4th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Falling Telegraph Poles : Compensation; - Wireless Station at Cape. Borda.
– I desire to know whether the Prime Minister, following the precedent which has been established, will have inquiry made into the circumstances of the families of persons who have been killed bv the falling of tele? graph poles, with a view to putting a sum on the Supplementary Estimates to meet necessitous cases? Mr. FISHER.- Whether the families referred to are or are not in necessitous circumstances, the’ Government will favorably consider claims for compensation. Ministers have a policy on this subject which I hope will soon be brought before Parliament.
– Is it the intention of the Government, to erect a wireless telegraph station at Cape Borda, or in the locality ?
– The whole question of wireless stations round the coast of Australia is now ‘ engaging attention, and the site suggested ,by the honorable member will be considered’ with others.
– Has. the attention of the Minister of Home Affairs been drawn to the following paragraph, which appeared in the Herald df 30th October -
The Federal Public Service Commissioner is advertising for applicants for the positions of Commonwealth Medical Officers at Echuca (V.), Warwick (Q.), and Port Pirie (S.A.). The fees
Payable to the Medical Officers are set out as follows : - Each new entrant to the Public Service will be required to pay at the time of examination a fee of 10s. 6d. In the case of officers referred by Commonwealth Departments for examination the fee payable by the Department will be 103. 6d. if the officer attends at the consulting rooms and j£i is. should the medical officer be requested to visit the officer at his residence. If required to travel ‘a greater distance than two miles, the fee payable will -be a matter of arrangement between the Medical Officer and the. Department. Applications close on November m-.-
In view of thegreat dissatisfaction felt at the manner in which medical appointments were being made some time ago, when a deputation of representatives of all branches of the medical fraternity waited on the Minister. I wish to know whether, since then, appointments have been made without advertising, thus preventing every medical man and medical woman in Australia from having a fair opportunity to compete?
– I gave instructions on the occasion referred to that appointments were not to be made until the vacancies had been advertised, and I think that those instructions havebeen carried out.
– Will the Minister let us know the names of the newspapers in which the advertisements appeared?
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs,uponnotice -
Whether the following contains the full scope of the inquiry into the Sugar Industry to be covered by the recently appointed Commission, as gazetted : -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– I have not been able to make inquiries as to whether this has been done, but assume that it has been done. There has been a breach, and I am considering what action, if any, shall be taken.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
There are many difficulties, owing to different grades of wheat, in ascertaining the actual prices realized ; but the High Commissioner is being asked to look into the matter with a view to furnishing, if possible, a daily record of prices realized for Australian wheat.
Bill read, a third time.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a third time.
Late last night the following clause was inserted in the Bill -
An action or other proceeding shall not be maintainable against the Commonwealth, or the Minister, or any officer of the Commonwealth by reason of any act, default, error, or omission, whether negligent or otherwise, in relation to any lighthouse or marine mark.
The Minister of Trade and Customs, who was in charge of the measure, was unable to inform the Committee as to the law elsewhere respecting liability for negligence in the control of lighthouses, beacons, and buoys. I have not had time to look into the matter closely, but in the article “Lighthouse,” in vol. VII. of the Encyclopedia of the Laws of England, p. 456, it is stated that -
A general lighthouses authority, such as the Trinity House, is liable to an action for negligence in the performance of its duties causing damage to another person, e.g., leaving the stump of a beacon under water with which a ship collided.
The statement is based on the case of Gilbert v. Trinity House, 1886, 17 Q.B.D. 795. Turning to that report, I find it laid down that -
By the Merchant Shipping Act 1854, the superintendence and management of all lighthouses and beacons in England and the adjacent seas are vested in the Trinity House, subject to the existing jurisdiction of local lighthouse authorities.
We have not had time to look into the whole question, but would the AttorneyGeneral look further into these authorities, and consider carefully the question of the policy underlying the clause which was inserted in the Bill last night? It is a very important provision, and certainly capable of a good deal of argument on both sides. The Commonwealth, by this Bill, is taking charge of marine marks, buoys, beacons, and lighthouses, and the honorable member for Hindmarsh last night made an appeal to the Minister of Trade and Customs as to whether he knew of any existing Statute of such a nature as the provision which the Minister proposed to enact. The honorable member dwelt upon the seriousness of removing responsibility. Honorable members can see as regards beacons and buoys what a serious thing it might be.
– Not lighthouses.
– The only case mentioned in this authority is with regard to beacons and buoys.
– What is provided in the present State laws?
– I have not had an opportunity of ascertaining that.
– I shall see what is done by the States, and what the authorities say.
Mr. BRUCE SMITH (Parkes) [2.43I - I should like the Attorney-General, whilst looking into the question, to see the case of Nipper v. Watson, reported in the third volume of the New South Wales Law Reports. In that case the Government had handed over to the Marine Board the management of all the buoys and beacons in the Clarence River, New South Wales, and the Marine Board officers had taken up a buoy to paint it, and had placed it inside instead of out side the reef. One of the northern river steamers did considerable damage to herself on the reef, the owners brought an action against the Marine Board, and the Court held that the Marine Board were not liable, but that if - I speak from memory - the management of the beacons and buoys had been left in the hands of the Government the Government would probably have been liable for the injury resulting from the negligence of the Government officer. Other cases are quoted in that report.
– I shall look that case up also.
. - The position requires a good deal of consideration. Under the present law the captain of a ship is compelled to leave the bridge and hand the ship over to a pilot.
– Not to leave the bridge.
– Leave charge of the bridge. He is at any rate compelled by law to hand over absolute charge of the ship to the pilot, and if the pilot piles her up on the rocks the captain and owner have no redress. We are asked now to pass a law to provide that no matter what negligence the officers of the Commonwealth are guilty of - and I have given a case where a. ship can be wrecked through the absolute negligence of our officials - a vessel belonging to men who have put every shilling they own into it, and are running it themselves, may be lost, and we shall be utterly irresponsible, the owners having to bear the whole loss.
– There are not many ships like that nowadays.
– A case happened in Tasmanian waters where the vessel was largely owned by the captain and chief officer, who were cousins. The vessel had to be handed over to the charge of a pilot for which the owners were charged very heavy pilotage fees. The vessel was wrecked.
Mn. Archibald. - What was her tonnage - about 50 tons ?
– No; it was at least 400 tons. She is a coal hulk now. Those men were absolutely ruined, and had no redress whatever. It is a very serious thing if we are going to legislate that, no matter how careless or negligent our officers may be, even if vessels or lives are lost-
– Who is to pay? The country?
-The country should be held responsible for the acts of its officers, just as any private employer would be. A man is compelled now to surrender his ship to a pilot. Are we to say that our officers may allow buoys and beacons marking dangerous reefs to be put out of gear or placed anywhere they like, and that if a ship is wrecked we are to be wholly irresponsible, and that neither shipowners, officers, nor crew, nor passengers, are to have the slightest redress? I think we are going too far. If deliberate negligence can be proved, the Commonwealth, like all other employers, should bear the full and complete responsibility for the actions of its officers.
– I drew attention to this point last night. The clause was really intended to give an immunity to the Crown for any accident that might occur through misdirection - that is, that if the lighthouse indicated that a port was safe when it really was not safe, there would be no liability. I believe that at the present time the Crown is not responsible if a vessel under the assumed direction given by a lighthouse, goes into a certain place and is injured, because there is no contractual obligation. But in expressing that in clause 8b, in order to remove any doubt, I think the draftsman went beyond what was required, because he did the very thing that the case quoted said cannot be done. He gave immunity for negligence in putting something under water that damaged a ship. That was the very illustration which I gave as a supposititious case last night, and which seemed to be the basis of the action in the case cited by the honorable member for Darling Downs. I would not accept the authority of that case as conclusive on the point. It is doubtful whether at common law there is really any liability if a person puts something under water that damages a ship. This case turned upon the obligations imposed upon a public authority, but if there is a liability it would be bad if, in endeavouring to prevent the Crown from being liable for misdirection through a lighthouse or beacon, we exempted the Crown from liability in the case of the ordinary action for negligence.
– In this case it is the Crown direct.
– Of course the Crown would be liable here, because in the Constitution we are given a right of action within the limits of the judicial power. Assuming that there would be a right of action against a subject of the Crown, I think you could have a right of action for tort against the Crown in consequence of the legislation we have passed under the Con;stitution. No right of action, however, can be had against the Crown for tort or negligence unless a similar right would hold against a citizen offending, apart from any obligation imposed by Statute. I mention this because, in endeavouring to remove the doubt as to liability for implied contract through the lighthouses, we appear to have really given an immunity for negligence which evidently was not intended. The reason why there is a section in the Post Office Act declaring that the PostmasterGeneral is not to be responsible in any action for omission or negligence in the transmission of mail matter, is because there is a contract implied from the fact of a charge being made, and otherwise the Crown would be liable. But the Crown or the Postmaster-General does not get an immunity from actions for tort or negligence, and that is the distinction which the Attorney-General ought to see is made in a redrafting of the clause.
.-! hope the Attorney-General will not yield tc> the pressure of honorable members opposite, because we are here to protect the interests of the public and of the taxpayer. As a Government we do not derive any benefit from erecting lighthouses, the work being done to assist . the maritime and commercial traffic ; arid to say that we are to be responsible for damages in case of a wreck is going too far. Master mariners ought to keep well out on their course, and not take any risks. I believe in assisting to protect life and property; but it is another matter to say that we should be responsible for damages if a lighthouse is not placed, for instance, at a certain place.
– That is right ; the Government should not be held responsible in that case.
– But if there is deliberate negligence?
– Who is to decide that point? If we chose to put a lighthouse in a certain place in preference to another,, it might be urged that there was neglect on our part.
.- I have had some experience of actionsagainst Governments of a State in regard to what was considered negligence; and I quite agree with the honorable member for South Sydney that lights and beacons are to assist shipping and to protect those who travel on the sea. To say that a State should be liable for damages by reason of alleged negligence under such circumstances as have been indicated seems to me to be going altogether too far. It would be better for a State to refrain from erecting lighthouses or beacons, and thus avoid all liability, rather than to do its best to protect life and property, only to find itself Open to actions at law. It is impossible for a Government to be always sure that every officer does his duty ; and to say that a small State like Tasmania, for instance, should be liable for, perhaps, 000,000 damages on account of some alleged mistake, would only have the effect of inducing States to withhold all protection of the kind which they are so anxious to render Under existing circumstances. I do not know anything bf the stump or block under the water referred to by some honorable members, but I understand that, so far as lighthouses are concerned, the British Government are not liable in the case of any mischance. In a case in Western Australia which I have in my mind, the reason why the State Government was thought to be probably liable, was that in the Public Works Act there was a section providing for damages in case of negligence; and it Was held that a lighthouse was a publicwork. That case, I may say, was settled Out of Court for, I think, ,£1,500. Of course, I do not wish to go too far in the Other direction; but the Government ought to be protected. The Government of South Australia, I believe, protect themselves, in to far as they provide that no persons shall receive more than .£1,000 damages in the case of a railway accident.
– The sum is fixed at £2.000 in Victoria.
– At any rate, that principle is adopted by some of the States, and I believe there can be no action against the Postmaster-General for any negligence in the delivering of a letter, however adversely persons may have been affected.
– If there is a good case the Postmaster-General will pay.
– But he is not bound to pay. I have not in my mind the extraordinary instance referred to of a beacon being moved from one side of a reef to the other; but my desire is to have the country protected in regard to lighthouses particularly. I feel sure the AttorneyGeneral will take the matter into consideration, and I hope he will not leave the clause in a form which may expose the Government to all sorts of actions.
. -I strongly appeal to the Government, as I did last night, to look carefully into this matter. lt is of small concern whether the precaution is taken here, so long as it is taken “before the Bill finally becomes law. In my opinion, it would have been much better if we had omitted from the Bill any reference to this matter. As a layman, I am under the impression that the Crown is not liable where accident occurs by reason of any defect in the lighting of the coast ; in fact, I do not think there is any doubt on the point. Not many years ago, at Port Phillip Heads, one of the finest steamers in the mail service at that time became a total wreck; and the fact that the owners of the vessel, who, we may be sure, are shrewd business men, did not attempt to recover any compensation, is a pretty good indication of the state of the law. It is highly desirable that we should not raise any doubt as to our legal position, as we shall do by inserting a provision of this sort. It may be that we are indebted to the experience of the right honorable member for Swan for this proposal ; but it does not follow that a domestic law under which a State is liable to pay compensation is sound according to recognised principles. I am inclined to think that if the Western Australian Government had appealed it would have been held that they were not liable. We ought to be very careful in a matter of this sort, because, if the recognised principle of international and maritime law is that sovereign States are not liable under such circumstances, it would be a great mistake to make any alteration.
– Are Governments not responsible for accidents on the railways? _
– As I say, I am not a lawyer; but I do not think that Govern? ments are liable. Even if a State Government passed a law declaring that it should not be liable for damages exceeding £1,000, I am inclined to think that a question would arise as to what were the rights of an” aggrieved citizen at common law.
– We have such an Act in Victoria.
– The Statute law would prevail.
– The point I was raising was whether such a Statute law would override the. rights of any subject of the King at common law. I should not have spoken strongly on this question this afternoon but that I think the Government should have the best legal knowledge available on the subject, and that we should not try to make our position either better or worse than is the position under the British and the recognised international law.
– I do not know much of the legal side of this question ; but when I read last night the provision under consideration, it seemed to affront my sense of elementary justice. This morning I caused inquiries to be made as to whether there was any such provision in the Statutes of other countries; and, after a search had been made, 1 was told that no such provision as this was to be found in the laws of New Zealand, Canada, or the United States of America.
– Was the British law examined ?
– We have had cited to-day a case showing that the British Government recognise their obligations in this regard. This Bill is of a very onesided character. There is no reciprocity under it. Sub-clause 3 of clause 16 provides that where any damage to any lighthouses or marine mark is caused by any ship, the damage shall be charged on the ship, which may be detained by any officer of Customs until the amount of the damage is paid. Thus, we propose to come down very swiftly on any one who happens to do damage to Government property. A ship that injures a lighthouse or mark is to be put into pawn, so to speak, until it has been redeemed by payment of the penalty imposed. On the other hand, we claim that, no matter how negligent our officers may be - even if their negligence causes the loss of a ship and the loss of lives - the Commonweatlh is not to be responsible to the extent of a brass farthing.
– It is about the meanest thing that could be proposed.
– The provision emanated from a member of the Opposition.
– Did the right honorable member for Swan draft it?
– He did.
– Why try to make this a party question ?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs cannot speak for two minutes without dragging in the question of’ party- I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that ft would have been better to leave this matter outside the Bill altogether, and to allow die international law, whatever it may be, to prevail. It seems to me to be very harsh to provide that if our workmen, in removing, say, a lighthouse, negligently leave obstacles against which a vessel collides, with the result that it is completely destroyed, no compensation shall be payable. I do not see how we can break down the complete analogy that appears to exist between the rule of the . railways and the rule of the sea. If a Government signalman sets a signal against an oncoming train, and that signal is disregarded, with the result that a man is injured, that man receives compensation for his injury. In such circumstances, I believe that he could enforce a claim for compensation in any Court of the realm. What is the difference between a lighthouse and a railway signal? The respective Departments charge fees and fares for anything they do for the travelling public. Fees are charged for the upkeep of lighthouses, and for the maintenance of the pilot service, whilst fares are charged for the carriage of passengers over our railways, and the insurement of their safety. If an accident occurs on a railway, a traveller injured by that accident claims damages and gets them; but if a man happened to be travelling on the water and suffered injury, owing to a lighthouse being negligently operated, under this measure he would have no redress. We ought not to put in a Bill a proposition like this, which proclaims to the world that our officers may be negligent without rendering the Government in any way liable for their negligence.
– Does not’ the honorable member think that it is rather to prevent the bringing of unfair actions against the Government ?
– I can only say, in reply to the honorable member, that I believe it is a fact that if the PostmasterGeneral’s Department discovers that a man has lost money, or has been damaged in any way, by some gross dereliction of duty on the part of a postal employe, it is not uncommon to make him some compensation.
– I do not think any compensation exceeding ^2 is granted.
– The honorable member for Parramatta, when PostmasterGeneral of New South Wales, fixed 40s. as the limit.
– My impression is that when Postmaster-General of New South Wales I paid far more than 40s. by way of compensation. The honorable member is entirely wrong.
– I think that the maximum of £fl is a matter of international arrangement.
– At all events there is an obligation to pay something for the non-transmission of a letter if some one is thereby injured.
– The honorable member himself set the parsimonious precedent.
– I do not know that I did. It is quite competent for any jackdaw to have a peck at my cloth, and when honorable members go back fifteen or sixteen years, it is just as difficult for me to correct them as it is for them to substantiate what they say. I repeat that, as Postmaster-General of New South Wales, I paid very much more than 40s. for dereliction of duty on the part of postal officials. It is not uncommon for a Government to recognise its moral responsibility even where there is no legal responsibility.
– And that can be done notwithstanding the clause to which the honorable member objects.
– No doubt; but I think the Government would be more likely to recognise its moral responsibility if there were no such provision in the Bill. I am not suggesting that we ought to be liable for every case, but 1 do not think that we ought to proclaim to the world that no matter how negligent our officials may be. the Commonwealth cannot be held responsible. While we exact from shipmasters and others the utmost vigilance, and demand from them the last farthing of compensation for damage, we, on our side, are not recognising the slightest obligation, moral or otherwise, for loss of life or property due to the negligence of those whom we employ.
.- The speech of the honorable member for Franklin seemed to me to prove a strong argument in favour of the retention of the clause. He pointed out that, although a ship has to take a pilot, whether the captain wishes for his assistance or not, and full control has to be handed over to the pilot, the captain still retains his responsibility, and no claim can be made against the State for compensation for loss caused by the pilot’s negligence. If responsibility is not taken by the State in the matter of pilots, there is a stronger reason for refusing to accept it in the matter of lighthouses. Negligence might be alleged on the ground that a lighthouse, beacon, or buoy which was wanted had not been provided. The claim in the case of a railway accident is not against the State, but against the Railway Department, it being only an accident that the State is the carrier in that instance. The State does not guarantee safe navigation, or accept responsibility in respect to navigation. It merely endeavours to assist, as far as possible, in insuring safety. The honorable member for Parramatta spoke of the Postmaster-General’s Department, but the honorable member for Capricornia showed last week that, although the postal officials had cashed a money order when it was presented by the wrong man, and admitted that a mistake had been made, they yet refused to pay compensation to the person damaged.
– That does not prove that what was done was right.
– The principle underlying all our laws is that the King can do no wrong. The State provides efficient pilots, and a proper service of light and buoys, but accepts no responsibility. All we undertake is, as far as possible, to assist navigators, and I could imagine no more fruitful source of litigation than a law making the Government liable for accidents alleged to be due to negligence in the administration of the Department controlling lighthouses, beacons and buoys. Accidents at sea are more often due to careless navigation than to faults of management in regard to lights and buoys.
– - I do not agree with the views of the honorable members for Brisbane, Hindmarsh, and South Sydney. The clause is the quintessence of meanness. What would honorable members opposite say if a similar provision were proposed for the protection of employers? Under the Employers Liability Act, employers are responsible for damage caused by accidents, whether those accidents are due to negligence or not. It is the moral, apart from the legal, aspect of this case with which I am concerned. The most severe penalties are imposed if damage is caused by accident, or in any other way, to Commonwealth property, but the Commonwealth in return evades responsibility by exempting itself from liability under all circumstances.
– What contract is broken ?
– There is an implied contract of service to the shipping, and clauses 11 to 13 prevent the evasion of dues payable for it. Those who require to use this service should be guaranteed efficiency, and compensated for loss in the event of negligence or error inthe management or placing of lights and buoys. The lights and beacons are provided ostensibly to minimize risks, and insure greater safety in navigation. If, instead, they are negligently put in positions involving danger to navigation, those who have to pay and suffer the consequences of the Government’s negligence, or that of its servants, should be entitled to compensation. Honorable members say that the public must be protected, which, of course, is right, but we must also protect those whom we undertake to serve. When a legitimate claim lies against the Government, it should be bound to honour it.
– What about protecting the taxpayers?
– It is to libel them to say that they wish to sneak out of their obligations. As has been pointed out, the Railway Department pays compensation in connexion with accidents. What difference is there between the responsibility for die mistake of a signalman in altering, or neglecting to alter, a light, and that of a lighthouse-keeper in neglecting to keep a light burning, or another officer negligently placing lights or beacons in wrong positions? Sailing masters are bound to follow certain directions laid down for their guidance, and are heavily fined when accidents occur by reason of their neglect to do so. If they are misled by negligence or mistake on the part of Commonwealth officials, they should be entitled to compensation. If a sailing master is instructed to steer by a certain light or buoy, and that light or buoy is in a wrong position, and thus causes a wreck and the loss of lives and property, should not compensation be paid by the Government to those who have suffered?” Honorable members will appear to have little regard for the safety of life and property at sea if they exempt the Commonwealth Government from responsibility under these circumstances. When a ship is in charge of a pilot, the captain still retains responsibility, and may, under some circumstances, interfere should he think the pilot’ in error, but he has no redress if the pilot puts his ship on the rocks. I would protect the taxpayer from unfair attempts to get at the public purse, but where damage has been caused by the neglect, default, or omission of Commonwealth officers, justice and morality demand that compensation commensurate with it should be given to the injured party. I hope that the clause will be struck out.
– The honorable member for Parramatta and the honorable member for Lang are under somewhat of a misapprehension as to the principle underlying clause 8b. They seek to draw a parallel between the position of the Government and the position of a private individual ; but that parallel is by no means exact. It is an acknowledged fundamental principle underlying, not only the common law, but also our Statute law, and chiefly promulgated in connexion with our municipal law, that where a Government is acting in the general good, even if its action does result in private injury, the injury to the private individual must be suffered. So it is in this case. The Commonwealth has cast upon it by the Constitution the responsibility of providing lighthouses to assist in the safe navigation of the waters around our shores. It exercises every possible care in the location of those lighthouses, because it must be taken for granted that the only anxiety of the Commonwealth is to act in the public interest. Further, the Commonwealth says, “ We shall provide you with highly-qualified pilots for navigation purposes.” Therefore, having exercised every care in the location of lighthouses, and having provided specially qualified persons for the pilotage of ships, the responsibility of the Commonwealth is at an end. If the objections taken to clause 8b could be upheld, the Government would naturally be very reluctant to provide lighthouses at all, because it would know that every lighthouse provided by it might be a source of increased litigation. No matter what care is exercised, the possibility will still exist of something being overlooked. Every care was exercised in the location of the particular lighthouse that was supposed to overlook the rock on which the Pericles was wrecked, yet the existence of that rock was unknown.
– And that happened in broad daylight.
– How much greater then is the difficulty in connexion with navigation at night time ! If the Government takes every care in the way I have indicated, it has done all that may reasonably be expected of it.
– Does the honorable member suggest that in the absence of this clause the Government will be responsible for every sunken rock?
– The inference to be drawn from the arguments put forward against the clause is that the Government ought to be liable in the event of any damage or injury occurring by reason of an undiscovered rock. The object of the clause is to protect the Commonwealth against actions of that kind. The contention of the honorable member for Parramatta and others seems to be that if there happens to be a hidden rock within the range of a lighthouse, the Government which established the lighthouse must be responsible for damage or injury caused by that rock.
– No, that is not negligence.
– If the Government did not protect themselves in this way, every location of a lighthouse could be challenged, because negligence is a matter of opinion. Whenever a lighthouse was erected, it could be contended that it was a guarantee of absolute safety of navigation within its radius. This clause has been most rightly inserted so as not to give an invitation to proceed against the Government for negligence in case of accident within that radius. Whether the Government would be really liable or not for damages, it would be liable to be challenged, to suffer the risks of - action, and to run the risk of the inability of the plaintiff to pay in the event of his losing his suit. This clause gives some security to the Government that, when lighthouses are fixed in particular positions, even if loss or injury does occur by reason of the position of a lighthouse, the Government shall not be proceeded against for damages. My honorable friends have urged that in the event of negligence on the part of the railway authorities, or on the part of the Post Office, the Government is liable for damages. I do not think the parallel is sound. A railway is carrying on an industrial operation in the same way as a private individual. As a rule, in order to place them apart from the Government, our railways are vested in separate Commissioners or corporations, who virtually carry on an industrial concern, such as is frequently carried on by private individuals, and therefore they surfer the same liabilities as private individuals. A case of this kind, however, is quite different. The Government seeks to provide for the safety of navigation around our shores, and if it exercises every reasonable care in locating the lighthouses, and in providing qualified pilots, it does all that may be reasonably expected of it. I do not agree with the honorable member who suggested that it was the quintessence of meanness to protect the Government from actions by one clause, and by another clause to provide that, where any damage is done to a lighthouse or marine mark by a ship, the damage may be charged on the ship, and the ship detained by any Customs officer until the amount is paid. Those provisions are in complete harmony with the fundamental principles of government as we know it at the present time. Where the public interest is concerned, matters which may be more or less injurious to private interests may be done, but where, on the other hand, as between private individuals injury is suffered, the private individual who causes it is naturally liable. The two clauses which have been contrasted are, I contend, reasonably consistent with those fundamental principles. The clause to which exception has been taken is sound and good, and should remain in the Bill as a reasonable protect tion to the Government, and also as an encouragement to the Government to proceed with the erection of lighthouses with all reasonable care.
– The AttorneyGeneral has asked me to intimate to the House that, in view of the objections raised, and statements made by a number of honorable members, he will make full inquiries as to how the law stands in different countries. The Government will then give careful consideration to the authorities bearing on the subject, and if it is found necessary, they will have the clause altered in another place.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Bill presented and (on motion by Mr. Fisher) read a first time.
Mr. Tudor laid on the table the following paper : -
Customs Act - Regulation re Maximum Weight of Packages of Wheat, &c, for Inter-State Transfer - Statutory Rules 191 1, No. 168.
Additions, New Works, and Buildings
In Committee of Supply:
– The understanding, of course, is that the general Estimates be postponed until after the consideration of the Works and Buildings Estimates, and that the general Budget debate shall take place after these have been dealt with. I am not here to ask honorable members to restrict their speeches generally to the items, and to refrain from dealing at this stage with matters of policy, but I hope they will do so as far as possible.
– The Works and Buildings Estimates involve a number of questions of policy.
– I quite understand that. I move -
That the consideration of the General Estimates be postponed until after the consideration of the Estimates for additions, new works, buildings, &c.
– The Government are now adopting a course that has been followed for the last year or two. The custom was, I think, inaugurated in 1907, but it was then insisted by Sir George Turner, who was in Opposition, or, at any rate, not in the Government, that the debate on the Budget should be concluded before we proceeded with the Works Estimates. The year before last, however, even that practice was altered, because we were all anxious that there should be no delay in passing the Works Estimates, so that the works might be put in hand at once. The Government are, I think, to blame somewhat for accentuating the position by reason of the late period at which the Budget has been submitted this year. I have less hesitation in saying that, because I remember so well how very unreasonable the present Treasurer was, when in Opposition, in demanding that the Estimates should be submitted long before it was really possible. Since he came into office, however, a change has come over him ; and that which he then thought easy he now finds to be difficult. In fact, the right honorable gentleman has been a greater sinner than any previous Treasurer in regard to submitting the Estimates at a late period of the session. In 1909 the Government of which I was Treasurer came into office, and twenty-seven days later, on the 29th June, the present Treasurer, who was then in Opposition, said -
I do not know of any difficulties in the way . of the Treasurer making his Budget statement before the end of July, ….
For honorable members to be called upon to’ sacrifice two valuable months after the Ministry have had one month in which to consider the financial position is altogether out of keeping with my ideas of responsible government.
Then, on the 30th June, the present Treasurer said -
If the right honorable member made up his mind to apply himself to the task he should have no difficulty in submitting the Budget before the end of July.
That was one month after the close of the financial year. I say, without hesitation, that if the information hitherto supplied to the House in the shape of a full statement of the expenditure of the last year and the Budget-papers, continues to be supplied, it is scarcely possible to have the Estimates on the table before the end of July. On the 12th August, 1909, the Estimates were introduced - that is, about six weeks after the end of the financial year. The Budget was debated from the 12th August to the 25th August, when we undertook, as we are doing to-day, to deal with the Works Estimates, and these were passed in two days. The debate on the Budget was resumed on the 31st August,, only a day or two afterwards ; in fact, it was the first business after the Works Estimates had been disposed of. That, I understand, is the course which the Treasurer proposes to follow this year, but which was not followed last year. It was the 7 th September, or ten weeks after the end of the financial year, before the Estimates were submitted last year, and on the very day the Budget was introduced the Works Estimates were passed. I do not know how we managed to do that.
– We were kept here all night !
– I remember, now, that we finished dealing with the Works Estimates on the following morning. But what happened then? Eleven weeks elapsed, and it was not until the 25th November that we had a chance to discuss the Budget itself. It is, I think, altogether beyond what is reasonable or right that there should be no discussion on the financial proposals of the Government for so long a period after the introduction of the Budget. In fairness to the Treasurer, I must say he was not here last year; but still members of his Govern- ment were here, and the proceeding was certainly most improper. This year, of course, the late meeting of Parliament is, doubtless, the reason for the late submission of the Budget. We did not meet until the 5th September - more than two months later than usual - and it is now seventeen weeks since the end of the financial year, and eight weeks since the meeting of Parliament ; yet we have not had an opportunity to discuss the financial proposals of the Government. I do not think that that is the way the business of the country should be carried on; and I am inclined to adopt the words of the right honorable gentleman last year, and say that this is altogether out of keeping with my ideas of responsible government. I hope that the Treasurer, in the future, will see that the Estimates are introduced as soon as possible. I know that it is the desire of all Treasurers to have the financial proposals laid before Parliament at as early a date as can be arranged ; but it is impossible, so long as we retain our present system, to have the Estimates much before the middle of August. If the financial year ended a couple of months before Parliament met, and there was statutory authority to cover the two months’ expenditure, it would be quite possible to have the Estimates on the table when Parliament assembled ; and this would be a plan most satisfactory to honorable members and all concerned. But so long as the financial year ends at the same time as we meet, so long must there be six weeks’ delay before it is possible to place the financial information before honorable members.
– Why not have the end of the financial year earlier ?
– That is a matter for consideration. If we continue to meet on the 1st July, or near that date, I should be in favour of ending the financial year two months earlier, with, as I say, statutory power to cover the expenditure for two months. We have, however, always been halting between two opinions ; and we do not know what is the most convenient time to meet. Some of us have, or had, an idea that, when the Federal Capital is established in a colder part of the country, it will be convenient to meet in the summer; but, until we have made up our minds in that respect, matters had better remain as they are. I have no objection to the proposal now before the Committee.
.- I hope that next year the Treasurer will not be so late in submitting the Works Esti mates. I admit that this year there has been some difficulty owing to the Coronation ; but it is most inadvisable that public works should be held up for four or five months because we cannot vote the money. I absolve the Prime Minister in this respect, because I do not think he is the only offender. I seem to remember, in the dim mists of antiquity, some knowledge of previous distinguished Treasurers behaving very much in the same way. It seems to be a habit of Treasurers to try to keep back the Estimates as long as possible.
– Is that so, Sir John?
– I remind my right honorable friend that I was referring to distinguished ex-Treasurers. There is, for instance, the honorable member for Hume, who, for a number of years, distinguished that high office, and was invariably late with his Estimates. I should be the very last to suggest that the right honorable member for Swan had any faults at all when he occupied the post of Treasurer. I sincerely hope the Prime Minister will not repeat the mistake, but will give the public services of the Commonwealth a decent chance to construct works, by having the money voted as early as possible in the financial year.
– I make no complaint of the criticism on the ground of the lateness of the Budget. The Leader of the Opposition, and honorable members opposite, are quite right to protest ; but if I have the pleasure and honour to introduce the Budget next 3’ear, I shall be surprised if it is not done in the month of July.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Divisions 1 to 5 (Home Affairs), ^824,915
– - We are all anxious to have these Estimates passed, and, speaking for myself, I shall assist the Treasurer to dispose of them as quickly as possible, in view of the fact that the financial year is far advanced, and it is necessary that the works should be put in hand. The expenditure is immense, amounting to .£4,306,365. Unless everything is in readiness for the various works, it will l>e impossible to spend all this money within the remaining eight months of the financial year. The Government ought to take into consideration the question of fixing a convenient time for the presentation of the Budget. The present arrangement is about as bad as it could be. It is un-: satisfactory also from the point of view of the Treasury. The books of the Department cannot be entered up properly ; the officers do not know what the votes of Parliament are going to be, and the accounts have to be so kept as to allow of adjustments being readily made.
– There is no even running.
– That is so. Sometimes the end of the calendar year is reached before the Treasury knows what are the exact votes of the Parliament. If we could make up our minds as to the most convenient time of the year for Parliament to assemble, and arrange for the financial year to close a couple of months earlier, so that the Estimates could be placed on the table when Parliament met, a great deal of trouble would be saved.
– The position is a little better now, because a number of works are running on.
– I hope it is, but the Government, despite their desires and energy, will find it difficult to spend this money during the eight months that still remain of the present financial year. I have been looking through these Estimates during the last two or three days, and have come to the conclusion that there are several matters in respect of which the Government are not actively interesting themselves. For instance, it is laughable to find an item of £1,000 in respect of the erection of Commonwealth offices in London. It would be far better to refrain from voting anything than to vote £1,000 for such a work, more especially as a similar amount was voted last year, and was not spent. The Government would appear not to be in earnest in regard to that work. Then, again, we have an item of £22,500 in respect of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway.
– What is that for ?
– We have not yet been supplied with the details. I shall be quite satisfied if I am assured that it represents the estimate of the expenditure for the year as prepared by the Engineer, in whom I have every confidence.
– It represents every penny he has asked for. If he wants more, he will get it.
– Very well; that is satisfactory. Where large sums are asked for in respect of certain works, the details of which are not shown in the Estimates, papers should be issued giving us the necessary informa tion. We have on these Estimates an item of £100,000 in respect of the Federal Capital, and we ought to have before us a statement showing how that amount is to be expended. It is a common practice to issue slips with the Estimates showing in detail how lump sums in respect of the Departments are to be expended, and that course should be followed by the Commonwealth Government. Both in regard to the £16,000 spent last year on preliminaries at the Federal Capital, and the £100,000 to be spent this year, we ought to have a detailed statement. Then, again, we have an item of ,£2,500 on these Estimates towards the cost of construction and alteration of lighthouses.
– There is a footnote showing that the total estimated cost is £25,000.
– Quite so; but if the Government are going to do anything this year in connexion with this important work, £2,500 will not carry them very far. A large number of lighthouses are urgently required on the Australian coast. Another item to which I would call attention is one of £2,000 for additional magazines, the total estimated cost of which is £10,000. Evidently not much is to be done this year. On the Estimates for last year there was an item of £15,000 for wireless telegraphy, and of that sum only £4,393 was expended. We are now asked to vote £20,000 for the same purpose. There is hardly any excuse for the failure of the Government to expend the amount voted last year. The installation of wireless telegraph stations is of vital importance. When I was returning from England, recently, I could not help regretting that, whilst we were able to communicate by wireless with practically every passing ship, we were unable to communicate with Australia, because there was no wireless telegraph station on our coast. Unless there happened to be a ship at Fremantle fitted with wireless, we could not get into touch with the mainland. I do not know whether to find fault or to sympathize with the Government; but it is almost a public scandal that, although this matter has been going on for nearly two years, we have not yet one wireless station in Australia. There must be something wrong, and I trust that the Ministry will seriously set themselves to work to spend the amount1 that we are asked this year to vote. When I held office as Treasurer, years ago, there was £10,000 on the Estimates for thispurpose, but no tangible results have yet been attained. I was most anxious at the time that we should connect Port Moresby with Cooktown, or Thursday Island, by means of wireless, but, although the work was to be immediately undertaken, nothing has yet been done. I cannot account for the delay. The Minister, unlike many of us, did not go to England in connexion with the Coronation celebrations; he was here all the time, and I fail to understand his inaction. The Minister of Trade and Customs tells us that he is “ watching’’ the Tariff, and the Government appears also to be “ watching “ events in this regard- Our desire is that they shall do something. There is also on these Estimates a proposed vote for coinage. I am glad to say that the introduction of Australian silver coinage has proved remunerative, but I regret the delay that has taken place in obtaining silver from the Old Country. The British Government undertook to withdraw from circulation here ,£100,000 of their silver every year for a period of twenty years, and I thought that when I left office £100,000 was ready to be withdrawn. I find, however, that so far only ,£25,000 worth of silver has been w withdrawn, although two or three years have elapsed since the agreement was entered into. What is the reason for the delay? Cannot the Imperial Government coin the silver?
– We cannot get it .from them.
– Then, I think we had better coin it for ourselves. When the British Government have a supply available will they make up the lost ground by withdrawing the full amount that ought to have been withdrawn up to date ?
– I think the agreement was that so much per quarter should be withdrawn. Our patriotic feelings will not permit of our embarrassing the Government of the Old Country.
– We should not embarrass them, and I do not ask that anything of the kind should be done. I come now to the question of the Federal Capital, concerning which I should like some further information. As I have already pointed out ,£16,000 was expended under this heading last year, and we are asked now to vote ,£100,000. I wish to know what is going to be done with this money. I believe proposals have been made for die conservation of water on a large scale for the purpose of a lake. I strongly approve of that being done. A great deal of work will have to be done in preparing the ground for the lake, and the bottom of the lake itself, before we impound the water. A good supply of clear water will be the glory of the place.’ I am not prepared to say that pumping is not cheap, but I should like to see the water brought by gravitation from higher up the Cotter. Compared with the advantage the cost would be nothing. I am aware that water can be lifted cheaper than anything else, but pumping is an interminable work, I think, too, that we should have some information as to the best route for a railway to Yass-Canberra. It is more than likely that communication can be got from Victoria by a quicker route than that now followed by the railway. I should like a survey, which would not cost much, of a route from Albury through Germanton and Tumut to the Federal Capital site. It is absurd to have to go 100 miles round about; and I think we could get a much shorter route. I hope that, during the recess, the Government will obtain all necessary information as to the practicability of my suggestion. On page 216 of the Estimates, £600,000 is set down to pay to a Trust Fund for telegraphs and telephones, .as a special account. The Treasurer, in his Budget speech, page 1892, after telling us that the year 1910-11 closed with a surplus of ,£1,829,524, said that £1,112,679 of it was to be used for the construction of the Fleet. This, he said, he considered quite a legitimate use of the surplus, and far preferable to raising loan money for the purpose. Of course, he can pay into a trust account any surplus money he may have, because particular Trust Funds have been established by Acts of Parliament, and intended to be replenished by votes or balances at the disposal of the Treasurer. Half of the surplus for last year was paid into’ the Trust Fund for the construction of the Fleet, and the other half into die Trust Fund for the payment of old-age pensions. £600,000 is also to be paid into a Trust Fund for expenditure on telegraph and telephone works, as required during the next two or three years. The intention, I take it, is to have a special Trust Fund Account for telegraph and telephone works, and to pay £600,000 into it. The £1,112,679 to be taken from the Trust Fund for the construction of the Fleet is quite regular, but not so the taking out of any Trust Fund, ,£600,000, with the object of placing it in another Trust Fund for telegraph and telephone works. The
Treasurer tells us, on page 4 of the Estimates of Expenditure, that £1,712,679 was deducted from the total estimated expenditure. I take exception to that procedure. The Treasurer said -
This amount (,£1,712,679) being in trust funds and available for expenditure in igri-12, is deducted from the total expenditure in order to show the actual charge to the Consolidated Revenue Fund during the current financial year. The balance of last year’s surplus, namely, ^116,845, w’‘l remain in Trust Fund, and be available for expenditure in 1912-13.
The surplus of last year was £1,829,524, which the Treasurer divided into two equal amounts of £914,762, paying them to the credit of the Fleet Construction Trust Fund and the Old-age Pension Trust Fund. The Budget papers show that die sum to the credit of the Fleet Construction Fund on 30th June last is £914,762 ; but the Treasurer proposes to take from that fund £1,112,679. These trust accounts seem to be regarded as bags into which the Treasurer can place any money at any time, so long as he has a general appropriation. We appropriated three or four millions a year or two ago, almost as a formal matter, to provide for the payment of the money into a fund from which the Treasury could, at any time, distribute it in the payment of pensions. So far as. oldage pensions payments are concerned, Parliament does not desire to pass votes every year. Nothing could be gained by that. But regarding payments for the construction of the Fleet, we desire to know how the money is to be spent; how much is paid for salaries, and so on. Yet the money is paid into a trust account, to be used as the Treasurer likes, without any approval by Parliament, so long as there is a general appropriation.
– We have provided for the payment of £3,000.000 towards the cost of the Fleet unit.
– The Treasurer has not provided that. He has only provided for the appropriation of the money : he has not yet found the money. According to the statement on page 68 of the Budget papers, the balance carried forward from the 1st July, 1911, was £914,761 14s. tod., which is half of the surplus for last year. I should like to know whether the £600,000 to be used for telegraphs, &c, is in a Trust Fund at present. If it is in either the Fleet Trust Account or the Old-age Pensions Trust Account, it cannot be taken out except by an Act of this Parliament.
– Because section 61 of the Audit Act prevents the Treasurer from - expending any money standing to the credit of the trust fund except for the purposes of such fund, or under the authority of an Act.
We are spending £2,000,000 on old-age pensions. That is all right, because there is a fund there.
– Because I honestly tell Parliament that we are using all that money, first taking it for old-age pensions and then showing it in another way, the honorable member says I am not doing right.
– The right honorable member is doing right in putting it into the Fund, but not doing right in withdrawing it as he proposes. He disposed of his credit balance at the end of the financial year of £1,829,524, by paying £914,762 into each of the Trust Funds for Fleet construction and for old-age pensions, and having placed those sums to the credit of those funds, he can only use them for the purposes of those funds, or under the authority of an Act.
– Does the right honorable member say I cannot use all that money for the payment of old-age pensions ?
– I submit that he cannot, without the authority of an Act.
– We can spend both what we are putting towards the Fleet unit and what we are putting towards the old-age pensions.
– The Act says it shall not be lawful for the Treasurer to expend any moneys standing to the credit of a Trust Fund except for the purposes of that fund, or under the authority of an Act.
– The Treasurer does not propose to take money from the old-age pensions fund for the purposes of the Fleet, or from the Fleet fund for the purposes of old-age pensions.
– I should say that when money is paid into a. fund in the Treasury it must remain there unless, it is taken out by an Act.
– But the Treasurer already has an Act?
– He has no Act authorizing him to take this money out of those Trust Funds, and put it into postal expenditure. That sum of £600,000 cannot be taken out of any of those funds except by an Act of this Legislature. The right honorable member can bring down a Bill authorizing the withdrawal of the money from one of the existing funds, and its use for any purpose he likes to name.
– Are not the works on which that .£600,000 is to be spent specified somewhere in these Estimates?
– That appropriation will not take the money out of the Trust Funds. It is only an ordinary appropriation out of the Consolidated Revenue. It says nothing about taking the money from the Trust Funds. The Treasurer cannot take money from the Trust Funds and spend it on postal facilities except by virtue of an Act of Parliament, and that Act he will have to get. We are not told from which Trust Fund this £600,000 is to be taken.
– From the Consolidated Revenue, I suppose.
– The Treasurer does not say so in his speech. After telling us that he had distributed the credit balance of £[1,829,524 in equal proportions between the Fleet Construction Trust Fund and the Old-age Pensions Trust Fund, he says -
We shall thus practically expend amounts of ^’600,000 and 112,679, together ^1,712,679, of the surplus of last year for these objects.
– Can I not use the whole of the money in the Fleet Unit Trust Fund for the Fleet Unit, and the whole of the money in the Old-age Pensions Trust Fund for old-age pensions, leaving available an equivalent sum out of the current year’s revenue to expend in the way suggested? Of course I can, and that is what is being done.
– That is not what the right honorable member said he would do.
– I made it plain. Instead of hiding it I told exactly the whole story.
– The right honorable member has fallen into the error of thinking that surplus revenue can be placed to a trust account where there is an appropriation for that trust account, and that it can be taken back again for purposes other than those of that fund. That, however, cannot be done.
– I do not allege that.
– The right honorable member cannot use money put into a Trust Fund for old-age pensions except for old-age pensions or for any other purpose under the authority of an Act of this Legislature.
– I agree.
– But the right honorable member has not done that
– Oh, yes.
– I think I shall have the Treasurer with me when I say that the whole question of the trust accounts requires to be closely looked into. Where there is a straightforward payment like old-age pensions under the very precise terms of the law it is all plain sailing, but if we are to commence now, as the right honorable member intends, to open up a trust account for postal expenditure, that sum will be absolutely at the Treasurer’s disposal to do as he likes with, not even telling the House what he is going to do with it.
– I* shall tell the House. I shall bring down a schedule of Estimates.
– That is what I think should be done. The right honorable member said yesterday, in reply to me, that we had no loan funds now. I knew that we had none at present, but the Audit Act provides for both loan and trust funds. Although, for instance, there might be authority by an Act for spending £5,000,000 of loan funds on a railway, yet, under the Audit Act and under the procedure, Loan Estimates in connexion with that amount should be brought down to Parliament for approval with just as much detail as if it was an expenditure out of the Consolidated Revenue. Loan Estimates are common in all the States. I had a great deal to do with them, and we had to be just as particular about them as about Estimates with regard to Consolidated Revenue. All the details were submitted to Parliament with just as much precision, and the proposed expenditure was embodied in the Appropriation Act every year.
– That was to show that they were not being misapplied.
– It was in order that honorable members might criticise them, and strike them out just as freely, if thought necessary, as the items of the Consolidated Revenue. Every item had to be approved by Parliament, just the same as in the case of the ordinary Estimates, and temporary Supply had to be obtained as required in exactly the same way as annual supplies for carrying on the ordinary business of government. We have in front of us large works like the construction of a Fleet, the Western Australian railway and the Northern Territory railways, and there will require to be great works in the
Northern Territory. If we carry those works on out of funds, whether they are called loan funds or not, those funds will consist of moneys not belonging to the Consolidated Revenue, and we ought to have the same precision, the same care, and the same scrutiny over every penny of that expenditure as we have over the Consolidated Revenue. But we certainly will not have it if the procedure followed this vear is continued. I make some excuse for the present Treasurer, because we are only beginning, and have hitherto had only old-age pensions and some departmental accounts in the Trust Funds; but the question is becoming a very large one, and I shall refer to it later on when we reach the Estimates-in-Chief. My opinion is that the system of creating Trust Funds - and the Treasurer can create them-
– I think the Treasurer can establish a trust account.
– Yes, he can, under the Audit Act Amendment Act of 1906, section 62A.
– Not a Trust Fund of this kind.
– There is nothing to prevent the Treasurer creating a trust account and putting into it any surplus at his disposal, and spending it as he likes, without the control of this Parliament, once he gets it into the trust account. I do not say that the right honorable member would do it, but he has the power to do it, and that is a power we ought not to give any Treasurer. I believe in giving the Treasurer a good deal of power ; but this Parliament ought to keep full control over the expenditure.
– The Trust Funds referred to in the Act of 1006 are minor Trust Funds for small payments.
– These Trust Funds are growing very large now. Last year £15,500,000 was received into them; £5,000,000 was spent, and on 1st July of this year, £11,500,000 was standing to their credit, although £8,000,000 of it belonged to the Notes account. We are getting into big figures, and what might have been allowable heretofore must not be allowed to continue. I do not know whether the Treasurer is inclined to continue that system or not, but he seems to be inclined to put £600,000 into a trust account for no reason at all. He could just as well keep that amount in the Consolidated Revenue, unless there is some constitutional reason which I am not aware of against it. When he gets the £600,000 into the Trust Funds he can spend it exactly as he likes, free from the control of this Parliament. I do not mean anything personal to the present Treasurer, who, I am sure, would do his best; but that is not the way the finances of the country should be controlled. This system of creating Trust Funds - and the Treasurer can create them - will, if persisted in - end in lessening the control of Parliament over Immense portions of the revenue. An appropriation is made for the purposes of a Fleet or a railway covering, perhaps, millions, and, under the present system, when that money gets into the trust account, it can be. spent bv the Treasurer for the purpose named, without any approval of the details by Parliament. It would be a strange state of affairs if Parliament provided, say, £100,000 as a Fleet account, and, when an appropriation of £100,000 was passed for some purpose, honorable members should be told that the latter had been taken out of the Fleet Trust Fund. The Treasurer appears to have put aside a sum for the Fleet and old-age pensions, and now proposes to take £600,000 of that sum for postal purposes.
– The £600,000 is to be taken out of the Consolidated Revenue.
– That is not so, according to the statement in the Budget speech. I hope that expedition will be used with these Estimates, and that the Minister of Home Affairs will exercise some energy, for I think it will take him all his time to spend the money during the next eight months.
. The honorable member for Swan is an ex-Treasurer of his own State, and of the Common-‘ wealth ; and, of course, we must pay some attention to his criticism, especially when it is directed to the form in which the accounts are presented. I am glad to say that it is only to the form’ to which the honorable member takes exception, and he freely admits that he indulged in the same practice when he was Treasurer.
– I never took moneys in and out of Trust Funds - backwards and forwards.
– The honorable member, as Treasurer, was not fortunate enough to have sufficient money to move backwards and forwards in connexion with Trust Funds. The Trust Fund of £1,800,000 odd is for the Fleet unit and old-age pensions ; and, in both instances, the amount will be more than covered by the annual appropriation. I stated quite plainly the reason why this Trust money had to be encroached on, namely, the excessive expenditure on these two items. As to the £600.000 proposed to be given to the Post and Telegraph Department to spend in addition to the ordinary annual appropriation, I think all will agree that one of the greatest difficulties we have is the jarring at the end of the financial year. Since this Government has been in office, we have more than doubled the expenditure on postal works each year; and this year we have done the same, though that does not remove all the difficulty.
– The Treasurer is talking about extra expenditure ; but does he know that not one single mile of telegraph line has been completedin Queensland since Federation ?
– That shows how much better equipped Queensland was as compared with the other States. I am inclined to think, however, that the honorable member is in error.
– I am absolutely correct.
– I know that a. copper wire was sent north of Brisbane.
– That is a telephone wire.
– It is also used as a telegraph wire when occasion requires. At any rate, it is a fact, known to all honorable members who have travellednorth, that the telephone system in Queensland was the very best equipped in the whole of Australia. In Victoria, however, the system was rather poor ; and the first duty of the Government is to provide for the most necessary works.
– This £600,000 comes out of the Consolidated Revenue.
– Does it not come out of the £1,800,000?
– It must come out of the Consolidated Revenue?
– Exactly. What I said was intended to show honorable members where the money was to come from.
– The Treasurer is creating a Trust Fund by an act of appropriation?
– Yes. This£600,000 will be used, in addition to the , £700,000 intended to be voted for the Post and Telegraph Department, for two years, in order to bring the work up to date.
– That is equal to £2,000,000 in two years?
– Yes; that is the amount asked for from time to time to fully equip the Post Office and bring it up to date. The reason why this money has been divided into two payments of £700,000, and the , £600,000, is that the , £700,000 each year is for definite and distinct works ; while the £600,000 is intended to extend over two or three years so that it shall not be expended in any haphazard way.
– The Treasurer means that the money will continue to be available after the close of the financial year ?
– Yes; and that means continuity of work, such as is secured in the case of the building of a railway or great bridge, by voting the whole amount instead of dividing it into annual appropriations.
– If that be so, why do we set on the Estimates , £250, for instance, voted as an advance for a specific work ?
– That is the very weakness of our annual votes.
– It is usual to put a footnote indicating the total amount to be expended.
– Quite so; and the amount voted is that estimated to be expended during the financial year. It would be an anomaly to propose an expenditure of , £250 as an instalment of£10,000, without indicating to Parliament the total involved ; indeed, it would be wrong on the part of a Treasurer to conceal the fact from Parliament. There is no intention on the part of the Government to obtain votes without full knowledge on the part of honorable members. The , £600,000 covers works which cannot be dealt with economically by annual votes. The honorable member for Swan quite properly said that this money should not be given into the possession of a Treasurer, or any other Minister, to expend as he pleases. I certainly would not undertake the responsibility of expending such an amount unless a definite schedule of the works were laid before Parliament, and, if necessary, embodied in an Act.
– As a matter of fact, section 61 of the Audit Act would, apparently, empower the Prime Minister to spend trust money for the purposes of the Trust Fund without special authority.
– But I should not accept the responsibility, but rather desire Parliament to say what has to be done. I say that, subject to the reservation that such a vote should be a little more flexible than an appropriation in the Estimates, because the latter forbids the expenditure of a single penny in any other way than that prescribed’. That is one reason why it would be wise to take separate power under an Act. The necessity for it is quite apparent. The right honorable member for Swan raised a question in regard to our silver coinage, but I do not think it would be advisable for us to overpress the Mother Country in that regard.
– We ought to mint our own silver as soon as we can.
– That is the policy of our party, but it is a mistake to suppose that any monetary advantage would in that way accrue to the Commonwealth. We reap all the profits to be derived from the use of our own silver coinage at the present time. The Government of the United Kingdom cheerfully agreed to allow us to substitute our own silver for the British silver at present current in Australia, and we are securing all the profits.
– But we are not getting the new coinage as fast as we want it.
– That arises largely from the fact that the demand for silver and copper coins, a’nd indeed, for all coinage, as well as for Australian notes, is rapidly increasing, owing to our increased prosperity.
– Would it not be better for us to mint our own silver here - we have the raw material?
– So far from objecting to the minting of silver here, I am in favour of that being done, and an early opportunity will be taken to carry out our object. The right honorable member for Swan took exception to the small amount set down in respect of lighthouses. As I explained in my Budget statement, when we propose a scheme for the building of lighthouses we shall have to ask Parliament to vote some hundreds of thousands of pounds. The item in these Estimates relates only to repairs. As to the proposed vote of £100,000 in respect of the Federal Capital, the items will be given. Some of the suggested works in respect of this vote are the construction of a weir on the Cotter River, the erection of a bridge over the Murrumbidgee, a temporary railway from Queanbeyan, the centre of distribution, a brickmaking plant, and supply of timber, while a sum of £15,000 will also bs required to meet the expenses of administration and survey operations. As to our land policy, I may say at once that it is well known. All lands within, say, a 7-mile radius of the Capital must be acquired by the Commonwealth Government.
– So far the Government are not purchasing any land.
– The policy of this Go.vernment is to acquire the lands under one of our existing laws, which provides that they shall be secured at what was their valuation when the site of the Capital was fixed. These lands will be purchased with Commonwealth money, if this Government remains in office, so that any values that accrue to them, as the result of the expenditure of public money in the Federal Territory, will go to the people of the Commonwealth, who provided for that expenditure. That is the position we take up. No Government could purchase so large an area as we shall have to acquire without raising money other than by means of the ordinary annual appropriations, and I do not think that any honorable member would ask that all this territory should be purchased out of the annual appropriations. Money so expended will be really a capital charge, and I think we shall get to begin with, a return of at least 3 per cent. These Federal Capital lands ought to be acquired as a business transaction from- the point of view of the Commonwealth. The money expended in the Federal Territory will have been contributed by the whole of the people, and it will be incumbent upon the Government of the day to see that the enhanced land values so created shall accrue to them. As to the point raised by the right honorable member for Swan regarding the smallness of the proposed vote in respect of Commonwealth offices in London and the failure to expend the vote of £1,000 passed last year, [ may say that the Government knew that a number of members of this Parliament would be visiting Great Britain this year, and therefore stayed their hands, lt is our intention to ask Parliament to agree to our acquiring what is known as the Aldwych site. We propose to acquire the larger area, and to erect thereon a substantial building. Parliament will be asked to pass a measure enabling the work to be carried out with expedition.
– What will be the cost in respect of land and buildings?
– Something under £600,000.
– Will that provide for acquiring the freehold?
– The London County Council have adopted the principle of perpetual leasehold, but they think it advisable to waive it in our case, and it is therefore proposed, by their desire and at our request, that the land shall become Commonwealth property. ,£600,000 will provide not only for the purchase of the land, but for the erection of a building which will house the High Commissioner and staff as well as the representatives of the States - if they so desire - in a manner that will be worthy of Australia. I am sure that the right honorable member for Swan will agree with me that the only question involved is whether the larger or the smaller scheme should be adopted. I am personally, distinctly in favour of the larger scheme. We ought to secure the whole of the property that will be increased in value by the expenditure of our money. There will be a considerable return by way of rents from, the offices that we propose to build. I do not think the loss will be great, and the advantage of having in London a building where the Commonwealth work can be well done, and where Australia can be properly represented, must be very considerable. As to the main question regarding the Trust Funds, I am quite as anxious as is the right honorable member for Swan that our Trust Funds shall be placed on a thoroughly satisfactory basis. Regarding the minor Trust Funds, which, as the honorable member for Darling Downs has pointed out, we have power to create, I have in every instance insisted upon the balance to the credit of such funds at the end of the financial year being paid into the Consolidated Revenue, so as to permit of a complete grip being_kept upon the expenditure. That is the best we can do in the meantime. I do not think there is any serious danger arising from these Trust Funds, for every safeguard is being taken by the Treasury to prevent their being put to any unusual use.
.- I understand that the proposed Trust Fund of £600,000 in respect of special telegraph and telephone works has yet to be created, and will be built up out of moneys from the Consolidated Revenue. There is altogether a sum of £700,000 011 these Estimates to be expended on telephone and special telegraph works.
– I am taking the total of Division No. 6, under which it is proposed to appropriate £700,000 for that purpose, whilst the Government are also making provision for the creation of a fund of £600,000.
– I estimate that we shalt also have to spend ,£700,000 next year.
– The Trust Fund of £[600,000 which the Treasurer is now creating is to be devoted only to works specifically enumerated in the Estimates.
– That is justifiable. If the right honorable gentleman were creating a general Trust Fund under section 61 of the Act - a general fund of £600,000, to be expended upon postal works which Parliament had not specifically authorized - there would be good ground for the criticism in which the right honorable member for Swan has indulged ; but the Treasurer is not proposing to do that.
– I should bring down a schedule.
– Exactly. We are authorizing the construction of works involving the expenditure of £600,000, which are specified in these Estimates. If, at the end of the financial year, those works were not completed, the votes in respect of them would, under ordinary circumstances, lapse, so that the Treasurer would find himself in the position of having a lot of incomplete works and a number of lapsed votes. To obviate that difficulty, this special Trust Fund is to be created. I think the desire of the Treasurer is a laudable one - that, instead of these votes being allowed to lapse at the end of the financial year, this special Trust Fund shall be created, and that the works in respect of which they are passed shall be continued, but only on the basis authorized by Parliament. That is the position.
– That is a perfectly sound principle.
– But where are the works set out?
– They appear in Division No. 6.
– There is another item of £600,000 in the General Estimates.
– No. In making up the total, the sum of £[600,000 seems to have been counted twice, and we are being asked to vote £[600,000 for works expressly paid for out of a trust account, but I understand that the intention is that if of the £^600,000 voted for works expressly authorized only £300,000 is spent during the financial year, the balance will go into the trust account, and be drawn on as needed.
– No. The £600,000 is additional to the sum voted for works expressly authorized. I have stated that a schedule of the works for which the ^£600,000 is to.be asked will be brought down.
– We are being asked to draw a blank cheque, on the understanding that later we shall be told what the money is to be spent on.
– The Treasurer should insert a foot-note stating that this money is to be appropriated by a special Act.
– I have no objection to providing for an Act.
– With a special schedule. That would be more satisfactory.
– I shall think over the matter.
– I wish to know from the right honorable gentleman if a statement of policy is to be made regarding the development of the Northern Territory, where obviously there must be considerable expenditure on public works. A sum is set down for the survey of a railway from Pine Creek to the Katherine. That proposal opens up the whole question of railway policy. We should know what is to be done, what gauge is to be adopted, and whether the line is to be ultimately carried forward to join the Queensland railway system.
– I have asked the Minister ot External Affairs to make a statement of policy during this debate.
– Then I shall reserve my remarks until a later stage.
.- I wish to complain of the smallness of the vote for the Federal Capital. Last year we voted £50,000, and this year £100,000 is set down, but, inasmuch as there was an unexpended balance from last year of £33>°°°> we are really providing this year only about £66,000. That is not fair to New South Wales. We are under an obligation to build the Federal Capital, and it is not right to permit undue delay. The’ Department shelters itself behind the excuse that it is waiting for plans, but work could be done while the plans are being prepared.
– There is no hurry.
– The miserable weather we are getting here in Melbourne close up to Christmas time itself affords a reason for moving Parliament House as soon as possible to the beautiful climate of YassCanberra. I trust that the Treasurer will give the Minister of Home Affairs substantial sums for the construction of the Capital.
– A couple of million.
– I do not say that; but he should have sufficient money at his disposal. Hardly anything is being done now. I wish to complain, too, of the congested state of the Sydney General Post Office. The sum of £8,000 is set down on the Estimates for alterations, but it would be a much wiser policy to provide for land resumption, to enable the present building to be extended. It would have been a good thing to resume the whole block some time ago. The people of the State have not been fairly treated in this matter. Every room in the present building is congested, and the removal of a few partitions will not give the relief that is needed. I thought that new post-offices would be provided for Waterloo and Botany, growing districts which, at present, have buildings so small that they almost seem like telephone cabinets. I forgot to mention that the land-owners in and around the Capital site are being unfairly treated, because they do not know how the Government proposes to deal with their land.
– We are building a parcels post-office near the Sydney railway station.
– That is for the convenience of the Railway Department and the Postmaster-General rather than of the public. While the military expenditure is doubled, there is only a small increase in the postal expenditure for Sydney and its suburbs. Any new factories that are built should be placed in the Federal Territory.
– And generally the Government should get a move on with respect to the Territory.
– Yes. Unfortunately the Treasurer is a Scotchman, and very near in money matters. Any expenditure in the Federal Territory must increase the value of the land there, and ultimately the revenue of the Commonwealth. We have a Commonwealth cordite factory here in Victoria, and a Commonwealth small arms factory at Lithgow, but all such establishments should be in the Federal Territory,,
– I cannot understand the Treasurer’s way of doing business. His proposed expenditure is shown as ^£19, 5 15,000. That is arrived at by deducting ,£”1,712,679 from the total of £21,227,679. What does that sum of ^1,712,679 represent? That amount is to be distributed among two items, and, by deduction, makes the total expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue £[19,515,000. Honorable members are led to believe by these Estimates that the sum of £1,515,000 is to be provided from the Consolidated Revenue for the Fleet this year, whereas only £[402,321 has to be provided this year for that purpose, because we get £[1,112,679 from the Trust Fund, being for the most part a portion of the surplus revenue of last year. The Works and Buildings are shown at £[600,000 more from -the Consolidated Revenue than they should be. If honorable members will turn to page 4 of the Estimates, they will find that the total expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue for 1911-12 is £[19,515,000, made up in this way: Special appropriations, j£3>254,669; annual votes, .£7,890,395; construction of Fleet, £402,321, instead of ,£1,515,000; annual votes for additions, new works, &c, £[2,191,365, instead of £[2,791,365 - deducting the £[600,000 to be obtained from Trust Funds; and amount payable to States, £5,766,250, making the total expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue for the year, £[19,515,000. That is the way, as it appears to me, the Estimates ought to have been stated to make them clear to every one.
– These Estimates appear to show a reduction rather than an increase on items where an increase would be very desirable, especially in New South Wales. On page 214 of the Estimates, for the construction and extension of telegraph lines, and the provision of instruments and materials £[30,000 is asked for- as against an amount of £[32,467 actually expended last 3’ear. For the construction and extension of telephone lines, &c, the Treasurer is asking for £[104,000 as against an actual expenditure last year of £[151, 747.
– Will not extra sums come out of the special fund of £[600,000?
– That is what I want to ascertain. For new trunk lines, £[13,300 is asked for this year, as against an actual expenditure of £[16,627 last year. In those and other items only £[214,000 is asked for, against an actual expenditure last year of £[228,482. That represents a fairly substantial reduction, and yet during last year all the works actually approved of by the Postal Department in that State were not by any means provided. A number of approved works have been held up for subsequent appropriation. As an instance of the condition of affairs obtaining in New South Wales,. I have here a printed report in the local papers showing the treatment by the Department of the proposal to connect the towns of Obley and Yeoval, . in my electorate, by telephone. In 1906, an estimate of the cost and of the probable revenue was made, the cost being put down at £94, but the Department’s estimate of the revenue was so small that the people interested were informed that the matter could not be taken in hand. As more land was brought under agriculture, settlement increased, and later on, the people thought the same objection would not be raised again to the construction of the line. A further report was called for, and in that, the estimated cost was increased to £[154, the reason, given by the Department being that they had decided in the meanwhile on a policy of more costly construction in connexion with telephonic services. The Department then said they would be prepared to undertake the construction of the line under thenewer conditions, if the people would provide £[42 17s. 6d. in cash, or in cash,, labour, and “material. The people took the matter in hand, and sent to the Deputy Postmaster-General months ago a cheque for the amount required, naturally expecting that the construction of the line would shortly be taken in hand. They were, however, subsequently informed by the Department that the line was forty-ninth on thelist of urgent lines for construction during the year 1911-is. That practically means that the work is to be held up for a further twelve months. What explanation has theTreasurer to offer for presenting a decreased instead of an increased expenditureon works of this kind ?
– The honorable member will see on page 216 that there is a special appropriation of £600,000 for telegraphsand telephones.
– So far noexplanation has been given as to how that sum of £[600,000 is to be used. Is it tocarry out the urgent works listed by theDeputy Postmasters-General, or are they to remain over for another year? If the exPostmasterGeneral can assure me that those- works are to be provided for by that special sum, my difficulty will be partly met. We shall at least know that there is a possibility of having this work carried out during the current year. Since the telephone line in question was first brought under the notice of the Department in that district, I am -credibly informed that 30,000 acres of land has been placed under wheat. An expansion of that kind necessitates rapid communication for business purposes, and a telephone line is urgently required. I should like to know whether the reduction which I have quoted in these Estimates indicates that the policy of the Government is to give less instead of greater attention to these matters of communication, or whether special provision is to be made in the way indicated by the Minister of External Affairs.
.- I should like to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General the case of a number of people, resident in an out-of-the-way country centre, who applied for a telephone line, and, after much negotiation, received the following letter from the Department: -
With reference to your letter of the 2nd inst. enclosing a communication from Mr. A. N. Jowett, of Piggabeen, accepting, on behalf of the residents the Department’s conditions for the erection of a telephone line between Bilambil and that, place, I have to intimate that the work under notice stands 53rd in the order of urgency on the list for the next financial year 1911-12. It is anticipated that some forty-three of the works only will be completed during that year, and it is unlikely therefore that the BilambilPiggabeen line will be completed during that period. The residents need not consequently complete the guarantee forms at present.
The Department asked the people, in the first place, to find a substantial deposit in cash, and then to enter into a guarantee against loss for seven years. That was at the beginning of this year, and now they are informed that the work cannot be undertaken.
– Who sent the communication ?
– The Deputy PostmasterGeneral of New South Wales - the letter is from the Department in Sydney. I am now quoting from a copy, having sent the original on to the people for whom it was intended. It seems absurd that the Department should be able to construct only forty-three lines in the course of twelve months. I have here some figures from the first annual report of the PostmasterGeneral, which gives extracts from the report of the Deputy Postmaster-Gene ral in New South Wales. Here is shown the length of new lines completed in each year, from 1901 to 19 10; and I find that in 1906 the maximum length of construction in any one year was reached with no less than 652 miles. In the next year the Department managed to construct only 385 ; in the next year, 290 ; in the next year, 246 ; and last year, only 237 miles.
– What sort of lines?
– Telegraph and telephone lines on new poles - I am quoting the mileage of new poles. Notwithstanding the urgency of the needs of these people in the country districts, who are willing to guarantee the Department against all loss over a number qf years, it seems to me that the work is falling farther and farther behind each year.
– I think the honorable member will very likely find that these figures apply to telegraph lines.
– The heading is “telegraphs and telephones.”
– It is not correct to say that the Department is getting farther and farther behind.
– I am quoting official figures issued by the Postmaster-General himself.
– Of what date?
– I am not certain as to the date; but it is the first annual report which was laid on the table only a few days ago. Of course, the figures I have quoted refer only to New South Wales, because in other States the Department is going ahead with this work. Tha people of New South Wales, where there is a consistent and persistent falling-off, have a very legitimate cause of complaint. The Department is not asked to suffer any loss, because the people are prepared to put down cash at any time. In this particular instance, the people forwarded their cheque for the amount ; but, owing to the letter I have read, I sent it back and told them that, under the circumstances, it was of no use to complete the guarantee forms. This is a rising district, in which I am certainthere would be no loss on the line from its inception. I chose this case as typical of many ; and I know that other honorable members have had similar experience in New South Wales.
– Is the honorable member quite sure that he quotes the report aright ?
– I am quite sure.
– Can the honorable member explain how it is that in 1909 the.’ telegraph mileage was 31,113, while in 19 10 it was 32,963?
– Those figures refer to wires, while I am speaking of poles. It is quite possible that on old poles there may have been put additional wires.
– But if the Department is meeting public utilities, does the honorable member require that there shall be new poles ?
– I am dealing with new lines, and not with wires ‘on old poles.
– What about using fences ?
– In New South Wales fences are never used for departmental purposes.
– Trees are used.
– In some places; but that does not affect my argument. In any case, if trees are used now they were used in 1906. I think I have shown from the official report that the Department is not erecting new lines as quickly as formerly.
– Telegraph lines?
– Telegraph and telephone lines.
– So long as the people get telephone connexion, what does it matter how many new poles there are?
– I contend that the people are not getting- telephone connexion quickly, but very slowly. I admit that the Department will approve of lines as quickly as desired ; in this there is the utmost willingness to meet the people, and there are ever so many lines in my electorate that have been approved of.
– Last year 50 per cent, more was spent on telegraph and telephone lines than in the previous year, and 100 per cent, more than in the year before that.
– That may be true; and the whole of the 50 per cent., for all we know, may have been spent in putting tunnels through Sydney streets. My point is that construction is lagging behind, as shown by the admission that during this year only forty-three lines can be erected. I find that the Deputy PostmasterGeneral’s report appears in Appendix C of the Postmaster-General’s report, and deals with new telegraph and telephone lines as completed in each year.
– Why does not the honorable member quote the mileage of wire, as well as the mileage of poles? The figures would blow the honorable member’s arguments to ribbons.
– It would not affect my argument at all. If, for instance, there were 20 miles of new poles, and six lines over that mileage, we should then have 120 miles of wire.
– Would the people not be served by providing these wires?
– Certainly ; but my point is that the pole mileage is not being extended.
– Are not railway poles used ?
– They may be; but, if so, they were used in 1906.
– The fact remains that the mileage of wire is greater now than in any year of the existence of the Commonwealth.
– That does not affect my argument. The Postmaster-General is no doubt endeavouring to back up his Department.
– Why not quote the mileage of wire side by side with the mileage of poles?
– Because my point is that the actual construction of lines is not going on as rapidly as it ought. I desire the Postmaster-General to see that the Department in this respect is brought uptodate, and that when a line is approved it shall be completed within that particular year.
– As far as possible that will be done.
– I am glad to have that assurance from the Minister. I can assure him that residents of country districts, and particularly districts that are being rapidly opened up and populated, are crying out for telephone connexions, and that even after a line is approved by the Department, two or three years elapse before it is constructed.
– One line in my district was approved in 1906, and it is forty-seventh on the list for next year.
– That is exactly the point I am making. The PostmasterGeneral’s own figures show it to be possible for the Department to erect a greater mileage of poles per annum than it does at present. The Department is always harking back to the point that it cannot obtain men to do this work, but its own figures show that it can do more if it chooses to put oh the men to do it. It may be that the Department is short-handed. It may not have, at a particular time, the men trained to do this class of work, but seeing that it has a complete monopoly, it should endeavour to have these lines promptly erected.
When a line is approved and placed on the list, the people concerned have to wait sometimes two or three years for it to be constructed. In order to show what happens, I should like to refer specially to two cases in my own electorate. Two large areas, which a few years ago were stations, have been subdivided ; settlers have opened up the land, and have commenced dairying; and have been sufficiently energetic and enterprising to establish butter factories. These are far removed from outside centres, and application has been made for a telephone connexion. Where a district has been opened up in a very short time by settlers, who have established a co-operative butter factory, the Department can have little to lose by immediately erecting a telephone line. If the service were conducted by private enterprise - and I am not advocating the handing over of our telephone service to private enterprise - we should have different companies falling over each other, so to speak, in their anxiety to establish telephone connexion with such a district. In both these cases, however, the applications, which have been approved, are about thirty-sixth on the list of works to be carried out in 1912-13. It is little short of scandalous that a great Department such as that of the Postmaster-General cannot carry out these works more expeditiously.
– The way in which the Department arrives at an estimate of revenue often blocks a line.
– I really do not know how the Department arrives at its estimates of revenue, but I do know that all I have seen have been on a very conservative basis.
– While the estimated expenditure is fairly liberal.
– In respect of maintenance alone a charge of 10 per cent, on capital cost is made. That may be all very well from the departmental stand-point, but it is very hard on the out-back settlers. In the cases to which I have referred, there was not the slightest chance of the Department making a loss; yet they asked for a guarantee. As illustrating the policy of the Department, I would mention that when, a little while ago, a request was made for the construction of a line in that part of my electorate from which I come, the Department asked, in the first place, for a very large cash contribution. That request was refused, and the Department then asked for a guarantee. This the residents also refused to give, and finally the Department undertook to construct the line, with the result that from the opening day it has returned something like 35 per cent. Yet, in the first place, the local residents were asked to contribute half the cost of that line, and the estimates of the cost of construction, as the honorable member for Calare has said, were very liberal. This sort of thing is going on all over the Commonwealth. If the present PostmasterGeneral desires to make a name for himself in country districts, he will find no better way of doing so than by tackling this question of the rapid construction of telephone lines once they are approved, and if he places that one matter on a substantial business basis, he will confer a great benefit on thousands of out-back settlers who are struggling hard to make a living.
.- I think that there is room for complaint in regard to the delay in the construction of telegraph and telephone lines in country districts. I know, from my own experience, that the statement made by the honorable member for Richmond regarding the procedure is correct; but I hardly agree with him that it would be better for the Department not to approve of a proposed line unless it is prepared to erect it during the same year. Once we set up such a standard we shall never get any lines approved of. The officials would say, in regard practically to every proposed line, that it could not be carried out within the year, and, consequently, they would not approve of it. The only way to overcome the difficulty is to vote a sum of money sufficient to enable these works to be carried out promptly.
– And make sure that it is expended.
– Last year we voted £104,000 for telephone works in New South Wales, but £151,747 was actually expended. I am under the impression that the great bulk of these votes is expended on works in and about our capital cities,, and other important centres of population, and that the requirements of country districts are largely lost sight of. If country districts were given a fair share of the money voted. I believe that the facilities afforded would be much greater than they are. In this year’s Estimates we are reducing by £14,482 the amount to be placed at the disposal of the Postmaster-General compared with the amount spent last year in respect of telegraphs and telephones in New South Wales. In respect of new switchboards and extensions we are asked to vote £[45,000. Last year £[38,000 was voted, and only £[15,000 was expended, so “that, roughly speaking, the vote in respect “of .construction and extension of telephone and, telegraph lines in New South Wales is £50,000 less than the amount spent last year. If country residents could not secure much-needed telephone facilities last year, when the expenditure was .£50,000 larger than the vote we are asked to agree to to-day, I fail to see what hope they can .have of securing any substantial improvements this year. It appears to me that constant attention is being called to demands for improved services in our big cities, and that officials in the Department, in attending to those grievances, lose sight of the grievances of country districts, which are thought to be of minor importance. Telephone facilities are just as important to the people in country districts as they are to residents of our large cities. Indeed, they are even more important. In cases of illness, men have sometimes to travel 30 miles for a doctor, and the existence of a telephone line would mean a great saving of time, and perhaps a saving of. life. Country residents are entitled to more consideration than they are receiving. The complaint made by several honorable members, that even after applications for the construction of lines in their electorates are approved, two or three years elapse before those lines are erected, will apply to every country constituency. The experience of mv electorate is no different from that of others. Many applications have been approved, and vet we have no hope of getting the works carried out. I know that the. ex- Postmaster-General did his: best iri this connexion, and that Ministers must be guided by their officials ; but I appeal to the newly appointed PostmasterGeneral to direct his special attention to the wants of country districts, and to instruct his officers, -as far as possible, to see that a- fair proportion of the money voted from time to time for postal and telephone facilities is expended in such districts. If that is done, there will be no room for- complaint. In some cases in my electorate residents have offered to bear the whole loss on the working of a telephone line, and yet they cannot secure the carrying out of the desired work, I urge the Minister to make a special effort to see that lines, as soon as they are approved of, are carried out. I do not know whether the sum of £[600,000’ to be placed to the credit of a special Trust Fund can be applied to the construction of country telephone and! telegraph lines.
– It can be.
– I am glad to havethat assurance. The Minister will now beable to make the necessary inquiries to enable as much money as possible to be expended during the financial year in granting the facilities required by the people.
– I may perhaps shorten the debate by stating at once the position that I take up. I have previously expressed in this House the opinion that residents of the out-back portions of the Commonwealth are deserving of every consideration, and that we should do our utmost to make their lot ashappy as possible. Unfortunately, this Parliament for some years handed over tothe States large sums in respect of surplusrevenue, without appreciating the fact that, in order to make those amounts as large aspossible, an important Department of theCommonwealth was being starved. We are unhappily in the position of having inherited -the evil effects of that systematicreduction of the Postmaster-General’s Estimates, extending over a period of manyyears.
– Previous Governments had the same experience.
– Certainly. I have been a member of this House for eight years, and I know that, although the matter has been referred to, it has not been emphasized as strongly as it should have been.. Not only has the Department been starved,, but the people in country districts have become more clamorous, and their demands more- numerous.
– Very often, the Department has not spent all the money voted.
– Last year my predecessor spent all that was voted, and a littlemore. My policy will be to push on approved works as expeditiously as possible.. The public ought not to have to wait years for conveniences for which they have established a just claim. In addition to the specific items in these Estimates, the sum of £600,000 is provided, tobe expended over two or three years, inbringing the service to a state of efficiency. I do not think that it will be possible to> spend the whole sum this year, but any balance will be available next year, and. possibly, a little more. In three years* time, we hope to have our telephone and telegraph system quite up-to-date.
Mi. Riley. - Including wireless communications ?
– I hope so.
– Is the adoption of automatic telephone exchanges contemplated ?
– The adoption of anything and everything that, in the opinion of experts), will give an improved service is contemplated.
– Has the Government formed any opinion regarding the automatic exchange at Geelong?
– That exchange is only in course of installation. I shall not spare myself in doing what I can to provide greater facilities for the public than they have at present, and in bringing about a thoroughly efficient service.
Mr. W. ELLIOT JOHNSON (Lang) (6.17]. - I know that the difficulties of a Minister who has just entered the Department are very great, and appreciate the Postmaster-General’s resolve to put his Department on a more satisfactory basis. It is true that, in the beginning, the Department was starved, money which should have been expended in improving and extending facilities having been returned to the States. I have been informed by officials, too, that ;after the Departmental Estimates had been carefully prepared, and, on revision, brought down to the lowest amount consistent with a proper service, they have been further reduced by Cabinet. When I first entered the House, I referred to this. I have been informed by officials that the Treasurer of the day has cut down the Departmental Estimates.
– It is easy for an -official to recommend expenditure, but it may not be so easy for the Treasurer to provide for it out of revenue.
– -An official who divulges the information that his Estimates have been cut down by the Treasurer is disloyal.
– I have also heard it stated by more than one PostmasterGeneral that more money was necessary to efficiently carry on the work of the Department, but he could not get it from the Treasurer.
– A Postmaster-General who stated in the House that his Estimates had been cut down by the Treasurer would “‘be a disloyal colleague.
– In one of my early Budget speeches, I drew attention to the matter, and urged that it was suicidal to starve the Postal and Defence Departments for the sake of returning money to overflowing State Treasuries. I foresaw the trouble that it must cause, because the necessities of the country were increasing, and foretold that there must come a time when the congestion would be so acute as to create confusion, which it would be almost impossible for an ordinary man to get rid of. It would be a good thing, in my opinion, for the Government to bring a first class expert from some other part of the world to go through the Postal Department, with a view to reporting as to methods, and, if necessary, advising as to the best means of putting it on a more satisfactory basis.
– It would be simply a waste of money.
– There are fifty experts in the House.
– There are experts in Australia equal to any in the world.
– Some persons whose experience is small, and confined to a very limited area, think that they know enough to run the universe, although they have never had experience of any business concern outside of their own little Pedlington ; but the man who has controlled large business concerns is in a better position to say how things should be managed than one whose business has always been small and inconsequential. In my opinion, the Government would be well advised to get an expert of standing to advise it with a . view to putting the Department on a more satisfactory basis. With regard to the complaints about delay in telephone con,struction, it has been my experience, in common with other honorable members, to frequently receive letters from the Departs ment, saying that approval had. been given for certain works, but that they could not be carried out in the current financial year for lack of funds. /
– The work is often delayed for want of material.
– That may be ‘one reason, but funds should be available to provide for stocking necessarymaterial well ahead of immediate wants in a rapidly expanding business. That is only ordinary business foresight. I received a letter last week with reference to a telephone line at a place called Yowie Bay, in my electorate. The matter was brought before the-
Department months ago, the residents being prepared to subscribe to a guarantee. The. Department now tell me that approval has been given to the work, and that, owing to ‘ the improvement in the conditions of the locality, and the large accession of population, the guarantee will not be necessary, because the line will pay from the beginning. Unfortunately the letter concludes with a statement that the work cannot be done during the present financial year, owing to the number of similar works that have to be carried out. It is satisfactory to know that the line has been approved, but unfortunate that the residents should have to wait so long for this convenience in a place that is becoming populous, and where the need for it is growing almost hourly. I do not know whether it is that the Department are short of material or labour, or that funds are not available. T have mentioned the case in the hope that the Postmaster-General will be able to have the work carried out during the present financial year. I am glad to have the promise of the PostmasterGeneral that, so far as he can manage it, he will facilitate and accelerate works of that character. I have to thank the Minister for making that statement, and I hope the line in question will be among those which receive his early and favorable consideration.
Sitting suspended from 6.28 to J. 45 p.m.
– Unlike other honorable members I feel it is time we dropped making the telephone system a party issue, and did justice to the excellent telegraph and telephone engineers of Australia, and to the staff under them. There is still much to be done to bring our system up to the requirements of this fastgrowing nation, but we must not forget that good work has been done throughout Australia. The honorable member for Lang spoke in a most abusive way, but that is his usual style. He does not put forward any sound arguments, but simply abuses those who differ from him. I should like o remind him that I hold credentials, showing that I had twenty-five years’ experience in all systems of telephonic and telegraphic work, and I can, therefore, claim to know just a little about the subject. In defence of our engineers, I wish to take honorable members back to the time when the telephone systems of Australia were under the control of six separate colonies. In those days the telephone service was starved. The Governments of the day would never give the engineers sufficient money to provide an up-to-date and efficient system. After Federation was establishedthings were no better, because the various Federal Governments desired to return, over and above the three-fourths of the net Customs and Excise revenue, a large sum of money to each of the States. Consequently the telephone and other systems continued to be starved. It was not until the advent of the Labour Government to power that any attempt was made to grasp the situation and deal with it effectively. When the ex- Postmaster-General took charge he had a most difficult task. He had a run-down telephone system, and he had to introduce a complete renovation of it. The strides that have been made in telephony in the last ten years have been wonderful. What has been done by this much-abused Labour Government, and by the ex-Postmaster-General ? The telephone system in Hobart was brought up to a state equal to that of any in the world. The common battery switchboard, with a metallic circuit, was adopted. Instead of having the earth return, and getting all the noise of the tramways, and all the induction and cross-talk, another wire was put in, and taken through cables. This practically made a silent line.
– Where has that_ happened? I wish it had been applied in Melbourne.
– It was done in Hobart. A number of honorable members who criticise this great Department know nothing about what has been done. The engineer I had the honour to work under was engineer of the Post and Telegraph Department of Tasmania, as well as theengineer of the Railway Department. He installed the common battery system in Tasmania as a trial. It was found to give splendid results, and was then adopted in Melbourne. One has only to go to the new exchange, recently opened in Melbourne, to see a switchboard that is equal to any in the world. The whole of the transfer from the old to the new system was brought about in such a way that subscribers were able to communicate with each other the whole time. Still nothing is said about the work done by the engineers. We simply hear abuse of them and of the PostmasterGeneral, probably to satisfy somebody whois growling about not being able to get attention on the telephone. I say, from long practical experience, that very often the fault lies with the subscriber. I have had to carry a bag of tools for a considerable distance to repair a telephone, only to find that the subscriber’s child had left the receiver off. Recently I was in an office in one of the States when the telephone rang, but the subscriber waited until he finished his conversation with me before he attended to it. I suppose he expected to find the other subscriber still waiting for him ; but the other had rung off again, and caused great trouble in the exchange. We have heard a great deal about the New South Wales telephone system being worn out. It’ may surprise honorable members to know that, in. that State, there are no less than 33,000 telephone subscribers, against 44,000 for, the rest of the Commonwealth. How efficient must those engineers be to keep the system in that State up to its present high standard ? Owing to the prosperity of this great Commonwealth, since the advent of the Labour party to power-
– I suppose the Labour party make the crops grow?
– The honorable member knows, as well as I do, that the prosperity of Australia is due to the advent of the Labour party to power, and that is what is getting on his nerves. The honorable member for Richmond may know all about butter and banking, but he knows nothing about telephones. He took the vear 1906 - and I cannot but help admiring the cunning way he did it- and pointed out that the mileage of new poles erected in that year was 652. He also said that only 237 miles of new poles were erected in 1910, but he forgot to tell honorable members that the new line mileage in 1906 was 1,712, and that in 1910 it was. 1855.
– It proves that the money has been spent in the city and the country left alone.
– It does nothing of the sort. What concerns me is not the mileage of the poles, but the mileage of wire. There may be one trunk line into the country which serves from twenty to fifty subscribers. Only last week end I was at Sassafras, and I was surprised to see how well that district is served in the way of telephonic communication. On one trunk line there are many subscribers ; and in every house I visited the people expressed their delight at the splendid service which enabled them to communicate with Melbourne at any time. The honorable member for Richmond complains of the number of switchboards being supplied, inferring that they are to be used in the city ; but. as a matter of fact, the switchboards may be put into any country town for the use of farmers, who are thus placed in communication with the capital and other centres. When in Hobart recently I spoke to Burnie, 200 miles distant, on a practically silent line, of which any engineer might be proud. It was on a metallic circuit, transposed at every mile, with No. to wire. 200-lbs. to the mile. By means of this line the farmers at Burnie are enabled to communicate with Devonport, Launceston, and Hobart, and to do this more cheaply than in any other part of the world. The honorable member for Lang, who is a great authority on everything - even on the Northern Territory, where, it is said, he sat on an alligator under the mistaken idea that it was a log - tells us that we ought to bring an expert from the Old World to report on the system.. As a matter of fact, we have a more up-to-date system than can be found in the Old World. There, most of the construction has been carried out by private companies, who, of. course, do not care every now and again to inaugurate new systems, whereas here we have the most up-to-date appliances to be found anywhere. I am surprised at honorable members opposite, who speak so disparagingly of Australia, and of the necessity for importing experts. After what I have seen in London, in France, and in Switzerland, I am convinced that we have a thoroughly up-to-date system, which is 100 per cent, cheaper than any to be found elsewhere. In London it costs 2d. to use the telephone, whereas 14 miles from Sydney it costs Jd. or id. at an ordinary bureau.
– Is the public telephone used for £d. ?
– It is a private telephone, which costs only £4 for the installation, as against £7 10s. in New Zealand.
– The honorable member is not correct as to the Jd. charge.
– I had the figures officially, but I cannot use them because they might involve a friend of mine in a little trouble. We are better served under the Commonwealth than we were under the States ; and I do not see how, with the present staff, the work can be carried on as expeditiously as honorable members desire. If the engineers were given a free hand to engage a full staff, and were not called upon to discharge men every six or nine months, they might be able to carry out the work more efficiently. Some years ago, when I was behind the scenes, I know that the engineer made repeated applications for increases of the staff, but these were refused because the Public Service Commissioner said they were not required. It is a very heavy handicap on an engineer and the foremen, to train men in digging post holes and other line work, and, when they become efficient, to have to discharge them and take on others.
– That is run the case.
– If it is the case, it is, as I say, a great handicap. The Commonwealth is a growing country - the Labour party are not going out of existence - and an enlargement of the permanent staff would be justified. As it is, every little hamlet has telephonic communication with the great cities, even in my own State. Only the other day, the honorable member for Franklin complained bitterly about the system in Tasmania ; but I find that every little town in his electorate has telephonic communication, and that it is intended to immediately institute a metallic circuit in the Huon district. I am told that the number of mechanics taken on for extension work in 1910-11 was 309 as compared with 384 in 1911-12, while the linemen have been increased from 323 to 433. This shows that the Department is trying to keep up with the phenomenal demands on the telephone service. I may say that I never saw a more run-down system than that in London. It is true that the system of the Government is a good one, but there are also company lines, with the earth circuit, and old-fashioned arrangements generally. I had great trouble in calling up subscribers, both in London and in Scarborough. I can quite understand why honorable members opposite speak so disparagingly of any enterprise undertaken bv this Government, because they have no sympathy with State or Socialistic institutions. A sympathetic administration is required to insure efficient service; and there was no such administration until the Labour, party came into power. The telephone service is now more efficient than ever before ; and T have every confidence in the engineers in charge in the various States. ‘ The Chief Engineer, who came from Scotland, brought the system in Brisbane to a high state of efficiency, and when his services were transferred to the Commonwealth, he travelled abroad in Norway, Sweden,
Switzerland, and other countries, and his experience is now at our service. 1 hope the anti-Socialistic members opposite will stop this croaking for party purposes, and deal fairly with the men who are wearing themselves out in the Public Service. I am not so dry and droll as the honorable member for Parkes. We often listen with great pleasure to that gentleman’s lectures, and he certainly needs no turn of the wheel to keep him going when he is on the subject of political economy. However, he knows just about as much about telephones as he does about political economy, and’ therefore I can “turn him down” at once.
– I should like to know what period this report covers. It purports to be a report dealing with the year 1910. Does that mean 1909-10?
– It means the financial year ending 30th June, 19 n.
– Then the report is not correctly described. I see it was ordered to be printed on the 12th October, and it is presented to His Excellency as a report of the Department “ for the year 1910.” How that can take the Department up to the end of the financial year, in 1911, I fail to see.
– It is up to 30th June, 19.1 1.
– Although this report is supposed to be in respect of the year 1910-11, all the sub-reports covered by it carry the Department only to the end of 1910. The point is that these figures relate to our Administration as well as to the present Administration, so that at least one-half of the credit for these wonderful exploits must go to the Government which the Minister affects so much to despise. As a matter of fact, the money voted for our Government was spent during the year 19 to, and the money voted for the present Government could not have been spent except in about a couple of months of the year really covered by this report.
– That is not so.
– It is so. We find in this report, report after report from sub-heads of Departments carrying the administration up to the end of 1910, and no further. The present Government were never voted any money until the end of 1910, so that the wonderful things revealed in this report must be set down to the previous Administration.
– Will the honorable member read the first paragraph on page 3 of the report ?
– The report is all right, but the” impression that the Minister seeks to convey in regard to it is all wrong. The paragraph to which the honorable member refers is as follows : -
I have the honour to submit a report upon the working of this Department during the year 1910, with financial particulars and general information regarding the more important current matters up to 30th June, 1911
If that paragraph means anything at all, it means that all the factors are not taken up to the 30th June, 1911. It is definitely stated in this report that only some of them are so taken up, and the reports of the heads of branches are for the year ending December, 1910. There is nothing about the work done up to the 30th June, 1911, so that when my honorable friends talk about Providence having helped them to scatter hundreds of miles of wires over Australia it is well that the country should know that the credit belongs more to the late Government than to the present Administration. Most of the money spent in 19 10 was voted at the instance of the Fusion Government.
– The whole of it?
– Not the whole, but the bulk, of it.
– That is not so.
– The present Government did. not secure any votes in respect of the Postmaster-General’s Department for 1910 until November of that year, when the Appropriation Bill was passed, and since this work relates to the year ending December, 1910, I should like to know who ought to have the credit of scattering these hundreds of miles of wire all over Australia. Honorable members opposite have been crowing a little too soon. This wonderful story of increase must be set down to the credit of the late Government. When the present Ministry have tabulated their own results later on, let.them-take all the credit they can for them. Let them put all they can in the political shop window, which they so well know how to dress, but I ask them not to take credit, as they have done, in connexion with the Postmaster-General’s Department, as well as in regard to defence and other matters, for work done by their predecessors which they are now only feebly carrying on.
– We spent 50 per cent, more during the last twelve months than the Fusion Government spent in the previous twelve months. .;
– My only reply is that we furnished the sinews of war for our successors by making an arrangement with the States which they were compelled to accept. We shall see what the present Government have done when the next report is issued. This report is simply a testimony to the new order of things inaugurated by the Fusion Government.
– I think that the Fusion Government must have had something to do with it, because all through the referenda campaign’ the Opposition were complaining of the chaotic condition of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
– Were we? The Postmaster-General’s Department is in -a more chaotic condition to-day than it ever was, and the postal employed are more dissatisfied than they have ever been. I challenge contradiction of- these patent facts. Did Providence do that for honorable members opposite? Has Providence promoted the threats of strife we are hearing?
– The postal employes are not crucified now - they’ are free to speak.
– I hope my honorable friend is not suggesting that they were previously prevented from speaking?
– -Most decidedly they were.
– There is not a tittle of justification for that statement. I am sure the honorable member will not say that the persons forming the deputations which have lately waited upon the Postmaster-General would declare that his treatment under the previous Administration was any worse than is his present treatment ?
– They said last night at a meeting which I attended that it was a difficult matter before to see a Minister.
– I dare say they would make such a statement, knowing that the honorable gentleman was present, and that they had to say something nice. They were “ pulling his leg,” and he did not know it.
– The honorable member said a minute ago that they would not say such a thing.
– I did not; the honorable member is, so to speak, “ knocked off his perch,” and cannot understand what he hears. I simply said that no postal officials would complain of any discourtesy or suppression by the PostmasterGeneral of a previous period. I challenge the honorable member to say that he has ever treated a deputation better in any way than any of his predecessors in office have done.
– I do not say that I have.
– Then had not the honorable member’s followers better leave this personal note out of the discussion?
– The honorable member introduced it.
– I did not. One of the honorable member’s own followers interjected that public officers were afraid before this Government came into power to express their opinions. I give that statement an emphatic denial.
– I know that they were.
– I challenge the honorable member to produce a tittle of evidence in support of his assertion.
– They had not the rights of citizenship until we gave them.
– The honorable member does not hear all that is said about the way in which he used to receive deputations. Men could express their feelings freely, and did so to those who preceded him in the Department, and his selfglorification comes to nothing when it is found that his report is merely the tabulation of results achieved by the policy of his predecessors.
– Following the remarks of the right honorable member for Swan, I expected a statement from the Prime Minister or the Minister of Home Affairs, more particularly in regard to the items in the third sub-division of these Estimates. We are asked to sanction a re- vote of £$$,951 > and a vote of ,£66,043, or ,£100,000 in all, for expenditure on the Federal Capital site, and we have a right to know how the money is to be spent. I have had experience both here and in another Parliament, but I have never known a Minister to be given an absolutely free hand in the spending of £100,000. The Minister of Home Affairs told us recently that he could run the earth if he were given £[2,000,000 a year. Personally, I should not like to be here if he were permitted to make the experiment, and before he is allowed to spend £[100,000 at Yass-Canberra, we should be told not only how the money is to be spent, but to what the expenditure will commit the country. The Treasurer intimated that a temporary railway was to be built. There should be no such thing as a temporary railway. Money should not be wasted in that way. Any line that is made should be permanent. The probability is, moreover, that any expenditure on a railway, on waterworks, or any other large project, will commit the country to a policy of railway construction, water conservation, and so on, which may have to be continued later on, when it has been found that a more desirable policy should have been adopted. In New South Wales, every work estimated to cost more than £[20,000, is submitted to the Public Works Committee for investigation, and evidence is taken from persons interested, so that the fullest information is available before any money is spent. We, however, are asked to open our mouths, shut our eyes, and see what the “ King” will send us. We ought to refuse to vote money until we’ have been told how it will be spent. I desire as much as any member that the Federal Capital shall be constructed expeditiously, but we should know what is to be done. The Government has not even established a Cabinet Committee to deal with matters of this kind. Apparently, the Minister approves, or disapproves, of projects of his own free will.
– We do not know what happens upstairs.
– I prefer not to discuss that aspect of the matter just now. Huge sums of money are to be spent on the Federal Capital, for the development of the Northern Territory, and on the construction of a railway from Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta, and it is not fair that one man should control all this expenditure without the advice and assistance of others. I urge the Government to see that the country is not committed to policies of railway construction, water conservation, and the like, until Parliament has approved of them. No one knows what has been done with the money already spent on the Federal Capital’. - Honorable members have been invited to-‘ visit the locality shortly, but it is doubtful whether we shall learn much from the visit, honorable members not being engineers. An honorable member said just now that he is an electrical engineer, but I do not know that that would qualify him to criticise the civil engineering work done on the Federal Capital site. We hope that our Capital will hold its own, one day, with the finest cities in the world, and that the Commonwealth will take pride in it. But we should not waste money on it. Something should be done to assist the Minister and his officers. We do not even know whether the Department of Home Affairs is directly responsible for the works that have been carried out at Yass-Canberra, or whether the £100,000 is to be expended by State officials.
– The new vote amounts to only £66,000.
– What would the Minister consider a large sum when he speaks of “ only £66,000 “ ?
– He thinks) in millions, when dealing with other people’s money.
– Some pf us who have a Scotch strain always wish to know how money is being spent. I should like to have more information regarding the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway. I am not certain that the best route has been chosen with a view to opening up and developing the richest land, and I have not heard whether the work is to be done by Western Australian officials, or by the Department of Home Affairs. If by the latter, is the expenditure on these great works to be on day labour, and is preference to be given to unionists? The sum of £1,000 is set down for the erection of Commonwealth offices in London. I am disappointed that the amount is so small. We all desire to have in London offices commensurate with the responsibilities of the High Commissioner. The Prime Minister told us that the Government have not proceeded further, because they could not agree to the conditions of the London County Council regarding the site which it favoured, being unwilling to accept a leasehold. That is a strange position for a Labour Ministry to take up, seeing that the Labour party will not allow anything but leasehold. Apparently, although Ministers think a leasehold tenure good enough for every one else, they will not accept anything but a freehold for themselves. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, and I am glad to know that the theories of the occupants of the Treasury bench are only so much talk, and are put aside when they come to business. I hope that a freehold title will be secured, and that no time will be lost in erecting a suitable building. I had the pleasure of inspecting the site, and regard it as in every way desirable.
– What about the price ?
– I shall be able to discuss all those points when a definite proposal is before us. I wish to draw attention to the item for drill halls in New South Wales. Last year £317 was appropriated, and only £18 was expended. This year a re- vote of £299 and a vote of £508 for new services is asked for, making a total of £807, The Government, in carrying out the compulsory training policy, which we introduced when on the opposite side of the House, and which has been accepted by the country, have provided, in a number of places, no halls for the cadets to drill in. They are trained in the public streets, and I have complaints from two large towns in my electorate where the lads are turned out and drilled under the street lamps, to the obstruction of the traffic. That seems a poor way of carrying out this policy. Surely the Government can do something better than that. They first asked all the municipal bodies in the Commonwealth to grant them halls rent free. When that request could not be complied with, they allowed the lads to be drilled in the streets. On this subject I received from the Defence Department recently an answer which ought to be framed and handed down to posterity. They say that, in order that we may train our youths effectively, the public should find drill_ halls, and suggest that the local people might get up entertainments so as to provide the rents. That is playing the game pretty low down. If the Government are not able to pay rents for drill halls, or provide accommodation in some other way, the sooner they tell the public they are not in earnest about the question the better. We have no right to use the public streets for drilling cadets, to the detriment of traffic: nor should we be mean enough to make use of the street lamps to provide the illumination necessary. I hope we shall soon be able to have our youths drilled under conditions more conducive to their efficiency and to their comfort, and to the comfort of the public who use the thoroughfares. The Department of Home Affairs last year proposed to spend £42,879 for the construction of new buildings in New South Wales; but spent of that amount only £24,524, or little more than half. I do not think any one will say that there was no necessity to spend the money, as all the cases were urgent. In quite a number of cases the amounts included in this schedule are re-votes. The public at a town called
Wauchope, in my district, have for a considerable time expected a new post-office to be built. This work is urgently necessary, because the New South Wales Government have started to build railwayworks there, in which several hundred men are engaged. All the work of the post-office has to be done in a room about 12 feet by 12 feet, and there is no more urgent case for a new post-office in Australia than this one. Surely the Government, before they excised that particular item from the list, obtained some evidence as to which items should be included, and which struck out, and did not act in a rule-of-thumb way. I hope the item will be reconsidered. It was refreshing to hear the honorable member for Denison wax warm on the question of giving telephonic and telegraphic communication to country districts. I am glad to hear that his district is so well served. Possibly my district, and those of others who are in similar circumstances, may now get a turn. Like the honorable member for Richmond, the district immediately north of me, and the honorable member for Hunter, the district immediately south of me, we have by no means got all that our districts require. The amount proposed for the construction and extension of telegraph lines in New South Wales -£104,000 - is not in excess of the item of last year. Although the Minister says he is going to do more this year, he does not ask for any more money than was voted last year. I am glad to note that, in that case, the Minister spent more than the amount voted; and I hope he will do the same this year.
– I have already made a statement that the sum of , £600,000 is available, in addition to the specific votes in the Estimates.
– I am not finding fault with the amount so much as with the methods of the Department. Although a number of lines has been approved for construction all over New South Wales, I am told, in letters of quite recent date, that the work cannot be gone on with. According to the honorable member for Denison, the reason is the shortage of men ; but in the letter I received the Department say they have no material. What I complain of is that, each year, when the Estimates are passed, the Department have to call tenders for the supply of material, some of which has to come from abroad, and that by the time that is done, and the material supplied, the year is almost ended.
– Last year, whilst I was acting Treasurer, I authorized the Postal Department to buy material this year up to the amount of their expenditure of the previous year, and have it ready.
– Did they do it?
– I think so.
– At any rate, in reply to a communication asking for a trunk telephone line between Bowra and Nambucca Heads, the Department told me they had no wire available. If that money was spent, how is it that the Department had not 20 miles of wire available in New South Wales to put up a telephone line? Why did they have to wait for the Estimates to be passed before they called for tenders for material, which, I understand from my correspondence, is the procedure adopted? No private business could be run on those lines. Unless the Department is managed in a more business-like way, we cannot expect much better results. The honorable member for Denison told the Committee about the up-to-date appliances in use in Australia, and compared them with what he found in use abroad. I found the appliances abroad much better than those here. In America and Canada I found the most up-to-date appliances in the world. I do not pose as an expert in telephony and telegraphy, but my information is that. the metallic circuit and the common battery switchboard referred to by him is not the latest thing in telephony. If the honorable member visited Canada he would find a much later system in use in several towns.
– The system the honorable member speaks of is being installed in Geelong now.
– Then why did not the honorable member refer to it when he spoke? My complaint is that the Post and Telegraph Department and its Chief Electrical Engineer are not uptodate. We are using obsolete appliances and instruments that ought to have been on the scrap heap years ago. The honorable member for Bendigo found in use in other parts of the world appliances which are scarcely known to our people here. If we are going to spend money tothe extent proposed, it. ought to be spent in the best possible way. I want some better proof of the statement that our Chief Electrical Engineer is the best man to be found for his duties. I am not satisfied with the work he is doing. His Department is not up-to-date.
In other parts of the world where the
Automatic telephone system and other appliances are installed, a very much better service than we have here is given. The honorable member for Denison referred to the London telephone system, but I challenge him to show me any better system in the world than the one we used at the Waldorf Hotel.
– We had to pay .3d. every time we were put on at the Waldorf Hotel.
– I should not like to say that the conversation which the honorable member had over the telephone on that particular occasion was not worth the money. I am sure that all honorable members are interested in the question of the development of the Northern Territory. We have a’right to know from the Minister what he intends to do with that country ; how he intends to develop it, and what the prospects are of the Commonwealth getting some return for its money. We have a right to know how the Territory is to be populated, and what use is going to be made of it. That is a matter which also ought not to be left to one Minister to determine. We are taking over a country under tropical conditions, of which this Parliament has not had a great deal of experience, and the proposals of the Government so far as we have heard of them from the Minister are not going to meet the case. He speaks of appointing certain gentlemen to occupy positions there, but I think that the work of development will be only half done, if the lines he speaks of are followed, especially in view. of the salaries which are to be offered. A man who has to do pioneering and experimental work in agriculture and other things in a new country of that kind is worth more than £320 a year, if his work is going to be done on scientific lines, as this -work must be. In such a place, where we are entering on new paths, and trying to establish a tropical country under white conditions* we should not make the mistake of a cheese-paring policy ; and the Government ought to take the bold step of obtaining the best advice irrespective of cost. The Northern Territory will have to go through a great deal of the experience of other parts of Australia. The early development of this continent .was undertaken largely by squatters and men engaged in the raising of sheep and cattle, followed, in the process of evolution, by the miner, the selector, and town population. This Northern Territory will not be developed by any hot-house methods; and if it is to be established on sound and proper lines, we shall have to follow the course taken in the earlier days of the more settled portions of the country. There is this difference in the circumstances - that the breaking out of the gold- diggings induced many people to come to Australia, and thus opened out markets for our cattle and other primary products. Prior to this, we know that the pick of the best mobs of bullocks in New South Wales could be taken for £1 a head for the simple reason that there was no profitable market within reach; and under present conditions, there, is no market for primary products in the Northern Territory. Markets must be established there, because it is impossible to bring certain products to the other parts of the country, and the development of the Territory must be brought about by the raising of cattle, sheep, and stock. A few days ago, letters appeared in the press as to the price that cattle may be sold or bought for in the Territory, and the very limited means there is for transport. At present, we are looking for markets outside our own borders for present production ; and there is no desire to bring the Northern Territory into competition with the South, the East, and the West. The cattle raised in the Territory, which should be numerous, ought to be exported ; and, in my judgment, a market in the East is the proper one. My suggestion is that cool storage and freezing works ought to be established at Port Darwin. The Adelaide, Roper, Victoria, and other navigable rivers offer facilities for transport unequalled in any part of Australia. While holding out inducements to settlers, a market should be created by increasing the facilities for an export trade. In this way, we shall induce people to make homes in a country where white people can live and bring up their families in comfort. It will not do to tinker with the Northern Territory, as it has been tinkered with before. I refer to such enterprises as the Botanical Gardens, which were regarded as something special, but which, after all, are but little larger than this chamber. We shall have to roll up our sleeves if we are to develop this country. Every member in the House is anxious to make a success of the Territory since we have now committed the country to a large expenditure. We are asking people to occupy these vast areas under white labour conditions; and we should do all we can to make the place habitable and attractive. I hope that we may be able, by scientific research, to cope with some of the diseases always to be found in tropical countries, so that we may have to offer not only a country with opportunities for profitable occupancy, but one which is healthy, and where the white race can live in comfort.
– I am not directly concerned with the different items under discussion, for these will be dealt with as they arise by the various Ministers. But, as a member sitting on this side, I am somewhat interested in the onslaught that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made a few moments ago.
– It was a mere correction !
– If so, it should have been administered to the honorable member, because no one is more in need of it than he. It seems to me that a few quiet words may be offered in reply to the honorable member for Parramatta, who, in the absence of his leader, seemed to be out for a “ field-day.” He made a general onslaught of a character which I am confident he must regret at the present moment, and which was in no way justified in the circumstances. He seized the annual report of the PostmasterGeneral, and waved it in the air - he banged his fist with all the force he could, and shook the paper at us in a manner which frightened all of us here who have the timidity characteristic of Labour members. As a matter of fact, the honorable member made statements which he now knows were not only unjustifiable, but distinctly incorrect.
– Is the honorable member in order in saying I made statements which I knew were incorrect?
– I do not understand the Honorary Minister to say that the honorable member for Parramatta knew that the statements were incorrect.
– What I said was that the honorable member now knows the statements he then made were incorrect.
– I now know that they were correct.
– I do not assert that when the honorable member roared at us he knew the statements to be incorrect. I was going on to say that he made those statements without having read the report, which was printed on the 12th October, and has been on the table for two weeks. The honorable member seized the report at the par ticular moment when he thought an onslaught could be made, and he proceeded without consideration to make the onslaught, and to make assertions which were in no way warranted, and which proved conclusively that he had not had the report in his hands two minutes. Having read just two or three words on the opening page, he saw what he must have known from his experience as a Minister to be a mere clerical error. I refer to the fact that the print on. the first page is to the effect that the report deals with 19 jo; and on that the honorable member subjected us to the tirade of a few moments ago. If the honorable gentleman had been half as anxious to find information as he was to find fault, he would have read the report. Instead, he called Providence into question, forgetting that Providence can read our thoughts ; and what Providence now thinks of him I should not care to suggest.
– Has the Honorary Minister read the report himself?
– Yes When the honorable member was challenged with not being acquainted with the report, he said : ‘ There is no index ; how can we find out these things?” But here is the index as large as life, if any honorable member desires to consult it. The honorable member went on to assert that the figures, if they showed any prosperity, must have referred to the time when he and the Fusion Ministry were in power. At that moment I did mildly interject that I believed, in the circumstances, that that Ministry must have had something to do with it, because, during the referendum campaign, honorable members opposite, and their friends outside, positively squealed about what they alleged to be the chaotic condition of the Post Office, and urged that all this was due to the Labour Ministry. If these figures have any relation to the Ministry who were ejected from office on the 13th of April last year, I can understand the people speaking in the terms they did ; but, unfortunately, this is only one of very many misrepresentations indulged in on that occasion. The paragraph which the Minister of External Affairs asked the honorable member for Parramatta to read was as follows -
I have the honour to submit a report upon the working of this Department during the year 1910, with financial particulars and general information regarding the more important current matters up to 30th June, 191 1. That was the paragraph that the Minister of External Affairs asked the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition to read.
– And I read it.
– And after reading it the honorable member said that the report did not refer to the year 1910-11. He went a little further,- and declared that, even if there were in the report certain references to 1911, the report did not cover the expenditure for that year.
– I did not say that.
– Here, on page 3, is also a statement-
– Had not the honor able member better quote correctly ?
– Does the honorable member say that I have not read this report correctly?
– I say that the honorable member is misquoting me altogether.
– Here we have again the usual cry. When we show that honorable members opposite are making assertions for which there is no justification, they declare tha’t we are misquoting them, and when we quote from their own newspapers paragraphs which tell against them, they say that they have been reported incorrectly. We are asked to take no notice of the Sydney Morning Herald ‘, the Daily Telegraph, or any newspaper which, according to them, wrongly reports them.
– No one has pleaded for mercy in that respect more than the present Government has done.
– The honorable member need not get angry. He is going to have it.
– There is no anger ; I want it.
– On page 3 of this report appears a table headed “ Revenue and Expenditure for the year ended 30th June, 191 1.” Then follows a statement of expenditure for that particular year. The figures are not confined to the year 1910 only, and consequently are not what the honorable member himself asserted, but distinctly the opposite. Can he deny the existence of this tabulated report ? Does he deny that it is a statement of the revenue and expenditure for the year ending 30th June, 191 1?
– No, I have not denied it. The honorable member is “ barking up the wrong tree.”
– The honorable member will contradict himself a hundred times, but he will explain. Let us go a little furflier if more evidence is desired as to what the report refers to. On page 4 of the report we have the statement -
When the Department was under State control it was the practice to defray the cost of New Works (telegraph and telephone lines, buildings, &c.) from loan funds. Since Federation these works have been charged to revenue, the amount spent in each year being as follows.
Then follows a table showing the expenditure under this head from 1901-2 to 1910- 11. Has the honorable member read that statement ?
– I see it. Mr. ROBERTS.- If the honorable member saw it, why did he say a few moments ago that this report did not refer to the year 19 10- 11 ?
– The substance of the report is in respect of the year 1910.
– I shall come to that point, if the honorable member will permit me. At page XII of the report we have the statement -
During the year 1910-11, .£678,155 was expended in affording telegraphic and telephonic facilities to the public, as compared with £465.756 during the previous year, an increase of 45.60 per cent., which shows that the present Administration is not unmindful of its obligations in this matter.
Is that sufficient evidence that the report refers to 1910-11, and that the present Administration has been looking after the interests of those who require to use telegraphs and telephones? During the year in which the Fusion Government did not, as the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition so loudly claimed, have any part in our finances, the expenditure under this head was 45.60 per cent, more than for the year of progress during which the honorable member and his party reigned before they were so ignominiously ejected from office by the people. The table to which I referred a moment or two ago as appearing on page 4 of the report shows that the expenditure on new works - telegraph and telephone lines, buildings, &c. - in 1901-2 was £37.I49. that in 1909-10 - the Fusion year - it was £555.557. whilst in 1910-11 - and the honorable member sought to convey the impression that the figures for that particular year did not appear in this report - it was £781,396, or an increase of about £226,000 compared with the previous financial year. Let me refer the Committee to yet another statement in this report, dealing with the Eastern Extension Company’s cables, which shows the number of words in respect of Government and press messages up to 30th June, 1911. Again let me remind the Committee that the
Deputy Leader of the Opposition sought to convey the impression that the figures for iqj.1 were not included in this report. I would next draw attention to the reports from the Deputy Postmasters-General. At page 4.7 we have an extract from the report from the Deputy Postmaster-General, Sydney, giving -
The revenue and expenditure for the financial years ended 30th June, 1902, 1910, and 191 1.
Thus the Deputy Postmaster- General of the State of which the honorable member is a representative has furnished a report covering the revenue and expenditure up to the 30th June, 1911, which, according to the honorable member, practically was not included in this report. At page 52 there is a statement from Victoria showing that-
The wire mileage of new telegraph lines in 1901-2 was 77-53; in 1909*10, 319.816; in 1910-11, 940.743 miles.
I make these quotations to show that the reports of the Deputy Postmasters-General cover the financial year ended 30th June, 191 1. Here is one from the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Brisbane, which appears at page 59, setting forth that -
During the financial year 1910-11 new telegraph wires of a total length of 585 miles 57 chains were erected.
In the Fusion year 1909-10, new telegraph wires of a total length of 241 miles 5 chains were erected there; so that for the year during which the people directed that the honorable member for Parramatta should have nothing to do with the administration of the affairs of the Commonwealth, there was an increase of over 100 per cent. I come now to the point made by the honorable member for Darling Downs that some portions of the report did not deal with 1910-11
– I think that the statement at page 3 of the report is correct - that it is a report for 1910, with some particulars bringing it up to 191 1.
– The honorable member should not be so unfair. The report does not speak of “ some particulars.”
– The words used are - “’ general information regarding the more important current matters up to 30th June, 1911.”
– The statement is that it is a report upon the working of the Department during the year 1910, “ with financial particulars and general information “ regarding the more important current matters up to 30th June, 191 1.
– The honorable member for Darling Downs ought not to be so unfair - unfairness is not his characteristic - as to suggest that the statement at page 3 is that the report deals with “ some particulars “ up to 30th June, 191 1, when, as a matter of fact, the statement is that it deals with the more important current matters up to 30th June, 1911. It deals also in full with the revenue and expenditure, new telegraph lines, and new telephone lines and buildings. It gives the receipts and expenditure in full. As to the honorable member’s interjection that some of the sub-reports did not deal with the whole financial year 1910-11, I was going to say, when interrupted, that the honorable member, from his long experience as a Minister, knows full well that the annual departmental reports submitted by a Minister always contain some subsidiary reports from different officers that do not cover the full financial year.
– A great many of the returns are always confined to the calendar year.
– That is not the contention of the honorable member for Parramatta. In an annual report, such as this, the particulars of, say, the parcels business are never brought right up to date.
– Who spoke of such a trumpery thing as the parcels business? The honorable member will be down to peanuts before he has finished.
– The- particulars furnished by the Public Service Commissioner are made up for the calendar year, as the honorable member is aware. Yet he complains that some of the returns relate only ro the year 1910. As for dealing with peanuts, I thought that the honorable member resembled a peanut merchant when he was roaring so loudly. He told us that the report did not deal with the financial year 1910-n, but at page 65 we have appendix D, which is a - statement comparing revenue with, expenditure (including new works), also showing percentage of yearly increase in each, and the amount per unit of population for years ended 30th June, 1902 to 191 1.
Facing page 71 is a graph comparing revenue with - -
– Why cannot the
Postmaster-General give us this information ?
– This is a matter for any member on this side to speak upon, and I refuse to listen to continued misrepresentations without replying to them. Although the report has been on the table for two weeks, the honorable member for Parramatta, without looking at it, and, knowing full well that his statements would ‘be telegraphed to the State capitals, and seriously commented on by. the newspapers as coming from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, said things for which there was not a scintilla of justification. I regret that he is not prepared to apologize for the wrong that he has done.
– I hope that, without banging the table, roaring, or squealing, as alleged, I shall demonstrate that I have looked into the report, although the Honorary Minister, who accuses me of not having done so, made it patent to the Committee that he was repeating parrot-like what was told him-, sotto voce, by the Minister sitting beside him, and reading from pages which he was instructed to quote. I never knew his rhetoric to be worse, nor remember anything more laboured than his attempt to obscure the real issue. I admit that the report deals with the working of the Department during the year 1910, and “ with financial particulars and general information regarding the more important current matters up to 30th June, 1911.” I have never denied that, nor challenged the report on its financial side. I admit that on the financial side the report covers the period ended 30th June, 191 1. Putting that aside-
– That is the important point.
– No; it is not what I spoke about. The coming PostmasterGeneral, the honorable member for Denison, was flourishing a copy of the report in the air, and speaking of the miles of additional line put tip. during the year.
– Is not that expenditure?
– It is not necessarily accounted for this year. I am not challenging the report on the accountancy side. I spoke of the actual works carried out, and maintained that, as to the work actually done, the miles of wire erected, and so on, the figures are for the calendar year ended 31st December, and not for the financial year ended 30th June.
– It is not so.
– On page 22 there is a return showing “ the total mileage of line and wire at 31st December, 1910, as compared with 1909.” Why did not the Honorary Minister quote that ? He was so busy proving that others had not read the report that he skipped a great deal of it himself. Under the heading of telephones it is stated that - on 31st December, 1910, there were throughout the Commonwealth 74,975 telephone lines connected to 678 exchanges.
On page 24 we are told that the “ number of public telephones on 31st December, 1910, was 2,068, as against 1681 in. 1909.” The point I made was that the record of work done is for the calendar year, and claimed for the previous Government, who were in office until May, 1010, some of the credit for the work done during the time covered by the report.
– Is not expenditure a record of work done?
– The accounting of the expenditure is not necessarily a record of work done up to the time of the audit. We do not get the auditor’s report of the year’s finances until twelve or eighteen months after the whole thing has been closed up. . The honorable member may take all the credit that is due to him, and I admit that there is some due to him for- having carried out more mileage,, because he has had more money to spend.
– The honorable member did not say that until now.
– Did not the honorable member hear me say that the increased expenditure which he had been able to make was due to the financial arrangement we made with the States, and whichthe present Government had to adopt? Honorable members opposite must be deaf or blind to keep denying these statements. Here again is a general statement on page 49 : “At the end of 1910 there were 30,000 odd telephone lines connected with so many exchanges.” Here is another on page 50: “ On 31st December, 1910, there were 499 public telephones in existence.” One could read through the report and findthat the work spoken of as having been constructed relates to the calendar year 1910, and that has been my point all through. I know that the finances are taken up to the year 1911, but the mileage here spoken of in every case is within the calendar year. That being so, the present Government cannot claim the whole of the credit for it. The present Government were voted no money on account of the Postal Department until November, 1910.
– We spent a good deal in the time.
– The Budget was introduced about September, and the honorable member spent the money for the first three months of that financial year on the basis of the previous year’s expenditure. That is always the practice, so that the expenditure for nine months of the year 19 10 was on the basis of expenditure laid down by the previous Government. Whatever was done during that year, therefore, the previous Government are entitled to the major portion of the credit. I think I have established that point in the quotations I have made, and the financial facts which I have stated.
.- I expected, after the remarks of the honorable member for Cowper, that the Minister of Home Affairs would give the Committee the information the honorable member asked for with reference to the item of £100,000 for the Federal Capital.
– Have I had a chance yet?
– The honorable member has sever made the slightest attempt to rise.
– He did. It was at my request that he did not speak.
– If the Minister is prepared to make a statement now I shall be glad “to give him the opportunity.
– I have been listening carefully to honorable members, and did not like to interfere. The amount for the Federal Capital Site is so very small this year that I am a little ashamed to get up here and talk about it. However, small as it is, it will be utilized both efficiently and economically to the best advantage that a business man can conduct it.
– Will the honorable member tell us how?
– I am about to tell the honorable member. First of all, this sum is proposed for the expenditure towards the cost of the establishment of the Federal Capital city. It is only £[66,000 to start with.
– It is ,£100,000.
– There is £33,000 re-voted.
– If it is re-voted it is not spent. Is it all gone?
– O’MALLEY.- Of course it is gone. We have been doing work there. ^£25,000 has been spent since 1st July last.
It is proposed to acquire the privatelyowned lands within a radius of 7 miles of the city site, and other properties, upon which works for various purposes will be constructed, such as pipe lines, reservoirs, bridges, weirs, &c. The value of these lands may be placed at £[600,000. That is just an average.
– Is that the land that the Department are acquiring?
– That is the whole of the lands, because we will eventually have to take them over.
– How much of the money asked for this year is for the acquisition of lands?
– The actual amount which will be paid by way of compensation during this financial year will be comparatively small. Provided that the privately-owned lands are acquired immediately, then the sum of £[50,000 can profitably be expended on necessary works during the year. The contingent liability may be placed at £[250,000. These works embrace the construction of a weir on the Cotter River, a bridge over the Murrum bidgee River, water pipes and laying the same, and temporary railway from Queanbeyan to the centre of distribution of material. The temporary railway is a very simple thing, but at the same time it is a big institution for the purpose of saving money, because now everything must be carted 8 miles from Queanbeyan to where we are working. We propose getting this temporary railway if we can. We cannot lay down a permanent railway until we get our designs and know where the city is going to be.
– What gauge?
– It will, I suppose, be the New South Wales gauge of 4 ft. 8£ in. The temporary line will be laid down just as an ordinary plant, and as soon as the work is done it will be picked up. It will be something like a tramway.
– Is it to go along the present public road?
– The engineers and surveyors will decide that, but it will be a question of whether we ourselves should bother with building a railroad, or whether we shall not get the Government of New South Wales to build it from Yass right into the Capital, and then from the Capital to Bungendore, so that a man can get in the train at Melbourne, and his sleeping car be shunted off at Yass junction. Then he can go down to the
Federal Capital, and have his week there when we are in full legislative operation, and then go to Sydney for the Saturday night if he feels like it. We also want a power plant, a brickmaking plant, and a supply of timber, and we shall have to provide for road making, &c.
– We had all those last year - are they not done yet?
– They were then only a conjecture, now they are to become a reality. The sum of £15,000 will be required to meet expenses for administration and for survey operations.
– Is that for the year?
– That will complete everything for the time.
– How much of that £15,000 will be spent in the year?
– That will be the amount that will be required this year in connexion with all the work we have to do in making bridges and in laying the whole place out.
– How much of that amount for administration and survey will be required this year?
– Some of it will not be required if we do not go on with the works. I have shown where this little sum, regarding which the honorable member for Cowper is so frightened, is going. We come now to another point which the honorable member raised. That was with regard to the building in London. It is quite true that only £1,000 is set down here for that purpose.
– Would the Minister mind coming back to the £66,000 for the Federal Capital, and tell us what the items are?
– It is for purchasing land, and going on with works I have just named. We require a power plant at £20,000.
– This year?
– As soon as we can get things going - we are waiting for the money.
– Why does the Government require the money?
– To build a Capital commensurate with the importance of this great Australian nation. We desire to lay a pipe line from the Cotter River, but we have figured out the cost. It was no good doing more until we got the money. Every one of the items is made out by a careful engineer.
– How did the Department arrive at the total of £66,000?
– We did not arrive at it - the Treasury arrived at it.
– What would have been the amount if the Minister of Home Affairs had “ arrived at it “ ?
– I desire to build the Capital fast, and-
– Will the Minister tell us the actual works he has undertaken this year?
– There is the construction of a weir on the Cotter River, and the building of a bridge over the Murrumbidgee. I have not the exact figures, because we have not calculated all this yet - we have bunched the amount. My honorable friends opposite are clever business men, and they know that “we cannot say the definite amount we shall have to spend.
– But surely an estimate might be given of the expenditure within the next twelve months on the several items ?
– Exactly, but I cannot calculate within a shilling of what we shall spend.
– Is it fair to ask us to vote this money before the Estimates are placed before us?
– If honorable members opposite have the numbers, they will not vote the money. We place before honorable members opposite what we desire to doj and if they have the numbers, they will not permit us to do it. However, the items I have placed before honorable members are those we are going on with.
– Are those the public works to which you are asking honorable members to commit themselves ?
– We are not going on with any buildings, and we are not going to allow any one to put buildings there until such time as the designs come in, and the city is laid out. No one will, get any vested interest in the community.
– Does the Minister expect to pay the prizes for the designs out of the £66,000 ?
– I think we shall be able to pay the small amount of £3,000 out of the £66,000. It is quite true that only £1,000 is down for the Commonwealth buildings in London, but we do not require much to start with.
– I suppose the £1,000 is for the necessary inquiries?
– It is for the “preliminary canter.” I call attention to the fact that the suggestion to have a Commonwealth building in London came from this side of the Chamber. If honorable members refer to page 1661 of Hansard, for August, 1905, they will find that the present Minister of Home Affairs made the suggestion first ; and, therefore, I cannot see why so much fear is expressed that the Government will not go on with the work. I, on that occasion, suggested that the Commonwealth should secure a piece of property in the heart of London, and on it erect a building to cost between £200,000 and £300,000, on a freehold title. All progressive suggestions come from this side of the House.
– Does the Minister anticipate getting a freehold site?
– That is a question to be decided by the Government, and not by one person. I know that several honorable members “ feel bad “ because items in which they are interested do not appear in the Estimates; but they must remember, as business men, that the Treasurer has to balance between revenue and expenditure. Certain items must be thrown out, and honorable members must not feel disappointed because they do not get all they desire.
.- The statement of the Minister of Home Affairs in regard to the Federal Capital is extremely disappointing. I do not offer the criticism for the same reasons that some Victorian members will no doubt be anxious to criticise the honorable gentleman; but, anxious as all New South Welshmen, and Federalists generally, are to carry out the intention of Federation, and get into our own Federal City, we realize that any Minister has a responsibility, and must be in a position to inform honorable members accurately as to the arrangements he proposes to make, and the disposition he proposes of the money intrusted to his charge. We have the right to know something of Ministerial intentions; and honorable members generally are justified in feeling extremely disappointed if a Minister tries to bluff them by any mere airy assumption of some good intentions for the future that, in my opinion, the realities of the past do not promise. The Minister told us that the £[50,000 on the Estimates of last year was for a conjecture. He said the money the Government asked for last year was to help them with their “conjectures”; and that this year we are going to get the reality. If the Minister has ex pended £[16,000 odd in “ conjecturing,” it is a poor look-out for the taxpayers when he proceeds to deal with realities. We ought to proceed at once to the building of the Capital; but we ought to do so with rigid economy. As a New South Welshman, I say that it is not for us to make the Capital a great burden on the taxpayers. If, however, we observe economy, we shall eventually save money by the transfer of the Seat of Government to a place where we have not to pay ground rent to the land-holder. In Victoria, in the case of our offices, we are competing for sites with 500,000 people. Most of the charges in connexion with the central offices are due to the fact that, by reason of this competition, we have to pay heavy ground rents.
– We are building offices which will be our own property.
– All the same, we have to pay for the property, the price of which is only the capitalized ground rent.
– We have paid for it.
– If so, the ‘ property is worth so much money, which could be applied to other purposes. In the centre of a great city we must pay either ground rent or capitalized value, which we shall escape when we establish ourselves at YassC.anberra. Unless we enter on the project of the Federal Capital with rigid economy in view all the time, we shall eventually find the enterprise not to the advantage of the Australian people. I deeply regret that the Minister has not made a more full and explicit .statement. As a New South Wales representative, I expect the money placed on the Estimates to be used. It is not satisfactory to the people of New South Wales - who are particularly concerned, since they were- led to enter Federation by the alteration of the Australian Constitution in reference to the Capital - nor to the Australian people, as a whole, who have a right to see economy practised, that the Minister should ask us to vote a lump sum, which he tells us is to complete the “ conjectures “ of last year. I am not satisfied with the Ministerial statement that it is necessary to acquire £[600,000 worth of property in the Federal area. My memory is that the Act relating to the Federal Capital expressly lays it down that the value of land, for resumption purposes, is to remain fixed as it was at the date on which we took over the control of the Territory.
– Who has said anything to the contrary ?
– Nobody. ‘ The Treasurer is much too hurried. The Minister of Home Affairs tells us that it is necessary to resume this land, because some day we shall need it. If, however, fifty years hence, we have to pay the same price as to-day, what sort of business man is he who asks us to acquire the land before we require it ?
– Is the present position fair to the owners?
Mi. Fisher. - The honorable member is careless as to the welfare of the people who own the land.
– And who cannot sell, or do anything with it.
– This is one of the most amusing positions I ever saw. Here we have the honorable member for the district, the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Home Affairs, all putting in a special plea for us to take over £600,000 worth of land that the Commonwealth does not immediately want, simply because, if we do not resume, we are not fair to the owners ! It is the very last thing I expected to hear from honorable members opposite.
– It would not matter if the land were any good, but it is not.
– The honorable member is now making a statement the correctness of which he does not vouch for.
– I have been over the land.
– The smile on the honorable member’s face is his only excuse. I suggest that the Minister should be just to the land-holders in the Territory, who are placed in a peculiar position. The assumption that it is necessary for us to spend some £600,000 in acquiring every acre of private land in the area is ridiculous. What does it matter to us who owns the land, provided that we have the eminent domain - the power of Government ? What does it matter to honorable members opposite, unless they are the particular friends of the particular class that is to receive the £600,000 from the Australian people for land which the Australian people do not require? The proposal is utterly and completely ridiculous. I hope this is the last we shall hear of this project on such a wide scale.
– Is it ridiculous to desire to be fair to those from whom we are purchasing ?
– The honorable member’s desire to be “ fair “ is limited to this particular area when we are dealing with land matters. He is the representative of the district, and I think that his statement in this regard will be taken with a considerable grain of salt. Have we not seen the anxiety of honorable members opposite to be fair to the land-holders of Australia? The only class of land-holders to whom they were prepared to give any consideration was the lease-holder - I believe some of them were lease-holders themselves. However, I am not going to deal with that matter now, since it relates to the Land Tax Act. I wish to pass from that phase of the subject to the statement made by the Minister that this estimate was not his own, but rather the estimate of the Treasurer.
– I did not say anything of the kind. I said £66,000 was all he would give.
– The Prime Minister ought to inform us why this estimate has been cut below the amount which the Minister thought necessary to carry out the works absolutely required in this area.
– What about another land tax?
– The honorable member will be having a tax on leaseholds shortly, and when such a tax is imposed we shall find him sitting on this side of the House-
I wish to pass from the subject of the Capital site to the first Ministerial utterance of the honorable member for Adelaide, the new Honorary Minister. I confess I experienced a certain feeling of sympathy for the honorable member in the curious position in which he found himself this evening. He had been put up to reply to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on a question of fact, not because he had any special knowledge of the subject, but because it was confidently expected of him by his own party that, as a master of sarcasm, he would be able sufficiently to disguise the facts, and to cover up a very trenchant attack that had been made by an honorable member of the Opposition. The Honorary Minister acquitted himself as well as could be expected of him in the circumstances. He had to speak of something of which he was profoundly ignorant. He had to endeavour to cover the fact that he was profoundly ignorant of the subject by a constant use of sarcasm and satire, and by occasional falls into mere abuse. I am sorry for him, and sorrier still for the party which had to put him up to disguise facts that they all wished to have hidden.
One or two statements he made bring him necessarily within the area of discussion. When he was indulging in this fine Ministerial flight he spoke of the necessity of being absolutely correct in the answers one gives. I propose, with his kind attention, to ask him a question concerning the accuracy of a statement he made this afternoon from his place on the Ministerial bench. I hope he will give me his attention for a moment, otherwise I shall have to take other means.
– Take the other means.
– It is easy to take them.
– We have not moved the adjournment of the House this session.
– I am not anxious to do so, but I do not want the Honorary Minister to be insolent.
– I suggest that the honorable member does what he thinks best.
– I am quite competent to do that without any advice from the honorable member.
– He is making a bad beginning.
– He is just failing in Ministerial dignity. The reply which the honorable gentleman made this afternoon to a question which I put in regard to the supply of machinery under the Lithgow small arms contract shows that he was either himself given misleading information by the Department concerned, or was keeping, or endeavouring to keep, back something which this House was entitled to know. I asked what penalties had been incurred by Messrs. Pratt and Whitney owing to their failure to carry out their contract within the time specified, The reply to that question was “£[23,600.” A penalty of £[400 in respect of every week beyond the contract time gives us that total, I think; but there is another penalty which the honorable member either omitted to mention, or desired not to have mentioned, in connexion with this contract. It is rather important. I understand that this contractor either entered into a bond for, or lodged a sum of £[20,000 with the Department for, the due fulfilment of. his contract. If my memory serves me, he was given the contract as against a British contractor, because he was going to complete the work within one year, whilst the British firm wanted one year ten months and three weeks within which to complete it. Time was to be the essence of this contract, and we deliberately went outside the Empire in a matter concerning the supply of machinery for the small arms factory because the American firm was going to supply that machinery in one year, while the British firm required one year ten months and three weeks in which to supply it. Now the
American firm is already more than a year overdue.
– What Government let that contract ?
– That is not the point.
– Who was Minister of Defence at the time?
– I shall go into this matter fully, as honorable members opposite apparently desire me to do so. The honorable member for Parramatta, ex-Minister of Defence, accepted the contract, and if he were still in office he would be keeping this contractor up to his agreement.
– What Government signed the contract?
– The previous Government. They accepted it, I understand, because the contractor from America undertook to supply the machinery ten months and three weeks sooner than a British firm was prepared to do. They also accepted it because the officer who was specially sent to England by a previous Government to inquire into the matter appeared by his cable messages to be strongly recommending this particular firm. I am merely stating my memory of what I have gathered, not from what the Minister has told me, but from a perusal of the papers. We are now in this position, that the one-year contractor is fifty-nine weeks overdue.
– Has not the contract been broken?
– I asked that question the other day, and could not get an answer. This contractor has now taken longer than the English firm would have done to complete the contract, and consequently, as time was the essence in testing the merits of the two different contractors, I think the House is entitled to know why the Ministry do not proceed to exact the penalties.
– All the machinery is not here.
– Why cannot it be here?
– It is time enough to do what the honorable member suggests when all the machinery is landed.
– Here we have a statement in reply to a question to-day that one month’s extension of time has been granted. If the Government grant an extension of time for the completion of the contract, they undoubtedly give up any claim they may have in respect of the non-completion of that contract within the stipulated time.
– For one month.
– One month from the present time. That means that the Commonwealth will have lost £24,000, because the penalties we were entitled to inflict amounted to that sum. We were entitled to impose those penalties, whether we accepted his machinery or not, by virtue of the completion of the contract being more than a year overdue. In addition, the contractor has lodged a bond for £20,000, so that the country is entitled to £44,000 from him. If the Government has varied the contract, so that the money has been lost to us, why have we not been told? Why are not these business men in a position to tell us how matters stand? On paper we are entitled to £44,000, but for some reason we are not able to enforce the claim. Has the Minister of Home Affairs altered the specifications, or made some change in the contract, which has imperilled this £44,000? When the Minister replies, he might well inform the House when the factory will be in working order, and turning out rifles. The Honorary Minister, of course, cannot be expected to have a detailed knowledge qf the affairs of the Department, but when, in reply to my question as to the penalties which have been incurred by the contractor by reason of his not having carried out his contract, he answered, “ £23,600,” he should have said “£43,600.”
– Is the honorable member quite sure of that?
– I am informed, on excellent authority, that a bond of £20,000 was entered into, or a deposit made.
– Who is the excellent authority ?
– I shall be happy to tell the honorable member in private. He will be satisfied with my statement as to the nature of my authority.
– The honorable member is making a public charge, and should support it.
– I am stating a fact for which I make myself responsible; and the honorable member does not contradict my statement.
There is another matter of administration to which I wish .to refer. Ministers have told the country that whatever may be thought about their policy and their legislation, their administration is perfect. What are the facts? I have shown that their administration has been faulty in regard to the contract just referred to. Let us consider now the wireless telegraph con tract. I do not propose to go into the subject at length, because the hour is late, and honorable members are fatigued.
– This is another matter in which the action of an ex-Minister has led us into a nice little bog. The honorable member is’ now dragging in the honorable member for Bendigo.
– I am compelled, as the challenge has been issued, to make this a party question. We are told that the hon- 01 able member for Bendigo entered into a bad contract.
– It was approved by my successor, at any rate.
– Why did the honorable member’s successor endeavour to make things worse?
– The contracts are ali right. It is the muddling that makes trouble.
– The honorable member for Bendigo accepted a contract for the erection of wireless telegraph stations at Sydney and Fremantle, from a syndicate possessing a capital of £5,000. When the honorable member for Barrier succeeded him, he was approached by the members of the syndicate, of whom Mr. Denison, connected, I believe, with the Tobacco Trust, and Mr. McLeod, the proprietor of the Sydney Bulletin, were the chief shareholders, and at their request the honorable gentleman transferred the contract to a company with a capital of £65,000. Honorable members can obtain the facts from the records of the Sydney Stock Exchange, where I got them. For the sale of its rights, the £5.000 syndicate took £10,000 in cash, £15,000 in preference shares, and £20,000 in ordinary shares. That is, it got £45,000 in cash and shares in return for rights covered by a capital of £5,000.
– Were the shares at par?
– They are now below par, showing that the syndicate, or some one, is selling shares.
– This is a strong indictment of private companies.
– It is a stronger indictment of Labour administration.
– How much more did the contract cost the Commonwealth because of the change ?
– It did not cost the Commonwealth a cent more, but it might put £45,000 into the pockets of speculators. Why should a Labour Postmaster-General allow that? In State Departments, which deal with big contracts, it is the practice, whenever a transfer is asked for by a contractor, to make the most rigid inquiry, to see that the transaction is not to facilitate private profit.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the honorable member for Barrier stood to gain by the transaction?
– I have never, for a moment, suggested such a thing.
– What is the honorable member trying to prove? Dishonesty on the part of the honorable member for Barrier? That is a most contemptible thing to do.
– The very first time I referred to this matter I hastened to say that I did not imagine that the ex- PostmasterGeneral was to be blamed for anything more than a lack of business knowledge. I have not made the slightest insinuation against the honorable gentleman’s honesty, but I do say that a man who occupies such a position should have sufficient business knowledge to enable him to avoid such a mistake.
– Will we lose any more under this than under the old company?
– Are we just a corporate body? Have we no responsibility or duty to the general public?
– My answer to that is that the contracts should not have been given to a company at all.
– The honorable member does not desire that I should make my statement. Mr. McLeod is the chief proprietor of the Sydney Bulletin, and the moment this transfer was made, we find the Bulletin in the “ Wild Cat “ column, which is the financial column of the paper, inviting the investors of Australia to buy shares in the £65,000 company !
– That is commercialism.
– It may be commercialism a la Bulletin, but I do not think the ex-Postmaster-General or any Minister of the Crown should have assisted in it.
– What is the imputation from those words?
– I cannot make it more clear than I have already done, that I make no imputation against the honesty of the ex-Postmaster-General, but only against his business capacity.
– The -honorable member is saying that the Minister was a party to a public swindle.
– Who were the lowest tenderers for the station?
– This particular company.
– Then the Government could not be at a loss in accepting the lowest tender.
– I am delighted to hear the honorable member saying that the honorable member for Bendigo, as PostmasterGeneral, was quite right in accepting it ; but the present Postmaster-General tried just now to indict him for accepting it.
– It was recommended by the Admiralty.
– I do not wish to go into the question of whether it was a good or a bad arrangement.
– The effect on the company was only accidental, surely?
– I might have gone into the matter more deeply, but I have been deliberately careful not to go too deeply into it, because I do not wish in this place to canvass the position of this company. I am giving only the bare facts necessary to show that the Minister has been guilty of grave carelessness in permitting the transfer from the £[5,000 syndicate to the £[65,000 company. That is the only charge I make, -and I think I have said enough to prove it up to the hilt.
– Has the honorable member any idea what there will be for the shareholders when the Government get the monopoly?
– Perhaps if I did not answer that question I should be misunderstood. Let me inform the honorable member for Parramatta that this company has other things to sell to its shareholders besides its right to these contracts for the supply of these installations, which I think in all amount to somewhere about £10,000. If that were all they had to sell, it would be obviously a downright swindle upon the shareholders. But they have the right to install machinery in ships, and to work ships at a certain rental, and they may claim that they will be able to pay dividends on the £[65,000, £[45,000 of which went in the purchase of the goodwill from the £[5,000 syndicate. As affording some indication of the chance that they will be able to pay dividends, it is right to say that the International Marconi Company has a capital of £[75,000, and deals with a business which, so far as my investigation has gone, leads me to believe is much greater than the business which this com- pany will have a chance to handle. It is not my object to attack this company in making these remarks.
– The honorable member deliberately said that it was a swindle.
– If the honorable member had been listening he would know I said it would have been a swindle if the company had nothing else to sell the public but these contracts. I do not wish to make any attack on the company. That is not my business. It is my business, however, to make it very unlikely that any Minister will in future permit a transfer of a Government contract, which, without benefitting the Commonwealth to any appreciable extent, is capable of being used for the enrichment of private individuals. The Minister probably will say that inasmuch as the capital of the new company is £65,000, and the capital of the original syndicate was £5,000, the Commonwealth is in a_ better position to anticipate the completion of the contract under the new company than it was under the old. But as a matter of strict fact, an examination of the papers will show that Ministers did not attach very much importance to that phase of the matter. It will be found that while they accept the transfer of these obligations from the syndicate to the company, they insist upon the retention of the private guarantees of Mr. Denison and Mr. McLeod.
– Does the honorable, member admit that?
– Of course.
– The honorable member did not do so when speaking upon the same subject the ether night. He said he had gone through the papers and did not see it.
– That is so, but I told the honorable gentleman at the time that I spoke subject to correction, and would look into the matter again. Throughout my remarks he has sat absolutely silent for lack of some reply, and this is the only miserable straw he can clutch at. In this connexion, Mr. Denison and Mr. McLeod being bound to their original indemnity with regard to the infringement of patent rights, proves conclusively that the Government regard these- prominent and influential men in the original syndicate as their main guarantee, and not a” company, the shareholders of which may not be known. I apologize to honorable members if I seem to have spoken with some warmth on the subject, but I am very anxious that Ministers, whatever Department they control, and to whatever party they belong, should handle this question of contracts in such a way as will be solely concerned with the best interests of their respective Departments. I am anxious that they shall be particularly careful to see that no transfer ot a contract from one set of shoulders to another is made, if, by so doing, an opportunity is afforded for private gain and private speculation. I am sorry for having detained the Committee at length, but I hope that the facts which I have given will be taken by Ministers in the right spirit, and that they will be used as a warning for future occasions rather than as a severe criticism on what has occurred in the past.
An Honorable Member. - Ministers have not been listening.
– The Minister of Home Affairs and the ex-Postmaster-General have, at all events, been listening; and if the honorable member imagines that Ministers in a Parliament will get credit to themselves by not listening to criticism from the Opposition, he gravely misunderstands the temper of the Australian people. They expect Ministers not to regard parliamentary government as a farce, but to pay some attention to Opposition criticism, even if they do not see their way, on reflection, to act upon it.
– It was not my intention to detain honorable members, nor do I know that there is any necessity to reply to the honorable member for Wentworth ; but perhaps I may be permitted for a minute or two to give the history of this wireless telegraph contract. As I stated last session, when the honorable member for Fremantle moved the adjournment of the House on the question, the contract with the Telefunken Company was entered into by the previous Government. I stated then, and I am prepared to state again now, that if I, instead of the honorable member for Bendigo, had been PostmasterGeneral at that time, I should have done exactly the same thing as he did. The contract of the Telefunken Company was greatly below that of the Marconi Company. I think there was a difference of £38,000 between the two. In my opinion, the honorable member for .Bendigo was fully justified in accepting the lower tender. Moreover, the honorable member took the opportunity to communicate with the British Government to ascertain whether they would be satisfied if the Australian Government accepted that tender. The British Government replied that if the Australian Government were satisfied of the financial stability of the company, they saw no reason why the contract should not be accepted. Consequently, the honorable member practically accepted the contract, which, as I say, I should have clone under similar circumstances. That contract, unhappily, was broken. The reason was that we received certain advice from the Admiralty, and from the Defence Department, to the effect that the site on which we had accepted the contract was not suitable. We had to go beyond that site. The contract was thereupon broken, and there was a great deal of difficulty in order to get a workable scheme adopted.
– Was the contract broken before it had been actually signed?
– Practically so. The Admiralty and the Defence Department said that the site chosen ought not to be chosen. But it is only fair to the honorable member for Bendigo to say that he submitted the question as to the site to the admiralty before tenders were called, and they then said that it was suitable. It was in view of that statement that the contract was entered into. But afterwards, as I have said, the Admiralty and the Defence Department stated that it was unsuitable, and that we should have to go further back. As far as the Department was concerned, the original site was quite satisfactory. But having departed from the original arrangement, and broken the contract, we had to make a. new arrangement. The Commonwealth agreed to pay £[2,000 more to the company to put up a station on the new site. When the question of signing the contract arose - it was being signed in Sydney - the Attorney-General and myself were present, and Mr. Denison and Mr. McLeod - who, I believe, has something to do with the Bulletin - represented the company. At that time, we were informed that it was intended to form a larger company, and we were asked whether we were prepared to accept the new company in lieu of the old one. The Attorney-General, who chiefly conducted the negotiations for the Commonwealth, stated that we were not prepared to take the guarantee of the new company, but that we wanted the guarantee of the ‘ Id one, plus the personal guarantee of Mr. Denison and Mr. McLeod. We obtained the personal guarantees of those two gentlemen. They informed us that they wished to form a new and larger company for the purpose of undertaking some New Zealand work, and other contracts. We, however, said that we had nothing to do with that. The personal guarantee of the two gentlemen I have mentioned having been given, they came to us a little while afterwards, and asked whether we would be prepared to transfer the contract from the old company to the new one.
– Had they signed the contract in the meantime?
– They had. This request was submitted to the Crown Solicitor, and he advised us not to have anything to do with the new company unless we were satisfied that its stability was equal to that of the old company. If it were, he advised that we need have no objection to take the guarantee of the new company. We made some inquiries, and the information came from Sydney that the new company’s guarantee would be quite equal to that of the old company. We then said we were prepared to take the guarantee of the new company. They asked whether we would take the guarantee of the new company without the two personal guarantees. Our reply was in the negative. We insisted on the personal guarantees of Mr. Denison and Mr. McLeod accompanying the guarantee of the new company. I am glad that tonight the honorable member for Wentworth has made an admission which he did not make when he spoke some time ago. He said on that day that he had gone through the papers, and that, as far as he could as-‘ certain, the personal guarantee was not provided for.
– I did pot say I had gone through all the papers. I was careful to say that I had gone through the papers for about an hour.
– I am glad to know the honorable member is now satisfied that the personal guarantee is still there. I do not know why the Postal or any other Department should object to a company increasing its capital.
– The point which the honorable member for Wentworth made, and which the Minister ought to clear up, is, “ Was the new. company formed when you took the contract over, or was it in connexion with the old company?”
– The new company was formed after we accepted the tender of the smaller company.
– When the second company took it over, was the original company then merged into the second company?
– The original company was merged into the second company.
– Before you took the contract over?
– No ; we accepted the tender of the original syndicate or company. The honorable member for Bendigo practically accepted that tender. Our Government were not satisfied that that company would be able to carry out the contract, and so we demanded the personal guarantee of Mr. Denison and Mr. McLeod, in addition to that which the honorable member for Bendigo was prepared to accept.
– That was with respect to patent rights infringement.
– It was to put the two stations up, and do everything in connexion with them-. After the contract was signed, they said they wanted to make it a larger company, as they were extending their business, and desired to transfer the contract to the larger company. I see no reason why they should not have made it a larger company if they wanted to.
—You could not have prevented them, anyhow.
– We need not have taken the guarantee of the new company. If we had not transferred the contract to the new company) the cry would have been that an Australian company wanted to do something in’ competition with the Marconi, and that we were putting obstacles in their way. There would probably have been some who would have said that we were fighting in favour of the Marconi Company. The honorable member for Wentworth asked me if he could see the papers, and I told him that he could see every paper in connexion with the matter. The Postal Department took absolutely no steps in the matter, except as the outcome of consultation with the Crown Solicitor and the Attorney-General’s Department, so that we did nothing without the best legal advice. I know nothing of the company. I am not in any way, and have never been, interested in a single share in it It made absolutely no difference to me. I was asked some time ago whether Mr. McLeod had not something to do with the Bulletin.
I believe he has ; but I never saw him’ until the day I met him and Mr. Denison, when we were dealing with the contract. in the Attorney-General’s office. I have not seen him before or since that I remember.
– The charge against the Minister is not one of business dishonesty, but of business simplicity.
– There is no charge of any kind against me. The company was accepted by the honorable member for Bendigo, and I took it in good faith that, as he had accepted it, it was honest and legitimate.
– Does this contract cost the Government any more than the original contract entered into by the honorable mem- . ber for Bendigo?
– Yes, it costs £2,000 more. When the honorable member foi: Fremantle moved the adjournment of the House I said the trouble riad been that we had broken the contract.
– Did the fact of transferring the contract make it cost the Go- .vernment any more?
– Not a halfpenny! The reason why we gave £2,000 more than we specified in the tender accepted by the honorable member for Bendigo was that we had to move the site. We did that on the advice of the Admiralty. We have since obtained a wireless expert, whom I -think is a very able man, and, as far as I can judge from a conversation I had with him, he seems to think that the Pennant Hill site is better than the one formerly suggested nearer the coast. The alteration in the site was also the cause of the delay. I give the whole credit of insisting on the personal guarantee to the present AttorneyGeneral. He said, “ I want something more from you gentlemen than the guarantee of your company. The company is not financially strong enough to guarantee the Government that it will erect the stations,, and also to guarantee us against an action if you have not the full patent rights. Be: fore we, as a Government, will sign that contract you will have to give us your own personal guarantee in addition, Hp <your company’s guarantee.” He then got the personal ‘ guarantee of Mr. Hugh Denison and Mr. McLeod of. the Bulletin. I know very little about Mr. Denison, except that he is connected with the tobacco industry or combine, and is reported to be fairly wealthy. They did suggest at that meeting that they were going to make it a larger company, because they intended, if they could, to link up the whole of Australia with wireless stations. They were going to put in for a contract in New Zealand, which I think they have subsequently obtained. Consequently they wanted to get more money. I believe, from what J can gather, that some people floated the company on the Stock Exchange, and that some of them have made money!
– I do not know whether they made money or not. I say the opportunity to make money was given.
– I can only say that, in the same circumstances, even at the risk of being accused by the honorable member for Wentworth of not having proper business acumen, I should do absolutely the same thing again.
.- I should like to see progress reported at this stage.
– Fire away, and sett le. this question. There is nothing in it.
– The honorable member will find that there is. ‘ Mr. Joseph Cook. - It is not this question,’ but the general debate on the whole o’t’ the Works Estimates. -Mr. FISHER (Wide Bay- Prime Minister :and Treasurer) [11.5]. - I do not want fo- keep’ the- Committee late, but the understanding, was that these Estimates were to be dealt with item by item, and that the general debate on questions of policy and broad principles would “ be taken in connexion with the Budget.
– It was understood that the policy underlying these Works Estimates would be open to debate now.
– I want a clear understanding with honorable members that only so much of the policy of the Government as is affected by public works shall be debated on this motion, because we want to get on with the consideration of these Estimates.
– That is quite fair. Progress reported.
House adjourned at it. 6 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 November 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1911/19111101_reps_4_61/>.