically that it was not proposed to make any change in the’ present Estimates, but I ask him, in the interests of justice, to deal with all his officers alike. The position of the thirty officers in Sydney who are not receiving allowances is as much entitled to consideration as is that of the four officers in Melbourne who are in a like position. Differences of treatment are sure to create the impression that, the administration is not impartial. To give allowances to some officers, and to deny them to others, makes it appear that fair treatment is not meted out to all. Therefore, the sooner all are placed on the same footing, the better it will be for the officers and for the Public Service. A knowledge of typewriting is practically a sine qua non so far as promotion is concerned. At any rate, competent typists are preferred to those who have no knowledge of typewriting, and it is not right to allow some men to provide their own machines, without compensating allowances, while others are given what is considered adequate compensation. That would entail on all the officers desirous of promotion the necessity of acquiring proficiency in this particular. According to Hansard, as shown on page 3,715, I, on the 23rd September, asked the Postmaster-General the following question : -
To that the Postmaster-General replied : -
– The employes might prefer the holidays.
– Then let them have the holidays instead of the money ; but I think that they would prefer the latter, rather than that the present friction, worry, and dissatisfaction should be continued. I trust that the PostmasterGeneral will give the matter his best consideration, and dispose of the difficulty as soon as possible.
– I have stated previously that, while some of the officers are granted an allowance for the use of their own typewriting machines, there are others not in the enjoyment of that privilege. The practice has been introduced of allowing operators who use their own machines £,(> per annum ; and this I regard as very substantial. It may be, however, that in some of the offices, including the Sydney office, there were, prior to the introduction of the practice, a number of Departmental machines ; and, of course, in respect of these no allowance can be expected. Doubtless the apparent anomaly arises in that way. If Departmental machines are available, officers will not be allowed to use their private machines, and be paid for the use of them. I can assure the honorable member that in all the offices where the operators use their own machines in the absence of Departmental machines, they are allowed £6 each per annum without any discrimination. We cannot displace Departmental machines in order that operators may have this privilege.
– How is it that there are thirty men in the Sydney office’ who use their own machines, and are not granted the allowance?
– It may be that those officers are using their private machines in preference to Departmental machines.
– If there are no Departmental machines available, then the men who use their own machines will get the allowance?
– Decidedly, and without any favoritism or discrimination. Overtime is a vexed question, and a long standing grievance, which I have inherited from my predecessors, and which is decided partly by practice and partly by law. The law, I understand, is that clerical officers are not entitled to cash payment for overtime, and the Public Service Com)missioner would not certify for such a payment in their case j but non-clerical officers are allowed cash payment. I shall, however, accept the suggestion of the honorable member, and consult the Treasurer as to the legal and financial aspect of the matter.
– The Public Service Commissioner is the man to consult.
– It is suggested that sufficient money should be put on the Estimates, but, even if that were done, the Public Service Commissioner would still refuse to certify.
– The PostmasterGeneral would then have done all he could. Over 2,000 of the officers are in the nonclerical division.
– If I am wrong as to the legality of the cash payment, I may be corrected later ; but where such officers are entitled to the money I shall see that they get it as soon as possible.
– In view of the many complaints, I suggest that the Deputy PostmastersGeneral should be abolished, and that there should simply be an officer in each State, subject to the head at the Commonwealth Capital. If this were done, when an honorable member wanted anything for his constituents, he could apply to the Postmaster-General, who would only have to touch a button in order to insure that the request was complied with.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– It is very easy to get things done in the city where the people have every convenience already, -but I am speaking on behalf of the men who produce that which maintains the cities. Destroy the Australian cities, but leave the farmers, and we will build more cities; destroy our farmers, and our cities will swim in their own stew. If the reform which I advocate were brought about, we should no longer be at the mercy of Deputy Postmasters-General who are not in harmony with the spirit of the times. We want responsible officers who will take their orders from head-quarters when the button is pressed. The man in Melbourne who has control of this mighty Department should not be wasting his time over tiddledy-winking affairs. When something substantial is wanted, he ought to be able to press a button and let others come forward to take their orders from him. I would also ask the Postmaster- General whether he could make some arrangement with the Tasmanian Government whereby the trains between Launceston and Hobart would not waste so much time at little sidings, but run- to their termini fast enough to allow the coaches to make an earlier start in their turn for their termini. That would enable the mails to be delivered at outside places earlier in the evening, and allow the business people in those thriving centres, which are throbbing with life and progress, to reply to the large cities next morning. Under present arrangements, it takes two days for them to send a reply. The coach leaves Burnie, for instance, late in the afternoon, and does not reach Stanley until about 10 at night. It leaves Stanley again early in the morning before the business men can reply to the letters received by the mail which arrived the night before. Cannot the PostmasterGeneral arrange with the Tasmanian railway authorities that the trains shall not simply kill time at sidings as they do now? The contractors for small postoffices in the country are being sweated, and many of them have come to me with tears, in their eyes to tell me that they do not make sufficient to feed their horses. I would urge on the Postmaster-General the desirableness of giving them a little rise if possible. They should get what President Roosevelt would call “ a square deal.” There are a number of these small contract post-offices in Tasmania, and especially in the electorate of Darwin. The salary is miserable, and the PostmasterGeneral should remember that an increase, however small, would be a great encouragement. The contractors take a great deal of trouble to oblige the public. Farmers come in at all hours for their mails, and are cheerfully accommodated. I know that the income from some of the contract postoffices is not sufficient to warrant an increase, but as the Department is a Socialistic institution the idea is not to make great profits at one particular place so much as to aggregate the profits from all places and distribute them on a Christian basis. By that means the. strong shall bear the burdens of the weak, and the big cities will furnish a small part of their income to help the people in the small places in the backblocks, who are deprived of all the comforts of progressive civilization. The time has also come when a system of wireless telegraphy should be installed at King Island, which has a population of between Soo and 1,000 people, including hundreds of Victorians who have gone there lately. They have a boat service only about once in three weeks. I believe that if the Government made a contract with the Union Steam-ship Company arrangements could be made for the boat running between Melbourne and Strahan to call at Sea Elephant Bay at least once a week.
– Is it a good harbor?
– A very good harbor, and fairly well land-locked. Although there is no pier at present, the mails could always be landed in small boats. It is a thriving little community, and I would urge the Postmaster-General to give it communication with the mainland by wireless telegraphy. The system seems to have been perfected enough to allow that work to be undertaken. Another matter which I wish the Postmaster-General and the Treasurer to note is the existence of a steam-ship ring in Tasmania. Nearly all the other States have” the benefit of a great trans-continental railway system, but the population of Tasmania, comprising 196,000 of the most intelligent citizens in the universe, are absolutely deprived of intercourse with the rest of the Commonwealth, except at the dictation of a private steam-ship ring. I have received complaints from many shippers in various Tasmanian towns, but they tell me that they dare not come out into the open lest they should be deprived of all opportunity of shipping their goods. Why should these things be in the twentieth century ? Why should the business people of any community be at the mercy of a ring, however important and powerful? The time has come for the Government to take action to crush these rings out and give the people the benefit of low freightage, or to establish a direct steam-ship line between Tasmania and the mainland. That would not cost much, and I assure the Treasurer that if the .Government would adopt my. proposal for a national postal banking system, I could run the undertaking without having to borrow a penny. I ‘ wish now to complain bitterly of the embargo which the other States have placed on potatoes from Tasmania. We have the freest Constitution in the world, provided that the States are compelled to comply with its- provisions. No one knows that better than does the Postmaster-General, who is part author of a valuable work on the Constitution. We look to those who are familiar with the Constitution to see that it is not violated by parochial-minded gentlemen in the States who, if they ran up against it, would not understand its meaning. The miners of Kalgoorlie and. remote gold-fields in Western Australia are deprived of the opportunity of obtaining the delicious red-skinned potatoes produced on the North-west Coast of Tasmania, owing to the failure of the Commonwealth Government to perform their sacred duty under the Constitution. The Victorian Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Graham, a sincere and honest man, declares that Mr. Perry, Minister of Agriculture in New South Wales, has not kept his promise. There has never been any Irish blight in Tasmania. As a matter of fact, if the blight were present in any district it could be smelt from a distance of thirty miles. In 1846 and 1847, when it was prevalent in Ireland, with the result that nearly 1,000,000 died of starvation, and 2,000,000 emigrated to America, it could be smelt in England. I ask the Commonwealth Government to take action to see that the embargo against the introduction of Tasmanian potatoes into certain States shall be removed. The Fusion Government, backed up by its big majority, is not prepared to .stand up for the people of Tasmania. Section 92 of the Constitution provides that -
On the imposition of uniform duties of Customs, trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free.
Then, again, I would direct the attention of the Minister to section 109, which provides that -
When a law of a State is inconsistent wilh a law of the Commonwealth, the latter shall prevail, and the former shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be invalid.
Notwithstanding these provisions, no action has been, taken by the Commonwealth Government to secure to Tasmania her legitimate rights under the Constitution. Tasmania entered the Federation without imposing any special conditions, but, owing to the action of other States, a large proportion of her potatoes are now rotting on the coast. All the requests of the other States in regard to the quarantining of districts alleged to be affected with blight have been complied with, and yet producers are not permitted to send their potatoes to other parts of the Commonwealth. The Constitution is being violated, and the compact made with Tasmania abrogated. For less than that the State of South Carolina seceded from the Union, hoisted the Confederate flag, and commenced a war which cost a thousand million pounds, and took five years to crush out.
.- I am pleased that the honorable member for Darwin has again brought this matter before the Government. My own district has been very badly served. Thousands of tons of potatoes are annually produced there, but because a trace of Irish blight was found in a small garden patch not six feet square, the whole of that beautiful district, which produces absolutely clean potatoes, has been quarantined. The people of New South Wales, Western Australia, and Central Australia desire to obtain supplies of potatoes from my electorate, but cannot secure them. The Commonwealth should take action at once. Potatoes will not keep very long, and they are particu larly wanted at the present time in the central districts of Australia. If the Commonwealth Government can do anything, they should take action at once. If they cannot, let them say so, and we shall then make an effort to alter the law. I trust that my fighting friend, the honorable member for Darwin, will continue to keep this question prominently before the Government.
.- Some time ago I drew the attention of- the Postmaster-General to the condition of affairs in connexion with the post-office at Meekatharra, a very important and rising centre of population in Western Australia. So far, nothing has been done to supply the conveniences which are necessary”. The business of the office has increased very much of late, owing to the rapid growth of population, and the officials are being greatly overworked. I have here a letter which reviews and emphasizes my previous complaint. In this communication it is pointed out that -
One of the assistants at the post-office at Meekatharra was compelled to work till he was fairly knocked out, and is now on sick leave, overwork being the cause.
This is one of many cases where closer attention should be given to public requirements in districts that are rapidly advancing. Possibly some other Department is really responsible for the delay in effecting repairs to postal buildings, but I trust that the Postmaster-General will give a hint to his officials to be a little more active.
– I will.
– I .should have added that Meekatharra will shortly be the railway terminus, so that it will soon be a considerable business centre. There is another long-standing grievance on the part of the residents of Mount Ida, a- very remote township in Western Australia, which has neither telegraphic nor telephonic communication with the outside world, although the population comprises several1 hundred people. When an accident occurs, a messenger has to ride a distance of some 70 miles to secure a doctor. The position would not be so bad if medical assistance could be summoned by telegraph or telephone. As it is, it takes about two days to secure medical attendance fromMenzies. Deaths have often occurred whichmight have been prevented had telegraphiccommunication existed. At various times I have brought before the Government the advisableness of carrying a telegraph line from Menzies to Mount Ida, but have always received the stereotyped reply that the Une would not pay anything like the 10 per cent, on cost of construction and maintenance which the Department requires. It is about time that a new principle was adopted in dealing with these remote districts. The Treasurer knows that the policy now pursued is not that which he adopted when in control of the Government of Western Australia, and I invite him to say whether, had- there been no Federation, a telegraph line would have ‘been carried to Mount Ida long ago?
– Is not Leonora nearer than Menzies is to Mount Ida?
– Yes; the distance from Leonora is said to be only 50 miles, but I have received from the Deputy PostmasterGeneral a communication which throws some doubt on that estimate. The estimated cost of constructing a line from Leonora to Mount Ida is £3,220. The Divisional Inspector reports that the annual revenue would be £70 8s. 6d., whereas the amount required to reimburse the Department would be £361 per annum, leaving an estimated deficit of £290. I invite the attention of honorable members to the way in which remote districts are being treated by the Department. The principle on which the Department works is that it will not connect a district by telegraph or telephone with another centre unless the line promises to prove remunerative. In other words, purely business principles are adopted. Such a policy is really a bar to settlement.
– It. is a great mistake.
– It retards settlement very considerably. I very much doubt whether the divisional inspectors take all the factors of a case of this kind into account.
– Facilities create revenue.
– Exactly; and it has been proved by experience.
– Is it not a fact that a report, recently presented, shows that a great many of the estimates have been under the mark.
– I believe so. Whether we continue to carry out works with loan money or with revenue, the Government should reconsider the principle of refusing all facilities except those which promise to be payable. It may be said that it is not strictly the business of the Postmaster-General to assist in the development of the country, but it cannot be forgotten that the Department spends much more in subsidizing a European mail service than is necessary merely to secure the transport of mail matter. Were the poundage system adopted, we should have to pay only one-third or one-fourth of the present subsidy for the transport of mail matter to and from Europe.
– About .£40,000 was the estimate.
– The difference between what would be the poundage charges and what we now pay, may foe regarded as an expenditure in the interests of the producers for whose benefit a fast line of steamers is subsidized. But the Department while sometimes contending that its business is merely to receive, despatch, and deliver letters, telegrams, and newspapers, is not consistent in its attitude. Not only does it subsidize the European mail service for the benefit of our producers, but it carries on such services as the MelbourneSydney telephone, which is not likely ever to pay. Were the receipts for official conversations deducted from the earnings of that line, an enormous and startling deficit would be shown.
– No guarantee of profit was demanded before the line . was constructed.
– But some of the Melbourne representatives ‘ contended that a guarantee should be asked for.
– The honorable member for Yarra was the first to draw attention to that fact. A guarantee should have been demanded in that case, if such a demand was ever justifiable.
– The line is said to pay well.
– If the estimated value of the Departmental business were deducted from the statement of earnings, it would foe seen to be a losing concern. I have received a letter from Mr. William Smith, a resident of Menzies, with whom I . am well acquainted, saying that if the Department has made up its mind not to give a telephone service to Mount Ida, he would be willing to establish a pigeon post. That, he says, is feasible and practicable, and there are such posts in other parts of the world. He has had a good deal of experience in connexion with homing pigeons, and says that he believes that after training, birds will convey despatches between Menzies and Mount Ida in a little over an hour. He makes the reasonable request that some little assistance should be extended to him by the Department, to enable him to make an ex- periment in the matter. The Department might fairly grant this request, if it thinks it impossible to undertake the erection of a telephone line. Another matter with which the honorable member for Kalgoorlie will probably deal, was brought under my notice when I visited Kanowna, as Minister of Home Affairs. I understand from Mr. Deane’s report that it is proposed to start the railway to Port Augusta from Kurramia, instead of from Kanowna, to avoid some little grading difficulty. A letter from the town clerk of Kanowna assures me that the wood trains running to Kurramia from Kanowna needed only one engine for haulage, whereas two are required from Kurramia. I presume that before the construction of the- line is finally decided upon, another survey will be made of that end of the route. It must not be forgotten that Kanowna is a very fine town, and that it is more desirable to have the junction there than at a place where there is little or no population, and few conveniences. It is to be presumed, however, that Kalgoorlie will be the changing station. It is certainly desirable to adopt the route which offers the fewest natural difficulties. The Treasurer must be’ aware of the needs of Mount Ida. No more deserving work could be undertaken than its connexion with other centres. The district is being settled by a pioneering population, and it is this type of settler who possesses the first and strongest claim to consideration and encouragement.
– I have already drawn the attention of the Government to the case of a man named Anderson, who joined the Naval Department of Victoria in 1878, was transferred to the Postal Department as a fireman in 1887, and was retired last year, at the age of sixty-five years, without a pension. For the last eighteen months, I have been in communication, by letter and personal interview, with the various Departments concerned. The last letter I received in reference to the case, came from the Treasury, and is as follows : -
Referring to your recent inquiry relative to a claim for pension by Mr. Charles Anderson, ex-stoker, Victorian Naval Forces, I have the honour, by direction of the Treasurer, to inform you that as Mr. Anderson was not in the State service at the time - 24th December, 1S81 - of the passing of Act No. 710, it would appear that he is not entitled to a pension. I am enclosing a copy of opinion given in a similar case. The papers left by you with the Treasurer are returned herewith.
The case of a man who joined the Department on the 29th March, 1879, was discharged on the 1 6th July, 1880, and reemployed on 19th July, 1882, is mentioned as a similar one. Mr. Anderson was retired at the end of 1880, in the interests of economy, and was sent for by the Government at the end of 1881, but being then at Brisbane, was not taken on until 1st January, 1882, or seven days after the passing of the Act abolishing pensions in the Victorian Navy. The Departments admit that the case is a hard one, but say that the man is not entitled to a pension. He, however, contends that, with others, he was assured by the Treasurer of the day, Sir Bryan O ‘Loughlin, that they would be given the same rights of pension as if they had been in the service at the time of the passing of the Act. In proof of that statement, he produces a discharge, showing continuity of service from the 2nd November, 1878, until his transfer to the Postal Department in 1887. No doubt, the Government would be willing to pay the pension if it could see a justification for doing so. I suggest that the Treasurer might appoint a Board of three officers of his Department to deal -with the case.
– The State would not agree to the payment of a pension unless the man were legally entitled to it.
– The State cannot go beyond the discharge which it gave.
– The facts are stronger than the statement on the discharge.
– A Government Department has no right to ignore a mistake made thirty years ago. This man served for twenty-eight years after his reappointment. The man’s discharge is proof that he had continuity of service, and, I believe, that the State Government would, under the circumstances, admit that he has some claim. The Federation would not have to pay the money, but, as he was a servant of ours for eight years, I think the Treasurer ought to take some little interest in the matter. I have no complaint to make against the Treasurer or his officials in this connexion ; but this man believes he is wrong, and I, as the representative of the electorate in which he lives, am condemned, not only by him but by the whole of the public servants who support the claim. I am sorry to make the matterpublic, but it is such a glaring case, that the course was necessary.
– I should like to refer to the answer which the Postmaster-General gave yesterday in regard to the telephone charges to business men as compared with the charges made to the business men of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. It would not be fair, of course, to expect the PostmasterGeneral to re-arrange the whole of the telephone rates until he has received the report of the expert Commission ; but I do not see why he should not be able to place the whole of the business men of the Commonwealth on an equal footing. As a matter of fact, the expert Commission will be able to tell him nothing that is not known to himself, or was not known to his predecessors ; and the position is one that cannot possibly be defended. Adelaide business men have to pay £10 for exactly the same service that is given to business men elsewhere for £6 ; and something should be done, if only by way of compromise, until the report of the expert Commission has been received. The figures in the Department show that both the telegraph service and the postal service pay handsomely in Adelaide, and that there the organization is quite up to date.
– I could not act on the suggestion of the honorable member without consulting the Treasurer, inasmuch as it would involve a large loss of revenue.
– All private subscribers are placed on the same footing, and I think there would be no difficulty in obtaining the consent of the Treasurer to the removal of the injustice under which the Adelaide business men now suffer. I do not think that any large loss of revenue would be involved; but if the PostmasterGeneral is concerned on that score, why did he reverse the arrangement of his predecessor, which would have meant an increase in receipts, and equality for all? The Postmaster-General cannot blame honorable members if they persistently, keep bringing these questions under his notice.
– How many subscribers :are interested?
– I have not the actual figures, but I believe there are a fairly large number; in any case, if the number be small, the effect on the revenue cannot be serious. The PostmasterGeneral, while saying he was not satisfied that the telephone service was a non-paying one, gave the Victorian Chamber of Commerce the benefit of the doubt, whereas any request by a private member on behalf of a small section of the community, is met with a refusal. Perhaps the .best thing I can do is to suggest that the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Manufactures, or the South Australian Branch of the Employers’ Federation should wait upon the Postmaster-General, when he may be found as willing to do the fair thing as he was to do the unfair thing at the request of the Victorian Chamber.
.- Are the Government” prepared to take a more serious view of the position in regard to the restrictions imposed by certain States against other States on the introduction of produce, more particularly potatoes?
– The AttorneyGeneral has told us that he has advised on the matter, though I have not yet seen his opinion.
– The Constitution provides for a perfectly free interchange of products between States, but it has been overridden by means of internal regulations prohibiting the introduction of products and live stock, because, perhaps, in a small portion of a particular State, there is some disease. Notwithstanding that nine-tenths of the State may be absolutely free, the whole of the . State may be quarantined. Riverina is not a potato-growing district, and never could be without irrigation ; and the people there have to depend for their supply on Victoria and Tasmania. In consequence of the restrictions imposed, potatoes have gone up to famine prices; and, even if the object be to reserve the market for the producers in -the north of New South Wales, supplies cannot be got from there because those who control the affairs of the State are so unfederal as to. refuse the necessary railway communication. As showing how ridiculous and hurtful these prohibitions are, I may say that, during this season, there has been undue interference at the agricultural shows along the border line. On the Murray, for instance, there are irrigation settlements where potatoes are grown, and there is not a suspicion of disease; and yet growers who desired to exhibit potatoes for the purpose of educating the people as to the possibilities of irrigation, were refused permission. Potatoes are £10 a ton when they should be half the price; and I think’ the Federal Government ought to use the powers they undoubtedly possess when they see the Constitution being so strained and overridden. Only a short time ago, through the Prime Minister, I expressed to the State authori- ties of New South Wales the desire of a large number of my constituents for a railway extension of fourteen miles to connect with a Victorian system, so as to enable the growers to get their products to the Victorian market. A deputation followed my letter, but the Minister in New South Wales, while admitting that the arguments of the deputation as to the line paying and so forth were perfectly valid, bluntly said that such a railway would not be in the interests of New South Wales, and, therefore, he could not recommend it. If that is not straining the Constitution I do not know what is ; and under the circumstances it is time that the Federal Government made a very strong pronouncement.
– The Attorney-Genera! told me that either a State or an individual would have to move in the matter.
– But if no one moves then the Federal Government should do so, either by representations to the State Government, or in any other way the AttorneyGeneral may advise. I call the PostmasterGeneral’s” attention to the fact that 1 am inundated with letters, which I send on to the Department nearly every day, complaining about the telephone service ; but, even where the Department approves of the works that are desired, the reply is always that there is no money available. If there is one part of the community more than another which should have preference in telephonic communication, it is the people living in the country, rather than those in the towns and cities. It is the more necessary for them-, because by its means life may be saved or danger from bush fires and other causes may be averted. I notice in this morning’s paper that a telephone service now connecting two Victorian towns, 50 miles apart, is to be replaced by a much more expensive system. The existing condenser system may not be perfect, but it is still usable, yet while money is refused for any kind of a telephone service in many country districts, about ,£1,200 is to be spent without warrant in giving those two places greatly improved communication. It would be only in Keeping with justice and equity to allow the existing system, however imperfect, to .remain until at least other portions of the community, which have now no telephonic communication at all, are supplied with it in some form.
– Does the honorable member think that Victoria gets too much money as compared with other States?
– I do not say so.
– That improved service is to be given in order to provide telephonic communication for the intermediate stations, which cannot be supplied by the condenser system. If the honorable member wants to promote his own cause, he ought not to attack other causes.
– As the PostmasterGeneral has referred to it, I may mentionthat the line to which I refer is in his own electorate, running from Bendigo to Echuca.
– That work has been recommended for years past.
– But the people there are already getting a service of a kind, while my electors and others are getting none.
– New South Wales hasreceived more money than Victoria in proportion to the population.
– That is not my point. My point is that the existing system between those two places, even if indifferent and imperfect, should be allowed to remain until other people have been given some kind of service.
– Why does not the honorable member leave other districts alone?
– I should not have mentioned that case if other districts were being supplied.
– The present service between those two places is not effective for growing requirements.
– It is better than none at all, and is capable of being used for the purpose for a number of years to come. Surely the honorable member, who has as much knowledge of country requirements as I have, can realize the necessity for ordinary facilities in remote districts.
– I have done more for the country districts than any previous Postmaster-General, and yet the honorable member is not satisfied.
– The honorable member and his predecessors have not done for the country districts anything like what they should have done.
– The Bendigo and Echuca telephone service is a country district one.
– There are other people in the country who get no communication at all, and yet hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent in the cities in duplicating or undergrounding lines, which might have been left on the poles, until the country districts had been supplied.
– Moama, Echuca, and Deniliquin will have the benefit of the trunk line from Bendigo.
– I am speaking on behalf of the whole” of the vast territory of the Riverina. Moama and Deniliquin are not complaining, because they have telegraphic communication. Those for whom I am pleading have no communication whatever, and simply ask for telephone lines. I am surprised at the Postmaster-General displaying heat over the matter. I give him credit for doing all he can, but I want him to give preference to country districts as against the larger cities and towns. I have no desire to make complaints in the House. I flood the Department as it is with correspondence, and it is as tiring to me as it must be to other honorable members to get replies day after day to the effect that no funds are available, or that the work has been approved of but must wait its turn. While those replies are sent out by the Department, other works, such as that to which I have just alluded, are brought to the front, and money is spent on them instead of being used for purposes to which it would be better applied. I am sorry the Minister of Defence is not present. I wished to call his attention once more to the necessity’ for providing a rifle range on the other side of the Murray in New South Wales, for the benefit of the people there, and also of the people of Swan Hill, Victoria. I find, however, that I can effect nothing. I make representations in the House and elsewhere, but nothing is done. A little while ago the honorable member for Wimmera and myself waited upon the Minister on this subject. We went to a considerable amount of trouble in interviewing people. We discovered that the land was there, and could be obtained, and that the Minister had power to acquire it, but there the matter rests. There should be no delay in cases of this kind. The same remarks apply to the application for the formation of a light horse corps at Deniliquin, but it is of no use for me to continue, as the Minister is not present. I presume that he will not hear anything about what I have said, or will take no notice of it if he does hear it. There are other matters which I wish to bring under the notice of the Minister of Home Affairs, but he also is absent. When a Supply Bill is before the House, Ministers should pay the House the courtesy of being in their places to listen to complaints which honorable members feel it their duty to make on behalf of their constituents. As the Prime Minister is present, may I appeal to him to take prompt and active steps to point out to the State authorities that they are outraging and overriding the Federal Constitution by their provincial enactments forbidding the free interchange of products between State and State? This matter has been dealt with by the honorable members for Darwin, Bass, Wilmot, and Barker, but the matter affects not only those gentlemen and their constituents, but also large portions of other States. If those State restrictions are to be allowed to continue, we might as well close our doors; and give the States predominance at once, because’ they are preventing the accomplishment of true Federation, and the free interchange of products from one end of Australia to the other - objects which the Commonwealth was created to accomplish. With these restrictions, we are no more free than we were in preFederation days, with Customs Houses on the borders. This matter deserves the serious and immediate attention of the Government. I trust that, before Supply is again asked for, Ministers will be iti a position to state that they have taken definite action, and that some good has ensued.
.- Does the Postmaster-General intend to continue the present policy of the Department with regard to new mail and ‘telephonic services in country districts ? The present idea that the Department is a business concern which should be made to pay, and that no new mail or telephonic service or extension thereof should be granted unless it can be shown that it will pay, is absolutely erroneous! When a small number of settlers in the backwoods ask for extra services, they receive a report stating that the cost is so much, the estimated revenue so much, and the deficiency so much, and that before anything can be done, they must guarantee the deficiency, and enter into a bond for a number of years. That is a wrong basis upon which to carry on the Department. As the Prime Minister pointed out in a speech on postal questions last year, the first object of the Department is to be a great national institution, to promote social and business intercourse throughout Australia. The question of making it pay is altogether a secondary consideration. No country mail or telephonic service will pay when started. None of them is expected to pay. The telephonic and postal services of the bis cities did not pay when first established, and the revenue of the whole State was called upon to make up the deficiencies. Similarly the revenue of the Commonwealth ought to be drawn upon to make up deficiencies in connexion with new services in country districts. My utmost sympathy has always gone out to people who settle in the back-blocks. I recognise that they do not go there from patriotic motives, but to better themselves, but in bettering themselves and opening up country lands they are rendering a great service to the whole community. They suffer quite sufficient deprivation when they go into the back-blocks by cutting themselves off from the comforts and pleasures of civilized life in more settled- communities, and the Government ought to do everything in their power to make their existence as comfortable and pleasant as possible when doing their pioneering work. That can be achieved by the Commonwealth by means of mail and telephonic services, and by the States by providing roads and railways. 1 had occasion some time ago to -speak to the Postmaster-General in regard to this matter, and whilst he was certainly sympathetic, he seemed to be unable to get away from the view of the Permanent Head that his Department should pay. It appears to me that the only way to get Over the difficulty would be to provide on the Estimates a sum to make good these deficiencies. If that is to be done let it be done, although it is the veriest farce to vote money only to return it to the same pocket. The money must come out of the general revenue. The only difference is that under such a system the Department concerned flatters itself that it is paying its way because the general revenue is making good the deficiency caused by non-paying services; but the deficiency would still have to be made good under ordinary circumstances out of the Consolidated Revenue. I do not think that every person should have mail service or telephone communication at his back door; but wherever there is reasonable settlement in the backblocks, there should be a reasonable mail service, and, where possible, telephonic communication. As the honorable member for Riverina has pointed out, these telephonic extensions are of immense importance to the people in cases of sickness or accident. In country districts many people have to ride 60 or 70 miles to obtain the services of a medical man. It is bad enough to have to wait in cases of sickness or accident until a doctor is able to ride 60 or 70 miles to render service ; but when the persons concerned have to wait until a messenger can ride that distance to summon him and bring him back, lives must often be sacrificed. The principle of requiring the residents of a district to which a telephone extension is desired to guarantee the deficiency, whilst good in theory, is absolutely bad in practice. There is no means under the law of compelling the residents to contribute to the deficiency, and it is simply a case of the willing horse being overworked. Very often the men best off in a district will not pay a penny, but take the benefit of the service obtained by means of the contributions of their poorer neighbours. I cast no blame whatever upon the PostmasterGeneral. I know that he is sympathetic, but I should like him to consider this question, and to let us know at once whether he is going, whenever a reasonable case is made out, to grant telephonic communication and mail services, even where those services will not pay, or, if his Department must show a good balance-sheet, he will see that a substantial sum is placed on the Estimates to make good the deficiencies that may occur in connexion with such extensions.
– In reply to the complaints that have been made with regard to telephone extensions, I should like to remind honorable members that in the Works and Buildings (Appropriation) Bill, passed by Parliament this session, a large and substantial sum was set apart for carrying out telephonic and telegraphic works in the several States. That vote is probably the largest that has ever been granted by this Parliament for the purpose. When the Bill was before the House, I submitted lists showing the various works in each State on which that amount was to be expended. Everything done was fair and above board. Honorable members knew the destination of the money, and nothing was left to my discretion subsequent to the vote. The amount for which that Act provides, therefore, has been completely appropriated to purposes approved by Parliament. I admit that since then a large number of applications have been received from all parts of the Commonwealth for works equally as important and as urgent as some that were approved and provided for in the Works and Buildings (Appropriation) Bill. But honorable members ought to remember that I cannot sanction works for which funds are not provided. Whilst I know that the honorable member for Riverina and the. honorable member for Gippsland have been urgently pressed by their constituents to try to induce the Government to carry out many works which no doubt could be justified, some more completely than others, they must admit and recognise, as public men, that the powers of my Department are limited by the financial resources placed at its disposal by Parliament.
– We do, but we want more provision made for such works.
– Handsome provision was made this year for new works. If we had doubled the vote, I do not think we should have been able to spend the whole amount this year owing to the inadequacy of the supervising staff and the inadvisableness of enlarging that staff to meet a temporary demand which in future will probably be kept well in hand.- It would give me the greatest pleasure to be able to sanction every work that would pay or presented a reasonable prospect of paying in time to come. No penurious policy has my sympathy. I believe in a forward, progressive, and developmental policy ; but my desires and those of the Government are limited by the finances at our disposal. I hope that it will be remembered that the big instalment of the Works’ vote included in this year’s appropriation is but the first of a three years’ course of expenditure. In the second year a large number of works now pressed so effectively by honorable members will receive consideration, and so with other works in the succeeding year. But honorable members must inform their constituents, as I have told them, that the powers of the Government are limited, and that all these works cannot be carried out at once. I thoroughly sympathize with the policy enunciated by the honorable member for Riverina and the honorable member for Gippsland as to the urgent necessity of increasing telephonic and telegraphic means of communication in country districts, and shall do all that I can to support it. But whilst honorable members are justified in advocating the construction of works within, their respective constituencies, I hope that they will not attack concessions granted to others.
.- A few moments ago the honorable member for Hindmarsh drew attention to the in equality in the matter of the telephone flat rates in the various States. I wish to add a few words because an interjection made by the Postmaster-General seemed to indicate that if the consequent loss of revenue will not be too great, there is some hope of his effecting the desired change, so far as Adelaide is concerned. In this respect we are not asking for the expenditure of money or dealing with’ what has or has not been voted. We merely ask the Minister to remove an inequality that inflicts a distinct injustice upon a certain number of subscribers in one State capital. To do that it is unnecessary to amend an Act of Parliament. All that is required is the alteration of a regulation. By a stroke of his pen the Postmaster-General could effect the change, and so do justice to subscribers who at present are being imposed upon. I suggest most respectfully to him that it would be unfair to compel these persons to continue under the impost until the. Committee, appointed to inquire into the financial side of the telephone and telegraph branches of the Department submit their report. I do not know when we shall receive a report in respect of even one State, much less all the States. It may be twelve months before the Committee will have completed its very arduous labours, and in the circumstances I suggest that it would .be possible for the Minister to effect the desired change without waiting so long. Might I remind the honorable gentleman of his own interjection, namely, “ How many subscribers are affected by this unjust impost?” A report from his officers will show’ that they are not numerous, yet the impost is unjust and the effect of its removal upon the revenue would cause no inconvenience. While the amount is infinitely small to the Commonwealth, it is unjust to the individual subscribers who are suffering, and it is unfair that the impost should continue. I do not say, because the change might involve too great an alteration in the revenue, that the subscribers to the Adelaide Exchange should be put on a level even with those in Brisbane, but I do ask, and, I think, with all justification, that they -may at least be put on an equality with subscribers to the exchanges in the two other large centres of Melbourne and Sydney. I hope that the Postmaster-General will see his way clear to obtain a report from his officers and to effect the desired change.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported, and adopted.
That Sir John Forrest and Mr. Deakin do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir John Forrest, and passed through all its stages.
Order of Business - Wages, PostmasterGeneral’s Department - Torpedo Destroyers: Construction.
That the House do now adjourn.
The first business on Tuesday next prior to the dinner hour will be the resumption of the. debate on the motion for the second reading of the Electoral Bill. I have consulted with the Leader of the Opposition, and, having in view other calls that afternoon on honorable members, it has been agreed to proceed with this Bill up to that hour. After the dinner hour, the debate on the Constitution Alteration (Finance) Bill will be resumed. The voting on the test question selected having been exactly equal, we shall proceed with clause 3 as it stands.
– A deputation waited on the PostmasterGeneral yesterday in regard to the wages paid by his Department, and he very kindly agreed to certain increases. I presume that the rates of which he approved apply to all employed by his Department, irrespective of State boundaries, and I askif he will be good enough to have a schedule printed of which honorable members may obtain copies. There appear to be some slight discrepancies in the reports which have been published in the newspapers.
– The order made by me yesterday respecting wages applies primarily to Victorian employes, but the Deputy Postmasters- General of the other States have been instructed to prepare and act on scales of wages drawn upon similarly liberal lines. The local conditions of the States differ, but the Deputies have been requested to get the best information obtainable, so that they may frame scales of wages for the carrying out of the telephonic and telegraphic work which will be as liberal, fair and reasonable as those obtaining in Melbourne. I shall place on the table of the House a copv of the scale of wages of which I yesterday announced my approval.
– A few days ago I’ asked the Minister - without notice if- he had information regarding the complaint that certain artisans,’ sent Home to gain instruction in the construction of torpedo destroyers, were not being giventhe facilities which they needed. He informed me that he had cabled- to Captain Collins, the representative of the Commonwealth in London, for information, and had been advised by the latter that he intended to make a personal investigation into the matter. Has the honorable gentleman any further information?
– Yes; the following cablegram has just come to hand -
Held full inquiry examined artisans with Clarkson we find no justification newspaper reports conditions of agreement have been most fairly and liberally met by contractors artisans express appreciation of their treatment and have full opportunity for gaining experience required statement they are not allowed entry certain sections where most important parts of vessels being constructed cannot be substantiated only one suggestion made by one of the men that on completion of certain amount piece work they should be free to wander in yard without question by foreman whilst ‘ shop ‘ regulations have been stretched to allow’ of some freedom Clarkson strongly of opinion that Commonwealth interests best served by men adhering to steady work in . accordance with programme as arranged by management with approval of Clarkson which would by the time of completion allow men to gain best experience and see all work of value and importance management shown great desire to do best for men regret Hardy suffering insomnia returns by Afric medically unfit Scott as steel founder no appropriate work in yard but Denny has arranged for employment local steel foundry with concurrence of Clarkson.
I think that most satisfactory.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.50 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 November 1909, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1909/19091105_reps_3_53/>.