8th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 12 noon, and read prayers.
– (By leave.) - I desire to announce to the House that the Government have appointed the right honorable Sir Joseph Cook, P.O., G.C.M.G., to be High Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Australia in London.
Honorable Members. -Hear, hear!
– Does the Prime Minister remember a promise -which he gave me on the 13 th. October last, when I asked the right honorable gentleman whether he would afford the House an opportunity of discussing the question of the alteration of our system of representation in England before making -any appointment to the vacant office of High Commissioner? I desire to know now whether the right honorable gentleman will give the House such an opportunity to-day.
– I well remember the honorable’ member putting his question to me, but I certainly did not promise that the Government would defer making its appointment until it had received the permission of the honorable member. The honorable member challenged the Government in this House, and he knows perfectly well what was the result - a fortnight’s’ waste of time, after which the honorable member, was still where he was, by the grace of God, and with the assistance of the Labour party, to whom he is anathema. Therefore, if he proposes to waste any more time to-day, let him proceed to do so. It will not make the slightest difference to the matter before the House.
– Has the
Prime Minister any statement to make relating to a further advance to farmers on behalf of the Wheat Harvest Board?.
– I cannot make a statement at this moment. However, there is something so alluring about the prospect of being able to tell any one that he is going to receive money that I shall make immediate inquiries. If the information so procured bears out the suggestion contained in the honorable member’s question I shall make an announcement to the House.
Views of Mr. Justice Powers : Congestion of Business
– Has the Prime Minister seen a statement of Mr. Justice Powers to the effect that the resolution passed at the recent Premiers’ Conference was accepted by him as an intimation that the present Arbitration Court was’ to be abolished within a very short time, and that, in the circumstances, it would not be right for him to hear further cases which could not be completed before the Court was abolished? Will the Prime Minister make a definite statement in regard to this matter, so that nothing may be done to bring about industrial turmoil?
– I do “not see what I can possibly do in such circumstances. If persons charged with responsible duties are going to decline to carry out those duties merely because they see that some body of individuals has met and come to a decision which, in the very nature of things, cannot possibly take effect until every Legislature throughout the Commonwealth, Federal and State, has given effect to it, all I have to say is that government will he impossible. There is no reason why the Federal Arbitration Court, as now constituted, should not perform those duties which it was charged to perform, should not continue to carry on its work. If the Court . complains to the Government that there are not enough Judges to cope with its business, that would be another matter, and a difficulty which would call for immediate adjustment. But for a Judge to say that he will not carry on his duties because at the Premiers’ Conference a resolution was agreed to which, if given effect to, would abolish the present Court and substitute another - over which, by the way, Mr. Justice Powers would, in the very nature of things, he the president - that is. a thing so extraordinary, so unprovoked by circumstances or any act of the Government, that I am unable to say anything further than that the Court should continue to do that which it was constituted to perform, and go on with its work.
– What about the question of State instrumentalities?
– I would like to add that, whatever alterations are made, they will not affect cases part heard. In those circumstances, what remains for the Court but for itto go on hearing cases?
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been called to the fact that the present President of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is quite unable to cope with the volume of business before him? In view of the statement made by the right honorable gentleman this morning, there is likely to be a great influx of new business in order to take advantage of the Court before its dissolution-
– Do not look so downhearted; it is a good thing for you.
– I am not at all down-hearted. I merely wish to know whether the right honorable gentleman will take steps to adequately staff the Court in order that it may be able ‘ to deal with the business.
– As this matter is of considerable importance, and a precise answer is desirable, if an answer is to be given at all, perhaps the honorable member will put his question’ on the noticepaper, when I shall endeavour, not only to answer it, but to declare generally the intentions of the Government.
– I desire to learn from the Prime Minister whether the restrictions which were in operation during the war regarding the sale of opals from the White Cliffs and other Australian fields to German buyers are still in operation. I wish to be informed, further, if any restrictions are in operation which prevent the sale of Australian opals to Germany, whether the right honorable gentleman will see that such disabilities are immediately removed.
– So far as I knowand the honorable member will recollect that I was absent from Australia for about five months of the current year - there are no restrictions. At any rate, if there are, they ought to be, and will be, removed. I thought the position was that any of our goods could be sold to Germany. The embargo was placed upon goods coming into this country from Germany.
– That is so.
– Then I can make my answer clear and without reservation.’ If conditions exist which prevent or hinder the sale of opals to German buyers, the Government will take such steps as may be necessary in order that trade shall be resumed.
– I am not sure whether, in the programme of business which the Prime Minister has announced for the attention of Parliament before Christmas, specific mention was made of the Anti-dumping Bill.
– The measure was. included in the business to be dealt with.
Mr.WATKINS. - Then, do the Government intend to proceed with the Bill before the adjournment next month?
– The Government certainly so intend.
– When does the Minister for Repatriation intend to make his promised statement in connexion with the War Service Homes administration, for the particulars of which the public are anxiously waiting?
– I am ready to make the statement as soon as the House is prepared to allow it to be made. If an opportunity is not afforded by the House, I shall have to wait until the Estimates are before us.
– Has it been brought under the notice of the Prime Minister that business men from Rabaul are making allegations to the effect that a low moral standard has been observed there since the Commonwealth Government took over the control? Will the right honorable gentleman inquire as to whether there is any truth in such statements ?_
– This matter has not been brought under my notice, but I am astounded that it should be suggested for one moment that anything with which this Government has anything to do is, or can be, referred to as having a “ low moral standard.” I resent such a suggestion very much, and I shall make all inquiries that are necessary and discreet into the circumstances.
Agreement with Western Australia.
– Can the Minister for Repatriation say whether the arrangement between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Western Australia in relation to the erection of soldiers’ homes has been finalized, and, if so, is it the honorable gentleman’s intention to inform us what the conditions are when he makes his promised statement on the War Service Homes administration?
– An agreement has been reached between the Government and the Government of Western Australia, and when it has been signed by the representatives of the two Governments it will be laid on the table of the House.
Representation of Australia in Britain.
Mr.SPEAKER. - I have received an intimation from the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) that he desires to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz. : ‘ ‘ The representation of Australia in Britain.”
Five honorable members havingrisen in their places -
.- I submit this motion in order to discuss the question of the system of the representation of Australia in England. Before doing so, however, I should like to say that I have no personal feeling in the matter. I desire to pay a high tribute to the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) for his long political record and active public life in Australia for the last thirty years. It is recognised throughout the Commonwealth that the work the right honorable gentleman has done will live for long in the memories of the people, and Ms departure now from Federal politics will be very much regretted. The fact that he forms a link between the fathers of Federation, like Sir Henry Parkes, with whom he sat in the New South Wales Parliament, and the present generation, to which I belong, makes him an extremely interesting figure.
I regret that the method of appointment to the position of High Commis sioner prevents me giving an unqualified indorsement to the appointment. I regret, also, that the Government, by ignoring the desire expressed, not merely from this corner, but also by honorable members opposite and those on the Ministerial benches, as indicated by notices of motion upon the business-paper regarding the method of representation abroad, for a discussion to take place before the new appointment was made, have placed Sir Joseph Cook in a false position with the public, and are making his position in relation to future Governments invidious. Their action will tend to perpetuate the difficulty which apparently has always been felt, and which needs to be alleviated to a certain extent, in maintaining that perfect confidence which should exist between the Government and its representative in London as a free channel of communication between the Commonwealth and Imperial Governments. I cannot understand the Government’s desire to hasten this matter.
– Haste! That is funny.
– I mean haste at this particular time. The Prime Minister gave me an assurance,, which I thought would be honoured, that this matter would be discussed at an appropriate place on the Estimates, and relying upon that undertaking I took no steps to secure an earlier discussion. Eight or nine months have elapsed since the last High Commissioner’s term of office expired, and prior to that Mr. Fisher had enjoyed three months’ leave of absence, so that theposition has been vacant for nearly a year.
– There was plenty of time to discuss this matter. What were you doing all the time I was away? The House could have discussed it over and over again.
– Sir Joseph Cook stated, during the debate in this House and the newspaper discussion on the Estimates, that he was anxious to remain in Australia to defend those portions of his Budget which were the subject of criticism, and to prove beyond question that his estimates of income would be realized, and that he could carry the country through its period of financial stress. These are the circumstances that surround this new appointment, and I think the public are entitled to a more straightforward method of dealing with appointments of this kind. Only yesterday a Ministerial statement was made in another place that no information could be’ given regarding the High Commissionership because there was none to give.
– That is very like the things the honorable member says to his patients.
– We doctors must tell our patients something convincing, just as we always give a convincing colour to the medicine which we prescribe. My objection to the present system is that it takes us nowhere, and, on account of the methods of administration adopted in London, seems to lead to continual growth °f expenditure and extravagance. The two previous High Commissioners, Sir George Reid and Mr. Andrew Fisher, gentlemen who performed great public service in Australia, did not come back to the Commonwealth at the termination of their appointments to put the additional service they could have rendered at the disposal of the Australian people, as they might have done had a different system of appointment prevailed. I see no reason why the London representative of the Australian Government should not please himself as to what he does after his term of office has expired ; but there seems to be no better” way of inculcating a real Imperial sentiment than by widening the bounds of our knowledge of the Empire, and bringing back again into Australian politics, or, at any rate, into close contact with those who are in active politics, men who have been for some years in intimate touch with the Imperial Government. Under present conditions, that intimate touch is practically confined to the Prime Minister and such of his Ministers as go to London at long intervals to attend Imperial Conferences. And, even in respect of those Conferences, the Prime Minister, unfortunately, has been more reticent than we think he should be regarding the matters discussed and decided there. The tie that holds the Empire, together is one of sentiment, and we need full, complete, and increasing knowledge of the whole Empire .in order that that sentiment may live and thrive. We have observed the same need in some of our own ill-developed localities. In the old days, before the advent of motor cars and means of quick travelling, adjacent localities had narrow outlooks, and entertained strong prejudices against each other, but with better means of communication, and a more complete knowledge of each other’s affairs, each is now more ready to appreciate the other’s point of view.
– Would the honorable member be in favour of sending members of this Parliament to London every year?
– Not every year, but, perhaps, visits occasionally would not be a bad scheme. . The best method of strengthening the Imperial sentiment is by changing the present method of representation in London. During the history of Australian responsible government we have had many systems of representation. They have necessarily undergone changes according to the stage of development, the political outlook and scope of, first, the separate Colonies, and, later, the Federation. There has been continual evolution and growth, and what seemed sufficient to fulfil the requirements of a few years ago is no longer so. We have passed through various stages in our Imperial relationships. At the beginning there was complete detachment from Imperial affairs - the struggle was for local autonomy - local control by . each colony of its domestic problems, such as development, &c. Then, when this was granted, a struggle ensued over the fiscal autonomy of each part. Next the question of some system of Imperial pref erence held the field of discussion till the Great War; but the war has shown that the question of trade within the Empire is, though important, not so vital as the questions of foreign affairs and trade relations abroad. At first, we had not fiscal autonomy, and later we attained it. Then we had business men appointed as Agents-General to represent us on the other side of the world, and now we are approaching a stage when we are sharing responsibility for the external policy of the Empire, involving questions of peace and war. Anybody who has studied what took place during and since the war will realize that the High Commissioner, as such, does not perform the functions necessary to maintain communication with the Empire in a proper way. If one looks for the reason why, I think it will be admitted that one of the fundamental causes that has necessitated a continual procession to London of the Prime Minister or some of his colleagues during the last three or four years - the Prime Minister must have spent a third or half of his time in the heart of the Empire, and many of his Ministers have also been away from Australia - is the fact that our High Commissioner must be regarded as an official appointed by the . Government of the day. We really need in London some one to carry on political activities in close relation to the Government, some one who would be a member of this Parliament and responsible to it.
– The honorable member’s statement is very unfair and improper in regard to our late High Commissioner, because every Dominion in the Empire has been in exactly the same position recently in that it has had the head of its Government in London, just as I have been .there, notwithstanding the fact that it also had a High Commissioner there.
– I am making no charge of improper conduct against the Prime Minister in this regard. Under the present system of representation in London, his long absences from Australia were inevitable ; but definite complaints of a similar nature have also arisen in Canada, although necessarily they are not so deep-seated by reason of the fact that Canada is closer to Great Britain. I am simply contending that it is necessary to have some alteration to the system. At the 1911 Imperial Conference New Zealand put forward a proposal that, the High Commissioners should, if possible, become a real part of .the Imperial machinery, and be the’ sole channels of communication between the Imperial Government and the Dominion Governments - of course that was not possible - and that the High Commissioners should attend the meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence and come into closer touch with the Imperial Foreign Ministers in all matters of an industrial and social nature affecting the Empire.
This system, if adopted, would have enabled each High Commissioner to keep his Government fully informed upon all these subjects, but the objection raised to the proposal was that which I have previously stated, that no matter how exalted the political career of a High Commissioner might have been, he became, upon his appointment, merely an official selected to hold office for a definite period of time. One Government may make the appointment, but another Government may take office while he holds the position, and no matter how friendly disposed they may be towards a High Commissioner appointed by their predecessors, it is not human nature to expect the fullest trust to be reposed by them in a perhaps lifelong political opponent. High Commissioners are really officials; they are not like ambassadors, who have a lifelong diplomatic career before them ; they have not the official mind, and they are not completely in the confidence of the Government of the day. An unsatisfactory ambassador can be removed, but our High Commissioner, being appointed for a definite period of five years, cannot be removed if he proves unsatisfactory as a means of communication.
The Imperial Government not only desires to furnish information to the Dominions; it also desires to get information concerning the opinions of Dominion Governments, and this it can only get properly from a responsible Minister. The High Commissioner cannot express the policy views of his Government. That we must provide some remedy to overcome the- difficulty has been realized both here and in London. We cannot have an Imperial Conference sitting continuously. The Prime Minister has shown that it would be entirely out of question to set up a kind of Imperial Federation. But we must havesome means of making Imperial policy something more than “shreds and patches,” as the Prime Minister has repeatedly described it, and which, under present circumstances, it necessarily must be. We should endeavour to devise some uniformly adopted plan of meeting the changing circumstances of the world. It is absurd to think that by the representatives of the Dominions and of the Imperial Parliament meeting every second or fourth year in an Imperial Conference they can keep in touch with one another. Such meetings are not likely to benefit the Empire to the extent it would be benefited by having the Dominion Governments in a position of being able to follow closely the trend of policies abroad. In 1912, Mr. Harcourt suggested that a Dominions Minister should reside in London, and represent his Government on the Committee of Imperial Defence, by which questions of foreign policy are considered in relation to matters essential to the defence of the Empire, and should have access to the British Prime Minister and the Foreign and Colonial Secretaries concerning all matters of Imperial policy. The idea was that if a Dominion Government thought it desirable to suggest any modification of Imperial policy, its views could be obtained and be transmitted through its Minister in London. In 1917 a further stage was reached by the formation of an Imperial Cabinet, and our Prime Minister became part of the War Cabinet. This undoubtedly was a big advantage to Australia ; but it really got us nowhere as regards continuous representation. In 1914, prior to the war, Canada had suggested having a Minister in London, and, after the death of Lord Strathcona, the High Commissioner, despatched to London a responsible Minister in the person of Sir George Periey, whose mission was not only . to act as High Commissioner, but also to act in the position of a responsible Minister in London in the confidence of the Canadian Government, and with an intimate knowledge of its views on any subject. Canada took the opportunity of the death of its High Commissioner to bring about this change in its representation, and T. think Australia ought to take the. opportunity which has come about through the vacancy in its High Commissionership to.try a different system of representation at the heart of the Empire, by having there not simply a High Commissioner to carry out both the commercial and the political sides of his duties, but also a Minister responsible in some way to this Parliament, or at any rate in closer touch with the Commonwealth Government than it is possible for our representative to be under present conditions.
– Does the honorable member suggest that Sir George Perley is a member of the Canadian Cabinet ?
– He was in 1914, the time of which I speak.
– He is now simply a High Commissioner. Canada has abandoned the system which the honorable member advocates, just as other Dominions have had to abandon it.
– That does not prove that the system I advocate is likely to prove as unsatisfactory as our present system of representation is. We have had, during the last twelve months, and several times during the last four years, the developmental and domestic legislation of this country held up through the absence of our Prime Minister. My suggestion is that we should revive the portfolio of the Minister for External Affairs, but call the Minister to whom the portfolio is given Minister for Imperial Affairs. He need not necessarily be a member of this Parliament, though he should be, if possible; but I would prefer that he should be one who would change his post with a change of Government, and would be responsible to this Parliament, reporting directly to it at stated intervals. If that is not possible, the appointment should be made in such ‘a way that our representative in London would practically be a member of the Ministry, should have status equal to Cabinet rank, and be in active touch with the Cabinet. In the early Canadian days, whatever may be the position at the present time, the Dominion High Commissioner frequently left his London responsibilities for the time being in order to return to Canada to fight elections for the party which had appointed him to office. I should like the representative of the Commonwealth in London to go out of office with the Government. If that were not possible, then the appointment should be for the life of the Parliament, or three years, so that our representative would always be in intimate touch with Australian opinion, and would be a confidential channel of communication and completely trusted representative of the Australian Government in office at the time.
– Under such a system we should have every three years a considerable interregnum.
– We have had a considerable interregnum in the present case. Under such a system as I propose, if a Minister were appointed, we would have periodically returning to Australia and entering again the political life of the Commonwealth some one who would be quite an fait with Imperial problems, and in the course of fifteen or twenty years we should have built up in this Parliament a committee of external affairs, which, by the swing of the political pendulum from time to time, would comprise men of all parties, and would help us to look into Imperial questions from a detached, impartial, and non-party point of view. I have no intention of making this a party matter. My sole desire is that we shall secure the best possible results from an Imperial as well as a trade point of view. This is not a new idea. It has been suggested before.
– It was suggested in this House before Mr. Fisher went Home as High Commissioner.
– I am glad to hear that that is so. Sir Charles Tupper raised this very question as far back as 1891. When he was in office he experienced the same difficulty that has been felt here. He preferred to be able to speak to the Imperial authorities through a Minister and a member of his own Cabinet. If this discussion had taken place before the appointment of the right honorable the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) had been made, my suggestion would have been that, at all events, a trial should be made of such a method for, say, a year before making a definite appointment to the office of High Commissioner for the full period allowed under the Act. In the interests of the whole Empire, I still suggest that the appointment should be, not for five, but three, years.
– That would mean an amendment of the Act.
– Quite so. If the High Commissioner were appointed for three instead of five years, theright honorable gentleman would be able to return to Australia at the end of that period and devote his additional experience to the cause of the Australian people, whom he has so willingly served in the past. I have attacked this problem from the political side. If we were dealing with the Estimates, I should like to discuss the question of the administration of the High Commissioner’s Office, but it would be out of place at this stage to do so. It seems to me that the gentleman in charge of our trade activities and the commercial side of immigration in London, while being under the High Commissioner, should have a longer tenure of office, and be specially chosen because of his commercial knowledge and ability. Such a man could be more readily obtained if the trade and political sides of our representation in London were separated to a greater extent than they are at present. The desirableness of such a change has been evidenced during the last two or three years by the fact that we have not been able to hold a man like Mr. Box, who was evidently a very capable officer. The fact that he was able to get a very much better job is primâ facie evidence of his ability.
– And evidence also of the folly of the Commonwealth paying small salaries.
-Yes. The offer of a very good salary, and a longer tenure of office, would be an attraction to a capable man, and would make it easier for the Government to make a suitable appointment to the commercial side of our representation in London. I do not wish to labour this question. I simply want to put the point of view that I think should have been considered by the House. The Government have not extended to us the courtesy which we were entitled to expect at their hands - especially after the definite promises we had received - of giving us an opportunity to discuss this matter before the making of an appointment.
– I am sorry that the Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) has taken this course. He seems to have taken umbrage at the action of the Government. He complains that the Government did not give him an opportunity to discuss the matter before the appointment was made. As I have already pointed out, by way of interjection, this is no new idea of his.
It is one of those cherished ghosts that form his retinue, and which, for ‘the benefit of the House, should have been materialized by him long ago. The honorable member says he regards this matter as important. Well, why has he not brought it before the House for discussion ? He cannot say that time or opportunity have been lacking. Valuable time has been allowed to pass and nothing has been done. Let me remind the honorable member of a recent occasion that he himself selected. Under cover of his motion to reduce the Estimates he could have discussed this and every other subject. As a matter of fact, I think it is the only question that he did not discuss. I cannot remember any other that he failed to touch upon. He discussed everything that Governments can, or cannot, do, every act of omission or commission of this Government, but he did not mention this matter.
What is the honorable member’s proposal? He does not like what we are doing. That, of course, is most unfortunate for us, but he never likes anything we do. The fact that this world of ours, within the British Empire, persists in acting in a way different from what he desires annoys the honorable member. He is so very sure he is right about everything. It never occurs to him that he may be wrong. The fact that the Empire acts in a way quite other than that which he would have it is evidently so much the worse for the Empire. The fact that Canada does this, that New Zealand does it, i9 nothing. The point is that the honor.able member does not approve of what Australia, in common with the other Dominions, does. What does he propose to substitute in place of the present practice? I do not know whether he has the slightest idea of the qualifications necessary for a successful High Commissioner. I am sure, of course, that the honorable member has not intended to reflect upon my right honorable colleague. His comments were not directed to Sir Joseph Cook as a man, but to the system.
– Hear, hear!
– As the honorable member himself has reminded me, I have been out of this country for about half the time in the past five or six years. The honorable member censured me in a back-handed sort of way when he described me as a peripatetic. The honorable member does not know, very likely, that one of the most celebrated of the schools of ancient philosophy was so termed; and, so far as I know they pursued the even tenour of their way without being in the least disturbed by being so described and without doing any real harm either to themselves or to other human beings. Now, however, the honorable member for Cowper has become a convert to the idea that, if we all went to London, this Imperial spirit would be caught, like an epidemic, by contagion. I say nothing against the idea. Indeed, it is a .very good one. I would say, further, and without intending offence, that if I had my choice I would send the honorable member for Cowper in the very first batch of members. It might broaden the honorable member’s outlook a little. In any case, I am sure he would do more good there than he does here. But has the honorable member thought of the effect either upon this country or on the individual of pursuing a practice such as he advocates? I have not the time to go into this matter at length, but I would remind honorable members that human nature is a curious thing; the honorable member for Cowper may have observed that himself. People do not generally regard that office as desirable which is held upon an uncertain tenure or limited by circumstances over the moulding of which they have absolutely no control. The Leader of the Country party says that some one should be sent out from amongst us to represent the Commonwealth in London. He would be a Minister. His tenure, according to one suggestion the honorable member made, would depend upon that of the Government. That was one of his suggestions. The other was that he should hold office during the’ life of the Parliament. He would be, of course, the appointee of a party. His lease of life would be for as long as his party remained alive and in power, or for so long as the Parliament lived. Now, although this may surprise the honorable member, I think that his proposal, resting on either basis, is crude and unsound. It would not give good results. It would almost certainly give very bad ones. The honorable member recently descended upon this Parliament, which, is ordinarily a peaceful, a restful place. He came here recently with a horrid motion which threatened its life. Happily, the gods that concern themselves with these matters decided against him; otherwise the Parliament and the honorable member’s unfortunate High Commissioner would have been out in the cold. This High Commissioner of his is to be a sort of creature of circumstances, a marionette of a party. It is conceivable that if a Commissioner were appointed from among the dominant party in Parliament, and that that party were defeated in a division without bringing about an appeal to the country, that Commissioner would be replaced by a nominee of the party which had been successful in the division. What would such an official be but the obedient puppet of a party? This system, of course, is in accordance with American ideas which, I must admit, have many virtues, but which, at the same time, ‘possess marked defects. The High Commissioner, if he is to be of service to the Commonwealth, must have security of tenure; he must be able to familiarize himself with Britain - a country which is not quite as readily understood as some folk obviously imagine. There are people who pass through Great Britain, but who never really get to know it. The honorable member for Cowper would appear to believe that an individual can go from here to the Old World and still be unaffected, by his new environment, nor lose touch with the land from which he has departed. But that cannot be. Above all, the High Commissioner must be the servant, not of a party, but of the nation. When a High Commissioner has been appointed he becomes independent of all others and all else. He is like a Judge who, though he may have been a member of a political party at the time of his elevation to the Bench, is, when once appointed, above and outside of all parties. It is most important that such should be the case. This vital fact constitutes the radical difference between our system and the American, and I am bound to say that, in my opinion, the advantage lies with us. I am not against the scheme of having a resident Minister in London. The idea, indeed, is a good one; but an appointment of that nature could not be regarded as providing an adequate substitute for the High Commissioner, nor for the periodical visits of Dominion Prime Ministers to the heart of the Empire.
– They might make their visits less frequent. The appointment of a resident Minister might make such journeyings less necessary. I agree, however, that Dominion Prime Ministers should go to London every second year, or, at any rate, every fourth year, or so.
– Very well; I shall say nothing further about that. A resident Minister might be all right; but, to keep in touch with this country, he would need to return frequently. This Commonwealth is a fountain in which those who represent it must bathe frequently in order to be saturated with the spirit of Australian righteousness - if I mayso put it. The representative of the Commonwealth must understand and know England, but he must be Australian in outlook and spirit if he is to be of service to Australia. If he becomes impregnated with the traditions and the ideals of England, he cannot serve the Commonwealth effectively. But, at the same time, if he is to serve the Commonwealth, he must understand England. And he cannot do this unless he is given a reasonable and definite term of office. A resident Minister would no sooner be established on the other side of the world than he would be out of touch with Australia. When he was beginning to understand England he would be compelled to return to Australia. I see many reasons, then, against the proposed change. I see none, indeed, which would warrant it. I would favour - if the honorable member for Cowper would have me declare myself - the plan of supplementing the personnel and the responsibilities of the High Commissioner with a Minister, if and when this Parliament is of the opinion that the financial circumstances of the country warranted such an appointment. At the Imperial Conference all the delegates were agreed upon such an appointment, subject to financial exigencies. But, with the exception of Canada, all the Dominions have decided, I believe, that their financial circumstances did not permit of putting the scheme into operation.
I desire to add a few words concerning trade. The Leader of the Country party does not realize that, in Great Britain, which, with its 40,000,000 to 45,000,000 people,’ is Australia’s chief and best market, the duties of a High Commissioner are many and difficult. There is the ceremonious side of the office, which cannot be entirely neglected. At public functions Australia’s representative must be one who can uphold the honour and dignity of the Commonwealth. The question of trade, however, needs a separate representative. I may be asked, “ But can we not find in one man all the qualifications necessary to make a successful High Commissioner - a man capable of delivering an effective speech, who can throw upon the screen of English public opinion a true and attractive picture of Australian thought, and who willbe, besides all this, a first-class business man ? “ I doubt if such a paragon . can be found; if Australia should find him, she will have discovered a bright and shining jewel. Certainly I have not met any such man. I have known men who would do indifferently well in all the varied branches of the High Commissioner’s obligations. But never have I met one possessed of all the first-class excellences in every conceivable phase and feature.
The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) is about to go to England to represent this country. I do not know any one who could be sent upon the journey with more hearty good-will by the people amongst whom he has worked for the past quarter of a century and more. Nor do I know of one better qualified to represent Australia, if, by long and faithful service, any man is entitled to he regarded as the possessor of the requisite qualifications. I do not agree with the Leader of the Country party’s scheme. Perhaps it might be possible to graft it upon the present practice when, and if, our circumstances permitted and demanded. That is to say, that we should have a resident Minister in London as well as a High Commissioner. Canada is so represented, and there is no reason, other than the extra expenditure, why we should not follow her example. But, as for trade, I stand for a separate Trade Commissioner. I stand, too, for the abolition of all the State AgenciesGeneral. The need for Agents-General in London has passed away. And, if the people of Australia desire to economize, here is a promising field in which they may begin at once.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I have received the following communication from the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Joseph Cook) : -
Having accepted the office of High Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Australia, it becomes my duty to tender to you the resignation of my seat as member for Parramatta in the House of Representatives.
Need I say I do so with mingled feelings and much regret.
It is a great honour and privilege to have occupied continuously a seat in the House since the Federal Parliament was established, and nothing would now induce me willingly to leave it were it not that I have been designated for duties which make me its representative in a wider sense and a wider sphere.
To you, Mr. Speaker, and to all the officers under your control, I am deeply indebted for unvarying courtesy and constant assistance.
I count it my extremely good fortune to be able to say that during twenty strenuous and formative “yearsof service, my personal relations with members have been happy and cordial. And while the recollection of this makes severance painful, it will serve to hearten and help in the equally strenuous duties which I conceive to lie ahead.
With every sentiment of respect and esteem,
I am, dear Mr. Speaker,
Duration of Debate
– I merely wish to say a few words in reply.
– Order! The honorable member cannot do that
– Then I desire to make a personal explanation.
– The honorable member is entitled to do that.
– This morning, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) had finished speaking, I tried to catch your attention, Mr. Speaker-
– I had not concluded my remarks at 1 o’clock.
– The point raised is an important one, I admit, but the honorable member who raised it (Mr. West) has drawn an analogy between this case and our practice in connexion with ordinary speeches, when a speaker is interrupted by a temporary suspension of the sitting, and may resume at the point at which he left off. But standing order 119 is mandatory, the wording, as honorable members will see, leaving no alternative but to end the debate at the expiration of two hours. The standing order reads -
If all motions shall not have been disposed of two hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, the debate thereon shall be interrupted; and, unless the House otherwise order, the Orders of the Day shall be taken in rotation; but, if there should be no Order of the Day, the discussion on motions may be continued. The consideration of motions may be resumed after the Orders of the Day are disposed of.
It is quite competent for the Government, if they choose, to postpone the Orders of the Day and allow the discussion to go on, but the ordinary practice, if it be desired to have the time extended beyond the two hours, is to ask for an extension of time. The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), who opened the debate, announced that he had been given to understand that it would close at 1 o’clock; and, therefore, the House was well aware of what would happen. It was quite competent for any honorable member who desired to speak after the Prime Minister to move the necessary extension of time, but that was not done.
– But you were out of the chair, sir.
– I was not out of the chair before the Prime Minister commenced his speech. After the honorable member for Cowper had sat down, it was competent for any honorable member not then desiring to speak to move for an extension of time, but nothing was done; and the Prime Minister rose and spoke until the lunch-hour arrived. I remind honorable members that the first Order of the Day is Supply; and I understand, without being officially aware of anything of the kind, that the general discussion is not yet finished, and, therefore, so far as I can see, the question is still open to debate on that first Order of the Day.
Mr.Hughes. - Questions have not yet been answered, and I thought that they must be, whether a motion for the adjournment was moved or not.
– I remind the honorable gentleman that that point has already been settled several times.
– The course for the honorable gentleman to follow is to move that the consideration of the Order of the Day No. 1 be postponed until he has had an opportunity to lay the paper on the table.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That the Orders of the Day be temporarily postponed to allow a paper to be laid on the table.
– I now lay on the table the following paper: -
Decisions arrived at by the Premiers’ Conference 1921.
Ordered to be printed.
Additions, New Works, Buildings, etc.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 19th October, vide page 12011):
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) agreed to -
That the further consideration of the first item of the General Estimates be postponed until after the consideration of the Estimates for Additions, New Works, Buildings, &c.
Proposed vote, £823,506.
– In the course of the debate that took place upon the amendment moved by the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page), on the first item of the general Estimates, I stated that the Government were very desirous of economizing in public expenditure, that we would give the Committee the amplest opportunity of expressing its opinion on various items, and would abide by the decision of the Committee on all matters that did not vitally affect our policy. At a later stage I added that the Government would take an opportunity of themselves making certain suggestions for the reduction of public expenditure. I pointed out that my late right honorable colleague the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) had not taken into account, as he was entitled to do, the sum of £835,000 which was lying to our credit in London. I promised to take an early opportunity of making a statement to the Committee as to what reduction the Government were prepared to recommend. The matter has received the attention of the Government; and, four months of the financial year having expired, the heads of the various Departments are able to more accurately forecast the expenditure for the remaining portion. After further consideration of the Estimates, the Government will cause such reductions to be made as will effect a saving of £500,000 in the public expenditure from revenue. That reduction, and the taking into credit of the sum of £835,000 lying in London, will improve the balance-sheet by a total of £1,335,000. Of course, it will be for the Committee, when reviewing the different items of expenditure, to express its opinion and suggest where reductions should be made. Naturally, it must be understood that the reduction of £500,000 which the Government propose to make must to some extent be governed by any reductions that may be made by the Committee. It would be improper for me to attempt to set out in detail the items of expenditure which the Government will curtail until the Committee has finished its observations and has come to a decision; but, broadly speaking, the position is that the Government will be responsible for a reduction of the expenditure out of revenue by £500,000.
– That might mean the holding up of important works.
– Cannot the Prime Minister indicate where the savings are to be effected ?
– I have placed my views before the Committee, and have promised that the Government will themselves economize to the extent of half a million of money. Beyond that I do not propose to go. Naturally, pur reductions must be affected by what the Committee itself decides. It is obvious that if the Committee should elect to make a reductionin a particular item, the Government will not be able to further reduce that item, because that would mean opposing the intention and decision of the Committee. Our contribution towards the reduction which the Committee desires to be made will be £500,000, but before deciding where the reduction shall be made, we shall listen carefully to the opinion expressed by the Committee upon the various items.
.- It is very evident that the discussion which took place upon the general Estimates has already borne some fruit, for the Government have reconsidered the Estimates, and the Prime Minister has promised a contribution of £500,000 towards the reduction of expenditure which the Committee desires. It is unfortunate for us that the Prime . Minister is not able to state exactly where the savings are to be effected.
– Not until I hear what the Committee itself desires.
– I understand the right honorable gentleman’s position, but if he could allocate to the different Departments their proportion of the £500,000, the Committee would know exactly what it was dealing with, and would be able to decide what further alterations in the Estimates were necessary in order to bring about a reduction of expenditure.
– A large proportion of the saving will be from Defence expenditure.
– I am pleased to hear the Prime Minister say that, and I hope that the Committee will be able to reduce the expenditure by more than £500,000. These Works and Buildings Estimates show an increased expenditure of £440,996 over the expenditure of last year upon defence works alone, to say nothing of the Navy, Air Service, and other forms of defence policy. In addition, there are the general Estimates. I suggest that the Committee should direct very careful attention to the Defence Estimates; that is where the great saving should be made. I “have already said that I do not stand for that false economy that must bring about unemployment, but in regard to defence expenditure we should make every legitimate saving that is possible, having in view the Disarmament Conference . at Washington, and the existence of the League of Nations. In that way we can do our part to bring about, at any rate, a limitation of armaments if we cannot achieve total disarmament. By the reduction of £500,000 which the Government have promised, and the crediting of the £835,000 lying in London, the estimated deficit will be reduced to about £1,500,000. It will be for the Committee to say how far economy can be practised beyond what the Prime Minister has already promised. He has been good enough to say that the Government will follow closely the debates in the Committee, and if we can show where legitimate reductionscan be made, the Government will, I understand, accept the Committee’s decision. That is a fair offer, and gives honorable members a free hand to deal with all these financial questions on their merits. I hope that the
Committee will give its most careful consideration to every section of the Estimates in order that wo may do what we consider right in the interests of the country. I do not think we can reduce the expenditure in the Postal .Department; rather should it be increased. Therefore, the Estimates for that Department appear to be amongst those to which little exception can be taken, but in respect to other spending Departments, such as Defence, we must see if we cannot save the money necessary to balance the estimated revenue and expenditure for the year. If the Committee can do that - and the offer of the Prime Minister has paved the way for us - we shall be doing good work for the people, especially if we can take money from the Defence Estimates and utilize it for the employment of people in different avenues in which their efforts will yield benefit to the public. Any money spent for useful purposes, particularly in increasing production and providing useful employment for our people, will be well spent, but expenditure for defence purposes should be reduced to the lowest possible limit, if it cannot be eliminated altogether.
.- T am gratified to hear of the result which the debate upon the Budget has already produced. The Prime Minister stated this morning that that debate was a waste of time, but if our discussions during the remainder of the month produce a proportionate result, our time will certainly not have been wasted. The fact of the Government telling the Committee that they can reduce their own Estimates by £500,000 is, I think, without precedent. I trust that during the further consideration of the Estimates the assurance given by the Prime Minister that honorable members will have a free hand to do as they think proper, except in regard to matters vitally affecting the policy of the Government, will be interpreted in a very liberal spirit. I think we can show where the balance of the deficit can be removed without creating unemployment, and perhaps with a great deal more efficiency than we have at the present time. I am gratified at the way in which this debate has proceeded, and the results already attained, and I think the Committee can ably second the efforts of the
Government in bringing about a further reduction in the estimated expenditure.
.- I am greatly dissatisfied with the conditions existing at the Sydney General Post Office. A proposal has been submitted to the Public Works Committee for the purchase of land with a view to extending the building, and that Committee has also inquired into the cost of carrying out very necessary alterations. But 1 do not know that anything has been done to remedy the congested and chaotic postal conditions which now obtain in Sydney. Honorable members have never raised opposition to the granting of funds for Post Office developmental works, and if these facilities are not provided the fault must lie with the Government. Can the Minister “tell me whether the telephone trunk line from Melbourne to Albury has been finished ?
– I do not know that it has actually been finished.
– At present anybody who wishes to speak over the line to Sydney is obliged to wait four or five hours for his turn.
– The multiplex system will be completed shortly, and will help the work tremendously.
– No other Department causes honorable members more worry than the Postal Department does. Every week I get letters from people in my electorate asking for postal facilities, but I can get no relief for them. I think the Government would act wisely if they spent the money they propose to save in other Departments on the extension of facilities in the Postal Department. It would repay them to do so. The Department has not kept pace with the general advance made in all States. I know that if the Postmaster-General had the money he would push on with works and endeavour to satisfy the public.
– All the money voted last year was not expended.
– Yes; how is it that, money voted last year has not been expended? It is a long time since the war ended, and the Department should have been able to get .all the material necessary for installing telephones. The wireless works at Randwick are eminently fitted for the manufacture of telephone instruments, and surely the magnificent machinery at Lithgow Small Arms Factory could be brought into requisition for the same purpose. Possibly the fault lies with the Works and Railways Department.
– Part of the delay has been due to the fact that tenders had to be called again in many cases where the prices submitted were considered to be too high. Again, works referred to the Public Works Committee have not yet been reported on. I refer to such works as the Sydney Post Office and the Adelaide Post Office.
– But the Public Works Committee cannot be blamed for the fact that a sum of £1,000 voted two years ago for a telephone exchange at Deewhy has not been spent.
– A site was acquired at Deewhy in February of this year, but owing to the representations of the Postal Department an amended estimate had to be drawn up.
– The Postmaster-General did me the honour of inspecting the Kensington and Botany Post Offices in my electorate. At Kensington, a very thicklypopulated district, there are fifteen or sixteen employees working in an illventilated shop, whose accommodation is quite inadequate. Clients of the Department have frequently to stand on the footpath waiting their turn to do business with the officials. On pension payment days the thoroughfare is frequently blocked. The position is very unsatisfactory when one knows that close by a beautiful site for a building has been secured. At Botany also land has been secured, but no building has been erected. I hope that in the interests of peace, harmony and good -will in this Chamber the Postmaster-General will push on with thoseworks.
– I indorse all that the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) has said with regard to the condition of drift that exists so far as postal and telegraphic matters in Sydney and suburbs are concerned. I had hoped to see provision made on these Works Estimates for a new automatic telephone exchange, which is an urgent necessity if the business of the city of Sydney is to be allowed to proceed on ordinary modern and commonsense lines. There has been an improvement in the allocation of the revenue earned by the Post Office this year, but I very strongly protest against the Postal Department being made a source of revenue to the Commonwealth instead of being subsidized for the unprofitable services it renders, and ought to render, to people in the less settled districts of Australia. I have not with me the figures, but I was astonished to find that in the current year’s Estimates it is still proposed to take some of the earnings of the Post Office and apply them to claims upon the Consolidated Revenue. That is a vicious and wicked principle of financial administration that ought not to be allowed to continue. I hope that the foreshadowed economies are not being effected in this way. We have had too much of this kind of economy in the past. The result is certainly not economy to the business men who have to carry on their businesses under the handicap imposed on them by imperfect telephonic and postal facilities; ‘nor is iteconomy for the Commonwealth itself. The position in Sydney is the same as exists in every other capital, except that the population being greater in Sydney, the trouble is more accentuated. Business is prevented from being done by our utter failure to provide for the growing need of commercial development. There are 3,000 applications for telephones in Sydney unattended to, and some of them have been in the hands of the departmental officers for over a year, and we have no better assurance, three years after the war, than we had during the war, that these applicants for telephones will have speedy connexion.
– The chairman of the economy crowd in my electorate has been complaining for eighteen months past that he cannot get a telephone.
– I am glad to hear that some of the economists are suffering from the effects of the policy they are preaching in the Commonwealth. I do not conceal my views in regard to these gentlemen, who are doing to Australia, and the business of Australia, a greater injury than any of the Bolshevik sections of the community are able to do. They decry the country in which they live. They lie about its resources, its future, and its prospects. They depreciate everything Australia should’ he proud of. They present to the world the position of Australia as a bankrupt nation. The members of a party in this House, that makes political capital out of a propaganda, which declares that the country is on the verge’ of bankruptcy, and unable to pay for the ordinary services of a civilized community, are just as much traitors to the Empire as are the people, in any other section, who take up arms against it. These so-called economists are not only carrying on their propaganda in the Commonwealth itself, they are using the cables to send messages to the other side of the world, giving most distressing accounts reflecting upon the resources of the Commonwealth, and presenting a picture of it which is as false as tongue and pen can make it. To realize the injury which is being done to the business section of the community one has only to look at the telephonic service provided, in any big city. In Sydney, where the commercial growth is more noticeable than it is in other centres, the results of the adoption of a short-sighted, mean, and narrow policy are particularly evident. Some years ago the officers of the Department presented a request for adequate automatic telephone facilities. “They proposed to put in an exchange capable of handling 5,000 lines, but the Treasurer of the day cut their estimate in half. When the work was commenced the applications in hand for telephone connexions were half as many as the exchange proposed to handle, but by the time the building was up there were- more applications in hand than the total capacity of the exchange itself. That error of judgment might have been due to a failure to appreciate the extent to which the general public were prepared to make use of telephone facilities provided for them, and as such might have been forgiven, but the same policy is still being pursued. It is now proposed to double the exchange in- question to accommodate the number of connexions for which de’partmental officers asked five years ago, but nothing is being done to anticipate.’- a similar condition of affairs that will exist five years hence. The Sydney South telephone exchange ought to be under construction, but no site has yet bees chosen for it, and all the time these delays and vacillations are going on applications for connexions are increasing. One cannot judge from the number of. applications in hand to-day the real need of the business community, because people know that it is utterly useless to submit an application for a telephone and expect to become connected’ with an exchange in a reasonable time. I am sure that if the telephone branch of the Postal Department were properly extended in Sydney the result would be an increase of revenue that would enable us to deal with some of the urgent needs in less settled parts of the country where a telephone service may not be profitable to the Department. 1 In big business centres the Department should be making money, but instead of this they are refusing to accept money that is being pressed upon them by the people who are anxious to obtain the facilities available to business men in any other civilized city of the world, particularly people who want to establish new businesses. What is the position of a. man who wishes to go into business in one of our cities ? He cannot get a telephone. A man who, for instance, sets up in business as a land agent finds himself in competition with other firms having telephonic communication over the radius of the whole city, and suburban systems. In one case an agent so situated had to wait two years for that telephonic communication which is as absolutely essential for the prosecution of his business as his own personal ability and the capital that he puts into it. It has been clearly shown by the results of the administration of the Department during the last two years that this is a profitable business.- This is no Cinderella asking for alms, but a profitable business, calling for a business brain to develop it. Instead of looking at it in this light we find men preaching the economy stunt and urging that if the expenditure on the Postal Department goes up by £1,000,000 it is a sign of extravagance. If the postal expenditure were increased this year by £1,000,000 it would be a sign not of extravagance, but of far-seeing statesmanship, and an attempt to realize the possibilities of this Department in the production of revenue for its further expansion and the extension, of the business of the community. I hope that there will be infused into the administration o$ the Department a little more faith in the future of this country. I hope that we shall put aside the gloomy foreboding of . the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) that Australia is on the edge of bankruptcy. I ask the officers in charge of the administration of the Department to go out to Flemington, and to our football grounds, or to our sports reserves, and see if the country is on the verge of bankruptcy. We hear of £10,000 being spent on art unions in one week in one of the little country towns in New .South Wales. And yet these honorable gentlemen talk of country industries being in such a state that they cannot afford to pay an extra £d. per acre for fertilizers, which return them 200 per cent, on the money so invested. The other day £35,000 was paid OUt in the city of Melbourne because one horse finished ahead of another in a race. And yet we are told that we cannot afford to do justice to our soldiers; that we cannot afford postal and other services. Every one who moves about in this community knows that every day hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent on those things which are not essential to the good conduct of the people, while at the same time things, which are absolutely necessary to our self respect and to the development of the country are denied upon the plea that Australia is bankrupt. We Australians cannot too strongly deprecate those who raise that cry. We want to infuse into our public life the feeling that one gets when one comes into contact with Americans, who claim that their country is the best of all countries. We have as much reason to be proud of our country as has any nation. We can compare it with any country we please, and so far from there being any justification for the gloomy forebodings of these prophets of despair we shall find by every test we choose to apply that Australia to-day stands in as good, if not a better, position than any other nation. Where is there a country which cries so’ loudly for expenditure for its development as this does? We ha.ve rich lands, not small in extent, but comprising many millions of acres unused and producing nothing.
– Why do we not’ use them?
– Because a few of the people who hold the pick of them continually preach the doctrine of bankruptcy and the need for , economy when the real need is for such fertilizing of these lands with capital as shall make them productive. We want here many more millions of people. The idea that a few settlers who have got possession of the land along the fringe’ of Australia to-day are for ever and ever to hold this country to themselves, to do nothing to develop it, to do nothing to give to others who come after them the facilities which they grabbed with both hands - facilities which have enabled them to come to this Parliament relieved of all care as to their financial future, and to take their place in this House, not as despised and starved workers in an unprofitable industry, but as one of the most prosperous sections of it - is absurd.
I protest against this continual propaganda of gloom and dismay. There is nothing to justify it except that a number of the people who have most reason to be thankful for the day they came here are devoting the money, that they have made in Australia to a defamation of the country that has made them rich. I set my face strongly against that section of the community. The young Australian has a country of which he should be proud. He should insist upon his Government looking to its development. He should insist upon every public facility for its development being given, so that we may hope to attract to our shores more and more men of the class who came here in the days gone by, and by that means insure the future safety al Australia, which is a huge wealthy country owned by a very few people. I hope that in respect of the Post Office particularly, and also in connexion with every other sphere of Commonwealth activity, that will be our policy. The worth of the Bureau of Science and Industry to the Commonwealth ‘cannot be exaggerated. It is quite possible by the expenditure of £100,000 in that Department to achieve results that will produce hundreds of thousands of pounds per annum. We have to realize that this world to-day is not the world of the old wooden plow. It is not the world of the old hoe. It is a world of advanced science, requiring the application of science to every branch of industry. The man who is going to help to develop this country must have at his disposal every resource that science can give him, every help that a Government, wisely directed and long-sighted, can place at his disposal. In the example that we have in this one public utility - the telephone! - we see what a handicap it is to a business community to have in power a Government which will not spend sufficient onthe development of such services. In the city of Sydney there are 3,000 people whose businesses are hampered every hour of the day by the fact that we are not spending enough on the Postal Department. Within a few years time there will be, not 3,000, but three times 3,000, similarly circumstanced.
I hope that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) will continue the policy he has initiated of attempting to discover every means by which the requirements of his Department can be provided within the Commonwealth. I think it is two years ago since we asked for a few letter-boxes to be provided at one of our post-offices, and were told that we could not get them because there was no one in Australia who could make a lock for a postal box. Only the other day I got a letter in the same terms. I was told that ten email letter-boxes could not be set up’ at a certain post-office because it was impossible to obtain any letter-box fronts. What does that mean ?
– Why is the honorable member decrying the workmen of this country ?
– I am not; I am decrying, not our workmen, but the people who will not give them a chance to supply our requirements. I refer to people who, like the honorable member, say that we cannot do anything for ourselves; that it is impossible for an Australian to make a piece of machinery, and who talk of the necessity of going to Japan for this, to Germany for that, and to America for something else. Every man who has looked at the work done in Australia during the war must be impressed with the fact that no country can do such work better than we can do it. for ourselves if the opportunity is only given our people. Instead of having, in this House, a party whose policy is to decry Australia and things Australian, we want men who will avail themselves of every opportunity that comes to them to say that Australia can do these things, and shall do them; that the work done in Australia is as good as that done anywhere else; that the needs of Australia are urgent and insistent, and demand that money shall be spent in developingresources that we can hold only as long as we develop them. What right have we to claim this continent if we can make it available for the needs of. only 5,000,000 people? What right have we to claim it unless we can turn its enormous resources to such uses that it will provide a livelihood, not for 5,000,000, hut for 500,000,000 people. That can be done. We are the inheritors of the work of a generation fast passing away, and we have a duty and responsibility to the generations to follow us. We are not to stand idly by, reaping the benefits of the work done by our fathers, and doing nothing for the future of our country. It is our duty rather to see that the resources that have come to us developed by them shall be passed on to our children more fully developed than they were when we inherited them. Our duty is to carry this country as far forward in our generation as did the people who found it inhabited by savages, and who, unaided by the vast resources which science places in out hands to-day, have made it the country that it is. Despite all that honorable -members of the Country party may say,, the country that the pioneers made out of the waste lands of the Commonwealth1 is the richest in the world. Our duty is to develop it, to spare neither men nor money in its development, and the duty of the Government, looking as it must do, far into the future, is to give such a lead to the patriotic sons of Australia as will enable them to do their work in their generation as well as their fathers did in theirs.
– I need hardly say that I sympathize with everything that honorable members have said with regard to the inability of the Department to carry out the necessary works that are being demanded by the people throughout Australia. Some time ago, when I made the remark that I was glad to be at the head of a Department from which the public called, not for less, but for more expenditure, one of the Melbourne newspapers cross-headed my observation, “Deaf to the Country’s Demands.” I amglad to think that the only complaint that can be made is that we have not spent enough, and not that we have spent too much.Fault is found with the management of the Post Office. It is just as well, in order to remove the general misconceptions in the public mind, that we should realize where the responsibility rests. It is not a unit standing by itself. As a matter of fact, there is a triple Ministerial control. This matter was fully discussed, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Austin Chapman), who was Postmaster-General at the time, will remember, in the year 1908, when we had in’ this Chamber what was known as a postal crisis. On that occasion, Mr. Deakin, who was then Prime Minister, put the position very clearly. He said -
In the first place, there is thePostmasterGeneral. Then comes the necessity which attaches to every Department of having its operations criticised by the Treasurer. If it were a private undertaking, it wouldbe criticised by some of the heads of the firm who devoted themselves exclusively to financial considerations. But, being part of our parliamentary system of government, it is through the financial control of the Treasurer and of this House that we keep our grip upon the Post Office, as we do upon every other Department. The association between the Treasurer and the Post Office is closer than is the association between any other two Departments. In addition, there is the Home Affairs (now the Works) Department, upon which the Post Office has to depend for undertaking the numerous works and extensions throughout the Commonwealth, which are constantly requiring attention - new post offices, telephone exchanges. &c. . . . More exceptional than all. more utterly unlike anything that exists in any private business the world over, is the perpetual and close association of the Public Service Commissioner and his inspectors with the Postal Department.
That is where the management of the Department rests. The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) has complained that honorable members have to visit two or threeDepartments in order to find out how money is being spent, or why it is not being spent in connexion with the Postmaster-General’s Department. That state of affairs must continue unless he would have the Postal Department build up a works branch of its own. That would scarcely fit in with any one’s ideas, and certainly not with the views of those who cry for economy.
– The Minister surely does not contend, in the language of the late Mr. Deakin, that there is a triple Ministerial control of the Post Office services?
– In the circumstances which I have just indicated, yes.
– But it is very light, is it not?
– I shall say something presently about it being very light. Postal works have to take their turn with other public works for other Departments throughout the Commonwealth So far as the Treasurer is concerned, we can only spend money which the Treasury gives us. In fixing his allowance for the Department, the Treasurer has to take into consideration the money required to be found for every Department. In this respect, generally, we do not suffer any more severely than do postal services in other parts of the world. I was struck - when reading certain comments in an English paper dealing with the treatment of the British postal services by the Chancellor of the Exchequer - with the following remarks; they were published in the New Statesman on the 5th July last, as follow : -
More than most enterprises, the Postal Service has felt the effects of the war period, during which it has been starved for necessary equipment and capital development. It has had no convenient “ excess profits “ to fall back upon, and no adequate provision hasbeen made to meet the constantly increasing demands upon it, particularly the demand for additional telephone facilities. The hand of the Treasury has been heavy upon the Post Office, and there are big arrears of development waiting to be made up.
The honorable member for Grampians (Mr. Jowett) said some days ago that expenditure upon the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was a good investment of capital. The Treasurer states, however, that he has no capital to invest. His Department is not looking for investments. It regards the demands of the postal services in the light of so much out-of-pocket expenditure. The Treasurer himself referred to the position in the course of his Budget-speech, thus: -
The more one looks into Post Office finance the more unsatisfactory it appears. There is no country in the world outside our own which provides the whole of its capital expenditure from, revenue. There should be a review and revision of the whole system of Post Office finance, leaving the revenue expenditure to be met as now, but placing capital expenditure on a basis of loan, with graduated repayments to conform with the life of the material purchases. That is done in every other country in the world; and, in my judgment, we should proceed to do it here.
That is what the postal services have been asking for for some years back. Unless something “is done, and that speedily, in the direction of financing the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, particularly in respect of new works, matters will have reached a dead end. They would have done so before now if the strict principle of not spending money until this House had authorized it had been adhered to. On three occasions in recent years, I am informed, the Treasurer has favorably considered applications from the Postal Department for permission to invite tenders for material in one year to be delivered and paid for during the next. Last year, for instance, the Treasurer gave the Department authority to order £900,000 worth of material to be delivered and paid for this year. It is that material upon which we are working now. If he had withheld his authority for us to spend until Parliament had passed the Estimates, there would not have been a scrap of telephonic work going on throughout Australia to-day or for many months ahead.
The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) stated that this year only £750,000 had been provided for tele1 phones. The honorable member’s remark was not accurate. He overlooked the fact that £750,000 had also been provided out of loan, making, in all, £1,500,000. That, however, does not carry us very far. The average annual expenditure upon new works for the four years of the war was only £430,692. In the two years since, the average has been only £6S5,269; whereas the average for the four years immediately preceding the war was £1,011,985. The demand for telephones is now greater than before the war, and the low rate of expenditure in recent years is directly reflected in the present deplorable condition of the Service; while, in order to keep obsolete plant in working order, maintenance costs are rapidly in creasing. The officers of the Department, realizing that it holds a monopoly of a necessary commercial service, and always alive to its necessities, have made every effort, with the limited funds available, to keep pace with the demands of the public. I find no fault with the attitude of the Treasurer. I have already pointed out that he has to finance for the whole of the public works of Australia. At the same time, I trust that I shall not be blamed, if I look upon the matter from the point of view of its effect on my own Department. Stocks held in all the States have been pooled so that they might Deused to the greatest advantage. Recently, for example, there was a demand for telephone instruments in Sydney. We had 750 instruments in hand in connexion with the installation of the Collingwood Exchange. These were not wanted at the time, so they were despatched to Sydney to relieve the congestion there. The plan adopted has been to take the instruments ‘ intended for Sydney, as they come to hand, back to Collingwood. Stocks have now almost reached vanishing point, however, and costly expedients have ‘beerresorted to. For instance, when switchboards were full, new subscribers in the area concerned were connected temporarily to neighbouring exchanges. When a table telephone was required, but was not available, a wall telephone was provided, only to be dismantled when a table instrument came to hand. Further costly aerial construction has had to be resorted to, owing to lack of underground cable. By adopting these unsatisfactory and expensive makeshift arrangements, the Department managed to keep faith with the public until, in 1918, when the inevitable breaking-point was reached. With many switchboards and cables full, and with many others rapidly filling, and with stores depots practically empty, the Department was obliged to commence refusing service to intending subscribers. The money on this year’s Estimates, namely, £1,500,000, does not enable any further materia? to be obtained beyond that which is already under order. Our actual commitments for material coming to hand total £956,410. Local purchases of material in Australia, to enable this other material to be placed in position, involve the sum of £93,590. Wages absorb £300,000; and incidental charges> cartage, freight, and the like account for £150,000. Those lines of expenditure take up the whole sum of £1,500,000 provided on the Estimates. After this material has been put into commission there will be, irrespective of subsequent applications, the following arrears : -
After this material has been utilized there will be none on order or in store. I am seeking authority to order £1,000,000 worth on account of next year. In fact, the Department asked for £2,500,000 this year. However, I repeat, we got only £1,500,000. I doubt, even if the £2,500,000 were made available now. whether more than £250,000 could be spent this year.
– What was the answer of the Treasurer this year?
– I was informed that the money could not be found. However, I have not had a reply to my most recent application.
– No doubt it would be interesting to ask the Treasurer again next week, or very shortly.
– Yes, and I am hoping for better luck with the new Treasurer, whoever he may be. What the Department requires - so my responsible officials tell me - in order to overtake arrears in the telephone service and to meet development, is a regular supply of material coming to hand irrespective of the financial year in which it is ordered or paid for, so that a regular programme of work may be carried out. Under existing arrangements each reduction of the Estimates by the Treasury necessitates a complete revision of the year’s programme, with a consequent amendment of schedules of material and either a revision or postponement of all kinds of new works proposals. And, in these circumstances, a regular supply of material is absolutely impossible to arrange.
– Would it not be wiser to recommend the adoption of a stores suspension account, having a capital amount available, say, of £1,000,000?
– No doubt it would be better. In order to remedy the existing unsatisfactory state of affairs one thing is essential. The Department must have, immediately, a sum of money readily available and earmarked for the purpose of overtaking arrears and carrying out its normal new works programme. The sum should be such as to permit the Department to overtake arrears of work within three or four years, and, at the same time, carry out other essential new works as they become urgent. Such a procedure would enable the Department, not only to lay out a definite programme of work and catch up with arrears expeditiously, but would allow it to proceed on definite and economical lines. At present, owing to the haphazard method adopted in financing the telegraph and telephone services, the Department is unable to develop or work them in the most economical manner. The necessity for making telegraph and telephone provision ahead of requirements, as well as for overtaking arrears, cannot be too strongly emphasized. As a matter of fact, unless this be done the Department cannot supply a prompt and efficient service to the public. From inquiries made of the Deputy Postmasters-General concerning the amounts necessary to overtake arrears and carry out the policy just indicated, it has been ascertained that a total sum of £9,356,186 will be required. This includes the amount of £.1,500,000 granted by the Treasurer, so far, for the financial year 1921-22. Altogether, it will be seen that the Department needs another advance of £7,856,186, to be spent over a period of three or four years, to overtake work which has fallen behind.
– Will that not have to be provided at some time?
– It will; and the sooner the better. There is nothing more unsatisfactory, either to responsible officers’ or heads of departments generally, than tobe compelled continually to refuse all these public services, the great bulk of which are handsome paying investments. It is painful, indeed, to have to turn them aside with the statement, “ We have no money.”
I desire to deal now, briefly, with specific complaints made by honorable members, some of them being due, I point out, to pure misunderstandings. I have already referred to the misapprehension on the part of the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) through his omitting to take into account money from loan. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) also made a somewhat similar mistake. He stated that last year the expenditure for additions, new works and buildings, was £940,917, and that this year the estimate was £825,506 - amounting to a reduction of £117,411. The honorable member overlooked the footnote set out just below the totals which he quoted. That explains that the expenditure last year out of revenue and loan was £963,472, while the Estimates this year provide for £1,747,300- an increase of £783,828 rather than a reduction of £117,411. The honorable member for Cowper complained that, while £147,000 was voted last, year in connexion with post offices and additions to telephone services, only £27,904 was spent. That sum refers only to works and buildings. Of the £147,000 £74,000 is accounted for as follows: -
The balance of £45,109, not represented above, was the sum required to complete payments during the year on works - since finished - of a total value of just over £70,000, and in respect of which only the £27,905 was actually paid prior to the close of the financial year. Honorable members will remember that the Estimates were not presented until the end of September, and only nine months were left in, which to obtain sites, plans, and tenders. The position will be worse this year, for we are now in the eleventh month. In addition to the above out of revenue the Works Department carried out postal works under loan to the extent of £21,400, and expended about £63,000 on repairs and maintenance works for the Postal Department. So far as telephones were concerned, we did very well. For the year ending 30th June last, the Department erected 15,447 miles of subscribers’ lines, 4,268 miles of wire were used for telephone trunk connexions, 139½ miles of telephone cable were laid, 378 new switchboards and extensions were provided, 28,150 instruments were supplied to subscribers, and the gross number of local services given, including trunk telephones, was 20,762.
The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) said that it was well known to honorable members that, for some considerable time past, a very large . amount of money available for the Department had been expended in the cities. In reply, I can only say that the expenditure for the last financial year, so far as telegraph and telephones were concerned, was -
Expenditure. - Country districts, £409,089 ; metropolitan areas, £487,459.
Subscribers connected at beginning of year. - Country districts, 68,356; metropolitan areas, 103,750.
New subscribers added during year. - Country districts, 8,277; metropolitan areas,
– The expenditure was about half-and-half between town and country ?
– Very nearly; and the great bulk of the population is in the cities. It will be seen that the proportion of subscribers added in the country is greater than that in the metropolitan area, and, in addition to this, eighty-six new trunk, lines were erected to relieve congestion on existing routes, and 150 new public telephone lines in rural districts were also constructed, in many cases with the assistance or guarantee of the local residents. It may be mentioned that, in approving of these lines in rural districts, the. Government’s policy since June, 1920, has been to make up 75 per cent. of the estimated deficiency in revenue, instead of only 50 per cent., as was done previously.
With regard to the inquiries that were made as to why the provision for telegraph and telephone work in 1920-21 was not fully availed of, the position is as follows: - The total provision on the Estimates for these works was £900,000, of which £896,932 was expended, leaving a balance of £3,068. The total amount was apportioned to the six States, and as the individual payments under this vote are of large amounts, further expenditure could not be made without exceeding the provision. As a matter of fact, the Department incurred further liabilities on this account to the amount of £147,470, which, for want of funds, could not be liquidated. That amount, £147,470, unpaid accounts, was carried forward to be met from the provision made for the current financial year.
The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) complains of the Department having been starved since Federation started, and I indorse that opinion. And it has never been so starved as during the first six years. There were small demands for Federal expenditure, and any surplus we had had to be handed over to the States for them to spend as they liked. That was the time when the Postal Department’s undertakings should have been put in thorough working order. During that time, Sir .George Turner, who in this State has always been lauded by economists as being the most careful Treasurer, was responsible for what occurred. He was applauded for his economy, but he left a heavy burden on subsequent Ministers. The Department, from that time to this, has suffered from that false economy, and it takes a long time to make up arrears.
I now wish to summarize the position with regard to the Department’s work. Telegraph and telephone works outstanding in the metropolitan districts number 9,586, and we have only provision and material to supply 4,470 ; while in the country the outstanding works are 1,992, and all we can supply is 1,554. There are 234 financial trunk lines outstanding, said we have money to supply only 42; the financial telegraph lines outstanding number 35, and we have material and money for 7; while approved country telephone lines outstanding number 114, we have money and material for 52. The 6,125 works will be carried out as the material on order is received.
The Department asked that an amount of £73,917 should be provided this year for the purchase of 107 sites, and we were granted the sum of £25,000, or sufficient to cover the purchase of 58 sites. For the repair and maintenance of postoffice buildings, the Department asked for £108,575, and was granted £48,900.
I have here a statement showing the number of these buildings and alterations to existing buildings classified as “ very urgent,” “urgent,” and “necessary.” Of the first class there are 181, but the vote will only provide for 105; of the second class there are 15, but the vote will not provide for any, and of the third class 11, only one of which is provided for. I give these facts and figures to show how unsatisfactory the position is. The Treasurer, as I have said, has to find the money for the whole of the public services, and he says that, having regard to the rest of them, he cannot find any more for the Post Office than I have mentioned.
– The Treasurer has been taking your money now and again !
– I have no control over that; all the money we spend the Treasurer gives us, and all the money we make goes into the Consolidated Revenue. The only way, as the Treasurer says, is to make some provision for permanent works out of loan ; and we should require about £7,856,000, extended over three or four years, to pull up arrears. Honorable members find on the Estimates for this year a number of small votes which they say are insufficient for the buildings that are necessary. What honorable members say is quite true, but the small votes, totalling £26,028, are simply on account of buildings which we propose to start this year but which, when completed, will represent an ultimate expenditure of £149,750.
We at the Post Office have done the best we can, and it is disheartening to the officers as it is to me when we find ourselves unable to proceed with works and buildings which we know to be necessary. It is not only the public that suffers, but the officers themselves have to work in cramped quarters. Until money is provided, however, they must put up with the conditions. I thought it well that honorable members should know exactly the position in regard to the expenditure last year and the outlook for this, so that they may realize that the Department has been suffering exactly in the same way as the British Post Office has suffered from lack of funds, and that the Treasurer here is acting in exactly the same way as Treasurers elsewhere.
– There never was a shortage of funds, only blind folly on the part of the howling crowd i
– I shall say- nothing on that point, because I get sufficient criticism when I talk elsewhere of economy. I am a country representative, and I have no sympathy with the cry for economy ; indeed, I warn -the people in the country not to be caught by the economy “ stunt,” because economy is always practised at the expense of the country districts. If train services have to be cub down, that is done in the country; newspapers which condemn nonpaying lines in country districts have no hesitation ,in taking credit to themselves for influencing the expenditure of £6,0.00,000 on electrifying suburban railways. The same thing happens in reference to postal matters ; the cities will not allow economy to be practised at their expense.
– That is the “ bleeding “ that goes on ; you are defaming the country districts, according to the honorable member far Illawarra (Mr. Hector Lamond).
– No, he is not defaming the country, but is properly representing the misrepresentation of the country.
– Cities aire too powerful, with their press and their large populations, to permit economy. . When Mr.. Webster, as Postmaster-General, closed up the telegraph office at Menzies Hotel there was such a storm that one might have thought it meant the end of Melbourne. On the. other hand, if offices are shut up in the country there is only a protest from the local newspaper,- which is rarely heard in the cities.
– Is the Government not strong enough to clip the wings df the cities, and give the country justice?
– Whether ft be city or country, the Government hae to be fair, and the figures I have quoted show (hat the money spent last year was about fairly divided.
– You should earn the money in the. cities and spend it in the country.
– Of course. In years gone by the revenue of the country generally was called upon to pay for what was done in the cities ; but now that the post-offices of the cities are making big profits, the money should be spent on works in the country where they cannot be expected to pay right away. I have made this statement to-day in order that the” actual position should be understood by honorable members, and to assure them that there has been nothing wanting on my part. I represent a rough country district, where such services are of vital importance. I also know the requirements of the city, and what the lack of services are to business people. It is heart-breaking to have, to say to them day after day that there is no money available for work admitted to be necessary.
I would like, in conclusion, to thank honorable members far tho consideration they ha.ve at all times extended to me, even when I have had to refuse reasonable requests.
.- I do not blame the Postmaster-General (Mr. Wise) for any shortcomings of the Post Office any more than I have blamed any of his predecessors. My experience of parliamentary life is that the postal portfolio has ever been regarded as a junior one> and that tho Department has always been regarded as of less importance than any other. As the PostmasterGeneral has said, from the very inception of Federation, the Postal Department has been treated as a milch cow to provide money for expenditure by other Departments, yet whenever economy was required, it is expected to be effected at the expense of the Postal Department. So far from this Department being the smallest, .it is the largest and most important in its dealings with the public. During the war period so-called economy was carried to the extreme by discontinuing the purchase of supplies when they were obtainable at reasonable rates, and now they are either not obtainable at all, or can be purchased only at an increase of 400 per cent, on the old prices. While money was being saved in that way, the profits made by the Department were being devoted to other purposes, and the present chaotic condition of the Postal Service is tho result. It is time that the Department was placed upon a different basis. The moneys it earns should be allocated to postal purposes only, and then the public would get the service and accommodation that they require. A few figures which I shall quote regarding my own electorate will illustrate what has been occurring throughout Australia. In the year 1918 the number of articles posted at Newcastle was 6,000,000, and the revenue was £43,000; during the ten months of 1921 the number of articles posted was 14,000,000, and the revenue over £87,000, an increase of approximately 100 per cent. in tie three years. Yet less money- is being spent in the supervision of that office to-day than in 1918. Notwithstanding the millions of pounds of private capital that is being spent at Newcastle in various ways, there is not room on the switchboard for an additional telephone.
– The same conditions obtain in Sydney.
Mr.W ATKINS. - They are general, but they are probably accentuated in Newcastle because of the remarkable development of that district. It is useless for honorable members to put forward the claims of their electorates for improved services until the system of allocating postal revenues is altered in the way I and others have suggested. During the latter period of the war the Government were claiming a good deal’ of credit for the fact that they were saving so muchevery year from the profits of the Postal Department. At whose expense was the saving being effected, and with what result? Material that could have been purchased cheaply at that time cannotbe obtained to-day at less than three or four times its former cost.
– That policy has cost the country £1,000,000.
– Probably much more. Whatever the preachers . of economy may say to the contrary, it is time that the Postal Department enjoyed the use of its own revenues. If that were done, we should know exactly how the Department was operating, and the public Would get. full benefit for the money they pay into it.
Re-distribution of Seats.
Motion (by Mr. Groom) proposed.
That the. House do now adjourn.
Mr.POYNTON (Grey - Minister for Home and Territories) [3.54]. - The work is being expedited as much as possible.
The six Commissions are at work, but I do not think the report will be finalized before the beginning of next year. Honorable members are aware that the maps showing the proposed alterations of boundaries have to be posted for a, month in order to permit any objections to be lodged.
– I think so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at3.55 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 November 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1921/19211111_reps_8_97/>.