9th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Bt. Hon. W. A. Watt) took the chair at 11 o’clock, and read prayers.
– I had the pleasure of looking through the new Commonwealth Bank building, in Collins-street, this morning, and I ask the Treasurer to represent to the Acting Governor of the Bank the desirability of having a public opening of tho building, so that the people may nave an opportunity of seeing through the magnificent edifice, which is a credit to all concerned. Such an opening would bo a great advertisement to the Bank.
– I will discuss the honorable member’s suggestion with the Acting Governor of the Bank.
– The price of petrol, which is. already high, is still rising. It is understood that British supplies are available in England, and, as the British Government holds a preponderating share in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, will the Prime Minister inquire of the Imperial Government whether it is possible for users in Australia to obtain supplies of petrol at a more reasonable rate? -
– I shall inquire whether negotiations, with the Imperial Government could be usefully opened up.
– As’ I understand that the. Anglo-Persian Oil Company is now refining, crude, oil in Australia for the purpose of selling petrol to motor users, will the Prime Minister communicate with tho local representatives of the company, and urge that they place ‘their product on the market in order to relieve users of petrol from tho present impositions by other sellers of motor spirit.
– The refinery is almost in a position to start distribution, and the manner in which distribution shall take place is now receiving the serious consideration of the company and the Government. The matter will probably have to be dealt with by tho House in the’ near future.
– Has the Prime Minister yet fulfilled the promise ho made to a deputation of dairymen in Sydney on 11th April that their proposals for the stabilization of the dairying industry would be submitted to Cabinet 1 If so, when may we expect a statement on the subject ?
– No final decision has been arrived at by Cabinet, but as soon as the matter has been determined an announcement will be made.
– Will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of increasing to £1,500 the Commonwealth grant towards the Australian band that is attending the Empire Exhibition in England?
– The decision to grant £1,000 towards the expenses of the band’s tour was arrived at. by Cabinet because the band is representative of all parts of Australia, and it was thought that the tour of an organization of that kind during the currency of the Empire Exhibition would probably be a very valuable advertisement for the Commonwealth. The contribution which the Government decided to recommend to Parliament is already generous, and I do not think that Cabinet can consider the granting of any further assistance.
– I desire to address a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Pratten), when submitting a -motion to the House, - exhausted the time allowed him under the Standing Orders, but the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), who was incharge of the House, and tie Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) signified their readiness to grant an extension of time. Every honorable member was willing to allow the honorable member for Martin further time to complete his remarks, but you, sir, insisted that the bells should be rung until an absolute majority of the total members of the House’ was present before you would allow the question of an extension of time to be determined. Will you, sir, explain for the information of tho House your reason for adopting that procedure) The standing order imposing a time limit upon’ speeches has never previously been operated’ in that way.
-I think the question is very pertinent to the issue raised last night. The honorable member is scarcely correct in saying that the standing order governing the limitation of speeches has never previously been operated, though a considerable relaxation of it has been allowed in former years. I, however, hold it to be the duty of the Speaker to enforce the Standing Orders, and they are perfectly plain in regard to the time limit imposed upon the speeches of honorable members. Standing order 257 (a) reads -
No member shall speakfor more than one hourand five minutes at a time in any debate in the House- and proceeds to enumerate certain exceptions and extensions. Elsewhere the Standing Orders provide for the suspension of any particular standing order for any purpose, and, in my opinion, it is wise for the House, whenever it is desired that a standing order shall be suspended, to follow the procedure laid down in the Standing Orders themselves, and not leave the matter to be decided by the Speaker at his own sweet will, instead of by the will of the House expressed in accordance with the prescribed form.
– This is a military form of government.
– No, it is civil; but the honorable member is not always civil. The Speaker is appointed to be the executive of the House in matters of this kind, and I had indicated on former occasions that it would be advisable to operate the full force of the Standing Orders in regard to future relaxations of the time limit. Last night was the first occasion on which an opportunity occurred for the enforcement of the rule.
– If an absolute majority of the members of the House did not respond to the call of the bells, would you, sir, rule that no extension of time could he allowed?
– The honorable member has asked a hypothetical question, but I shall answer it for the information and guidance of the House. If standing order 407, which deals with the suspension of standing orders, were operated, and an absolute majority of the whole of the members of the House were not present to answer the call, I should be obliged to rule that the House had not consented to
– After the bells were rung yesterday, and an absolute majority of members was present in the House, you, sir, did not again put to the House the question of the extension of time. Was that procedure correct?
– I think it was, in the circumstances. The Clerk certified to me that an absolute majority of members was present. Prior to the ringing of the bells the House had been unanimously in favour of granting an extension of time to the honorable member for Martin ; therefore it was not necessary to put the question to the House again.
– When may I expect to receive from the Prime Minister a reply to my questions concerning the Commonwealth Shipping Board’s disposal of the vessels engaged in the Java-Singapore trade ?
– I cannot say definitely when I shall be able to answer the question . but I expect to do so next week.
– I have received from the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) an intimation that he proposes to move the adjournment of the House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “the unsatisfactory administration of the Electoral Act.”
Five honorable members heaving risen in their places,
. - I am adopting this course because I consider that sound electoral administration is of vital importance to parliamentary institutions generally, and is an essential part of our system of representative government. Australians are a law abiding people, mainly because we have a democratic franchise, and the people have faith in the fairness and impartiality with which the electoral laws are administered. Any suspicion that elections are not conducted with absolute impartiality must, in a sense, destroy the confidence of the people in constitutional government. I propose to deal with distinct breaches of the Electoral Act by three individuals in the division of Calare, at the Federal election in December, 1922. Certain of the breaches may be regarded as minor offences, but one, which had the effect of depriving .an aged and infirm elector of his postal ballot-paper, is altogether too serious, to be overlooked. The incidents occurred in the subdivision of Grenfell, which, prior to tine redistribution, was in the Division of Werriwa, and naturally the persons concerned are well known to me. There are several communications bearing on the subject. The first communication, is a letter from Mr. Dumont, the divisional returning officer for Calare, to Mrs. McDonald, who made the complaint. It is a lengthy letter, asking for certain information. The letters following show that the offence was regarded as sufficiently grave to justify the Department proceeding almost to the point of taking legal action, but then, for some reason not adequately explained, the divisional returning officer intimated that the matter would “ be dropped;
– Did he state what the circumstances were that justified the Department in stopping proceedings?
– No; the letters will explain the whole incident .clearly to honorable members. The first is one written on the 17th February by Mr. Dunant to- -Mrs. McDonald.
I desire to acknowledge^ the receipt of your communication of the 12th February, 1923, relative to alleged irregularities in connexion with .postal .voting, for. which I thank you. The statutory declarations mentioned in your communication’ have t not reached this office. Please forward same under the registered cover enclosed herewith. 1 -shall be much .obliged if you will please inform me whether you consider that Mr. Nussio and Hrs. Bransgrove would be capable of attending at the Grenfell Police Court’ ‘to “give evidence if subpoenaed to do bo: Ca’n. I rely upon yon: ito ‘produce the witnesses intentioned to prove your allegations.?
The second letter indicates that th© Department took a serious “view of the breach bf ‘the A«H>. ‘It is- as follows : - the charges are ‘considered as “serious “breaches df ;the ‘Act, ‘ and in the circumstances, the Chief Electoral! Officer- lor ‘the Commonwealth will, no ‘doubt, ‘direct .that proceedings :be. instituted against two authorized witnesses. Do you consider that it would be .physically possible for Sir. Nussio and Mrs. Bransgrove to attend at the Grenfell Police ‘Court ‘to give evidence if they are required .to do so ‘and .were driven .to ‘the court .by .motor iea* ? The two authorized witnesses may, qf .course, signify their .Intention of ,pleading .guilty, ‘in which case tie attendance of “witnesses will not ‘be necessary. 4 . L. .= t&lffl
On the 15th May the divisional returning officer wrote as follows : -
I desire to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of 14th May, relative to the alleged irregularities in connexion with the general elections, 1922, and to inform you thai the matter has been fully investigated and a full report furnished to. the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for the State. I understand that the. report has been forwarded to the Minister in Melbourne. A further communication is being forwarded to the Commonwealth Electoral Officer this date requesting a decision in the matter. YOU will be advised of the result at an early date.
On the 28th July Mr. Dumont -wrote as follows : -
With reference to my communication of the 27th July, 1923, I desire to inform you that in view .cif the advice (received from .the Deputy Crown Solicitor, the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for the State of New South Wales proposes to institute proceedings, if so desired by the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for the Commonwealth, against three persons for breaches of -the Commonwealth -Electoral Act in connexion with .postal voting on the occasion, of the Commonwealth elections held on the 16tl December, 1922. Messrs. Cousins’s and Hewson’s written explanation of the circumstances (not sworn statements) might be accepted as a. plea of guilty, yet, they may .elect to plead not guilty .at the court. If the latter course is adopted. it would be absolutely necessary for Mr. Nussio and Mrs. Bransgrove to attend the court to give evidence. You have already stated that in your opinion it would be physically possible for bath these persona to be brought to the court in a car if required.
This clearly indicates, that the Department took a, very serious view of the offence. .Than comes a letter,, dated 15th August,, from Mr. Irwin, ..electoral officer Ibr New South Wales., .to- -Mors. McDonald–
Wi’th -reference to your letter of the -2nd January, 1023, relative to -two incidents which occurred during the last Federal election, I have .to advise that in accordance with your request an Investigation of the complaints’ lias been made, and ‘.the persons ‘.concerned are [being suitably, dealt with. “ Suitably dealt witu “ simply meant that a letter had been forwarded 4b the persons concerned - Messrs. Hewson and Cousins - intimating that they ,had :committed grave offences against the electoral leuw, and warning .them not to do so tin future. ‘Mr. Hewson vis ;a ^school teacher at Quandong, :and Mr. Cousins a district council < clerk. ‘They . -.were ; authorised witnesses under the. postal provisions of the Electoral Act, but failed in their duty -in .that they Admitted, as the correspondence on the file shows, .that they attached their signatures as witnesses to postal ballot-papers signed by persons whom they had not seen. This is the charge against Mr. Hewson. The ‘ other charge, as I have explained, is of a much more serious nature. The offence strikes at the very root of constitutional government; because an elector was prevented from voting. There is a sworn declaration on the file from Mr. Nussio, stating that a Mr. Bailey had asked him to sign an application for a postal vote, which Mr. Nussio intended to cast for the Labour candidate. He agreed to do so, and said he wanted to vote.. Accordingly, he signed the application, and waited for the ballot-paper to be forwarded to him. Honorable members will no doubt be surprised to learn -that shortly afterwards Mr. Cousins called upon Mr. ‘Nussio, and had the ballot-paper in his possession. How did he get it ? There is nothing on the file to show what authority he had to obtain possession of the ballot-paper. He told Mr. Nussio that he wished him to vote for Sir .Neville Howse, but Mr. Nussio declined, and said that he wanted to vote for the Labour candidate,. Cousins then said,, “ Very well, if you want to vote for the Labour man you. can do so.” He then folded the ballot-paper up, and put it in his pocket. Subsequently he sent it back to Mr. Dumont, stating that, Mr. Nussio had informed him that he was too old to vote* and did .UO.t want, to bother about elections at all.
– Did Nussio ask .that the ballot-paper be posted to his address 1
-That I cannot, .say. It is clear, bowser,, that be wanted’ to vote. and. that he. signed, an .application for a postal ballot-paper. His statement regarding; the whole incident is in the form” pf a sworn declaration,, whereas both Cousins’ and Hewson’s statements are contained in letters, which- involve no penalty under the Oaths Act. Mr;. Nussio’s affidavit shows, that three or f but days* prior to the election he intended to vote. What happened to make. him. change his mind % Clearly it could. no.t have been. any. altera-tion in, tha state of his health or mentality. I submit,, therefore, that the abatement differed, b,y Cousins that Nussio. had informed! him that, he, ‘did; not want to vote, because he waa. too old, is too thin altogether, and- that unless it is corroborated it cannot, be accepted by any, sensible, person. It is evident that, Mr.
Nussio was deliberately deprived of his vote. The provisions in the Electoral Act were manipulated in the interests of a certain candidate. An .aged and infirm elector was intimidated. Undue influence was attempted, and when that failed a criminal act was committed to deprive an -old man of his vote. It may be argued that at the election referred -to the .majority in favour of the successful candidate was sufficiently large to make his position secure, but we do not know how many offences of 1 a similar nature were committed. Men holding .official positions .such as those of Messrs Hewson and Cousins are able to exert a -great deal of influence, and the -exercise >of undue pressure by them should not be tolerated :for a moment. This case was worse than one of undue pressure, for when Mr. Nussio persisted in his refusal to note for the .candidate whom these gentlemen favoured -he was robbed of his vote.. I want to know who was responsible for the alteration of the Electoral Department’s decision -to prosecute. I ido not think it was Mr. Irwin. Representations must have been made by some -one which led the Department to change its attitude so quickly. Whoever was responsible should be punished. The act of which I have complained was not only an infringement of the electoral law, but a cowardly and infamous interference with an infirm and aged man’s right. . I wish the Minister to understand dearly that I am not making any charge against the departmental officers, but I wish him to tell us what caused the Department to change its mind. The file of papers shows that a clear and simple case had been made out against Hewson. He had no defence at all. ‘The case was so clear, in fact, that it -was thought to be unnecessary to engage counsel. The Divisional Return.ing Officer, Mr, Dumont, could have conducted’ the prosecution, so convinced .waathe Department of the man’s guilt. Although the documents on the official file deal with the allegation that signatureswere wrongfully’ witnessed, they are silent on the more, important irregularity which’ resulted in Mr. Nussio being robbed of” his vote. .This. House should be told who was. responsible for quashing tike legal proceedings.. I ha>ve no- wish tei colour the facts… The case ia, a simple; one., Honorable members, will’ recollect, that, at onetime it was considered necessary to abolish . postal voting. If such actions as I have described occur with any frequency we shall have to consider whether the practice must not again be abolished. As things are we have no guarantee that a great deal of undue influence is not exercised by those interested in obtaining postal votes. I do not care which party may be responsible. People should be allowed to vote without having to submit to unfair pressure. Men who deliberately commit breaches of the electoral law create suspicion in the minds of the people that our electoral machinery is not impartial, and they thus deal a serious blow to constitutional government and to Parliament itself. Nothing will bring our governmental institutions into contempt more quickly than such conduct. I consider that the Electoral Department did wrong in not conducting a prosecution in. this case, but I do not say that any departmental officer is responsible. I urge the Minister to make a frank statement to the House, and to tell us the. true story of what happened. That will satisfy me from the departmental point of view, but I assure him that I shall not be satisfied until the mon who were guilty ofcriminally preventing this aged nian from exercising his vote are suitably punished. An infamous and cowardly act was committed which merits- and should receive punishment.
– I consider it to be my duty to tell the House why the practice of postal voting was abolished. In an area in Melbourne not more than a third of a mile at its farthest point from the Elizabeth-street post office, more postal votes were registered on one occasion than were registered at one election in the whole State of Queensland, at another election in the whole State of Western Australia, and at two other elections throughout Tasmania. Such bribery, corruption, and fraud were practised in Melbourne at that time that I moved the High Court of Aus: tralia to declare the election void. The Court did so. I believe that the revelations made in the Court at that time were largely instrumental in abolishing the postal vote. No honorable member will suggest that such a grave state of affairs exists to-day, but only the vigilance of men like the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) prevents similar happenings. It is necessary that we should closely guard our electoral machinery. According to statements made in three different leading articles in tho A.(f.o newspaper, Victoria is the most backward State in Australia from an electoral stand-point. In no other State in Australia is it possible for u person to register in’ two different constituencies, although he can vote only once on the same day. Notwithstanding the mighty power of that newspaper, and the SUpPOrt that has been given to its views by the Herald newspaper, the present Government of Victoria proposes to place values on the votes of the country and metropolitan electors, respectively, which are in the- proportion of 100 to 45. It is strange that that State does not follow the example of the Commonwealth Parliament, and give to its electors a uniform voting power. The Peacock Government did not dare to risk taking a vote on its Electoral Bill the other night. I assure the Federal Government that if it is not very careful it will have to bear a portion of the blame which is being attached to the Victorian Government, for it, like the Government of this State, is supported by the National party. I do not know anything about the case mentioned by the honorable member for Werriwa, but it was my privilege, as a. member of the Electoral Commission, to investigate quite a number of complaints of infringement of the electoral law. Whenever our electoral law is infringed, the person responsible should be punished. I do not think that the Honorary Minister (Mr. Atkinson) would allow a wrong act to go unpunished. My long association with, and friendship for, him forbid me to believe such a thing. I urge him to see that the proper penalty is imposed in the case mentioned by the honorable member for Werriwa. I do not believe that the honorable member in whose electorate this alleged irregularity occurred, can be held responsible. I think that he is quite innocent. I may say, however, that the honorable gentleman who was elected as a result of the irregularities which occurred in the city of Melbourne, to which I have already referred, made arrangements for quite a number of the individuals who were concerned in those irregularities to go to South Africa, because it was feared that I was after them with sworn declarations. I believe that that Melbourne episode was the most infamous case of the kind that has occurred in Australia. I certainly do not wish to see anything of a similar nature happen in the future.
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) appears to consider that pressure was brought to bear on some one to prevent prosecutions being launched after the Commonwealth Electoral Officer in New South Wales (Mr. Irwin) had practically brought the cas© to the stage when proceedings could have been commenced. That is a serious charge, but it is utterly without foundation. I have studied the papers carefully, and there is nothing in them to show that the matter ever came before the Minister at all.
– That is the significant point.
– Not if the honorable member considers the practice in the Electoral Department. Some years ago the then Attorney-General of the Commonwealth laid down certain rules for the guidance of the Electoral Office. He considered that it was not advisable for the Attorney-General to exercise jurisdiction in these matters, as anything done by him might be construed to have been actuated by political bias. Those rules have been followed ever since by the Electoral Office, and in the case before us the officers simply followed the usual procedure. I have consulted with the Commonwealth Chief .Electoral Officer (Mr. Oldham), and he assures me that absolutely no pressure was brought to bear upon him, or any one else in the Department, in respect to this matter. Those who know Mr. Oldham must realize that in him we have a man who will not be influenced by any pressure which might bo brought to. bear-, and that he means what he says. And he assures me that the whole matter was dealt with by tho Department, and personally accepts full responsibility for what has been done.
– Can the Minister inform the House what is the usual procedure in these cases t
Mi-. ATKINSON. - Cases of this nature are first investigated very carefully by the departmental officers. If the Chief Electoral Officer then considers that action should be taken, he consults, not with the Attorney-General - for the reason “I. have mentioned - but, as a rule, with the Crown Solicitor. The Commonwealth Deputy Crown Solicitor in Sydney was consulted by Mr. Irwin in this case, after which he submitted a report, in which he stated that the offence was largely of’ a technical nature, and that any fine which might be imposed would probably be very light.
– Is the Minister re,f erring only to the one charge ?
– I am referring to them all.
– Did the Crown. Solicitor say that it would be merely a technical offence to take away a ballot paper ?
– Let me first deal with the question of procedure. Upon receiving Mr. Irwin’s report, the Chief ‘ Electoral Officer came to the conclusion that the situation would be met if a warning was issued, and he therefore advised Mr. Irwin to that effect. Not one member of the Ministry knew anything about it. The whole thing was settled within the Electoral Department itself, and the Chief Electoral Officer accepts full responsibility.
– Has the Minister any . objection to disclosing the contents of the ‘ file ? They would be interesting to honorable members.
– The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), a few days ago asked that the file should be laid on the table of the House, and, although that was not done, the honorable member was given every opportunity to examine its contents at the office of the Department. That course he adopted.
– In the file there .-as nothing from the Crown Law Office concerning the man being robbed of his vote. I do not think they dealt with that occurrence, which has been hushed up. ^ The officer responsible should be relieved of his position.
- Mr. Oldham “accepts full responsibility, as it was purely a departmental matter. The statementthat Mr. Cousins robbed a man named Nussio of his postal vote is a serious charge. Mr. Nussio said that some one named Bailey came to him with a paper, and got him to sign it, so that he could vote, but that uo one witnessed the signature. He states that later Mr. Bailey, senior - it was Mr. Bailey, junior, who first approached him - and Mr: Cousins called upon him. In his declaration, Nussio states: -
During the week ending the 16th December Mr. George Cousins and Henry Bailey came to my house Cousins took an envelope from his pocket, took a paper out of it, and asked me to vote on it for Sir Neville Howse, which I refused to do. Mr. Cousins then said, “ You can vote for the Labour party if you like,” but he put the paper back in his pocket and left the house.
Mr. Nussio was 80 years of age when he signed that declaration. I shall now read a statement by Mr. Cousins, dated 27th (February, 1923,. and addressed to the Divisional Returning Officer, Orange.
– It is not a sworn statement.
– Mr. Cousins said- I was informed by Henry Barley that, C .
Nussio desired to vote, and was too unwell to come to vote at the poll. An. application was signed beforea school1 teacher, and the voting paper came. I went out. with Bailey to. witness the signature. Bailey said, Charley,, we have brought out your voting paper.” Nussio said, “ I am not going to vote now;I’ll have nothing to do withthe papers.’ I, Cousins, them said,. “ If you’ desire to vote for the Labour candidate, do so; I will witness your signature, but don’t lose your vote.” Nussio refused to take, or have anything, to do with, the papers, so I said, “ I will, return the papers,” and I did, and. the vote. was. not. recorded. I certainly never asked Nussio to vote for Sir Neville Howse. It was on C. Nussio’s suggestion that I returned the papers.
I noticedon the file,a statement by Henry Bailey that in the interval be tween the time when Bailey, junr, took out the first paper, which Nussio, signed,, and the visit by Bailey, sear, and, Cousins,, some one; had called on Nussio, and that a quarrel took place between Nussio and his visitor oyer electoral matters. Bailey stated that it was subsequent to that quarrel that Nussio. refused to have anything to do with the papers.. All these facts were before the Chief Electoral Officer when he gave his decision. Having had before me the; whole of the facts, and in view of Mr. Oldham’s assurances I consider that that officer did not exceed his duty.N or did he do less than his duty.
– Did Mr. Bailey - the, mart who accompanied Cousins to Nus:sio’s house - make any statement?
– There is a statement here, signed by Mr. Henry Bailey, which I shall read: -
I, Henry Bailey, asked Mr. Cousins would he come out and witness the. signature for. Charles, Nussio’s vote. He went out wtth me.
When- we both went into Nussio’s room he (N.ussio) said Tim Berry had come out and kicked up a row with him, and he was not going to vote at all. He would sign no paper for- anyone. Mir. Cousins said-,. “ Don’t disfranchise yourself. If you want to* vote for Labour I will witness your signature,” and he (Nussio) said, “ I won’t take the papers, and I won’t vote: I’ll base nothing to do* with- the election. I am getting too. old. I won’t have anything to do with the papers or election.” Mr. Cousins then said, “’ Will I’ return the papers?” and he- (-Nussio). said, “ Take, them away. I won’t vote1.’” Mr. Cousins then’ returned the papers to Qrange.
– Was a, statement: obtained from Mr. Berry, whoso name, ismentioned in the statement- just read?
– I do not, know.
– It is-, a “ hush up.”
– The honorable raienmber should not make iwuendoesi or suggestions of that nature. Although he- has. had access to ther papers, he, has not made out a very strong; case. In view of lire conflicting statements,, and the fact that no mocal delinquency had bean proved, the Chief Ekotorsl Officer cli-di . nothing for which he should be blamed,. I, personally,, would not, think oif blaming, him.
– There is the statutory declaration- of Nussio, even if he is. 8©i years of age., on- the one hand,, against mere statements; cm the other.
– The Deputy Crown Solicitor viewed this matter from the aspect from whieh the Court would have considered it. A Court would? have had . regard to the fact that there were the statements of two men on the one side against the statement of one man on the other.
– Why did he. not. communicate with Berry and get his statement?
– I do not know. Action in the matter was confined to: the Electoral Department,, but I. submit, that no blame, i» attachable to it. If the Department was to take action in connexion with every little breach of the electoral law, its whole: time would he occupied in issuing summonses.
– What was- the excuse given for taking the vote away, as it is admitted was done ?
– The honorable member- for- Werriwa (;Mr. Lazzarihi) has suggested that Nussio was deliberately deprived of his vote. The ballot-paper was taken away because, according to both Bailey, senior, and Cousins, Nussio would not accept the papers.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- The Minister has said that the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) did not make out a strong case. It is certainly true to say that the Minister has made a very weak reply. I consider that the honorable member for Werriwa is to be commended for ventilating such a case, because, unfortunately, it is not an isolated case. Witnesses are going around canvassing for postal votes and using personal influence upon the electors through the postal voting provisions of the Act. I do not intend to discuss now the merits or demerits of the postal voting system, but I do say that there is abundant evidence throughout the Commonwealth, extending over many years, to justify the total abolition of the postal vote. It is; a. vote that is not exercised under supervision by responsible officers, and is probably the only corrupt instrument of our electoral machinery. There was one statement which the Minister made which really induced me to take part in this debate. He. said that the Solicitor-General of New South Wales, in this matter… advised the Electoral. Department that there was only a technical breach of the law with the exception of the taking of the vote, from Nussio. The charge is that authorized witnesses signed their names to signatures, they never saw signed. The New South Wales SiolicitoxGeneral says that that, is- only a technical breach of the law. If that, is so,, what is the object of having authorized witnesses? The whole, object of having authorized witnesses - who. are specially selected persons- is to ensure that the right persons make applications for postal ballot-papers,, and sign them.
– I have said that in this case the witnesses attached their signatures innocently, and’ were guilty of no moral delinquency-.
– One is a school teacher and the. other a council clerk. The Minister suggests; that they are. innocent when, they make a signed declaration that, they saw a man sign; his. name when, as a matter of fact, they did not see him sign his name. The Minister should know that this kind of thing is the cause of the whole of the corruption practised under the postal voting system.
– I do not say that it is not, but the Government had nothing to do with this matter.
– I am directing attention to the fact that the Government had everything to do with it. In this case it seeks to shelter itself behind advice of the Solicitor-General of New South Wales, which the Minister is not prepared to approve in this House.
– That is quite wrong. The Electoral Department takes full responsibility in this matter. The Minister never came into it at all.
– But surely the Minister will take some responsibility in this case for the action of the Electoral Department.
– Not for something which never came before him.
– I do not think that the honorable member for Werriwa charged the Minister with being, personally guilty in this matter,, but he does make a charge, against the. Department over which the Minister presides.
– The honorable member made the charge that pressure was brought to bear in this case.
– The honorable, gentleman overlooks the fact that the officer who accepts, responsibility in this case is. the head of a department, under Ministerial control. Either the Minister approves of the. action of. the Department or he does not. It is not sufficient for him to say, “ I never saw this, before.” He has to say whether or not he approves, of what has been done,, and if not, what action he proposes to take in the circumstances. I have dealt with, what have been referred to as. the technical . breaches, but what about the serious charge which is made. Surely the Minister does: not insist that Nussio, imagined all the circumstances set, out in his declaration. He says that written statements were received from Cousins and Bailey,, senior. Cousins in his statement says: -
I heard, that Nussio wanted a vote; The application was signed -before a school teacher, and’ the voting paper came.
Where did it come?
– Cousins and Bailey, senior, took it out to Nussio.
– But to whom did it come in the first instance? Does the Department say that?
– Did not the Electoral Department inquire where the postal vote was to be sent.
– It may have done so.
– The Minister hasto remember that one of the most serious charges that can be made in connexion with an election has been lodged, and whether itbe true or not, the Department should investigate it. We should know to whom the postal ballot-paper was to be sent.
– The supposition is that Nussio asked that it be sent in the way described. Besides, it is not the practice of a returning officer to send the papers unless the applicants state where they should be sent.
– Then the Department should have the application form signed by Nussio. That is a document which should be produced to show to what address the postal ballotpaper was to be sent. The Department should satisfy itself as to how Cousins became possessed of the ballot-paper. He brought it to Nussio, but what right had he to bring it back from Nussio’s house? It was not his property. I feel confident that these people went to this old man and induced him to make an application for a postal ballot-paper, and when the old man learned from Berry, or some one else, that they were working for the candidate he did not desire to support, he said he would have nothing to do with it. The ballotpaper was the property of Nussio, and if it had been left with him, he could have exercised his right to vote or not, as he desired. It was, to say the least of it, an impertinence for Cousins to take away in his pocket a ballot-paper which should have been delivered to the elector who made application for it.
– Cousins states that it was at Nussio’s suggestion that he returned the paper.
– The Minister is accepting the written statements of two men against the sworn declaration of Nussio.
– I am not, because the whole matter is settled.
– Then the Department accepts, against the sworn statement of one man, the written statement of two, who admitted a breach of the law, and without making any investigation as to what Berry had to say about the matter. I am not vindictive, and do not desire that a number of people should be prosecuted, but I do suggest that when the serious charge is made that an old man has been robbed of his vote, there should be a full investigation into it. Everyone connected with the matter, directly or indirectly, should be examined, and their statements produced. In this case the Department accepted the written statement of Cousins and Bailey, and simply issued a warning not to do that kind of thing again. These men were charged with the serious offence of taking a ballot-paper from a man’s house, and thus robbing him of his vote, and it is suggested that nothing more is to be done than to accepttheir statements that the man did not desire to vote. How could we deal with criminals if all a man charged with an offence had to do was to make a written statement that he did not commit the offence ? In this case Cousins’ statement is accepted, although he admitted that he was guilty of breaches of the law in getting other people to sign their names and witnessing their signatures without having seen them made. I suggest that in the interestsof the purity of elections the Minister, even at this stage, should see that a full explanation of this case is obtained from the head of the Department, and presented to this House. There are breaches of the electoral law about which I am notvery much concerned so long as they do not interfere with the right of electors to exercise the franchise, or give a vote to persons not entitled to it. If, for instance, something is done which, although a slight technical breach of the law, facilitates the recording of a vote by an elector entitled to the vote, I have not any objection to offer to it; but when a charge is made that some one has been denied the right to vote, that is a very serious matter. Bailey, senior, in this case said, “ I asked Cousins to come out and witness Nussio’s vote,” and they took the vote to Nussio’s house.
– Before Bailey, senior, came into the matter Bailey, junior, went to Nussio toget an application for a postal ballot-paper. We cannot blame the returning officerif he receives a paper which he believes tobe in order.
– From the circumstances related I would reconstruct this case in this way. Bailey, junior, went out and canvassed Nussio to get him to sign an application for a postal vote. In the meantime the old man, learning that Bailey, junior, was a canvasser for the opposite side to that for which he desired to vote, when Bailey, senior, and Cousins arrived at his house later with the postal ballot-paper, said, “I am not going to vote for Sir Neville Howse. I intend to vote for the Labour man.” I suggest that there was then only one course open to Cousins and Bailey, senior, and that was to leave the postal ballot-paper with Nussio. Nussio swears that they wanted him to vote, and that Cousins took the ballot-paper away with him, and thus deprived him of his right to do so. It meant that he could not apply for another ballot-paper because one had been already issued to him. I ask the Minister to ascertain to what address the ballot-paper was sent, and the date upon which it was returned to the electoral officer. I do not think a satisfactory reply has been given by the Department. Administration which allows such things to be done without proper investigation is very slipshod, and I suggest to the Minister that for the sake of the purification of elections, he should present to the House a full explanation by the electoral officer.
.- I join with those who feel strongly that this matter should be further investigated. The facts elicited so far indicate a very grave scandal, which should have the serious attention of a larger number of members than is now present. No charge is made against the Minister, and certainly none is made against the successful candidate in the electorate concerned. I approach the subject with a confident hope that any honorable member will have the support of all other honorable members in endeavouring to secure and maintain the purity of elections. After the general elections of 1910, grave abuses in connexion with the postal voting system were disclosed in this House, as a result of which, steps were taken by the then Labour Government to repeal the postal voting provisions of the Act. And they were repealed, despite the indignant protests of those who were sitting in opposition to Labour at that time.
Our view was, that whilst it was very important that every qualified citizen should have an opportunity to record his vote, it was infinitely more important that no vote should be vitiated by improper or corrupt influences of any kind. And we took the responsibility of amending the Act accordingly. The fact that, notwithstanding their previous history, the postal provisions were reinstated - and I would welcome any properly safeguarded provision that would enable invalids to record their votes - constitutes the very strongest reason why the Act should be administered with the utmost caution and strictness. At least, the electoral officers should see that all safeguards are carried out to the letter. It appears to be regarded by some honorable members as quite a minor offence that some persons on more than one occasion signed postal votes as witnesses of the signature of the applicant, when, in fact they knew nothing at all about the circumstances in which the vote was signed, or whether the applicant had actually signed it. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini), who deserves credit for having brought this matter forward, has been told that these offences were merely technical breaches of the law. I submit that they were a very graveoffence indeed.
– The people who signed as witnesses knew some of the circumstances at any rate, and they had reliable assurances that the applicant had signed.
– They have admitted that they signed as witnesses, and that they had not seen the applicant sign.
– Yes, but there are other extenuating statements, which I have not had time to read.
– This is the relevant section of the Act -
An authorized witness shall not witness the signature of any elector to an application for a postal vote certificate and postal ballot paper unless -
Penalty : Fifty pounds, or imprisonment for one month.
– Surely those men did not sign as witnesses without having seen the applicant sign ?
– They admitted having done so on more than one occasion.
– Then it is nonsense to call that a technical breach.
– Does it appear that the applicant had not signed?
– The applicant had signed. According to the section I have quoted, the offence is serious, and the offenders are liable to a heavy penalty. It appears that the electoral officer recommended a prosecution, but the Crown Solicitor in New South Wales advised that no prosecutionshouldtake place.
– He did not advise that no prosecution should take place.
– Not having had access to thefiles on that aspect we are not very clear as to what the Crown Solicitor did advise, but if there are any mitigating circumstances surrounding an offence of that kind they should be disclosed in public Court, and should not be accounted sufficient to influence any electoral officer or Crown Solicitor to recommend that no prosecution for a breach of the Act should take place.Leniency in this matter should beexercised, if at all, in public Court where all the facts could be elicited on sworn testimony. What we on this side of the House have urged against the postal voting system., makes strong reasons why the provisions of the Act should be strictly observed. The offence of these men having been admitted, and the fact being clear that that offence was repeated on at least two occasions, we are justified in assumingthat it was their practice to commit that offence, that that was the form of procedure they adopted. They were getting those applications whereever they could, and by whatever means theycould, andthen appending to them thesignatures ofqualified persons. In two cases their offence was discovered, but I doubt ifone honorable member believes that those were the only instances in which theoffencewas committed. That isa reason why, when the offence has been sheeted home, it should bethe subject of a prosecution, whether atwas done insupport of the candidatureof a Labour man, a Nationalist, or any other class of candidate. All the circumstances connected with this matter are in the highest degree suspicious. I believe that the reconstruction, of the incidentby the honorable member forYarra reproduced exactly what did occur. These people, having got a. ballot-paper in some illicit way, took it to an old man and endeavoured to get him to vote in the way they desired. But he said he would have nothing to dowith it, and that he had seen a man named Berry, and that therehad been a row about the vote. It is said that Bailey and Cousinsthen remarked: “ If you want to vote for a Labour man, you can do so.” Would any reasonable man believe that these organizers for a Nationalist candidatewent to the old man with a postal vote., said nothing about the Nationalist candidate, and, without the Labour candidate having been mentioned, volunteered the observation that if the elector wanted to vote for the Labour man he could do so ? I cannot believe that that occurred. I ask that the papers relating to the case he submitted to the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) for careful examination in the light of to-day’s debate, and the statement by the Minister.
– Any honorable member may see the file.
– The Minister should also obtaina statement from Mr. Berry and, if necessary, sworn statements from the others who are concerned. These postal provisions, dangerousastheyare, must be honestly and strictly administered, andany man who is foundguilty on his own admission of an offence punishable by a (fine of £50 or imprisonment for one month, should not be dealt with in a hole and corner manner byanyelectoral or CrownLaw officer, but should be tried according to the lawof the land and upon sworn testimony.
Question resolved in thenegative.
Mr.DUNCAN-HUGHES (for Mr. Marks) asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
WithreferencetothefleetauxillariesBiloela andKurumba,willhegivethefollowingin- formation: - 1.Number of days in commissionmanned by mercantile crew 1922-23.
– The information is being obtained, and the honorable member will be informed as early as; possible.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice - 1.1s ita fact that the late Mr.Punshion, Commissioned Signal Boatswain from H.M.S. flood, was buried with full naval honours,’ with gun-carriage and firing; party?
-T he answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow :
Offerof Steamship Service;
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
The matter has been referred to the Commonwealth Board of Trade for report, and will be considered at a. meeting of the Board to be held on 19th May. Upon receipt of the Board’s report, the question wilt be given prompt consideration by the Government. 2: No.
Mr.CUNNINGHAM (for Mr. Blakeley) asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will supply the’ following information: -
– The answers to. the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Cost of Staffs, financial year,. 1922-23.- Royal Military College, Duntroon, £24,792; No. 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, £25,433 Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, £47,076; Flinders Naval Depot, £137,053. 3. (a) Cost of Stall’s for present financial year -Roval Military College, Duntroon, to 9th May, 1924, £20,430; No. 1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, to 30th’ April, 1924, £25.303: Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bar, to 30th April, 1924, £38,000: Flinders Naval Depot, £.117,533.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Will he ascertain from the representative.? iif the Commonwealth on the Board of Directors of that company and report to the House
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as fol- low : -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the Statute providing for reports of the Tariff Board being placed before Parliament and of the great’ impbrtance of the Minis ter’s decision imposing a duty on wire netting, will he place on the tabic of the House the report of the Board and the reasons which induced him to impose a dumping duty?
– The papers will be placed on the table of the Library.
asked the Minister for Works and Railways, upon notice -
In view of his announced intention to visit South Australia to confer with the South Australian Government in connexion with the construction of the Port Augusta-Hay railway, will he visit Port Pirie, South Australia, and meet representatives of that town in order to discuss with them the question of the route to lie adopted.
– Until the views of the present South Australian Government regai’ding the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for the construction of the railway are ascertained, no good purpose will be served by discussing the question of the route to be adopted with representatives of Port Pirie.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Yes. 2. (a) 215.
The foregoing rules are rigidly observed, and the strictest supervision of the operation of the arrangement is continuously exercised.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 15th May, vide page 715);
Clause 6 -
The Commission shall consist of three members who shall be appointed by the GovernorGeneral.
The Chairman of the Commission, and any member of the Commission remunerated solely by way of salary, shall devote the whole of his time to the duties of his office.
Upon which Mr. Charlton had moved by way of amendment -
That the word “ three “ be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ one “.
– I have been waiting with interest to hear the thunder from certain honorable members on the Ministerial side.
– And we have been waiting tohear the thunder from honorable members opposite .
– Well, the first shot has been fired from this side by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), who has submitted an amendment to reduce the number of Commissioners from three to one. I am astonished that several members supporting the Government have not had something to say on this clause, because their second-reading speeches made it quite clear that they believed the Commission should consist of one, not three members. Where are the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen), and other honorable members who think with him on this question? What has happened since they spoke on the subject ?
– This clause is too important to be allowed to pass in the absence of several honorable members. [Quorum formed.]
-Now that the honorable member for Riverina is in his place, I would like to know what he intends to do with regard to this clause. A few days ago, I gave him credit for consistency, and as a man who, when he has hacked a horse likes to see it running in good form, I want the honorable member to live up to my commendation. In his second-reading speech, he said that, whilst he did not believe in a Commission of three, he favoured the appointment of one Commissioner, and for that reason he voted for the second reading. Other members onhis side also voted for the second reading on the same grounds. What are they going to do about the clause now? Why are they silent?
– Because the Minister has practically met our objections.
– What alteration has been made? The Commission will still consist of three members. Has the honorable member changed his mind?
– Not at all. The amendment indicated ‘by the Minister will make the Commission a very different body.
– The only real difference is that, as introduced, the Bill provided for a Commission of three, all ofwhomwere to be paid good salaries. The proposal now is to pay a good salary to one Commissioner, and fees to the others.
Mr.Fenton. - Up to £2,000a year each.
– The honorable member for Riverina poses as the representative of economy. He told us that he did not believe in a Commission of three, if all its members were to receive salaries, but he is ready now to vote for the clause on the understanding that . two members of the Commission shall be paid fees. If honorable members supporting the Government were really sincere in their objection to a Commission of three, it surely was their duty to submit this amendment, not to allow it to be moved by the Leader of the Opposition. We hope, of course, that it will be carried. It will be if the honorable member for Riverina and a number of his friends who think with him are true to their spoken word. The clause will then provide for the appointment of one Commissioner, and it will be competent for honorable members on this side of the Chamber to vote against its retention in the Bill, because we object . to the whole proposal. A number of honorable members voted for the second reading of the Bill because they said they would be able in Committee to move that the number of Commissioners be reduced from three to one. We are told now that the Government proposal is different altogether from that contained in the original draftof the Bill. I invite the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Killen) and other honorable members who stated in their second-reading speeches that they were opposed to the appointment of three Commissioners to tell us the difference, between the proposal in the original draft and that which the Minister intends to make when we are dealing with the next clause. The only difference that I can see is that in the first case payment is to be by salary, and in the second it is to be by fees.
– I would like to know what the honorable member for Yarra proposes to do. Evidently he intends to vote for his leader’s amendment, notwithstanding that hehas said that one Commissioner will be worse than three.
– I shall vote for the amendment, and even if it be carried I shall afterwards vote against the clause. I am opposed to the appointment of any kind of Commission. This amendment has been moved . to test the sincerity of those honorable members opposite who said that they were favorable to the appointment of one Commissioner but not of three. Z think that if a Commission were necessary, one Commissioner would probably be worse than three Commissioners. I malco it quite clear, however, that though I shall vote for the amendment I shall later on vote against the whole clause.
.- After a long discussion honorable members decided that it was advisable to appoint a Commission to control the Federal Capital Territory. The Committee is now asked to say whether the Commission shall consist of one member or three. I ask the Minister for Works (Mr. Stewart) to give the Committee the reasons why the Government think that three Commissioners are necessary. I wish to avoid extravagance. The Territory should be managed as economically as possible. I have been rather impressed by what i have read of an American practice of appointing managers instead of councils to control municipal affairs. I do not know what powers are vested in those managers, but the system appears to be, from the little I know of it, to be economical and efficient. The most important work at Canberra has been begun, and, in some cases, almost completed. The water supply has been provided, and only the reticulation remains to be done; the sewerage system is under construction, and I believe that by the time Parliament removes to Canberra it will be finished; an electric light and power plant has been installed; and the report of the Public Works Committee on the Yass-Canberra Railway is in the hands of the printer. It seems to me, therefore, that no great engineering -skill will be required for new work at Canberra for a considerable time. Is there, then, any necessity to appoint three Commissioners ? Personally, I cannot .see any advantage in the proposal. The cost of Government administration in Australia has almost reached breaking point. W* shall have to economize somewhere. When we are dealing with the salary -clause of the Bill I intend to move an amendment to reduce the amount to be paid. I can see no justification ‘for’ spending £7,000 in salaries. A really good man with the necessary business acumen should be available for £2,000 a year.
– I shall move to reduce the salary to a lower figure than that.
– -Honorable members know that I voted against Commission control at Canberra, but the House decided against my view, and T accept the decision.
– The proposal which the honorable member intends to make is different from that contained in the Bill.
– It is only a slight change.
– It will mean that one man will have complete control. The other two Commissioners will be mere puppets, and they will be dominated by the chairman.
– I cannot see that there will be sufficient work to occupy three Commissioners. We should endeavour to obtain more economical administration. The Minister astonished me the other day when he said the administration at Canberra was costing over £30,000 a .year. There should be no reason for such heavy expenditure. I do not blame him for it, because he is new to his office; but I am hopeful that when the new Estimates arn before us we shall be able to reduce administrative costs considerably, not -only at Canberra, but throughout Australia generally.
; - I ask the Committee not to agree to the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) has just made an extraordinary, speech. Though he supported the amendment to reduce the number of Commissioners from three to one, he solemnly stated that he considered that one Commissioner would be worse than three. He then proceeded to twit honorable members in the corner with inconsistency. His speech was one of the most extraordinary that I ha-‘e heard in this Chamber.
– I made it quite clear that though I intended to vote for one Commissioner instead of three, I would also vote against the whole clause. I shall have the opportunity to do so, whether the amendment by the Leader pf the Opposition is agreed to or not.
– The Government agrees with the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that it is. necessary to curtail expenditure and to secure more economical administration. It introduced this Bill to give effect to those views.
The appointment of this Commission will prevent overlapping and ensure economical control of the Federal Capital Territory. Many problems have still to be faced there and the Government does not think it possible for one man to grapple successfully with them. Millions of pounds of public money have been spent in the Territory, and much more mustbe expended. The Advisory Committee which is in control consists of five members, and it has found great difficulty in meeting the problems that have arisen. One man should not be asked to bear the burden of administering Canberra affairs. Under the Government proposal three Commissioners will be appointed, one of whom will be a full-time officer. He will have the advantage of advice from two other Commissioners, who will be paid prescribed fees, according to the time they devote to their work.
Sitting suspended from 12.58 to 8.7.5 p.m.
.- The Minister endeavoured to find fault with the statement of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), and Accused him of saying that, whilst he would support the appointment of one Commissioner, he believed that one was worse than three. The Minister, however, omitted to mention that the honorable member pointed out that when the issue as to one or three Commissioners had been disposed of, he would vote against the clause as a whole, because he did not believe in a Commission. That puts quite a different construction on what was said.
– The issue here is whether there are to be one or three Commissioners.
– Many honorable members have publicly declared that they are opposed to a Commission, and a number of others have announced that they are in favour of one Commissioner. The public will desire to know the reason for this change of front. The Minister justifies the alteration on the ground that the circumstances are now different. In the place of three Commissioners, it is proposed to appoint only one permanent Commissioner, the other two being parttime officers who will receive for their services a sum to be determined, either by the Minister or the permanent Commissioner, but which must not exceed £2,000 per annum. Where is the difference, as far as the expenditure is concerned, between the proposal in the Bill and the new suggestion of the Government? The fact is that the Ministry could expend the same sum of money as under the original plan. The Bill, as drafted, provides that the Commissioners shall be permanent, and that the salaries of two of them shall not exceed £2,000 per annum.The distinction is very fine indeed. If there was a majority of honorable membersno doubt there was - against the appointment of three Commissioners, what is the reason for the altered view? Apr parently a meeting has been held somewhere. The Government had to look for a way out of their awkward predicament, and they said to their supporters, “ Do not humiliate us. We are on tenterhooks at present, and unless you are very careful, you will precipitate a crisis.” The Government supporters, therefore, compromised with their consciences, and decided to adopt the new proposal in order to ensure the safety of the Government. The purpose of the move is so apparent that it cannot be misconstrued. Honorable members who vote contrary to the views they have already expressed will condemn themselves in the eyes of the people. The Government cannot invariably administer the affairs of the Commonwealth on the lines of least resistance for the purpose merely of retaining their position on the Treasury bench. The plain duty of the Ministryis to withdraw the Bill, but instead of that they have provided an escape ladder for those who are opposed to the Commission’s appointment. Are honorable members opposite prepared to accept this humiliation at the hands of the Government? In the long-run, Ministers will find themselves in a worse position than at present, if they persist in their intention. Cracking the party whip for the purpose of forcing their supporters to vote against their avowed convictions, amounts to lowering parliamentary procedure in the eyes of the public. Surely we should endeavour to be consistent.
– And honest, too.
– Yes. The Minister seemed particularly anxious to address the Committee before I spoke, to foreshadow what the Government intended to do to make the courseclear,forits own supporters.
– Is there not a section oi: honorable members who believe in the Bill, but insist upon having only one Commissioner?
– I stated that there were members who were opposed to three Commissioners, but favoured one. Those members are now about to excuse their conduct, in supporting the Government by saying, “ The Bill has been altered. We brought the Government down to one Commissioner.” As u matter of fact, there are still to be three Commissioners, and it is proposed to give the whole of the power to one. There are certain administrative duties that this Commissioner will take on himself, and it is also proposed that he should have a casting vote, which means that if on any occasion a part-time Commissioner were absent, the vote of the permanent official would decide any matter under consideration. The Minister told us that the measure had been brought down in the interests of economy. In the same breath he told us that the Committee at present in existence had rendered splendid service, and was still doing good work. We were informed that there had been no waste of money and that the Committee is working as economically as possible. If that is so, why make a change which means increased expense ? The cost of the present Committee is a mere bagatelle compared with the expenses which would be incurred by a Commission. Within two or three months of their appointment the Commissioners would gather round them a big staff, as has been the case with other Departments in the past. They would bc carried away with the thought of their own importance. Against this Parliament would have practically no redress. The Bill provides for quarterly reports to be submitted to the Minister. But it is not imperative on the Minister to submit those reports to this House. It is true that any regulations which might be framed would have to be placed on the table of the House, but that would not give us control. It might occur that at the time Parliament would be in recess,’ and before it re-assembled errors might have been made which could not be remedied. The fact that the annual report of the Commission would have to . be sub.mitted to Parliament means very little.
We get similar reports from every Commission and Department now; although some of them do not reach us until five or six months after the expiration of the financial year; in some cases it has been as long as two or throe years.
– Does not the inquiry which may be instituted by the Public Accounts Committee count for something?
– Yes; but the Committee can pursue its inquiries where it likes, and considerable periods might elapse between their investigations into Canberra accounts. A careful consideration of the Bill must convince us that it robs this House of control. Very heavy expenditure might be incurred by the Commission, but all that members of this House could do would be to draw attention to the fact, and that probably not until six months after the money had been spent. The work is now being carried out at a less cost than under a Commission.
– That matter has already been settled; surely the honorable member knows that.
– I know that; but in this matter I am against the views of the majority in this Chamber. The whole thing was pre-arranged in a party meeting before submission to the House.
– What about the opposition to the Bill; was not that also decided on before the Bill came before the House?
– This particular Bill was never discussed in any shape or form in the Opposition room. When the Bill came before us, I spoke against it “on my own initiative, and from that time the debate has developed’. During my speech I asked honorable members not to make this a party question. I considered it was one of national importance. The Federal Capital belongs to Australia as a whole, and party politics should be kept out of the discussion. I was pleased to notice that, in their speeches, a number of honorable members on the other side subscribed to my views, and expressed opposition to the appointment of a Commission. Those members now are either absent from the chamber, or have been able to find some reason for voting the other way. What is the reason for their changed a’tt’itude? 1 ‘‘It- must ‘'’be- due’ to what has happened in the party meeting. Honorable members should not attempt to compromise with their consciences in this manner. They should ring true to their declarations of last week, and help to carry this amendment. I hope that honorable members will not be drawn away by other considerations, and that if they have considered this to- be a party question, they will disabuse their minds of that idea. This is a time when each should vote according to his conscience.
– I have been interested, and indeed amused,, by the statement of the honorable the Leader of the Opposition. I desire to speak for myself respecting my action, both before and after the party meeting, which the honorable member says moulded this side of the House’ into harmony and submission. My belief in the appointment of a Commission’ is founded on the history of the past, and is- well founded. The honorable member would have the country believe that we on this side of the House have been in solemn conclave respecting this matter, while those on the other side have not. There has, been no need for the members of the Opposition to confer, as they have received definite instructions that nothing should be done which would rob them of any opportunity to discuss a question on the floor of’ -the House. Yesterday, on the score of economy, the honorable member complained about certain proposed additions to the Flinders Naval Bass’.. More than £1,000,000. has already been expended there-. It is the tragedy of tragedies of the past, for which honorable members on the. other side were responsible;
– Yes, absolutely responsible! The honorable member knows that on the floor of this. House I denounced the scheme, and therm with it.
– And then voted for it.
– And then did not vote for it.
– The honorable member did! vote for it.
– I ask honorable members who have recently come into this House to take a trip down to Flinders Naval Base, and to get a knowledge of its history. That history has been such as to lead honorable members on this side who- know anything about it to insist on all possible safeguards in order to prevent similar waste in future.- The case of Canberra is a parallel one except in this respect : that some permanent good may result from it. The mistakes made in regard to Flinders Naval Base will always be a blot upon the record of the Administration responsible, because an expenditure of £1,000,000 Avas incurred on a base that is approached by a mud creek, and it is not possible to take’ a ship up to it. It is not necessary for me to submit, evidence of the early history of Canberra. Hansard tells the tale - and it is a sad tak) - to the taxpayers of Australia. How did I speak and vote, in season and out of season, on the matter?
– The honorable member wobbled on Canberra!
– I did not.. If the Standing Orders would allow me I would phrase my denial much more . convincingly. The period of waste at Canberra was concurrent Avith the period when honorable members opposite were in power. Does the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), believe that he can mislead the people on this matter? That is utterly impossible. I have the greatest respect and admiration, even affection,, for him ; but I must point out that, although he does not believe in having, a commission, he has moved an amendment which means the appointment of one.
– I shall move a further amendment to knock it out, after I have secured the honorable member’s vote-
– I have no doubt the honorable member will do so. He would not need to. obtain authority for such action, because it accords with the policy of his party. It is. not the policy of the Labour party to have such matters as this, controlled by a Commission; it favours dealing with them in a free and easy manner, with the result that strikes are occurring in Australia nearly every day, and one of the vilest is in operation to-day. That is what impels rae to advocate the appointment of a Commission, so that we may have some measure of independence. I need not say any more because these few suggestions will be understood by the people outside. They have had a sufficient gruelling from the policy of honorable members opposite, which is becoming more accentuated every day, and is decided upon, not in the party room, but in an entirely different quarter. I again remind the Leader of the Opposition that he does not believe in having a Commission, yet he moves an amendment which favours its appointment.
– The step taken by the Leader of the Opposition apparently has annoyed the honorable member.
– Not at all; it delights me. It enables me to give prominence to the actions of honorable members opposite. Those actions require to be given a little prominence. We on this side are going to sleep on this matter, and we want waking up. Let me deal with the charge of the Leader of the Opposition against honorable members sitting with me. Some honorable members on this side do not want a Commission, while others do not want a Commission of three. I do want a Commission, but I want to guard against unjustifiable expenditure in providing for it. History has taught me the necessity for having a Commission to deal with such matters. 1 used to feel vicious towards honorable members opposite. I am not now, and shall not be again. I have learned by experience. It took me a long time to learn the lesson, but I have thoroughly grasped it now, and I am going to approach my honorable friends opposite in a kindly, Christian spirit. The Leader of the Opposition has given an unanswerable reason why we should have a Commission. He has told us that “ everything in the garden is lovely.” He says that the Minister is doing well. I believe that he is. I was there before him’, and I appreciated very much any compliments on my administration. But if the work has been done well lately, it is because honorable members opposite have not been charged with the duty of carrying it out. During the remainder of the period it was done very badly, indeed. That, is proved by Hansard, and by the Blue-Book. It is because I do not want the irresponsible control which would be exercised by honorable members opposite if they were in power, with the consequent waste of public money, that I support the proposal for the appointment of a Commission.
– The honorable member thinks, then, that this party is coming into power?
– I do not think so, and I am on my feet now to make it impossible. I want a Commission because the history of the past is not likely to be repeated under a Commission. It cannot be repeated unless the other side gets into power and is able to abolish the Commission, and if it does so, it must accept responsibility for its action. When I addressed the House on this subject the other day I said that the volume of work to be done at Canberra now and for some years to come does not justify the appointment of a Commission of three men at a cost of £7,000 a year. I still want a Commission because of the awful history of the past at Canberra, for which the party opposite is responsible. I hope the Government will view the matter in a reasonable light and appoint one Commissioner permanently at a salary sufficient to secure the services of a first class man, who will not allow himself to be kicked from pillar to post by members on either side of this Chamber. We must have a man who will keep a firm hand upon public expenditure, whilst securing continuity of construction, and who will be able to steer clear of the industrial rocks and shoals which everywhere are to-day menacing this country with ruin.
– “Union agitators” is the honorable member’s next cue.
– They always have been and are likely to be. They, are the very curse of this country. The working man is all right. I thank the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) for giving me this cue. It is the union agitators and not the working men who are to blame for what is going on in Melbourne to-day, and if honorable members on the other side have any responsibility in connexion with it, it is nothing for them to be proud of.
– Wc shall have to walk down to the train to-day.
– I would walk down to the train on forty days before I would permit men to play “ ducks and drakes “’ with the public utilities of this country. The Minister for Works and Railways said the other day, and I know how true the statement is, that Canberra has represented a big drain upon the time of the principal officers of the Works Department. These officials have the care of all Commonwealth works in every part of Australia.
– Canberra has represented a big drain upon Australia ako.
– It has, because the time devoted to works at Canberra has led to the neglect of necessary works in South Australia and all the other States of the Commonwealth.
– This means more appointments.
– There must be more appointments whether we have a Commission at Canberra or not. We must have at Canberra a permanent Commissioner of the right type. God help the Government if they appoint a duffer to this position. As the administration of the Territory should be the responsibility of more than one man we will need two men paid by fees, who might be called directors, or by any other name we please. They will not have to give their services at first for more than one day in each week, and later on, perhaps, only one day in each month. To secure real efficiency and continuity of policy in the construction of the Federal Capital what is submitted is a sound proposition, and no other will meet the situation.
.- The change of front by honorable members opposite on the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition’ (Mr. Charlton) has presented one of the sorriest spectacles ever seen in this Chamber. In speaking on the second reading of the Bill the honorable member who has just resumed his seat said he would vote to permit it to go into Committee solely on the understanding that only one Commissioner should be appointed. Now we find the honorable member and other honorable members on his side prepared to swallow the proposal of the Government and appoint three Commissioners. The Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) has had to make their excuses for them, perhaps because they are too ashamed to make them themselves. The excuse offered is that two of the three Commissioners will only be parttime men. I would not take the ‘guarantee of the Minister or of any one else for that. .If the Bill passes, three Commissioners will be appointed, and salaries will’ be provided for full time for all three. This is the economy of the Corner party and of the Governments The Commission will scarcely be constituted before it will create a new Department. The burden of the speech of the honorable member for Wakefield has been that we must get an efficient and suitable man to carry out the work at Canberra. If three are to be appointed, as proposed- by the Bill, all of them must be efficient and capable, otherwise the two feed Commissioners, though inefficient and incapable, would be able to nullify the wisdom of the capable and efficient Chairman. I submit that .we cannot expect first class, capable, and efficient men to consent to be at the beck and call of the Chairman of the Commission and attend a meeting once a week or once a month at Canberra. I am under the impression that an honorable member opposite interjected to the effect that the two Commissioners to serve under the Chief Commissioner would meet only once a month, but the AttorneyGeneral (Sir Littleton Groom) now in forms me that that is not the case. It could not be reasonably expected that men of ability, capacity, and possessing qualifications such as the men to be appointed must possess, would agree to be called together in such a haphazard way. The proposal to pay the two Commissioners fees for services they may render is like many other proposals, merely camouflage, and gives honorable members opposite who have opposed the Bill a means by which to escape. It would appear that some honorable members supporting the Government have declared themselves too soon, and now the whip has been cracked, and they cannot swallow the arguments they submitted on the floor of the Chamber, the Governmnent have provided a loop-hole of escape. The flimsy pretext under which they now intend to support the Bill is such as would be employed only by a schoolboy. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster), the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), and others, definitely stated when speaking on the second reading that, they would oppose the- Bill if three Commissioners were to be appointed. TheMinister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) believes that he has overcomethe objections raised by these honorable members -by stating that it is his intention to amend the Bill so ‘ th’at two Com- missioners shall be paid ‘only for the services they, render. I do not think that any Government supporter will submit an amendment, and that the measure will pass practically in its present form, lt is the first Bill introduced into this House relating to the Federal Capital which has been made a party measure. We have had numerous discussions in this Chamber concerning Canberra, and honorable members have always been divided. It is only in an instance such as this that honorable members opposite make it a party question, merely in the interest of their friends who are likely to be the recipients of the remuneration proposed to be paid.
– That is significant.
– It is one fact that stands out very prominently. The Minister endeavours to make the House believe that some honorable members have changed their opinions during the last few days. If such is the case, it is only because some honorable members opposite are anxious to do something for their political supporters that their opinions Slave been reversed. We do not know even now who is to be appointed to the Commission, and before this clause is disposed of a definite announcement should be made by the Government. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) was most eloquent when referring to the industrial troubles, and suggested that the proposed Commission would be a means of creating industrial harmony. An acute industrial disturbance exists in Melbourne at the present time, and the Tramways Board, which should have prevented it, is actually accentuating the trouble.
– It is managing it well.
-(Hon. F. W. Barnlord). - The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) is out of order.
– If such is the case, the honorable member for Wakefield was also out of order in making a similar reference. The proposed Commission will create industrial trouble.
– Such bodies very often do.
– Yes; men occupying positions such as these men will fill become autocratic. I “ pointed put during my “second-reading speech, that if in dustrial troubles occur in the Federal Capital Territory, they can be brought before Parliament and decided here, when opinions from both sides of the Chamber can be heard. A Commissioner receiving a salary of ?3,000 a year will pay little regard to the welfare of men receiving, say, 18s. per day, and if he can reduce their wages in order to economize he will do so. It is quite probable that it is the intention of the Government to appoint a Commission in order to be relieved of the responsibility of reducing wages, or in some way interfering with the conditions under which the men are now working. Why do the Government want a Commission at all ? I believe it would be much easier to dispense with one man than with three. I intend to vote against the clause. It is time honorable members opposite took a firm stand,. They should tell us definitely how they intend to vote.
– Hear, hear !
– It is difficult to know how the honorable member for Indi intends to vote, because he has not yet spoken on this Bill. Many honorable members opposite advocate a principle one day, and the next day swallow their convictions. They do not even make excuses on their own behalf, but place that responsibility on the Minister. This is about the sorriest spectacle of many we have seen since this Government has been in office.
– It is subterfuge, and dishonesty.
– It is. The people have had enough of actions such as this, and this Government will cease- to function as soon as the electors have an opportunity of expressing their opinions.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) that the debate on this clause presents rather a sorry spectacle; but it constitutes a sorry spectacle, from my point of view, because motives are so ridiculously imputed by honorable members, one to another, on a plain matter in regard lo which there should be room for honest differences of opinion. It seems to me extraordinary that members should think it .necessary, to impute all kinds of unworthy motives,) te others holding views which differ from their own.
Up to the very last moment I opposed as strongly as I could, the establishment of the Federal Capital at Canberra, but there came a time when it was obvious that it was quite useless to offer any further opposition. This House was determined that the project should be proceeded with, and sensible men will agree, that having come to that determination, the one question which interested us was how we could best carry on such a great work. We are all wishing to see a fine city built in the Federal Territory. I do not think any one will dispute the fact that in the past - I am nol seeking to attribute the blame to one side or the other - a considerable amount of money has been wasted at the Capital.
– Where has the waste taken place?
– It is not my business to say. I am merely stating a fact.
– I challenge the honorable member to prove it.
– I think it is generally admitted that a great deal of waste has occurred. All of us are anxious to avoid a continuance of that waste; we want value for every penny that we spend on the Federal Capital site. The Government has suggested that the work should now be entrusted to a Commission. Will not every honorable member agree that there is room for honest difference of opinion as to whether the work should be carried on as at present by existing Departments or by a Commission? At first I had considerable difficulty in deciding which system was preferable, but I am influenced by the fact that three honorable members who, as Ministers of the Crown, have been connected with this work - 1 refer to the present Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce), the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart), and the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster), who was formerly Minister for Works and Railways - declare that, in their opinion, control by a Commission is preferable. I do not know in detail the work that has to be carried out, but I can imagine that a project entailing the expenditure of millions of pounds must involve great difficulties, the solution of which will require sound ability. We are laying the foundations of a Capital City that is to last for’ centuries, and it is of the utmost’ importance that in”- this work there should be continuity of operations. A Minister is here to-day and gone to-morrow; successive Ministers take different views regarding the policy that should be adopted in the carrying out of this work. But by handing it over to a permanent body charged with the responsibility of carrying the project to a successful completion we shall secure that continuity of policy and operations which is so highly desirable.
– Does the honorable member suggest that continuity of operations cannot be obtained under control by a permanent Department?
– The permanent heads of a Department must necessarily be influenced by the man who is their political chief for the time being. A Commission, although amenable to the views of the Minister to a certain extent, will be more independent, and its policy will be continuous. That consideration has helped me to make up my mind in favour of a Commission. But the House has already affirmed the principle of control by a Commission, and as majority rule obtains in Parliamentary deliberations, I suggest that .the opponents of the establishment of a Commission should respect the decision of the House, as I earlier accepted the decision of Parliament that the Federal Capital should be established at Canberra.
– Did the honorable member accept the decision of Parliament in regard to the increase of members’ salaries ?
– I did.
– The honorable member accepted the increase.
– Yes, after I had gone before my constituents and informed them that if the increased salary remained the law of the land I would accept it. Surely no honorable member will dispute that, the House having resolved upon the creation of a Commission, it is our duty to loyally accept that decision.
– If the honorable member were opposed to the Commission and believed that a majority of the House was of the same opinion, would he not endeavour to get them to vote according to their views ?
– A majority of members has voted in favour of the establishment of a Commission’,0’ arid’ it is useless “to “endeavour further’ 4 “thwart that decision. One other question arises, and that is whether there should be one Commissioner or three. This also is a matter upon which there is plenty of room for differences, of opinion. I respect the view of those honorable members who pin their faith to one Commissioner, and believe that he should be saddled with full responsibility and that he could be more easily dealt with than could three Commissioners. At first I was inclined to believe that one Commissioner would be preferable, but not because of any consideration of expense. The probable cost of the Commission has been overemphasized. Assuming a Commission of three to be desirable, what will it matter if the salaries amount to £7,000 per annum? An immense amount of money is to bc expended under their direction, and if they do their work efficiently they will very soon earn their salaries. The sum of £7,000 per annum for men who are to control the building of a great Capital City is a mere bagatelle.
– Indirectly, we are paying that sum in other ways now.
– Quite so. Some honorable members on this side of the House have been twitted with the fact that they expressed a preference for one Commissioner instead of three, and yet are prepared to vote for the amended proposal of the Minister. It seems to me that these honorable members are* quite consistent. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster), the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and one or two others, indicated on the second reading their preference for a Commission of one.
– I was against the appointment of a Commission, but I have accepted the decision of the House in that respect. ‘
– That is so. Having accepted that decision, the question is now whether there should be one or three Commissioners. The proposal of the Ministry is obviously a compromise. The objection of those who thought that £7,000 a year was too much to pay, in view of the fact that it would not be necessary to employ three Commissioners full time, has been met by the Minister’s proposal to have one man at Canberra in close and continuous touch with operations… ..,and , two., other. .Commissioners - available when . (necessary.,, and paid at so much a sitting. I understand that the honorable member for Wakefield expressed the view that, because of the amount of work to be done, it is unnecessary to have three Commissioners paid for the whole of their time. His view is met by the Minister, who says that the second and third Commissioners will be paid only for the work it is found necessary for them to do.
– The Bill ought to state how much they will be paid for each sitting.
– I agree with the honorable member that that might be stated, but one naturally assumes that the fees they are paid will be in proportion to the £2,000 a year each, which they were to be paid for the whole of the year. The proposition is very simple. How can the work at the Federal Capital be most efficiently done? Some honorable members believe that it can be done without a Commission as efficiently as it can be done with a Commission, and at less cost. Others say that the work can be more efficiently done by a Commission. Surely we can, at least, agree to differ, and I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition thought it necessary to deliver a lecture to those who differed from him. As a rule, he is one who agrees to differ from an opponent, and at the same time credits that, opponent with holding views as sound as his own.
– He was merely uttering a warning.
– That is not always advisable, and. merely serves to introduce into the debate an element which is better absent. We should argue ‘ upon principles.
– How can we’ argue with men who speak in one way and vote in another ?
– That is not quite fair. We must compromise sometimes. I frankly admit that the acceptance by certain honorable members of the Minister’s offer is a compromise, but it is a fair compromise and is easily understandable. On the whole, I agree with the view that there ought to be a Commission, and I think it a sound suggestion that there should be one permanent Commissioner, with two other Commissioners paid fees .for sitting! when necessary.-
– I want to take honorable members back to the period after the war when the; previous Government found it necessary to take up once more the work of building the Federal Capital. I was Minister for Works at the time. A problem facing that Government was whether the work could be placed in the hands of one director. We- found it necessary to draw up a complete scheme of continuous development and progressive construction, so that work could be done economically and efficiently. Among the problems facing us were not only engineering and architectural undertakings, and such like work in connexion with the laying out of the city, but also matters relating to land administration and municipal government; and it was obvious to us that we could not appoint one director who could grapple with all those problems. We found it absolutely essential to call to our assistance the advice of the best experts we could get, so that Parliament would not make any mistakes in its .task of building the Capital, and we appointed an Advisory Committee, comprising men with a. wide range of experi=ence in the engineering and architectural professions and in town planning. They were the best men of their class we could find in Australia. We had also on the Committee the Commonwealth Director of Works and the Commonwealth Surveyor-General. The Committee’s problem was to secure steady and continuous progress in the economical and efficient development of the Capital, and. Parliament, by acquiescing in the policy laid down by the Government, also recognized that the task of carrying out the important work at Canberra could not be entrusted to one man. The Advisory Committee met from time to time to consider the important problems confronting them, and rendered advice to the Government which has practically been accepted in every report presented to the House by the Public Works Committee.
– The Public Works Committee did not accept the advice of the Advisory Committee in regard to administrative offices.
– I said that their advice had i practically’ been accepted. As a matter of fact, I was re ferring particularly to the plan of development. There may be exceptions in regard to individual works. If we are to have confidence in the work we are undertaking, it is absolutely necessary to have the best expert advice we can get. We have now reached that stage when the problems of land settlement and municipal government will have to be faced. Very shortly private enterprise will be invited to take part in the development of the Federal Capital. Leaseholds will be made available for the building of business places and private residences. There will, no doubt, be a considerable addition to the population of the Capital, and local government questions, which could not very well be decided by a Government Department in Melbourne, will have to be dealt with. Honorable members opposite hold the opinion that only one Commissioner should be appointed. I say it would be asking too much of any one man to determine questions of construction, finance, land settlement, and matters relating to municipal government. . It is essential that the Commissioner should have the assistance of. colleagues, either permanently employed and giving their whole time to the position, or paid in fees for the actual work performed. We have found this principle to work satisfactorily up to the present. We have obtained very good results from the employment of men like the Chairman, Mr. Sulman, Mr. Ross and Mr. de Burgh, who are not called upon to give all their time, but are required to sit in a corporate capacity on the Advisory Committee to report upon the various problems that have confronted us up to the present.
– Then why change the system ?
– Because a new situation has arisen. The Bill was framed in such a way as to admit of the possibility of part employment of two of the members of the Commission. As introduced, it provided that the Commission should consist of a permanent full-time Commissioner, with two other Commissioners, who were .to he paid either by fees or partly by fees and partly by salary. It was thought that, in the initial stages, it would probably be more economical to adopt the course indicated in the clause, that is “to say, to provide for” payment by fees to two of the members. Honorable members on this side cannot be charged with inconsistency. Even if they were inconsistent, is it not more honorable to frankly acknowledge a change of opinion than to hold rigidly to previously expressed opinions merely to avoid a charge of inconsistency?
– But the honorable member for Fawkner has just told us that they have compromised themselves.
– No; the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) said that an arrangement in the nature of a compromise had been made. The Minister, to meet the wishes of honorable members, has agreed to amend the clause by providing that two of the Commissioners shall be paid by fees.
– Too thin !
– In the circumstances, it is the right course to take. It is necessary to have three men sitting as a Commission to solve the many problems that will present themselves. If experience shows that it is advisable for them to give their whole time to the work, the Government will not hesitate to ask Parliament to amend the Act. That is the position. Honorable members on this side realize the administrative difficulties ahead, and they are perfectly justified in their support of this clause. The Minister desires to retain this provision for the appointment of three Commissioners in order to have the combined judgment of men experienced in the many undertakings that will have to be faced, and he has agreed that two members of the Commission shall be paid such fees as are prescribed by regulation, such fees not to exceed £2,000 per year each. This arrangement will enable us to carry out the work at the Federal Capital economically and efficiently.
.- I believe that a majority of the. people of Australia are totally opposed to the appointment of this Commission. We have had a great deal of quibbling from the Attorney-General about the “ compromise “ on the part of the Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Stewart) and the “ change of opinion “ on the part of certain honorable members on the questions whether the Commission shall be appointed, and, if it is appointed, whether .it, shall consist of one . or three men. -Those, honorable^. ^members defi nitely said that they were opposed to the Commission. Apparently they have now changed their minds. The party whip has been cracked. They have been dictated to- in Caucus, because now they approve of the amendment indicated by the Minister for Works and Railways, which still provides for a Commission of three. It is well that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charltons has submitted his amendment. It will test the sincerity of honorable members on this issue. The honorable member for Fawkner just now asked why men could not reason together and agree to differ. How can one agree to differ with men who talk one way and are “pulled” to vote in another? To keep right with their electors some of the supporters of the Government took a certain line of argument in the second-reading debate. They led us to believe that they were opposed to the appointment of three Commissioners, but apparently they are now in favour of that course, so it is high time honorable members on this side said just what they think about the position. The time has arrived for plain speaking. In the last Parliament we heard a good deal about the need for economy. Members of the Country party objected to parliamentary authority being vested in any outside body. Did not the Leader of the Country party declare that they stood for the restoration of parliamentary control ? Now one of their own Ministers, backed up by his Leader, stands for a. policy of handing over this power to a Commission. Why not apply the principle all round and appoint a Commission to control the Post Office, another to control Defence, another to take charge of Public Works, and yet another to control immigration, and so on ? Why should’ we shirk our responsibilities? We are charged with a duty by the people of Australia. We should prove worthy of that trust. The Government, having failed in its job, as is indicated by its action respecting the administration of Canberra, should tender its resignation. No democratic Government would attempt to hand over its duties to a Commission. The AttorneyGeneral (Mr. Groom) stated that the Federal Capital Advisory Board was an efficient body. In addition, the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. .Stewart) has admitted ‘->that everything a has progressed satisfactorily under Colonel Owen, the Commonwealth Director of Works, who is a very capable officer. Why then depart from this efficient system. Is it to provide jobs for a few impecunious friends of the Government? The Minister should be honest, and tell the House the facts. The question of dual control has been raised, but why not place Mr. Goodwin and Colonel Owen under one Department, and thus abolish any overlapping of their duties. To avoid dual control it is not necessary to establish an expensive Commission at a cost of approximately £7,000 per annum, which in ten years will amount to £70,000. It is mere shuffling to say that a compromise has not been effected between the two wings of the Government. It is mere camouflage. The present proposal still provides for a Commission of three, one of whom will receive £3,000 per annum, and the others up to a maximum of £2,000 per annum each. It is camouflage that will not hoodwink the people. The Federal Capital Advisory Board consists of Colonel Owen, the Commonwealth Director of Works, Mr. Goodwin, Commonwealth Surveyor-General, Mr. Sulman, an architect of high standing, and skilled in town planning, Mr. Ross, another very fine architect, and Mr. de Burgh, the chief engineer for Harbors and Rivers in New South Wales. Mr. Ross is paid £1,000 per annum, and Mr. de Burgh £400 per annum, the other members of the Board receiving no payment for their services other than what they get in their Government appointments. The Minister has stated that expenditure up to £7,000 a year is to-day incurred, but that is not so. It is obvious that a Commissioner, appointed at a salary of £3,000 per annum, will almost immediately gather about him a big Department to emphasize the importance of his position in the eyes of the Government and the people, so that he may justify a future increase of salary. In view of the dire necessity for economy, the Government should withdraw the Bill. The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) admitted that the appointment of the Commission would tend to build up an expensive Department. This is not only wanton extravagance, but is also contrary to the expressed opinion of members sitting in the Ministrial Corner benches. What are
Mr. Forde. they going to do about it ? The Nationalist newspapers of Australia are bitterly opposed to the measure, and they urge its withdrawal.
– That is because they do not understand the problems involved.
– Of course they do. What they do not understand is why certain honorable members opposite wish to shift their responsibilities to highly-paid Government officials. The following paragraph, under date 28th April, 1924, appeared in the Brisbane Courier, which is the leading Nationalist newspaper in Queensland: -
The council of the Queensland Taxpayers’ Association is to be congratulated for entering, its protest against the expense to be incurred by the appointment of the proposed Canberra Commission. This is not the time for any such reckless and unnecessary expenditure, and it is to be hoped that the proposal will be shelved in a decisive manner when it comes before the meeting of the party. These are the sort of things over which the different Governments have been wasting far too much money, and it is time that such extravagances were stopped. The report of the Federal Auditor-General shows that enormous sums of public money are being soaked up by permanent Commissions, Royal Commissions, and Select Commissions of different kinds. The nation may be obtaining some advantage from the £12.000 a year that the Commissioner in America is costing, or .in the end it might have had some value from the £20,000 a year that the Commissioner in China was . costing. Expenditure of that kind may be justified, but the Government will find it very difficult to justify the appointment of a highlypaid Commission to superintend the building of the Federal Capital. It is to be hoped that at the first meeting of the party the proposal will be so plainly condemned that nothing more will be heard about it.
That article represents the opinion of the majority of the people throughout Australia. Even at this the eleventh hour, the Government will be well advised to retrace its steps. I believe the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) said that we should loyally support the decision of the House on the second reading by accepting the compromise. We should be recreant to our duty to the people if we, after accepting a seat in this House, refused to oppose the decision of a temporary majority of the House. Recent events have proved that honorable members opposite do not speak for the majority of the people of Australia. The Labour party will not shirk their responsibilities. We shall put our case clearly to the people of Australia, and tell them what we think of the extravagance of the Government in appointing this Commission. The honorable member for Fawkner stated that a compromise had been effected. The clause, however, is not materially altered. It still provides for the Commission. The honorable member for Lilley said, at first, that he was not enthusiastic about the Commission. He is now going to vote for it. The Bill should be withdrawn, and £7,000 per annum thus saved. As I understand that the Minister desires to report progress, I shall continue my remarks at a later date.
Report No. 1, presented by Mr.
Corser, read by the Clerk and adopted.
The following paper was presented: -
Northern Territory - Report of Administration for year ended 30th June, 1923.
Education of Soldiers’ Children - wing-commander goble’s flight around Australia - Murder of Seaman on H.M.A.S. Brisbane - New Commonwealth Buildings, Adelaide.
Motion (by Mr. Bruce) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I have received a letter from the Tasmanian Minister of Education which deals with the very important matter of the education of soldiers’ children. I shall read it to the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), so that he may be fully aware of the position. It is as follows: - .
Dear Sir. - I have just heard from the Director of Education of the proposal of the Repatriation Commission to cut out from the benefits of the soldiers’ children education scheme all children between the ages of thirteen and fourteen years, as from the 1st June next.
This is apparently being done because the amount originally estimated has been found insufficient to pay the whole of the expenses involved in the education scheme.
This scheme has provided for the children of widows an excellent opportunity for a decent start in life, and is one of the finest things ever provided by the Federal Government.
The very fact that the original vote has been exceeded is the best possible indication of the success of the scheme. Many children who would have had little chance in life but for this are put on their feet and given an opportunity to do something.
If the proposed reduction should operate, it will mean that the very time the struggling mother needs assistance to keep her children at school will be the year in which the money is withdrawn.
The result will undoubtedly be that large numbers will drop all educational advantages and find their way into blind-alley employment.
May I strongly urge upon you to do your utmost on behalf of the Government with the Federal authorities to see that this iniquitous proposal is not carried into effect? Yours faithfully, (Signed) Albert E. Ogilvie,
This matter is of great importance to the children of soldiers, and I trust that before the end of the month the Prime Minister will see that the arrangement indicated in that letter does not become operative.
– I am sure that honorable members will be interested to know that Wing-Commander Goble successfully crossed the Australian Bight and passed Fowler’s Bay at 2.5 p.m. to-day. He is now proceeding down the South Australian coast. The most dangerous part of his journey is over, and we may look for his return to Melbourne on Monday morning.
.- On the 7th May I asked the Minister for Defence (Mr. Bowden) a question about the murder of a seaman on board H.M.A.S. Brisbane. Have any steps been taken to hold an inquiry into the circumstances?’ It is due to the people of Sydney especially, who take such an interest in the members of the Naval Force, that aproper inquiry shall be held. It will be remembered that the Coroner stated that he had no power to deal with the case. The minds of the people in Sydney will be relieved if the Minister can tell us that the matter has not been swept on one side, but is being treated seriously.
.- I wish to draw the attention of the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Stewart) to the fact that the rather massive and comprehensive building which is being erected in Adelaide for the purpose of housing all the Federal officers in that city is nearing completion. The plastering stage has almost been reached. I wish to ask the Minister whether that building is to be plastered, or whether it is simply to be calsomined in the rough, in accordance with the practice at Canberra. I trust that that will not be so. I want him to do something that will be commensurate with the importance of the Commonwealth in national affairs.
– And also with the importance of the city of Adelaide.
– Yes The Minister knows that if the building is finished according to the present plans, it will be an abortion. It is being erected adjacent to one of the finest pieces of architecture in the Commonwealth. The Adelaide General Post Office was built of cutstone, but the practice of the Commonwealth seems to be to build plain, square, brick structures, with plaster facings. With the exception of the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney, and perhaps the Commonwealth Bank which is being erected in Collins-street, we have nothing whatever to be proud of in the buildings constructed from time to time by the Commonwealth Government. A little boy who is well acquainted with his box of blocks can practically produce a building equally as good in design as anything the Commonwealth authorities have constructed lately. This Parliament has not been responsible for the erection of a single building which will be a monument of which we may be proud in the years to come. The people of Perth, I discovered, are proud of their new post office when they look at it from the side of the street on which it is built, but .they have no pride in it when they view it from the opposite side, for the Commonwealth Government could not afford a little more cut-stone to properly finish it. The upper part of that building was finished with brick. and plaster, and it is not the adornment to Perth that the people of that city had a right to expect it would be. When I was at Rouen, in France, a railway arch was being contructed which was infinitely superior, as a piece of architecture, to anything that the Government have built in Australia. I hope, even yet, that the Government will decide to use cut-stone for the front elevation of the Adelaide building. I am led to make these remarks because of the statement by Mr. Murdoch, which I read in the report of the Works Committee with regard to the new building in Anzac-square, Brisbane. Mr. Murdoch said that the art of stone cutting is gradually dying out. It must necessarily be so when the Government policy is not to use stone. We shall soon slip back to the days of the blackfellows wurley. Fortunately, it is provided in black and white that if the people of Brisbane demand that cut-stone be used in Anzac Square the design will have to be altered. The Public Works Committee is prepared to recommend a class of building that reflects credit upon the Commonwealth if Parliament wishes it to do so. There is room for a vast improvement upon the dingy type of structure of which the Po9t Office at the corner of Spencer and Bourke streets, Melbourne, is an example. One of the largest buildings erected in Adelaide of recent years is of reinforced concrete’, and it has turned black. It is a clumsy-looking structure built in King William-street by Mr. K. D. Bowman, the wool king. It has been erected on the site of the old Broken Hill Chambers, which were of cut-stone, but the present unsightly premises have been put up because they will prove a better letting proposition. I hope the Minister will have this matter reconsidered by Cabinet, in order to see if the present tendency to use brick and rough cast and reinforced concrete facings instead of stone can be checked in the interests of the architectural reputation of Australia. Parliament House, Adelaide, has been built of marble, but South Australia, owing to the cost, will never be able to complete it. I suggest that the Government might endeavour to secure that fine structure for the purpose of Commonwealth offices. It occupies the best corner site in the capital, and I believe that if pressure were brought to bear upon the local authorities this valuable and handsome property could be obtained.
– I shall look into the matter referred to by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), and see whether anything can be done to meet his wishes.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 May 1924, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1924/19240516_reps_9_106/>.