5th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Insertion of Headlines
– I have, on three or four occasions, asked the Prime Minister if he is yet in a position to say whether the privileges extended to the Treasurer, in regard to the reprinting of speeches from Hansard, are to be enjoyed by the members of the Opposition as well. Is the Prime Minister yet in a position to say what is to be done? If not, we shall have to raise the question in another way.
– I am afraid that I shall have to let the honorable member raise the question in another way. The answer is, plainly, that the Treasurer has privileges which have always been enjoyed by Treasurers since responsible government began. I am not disposed to even-up those privileges so that they may be enjoyed by every member who has a speech on any subject reprinted. That must be my answer to the right honorable member, for the present, at any rate.
– I wish to ask the Attorney-General a question in reference to a letter that appears in to-day’s Argus, headed, “ Question for Mr. McGrath.”
– The honorable member will not be in order in reading the letter.
– I wish to base a question upon it.
– The honorable member may not read it.
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral if his attention has been directed to the letter, and if its statements are correct? It is signed by A. McLellan, Coolamon, New South Wales, and is dated December 9th. The statements-
– The honorable member must not read the contents of the letter.
– My attention has been called to the letter, which deals with a purely personal matter. The statements in it are correct, but I never take the trouble to notice the wild accusationsthat from time to time are made regarding my past conduct, and it was not at my request that the question was asked this morning.
– On the 26th Novem ber, the honorable member for Franklin asked four questions regarding the working of the Oodnadatta line, of which two were answered by me on that date. With regard to the other two, I had to write to the Railway Commissioners of South Australia for information. The honorable member asked : (1) How many trains per month run between Quorn and Oodnadatta; (2) The gross earnings per month, and gross cost per month, of such service. The answers are -
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– In reply to the honorable member’s questions I have been furnished with the following statement: -
Another of those impossible men, it seems to me.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
Mr. JOSEPH COOK laid upon the table the following papers: -
Defence Act. - Military Forces -
Regulations Amended (Provisional) - Statutory Rules 1913, No. 303.
Financial and Allowance Regulations Amended (Provisional) - Statutory Rules 1913, Nos. 302, 304.
Naval Defence Act. - Regulations (Provisional) -Entry, Training and Pay of Officers of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (Sea-going) - Statutory Rules 1913, No. 305.
In Committee (Consideration of
Governor-General’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to amend the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911-1912.
This matter, though very important, is not, I think, one which ought to occupy much time in its consideration, seeing that it is not in any way controversial. The Bill is intended to repair an oversight and omission in the Inscribed Stock Act of 1911-12. The Treasury in England, under law, keeps a list of colonial stocks in which trustees in Great Britain may legally invest; and this, of course, is very convenient and important to us, although, perhaps, not so important for those at Home. Before the Treasury in England can place a colonial stock on that list, certain conditions have to be complied with, one of which is that -
The Colony shall provide by legislation for the payment out of the reserves of the Colony of any sum which may become payable to stockholders under any judgment, decree, rule, or order of a Court of the United Kingdom.
This Bill is submitted in order that the conditions referred to may be complied with. If the Commonwealth desired to raise a loan in London - although there is no intention of doing so at the present time - Commonwealth stock, under the law as it stands, could not be placed on the list of those in which trustees may invest, and this might have a serious effect on the price obtained. Every State in the Commonwealth has a provision similar to that now proposed, and it is desirable that Commonwealth stock should be placed in the same position as that of the States.
.- The Bill cannot be circulated until this motion has been passed, and, therefore, it would be unwise at the present stage to discuss the proposal set forth by the Treasurer. I take it that the intention is simply that the Commonwealth shall come into line with other borrowers. The only singular point about the measure is that it would appear to be an indication that the Government are preparing the way for what is coming if they remain in office.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported, and adopted.
That Sir John Forrest and Mr. W. H. Irvine do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Sir John Forrest, and read a first time.
– I move -
That this Bill be now reada second time.
Honorable members are aware, from the statement made by me in the Budget speech, that the object of this Bill is to increase the special payment to Tasmania under section 96 of the Constitution from £500,000, which was agreed to last session, to £900,000.
– What is the reason for the increase?
– The Government are acting in accordance with the unanimous recommendation of the Royal Commission. When the proposal to pay Tasmania £500,000 was before us, the Government of the day thought that that sum was as much as could then be given, and though the then Opposition would have liked to increase it, and tried to do so, there was no feeling exhibited in the matter, and a majority of this House thought that the proposal presented a reasonable solution of the difficulty at the time; but, as a year has elapsed since then, the Government think that Parliament should be asked to deal with the matter in the most generous way. The recommendation of the Royal Commission was unanimous, and I do not think it is any reflection upon the Government of the day to say that they did not recommend a grant of the whole amount at that time, because we all know that there are difficulties and exigencies in the financial arrangements of the country that do not always admit of one doing altogether what one would desire. The Government do not desire to recommend the expenditure of money if we can avoid it. The people of Tasmania, as a whole, are unanimous on the question.
– Of course, they are.
– I think they are reasonable people, and the grant is being made under a section of the Constitution which entitles a State that requires financial assistance to meet its obligations to apply to the Commonwealth for it. There can be no doubt that Tasmania, of all the States, has probably suffered most in the diminution of Customs revenue, and whatever may be the cause, there is no doubt that there has been a great diminution in the receipts from that source in that State. Eventually the Government, not being too eager to rush into this matter, came to the conclusion after full consideration that it would be far better for this Parliament to comply with the recommendations of the Royal Commission, which took a great deal of trouble, and made exhaustive inquiries. They have consequently submitted this Bill for the consideration of honorable members. It is proposed to spread the payment over the same years as in the original Bill, making the total contribution for this year, and seven succeeding years, £90,000 ; and for the last year, £85,000. Our predecessors paid only £95,000 out of the total £500,000 previously voted, so that really the present Government will have to find the whole of the rest of the money- £805,000- if they remain long enough on the Treasury benches. The speeches of many honorable members opposite, including that of the Leader of the Opposition, would almost lead the public to suppose that the previous Government had paid the whole £500,000; as a matter of fact, they had only paid £95,000 before they left office. It is a fair arrangement to pay £90,000 a year instead of making payments dwindling down by £10,000 a year to nothing, as was proposed in the last Bill. The sum of £405,000 out of the £500,000, originally voted, has still to be paid, and we intend to pay £400,000 more.
– How much further for this year?
– £85,000 under the Act of last year, and £5,000 under this Bill - £90,000 in all this year. Our predecessors were going to pay £85,000 this year.
– £5,000 more.
– But we have to find the £85,000. The account works out in this way -
We are all anxious to do what we can for every State in the Commonwealth, and it is pleasing to be able, in this case, to do what satisfies the people of Tasmania, who have been dissatisfied almost since the beginning of Federation. There is no doubt that if we pass this Bill we shall be fully recognising that Tasmania has experienced financial difficulties under Federation. Personally, aud I know I can say the same for my colleagues, it gives me much pleasure to move the second reading of the Bill.
Mr. FISHER (Wide Bay) [10.681.- The way in which the Treasurer has put the position of the Government in this matter is rather remarkable. The right honorable gentleman was, I think, in three Governments which were appealed to, in the same way as the Fisher Government was appealed to, to give succour to the State of Tasmania. During our term of office we appointed a Royal Commission to investigate Tasmania’s demands in the first instance.
– That is not quite so. For many years Tasmania would- not look at a proposal of this kind.
– What is the Prime Minister talking about? Tasmania appealed for assistance very soon after the Uniform Tariff was passed, on the ground that she was losing unduly by it. She appealed through her representatives, directly and indirectly, to the second and every succeeding Ministry. It was only when the Fisher Ministry was returned with a majority that steps were taken to investigate the claims of the State by means of a Royal’ Commission.
– And the Braddon Section had come to an end.
– The expiration of the Braddon Section had nothing to do with the matter. If anything, it put Tasmania in a better position than any other State in that respect.- It was during the period prior to the expiration of the Braddon Section that Tasmania lost, if it lost at all. I was never of opinion that Tasmania’s claim to be recouped for loss of revenue through Customs leakages could be effectively sustained from a legal point of view, but we appointed a Royal Commission to go into the matter under the chairmanship of the honorable member fox Bass, and with each side of the House fully and fairly represented. The Royal Commission, after investigating, the matter thoroughly, presented a report pointing out the condition of Tasmania apart altogether from its reasonable rights and claims. They could not sustain its legal claim to redress for any loss’ incurred through any faulty administration on the part of the Customs Department; but the question having arisen as to whether the circumstances of the State did not demand some relief altogether outside the legal claim, the Commission, having favorably considered that aspect of the matter, recommended that the rest of Australia should pay to Tasmania a sum of not less than £900,000. The Chairman accordingly moved in this House the adoption of the Commission’s recommendation. “ On that occasion I made a statement in the House on behalf of the Government. I said that we would give to Tasmania a sum of £500,000 over a period of ten years. I said that this was a fair and reasonable offer at the time, but I did not hold the opinion that the grant we proposed should close the matter entirely. I also pointed out - and I hold the same view just as strongly to-day as I did then - that the Commonwealth Parliament would not be justified in paying £900,000 to Tasmania on the legal claim put forward. The late Government communicated with the Premier of Tasmania and asked him whether, in view of the recommendation of the Royal Commission, he intended to appeal to the Commonwealth Parliament under section 96 of the Constitution, which was purposely put into the Constitution after careful consideration by the Federal Conventions, and accepted by the people, in order to provide for relief by the Commonwealth of Australia to -any State finding itself embarrassed by any act of the Commonwealth Parliament.
– It was placed in the Constitution at the instance of one of the Tasmanian delegates to the Conventions.
– This is no party matter, but it is the right course to pursue to see how we are to proceed in reference to this claim from Tasmania, in view of the fact that it is likely to form a precedent. No one can foresee what other claims may be put forward from’ other’ States, so that we should not hurry in the matter until we see exactly on what basis we are to redress any grievances, or alleged grievances, that may arise. I look upon the claim of Tasmania as being made under two heads. One is the legal claim ; the other is the claim made under section 96. It was obvious when the Federal Parliament came into existence that some States must be struck harder financially than others; and perhaps Tasmania, owing to its size and its small population, has been struck harder on the per capita basis than any other State. I do not think that this is on account of lack of resources. I have had occasion to visit Tasmania, and I have read of its resources, and the circumstances of Tasmania to-day are a marvel to me. No one will say that the natural advantages of Tasmania, with its fine rivers, vast forests, rich mines, and productive soil, are not equal to those of any other part of the Commonwealth. It is true that it is a mountainous country, and that on this account a great deal of the land is not productive, but it has a rainfall which is as regular as the clock goes round, and is ample and sufficient for all purposes. Furthermore, Tasmania should be the playground of Australia. Despite all these great advantages, we find the State embarrassed.
– It has been crushed by monopolies.
– I am not making the condition of Tasmania a political issue, though it is a mystery to many why the island should lose population.
– There is a gradual increase at every census.
– Unfortunately, we cannot blind ourselves to the fact that Tasmania is losing a portion of its population, and a portion which is always essential to the prosperity and progress of any community.
– The young men and women are leaving.
– At any rate, Tasmania’s loss is the mainland’s gain.
– The honorable member does not help himself by claiming that Tasmania is making a gift to the mainland. Every patriotic Australian would rather see Tasmania in a position to keep its natural increase of population, and at the same time invite immigrants from oversea. i
– I do not defend their leaving the State. I say it is Tasmania’s misfortune, and therefore we need some compensation from the mainland in return.
– In my opinion the financial position of Tasmania demands some relief, and the late Government were the first to acknowledge that fact and to give some relief. % We felt that we should obtain, not only the views of the Royal Commission, but an official intimation from the Premier of Tasmania as to the terms on which this assistance was sought. Sir Elliott Lewis then frankly indicated that this relief was sought, and properly sought, under section 96 of the Constitution, which reads -
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth, and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
This Parliament, at the instance of the late Government, thought fit to provide for a grant of £500,000, beginning with a payment of £95,000, with a reduction of £10,000 in each succeeding year. We gave five-ninths of the amount recommended by the Royal Commission. The present Government now come down with a proposal to grant the remaining £400,000. But instead of beginning with a large payment, and gradually reducing it year after year, they propose that in the first year only £5,000 shall be paid; in the second £15,000, in the third £25,000, and so on, until in 1921-22 a final payment of £80,000 will be made.
That is not the way in which Tasmania desired that this grant should be made, nor is it the way which the Royal Commission recommended. It was represented to us that substantial relief was wanted at once - that the difficulties of the future were not likely to be equal to the’ difficulties then existing, and I think that a good case was made out in support of that claim. Tasmanians may well say that the Government are proposing to - keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope.
If the Government think that this grant should be made, they should follow the recommendation of the Royal Commission, and listen to the appeal made by the State itself, by making large payments in the early years, and allowing them to gradually taper off. We may rest assured that if the payments provided for in the schedule be adhered to, the sudden break in the revenue of Tasmania at the end of 1921 will be severely felt. Its natural population is not increasing, and when it is suddenly deprived of a special revenue of £80,000 from the Commonwealth, it is quite possible that the necessity may arise for a further appeal to this Parliament. Individuals whose incomes are suddenly reduced often find, notwithstanding that they are doing their best, that they are in necessitous circumstances. A State may be in a more or less similar predicament. I appeal, therefore, to the Treasurer not to adhere to the proposed schedule, but to begin with more liberal payments.
– The Tasmanians are quite satisfied.
– If they are, then I shall not move an amendment.
– We are not satisfied, bub we have to take what we can get.
– Nothing has been said to me against our proposal, and we could not accept such an amendment as the right honorable member proposes. We are not made of gold.
– In other words, the Treasurer says that he has not at his disposal the money necessary to enable him to pay an increased amount this year. But he and his colleagues will cheerfully pass on to their successors the burden of making the larger payments.
– We are prepared to do what we promised to do.
– The Treasurer, in saying that the Government cannot undertake an increased burden at the present time, is really supporting my contention. If that is the position of the Commonwealth, with its great resources to-day, what may we expect when Tasmania receives £85,000 from the Commonwealth, and in the next year nothing at all ! Sir Elliott Lewis, when we were in office, was quite frank and straightforward in the matter. As soon as it was found that the ground on which the claim was originally made could be sustained, he submitted a request under the terms of section 96 of the Constitution. It was just such a request as an honorable State could make to the other members of the Union which had benefited by Federation. If the representatives of Tasmania say that they do not desire to have larger payments in the first years, I shall not press my objection; but I hope that an amendment will be moved.
– I hope that there will not be an amendment.
– There will be one.
– Then you want to wreck the Bill?
– That is most unfair; it is a threat.
– I hope that the schedule will be so amended as to make it conform to the sliding scale recommended by the Royal Commission. We decided that a grant should be made to Tasmania at a time when such a proposal was not at all popular. We carried it, however, in the face of very considerable opposition.
– There was no opposition to it - there was not even a division.
– Strong attempts were made to prevent anything being done in this direction, but we carried our proposal, and I am glad that the present Government propose now to complete what we did in giving effect to the recommendation of the Royal Commission.
.- I am anxious that effect shall be given to the report of the Royal Commission. The Fisher Government carried a Bill providing for a payment of £500,000 on a sliding scale fixed in accordance with the recommendation of the Royal Commission. The Commission unanimously re- commended that a grant of £900,000 should be made, beginning with a payment of £120,000, and to be reduced at the rate of £5,000 a year for the first five years, and thereafter at the rate of £10,000, until in 1920-21 Tasmania would receive £50,000. The late Government brought in a Bill which, while not making provision for the full amount recommended by the’ Royal Commission, adopted the sliding scale drawn up by it, and drawn up by it because it recognised that if the payments suddenly stopped with a grant of £90,000 the State would feel the loss of this income in the following year. Tasmania is a small State, but it was hoped that it would become larger under Federation.
– It has retained its population better than Victoria has done.
– According to the Budget-papers, page 52, the population of Victoria, which on the 6th June, 1910, was 1,193,000, has since increased by 227,000, which is more than the total population of Tasmania to-day, Tasmania’s population having increased in the same period by only. 29,000. The recommendation of the Royal Commission that this grant should diminish on a sliding scale seems to me a prudent one. The Treasurer knows that under the Constitution, Western Australia was given special consideration for a period of five years, but on a sliding scale, so that the assistance would not abruptly come to an end, but would taper off gradually. The Fusion party made an agreement with the Premiers of the States, and desired to insert in the Constitution a provision which would compel the Commonwealth to pay to the States 25s. per capita for all time; and it was arranged, also, that Western Australia should enjoy a special concession. The people subsequently declined to ratify the proposal, but when the Labour Government assumed office, it decided that there should be a per capita grant to the States, but only for a period of years, and the concession to Western Australia was provided for in these terms, in section 5 of the Surplus Revenue Act No. 8 of 1910-
The Commonwealth shall, during the period of ten years beginning on the first day of June, One thousand nine hundred and ten, and there after, until Parliament otherwise provides, pay to the State of Western Australia, by monthly instalments, an annual sum which in the first year shall be two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and in each subsequent year shall be progressively diminished by the sum of ten thousand pounds.
That was considered a wiser arrangement than one to divide the sum to be given into equal yearly payments which would come to an abrupt ending. Similarly, it would be wise to provide for the taperingoff of the payments made to Tasmania. That would be much better than to give the State £5,000 this year, £15,000 next, £25,000 in the following year, and so on until in the last year £80,000 was given. That is not a fair way to treat the State. It would be better to make the larger payments in the early years, during the State’s time of need. The Government proposes to give effect to the Royal Commission’s recommendation, so far as the amount of the grant is concerned; and I urge that it should also adopt the sliding scale recommended by the Commission.
– The finances will not permit it.
– Our pockets are not full of money like those of the late Government.
– This is a matter of £30,000 this year, and is a very small one compared with other expenditure which the Treasurer proposes. We should follow the system already laid down, and give to Tasmania the same treatment that was given to Western Australia. If the Treasurer proposes to throw the Bill under the table if it be not carried, he is not treating Tasmania fairly.
– We must look after our financial position; and we havedone the best we can.
– The Government propose to spend the £2,600,000 left to them by the late Government, and to borrow £3,000,000 in addition; and if they persist in the present proposal, the Commonwealth in the future may have some difficulty in meeting the position. I should like to hear some members of the Royal Commission on the subject, because I think the information which they could give would be useful. If we are to believe the honorable member for Wilmot, the population of Tasmania is increasing rapidly.
-i said there was a gradual increase.
– If the population increases, the time will come when Tasmania will not require assistance; and it would be far better to taper off the payments.
.- This Bill is an evidence that the Government are in dire straits. I very much question whether any effort would have been made by the Government to grant Tasmania1s. more, had not it been for the unfortunate fact that they have only a majority of one in this House.
– Nothing of the sort !
– It is as clear as noon-day that this is not a generous gift, as the Treasurer endeavours to makeout, but is a payment under pressure of the marvellous majority of the Government.
– There is no pressure at all.
– Evidence of pressure is clear when the Treasurer is able to offer Tasmania only a paltry £5,000 for the first year. It is as though the Treasurer said, “ I do not wish to make any payment if I can help it, but since you press us, and your vote is all important to the Government, I will try to squeeze £5,000 for you this year.” The Government are thrusting aside every principle laid down in connexion with such grants. Surely the proper time to extend help is when a State is in distress; and a wise Government would taper the assistance off until the State had learned how to do without it. The Government, however, in order to relieve their terrible position, completely reverse the order of things. The weak part of the proposal is to give Tasmania £90,000 each year, because it will mean that Tasmania, when suddenly deprived of this assistance, will have to ask for another grant to tide her over her difficulties. It can only make trouble for future Governments if we cease assisting Tasmania at a time when that State should have learned to work out her own redemption.
– Tasmania has ten years in which to do that.
– She has not, because she is being given £90,000 every year. I am sure that if the Treasurer desired to assist his son to enter into business with £5,000, he would not pay him £1,000 a year for five years, but would give him a lump sum and taper off the payments, so as to test whether the young man could make a success of the venture. That should be the position takenup by a Treasurer who is carefully safeguarding the funds of the Commonwealth; but, instead, we have the present wonderful financing. The Treasurer tells us that we should not look a gift horse in the mouth. A “gift horse “-£5,000 is a great gift, is it not? It is an apology,a mere subterfuge - a “get-out” of a difficult position in a mean way, which is going to do this country, and Tasmania, more harm than anything else. If we once begin to spoon-feed a State from year to year, and decade to decade, we shall find it always in need. It is not a fair thing to cultivate this dependence when proper statesmanship would train the State to meet its own liabilities after she has been helped over her immediate necessities. It is the fortune of war only that has made the Treasurer bring in a Bill, of the kind at this stage.
– Nothing of the sort; I deny that absolutely.
– I do not care whether the Treasurer denies it or not - “ the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” The right honorable gentleman has squeezed out only £5,000 for Tasmania, and he would not have squeezed out any money if he could have helped it. If the Government had had a great majority, we should not have found the Treasurer troubling about Tasmania.
– The Treasurer did nothing for Tasmania for ten years.
– The history of the Treasurer shows that he moves only when political needs drive. Whenever in power, he has been cute enough to watch the political barometer, and when it was running down against him, to add a little mercury to bring it up again.
– He is a good pilot.
– I admit that; but he is not just to Tasmania, and he is “ piloting “ the Commonwealth into trouble. In this legislation, the Government are reversing the order of things, as they are doing in all their other legislation.
– It is well to reverse the engine if it is going the wrong way.
– I am only too glad that the Government are going in the wrong direction, because it means that some day they will “ come a cropper.” Every move of the Government is retrograde, and this Bill represents one of their most retrogressive proposals.
– The retrogressive steps are good if you find you are being led to a precipice.
– Then, I take it, that the Government’s “precipice” is a financial one, and that they are, accordingly, taking retrogressive steps. Tha Government had £2,600,000 as a free gift from a Government who knew how to finance; but present Ministers do not know how to finance, even to the extent of paying £400,000 in ten years. I do not desire the people of Tasmania to be deceived and lured into a false position - made to believe that the Government are magnanimous, and that this £400,000 is paid out of love for the State. The payment is not out of love for the State, but out of love for place and power.
– Why waste time?
– There can be no waste of time in dealing with big principles like this. All the measures that the Government are introducing are of one kidney. Every one is retrogressive.
– I would ask the honorable member not to use expressions which may be regarded as offensive.
– I see nothing wrong with the expression I used.
– We shall have to put you out.
– Order 1
– Why does not the Treasurer do so if he can. He can do what he likes, but he will find that this turning-out business is not going to do the Government any good. The Bill on the face of it is a subterfuge. The Treasurer has the handling of a surplus of £2,600,000, and there are large amounts in the Trust Funds, left by the previous Government, that he can use Lt his own sweet will, yet he tells us that he cannot give this money to Tasmania in the way that it ought to be given, lt is detrimental to the interests of Tasmania to grant the money in the way the Government are doing. I give notice that in Committee I shall move an amendment to provide for the -payment of the money in diminishing proportions as re commended by the Royal Commission. Instead of starting at £5,000, the Treasurer ought to start at the higher amount and diminish, the payments gradually, so as to prepare Tasmania to rely on herself at the end of ten years. It is a cruel thing to give that State a lot of money each year for ten years, and then practicaily leave it on its uppers. That is not the way to safeguard the interests of the Commonwealth or oi the State itself, but the present Government do not care if the Government in power in ten years’ time is called upon to make further grants to Tasmania. The Treasurer cannot claim that it is statesmanship to make things worse in ten years’ time than they are to-day, yet he is deliberately laying this burden on the Commonwealth and on Tasmania for ten years to come. The Treasurer is not doing what he would like Bo do in this matter, or what his conscience or knowledge would dictate. He is doing merely what the political necessities of the hour demand. This Bill ia nothing more nor less than the price the Government are paying for the right to monopolize the Treasury bench for a little while longer.
– That is not parliamentary.
– Perfectly parliamentary. I do not object to that so much as to the fact that the payments are being made upside down. The Government say, “ We will give Tasmania £5,000 this year, but as we are not sure that we shall be here much longer, we shall leave our successors to meet the increased liability when it comes.” They know that they will not be in office for long, in view of the wonderful “ sweeping of the country by the Liberal party “ that has failed to take place in New South Wales. The people have awakened since the last Federal elections, and this is a hollow make-believe measure that will further open their eyes. I wonder at the Treasurer fathering it. He has a big reputation to lose, but the company in which he now finds himself is dragging him down into the mire of mediocrity. I always regarded him with admiration, because he always did things in a big way. Whether, he was on this or the other side of the House he used to ask, “ What is a million pounds to a Commonwealth of this kind ?” but now he shies, not at a million pounds, but at a few thousands. He says, “I can afford only £5,000 ; I cannot afford £30,000 this year “ ! This great Commonwealth is so tied up financially since the present Government took office that it cannot raise £25,000 in a year. What condition will it be in after another six months of this so-called Liberal rule? The sooner the country is appealed to, and given a chance to turn out the financial authorities who are mismanaging its affairs, the better. I appeal to the Treasurer once more to try to do’ justice to Tasmania, instead of making a pretence of doing justice to it. Let him make a struggle to bring the amount up to £30,000 this year.
– He might bring in another Loan Bill.
– If he cannot get the money out of revenue, a ready means of getting it is to borrow it. This will be quite in keeping with the policy of the party. Ultimately they will run the country by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, and borrowing from Paul to pay Peter. We looked forward to the right honorable gentleman being a Treasurer in reality, but he is now merely a figurehead, bringing in a Bill not put of any love for Tasmania, but to suit the political interests of the Government. That is the result of their having a majority of only one or two. If they had a larger majority Tasmania could have whistled for her extra £400,000, and Tasmanian members know it as well as I do. They are making the most of their opportunity, but the result of their efforts is no credit to them. They have full power to compel the Government to do what they want, but they have not done the right thing in the interests of their own State, and the people of Tasmania ought to know it. One vote would put the Government out, and therefore, if Tasmanian members who support the Government vote for my amendment, they can force- the Government to pay Tasmania £30,000 for the first year, and make the subsequent payments on the sliding scale recommended by the Royal Commission. I take it that the Royal Commission meant that Tasmania deserved help for the next ten years only, to the extent of £900,000, spread over that period, and never dreamt that the Commonwealth should repeat the payments for the following ten years. They considered that their recommendation did full justice to the State.
– We Tasmanian members are paying a higher income tax than any other members in the House.
– That is the fault of the Ministries that have misgoverned Tasmania in the past.
– Why does the honorable member want to block the Bill?
– I am trying to improve it. It is of no use for the Treasurer to try to bluff in this House, although that sort of thing might have done in Western Australia in days gone by. I am fighting for the interests of Tasmania all the time, and fighting at the same time to protect the Commonwealth from periodical claims for large sums to assist necessitous States. I am trying to save the Treasurer of ten years hence. ‘ Of course, at that date the party opposite will have no chance of being in power. It is our party that will have to face the difficulty, and I do not want the present Treasurer to create any more obstacles for us to climb over than I can help.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 (Payments to extend over a period of nine years).
.- I protest against the method of payment set out in the schedule. It is not fair to the Commonwealth, nor is it fair to the future of Tasmania. In fact, the Bill is merely a placard which the Government have brought forward, not by virtue of’ their generosity, but because of political necessities. They propose to reverse the whole order of making such grants, so that in ten years the position of Tasmania will be worse than it is now; and they are laying down a principle that will recoil on future Governments. In dealing with this subject I am not considering the necessities of Tasmania, but I am dealing with the great principle of how we should approach questions of this character, with a view to making the State receiving assistance from the Commonwealth selfdependent in a limited time. If we cannot help Tasmania to prepare herself to carry her own burden at the expiration of a certain period, what chance has the State of ever overcoming her difficulties? The Bill does not aid Tasmania in that way; and, furthermore, it betrays the Commonwealth and misleads the people in regard to the intentions of the
Commonwealth Parliament towards Tasmania. The Treasurer should be ashamed of this legislation after all his boasts about the genius of the present Government in regard to finance. He should not again speak of finance if he admits that the Commonwealth is so badly off that it can only afford £5,000 for Tasmania, and cannot spring another £20,000 to meet, according to his own statements, the reasonable and just necessities of that State. If we give Tasmania £25,000 this year it will not create a cul de sac that will prevent us squaring the financial barometer. The Bill will go down on record as an example of the Treasurer’s absolute inability to live up to his reputation. Every time he introduces a financial Bill he gets lower and lower in the scale of the admiration of those who looked up to him in days gone by. All he can say is “ Let the Bill go.” It is cruel to let this Bill go, and 1 say it deliberately. A Treasurer who will bring forward a measure such as this, in order to save the political skin of the Government, is not worthy of his position. It is cruel for him to build up trouble for future Treasurers. Furthermore, it is cruel to think that, at this stage of the history of the Commonwealth, a Government should be so lost to every sense of justice that it is prepared to sell the whole of its political principles for the sake of gaining votes. I have always admired the Treasurer; I have always looked upon him as a pattern, but here we have another idol shattered. I cannot understand the Attorney-General not putting down his foot on this legislation.
– Do you ever understand anything?
– I have been able to understand a good many things that the honorable member’s contemporaries could not understand. Do not try to make out that because you havehad a college education
– And have passed to the Bar, that there are no other people with brains in the community that can see through a ladder.
– Order !
– The honorable member is too much in the habit of casting his gloomy countenance over things here.
– Order ! I am calling the honorable member to order.
– I understand; but when an honorable member begins to gibe at me, I will answer back.
– I name the honorable member for Gwydir for deliberately disregarding the authority of the Chair.
– I hope the honorable member will not give me occasion to take action.
– I had no intention of being disrespectful to the Chair; but the Attorney-General took me away from my subject by a discourteous remark. I am sorry I gave offence. I am not too proud to apologize when I know that I am in the wrong. However, having entered my protest against the Bill, and placed it on record so that it will be referred to in days to come when Tasmania comes along for another grant, to show that some one spoke, not from party interests or political necessities, but from the broader ground of what should operate in a national Parliament, I am ontent to allow the Bill to pass, putting the responsibility on the shoulders of men who have showed themselves so incapable, and so absolutely~unworthy of the trust reposed in them.
– I protest against the niggardly treatment, meted out to Tasmania. The Treasurer is telling us nearly every day that he has not the moneywith which to do these things, yet inhis Supplementary Budget speech he intimated that, although things looked a little black, he anticipated that before the end of the financial year there would be ample funds available. He spoke of a thumping wheat harvest, a better butter season, a good wool crop, and good prices for it, and he said that, all things considered, he anticipated the lee-way would be made up before the end of the financial year. If that is the case, the Treasurer will enjoy one of the biggest revenues any Treasurer has enjoyed in Australia; and, therefore, he is behaving in a very mean way to a State that needs more assistance than he proposes to give. He is taking a very small view of the necessities of Tasmania. He ought to be in a position to spring a little bit on this grant to the State; and I trust that, if another place amends the Bill, he will reconsider his decision, so that Tasmania may not suffer. Does the Treasurer simply wish to have it put on record that he, as Treasurer, presided over the destinies of Australia, and received the greatest revenue ever received, and presented to Parliament the largest Budget ever presented by any Treasurer? Surely he can see his way clear to increase this little grant to Tasmania?
– No; we have madeour financial arrangements for the year.
– Then my appeal is falling on deaf ears. I am sorry for Tasmania. If we cannot vote more than £5,000 in our most prosperous year, how are we going to do it in succeeding years? But I believe that the Treasurer would have no difficulty in making the amount £10,000 or £15,000 more, and I am surprised at the Committee accepting so tamely the small amount provided in the Bill.
Clause agreed to.
– I hope that the Treasurer will accept an amendment which I intend to move, and which will bring the schedule into line with not only the Royal Commission’s report as to the scale on which the payments should be made, but with all legislation of this character passed by the Federal Parliament, as well as with the provision which was made in the Constitution for a special payment to Western Australia, on a sliding scale, in the early years of the Federation. The Schedule to this Bill provides that in the first year there shall be a payment of £5,000. I move -
That the figures “ £5,000 “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the figures “£35,000.”
– The honorable member cannot move such an amendment.
– I think that I can.
– The honorable member cannot move to increase the amount covered by the Governor-General’s message.
– The message recommended an appropriaton of £400,000, and that appropriation has already been agreed to. We are now deciding merely how the payment shall be allocated, and my amendment would not increase the total amount of the appropriation. If it be carried, then I shall move a subsequent amendment making the total annual payments to Tasmania, under this Bill, and under that introduced by the Fisher Government, as follows: - 1913-14, £120,000; 1914-15, £115,000; 1915-16, £110,000; 1916-17, £105,000: 1917-18, £95,000; 1918-19, £80,000; 1919-20, £70,000; 1920-21, £60,000; and 1921-22, £50,000. My amendment follows the lines of the Royal Commission’s recommendation, and while not involving any increasedcharge, will give this money to Tasmania at a time when she most requires it.
– On a point of order, I submit that the amendment cannot be received. If carried, it wouldbe tantamount to taking the financial control out of the hands of the Government.
– That is not a very strong reason.
– I regret that I cannot meet the wishes of the honorablemember for Yarra, but I would remind him that the financial arrangements of a Government, like those of private firms, are made for some time ahead. I submit that a private honorable member cannot move to alter the allocation of expenditure proposed for any one year.
– On the point of order, I would remind you, Mr. Chairman, that the Governor-General’s message recommended an appropriation of £400,000 for the purposes of this Bill, and that that appropriation has already been made. All that I now propose to do is to vary the annual payments without altering the total amount covered by this Bill. I am not proposing any increase of taxation, and I submit that my amendment is perfectly in order.
– I submit that Parliament is perfectly entitled to determine what shall be the annual payments under the appropriation already made. The Treasurer said that this grant is already provided for in the Budget; but I would remind you, Mr. Chairman, that the Budget has not yet been disposed of - that the Estimates have yet to be carried. If this Committee has no right to alter the annual payments proposed to be made under the appropriation, then the Ministry haveno right to commit future Governments to the payment of these instalments named in the Schedule.
– The amendment would increase the expenditure in respect of the current year.
– Even so, the commitments for the present year have not been passed by the House. We have not yet dealt with the Estimates, and if the amendment be carried the Government will be at liberty to make provision on this year’s Estimates for an increased payment.’
– When the Treasurer considers this matter I think he will come to the conclusion that the honorable member for Yarra’s amendment is not out of order. The honorable member is not proposing to increase the appropriation. If he were he would be out of order, but all that he asks is that an alteration shall be made in the scale of annual payments without interfering with the total appropriation.
– Having received an intimation that an amendment of this kind would be moved, I went very carefully into the question, and it appears to me that the position is very clear. The Governor-General’s message recommended an appropriation of £400,000 for the purposes of this Bill, and under this Bill it is proposed that there shall be an expenditure of £5,000 during the present year. The amendment proposes to increase that amount, although it does not affect the total amount appropriated under the Bill. Let me remind the Committee that the control of all expenditure by the Crown is one of the fundamental principles of constitutional Government. The expenditure proposed by the amendment, it seems to me, cannot be said to have been recommended under section 56 of the Constitution, and I have, therefore, no alternative but to rule the amendment out of order. The principle is the same, whether the amount involved be large or small, but assuming that a much larger payment is proposed, by the amendment, to be made this year, I think that the necessity for my ruling becomes more obvious. If a grant of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 were proposed by the Bill to be made, over a period of years, it would be possible for an honorable member, if this amendment were in order, to move to confine the total payment to the year under consideration. That would place the Government of the day in very serious difficulties, and would be, as I have already indicated, quite out of touch with the principle that the Government of the day must control all expenditure. I accordingly rule the amendment out of order.
– I move -
That the ruling of the Chairman be disagreed with.
We cannot allow what I consider - -with-out any reflection on the Chairman - a loose method of procedure. The ruling affects the rights of every member.
– The honorable member for Kennedy has, in accordance with the standing order, given notice, in writing, of his dissent from my ruling, and wishes to move -
That the ruling of the Chairman be dissented from in not allowing the amendment of the honorable member for Yarra.
Under the standing order the point may be decided forthwith by the Committee.
– It may, if you prefer, Mr. Chairman, be dealt with tomorrow. I regret to have to dissent from your ruling; but the point at issue is one in which I take a peculiar interest. Soon after the inauguration of Federation, Mr. Speaker Holder gave a ruling which permitted any member to increase a Tariff Duty. To that I, among others, took strong, objection. I need not state in detail the grounds of that objection, but may say briefly that I considered the ruling bad in principle, because the Crown should not be given more money than it asks for. Subsequently I became the Chairman of Committees, and while I was in the chair, the honorable member for Gwydir sought to increase the duty on, I think, angle iron. I ruled that he could not do so, because a private member could not move to increase an impost. As honorable members generally wished for an appeal to the Speaker, I consented to that, although I did not approve of it. Mr. Speaker Holder, when the matter was put before him, partly reversed his original ruling, and upheld me in the decision that it was not in order for an honorable member to move to increase a duty. The authorities lay it down as a cardinal principle that, while a member may not move to increase the amount of a duty, he is at perfect liberty to propose any rearrangement of the tax that he may think proper. In this case the Chairman has told us, in reference to the message of the
Governor-General, that he takes it that the Governor-General has seen the Bill, and knows what is in it. I say that the Governor-General knows nothing about the Bill. He has merely been informed that a certain sum of money is needed for the purposes of the Bill.
Sitting suspended from 12.4.0 to 3.15 p.m.
– When, the sitting was suspended I was contending that if this ruling stands we shall stultify ourselves and establish the precedent that, whenever a Bill is brought down under a GovernorGeneral’s message, we must confine ourselves absolutely to that Bill, having no power to amend. So far as my memory serves me, Mr. Fowler, you said that the Governor-General had seen the Bill, and had sent down a message in accordance with it. I trust that is not so, because we shall then have no alternative but to pass the Bill as it is, and it will be of no use our going into Committee. The Governor-General’s message is as follows : -
In accordance with the requirements of section fifty-six of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia the Governor-General recommends to the House of Representatives that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the sum of £400,000 for the purposes of further financial assistance in the State of Tasmania.
I maintain that this message is so broad that, under it, we could make the whole of the £400,000 payable in one year. The. amount expended is exactly the same, and whether it is spent in one year or in payments extending over a number of years is a matter of no moment so far as the procedure is concerned. Without going into the question elaborately, not having had time to look up the necessary authorities, I say distinctly that the ruling is not in accordance with our procedure. I hold that even a private member can move an amendment for the expenditure of the sum in one year. What is the object of our going into Committee? It is to try to make the Bill perfect - to elicit the ideas of honorable members, and make the measure as effective as possible. If honorable members are not permitted to make any alteration, what is the good of our going into Committee? Why not end the discussion at the second reading ? If it were a question of the imposition of taxation, and the amendment of the honorable member for Yarra would tend to increase that taxation, then, of course, he would be distinctly out of order; but in the present case the proposal neither increases nor lessens the amount which we are recommended to appropriate. If the honorable member had moved to decrease the amount, do I understand, Mr. Fowler, that your ruling would then be that his amendment is out of order? Under the circumstances, if the honorable member for Yarra is not able to move to increase the amount for the first year, he would not be in order in moving an amendment to the opposite effect. I contend, sir, that your ruling is not in keeping with our practice, and, further, that if it is maintained it will stultify us to such an extent that no honorable member in the future will be able to propose any amendment at all in a Bill of this nature. Whatever our feelings may be politically on various questions that arise from time to time, I trust that our dealings with procedure will not be on party lines.
– I think the Government ought to say something on this matter.
– The position of the Government is very easily stated; they regard the Chairman’s ruling as absolutely correct. The result of the amendment of the honorable member for Yarra would be to increase the Estimates for this year, and the Standing Orders are clear and lucid on that point.
– This is not the Estimates, but a statutory provision for a certain sum of money.
– The money will have to be provided for in the Estimates of this year, and, consequently, if the amendment were carried, provision would have to be made for the payment of the additional amount. The honorable member for Kennedy knows as well as anybody that that is not permissible, and is contrary to the Standing Orders, and to all good practice.
– Whatever may be the merit of your ruling, Mr. Fowler, from a constitutional point of view, the argument used by the Prime Minister in support of it makes it fatally ineffective. The Prime Minister states that this Bill has a relationship to the Estimates and the appropriation of money under the annual Appropriation Bill, and that, as by altering the Bill incidentally a larger sum will have to be provided for in those Estimates, the Bill ought to be treated as if it were part of the Estimates. Such a ruling would prevent the amendment, not only of this Bill, but of every Bill, if the amendment had the effect of even incidentally increasing the appropriation for the year.
– This is not an incidental increase, but a direct increase.
– The authority to introduce this Bill is as follows : -
In accordance with the requirements of section fifty-six of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, the Governor-General recommends to the House of Representatives that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund the sum of ^400,000 for the purposes of further financial assistance to the State of Tasmania.
That message says nothing at all of this year, next year, or of any subsequent year, but leaves this Chamber to decide how the money shall be appropriated. The honorable member for Kennedy put his finger on a weak spot in the ruling, and his remarks should commend themselves to the Prime Minister and the AttorneyGeneral. That honorable member pointed out that if he could not amend this Bill to increase the amount in any one year, we could not amend it to decrease the amount in any one year. That argument appears to be quite sound.
– Decreasing the amount is a very different matter from increasing it. It is open to honorable members to reduce an item in the Estimates, but not to increase it.
– From a constitutional point of view there is no difference. For instance, in Supply we cannot add to the burdens of the people on the motion of a private member, whereas in Ways and Means that may be done. This has been upheld by Mr. Speaker and by the Chairman of Committees. I hope the Government will not stand by the ruling of the Chairman, which, in my opinion, violates an important principle of representative and responsible government.
– That is strong language !
– I express my opinion with all due deference to those who take the opposite view. If this ruling be maintained, it will not only affect this Government and this Parliament, but, later on, will put into the hands of any Government the power to introduce financial measures which can be discussed, but which cannot be amended in any way.
– Oh, yes ! Honorable members may reduce any item if they choose.
– But not to increase the amount in’ any one year.
– The honorable member spoke of reducing.
– The right honorable member should have waited before he made that interjection.
– I say you can reduce.
– This is an appropriation of £400,000 to be spent within a specified number of years. If we reduce the amount payable in one year, we must increase that payable in another, because the total is fixed in the message from the Crown, which is the warrant for the Government proceeding. The Treasurer, in his off-hand way, tells us not to talk nonsense, but I am putting the absolutely correct position. Apart altogether from the doubt in the matter, the principle that has been laid down will place in the hands, not only of this but of every succeeding Government, a power they ought not to possess - a power to bring down Bills in this way, extending payments over a period of years, which they have no right to control, and to bind future Parliaments without the benefit of discussion or the moving and debating of amendments. I can speak the more freely on the ruling you have given, Mr. Chairman, because on the main question I am with the Government. I am supporting the Bill, but you are laying down a bad precedent, and if the majority support your ruling, I think it will be a fatal mistake.
– Do you know a case where it has ever been ruled that an item like this can be adjusted?
– It is quite a common thing.
– I have not looked the matter up. I support the Bill as to the amount, but with regard to the distribution
– You want to have the power to distribute the money in any way you like.
– I want Parliament to have that power. I do not want it, nor do I want the Government or even the Chairman to have it.
– It is a question, of the administration of the Treasury.
– The right honorable gentleman now makes the convenience of the Treasury a lever to get a ruling here.
– That was the chief point of the Chairman.
– It was a fatal and faulty point, which cannot be defended on constitutional grounds. I hope the Committee will not so far depart from sound principles, even if they have precedents to go on, as to adopt the ruling of the Chairman. I regret that you, sir, have taken this course. I believe you have taken it honestly, relying on a practice that has, perhaps, been followed here and elsewhere ; but even if a similar ruling has been given previously, I still say it is faulty, and ought to be departed from.
– I was waiting to hear from the Government side some authority to support their contention. When I saw the Prime Minister rise, I thought we should hear some proper justification for the attitude of the Government; but, instead of this, the Prime Minister merely said we could make no alteration because the matter was provided for in the Estimates. I am not sure that it is ; and even if it was, the Estimates still remain to be passed, and can be altered as we desire. As it is not obligatory on us to be bound by Estimates which are not yet agreed to, the only point which the Prime Minister made falls to the ground. The Bill has been brought down by the Government, based on a specific message authorizing the expenditure of £400,000 to grant relief to the State of Tasmania. The question for the Committee to decide is how the money shall be allocated. If the Prime Minister’s view is right, imagine the position in which we shall be placed. It will be a very easy matter for the Government to bring down measures of this character, formulated in such a way as to be anticipated in the Estimates; and so to trammel the rights and liberties of the House. Such a proposition should not be entertained by any honorable member. This precedent will name home to roost later on, and the very Government who are now supporting it will probably be the first to seek to annul it. While your contention, Mr. Chairman, may rightly apply to items on the Estimates, or questions of taxation, where the Committee has no power to increase the amount, I would point out that we are not increasing the amount authorized to be appropriated by the Governor-General’s message in this case. We are agreeable to the spending of the £400,000 to relieve the necessities of the State of Tasmania, but we claim that the Committee ought to be at liberty to decide how the payments shall be spread over a period of years. According to the Prime Minister,the Opposition have no right to an opinion at all on a measure of this kind, but I contend that the allocation of this money is an important question, on which there may be a great difference of opinion. It is the duty of honorable members to express their opinions on questions of this character, and they have every right to seek to give effect to their opinions. The Prime Minister’s contention is absolutely untenable, and dangerous to the futurewellbeing of this Parliament, and the country for which we legislate. The thing is palpably absurd and unjust, and! may lead to Governments trying to carry their legislation through unaltered by anticipating it in their Estimates. Your ruling, sir, is absolutely wrong, and if there is any possibility of referring it to the Speaker, I shall be glad to do it, because he will have time to look up authorities, which I have not. I am informed by honorable members who have been in the Chair, that there are authorities which will uphold our arguments, bub as there is no time to look them up now, I shall vote against your ruling, believing that in doing so I am taking the course best calculated to safeguard the rights and privileges of honorable members.
– I very much regret the ruling you have given, Mr. Chairman. I feel confident that it is not correct. The Treasurer himself practically gave away the whole case when he said it was possible for any member to move a reduction. If that is so, that amount of money must be balanced in another year, because the total amount is fixed by the Governor-General’s message. We propose not to add to the £400,000, but to adjust its allocation - to do precisely what has been done in every case of a similar nature with which this Parliament has dealt. I would point out to the Prime Minister that, notwithstanding the fact that it was announced in a little pamphlet, entitled The Financial Carnival, that the Estimates were only rushed through Parliament, we are within a week of the close of the session, and only one line out of many thousands on the Estimates has been passed. Therefore, this matter must be decided by this Bill, and not by the Estimates.
– As St. Paul was told, “Much learning hath made thee mad.”
– I am not an authority on that portion of Scripture, but I would remind the Treasurer that I have been very fair to him. Surely the only reason this Bill has been brought before us is to get the benefit of the wisdom of the whole Parliament, and not of the Minister of the day, as to the allocation of the money. I am confident that the amendment I proposed is desirable. Various precedents have been laid down in regard to the distribution of money in the past, and I hope the Committee will not allow any of its existing privileges to be taken away .
– I desire to reply to what was said by the Prime Minister. He came in and intervened in this matter, although he knew nothing at all about it.
– He was asked by the Leader of the Opposition to express the opinion of the Government about it. Mr. McDonald. - He was not in the chamber, and did not hear the ruling or the arguments, and, therefore, did not know what was before the Committee.
– He knew all about it. He advised me about it.
– Does the right honorable member assure me that the Prime Minister understood the question ?
– Yes, he understood the point.
– He told us that it was a matter for the Estimates; it is nothing of the kind. It must be decided in the Bill itself. If it was merely a matter for the Estimates, it could be decided by a bald resolution, and the Bill would not be required. The whole necessity for the Bill consists in setting forth a certain thing to be done by this House - namely, the expenditure of £400,000 as a grant to Tasmania over a number of years, in amounts ranging from £5,000 to £80,000 a year. If we attempt to reduce the amount provided on the Estimates for any one year the Government will point out that they are providing the money under a special enactment which authorizes them to spend it, aud that placing the sum on the Estimates is a mere form, and is not open to discussion. Would I be out of order in moving to amend this schedule by transferring £1,000 from the year 1913- 14 to the year 1914-15 ?
– Then Ministers have adopted this course deliberately, in the knowledge that they have a majority behind them. That is their only reason.
– The only reason you have for speaking is to show your learning and to waste time.
– I object to these insulting remarks. The Treasurer is sitting there grunting. He is like a hen with one chicken.
– Order !
– Destroy the Bill if you can.
– Why is the right honorable gentleman still growling? Let him hold his tongue. I do not mind him interrupting with intelligent interjections.
– You are so rude that, you make me interject.
– What about your own rudeness ?
– I told the Prime Minister when he spoke that he did not understand the question owing to his absence from the chamber. He told us that the matter was in the Estimates, but he must be well aware that any appropriation for this purpose that may appear in the Estimates will be included as a special appropriation that cannot be discussed. If we pass this Bill it is a declaration under Statute that the Government shall pay a certain sum of money to Tasmania, spread over a specified number of years, and the appropriation will only appear in the Estimates each year formally.
– That makes your case so much the worse.
– The Prime Minister may twist the matter as much as he likes.
– I object to that. The honorable member must use proper language.
– The ruling given today is bad in principle.
– Let us divide upon it.
– Of course, the honorable member has a majority of one or two, but I wish to prevent our falling into a practice that will lead to confusion later on. If this motion is defeated I shall move to reduce the amount.
– Do not waste time.
– If there is any waste of time it is in attempting to saddle the Chamber with a procedure that is liable to lead to great trouble. The precedent created to-day will ultimately have the effect of stultifying members of this Parliament in years to come, and will be quoted long after we are gone. In those circumstances the Government should try to assist us out of the difficulty.
– I would not have intervened in the debate but for the interjection of the Treasurer, when he said,
Do not waste time.”
– I withdraw it, and express regret also.
– That only makes matters worse. It shows that the Government have brought down a Bill with the deliberate intention of bludgeoning it through without discussion, and without being open to conviction. They make up their minds that the measure is to go through, and that it is waste of time to discuss it, or even suggest any improvements. The ruling given by the Chairman means that the Opposition must shut their eyes and open their mouths and take what is given to them without having even the right of discussion. In these circumstances, where shall we be led 1 If there is any part of a Bill that is absolutely unalterable, why submit it to honorable members? Why not simply bring down a ukase, and say, “This is to be the law, and the Opposition must swallow it as best they can.” Such a course is quite inconsistent with responsible government, and is opposed to the right and privilege of an Opposition to seek to amend a Bill. I could quite understand an objection to the alteration of certain financial arrangements appearing on the Estimates, but in the case of a Bill honorable members should have the right to alter, amend, or rearrange every line, every letter, and every comma in the measure. The ruling deprives the Opposition of that power. Let me remind Ministers and honorable members supporting them that the time will arrive when they will find themselves again in Opposition, and probably they will be the very first to suffer because of this ruling, and the very first to complain of the effect of the methods they are adopting to-day. The Treasurer suggests that we are merely wasting time by protesting against this method of doing business. Probably we are. It is always said to be a waste of time when men complain, instead of taking what they get, and making the best of it. In fact, I think it is a waste of time for the Opposition to be in this Chamber at all. The honorable member for Parkes is credited with saying that the hoof of Labour would never enter here. We quite believe that honorable members supporting the Government have always considered it an impertinence on the part of Labour to have any say or rights in the control of the affairs of this country. They scorn the presumption of those who have to work for their living in asserting the right to criticise their administration. That is too much opposed to their ideas of patronage and privilege. ‘
– What has all this to do with the point of order ?
– I think it has a lot to do with it. The Treasurer says it is a waste of time for the Opposition to challenge anything in the Bill, but I contend the Opposition have an inalienable right to challenge every word, every letter, or even every comma in a Bill, and alter it if the House is willing. We seek to alter the payments provided for in the schedule. We consider that the Treasurer is not the sole judge of the best way of making the payments to Tasmania, or whether Tasmania prefers the payments to be made according to the schedule he has submitted. In my opinion, the scheme suggested by the previous Government was much more acceptable to Tasmania, because the larger amounts were paid at first, and there was an annually decreasing scale which would enable the State to become so acr customed to the reduction that when the grant terminated by effluxion of time it would not be missed. The Treasurer now proposes to reverse that process. Certainly, it is a waste of time to ask us to consider a Bill when we have no power to alter it. I protest against this ruling, as I protested when we were asked to accept willy-nilly the proposal to take over the Northern Territory. Mr. Deakin on that occasion admitted that it was an agreement that was far from satisfactory, but it was pointed out that we must accept it, or reject it. The Chairman of Committees at that time agreed that honorable members could not alter a single line or comma in the agreement.
– The ruling was that if the agreement was altered, it would have to be returned to one of the signatories.
– That was the case. An alteration to the agreement would make it really a new agreement, and we were faced with the position that we had to accept that which was submitted to us, or reject it. The ruling to-day affects every future action of this House. If there are some Bills that the House generally can have nothing to do with, then, we are approaching a time when it will be possible for the Government of the day to push a Bill through the House on one vote, without allowing honorable members any voice in shaping it. Once we reach that stage, there will be an end to responsible government and to the representation of the constituencies. If honorable members opposite have any foresight, they will recognise that this decision, if upheld, must sooner or later affect them. When it does they will be the first to complain. I hope I shall always be willing, no matter on which side of the House I may be, to join with honorable members in protecting what I believe to be our inalienable rights.
– I regret that your ruling, Mr. Chairman, is likely to be decided on a party vote.
– I think that the right honorable gentleman’s party will all vote with him.
– I think not; but honorable members opposite will all vote to support the Chairman’s ruling. I would invite your attention, sir, to the fact that in last year’s Estimates there was an intimation of an intention on the part of the Government of the day to make a payment of £95,000 to Tasmania under a Bill which had not then been introduced, and the number of which, therefore, could not even be given. That item was not part of the Estimates, and wasnot discussed. That being so, if your ruling be correct, it would not be possible for honorable members to deal with such an item at all, since, even when it came before us in the Bill itself, an amendment relating to its allocation could not be moved. Your ruling means the setting up of a very bad practice. I know that there are some honorable members opposite who do not support it, and who do not think it should stand, but I am very doubtful whether it would be wise to press this motion, and have it decided on a party vote.
– If the motion were withdrawn, the ruling would stand.
– A vote of the Committee on such a question would neither bind nor unbind us.
– Let both the amendment and the ruling be withdrawn.
– Wherever I may sit I shall never support such a ruling. It restricts the . power of a representative House, and if it is to stand we might as well have an autocratic Government exercising autocratic control. What is the use of our going into Committee on the Bill if an amendment of this. kind, which does not affect the appropriation recommended by the Governor-General, but deals only with its allocation, may not be moved? Rather than have a division upon party lines on this motion, however, I would ask the honorable member for Kennedy to withdraw it, reserving every right that we possess, as representative men. I disagree with the ruling, but would ask the honorable member to withdraw his motion in the circumstances.
– Let the Chairman also withdraw his ruling.
– If it were withdrawn, then we should be almost bound to proceed with the amendment. The rights of honorable members are limited by the ruling given by the Chairman, and if that ruling were withdrawn that limitation would also disappear. I feel that the decision given by you, sir, is a wrong one, although honestly given, and that it may lead to much mischief. If upheld, it would take the control of the finances out of the hands of this representative House. If there is any precedent for it, then I think the precedent is a bad one. I should prefer to have the whole question dealt with in other circumstances.
– There is, no doubt, a wide difference of opinion among honorable members as to the correctness of your ruling, Mr. Chairman. I personally believe it to be a wrong one. The Governor-General’s message covers the total appropriation for which the Bill provides, but the amendment is designed, not to vary the amount, but simply to alter its allocation. I would vote against the amendment moved by the honorable member for Yarra, because I am satisfied with the proposal of the Government as it stands.
– I should also vote against it.
– Quite so; but I think that this ruling, if upheld, would very seriously tie our hands at a time when perhaps some great principle was involved. The Leader of the Opposition has held out the olive branch, and has tried very fairly to lead us out of this difficulty. Would it not be possible for the honorable member for Yarra to withdraw his amendment, and for the ruling and the motion disagreeing with it to be withdrawn ?
– I am going to ask the honorable member for Yarra and the honorable member for Kennedy to withdraw their respective proposals in their proper order.
– If that were” done, and the ruling were withdrawn, it would leave us where we started.
– That would be all right.
– If the amendment were withdrawn, would it be possible, Mr. Chairman, for your ruling also to be withdrawn, so that the whole question might remain to be dealt with on its merits at some future date? If that could be done it would be a happy solution of the difficulty. I should like the big question of principle involved to be fought out in connexion with some other measure.
– In my judgment, the reasoning of honorable members who dissent from the Chairman’s ruling is entirely wrong. The amendment challenges the constitutional right of the Crown and its responsible Ministers to initiate and control the expenditures of the county. If any honorable member could move to allocate these moneys in a way different from that intended by the responsible advisers of the Crown, then whoever initiated the proposal would take over the control of the finances of the country, and shape them accordingly.
– That reasoning would apply to every amendment made in the Estimates.
– It would not. Honorable members may not move an amendment in the Estimates that would increase a charge on the people. It is only open to them to submit an amendment decreasing the charges on the people. If such an amendment as that proposed by the honorable member for Yarra were in order, then the charges and obligations for the year could be doubled if desired, and all constitutional financial control would pass from the responsible Government of the day, and from the initiation of His Excellency.
– This money is not in the Estimates.
– I repeat that the amendment, if carried, would increase the charges for the year. If it were in order, then any honorable member could move that the whole payment should be made within three years.
– Or in one year.
– Would the honorable member do that?
– I say that such an amendment could be submitted.
– If such an amendment were carried, then it would be time for responsible government to quit. I am merely pointing out the constitutional position - the right of the GovernorGeneral, through his constitutional advisers, to shape the expenditures of the country for the year.
– Could we not do such a thing in connexion with any Bill, and carry it against the Government of the day?
– No. The Standing Orders would prevent anything of the kind. Honorable members have to assume that Parliament must proceed in a regular and ordinary way. It is for that reason that our Standing Orders have been framed to carry out the fundamental principle that the Crown, through its responsible advisers, must determine the services for the year.
– The Prime Minister wishes to shelter himself behind the Crown, instead of fighting out the issue here. That is the effect of the argument.
– Not at all. I base my argument upon a well-known constitutional principle, which is as old as parliamentary government, namely, that the expenditure of the year must be initiated, controlled, and determined by the responsible Ministers of the Crown. If amendments of this kind were permitted, the proposed expenditure could be reshaped in a way which would make it impossible for the Government to finance the year’s operations.
– Would there then be an objection to an amendment affecting succeeding years?
– Parliament can do as it likes. In another place, they are setting aside their Standing Orders, and we are, of course, master of our proceedings; but, until our laws and usages have been set aside, our Presiding Officers must apply them, and we must uphold them. The rule is that no charge shall be imposed on the people that has not beeninitiated by responsible Ministers.
– That has not been initiated by a message from the Crown.
– That is the same thing.
– No. A message comes direct from the Governor-General.
– But the GovernorGeneral sends it on the advice of his responsible Ministers.
– The Bill is not the Crown message.
– No. The Bill shapes and crystallizes the message, and the Estimates on which it is based.
– I regret the speech of the Prime Minister, because I am convinced that at least three-fourths of his supporters feel that the ruling is a wrong one. The Prime Minister told us that provision was made for the proposed grant in the Estimates, but the sum to be given to Tasmania appears, not in the Estimates, but among the special appropriations, which are never discussed when the Estimates are under consideration. There are, among the special appropriations, grants which were determined upon some years ago, and the proposed grant will appear there for nine years to come, so that at least three more Parliaments will have an opportunity to amend the legislation that we are now passing. They may amend it to increase the grant, but they are not in the least likely to decrease the grant. I moved the amendment to bring the Bill into line with the recommendation . of the Royal Commission, believing that Tasmania will need money most during the early years of the term within which the grant is to be paid. But, apparently, the members for Tasmania would sooner be sure of £5,000 for this year. My desire is that this year Tasmania shall receive the amount recommended by the Commission of which the honorable member for Bass was Chairman. To him, practically, the whole credit is due for what is being done. As the representatives of Tasmania are content to accept a certain sum each year for the whole term, instead of payment on a sliding scale, I am willing to withdraw my amendment, if the honorable member for Kennedy will withdraw his motion of dissent, and the Chairman his ruling.
– So far as I am aware, there is no precedent for the withdrawal of a ruling.
– It has been done many times.
-i think it has been done quite a number of times.
– I have done it frequently, both as Speaker and as Chairman of Committees. With the leave of the Committee, I withdraw my motion of dissent.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
– As there are precedents for the withdrawal of rulings, I place myself in the hands of the Committee. Is it the wish of honorable members that my ruling be withdrawn?
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear!
– I withdraw the ruling I have given.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
.- At this stage, I wish to say a word, as Chairman of the Commission, in recognition of the action of Parliament in making this financial grant to the State of Tasmania. The State is to receive the £900,000 recommended by the Commission, and, as one of its representatives, I am willing to waive any little objection I may have regarding the method of payment, although I would have preferred to have the recommendations of the Commission given full effect. On behalf of the Commission, and of the people of Tasmania, I thank this Government, and the members of the Fisher Government, and every member of the House, for the way in which the Statehas been treated. I am proud that the members of the Commission were unanimous in their recommendations. It appeared at one time, from the questions put to witnesses by some of the Commissioners, that there would be a minority report; but, after the various States had been visited, the members of the Commission felt that Tasmania had suffered a real loss, through no fault of its own, from entering the Union. Before Federation was agreed to, it was held out to the various States that, should any Buffer by reason of entering the Union, there would be a provision in the Constitution for giving them aid. This Parliament is now giving effect to that provision.
Schedule agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Standing Orders suspended, and Bill read a third time.
– I desire to read to the House the following letter, which I have received to-day: -
Prospect-road, South Australia, 8th December, 1913.
To the Honorable the Speaker and Representatives.
Please accept my heartfelt thanks for the kind expressions of sympathy passed by your honorable House to my mother and sisters for the loss we have sustained by the death of our dear father and husband.
Such action as yours will help us to bear up against that loss, and will ever be remembered with keen appreciation.
The Honorable the Speaker and Representatives, Federal Parliament House, Melbourne.
Debate resumed from 10th December (vide page 4099), on motion by Mr. Agar Wynne -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
.- I should’ like to know whether the contention I raised last evening is correct or not, because a good deal seems to me to depend on the answer. The first part of the Bill, as I understand, deals with the matter of reciprocity between Australia and England in regard to newspapers.
My contention yesterday was that if this Bill is passed it means that every registered newspaper from England must go through Australia under the same conditions as do Australian newspapers, and that, on the other hand, newspapers from Australia will go through Great Britain on the same terms as do British newspapers. I understand that thePost- master-General was rather opposed to that view, his contention being that, under this Bill, British newspapers would go through Australia at the same rates as English newspapers go through England.
– The honorable member was correct in his contention.
– That being so, I urge the Postmaster-General to hesitate before he proceeds with this Bill in its present form. I admit that, in 1901, when the Postal Bill was before Parliament, I took the stand that English newspapers should go through Australia on the same terms as our newspapers do. At that time, however, I had no experience of the Post Office, and it was only after I became Postmaster-General that I realized what our concessions meant. If the PostmasterGeneral presses this Bill, I shall not vote’ against it, though I candidly say that if I were in his place I should not have introduced the measure. Now that he realizes that it is a different measure from what he thought it to be, if he still proceeds with it, I shall leave the responsibility with him. In Australia, not only does the penny carry 20 ozs. of newspapers, but newspapers may be put in bulk, and, although there may be eighty of them, they are still carried at that rate. I do not think that that was intended by Parliament.
– But papers in bulk must not be sent by private persons.
– They must be sent by news agents, and so forth.
– If there is any objection, I am prepared to let that clause go, but I should like the provisions regarding lettertelegrams to remain.
– I do not desire to have it said that I am against any closer relationship with the Old Country.
– This is a small matter ; it does not mean much money.
– It is not a small matter for Australia.
– How much does it amount to?
– It is a very serious matter. The Post Office is heavily burdened by the present conditions, and I do not know whether the position has ever been brought seriously before the Postmaster -General. There is the difficulty, for instance, of deciding what is a newspaper. There are people identified with various causes who wish to get little sheets cheaply through the post, and seek to have them registered as newspapers.
– Such sheets will have to be registered here, and 5s. a year paid for the registration.
– But if we agree to the Bill as it is, we must take newspapers of the kind that are sent from England.
– No, no.
– Surely we cannot differentiate? What the British Government accept as a newspaper we shall have to accept as a newspaper.
— Not unless we like; it must be a newspaper within our law.
– But supposing they conform to our conditions? The unfortunate part is that we have given such a big concession to newspapers here that the Post Office is feeling the burden. The conditions provided in the Bill are to extend, not only to England, but to any part of the British Empire; and we could not object to New Zealand coming in under the same terms as does England.
– We are not concerned with New Zealand.
– I wish to point out that in New Zealand a newspaper up to 20 ozs. is carried for a d., and each newspaper lias to be sent separately through the Post Office. If New Zealand asked, for reciprocity, we could send our newspapers there, but each one would have to pay the 1/2d., whereas the New Zealand people could send any number of newspapers which, if they weighed less than 20 ozs., would go through on the same terms as ours. That surely is no small thing. The Attorney-General would realize the position if he knew the bother that arises about Christmas time in the big post-offices. When I was at the Post Office for eighteen months, this was one of the matters with which I tried to grapple, and I endeavoured to put the newspapers on a fair scale. However, there were a great many difficulties, and I found that any alteration of the kind
I desired would hit the small newspapers, and not the big newspapers. However, as I say, if the Postmaster-General chooses to take the responsibility of putting this Bill through, I shall not vote against it; but, in a friendly way, and w one who has been at the Post Office, I suggest that he should not do so. Since speaking on the Bill last evening, I have been thinking the matter over, and, as I understand the position, the Postmaster-General proposes to allow letter -telegrams to be sent after 6 o’clock in the evening to any post-offices which are now open. He is not going to open any new offices?
– Not unless required to do so.
– If the PostmasterGeneral is not going to open any new post-offices for these letter-telegrams, and is only going to employ the present staff, I admit that he will not add to the postal expenditure, and that he will not lose much revenue. “What will happen will be that a large number of persons who now send telegrams consisting of sixteen words per ls. before 6 o’clock will send them after 6 o’clock as letter-telegrams. Thus they will send letter-telegrams at the rate of ls. for forty words, instead of at the rate of ls. for sixteen words.
– We shall get a good many other telegrams, too.
– If so, that will be an advantage. But, even if there be no added revenue, there will be this advantage : that a number of telegrams which are now transmitted under pressure before 6 o’clock will be despatched after 6 o’clock. The result will thus be exactly the same.
– But we shall send more words.
– That will not cost the Department any more, because not a single extra telegraphist will be employed. That is the best which can be said for the scheme.
– Apart from that, it will be a great convenience to the public.
– I doubt it very much.
– Let us try it.
– I am not going to object. I am quite prepared to vote for the second proposal in the Bill, though I do not think it will be of considerable advantage. I shall be very pleased to hear what the Attorney-General has to say on that portion of the provision which relates to newspapers passing between England and Australia.
– There is really no difficulty about this provision, if honorable members will look at those portions of the Post and Telegraph Act to which it refers. I necessarily pay attention and some amount of respect to the criticism of the honorable member for Barrier, as an ex-Postmaster-General, on the practical working out of the whole system of the bulk posting of newspapers. His criticism was directed, not so much to the reciprocity scheme, which is embodied in this Bill, as to the entire system which is now in operation in regard to the posting nf newspapers in bulk. The difficulty which he has pointed out in determining what is and what is not a newspaper is considerable. But I would point out that that consideration does not really affect this Bill, which will apply only to that small section of the newspaper posting business - the posting of newspapers from abroad - which cannot involve much revenue, all told. The measure will simply extend to foreign newspapers the same privileges which are enjoyed by our own newspapers in Australia. The total loss involved will necessarily be very slight, because the amount of business clone in the posting of foreign newspapers in Australia is very small. So that really the criticism of the honorable member for Barrier is rather one upon which an argument might- be based in favour of a complete change in our Postal Rates Act. The schedule to that Act provides that two rates shall be charged on all newspapers, which the present law confines to Australian newspapers. It provides that upon all newspapers posted for delivery by registered newspaper proprietors, or newsvendors, Id. for 20 ounces shall be charged, and that upon newspapers sent by private persons the rate shall be Id. for 10 ounces. Foreign newspapers - using the term as applicable to British newspapers, as well as to those from other countries - may be posted in Australia, under the heading of “ Printed papers,” at Jd. for 2 ounces or part of 2 ounces.
– If the statement made by the Postmaster-General yesterday was correct, all the newspapers posted in Australia could be posted at that rate.
– But the PostmasterGeneral has admitted that he made a mistake. The total amount of revenue derived from the postage of printed foreign newspapers, at the rate nf 1/2d. for 2 ounces, is very small indeedThe Bill can affect the revenue only to the small extent to which it will allow those newspapers to be carried at a lesser rate than 1/2d. for 2 ounces. The criticism of the honorable member for Barrier was really directed to the whole system of the bulk postage of newspapers. That may require revision, or it may not. I do not know enough about the subject to express an opinion upon it. Probably, from what the honorable member has said, it does require revision. But there can be no objection to our extending to other countries that degree of reciprocity which they are prepared to extend to us. There can be’ no objection to our falling in with the reciprocal scheme which is being adopted by other parts of the British Empire especially, and which may be of considerable advantage to it. The only effect of the Bill will be that, if Canada or- the United Kingdom, for example, allows our newspapers to pass through its post with all the advantages which are enjoyed by their own newspapers, we shall permit their newspapers to pass through our post at the same cheap rates as are enjoyed by our newspapers. The measure does not, in the slightest degree, affect our power at any time to revise and alter the whole scheme of our postal rates. We are not bound in any way to maintain the existing rates. Therefore, the Bill deals with a very small matter. I would urge honorable members to allow it to pass, and thus enable us to meet the reasonable requests of other parts of the Empire,
– The Attorney-General’s argument fails lamentably in one feature, because in Australia the definition of what constitutes a newspaper is very different from that which obtains in other parts of the world.
– No. The definition of what constitutes a. newspaper is set out in section 28 of the Act, and no newspaper which does not come within that definition will be able to claim the advantage that will be conferred by this Bill.
– Then what is’ the meaning of the words in paragraphs 1 and 2 of this clause, “ Printed and published within the Commonwealth for sale, or registered in any part of the King’s Dominions”?
– And they must be” registered here under section 29 of our Postal Act as well.
– The Bill does not say so. That would bring us at once into conflict with the standard of registration in other parts of the British Empire. The Bill distinctly says that we are prepared to accept papers registered in any part of the King’s dominions. Under this Bill we have no choice but to accept what they register. The Commonwealth has taken up a proper attitude in saying what shall be registered as a newspaper and what shall not.
– If the honorable member had read section 29 of the existing Act, he would have seen that no advantage can be given to any newspaper registered elsewhere unless it is also registered here. What is the use of criticising a Bill unless you look up the Act which it amends ?
– If the qualifications required in each case were the same, the matter would be simple, but they are entirely different. Yet the Government propose to deal with them on the one basis.
– The newspapers must comply with two sets of conditions, one of which may be more stringent than another.
– The standard in the United Kingdom, Canada, or South Africa is different from the standard set up here. If we accept their standard, as the Bill apparently proposes to do, we shall be treating the Australian newspapers unfairly. The Attorney-General has suggested that the ‘ present circulation of imported newspapers is so small that it will not much affect the revenue. Probably it will not at present, but this Bill will open the door to an influx of papers publishe’d elsewhere, and it is quite conceivable that our post-offices will be overloaded with matter that does not conform to our standard.
– That is exactly where the honorable member does not understand the. position.
– Supposing they do conform to our standard?
– Then I say that it is a right that we ought to give.
– I entirely disagree with the Attorney-General.
– Then vote against the proposal.
– We ought to encourage the dissemination of news, and the Postal Department ought to offer us the best possible means of doing so. That is why Parliament authorized the fixing of abnormally cheap rates for the carriage of newspapers. In any central post-office honorable members can see big bundles containing fifty or sixty papers which have to be handled four or five times for Id. As a matter of business it does not pay, but as a matter of developing Australia, and keeping its people in close touch with each other, the expenditure is well justified.
– The newspapers from the United Kingdom will be a mouth old before they get here, and their news will be stale. Only a few people will take them.
– The rate of postage will make no difference to the quality of the news. My objection is that the standard of registration of a newspaper is_ much lower in the United Kingdom than it is here. An election sheet or patent medicine advertisement may go through the post in the United Kingdom as a newspaper.
– It cannot go through our post-offices unless it is first registered under section 29 of the principal Act.
– If the AttorneyGeneral will insert after the word .” registered “ the words “ as per section 29 of the principal Act,” my argument will be gone.
– This Bill merely amends the principal Act, and section 29 still stands.
– I am merely expressing my own opinion in this matter. We have very satisfactory and wellconducted newspapers in Australia, apart from party politics, and we should not expose them to the competition of newspapers, published elsewhere, at the expense of the people of Australia. There may be some good reason for giving the British newspapers separate consideration, but, unless the Postmaster-General can guarantee that all those newspapers which will obtain the benefit of .the concession will reach the standard of our newspapers, I do not think we ought to bring them under the clause.
Mr.FENTON (Maribyrnong) [5.0].- I should like to know from the PostmasterGeneral
– If it will savethe time of the House, I will abandon this clause altogether. I do not care whether it goes through or not. I want to get on with the business.
– I do not think it is fair to say that you will abandon the clause simply to save the time of the House.
– Put it that we want time to consider your excellent arguments.
– We may bring it in again next session.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 negatived.
Clause 3 (Amendment of section 97 of Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1912).
.- While these lettergrams will be a great concession to a certain portion of the community, I would like to know whether they will be of advantage to the people generally ? I believe that nine-tenths of the business transacted by these lettergrams will be on behalf of commercial people. I understand that in Victoria there are only five telegraph offices that remain open every night after 6 o’clock. These are at Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, and either Warrnambool or Castlemaine, and there are fifteen other offices open on those nights on which the local newspapers are printed. I am afraid that if we adopt this principle of allowing people to lodge telegrams after 6 o’clock at night, for despatch at the rate of a shilling for forty words to any part of Australia, it will add to the loss which the Postal Depart-‘ ment is already suffering. I doubt if it is wise to adopt this suggestion.
– It may be stopped at any time. This is merely an enabling Bill.
– I would offer no objection if a scheme were brought forward which would enable the majority of the people of Australia to take advantage of it.
– Let us try it in a small way first.
– If we give this advantage to the large cities, where post-offices remain open after 6 o’clock at night, it may add to the loss of the Department, while the country people who are asking for extensions of telephone lines and for extra mail services cannot have their requests granted, owing to the fact that the Department is not paying its way. This concession will enable manufacturers and merchants to get in touch with their travellers from time to time wherever they may be, and if for that reason only I shall support the proposal, but at the same time I think it unwise to bring it forward in view of the loss the Post Office is sustaining at the present time.
– I think the system will be of advantage to the poorer people. The man on the stock exchange, the banker, or the business man will not consider whether a telegram is going to cost him 9d. or1s. The man who attends’ race meetings, and wishes to send a telegram to back a horse is not going to wait until 6 o’clock to hand in his telegram. In the United States and in Canada, where the telegraph lines to a great extent are owned by private people who are anxious to make as much money as possible, this concession has been granted to the public, and has been found to pay extremely well.
– What are the rates there for telegrams during the day?
– They are higher than ours, but at night they send sixty words for a quarter of a dollar as against the forty words for a shilling that I am allowing by way of trial. The Department believe, and I believe, that these lettergrams will be of great advantage to the general public, and will pay well. When the week-end cablegrams were instituted the belief was that the cable companies would lose money, but they have proved profitable; the cable companies are doing exceedingly well out of them, and they are thinking of reducing the price from 18s. to 9s., and allowing half the words to be sent. Every one of these concessions is profitable to the Department, and I am satisfied from my knowledge, and from the information supplied by people who have been to the United States and Canada recently, that we are going to make money out of this concession instead of suffering a loss. If we lose by it we can stop these lettergrams at a moment’s notice.
.- No doubt the Postmaster-General means well in regard to this proposal, but I view it in a different light. It will be the means of reducing the revenue of the Postal Department. That revenue is not as satisfactory as we should like it to be, and it is therefore all the more necessary that we should guard against any loss. This proposal means that only people residing in certain localities will be able to send a telegram after 6 p.m.
– Where we are doing no business at present.
– I grant that. I believe that the Department will do a large measure of business under this clause if it becomes law, and it is for that reason that I am raising a warning voice. The only people to be benefited by this proposal are business men, and, perhaps, a few others interested in horse racing or something of the kind, who may wish to send telegrams at night. The great majority of the poor will derive no benefit from- it. Indeed, this clause gives no facilities to many of our poor, because it applies only to those resident in our capital cities or big inland towns.
– Do not the majority of the people live in our cities?
– In the Newcastle electorate there is only one post-office open after 6 o’clock p.m., and in my electorate the position is the same; the only postoffice open after 6 p.m. being that at Maitland. How can people in either of those electorates, living 100 miles away from the offices I have named, send a telegram after 6 p.m.? If all post-offices were open after that hour then there would be something in the Postmaster-General’s argument; but, as it is, only those living in our largely-populated cities will be benefited.
– Why not give them this advantage?
– Because it will lead to a loss of revenue. Many business firms have travellers or agents in different districts, and find it necessary to communicate with them by telegraph from day to day. A business man in Melbourne -desiring to communicate to-day with his traveller or agent in Sydney could not reach him through the post before to-morrow afternoon, and if the agent were in a country district of New South Wales a letter would not reach him until the second day. In these circumstances this business man would say, “ We must wire to him.” He would have to despatch a telegram before 6 o’clock p.m., and under the present system would be required to pay ls. for sixteen words. “Under this clause, however, he would be able after 6 o’clock p.m. to send a telegram of forty words for ls., which would be delivered by post the first thing in the morning.
– If a man can say what he wants to say iu sixteen words, why should he wait until after 6 p.m. to send a message of forty words, which will cost him just the same?
– Certainly if a sixteen-word message would suffice it would be sent before 6 p.m., but in many cases a longer message would be necessary, and by waiting until after 6 o’clock a message of forty words could be sent by the person concerned for ls., and be delivered by post next morning. At the present time a forty-word message costs 3s., but if this provision be carried it can be sent after 6 p.m. for ls. The revenue of the Department will suffer. We are frequently told that the revenue of the Department will not permit of the provision of much-required telephone facilities in various country districts, and, that being so, why should we deliberately adopt a proposal of this kind conferring greater privileges on the business people of big centres, and reducing the revenue to the prejudice of country districts.
– I think these lettergrams will increase the revenue.
– My view is that they will lead to a decrease.
– If they do, then a stop can be at once put to the system. This is simply an enabling Bill permitting regulations’ to be framed.
– Even if that be so, it is not fair to bring into operation a system that will reduce the revenue of the Postal Department, and so increase the difficulty experienced by residents of country districts in obtaining much-needed postal and telephonic facilities.
– The city telephone rates should be increased.
– If those rates are not to be increased, surely we should do nothing that will tend to reduce the revenue of the Department. Every business man, has a good deal of acumen, and would not send a telegram at 5. o’clock which would cost 3s., when, by waiting until 6 o’clock, he could send it for ls., and have it delivered by post in time to serve his purpose.
– Will not many men send these letter-telegrams instead of ordinary letters?
– I think not. If I wished to communicate with a man in the northern districts of New South Wales by to-morrow morning, I should have to send a telegram, because a letter posted in Melbourne this afternoon would not reach him until Saturday. We ought to be very careful how we proceed. The Attorney-General and the PostmasterGeneral say that, if this system be found to work unsatisfactorily, it can be altered by regulation.
– Even a regulation will not be necessary.
– We shall simply have to say that no telegrams shall be transmitted after6 p.m.
– When the Bill has become law, the Postmaster-General, I take it, will instruct the postmasters in charge of the various offices that are open after 6 o’clock that they must receive during the hours that they are on duty any message that is offered, despatching the telegrams at the rate of forty words for1s., and the result will be that business firms and others who have occasion to send telegrams to places that could not be reached early enough next day by letter, instead of lodging them, as they do now, before 6 o’clock, and paying the ordinary rate of sixteen words for1s., will hold them back until after 6 o’clock, and thus get the benefit of the reduced rate. No doubt, the Attorney-General is right in saying that the Government, should they find by experience that the arrangement is a losing one for them, will be able to put a stop to it. But, I take it, while the regulation is in force, all messages will have to be accepted.
– What the PostmasterGeneral meant was that, should the system not be found to work, it can be ended.
-No doubtthatis so. I think that the arrangement will not be profitable.
Mr.Rodgers.-What prompts a man to send a telegram is the urgency of his business. A commercial man could not afford to wait until after 6 o’clock for the despatch of his telegrams, except in isolated cases.
-In many cases it would meet the convenience of business people to lodge their telegrams after 6 o’clock, provided that the messages were delivered next morning. There are a great many commercial travellers who could take advantage of the proposed arrangement. In many cases a letter posted after 6 o’clock could not possibly reach its destination by the first post next day, and these cheap telegrams would be used to get over that difficulty, whereas at the present time business people have to pay full rates for- the convenience.
– If the PostmasterGeneral is advised by his officers that the arrangement will be profitable, why not give it a trial?
– I represent a country constituency which is constantly endeavouring to get better facilities of communication by post, telegraph, and telephone, and finds it difficult to do so because of the want of money. Therefore, I cannot sit’ quiet when a proposal is made which, I believe, will still further reduce the revenue of the Department, and leave still less for necessary works.
– If I thought that, I would vote with the honorable member.
– I believe that the proposed arrangement will benefit chiefly those in commercial life who, instead of sending telegrams, as they do now, at full rates, will keep many of them back until after 6 o’clock in the evening, and send them at reduced rates.
Mr.Agar Wynne. - We must be guided by the experience of other countries. This system has been found to pay in the United States of America and Canada.
– I do not know what the experience of other countries is, but so far as I can form an opinion, a loss will result. I hope that the PostmasterGeneral is right in his anticipations. Personally, I think that the arrangement will benefit chiefly the large business concerns, and will be of no benefit to a large body of persons scattered throughout the country districts, who could not send a wire after 6 o’clock. The arrangement is one to benefit those in the cities.
.- No doubt this system, if established by regulation, can be ended by regulation should it prove unsatisfactory. I rise to ask whether letter-telegrams are to have priority over press messages?
– No; they are to be despatched during the spare time of the operators. If they cannot be got through during the ordinary office hours, they will have to wait until next day. They are to be used simply to fill up spare time.
– It is not intended that they shall all be cleared off during the evening on which they are handed in.
– Not if there is insufficient time in which to do that.
– The custom in Queensland is to keep certain wires available up to a certain hour for the despatch of press massages, but if a number of letter-telegrams are to be sent in between the press messages, the officers must be kept at work longer than is now necessary. That will mean increased expense, in which case there may be something in the objection of the honorable member for Hunter. However, there is the safeguard that, if experience shows the system to be unsatisfactory, it can be abolished.
.- If we are to judge from the last remarks of the Postmaster-General, he might as well abandon this part with the rest of the Bill. These letter-telegrams might appropriately be described as “ perhaps “ telegrams, because it appears that; if they are not forwarded on the first day, they may be sent the next day, or the next day, and so on; and goodness only knows when they will arrive’. In the northern part of Queensland, the main trunk lines are congested to such an extent that hardly a day passes without complaints from the press about delay in the delivery of their messages; and what is the use of misleading people by holding out a prospect of these letter-telegrams being available ?
– There are a number of offices where there is no congestion.
– At Charters Towers, which is an important repeating station, such letter-telegrams would be impossible. My objection is that an- effort is being made to do something to satisfy the big cities. I do not object to the big cities having all the facilities possible, but it was for those cities principally that penny postage was instituted, and we know that that has had the effect of depleting the revenue to the extent of £400,000.
– The Postal Department is the only one that is paying.
– This £400,000 would have enabled the Government to extend mail services and telephone and telegraph lines to many country places which are now without them. On locking through my papers, only to-day, I found that there are about a dozen applications for mail services in’ my own electorate now before the Department, and I suppose other honorable members could say much the same thing of their districts. But the reply received from the Department is that the revenue derived from the particular service is not sufficient to cover the expenditure, and it is suggested that if those interested are prepared to find anything from £35 to £60 a year for three years or so, the Government will find the balance. The proposal now before us will impose a further burden on the people.
– If it does not pay, it can be discontinued at once.
– The honorable member has been long enough in politics to know that once a system is established it is there practically for ever.
– Not with this Government.
– This Government is no better than any other in that regard.
– Let the Government tackle the loss on the telephones.
– I can remember when the honorable member for Barrier, as Postmaster-General, proposed the adoption of the toll system, what a noise was made all round. This noise did not come from the country members, but from the representatives of the big cities, who, of course, preferred the flat rate. At that time it was prophesied that ruin would follow the adoption of the toll system; and even now, with the additional revenue that has resulted from it, the telephones do not pay. If the Postmaster-General would come down with some proposal that would apply generally to the smaller places, it would, I believe, prove of some assistance.
– Give my plan a start, and see how it works.
– But let us have a fair start. In my vast electorate there are places where the mails are fortnightly to monthly.
– Would the honorable member not like the people in the country to have forty words for1s. ?
– Under the circumstances, I am afraid that many of them would have to remain content with sixteen words for1s.
– Some arrangement might be made to have the messages sent to the centres, and repeated on next day.
– Let the PostmasterGeneral come down with a carefully thought out scheme, and not a hurried scheme like this one.
– What I have suggested could be done under this Bill.
– I doubt whether it could, because it only applies to places where the offices are open after 6 o’clock.
– This is all we propose to start with, but there is nothing to prevent the suggestion I have just made being carried out.
– Many of the smaller places, where there are only a few telegrams a day, would not have a chance of receiving these letter-telegrams. At Bowen, which is an important repeating station, there is an enormous staff, ‘but the congestion is such that it is a question whether the people in the outlying country would benefit by the system proposed. If the Postmaster-General will give me an assurance that he will rnake the fullest inquiry as to whether many of the centres, which now have only ordinary telegraphic facilities, will have this system extended to them within a reasonable time, I shall be prepared to consider it.
– I shall do the best I can.
.- At present, I take it, there is only a limited number of post-offices that are open after 6 o’clock, with an operator who has very little work to do until the press messages arrive at the late hours of the evening, and the Minister proposes to utilize that time by sending messages at forty words for1s. As a country member, I should oppose any proposal likely to increase the cost to the Department or reduce the revenue. But my opinion is that such a system as that contained in the Bill would be more likely to increase the revenue. Country members, of course, will always vote for improved facilities in country districts, and, though there may be difficulties in the way, there are some districts in which the system would work. It might be possible to have more offices open after 6 o’clock in the evening, and I suggest that letter-telegrams which are forwarded could be sent on in the ordinary mail-bags on the following morning.
– That might be done.
– In this way several days would be gained as compared with an ordinary letter communication ; indeed, in many instances such a lettertelegram would reach its destination a fortnight before an ordinary letter could arrive. It is certainly an experiment worth trying, and it might be extended in the way I have suggested. Ther e is no reason, for instance, why Dubbo, which is an important railway junction, should not receive those letter-telegrams and send them on by the morning’s mail to the outlying country places.
– There is no country in the world where telegrams are so cheap as here.
– Australia, I trust, has the ambition to beat all the rest of the world in that as in other regards; and, as I say, I am in favour of this experiment being made if it does not add to the cost of administering the Department.
– I take it that the object of the PostmasterGeneral is to utilize his idle lines to their utmost capacity. Operators have bo be kept on whether the lines are in use or not, and would just as soon be at work as wasting their time waiting for press messages to come along. In every well-regulated business, the object of the proprietor is to keep his machinery working to its utmost capacity. That is the secret of success; and if it is possible to run your machines for twenty-four hours in three shifts, it will be far more profitable than to let the machinery stop for eight hours. I take it that that is the object of the Postmaster-General in bringing forward this proposal, which will, I think, give greater facilities to business people. If it does that, it ‘ must benefit the whole community, because we all know that every man who runs a business charges all the expenditure up to the consumer. If he has to send a wire to ask if an article distributed by him is required at a certain centre, the cost is charged to the consumer. Therefore, if these facilities are given, they will benefit everybody. I take it that our desire as a progressive party is to increase, trade throughout Australia. I cannot understand honorable members wishing to stifle industry by curtailing trade. If we can make it possible for the merchant of Australia to do double the business that he is doing at present, it will benefit, not only him, but the workers of Australia. Instead of having one carter, he will have two or three. Instead of having one porter at the railway station, two porters will be required.
– Those are true Liberal views.
– There is nothing “ Liberal “ about them in the sense the honorable member would have us believe. I commend the PostmasterGeneral for rising to the occasion by introducing such a measure. If it is new to the world, that fact should make no difference, because we in Australia should lead in these reforms if we possibly can.
.- As representing a city constituency, I desire to give the clause a very strong support, but for very different reasons from those advanced by honorable members who have already spoken. The people who will use most this increased facility will be those in the big centres of population. The trouble is that already in nearly all, if not all, of the big centres of population in Australia the telegraphists work at a very serious disadvantage. The lines are overloaded, and the telegraphists are overworked. There are continual complaints as to overtime, and as to the crush of business in the evening. The telegraphists in Brisbane have complained to me repeatedly of the extra hours they have to work at night because of the congestion of business. This proposal can only serve to increase that, and to that extent it will increase the expenditure of the Department considerably. I believe it will increase the revenue also. I am sure it will be of. great advantage to the business community.
– We will see that the telegraphists get a fair deal.
– I am not suggesting as an argument against the proposal that the telegraphists will be continually overworked, but it will tax the administrative abilities of the Postmaster-General to overcome that difficulty. One argument advanced by honorable members is that this is a proposal only to utilize the lines at slack times during the day; but that can only refer to lines in the country districts. If. the Postmaster-General can see his way to provide a means whereby, even during the time the post-offices are open for ordinary business, lettertelegrams can be handed in, on the understanding that they can be sent at any time at the convenience of the Postal Department, and delivered by letter-carrier in the usual way, it will be a great advantage.
– That is a very good idea. You only use your lines when they are slack. I see no objection to the suggestion; but let us give this proposal a trial first, and see how it works.
– I am going to support the Postmaster-General. Other honorable members have been arguing that only on those lines that are not much used would these lettergrams be an advantage. The trouble is that those lines are in country districts, . where they are not available after 6 o’clock. The present proposal will advantage the city and seriously disadvantage the country; but my suggestion would make the concession equally valuable for the country as for the city. I cannot quite agree with the arguments of the honorable member for Denison that the proposal will increase the number of men employed in the , cities, although its immediate effect may be to concentrate business in the cities more and more. As a city member, I do not object to that. The lettergrams will be a tremendous advantage to the business with which I am connected, concerned as it is with the supply of fruit and other perishable products. These things are more important even than the sending of a telegram concerning a horse race.
– Hear, hear! You will send forty words instead of sixteen.
– And use the whole forty every time. I cannot understand the attitude of honorable members on the other side who represent country districts, and who have been complaining so bitterly about the’ lack of facilities there, because under this arrangement the country districts are not going to benefit one penny, except, in those cases where the offices are open after 6 o’clock.
– It is only an experiment, after all, which can be extended if successful.
– A splendid experiment. I am supporting it, but am arguing that arrangements should be made to benefit country districts as well as the cities.
– There is nothing to stop it under this Bill. We can extend at every day.
Mr.Tudor. - By opening the postoffices after 6 o’clock.
– The only postoffices that keep open after 6 o’clock are eleven in New South Wales, five in Victoria - with fifteen others on certain nights - eleven in Queensland, three in South Australia - with twenty-two open during certain hours - one in Western Australia - with two open during certain hours - and five in Tasmania. - with nine open till midnight.
– That information came to me about an hour ago. There are three post-offices open in Western Australia- Perth all night, and two others at certain hours.
– The PostmasterGeneral is to be commended for his efforts to provide these facilities, although they will cause increased congestion in the post-offices in the big centres, and offer no advantages to the people in the country districts. I am offering this criticism with the idea of suggesting to the PostmasterGeneral that he should extend the facility to the country by every possible means.
.- I am surprised at the anti-Socialists opposite trying to help themselves out of the public purse.
– Where is the Socialism inthe use of a public utility?
– That question shows that the honorable member has not received a proper political education. I notice that the anti-Socialists are always most eager to use Government money to assist themselves in their own businesses. That is what they propose to do now.
– The honorable member does not appear to know the difference between a public utility and a Socialistic proposition.
– The Postmaster-General ought first to ascertain in what particular department the greatest losses occur before he indulges in these experiments. There is a loss on the Post and Telegraph and Telephonic Department, and apparently it is a very difficult matter to ascertain where the loss occurs. I support the honorable member for Hunter, the honorable member for Kennedy, and the other country members, who say that every additional burden imposed upon the Post and Telegraph Department makes it more difficult for us in the country to get ordinary mail services. The only people who are likely to use this provision are business people, and those who are in love. I would give young people every facility to exchange their love messages, but I am not sure that’ it is to the advantage of the Commonwealth that we should enable Messrs. Anthony Hordern and Sons, Buckley and Nunn, Foy and Gibson, George and George, or hosts of other business people, or the honorable member for Brisbane, who says he is interested in a business that will be benefited, to save money by this means. The honorable member for Denison said that every business man passed his charges on to the public. It may be true that they charge up their postal and telegraphic expenses to the public, but Knibbs does not show that they reduce the cost of living when they have an opportunity to do so. If they can save £1,000 by the extraordinarily low rate at which we transmit telegrams in Australia, I am not aware that they pass it on to the public in the shape of cheaper goods. I do not think there is much in the suggestion of the honorable member for Brisbane, who supports this proposal, that we should send these telegrams during the day when the lines are slack. The honorable member must know that, even at the present time, many people pay for urgent telegrams because of the difficulty of getting a telegram through at the ordinary rate. It does not follow that because some stations are slack during the day, the lines along which telegrams from those stations are transmitted are equally slack. The Attorney-General says that this concession may be abolished at any time by regulation.
– I said it could be abolished, even without a regulation.
– The principal Act contains a schedule which sets out the rates to be charged for telegrams, and the clause under consideration is an addition to that schedule, and therefore will find a permanent place in the principal Act. Yet the Attorney-General gravely tells us that if these lettergrams are not found to pay, the Government will take the responsibility of refusing to prepare a regulation to lay on the table of the House. Regulations have to be prepared and laid on the table, and become law.
– They are only enabling regulations.
– What means has the Attorney-General of ascertaining whether these lettergrams will pay? There are too many honorable members who claim that the Postal Department is. an institution which should not be called upon to . pay its way, and the men who say this in the loudest tones are the Liberals, who are supposed to’ be Anti-Socialists. If we establish a Department that does not pay its way, to that extent it becomes of a communistic nature. In my opinion, the Postal Department should be placed on a business basis, because to the extent that it is a financial failure the people in the back-country must suffer. Yesterday I received a letter from the Department, ‘saying that a service required in a Queensland district would involve an expenditure of four times the revenue that would be received, and, therefore, the Department could not grant it. There was no talk there about facilities necessity to be given. In the city there are frequently three or four deliveries a day, whereas in the back-country there is, in some cases, hardly a mail service once a month. We ‘ should emphasize the fact that if all these extra facilities given to the people in the cities are to be conducted at a loss, it means pushing further away the time when we can give to those pioneering in the back-country the postal facilities they deserve.
.- As I have said previously, I shall support the Government in this proposal ; it is in the nature of a reform, and if the Government are prepared to find the money for it, I shall not oppose it; but I was rather amused to hear Ministers say that if the concession does not pay it can be removed. That is not in accord with the history of our Parliament. Once a concession is given, it is very difficult to take it away. When I brought down the Bill establishing penny postage, in a moment of weakness I agreed to very special rates for books printed and published in Australia; but no sooner was that’ concession given than it was found that the business people of Australia looked upon a catalogue as a book which could be sent through the post at a cheap rate. This certainly was never intended, and as soon as Parliament met again I tried to alter the rate; but, though I was able to make an alteration to some extent, it was not to the extent I had hoped. Years ago very cheap telephone rates were granted in Australia, and there was a hubbub when we tried to put them on something like a fair- business basis; and I venture to say no Postmaster-General ever received greater abuse and misrepresentation than I received for so doing. I simply mention these things to show that, once a concession is granted, it is very difficult to take it away. I believe that the business people will make use of these lettergrams. I was told by one prominent business man in Melbourne a short time since that, before we closed the post-offices at 6 o’clock, they held back their telegrams until the office boy was leaving his work at 6 o’clock, so that he could take them to the telegraph office in his own time on his way home. They did that simply to save the wages of a messenger.
– The telegrams they sent could not have been very urgent.
– Of course, a telegram that was urgent was sent to the telegraph office at once ; but in the case of the majority of the messages it mattered very little whether they were despatched at 5 o’clock or 8 o’clock. This gentleman, who is a member of a very big, up-to-date firm, told me frankly that the only difference the closing of the postoffices at 6 o’clock meant was that a telegram was sent away immediately after it was written out. I doubt whether there will be much loss of revenue through instituting this lettergram system. Even if the messages are sent after 6 o’clock, we shall still get the shilling per message, the only difference being that we shall send forty words instead of sixteen. i shall be glad if the concession is generally availed of by people who do not make use of telegrams now. There is, however, no comparison between week-end cable messages and these lettergrams. The cost of sending a cablegram is 3s. per word, and it is natural to expect people to send week-end cablegrams when they can have twenty words cabled for 18s. I can well understand that this system has been largely availed of in the United States of America, where the telegraph lines are in the hands of private companies, and the rates are very high. In Australia, however, the telegraph rates are very low, and, that being so, I do not think that these lettergrams will open up a new avenue of revenue. If they do, I shall be very glad, more especially if the system means the employment of lines at a time when they are not being used to any extent, and does not result in a lot of the day business being lost. The Ministry have brought down the scheme, and with them must rest the responsibility for it. I am prepared to support it, but, if it is found to be unprofitable, I doubt very much whether the PostmasterGeneral, having granted the concession, will be able to do away with it.
.- Whilst I was speaking, the Attorney-General said that this new system was to be introduced practically by regulation, and that, if it were found unprofitable, it could be abolished without introducing an amending Bill. I share with the honorable member for Barrier the view that the Postmaster-General will find it very difficult to do away with this system, even if it should result in a loss of revenue. The honorable gentleman some time ago issued to the public a notice that it was his intention to introduce this system.
– The notice was not sent to the public, and will not be made public unless this Bill is passed.
– The PostmasterGeneral intimated through the press that he intended to introduce this system, and, when questioned, said that he could bring it about by means of a regulation. He discovered later, however, that it could be brought into operation only by means of an Act of Parliament. If he could not introduce it without an Act of Parliament, how will he be able to abolish it without an amending Bill?
– In the schedule we have the words “ Not exceeding forty words one shilling,” and if we find that these letter-telegrams do not pay, we shall be able to substitute “ sixteen “ for “ forty.”
– That could not be done without breaking faith with the public; and it would be said that Parliament, in passing this Bill, had not intended anything of the kind. I believe that business men will make useof theselettertelegrams. A friend of mine, who read in the press of the Postmaster-General’s intention, asked me about it, and I told him that I had received a notification issued by the honorable gentleman. He said that he would send a lettergram at once to one of his travellers in another State, but it was found that the system could not be introduced without an Act of Parliament. Australia is a country of magnificent distances. Under this proposal a forty-word message may be sent after 6 p.m. from Melbourne to Cairns. It would have to be repeated at Sydney, Brisbane, Rockhampton, Bowen, and Cairns, so that it would pass through a good many hands. I think it is usual either to pay higher wages for night work or to require those on night duty to work shorter hours; so that, if this system is availed of to any extent, and involves the employment of a larger night staff, it must considerably increase the expenditure of the Department. On the other hand, if it will simply fill up the spare time of men who must be employed whether this new service is introduced or not, there can be no objection to it. Should it result in a loss of revenue, then country districts will experience still greater difficulty than is met with at present in obtaining the much-needed telephone and postal facilities for which they are constantly asking. I intend to vote for this clause, and should the system prove unprofitable, it will remain for the Government of the day to abolish it. I repeat, however, that it will benefit only those who reside in our cities and large towns, and will be of no advantage to country residents.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 (Letter-telegrams).
.- I believethat underthis Bill the PostmasterGeneral is proposing to institute the cheapest telegraph system in the whole world. It costs 13s. 6d. to send a message of thirteen words over the Eastern Company’s line from Hong Kong to Canton, a distance of about 500 miles, so that honorable members will appreciate the extent of the concession which is being made by this clause. I hope that it will lead to a substantial increase in revenue, and, should it prove unprofitable, I am surethat the PostmasterGeneral, as a soundbusiness man, will take stepsto do away with it.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; Standing Orders suspended, and Bill passed through its remaining stages.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) pro posed-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Sitting suspendedfrom 6.27 to 8 p.m.
.- I am ofopinion that the Bill is a necessary and valuable amendment of the Inscribed Stock Act, which will bring the Commonwealth law into line with that of the States, and will enable the Treasurer to comply with any judgment of any Court of competent jurisdiction in the United Kingdom.
– I presume that it has been introduced to remedy an oversight.
– We hardly pass a Bill without discovering a little later that some amendment is required. It is only of comparatively recent date that the Imperial Parliament has permitted trustees to invest in colonial stock, and that permission makes the amendment more necessary. The Bill is of no political consequence, but merely a machinery measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 - (Short title and citation).
– Is the Treasurer contemplating a loan? This legislation will give a wider field for investment.
– The Government has no intention of placing a loan on the market at present. I take no credit for this proposal. It wasascertained by the officials of the Treasury and fey the law officers oftheCrown that anecessary provision, which had been incorporated in all the State legislation, was wanting from our Inscribed Stock Act, and, therefore, Iam moving toremedy the omission.
– The honorablemember is preparing the way for borrowing.
– Yes ; so that, if my right honorable friend or any other Treasurer wantsto go on themarket, he will be able to get the best prices for his stock.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 2 and title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Standing Orders suspended, and Bill read a , third time.
In Committee (Consideration of Senate’s amendments) :
A Bill for an Act to restore the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act1902-1909 with respect to Voting by Post.
Senate’sAmendment. - Leave out “ restore,,” insert “ amend “ ; leave out “ Post,” insert “ absent, sick, or infirm voters.”
This Act may be cited as the Postal Voting; Restoration Act 1913.
Senate’s Amendment. - Leaveout “Postal Voting Restoration,” insert “ Electoral Act Amendment.”
Clause 2- (Voting by post).
Senate’s Amendment. - Leave out the clause, and insert -
The Returning Officer on a day previous to the election, and after the time for receiving applications has expired, shall appoint an Assistant Returning Officer, who shall prior to or on the day of election call at the address of the person who claims a vote, and if satisfied that the applicant is entitled to vote under the provisions of this section, shall supply the applicant with a ballot-paper which the voter will mark in the prescribed manner in the presence of the officer, and if the voter so desires of a relative or other person, but so that the officer cannot see the manner in which the ballotpaper is marked, and shall then fold the ballot-paper so as to hide the vote, and then in the presence of the officer deposit the ballot-paper ina sealed ballot-box which shall be provided and remain in the custody of the officer until it is given into the charge of the Divisional Returning Officer. The ballot-paper shall be opened by and counted by the Returning Officer at the scrutiny after the closing of the ballot.
Any elector who has reason to believe -
Provided that -
– Honorable members are quite prepared to be told that the Government is unable to accept the amendments of the Senate, which has substituted for the substantive clause of the Hill entirely new provisions, and has given the Bill a new title, so that the measure which we sent from this House is scarcely recognisable, and bears no resemblance to our original measure.
The proposals of the Senate are administratively impossible; that is the first com- ment I have to make.
– We should be told whether we are to be allowed to discuss the amendments. If we are not, we ought to shut up the honorable gentleman.
– I am under the impression that I am being shut up with a vengeance in another place. One wonders nowadays if an observation of any kind is permissible. To give effect to the Senate’s proposals, an army of officials would have to be appointed, in addition to those needed for the ordinary administration of the electoral law. We all desire that the sick and infirm shall be enabled to record their votes with the least inconvenience, and that the utmost consideration shall be extended to them, but the Senate’s proposals would make the voting of such persons a very irksome matter in many cases, and an immense sum of money would have to be spent to give effect to them.
In the next place, these proposals, if carried into law, would, I think, open the door to the very practices of which my honorable ‘ friends opposite have complained. The amendment conjures up a vision of a set of peripatetic officers, careering round the countrywith their wallets and their ballotboxes, collecting votes under impossible conditions. It is provided that on a day previous to the election, and after the time for receiving applications has expired - that is, within seven days of polling day - the Returning Officer for the division shall appoint an Assistant Returning Officer, who shall, prior to, or on the day of, the election, call at the address of every person who has claimed a vote, and if satisfied that that person is entitled , to vote under this provision, shall permit him to do so.
– What is the matter with that ?
– In the first place, no period is prescribed within which the appointment shall be made. The appointment might be made the day before polling day, in which case the procedure would be farcical.
– The appointments would be made under the principal Act.
– They would be made by authority of the provision which the Senate has inserted in the Bill. These officials are not to be appointed until the necessity for them is seen. It is only when applications for postal votes have been made that they are to be appointed to collect them. There is to be a special set of officials, who will not form part of the ordinary machinery created by the existing law, and their specific work will be the collection of postal votes. I think that within seven days of an election the Divisional Returning Officers have enough to do in the transaction of their ordinary business, without having to hunt up and give instructions to special officers for the collection of postal votes.
– The provision is to give all facilities for the collection of votes.
– It does not restore the postal vote in spirit and essence, but takes away facilities that were enjoyed under the old order of things.
Then, again, our Returning Officers are appointed by the Executive, but these special officers are to be appointed by the Divisional Returning Officers.
– They appoint all Assistant Returning Officers.
– Not within seven days of polling day.
– They could do so.
– I do not think so. These special officers, when appointed, are to be sent through the electorates to collect votes. I understand that in the Maranoa electorate there are places to which one would have to make a journey of six or seven days’ duration to collect votes. I was told this morning of a place in Queensland so far away that it would take seven days to go there, and seven days to return. .
– Therefore, it would take seven days for those residing there to go to the polling place, and seven days more to get back.
– Exactly. That is why we want the postal vote.
– Could the persons living in that place take advantage of the postal vote ?
– They cannot do so now, but under the old law they could do so.
– No; because it would be impossible to get any one to go out so far to witness their declarations.
– The honorable member is quite wrong. There are plenty of people available to witness these documents in the immediate vicinity ; and, altogether, my advice is that, apart from every other consideration, this would be administratively impossible.
– Does not the Prime Minister see that, even at a distant station, a man could be appointed an Assistant Returning Officer.
-Of course, after he has been sought out; but these preliminaries cannot be taken until the postal vote is lodged, within seven days of the polling day.
– A man could be appointed in the district, or even at the station, if necessary.
– The criticism of the postal vote by honorable members opposite has been that it was manipulated and undue influence used; and if there was opportunity for manipulating before, there would be more opportunity under the present proposal.
– The Prime Minister is quite wrong; these are Commonwealth officers.
– The honorable member says that I am always wrong.
– No; the Prime Minister is sometimes right.
– An army of officers would have to be appointed within seven days of the polling to learn and undertake the duties.
– What of that when it is only for a day or so ?
– I am pointing out the impossibility of doing what is required in time. My chief point is that whatever opportunities for manipulation there were under the former regime, they would be multiplied indefinitely under this proposal. The cost would be extreme and unnecessary, and difficulties and disabilities would be entailed on those unfortunate people to whom we ostensibly give the vote. It seems to me that the proposal is ruled out of court on the score of impracticability. It does not confer the vote as it was conferred before, with the fulness and freedom that should be extended to sick and infirm men and women. For those reasons I am quite unable to accept the proposal, and I move -
That the amendments be disagreed with.
.- This is a very important question, which both sides of the House desire to arrange in such a manner as to permit the sick and infirm to record their votes without any abuse of the system. The Prime Minister objects to the amendment chiefly on the ground that it will impose considerable additional expense on the Department. When we were discussing the second reading, the Attorney-General, I think, said that the Government were desirous, even thoughit might mean additional expense, to provide for a pure roll and a pure election. I venture to assert that the additional cost in connexion with this provision would be very small indeed. The Prime Minister urges that, according to the wording, the Assistant Returning
Officer cannot be appointed until within seven days of the polling; but we all know that the Returning Officers for the different electorates appoint their officials more than seven days previously.
– Yes, but it is provided that they cannot be appointed until within seven days.
– The wording is-
The Returning Officer on a day previous to the election, and after the time for receiving applications has expired, shall appoint an Assistant Returning Officer, who shall prior to or on the day of election call at the address of the person who claims a vote…..
That leaves it with the Returning Officer to appoint the assistants, and these are already appointed before that time.
– That is not so; the Returning Officer has to appoint the other officers within seven days of the polling day.
– But the Returning Officer has already appointed those officers.
– No. Those officers have to be appointed specially for the sick and infirm vote.
– Not at all.
– That is so.
– The Prime Minister says so - leave it at that !
– I disagree with the Prime Minister, and I submit that the Returning Officer has previously to that time appointed his officials for the various booths. However, if there is any fault in the proposal it can easily be remedied. The Returning Officer can instruct the officers in charge of the booths to go round and collect the votes when the applications have been made.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the ordinary Returning Officers can collect all these votes ?
– The Assistant Returning Officers.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the Assistant Returning Officers can go round and personally collect all these votes in the back country? It is absurd!
– Provision is made for that being done prior to polling day.
– Within seven days.
– Yes, and in each centre there is a polling booth. In many cases the applications from persons really sick and infirm will be few, perhaps not more than fifteen or twenty. Will any body contend that the Returning Officer cannot, previous to the election, wait on twenty persons whose addresses he has?
– He might have to travel hundreds of miles.
– Ask the Labour Whip.
– If there is any difficulty there might be a further amendment, as I suggested on a previous occasion, providing that where the distance exceeds, say, 5 miles, the vote may be sent in by post. What has been urged is no argument why these voting facilities should not be granted to the sick and infirm. We have to make provision for exceptional cases, of which, however, there will be very few. As the population increases, more polling booths are required ; and there are few honorable members, if any, who have not had additional polling booths provided in their constituencies, even since last election. There will be very few places where the distances will be great; and in these the votes may be sent by post. My object is to enable those who are legitimately entitled to vote as sick and infirm to have the opportunity to do so; and I think that the people generally are desirous that such provision should be made. The amendment is submitted because experience has shown that, under the old Act, there were abuses: and it is abuses that we are against. We believe that every aged and sick person should have the right to exercise the franchise, but persons who are not sick and infirm ought to record their vote like other people. No one will contend that at the time of the election, prior to 1910, there were more sick and infirm people in Victoria than in all the rest of Australia.
– Admittingthatthe sick and infirm vote in Victoria was as stated, it does not mean corruption.
– I am not inferring corruption; but we can hardly conceive that such was the fact - that there were more sick and infirm in one electorate in Victoria than in the rest of the State.
– They were absent voters.
– There must have been some abuse, and, if it is necessary, let us make provision for absentee voters, but do not permit them to vote as sick and infirm. Let us put party feeling on one side, for this is not a party question. That was what I urged when the Bill was under discussion in the last Parliament, and, in some degree, I was against my own party in this connexion. This is a question which affects everybody in Australia ; and we are desirous to create machinery 6hat will give every qualified person an opportunity to record his vote. If it has been proved, or if we suspect, that there has been abuse, why not’ make provision to guard against it as far as possible ? During the recent discussion of this measure in this chamber, we were asked, “ What about the absent voters?” Well, absent voters ought to have the opportunity to vote; but, as I said before, they ought not to vote as sick and infirm. There may be room for improvement in the proposal, but let us endeavour to make provision for all. After the Returning Officer receives the applications, he will instruct the Assistant Returning Officers to wait on the applicants, and take their vote, which will be sealed and placed in the ballot-box. There can be nothing fairer than a provision of that kind; and we should, as far as possible, endeavour to make this, not a party question, but a people’s question, to be considered on its merits. My object is to see as many votes recorded as possible - to see every, vote recorded in every election, so as to ascertain definitely the opinion of the people. We ought to provide facilities, but not in such a way as to permit abuses. You can provide for absent voting and for your sick and needy, and the cost of this will be infinitesimal as compared with some other directions in which extensions of the principle might be attempted. The Attorney-General admits that the question of cost ought not to have any weight as against the’ question of getting pure elections. Probably there will not be a single application for a postal vote at ‘hundreds of polling booths throughout the Commonwealth, and in those cases there will be no expense. It would only happen where the applications came in to the Returning Officer, who would instruct the Presiding Officer in the nearest polling booth to wait upon the applicant, collect the vote, see that it was a fair vote, and have it counted after the vote was taken. That is a fair provision, and I shall be very sorry indeed if the Government cannot accept it. If there is anything in the wording of the amendment that does not meet with their approval it can be altered. Take, for instance, the word that the Prime Minister dwelt on. It is provided that the
Returning Officer shall “ appoint an Assistant Returning Officer who shall . . .” The word “ instruct “ could be substituted for “ appoint.” This would mean that the officers already appointed in the different booths could alone wait upon the applicant, and see that his vote was properly recorded. In that way we should be able to provide for the sick and the infirm. We want to do this, and at the same time provide against abuse. The amendment will insure fair and clean voting, and will allow all absentees to record their votes wherever they may be. I trust that the Government will not throw the proposalout without giving it proper consideration. We have tried the old provisions, and proved them defective. We want to make this part of the Act workable, and I submit that this amendment will do it. Any improvements which the Government may suggest in the wording will, I am sure, receive favorable consideration from this side.
– I have carefully read the proposed amendment, and while some of its provisions are extremely ambiguous, two features stand out clearly. The first is that, as a scheme of voting in the larger electorates to which it would be mainly applicable, it is entirely administratively impracticable. The other is that it would open the door a thousand times wider to fraud than any postal voting system ever adopted. The scheme is that applications may be made to the Returning Officer - say, in a large district, because it is only in large and remote districts where people live far from polling places that postal voting would have its greatest efficacy - at some time prior to seven days preceding the election. It is then proposed that the Returning Officer in a division shall himself appoint certain persons called Assistant Returning Officers.
– He does that now.
– That interjection by the Leader of the Opposition had better not have been made, because it shows that he has not recently read the Electoral Act. Assistant Returning Officers are under the’ law appointed, as are Returning Officers, bv the GovernorGeneral in Council. The honorable member is thinking of Presiding Officers. Assistant Returning Officers have now certain defined! duties. The first thing that strikes one when reading this extraordinary proposal is that, although these new Assistant Returning Officers would be. appointed, they would not be Assistant Returning Officers under the Act discharging the duties prescribed by the Act. They are a kind of new breed of Assistant Returning Officers. The duties of Assistant Returning Officers are set out in section 8 of the Electoral Act-
– It is a presiding officer that we are talking about.
– That is exactly what the proposal does not talk about. The honorable member ought to read the amendment just as the Leader of the Opposition might read the Act which it is proposed to amend. These are not presiding officers. The duties which they are to perform are sketched in a hasty and crude form. The term ‘” peripatetic presiding officer “ applies to them better than anything else that we could call them, but they are not presiding officers, and none of the safeguards which are attached to the performance of their duties by Presiding Officers are attached to these persons. What the Act provides is that ‘ Assistant Returning Officers may be appointed to exercise within, or for any part of the division, subject to the control of the Divisional Returning Officer, all the powers of the Divisional Returning Officer.”
– Hear, hear.
– Does the Divisional Returning Officer appoint them?
– -In ninety-nine cases” out of a hundred. At any rate, the Assistant Returning Officers are all recommended by the Divisional Returning Officers.
– The whole scheme of the existing legislation is this; that the Returning Officers and Assistant Returning Officers are appointed by the Government of the day, who take the full responsibility for the appointments. It is now proposed to introduce Subdivisional Returning Officers, who are, after all, very subordinate officers, and who arc not even permanent members of the Public Service, for the extremely important duty of appointing the persons who are *.o be called Assistant Returning Officers under them.
– In nine cases out of ten they are permanent public officers.
– They may, or may not be; in many cases they are not. In many cases, so far as their duties as Divisional Returning Officers are concerned, they are merely paid for the work which they do - a kind of retaining fee for the year. These men are to be intrusted with tlie duty of appointing the Assistant Returning Officers, who will not be Returning Officers, as defined iu that Act. They are not the persons who are to exercise all the powers of the Divisional Returning Officers. They have none of the powers, and none of the responsibilities, and none of the safeguards attached to Assistant Returning Officers under the Act. They are a sort of a peripatetic Presiding Officer, and are to be sent with a sealed ballot-box throughout the country to take the votes of certain people. The idea is really too ludicrous to be. entertained for a moment. They are appointed to go round the country and collect votes I
– Instead of a J. P.
– Let me put this point to the Leader of the Opposition. Supposing we have in an average country electorate 500 persons who desire to record their votes by post, and who would be entitled under the postal voting provisions to do so, how many peripatetic Assistant Returning Officers are to be appointed to collect their votes? If the area to be covered was only, say, from 5 to 10 miles, you would need a large number, but where the area is enormous and remote, how can it be conceived to be practicable to send Assistant Returning Officers around to collect all these votes - each carrying a sealed ballot-box? How are they to identify the voters? No provision is made for identification in the proposal. In the existing postal voting provision which we desire to reinstate there is the most elaborate machinery for safeguarding all these things. Section 111 of the Act of 1909, one of those which we desire to reinstate, provides -
What is there in this extraordinary scheme to correspond with that provision ? There is no safeguard and no provision for identification. This gentleman, with his sealed ballot-box, goes about with a number of ballot-papers in his possession. He goes to the house, and meets somebody who calls himself John Jones, and who has applied for a ballot-paper. He asks, “Are you John Jones?” “I am.” “ There is a ballot-paper for you.”
– What about his signature on the application and his signature on the ballot-paper?
– The honorable member has not read the amendment, because there no provision is made that he shall sign.
– He has to sign on the postal ballot-paper under the old Act.
– He has not to do so under this amendment. Is the Assistant Returning Officer to initial the ballot-paper? Is he to carry certified rolls about with him?
– Why should he not?
– There you have a new proposal. Are separate certified rolls to be made up for each one of these hosts of officers who are to be sent out? Is that intended? Can any member of the Opposition tell me whether, under this glorious scheme, if 100 Assistant Returning Officers are sent out, 100 separate certified lists of voters are to be provided and carried round? The scheme has never been given a moment’s thought. I do not think the original provisions of the Act were looked up by its authors. Apparently, it was sketched out by guesswork and conjecture.
– What happens after the application is made?
– There isno provision to identify the applicant as the person whose name appears on the roll. The only conditions under which such a scheme could possibly work without opening the door to all forms of fraud would be, first of all, to incorporate in it some provision by which, before the Assistant Returning Officer was ever sent out with the ballot-paper, the man who claimed the vote could be identified as the person whose name really appeared on the roll. There will be no authorized witness under this scheme. In fact, there will be nobody whatever who will be able to say, “ I know this man.” All the safeguards have been absolutely struck out.
– Whose duty was it under the old postal voting provisions to identify the applicant ?
– I have already explained that there are abundant provisions against fraud in the old Act. A certificate is sent to the applicant, which he has to sign. That is the means of identification of the voter, although it does not identify the vote.
– Would he not sign his application ?
– He would sign just as under the postal voting provisions, but there would need to be some means by which afterwards the Assistant Returning Officer could identify the man supposed to have made the application. If that could be secured, and if we could be perfectly sure that we should have absolutely incorruptible and pure administrators and Returning Officers, we might approach something like the security that is obtained under the ordinary postal voting system. Unless that is done, we cannot. Ihave put forward a few of the absurdities of this proposal that has come to us from the Senate. Their scheme seems to be so crude and so ill-thought out that it is almost futile to discuss it in detail. It is so entirely undigested, and so little attention has been paid to the provisions of the Act which it is supposed to amend, that it is a waste of time to discuss it in detail. The only thing that I see we can do is to accept the suggestion of the Prime Minister and reject the amendment.
.- We wish it to be distinctly understood that the members of the Opposition have no objection whatever to postal voting per se, but we wish to safeguard it so that there will be no possibility of fraud such as has taken place in the past. Admitting, for the sake of argument, that the proposal that has come to us from another place is somewhat imperfect, we are quite willing to accept any suggestions the Government may make in the direction of making it practicable and safeguarding it from fraud. The Attorney-General has been rather disingenuous in reading the particular provision of the Act dealing with Returning Officers, but he did not read the whole of section 8, and it is just as well that I should read the whole of it. The provision is as follows: -
Assistant Returning Officers may be appointed to exercise within or for any portion of a Division, subject to the control of the Divisional Returning Officer, the powers of the Divisional Returning Officer except the powers of that office or under Part X. of this Act; but no Assistant Returning Officer shall be appointed in or for any portion of a Division in which less than100 electors are enrolled.
If the Attorney-General would also read sections 123 and 124, the provisions dealing with polling, he would find something interesting in relation to the powers or Divisional Returning Officers. Section 123 provides -
If the proceedings on the day of nomination stand adjourned to polling day, the Returning Officer shall immediately make all necessary arrangements for taking the poll.
Section 124 provides -
In particular he shall -
I wish to emphasize the point that these Divisional Returning Officers are empowered to appoint Presiding Officers to preside at each polling place.
– I told the Leader of the Opposition that the Returning Officers appointed Presiding Officers.
– And they recommend 99 out of 100 Assistant Returning Officers.
– The AttorneyGeneral has not put the case correctly in regard to these Divisional Returning Officers. They appoint the Presiding Officers at every polling booth, and the only Assistant Returning Officers who are appointed by the Administration are appointed for places where there are more than 100 electors enrolled.
– The Senate’s amendment deals with Assistant Returning Officers only.
– I have already said that if the Government would make any suggestion to bring the Senate’s amendment into accord with their own desires, and in order to prevent fraud, we are willing to accept it. We believe that the sick and infirm should be given the opportunity to vote.
– Are you in favour of their having the postal vote?
– I thought you said that you were not against postal voting per se.
– I was not quite correct in saying that. We are not opposed to the sick and infirm being enabled to vote, but not under the provisions of the old Act, which have been so open to all sorts of fraud, and under which fraud has been so extensively committed. In 1906 a very high church dignitary contravened the Act. He was in good health, and on polling day he was almost brushing his shoulders against a polling booth, yet he recorded his vote by post. . I asked the Home Affairs Department to institute a prosecution, as I thought he should be punished as an example to the whole of Australia, but the Department would not do it; and when I asked whether I could institute a prosecution, they would not allow me to do so. So there we had fraud not only committed, but also condoned by the Department itself.
– It may not have been fraudulent.
– Of course it was. It was a contravention of the Act. The Attorney-General was emphatic in regard to witnesses. I wish to’ point out the weakness of the system of witnesses detailed in section 110 of the postal voting provisions that the Government seek to restore. The following section, section 111, provides -
An authorized witness shall not witness the signature of any elector to an application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot-paper unless -
he has satisfied himself as to the identity of the applicant;
hehas seen the applicant sign the ap plication in his (the applicant’s) own handwriting ; and
he is personally acquainted with the facts, or has satisfied himself by inquiring from the applicant, that the statements contained in the application are true.
There is no difference between that and what is suggested by the Senate.
– Where in the Senate’s amendment is it proposed to reinstate that provision ?
-I am pointing out what the Government desire to restore. I wish to show the disabilities of the principal Act dealing with postal voting. The Attorney-General takes exception to the Senate’s proposals, because there is no method of identification provided, and
I .am pointing out that, under the Senate’s proposal, the Assistant Returning Officer will satisfy himself by inquiry from the applicant, just as he is required to do under section 111. Unless he is personally acquainted with the facts, he must satisfy himself by inquiry from the applicant that the statements contained in the application are true. If it is a good provision in the one case, and the Government indorse it, why is it not equally good in the Senate’s amendment’s Therefore, there can be no objection to the amendment on that score. A great many of the authorized witnesses specified in section 110 are State servants, and unquestionably many State servants have been found to be biased. In. the States, the government has been controlled by persons hostile to the Labour party, and, as public servants would not give offence to their employers, they found it convenient ‘to avoid all responsibility of witnessing applications where they k.new or thought that the electors would vote for the Labour party. It is not compulsory to witness a signature. The authorized witness may say, “ I shall not sign that, because I do not know you.” In many cases votes have been entirely lost on that account. Under paragraph c of section 111 of the principal Act, the witness has to satisfy himself in one direction, and it should be equally possible for him to satisfy himself in another. The AttorneyGeneral said that it would take a very large staff to carry out this provision. I would remind him that, in the Electoral Hill introduced this session, it is provided that every elector shall sign the butt of his ballot-paper, and that when we complained that that would cause unnecessary trouble, expense, and delay, the Honorary Minister, who was in charge of the Bill, said, “ We do not care what expense we incur, a3 long as we can secure the purity of elections.” °
– We do not mind spending money to secure pure elections, but we do not wish to spend money to get impure elections.
-1 Our contention is that the proposal made by the Government will not lead to the purity of elections, and that the amendment made by the Senate provides for an improved means of recording the votes of the sick and the infirm. One- would imagine, listening to the remarks of the Prime Minister, that-, the polling places were many miles apart.
– So they are.
– They are not. Instructions were issued by the exMinisterof Home Affairs that, wherever there wereten electors, a polling place should be provided. I give the ex-Minister all credit for issuing such a direction, and would point out that, with such facilities for polling, no difficulty would be experienced in sending a ballot-box to any person whowas too sick to attend at a polling place. The police would, in all probability be called upon to discharge this duty. Wehave every confidence in the police, and, taking them by and large, have found them to be perfectly honest and straightforward. The police may well be intrusted with the duty of taking round theballotboxes to the sick and infirm whocannot record their votes al a polling place. If necessary, the amendment could beamended by extending the period between the receiving of the application and theappointment of these officers. I think that seven days would prove to be ample; but the amendment could be so amended as to allow Returning Officers to appoint, these special officers at any time. Weare willing to accept an amendment in that direction. The Attorney-General1 has spoken of the certified rolls. We object to what honorable members oppositeterm “ certified rolls.”
– Do honorablemembers opposite say that we ought toll ave none ?
– No. During the last election campaign we purchased from the Divisional Returning Officers rolls for which we paid 2s. each, and we naturally expected that =they would be the rollsupon which the elections would be conducted.
– Surely not.
– Certainly, we did. Why were they sold to us if they were nob to be used ?
– The honorable member must have known that alterations would’ be made - names being put on, and the names of others who had died, perhaps, being removed.
– When we went to the polling booths, we found that what honorable members opposite termed “ the certified roll “ was a roll, from which various names had been marked out in’ red ink by the Returning Officer, or soma ofhis staff. Would it not be possible for anyof those officers to put a line through the name ofan electorwho was rightly entitled to vote?
– What would the honorable member substitute forthecertified rolls ?
– I object to an elector who is entitled to vote being deprived ofhis right. Many cases of the kindoccured in my electorate.
Mr.King O’Malley. - I issued orders to prevent that sort of thing.
– In one case, a lady who had lived seventeen years in the one house found, on going to record her vote, that hername had been removed from the
Toll. Is it any wonder when casesof this kind occur that we object to what honorable members opposite term “ the certifiedrolls “? Therolls sold priorto pollingday should be those on which the election wall be conducted..
Mr.Groom. - Then the honorable member does not think that any names should be added ?
– The additional names appear on the supplementaryroll. A Divisional Returning Officer underthe present system could disfranchise the whole electorate.
Mr.Bennett. - Issuch a thing possible?
– The honorable member knows that it is possible.
– I suppose that, since the honorable member objects to the certified rolls, he wouldhavethem uncertified ?
– No. I desire the elections tobe conducted on the certified rolls, which areissued tothe electors by the Divisional Returning Officers.
-Then we could not have a properly completed rolluntil after the issue ofthe writs.
– The Minister knows very well that it is impossible to have at anygiven time a properly completed roll. Weare quite willing that the sick and theinfirm shouldbe given anopportunity to vote under a properly safeguarded system.
Mr.Groom. - What has the honorable member to say as to the second part of the amendment made by another place ?
– I am certainly in favour of paragraphs b and c. We are anxiousthat every person unable to at- tend a pollingplaceon pollingday should be given anopportunity to vote.
– What about paragraph a?
– If the honorable member’s electioneering experience were as extensive as mine, he would know that hundreds who were well able to attend a polling place have voted by post.
– Has the honorablememberany objection to a personvoting by post, provided that when application is made for a postalballot-paper he bona fide believes thathe will not be able to attend at the polling booth?
– If those who can go to a polling place are to be allowed to vote by post, why have a ballot at all ? The honorable member for Gippsland would introduce a system of fraud which might be indorsed by Gippsland, but which I am confident the rest of Australia wouldreject. As an illustration of the fraud that was practised under the votingby post system, let me state that at one general election a lady resident of Townsville, who had gone to Rockhampton, was sent a postal ballotpaper application form. She did not fill it up or return it, yet her vote was recorded. How was that done? That, I am confident, was but one of many cases of the kind.
– We hadacase wherea Presiding Officer said that an absent voter should have voted the day before the election, and refused to allow him to vote. Because of such a mistake, would the honorable member do away withthe absent voting provisions of the Act?
– No. We have no objection to the absent voting provisions of the Electoral Bill. We are quite willing that every absent voter shall have anopportunity to vote. Bub our experience of the voting by post system is such that we cannot indorse the Government proposal. We should be quite willing to accept any reasonable amendment of the amendment made by another place in the direction of enablingthe sick and the infirm to vote under proper safeguards. But those who are able to attend at a polling place should either do so or lose their votes.
– The amendment made by another place affords us an opportunity to settle a very grave and important question. Notwithstanding the party heat engendered during the consideration of this question, I believe that honorable members on both sides desire that the sick and the infirm shall be afforded facilities to vote. I understand that one of the objections raised by the Government relates to the alteration in the title of the Bill. That amendment should enable us to get over our difficulty in a reasonable way. If Ministers are willing to recognise the principle of the amendment, the main objection of the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister to its incorporation in the electoral law can be easily removed. There being general agreement on the main question, it will be a great pity if we cannot arrive at some solution of the difficulties confronting us. The amendment provides a basis upon which we might come to an understanding. There is no room for doubting that one of the reasons why many persons desire to vote by post is that a certain section, which invariably supports the party opposite, does not care to mix in the polling booths with those who constitute what is not very elegantly described as “ the common herd.’’’ But .this feeling of snobbishness should be mercilessly suppressed. It is bad enough wherever it appears, but it should not be countenanced by the National Parliament of Australia. There are persons who will not enter certain polling booths because voters of a different class of society frequent them. I say this because it is well to be frank and open about the matter. The electors at large would, if I am not very much mistaken, declare that this spirit must be suppressed. Of course, all broad-minded and just persons would be willing to give all possible facilities for ‘voting to the infirm and sick; but the honorable member for Hunter has justly pointed out that the Australian population is by no means unhealthy or diseased. It is, in fact, the most healthy section of the English-speaking world. The number of sick and infirm in Australia is not great. Moreover, the sick and infirm are to be found mainly within the cities, partly because the population there is thickest, and partly because the sick are drawn from the country to the city hospitals and similar institutions.
– But many aged persons reside in the country districts.
– A still larger number reside in the big centres of population. Those who have been for any length of time in public life know that it is a very easy thing to pull a measure to pieces, and the Attorney-General set up a man of straw. If we like to take the trouble, we can to-night arrange proper facilities for the recording of the votes of the sick and infirm, leaving our other differences to be fought out afterwards. The Returning Officers are appointed under the Electoral Act, and the Senate’s amendments would empower them to appoint assistants for the collection of postal votes. Those who have had much to do with elections know well their Returning Officer, and twenty or thirty of the Presiding Officers appointed by him. These men are appointed because of their ability to do the work required of them. In the Hindmarsh division, some of them have been assisting the Returning Officer for as long as I have had anything to do with the district. They retire only because of age, or for some similar reason. I do not speak of the poll clerks, who are often curious persons, some of themhardly capable of ascertaining whether a name is on the roll or not; I refer to the Presiding Officers. Could not the Returning Officers appoint men of this class to do the work that we want to get done 1 They know the residents of a division, and if Brown, Jones, or Robinson claimed the right to vote as a sick person when not properly enrolled or entitled to vote in that way, he would be prevented from doing so. I give Ministers credit for their smartness in discovering that there would be some difficulty about incorporating the amendment of the Senate in the principal Act, but is it too much to ask our learned legal friends opposite to draft a further amendment which would get rid of that difficulty? I do not think so. We, on this ‘side, are ready to accept any proposal that will make the provision workable. If we do not come to some agreement, it may be that, when weighed in the balance by the electors, both sides may be found wanting. Honorable members opposite have appealed for the restoration of the postal vote for the benefit of the sick and aged. Let us, then, try to come to some arrangement, postponing squabbles on other matters until next session. We are agreed that the sick and aged should be provided for, and the people will appreciate our action if we put this matter above party considerations, and do what is just and right.
.- There seems to he a wide difference between the Government and the Opposition regarding the postal vote. The Government, apparently, do not wish to confine postal voting to the sick and the infirm, but the Opposition objects to healthy and ablebodied persons voting by post. The Government have not yet justified their proposal, which means that a section of the community, perfectly healthy and well, shall be allowed to vote by post, while other electors must adhere to the secrecy of the ballot and vote under proper safeguards. Without reference to the proved cases of undue influence and wrong-doing, it has been established that there is, at best, an element of danger in postal voting, so great an element, indeed, that the Queensland Liberal Government abolished the system. We all agree that no one should be debarred from voting ; and with a sufficient number of polling booths, and safeguards in the case of absentees and the sick and infirm, no one need be denied the right. At the last election some sick persons were unable to vote; and the proposal now is to afford them the opportunity. The amendment may not be worded quite correctly, but for this the Government are largely responsible. Contrary to the desires of the Opposition, the Government took the extraordinary course of introducing a oneclause measure, and gave no opportunity for proper amendments to be made. If the proposed amendment of the Act is not complete, however, it would be an easy matter for the Government to make it so, and they are assured of the support of the Opposition. There is, for instance, some confusion about the titles of the officials. The present officials are the Divisional Returning Officer, the Assistant Returning Officer, and the Presiding Officer, and there would be no difficulty in amending the proposed clauses so as to make it clear by which of these officers the duty of collecting the votes has to be undertaken. That duty will consist in going round to the homes of the sick and the infirm, just in the same way as an officer now goes from bed to bed in some hospitals and takes the votes. I have not heard any honorable member on the Government side condemn that practice of voting at the hospitals, and yet they, apparently, are not prepared to extend the principle to the homes of the sick, where it could be just as easily applied. In objecting to the proposed amendment, the AttorneyGeneral exaggerated much more than did the Prime Minister, although one would expect a degree of exactness from a gentleman with his legal training. The honorable gentleman spoke of 1,000 people being sick within the radius of some polling booth ; but that is quite a preposterous number, and he might as well have made it a million. If there is a desire to meet the case of the sick and the infirm, let us get at the actual facts. In the fardistant places we do not find many sick people, and, in any case, the honorable member for Hunter expressed his willingness to limit the operation of the proposal within a certain radius. That would not be a bad idea; but even supposing the whole extent of every polling district were permitted, a very limited number of sick persons would be found, and they could all be visited in a day. There are many more sick and infirm in the metropolitan districts; but, on the other hand, there is every facility for visiting them with ease. As to the cost, it will only mean that of a few days’ extra work of the gentleman appointed Presiding Officer, to use the term now applied. The proposed amendment is not so impracticable as some honorable members have sought to make out. If we could ascertain the number of persons sick on a given day, we should find that it was not so very large. The seriously ill are mostly in the hospitals, and as to the infirm, their numbers are pretty well known from the ‘ records under the Invalid and Oldage Pensions Act. As a matter of fact, the majority of the old-age pensioners vote in person, so that there would be very little trouble entailed on their account. Further, very many of our infirm citizens are in institutions where polling facilities are already provided. Altogether the proposal is not at all impracticable, nor would it prove very costly; indeed, I do not understand the Government to object to any reasonable cost that might be incurred. The alternative suggested by the Government presents drawbacks in the country of which the Prime Minister appears to be unaware. It is extraordinary that he should discover objections to the amendment, while he has not a word to say about the difficulty of carrying out the postal vote proposals of the Government. In many cases in the western district of Queensland and New South Wales, and in parts of Western Australia, an election would be over long before the certificates had been sent out and the postal votes returned.
– Is that difficulty not reproduced in the amendment before us?
– No; although, no doubt, the proposal needs amendment in order to fully attain its object. What is aimed at is to meet the case of the sick and the infirm, the only persons whom we think should be permitted to vote by post. The applications nave to be sent only to the officer who has to go around and visit the home ; and with the increasing number of polling booths there should be no great difficulty in carrying out the idea. It has been proved that under the system proposed by the Government witnesses could not be found, and thus people would be prevented, by their circumstances, from exercising the franchise. Under the amendment before us, the officer would have no doubt as to the identity of the applicants, because the sick would be in their homes, and the infirm would be wellknown to their neighbours. It is for the Attorney-General and the draftsman to make the proposed amendment fit the conditions. When the excessive number of postal votes polled in Victoria, as compared with other places, was quoted, we were told that the position arose from the fact that the people of the State had been accustomed to that system of voting. This, however, did not explain how it was that people who are perfectly well, and many of them welltodo, with motor cars, and polling places all round them, were permitted to adopt this easy method. If such a loose system is to be permitted, why not conduct the whole election by post, as in the case of various organizations? The Government, however, would not go so far as that, because it would do away wholly with voting by ballot. In postal voting there is no guarantee that the ballot-papers are sent on to their proper destination; and, in any case, people who are well ought not to be permitted to vote by post.
– Some may live 100 miles away from a polling booth.
– I do not think so; but, if it be a fact, then it is a disgrace to the Department. In Victoria the postal vote was exercised chiefly, not in the country, but in metropolitan districts.
– There were postal votes in the honorable member’s own electorate.
– The honorable member ought to talk to somebody who knows nothing of the subject. A few postal votes were recorded in country electorates, but nothing like the number in the metro politan district. The Ministerial party are upholding the postalvoting system, which is really a provision for facilitating fraud and the use of undue influence. They have not the courage to abolish voting by post altogether, and let everybody vote by ballot. The absent voting provisions introduced by the late Government worked exceedingly well, and met the case of every healthy person. All that this Parliament has now to do is to make provision to enable the sick and infirm to vote - persons who are unable to attend a polling place on election day. If the Senate’s proposal is not complete enough, it can be made complete. The Attorney- General simply indulged in unfriendly criticism of it, although he knew that in a very few minutes the Parliamentary Draftsman could draw up all the amendments necessary, and that they would be passed by a unanimous Committee. If the Government reject this proposal, they will have to bear the blame of preventing the sick and infirm from voting. It was almost impossible for any layman to amend the Bill that the Government brought in. It contained only one clause reenacting the sections of an Act that had been repealed. What chance was there of introducing proper amendments into such a measure? The Senate’s amendment would seem to a layman to cover the ground, and certainly seems to be perfectly safe. Its authors have been careful to avoid the appointment of partisans. They provide for the appointment of honest, trusted men, who know the district, and whom everybody has known for years. The ballot-box in which the postal votes are placed must be kept sealed, and can be opened only by a Divisional Returning Officer. Instead of making this proposal perfect, as they could do, the Government simply criticised it, and are apparently determined to restore a system which experience has proved to be full of dangers, and a fruitful source of wrongdoing. Why should we make provision for healthy persons to vote by post who are too lazy to walk 10 yards to a polling booth!
– Some of them are 50 or 100 miles away from a polling-booth.
– That very rarely happens. We need polling places sufficiently near to enable the ordinary elector to vote by ballot. The logical result of the argument of honorable members opposite would be that we should have no polling place, and allow everybody to vote by post. The matter of creating sufficient polling places rests in the hands of the Department. It is introducing a wrong principle to enable every one living outside a 5-miles radius to vote by post. We should have the ballot-box brought as near to the voter as possible, and the Senate’s proposal would carry it into the very home of the sick and infirm. The honorable member for Calare has some idea about a 100-miles radius in his head, and does not approve of the Senate’s proposal, because a lot of those whom it would enable to vote are not Liberal electors.
– The honorable member believes ia giving city electors an advantage over country electors.
– I do not believe in giving anybody au advantage over anybody else. I believe in giving every elector every opportunity to exercise the franchise. In my electorate two ladies walked 16 miles to vote, but numbers of * the people in the cities want to be paid to go to the polling booth. Our idea is to take the ballot-box to the sick and infirm - a scheme which is neither impracticable nor costly.
.- The history of this matter seems to have been entirely forgotten by many honorable members, particularly by the honorable member for Darling. The Senate has sent down a proposition which has received the assent of about, twenty odd members of that Chamber, and one would naturally have expected, before they submitted it as a complete measure for the consideration of this House, that they would consider whether it was possible to put it into practical operation. It comes before us in a crude form, and now the honorable member for Darling and others ask the Government to set the whole of their legal talent to’ work to put it into shape. To make it an effective piece of electoral machinery, and acceptable to the community generally, it would be necessary to re-enact the whole of the provisions which we proposed to revive in the measure that we sent up to the Senate. As it stands now, it is simply an. attempt to bring about a condition of tilings which we have been trying to avoid.
– lt provides for voting by ballot; the Government Bill provides for postal voting.
– The honorable member for Darling has been very concerned about the sick and infirm, but, on the other side of the page, which he probably never took the trouble to turn over, we find the very condition laid down which we proposed to re-enact - that every elector who was over 5 miles from a polling; booth, whether sick or well, should have tlie’ right to apply for a postal vote. The honorable member has not taken the trouble to see what propositions the Senatehas really submitted to us. There is no necessity to waste time in making thisscheme effective, because we have already passed a complete and workable measure through this Chamber. The honorable member for Darling stated that, in someof the Victorian constituencies, morevotes were recorded by post in the 1910- election than in the whole of Western Australia. That is perfectly true. Healso said that those who cast those voteshad been too lazy to cross the street tovote by ballot. The honorable member should have known that, in the constituency of Kooyong, to which he particularly referred, the only means which thesepeople had of recording their votes wasby post. I venture to say that there are hundreds - if not a thousand - of commercial travellers resident in that constituency. They are travelling over thaState of Victoria every day in the week.
– Those commercial travellers would not be sick and infirm.
– They have just as. much right to record their votes as has thehonorable member for Barrier.
– Those were domestic servants’ votes, and not commercial travellers’ votes.
– There are not 1,000- commercial travellers here.
– There are 1,400 “all. lines “ yearly tickets issued by the Railway Department in Victoria alone.
– Do all those commercial travellers live in Kooyong?
– They do not. Onehonorable member says there are not 1,000’ commercial travellers in Victoria, but I say there are nearer 2,000.
– They are all home on. Saturday.
– The election of 1910- was not held on a Saturday. It has been argued that there were more postal votescast in Kooyong at the 1910 election than in a whole State, but, as a matterof fact, there is a larger proportion of commercial travellers resident in thesuburbs of Melbourne than in any otherpart of Australia, and I venture to say- that Kooyong has more than its due proportion of them.
– There are more domestic servants there.
– The honorable member knows probably more about them than I do.
– That is very questionable.
– This matter is one in which it is quite unnecessary to go into personalities 1
– Then why sneer at domestic servants ?
– I am not aware that I did. There were many people residing in Kooyong in 1910 who had to record their votes by post or be disfranchised. Besides commercial travellers, nearly the whole of lue commercial, professional, and financial, men of Melbourne, and many shop assistants, reside in that electorate. Thousands leave their homes at from 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock in the morning, and they do not return from the city until 7 o’clock in the evening.
– What! On Saturday?
– I have already pointed out that the election of 1910 was not held on a Saturday. If these people desired to vote they would have to rush to the polling booth between 8 and 9 o’clock in the morning, or rush’ home from their places of business in the evening and record their votes immediately on returning home. But had they attempted to do this at the 1910 election, there would have been such congestion in the polling booths that, as occurred at the last election, mary would have gone away disgusted, rather than wait and vote. Any one who is prepared to study this matter with an open mind must come to the conclusion that if these people were to cast their votes in a reasonable manner they had no alternative but to apply for postal ballot-papers, and vote in their homes in peace and quietness. Yet we are told they were too lazy to cross the street to vote. As a matter of fact, they could not possibly record their votes in any other way. Possibly honorable members opposite would be only too pleased to see them all disfranchised. All honorable members are prepared to give the sick and infirm every possible chance of recording their vote, so that there is no need to dwell upon that aspect of the question. I can claim to know something about those living at a distance from a polling booth. Speaking from memory, there were 183 polling booths in the
Gippsland electorate in the 1910 elections, but, notwithstanding this, there were, approximately, 7,000 electors living over 5 miles from a polling booth. Now the mountainous country of ‘Gippsland is liable to heavy rainfall, which makes the roads extremely difficult, and often dangerous, to traverse, so the electors in that part seek the privilege of voting by post. There were 240 polling booths at the last election, but, nevertheless, there were still close on 3,000 electors over 5 miles from a polling booth, and many were 25 miles and more away.
– Yet the percentage of voting was hig’her at the .last election. Mr. BENNETT . - That was owing to the high tension of political thought and the determination of the people to have the postal vote restored. We made it one of our fighting planks in Victoria.
– Is that why Labour secured two out of three for the Senate ?
– That was why the “ Liberals are now on the Government benches. We- fought it as a highly constitutional question that every elector was entitled to vote; and, despite distance and other things preventing them from doing so under the system on which the 1913 election was held, they came ‘to the poll in numbers unknown in country constituencies before, with the result that Liberal candidates in favour of the postal vote being restored won in every instance in the country districts of Victoria. There is no reason why people should be compelled to ride or drive for 30_miles over bad roads to record their votes. It is an easy matter to vote in the city, where there are polling booths at every corner, but we should consider the pioneers of the country, and give them a reasonable opportunity to exercise the franchise.
– What was the percentage of votes in Gippsland?
– We had a 75 per cent, poll, but 10 per cent, more males than females voted.
– We had a bigger percentage in .my electorate, and you could put Victoria in it, yet there was no growling there about postal votes.
– 1 have heard the honorable member say that some electors drove 100 miles to vote, but is it a fair thing to expect people to drive- that distance in order to vote ?
– You cannot manufacture a system of postal voting which will not involve some electors travelling a distance in order to vote?
– We can manufacture a system which will very considerably relieve the trouble. If the Senate had seen fit to restore the postal voting provisions that the Government asked us to restore, the difficulty would have been overcome. As for the Senate’s amendment, it is lacking in machinery; it is an ill-considered proposition, and to put it into working shape it will be necessary to insert practically all the provisions which the Government provided for re-enacting by the original Bill. We’ cannot be expected tq consider a proposition which honorable members opposite are not able to explain, and when they are unable to tell us what is required to make it an effective proposition for the electoral machinery of the Commonwealth.
.- Reading the daily press and speeches made by Ministers, I came to the conclusion that the only object the Government had in submitting their Bill was to give the sick and infirm the right to vote. In one of the leading dailies, a week or two ago, it was stated that the abolition of the postal vote had deprived 75,000 women in Australia of the right to vote at the last election. Similar statements have been made by Ministerialists during the last six or twelve months. But now the honorable member for Gippsland makes the remarkable admission that the great majority of the people who utilized the postal vote in the 1910 elections consisted, not of the sick and infirm, but of commercial men living in Kooyong and electorates of that description. I have no desire to make any charges against enthusiastic people working on behalf of parties, but the heavy postal vote in Kooyong and Fawkner in 1910 was coincident with the fact that in those two constituencies there was a greater number of domestic servants employed than in any other two constituencies.
– Have they not the right to vote?
– I know the electioneering tactics that were adopted in Kooyong, and in a certain portion of the electorate of Fawkner, in connexion with that election. Hundreds of these women voted at the dictation of their mistresses, or of others of whom they had the slightest fear. They were brought under that provision of the Act which declared that any person should be entitled to vote by post who had reason to believe that he would not be within 5 miles of a polling booth on the day of election. That fact, and that fact alone, explains the remarkably heavy postal voting in those constituencies. Mr. Rodgers. - Their mistresses were not qualified to witness their signatures.
– I am well aware of that, but they could bring their influence to bear upon them to induce them to apply for postal ballot-papers.
– Would they otherwise have voted for the Labour candidates ?
– Their mistresses would not have brought any influence to bear upon them if they thought that they were sure to vote for the other side. It was only where there was a doubt that this course was followed.
– An unjust accusation against a lot of poor people that they would not vote according to their conscience !
– It is not a question of conscience. We know that it has often been a question of stomach rather than of conscience.
– But that is not true of the present day.
– There is a great deal of truth in the statement. I am pleased that by this amendment made by another place we have been afforded an opportunity to give expression to our opinions upon this question. We have been told by the leaders of the Government that in this Bill we have practically the gage of battle thrown down. If I have to go before my constituents on this question, I shall be able to say that no vote of mine was, or will ever be, given in this House to deprive the sick or the infirm of the right to record their votes by post for the National Parliament, but I shall always vote against the reintroduction of the postal voting system which was in operation in 1910. The honorable member for Gippsland said that he and many of his party were re- ‘ turned to this House largely to support the restoration of the postal voting system. I do not believe that that is so. Many honorable members on this side represent rural constituencies in different parts of Australia, and they defended the action of the Fisher Government in abolishing the old postal voting system. I believe that the statements made by our opponents in regard to this question were just about as accurate as were those made by them in regard to the rural workers’ log, and which were largely responsible for the return of the honorable member for Gippsland and others of his party.
– If I do not understand the effect of the rural workers’ log on agricultural constituencies, no one in this House does.
– We are well aware of the effect of the misleading statements’ and misrepresentations made by honorable members opposite during the last election campaign. I am pleased that this debate has enabled us to obtain from the party opposite an admission of which I hope a great deal of notice will be taken - I refer 1o their statement that the postal voting system, as we know it, was utilized, not by the sick and the infirm, but by those generally connected with the. trade and commerce of the community. If we have to go to the country, I trust that we shall do so on the question of the postal vote. But those who did honorable members opposite the honour of returning them to this House in a majority look to them to appeal to them again on some larger question than that involved in the measure which the Attorney-General placed before the House -a few weeks ago. They expected them to bring down legislation which would give the country that financial stability which they were led to believe had been destroyed by the Labour party. Instead of any such legislation, however, we find the Government placing before us measures such as this, and saying that they constitute a sufficient ground on which to send members of both Houses to the country. If this Parliament is not to run its full life, I hope that the appeal to the people will be on the question of the postal vote. I certainly shall be able to tell my constituents that the Labour party in the National Parliament did their best to place on the statute-book a Bill to give reasonable facilities for the sick, the infirm, and the absent to vote.
.- We find that both parties in this Parliament are now agreed that the privilege of voting by post should be given to the sick and the infirm. But what is the position? We sent up to another place a Bill providing for voting by post, ‘and providing, also, the machinery necessary to enable the system to be carried out. That measure has been returned to us -amended in such a way that it contains absolutely no machinery clauses. Almost every member of the Opposition who has spoken has emphasized the necessity for ^safeguarding the system, but where, I would ask them, is there in the amendment made by the Senate ‘ anything to make fraud impossible? The AttorneyGeneral has pointed out very clearly that no machinery is provided in the Bill as amended to enable this provision to be properly brought into operation. I have carefully examined the amendments, and find that they provide no penalties in respect of any contravention of the law. I invite honorable members to consider the absurdity of the Opposition in making such amendments. The Bill, as amended by another place, .contains no punitive provisions. The proposal in regard to travelling booths is impracticable, and, in any event, would prove too costly. Section 109a of the principal Act contains a long list of eminently-qualified and reputable persons who may witness the recording of postal votes, but .under the Bill, as amended by another place, the only person who may witness a postal ballotpaper is the Assistant Returning Officer - who, as the Attorney-General has pointed out, is- in no way under the discipline of the principal Act - and if the voter so desires, “ a relative or other person “ may be present. I would’ ask the honorable member for Maranoa, who has been particularly severe in his condemnation of justices of the peace, who “ the other persons “ are likely to be. Do not these words leave the door open to fraud? Might not a person with fraudulent intent take with him as a witness a person having no proper qualification to witness postal votes?
.- It should be very clear to the country, as it is to honorable members, that the attempt of the Government is not to pass legislation to give facilities for the voting of the sick and the infirm, but to throw down the gauntlet with a view to securing a fight in the constituencies on the postal vote. If honorable members opposite were desirous of legislating for the benefit of the sick and the infirm, they would have approached the amendment in an amicable spirit, with a view to making it acceptable. I never knew the Attorney-General to advance arguments weaker than those that he used to-night. He and the Prime Minister, instead of employing sound arguments against the amendment, found fault with its drafting, and tried to prove that it would be ineffective. The first point they took was that it left the collecting of votes to the Assistant Return- ing Officers. It would be easy to alter the amendment to provide that tlie1 Returning Officer shall instruct the Presiding Officer appointed to the nearest polling booth- to do the work. Every one knows that that is what is intended. If we believe in the principle of an amendment, the wording of which is faulty, we can easily- give effect to it. During my parliamentary experience it las frequently happened, when a big principle has been agreed upon-, and% the amendment’ embodying it has’ been accepted, but has been thought to be improperly worded’, for the Government to -get an adjournment to give time for its reshaping, so that what is intended- may Toe properly carried out. The AttorneyGeneral tried to discredit the amendment as impracticable, and altogether unacceptable. He made capital’ of the fact ‘ that the collecting of votes is left to one set of officers. I admit that it is-. But who are those officers? They are the -officers appointed- by the Returning Officers to preside at the different polling booths. They are reputable citizens,, and men in- whom tlie- utmost trust is shown in appointing them to preside- overpolling booths. The Attorney-General lost sight of the fact that the postal voting provisions of the old Act, which the Bill as introduced sought to restore, allow all sorts of persons to witness applications for postal votes. The persons who, , under the old law, could witness postal votes are these -
All Commonwealth Electoral Officers for States ; * all Commonwealth Returning Officers ; all Commonwealth Electoral Registrars; all Postmasters or Postmistresses or persons in charge of postoffices; all Police or Stipendiary or Special Magistrates of the Commonwealth or of a State; all Commissioners for Declarations; all Justices of the Peace; all Head Teachers in the employment of a State Education Department; all officers of tlie Department of Trade and Customs : all members of the Police force of the Commonwealth or of a State; all Mining Wardens and Mining Wardens’ Clerks in the Public Service of a State; all legally qualified Medical Practitioners; all Officers in charge of Quarantine Stations; all Officers in charge of Lig”ht-. houses; all Pilots in the service of the Commonwealth or of a State, or of. any local governing body; all Telegraph line repairers permanently employed- in the Public Service of -the Commonwealth who are in charge of working parties; all Railway Station Masters and Night Officers-in-charge who are permanently employed in the Railway Department in any of the States; all superintendents of mercantile marine and their deputies while permanently employed in the Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State’; and
All persons or classes of persons employed in 4he Public Service of the Commonwealth or of a State who are declared by proclamation to be authorized witnesses within the meaning of. this Act.
The Attorney-General objects to the amendment because it leaves to Presiding Officers the collecting of votes, and-, therefore, he says, makes abuses possible; and yet the Government measure was introduced to restore provisions enabling persons of all the classes that I have mentioned to witness applications for postal votes, making the opportunities for abuse infinitely greater. Among the large body of persons named in the old Act as authorized witnesses it is much more likely that there may be some by whom fraud might be committed - though I do not say that fraud would be committed by any of them - than it is that fraud would be committed by any Presiding Officer. But evidently what the Government want is, not an amicable settlement of our differences, but a fight. Ministers consider themselves pledged to’ the restoration of the postal voting system in its entirety, and are not prepared to compromise in any way. It has- beensaid that no penalties are provided for a breach of the Senate’s amendment; but 1 would point out that among tlie oldprovisions for postal voting there are; no fewer than twelve sections providing machinery for the working- of the postal vote, aud this machinery could easily be modified to make it applicable to the proposed arrangements for recording the voting of the sick and infirm. It would be ridiculous to expect any person submitting an amendment of the kind made by the Senate to provide all the necessary machinery to give effect to it. No member could sit down and draft all the machinery necessary to give effect to an Act of Parliament. But if the principle were accepted, the Government could, within twenty-four hours, get its officers to draft the necessary machinery. The officers whose business it is to draft our legislation could very quickly put our proposals into the proper .legal form, and provide for the necessary penalties. The Senate’s amendment gives facilities for the voting of the sick and aged, and’ prevents the abuses possible under the old postal voting system. About- those abuses sufficient has already been said, but there could be no better safeguard’ against them than that proposed by the Senate, because no persons in the community are more to be trusted than are those appointed to preside at the polling booths. If men. who could not.be trusted were appointed to preside over polling booths, anything might happen, notwithstanding even the presence of scrutineers. But the men who are appointed are men about whose trustworthiness there is no doubt. The people will not be content with the statements of Ministers regarding the impracticability of the Senate’s proposal. They expect the Government to employ the draftsmen at their disposal to put into shape provisions which give effect to a principle generally accepted. Ministers have not attempted to meet us in any way, and have not even debated the Senate’s proposal; they have merely ridiculed it. It is said thatthis proposal emanated from another place ; but, as a fact, it was first moved in this Chamber by myself. On that occasion, however, the “ gag “ was being applied, and very little discussion was allowed. The Bill, before it ever saw the Senate, was doomed, because the Government had made up their minds that it was to be a test question to go before the people. I do not care whether or not that is the case, because I am prepared to go before the people at any time. I am not afraid of the result of such an appeal, because the people will know what legislation of this kind means, and will relegate the Government and their supporters to the place where they were a short time ago.
– I had not intended to speak tonight, but, seeing that the Prime Minister will not consent to report progress, I have no alternative. I am now given to understand, however, that ithas been arranged to take a division, and, therefore, I shall waive my right to speak.
Question - That the amendments of the Senate be disagreed to - put. The Committee divided.
Majority … … 3
That Mr. W. H. Irvine, Sir John Forrest, and the mover be appointed a Committee to draw up reasons for the House of Representatives disagreeing to the amendments.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK, on behalf of the Committee, brought up such reasons, which were read, and are as follow: -
That the provisions thereof are crude, impracticable, and fraught with danger to the purity of elections and would afford no relief to the majority of those for whose benefit the postal vote is intended.
Motion (by Mr. Joseph Cook) proposed -
That the Committee’s reasons be adopted.
Amendment (by Mr. Fisher) proposed -
That all the words after “That” be left out.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 5
Original question resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to provide for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on public works and for other purposes.
I hope honorable members are thoroughly acquainted by this time with the object I have in view, and that this will absolve me from an explanation at this stage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
– In moving -
That the House do now adjourn,
I should like to say that, in all human probability, we are nearing the end of the session, which will not be prolonged, so far as I am concerned, a minute more than is necessary to clear up the business that I have already indicated. What remains to be done now is to clear up the work in the Senate, and to pass in this House the Public Works Committee Bill, the Agricultural Bureau Bill, and the Estimates. I am, to a large extent, in the hands of the Leader of the Opposition. The only question is whether we should sit to-morrow night and Saturday with a view to getting away next week.
– We are not going to sit on Saturday. We can finish up on Wednesday.
-I am quite prepared to agree to that proposal.
– What will be the first business to-morrow?
– Either the Bureau of Agriculture Bill or the Public Works Committee Bill. I think the latter.
.- So much has been said, both inside and outside the House, particularly outside, for the purpose of political capital, regarding the sugar question, that I should like to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs if he can tell the House the amount of sugar Excise that has now been collected ?
.- It is always patent when a fake has been prepared. Any one who has been in this House more than five minutes must perceive that the question so nicely asked by the honorable member for Wannon has been carefully rigged up by the Minister of Trade and Customs. If I had not raised this question in the first place, not a single1d. of this money would ever have been collected. The Government had taken no steps to collect the money until the very day I raised the question, and the people of Australia know. it. They have not a man from any of the sugar districts to ask any of these questions, so they put up a man from a purely agricultural district.
– You have sent a man through my district to make the statement that nothing has been collected.
– If he made that statement, I have not the slightest doubt it was accurate. The honorable member is referring to the honorable member for Ballarat, the honorable member whom the Government turned out of the House to make their majority. He has been given the opportunity to go about the country to speak the truth. I doubt whether any of the money would have come in, and whether we should have heard anything about the matter, if I had not raised the question on this side in the first place.
– I regret the warmth shown by the late Minister of Trade and Customs on this matter. His statement that the question put by the honorable member for Wannon was “rigged up “ is just about as accurate as the rest of his speech. As a matter of fact, the honorable member asked me earlier in the day if I could give him the information, and I told him it would be given to the House this evening. That is the reason why he asked the question. The statement of the honorable member for Yarra that, if it had not been for him not1d. wouldhave been collected, is absolutely inaccurate, because, immediately after the issue of the proclamation., steps weretaken inthismatter,and I thought the honorable memberknew it. The honorable member’s anger arises, Ithink, from the fact that we tried to correct the mistake inlegislation introduced by him when he was Minister. As regards the actual figures, the position is this: The Actcame into force to-day. We have received from cane sugar £142,470, which is within £2 or £3of the total amount payable. In addition, wo have received, onthis season’s crop, £7,920, making a totalof receipts of £150,390on this year’s crop. On the 1912 sugar, we have received £27,080, making a total of £177,470. The Treasurer estimated that we would receive £170, 000 , so that we have already received £7,500 more than the estimate, and about £1,800, representing the taxation on beetsugar, has yet to come in.
– That shows the value of the action of thehonorable member for Yarra.
– It is idle to say so, seeing that all the necessary steps were taken before thathonorable member even mentioned the matter in the House. I thought the honorable member for Yarra would have accepted assurances based on official records. The honorable member is angry because he is conscious of the defects in his own legislation which we have corrected, and because we have collected money for the collection of which his Government failed to provide. The bounty paid up to the date of repeal under the old legislation amounted to £114,911 10s, 6d. We repealed, by proclamation, the old Bounty Acts at the earliest possible date,, in order to help the primary producers, with the result that, since 26th July, they have had the full benefit of it. Yesterday we issued the proclamation under the Bounty Act 1913, which provided for the additional bounty; to-day we authorized payments ; and on this season’s crop we anticipate an additional expenditure of £35,741’ on both cane and beet sugar, including only about £600 or £700 in the case of the beet. The matter has come out satisfactorily. Some very hard things were said about the men who were liable for the Excise, but they have acted in a most honorable manner, and a sufficient answer to those statements is the prompt payment which was made by them.
– They saved your neck.
– This matter should be free from party feeling. The whole thing has worked out exactly as we anticipated. The revenue has been received, and wehave remedied defects in the old legislation. Iam casting no aspersion on the honorable member for Yarra in that matter. Althoughalternative methods were suggested, the remedy which we applied has proved effective for the purpose.
Mr. FINLAYSON (Brisbane) [11.12). - The Minister may be heartily congratulated on the results of that legislation, which would have been quite unnecessary if the Government had taken the proper action at the right time. What amuses me in the -matter is that, when the mistake was discovered,this party received all the blame. Now that the money has been collected, this party still stands blamable. Personally, I am delighted that the results have beenso satisfactory. I still hold to the opinion, however, that, had itnot been for the noise that we made about it, the Excise and Bounty Bills would not have been introduced, and thecompanies liable for the payments would not have madethem.
– The honorable member isquite wrong. Instructions for the draft of the Bills were given before the matter was mentioned in the House by the honorable member for Yarra.
– Then why did the honorable member blame the honorable member for Yarra for arranging for the issue of a proclamation in the face of a defective Bill that had not a proper clause in it?
– The honorable member has forgotten the facts. The honorable member for Yarra made allegations against us in this House before we said a word about the Opposition.
– When the question was raised, the Minister replied that the whole trouble was caused through a defective Act passed by the late Government, We were blamed for the necessity for the introduction of new legislation, and now we are blamed because the legislation has been effective. It is hard to understand the position of honorable members on the Government side of the chamber, but I am quite honest in congratulating the Government on collecting the money, and I hope that their future efforts will be equally successful.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.16 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 December 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1913/19131211_reps_5_72/>.