1st Parliament · 2nd Session
The President took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– I wish to ask the “Vice-President of the Executive Council, without notice, if the Ministry have extended a cordial invitation to the Secretary of State for the Colonies to visit the Commonwealth, and, if not, will they consider the desirability of doing so ?
– The matter will be taken into early consideration.
asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council, upon notice -
Is it the intention of the Government to obtain, as soon as possible, the information asked for in the interim report of the EngineersinChief on tho proposed Transcontinental Railway from Kalgoorlie to Fort Augusta, as to the estimated traffic, carriage of mails, the prospects of the mineral and pastoral areas that would be opened up, the water supply, and other particulars desired, as the Engineers-in-Chief state that such information iff necessary before their investigation can be properly completed, and their final report issued !
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
Sufficient information has been received to enable the Engineers-in-Chief to arrive at conditional conclusions, and I understand they will meet here next week with a view to drawing up their final report.
asked the “Vice-President of the Executive Council, upon notice -
In view of tho fact that the present session of the Senate, according, to existing arrangements’, will probably not extend beyond 46 sitting days, is it the.intention of the Government to sit four days a week instead of three, as .the Senate has as yet been afforded little opportunity of discussing the many important measures outlined by the Government ?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
Yes ; it is the intention of the Government to ask the Senate to ait four days a week. But .if satisfactory progress is mode on the present sitting days, it will not be necessary to take that step immediately.
– I. move -
That the Senate concurs in the following resolutions transmitted with Message No. 4 of the House of Representatives : -
That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that the metric system of weights and measures should be adopted with the least possible delay for use within the Empire.
That the most convenient method of obtaining the object stated in resolution (1) is the passage of a law by the Imperial Parliament rendering the use of the metric system compulsory for the United Kingdom, and for all other ports of the Empire whose Legislatures have expressed, or may thereafter express, their willingness ‘to adopt that system.
That these resolutions be communicated by address to His Excellency the GovernorGeneral for transmission to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
A Select Committee was appointed by the House of Representatives on the 6th June, 1901, to inquire into and report upon the desirableness and expediency of the Commonwealth coining silver and popper coins, and adopting a decimal system of coinage, and their recommendations are summarised as follow : -
The sovereign as 10 florins, . 1,000 cents ; half-sovereign as 5 florins, 600 cents ; two shilling piece as 1 florin, 100 cents ; shilling as ½ florin,50 cents ; sixpence as¼ florin, 25 cents.
I think it is admitted on all hands that the report raises a question of the gravest importance. But it is not a question which seems to excite any great enthusiasm ; it is merely a question of figures, in which the general public do not seem to take that interest which its importance certainly merits It vitally affects our educational system, and our whole commercial life, and’ if adopted it would mean a considerable monetary saving to the people of the Commonwealth. The decimal system has been in force in some countries for over 100 years, and it is worthy of notice that it has been adopted by. everycountry in the world which has a coinage system, with the exception of the United Kingdom, the South African Stales, India, Australia, and Russia, so that Great Britain is practically the rock whichis standing against the current of reform and commercial common sense. Although other nationshave seen the necessity of adopting the system, yet Great Britain, and, as a result, some of her colonies, have refused to do so. The British people, while noted for many estimable qualities, arc undoubtedly very conservative in regard to their commercial methods. It is noted that they are very slow to copy any improvement which they see adopted or instituted by their commercial rivals. At one time, of course, they were practically the great manufacturers and traders of the world, and the great Lord Derby once said that the British people would not for all time constitute the workshop of the world,’ that while they were the workshop of the world it was quite competent for’ them to impose whatever system they pleased, no matter how archaic or difficult, on the people who had to trade with them. The conditions are now greatly altered, and Great Britain has to fight in the race for commercial supremacy. Unless we adopt weapons as useful and as modern as those of the nations we are competing against, then we must necessarily handicap ourselves in our race for commercial extension and commercial supremacy. It is also worthy of notice that of the Sixty Governments which have adopted the decimal system, there has never been an agitation in a single case to return to the old system, while in the five countries I named there is a continual agitation that it should be substituted for their present system. Those nations would as soon think of abandoning their present decimal system for the old duodecimal system, or some of the other systems, as they would think of doing away with coinage altogether, and returning to primitive methods of exchange and barter. The effect that the present monetary system of coinage has on the industrial supremacy of Great Britain, the fight for commercial markets, and the general trade extension cannot be better exemplified than in the reports furnished by our consular agents in every part of the world. It is well worth the while of honorable senators to read some of those reports, and learn the enormous injury which the present systems of coinage and of weights and measures are doing to Great’ Britain. The reports state that British price-lists are absolutely unintelligible to the people of other countries;. they cannot calculate from their own system to the British system; they cannot ascertain, at any rate easily, the prices expressed in their own money. Therefore, nations with the decimal system of coinage are able to obtain a distinct advantage over commercial travellers for, and representatives of, British firms. This fact has been recognised by the British trading world, and we find that no Jess than 76 Chambers of Commerce in Great Britain have passed resolutions begging the Government to adopt the modern decimal system. This will not only be an advantage in trading with other nations, but it will lead to a great saving of time to commercial people if they can calculate their prices, their extensions, and all their arithmetic by a decimal system. In business, as in other things, time is money. If commercial people can save time, they will be able to get their work done so much cheaper. But the British Government are adamant, though the Imperial Parliament has passed resolutions in favour of this system - not making them mandatory - though a committee two years ago advocated its adoption, and though Chambers of Commerce, Trades Unions and Labour Councils have strenuously supported it. They seem to be like Moliere’s doctors, who thought it was better to fail according to precedent than to succeed by innovation. From an educational point of view the substitution of the decimal system for the present system would be an enormous advantage. The complicated system of mental gymnastics known as the quartoduodecimal system takes up unnecessarily an enormous amount of the time of the children at school. It is estimated by many experts that the saving in school time by the adoption of a decimal system not only with regard to money, but also with respect to weights and measures, would mean a saving of two years in the school career of children. No expert has estimated that it would mean a saving of less than one year. We can imagine what a saving of one year would mean in the education of school children. It is generally agreed that a thorough education is one of the most important factors in national well-being. It equips our people for the industrial fight. Undoubtedly the best educated race has the best chance in the struggle for supremacy. If we cannot lengthen the term of education we can, at any rate, economize it by applying the time that at present is devoted to teaching our present belated archaic system, to the attainment of useful practical knowledge, which will be of value to people when they come to earn their own living. A Spartan king was once asked - “ What are we to teach our boys ?” and he replied - “ “What they will most want to use as men.” We should teach our boys what they will most require as men. The German people at the present time are probably the best educated people in the world from a technical point of view. They have received an enormous advantage as a nation from technical education. If we can save a year in the time of our school children by substituting a sensible system of arithmetic, that year should be devoted to something much more useful than mere mental gymnastics. We should devote it to something like technical education, or the acquirement of practical knowledge, which would be of great value to the children when they went out into the world to earn their own living. The objections to this system are very few. The principal one seems to be the old conservative objection, “Do not disturb the present prevailing conditions.” But if the alteration is one that will result in a better system being substituted, surely it is desirable to inaugurate it. It will be easier to alter the existing system now, when we are a small population of under four millions, than at a later date. At some time or other the change must be made. It is better to make it now so as not to impose upon the children in our schools the necessity of acquiring a knowledge of a system which must subsequently be abandoned. The objection that we should not alter our’ present conditions simply because they are present conditions, is as though a man who had to work sixteen hours a day objected to working eight simply because he was opposed to any alteration. The change will lead to a saving of labour, with the result that improved conditions will prevail in the future. The reform to the decimal system would not disturb our relations with Great Britain, the country with which, of course, we do about 60 percent, of our trade and commerce. It has been proved that the adoption of the decimal system by Canada did not decrease the volume of trade between Great Britain and the Dominion in the slightest degree, though the Canadian system is one that makes a very much greater divergence from the British system than that which is proposed in the report of the Committee of the House of Representatives. Their recommendation to allow the sovereign to remain, and of the other coins they do not propose to alter until they get below the sixpence. They propose to alter .the coins below sixpence, the next one being of the value of twopence and two-fifths.
– Is it not proposed to alter the shilling?
– No ; that remains. It is proposed to retain the sovereign, the half - sovereign, the twoshilling piece, the shilling, and the sixpence.
– The report suggests chat the Imperial Parliament should pass an Act first.
– I am aware of that.
– May I point out to the honorable senator that what we are considering is the message of the House of Representatives, which deals only with the adoption of a metric system of weights and measures. Of course, I can quite understand that the subjects of the metric system and decimal coinage are intimately connected, and I assumed that the honorable senator was using the arguments which he has advanced to aid his advocacy of the adoption of this motion. But the message itself only deals with a metric system of weights and measures. The honorable senator is perfectly right in his references to a decimal system of coinage, which, however, is a different thing.
– I know that the resolution which the message embodies was altered at the instance of the Prime Minister in another place, and that it relates only to weights and measures. But I wish the Senate to recollect that this message is the result of a report brought up by a Committee instituted to consider the question of coinage as well as of weights and measures. No doubt, strictly speaking, I should confine my remarks to weights and measures, but it seems to me that the two subjects are so intimately bound together, that I ought to refer to coinage also. I was about to allude to the profit that would accrue from the coinage of the silver coins recommended by the Committee. It is estimated that the Commonwealth will require, to bring this system into operation, £2,000,000 worth of silver ‘ coins. The profit on the coinage of so much silver is very large.
– I understand that the honorable senator connects his remarks with the motion before the Chair in this way - that if this motion is carried some other action will have to be taken. Otherwise I do not see the relevancy of his observations. The message deals with weights and measures only. Of course, if the honorable senator argues that if the motion is carried, and effect is given to it, we shall have to go further and adopt a decimal system of coinage, he is in order.
– That is the view I take. The amount of silver coinage necessary for the Commonwealth is estimated at £2,000,000. I understand that Senator Walker sets down the amount at £1,500,000. In Germany silver is coined in the proportion of 1 58. per head of the population. If we apply that standard to Australia, it would require more than £2,000,000 worth of silver coins to serve our purposes. Now, the profit on’that would be very large. If we take the price of silver at two shillings and one-eighth per ‘ oz., it will require 606,000 ozs. (troy) of silver to coin £2,000,000 worth of coin. That quantity of silver will cost £731,000. That is to say, that will be the actual value of the silver contained in £2,000,000 worth of silver coins. There would, therefore, be a profit of £1,239,000 from the substitution of the new system of coinage for the old one. In the bronze coinage there is an estimated profit of £31,000, or a total profit of £1,270,000 on the proposed coinage under the new system. The present fixed ratio between gold and silver coins is very different from the ratio of the values of the metals, gold and silver. Therefore, by some people it is thought to be wise that the profit made on this coinage should be. put to a reserve fund, so that if the ratio were altered - as it might be in course of time - we should have a fund from which we might pay the cost occasioned by the alteration of the ratio. If the ratio between the value of gold and silver coin is very different from the ratio in the value of the metals there is always a great danger of forgery because it will pay to make silver coins from pure silver if there is a profit of about 60 per cent, on the coinage. If they are made from the pure metal it is very difficult to detect spurious coin. There is a large amount of new coin required every year, and the annual profits from its coinage are considered to be £35,000.
– We should have to buy in all* the present silver coinage at its face value.
– No; that belongs to the British Mint. I contend that that profit of £35,000 a year would be of very considerable advantage to the Commonwealth. At a time like the present, when we hear so much of the necessity for economy, even to the extent of doing injury to the services required to carry out the Constitution ; at a time when the people of Victoria especially are suffering from a spasmodic attack of “Kyabramitis,” it would surely be an advantage to us to institute a system which, without taxation, would be the means of bringing a large sum into the Public Treasury. From every point of view it appears to me that the adoption of the system must be advantageous. It must be borne in mind that in the future our trade and commerce will be largely diverted from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, and we find that the nations of the Pacific have all adopted the decimal system of coinage. Even China and Japan have adopted that system, and we know, of course, that the system is in use in America. We shall have, commercial dealings with these countries in which the decimal system of coinage is used, and we shall handicap ourselves immensely, if our price lists are sent out with the prices expressed in the terms of our present system. Persons accustomed to the decimal system of coinage will find very great difficulty in transferring values from our system to their own and in learning what our trade prices really are. As I have pointed out, the adoption of the decimal system of coinage will have an immense effect upon our educational system. In spite of the hesitancy displayed in the adoption of the decimal system in Great Britain, the teaching of that system in the schools has been made compulsory.
– That is a preliminary to the adoption of the decimal coinage.
– It is to bb hoped that it is: but, although the agitation for the adoption of the decimal system has been going on for years in Great Britain, the last official statement made on the subject is to the effect that there is no present intention to introduce it. If the decimal system be useful and necessary, and I think we all admit that it- is, it must sooner or later . be adopted. Is it not better, therefore, that we should adopt it now whilst the population of the Commonwealth is small, and when the difficulties of the transition stage will be less severely felt than they will be when the population becomes larger ? Is it not better that the children in our State schools, instead of having to learn the present complicated system, should be taught the decimal system, and be able thus to devote a large amount of time that is now required for the study of arithmetic to the acquisition of sound practical knowledge, which will be of great benefit to them? It is admitted that the adoption of the system will be advantageous from a commercial, on educational, and also a monetary point of view. I understand that the Government are favorable to the resolutions contained in the message from another place. I expect that the motion will be carried in the Senate, and I hope that it will be carried unanimously. I hope, also, that when it is carried the Government will not pigeon-hole it; but that, if they happen to be in office, we shall find it referred to in the Governor-General’s speech as being one of the measures to be dealt, with next session. A select committee appointed by another place to consider this matter went exhaustively into the question. Their deliberations lasted for a considerable time, and they secured expert evidence from all parts of Australia. There is, however, little use in appointing a committee at very large expense, though, in this instance, the money was well spent, if there is no intention to act upon the Committee’s report. The report of the Decimal Coinage Select Committee is admitted to be a very able one. A resolution has been carried in another place favorable to the principle of the decimal system, and while I hope that a similar resolution will be carried here, I trust that when that is done the Government will not consider that the business is finished as Micawber was accustomed to do when he signed a promissory note. I hope, on the contrary, that the Government will consider the matter seriously, and will next session introduce a measure to bring this necessary reform into operation.
– Some of us who speak in support of this proposal may as well confess that it is impossible for an honorable senator to know everything, and to give the most earnest study to every proposition submitted to Parliament. I do not profess to know everything, nor do I profess to have the time at my disposal for study which would enable me to give an opinion upon everything. I make that confession, though, perhaps, there are some honorable senators who think that I am prepared to offer an opinion upon almost any subject. We have just listened to an able speech in favour of decimal coinage, but as Senator O’Connor has pointed out, although the subjects are twin and allied, the message refers only to the metric system of weights and measures. If this Parliament deals with that question first, and is able to inaugurate the system throughout the Commonwealth, we shall be likely to succeed more easily than if we try to bring the two systems into operation at once. I find on a brief and hurried study of this very interesting question, that prior to the Great Revolution - and’ I say this with almost bated breath, because one cannot refer to the Revolution in this Chamber without causing alarm to some honorable senators - prior to the Great Revolution in France, a Revolution from which, no doubt, the world has gained very largely, the system of weights and measures in use in that country was as confusing as is the system in use in the United Kingdom and in Australia to-day. It was the Constituent Assembly in France which directed a scientific committee to endeavour to formulate a new system. They succeeded by 1799 in suggesting a new system. I regard it as a great privilege to be a member of the first Federal Parliament of the Commonwealth, a Parliament which has such an opportunity of bringing forward progressive measures and placing them upon the statute-book. I think that the first Federal Parliament, generally speaking, has shown that it is not a conceited Parliament. It does not represent the conceit of the Britisher nor of the Australian who considers that because he is a Britisher or an Australian, he is therefore superior to a Frenchman, a German, or any citizen of the other nationalities of Europe. So far as we nave gone, it appears to me that we are perfectly willing to adopt any proposal which will lead to rapidity in commercial interchanges or to any advanced legislation. This metric system of weights and measures is briefly described in an extract which I have taken from Beeton’s Dictionary of Universal Information. I do not think that I could explain the matter so concisely in any words of my own, and I therefore beg the indulgence of honorable senators while I read the extract. After referring to the interminable mass of perplexities of which the present British system of weights and measures is mad© up, reference is made to the metric system in these words -
The metre was originally deemed to be the ten-millionth part of the distance from the pole of the earth to the equator, measured along the surface of the sea. In 1799, however, it was declared to be the length of the platinum standard preserved in the archives at Paris. In English measure its equivalent value is nearly equal to 3 feet 3 inches and 3/8 ths of an inch. In the metric system the metre is the fundamental unit of measurement, whence the units of super.fices, of capacity, and of weight are derived. The whole system consists of four principal elements, with their decimal multiples, and decimal parts, such us the meere for length, the are for surface, the litre for capacity, and the gram for weight. All these are subdivided into tenth, hundredth, and thousandth parts, which are denominated by the syllables derived from the Latin deci, centi, and milli ; the multiples are similarly, by tens, hundreds, thousands, &c, distinguished by the prefixes borrowed from the Greek, of deca, hecta, kilo, and myria. The subjoined scale shows the whole metric system at a glance : -
The whole of the multiples and subdivisions of the metric system are decimal, and the reduction from one denomination to the other is performed by multiplying by ten or its multiples, or dividing 03’ them. There is no necessity to alter thefigures, but merely to read them differently by placing the decimal points so many places to the right or left of its place in any given number according to the terms of the required denomination. For example, if we desire to represent 52749 metres in decimetres we write 527490 ; if we wish to reduce it to centimetres we write 5274900. For the higher denominations we write 5274-9 decametres, or 527 ‘49 hectometres, <fcc.
For measures of. capacity and weights the reduction is carried on in precisely the same manner us in that of the metre and its multiples. The annexed equivalents of our present system are useful in comparing scales of either weight or measure. An inch is about 25 millimetres ; a foot 30£ centimetres, or 305 millimetres ; a yard, 09.1.4 metre; a quart, 1130 litres; a pound, 0454 kilogram ; 0405 hectare.
The metric system would undoubtedly have been adopted in England years ago, but for the fact that it was offered to the English people by the French. I hear Senator Matheson cough, and I suppose that, he being an Englishman from the ground upwards, finds such a statement excite his humorous instincts. There is, however, a great deal in the assertion that the system would have been adopted in England long ago, but for the natural prejudice against the French.
– England was at war with France at the time.
– That is so ; but if the German nation can overcome a prejudice against the French, surely it ought to be easy for * an English community to be equally tolerant and receptive. It is 30 years ago since Germany adopted both metric weights and measures, and decimal coinage, and the complete system was brought into full operation within fifteen months. It is suggested that Australia may experience great difficulties; but what must have been the difficulties of Germany, where at that time, according to some literature which has been kindly furnished to me by Mr. R. T. Barbour, of Victoria, each duchy and principality was a law unto itself 1 We ought not to exaggerate suggested difficulties which may, after all, prove of slight importance or non-existent. In 1895 a deputation, representing the Chambers of Commerce throughout the United Kingdom and also the New Decimal Association, waited on the present Prime Minister of England, Mr. Balfour; and it then appeared, from statements made by gentlemen who had travelled on the Continent and had lived in countries where the system is in operation, that there is no trouble whatever in mastering and applying its principles. Those gentlemen stated that in foreign countries where they had resided, they had been able to assimilate the system quite easily, and that on their return to England they saw with still greater clearness the absurdity of the old methods. When the deputation, to which I have already referred, waited on Mr. Balfour, Sir Henry Roscoe said : -
Important evidence also was obtained from manufacturers, especially from those who have already adopted the metric system in this country. The most interesting evidence I think was, perhaps, that of Captain Sankey, a director of the well-known engineering linn pf Willung and Robinson. This firm has adopted the metric system, not only to their own advantage, bub to the satisfaction of, and with the cordial cooperation of their workmen, many of whom are ordinary English labourers. A series of questions was drawn up by that firm foi* the purpose of learning how far these men were satisfied with the change which the directors of the firm had introduced, and the answer to a number of searching questions put to the workmen, showed that the men were not only satisfied, but pleased, and had no wish to revert to the old measurements. The honorable member who is’ sitting beside me, asked this witness whether he had found his men had any difficulty in adopting almost immediately the new system. The answer was - “No, after the first few days.” Then the witness said that he had asked the head of the tool-room whether any difficulties arose amongst his men, and he said - “It was a little awkward for a time.” When asked bow long this awkwardness lasted, he replied - “ About two days” ; and on further examination the witness said that the workmen knew nothing of the metric system beforehand.
From this we see that ordinary labourers, who, I suppose, had not had the good fortune to receive oven what is the Stateschool education of to-day, were able to master the system in two days. The attitude of trades’ unionists towards this question has been mentioned by Senator Smith, and I should like to quote the resolution passed at the Trades’ Union Congress, held in Glasgow in September, 1S92, at which 495 delegates were present, representing 1,250,000 members. The resolution, was as follows : -
That in the opinion of this Congress, it is highly desirable that in the interests of the working classes, and of the general trade of the country, that the decimal system of weights and measures should be adopted in Great Britain and Ireland as the national system, and that u parliamentary committee be instructed to promote legislation on that point.
Not only some 60 Chambers of Commerce in the old country, but also the Trades’ Union Congress there are in favour of the adoption of the metric system of weights and measures. Only this morning I picked up Guy’s Universal Penny Table Book, which is in use in our State-schools; and a glance at itS pages shows how varied and perplexing are the weights and measures with which it is sought to make children acquainted. The tables of weights and measures there set out are troy weight, apothecaries’ weight, avoirdupois weight, wine measure, ale and beer measure, land or square measure, cubic or solid measure, hay and straw weights, wheaten bread weights, measure of capacity, long measure, wool weight, cloth measure, coal measure, lineal measure for land by Gunter’s chain, long measure as used by carpenters, &c, square measure, and angular measure.
– And measurement by land is different from measurement by sea.
– That is so ; and the tables in this little book show the utter confusion which must be caused amongst scholars in our schools. It can easily be seen what a demand such a complex system makes upon the children. In apothecaries weight S drams make 1 ounce, while in avoirdupois 1 6 drams are required. In troy and apothecaries weight there are 12oz. to the pound, but in avoirdupois weight, there are 16oz.j while a ton in troy weight is 2,000 lbs., as against 2,240 lbs. in avoirdupois weight. If a person buys a ton of liquid, or of silver or gold, by troy weight he gets 2,000.1bs., but if he buys a ton of meat or cheese he is given 2,240 lbs. The confusion under the present system is emphasized by a statement on page 1 1 of Guy’s Table Book that bread, butter, cheese, flesh, grocery wares, and. heavy goods are weighed by avoirdupois weight, and that an avoirdupois pound contains lib. 2ozs. 11 dwts. and 16grs. of troy weight. “When we look at hay and straw measure we find that a ton, instead of consisting of 2,000 lbs., as in troy weight, or of 2,240 lbs. as in avoirdupois weight, consists of 3,024 lbs. On comparing cloth measure with land measure we find that a yard of cloth is 3 feet, whereas a yard of land means 30 acres. The only argument in favour of the retention of the present system appears to be similar to that which we frequently hear when the question of the utility of teaching dead languages in our schools is mentioned. It is said that the old tables are a useful form of mental gymnastics. That may be; but, as the Prime Minister of England said, in reply to the deputation to which I have alluded, if there is anything in that view, and we desire gymnastics which serve no other useful purpose, we might as well go back to the conditions which prevailed before there were trains, telegraphs or telephones, and have the benefit of the physical gymnastics involved in trampingover fields and jumping over fences. The motion deals with a highly interesting, subject, on which I do not pretend to be an authority, but as to the discussion of whichI am sorry I had not earlier notice. I hope the Senate will concur with the House of Representatives, and that this, or a succeeding Government, will adopt Senator Smith’s suggestion and introduce a Bill next session. From my reading of experiences elsewhere, I should imagine that there would be very little difficulty in putting this system into operation in Australia, without reference to the Parliament of the old country.
– But the message suggests that the Imperial Parliament shall adopt the system first.
– I do not think there would be any objection on the part of the Imperial authorities to the adoption of the metric system by Australia.
– Our adoption of the system would help those who favour it in Great Britain.
– I have a list of no. fewer than 292 members of the House of Commons who are pledged to the adoption of the metric system ; and there is nodoubt that if the House of Commons had not such an amount of business which is deemed of vast importance, this reform would long ere this have been adopted by the British Parliament.
– I have much pleasure in supporting the motion. I think we can all heartily concur in the message, and that we are much indebted to Senator Smith for his interesting speech. The cognate question, that of decimal coinage, which is equally important, and is necessarily bound up with this, was dealt with, as we all know, in the other House, and a large amount of information was collected by the Select Committee, which recommended that the system of decimal coinage, with some modifications, should be adopted by the Commonwealth. These two questions seem to me to go handinhand, although the message refers to only one of them. I have no doubt that the member of the House of Representatives, Mr. G. B. Edwards, to whom the whole of Australia is much indebted for the ability and energy which he has thrown into this movement, will, if necessary, so shape his action that we shall . be able to communicate the views of the Commonwealth to the British Government on both questions. I think the message has taken the right form in proposing to invoke Imperial legislation upon this question. It affects most intimately our tra’de and manufactures, and we are so inseparably connected with the mother country in these matters that it appears to me that the adoption by us of the metric system would be shorn to a large extent of its advantages if it were not also in use in the other parts of the Empire at the same time. In other words it is necessary, in order that we may gain the full benefits of a system of this kind, to secure its adoption by the whole Empire, and the natural way of bringing about that result is by obtaining the assent of the British Parliament to legislation towards that end. It is quite true, as both the honorable senators who have spoken have pointed out, that there is a vast volume of public opinion in favour of this change, and I may say that all the representative men in every branch of trade and industry are anxious that the change should take place for a reason that is clearly apparent. Many years ago it was not necessary for the British trader or manufacturer, or for the community generally, to bother themselves about questions of this kind. After the Napoleonic wars Great Britain had the trade of the world at her command - there was practically nothing else but British trade. It was in those days that Great Britain acquired her commercial dominance, and there is no doubt that there has been a tendency - perhaps conditions have been slightly altered of late years-on the part of the British trader to think that there was nothing in the world like British methods. The changes that are everywhere taking place arc, however, forcing the business men of Great Britain to realize the necessity of conforming to the ways and uses of the rest of the world, and no doubt the progress made on the Continent in trade and manufactures of every kind, and the expansion of the trade of Germany in particular, has shown that it Ls essential that Great Britain should adapt herself to the world’s standard in regard to weights and measures. There can be no question that the dominance of British trade has come to be very largely affected by the difference between the units of measures and weights employed in Great Britain, and those in use upon the Continent and in other parts of the world, and any system which would bring them all into harmony would be of great advantage. A purchaser abroad would then be able readily to understand a British price circular, and would be able to judge whether any manufactures or machinery of certain measurements and dimensions required in foreign countries could be made in England according to the same system of measures and weights as elsewhere. This is amongst the reasons which have operated to force the people of England to the conclusion that some change should be made. It was this consideration that led to the passage in Great Britain in 1864 of the permissive measure referred to by Senator Higgs. I think, however, that it would be impossible far any permissive measure to bring about the desired change, because it would principally affect the great mass of the people who have to carry on their business from day to day, according to certain methods, and more or less by rule of thumb. Such people necessarily do not concern themselves about a radical change of this kind. They know that it may involve them in some loss, and that it will certainly cause them some trouble, and therefore they do not care to adopt, it. Therefore it appears to me that the only way in which the reform can be brought about is by means of compulsory legislation, which would impose the system upon the people of Great Britain, and upon those of any of the colonies which may elect to adopt a similar course. Such a change would benefit the people in spite of themselves. Perhaps the surest way of cultivating public opinion and of overcoming any feeling of resentment which might be felt against the imposition of the metric system, would be by educating the children in the State schools in respect to it. We have had placed in our hands a copy of a very interesting lecture by the Bishop of Tasmania, who gives an illustration of the calculations which would be necessary to arrive at a certain result under the present system and under the metric system respectively. He points out that, in order to find the cost of 215 tons 17 cwt. 3 qrs. 9 lbs., at the rate of £9 lis. 6d. per ton, a calculation under the old system would involve the use of a mass of figures extending over a quarter of a column, whereas under the new system nine lines only would be occupied. Any honorable member will be able to see for himself the vast difference in the time and trouble involved in the two calculations. Of course, the new system practically brings the most abstruse calculation within the easy capacity of any person who has a knowledge of merely addition and subtraction, and at the same time it insures greater accuracy. When we remember the amount of misery and the floods of youthful tears that have been involved for centuries in working out sums under our present system, I think that if future generations have conferred upon them the advantages of the metric system they will have very good reason to be satisfied. The recommendation made by this message will, it appears to me, also have another effect. In these days, when it is recognised in the centre of the Empire that the public opinion of the colonies upon any question affecting trade and commerce isdeserving of careful consideration, the expression of our opinion through this Parliament as to the urgent necessity of adopting this reform will be regarded as an assurance that we are ready to fall into line with Canada and the other portions of the Empire in bringing about such a desirable result.
– The metric system is not used in Canada..
– No, but they have decimal ‘coinage.
– They do not follow the metric system in the United States either.
– No, but in those great countries, the United States and Russia, which have not yet adopted the metric system, there is a very strong agitation for bringing that change about, and the probability is that if a reform were effected in the British Empire those countries would immediately follow suit. With regard’ to. the Empire itself, we find that it was the representative of the Canadian Government, who, at the Conference held in London in 1902, at which our Prime Minister was present, brought forward the motion, which was ultimately adopted. It reads as follows : -
That it is advisable to adopt the metric-system of weights and measures for use within the Empire, and the Prime Ministers urge the Governments represented at this Conference to give consideration to the question of its early adoption.
As a matter of fact, -the Government would have brought forward this resolution but for the fact that the whole subject had been taken up in such a thorough and comprehensive way by Mr. G. B. Edwards ; and when he moved his motion the Government were only too glad to allow him to carry on the movement which he had so successfully begun in connexion with the question of decimal coinage. I have nothing more to say upon this question except to express my hearty concurrence in the message, and my hope that by not very slow, but very sure, degrees the proposed change will be brought about throughout the Empire ; and that we * shall, by the expression of our opinion here, largely contribute to that result. Senator Smith seems to think it is necessary to urge the Government to take some immediate action in the direction of introducing legislation, but I would remind him that a change of this kind, however desirable, may be brought about with precipitancy, which would deprive it of the greater part of its. advantage.
– I prefer tosee uniformity throughout the Empire, butI should not like to wait for years and years for the change.
– Undoubtedly ; but it appears to me that the wisest and most statesmanlike course to adopt is to endeavour to bring pressure to ‘bear on the Imperial Parliament to initiate legislation which we can follow. If we find that the vis inertia of the great mass of the people in the old country is so great that it canriot be overcome, we can take our own course. But in the first place it is desirable, if not highly necessary, to approach the matter in the way now proposed, and to endeavour to secure by initial action at the centre of the Empire the adoption of this, very desirable reform through every part of the Empire, including the Commonwealth.
– I have great pleasure in supporting the’ motion. I desire to pay my tribute of praise to the Select Committee of the House of Representatives, which brought up such very interesting reports upon the subjects of decimal coinage, and the metric system of weights and measures. When referring tothe labours of the Committee, we must nob forget that special credit is due to Mr. G. B. Edwards, the chairman. Credit is also due to Mr. R. T. Barbour, an exmember of the Victorian House of Assembly. Both of those gentlemen have been using their best endeavours to educate the whole community upon these subjects, and I, for one, frankly admit that I have learned a good ‘ deal from reading their reports. Personally I have had more experience of the difficulties under which we labour by reason of the absence of the decimal coinage system from our business transactions than I have had of difficulties connected with our- system of weights and measures. I believe that the day is not far distant when upon our own account we shall be justified in introducing a decimal system of coinage in Australia, but in the matter of the metric system of weights and measures we must defer action until the Imperial authorities have taken the initiative.
– They are very slow in the old country.
– That is quite true. Indeed, the interjection of the honorable senator reminds me of a cartoon which appeared in Punch some years ago, having reference to a communication forwarded by the late Lord Beaconsfield to the Sultan of Zanzibar. The former desired to abolish the. slave trade, and the cartoon in question depicted the Sultan frantically waving his hands, and exclaiming - “Conservative party very strong in Zanzibar !” Similarly, the conservative party, who are averse to the introduction of a new system of weights and measures, are very strong in Great Britain. It is interesting to note that the balance-sheet of the first bank established in New South Wales, in 1817, adopted the decimal system of coinage. At one time there was a desire on the part of bimetallists that gold and silver should be made a legal tender for an unlimited amount. The proportion of value between those metals at that time was, I believe, as 1 to 15. The present market value seems to be as 1 is to 38. Canada has not yet adopted the metric system of weights and measures, although it has adopted the decimal system of coinage. Senator Smith referred to the great profits that would accrue to the Commonwealth from the coinage of its own silver. We must, however, remember that, if we undertook that task, we should have to retire worn coins on their face value, so that the profit would not be as great as he supposes. I am not one who believes that a system of mental gymnastics is altogether bad. I cannot believe that I lost two years of my education by reason of ‘having t® work out certain sums in arithmetic dealing with weights and measures. At the same time, I am free to admit that the adoption of the new system would effect a saving in the time occupied in educating the youth of Australia. I very much doubt whether the average man of 30 years of age could do many of the sums which we as young lads could do, owing to the fact that the most intricate calculations are now to be found worked out in books. I think that it is just as necessary to have a little exercise in mental gymnastics as it is to have a little in physical gymnastics. Let honorable senators imagine having to call our present system of coinage by the outrageous term of the quartoduodecimovicesimal system. I was struck very much with the remarks of Senator Higgs in regard to various weights and measures. Of course,in connexion with silver and gold we have the troy weight, although the proportion between troy weight and avoirdupois is somewhat difficult to understand. I have much pleasure in supporting the motion.
– When there is no enemy in sight, it is always time to stop firing. I have been waiting for some honorable senator to oppose the motion, but, as absolute unanimity appears to prevail, there is. nothing to be gained by continuing the debate. I have had something to do with figures in my time, and have suffered a good many severe headaches as the result of wrestling with intricate calculations. I should therefore be delighted to see a more simple system adopted, especially one which would economize time. I very heartily support the motion under consideration. I regret that it does not go a little further, and request us to concur in a recommendation in favour of the adoption of the decimal system of coinage. However, I hope that that will soon follow. It is exceedingly desirable, in the interests of the Empire, that some alteration should be made. The pressure of life in all .directions is becoming very great. Nowadays children are expected to learn more than they did in the past. Business has multiplied exceedingly, and from every consideration we are called upon to abolish this antiquated system. I will not detain the Senate further than to quote opinion of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Balfour, who said -
There can be no doubt, I think, whatever, that the judgment of the whole civilized world, not excluding the countries which still adhere to the antiquated system under which we suffer, have long decided that the metric system is the only rational system.
– I trust that honorable senators will give a unanimous vote upon this question. The superiority of the decimal system cannot be denied. Most of us remember the old maxim, which we learnt as boys at school, that “‘Vulgar fractions break our hearts, and practice drives us mad.” That, I think, summarizes cur youthful difficulties in learning the present system of weights and measures. I hold that that system should be altered, if only in the interests of the Customs-house officials. More than once I have had to show Customs officers the difference between the decimal system and our own, and to work out foreign invoices which puzzled even highly-educated men. I have very much pleasure in supporting the motion.
– I am in thorough accord with the objects of this motion. To me it is a matter of surprise that England has so long continued a system the drawbacks of which have been recognised by many of her leading statesmen. Senator Pulsford has just quoted the opinion of her Prime Minister in that connexion. That opinion was expressed in 1895, in reply to an influential deputation representative of 46 Chambers of Commerce, the members of which had waited upon him to urge him to introduce legislation on the lines of that which we are now considering. We know that - as Senator Higgs has pointed out - England has been somewhat too proud to learn. I am afraid she is paying for that pride at the present time. The fact that her foreign trade is gradually lessening-
– It is increasing all the time-
– It is increasing so far as her imports are concerned, and so long as she has plenty of capital upon which to live, it will continue to increase in that direction. The most sensible statesmen of England, however, are beginning to recognise that that is an increase which is not in the interests of British trade. The present system of weights and .measures is utterly unintelligible to the foreigner with whom Britain desires to trade. Of course, there are reasons which can be urged against the proposed change. The difficulty of learning a new system must always militate against it, not to mention the cost that would be involved in the alteration. For example, we know that certain scales are in use at the present time, and these, of course, would have to be discarded. Similarly, a vast quantity of machinery which is in ‘ use in England would require to be altered. In Australia, however, our industries have not reached the advanced stage which characterizes those of England. Therefore it would be much cheaper for us to make the change now than to effect it later. In urging the Government of Great Britain to take the initiative in this matter, we are simply taking “ time by the forelock,” and doing what is best in the interests of the country. I trust that Mr. Chamberlain, who has apparently turned over a new leaf in regard to fiscalism, will adopt a new policy in regard to weights and measures by initiating the metric system in the old country.
Question resolved in the affirmative. .
Debate resumed from 26th June (vide page 1472), on motion by Senator Pulsford -
That there be laid on the table of the Senate copies of all decisions, orders, and regulations issued by the Department of Trade and Customs, including all that have been specially issued for the direction of officers.
– I understand that when this motion was previously before the Senate, my honorable colleague expressed objections to it, and having made further inquiries from the Customs Department, I now wish to state our view of the matter. We have an objection to this proposal which, I think, is worthy of the consideration of the Senate. Compliance with it would involve a large amount of clerical work and lead to considerable expenditure. While Parliament should always be placed in full possession of every document and every fact necessary to enable honorable members to criticise the administration of public affairs, it appears to me that there should be some line drawn. It is unreasonable to ask that the time of the officers of the Customs Department, which ought to be occupied in carrying out the ordinary business of the public, shall be devoted, almost continuously, to the preparation of returns for the purposes of the Parliament.
– Which will never be looked at.
– If the returns are designed to satisfy some public need or to deal with some question in which the public generally is interested, it is, of course, quite proper that the time of these officers should be devoted to their compilation. But, on the other hand, if all this labour and expense would be incurred practically for the purpose of satisfying the wishes of one or two honorable senators, and probably a very few members of the general- public, would it be justifiable for the Senate to interrupt the ordinary work of the Customs Department for this purpose ? I know that in the States Parliaments, and particularly in the Legislature of New South Wales, returns, are frequently called for which are really of little use, and that in this way the expense of the public service is very largely increased. We should set our faces against anything of the kind in connexion with the Commonwealth. Is there any reason why copies of all these decisions, orders, and regulations should be laid upon the table of the Senate at the present time ? The decisions alone would be of no value to us unless the facts relating to them were also presented. That means that under this motion the papers relating to every Customs ease in which there has been a dispute would have to be copied and laid before us. Then, too, the return, to be of any use, would have to be printed, and in that way additional expense would be incurred. The Government object to this motion on these grounds. The Department has strongly represented to us that this matter cannot be dealt with in the way requested by Senator Pulsford without leading to considerable expense, and the expenditure of a great deal of time on the preparation of the return. In these circumstances such an expenditure of time and money on a matter of this kind would not be justifiable.
– I feel that no exception can be taken to the attitude which the Government have adopted in regard to this notice. On the first day or two of the week long lists of questions and motions for returns and so forth are dealt with in the Senate, and I am satisfied that there is something more than a suspicion in the minds of many honorable senators that those who submit them often do so merely from a desire to keep their names before the public rather than to serve any useful purpose. The returns sought for are frequently of no moment, but involve considerable expense in their preparation. It is worthy of note that the very honorable senators who most frequently submit motions for returns are most emphatic in denouncing the cost of administering the public Departments. Kyabram oozes out of them on such occasions.
– The honorable senator should have said “Kyabramitis.”
- Senator Smith has coined a new word this morning which admirably fits the position. I think the Government are right in urging the Senate to keep motions for returns within the bounds of reason, and in refusing to supply information which very few honorable senators would look at. The preparation of these documents necessarily increases the cost of the maintenance of the Departments, and I think the Government is wise in objecting to this proposal.
– As a member of the South Australian Legislature, I had considerable experience in regard to matters of this kind. As a Minister of the Crown in that State, I set my face against motions of this character, and unless the member who moved for a return could show that he desired it to serve some useful purpose in connexion with the debate on a Bill before the House, or as a matter of general interest to the public, I did all in my power to oppose the granting of it. In every case in which no useful purpose would be served by the presentation of the report asked for, I did all that I could to check the system. My experience is that tens of thousands of pounds have been spent in .the preparation of useless reports which scarcely any one looks at. As the’ Ministerial head of a Department, I in many instances found it necessary to employ a large number of officers. in preparing reports of the kind, and in that way the expenses of my Department were materially increased. It was necessary sometimes to pay overtime, and it often happened that, after the expenditure of an immenseamount of trouble and money, a return was. laid on the table of the House, and was never heard of again. That was my experience in regard to three-fourths of the. returns that were asked for during my term, of office as a Minister of the Crown in South
Australia. Most of the returns were of no service, and theirpreparation simply added to the cost of the maintenance of the Departments involved. We should set our faces against unnecessary expenditure in every conceivable direction. This motion asks for copies of decisions, orders, and regulations issued by the Department of Trade and Customs. Most of the Customs regulations are issued under the Act, and must necessarily be laid before Parliament. I understand, however, that the word “ regulations,” as used in this motion, covers something more than statutory regulations.
– It means “ instructions.”
– It covers all regulations.
– Regulations may be made under an Act of Parliament ; but I presume that the word “ orders “ in this motion refers to regulations of a different kind. If Senator Pulsford had as much experience as 1 have had in regard to returns of this description, I am sure that he would not press his motion. The preparation of this return would necessitate a great expenditure of labour. It would throw increased work on the Customs officers, and what good result would follow’? If an honorable senator knows, or has reason to be- lieve, that under certain Acts orders have been given, in which a mistake has been made, he should bring those cases before the Senate; he certainly should not go upon a fishing expedition and seek to make some discovery by resorting to. a method which must put the country to very great expense. I entirely support the position taken up by the Ministry.
– I admit that there is considerable force in much that Senator Playford has said. But on the other hand, there is a widespread belief that the affairs of the Departof Trade and Customs are administered in a most tyrannical way. Whether that belief is right or wrong, I know that it is entertained by many people, and more particularly in this State. It is all very well for honorable senators to say that a motion of this kind is unnecessary, but we must remember that for the most part those who oppose it are not engaged in any business which is affected by these decisions and orders. It is an extraordinary thing - and I appeal to Senator Playford to bear me out - that the complaints now made against the Department did not exist in former times. Senator Playford has been a State Premier and a Minister for Trade and Customs, and I assert with confidence that during his administration of the Customs Department of South Australia no such complaints were levelled against him. We have had many Ministers of Trade and Customs in Victoria. The present Chairman of Committees occupied that position, and during his term of office the Department was administered
– Very comfortably.
– How would the honorable senator like to be persecuted ? Sitting back on the easy comfortable bench on whichhe reclines, he can speak like a philosopher ; but let him go down to the Customs-house and get his nose rubbed on the grind-stone and see how he would like it 1 If an honorable senator has good reason to believe that the Customs officials are being coerced in a particular direction, he is perfectly justified in asking for any information that may throw light on the matter. The question of cost, or of the convenience of the officers concerned is a secondary consideration. The public desire this information. There are men in this State who have been in business for over 50 years, and against whom no word of reproach has ever been uttered, who have been treated like criminals by the Customs Department, because they have made a slight mistake. Is that fair? Is that British justice ? I do not propose to mention any names.
– The honorable senator should do so.
– I shall not gratify the honorable senator’s curiosity by making any public disclosure. If the honorable senator desires any further information, however, I shall be prepared privately to acquaint him with the names of various firms who have been treated in this way. Cases have been brought before the courts in which a line of persecution has been adopted-
– Dalgety and Co.?
– I am not referring to that case. I am referring to something that happened long before that case came on for hearing.
– The prosecution of Leah Abrahams ?
– Order ; the honorable senator must not interrupt.
– I do not object. When a fugleman is put up in the Senate to make insane interjections, it shows that the opponents of the motion have a bad case. The honorable senator -is making what I consider to be insane remarks. At all events, if Senator Pulsford has shown that copies of these regulations should be presented to the Senate and printed, there is no reason why we should not support the motion.
– The honorable senator does not refer in his motion to ordinary regulations.
– They would all go on a sheet of foolscap.
– Surely the honorable senator has not read the motion ?
– I have. I presume that Senator Pulsford desires to know what regulations have been issued to the Customs officers in order to ascertain whether they have been called upon to do anything which is outside their duties. I have a suspicion that if these officers were allowed to conduct their business in a reasonable way many of these cases would never come before the courts. Is it not scandalous for the Department to compel people to appear in a police court, and to treat them as if they were criminals simply because they have made an innocent mistake? I have no sympathy with any honorable senator who would support the Government in such rascally proceedings.
– It is the law.
– I rise to a point of order. Is Senator Zeal in order in referring to the decisions of the law courts?
– I think the honorable senator used a word that he should not have employed, but I do not think thathe applied it to the decisions of the law courts.
– Of course not. If honorable senators of the labour party desire to obtain any information, they certainly should not, interrupt in this way. It is very unfair for two or three of them to barrack as they do. I am not, however, going to be put down by them. The motion has been submitted, no doubt, for good and sufficient reasons, and I shall support it.
- Senator Zeal has got a little off the track. The motion is for the production of a return, but the honorable senator quite contrary to his usual courteous manner, in debate has made use of the motion for an attack on the Minister for Trade and Customs, or the administration of the Customs Department. That is not the right way to get what Senator Pulsford is asking for. I do not consider that the motion has anything to dowiththe general conduct of the Minister for Trade and Customs or the administration of his Department. Differences of opinion may be held by the public or Members of Parliament as to the wisdom or unwisdom of the manner in which the Minister for Trade and Customs conducts the affairs of the Department, but the question before the Senate is not a motion of censure on the administration of the Department. If Senator Pulsford has any particular charge to make surely it is a simple thing for him to ask for the production of all returns relating thereto ; I do not think that any objection would be made to such a request. I object to this motion on the ground of expense, and on the score that a voluminous return is not read by any honorable senator except the one who asked for its production.
– How does the honorable senator know that ?
– From my brief experience in the Senate. I feel quite sure that no honorable senator desires to keep this information from Senator Pulsford if it is required, but, at the same time, I do not think we are justified in putting the Government to so much expense and trouble in order to gratify what I believe to be a whim on his part. For we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the mention of the Customs administration in his presence is like holding out a red rag to a bull. If the administration of the Department or the name of the Minister is mentioned, we have the honorable senator on his feet immediately. I do not think that Senator Zeal improved his chance of getting the return when he converted the motion into a medium for an attack on the administration of the Customs Department.
– I am very sorry that a heated discussion has arisen out of such a simple matter. In the Pilgrim’s Progress I once read about a man with a muck-rake, and, to my mind, Senator Pulsford, so far as fiscalism and Customs administration are concerned, occupies that position to a nicety, and only appears to be raking up all the rubbish he can find for the purpose of getting something which may be of a little use to him in making a disturbance. I am sure that if Senator Pulsford, or any other senator, finds out an act of injustice in a decision, order, or regulation, or anything in connexion with the administration of the Customs, and honestly asks for full informa-tion, we shall all be prepared to accede to the request. But for the honorable senator to submit a motion simply for the purpose of ‘endeavouring to find out if an act of injustice has been - done is another thing. It is an attempt which could only be made by a busybody or a mischief-maker, and consequently I shall oppose the motion. I should not have spoken at all if it had not been for the undignified position in which Senator Zeal has placed himself.
– Senator McGregor on dignity !
– If I have never been possessed of much dignity I do not like to see those who pretend to have some dignity deprived of the little they have.
– The honorable senator should not barrack.
– The use of the term “ barrack “ by the honorable senator is suggested by reminiscences of the football field or the back alleys’ of Collingwood.
– I was never down there.
– Is it not natural that some of us should interject when such terms are used 1 Because we do interject we are called lunatics. If I were to call Senator Zeal a lunatic - which the Lord forbid that I ever should do-
– I should consider it a compliment.
– I am very glad to hear that, but I hope that I shall never become so vulgar as to do anything of the kind. Whenever the honorable senator characterizes reasonable interjections as insane interjections, and reasonable remarks as barracking, then he can only expect to be treated as he has been treated. I am very sorry that these little differences have interfered with the harmonious feeling which has existed all this morning in the Chamber. But they only arise out of the injudicious request of Senator Pulsford, who is always fossicking about for something with which to cause dissension. I have heard a good deal about difficulties in connexion with Customs decisions. When complaints have been made to me I have gone to the’ Minister, and if Senator Zeal has a little complaint to make in connexion with anything to which the motion refers I am ready to go with him, if he is afraid to beard the Minister in his den.
– I shall look after myself. I am not afraid to beard the Minister.
– I shall go with the honorable senator, and I guarantee that before he leaves the office he will be satisfied that the grievance which he dreams of or imagines does not exist. I hope that the Senate will not put any Department to the expense .which an unreasonable request of this kind would entail. When Senator Pulsford knows that at the present time everybody in New South Wales - in fact, in the other States - is endeavouring to find out reasons for making the public believe that Federal extravagance is going on, I am surprised at him endeavouring to increase the expenses when he ought to be trying to diminish them. I hope that the Senate will refuse to accede to his request ; not out of any desire to prevent the greatest amount of information from being given to the public, but because we are always willing to deal with special cases, and do not desire to put the Commonwealth to unnecessary expense.
– I regret to have to oppose the motion, because I believe that if Senator Pulsford has any idea that the Minister for Trade and Customs has issued to any officer instructions which are not in keeping with the Customs Act, he will be able to see those instructions. I feel sure that the Minister will not deny to the honorable senator the right to inspect any regulations which he has drawn up, or any instructions which he has issued to his officers. When that course is open, surely an honorable senator who believes so much in economy, will hesitate before he will put the Commonwealth to the expense which the motion would entail in the matter of printing. Senator Zeal has availed himself of the motion to complain of the administration of the Customs Act, which has been described by the British Board of Trade as the model of what a Customs Act ought to be.
– No, the arrangement of the Act, not its contents - the drafting.
– That is a very fine distinction, because if the Act were a bad one no mere disposition of the sections could make it a good one. I do not think that the secretary to the Board of Trade would have referred to it as the model of what a Customs Act ought to be unless it were a good one. If it is a model Customs Act, and if the Minister is carrying out its provisions, what is the use of the honorable senator objecting 1 Let him bring forward a proposition to alter the Act. Does he desire to alter the provision to which Senator Zeal evidently objects that these cases should be heard in open court, and to revert to . the system formerly in operation in Victoria? Senator Zeal says that when Senator Best was Minister for Customs in Victoria, things went along very smoothly.
– I rise to order. Does the motion before the Chair enable the honorable senator to discuss the administration of the Customs Act and the Act itself 1
– I think that the discussion ought to be confined to reasons for or against the production of this return. Of course the administration of the Customs can be discussed, because that may be a reason for or against the motion, but I do not think that Senator Higgs ought to discuss the Customs Act.
– I shall discuss the administration of the Customs without reference to the particular section of the Act. Apparently Senator Zeal desires to revert to the system formerly in vogue in Victoria.
– In all the States.
– Not in all the States. The former system in Victoria was undoubtedly bad. I do not for a moment suggest that it was done by Senator Best, but it was a frequent thing for a trial to be conducted in what was practically a Star Chamber.
– Does the honorable senator think that the conduct of Customs’ business in Victoria has anything to do with the production of these papers 1
– It is very unfortunate for me that Senator Dobson did not notice that Senator Zeal was referring to the administration of the Customs in Victoria. Senator Dobson, who represents the conservative party, is afflicted with class prejudice, and the moment one of us who claims particularly to represent the working classes speaks in a certain direction, he raises a point of order. If Senator Zeal’s remarks had a bearing upon the question at issue, I ought to be permitted to refer to them. Senator Zeal contends that- the policy of the Minister for Trade and Customs has been to bring respectable merchants before the courts and make them appear together with criminals and drunkards and loafers.
– What is the use of going into all this ?
– Why did not the honorable senator put that question to Senator Zeal 1 If honorable senators will not “ let sleeping dogs lie,” to use a homely expression, they must expect to listen to barking. Senator Pulsford evidently thinks that the Customs Act is being administered in a harsh and tyrannical manner. I ask the Senate to remember that we are collecting something like £9,000,000 per annum in Customs duties. That sum represents imports to the value of many millions, and also represents more millions of entries. The prosecutions in the Commonwealth are not numerous in proportion to the imports, or to the number of prosecution in the old country, which run up to about 3,000 per annum, while the fines in particular cases amount not to £250 or £500, but to as much as £5,000.
– The Commonwealth prosecutions are less numerous than the State prosecutions were ; the return shows that.
– So it appears.
– It is the tyrannical administration of which I complain.
– The argument used was that it was not fair to bring merchants before the courts. I have seen cases reported in the newspapers, and can well believe that the public take the view that I do. If I see that an importer is brought into court and fined £5° for a technical error, if no fraud is charged, I do not think any the less of him. I have just as good an opinion of his character as though a technical error had never been made. The reputation of the gentleman does not suffer in the slightest degree. But, of course, when more serious offences are charged, and the cases are proved, we must have our own opinion about the character and reputation of the guilty persons. Senator Pulsford is like a great many of us. Senator O’Keefe suggests that the honorable senator has a whim. I might call it a “ fad.”
– He is the most courteous man in the Senate, at any rate.
– I admit that, and I may further inform Senator Zeal that Senator Pulsford has never referred to me as a rascal. The honorable senator himself did so this morning.
– Then I apologize.
– The honorable senator said that we support the Government in a rascally way ; and if we do that ‘we must be rascals. I agree that Senator Pulsford is not guilty of. language of that description, and I hope that Senator Zeal will profit by his example.
Senator MACFARLANE (Tasmania).It is not surprising to me that the Government are so anxious not to have this information made -public. The weakness and the maladministration of the Customs Department are matters of public comment. But for that reason alone we ought not to prevent information being given when it is desired. All that is asked for is that the Minister’s decisions, orders, and regulations shall be published. Almost all of them are already in print. To complain about the expense of furnishing the return is merely to draw a red herring across the scent. I for one strongly deprecate any great expenditure in the preparation of returns which are not afterwards of much use, but in this case I feel sure that very little expenditure will be involved in the preparation and printing of the return. Had I known that this discussion was coming on I should have been prepared to bring forward further reasons why the information ought to be given. Quite lately, as Consul for Sweden and Norway in Hobart, I was brought face to face with a most extraordinary decision or regulation on the part of the Customs-house. A Norwegian captain came up the harbor to Hobart on his vessel, which was in charge of a pilot. He invited the pilot to lunch. They had lunch off a Norwegian ham. The Customs officer came on board and seized the ham, which by that time was half eaten, and demanded that duty should be paid according to its weight. That is to say, he demanded duty on the weight of the balance of the ham-bone.
– Was there a Ministerial decision with regard to that ?
– The captain of the ship came to see me about it, as Consul for Sweden and Norway, and asked me if I thought it was a just demand. That is an instance of what takes place under the present administration.
– These are the things which the honorable senator wants the officers to spend time about.
– No ; it is a reason why certain matters should be made public.
– The honorable senator’s argument only furnishes a reason for laying the ham-bone on the table of the Senate !
– I rise to support the motion. I think it is a very reasonable one. At the same time, I do not support Senator Pulsford in his attack upon the Customs Department, or his statement that there is maladministration. I support the motion for an entirely different reason. The honorable senator desires that there shall be laid upon the table of the Senate copies of all the decisions, orders, and regulations issued by the Minister for Trade and Customs, including such as have been issued for the direction of officers. Suppose we withhold that information. What will a number of people think? They will say that the Government are afraid to produce it. I do not believe anything of the kind ; but a considerable number of people outside believe that the Customs Department has been administered in a harsh and unreasonable way. I request Senator O’Connor not to oppose the motion, on the ground that if the information is withheld some people will say that it is because certain things are desired to be hidden. Surely the decisions that have been given by the courts can be tabulated quickly and expeditiously.
– They are not the decisions which Senator Pulsford wants. He wants the decisions of the Department - hundreds and thousands of them.
– I did not think they were so very numerous. Surely the request is reasonable, in order that people may have an opportunity of knowing what are the grounds upon which the decisions have been given, and whether or not they are reasonable and just. If the information is refused it will- simply be putting a weapon into the hands of people who do not like the administration of Mr. Kingston, a gentleman whom I am glad to be able to call my esteemed friend. I do not want them to have that opportunity. I am certain that the Minister has nothing to hide nor to fear. There may have been mistakes in connexion with the administration of the Department, particularly in bringing six different systems into line. But there is not the slightest necessity to hide anything. We are aware that Senator Pulsford feels strongly with regard to everything relating to fiscal matters and Customs administration. Surely he ought not to be debarred from obtaining the information he requires in order to carry on work in which he takes so deep ari interest. I do not wish to place my right honorable friend the Minister in a false position in the eyes of a considerable number of people, who will be inclined to believe that he has .given wrong decisions or secret orders to his officers. I do not believe anything of the kind, and it is with a view of having the utmost light thrown upon Customs administration that I shall vote for the motion.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council has opposed this motion principally on the ground of expense. I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the remarks made by Senator Playford as to the expense entailed in the preparation of returns which are not of very great value when they are published. But I fail to see that there will be much expense involved in furnishing the information which Senator Pulsford requires. The decisions of the Minister are already printed in the Customs guide-book.
– It is of no use printing the decisions’ unless there are also printed the facts upon which the decisions were given. We have no objection to giving particulars with regard to any case, but to go through the whole of the decisions which have been given in the Department since the commencement would be an enormous work. There are thousands of them. What would be the use of doing so 1
– If that is really’ what is intended by the motion, it would, to my. mind, involve a gigantic task, and I should not be inclined to support it under any circumstances.
– There are thousands of orders.
– There are thousands of decisions in the guide-book.
– Why is this motion required, then1?
– They are already obtainable in that form.
– This motion is moved with a view to a search amongst the papers to see whether something cannot be picked out.
– I must admit that I have always found the Minister for Trade and Customs very courteous indeed, and ready to supply me with any information that was available. I was under the impression that these decisions were already in print, and that the motion would not entail any very great expense. I am willing to ‘ guard the Government against unnecessary expenditure in the preparation of returns from which the community will derive no benefit. I know that in South Australia a great many returns have been provided at enormous cost, and without any practical good resulting from the expenditure.
– I can quite afford to disregard the insinuation of unworthy motives made with regard to myself by Senator De Largie. I had no thought of anything of the kind suggested by the honorable senator. Everybody knows that I have taken a very antagonistic view of the administration of the Customs, but I believe everybody credits me with the fact that mine is an honest opposition. In carrying out that honest opposition to the present administration of the Customs I claim the right to a knowledge of all the doings of the Customs- house - that is to say, all that can possibly be made public. I admit that some of the work of the Customshouse must be of a private nature, and cannot be made public; but the orders which are issued to officers, and the decisions given in connexion with the Tariff, are public property, and they .should be available. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has distinctly misunderstood the wording of my motion in connexion with the use of the word “decisions.” I do not desire to be supplied with decisions with regard to cases of alleged mistakes under the Customs Act. Perhaps better words to have used would have been “ interpretations of the Tariff.” I used the word “ decisions,” because that word is used in the Customs office. I have in my own possession some three hundred sheets which are headed “ Decisions.”
– And the honorable senator wants to have them all printed here.
– This reference to printing is being continually made, but there is nothing about printing in my motion. It is entirely within the power of the Senate to order the printing of these decisions if it is subsequently found to be required. In the sheets I have there are a great many decisions, and there will be no need to print all the decisions, because the bulk of them are now embodied in the Tariff Guide. I may give the Senate some idea of the nature of the information I desire to get. A few weeks ago I called at the Sydney Customs-house to make inquiries with regard to matters of this nature. I had heard that instructions had been issued to the effect that there were to be no prosecutions in future where the amounts involved were under 20s.. I, asked the collector whether orders had been issued to that effect. The reply was “ Senator Pulsford, I cannot fail to recognise that you are - “ then he stopped, and I said - “ On the warpath, you may put it.” “ Yes,” he said, “ You are on the warpath.” I said, “ That is quite certain, and as you are unable to answer my question in the negative, or to tell me straight out. that no such orders have been issued, I assume that they have been issued, and there is no need to trouble you any more.” We should know definitely what orders have been issued from the Melbourne Customs-office, and sent to Customs collectors throughout the length and breadth of Australia.
– Why not ask a question of the Minister, or of a Minister in the Senate? The honorable senator would get his answer at once.
– Why should I have to ask for one particular item of information when I desire to be supplied with all the information ? It is quite clear that the Vice-President of the Executive Council is seeking, under various excuses, to shield the Customs Department. Of course, Senator Playford is bound to do so, because the Minister for Trade and Customs is the honorable senator’s special “ white-haired boy,” and could not possibly do anything wrong in his estimation. Everything that is done by the Minister for Trade and Customs must be upheld by Senator Playford, and by some other honorable senators, for various reasons.
– And must be attacked by Senator Pulsford.
– I have no objection to that statement. I have said distinctly that I amopposed to the present administration of the Customs Department. I say that things are being done which ought not to be done ; that a system of persecution is being carried on; Senator Glassey placed the position honestly before the Senate when he said that honorable senators are entitled to information, and that if it is withheld the public will come to their own conclusion. In the circumstances I intend to go to a division upon my motion, but I wish honorable senators to understand that I do not wish to be supplied with any details of decisions. I desire simply to have copies of the orders that have been issued with regard to Tariff interpretations and explanations of the Tariff.
– What would be the cost?
– I do not think it would be more than 20s. “
– How can the honorable senator possibly say that ?
SenatorPULSFORD.- I have been to the Sydney Customs-house and have been supplied with 300 sheets of decisions. I think there have been less than 500 sheets issued altogether. There have been thousands of decisions, and I know that one sheet contains as many as 100 or 150 decisions. I am sure that the majority of these sheets are ready for distribution. I understand that when a sufficient number of decisions has accumulated to fill a sheet they are typed off. There is a certain number of typed copies which have only to be put together, though where the whole of the copies of a sheet have been distributed, some copying from the original sheet may be required. I repeat that I am asking for nothing but statements and decisions which interpret the Tariff and orders given for carrying them out.
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put. The Senate divided.
Majority … … 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion (by Senator Drake) proposed -
That the Report be now adopted.
Senator O’CONNOR (New South WalesVicePresident of the Executive Council). - Imove, as an amendment -
That all the words after the word “ the” he omitted with a view to insert the words, “ Bill be recommitted for the reconsideration of sub-clause (b) of clause 6.”
This is the clause in which an amendment was made by inserting the words “three electors,” and it is necessary to rectify an ungrammatical construction caused were.
Amendment agreed to.
Question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 6 verbally amended, and agreed to.
Bill reported with a further amendment.
Senator O’CONNOR laid on the table
The report of the Royal Commission on the Federal Capital Sites, and Appendices.
Ordered to be printed.
Senate adjourned at 2.5 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 17 July 1903, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1903/19030717_senate_1_14/>.