5th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Official Commonwealth Map: West Coast of Tasmania: North- west Coast of Western Australia - Kal- goorlie to Port Augusta Railway: Surveys: Contract with Mr. Teesdale Smith - The Senate and Motions of No-Confidence - Dismissal of Workmen - Bendigo Mining Accident.
– I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– What are the reasons ?
– Honorable senators will understand, in spite of these signs of good-natured levity, that- I am pursuing the only course I can pursue, having regard to the position which the Senate has invariably taken up in these circumstances.
– Not invariably.
– The Senate at its last meeting adjourned in view of the position of the Government being challenged. The motion which constituted that challenge has not yet been determined, and, therefore, I now move the adjournment of the Senate.
– There are many matters which. I know honorable senators would like to have dealt with. I had intended to-day to give notice of certain questions for tomorrow, but the course which the Minister has taken prevents me from doing that, and, therefore, I wish to bring under the notice of the Government a matter which is to be made the subject of some questions by me. The questions which I had intended to ask to-morrow, and which I dare not ask now, but which I ask the Government to consider during the adjournment, read as follow -
In fact, it has been stated to me it -has probably been the cause of wrecks the details of which we have never heard -
I know that it is now very near to the time when the official map will be published. All that I want the Government to do is to make inquiries into this matter, and, if it is found that there has been an error in the past, to correct the error. I think that the line was not drawn after proper survey.
– Are you discussing, the question now?
– No. I am bringing the matter before the Government for consideration. If the’ map is so far advanced that it will have to be issued soon, I ask the’ Government to indicate on the map, that, as far as that portion is concerned, it is not absolutely accurate,! and that in a later edition the correct’ line will be properly delineated.
– After our three weeks’ holiday, I think that the Senate might very well go on with business. I have several times! been sorry for moving the amendment e-? tending the period of adjournment from two weeks; and, as I do not wish - to plunge ‘ more deeply into the mire, I am anxious that we should proceed. There is a great quantity of business to be dealt with, not only by the House of Representatives, but by the Senate. It is considered probable that in the near future there may be an election. If that is the case, it is extremely desirable that we should have an opportunity of saying something with regard to the course of public business, just as well as the members of the other House. There are several matters which I wish to discuss, and I am sure that there are other honorable senators in a similar position. I have never seen any real substantial reason for hanging up the -business of the country while a vote of no-confidence is being discussed in another Chamber. I think it is a waste of time to put. things off in this fashion. We ought to proceed and do some business. I am sure that if the Government have no business to submit the Leader of the Opposition will be able to keep us going. In these circumstances I intend to vote against the motion.
– I ask the Government to give consideration’ to the fact that the north-west coast of Western Australia is in exactly the same position, if not worse, as the south-west coast of Tasmania. Many complaints have been heard about the chart of the coast I refer to. Owing to a very imperfect survey the coast is not truly delineated. I hope that’ when the official map comes out there will be no more trouble from that source.
– If the forms of the Senate permitted me I would move to wipe out the absurd standing order which prevents us from going on with our business.
– There is no such standing order.
– It is a matter of parliamentary custom.
– So much the worse for it. I do not know whether I would be in order in moving an amendment on this motion.
– You can vote against it.
– I know that, but I would like to move that the Senate adjourn after it has finished with the busi-, ness that honorable senators have to submit. Like Senator Keating I am thirsting for information. I have’ quite a variety of subjects to bring forward. I intend, as regards one or two of them, to tell the Government what I would have liked them to be good enough to supply me with. For instance, I want some information about the way in which they are carrying on the survey of the transcontinental railway from east to west. According to the press a statement has been made by the Minister of Home Affairs, that a contract has been let to a firm of surveyors to survey a portion of the line, and that is from the 322 to the 432-mile post. The matter of urgency is given as the reason why a contract has been let for this particular survey, whilst most of the other portions of the line have been surveyed by the departmental surveyors. I want to know how any question of urgency can justify the letting of this contract, when we know that the permanent survey has already been completed for a considerable distance beyond the head of the rails. There are other matters upon which I should like to have some information, and, in my opinion, it is not right that, because a motion is pending in another place, the representatives of the States assembled in this Chamber should be denied information they require, not for their personal convenience or profit, but for the advantage of the country. Honorable members may joke upon the matter, but there is a serious side to it, when it is remembered that by the adoption of this practice of continually running away from our work because of what is taking place elsewhere we are deprived of the opportunity of securing information which is necessary to enable us to understand the administration of the Government. I protest against the making of a farce of this Chamber. The Constitution was framed in such a way as to cast certain duties upon the Senate, as well as upon another place, and why one Chamber should be dependent upon the action taken in another I am unable to understand. The practice seems to me to be followed as a pretence for getting away from the fulfilment of the labours we are paid to perform. There are many matters which members in another place representing portions of a State cannot attend to as satisfactorily as can members of this Chamber, who are elected for a whole State. I, therefore, consider that while Parliament is in session opportunity should be afforded the Senate to go through with business which, though it may be described as formal, is frequently the means of eliciting very important information. The Leader of the Senate would, in my opinion, have done well if he had permitted the formal business for to-day to be gone through before submitting his motion. “When honorable senators ask questions there is necessarily some delay to enable the Department concerned to supply the answers to them. In my own case there are questions on the business-paper which have been there now for some time, because when they were first asked I was put off and requested to wait for the answers to them.
– It is the honorable senator’s party that is holding up the business.
– That is not correct, and Senator Gould is distinctly out of order in making such a statement. To my knowledge there are members of the party on the other side who, on the motion now before another place, have spoken for their full limit of time. Whatever may be the motive which actuates honorable members in another place in carrying out what they conceive to be their public duty, they have nothing to do with us.
– Did not the honorable senator give his vote in caucus for the tabling of the motion of censure by his party?
– The honorable senator knows nothing about what I do in caucus.
– The honorable senator is too frank to deny the statement.
– I am not at all frank ; I deny that soft impeachment. What happens in our caucus is not the business of Senator Gould, and the honorable senator, I have no doubt, will find sufficient work to command his best endeavours if ‘ he attempts to sooth the troubled waters due to the serious differences of opinion and heated controversies that arise in the caucus of his own party. I say emphatically that we should put an end to the farce of permitting our business to wait upon the procedure in another place. I shall take advantage of the first opportunity that presents itself, if I can get any support, to abolish the Sessional or Standing Order which prevents us going on with our business when a motion of censure is under discussion in another place. What is the reason urged for the adoption of this practice? It is that if an adverse vote in another place resulted in the defeat of the Government the work done in the Senate in the interval would be rendered useless.
– That is hardly the reason.
– It is one of the essential consequences of party government.
– I do not see that it 13. The reason usually put forward for the practice is that if an adverse vote in another place affected the fate of the Ministry, the labours we perform here in the meantime would be only so much waste of time.
– It is a necessary consequence of party government.
– I say that it is not. There are measures which, though contentious, cannot be said to be party measures, and if a change of Government took place as the result of a motion of censure, a. succeeding Government might very well carry such a measure in the House of Representatives after it had been dealt with here. I may mention, as an instance in point, the Navigation Bill. Its discussion extended over the term of several Administrations; but the work done in connexion with that measure in this Chamber was not lost, and it considerably shortened the time taken in the passing of the Bill.
– Does the honorable senator speak of the shortening of time in connexion with the Navigation Bill?
– I say that the work once done upon it here, however long it took, had not to be done over again.
– But it has been lost, all the same.
– The work done was finished, so far as this Chamber was con cerned, and it was not necessary that it should be put through both Houses in the same session. I can conceive of many measures which might be advanced a certain stage in this Chamber, and even though, in the meantime, a Government were displaced, they could be taken up during the life of the same Parliament - at the stage which they had reached. There is no justification for honorable senators, shirking their duty because honorable members in another place have not done theirs. I always protest against the adoption of this practice, and if I can secure support I shall, at the first opportunity, move to put an end to the stupid and farcical system which has been adopted.
– I intend to support the Government on this motion subject to certain observations I intend to make. The reason which justified our adjournment three weeks ago still stands. That being so, we must adopt the same remedy for the situation which confronts us. We must adjourn until the trouble in another place has been cleared up. According to Senator Rae’s argument, it would seem that the Senate is an important and supreme parliamentary machine of itself ; whereas the fact is that it is only a part of the parliamentary machine.
– It is a separate working part.
– Quite so; but tha legislative product of the Senate cannot be accepted as the work of this Parliament until it has received the approval of another place. No matter what we do here, it cannot reach the people as a perfected piece of legislation while there is a condition of indecision in another place.
– It might reach the other Chamber.
– The Senate is only part of the parliamentary machine, and I can see no purpose in our going on with work which is to be subject to review and alteration later. If the Senate constituted the whole of this Parliament, there would be every reason why the view expressed by Senator Rae should prevail. But considering that this Chamber is only an integral part of the Commonwealth Parliament, it is idle for it to proceed until the other House is in a legislative working state.
– If the other House were working instead of talking, there might be some excuse for the action proposed.
– I do not hold the view that the other Chamber is not working. To my mind, it is engaged in the most useful work of the session. Honorable members of the Opposition there are casting a lot of searchlights on to dark spots. I intend to support the Government proposal for the reason that the position of the Government in the other House is still the subject of challenge. But in view of the fact that before this day ends, a determination may be arrived at on the motion of censure which is being debated there, I ask the Leader of the Government in this Chamber whether it will not be well to adjourn till a later hour of the day?
– Say 11 o’clock to-night.
– No, but we might adjourn till after dinner. Thus the waste of a valuable day would be avoided. ‘ Of course, I recognise the futility of offering a suggestion to the Minister of Defence, especially when I recollect what happened on the last occasion that a motion for a special adjournment was submitted.
– Why offer a suggestion; we have the numbers to enable us to do as we like.
– Whenever I make a suggestion, I like to know that there is a chance that it will bear fruit. I recognise the futility of making a suggestion to the Leader of the Government in this Chamber, in view of what occurred here three weeks ago. On that occasion the Minister of Defence moved for a fortnight’s adjournment, but stated, in the course of his remarks, that he was not wedded to that particular period. Some members of my own party suggested a longer adjournment, and he then stated that if an amendment were moved in that direction he would agree to it. Accordingly, Senator Stewart submitted an amendment in favour of this Chamber adjourning for three weeks. With what result? When the division took place, the Minister of Defence voted against the amendment. I would not have mentioned this incident, but for the fact that the Minister’s colleagues in another place have made a very elaborate use of the adjournment of the Senate for three weeks, notwithstanding that the course of action taken was one which was acceptable to the Leader of the Government in this House. I would like the country to understand the class of Ministers who control the destinies of the Commonwealth to-day. One Minister can say here that he will accept a certain amendment, and then vote against it, while his colleagues in another place can hold up this Chamber to public odium for adjourning for a period which the Minister of Defence himself had said would be acceptable to him. But I rose chiefly for the purpose of inquiring why, during the adjournment, no respect has been paid to a resolution carried in this Chamber. Some three weeks ago it was decided on my initiative that the papers relating to the Teesdale Smith contract should be laid on the table. So far those papers have not arrived. I have inquired in the proper quarter why they are not forthcoming, and I have been told that they have not yet reached here. Of course, I recognise that Ministers have had a particularly busy time during the period I have indicated.. But, following the lead of Senator Keating, I put it to the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, that those papers should be forthcoming ere this. At present, I am entirely in the dark as to that particular contract. I am as much in the dark as were the people of the Commonwealth until after the contract had been let. I wish the papers to be produced in order that I may discover what has happened in that connexion.
– I shall vote for the motion practically for the same reason as has been stated by Senator Lynch. But I wish to direct the attention of the Vice-President of the Executive Council to a matter which affects the livelihood of a very large body of men in this city. During the past fifteen days, four gangs of workmen who have been employed in undergrounding the telephone wires in Melbourne have been dismissed. We are now approaching the winter, when, as honorable senators know, it is difficult for workmen to obtain casual employment.
– Surely the honorable senator did not expect anything better from this Government. They are increasing the cost of living and dismissing thousands of men from their employment.
– The Government have dismissed a large number of men in order to make the finances of the Commonwealth look a little bit better at the end of the year. Workmen have been discharged at Westernport, and four gangs have been dismissed in this city since the 22nd April.
– Has the work been completed?
– I do not think so, nor do I think that all the money appropriated by Parliament has yet been expended. The men who are still engaged on this particular work are very anxious to know what will be their position in the immediate future. I would urge upon the Vice-President of the Executive Council the necessity for an early announcement in this direction, so that if it is intended to discharge more men who are at present engaged in undergrounding telephone wires in Melbourne, they will be afforded an opportunity before the winter sets in of looking round with a view- to obtaining some other employment.
.- Senator Stewart is leading the party with which I am associated, and on a previous occasion he pointed out that we would be making a mistake if we adjourned for three weeks. I would like him to understand that, if he votes against the Government to-day, he will be making a similar mistake. The complaint made on the last occasion that a motion for a special adjournment was submitted was that the business here had been taken out of the hands pf the Government. That complaint was not made in this Chamber, but it was. urged in another place. That was a most unfair charge, in view of the fact that the Minister of Defence, when he moved the adjournment of the Senate for a fortnight, went out of his way to emphasize the fact that, in moving for a moderate adjournment, he was not wedded to the 29th, or any other particular day in the month. Senator Lynch suggested three weeks’ adjournment to enable members, who desired to do so, to go to the West and return, and as the Minister was outside while the discussion waa going on, I rose in my place on that occasion to again put Senator Lynch’s suggestion before the Minister. I could quote Hansard, if I were allowed to do so, to show that Senator Millen, in reply, said, “ If the honorable senator will move an adjournment in that direction I will accept it.” I did not move an amendment to that effect, because after some years of acquaintance with Senator Millen in the New South Wales Parliament, I know how tricky he is. One must not take what is on the surface with him at any time, and I knew that he was shying and jibbing at moving an extra week’s adjournment. When he told the Senate that a week here or there did not matter, and that any day would suit him, I became a little suspicious. It was of no use for him to spread his net in front of the old bird, who knew the trapper so well. I did fall into the trap to some extent, however, by following my leader, Senator Stewart, when he moved to make the adjournment for three weeks. Eventually we carried the extra week’s adjournment, and the next morning, in another place, the Prime Minister himself pointed to our action in taking another week’s adjournment at the invitation of the Minister of Defence as another glaring instance of the Senate taking the conduct of business out of the hands of the Government. Now, on this occasion, when the Minister moves for another adjournment he offers the Senate no word of explanation or apology. I want no apology from the Government, and I suppose they will say that in any case I am not entitled to it, but there ought to be enough self-respect left in the Government, who are so deep in the mire of contracts let without tender, at extravagant and exorbitant prices which no private business man would dare to offer, not to permit their leader to impute to the Senate motives which never entered into. our minds. In reference to that particular occasion, at any rate, the Senate can be cleared of any imputation of a desire to take business out of the hands of the Government. Not only was the extra adjournment moved for with .the consent of the Minister of Defence, who was in charge of the business, but Senator McColl himself voted for it. We had the Minister of. Defence on one side, and Senator McColl on the other. I take it that Senator McColl had Senator Millen’s promise ringing in his ears at the moment, and could not perform the acrobatic feat of turning round and voting against his colleague’s promise so suddenly as his eoi-, league himself did.
– Is the honorable senator clear as to Senator McColl’s vote?
– I have taken every care to come armed with the Hansard report giving the result of the division. Among the ayes is the name of Senator McColl. This may be a little matter, but the members of the Government, who are so deep in the mire with regard to private contracts let without tender, would hold up the Senate day after day when they were in opposition to complain that some of the men employed by the Commonwealth under the day-labour system were earning their ‘ money, too easily. We remember the constant complaints about the “ man on the job,” and certain honorable senators reading whole slabs of the Argus articles. On one occasion, one honorable senator spoke with horror of the fact that a man had stopped work long enough to light his pipe. That honorable senator is not here now, but the remnant of the party are on the Ministerial bench, and they and their colleagues still go about the country com- - plaining of our day-labour system being so costly to the people because the men. are not driven at top speed, as they would, be driven by the cruel tactics of a contractor. What is the method of speeding up adopted by the contractor in this particular case in South Australia, who is getting exorbitant and extravagant prices for the work he has to perform? One man who went there, after the work commenced, with fifty others from Adelaide, told me that he was one of only three out of the fifty still remaining on the work ; the others were put on and put off because the contractor knew that if he sacked some of the men who were working well !the other who were anxious to keep their jobs could be made to do anything. That is the system which the present Government favour. They complain of the workers getting 6d. a day extra for day labour, and not work- ing as hard as a contractor would make them; but they do not mind giving a private contractor a contract out of which he will get double what the work is worth. If the Government doubt my statement, I challenge them to appoint a Commission to inquire into the contract - a suggestion that Mr. Teesdale Smith himself is reported to have made in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. Let them appoint it while the men are on the job, and the evidence can be obtained. Let it be done before it is possible for the position to be faked up to make it appear that the contractor is getting a fair price for his work. The Government have given a contract in this case to a private firm, by the side door, after a conference with the Honorary Minister. It is a case of favoritism in its worst form. Even if the price were a fair one, nothing could condone the fact that only one contractor was allowed to know that the work was to be let out. The present Government, during the election campaign, pledged themselves to the people as intending to restore constitutional and responsible government - that was one of the high-sounding phrases of the Minister of Defence - but, on the first occasion on which they are faced in Parliament with a question as to their responsibility in an important matter of this kind, they actually try to shield themselves behind their own officers. Was ever a worse position attempted to be occupied by any Government? My view is that a Minister has charge of his own Department, and should know all about it, and, right; or wrong, he should put before Parliament the best side of the case, not only for his Department, but for his officers, who cannot appear to defend themselves. Mr. Saunders and Mr. Deane cannot speak .for themselves in Parliament. What, then, is to be thought of a Government who skulk behind those officers, saying that they acted on their reports, and so try to escape the punishment that they deserve ? It is the . meanest exhibition of cowardice ever made by any Government in any Parliament. The very position of the Minister requires that he should be the mouthpiece of his Government in Parliament. He immediately feels that it is his imperative duty to answer a charge against his Department, and he gives Parliament the true facts of the case. If the facts are against him, and he was wrong in what he did, he can do as the Minister of War in the Old Country did, and that is resign his position. Would any selfrespecting Minister hold a position in a responsible Government and say, “ I did this thing ; I know that it was wrong, but I was misled bv one of my officers ?” That is not responsible government? That is not what people understood by the term responsible government when they were led to cast their votes for the Liberal party. The Government want to continue this system of dragging Parliament down. I am not going to assist to take the control of business out of their hands this afternoon. If a vote is to be taken elsewhere on the no-confidence amendment at 9 o’clock to-night, I think that we might well proceed with the debate on the AddressinReply. I think that we might have been given an opportunity of submitting the questions which we had prepared.
– Move an amendment to meet at 9 o’clock; we can carry it.
– I know that we can carry an amendment, but my care is not to carry anything. The Government want to build up a case that the business has been taken out of their hands.
– What are the odds?
– The Senate has met the Government more than half-way in respect of all their desires. It has sat at inconvenient periods, and hurried business through. It has allowed the Government to suspend the Standing Orders day after day to transact their business, and it has suspended the whole of the private business; but when the Government get outside they try to make the public believe that they have been badly treated by this party of twenty-nine members. I do not intend to give them a shadow of . excuse to make such a statement. Probably to-morrow we shall be met with a similar proposition. I do not know whether the Government will have any business to submit until the test Bills are sent here. The Government boast that they are representatives of the States; they claim that the intention of the framers of the Constitution was that the States should have equal representation in the Senate, and that the only means of inducing the States to come in was to offer them equal representation there; but as soon as Ministers find that equal representation of the States in the Senate interferes, not with any big measures of public importance, but with petty party measures, they devise a means in the form of what they are pleased to term test Bills, by which they can bring about a dissolution of both Houses, and by which the great safeguard which the framers of the Constitution gave to the people - equal representation of the States in the Senate - can be wiped out. And when it is wiped out, they can say to the small States, “Notwithstanding that the Constitution promised you equal representation, we, with the Speaker’s majority, used to “ gag “ the other House, can bring your representatives in the Senate to the country at any time we wish.” The production of certain papers was asked for by Senator. Lynch. In fact, I think that the Senate decided that the papers should be laid upon the table. If they have not been tabled yet, it is time that they were. There can be no excuse for a further delay of three weeks.
– Mr. Fisher had to wait three weeks before he could get a fishy contract tabled.
– The fishy part of that contract is that it was let by tender, and while the other House is discussing the contract a more important one is let without tender, and that is a survey of the line from north to south, from peg 322 to peg 422. Here are the Government surveyors, with fifty camels and two squads of men, surveying at the 322-mile peg, yet a firm of private surveyors is given a contract to continue the survey for 100 miles.
– Were no tenders called ?
– No, and that is the chief cause of complaint. The price which these private surveyors have got, compared with the prices paid for other work, has been exorbitant. Let the maddest opponent of day labour compare the light survey work done by contract with the efficiency of survey work done by the Commonwealth’s own employes. These contract surveyors will have to find a gradient of 1 in 100. The specification will provide that they must find that route as near as possible, If they get the gradient early, they go ahead, because when they have accomplished a mile of work they will have earned £40. In these circumstances is it likely that they will look round for a better gradient or waste a day or two in doing so? As soon as the contract surveyors get to the requirement of the specification, even though a better route is to be found by spending a day or two in the search, they are not likely to do that when they are paid by the mile, because it will be to their interest to get over the miles as quickly as they can. These contract surveyors are al- ready 250 miles ahead of the railway head. I believe that when the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs said that time is the essence of the contract, he was quite right. I used to write in my copy-book, “ Time is money.” But time and money are the essence of the Teesdale Smith contract.
– With secrecy and the side door added.
– Yes . I suppose that the Government, in their anxiety to let the public know the real position, will appoint at once a Royal Commission to inquire into these fishy contracts - not only “ into the Teesdale Smith contract, but into the survey contract. I do not know whether the Government intend to sit still under the imputation that they have deliberately given a contract to a man at double the rates which have hitherto been paid, and given it without competition. I am not favorable to contracts which cut the price down to the lowest shilling. What has been the attitude of the party who believe in the contract system and the sweating of working men ? When the Fisher Government was in office, these walls used to ring daily with the complaint that men employed on day labour did not do as much work as men employed by a contractor, but when the Liberal Government have to deal with a contractor they do not tie him down to what he can do in competition with other contractors, but give him a fat contract by which he can pay his men a fair wage and treat them reasonably well, and at the same time draw a profit of £1,000 a week for twenty weeks’ work. That, in my opinion, is what this contract shows. I know that there are difficulties connected with the contract, such as the carting of water and supplies to the men. Mr. Teesdale Smith says that he has a plant costing £15,000. His plant on the 14-mile contract consists of about 150 horses, 50 tip-drays, 60 or 70. scoops, and 100 wheelbarrows, and there are a couple of strings of camels which the Commonwealth Government had in use working for them - not their property, but working under contract. As soon as Mr. Smith got the contract, he bought up two teams at a cost of £1,300. This is the gentleman who has a huge plant there, and this is the Government who are continually talking about the huge plant he had convenient to the work. The whole plant could have been assembled, with the exception of the camels, which were already on the job, by a business man in two weeks after taking the contract. When I came through there last week, the made-up works of the Government were not within 12 miles of the beginning of Teesdale Smith’s contract, so that time was not the essence of the contract. Although the term of the contract has nearly expired, still the formation of the line on which the rails will have to be laid by Commonwealth employes has not been completed, and they are not up to the beginning of Smith’s contract, nor will they be for some time to come. Money has been shovelled into the pockets of this contractor at the cost of the people by a Government who, when faced with the question, say, “ We were misled by our officers.” Just imagine a Government getting down to the level that they are willing to shelter themselves behind their employes! From a personal knowledge of the 14-mile section, I can say that there is not a really difficult cutting in the section. I know the country and the class of work which has been done there. Here was a contract let without even a trial hole being sunk. The Senate does not seem to grasp the fact that 14 miles of railway construction has been let to a contractor. The big cuttings do not amount to more than a mile and a half. The remainder are light cuttings which can be taken out with a plough and a scoop. Let the men who make roads in the country read that this contractor is getting 4s. 6d. a yard for taking out the material and an additional 2s. 6d. a yard for dumping it, making 7s. a yard in all. No doubt when the Government get among the little contractors in the State - the men who do work on the roads, and the railways, and tank-sinking - they will attempt to justify the payment of 7s. a yard to this railway contractor. I can claim that, with the exception perhaps of 100 miles, I have been over all the railways in New South Wales, and I never saw a section of 14 miles where there were less difficulties of construction to be overcome than on this 14 mile section.
– Why growl, when the Government have laid down the minimum prices for such work?
– The Government have given a price for the removal of this light soft soil that the hundreds of men carrying out small contracts in the different States know to be an extravagant and exorbitant price. They have excused themselves on the ground that the contractor had his plant om the job. I say again that I invite the Government to appoint a Commission to prove or disprove my statement that the only plant there is” a few wheelbarrows, tip-drays, scoops, and a few shovels. There is nothing that the Government could not themselves have put on the job in a fortnight. As for the camels required for carting water, I will not be contradicted when I say that they were doing useful work for the Government on the job and were bought over the heads of the Government.
– Mr. Kelly admits that, and complains of Teesdale Smith’s action in the matter.
– They will admit everything, if we are pleased to excuse them on the ground that their officers misled them. I am not prepared to excuse them on that ground. During the three years that the Labour party were in office the members of the Government and their supporters spread the most malicious slanders from one end of the Commonwealth to the other about the Labour Government, and they should hang their heads in shame for everything in connexion with this particular contract. I can remind honorable senators of what was said in connexion with the celebrations that took place on the laying of the foundation stone of the Federal Capital, and the turning of the first sod at each end of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway. These were great national enterprises. It will never, I hope, be necessary to again lay the foundation stone of the Federal Capital. The expenditure of a little money in celebrating the commencement of these great national enterprises was, I think, entirely justified; but I remind honorable senators that the very gentleman who entered into this contract with Mr. Teesdale Smith, when speaking of these celebrations in his own electorate, never negected to slander men whose boots he was not fit to clean. He informed the people that it was possible to pick up the track of those engaged in the celebrations because it was marked by the champagne bottles that were thrown out of the windows of the train, and that the tracks of the vessels could be followed! in the same way. These men talked of the extravagant expenditure of the Labour Government, and had to lie to make out their case, but I can speak of the extravagant expenditure of the present Government, and can challenge them to appoint a Commission to prove that one word I say is not true. I challenge them with the extravagance of shovelling the money of the public into the pockets of a contractor. I am not opposed to the contractor as such. He is a business man, and from what I have learned of him I should say that he is a capable business man, and able to do the work he has undertaken well. But so would any other contractor getting the same prices. Any man can do work well if he is given four or five times its value.
-Colonel O’Loghlin. - Even then we have no guarantee that the work will be better done than it could have been under day labour conditions.
– That is so. The one thing that surprised me in connexion with the matter was the little there waa to do. The contract is merely for cuttings and embankments, and wherever there are culverts to put in, the Government are doing that work themselves. The Government have undertaken to do any work on the section which might be expected to involve delay, and yet we are invited to believe that this hurry-skurry contract was let because of the urgency of the work. If Government construction is more costly than the work of contractors, one would have imagined that the difficult work in connexion with the section would have been included in the contract. I think that the time is rapidly approaching when the Government will no longer be in office, and I hope that amongst their followers there will be found one of sufficient independence, even though he be a Liberal, to protest against people plundering the country without some benefit in return for the money they receive. I do not wish to say any more upon this motion. I am afraid there will be a continuous series of adjournments of the Senate for the same reason, but being fresh from the work being carried out under the Teesdale Smith contract, and having walked over every inch of the section, I thought this was a good chance to say what I thought of it. I say that the one thing above all others which surprised me was the few difficulties of construction that had to be overcome. There was no reasonable excuse for the hurry in the giving of this contract. The commencement of the section is at the present time 10 or 12 miles ahead of the furthest formation carried out by the Government workmen. It will take them three weeks before they reach it. Mr. Teesdale Smith will have finished his section of 14 miles before the Government workmen carry their clearing and formation up to the point where he commenced. If the Government had desired that the work should be done hurriedly, it would have been easier for them to have sent a few squads of men on ahead. There are no difficulties in the cuttings. There is no cutting of hard basalt or freestone. There is a little sandstone in one place, a saddle reef, and the rest is pipe-clay. There are a couple of hard cores as the engineers report, kaolin in one place that shoots splendidly and comes out in tons, and gypsum in another, as soft as chalk to drill into. Every shot sends up loads and loads of it. They are the easiest cuttings I ever saw on a railway line. The Government have exaggerated the difficulty, and have contended that it has been necessary to give a big price to the contractor because of the difficult nature of the work, while as a matter of fact there are no real difficulties of construction on the section at all.
– I should not have risen to delay the Senate in connexion with this motion had it not been for the fact that very recently a serious mining disaster took place in Victoria.. I thought that the Leader of the Government in the Senate would have made some reference to it as was done in another place. Of course I thoroughly understand that Senator Millen is a busy man and it is impossible for him to take notice of all these things. But seeing ‘that Senator McColl is practically a resident of Bendigo, and generally takes a very considerable interest in mining in that locality, he should have had knowledge of the disaster, and might have reminded his leader that some little reference to it in the Senate on its meeting to-day would have been very appropriate. I have risen to express my sympathy with the friends and relatives of those who suffered in the Bendigo disaster. I am sure that Senator Millen would be only too ready to join his sympathy with ‘the sympathy of the
Opposition towards those who have suffered as a result of the calamity. I have no intention to oppose the motion.
– If no other honorable senator wishes to speak, I - shall take advantage of the opportunity to make one or two brief references to semepoints which have been raised on the motion I have submitted. First of all I should like to say with regard to Senator McGregor’s suggestion that if an explanation on my part is necessary, it arises from this fact: I point out that the honcrable senator as I should have expeoted of him did not impute any want of sympathy on my part in connexion with this matter.
– When the Prime Minister speaking for the Government expressed the sympathy of the Government as a whole, I did not feel it incumbent uppn me to make any further reference to the matter.
– The Government is not the Parliament.
– The Prime Minister expressed on behalf of the Government and the Parliament sympathy with those ‘ who have unfortunately been bereaved as a result of the disaster, and I considered that the requirements of the case had been met. That is the reason why I did not specifically refer to the matter here. A great deal has been said on the motion in connexion with which I may make the observation that I am not asking the Senate to sanction any innovation. Whether the practice be good or bad, it is the practice which has been continuously followed in the Senate.
– Any innovation upon it would be delightful.
– It probably would to Senator Rae and other iconoclastic spirits. The practice is one which has been adopted and supported by both parties from time to time.
– Then I am against them both.
– I should be surprised to hear that Senator Rae was ever with any party, but I am stating a simple fact. Honorable senators may be disposed to disagree with the practice, but in fairness to myself I may direct attention to the fact thatit is the accepted practice of both parties. When it last met, the Senate indorsed that practice by agreeing to an adjournment until the vote of censure was disposed of. My motion to-day asks honorable senators to consistently follow the practice adopted by both parties and indorsed by the Senate only three weeks ago. As to the suggestion put forward, first I think by Senator Keating, that I might have deferred submitting . the motion until questions had been answered, that would be a violation of the practice to which I have referred. I quite recognise’ the burning desire on the part of a very large section of honorable senators for information, and I should like to say that theirdesire for information is not half so pronounced as is my desire to impart it. I say that because some sadly need it. But this is not the proper time to give it. I ask my honorable friends to be a little patient. I have made a note of the matters referred to hero to-day, and when the Senate is in a position’ to resume business, I shall . endeavour as far as possible to have the information required available without putting honorable senators to the necessity of formally submitting their questions. As time does not appear to be very urgent, judging by the speeches we have listened to, I might make a reference to something which Senator Keating did this afternoon. He said that he wished to ask a question, but as he was not allowed to do so, he would not ask it, and would only say what his question would be if he were in a position to ask it. The honorable senator’s action recalled to my mind a story in David Harum of an extremely religious deacon who had a horse which he wished to sell. A buyer came along on a’ Sunday and the deacon said that it being Sunday he could not possibly think of making a deal then. The buyer then said, “ Supposing it were Monday, what price would you ask?” and the deacon, ever careful, said that if it were Monday he would ask so much. That seems tome to be very much the position which Senator Keating took up, ‘ and he managed, in spite of his professed desire to conform to the practice of the Senate, to get in just what he wanted. I can only say that on that and other matters referred to I shall endeavour to have the information sought for available when the Senate meets for the resumption of business.
Question - That the Senate do now adjournput. The Senate divided.
Majority … … 21
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 6 May 1914, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1914/19140506_senate_5_73/>.