7th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– When referring yesterday to the permission given by the House to certain honorable members to censor the Hansard report of certain speeches which’ they had made, I said that the permission given -was, I under- ‘ stood, not acted on. Subsequently, a remark made by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) caused me to doubt the strict accuracy of that statement. I have since seen the galley proofs, and have found that the proof first sent to the honorable member for Ballarat was returned uncensored; but that subsequently a duplicate yellow galley proof was censored by him to the extent of the omission of certain remarks. Permission’ to censor the report was availed of only to a very limited extent:
– I desire to ask the Acting Prime Minister - (1) Whether’ he is aware that Senator Pratten has made a series of allegations against Sir John Michael Higgins, Chairman of the Wool Board and Chief Confidential Metal Expert Adviser to the Government ; also against Colonel . Oldershaw, an officer in the Prime Minister’s Department, which amount to a charge that these gentlemen have grossly misused their positions? (2) Whether he has seen that one of his colleagues has endeavoured to discount the importance of those charges by stating that they have been made an attack on the Ministry? (3) Whether he will appoint a competent tribunal to test the accuracy of, and bring up a report concerning the statements made by Senator Pratten; and whether, in the meantime, he proposes to ask Sir John Michael Higgins and Colonel Oldershaw to, for the present, retire from their positions as confidential advisers to the -Government?
– I have read in the newspaper that certain statements were made in the other House concerning the matter to which the honorable gentleman refers ; and, speaking impromptu, I do not think that they amount to a charge against the gentlemen named of having grossly misused their -positions. I have not seen any report indicating that my colleagues in the Senate have endeavoured to discount the importance of Senator Pratten’s remarks.
– Then you have not read the Argus.
– I do not know in which newspaper the account that I read was published. I have to read the newspapers very quickly.
– So, too, haveI.
– The honorable gentleman, apparently, has nothing else to do but to read the newspapers fully, and to propound conundrums out of what he sees in them.
– I object to that statement. I regard it as misrepresentation.
– ‘Surely it is the mildest form of misrepresentation of which a Minister was ever guilty. I consider that Senator Millen, the Leader of th’e Sen ate, has suggested the right procedure to be followed. He said that the Govern ment would forward to the gentlemen named a report of Senator Pratten’s speech, and await their- comments upon it, and that when those comments had been received the Government would, determine what should be done in the matter. I go no further than that at this stage.
– That is only in keeping with the Government’s policy of delay.
-There is no policy of delay.
– As there is a lack of complete agreement between the doctor of the college, the BoaTd of Surgeons in Sydney,and the Naval Board on the question’ whether . Cadet Midshipman Rubie should be allowed to return to the Naval College, I ask the Acting Minister for the Navy if he will permit the boy to be examined by a first class specialist, who will not merely Tead the reports on the case, but will see the boy, with a view to finding out whether he should bc returned to the college. ‘I shall be happy to -pay the cost of this examination, as I am satisfied that there has been a miscarriage of justice.
– I shall place the statements of the honorable member before the Naval Board on Monday next, and give a reply to the question at an early date.
– (By leave.)- The following telegram has been received by the Government through His Excellency the Governor-General from Senator Cosmo de la Torriente, President of the Comision Nacional Cunaba de Propaganda for the War, and for the Assistance of Victims of the War. It is dated, Havana, 23rd November: -
The Comision Nacional Cunaba de Propaganda for the War and for the Assistance of Victims of the War, created by Act of 15th May, 1918, has decided, with the approval of the Hon. the President <of the Republic, to send to you, per broker, the sum of 10,000 pezos, remitted by cheque for £2,083 6s. 8d. on Kleinwort, Son, and Company, London, to be devoted by the Australian Bed Cross, in the name of the Republic of Cuba, to the assistance of soldiers of your nation, victims of the great war which has terminated so victoriously for the Allies, and to which Australia has so powerfully contributed.
Honorable members will be glad of this evidence of national cordiality, to which, on behalf of the Government, and through the proper channel, I propose to send a suitable reply.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister yet in a position to make a statement regarding the cablegram, to which he referred on Tuesday, respecting the sales of wheat in Great Britain? He told us that he might make a statement about it later in the day.
Mr.WATT. - After a careful perusal of the cablegram to which I referred, and a . conference with Senator Russell, who is in charge of wheat matters, I decided” that the proper course was to call together the Wheat Board as early as possible for the consideration of the cablegram. I understand that steps are being taken to do that. When we are in receipt of the Board’s views we shall be able to make up our minds on the advice offered to us, and I shall announce our policy to the House.
– I ask the Acting
Prime Minister if it is likely that the report of the Commission which is now dealing with certain charges made respecting Navy contracts, will be received before we rise for the Christmas vacation?
– I cannot answer the question from official information, hut I have been led to believe by the AttorneyGeneral’s office that the report may be expected at an early date. In all probability we shall have it in a few days.
– As we shall have but few opportunities of asking questions without notice before the House adjourns for the Christmas vacation, I ask the Acting Prime Minister now whether he will remove the embargo which has been placed on the press, and give an opportunity in Australia for free speech? Will he at an early date make a statement to the House on this subject?
– I expect to be able next week, during the further progress of the
War Precautions Bill, to deal with questions arising out of it, including the censorship, and I shall then refer to the matter about which the honorable member desires information.
Preference to Long Service Men
– We have been informed that, during the demobilization of our troops, married men shall have preference; to which no one takes exception. I understand, however, that applications for preference are coming, from others, and I ask that, in giving further preference, those who have had the longest service may be allowed to return first.
– I shall submit the suggestion to the Minister for Defence.
Appointment of Farmers’ Representative
– Is it a fact that one or two of the Ministers of Agriculture of the States are opposed to the appointment of a farmers’ representative on the Central Wheat Board; if so, will the Acting Prime Minister take it upon himself to see that the promised appointment is made forthwith?
– I cannot define the attitude of the Ministers of Agriculture of the States towards the proposal of this Government that the wheat-growers shall be represented on the Central Wheat Board. All that I know on the subject has been obtained from statements in the press, but, as I informed my honorable friend when I spoke on the question last week, if within what I consider a reasonable time the States do not act, the Commonwealth will take its own course.
– Does the Acting- Prime Minister propose to pass the Estimates before the House adjourns for the Christmas vacation?
– The memory of my honorable friend must be at fault, or he must have been absent from the Chamber when quite recently, in reply to a question of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Fowler), I informed the House that an opportunity for the discussion of the financial proposals of the Government would be given before the Christmas adjournment in connexion with the consideration of either the first item of the Estimates or the Supply Bill.
– That is not an answer to my question! I asked whether the Government intends to pass the Estimates before Christmas?
– Give notice of the question, j ji.
– I was informed yesterday, by a passenger from America, who was quarantined in Sydney recently, that the quarantine station there is in a very neglected and dirty condition, and that when he complained to the medical man in charge, he was told that the medical authorities had nothing to do with the cleanliness of the place; that the station was supposed to be cleaned out each time by the ships’ crews that had used it. The Acting Minister for Trade and Customs knows how prone some persons are to leave places in a dirty condition, and I ask him if he will inquire whether the practice is as stated; and, if so, whether he will alter it, and appoint some one to keep the station in a thoroughly clean condition for the reception of quarantined persons?
– I .shall be glad to make the inquiry that the honorable member suggests, but from inquiries that I have already made, I think that the arrangements at the quarantine station are not as indicated.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that the provisions of the War Precautions Act have been used to prevent the shipment of tin ore from Australia, and that regulations under the
Act require that tin smelted here shall be sold only to one buyer, and that that buyer will not buy it? Under these circumstances will the honorable gentleman, to save the living of the small producers of tin pre throughout Australia, take steps to see that, within a few days, an end is put to this anomalous condition of things ?
– I am aware that a number of embargoes have been placed on metals in relation to their export, but whether this has been done under the Customs Act or under the War Precautions Act I am not able to say at this stage. I am also aware of the difficulties experienced by tin miners, and I am anxious that the situation should be relieved as early as possible.- This weekend I propose to take steps to see how far action on the part of the Government may relieve it.
– Will the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs inform the House as to the result of his efforts to secure a supply of kerosene in order to relieve the serious shortage in Queensland?
– We expect a large shipment of kerosene to arrive in Brisbane on the 15th December. If the ves~ sei does not come to hand as soon as it is expected temporary relief will be given from another quarter.
– Will the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs say whether the Board of Trade has recommended an alteration of the trade description of margarine in order to allow the use of colouring matter, thus permitting it to be sold as butter; whether any members of the Board of Trade are interested in the manufacture of margarine, and whether he proposes to remove the embargo on the export qf coloured margarine ?
– I understand that representations have been made to the Board of Trade at a meeting, at which
I was not present, held this week in connexion with the export of margarine. The Board has not come to a decision in regard to the matter. I am not aware that any member of the Board is interested in the manufacture of the article, but I shall make inquiries. I do not propose to remove the embargo on the export of coloured margarine.
– With reference to the movement on foot in certain quarters with a view to inviting a section of the Imperial Fleet to visit Australia, will the Acting “Prime Minister, before pledging this country to such a course, give the House an opportunity of discussing the matter, with the object of enabling those who declare that the terms of peace involve a reduction and not a parade of armaments to be heard?
– That is a very long way round to a small goal.
– I thought that the Acting Prime Minister regarded the question as important.
– I would have regarded it as important if it- had emanated from a more sober-minded man.
– Thanks, very much, for an unsolicited compliment.
– Sometimes we get them, and sometimes we have to return them. The Government have not considered the question yet. A Committee presided over by a Minister is at present considering, for the purposes of Cabinet, the best mode of celebrating the peace, and we hope to be able to deal with some of their recommendations next week. Beyond that . I cannot go.
– In regard to the export to Japan of scrap rubber, for which there is no use in Australia, I am informed that there is only one firm in Sydney which is allowed to conduct this trade, and that the embargo is having a very serious effect on others engaged in the business. Will the Acting Prime
Minister make inquiries and ascertain whether this is the case or not?
– I shall inquire into the matter, but I know nothing about it. Presuming that if any action has been taken in the matter it has been done in conjunction with the Customs Department, I shall ask the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs to deal with it.
Priority of Return
– In regard to the return -of our troops from the other side of the world, will the Assistant. Minister for Defence see that priority is given to men whose wives have earnestly urged the return of their husbands, and sons, whose parents have strongly urged their return for domestic reasons, these requests having been refused on account of scarcity of reinforcements?
– I shall submit the honorable member’s question to the Minister for Defence.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
– I shall have inquiries made.
asked the Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he will give the House the benefit of any information he may be in possession of with reference to the following questions concerning one Anatoli Melentrevitch Mendrin, alias Toboletz, alias Ivan Semenovitch Medrindieff:
In view of the mystery surrounding this person’s antecedents and movements in war time and his previous employment as a spy by the pro-German Czarist Government, will the Acting Prime Minister prevent this person from leaving the country pending a searching inquiry as to his movements and origin?
– I shall have inquiries made.
asked the . Acting Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether the Government has in any way indorsed or approved of the candidature of any of the gentlemen who have been nominated as candidates in the forthcoming Federal byelection for the Division of Corangamite; and, if so, which?
– Not yet.
Land Settlement : Advances - Engineering and Commercial Classes
– With reference to the question asked me recently by the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Rodgers) relative to the desired amendment of the Discharged Soldiers’ Settlement Act, I am now in receipt of the following reply from the Minister for Repatriation : -
I have already made representations to the Victorian Lands Minister, who is introducing amending legislation to permit of advances being made to returned soldiers already in possession of land.
– With reference to the question asked me in the House recently by the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath), in connexion with Ballarat engineering and commercialclasses, I have been advised as follows : -
Ballarat Engineering Class
Authorityhas been given for the purchase of the necessary equipment, but great difficulty is being experienced in obtaining same.
Ballarat Commercial Class
With regard to the commercial class, the State Education Department submitted a proposal to spend £472 on its establishment, and, in anticipation of the same receiving approval, sent some equipment to Ballarat. As the number of students to be taught in this class did not total more than five, it . was considered that the expenditure was not justified, and approval was withheld.
In forming classes it is necessary, to have regard to the probability of the trainee obtaining employment at the end of his training. The number of men applying for clerical training represents so heavy a percentage of the total number of applicants that it is not thought desirable to unduly multiply clerical classes, as otherwise difficulty may be experienced in providing suitable positions for the trainees.
– On the 26th November the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Kelly) asked a series of questions relative to the Torlesse Islands, Papua, in the course of which he inquired -
Is it a fact that the Papuan Administration has planted some of these islands for Revenue purposes; and, if so, how does this fact accord with the Government’s statement that these islands were required for the natives?
I am now able to inform the honorable member that the Papuan Administration has not planted any of the Torlesse Islands.
– I move -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until Tuesday next at 3 o’clock p.m.
This is the third consecutive occasion on which this motion has been ‘submitted. Last week it was carried without discussion or opposition, and I hope that on this occasion it will also be similarly carried. The desire of the Government, and apparently of the House generally, is that as much business as possible may be completed before the House rises for Christmas.
.- The Acting Prime Minister ought to give the House some idea of the business the Government propose to finish, and of the time when the House will rise for the Christmas holidays. Honorable members would also like to know whether it is intended to bring them back early in the New Year. It will be absolutely impossible to give the whole of the business on the notice-paper that amount of consideration which is absolutely necessary if we are to rise in sufficient time to allow honorable members living in other States to get to their homes before Christmas.
– I am pleased to hear that the honorable member is beginning to think of people who live in distant States.
-I have always thought of them. Honorable members who are not living in Melbourne are at a great disadvantage in. comparison with those who reside here. I have said so on more than one occasion.
– The honorable member has not said it often when he has twitted me with my infrequent attendance.
– It is possible that,on account of the honorable member’s infrequent attendance, he may have been away when I have said this in the House. I am glad that he agrees with me that honorable members who do not. reside in Melbourne are entitled to more consideration than those Avho happen to live here throughout the year. In answer to a question this morning, the Government stated that if the House did not, before Christmas, discuss the Estimates it would have an opportunity to discuss Supply. But there is no parallel between the discussion of Supply and a full discussion of the Estimates. In debating the Budget, honorable members will have an opportunity of speaking for an hour and thirty-five minutes each; on Supply we are limited to two speeches of halfanhour each, except when we deal with the items in a schedule. Our experience of the last four years has been that Supply Bills are sometimes brought forward in this Chamber only a few . hours before it was necessary to have them passed by another place. The last Supply Bill was brought forward at 20 minutes to 10 o’clock at night.
– That is done deliberately by every Government to shorten debate..
– We get no opportunity to discuss matters that should be discussed. I have never expressed any opposition to the House meeting on Tuesday, but we ought to know how many measures on the notice-paper are to be proceeded with. They include the War Loan Subscriptions Bill, the War Precautions Bill, the War-time Profits Tax Assessment Bill, and the Institute of Science and Industry Bill; and others of which notice has been given include a Bill to constitute the Commonwealth Government Shipping Lino, and a Bill relating to shipbuilding. It is possible that the House may be called together again early in the new year, and probably the Acting Prime Minister cannot say that we may not have to meet in March or April. The Government should certainly not ask for Supply for more than three months; in fact, they should get no Supply until the Estimates have been dealt with. We were told that this was to be a financial session, but we have been discuss’ng measures that had nothing to do with finance, or even with the prosecution of the war. We are entitled to know when, in the opinion of the Government, the House is to adjourn over the Christmas holidays, what work has to be done in the meantime, and whether they propose that we shall reassemble early in the new year.
.- I protest against this hand-to-mouth system of doing the business of the country. Every Friday we are asked to pass a motion of this kind, without being given any information as to what is proposed to be done in the rapidly decreasing time available. If I am in order, I ask the Acting Prime Minister to give us some idea, now that the war is over and won, what he intends to do with tha make-weights of this Ministry?
– That question is not in order.
– There is that section of the Labour party which went into liquidation some time ago; and the war being over, I suggest to the Acting Prime Minister that, in view of the greatly reduced amount of departmental work, he should give us some idea of the plans he has in mind for reducing expenditure. For instance, the Minister for Recruiting is still in existence, although recruiting has ceased. Many citizens of this country desire to know why they are paying the salary of a Minister for Recruiting whose business has come to an end.
AnHon or able Member. - They are not paying him.
– Then I suggest that he is dear at the price.
– Why does the honorable member become offensive, when he is pretending to ask for information? At the present time, the Minister is winding up the affairs of his Department.
– The Acting Prime Minister was offensive to me, a few minutes ago, when I was addressing him in the politest terms possible. I suppose we must submit to the motion, and from week to week drift into recess without any practical scheme being formulated by the Government as to what they propose to do, or how they propose to do it. I understood that the War Precautions Bill was to be abandoned; now it is apparently to be resuscitated. I suppose the Acting Prime Minister has got his party together, and they have, agreed to assist him to negotiate the difficult stile that is before him. If, however, I am too optimistic, and heads have not been counted, he ought to let us know what bis attitude is in regard to that Bill, and whether he really intends to place it on the statute-book. The same remarks apply to the War-time Profits Tax Assessment Bill. We know that that merely wasteful proposal in regard to the establishment of a Bureau of Science and Industry will go by the board; but there are other important proposals about which we ought to receive information. I ross merely for the purpose of making a mild protest against drifting into recess without information being given by the Government as to their practical proposals for running this country on economical lines, consistent with the very grave responsibility we now have to face. lt appears that the Treasurer intends to proceed with the Estimates, disregarding the fact that they shouldbe revised, if not withdrawn altogether, in the light of the vastly altered circumstances in which we now meet. That is merely one of a number of matters about which this House has no information, but in respect of which we ought to have information. I will not oppose the motion, because I have no objection to meeting on Tuesday, and on Monday, too, if necessary, but I think the Acting Prime Minister owes to the House, even though he has a majority, a statement of what he really intends to do.
.- I should like to know from the Acting Prime Minister whether any time is to be allotted before the House adjourns to deal with private members’ business. There is on the notice-paper, for instance, a very important motion by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lynch), in relation to the settlement of returned soldiers on the land. Does the honorable gentleman regard it as of sufficient importance to justifyhim in impressing upon the Government he supports the desirability of allowing him some time for the discussion of the matter, or, having placed the motion on the notice-paper, will he quietly acquiesce in the Government’s refusal of time to discuss it?
– The House did that.
– That is all very fine and large. The Government brought forward the motion to abolish private members’ day, and their supporters voted for if, they were coerced into doing so, because otherwise the position of the Government would have been endangered.
Another important motion is that in the name of the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Austin Chapman) having relation to the recasting of the Constitution to provide for Unification. The honorable member has gone to the trouble and expense of issuing a pamphlet in his electorate in advocacy of Unification, and here is an opportunity for him to assist to find time, to discuss the proposal, so that effect may be given to it.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Sinclair) has given notice of a motion to prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor during the war and the period of repatriation.
I think this is a fitting opportunity ‘ to make a protest against the manner in which the rights of members in regard to the disallowance of regulations are juggled away. Under the War Precautions Act, nearly 400 regulations have been issued, some of them as long as any ordinary Act of Parliament, and, in the aggregate, probably comprising as much matter as -the whole of the Statutes created by this Parliament since its inception. Honorable members were supposed to have the right to move to disallow these obnoxious measures. I have had such motions on the notice-paper for twelve months, but, through the manipulation of the business-paper by the Government, the rights of disallowance conferred upon us by statute are taken away.
– How does- the honorable member pretend that the Government have manipulated the business-paper? Is he using terms he understands, or is he deliberately misrepresenting ?
– The Acting Prime Minister seeks by the use of words to misrepresent the actual position. He knows perfectly well that there was a private members’ day on which . all private motions on the business-paper could be discussed. The Government seized that time for the transaction of their own business.
– Parliament ordered the private business out of the road.
– ‘That statement is merely the art of the advocate.
– It is merely a plain unvarnished statement to a very, plain man.
– It is so plain that every honorable member who is present knows that, whilst technically the state-, ment is correct, actually it is not. The Government proposed to take away the time in which these private motions could be discussed, and they succeeded by force of their position as a Government, and by the coercion of the party system, under which all parties must vote with their
Government. The Government, by manipulating the sitting days and the business of the House, prevents these matters being discussed.
– The honorable member is wallowing a bit this morning.
– The Acting Prime Minister is very clever in all this little side-stepping.
– I decline the compliment; it is not true.
-Every honorable member present knows that it is true. Some opportunity ought to be given to honorable members to discuss the notices of motion they have placed on the businesspaper. So far as I am concerned, it does not matter how many days it may be necessary to sit. If it is necessary to sit here every day in the week, Sundays included, in order that we may deal with the business before us I am prepared to do so. No doubt if we sat on Sundays we should be performing Christian duties.
I would remind honorable members who are interested in the wheat-growing areas - I would remind their constituents as well as my own - that there are on the business-paper notices of motion in regard to the treatment of the farmers.
– The honorable member will have a warm time when . he goes amongst the farmers.
– I have had the time of my life in a farming constituency during the last three weeks.
– The honorable member has just returned from a farming constituency.
– He never pays a second visit to such a constituency.
– I am prepared to go with any member of the Government into any farming district in New South Wales.
Owing to the arrangements made by the Government, we have had no opportunity to discuss these notices of motion.
– That is why the honorable member should vote at once for the motion now before the Chair.
– With the passing of it we shall have no guarantee that even one minute will be set apart by the Government for the discussion of the long list of notices of motion appearing on the business-paper in the names of honorable members on both sides of the House. I have availed myself of this opportunity to urge upon the Government that we should be given a chance to deal with these notices of motion. I appeal particularly to Ministerial supporters. Since we are in outer darkness- - sitting as we are in opposition - our protests have very little effect upon the Government; but the attitude of their supporters carries weight with them. They have some power over the Ministry, and this is an opportune time for them to show whether they were really sincere in placing these notices of motion on the business-paper.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) made a perfectly legitimate request-
– I hope the Acting Prime Minister will be polite.
– If I modelled my style on that adopted by the honorable member I should fail. I shall endeavour to estimate his example as one to be avoided. The Leader of the Opposition made a perfectly legitimate request that the Government should, as early as possible, intimate to the House what business it proposes to deal with before Christmas. I am not in a position to respond to-day to that request, but I think I shall be able reasonably early next week to tell the House exactly what measures we desire to pass, and what Bills it is essential that we should deal with before Christmas. I trust also to be able to say when we hope to rise so that honorable members may be able to make their arrangements.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
The following paper was presented:-
Arbitration (Public Service) Act; - Award (dated 7th November, 1918), of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and other documents, in connexion with plaint submitted by the Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 23rd October, vide page 7148) :
– I desire to make a statement with regard to two sets of items relating to naval bases and the arsenal which appear in the schedule to this Bill. It will be within the knowledge of honorable members that a former Government, anxious for the conservation of the Naval interests of the Commonwealth, secured, through the courtesy of the British Admiralty authorities, the appointment of an eminent Admiral to visit Australia and report upon our Fleet and base programme. That, I think, was in the year 1911. As a result of the recommendations made by Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson, the Commonwealth Government then in power, with the apparent consent of the Parliament, then and since, embarked upon a course of ship-building and base provision on the lines proposed by him. Since the outbreak of the war that programme in regard to both ship-building and base work, has fallen, not into abeyance, but somewhat into arrears. The view has been, strongly stressed throughout Australia - in the constituencies, in the press, and in this House, irrespective, I believe, of party - that the Commonwealth should pause during the war, and not push on with any of the work involved in the Henderson scheme. I was not responsible for the fact that other Ministers, during the ‘ earlier periods of the war, felt that it would be dangerous to respond to that call. I did, however, share the view that Australia should prepare until the lessons of the war on land and sea were more fully known. When I was one upon whom, as a member of the new Government, responsibility fell, I felt that we should go on until we had fuller light.
We have been endeavouring for the last fifteen or sixteen months to ascertain if the Admiralty authorities were able to advise Australia whether the Henderson programme should be modified or retarded. Various cablegrams upon this question have been exchanged through the Naval Board and the Lords of the British Admiralty, and tentative advice has on several “occasions been tendered, through the proper channels, to the Australian Government. The substance of this advice was that the Lords of the Admiralty and their expert staff would not attempt a final opinion upon this matter, in view of the enormous pressure placed upon them by the circumstances of naval warfare; but for the interim guidance of the Australian authorities, they gave certain advice which, on more than one occasion, has been to the effect that we should push on with what is known as the first section of the Henderson Base programme. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom) recently informed the Committee that the cost of this first section was estimated at £5,600,000. The further advice was given that we should postpone at the present time all preparations for the second stage of the Henderson Base work, but that we should complete the Flinders Base.
– That is a submarine base.
– It is to be a submarine base and destroyer shelter, as well as a training school. The advice was that we should go on with and complete that work as at present designed, based upon the Henderson report, amplified by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice’s report, and developed by our own Director of Naval Works.
– Was this advice tendered before the war ?
– I said, at the outset, that we commenced these inquiries about fifteen or sixteen months ago. The advice tendered was, as I have said, that we should carry on the Flinders Base to completion, and make it available for the smaller craft and training purposes for which it is designed. That involves, as honorable members are aware, the transfer of the Naval Depot at Williamstown to Flinders. As the work was relatively near completion, the Government has observed that programme, and pushed on as far as it was able to do with the completion of the Flinders Base.
– What will it cost to complete t
– Broadly speaking, we have spent on it nearly half-a-million. I am using round figures, so that honorable members may be able to memorize them - and it is estimated that a further expenditure of between £150,000 and £160,000 will complete the work, including the provision of water and everything else for which the scheme provides.
– What was the original estimate of the cost of the work ?
– I have not that estimate in mind; but, as I have said before, I think a good deal of expenditure on the Flinders Base has been wasted. That waste has occurred, not upon the authority of any one at present responsible for the work, so far as I am able to ascertain. Beyond that, I do not care to go, since officers have gone, or have been discharged.
– The waste has been tolerated by those in authority, notwithstanding many protests made here.
– This is the voice of conscience.
– And the voice of truth.
– In nine cases out of ten, they are one and the same thing. I have already dealt with the honorable member’s. Scottish conscience, which is not to be extended by any process.
– Can the honorable gentleman tell us what is the estimated total expenditure necessary to complete the first section of the Henderson Base?
– Broadly speaking, we have spent between £500,000 and £750,000 on the Henderson Base, and it is estimated that the total cost of the first section will be £5,600,000. We are thus looking at a proposal to expend, roughly, a further sum of £5,000,000 to complete the first section. I have not a definite estimate of the cost of completing the second section, hut it is considerably more than £5,000,000.
– The revised estimate is £9,500,000.
– That is the revised estimate of the present Director of Naval Works, but the original estimate was in the neighbourhood of £10,000,000 or £11,000,000.
Another matter in which the Government and honorable members generally are naturally interested, is that by the removal of the Naval Depot from Williamstown to Flinders - on the completion of the Base there - we shall be able to extend the ship-building and repairing yards that we acquired, on advantageous terms, from the Victorian Government, for the building of steel ships.
The tentative recommendations received from the Admiralty included a proposal that the remaining portion of the Sydney Base, as it is called, should also be completed. The Admiralty authorities round off their recommendation with the drag-net statement that all other propositions associated with the Base portion of Admiral Henderson’s programme should be suspended. When, after’ many communications on the subject, we first received that advice - speaking from memory, it was early this year - the Government naturally observed it. Our arrangements have been made on the lines of going on steadily, despite disadvantages, with the first section of the Henderson Base. Because of the difficulty in making arrangements for machinery that was not procurable in war time, the cost of excavation and reclamation has very much increased. We have been pushing on with the completion of the Flinders Base, 60 far as the arrangements in regard to the Public Works Department have made it possible. We have not been spending very much on the Sydney Base, and I am not in a position to say what further expenditure there will be, but I am investigating the matter.
However, the Government, after carefully studying the later communications from the Admiralty, came to the conclusion that it would not be fair to ask the expert advisers of the British authorities to take their eyes away from the more immediate scene of the war, on which the issues of our nation as well as that of other nations hung, to give us any final advice. It became perfectly plain to us that they were not prepared to commit themselves to the statement that the war had not taught them some lessons. Without committing the Admiralty, my own impression of their view is that undercraft warfare may cause a revision in what is known as the capital base system of the British Empire; and rather than proceed, notwithstanding their tentative recommendations at full pace, we have, during the last few months, placed the Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook) in touch with the officers who have charge of naval affairs on behalf of the British Government, and his advice is that we should get from the British Admiralty a vigorous and able expert who is well versed in the teachings of this war, and in the prospects and outlook in this as well as other portions of the Empire, to visit Australia and take a further view of the Naval Base position. We’ believe that the Minister for the Navy’ will very shortly be able to arrange for a visit to Australia by one of the most eminent of the Admirals of the British Fleet. After receiving that information from the Minister for the Navy, we asked him to confer with the authorities on the advisability of suspending even the works we had determined to go on with, and his advice, after consulting with them and ascertaining exactly the stage we have reached in every section of the main work, particularly at the Henderson Base, is to suspend at the latter place all except protective works for the guarding of dredging and reclamation work already done - which might be called, in popular terminology, salvage work - until this new adviser is able to visit and report. The Minister for the Navy believes, however, that we should finish Flinders Base; and that the Government propose to do. The Government, now that the war has stopped and there is a possibility of getting out such an adviser, authorizes me to announce to the House - a similar statement will be made in due course in another place - that we do not propose to do any work at Henderson’s Base other than what we consider to be protective and necessary, pending the further report.
This involves the question, naturally asked by honorable members, whether we propose to revise the schedule of this Bill. I am not able to promise that we can do so at this stage. Six months’ expenditure is already authorized, and five months of the period have gone; and it would take a very careful and swift revision to see how much could, with propriety, be taken out of the schedule.
– That is the usual way in which we deal with expenditure - when the money is nearly all gone.
– I am not saying that the money is nearly all gone, but that fivetwelfths of it is gone. The honorable member knows that when such works are being projected the Departments make arrangements quarter by quarter, and are always ahead if they are wise. I cannot say how much it would be safe to take from this schedule in connexion with the Base, but I assure honorable members that in the preparation of the schedule I cut as deeply as it was possible to cut.
– Are there any suggested alterations in the Naval shipbuilding programme?
– I have not dealt with that matter, but I can cover it by saying that it would be imprudent to ask an eminent authority of the British Admiralty to visit Australia and look only at the Base programme. The Base and Fleet programmes are supposed to coordinate, and careful inspection, therefore, of the Base programme must take into account, and pass under review, proposals regarding the Fleet. It would be ridiculous to cut the Bases down and render them insufficient for the Fleet, and equally ridiculous to cut the Fleet down and leave unnecessarily large Bases.
– Do you not think that for the two programmes entirely different experts are required - one an engineer and the other a Naval architect?
– That is more or less true, as the honorable member, who is well acquainted with shipping craft, knows better than I do. It is true that the British Admiralty have one class of experts for docks and bases, and another class for the designing of ships; but our last report was from one man, Admiral Henderson, who was assisted in the finalization of his recommendations by his colleagues at the other end of the world, A visiting expert will, of course, take into account both the Fleet and Base programmes. We ask that this portion of the schedule be accepted in view of the definite announcement by the Government of what they intend to do.
As to the arsenal, it has not so long: a history, and I have not been associated with it any longer than with the Naval works programme. It might be appropriate, however, to say that past Governments have deemed it advisable to prepare for the equipment, from the standpoint of certain classes of armament and munitions, of our land Forces. The design of the present Government for upwards of four years has been to get, somewhere in Australia, the nucleus of a great arsenal system, not for the manufacture of all that our Field Forces may need, but to be the centre - the coordinating and controlling centre - of the whole manufacturing enterprise in time of peace, and capable of expansion along with other appropriate organizations outside in time of war. A good deal of discussion has occurred through the procedure adopted by my colleague, the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce). Honorable members on this side, and also,. I think, on the other side, have objected to certain sites selected within the Capital area. The Minister for Defence appointed various Committees at different times, and later I collaborated with him in the finalization of certain data. The result was that the Government selected the site at Tuggeranong, on the Mumimbidgee, within the Federal Territory, and south of the Capital City.
– But the investigations of those Committees were confined entirely to the Federal Capital.
– The inquiry of the Public Works Committee was confined to the Federal Capital.
– That is so; but when the honorable member speaks of “ those Committees,” he covers a wider area. The earlier stages of’ these inquiries were confined, by the instruction of the Minister for Defence, to the Federal Capital area. The last Committee, which, at the request of the Cabinet, I succeeded in forming, was different from those which had previously been appointed. This Committee had associated with it naval and military men, works men, and a number of the best outside advisers we could get; and we gave them a much wider area of selection than either Tuggeranong or Canberra. I did not tell the Committee that they could go to the Macdonnell Ranges, or anything of that kind, but we gave them the Capital area, and all those other areas that have been suggested as possible sites for the establishment of the Arsenal. The result of an unimpassioned and perfectly unprejudiced investigation by this newer Committee - I think there were only two of the old Committee represented on the new one - was that thev confirmed the selection of Tuggeranong from amongst the other dozen or half-dozen sites. I do not suppose I can remember all the names of the members of this Committee; but at the request of the Government it was presided over by General Legge, of the General Staff; and associated with him as naval member was, I think, Mr. KingSalter, of the Navy Department. The Works Department was representedby the Director-General of Works, Colonel Owen, and the cordite and explosives industry by Mr. Brodribb, a brilliant young Australian who has been doing wonderful work in the Department. We also obtained the services of Mr. McKay - now gone to his rest after doing valuable war work for Australia - who was in control of Messrs. Walker and Sons, of Maryborough, one of the largest engineering establishments in Australia, and subsequently general manager of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow. We were also successful in obtaining the services of Mr. Delprat and Mr. Woodruff, the latter one of the best chief mechanical engineers of railways that this country has ever seen. There were a number of other men of the same standard of ability; and the Committee confirmed the recommendations of the earlier Committees, and out of their wider area selected Tuggeranong.
However, I do not wish to dwell particularly or exclusively on the question of site. The difficulty under which the Government laboured at the time the site was selected was that they were not sure that they had got the very best expert advice on arsenals. We understood, of course, that Australia’s knowledge of arsenals was largely hearsay, largely compiled from hearsay here, on the rim of the world, where there has never been an arsenal; and we realized that the places where such huge undertakings are developed might teach us many lessons. It was decided, as the best course, to send a Committee to India to gain some information as to the manufacture of arms and munitions in humid and tropical countries. We tried to get out experts from Britain, but failed. When Mr. Layton, whom a Government of former days had appointed manager of the Arsenal, was sent Home to get information which only the British authorities could give, the British authorities commandeered him, instead of allowing him to return to Australia with plans and advice. That gentleman’s services were so esteemed at Home that he was placed in a high position in the Munitions Department, where he has ever since been doing, so far as our information goes, work of the utmost value to the British authorities. He stands, I believe, amongst the first few men who have been discharging such important responsibilities.
The armistice and the conclusion of hostilities have placed us in this position in regard to two. new phases: We can now get, not only Mr. Layton, with all his added knowledge and prestige, but, we are advised, experts of every kind to recommend as to the location, lay-out, organization, equipment, capitalization, and so forth.
– All in the light of the experience of the war.
– The information is, so to speak, right up to the end of this year. We also find, as we hoped, that instead of having to lay out a large sum at war rates for much of the machinery and equipment, we will probably be able to get, at a much lower price, more modern plant from the munition factories that are about to be scrapped or converted in Great Britain. These main considerations have caused us to pause at this stage with the Arsenal project, and the Arsenal railway project. I hope that nobody will misunderstand what that means, so far as the Government is concerned. After consulting the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) - I think it was last year - I committed myself to the statement that I considered it essential to push on with an arsenal for Australia, and I say now that, whatever may be the finalization of the peace terms, if any Dominion should elect to remain in a state of absolute unpreparedness for the future, it will pursue an imprudent policy and live in a fool’s paradise. A country separated by many thousand leagues of ocean, as we are, from the Motherland and its natural allies, sets at defiance all experience if it does not make itself prepared for any crisis that may arise. Whoever may have the responsibility, it will be wise for Australia to push on with its arsenal preparations. The present pause is not an abandonment of the project. Some honorable members may desire such an _ abandonment, and others may fear it; but it is not to be thought that the project has been abandoned by the Ministry. This is merely a cessation of operations and expenditure until we can make sure that we are on the right lines according to the most modern advice obtainable. I ask the House to accept this assurance of the attitude of the Ministry in regard to the two main projects in reference to which items appear in the schedule to the Bill. We realize, perhaps, as clearly as do the people of the Old Country, what unpreparedness has cost us in the war through which we have just come. We think that we know enough of the teachings of history to fear that what has once happened may be repeated. No man, of course, can peer far into the future, and, finishing the war with a heavy load of debt, our desire is to make sure that any expenditure incurred to insure our future safety shall be wise and prudent.
.- I am pleased that the Acting Prime Minister has made such a clear and definite statement. We must all admit that it was timely. This Bill was last before us on the 23rd October, since when the position in regard to defence, both on sea and on land, has wholly changed. I am prepared to take my share of responsibility for having prevented the Loan Bill from going through without hindrance. I believe that the delay which has occurred has saved Australia some money, and today we have a better knowledge of our requirements than we had a month ago. Our naval preparations must be entirely altered as the result of the armistice which has been concluded. A month ago there were over 100 under-sea craft menacing the safety even of Australia. Whereas, at the beginning of the war, submarines found it difficult to travel more than a few hundred miles from their bases, at the end of the war they could travel thousands of miles from their bases ; and just before America commenced hostilities against Germany, the Deutschland, a submarine carrying ordinary cargo, made a trip from Germany to an American port and back. These vessels have now ceased to be a menace to us. The Government have done wisely, under the circumstances, in holding up many of its proposals for expenditure on defence preparations, and will do wisely if it keeps a tighter hand on the expenditure already authorized. I think we all realize the need for defensive preparations. Most of us insure our lives not knowing what may happen to us, and a people has no better right than has an individual to live in a fool’s paradise.
– The individual does not go about killing other fellows lest he be killed by them.
– No, but we have the right to take care that the other man does not kill us. We should be most unwise if we failed to realize our geographical position. It may be found by experience that we do not need so much protection in the Indian Ocean, and that an expenditure of £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 on a naval base on the western side of Australia would be unwise, though I shall not go further into that matter now.
– It is an argument for . the representation of the Commonwealth at the Peace Conference.
– I have observed what has appeared in the press during the past few days regarding representation at the Peace Conference, and I have no desire to fan the flame of racial discontent, or to cause other peoples to look upon the Commonwealth with longing eyes. I agree with the Prime Minister that if the Naval Depot is to be removed from. Williamstown, there is only one place to which it can be removed. As he has informed us, we have already spent about £500,000 there.
– It is safe to say that more than half the money spent has been absolutely wasted.
– I believe in proper defence preparations, and I think that works when started should be completed; but I am opposed to the wasting of money. No doubt, the original estimate of the cost of the Minders Base should easily be obtained. The Base was designed primarily for submarines and destroyers.
– And as a training school.
– It is impossible for deep-water craft to enter Hann’s Inlet, on the shores of which the buildings are being erected.
– They have to dredge a channel to let anything in.
– Without dredging, craft drawing 10 feet could not enter.
– I think that without dredging hardly a racing eight, drawing 2 or 3 inches, could enter.
– .Westernport is one of the finest harbors in Australia. ‘
– I am not saying anything against Westernport, which possesses a .better entrance than Port Phillip ; indeed, I believe, as good an entrance as there is to Hobart, with 60 feet of water in many places.
– Why did they not put the wharf at the Naval Base, where there was water?
– I have never ascertained why they put the wharf there on dry land. We have the right to criticise proposals for the expenditure of public money, and those in charge of such expenditure should be even more careful than they would be in regard to the expenditure of their own money, especially in times like these, when the community is being heavily taxed in all directions.
– For about two and a half years there was a drift, during which money was wastefully expended, - in a manner that was scandalous.
– The Minister may have a reply to the criticism which appeared in the Age yesterday.
Sitting suspended from 12.30 to S.15 p.m.
– Prior to the adjournment I was dealing with the Flinders Naval Base. I am naturally reluctant to throw men out of employment. I realize that with the many thousands of men coming back from the war it will be found difficult to give employment ‘ to all, and to put back into their former avocations those who desire to return. It would be a suicidal policy for any Government to throw men out of work by closing down some public- project which might be regarded as necessary and was being carried out economically. But this is no time for pushing on with works such as the Naval Bases. As has been pointed out, the cessation of hostilities has altered the whole aspect of affairs. It may be possible that the authorities will have to alter many of their plans in regard to Australia’s Naval Bases. The idea of spending £11,000,000 on the Henderson Naval Base, of which sum only about £500,000 has so far been expended, cannot be viewed at the present day with equanimity. I do not know what may be necessary in regard to completing the Naval Bases. In Great Britain there are large seaport centres where it is considered unwise to station warships and train seamen. As the Acting Prime Minister has assured us that it is intended to bring another expert out, with a view to reconsidering many of these matters, it would be inadvisable for us at present to do more than carry to completion works that are already in hand. We would not be justified in launching out upon new expenditure. In the words of the Acting Prime Minister, we should practically “ mark time.” We have many bays in Australia, where the population is limited, that would serve for the purpose of assembling our warships and training our seamen, by the use of which the enormous expenditure proposed to be incurred at Cockburn Sound might be avoided. I do not speak of Westernport from the stand-point of an honorable member representing a Victorian constituency.
– We must complete the Flinders depot.
-It; would be false economy to cease operations there now that they have advanced to such a stage.
– I know that the depot “at Williamstown must be removed, and that at least three-fourths of the expenditure proposed in connexion with the Flinders Base has already been incurred, but honorable members must share the responsibility with the Government if there is any proof in the statements of the Age that money has been wasted down there. If an avenue of pines, 8 miles long, has been planted there, it would seem to he a waste of money.
– Is it not better to wait until the honorable member ascertains whether it is a fact? We are prepared to allow the honorable member to accompany the Director of Naval Works to Flinders, and form his own opinion.
– The statement about the pine planting is quite correct. It was a waste of money.
– The honorable member visits that district frequently, and should’ be in a position to know what is happening there. Why should pines be brought from any other part of Victoria ot Australia, and planted there, when there are already plenty in the district?
– As a matter of fact, these pines were presented iby the State Forestry Department. The only trees planted were special trees for the avenue, and the total cost was £17 10s. Does the honorable member find fault with that?
– I do not find fault with it. But it is not only a question of planting the trees; it is also a question of keeping the ground clear in order to give the trees an opportunity to grow.
– I am informed’ by the Director of Naval Works that that is being done. The statements appearing in the Age are very inaccurate.
– The sooner they are contradicted the better it will he for the Government and Parliament, because we must all share the responsibility if money is wasted. Is there any reply to the statement that, although water tanks are available at the Base, they are not used, and that the Railway Department has to be paid for the carrying of water a distance of over 20 miles?
– All the tanks at the Base are in use, but the buildings have only recently been erected, and the work of laying a main to Flinders is already in hand. To fully equip the buildings with tanks would be a far more costly proceeding than to continue the present scheme.
– That is quite likely; but the Minister is not correct in saying that the buildings have only been erected recently.
– It was anticipated that the water supply would reach the Base this year. The Director of Naval Works recommended that it would be more economical to continue the present scheme.
– When I visited the Base two’years and nine months ago practically all the buildings were finished, the roofs were on, and the plumbing was completed, and water could have been- saved from the roofs if tanks had been installed. If, afterwards, they proved useless, they could have been sold for more than they cost.
– I think that the honorable member was in office at that time.
– I was; but it does not matter what Government was responsible. We all must share the responsibility and the criticism.
– The honorable member would not suggest that when we are laying water mains to the Base we should incur the cost of providing these water tanks.
– That was the problem I had to face.
– There is a statement in the Age that there are tanks at the Base lying idle.
– That is quite incorrect.
– I am pleased to hear it. However, I shall not deal any further with these newspaper criticisms on the Naval Bases until we hear from the Minister.
– Is it in order for an honorable member to smoke in the chamber ?
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Chanter).I did not observe that an honorable member was smoking. I ask him to desist from doing so.
– I draw attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– Various Committees have been appointed to decide on the site of the Arsenal. The Woolwich Arsenal, the largest in the British Empire, which employed 12,000 workers before the war, is situated in a densely-populated district, quite as densely populated as Melbourne and Sydney are. I do not think there is the danger from explosions that honorable members have spoken about with regard to the manufacture of munitions,- although explosions have taken place in these institutions during the war, not only on the mainland, but in the United Kingdom. There was one at Silverton, which is. only 5 or 6 miles from the centre of the city of London, and just beyond Poplar. The utmost care should be exercised by the Ministry in proceeding with these works, and there should be no haste, at least while the peace deliberations are taking place. I am glad to have heard the Acting Prime Minister’s statement that there is not the hurry for this work that there was when the Bill was first brought forward, and I trust the Ministry will carefully go through the list of works submitted to us. The Flinders Naval Base ought to be finished; but it is quite possible that even there a great saving can be made. It is useless to construct, merely for the use of foot passengers,- roads strong enough to carry a 10-ton vehicle. A gravel path would do for that purpose. The railway runs practically right past the place, and there is no need for extra work in the shape of roads. I understand that a loopline runs right on to the ground, and even into parts of the sheds, so that there is not the same necessity for roads to distribute the goods as there is in a big city like Melbourne. I urge the Government to be very careful in this outlay, particularly in view of the fact that the taxes which will have to be imposed to pay for expenditure already incurred must necessarily be high, and are likely to remain in operation for many years to come. The responsibility for carefully checking the expenditure is primarily upon the Government, but if honorable members neglect their opportunities to criticise it, the fault will be theirs as much as the Government’s. I do not urge that works already started should be summarily stopped, but I do urge that great care should be taken in the further spending of money, either to complete the Flinders Naval Base, or towards the £11,000,000 which it is estimated that the Henderson Naval Base will ultimately cost.
– I wish to express my satisfaction at the statement of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt), which follows the line on which we have bombarded the Government, with very little encouragement until to-day, ever since this session began. The statement is very satisfactory as far as it goes, but is only the beginning of repentance and good works. The meeting this afternoon might be regarded as a sort of peace celebration, and it would be just as well if we adjourned now until next Tuesday.
– Let this Bill go through, and we can go.
– Despite the excellent feelings that recent events have created, we are not likely to be so generous as to give the Government the Bill to-day. While we appreciate a good thing as far as it goes, we want the whole thing, or as near to it as we can possibly get. The statement of the Acting Prime Minister, so far as it contains any promise pf reducing the burdens which we fear will be placed on the people, was confined entirely to the military or defence side. It did not touch the civil side. I shall not be satisfied by a long way until we have thoroughly investigated the Estimates from A to Z, both on the military and defence side, and on the civil side, particularly the last-named. The Acting Prime Minister dealt with some items of Defence expenditure, regarding which we have been advocating, without receiving any encouragement, a mark-time policy for the last three months. If we had received the encouragement we ought to have had, the notice-paper would be now in such a state that we could get away for Christmas. The reason why we have not made more progress lies at the door of the Government, and not of the House. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) is very nervous about the Flinders Base. He ought not to be, because if anybody in the Committee ought to be satisfied it is he, seeing that the Acting Prime Minister said, with some amount of reason on the surface,- that the Base was to be completed, and that it would take from £150,000. to £165,000 to complete it. Other points, however, were raised by interjection. These were, whether the plan and proposal of Admiral Henderson had been followed out, and, if not,- in what respect a deviation was made, by whose advice, and what it had cost. I wish to speak very plainly to the Government on this point. This is a repetition of what has been going on in nearly all the Departments for many years past. Boards have been appointed to investigate, and have time after time made telling revelations against the Departments regarding waste, and the costly execution of works, yet the same thing goes on to-day. In the reports following those investigations, we have been told convincingly of moneys having been wasted, but we have never been told who was responsible. It is about time we received that important information. In the prosecution of public works, in future, are we to rely on supervision and control by the men who have made such mistakes in the past, and who have been responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds of the taxpayers’ money? This waste is not exceptional; it is general. So far as expenditure on military and naval works is concerned, we have some relief in the fact that we have in the employment of the Government experts who know their business. That is one of the conditions that I lay down and will not deviate from in regard to proposed expenditure. I do not desire that we should employ experts with that little knowledge which is dangerous. “Whenever there has been a desire in the past to secure the services of men of wide experience and undoubted knowledge, even though it were necessary to go to the ends of the earth to get them, some honorable members have said, “We have got them here.” We have not got those experts in Australia, and we cannot expect to have them, particularly experts in the matter of military and naval defence, and the construction of Arsenals and Naval Bases. The very kernel of these works is controlled by men who know their business. During the last ten years, we have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds because we have been fooling about with men who do not understand their jobs. That is why I am exceedingly gratified with the assurances given by the Acting Prime Minister that the Government intend to employ men with the highest reputation and widest experience, who will bring to their work a ripened knowledge which has been considerably enhanced during the four and a half years of war. Until that assurance was given, I would have been an uncompromising opponent of any further expenditure of this character.
I do not reflect on every man who is in charge of military and naval works to-day. The Government recently imported from the Home Land some men of exceptional ability and the widest experience, and I am satisfied that the Commonwealth is benefiting by their advice and service. But for the engagement of those men, we should have continued groping iri a blind alley, in spite of the fact that the troubles before us are much more serious than those we have had to face during the war. I have been waiting for three months to speak on the Budget in regard to the wilful and wicked waste of public money, but I have not yet had an opportunity. I intend, however, to deal with that matter when the -chance comes.
Reverting to the Flinders Naval Base, I assure the Minister for Works that he need not think that he will get the Bill through this House to-day; that is not a fair thing to expect.
– There has been an understanding tq that effect.
– There has been no understanding with me.
– The Bill has been discussed so often.
– It has not. Some weeks ago, when we were coming to grips on this measure, the debate was suddenly . adjourned, and there has been no opportunity since of dealing with the expenditure that is involved in it. “We were told by the Acting Prime Minister that the Government had expended, on the Flinders Naval Base, about £500,000, and that a’ further £165,000 will be required to complete the work. I ask the Minister for Works and Railways why he, as the responsible Minister, does not tell the Committee how much money the Government have wasted ?
– We have wasted nothing. The honorable member is referring to the action of past Governments.
– I do not care whether it was a past Government or the present Government. This Parliament, as well as the Government, have a responsibility, and we have been shirking it for many years past.
– I take it that the honorable member will see that the Government do not carry on under the War Precautions Act.
– I am not half so much concerned about, that Act as is the honorable member, because it simply removes a little criticism that does not either benefit or injure this country. In somerespects I sympathize with him in regard to War Precautions Regulations, but I desire to deal with something more solid. I wish to see economies effected. Why is the Committee not put in possession of the fullest information as to what has been done with the money already expended at Flinders? I appeal to honorable members to take this matter seriously, because it is a serious business, t understood the session was to be confined to the considera tion of financial matters chiefly, but, up to the present, we have not had an opportunity to do that.
– We will have a financial session when we get going.
– We started to deal with financial matters, but we have had practically only one speech on that subject. I am now on the right track, and I do not mind telling the Committee in confidence that I had a speech prepared to follow the Leader of the Opposition on the Budget. I intended then to deal with all Departments, military and civil.
– What did you do with the speech ?
– I have it still. It will be delivered at the proper time. I tell the Government that honorable members will not be satisfied until they have an opportunity of getting to close grips with the finances. If we cannot get that opportunity before Christmas, then we ought to be called together shortly after Christmas. They know as well as I do what the feeling of the country is in regard to this matter - how great are the burdens of taxation. They know that the people would carry the burden of war taxation cheerfully enough if only they could be assured that the money gathered in the form of taxation was not being wasted in a wholesale manner.
Let me return, to the question of the Flinders Base, with which I was dealing a few moments ago. Before this Bill gets through Committee, we ought to have from the Minister controlling the Department an absolutely straightforward account of the money that is being expended, and a reply to the charges that have been made.
– You will not catch your train if you wait for that.
– I would rather lose forty trains than that such a statement should not be forthcoming.
– Does the honorable member accuse the Acting Prime Minister of keeping something back?
-I say that the Government are keeping hack information concerning wasteful expenditure incurred, not in their time, but during the regime of the Labour Government; but I am not going to be satisfied until we get right back to the beginning of the financial orgy of 1910 and the succeeding years.
– We cannot undo what has been done.
– Perhaps not; but we oan hold up what has been done as an awful example, and as the red flag of danger to present and . future Administrations. I hope the Minister representing the Department will give this Committee next Tuesday, when it re sumes, a proper and complete account of the expenditure incurred by the Government on the Flinders Base,
– You are setting a pretty big task for that time.
– If the accounts of the Department are kept correctly, . the information ought to be readily obtainable, because it ought to be on record. We want to get down to bedrock in these matters. It is no good trying to foist responsibility on to permanent officials. Some share of responsibility must attach to Ministerial control and if Ministerial control of public expenditure does not enable us to get a perfectly clear and honest statement of accounts, then I say the Ministry are just as culpable as permanent officials. I must say, however, that-the statement made by the Acting Prime Minister to-day to the effect that, until expert advice has been obtained, only essential expenditure for the preservation of works that have already been completed at Cockburn Sound shall be undertaken, has caused a feeling of relief; but. the information in regard to future expenditure was confined largely to the defence and military side, ‘ and . I want it extended to the civil side. We have again and again endeavoured to induce the Government to recognise that not only would this war revise expert opinions in regard to both military and naval operations, but that, in prosecuting work of this character to-day, we were incurring the highest possible cost, which would pile up a burden of interest that the people would have to carry for many years to come. There has never seemed to be any solid tangible reason why this workshould be continued on more than a mark-time system. That mark-time stage has at last been reached, and not a moment too soon. While the war lasted, it was utterly impossible to obtain the machinery required for certain operations at Cockburn Sound, and yet- we were told that it was urgently necessary to proceed ‘ with the work.. The Ministry now admit, however, that we should mark time so far as this work is concerned. There are great possibilities of cheaper work by and by. General Botha, essentially a practical man, immediately on the cessation of hostilities, sent his chief experts over to England to buy up second-hand material, a lot of it, possibly, as good as new, that had been accumulated in consequence of the war.
The. CHAIRMAN. - Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
Motion (by Mr. Watt) proposed - .
That the House do now adjourn.
.- In another place yesterday, attention was drawn to the publication of Senator Millen’s repatriation report. It was stated that the report was sent to the various newspapers who received it on Tuesday last, together with an instruction that it’ was not to be published until after Thursday; According to a statement made in another place, while three out of the four daily newspapers published in Sydney observed that instruction, one did not, and Senator Millen announced that he would cause inquiries to be made regarding the failure of that newspaper to carry out the instruction given. I understand that, while the South Australian Register and the Baily Herald strictly observed the confidence reposed in them, the report appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser before the date fixed for its publication. I ask the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) to inquire into the action of the proprier tor of that newspaper, as well as the proprietors of the newspapers in New South Wales which prematurely, published this report.
– This is the first I have heard of the matter. If there has been a premature publication of the report, it has arisen either from a misunderstanding or a gross breach of faith. I shall ascertain, as far as I am able, who was responsible for it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 November 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1918/19181129_reps_7_87/>.