13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. C. H. Mackay) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– In the absence of the Prime Minister I ask the Acting Leader of the House whether he has read the following report in a section of this morning’s newspapers. -
The Federal Government is facing the most serious crisis of its career. On the question of the importation of Fiji bananas, which is irrevocably bound up with the Ottawa agreements, the Ministry will stand or fall. . . . The crumbling ranks of the Cabinet, thinned by the resignation of Mr. Fenton, as a protest against tariff slashing at Ottawa, will also be further thinned by the resignation of the Assistant Minister, Mr. Francis, whose constituents are demanding that be should vote against the importation of black-grown bananas.
Has the Assistant Minister for Defence yet tendered his resignation from the Ministry ?
– I am not aware of any further contemplated resignations from the Ministry, which is united in regard to the policy which it believes to be best for Australia.
– In view of thefact that, following the reciprocal trade agreement between Australia and Canada, the export of Australian pineapples to that dominion increased from 366,000 lb. for the whole of 1931, to 3,364,000 lb. for the three and a half months during which the treaty has been fully operative, what action did the Commonwealth representatives at Ottawa take to ascertain the value of that treaty to Australian growers of pineapples before deciding to barter away this advantage in the interests of exporters of brandy?
– I shall investigate the matter, and let the honorable member have a reply at an early date.
– Can the Assistant Minister inform the House of the procedure to be adopted during the debate on the United Kingdom and Australia Trade Agreement Bill; whether the various schedules are to be regarded as part and parcel of the measure, or whether they are to be dealt with separately?
– So far as I know, the matter will bo in the hands of the Minister in charge of the bill, and it will be for him, with the concurrence of honorable members, to say when the bill is brought forward, and what method should be adopted.
– In view of the fact that many of the existing trade preferences given by Australia to Great Britain are in excess of those provided in the agreement, is it the intention of the Government to reduce such preferences to the level of those provided for in that document ?
– On items to which the formula has been applied under the
Ottawa agreement, the minimum preference is 10 per cent. In cases where existing preferences exceed the formula, Australia has undertaken to maintain such preferences except in regard to the items, and to the extent indicated, in Part III., schedule F of the agreement. The undertaking is embodied in article 8. Generally speaking, existing preferences in excess of 15 per cent. are undisturbed.
– Is it or is it not correct that the Ottawa agreement is to be taken as a whole, or are the various articles to be dealt with separately. I ask the question because ofstatements which have been made by representatives of Queensland.
– The question was, I think, put to the Prime Minister on a previous occasion, and, so far as my knowledge goes, he indicated that the agreement would be taken as a whole.
– In view of the definite statement made just now by the Assistant Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Guy), that the procedure during the debate on the United. Kingdom and Australia Agreement Bill would be a matter for the Minister in charge of the bill and for honorable members, can the PostmasterGeneral say whether that statement or the reply which he himself has just given, namely, that the bill would be taken as a whole, correctly indicates the view of the Government?
– The best way for the honorable member to obtain exact information on the point will be to put a question on the notice-paper.
– Can the Acting Leader of the House say whether there is any truth in the newspaper reports that the banks have agreed to reduce the interest payable on Commonwealth treasury-bills?
– I have no information other than the newspaper reports. I suggest that the honorable member should defer further questions on the subject until the return of the Prime Minister from the Premiers Conference.
– Has the attention of the Government been drawn to the statement in the Melbourne Sun of the 22nd October, that one of the major oil companies is refusing to supply crude oil to an Australian company engaged in producing by refining, an economical engine fuel? Will the Government take action to terminate this restraint of trade?
– If the honorable member will give notice of his question the fullest investigation will be made into the allegation to which it relates.
– In connexion -with the projected admission of 40,000 centals of Fiji bananas annually, I ask the Minister for Health whether his department proposes to take any precautions to prevent bunchy-top from devastating the Australian banana plantations, in view of the fact that a previous outbreak of this disease was traced to imports from Fiji?
– My department will take every precaution to prevent the introduction of diseases through bananas or any other imports.
– The latest pamphlet to hand from the International Labour Office of the League of Nations, contains this passage -
There has been a steady broadening and deepening of opinion among governments, workers and employers in many countries in favour of shortening hours of work as a means of distributing employment over the largest possible number of wage-earners … experiments in this direction are being made or contemplated in a number of countries.
The pamphlet mentions the countries in which such action has been taken or is contemplated. Will the Acting Leader of the House bring this matter immediately to the attention of the Prime Minister who is attending in Melbourne a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers at which unemployment is being considered with a view to a practical policy being evolved to cope with this serious problem?
– I shall have the honorable member’s question brought to the notice of the Prime Minister.
– All members of this Parliament, and presumably nonparliamentarians also, frequently receive from Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, pamphlets or letters extolling its own virtues. Has the Postmaster-General any knowledge of the reason for this persistent propaganda ?
– I share the honorable member’s curiosity. I, -too, have witnessed the systematic propaganda by this company, in which a considerable amount of Commonwealth money is invested, and I shall take an early opportunity to endeavour to ascertain the reason for it.
– Has the Acting Leader of the House read the arresting statement by Mr. George Crowley, the general manager of the City Mutual Life Assurance Company- of Australia of his readiness to lend the Commonwealth Government sums up to £200,000 at one per cent, for the purpose of re-employing our army of workless? If the Minister has seen the statement, can be inform” the House if negotiations have been opened up between the Prime Minister and Mr. Crowley with reference to the subject?
– I do not know whether the Prime Minister has taken Mr. Crowley’s suggestion as seriously as he appears to do, but I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member know.
– In view of the statement made last week by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) concerning certain irregularities in the Parliamentary Refreshment-room, will you, Mr. Speaker, have inquiries made through the joint House Committee to ascertain whether such irregularities still exist, and if so, have them rectified?
– The Estimates for Parliament will be under discussion at a later hour, and the honorable member may then refer to the matter.
– It is stated in Saturday’s and Monday’s press that the Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce) called on the Chairman of Imperial Airways Limited (Sir Eric Geddes) and discussed with him the establishment of ixa air mail service between Britain and Australia. It is understood that Sir Eric Geddes lias expressed eagerness to begin this service at an early date, but that further developments’ await a certain report. In view of this statement, can the Assistant Minister for Defence inform the House what negotiations are in progress ?
– Most of our civil aviation contracts have nearly run out., and the Minister appointed a departmental committee to inquire into the subject generally. This committee has submitted a report, which is now under consideration. Further inquiries are being made regarding the subsidizing of air mail services, with a view to determining the Government’s future policy.
The following papers were presented : -
River Murray Waters Act - River Murray Commission - Report for year 1931-32; together with statements showing gaugings made at gauging stations, and quantities of water diverted from the River Murray and tributaries.
Ordered to be printed
Naval Defence Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1932, Nos. 110, 117.
– On behalf of the Prime Minister, I move -
That on each sitting day, unless otherwise ordered, Government business shall take precedence of general business.
As we are approaching the end of the year, it is the desire of the Government and, I think, of honorable members generally, so to arrange the business of the House as to enable full discussion to take place on the important legislation now before us. A similar motion lias been agreed to on other occasions whenprobably the business was not so important. No one desires to curtail the privileges of private members unnecessarily, but, in the circumstances, it is, I think, reasonable to ask honorable members having motions on the noticepaper to make way for the discussion of Government business.
.- A month ago, when I placed on the noticepaper a motion relating to the right of Western Australia to control its own customs revenue, I h,ad a definite promise from the Prime Minister that honorable members would have an early opportunity to discuss it. Since then, instead of being placed with other orders of the day, as is usual, it has been put well down on the notice-paper, and I have had no indication from the Prime Minister that consideration will be given to it. This matter is of very great importance to the people of Western Australia. There is a possibility of a referendum being held in that State in the near future; in fact, the Government has promised that a bill will be submitted to the State Parliament providing for this matter to be submitted to the people. I should like to know if the Acting Leader of the Government (Mr. Parkhill) can indicate when my motion will be dealt with. If Government business is to take precedence for the remainder of this session, there is little hope of the Prime Minister’s promise being honoured.
– I merely wish to direct attention to the fact that if Government business takes ^precedence of other business, the privileges enjoyed by honorable members will be seriously curtailed. We realize, of course, that the Government has the numbers, and it is its right to arrange its business as it thinks necessary in the public interest. It must, however, be recognized and appreciated that private members have their responsibilities and obligations. Private mem’bers day gives them the only opportunity that can be availed of to ventilate matters of importance that are brought under their notice. Honorable members who support the Government are probably more fortunately placed than we who sit on this side, in that they may bring forward questions in the party room, and seek to have provision made for them by legislation or other means. I have no motion on the business paper, and do not propose to obstruct this proposal; but the proposal now under discussion is not to bo regarded as a precedent. Those who sit in this corner, though few in number, will always resist deprivation of any of the privileges that they consider should be enjoyed by them.
.- I am somewhat apprehensive concerning the practice that is gradually becoming established in this House, of depriving private members of a share in the conduct of the business of the Parliament. I speak with a perfectly open mind, because not one of the eight private motions that appear on the notice-paper stands in my name, although in the past I have taken advantage of this means of having matters discussed. The subjects listed for consideration cover a fairly wide field. So far, in the life of this Parliament only # one Thursday has been devoted to the consideration of such business. This privilege has always been jealously guarded. I protest against the proposed curtailment, on behalf of those honorable members who wish to bring before the House matters that they consider to be sufficiently important to warrant discussion. The practice of relegating private members to the background, and of fostering the belief that the Government is all powerful, and is entitled to expect its proposals to’ be accepted irrespective of the views that private members may hold concerning them, is one that ought to be strenuously combated.
.- With such important business before the House as the financial arrangements for the year, and the Ottawa agreement, the Government is entitled to expect honorable members to agree to this proposal. I should like the Minister to state, however, whether the curtailment of private members’ privileges in this way is to extend over the remainder of the session, and for what period the session is likely to last. If this is intended to apply only until the Christmas vacation, honorable members may readily agree to it. In the absence of an explanation from the Minister in charge of the House I must vote against the motion.
– In reply to the honorable member for Forrest, may I say that it is the intention of the Government to withhold this privilege for the remainder of the year. I anticipate a statement in those terms by the Minister so as to give force to my protest against the action contemplated. I have on the notice-paper a motion of some value, and of considerable importance to primary producers in every State. It was adjourned at the suggestion of the Government, when private members’ business was last discussed. The Prime Minister then stated distinctly that a further opportunity would be given to debate it, and, if possible, to have a vote taken on it. I am opposed to the suggestion that we should forgo this right. If the proposal of the Government is agreed to, the result may be to prevent a vote being taken on the motion that stands in my name.
– There appears to be a slight misconception in the mind of the last speaker. The motion clearly states that Government business is to take precedence over all other business only “unless otherwise ordered “. The proposed conditions may be observed for the remainder of this year, but I do not think that the period will be longer than that. If circumstances arise that permit of the restoration of private members’ day, the Government will readily act accordingly.
I am in entire sympathy with the views that have been expressed by the honorable member for West Sydney. Private members have privileges that they are entitled to preserve. The Government recognizes that. It is most reluctant to deprive honorable members of any rights that they may have, and only the urgency of completing important business impels it to make this move.As soon as that business is disposed of, private members’ day will be again restored, as it was last month, when a full discussion took place upon the business that had been brought forward.
– There has been only one private members’ day during the life of this Parliament.
– In some previous Parliaments there was not even one in a much longer period. This Government has been in office for only eight months, during which time it has had many important matters to handle.
I have no knowledge of the promise that the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) says that the Prime Minister made, though I accept his statement, that an opportunity would be presented to have a vote taken on the motion that appears in his name on the notice-paper; but I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Prime Minister, who, I have no doubt, will come to an arrangement with the honorable member. I again assure the House that there is no intention on the part of the Government unduly or unnecessarily to impinge on the rights of honorable members.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 21st October (vide page 1521).
Postponed vote, £59,200.
.- As the executive officer of the House of Representatives, I deem it my duty to explain its Estimates. A revision of the’ figures has been made since they were originally forwarded to the Treasury.
The provision for salaries for the staff of the House of Representatives is shown as £9,857. This amount has been reduced, in accordance with the requirements of the financial emergency legislation and by the deduction of the cost of living allowance, to £9,542. The vote for contingencies, which is set down at £1,065, has been reduced to £1,000. The estimated expenditure for postage and telegrams is £3,500. The vote was exceeded in the last financial year by £400, and this year it is likely to be greatly exceeded again. The amount set down for the House ofRepresentatives in the Estimates is £14,422, but the expenditure is expected to be only £14,042, a reduction of £380. The following table shows the cost of Parliament as estimated for 1928-29, compared with that for 1932-33 : -
The President of the Senate and myself have asked the Public Service Board to make available an experienced officer to examine the expenditure in Parliament House with a view to making recommendations to us regarding it. The officials employed permanently in this building number 95. There are 12 in the Senate, 16 in the House of Representatives, 12 in the Library, 15 on the Parliamentary Reporting Staff, and 40 in the Joint House Department.
Coming to the Parliamentary Reporting Staff, in 1929-31 the cost of printing the reports of our debates was £14,857, and the cost of distribution, £1,441; a total cost of £16,098. The salaries of the members of the staff amounted to £11,000, making the grand total £27,000. About 8,400 copies of the reports are printed, including both the paper-covered editions and the permanent bound volumes, but only 967 copies are paid for by subscribers. Were Hansard printed for record purposes only, it is estimated that 1,000 copies would be sufficient for all purposes. Various suggestions for the reduction of cost have been made, and the Principal Parliamentary Reporter, in a report to the presiding officers, has offered these comments on some of them -
How much the expenditure on distribution can be reduced depends largely On the view taken of the utility of Hansard. If the publication of an official report of the debates of the Parliament is considered justified merely for the purposes of record, an issue of about 1,000 copies would suffice; but, if the inadequacy of the newspaper reports, and the needs of the electors - whose failure to record a vote is a penal offence - are recognized, the circulation must be larger.
The practicability of effecting economies engaged the attention of the presiding officers last year, and, at their direction, members were asked whether they would consent to the reduction of that part of the circulation for which they are directly responsible. The reply, in nearly every case, was in the negative. This was, perhaps, to have been expected. As the legislative determination of questions is rarely affected by the speeches in which they arc formally debated, parliamentary discussion would be wholly vain, were the speakers addressing merely their immediate’ audience, and the anonymous leaderwriter alone would have the fashioning of public opinion.
A second method of lessening expenditure might be the shortening of the reports of tho proceedings. This could be done only on the explicit direction of each chamber. Discrimination between speakers by reason of cither official position or quality of matter would not, I assume, be tolerated; but reports of the committee stage of bills might, perhaps, be reduced: only remarks relevant to a clause might be recorded, or the report might be compressed into one-half or one-third of the space now filled in a given period.
Attention might also be given to the possibility of lessening both the number of questions addressed to Ministers, and the length of replies. If the information desired were very bulky, or costly to compile, the member desiring it might be required to justify his question by moving for a return.
Of course, honorable members will understand that any alteration of the present system of conducting Ilansard must be insisted on by the House, or adopted as a result of government policy. With the exception of two reporters who were appointed for attendance on the Parliamentary Public Works and the Public Accounts Committees, the staff at present is of the same strength as in 1913. Those two committees have ceased to function, and there has, therefore, been until recently this excess of officers; but as one senior officer has just retired, and another will retire in the near future, the staff will shortly be back to its original number.
Every honorable member, I am sure, appreciates the value of the services rendered by the Parliamentary Library. At the present time, there are stored in this building, and in other parts of the city, 101,000 books, all of which are available to members and to the public of Canberra. In addition, there are 10,000 pamphlets and 3,000 bound volumes of newspapers. The number of books added during the last financial year was 7,777.
Approximately 40 per cent. of thesebooks were acquired by purchase, and the remainder by presentation, governmental exchange, and copyright. Under the Copyright Act of 1912, a copy of every book published in Australia must be sent to the Library, and last year 510 hooks were so contributed. Our vote for books was reduced last financial year from £2,360 to £1,510, a reduction of 35 per cent. For the present year, the vote is £1,250, which is only one-half of the amount for the year 1928-29. The vote for magazines was reduced to £350 this year, although in 1928-29 it was £600. The Library staff numbers twelve officers, but in 1928-29 there were fourteen. In that year the salaries totalled £6,210, and this year,because of the deductions under the financial emergency legislation, the amount is £4,917. I would remind honorable members that the Library is continually widening its operations. ‘The most recent extension of its activities has been the lending of books to the public of Canberra. No fewer than 1,162 residents are now supplied with books, the Library to all intents and purposes fulfilling the functions of a public library. About 12,000 books have been issued to the public since this system was introduced twenty months ago, and only two of the volumes issued are now missing.
– Do the residents of Canberra pay for this service?
– No, but a small fee is imposed when books are kept longer than three weeks. The Librarian reports that the books which have been borrowed have been well cared for, and that the facilities granted are much appreciated by those who benefit by them. The Library also meets the requirements of 60 students associated with the Canberra University College.
It is much to be regretted that suitable accommodation cannot be provided for the national section of the Library. The Librarian is constantly receiving valuable presentations of books, pictures, manuscripts, &c., of great historical value, and visitors to Canberra inspect these with great interest. These records deal for the most part with the early days of Australia, and are highly valued. At present, no fewer than 17,000 volumes are stored at the Hotel Acton, because it is impossible to find room for them in the parliamentary building. I understand that the Government is likely to require the hotel building in the near future for departmental purposes, and I therefore strongly urge it to consider the provision of a suitable building in which the very valuable books and records to which I have referred may be stored. They are not being availed of to the extent to which they could be used if they were more readily accessible.
The only other department to which I shall refer is the Joint House Department. When in 1927 the Parliament was transferred to Canberra, the President and Speaker of the day decided that the refreshment rooms should remain open during parliamentary recesses. This decision was made in the anticipation that honorable members of both branches of the legislature would spend a considerable portion of each year in the national capital. Owing to the difficulty experienced in obtaining a suitable casual staff, it was deemed advisable to appoint a number of permanent officers, and the staff was accordingly increased from three to thirteen.
Mr.Gregory. - Could permanent appointments be made without legislative authority?
– The President and the Speaker jointly have absolute control over the parliamentary staff, and may make any appointments deemed advisable.
– Permanent appointments ?
– Yes. In addition to the thirteen permanent officers, six temporary waiters are engaged when the Parliament is in session, thus increasing the total staff to nineteen. The business anticipated during recesses did not materialize, and in 1930 it was decided to close the refreshment rooms immediately the Parliament adjourned for any period. At a later date, the bar and tea-room were opened for casual business, and this practice is now being followed. The staff not required during recesses is employed in relieving work, such as cleaning and gardening, in other branches of the Joint House Department. The problem of the executive is how to dealwith the large number of permanent officers who cannot be usefully employed all the year round.
Last financial year the Parliament sat for 74 days; hut it was necessary to pay wages for 365 days. I have approached the Minister for the Interior with suggestions for the transfer of six permanent officers to the Government hotels. If this oan be arranged, it will effect a saving of no less than £1,000 per annum. The loss to the Treasury in connexion with this department last financial year was £4,289, compared with £7,000 in 1929-30, and £6,000 in 1930-31. The improvement over the figures for the last financial year amounts to £1,717. The total trading figures show a profit of £384 19s. 6d. in the bar section, which amounts to 22.51 per cent., and this percentage of profit might easily have been larger but for the fact that sales tax is paid on all purchases. In the meal section there was a profit of £222, equal to 14.70 per cent. Last year, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament, the diningroom made a profit, largely because of the lower prices at which materials were purchased, and the greater use of the dining-room by members than formerly. The capital account now stands at £5,561 ; neither interest nor redemption is provided for. In his last annual report, the secretary of the Joint House Committee stated -
The heavy overhead costs, which change the gross profit of £007 0s. 5d. into a net loss of £4,289 lis. 9d., are due to the peculiar circumstances under which trading is done in the refreshment-rooms. The small turnover and fluctuating amount of business; the unusual hours, and consequent increase in wages; the periods in recess, when the permanent staff must bc kept on while practically no trading is being done; and many other factors contribute to make these overhead charges much heavier than in other establishments. All the items of overhead expenditure, such as laundry, depreciation, breakages, and sundry expenses, have been cut down to a minimum, but the heaviest item - salaries and wages - is necessitated by the size of the premises and the highclass nature of the service provided as suitable for members of the Commonwealth Parliament.
An amount of £473 2s. 6d. was saved to the Government during the year under review, as we were able to pay. this amount of the sessional wages out of takings, instead of reimbursing it from the votes as was formerly done. Also, no grant-in-aid was used, and, in anticipation of a similar result this year, the amount of £200 has been cut off the Estimates for 1932-33.
Although every effort is being made to reduce the loss on the refreshment-rooms, and to maintain an efficient service, there is no hope of balancing the revenue and expenditure. The refreshment-rooms are under the control of the Joint House Committee, representing both Houses of the Parliament, and that body has, from time to time, considered various suggestions for economy, among them one to increase the tariff; but it proved most unpopular.
In his criticism of the main question, the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) quoted remarks that I made during the budget debate of last year. I am still of the opinion that, under existing conditions in Canberra, the dining section of the refreshment-rooms should be closed. I advocated that course both as a member of the Joint House Committee, and as an executive officer of the Parliament; but I am afraid that the honorable member for Angas and myself are the only members of the Parliament in favour of such a proposal. The position could be met by the Treasurer refusing to continue the subsidy for the payment of salaries.
The use to which the telephones in the buildings are sometimes put has been criticized. For the use of members and the staff of Parliament, 50 telephones have been installed. In addition, there are telephones in the rooms of Ministers, the cost of which is a direct charge -against the several departments. The vote of £900 for telephones last year was exceeded by £319. When an investigation proved that the cause was due mainly to trunk-line calls, the switchboard attendant was instructed to record the name of each person, making a trunk-line connexion, and these calls are now paid for, either in cash or with “ on service “ stamps, by the persons concerned.
– Only the calls made while the switch attendant is on duty are recorded.
– That is so; but the attendant is always on duty when either House is sitting. Moreover, the majority of honorable, members leave Canberra on Friday afternoons, and do not return until the House meets again the following week. The tightening up which has taken- place has resulted in a saving of approximately £230 for the first six months of the present year, as compared with the previous six months.
I remind those honorable members who appear to think that the cleaning staff is altogether too large, that this building contains over 300 rooms. On special occasions members of the cleaning staff perform other duties; they are employed as casual waiters, and as guides to visitors who wish to see the building. At times as many as 1,500 persons have been shown through Parliament House in one day.
Should further information be sought, I shall be glad to supply it.
.- I listened with interest to the statement of Mr. Speaker (Honorable G. H. Mackay) in relation to the expenditure on Parliament generally. That there has been a saving of over £20,000 since 1928-29, without inconveniencing members of Parliament, proves that previously the cost of Parliament was too great. I am pleased that here, at the heart of the nation, the necessity for economy has not only been recognized, but is being practised. The information supplied has not altered my opinion regarding the refreshmentrooms. Eather does it confirm my view that, with a hotel on each side of Parliament House, not more than half a mile distant, equipped with a staff capable of supplying members with meals, a further saving of £4,086 per annum could be made. Notwithstanding what has been said regarding the trading profits of the refreshment-rooms, the fact remains that, last year, the Treasurer had to advance £4,086 in order to make ends meet. That such considerable financial assistance is necessary clearly indicates the rooms are not paying their way. Prom the remarks of the honorable member for Lilley, it would appear that only he and I consider that honorable members should return to their hotel for their midday and evening, as well as other meals. However, what honorable members decide is their responsibility. I intend to move for a reduction of the vote in order that a. division may be taken on the item. It is only right that we should save the taxpayers this £4,000 a year. No other business in Australia is being conducted on the same lines as the Commonwealth parliamentary refreshment-rooms. If a business had two branch establishments, both losing money, within half a mile of another subsidiary section of the business which was losing £4,000 a year, the subsidiary business would certainly be closed down. It is useless for honorable members to talk about the prestige of Parliament. No other parliament in the world has two government owned and controlled hostels for its members within half a mile of the central building. Honorable members will not lower their prestige by walking half a mile to and front their hotels for their meals/
– Why not close one of the hotels?
– Because then it would not be possible to accommodate honorable members and the travelling public. The solution is to close the refreshment-rooms. I move, therefore -
That the amount, -“Refreshment Rooms, f 3,804 “, be reduced by fi.
I move this reduction as an intimation to the Government of the committee i desire to discontinue the maintenance of the parliamentary refreshment-rooms for the purpose of supplying food to honorable members. The staff could be transferred to the Hotels Canberra and Kurrajong.
Honorable Members. - The saving of £1 would not help the country very much ?
– I do not think honorable members should make any play on the amount of the proposed reduction. They are aware that this is the usual way in which to provide opportunity to debate a subject. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked whether it was right to suggest that honorable members got their meals for nothing at the parliamentary refreshment-rooms. I made no such suggestion.
– The honorable member said that we had our meals for half price.
– I said that honorable members did not pay adequately for the meals and service which they received. That is proved by the fact that it is necessary for the Treasury to provide £4,000 a year to enable the refreshmentrooms to be carried on. Honorable members may claim that they pay sufficient for their meals; that is beside the point. I am giving honorable members an opportunity of voting for the discontinuance of the parliamentary refreshmentrooms, where they now take some of their meals because they are too tired or indifferent to walk to their hotel, a short distance away.
– The honorable member is not in order in referring to honorable members as being either too tired or indifferent.
– Surely I am entitled to describe their action as indifferent; to me it is clearly indifference to the interests of the taxpayers.
– The honorable member is not in order in reflecting upon the members of the Parliament.
– Then I shall leave the matter where it stands, and allow the public to determine the merits of the case.
– I support the amendment, but I deprecate the tactics resorted to by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb). I have brought this matter up for debate on two previous occasions, but I did not allege that honorable members were receiving their meals at half price, or that they used the telephones in Parliament House for the purpose of backing horses. I am confident that honorable members generally would not descend to such practices. The honorable member for Angas qualified his statement by saying that these things happened last year or the year before, but, ever ready to seize upon what is sensational as opposed to what is of real interest to the nation, the press features the honorable member’s remarks in prominent headlines. We are the elect of the Australian people, representing them in the National Parliament. Our proceedings should he carried onwith decorum, and no honorable member should seek to attain notoriety by making spectacular and unwarranted attacks upon his fellows. That merely lowers Parliament and Parliamentarians in the opinion of the public.
I have suggested on previous occasions how savings could be effected. When the honorable member for Lilley was addressing the committee, I asked why the people of Canberra should have the use of the Parliamentary Library without paying a slight subscription for the privilege. I was told that few books were lost. None should be lost. But it must he realized that certain damage is done to books that are lent in this manner, which the Parliamentary
Library staff has to repair. That is an expense to the Commonwealth. If the National Library is to be used as a lending library, a subscription should be paid by those who borrow the books, to pay for incidental expenses involved. An examination of the remarks made by the honorable member (Mr. Mackay) reveals that, if the refreshment-rooms are to be continued, certain economies could be effected. It is incredible that, although Parliament sits only about 72 days a year, the staff of the refreshmentrooms should be employed for the whole twelve months. I know that some honorable members will ask whether I would have these men put off during recess, without payment. A builder pays his staff only while he has work on hand. So soon as he is without a contract, he pays them off.
– If the honorable member’s argument is sound, honorable members should not receive pay during recess.
– Honorable members have other work to do.
– So have the refreshmentrooms employees.
– The work they do, gardening and cleaning up, cannot be compared with that done by honorable members during recess.. These are times of national financial distress, arid it is necessary to save every pound that it is possible to save. The parliamentary refreshmentrooms should be run just as an ordinary business. Its permanent employees should be put on some reproductivework during recess, and the temporary employees should be put off until Parliament reassembles. Whether this proposal is popular or unpopular does not concern me.
I wish now to refer to the Ellis Rowan collection of paintings. I do not know all the facts relating to the purchase by the Commonwealth of this collection, but I understand that the lady who painted the pictures is an authority on the botany of Australia. These paintings have remained in vaults in Melbourne ever since the Parliament was transferred to Canberra. The Melbourne University Botany School has sought the permission of the Commonwealth to exhibit the paintings, but has not been able to obtain it .
I have had some correspondence with the Treasury on this subject. As a’ member of the Library Committee, I know that that committee could, with very little expense, exhibit the paintings if they were brought here. It would not be necessary to frame all the pictures; some of them could bc mounted and displayed without frames. If we will not bring this unique collection of paintings here and will not allow the various universities to use them, we shall adopt a doginthemanger attitude. I ask the Government to investigate the possibility of bringing these pictures here and displaying them.
– While I was a member of the Library Committee, this subject received some attention and I understood .that the committee was taking action in regard to it.
– The Treasury has baulked every effort that the committee has made to have the pictures brought here, the excuse being that some expense would be incurred; but, in my opinion, still greater expense will be incurred if the pictures are neglected.
.- I oppose the amendment. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) is indulging in cheap propaganda at the expense of other honorable members. His remarks have caused scare headlines to be published in newspapers throughout the Commonwealth to the effect that honorable members of this Parliament obtain meals here at half their cost, and do not pay for other service that is rendered to them. In my electorate I am frequently asked “Is it true that members of Parliament get their meals free in Canberra and do not pay for their accommodation?” I am surprised at some of the people who have asked such questions, but it is due to the propaganda of the honorable member. For my part, I pay for everything I get here, and in some instances pay dearly. A member of this Parliament has the privilege of using the dining rooms of the State Parliament Houses. Quite recently, I had a meal in the dining room at the State Parliament House in Sydney for which I paid ls. 6d. It was quite as good a meal as we obtain here for 2s., which is the minimum charge. I dispute the assertion of the honorable member that we do not pay for other service that is rendered us. We pay for everything that we get here. It has been said that if the parliamentary diningroom were closed, the staff could be transferred to Hotel Canberra or Hotel Kurrajong, but if that were done, the present staffs at those hotels would be displaced. I cannot see that there is any economy in doing that kind of thing. Surely the girls employed at the governmentowned hotels are entitled to consideration. The honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) does not seem to be disposed to show much consideration to those who have looked after him since he has been a member of this Parliament. It would not be economy to throw more people on to the labour market, or make them dependent upon doles.
On various occasions, I have referred in this chamber to the use of fuel for the boilers at Parliament House. I understand that considerable expense has been incurred in converting our boilers to make them suitable! for burning lignite instead of coal and coke. Although force blasts and steam jets have been installed for this purpose, the results are not so good as those obtained from coke and coal. An indirect effect of this conversion has been that a number of men engaged in the coal-mining industry have lost their jobs. I am informed that lignite gives much more ash than coke and coal, and that the disposal of this ash is expensive. I ask Mr. Speaker to give us some information on this subject when he replies.
I am glad that the House Committee has been able to effect economies in the management of this building, but this has not been achieved, as the honorable member for Angas has asserted again and again, by making honorable members pay for their meals and the services rendered to them, for we have always paid our way here. The honorable member has asserted that some honorable members of this Parliament make unwarranted use of the trunk telephone service. I have never found honorable members abusing their privileges in this regard, and I have been a member of this Parliament as long as the honorable member for Angas.
– The honorable member leaves Canberra every Friday afternoon at 4.15 o’clock.
– It is not true that honorable members use the trunk telephone service for the purpose of backing racehorses. If this statement is intended to refer to only one or two members, that should be made clear, so that the odium may not fall on all of us. I do not bother very much about horseracing, but if an honorable member desires to have a bet on a horse race and uses the trunk telephone service for the purpose, he certainly pays for it out of his stamp issue.
– That is not the purpose for which stamps are issued.
– If I have need to telephone a department of State in New South Wales in connexion with my parliamentary business, the call is charged against my stamp issue. This, I claim, is unfair. We should be permitted to use the trunk line for the purpose of transacting parliamentary business without having the calls debited against our stamp issue. The members of State Parliaments are given greater privileges than are the members of this legislature in that they are able to communicate by telephone with any part of Australia free of cost. I submit that members of this Parliament should have a similar right to use the telephone service on public business free of charge. When the service is used for private conversations the prescribed fee should be paid.
.- I have a prior amendment to that moved by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), and I should like your direction, Mr. Chairman, as to the course I should adopt.
– I suggest that the honorable member for Angas temporarily withdraw his amendment.
Amendment - by leave - temporarily withdrawn.
– I move-
That in division 1 the item “ Clerk of the Senate £1,350” be reduced by £350.
I understand that after deductions amounting to £304 have been made under the Financial Emergency Act, the salary actually paid to this officer is £1,046. I desire to say at the outset that I am taking this item only because it is typical of others. I have the greatest respect for the gentleman concerned, whom I regard as the best officer that could be obtained for the position; but, like many others, his office is classified at too high a salary. This is a time when reductions should be made, and the high salaries paid to some officers stand out very prominently, particularly in view of the comments made within the last few months concerning the expenditure on the Public Service generally. I submit that the proper way in which to effect reductions is not by reducing those on the lowest rung of the ladder.
– Why did the honorable member for Perth support a reduction iu invalid and old-age pensions?
– I am dealing now with the salaries paid to parliamentary officers. The salaries now paid were fixed in times of plenty, when everything, particularly in connexion with Canberra, was on an extravagant scale. Those times have passed, and at present the finances of the country are such that it is not in a position to pay its officers very .high salaries. I mention this as a typical item ; there are many others to which I propose to direct the attention of the committee. The position in question is not by any means a full-time job. I understand that last year the House of Representatives sat on only 74 days, and I suppose that the meetings of the Senate were less frequent. I admit that it is not fair to compare the days on which the House of Representatives sat with the number of days in a year, because Parliament does not sit continuously.
– Does the honorable member propose to move a proportionate reduction in the salaries of other parliamentary officers?
– If the amendment is carried I propose to submit amendments providing for reductions in the salaries of some of the other officers. There should be a general reduction. This Parliament does not sit for more than half of the year, and the work of this officer is not heavy. Provision is also made for the payment of £545 to cover a special Canberra allowance, and £65 to meet the cost of child endowment,- making a total of £610 in addition to salaries, or. an average of over £50 for each officer. Generally speaking, the salaries paid are too high, particularly at a time when there is a public demand for the reduction of expenditure. This is an instance in which a reduction should be made. Honorable members have been reluctantly obliged to support reduction in other directions, particularly with respect to pensions, because it has been necessary to do so.
– This officer has already suffered reductions.
– Yes, under the Financial Emergency Acts. The’ position is classified at a salary of £1,350, which is too high.
– That is another matter.
– I am urging that the position does not warrant such a high classification.
– Is not the honorable member advocating a reclassification of the whole «f the parliamentary staff?
– That would be too much to undertake at this juncture. I am dealing more particularly with the more highly paid parliamentary officers. It was stated, in answer to a question, that 57 officers in the Public Service are receiving salaries of £1,000 and over a year.
– A general reduction could be effected only by a reclassification.
– If reductions are not made now they will not be made at all. C understand that a committee which recently conducted inquiries has not made any recommendations in connexion with officers in receipt of high salaries. If these Estimates are passed, the salaries provided in them will continue for at least another year. Now that the parliamentary estimates are before us, it is competent for honorable members to move for reductions in the salaries provided. If honorable members think that a salary of £1,350, subject to the reduction under the financial emergency legislation, is not unduly high, I suppose they will oppose my amendment.
– “Would it not be better for the Senate to deal with the salaries of its own officers?
– That chamber is not likely to reduce them. I propose to submit a similar amendment in connexion with the salary of the Clerk of this chamber; I make no distinction in that respect. It would be unreasonable to reduce one without also reducing the other. The responsibility is upon this Parliament, and this is the time when honorable members should declare their position.
– I oppose the amendment of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). In my opinion, he is on the wrong track altogether. In this constant striving for petty economy, we are merely chasing ourselves round in a dismal circle of poverty. If the time has come to remodel our parliamentary institutions, and reduce overhead expenses, as has been constantly urged ever since federation, the way to do it is to abolish the Senate altogether. We should go further than that, and reduce the number of representatives in this House. Having done that, we might eliminate State Parliaments, and have one scientifically organized economic council, which would carry on the government, of the country without duplication or overlapping. I have- no time for chasing the will-o’-the-wisp of economy by cutting off 10s. here and 10s. there; that is only getting us further into the mire. I hope we shall not perpetuate this tiddly-winking form of economizing, while all the time poverty and misery and destitution are everywhere increasing. The honorable member’s proposal is unsound and unscientific. If it were agreed to it would unbalance the whole system of classification in the Public Service. In the last analysis, it would affect the position of even those on the very lowest rung of the ladder, namely, those on the basic wage. It is impossible to interfere with one section of the Service without affecting the rest.
The Joint House Committee is the authority in charge of the officials of Parliament, and during the last two or three years it has been most conservative in framing its estimates, and has kept down expenditure fairly well. In fixing salaries, the extra cost associated with residence in Canberra has been taken into consideration. Impartial persons, must admit that officers brought to Canberra from the cities are entitled to some form of living allowance. Middle-aged men who have been transferred to Canberra have, in many instances, had to leave some members of their family in Melbourne, at high school or the university. The transfer has meant the dislocation of their home life; sometimes it has meant their having to keep two homes. Compensation in the form of a Canberra allowance is, therefore, just and reasonable.While I think that some of the higher-paid officers in the Service are getting more than is necessary to keep them in decency and comfort, I am compelled to admit that they would be able to get as much, or more, in private employment. I do not believe that there is one public servant in any of the departments who could not earn his salary outside. I know of several men who, during the last decade, left various departments, and were snapped up by private commercial concerns, such as motor companies, at £500 or £600 a year more than they had been receiving.
So far as I know, the officers against whom the honorable member’s amendment is directed are not receiving too much for the work they do. We must not be influenced by the fact that Parliament is not sitting all the year round. The officers have to be here in any case; they are always on duty. They have to keep a home here, and, in some instances, public servants in Canberra, as I have said, are compelled to keep two homes, one here and one in Sydney or Melbourne. Then we must remember that the officers of Parliament frequently have to work long hours, including much night work. In other occupations, if persons have to work abnormal hours, they are paid penalty rates. When I am pleading the case of workers before the Arbitration Court, I emphasize such points as a reason why higher remuneration should be paid.
– The honorable member’s amendment is an interesting departure from customary procedure. Very careful consideration should be given to the matter lest the committee come to an unripe decision. In private enterprise, it is the custom to consider only whether a man is worth the salary he is receiving. The Joint House Committee is the authority directly in charge of the officials of Parliament, and that committee should be qualified to determine the salaries paid to them. I must confess that, as a private member, I have little knowledge of the duties performed by the Clerk of this House, and that, I think, applies to most honorable members. I see the Clerk take his place regularly in the chamber, and attend to matters of procedure, involving expert knowledge of the forms of the House, but regarding his other duties, I am ignorant, nor do I presume to judge his capacity, or his right to the salary he receives. The members of the House Committee are mostly men who have some business capacity, having gone through the hard school of commercial competition, and they should be in a position to give an unbiased opinion on matters of this sort. Too often in private business concerns, I have seen an arbitrary decision by a general manager or a board of directors to reduce wages, adversely affect men who should never have been reduced. Those directly in charge of the officers are alone qualified to know whether or not they earn their salaries. This matter should be referred back to the Joint House Committee for full investigation. Parliament would then be in a position to act on the committee’s report. If we take precipitate action now, we may come to an unjust decision.
.- As a former Speaker of the House, I am perhaps able to speak with more knowledge of this subject than some other honorable members. Parliament has deliberately placed in the hands of its presiding officers authority to classify the officers of Parliament, and to fix their salaries.
– Subject to the approval of Parliament.
– Exactly, and the opportunity to grant or withhold that approval offers itself when the classification is presented. The procedure is for the two presiding officers to go thoroughly into the duties of the officers of Parliament, determine their worth, fix their remuneration, and forward their decision for consideration by the Government of the day.
– The Government cannot reduce their Estimates.
– The President and I, when Speaker, had to submit to the Government of the day the classification of the parliamentary staffs, and the gazettal of it was delayed for a considerable time because certain provisions were regarded as anomalous or inconsistent with the Public Service regulations. The Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of this House are required to possess qualifications practically equivalent to those of men with legal degrees.
– Has either of these officers a legal degree?
– Whether they have degrees or not, they have a special knowledge of parliamentary practice and procedure which should give them status equal to that of men possessing an academic degree. Their ability is proved by the services they render to this Parliament, and those services are worth the salaries which are paid for them. The presiding officer has to rely to a large extent on the knowledge of the Clerk, and I have never known the Clerk to fail him. As a result of my experience I have the highest opinions of the gentlemen who occupy these responsible offices. I am not in favour of the reduction of wages and salaries - that is a mistaken policy - but these officers have already suffered reductions under the Financial Emergency Act, and should not now be singled out for punitive treatment. Believing in the maintenance of high standards and conditions for all workers, I shall not be a party to an injustice’ to a few senior officers, knowing that it may he extended to the lower grades of the parliamentary service. I compliment the Clerks upon their efficiency, and I believe that Parliament is fortunate in having as its chief executives men of such high qualifications.
– If we cannot reclassify these offices, who can?
– The Public Service Act vests that power in the presiding officers; they, after giving due consideration to each office and its responsibilities and the qualifications of the occupant, adopted a scheme of classification. When that classification was laid upon the table Parliament had an opportunity to express its approval or disapproval of it.
The suggestion that the responsibilities of the Clerks terminate at the conclusion of each session is ‘ entirely wrong. A considerable amount of work has to be done by them during recess, and, possibly, only the presiding officers have a true conception of the extent of these executive and clerical duties. The amendment is without merit, and I hope that the committee will not entertain it.
– I ask honorable members to consider the position of a Clerk of Parliament, in comparison with that of the head of any administrative department of the Commonwealth Public Service. The Clerk performs duties as important and responsible as those performed by any other departmental chief ; therefore, we must have as the chief executive officers of this Parliament men of the highest efficiency. The principle is generally accepted that the remuneration paid to an employee must be commensurate with the work performed and the abilities of the officer.
– It may be a good principle, but it is not always applied.
– I am asking that it be applied in this instance. Perhaps honorable members do not realize fully the importance and dignity of the office of a Clerk of Parliament. In every Parliament in the British Empire this office is highly esteemed, and in the House of Commons only men of eminent attainments are appointed to it. In Australian Parliaments the Clerks have duties and responsibilities of corresponding importance. When the parliamentary machine is running smoothly and efficiently, we are apt to overlook the amount of work that is done by the staff, and the responsibility of the chief executive officers. The Clerk must have a complete and ready knowledge of procedure and practice, and he is in some respects the custodian of the rights and privileges of the House. He is the responsible adviser and consultant of the President or Speaker, who relies upon his continuous knowledge of practice and precedents. The Clerk must have a sound knowledge of constitutional practice and of the operation of government and parliamentary institutions, and even the House is dependent upon the advice given by him atimportant junctures.. Every person who has occupied the position of Clerk in this Parliament has had a high degree of scholarship in the. duties peculiar to his task. Even persons eminent in the legal profession would not attempt to pose as experts in parliamentary practice and procedure.For the guidance of the President, the. Speaker, and the Chairmen of Committees, Parliament must have officers who are able at once to refer to the rules and precedents that regulate the conduct of business. The casual observer may think that the management of a nation, and the conduct of a parliament, are simple matters. He does not realize that the art of government requires in ministers, members and officers, sound knowledge and experience. In the interests of the nation, the person who occupies the position of Clerk in either House of this Parliament must be a man fully qualified to perform efficiently his responsible duties. Those duties do not end when the House adjourns. The Journals and Votes and Proceedings have to be prepared for publication, and. a considerable amount of detail work is involved in. drafting and preserving records which are ofpractical as well as historical value. Even though our Clerks may not have university degrees, they have by study and experience become experts in parliamentary practice, having risen to their present positions by gradual promotion. If the honorable member for Perth(Mr. Nairn) will study this matter more carefully; he will recognize that the Clerks are not overpaid. I would be exceedingly sorry to see the salaries of’ these high offices so reduced, that we could not be sure of having able and qualified. men to fill them. The nation is entitled to efficient service in every walk ofpublic life, and in Parliament not less than in other departments of government. Under the Public Service Act, the President and Speaker occupy in relation to the staffs of Parliament the position that the Public Service Commission occupies in relation to the general Public Service. The salaries at presentpaid were fixed by them several years ago after mature consideration, and they have remained at the same level, subject to the percentage reductions under the Financial. Emergency Act.
I am strongly opposed to any reduction, of the salary of the Clerk of the Senate, the Clerk of the House of Representatives,, or of any other member of the Public Service. Honorable members who see the parliamentary machine functioning after long or short recesses, as the case may be, are not, perhaps, in a position to assess the value of the services rendered by its officers. Doubtless the. possession of a degree in law, in arts, or in any other faculty is desirable, but it does not, of itself ensure efficiency. In this House I have met men holding degrees and have not been impressed by either their erudition or ordinary common sense. Not infrequently we get much more statesmanlike utterances from men who had not the advantage even of a secondary education. Possession of a. degree is not necessary for the discharge of important official duties. The men who, in the course of time, come to the head of the table in this Parliament, have had a long and intensive training. Their course of reading and study, I suggest, is quite as arduousas that required for a degree in arts or law. They are compelled to keep abreast ofdecisions made not only in this Parliament, but in the mother of parliaments, and it is no exaggeration to. say that they do their work most efficiently. In recent years we have been somewhat unfortunate, owing to the loss by death ofa number of our senior officers. A few years ago the Clerk of the House of Representatives was removed suddenly from this chamber, never to return, but without any fuss or excitement, his place wasimmediately taken by his understudy. I venture to say that, if’ several of our high officers were taken in the same way, those immediately below them would step up to the vacant positions and continue the work of this Parliament quite satisfactorily. The selection of this or that man in the Public Service for a reduction of salary, as contemplatedin the amendment, isto be deprecated. When speaking in this chamber at7 o’clock on Friday morning last,I said that we have, in the Commonwealth Public Service, an excellent force of efficient officers. Many of them couldcommand higher salaries outside, butbecause oftheir commendable public spirit and national outlook, they have decided to remain in the Service although, in manycases,they are not by any means adequately remunerated. In many ofour departments, including, of course,the Parliament, officersin the higherranks suffer, withmembers, because of the irregular hours ofwork, andtheheavystrain imposedupon them. Ifhonorable members care to search the records of the lasttwenty years, theywilldiscover that the mortality rate among the higher officers in the Public Service isunusuallyheavy, due, asI have explained, tothe frequent heavy strain of excessively longWorking hours. But Parliament hasbeen fortunate inthat the officersresponsible forthe efficient working of the machinehave been care ful always to selectpromising young men to carry on the work in the future, so that while governments and members come and go, the machine functions smoothly and efficiently. I am strongly opposedto any reduction of the salary ofany officer of theParliament.
. - The committee is indebtedtothose honorable memberswho have occupied the Speaker’s chairforthe information which they havegiven with respect to the work oftheofficers of the Parliament. What they have said has, I think, convinced most honorable members that the salary fixed in each case is fair and reasonable, havingregardto the work required of the officers concerned, and the efficient discharge of their duties. It is essential, as the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) has just told us, that while governments may come and go, theparliamentary machine should function without interruption. We should not forget the debt which we owe to the responsible officers of our various departments. The efficient working of the governmentalmachine is in the hands of abody of highly-trained, public-spirited, patriotic and efficient men, who, regardless of the political convictions of the Government in power, do their work faithfullyand well. To them we owe largely thesuccessofour system of parliamentary government. I invite honorable members to reflect fora moment upon the greatwork of the British Public Service, not only inGreat Britain, but also in the self-governing dominions and Crown colonies. Not inifrequently they have to act entirely on their own responsibility, and are doing a splendid work for the Empire.Support of the amendment is not justified on theground solely that thesalary of theClerk of the Senate may be considered a high one, but apparently the principal reason advanced in its favour is that, as it is unreasonableto always beattacking officers receiving lowersalaries, therefore we shouldgive our attention to the higher-salaried officers, irrespective of other considerations. Allsalaries should betreated on their merits. But may Ipoint out that the salary of the Clerkof the Senate isnot high, in view of theresponsibility involved and the duties required of him? His salary of £1,350 is subject to a reduction, under the Financial Emergency Act, of £304, so that the amount paid to him is not unreasonable, inview of the work whioh he is called upon to do. What has been the procedure with regard to these Estimates? The President and Speaker go through the salary list and fix what, in their opinion, is a reasonable amount for the work done by individual officers. Surely they are in a position to assess its value. The Estimates are then submitted to the Treasury, and it is within the right of the Government to suggest to thePresident andthe Speakerfurther reductions, if, in its opinion, such further reductions should he made. The Speaker has already informed us that he and the President have sought the assistance of a Public Service inspector to investigate the work of all parliamentary officers. This,I suggest, is the reasonable course to take, because Parliament itself cannot adequately assess the value of their service’s.
Mr.Nairn. - Will the Minister give an undertaking that such an inquiry will he made by the Government?
Mr.ARCHDALE PARKHILL.- I am ‘not prepared to give any assurance other than that which has already been given by Mr. Speaker. He has informed us that, acting with the President of the Senate, arrangementshavebeen made for an inquiry into tie work of the various departments of the Parliament, and that if any anomalies are disclosed they will act upon his report. I suggest to the honorable member for Perth that the assurance given by Mr. Speaker should be satisfactory.
.- It is, I think, desirable to explain that I discussed these Estimates with the exPresident of the Senate (Senator Kingsmill) a few months ago, the Prime Minister having requested us to reduce the cost of the Parliament. We then decided to ask the Public Service Board to make available the services of an inspector to examine the expenditure of the various parliamentary departments. When that officer commences his duties, he will meet the President and myself, and we shall talk the matter over. He will be asked, I take it, to assess the value of the work performed by the officers of the Parliament.
– That is what I said.
– As there has been some delay in the appointment of an officer, I inquired by telephone yesterday when the work would be undertaken, and I was informed that an inspector would commence it within a” few days.
.- The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) jumped to the conclusion that, by this action, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) had reflected on the officers of Parliament. I regard the amendment as evidencing the possession of considerable courage. The sole idea of the honorable member for Perth is that the cost of Parliament is altogether too great. He spoke in the highest terms of its officers. He believes, as I do, that their qualifications are unquestionable, that they thoroughly understand parliamentary procedure, and that they discharge their duties to the credit of themselves and of Australia. It is essential, however, to reduce the cost of Parliament. I am pleased that an officer of the Public Service Board is to be called into consultation with the presiding officers, with a view to effecting economies wherever possible. It was my intention to ask the honorable member for Perth to withdraw his amendment, because it singles out an individual officer. It is not the honorable member’s desire that the salary of this gentleman alone should be reduced ; the acceptance of his amendment would result in a general reduction of salaries throughout the parliamentary service. Consideration must be given to what is paid outside for similar work. There is a feeling that because of the friendships formed between members and officers of Parliament, on account of the closeness of their association, action against them would never be considered. There is not one of our officers whom I do not regard as a friend. But it is the duty of the Government, when costs are too high, to do everything possible to reduce them. It would be far better if the parliamentary service were controlled by the Public Service Board. The additions that have been made to the permanent staff by past presiding officers illustrate the need for an alteration of the present system. The cost of a full year’s work has to be borne in the case of many men who, for the greater part of the year, could be employed elsewhere. The country cannot afford the amount that, is involved.
– Abolish State Parliaments.
– I favour the continuance of State Parliaments. I trust that the presiding officers will investigate this matter thoroughly, and that the Government will seriously consider the advisability of placing the parliamentary staffs under the control of the Public Service Board.
– It is not my intention to support the amendment. Much has been said on behalf of those officers who receive the higher salaries. Doubtless, a similar case could be made out in every branch of the Public Service. It is to be deplored that frequently there is a tendency on the part of these officers to have little regard for those who are in receipt of low salaries. Cases of that nature have come within my experience. They are prone to suggest that this, that and the other, should be done to the poorly-paid. Those who sit on this side of the chamber naturally have strong feelings in such a matter, because of their association with the thousands who are on, and even below, the basic wage, and because of their knowledge of the struggle that these men have to make.
– Order ! The honorable member will not be in order in discussing the administration of the officer involved by the amendment.
– In addition to their conduct of the affairs of this House, these officers have duties connected with the care of those who are placed in their charge. It is not necessary, nor do I propose, to pursue that aspect of the matter into all its ramifications. What I have in mind may not apply to the officer whose salary is under discussion. But I felt it incumbent upon me to refer to the proneness of some officers on high salaries to give little consideration to the lot of those who are below them. My colleagues and I support them to-day, and will not take any steps to deprive them of what they enjoy ; but we expect them to reciprocate by helping those whom we in particular represent in this Parliament.
.- I intend to vote against the amendment, for the reason that we did not reduce our own salaries when the opportunity to do so presented itself. I believe in leading, not in pointing the way. I shall not vote for the reduction of any salary until ours has been reduced.
.- It was pleasant to listen to the explanation that was made by Mr. Speaker, of the innovation that is proposed in connexion with the salaries that are paid to officers of this Parliament. That explanation will assist honorable members very materially in determining what attitude they should adopt. Unquestionably the parliaments of Australia are costing too much. I disagree with the suggestion of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), that State Parliaments should be abolished ; I would much sooner abolish the Federal Parliament. I should like honorable members to realize that it is not niggardliness which prompts any one to seek to reduce these salaries. The question is, how much can the taxpayers of the Commonwealth afford ? The revenues of this country, which are a reflex of the capacity of the people to pay, have declined by approximately £200,000,000 per annum. That fact must be considered in public as well as in private affairs. I am perfectly satisfied with the assurance that the presiding officers, with the assistance of the Public Service Board, will review salaries and expenditure generally, and I suggest that the amendment be withdrawn.
.- The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Watson) is in error when he says that there has been no reduction of the salaries of honorable members. Only this session a further reduction was made, bringing the total to 25 per cent., which is greater than has been made in the Public Service. I have endeavoured to make it clear that this is not a personal matter. The occupant of the office concerned is a close friend of mine and a gentleman whom I regard very highly. The office of Clerk of the Senate presented the first opportunity for raising the question. I realize, of course, that it would be more fitting, not to select a particular individual, but to deal with the matter in a comprehensive way. I accept the assurance of Mr. Speaker that the question is to be reviewed, and ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
.- I wish to draw attention to the payment of child endowment and the special Canberra allowance. I understand that when child endowment was established, the cost was to some extent defrayed by the public servants themselves. Surely it is time that we considered why those who are in the Public Service should receive a special payment that is not made to any other section of the community. I notice that the Government has reduced the Canberra allowance by one-third. There must have been ample opportunity so to reduce the cost of living that there should now be no need for this allowance.
– For child endowment purposes, the whole of the salaries, on and above the basic wage throughout the Public Service, are reduced by £12 a year. From the resultant fund those officers who have children are paid £13 a year for each child.
– My memory goes back thirteen or fourteen years in the development of Canberra, and I know the efforts that have been made to induce people to come here. Surely it should now be possible to produce all the fruit vegetables and other foodstuffs required by the residents, as cheaply as in any country town in Australia.
– The honorable member knows that the Canberra allowance has this year been reduced by 331/3 per cent.
– I have already referred to that fact. This allowance has been paid for some years now, and it is time that it should cease. A special waybill is made out on all goods railed from Queanbeyan to Canberra and vice versa, with the result that heavy additional cost is added to all goods sold here. I remember, in the early stages, that the cost of sending a case of fruit 200 miles on the New South Wales railways was 9d., and the charge from Queanbeyan to Canberra was1s. 4d. While that kind of thing exists, it is no wonder that the cost of living is heavy in Canberra. The Government should make every effort to get rid of these anomalies. Canberra is situated in the midst of a country district in which all sorts of produce should he raised, making the cost of living cheaper here than elsewhere. We have been informed by the Minister that Queanbeyan bakers and milkmen are not permitted to sell their wares in Canberra. This National Parliament seems to be situated in the most protected area in Australia. Of course the high costs and rents obtaining in Canberra may give the Government an excuse for obtaining a little more revenue in that direction, but that does not reduce the cost of government. I trust that no sum for a special Canberra allowance will be placed on the Estimates for the next financial year.
Mr.R. GREEN (Richmond) [5.27].- Under item 8 - Maintenance, repairs and furniture - I wish to refer to the slippery nature of the passage-way leading from the main portion of the Parliament House to the refreshment and billiard rooms. Although no accidents have occurred up to the present, it is quite likely that an honorable member will slip on the concrete pavement and seriously injure himself. I, therefore, suggest to those who are responsible for the repairs and maintenance of this building that the concrete pavement should be chipped or, in some other way, made less dangerous. I also suggest that that corridor should be glassed in on the side exposed to the weather. When honorable members leave this chamber, which is artificially heated, for the purpose of visiting the refreshment or billiard rooms late at night, they are likely to contract a chill, particularly when the cold westerly winds are blowing. The canvas blinds which are already in use give little or no protection from the cold. If sliding glass windows were provided the cost would be small and the risk of danger to health, not only to members, but to officers who are regularly employed in this building, would be greatly minimized.
.- It is probable that a wrong impression may have been caused to honorable members concerning the duties of the members of the parliamentary reporting staff. I appreciate the action of Mr. Speaker this afternoon in giving detailed information to the committee in respect of the parliamentary expenditure generally. It was a very desirable innovation, because it is extremely necessary that the detailed working of our parliamentary institution should be as widely known as possible. My object now, however, is to dispel the idea that, because the Public Works and the Public Accounts committees have ceased to function, the parliamentary reporting staff is overmanned; that is not the case. Although the staff is no longer in attendance on those committees, the Government is now able to requisition the services of the Hansard reporters for conferences and special inquiries, and, because of those added responsibilities, the services of the staff, as it is now constituted, are fully engaged.
.- I notice that under Division Number 3, relating to the parliamentary reporting staff, there is an amount for special Canberra allowance which shows no reduction. There is also an amount for an additional day’s pay on account of leap year - I thought that we were dealing with annual salaries.
– That payment was made last year.
– I do not remember having received any special pay last year on account of leap year. This seems to me to be an unnecessary payment, and I suggest that an examination should be made of such items.
.- The revised Estimates show that the amount of Canberra allowance provided for the parliamentary reporting staff has been reduced from £740 to £500.
.- With regard to the library, I notice that it is intended to reduce the vote for the purchase of books, maps, plates, and documents, bookbinding and insurance, and also for subscriptions to newspapers, periodicals, and annuals. The saving is certainly small, but it means a good deal to the library. A few days ago, I inquired at the library for a periodical which I had previously seen there, and I was informed it was not now being obtained. It is essential that honorable members should be well informed of happenings in other parts of the world, and of the opinions of leading public men. It would, therefore, be a wise move on the part of the Government to restore this vote to what it was last year, so that important periodicals may be at the disposal of honorable members.
– I notice that the amount for child endowment, under Division 4, relating to the library, is £26, while last year, it was £13. What is the reason for this increase of 100 per cent, in the cost of child endowment?
.- I suggest that a public ‘ index of the books in the library should be available. There is an index available to the officers of the library, and that should be duplicated for the information of the public. There are 100,000 volumes in the library, and a considerable quantity of knowledge is practically buried in the vaults, merely because the public does not know what works are in the possession of the library.
– I should like to have some information regarding the distribution of the books of the library within the Federal Capital Territory. Speaking generally, the residents of Canberra are among the favoured people of the Commonwealth, and I want to know why, in these times of financial stringency, a nominal subscription is not paid by the residents of Canberra who use the library.
– All the capital cities, with the exception of Canberra, have free libraries.
– The capital cities’ also have libraries for the use of which” subscriptions must be paid. In tb» country areas, mechanics’ institutes” which have libraries all charge subscriptions. Surely, there should be a nominal charge by the National Library at Canberra to cover various costs. Thousands of books cannot be lent to the public every year without some damage being done to them, or without some cost being incurred in keeping them in repair.
– Owing to the financial position, it became necessary to stop the publication of the historical records of the Commonwealth; but, from the information that I have received, it seems doubtful whether departmental records are iri all cases being properly preserved. The object in view prior to the depression was to establish, for the preservation of Commonwealth, historical records, an archives office, similar to those in Canada, South Africa, and elsewhere. . While I recognize that it is impossible to provide such an office at the present time, I urge the Government to take such steps as may be necessary for the preservation of the more important documents and papers that may be valuable as historical records.
. - I shall gladly make a note of the important suggestion submitted by the honorable member. I am sure that every honorable member desires that the records of the Commonwealth shall be as complete as those of any other country. In reply to the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), I draw attention to the f actthat library contingencies show that the vote last year for “books, maps, plates, and documents, bookbinding and insurance “ was £1,510, and the expenditure only £1,194. This year the vote amounts to £1,400, so that it appears that about an average has been struck. Last year £400 was voted for subscriptions to newspapers, periodicals, and annuals, and the sum expended in that direction was £356. The amount of £370 voted for the current year is £14 more than was spent last year. When I was a member of the Library Committee, it was found necessary to reduce the number of periodicals purchased, because, in some instances, only a few members read them. It was considered unreasonable to subscribe to a number of periodicals which were not of first-class importance, and were asked for “by only one or two members. I suggest to the honorable member for East Sydney that the sum voted this year is ample to ensure a reasonable supply of representative magazines and periodicals. The honorable member’s party is represented on the Library Committee, and any request made to the committee would, no doubt, be sympathetically considered.
.- In reply to the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), I may say that no charge is made to residents of Canberra for books supplied to them from the parliamentary library. In the capital city of every State there is a free public library, and it was considered reasonable not to deny to the residents of Canberra a privilege which is afforded to citizens in the State capitals. I can assure honorable members generally that the books lent are taken care of, and that no extra expense on the part of the taxpayers is incurred as the result of giving the residents of Canberra this great privilege.
.- I move-
That Division No. 0, “Joint House Department, £17,806”, bc reduced by £1.
The object of my amendment is to give the committee an opportunity to indicate to the Government that it is of the opinion that the supply of food to members at the refreshment-rooms should be discontinued, and that the members of the staff who are permanent employees should be transferred to the Hotels Canberra and Kurrajong.
– What about the bar?
– My proposal regarding the supply of meals is important enough for a start, without dealing with the bar at the same time. I hope that honorable members will recognize that my amendment is a reasonable one. They should ask themselves whether an expen diture of £3,799 a year in providing salaries for thirteen officers can be justified. When I became a member of this Parliament in 1920, there were only three officers on the permanent list in this department, and the expenditure on salaries amounted to approximately £600 per annum.
– There were other employees who were taken on temporarily.
– Quite so; but when the Parliament met in Melbourne, there were only three permanent men in this department; now, in addition to the thirteen permanent employees, six temporary men are taken on while Parliament is in session. Can members justify the employment of a steward at £470 a year, an assistant steward at £360 a year ; and a principal cook at £400 a year, when Parliament sat last year on only 72 days? I know, of course, that these men are employed for a few days other than those on which the Parliament sits.
– The honorable member should allow for the fact that Parliament often sat only three days a week, and the sitting days to which he has referred represent, therefore, a period of, probably, 24 weeks.
– Even supposing that Parliament sat for 26 weeks, that was only half the year. Can honorable members defend a vote for the payment of these salaries throughout the whole year? I venture to say that a cook who can earn £400 a year would object to working in the gardens. He would certainly refuse to work as a cleaner in the parliamentary building. I make bold to say that this cook and the other two officers to whom I have referred, are practically twiddling their thumbs for half the year. Since invalid and old-age pensions have been reduced, and economies have been effected in many other directions, we cannot justify keeping these officers in permanent employment at Parliament House, seeing that all the wants of honorable members in regard to food could be supplied at the hotels Canberra and Kurrajong. If honorable members vote for this expenditure, then, to be logical, they should increase the charge for meals supplied in the parliamentary refreshment-rooms to a sufficiently high figure to enable these salaries to be met. It is unreasonable to ask the taxpayers of this country to bear the cost ‘of keeping these men in permanent positions for the convenience of members of Parliament. . I appeal earnestly, and in a kindly spirit, to honorable members to consider whether the saving that I have suggested should not be made.
– “What is the loss?
– Last year it amounted to £4,038.
– What was the loss in connexion -with the Hotel Kurrajong?
– I am glad of that interjection. The loss on the Hotels Canberra and Kurrajong, without allowing for interest and depreciation, was about £5,000 last year. If honorable members would take at the Hotels Canberra or Kurrajong the two meals which they usually have on sitting days at the parliamentary refreshment-rooms, that loss of £5,000 would probably disappear. A saving of over £4,000 could be made in connexion with the refreshment-rooms, and much of the loss now sustained at the two hotels could be avoided if my amendment were adopted. So far, honorable members have not advanced any good reason why the refreshmentrooms should be kept open at a cost to the taxpayers of over £4,000 a year, when all their needs could be met at the two well-managed hotels that are situated within half a mile of Parliament House.
.- All honorable members will agree, I think, that the parliamentary refreshment-rooms are fairly expensive <to maintain; but I object to the suggestion that honorable members go to those rooms to spend the large amount of leisure time which they arc said to have in Canberra. As I regard the position, the refreshmentrooms are a necessary adjunct to these premises. In carrying on the business of the country, honorable members need the facilities afforded in these rooms.
– No modern factory is without its dining-room.
– Quite so. Members should be satisfied with the assurance given by Mr. Speaker that every method by which it may be possible to effect a saving is being examined. To the officers of Parliament, whose salaries total about £45,000 per annum, a special Canberra allowance of £3,654 per annum, or about 8 per cent, of their salaries, is granted. I do not know much about this allowance ; but I assume that it is based on the higher cost of living in Canberra compared with the other capital cities. Is it not anomalous that this allowance is made at a time when we are reducing the salaries of Federal Public Servants because of a fall in the cost of living? The loss on the parliamentary refreshment-rooms could well be regarded as a special Canberra allowance to members of Parliament, who would be at a distinct disadvantage if they were required to go to the hotels for all their meals. That loss represents about £37 per member, which is much less in proportion ‘to the parliamentary allowance than the special Canberra allowance- is to the average salary of the members of the Public Service. The charges which have been levelled against members of Parliament are not justified. During the short period that I have been a member of this Parliament I have not. seen any evidence of the excessive use by members of the parliamentary bar and billiard-room. We should have regard to the valuable service rendered by the refreshment-rooms rather than to the loss incurred in connexion with them. Eegrettable as it may be, a loss of £4,000 is justified if it facilitates the smooth working of the parliamentary machine.
.- I should have no compunction in compelling members to walk to the adjacent hotels for their meals. Indeed, it might be a good thing if some members had to walk to Sydney, especially if they did not return. Yet I should be troubled if by closing the refreshment-rooms we threw some employees out of work. I do not care to do that at this time. It would appear that some of those who supply us with meals are engaged in the wrong occupation ; but that may be said with equal truth of many members of Parliament, including myself. One of the troubles besetting Australia is that too many people are working hard at things that do not matter in an economic sense. The mover of the amendment has suggested that during periods when Parliament was not sitting the staff of the refreshment-rooms should be employed in the Government hotels in Canberra. If that suggestion is adopted no question of their being thrown out of work arises. The only thing for us to consider, therefore, is whether or not members are 4o be compelled to walk to the hotels for their meals. The honorable “member for Angas said that if members partook of all their meals at *‘the hotels the present staff would continue to be employed, but in a different place, and the hotels would not show a loss. I am an employer of labour, and I know that many employers retain the services of employees whom they really do not need, because they do not like to put them off in these difficult times. When a private employer does that, the money to pay wages comes from his own pocket; but we are not in the position of a private employer, for we are entrusted with the money of the public and must see that it is expended wisely. As, however, no question of men being thrown out of employment arises in this case, I shall support the amendment of the honorable member for Angas.
.- I deprecate the attempt to make it appear to the public that members of this Parliament are receiving something to which they are not entitled. Every State Parliament has its dining-room, and surely in that case the dining-room provided for. this Parliament is more than justified. When the Federal Parliament met in Melbourne, members could have obtained a satisfactory meal in one of the many hotels, restaurants or cafes in the vicinity of Parliament House, and there might then have been some ground for questioning the wisdom of having refreshmentrooms iti the building itself. But, as I have said, every Australian Parliament has its dining-room service, and in most, if not all of them, meals equal to those obtainable here can be obtained for less than is charged for meals in the refreshment-rooms of this Parliament. I know that in the Adelaide Parliament House a meal equal to that which costs 2s. in Canberra is obtainable for ls. 6d.
– The position is the same ip the New South Wales Parliament.
– I believe that it is true also of the Brisbane Parliament.
– The same may be said of the Commonwealth Bank in all the cities.
– That is so ; and I know that the honorable member for Angas avails himself of the facilities for meals offered by that institution. The honorable member does not appear to realize that the members of the refreshment rooms staff do cleaning work as well.
– Does the cook do such work?
– Why humbug about the matter? The honorable member has no right to single out the cook, and make it appear that his position is typical of that of the whole staff.
– Do the two stewards do cleaning work ?
– One of the stewards now undertakes duties which were formerly carried out by another member of the staff. Although most of the members of the staff of the refreshment-rooms do cleaning and gardening when not directly engaged in the dining-room, their salaries for the whole of the year are charged against the refreshment-rooms. The charges made by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) are based on wrong premises. He fails to realize that the services of those men are used for gardening, cleaning and other purposes during recess and even during the time Parliament is in session.
The suggestion that the services of the cook should be retained only during the parliamentary session is not a sound one. Obviously if a cook were engaged only for the periods which the Parliament was sitting, it would be extremely difficult, and perhaps impossible, to find a suitable man to undertake the duties of the position. Moreover, a permanent employee should be able accurately to gauge the culinary needs of honorable members and the quantities of food required, and by doing this over a number of years, a competent man would effect great economy. Temporary cooks, engaged for short and irregular periods, would have to adapt themselves to new and strange conditions, and this would be an expensive process for the country. Canberra has such a small population, and is so remote from the State capitals whore labour of any kind can easily be obtained, that it would be most inadvisable for us to dabble in the experiment of engaging temporary men. Only by giving permanency to responsible officers can efficiency and economy be attained.
The honorable member for Angas, when alleging that honorable members are too tired or indifferent to go to their hotels for lunch or dinner, is misrepresenting the facts. . He desires honorable members to remain constantly in the chamber throughout the sittings, and if they do so, it is only during the short respite at meal times that they are able to refer to the journals and books in the library to keep abreast of the times, and to increase their knowledge of matters economic and social, in order that they may do justice to their constituents. The honorable member further overlooks the fact that the members of the staff of the Parliament live at some distance from this building, and, in the majority of cases, it would be impossible for them to go to and from their homes during meal hours. It is, therefore, essential to provide meals for them on the premises. Unless the honorable member for Angas is able to submit much more substantial arguments to the committee than we have heard from him, I am not prepared to deprive honorable members and the staff of this necessary service.
.- My parliamentary experience leads mc not only to doubt the wisdom of the utterances of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb), but to suggest that, by his amendment, he is seeking cheap publicity. Nothing is more acceptable to a certain section of the press and public than an attack on members’ allowances and privileges, if there be any, coupled with the insinuation that services such as those given by the parliamentary refreshment-rooms are enjoyed free of cost. Every Parliament House in Australia has its dining-room, which provides a service that is essential to the proper functions of a Parliament, and members and officers pay for all they receive. The hours parliamentarians and officers are called upon to spend at the Parliament House are long, irregular and uncertain. Occasionally it is necessary to sit all night, and a meal may be needed at midnight, or perhaps early in the morning. Lt would be unfair to expect, any outside hotel to provide for our requirements/ By having a parliamentary refreshmentroom the conduct of public business is facilitated. Most honorable memberstravel many hundreds of miles to attend the sittings at Canberra, and it would be unwise to expect them during inclement’ weather to walk to and from distantly situated hotels, in a place where, unlike the big cities, the thoroughfares are entirely unsheltered. I admit that it may be possible to effect economies in the conduct of the parliamentary refreshmentrooms, but that is the business of the House Committee. I agree with the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) that a tremendous amount of valuable work is carried out by honorable members during meal hours. Any one who has been a Cabinet Minister knows that many Cabinet meetings are held during meal hours, it being frequently necessary to have meals supplied in the Cabinet room. That is a common practice in every Parliament. “For these and other reasons I contend that it is ridiculous for honorable members even to consider the amendment that is before the committee.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
.- The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) threw a flood of light on this subject when he informed us in the course of his speech that the members of the staff of the parliamentary refreshmentrooms are called upon to perform other multifarious duties. It would be interesting to have the accounts dissected properly and the expenditure allocated where it rightly belongs so that we could ascertain exactly what our refreshmentroom service costs. I have the same objection to the amendment of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) as I had to that of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). Both honorable gentlemen appear to me to have adopted slap-dash methods to achieve a certain objective. I will support any effort of a comprehensive nature to make legitimate savings, but
I am not prepared to depart from established procedure until a proper investigation has shown the justification for such a departure. The honorable member for Angas has suggested that the staff of the parliamentary refreshment-rooms could be transferred to our hotels. It seems to me that that would simply result in still larger losses. According to the reports of the Auditor-General on certain phases of life in the Federal Capital Territory, the losses on Canberra hotels were £102,000 in 1929-30, and £52,740 in 1930-31. The figures for 1931-32 are not yet available but it was estimated that the loss would be £43,000.
– That is on all the hotels.
– Quite so, but the honorable member who spends a good deal of his time walking about this city enjoying its marvellous climate and bracing atmosphere, must know that three of the hotels, have been closed for the last two or three years, excepting when they have been specially opened for large parties of tourists. If a liberal allowance be made for the losses on the hotels that are closed it must still be admitted that heavy losses are incurred in respect of Hotel Canberra and Hotel Kurrajong. It appears to me, therefore, that the transference of the business of the parliamentary refreshment-rooms to either or both of these hotels would simply add to the losses. The honorable member is, in fact, urging the committee to adopt a course which will lead to greater extravagance than the course at present being followed. I feel sure that both the Minister in charge of the House (Mr. Parkhill) and the Minister for the Interior (Mr, Perkins) would be quite prepared to allow an investigation to be made into the conduct of the institutions to which I am referring to ascertain where the losses are being sustained. As the hotels mentioned, and the parliamentary refreshmentrooms are all controlled by the Government, I suggest that the purchasing of supplies for them could be done through a single channel. This would undoubtedly lead to economies. There is no doubt at all that the cost of living in Canberra is high. This is an expensive place in which to live. I have been told that a cauliflower which can be bought in Melbourne for from 2d. to 5d. costs ls. 3d. here.
Under such conditions it is not likely that either the hotels or the parliamentary refreshment-rooms will ever pay their way. I take it that the honorable member for Angas is quite satisfied with the fare he receives at Hotel Kurrajong, and thinks, bearing in mind the conditions which prevail here, that the prices are reasonable.
– They are higher than the honorable member has to pay.
– I have two meals on each sitting day at the parliamentary refreshment-rooms. I have no doubt that some saving can be made in the management of this institution. The honorable member was quite incorrect in his statement that there was probably no other place in the world where a parliamentary refreshment-room could be found in such close proximity to two government-owned hotels. I hope the honorable member will some day have the opportunity to visit Ottawa. If he does, he will find very near to the Canadian Parliament House the Chateau Laurier, which is a publiclyowned hotel, and one of the finest in the dominion. Yet there is a refreshmentroom within the precincts of the Canadian Parliament House.
It cannot be denied that we are paying dearly for the transference of the seat of government to Canberra. I suppose it is costing the taxpayers of Australia a million a year more than they would be paying for the same service in a more accessible city.
– I do not favour a cheeseparing policy, but I am bound to confess that the cost of government in Australia is altogether too high for our income. If there is a way to make legitimate savings, I shall be glad to take it, but I do not think that the honorable member for Angas has pointed out such a way. There is room for a thorough investigation into all costs in relation to Canberra. During my term of ministerial office, the Canberra allowance came under my consideration, and I was informed by the Chairman of the Public Service Board that no allowance was more justified than this one. It was pointed out to me that, because of the high cost of living in this city, some civil servants living here with their families were unable to leave Canberra when taking their annual leave because they had not the money to do so. This surely shows the need for an exhaustive investigation. But the proposal of the honorable member would not get us anywhere. On the figures I have quoted from the Auditor-General’s reports, it would only make our position worse. I, therefore, cannot support it. In fact, if I had two votes I should cast both of them against it.
.- It has been truly said that this is only a small matter. Earlier in our discussion to-day I remarked that I did not approve of the method adopted by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) in attacking members and institutions of Parliament. I repeat that statement. But I shall support this amendment as an earnest of my desire to effect economies. An examination of the Estimates shows that £470 is being provided for salary for a steward. In addition, the Canberra allowance is granted, which is equivalent to 10 per cent, of the salary. This, would make the remuneration of this officer £517 per annum. I am not singling out the person holding this office for special criticism. For all I know he may be the most efficient officer in the Public Service, but I- am sure that if applications were invited through the press of Australia for this position tens of thousands of people would be after it.
– That remark might also be applied to the position of a member of Parliament.
– But members of Parliament have to face the electors, and depend for their positions on the verdict of the people. I do not believe in the infallibility of cabinets. We have a good Government at present, and its attention is fully occupied by major issues. This is a small matter, which, with other similar matters, could well be referred to a parliamentary committee for investigation and report.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Penton) has adopted a rather contradictory attitude. He has told us that he approves of economy but will not support the amendment, and that he disapproves of Canberra, but will not criticize it. We all know that this is a city of compromise. We cannot blink the fact that it was established as the national capital in consequence of interstate jealousy. A great amount, of money has been spent upon it.
– I do not think all of it has been wasted, because to a large extent value has been given by what has been spent.
– Hear, hear !
– A mistake was made in the first place in establishing the capital on such an inaccessible site. It has been said on two or three occasions in this House that if the evacuation of Canberra were dependent upon the votes of members of this Parliament the city would be evacuated.
– The honorable member would like the Federal Parliament to meet in his electorate.
– The evacuation of Canberra cannot be discussed under this item.
– I am merely speculating upon what would happen if a vote were taken on the evacuation of the city. I do not desire the Federal Parliament to meet in. my electorate, but there are certainly several big cities in the Commonwealth where it could meet with advantage.
– I again remind the honorable member that the item before the Chair deals with only one phase of expenditure in Canberra.
– The suggestion has been advanced that the Government could well evacuate this city and lease the new State Savings Bank building in Sydney for use as a Federal Parliament House. It was also suggested that the governmental departments could be divided up between the principal capital cities. What would be done with the parliamentary building is a matter for conjecture. Some one has suggested that it could be used as a picture producing centre.
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the amendment.
– I admit that this subject is unpleasant to some honorable members, but it is important, and in discussing it, one is tempted to deviate from the amendment before the Chair. Canberra was established on a grandiose scale, and, having been undertaken during prosperous times, salaries were fixed at higher rates than those prevailing in private employment. Is it fair that people on the land, who, in many instances, are unable to make a living, should have to find the. money to pay salaries which are from 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. higher than those paid outside? Although this House sat on only 72 days last year, the salaries of these highlypaid officers had to be provided for a full year. This is one of the few opportunities we have to direct the attention of the Government to unnecessary expenditure. A parliamentary committee consisting of representatives of all parties in this House should be appointed to see where economies can be effected.
– Is not the honorable member aware that there is a House Committee?
– Yes;but to enable a thorough investigation to he made, that committee shouldbe enlarged, and its powers extended. On two previous occasions, I have brought the subject of parliamentary expenditure under the notice of the Government, andI believe that some steps have been taken to check extravagance. A committee should also be appointed to inquire into the whole question of the cost involved in governing from Canberra.
– I again ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the amendment.
– If savings are to be effected, an investigation on the linesI have indicated should be undertaken. The amount involved in this instance is. small, but as an earnest of my desire to effect economy, I shall support the amendment.
. -Several honorable members suggested that I have submitted this amendment with the object of obtaining publicity. J ust fancy any member of this Parliament seeking publicity ! I leave it to honorable members to think it out for themselves.
– What is the joke?
– Few honorable members can truthfully say that they have never sought publicity. I cannot truthfully say that I have not. I can however, deny that I have brought this matter forward with the object of gaining notoriety or publicity. I have taken a. similar stand on previous occasions with respect to ministerial allowances, and the expenditure incurred by the Public Works Committee, and the Public Accounts Committee. I have remained here long enough to see a considerable reduction in ministerial allowances, and to see the operations of the two committees mentioned suspended. I hopestill to be in this Parliament sufficiently long to see further economies effected.
With respect to the arguments of those who, have attempted to defend the expenditure on the parliamentary refreshmentrooms, which are costing the tax payers over £4,000 a year, I repeat that there are two hotels less than half a mile away from Parliament House quite capable of supplying the needs of honorable members. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr: McNicoll) said that the parliamentary refreshment-rooms were essential to. the satisfactory conduct of thecountry’s business. Surely, the honorable member does not seriously suggest that if we had our meals at those hotels, the country’s business could not be satisfactorily carried on? He further said that as inquiries’ into parliamentary expenditure are to be conducted by an officer of the Public Service Board, he did not intend to support the amendment. There is noneed to wait for reports from such an officer. Surely we can deal with the position as we find it to-day. He further mentioned - I doubt whether he was serious in the suggestion he made - thatthe cost incurred in connexion with the refreshment-rooms could be regarded as a Canberra allowance to honorable members. In my opinion, there is no justification for the payment of such an allowance to any member of Parliament.
I now come to the points raised by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby): I ask that honorable member if, before his election to this Parliament, he did not pledge himself to a policy of economy.
– Legitimate economy.
– The attitude of the honorable member reminds me of a statement- recently made by the honorable member :for Fremantle (Mr. Watson), that he had been informed that certain »men in South Australia were working their hardest night and day to find out how others could make a sacrifice. The honorable mem’ber for Calare supports a reduction of pensions by 2s. 6d. a week, but is not willing to support this amendment. He is one of those who said that I was seeking publicity ; but I do not intend to allow him - a reject from the Parliament of New South Wales - to hand anything to me without handing him something in return.
– The honorable member is out of order.
– I now wish to deal with the statements of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) who, having once held the position of Speaker, has had an opportunity to effect economies. The honorable member said that there is more justification for refreshmentrooms in this House than there was for parliamentary refreshment-rooms when this Parliament was sitting in Melbourne. There are no government hotels in the capital cities such as there are in Canberra. If the refreshment* rooms were closed down the losses incurred by these hotels could be reduced. The honorable member further said that an excellent mead can be obtained in the Parliament House in Adelaide for ls. 6d. When I visited the refreshment-rooms in Melbourne, and those in this building when I first came to -Canberra, I found the meals supplied good enough for any one. The food was of splendid quality, and was served in a most satisfactory way. But I remind the honorable member for Hindmarsh that there is not, in the South Australian parliamentary refreshment-rooms, a staff of 13 permanent hands costing nearly £3,800 a year. The honorable member also said that I patronized the dining-room at the Commonwealth Bank in Melbourne. What does he mean by that ?
– The honorable member visits that dining-room.
– I have done so on many occasions, and have received a good meal for about ls. What does the honorable member mean? He will not say in what
Way my visits to that dining-room have any bearing on this subject.
– Is the honorable member aware that the price charged does not cover the cost?
– I have been informed that that department is self-supporting. If the honorable member’s statement was supposed to be derogatory to me as a member of Parliament, I ask him whether it was not derogatory for him, as a Speaker of this House when drawing about £40 a week, to line up to the refreshment counter at Ballarat or Seymour and obtain a meal for about ls. 3d ? I do not condemn him for doing so; I admire him for joining in with the crowd. But I cannot see his point. Can the honorable member justify the employment of a chief steward at £470 and an assistant steward at £360 a year during the recess? The honorable member said that when Parliament is not sitting these officers are engaged in gardening and cleaning work.
– I did not say anything of the kind.
– Then what did the honorable member say ?
– I said that a majority of the dining-room staff were employed on such work.
– When Parliament is in session is the staff employed in gardening and cleaning work not sufficient to do all that is required? If that is so, why is it necessary to increase its numbers during a recess? The honorable member cannot “.get away with it “ like that. The proper place for those men of the refreshmentrooms staff who are receiving £400 a year is in a government hotel, where they could be doing work with which they are familiar. It is unfair of honorable members to shelter themselves behind the staff in order to keep the refreshment-rooms opened instead of assisting to effect economies in the interests of the taxpayers who have to provide the money. The honorable member further stated that some honorable members had their meals in the parliamentary refreshmentrooms to enable them to visit the library in connexion with their parliamentary debates. To see the extent to which the library is used during the dinner adjournment, I visited it at 6.20 p.m., and expected to find a large number of honorable members closely perusing books and papers. I did not find one. At 7.20 p.m., I again visited the library expecting to find every stand, table, and desk occupied by honorable members working in the interests of their country, but found only two. I made another visit at 7.35 p.m., and found the same two members and another just entering. When honorable members get up here and say things which every other honorable member of this House knows to be absolute guff, it is time some one called their bluff. When the present Speaker of the House was a private member, he made a statement which supports the proposal I have made, and to-day he said that his attitude had not changed. In passing, I might mention that I have as much confidence in the present Speaker as one likely to effect economies and keep down expenses, as I had in the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin). The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Mackay) some time ago stated -
It is absurd for the Government to provide meals at Parliament House, and in the hotels as well. It makes for a duplication of staff which is unwarranted.
.- The speech to which we have just listened was one of the most deplorable that I have ever heard in this chamber. If it is the wish of the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) to make this Parliament respected by the people, he is certainly going the wrong way about it. I have yet to learn that the honorable member is alone in desiring to effect economies. I have been a member of this Parliament for thirteen years, and I challenge the honorable member to name one parliamentary committee on which he has served, although other honorable members have served gratuitously on several committees.
– Will the Minister allow me to state the reason?
– I listened to the honorable member without interrupting him, and I ask a like courtesy from him. We have a House Committee, on which sit members, of all parties in both chambers. Having been a member of that committee, I can say that all avenues of expenditure have been most carefully watched. While I differ politically from some honorable members in this House, I can pay them all the tribute, that, as committee men, they have endeavoured to do their duty conscientiously, and to save public money in every possible way. I do not admit the right of the honorable member for Angas to castigate other honorable members of this House, and particularly members of my own party, for allegedly dodging the issue over a few meat pies. I remind the honorable member that he is himself adding to the cost of Parliament by fillingHansard with his complaints. We have a printing committee composed of members of Parliament, whose duty it is to keep down the cost of printing. I invite the honorable member, instead of seeking publicity, to throw in his lot with the rest in an honest endeavour to reduce expenditure. Let him, in the silence of the committee room, explore ways and means of effecting economies. He would be better employed in so doing than in holding up the National Parliament to ridicule. In his saner moments, he must realize the mess he has made of things. Ho must realize, upon reflection, that, in casting aspersions on honorable members of this House, and of another place, he is playing a very unfair part. I believe that honorable members, irrespective of the political party to which they belong, desire to serve the country according to their ideas. If the honorable member can show us some method of further cutting down expenses without sacking men, we shall be pleased to listen to him. I regret that he has moved this amendment. Of course, he has the right to do so, as has any other honorable member, but there was no need for him to descend to the depths he did when speaking in support of it. Perhaps the honorable member has some friends listening in the gallery; but some of his statements were creditable neither to him nor to this Parliament.
.- I regret that the necessity has arisen to answer the puerile charges directed by the honorable member against his associates in this House. His endeavour to tickle the ears of the unthinking with this sort of propaganda is not edifying to those outside Parliament, nor does it tend to enhance the reputation of parliamentary institutions in the minds of the public. The honorable member, more than any one else, has been responsible for dragging the good nameof this Parliament in the mud. Instead of trying to uphold the reputation of parliamentary institutions, and to increase the confidence of the public in constitutional methods of government, he has done the exact opposite.
Moreover, the honorable member, in making his charges, has not even troubled to be accurate. He described certain statements of mine as “guff.” He flitted into the Library and out again, and, on the strength of that, charges honorable members with failing to take advantage of the facilities provided there. I took the trouble to consult the officer on duty in the Library, and was informed that, during the dinner hour, between 25 and 30 persons visited the Library, and that at one time no fewer than seven members were in the reference section. I was told that when important debates are in progress in the House, as many as nine or ten members are sometimes waiting to be attended to by the Library staff. The honorable member might at leastbe fair.When I was speaking previously, I endeavoured to give the honorable member and others in this House the advantage of my experience as an occupant of the Chair, but the honorable member for Angas was mean and contemptible enough to misrepresent my statement. When I said that the majority of those employed in the parliamentary diningroom performed other duties during the recess, the honorable member for Angas knew quite well that I was not referring to the two stewards or to the cook, but it suited him to pretend that I was. If the honorable member takes the trouble to ascertain the facts, he will find that the majority of those who wait on the tables in the dining-room, and of those who occupy the more menial positions about the place, are employed on other duties during recess although their salaries are debited against the dining-room. It is unfortunate that the honorable member for Angas, by making these unfounded charges, is able to obtain so much publicity in the press. Were it otherwise, he would not, I am sure, trouble to indulge in such mock heroics. With this I leave the honorable member to his own conscience.
– He has not got one.
– Well, he claims to have one. I deplore the fact that the honorable member, on the pretence of being the one Simon Pure in public life, assumes the right to censor the actions of other honorable members of this Parliament.
.- I propose to vote against the amendment, not. because I do not think that it would be possible to reduce the loss incurred on the parliamentary refreshment-room, but because I feel that the Government should lease Hotel Canberra and Hotel Kurrajong, and continue to run the parliamentary refreshment-rooms for the convenience of honorable members. Some few years ago, inquiries were made into the manner in which the dining-rooms were run in the various State Parliaments, and it was found that in Western Australia, where meals were provided at a cheaper rate than here, they were able to show a comfortable profit at the end of the year. In South Australia, also, the parliamentary refreshment-rooms are well conducted, meals are provided at small cost, and the rooms are run at a profit. In Sydney, the dining-room was then being run at a profit. How is it then that in Canberra, where charges for meals are high, such heavy losses are incurred? I cannot understand why persons working in Canberra should be paid higher rates than are paid in other parts of Australia. According to the Estimates, a pantryman employed in the refreshment-room in this building receives £270 a year, plus allowances. What artisan, working at a trade in any part of Australia, could expect to earn so much, more especially if he were engaged in his trade for only a part of the year ?
– The man to whom the honorable member has referred actually receives only £213 a year, because of deductions made in accordance with the Financial Emergency Act.
– Surely the deduction is not as large as that.
– That is what the man receives, and it would be well if the honorable member acquainted himself with the facts before raising complaints.
– Well, if any one is to blame it is those responsible for submitting false returns to Parliament. I have known the chief steward for many years, and I know that he is a very capable man. These losses are partly due to the high costs associated with Canberra, and I have said on other occasions that we would be wise to convert this building into a mental asylum and transfer the Parliament to a centre in which it would be in touch with the people. It is not fair to pay employees in Canberra wages in excess of what they could earn in other parts of Australia. A slight allowance might be justifiable temporarily on account of the increased cost of living in Canberra. Unfortunately the cost of Government has been increasing steadily year by year; since 1913 the expenditure in all departments has gradually grown. The closing down of the refreshmentrooms would impose an undue hardship, not only upon members, but also upon all the officers and others connected with the Parliament, especially if in bleak orwet weather they should have to travel a considerable distance to the hotels or their homes for their meals. The Government should endeavour to lease the hotels, and so avoid the big loss now incurred in their operation.
– I shall not prolong thisunedifying debate beyond the time necessary to remove some misunderstanding and misrepresentations. Honorable members have referred to what they term the high salaries paid to the employees connected with the parliamentary refreshment-rooms, whereas a close scrutiny of the Estimates shows that all the amounts set down are subject to a percentage reduction under the Financial Emergency Act. The chief steward is paid, not £470, but £373; the assistant steward, not £360, but £285; the chief cook, not £400, but £317 ; the head waiter, not £305, but £241; and the pantryman, to whom frequent reference has been made, not £270, but £213. Any person who says that approximately £4 a week is excessive remuneration has no conception of what is fair and reasonable. Yet in the course of a prolonged debate the facts have been grossly exaggerated and misrepresented, particularly by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb).
– Is not the PostmasterGeneral guilty also of that by not including the Canberra allowance?
– The figures I have mentioned include the Canberra allowance. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has frequently referred to that allowance, and although he has been told that it has been reduced during this year by 331/3 per cent. and will disappear in two years, he continues to harp on it. The honorable member for Angas has admitted that he seeks publicity; by belittling his fellow members and holding them up to scorn and ridicule he hopes to gain notoriety in a section of the press at the expense of the good name of people with whom he is daily associated. A man who seeks publicity by pharisaical cant is beneath my contempt. The refreshment-room is essential, and I remind the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that it is the special duty of the House Committee, which is representative of both chambers and of all parties, to advise Parliament in these matters and so avoid the unedifying debate to which we have had to listen to-night. If the factsare closely investigated little to cavil at will be found. The public is not being saddled with undue expense on account of the refreshment-rooms. Certain conveniences and comforts are as essential to the prestige of this Parliament, as they are to that of Parliaments in other countries. When the people elect a man to represent them in this national parliament they do not expect him to live according to the standards prescribed by the honorable member for Angas, and I certainly am not prepared to regulate my conduct according to either the precept or the example of the honorable member.
– I shall explain briefly why I propose to support the amendment. Although I have listened carefully to the discussion I experience difficulty in arriving at the facts. We all are anxious to reduce expenditure, in the interest of the taxpayer, but one fact that emerges from the discussion is that the conduct of the refreshment-rooms involves an. annual loss of approximately. £4,000!We are told that the President andthe Speaker and their associates on the House Committee have done their utmost to control the refreshment-rooms economically ; yet a loss of £4,000 a year is sustained. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin), said that certain of the loss represented charges, which could be properly debited to various services outside the refreshment-rooms, but he did not say to what extent the figures placed before the committee would be affected. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) has. talked in wide terms of the need for economy. It is easy to do that, but the trouble commences when we are asked to effect a specific reduction of expenditure. The refreshment-rooms offer an opportunity for a specific economy, and I am not convinced that the dining-room is necessary. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) referred to the need for maintaining the prestige of this Parliament. Does he suggest that the running of a dining-room for some members contributes to the prestige of the national parliament ? I cannot justify this loss to the taxpayers. If I thought it was necessary in. the interests of the Parliament, I should support it, and I object to the statement that support of the amendment means that one is reflecting on one’s fellow members. I am sure that no honorable member will think that, by voting for the amendment, I am seeking; to cast aspersions on my associates in this. Parliament. Nothing is further from my thoughts. It resolves itself, so far as I am concerned, into a very simple proposition.We are considering the Estimates and are asked, in the amendment, to cut down expenditure in the interests of the taxpayers. I hold, with my friend, the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Watson), that there would be no doubt about our attitude if we were considering the conduct of our own private business in which losses were being sustained. We should not forget that we are the trustees of public funds, and that we have to justify, if we can, every penny of expenditure incurred in the running of the various departments: I cannot approve the expenditure contemplated in connexion with the refreshmentrooms.
– Can the honorable member justify the expenditure incurred in connexion with this debate?
– I cannot, and I do not propose to prolongit. I rose simply to say thatI intended to vote for the amendment on. the grounds which I have stated. I was induced to rise because of the remark of the Postmaster-General that any honorable member who voted for the amendment would be casting an aspersion on his fellow members, and would be holding the House up to ridicule.
– I made no such suggestion. My remarks were directed to the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb).
– But there was a certain implication.
– That was not intended.
– I accept the Minister’s assurance, and I know he willbelieve me when I say that I intend, to vote for the amendment for the reasons given,, and for those reasons only.
– I offer no apology for making my contribution to this debate, because it is only at a time like this, when the Estimates are under consideration, that honorable members have an opportunity to prove their efficiency as representatives of the people.. It seems to me that if we cannot manage the affairs of the Parliament, which are immediately under our control, we shall find it difficult to justify our position in the eyes of the people when dealing with the more important problems, that confront the Commonwealth.
I deplore the tone adopted by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) in submitting his amendment, and I feel sure that, if he had approached the subject from another angle, he would have obtained a great deal more support. It is to be regretted that the debate has been taken down to the level of the discussion which one might expect to hear in connexion with the pence fund of some provincial lodge. In keeping with the dignity of a national parliament the Estimates of all departments should be discussed in broad terms. In this particular matter we should endeavour to understand the difficulties and, if possible, make recommendations to the Joint House Committee or to the President and Speaker who control the refreshment-rooms. I regret that the Speaker has recommended the closing of the rooms. Since they are directly under his controlit should be possible to rectify the position without resort to that drastic expedient. Every honorable member agrees that the expenditure is too high. As business men we can hardly pass the item without some comment. The Speaker and the President, instead of taking a strong view and deciding to cut down costs considerably, suggest that the rooms should be closed. I do not agree with that view, but I believe that strong action should be taken by those in control with a view to bringing the staff down to workable proportions. It should be possible to evolve proposals to meet the existing difficulty, due to a surplus of employees during the parliamentary recess. Most modern business houses employing large numbers of people have established their own refreshment and dining rooms, which, in the majority of cases, are run at a loss but are subsidized by the management,with a view to ensuring 100 per cent. efficiency in the staff. As it is desirable that the Commonwealth Parliament should be 100 per cent. efficient, the requirements of its members should be catered for in a reasonable manner. If, during winter evenings, when Parliament was in session, members were required togo to their hotels for their meals and they did not take advantage of the transport provided, they would run the risk of contracting illnesses whichwould interfere with their efficiency as representatives of the people. On the other hand, if they used the bus service provided, transport costs would be increased, so that while endeavouring to cut down expenditure in one direction, they would be encouraging an increase of expenditure in another. I intend to vote against the amendment. I agree with the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that this matter should be dealt with by the Joint House Committee. That committee should be informed that, if it fails to do its job properly, it will be replaced by another committee. Fail ing that, a committee of members should be appointed to investigate the whole of the parliamentary departments, with a view to making recommendations to ensure further economies without interfering with efficiency.
Question - That the amount proposed to be reduced be so reduced (Mr. Gabb’s amendment) - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 43
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Departmentof the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £666,200.
Mr.BEASLEY (West Sydney) [9.14]. - I direct attention to certain phases of administration in connexion with invalid and old-age pensions. It is, I think, generally agreed, that since the amendment of the act, serious anomalies have been disclosed in administration, affecting harshly persons receiving this form of assistance to an extent never intended by Parliament. It has been said that the real effect of such measures is not fully appreciated until, they are actually in operation. Of no legislation may that be more truly said than of this. Within the last fortnight a very large percentage of those who happened not to be receiving the full amount of 17s. 6d. a week have had their pension reduced by 2s. 6d. a week. I have had brought under my notice cases in which pensioners who were receiving as much as 17s. 3d. a week have had 2s. 6d. deducted from that sum. This action has been taken without any investigation by the department into the circumstances of the pensioners, the mere fact that they were not receiving the full pension ‘being deemed sufficient justification for the reduction being made. There is one case that I have particularly in mind. When the application for a pension was first made twelve months ago, the applicant had assets totalling in value £10 more than the statutory limit, and consequently was not entitled to a full pension. Honorable members will be able to appreciate the position in which that pensioner was placed by the reduction of 2s. 6d. a week without any investigation. We have already been informed by the department itself that it recognizes the probability of a large number of these pensioners being entitled still to receive the former amount, and it has promised to investigate each case ; but there is no guarantee that, after the investigation has been made, the amount deducted will be refunded. From that angle the administration is not what Parliament intended, and there can be no denying that it is unjust. From the information that is available, it appears that the discretionary power which has been left in the hands of the Deputy Commissioner is of such a character that pensioners and applicants for ‘pensions hardly know where they stand. These Estimates provide the Ministry with an opportunity to explain to the committee exactly how the administration of the act is to be conducted. A Deputy Commissioner is now entitled to call upon the children of a pensioner to subscribe what he considers is in keeping with their incomes. I do not think that the administration should be given such scope; at least the pensioners and their dependants should be left in no doubt as to what is intended. We do not know whether any maximum or minimum amount is to be observed in considering the income of children, or whether a basic wage worker will be exempt.
Another feature is that of the property of a deceased pensioner. I have had submitted to me cases whose genuineness I do not doubt. One that reached me to-day relates to the son of a widowed mother. In the first place, the mother went to work to earn a few pounds with which to procure a home for herself and son. She kept the lad at school until he was fourteen years of age, after which he went to work so as to assist her to purchase a home. Finally, their joint efforts were successful. The years went by, and the son married and had a family. In the occupation that he followed - I believe it was that of a railway worker - he was transferred to another town. The mother,wishing to remain with him, and have his protection, decided to follow him to his new place of employment. To do so she had to dispose of the property. When she became possessed of the proceeds of the sale, her pension was cancelled. She purchased another property in the district in which the son is now working. I wish it to be dearly understood that the original purchase was made possible only as the result of joint action by mother and son. Although the deeds are in the mother’s name, he, she, and his family all live together. The mother is now over 70 years of age, and the son believes that when she dies, if she has drawn over £50 by way of pension, the department will be authorized to sell the home, and put his wife and three children out of it.
I come now to the position of invalid pensioners. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) supported me some years ago when I asked that applicants for invalid pensions should, if they wished to challenge the opinion of the government doctors as to the degree of their incapacity, have an opportunity to go before a medical board or referee.
.- The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has raised a matter of considerable importance which I am surprised has not been referred to previously in this chamber. I refer to the requirement of the Pensions Department that in order to qualify for an invalid pension the applicant must be totally and permanently incapacitated.
– That is not a requirement of the department.
– It is a requirement of the department which is not altogether in accordance ‘with the wording of the at. Section 20 of the act 1923 states that every person above the age of sixteen years who is permanently incapacitated for work by reason of an accident or by reason of being an invalid and who is not receiving an old-age pension shall while in Australia be qualified to receive an invalid pension. The words used are “permanently incapacitated” and the word “totally” appears not in the act, but in a regulation issued by the department. That regulation is *ultra vires and the pensioner has unfortunately never been in a position to test it. The administration takes the view that although a person may be permanently incapacitated, if he is able to earn 6s. per week, he is not entitled to an invalid pension. In *one instance a woman cleaner met with a serious acci dent which reduced the length of her leg and left her a permanent invalid although not totally incapacitated. It was considered by the department that she was in a position to earn ,6s. per week if work were offering and on that ground she was refused a pension. I brought the matter before a former Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), but the only reply that I received from him was that it was the rule of the department that no applicant, unless totally and permanently incapacitated, should! receive the pension. If that position is to continue the Government should amend the act to make it conform with the regulation issued by the department. In the Workmen’s Compensation Act there is a distinction between totally incapacitated and partially incapacitated. There is one scale of compensation for those totally incapacitated and a reduced scale of compensation for those who are partially incapacitated. If the Invalid and Old-age Pension Act were properly administered, an applicant who is permanently but not totally incapacitated would be entitled to a reduced pension. I should like a statement from a representative of the Government on this matter.
– The amount set down for the administration of the Pensions Department during this financial year, is £78,067. If the department is to do what I feel it would like to do - play the game and be fair to the pensioners whose cases are before it - the amount of the vote will have to be considerably enlarged. The recent amendment of the act really means that the whole of the affairs of the pensioners will’ have to be examined before any reduction of their payments is made. If any reduction is made before the circumstances of the pensioners are reviewed then the department will impose unjust and unfair treatment upon persons who are not entitled to have their payments reduced. The department cannot do justice to applicants for the pension unless it receives a great deal of extra assistance. If the work of the department is doubled, it cannot do it thoroughly with the present staff. Suppose a pensioner dies and leaves property. It is inevitable that both the department and the relatives of the pensioner will need to obtain legal advice before a decision is reached as to what proportion o’f the estate shall go’ to the Crown. It is obvious that extensive inquiries will be necessary, and that additional expense will be involved. Yet the vote provided this year is less than the sum made available last year. The vote must be thousands of pounds on the wrong side, unless the department is to be compelled, against its will, to impose hardships, and to inflict injustice upon a large number of pensioners. No doubt, every honorable member could furnish examples of anomalies. Let me give one illustration. Three or four years ago, an old lady who was receiving a pension was found to have property to the value of £60, and consequently her pension was reduced from £1 to 19s. 6d. a week. Within the first year, at least, the pensioner spent the £10 by which the value of her property exceeded £50, which is set down in the act as the maximum amount of property that a pensioner may have and still receive the full pension. She was not avaricious enough to bother about the odd sixpence to which she was entitled. When the pension was reduced last year by 2s. 6d. a week, .her pension was brought down to 17s., instead of 17s. 6d. If her case were reviewed, I am sure that the department would never dream of depriving her of the odd sixpence. Under the recent financial emergency legislation, it was provided that a pensioner in receipt of any income in addition to the pension should lose a further 2s. 6d. a week. Although this old lady was entitled to the full 17s. 6d., she was receiving only 17s. and now loses another 2s. 6d. This is not merely an injustice; it is almost criminal, and the anomaly should be rectified. I realize that the officers of the department administer the law sympathetically; but they are bound to carry it out to the letter. I urge the Government to review the whole position. It should not leave the officials in the unenviable position in which they are now placed. They have not the time to review all cases. They are inundated with communications drawing attention to anomalies, but they are bound to carry out the law as recently amended.
.- I, too, hope that the Ministry will see that the law with regard to invalid and old-age pensions is sympathetically administered. In replies that I have received from the department, I have been told repeatedly that unless an applicant for the invalid pension is permanently and totally incapacitated, a pension cannot be granted. If the act provides that only persons who are permanently incapacitated are entitled to the pension, the department owes a great deal of ‘money to a large number of invalids. If an amendment of the law is necessary, we should not hesitate to make it, instead of allowing officers of the department to use their discretion in. this matter. During the short period for which I have been a member of this Parliament, many anomalies have come under my notice. In one case, a man who had been employed by the Sydney City Council was put off because of heart failure. When a report came from the pensions branch to the effect that this man could earn 10s. a week, I asked the department where such a job could be obtained. The reply that I received was that the department did not know, but that if there were a suitable position available for the man, he could earn that amount. Any invalid, of course, could shell peas or crack nuts while lying in bed, but it seems absurd that the department should interpret the law as it did in that case. In another instance, a woman who was an applicant for the invalid pension, said that she could not lift her arm beyond a certain angle; but because a medical man removed portion of her dress, and the woman managed, by a great struggle, to replace the garment, the pension was refused on the ground that the applicant was not totally incapacitated. In a further case, when I asked if consideration had been given to certificates furnished by a Macquarie-street specialist, I was informed that these had not been seen by the departmental medical officer. So long as I am a. member of this Parliament, I shall oppose the infliction of hardship upon invalid and old-age pensioners.
– The honorable member inflicted hardship upon them by voting for the reduction of the pension.
– He even voted for the application of the “guillotine.”
– Honorable members opposite pretend that they have a monopoly of sympathy with the pensioners. There are ‘ some honorable members on this side of the chamber who took .an interest in invalid and old-age pensioners before the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was born. Those members who talk most about their regard for the interests of the sick and afflicted, the aged and the unemployed, arc often their worst enemies.
– The honorable member is shedding crocodile tears after voting for a reduction of the pensions.
– Order ! I ask the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) to deal with the item before the committee.
– He voted to cut down the pensions.
– I shall be compelled to take action against the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) if he persists in disregarding the order of the Chair.
– We should endeavour to clear up the doubt as to the amount of income other than the pension to which a pensioner is entitled. To-day this matter is governed largely by regulation. It seems to me that great hardship is suffered by a pensioner who owns a piece of land worth £400 or £500. The same asset with a house on it may .be worth £1,000, but in that case the owner gets a full pension. I understand that in the case of an invalid pensioner also, the value of his home is not regarded as income. Throughout the community there are numbers of persons who own blocks of land, on which they propose to erect homes at some time. In the meantime they are paying rent on the homes they now occupy. They are poorer than those who have erected homes on their land. Yet the act says that their pensions must be reduced.
– The honorable member will not bc in order in criticizing the act.
– It is stupid for him to do so, because he voted for it.
– A good deal depends on the interpretation of “ income.” In view of the many statements as to what constitutes total incapacity, it would appear that this is largely a matter of administration, and 1 fear that the act is not being administered sympathetically. Only recently, I have heard of a number of instances of pensioners with land worth from £400 to £500, whose pensions have been reduced from 9s. to 6s. 6d. a week. Such persons may be paying from 7s. 6d. to 10s. a week in rent for the homes they occupy.
– The honorable gentleman is now crying about the effect of legislation which he assisted to pass.
– I am not. I am prepared to trust the present Government to administer the act sympathetically, knowing that its members have more of the milk of human kindness than the Opposition admits. I hope that the Minister will have the regulations prepared as soon as possible. Should it then be found that anomalies exist, I am confident that the Government will make the necessary amendments in order that relief may be given to those who need it most.
.- - The Government has now had sufficient experience of the difficulties associated with the administration of the recent legislation relating to invalid and old-age pensions to justify my request that it should withdraw its amendments to the act in order to make its provisions less cumbersome. Because of the work and the expense involved, the proposal of the Government is of little value from a revenue point of view and, moreover, it will inflict hardship on the old and the infirm far in excess of the Government’s anticipations. The department is faced with a difficult problem in attempting to administer the act in the absence of regulations. Members who have been approached by their constituents with regard to difficulties which have arisen, have not known how to act, because even the Government, itself cannot give any information with regard to many of the points that have been raised. Nevertheless, it is attempting to administer the act, and, in many cases, has deducted a proportion of the pension, without having set up any machinery to regulate the inquiries which are to be made into the means of pensioners and their relatives. The Government claims that it is justified in asking the department to make a deduction of 2s. 6d. a week in cases in which the person concerned owns any property at all. Notwithstanding that every invalid and oldage pensioner in receipt of less than the full Dension has already suffered a reduction, he or she is now to be called upon to suffer a further reduction of 5s. a fortnight. Let me illustrate the difficulty and unfairness of these deductions. A pensioner in receipt of the maximum pension may not realize that his sons and daughters, and other relatives, will have their financial positions investigated by the department. What constitutes an obligation on the part of relatives to support a pensioner has yet to be defined by regulation. A man who is supporting an invalid sister who, although not totally and permanently incapacitated, is still in need of assistance, may not be able to contribute towards the support of his parents the amount demanded by the act. His case is one to be dealt with by regulations; but, until the regulations have been gazetted, administrative difficulties must arise. An old-age pensioner is entitled to a full pension even though he may possess £50; but another person who possesses £60 suffers a reduction of £1 for every £10 by which his capital exceeds £50. While the former escapes, the latter now also suffers a permanent reduction of 5s. a fortnight.
– The honorable member will not be in order in discussing the act of Parliament.
– I am discussing its administration. I suggest that the legislation recently passed should be amended, because of its cumbersome nature, and also because the finances of the Commonwealth do not warrant its drastic provisions. Under existing conditions, a pensioner who owns the home in which he lives may continue to live in it, and draw a full pension.
– Order ! I again remind the honorable member that he must not discuss or criticize an act of Parliament when dealing with the item that is before the committee.
– The department will pay a pensioner who owns a house in which he lives the full amount of pension, which is as it should be. But should a pensioner sell his farm and, for health reasons, reside in another district he would sustain a reduction of his pension or perhaps receive none at all, because of the money that he then possessed. Even if he invested that money in a home in his new district he still would not be entitled to & pension, although the home represented the whole of his life’s savings.
– The honorable member is still discussing the act, and not the administration.
– Then 1 shall conclude by expressing the hope that the Government will rectify the anomalies that I have mentioned.
.- It seems to mc anomalous that these Estimates for the present financial year should be a couple of thousand pounds below the amount that was expended for administrative purposes last year. Evidently the reason is that they were prepared when the Government had different, intentions regarding the amendment of the Financial Emergency Act so far as it applied to invalid and old-age pensions. Had the original proposal of the Government been given effect the vote would probably be sufficient, but I take it that subsequent alterations render it necessary to appoint additional inspectors to see that the provisions of the act are carried out. In the circumstances, I venture the opinion that the vote will have to be increased considerably.
I was somewhat impressed by the argument advanced by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway), who mentioned the case of certain pensioners whose pensions have been reduced because they were receiving a few pence below the maximum amount. I have great sympathy with these people, but pin my faith to the ‘assurance given by the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) that the administration of the act will be sympathetic. I am confident that when the cases of those pensioners are reviewed the amounts that have been wrongfully deducted will be refunded. If that is not done it cannot be claimed that the act is being sympathetically administered.
I take exception to the way in which the term “permanently and totally incapacitated “ is sometimes interpreted. I have in mind the case of a person who is suffering from paralysis in a very bad way. When, after applying for a pension, he appeared before the Deputy Commissioner he was asked if he could do any work. He replied, “ Yes, if I can get it.” But nobody would employ him, for, in my opinion, he is totally incapacitated. If, in my opinion, the provisions of the act render impossible “ sympathetic administration “, I shall use every legitimate means to have the act amended.
.- It is amusing to hear the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein) bewailing the effect of the legislation which he helped to pass. The honorable member and his colleague, the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), who not long ago won Labour seats, which they will lose at the next election, are trying to make the pensioners forget the callous and treacherous action which placed invalid and old-age pensioners in their present positions. Pandering to the unfortunates upon whom he has placed further affliction; the honorable member for Lang declares that he will see that the act is sympathetically administered. He and his colleagues ought to hide their heads in shame and apologize for the additional hardships they have imposed on pensioners.
– Order! The honorable member will not be in order in proceeding on those lines.
– The honorable member for Lang said that he will endeavour to force the Government to administer the act sympathetically. Let him then vote for the amendment which I propose to move. We know very well that the act has to be administered by members of the Public Service, and that, in answer to a question by me, the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) said “It is the law and will be administered as such.” This harsh legislation allows the authorities to take from aged and afflicted people properties which they have inherited from their parents. The Prime Minister said that if specific cases of hardship could be quoted he would endeavour to have them remedied. I have no doubt that every honorable member has had brought under his notice cases of pensioners having their pensions reduced because they have property or money over the specified limit. I have a number of specific cases, with which I shall not weary honorable members, for I have placed them before the department. There are instances of pensioners with £100 five years ago, having the amount reduced two years later to £30 because of sickness find even death. At Heddon Greta a woman who had lost her husband gradually drew on her savings of £70, but did not bother to apply for an increase of her pension, though she was entitled to do so when her bank balance fell below £50. She gradually reduced her savings until she had only £20 left. But, because she was in receipt of. a reduced pension at the time the act came into force, she was called upon to suffer a further reduction of 5s. a fortnight. All the people who failed to apply for an increase of1s. or so in the pension when they became entitled to it are now, in consequence of what might be termed their generosity to the State, suffering a further reduction of pension of 5s. a fortnight. Had their cases been reviewed before the passing of the act, this reduction would not have been made.
I have in mind the case of a pensioner who owned a block of land at Cessnock which, five years ago, was valued at £60. The pension was based upon that valuation; but to-day the land is valued at only £40. Because the pensioner was receiving less than the full pension on account of owning that allotment, his pension has now been reduced by a further 5s. a fortnight. In this instance also, had the case been reviewed two or three years ago, the full pension would have been payable. I direct attention, also, to the case of a pensioner living at Weston, in my electorate. By some means, he was over-paid ; but the department agreed to deduct from his pension 2s. 6d. a week until the amount over-paid was recovered. This pensioner does not possess a penny, nor has he any property; but, because he was on a reduced pension at the time the act came into force, his pension has been further reduced by 5s. a fortnight.
– The honorable member is again discussing the act.
– I am endeavouring to confine my remarks to the administration of the act. I tried to get a ruling from the department on the case of a woman who lived at Sawyer’s Gully, but was ordered to the seaside for health reasons. She had a property at Sawyer’s Gully which she sold on terms about six months ago to a relative. Her intention was to use the instalments of the purchase money to buy a home at the seaside. I asked the department whether it would be competent for her to continue to accept these instalments and use them as she desired. The Deputy Commissioner, Mr. Watson, notified me after some time that he could not give a decision on the case. He did not state the reason why he could not do so; but, in my opinion, the provision that the pensioner may not mortgage or sell a property without the consent of the Commissioner or Deputy Commissioner has placed this pensioner in difficulties.
– Surely a provision like that cannot be retrospective!
– Unfortunately, the provision that pensioners must give an account of all their property dealings within the last five years has seriously complicated the administration of the law. There are so many anomalies in the act that the Government should immediately review the whole position. Let me give, another illustration. A woman in my electorate gave a block of land to her son, and he built a home on it for himself and his young family, but did not take the trouble to have the land transferred into his own name. The actual position, therefore, is that the land is in the mother’s name, but the home was built with the son’s money. I have sent the particulars of this . case to the department, with a request for a ruling. By every mail I get fifteen or twenty letters dealing with pension matters alone. The only reply I can get to the representations that I make to the department in connexion with these cases is that they will be considered, and the applicants notified at a later date of the Government’s decision. In the meantime, these unfortunate people are suffering great hardship. The whole country is seething with discontent in consequence of the manner in which the Government is administering our pensions law. The amendments which were made to the act a few weeks ago should be withdrawn, because they have made the whole scheme so unworkable that hardship and injustice are being inflicted on very many pensioners. I move -
That the item, “Secretary, £1,500”, be reduced by £1, as an instruction to the Government that the amendments of the invalid and old-age pensions effected by the recently enacted Financial Emergency Act should be repealed, because they are unworkable, and are inflicting unjust hardship on the invalid andoldage pensioners.
.- I should not have participated in this discussion except for the fact that I have received a letter from the Fitzroy City Council regarding the unsuitability of the building used by the pensions authorities in that suburb. The letter reads as follows : -
Some time ago complaint was made in the Council that the post office building at North Fitzroy appeared to be a most unsuitable place for tlie payment of old-age pensions. It was pointed out that the building is far too small to accommodate a number of people, with the result that a long queue of pensioners is seen every pension day standing on the footway in St. George’s road without shelter from the bleak, wintry weather.
The attention of the Pensions Department, has been drawn to the matter on two occasions and, notwithstanding the fact that the officials concerned are doing their best for the aged people, the Council contends that the inadequate size of the building will not permit of any material improvement in the existing conditions.
In Fitzroy pensions arc paid in the hall adjoining the Town Hall, and it is felt that similar accommodation should be provided in North Fitzroy. Formerly, I believe, pensions were paid in St. Luke’s school hall, North Fitzroy.
The Council, at its meeting on Monday last, considered the reply received from the department (copy of which is enclosed) on the question, and decided that the matter be brought under your notice with a request that you take it up with the responsible authorities in an endeavour to remedy the existing unsatisfactory conditions.
Having inspected the building now used, I am satisfied that more suitable accommodation should be provided. I understand that it would cost the department about 30s. on each day to hire St. Luke’s hall and to provide the necessary police escort. As between .700 -and SOO .pensioners attend the building now in use in which there is (accommodation for only 30 to 40, it must be admitted that it is totally .inadequate for ‘.the purpose. I trust the department will not be :stingy merely for the -sake of saving 30s. a fortnight, as by doing so, aged people are >kept on the street. This is most undesirable, particularly in cold or wet “weather. Moreover., -the present building lis .at the intersection of two roads on one of which there is a tram line.
– I understand that it is. Until a few years ago, pensioners were paid a-t the Northcote Town Hall, but they are now’ paid at the post office. I have not had any complaints concerning Northcote; “but if the department can make the change suggested in the letter it will meet the convenience of a large number of pensioners. I trust that my request will receive the earnest consideration of .the Government.
]. - I desire to speak on the administration of the Pensions Department from a different angle from that of other honor-able members. During the passage of the Financial Emergency’ Bill No. 2, in which provision is made for the reduction of invalid and old-age pensions, honorable members on this side of the chamber stressed the fact that hardships would be inflicted, while confidence was expressed by honorable members opposite that the act would be sympathetically administered. During the short period in which I have been a member of this chamber, I have dealt Avith scores of cases relating to invalid and old-age pensions, and I have not yet seen one in which there has been evidence of sympathetic administration other than from the point of view that the pensioner receives nothing more than the law provides. The pensioners do not get much sympathy, but they get any amount of law. Very few pensioners understand the law under which pensions are paid, and, judging by their utterances, some honorable members opposite know less concerning it than do the pensioners. The only sympathy shown is in the communications received from the department, which are usually to the effect that it as very sorry it cannot do anything in the matter.
It is obvious that the amount “provided in ‘the Estimates ‘for admin’is’te’ring the Pensions Department will be greatly exceeded. Any one “with a knowledge of the act must “admit that the S’ta’ff of the Pensions Departm’ent must ‘be doubled. Already appointment’s have been made for which no provision appears ‘in the -Estimates. While inspectors are being appointed ‘to prevent fraud on tlie part o’f pensioners, I venture ‘to s’ay that a*n ‘inspector representing ‘the ^pensioners will be required -to watch the department. I feel positive that if ‘the amount, of which the department alleges it has been defrauded by paying pensions to persons not entitled to them, were placed agains’t that which the department has illegally taken from .pensioners, there would be nothing lost from the viewpoint of the Government. Within the last few days, I have heard of scores of cases in which ‘obvious injustices have been done. As honorable members are aware, the act provides th’at pensioners -are not allowed to earn anything when in receipt of an invalid pension. I know of a man who left work four years ago, but because he was earning during the previous twelve months, and had received a small gratuity on leaving his employment, it was deemed by the department that he was not entitled to a full pension for at least twelve months. Because of that his pension was assessed at under the full rate. Even if the pensioner does not understand the law the department does, and justice should be done to the pensioner. One would have expected that at the end of twelve months, the department would have reviewed this man’s pension, but it (did not do so, and the pensioner has since been subjected to two reductions, with the result that to-day he is receiving about 9s. a week less than he is entitled to under the act. This is due to the pensioner’s ignorance of the law, or to the fact that the department which understood the law did not properly administer it. In proportion to the number of pensions paid, the instances in which increases are secured must be small. There must be thousands of pensioners suffering an injustice by not being paid the amounts te which they arc entitled.
– Did the honorable member make representations in regard to the case he mentioned?
– I did so this week, but I am not now referring so much to that specific case as to the hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of others in which pensioners are being underpaid, because they never referred to their parliamentary representative to find out whether or not they were receiving all they were entitled to.
If it is right, and I have no doubt it is, for the department to conduct investigations into pension claims, and to review payments from time to time, it is also right that the pensioners should be properly represented at such inquiries. Provision should be made in the Estimates for such representation, or, alternatively, the pensioner should be allowed to nominate a representative. I have on previous occasions referred to the manner in which pensioners are treated by magistrates at departmental inquiries. I am prepared to admit that some pensioners may be inclined to exaggerate, but the remarkable unanimity of the statements of pensioners generally regarding the treatment meted out to them seems to indicate that they have a real cause for complaint. If the Government is not prepared to make provision for the representation of pensioners, at least they should be allowed to nominate some one to act on their behalf. This week I asked the Prime Minister the following question on this subject: -
In view of the far-reaching effects of the recent amendments of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and the possibility of their 0 administration creating more numerous dis:putes, is ho prepared to allow any pensioner the right to be represented at a departmental inquiry into any matter in dispute regarding his pension?
The Prime Minister replied as follows’: -
Under the provisions of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, a pensioner may appeal to the Minister where a Deputy Commissioner has cancelled, suspended or reduced a pension, and the decision of the Minister shall be final and conclusive. Where a pensioner becomes liable to repay any portion of the pension paid to him since 12th October, 1932, the Commissioner may sue for and recover any such amount in any court of competent jurisdiction. In the administration of the law no dispute can possibly arise between a pensioner and the department which would form the subject of a departmental inquiry.
I regard that reply as an evasion of the real issue. To say. that no dispute could possibly arise between the pensioner and the department is obviously wrong. Honorable members know that cases are continually being brought under their notice of pensioners having their pensions reviewed or challenged by the department, and if any one of them does not constitute a dispute within the meaning of the law, I do not know what does. It is in respect of such cases that pensioners ought to be properly represented.
I am in accord with the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) regarding the manner in which the medical examination of pensioners is conducted. In my opinion, the act has been wrongly interpreted by the department. There is a considerable difference between the meaning of the term “ totally and permanently incapacitated,” and that of “permanently incapacitated.” There are degrees of incapacity. In regard to oldage pensions, an applicant is allowed to earn something for himself and still draw a pension. Why should not this principle be extended to invalid pensioners so that a person not totally incapacitated might be entitled to some assistance in respect of the incapacity from which he suffers? Although not totally incapacitated, he may be quite unfit to compete in the open labour market for employment. [Quorum formed.]
If there is some regulation which alters the purpose of the act the Government should immediately amend it to enable persons not totally incapacitated to earn something for themselves, and still draw a pension. I have met many applicants who were refused invalid pensions on the ground that they were not totally incapacitated, the departmental officials telling them that they might earn a living selling newspapers. If other honorable members have had the same experience, and all the applicants took the department’s advice, there would soon be more newspaper sellers in our cities than there are newspapers to sell. In other instances men who have been labourers all their lives, and who possess no educational qualifications, have been told that, though incapacitated for their ordinary occupations, they would be able to undertake clerical work.
In the Estimates’ a sum of £6,130 is provided for the cost of conducting medical examinations for the Pensions Department, representing, I presume, payment for the examinations which are conducted hy departmental doctors; but I have never been able to find out on what basis tlie doctors are paid; whether they receive a permanent retainer, or are paid by results. If they are paid by results, are they remunerated in accordance with the number of applicants they reject, or the number they pass?. Like the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), I have known applicants to be refused pensions by the departmental doctors, although they were in possession of certificates of total and permanent incapacity from specialists who, for the sake of their own reputation, would not have dared to issue such certificates had the applicants not been entitled to them. Many rejected applicants complain that the examination to which they were subjected by the departmental doctors was not sufficiently thorough to warrant the overriding of opinions given by independent specialists.
In regard to the recent reduction of pensions, the department is not administering the law sympathetically All pensioners drawing less than a full pension have ‘ suffered a reduction of 5s. a fortnight, regardless of their circumstances. Only this week, in reply to a complaint regarding a partial pension which had been reduced from Ss. 9d. to -3s. 9d. a fortnight, the Deputy Commissioner in New South Wales advised me that all pensions had been reduced by 2s. 6d. a week, but would be reviewed later. That is a positive injustice. Surely the review of a pension should precede its reduction; the arbitrary cutting down of a pension of 8s. 9d. by 5s. without first considering the merits of the case is not even elementary justice. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) to reduce the salary of the secretary by one pound as an instruction to the Government to repeal the recent amendments of the Act is justified by the experience we have had to date of the administration. Since the present Go- vernment has been in office, the restrictions placed on applicants have been such that they are almost ready for their coffins before they receive a pension. The department loses no opportunity to reduce an old-age pension, but is tardy in granting justifiable increases.
– The honorable member is suggesting that justifiable increases are wilfully delayed by the department. That has not been my experience.
– I can prove that, and if the honorable member is doing his job he must have had experiences similar to mine. I have known of many pensioners who; have suffered an injustice for months; then somebody has advised them as to their rights, and, following representations by a member of Parliament, tardy justice has been done. I do not say that the department has delayed dealing with such cases, but frequently considerable time has elapsed between the reduction of a pension and the restoration to the pensioner of his rights, through the intervention of some independent person. The pensioners do not receive from the department anything but the law; the administration is not softened by sympathetic consideration of the circumstances of individual cases. The only just and logical procedure is first to review the pension, and then, if a reduction is justifiable, to effect it. But the department has no right to reverse the process - first to reduce the pension and not to review it until attention has been drawn to the injustice months later.
– The amendment by the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) proposes the reduc-tion of the salary of the secretary by £1 as a direction to the Government to withdraw the recent amending legislation. The honorable member may move to reduce the salary, but he may not move a direct instruction to the Government to amend the act. Therefore that part of the amendment may not be discussed.
.- I have no complaint against the general administration of the act. Although I have not always agreed with the decisions given by the department, I recognize that the administration has been, on the whole, fair and competent. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) referred to the reduction of a partial pension from 8s. 9d. to 3s. 6d. a fortnight. Obviously, no complaint can lie against the officer who dealt with the pension. The amending legislation provided for a reduction of the pension by 2s. 6d. a week, and he had no alternative but to apply the law. I do not necessarily approve of that legislation; but I recognize that the officer was merely doing his duty.
One phase of the new pensions legislation will require early consideration by this Parliament. In certain circumstances the Commonwealth has a first claim upon the property of a pensioner, and that claim takes priority over all other charges except encumbrances existing prior to the commencement of the pension. That provision will introduce a great deal of difficulty and risk into land transactions, particularly in connexion with small areas, because there are no means of ascertaining whether the registered proprietor of a block of land is a pensioner. If he has drawn a pension, the land will be subject to a first charge in favour of the Commonwealth. Nothing in the act requires the Commissioner to lodge a caveat against the property or to notify the Registrar of Titles of the Commonwealth’s claim.
– I draw attention to the state of the committee.
– It is only a few minutes since a quorum was formed. For many years the practice of the Chair has been not to count the committee again when the call for a quorum has been made within fifteen minutes of the previous call.
Mr.Ward. -What standing order governs this procedure in the committee?
– It has been the accepted practice for many years in this House, and also in the House of Commons, not to ring the bells for a quorum except after the lapse of at least onequarter of an hour.
– The act, as amended, makes no provision for notification, in the land registers, of the fact that the registered proprietor of laud is a pensioner. I suggest that this should be done. At the present time, the only means of protection, apparently, is to apply to the Commissioner of Pensions in the State in which the registered proprietor resides. An inquiry is then made as to whether a registered proprietor of land is drawing a pension. This is very imperfect protection. The proper remedy is for the Government to lodge some sort of caveat or send a notice in the nature of a caveat to the land registrars. As the matter is of some urgency, I hope that it will receive early consideration. [Quorum formed.]
.- I support the amendment. I do not share the belief of some honorable members that the Government intended the act, as amended, to be administered sympathetically. Rather did the Government decide that a certain amount of expenditure should be saved by a cut in invalid and old-age pensions, and to this end it inserted in the act amendments of such a nature as to make sympathetic administration almost impossible. Honorable members have spoken at large about sympathetic administration. What they really mean is that whenever they have had any dealings with the department in connexion with applicants’ claims, they have received courteous treatment from the officials. No complaints have been made in that respect, but there is very definite cause for complaint about the treatment meted out to the pensioners themselves. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has just told the committee that the pensioner never gets any more than the law entitles him to. As a matter of fact, the pensions officials are compelled to act strictly in accordance with the letter of the law.
– Surely the honorable member does not expect the pensioner to get more than the law provides !
– Those honorable members who speak about sympathetic administration would have us believe that advice and assistance are given to applicants and pensioners. On the contrary, the opposite course is pursued, and every opportunity is taken to deprive pensioners of their rights.
– That has not been my experience.
– I could cite numerous instances in support of what I am saying.
Honorable members will recall .that a few months ago I mentioned the case of an invalid girl who had been deprived of her pension. I fought her case in this House for some months. The medical report stated that she was not totally .and permanently incapacitated, and, .as she was a charge upon her mother, who was drawing a war pension, the girl became so worried that eventually she committed suicide by throwing herself over The Gap at Watson’-s Bay. I cited also the ease of another woman, an invalid pensioner who was suffering from sugar diabetes. The pension made it possible for her tq get special treatment in the form of daily injections .of insulin. Gradually her condition improved until finally, when her case was reviewed, the pension was withdrawn. As her health depended entirely upon the continuance of the special treatment she had received, it became impaired again .and she had to make fresh application before her .pension was restored to her.. Such is the “sympathetic “ treatment about which honorable members opposite ha ve spoken to-night. Those who have any knowledge of how things are managed know that when inquiries are being made special arrangements are always made to present the most favorable aspect to the Minister. If the Minister desires to ascertain how our invalid and old-age pensioners are being treated, let him take the proper steps to have a thorough investigation. But I contend that the Government never intended the law to be administered in any other way, because when it altered the basis of the act it placed all pensioners at the mercy of the department which now has the right to determine what pension shall be paid to applicants. I have in mind the case of one pensioner who, ten years ago, transferred a block of land valued at £60 to his niece. Because the value of that land exceeded by £10 the property qualification affecting pension payments, he has been compelled to accept a reduction of 5s. fortnightly in his pension. In this way, injustice after injustice is being heaped upon unfortunate applicants. If I may judge from the remarks of Government supporters this evening, they also are now dissatisfied with certain aspects of the administration. The hon- orable member for .Lang (Mr. Dein) and the honorable member for Barton ‘(.Mr. Lane) have both expressed the opinion that the act is not being .administered in the manner .they anticipated when voting for the recent .amendments to the law.. But they and .other Government supporters who have complained to-night voted for tlie guillotine which restricted discussion on the Financial Emergency Bill which made these objectionable alterations to this .pensions law.
– The honorable member is not in order in reflecting on any vote cast in the House.
– The honorable member for Dalley (Mr, Rosevear) has told .the committee .how applicants .are treated by certain medical men when reviewing their claims. I know of many applicants who have not had anything like an -adequate medical examination. Others ‘have not been examined at all. Possibly this is because some medical men conceive it to be their duty to placate the Government by cutting down the list of pensioners and by so doing reduce expenditure. That, I believe, was the intention of the Government when it introduced the amending measure, and that is the spirit in which the act is now being administered. Many public officials, I admit, perform their duties in a sympathetic way, but others, desiring possibly to impress, their employers, may consider that the way to do this is by effecting great savings at the expense of some one else. That characteristic of many highly-paid officials was referred to to-day by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). If Government members are prepared to give a practical demonstration of the sympathy that they profess, they now have an opportunity to do so without endangering the balancing of the budget, because, already, sufficient funds are in hand to make the saving on old1 age pensions unnecessary. To achieve sympathetic administration, the Government must repeal the legislation that has been passed within the last few weeks, which attacks these unfortunate people. If it does that, it will have the support of the party of which I am a member. But I believe that when it comes to a practical demonstration, the Government will fail to live up to the convictions that it has expressed. I am pleased that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) has given us an opportunity to test the sincerity of those who, like the honorable member for Lang (Mr. Dein), and the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane), say that they regret having voted for a measure which they did not fully understand, and the application of which they believed would be far different from what it is. I intend to support the amendment.
– The greater part of the debate, and. particularly the speech of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), has merely been a repetition of the statements that were moderately and effectively made at the commencement by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). Had the matter been left where it was when he sat down, much time would have been saved. Hardly any new ground has been broken, and no fresh suggestion has been made. Honorable members have merely recited cases that have come under their notice. Such a recital could have gone on ad infinitum. It is to be regretted that, on account of his attendance at the Premiers Conference in Melbourne, the Treasurer (Mr. Lyons) was not able to be present during the consideration of his Estimates. I am somewhat handicapped in deputizing for him because of my comparative lack of knowledge of the affairs of the department, but I have certain information respecting the administration of the new pensions law which I shall give quite frankly to the committee. I shall preface it with a statement that may be received with a certain amount of derision by some honorable members opposite - that it is the desire and the intention of the Government to administer this law as fairly and as sympathetically as possible, and with the least injustice. All that has been said in criticism of the administration will be recorded in Hansard. I promise honorable members that a careful investigation will be made of all the cases that have been mentioned, and that consideration will be given to the opinions that have been expressed, with a view to remedy ing any anomalies or injustices that have become apparent. Honorable members have said that pensioners are given no more than- the law allows. That is quite correct; I do not think that they should expect more. The law lays it down that they shall receive a certain pension. In my experience, the department has gone to the limit permitted.
– There is no sympathy in that.
– I do not hope to convince the honorable member for Dalley of the sympathetic administration of the act. Other honorable members have taken a much more reasonable view. I contrast the attitude of the honorable member with that of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) who represents, an electorate somewhat similar to Dalley. He put his case with a reasonableness that commanded attention, and will advance the interests of pensioners much further than the views expressed by the honorable member for Dalley, who, throughout his speech, insisted that no sympathy was shown to pensioners. There is not another honorable member who will support that view. On the contrary, I believe that every honorable member will admit that the deputy commissioners and magistrates have given most careful consideration to the claims that they have adjudicated upon, and have awarded as much as possible to the applicant. In my experience, whenever there has been any doubt, the advantage has always gone to the pensioner.
– That has not been the experience of others.
– 1 can merely relate my own, and I cannot blame those whose experience may cause them to disagree with me.
– Is it just for a man’s pension to be reduced because of his having had to refund an overpayment made some years ago?
– Not being acquainted with the whole of the facts, nor knowing the reason for the overcharge, I cannot answer that question.
– Will the Minister cause an investigation to be made into the case?
– I have not the slightest objection to doing that. So far, only 20 per cent, of the pensioners have been dealt with under the amended law. Therefore, some of the criticism that has been directed at the administration has been somewhat unreasonable.
– If this has been the experience in regard to only 20 per cent., what will happen when the act is applied to the remaining 80 per cent.?
– It is repeatedly said that pensioners are the most defenceless class upon which injustices are heaped; yet, no other section of the community has more apparent friends, or a greater number of member1of Parliament prepared to argue their case, defend them, and trade on them.
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asked that some information should be supplied to the deputy commissioners regarding the extent to which contributions would be demanded of relatives. I cannot give the exact figures, but I can say that no one whose earnings are limited to the basic wage will be called upon to make a contribution. The relatives of pensioners will need to have an income of considerably more than the basic wage before they will be asked to contribute.
– Is any distinction being made between married and single relatives ?
– The scale of contribution will be fixed on a reasonable basis covering both married and single relatives, and, if possible, the Government will adhere to it. I assure honorable members that regulations are being drafted as rapidly as possible for the guidance of the deputy commissioners throughout Australia. Nothing like an “ army of inspectors “ is being appointed to harass the old-age pensioners, as has been suggested by some honorable members. That is the last thought in the mind of the Government. As a matter of fact, inquiries into the bona fides of pensioners have been taking place departmentally for years. It is part of the organization.
– Inquiries are made respecting reductions but not increases.
– The honorable member is talking nonsense. Since the alteration of the act there has been a slight increase in the inquiries.
– The Assistant Treasurer was reported in the press last week as having stated that inspectors had been appointed in Sydney.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.I do not think that that statement is correct, because the appointment of only two inspectors has been in contemplation. That disposes of the suggestion that an army of men and women is being collected to harass old-age pensioners.
– It also disposes of the allegation that wholesale fraud is taking place.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Not quite. That has yet to be demonstrated. I am not prepared to say that wholesale fraud has been taking place, but at least there are certain extravagances and anomalies which require investigation.
– The police carry out some investigations.
– Quite so.
It has been suggested that where a pensioner is under examination some one should be allowed to accompany him in order to ensure that he is not unfairly treated. There is no departmental investigation such as that to which the honorable member for Dalley has referred.
– The Minister does not know the position.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.The pensioners are asked certain questions in order to ascertain whether they have any property. Right is not always on the side of the pensioners. As a matter of fact, many of them will not discolse what property they have, and it is with the utmost difficulty that the department ascertains the facts. There is no objection to the pensioner being accompanied by some one who can assist him in the examination. As a matter of fact, that is permitted at present.
– It all depends on the deputy commissioner. In Queensland the pensioner is permitted to have some one with him.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.That is also the practice in New South Wales.
– In some instances the magistrate has instructed the person who is assisting the pensioner to hold his tongue.
– I have no knowledge of such a happening.
The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) has stated that additional clerical assistance will be necessary because of the amendment of the act. Although there will be some diminution in the number of pensions, the work will undoubtedly involve an additional staff. The Estimates do not provide for any additional staff. As a matter of fact, from fourteen to twenty additional officers will be required and will be asked for in the Government Gazette nest week, so that there will be an increase in the cost of administrationunder the act. The additional stall is necessary so as to administer the act adequately rapidly and smoothly.
– Will the additional staff be obtained from other departments?
– Yes. This will be an excellent opportunity to place excess officers.
I think that I have disposed of the statement of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) that no directions have been issued to the Deputy Commissioner and that neither the Government nor the department knows what is being done. The work of the department has been undertaken in the most business-like way in view of the limited time at its disposal since the passing of the act.
I assure the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Dennis) that the question of providing accommodation for old-age pensioners which he has raised, will be carefully considered. I agree that it is reasonable that the pensioners should not have to stand in a queue on the footpath for their pensions, and that some accommodation should be provided for them.
– That applies to all parts of Australia.
– I do not know that it does.
– It applies to places like Bundabcrg andRockhampton in Queensland.
– The department has engaged a number of halls in which to pay old-age pensioners. Yesterday I visited the young man who is the unfortunate victim of the outrage which was committed in the East Sydney electorate a couple of weeks ago. When the attack took place, he and his fellow officer were on their way to St. Peter’s hall in which the old-age pensioners were to be paid.
– There is not sufficient accommodation for the pensioners at that hall ; they have to line up in the street.
– I cannot answer the statement of the honorable member, because I do not know the facts. A hall is hired for the purpose of paying pensions, and this outrage took place while the money was being taken from the post office to that hall. I can assure honorable members that, so far as the resources of the Commonwealth will permit, every facility that is necessary to protect the old-age pensioners against the indignity of waiting about will be provided for them.
Mr.Riordan. - The officials cannot go beyond the law in their desire to administer the act sympathetically.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.That all depends upon how the matter is viewed. If the honorable member were administering the act, and he were in doubt whether a certain applicant for a pension should receive 12s.6d. or 15s. a week, the law would be “ sympathetically” administered by paying the larger amount.
In reply to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), I submit that it is exceedingly difficult to know when a person is permanently and totally incapacitated. Honorable members must admit that persons who are capable of earning a living have come to them and asked to be assisted in obtaining the pension. I have sent a number of such applicants on to the department, and, to my surprise, they have received the pension. I am informed that almost immediately after the original act was passed it was required by regulation that total and permanent incapacity should be proved.
– The argument is that that regulation is inconsistent with the act.
– Nevertheless, Liberal, National, and Labour governments have always allowed those words to remain in the regulation. In the Pensions Regulations 1911-1914, one notices that the medical certificate form for pension purposes has the following footnote : -
Attention is directed to the specific requirements of the net in all cases coming within its provisions, namely, that the accident or invalid state of health must be: -
Permanent, and (2) such as to incapacitate the applicant for work.
Cases of a transient nature, only temporarily incapacitating the claimant for work; or of a permanent nature, but only partially incapacitating him for work do not come within the act.
That is the basis on which the administration of the act rests.
– Is that a regulation under statute?
-Yes. I shall bring the matter under the notice of the Government.
It seems to me that a grave injustice isbeing done when it is suggested that medical men think only of their fees, and take the view that the more applications they reject the better it will be for themselves.
– Nobody said that.
– In that case I shall not pursue the matter further. A fee is paid to doctors for the investigation of cases referred to them by the department. I am surprised to hear the statement that medical certificates from specialists are not taken into consideration by the department. In cases that I have submitted to the department I understand that such certificates have been considered. My personal opinion is that they should be considered i n conjunction with all other evidence that is advanced.
– Although they are taken into consideration, they are not acted upon.
– All the statements that have been made tonight regarding the administration of the act will be carefully examined by the department, with a view to the removal of any injustice. This Government has no desire to inflict injustice upon anybody, and if it can remove hardship it will have the greatest pleasure in doing so.
.- I draw attention to the practice of the officials in Sydney of taking notice of anonymous letters containing complaints regarding persons in receipt of pensions. I have come across many cases in which injustice has been done to pensioners, because the department has acted upon anonymous letters, without proper investigation. The officials should ignore any anonymous communications sent to the department.
– That matter will be looked into.
.- The Minister should take into sympathetic consideration the position of pensioners who own land on which they owe municipal rates. They are prepared to pay the rates, but they cannot even give their land away. Every year pensioners who own land are summoned for the payment of rates; but the councils will not accept the land in satisfaction of their claims. In one case a woman was trying to make her home her own, but she could not keep up the payments under her contract. Consequently she lost her home, and she is now living with her father. Until recently, she received the reduced pension of £1 6s. 9d. a fortnight, and now her income has been further reduced.
– If the honorable member will bring the details of the case under my notice I shall have it investigated.
– I know other persons whose pensions have been reduced because they own land, but they are unable to give their land away. I know a man whose pension has been reduced from 8s. to 3s. a week. He spent £1,050 upon land which he submitted for sale, but for which he could not obtain an offer. His rates, taxes and insurance amount to £29 a year. When his wife died, the property reverted entirely to him, and his pension has now been reduced to 3s. a week. This shows how the act penalizes persons who have practised thrift. The act has been tightened up recently to such an extent that many persons who have been receiving invalid pensions for eight or ten years have now been deprived of them. Persons who are crippled from the buttocks downwards, and are unable to sit up, have been told that they can perform light work. In Kurri Kurri this week the department rejected an application of that kind, and it is doing so in as many cases as possible, apparently under . instructions from the Treasury. These old and afflicted people, when subjected to a detailed crossexamination, are apt to become confused; but should the persons who accompany them, because of their infirmity, interpose on their behalf, they are frequently told, as Mr. Stoneham, the magistrate at Kurri Kurri, told one person recently, to hold their tongues. I hope that the Deputy Commissioners of Pensions will be “guided by the Minister’s statement here to-night, and will allow persons to appear on behalf of applicants. As things are at present, a person must practically be lying on his death bed in order to qualify for an invalid pension.
.- The Minister referred to the manner in which I presented my case. I have my own method of presenting facts in this chamber, and am heartily sick of the humbug about the sympathetic administration of the law. The experience of most honorable members is that any concessions granted come within the strict letter of the law; there is no sympathetic administration. The Minister says that, in the case of disputed claims, persons may appear on behalf of applicants at the magisterial inquiry. It is true that infirm applicants are allowed to have some one with them, but not to present their case for them; the friend attends only to assist them because of their physical disability. These old people are not able to withstand a strict examination by a trained magistrate, and sometimes, in their confusion, they make incorrect statements. Instances are only too common of magistrates speaking roughly and unceremoniously to those who have interposed on behalf of applicants. Although, in some cases, pensioners may exaggerate their complaints, the charge of rough treatment on the part of magistrates is so general that it cannot be sett aside lightly. The very fact that the Prime* Minister (Mr. Lyons) has evaded the request made to him tha t pensioners shall beentitled to representation at inquiries indicates that they have not that right now,, and (Eat those who accompany them do so* only to protect them from injury on theway.
In spite of what the Minister has said, my statement regarding the rejection of the medical certificates of specialists stands. In this matter I do not rely on the word of the pensioners, for on occasions I have forwarded the certificates of the specialists myself in order to make sure that they would reach the department. Specialists, whose reputation is at stake, are not likely to be unduly influenced by sympathetic considerations; yet their certificates have been rejected in favour of the reports of departmental officers who are paid according to the number of examinations they make.
The honorable member for Perth (i.’r. Nairn) suggested that there was a flaw in the interpretation of the act. I am not able to state the legal position ; but I know that since this Government came into office scores of pensioners in my electorate have had their claims rejected, although for years previously they had drawn invalid pensions. In some of these cases a great injustice is being done. “When the people concerned originally applied for invalid pensions they were probably able to pay for independent medical advice; but after a long illness they arc no longer able to do so, and are at the mercy of the departmental doctors. I shall not pander to the Minister, the House, or the departmental heads; if I think an injustice has been done, I shall speak of it. It sickens me to hear of the sympathetic administration of the law when I know that the pensioners get nothing beyond what the strict letter of the law provides, and in many cases less than that. .So long as I am able to fight for these unfortunate people, I shall present my case in my own way, whether the Minister approves of my methods or not.
Question - That the amount proposed to be reduced be so reduced (Mr. James’s amendment) - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I should like to know the reason for the increase in the administrative staff of the Taxation Department from 796 to 900. Is it because of the sales tax?
– Provision is made on page 67 for an economist to the Census and Statistics Section, at £1,000 a year. Will the Minister explain the reason ?
. - The increase in the number of employees referred to by the honorable member for Angas (Mr. Gabb) is entirely due to the need for administering the sales tax. In reply to the honorable member for West
Sydney (Mr. Beasley), Dr. Wilson was appointed Economist in the Department of Census and Statistics. This was really the result of a recommendation by the previous Government, and was one of the first things dealt with by me when I took over the Department of Home Affairs, as it was then called.
– Is it an extra appointment?
– Then it was not the recommendation of my Government, whose recommendation concerned the appointment of a Commonwealth Statistician?
– The appointment was made on the recommendation of the Public Service Board, and it had the approval of Professor Giblin., who will shortly return to his duties at the Melbourne University.
– So that Dr. Wilson is on the ground floor when Professor Giblin goes out?
– No. When Professor Giblin returns to the Melbourne University the Government is free to appoint anybody it desires. Nobody has any prior right to the position. That condition was specified when Dr. Wilson was appointed.
– When the Census and Statistics Department was in Melbourne, the people of that city desiring to obtain statistical information were able to get it promptly. Many now have a grievance because of the lack of that facility. Would it be possible to overcome the difficulty?
– Similar difficulty exists in every other capital city. The head office can be in one place only. In this instance, in Canberra. I fail to see how any arrangement can be made to appoint branch offices in the capital cities, but I shall have the matter investigated.
.- I should like some further information about the appointment of Dr. Wilson. When Professor Giblin returns to Melbourne, the position of Commonwealth Statistician will be vacant. Was Dr. Wilson brought in so that he would have first right to the position when it blames vacant? As Ms is a new appointment, Ishould like to know what additional work he is performing; and if he is not doing new work, I want to know who performed those duties prior to his appointment?
– It was represented that the Statistical Department of the Commonwealth was not complete without an economist, and Professor Giblin recommended that an economist should be added to the staff.
– The department got on very well for many years without one.
– -The honorable member will realize that it is only of recent years that economists have become prominent in public life. As a matter of fact, the original steps in the making of this appointment were taken while the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) was a member of the previous Government. A search was made for the most suitable man, and Dr. Wilson was selected, but it was made clear to him that he had no prescriptive right to appointment as Commonwealth Statistician when that office became vacant. It will be perfectly competent for the Government to appoint Mr. McPhee or any other person. The Bureau of Census and Statistics has been considerably strengthened by Dr. Wilson’s appointment.
– I am not -concerned about who took the original steps in the making of this appointment; but I am concerned about the making of a new appointment at a salary of £1,000 a year at a time when reductions and economies are the order of the day. The Statistical Department got on very well for many years without an economist, and I do not believe that such an appointment was absolutely necessary. I should like to know what duties this officer performs. Is his assistance necessary to keep a record of the increasing army of unemployed since this Government assumed office? I am not satisfied that the appointment was necessary in existing circumstances.
Proposed vote agreed to.
. I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
When the House resumes its sitting at 2.30 p.m. to-day, consideration of the Estimates will be continued. I appeal to honorable members to expedite the business so that the Estimates may be ready for another place when it meets next week.
– The Government has the numbers; it can expedite the business if it desires to do so.
– It is not desired to bring pressure to bear upon honorable members, and the Government would much prefer to avoid compulsory curtailment of the discussion. If honorable members deal reasonably with the business we should get through it in the time available.
– What business will bo taken after consideration of the Estimates is completed?
– That will depend to some extent upon the health of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Gullett), who, I am glad to say, is making good progress.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 12.6 a.m. (Wednesday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Mr. Archdale Parkhill (for Mr. Lyons). - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
(a.) Approximately 10.5 per cent., including 10 per cent, cost of living reduction more than half of which was actually effected »n 10th April, 1931, prior to the act coming into operation. (6) Approximately 21.9 per -cent., including 12.7 per cent, reductions in respect of cost of living which would have been -effected quite apart from the Financial Emergency Acts.
en asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Whether he is yet in a position to give additional information to that furnished on the 28th ultimo by the Prime Minister as to the location of the new wireless station, viz.: - That lie was not then in a position to indicate the exact location of the station to be provided in Western Australia, as the -site had not yet been secured; but that it was the intention to place the station in the best position to serve the country east of the Darling ranges?
– The precise location has not yet been determined.
en asked the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Invalid and Old-age Pensions.
r asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
In view of the far-reaching effects of the recent amendments of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, and the possibility of their administration creating more numerous disputes, is he prepared to allow any pensioner the right to be represented at a departmental inquiry into any matter in dispute regarding his pension?
Mr. Archdale Parkhill (for Mr. Lyons). - Under the provisions of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, a pensioner may. appeal to the Minister where a Deputy Commissioner has cancelled, suspended or reduced a pension, and the decision of the Minister shall be final and conclusive. Where a pensioner becomes liable to repay any portion of the pension paid to him since the 12th October, 1932, the Commissioner may sue for and recover any such amount in any court of competent jurisdiction. In the administration of the law no dispute can possibly arise between a pensioner and the department which would form the subject of a departmental inquiry.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
ns). - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
y asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Mr. Archdale Parkhill (for Mr. Lyons). - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
y asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice - .
– The Commonwealth Statistician has been asked if he can prepare a return on the lines indicated.
en asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Mr. Archdale Parkhill (for Mr. Lyons). - The answers to the honorable; member’s questions are as follow : -
y asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Mr. Archdale Parkhill (for Mr. Latham).-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
e asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Will he request the Tariff Board to visit certain rural centres in the Commonwealth to take evidence on the spot from the primary producer as to the extra cost imposed on primary production through the operation of the customs tariff, and to report thereon?
– The possibility of framing a reference to the board which would elucidate useful information in the direction desired will be considered.
en asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: - 1. (a) Free (under section1d of Act 15, 1913). (b) 8s. 4d. per cental plus 10 per cent. primage. (c) 8s. 4d. per cental plus10 per cent. primage.
” Paterson’s Curse.”
s. - On the 19th October, the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Teuton) asked the following questions, without notice: -
Has the Minister for the Interior noticed that the noxious weed known as Paterson’s curse grows profusely in the Federal Capital Territory? Has Paterson’s curse been proclaimed a noxious weed in the Territory; if so, will the Minister issue instructions that steps be taken to eradicate it?
I now desire to advise the honorable member, that no growth of this plant has made its appearance in the Territory, and it has not, therefore, been proclaimed a noxious weed. Another plant, wild sage, is very common on ungrazed areas and along roadsides in the Territory, and is often mistaken for Paterson’s curse, although in colour and habit they are easily distinguishable. Paterson’s curse in flower is a bright red purple, while wild sage is a deep purple, and the former flower is much larger than the latter. The following is a description of the two plants: -
Paterson’s curse has several other common names such as blue weed, Salvation Jane, viper’s bugloss, &c., and technically it is known as Echiumviolceum L. belonging to the forget-me-not family, Foraginaceae. It is an annual or biennial with a branched stem 1 ft. to 3 ft. high, stalked oval leaves in a rosette at the base and stalkless pointed leaves on the stem. The flowers are large and reddish purple in numerous one-sided spikes forming a long terminal curved panicle. The red-purple petals are about three times as long as the calyx and are often an inch long. Wild sage is known technically as Salvia verbenacea L. and belongs to the deadnettle family - labiatae. It is a scented perennial herb with upright hairy square stems. The leaves are oval oblong, wrinkled, the upper ones on the stein sessile, and the rosette leaves stalked. The flowers are small, blue, in distant six flowered whorls along the stem. The corolla is from half as long again to twice the length of the calyx. This plant is frequently sent in to theDivision of Plant Industry, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, under the erroneous common name of Paterson’s curse.
Sleepers for Commonwealth Railways.
s. - On the 19th October, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) asked the following question, without notice: -
I am advised by telegram from Western Australia that much distress exists amongst persons engaged in cutting sleepers for the Commonwealth railways owing to the fact that the contractor has defaulted. Will the Minister for Railways obtain a report regarding the circumstances of these men with a view to affording some relief to them?
I have now obtained a report from the Commonwealth Railways Department, and have been advised that the department has no knowledge of the circumstances of non-payment to the sleepercutters in Western Australia, but negotiations have been in progress with the contractor as to the submission of a statutory declaration to ensure that certain specified conditions in the contract have been complied with. This declaration has not yet been submitted and no account claiming payment has yet been lodged. On receipt of a claim supported by statutory declaration payment will be made immediately.
Oil Survey of Tasmania.
s. - On the 20th October, the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Blacklow) asked the following question, without notice: -
Will the Minister for the Interior consider the advisability of making available the services of Dr. Woolnough, Commonwealth Geologist, to make an oil survey of Tasmania, similar to that made of the mainland and mandated territories? In the event of such a survey being made in Tasmania, will he direct that special attention be paid to the southern part of the State, particularly the vicinity of Bruni Island, where good prospects of oil are said to exist?
I now desire to advise the honorable member that, subject to the convenience of the Royal Air Force, it is proposed that Dr. Woolnough should carry out an aerial photographic survey of Tasmania commencing during the first week in November. In the tentative programme of operations, Bruni Island and the adjacent mainland are listed for attention.
Mr. Archdale Parkhill (for Mr. Lyons). - On the 19th October, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) asked the Treasurer a question, without notice, as to whether the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited had decided to change its policy and import refined petrol, tinned and cased, and dismiss the employees now engaged in making tins and cases and filling the tins from bulk supplies?
The honorable member’s question was communicated to the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited which has advised as follows : -
The company has no intention of a chance in its policy which will result in their importing petrol in tins and cases.
– On the 14th October, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) asked the following question, upon notice -
Whether he will make available to honorable members all the correspondence between his department, both at Sydney and Mel bourne, and the postmaster at Lord Howe Island, from July, 1930, onwards, with regard to the shortage of twopenny postage stamps on the island, and the steps taken to overcome the difficulty?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member as follows: -
Correspondence held by this department in Sydney in regard to the shortage of twopenny stamps at Lord Howe Island is being obtained, and will be made available, together with that held in Melbourne, as early us possible.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 25 October 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1932/19321025_reps_13_136/>.