6th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– In reference to the announcement by the Minister of Defence yesterday that a certain statement of mine had not been approved by the censor, has he seen the following editorial note in the Argus of this morning: -
Senator Pearce has not been informed accurately or, at any rate, fully in reference to Senator Millen’s first statement. The passages which it is said were calculated to give information to the enemy were actually passed by the censor for publication in the Argus. We hold absolute proof of this, which Senator Pearce may see .if he so desires.
If the Minister has not seen the paragraph, will he ascertain how it was that his officers ventured to place him in possession of inaccurate information?
– I have read the footnote. I made the .statement yesterday on the authority of the Deputy Chief Censor. I will, of course, find out how it was that I was misinformed, if I was. I take it that the newspaper would not make an inaccurate statement.
– It offers to place the proof before you.
– Has the following paragraph which appeared in a newspaper in Queensland, and is headed ! Philpott,” been brought under the notice of the Minister of Defence? -
Mr. B. H. Corser, M.L.A., paid us a visit on the 27th inst., and was enthusiastically received. Quite a novel feature- of the programme was an armed mounted escort of the Philpott Rifle Club, under the command of Captain Hull, which met Mr. Corser at Pumpkin Hut, and escorted his carriage to the goods shed, where a guard of honour was drawn up to receive him under the command of Mr. Sydney Wagstaff.
– Order! I point out to the honorable senator that I have already ruled that the reading of a very long newspaper paragraph in connexion with asking a question without notice is not in order, because, obviously, if honorable senators desire to read such paragraphs in asking such questions the whole sitting of the Senate may be taken up in that way.
SenatorMcDougall. - I am sorry, sir. I will have another opportunity to raise the question.
– I ask the Minister of Defence whether the Government are taking any steps to give effect to the recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee to work a double shift at Lithgow?
– I have not yet seen the recommendation. I will certainly give it great consideration as soon as I have seen it.
– I ask Senator Blakey to postpone the question of which he has given notice.
– Arising out of that request, I ask the Minister if I can get the information frome the Department next week? I do not necessarily want the information given to the Senate, but dental efficiency is a matter of rather vital importance to certain persons just now.
– Order! I remind the honorable senator that the time for asking questions withoutnotice has gone by.
asked the Minister representing . the’ Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– Inquiries arebeing made and replies will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the Ministerrepresenting the Prime Minister, upon notice-
Does the Government consider the action of the Grain and Fodder Board of South Australia (a duly constituted State authority) in prohibiting the export of wheat to Tasmania asbeing constitutionally and judicially affected and decided by the decision of the High Court in the suitof the Commonwealth against the State of New South Wales, known as the Wheat Case?
– The answer supplied by the Prime Minister is as follows: -
The Government is not prepared to expressan opinion on the legal question of whether the action of the Board was contrary to theConstitution, or not. But in view of section 11 of the Grain and Fodder Act 1914 of South Australia, and the decision of the High Court in the Wheat Acquisition Case, the Government does not intend to take any action in thematter.
– I move -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn till Wednesday,9th June.
On referring to the notice-paper honorable senators will see that there is practically only one item of business for theSenate to go on with, and that is the Insurance Bill. I understand that certainrepresentations are being made to the Attorney-General’s Department which it inadvisable that the Government should have an opportunity to consider, and I donot doubt that honorable senators themselves will be glad of a further opportunity to look into the Bill. In view of the fact that certain representations arebeing made by interested parties, and of the rate of progress made with the Estimates, I think it is very improbable that we could get the Appropriation Bill for the current year here next week. We have been hoping against hope, but itdoes not seem possible that we can receive the Bill by that time.
– We may get the Estimates before the 30th June.
– We may. I think that if we adjourn until the 9th June we should then have the Estimates here, and be able to dispose of them and of other urgent business that there may be, and adjourn until such time as it is necessary for the Senate to meet in order to pass Supply for July, and proceed with any proposed legislatiou which will then be ready for us. I realize that it may not suit the convenience of all honorable senators to have an adjournment for only a week, but I point out to them that we would have to pass a Supply Bill or the Estimates before the end of June, and therefore it is mecessary for us to meet again before that date, as we only have Supply now up to the middle of June.
– We should thank God that we have that much power left to us.
– I trust it will be understood that I am trying to meet the convenience of honorable senators, and that it is necessary to meet in June. I hope that by that time we will have the Estimates and be able to pass them and then adjourn until such time as the Senate will have business to go on with.
– The Minister of Defence intimated to me before the Senate met what he proposed to do, and it seemed to me quite a reasonable thing in view of the state of the notice-paper, but after listening to his remarks it appears to me that we are going to meet the week after next almost with the certainty that we shall be just as void of business as we are to-day.
– We will have the Estimates by then, surely?
– This “hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” If we could inspire another branch of the Legislature with the capacity which marks this Chamber for the expeditious despatch of its business there would be some substance in that hope, but seeing that that place has, I understand, only reached the Estimates for the Trade and Customs Department - a Department which at all times is fruitful of discussion in an assembly which is given to much talk - I venture to say that the hope is unduly optimistic.
– The Estimates for the Trade and Customs Department as a rule go through in a few minutes. There is no expenditure, comparatively speaking.
– The members of another place have a good deal to say about the Department though, particularly as it now embraces the Inter-State Commission, which opens up a wide field for discussion. We cannot question the right of the other House to give every consideration to such matters. If there is to be an adjournment it ought to be to a date when we shall have a reasonable guarantee that there will be work for the Senate to do. If the Minister for Defence still thinks that there will be work available in the week after next, there is nothing more to be said, but otherwise it is unnecessarily taxing honorable senators, and really foolish, to ask them to come here and meet for an hour a day, as we have been doing during the last few weeks.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway.: Day-labour System - Rifle Clubs - Postponement of Questions.
Motion (by Senator Pearce) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I desire to draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs to two extracts from a leading article in the West Australian of 19th May, 1915, with a view to ascertaining whether or not he, with his colleague, will take action. The first extract reads: -
In Monday’s issue of the West Australian was published a report by the Chief Common wealth Railway Engineer on the TransAustralian railway. Mr. Bell’s report is a model of brevity. Also, in view of the allegations regarding construction methods on the line, which were recently made in a series of articles that appeared in our columns, the Chief Engineer’s statement is remarkable for the things it does not tell us. This is the more surprising in that the charges contained in the West Australian articles were, on at least two occasions, the subject of inquiry by Mr. Needham in the Senate. The Western Australian senator asked the Minister representing the Home Affairs Department if investigation would be, or was being, made, to establish the truth or otherwise of charges published in Western Australia;charges which unmistakably affirmed that the railway-
These are the points to which I desire to draw the attention of the Minister - being built under the day-labour system was costing an enormously excessive sum; that the workmen were practically masters of the situation, and that they did not give the taxpayers a fair return for the excellent wages and living conditions provided for them ; that the rigidity of administration from Melbourne, and the division of local administration between two branches, traffic and construction, did not tend to the economical and efficient working of the railway; that the readiness of certain Labour members from this State to air alleged grievances of the workmen was not conducive to the best results; that, considering the time the railway has been in progress, great delay has occurred - for which no adequate reason, or any reason, for that matter, has been furnished - in making provision for essential water supplies. Senator Russell assured Senator Needham that inquiries would be made “ through the officers of the Department” into the matter of the articles.
The second extract is as follows: -
It would be asking too much of the Chief Engineer that he should voluntarily express himself upon questions arising out of the daylabour policy of the Government; and it would be unseemly on the part of the Government to demand of him opinions relative to the labour return given by the workmen on the railway, seeing that the Government has fixed its standard to the day-labour mast. Mr. Bell, with all his officers, is directly under the control of the Minister, who may say to them, “ Go,” and they go, not to return if Cabinet so decides. This is not to say that the officers, if a report on the working of the day-labour system were demanded of them, would not advise as accurately as their opportunities for judging allowed them. But obviously they should not bc placed in a false position. When the policy governing the administration of a Department is arraigned it is the duty of the permanent heads, as loyal servants of their political chiefs for the time being, to put the best face on that policy. In these circumstances, departmental reports on departmental methods present the officers in the position of judges of their Ministers. For this reason their reports are valueless.
I take this opportunity of pointing out to the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, and to Ministers generally, that a deliberate attack is being made upon the Government, and upon the honesty of the workmen engaged in the construction of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway. The thing may be boiled down into two charges. The first is that the Government are wrong, and that by constructing this line by the day-labour system they are injuring the public of Australia. The second is that the workmen engaged on the line are not giv ing a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. I consider that this charge is a libel on Australian workmen. I do not refer to this matter because it relates to the western end of the line. I would be just as bitterly hostile to it if the reflection were cast on any other workmen in Australia. Without labouring this matter further, I ask the Minister to go into the question before the Senate meets again, and give a detailed reply to the various charges made by this newspaper in order to show to the public of Australia that the day-labour policy is the proper one to adopt, and that the men who are engaged on the western end of this railway are honest workmen, giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
.- The matter that has been brought under notice by Senator Needham has received considerable attention in Western Australia,” though, perhaps, in the eastern States people have not taken quite as much notice of it, and there are certain features of it that it is well to take into consideration. I am not prepared to say whether the cost of building the railway will be greater or less than the estimate, but I do know that if it is greater, it will not be the fault of the day-labour system that has been adopted. The fault will be found to be due to the fact that the present Government have had to buy out certain rights of contractors who were given contracts during the short period that the Fusion Government were in power.
– Who were they? I know nothing of Fusion.
– The Fusion party gave themselves their own name. I cannot see why the honorable senator should object to the name being applied to his party. If there is any shame attachable to it the fault lies with the party and not with one who is merely repeating a title that his party have adopted. There is no use quibbling about names; we have to deal with facts, and I maintain that during the period they were in power the Fusion Government gave contracts to contractors - friends of theirs, of course - and that because of the enormous prices these contractors were getting, and their humbugging methods in the. construction of the railway, the present Government had to buy them out to get rid of them, and had to pay through the nose to do so. The West Australian pays no attention to this fact. It slums over such a transparent matter and makes a great hullabaloo about the men working on the day-labour system. I know the type of man who is engaged on this work, and I know the gold-fields of Western Australia fairly well. There is no place in Australia where fewer loafers can be found, and where loafers get less consideration. From my knowledge of these men I can say that if the cost of the railway is greater the fault will not lie with the day-labour principle. I think it is rather unfair to hold the present Engineer-in-Chief responsible in connexion with the lack of water supply. This matter should have been attended to before the construction of the railway began, and I know that the first supervising engineer at the Kalgoorlie end time and again drew the attention of the previous Engineer-in-Chief to the fact that it was necessary to provide a sufficient water supply. If the matter has been neglected it is unfair to saddle the responsibility on Mr. Bell. As for the day-labour question, I am satisfied that we cannot get more willing workers in the Commonwealth than those engaged upon this work, and to say that there is anything like loafing going on is a libel upon them, and downright misrepresentation.
– It is merely a repetition of the old “ man-on-the-job “ yarn.
– If any fault is to be found it is sure to be laid upon the man who works with a pick and shovel in the desert country of Australia, and who has the most arduous labour to perform. We slum over any amount of things of that sort in regard to men engaged under much more comfortable circumstances in Government employment. We never hear a word of criticism in regard to them. We need not go out of Melbourne to see what is taking place in many Government offices, yet there is no criticism about the manner in which men in nice billets do their work; we hear nothing of the Government stroke in connexion with them, but certain newspapers never miss an opportunity of attacking the man who works in the interior under most disadvantageous circumstances. I am glad to raise my voice this morning in protest against criticism of this kind.
.- When the rules of the Senate prevented me from reading a certain extract from a newspaper, I did not think that I would so soon have the opportunity of placing the matter again before honorable senators. When I desired to put ‘ certain questions to. the Minister concerning rifle clubs, in which I take a great interest, I considered that it was necessary for me to explain why I required the information. I now take this opportunity of reading the extract. It is as follows: -
Mr. B. H. Corser, M.L.A., paid us a visit on the 27th inst., and was enthusiastically received. Quite a novel feature of the programme was an armed mounted escort of the Philpott Rifle Club, under the command of Captain Hull, which met Mr. Corser at Pumpkin Hut, and escorted his carriage to the goods shed, where a guard of honour was drawn up to receive him, under the command of Mr. Sydney Wagstaff.
As the carriage with its escort approached the saluting point a fanfare of bugles was sounded by the brothers Mahony, and the guard presented arms. Mr. Corser then inspected the guard, remarking, jokingly, that he fancied h imself Lord Kitchener. The goods shed was tastefully decorated with flags and bunting, the Union Jack, Australian flag, and the Irish flag waving side by side. The platform was draped with green curtains and wattle bloom.
I do not think that the rifles belonging to the Commonwealth should be used for purposes of this description. If one candidate for Parliament is to have an escort from a rifle club to advertise him it is unfair on those who cannot get a guard of honour. What I wish to know is, whether there are any conditions attached to the granting of rifles to these clubs, and whether members of the clubs are allowed to use them in any way they choose. I think that there should be some conditions attaching to the issue of arms to rifle clubs, and that the rifles should only be used for the purpose for which they are intended.
– This morning, and indeed upon every Friday morning during this session, following the practice that has been in vogue for some time here, Ministers have asked that questions be postponed. There would be no great inconvenience in this if the Senate were sitting in normal circumstances, but’ latterly we have been sitting on Thursdays and Fridays only, and the inconvenience of having answers to questions postponed has been rather great. We have been sitting on Thursdays and Fridays only largely because another place decided not to sit on Tuesdays, but on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The numbers in another place are greater than ours, and measures necessarily take longer to deal with there than here. Therefore, the Senate cannot sit exactly the same days as another place. As each member in the other Chamber represents a single-electoral division a good number of members may deem it necessary to give their views on certain matters submitted to Parliament; but here, on the other hand, as each State is represented by six senators, very often the point of view of one State can be put by one or two senators representing it. Therefore, if we work with but the same assiduity or despatch as is displayed by another place it will take us a little less than half the time that is taken by anotherplace to deal with any particular matter. Therefore, since the number of sitting days in another place has been reduced, we necessarily do not need to sit so frequently. During the time I occupied the position of Minister in this chamber I first ventured to suggest that honorable senators who desired to obtain on Friday, answers to questions upon notice, should give notice of their questions earlier than Thursday. I did not lay it down as a hard and fast rule that if notice of questions were given on Thursday, they would not be answered on Friday, but I did stress the fact that in order to insure answers being forthcoming on that day, notice should be given on Wednesday, or earlier if possible. I would like to tell honorable senators my own experience in the matter of answering questions. The practice followed up to the time of which I speak was for the. officers of the various Departments, upon receipt of a copy of the business-paper, to cut out of that paper the questions relating to their Departments, and for replies to be prepared in consultation with Ministers. I adopted an entirely different procedure. I arranged that as soon as possible after notice of a question had been given, a copy of it should be transmitted to the Department affected, so that when the Senate was sitting on Tuesday or Wednesday morning, questions, of which notice had been given at the beginning of those sittings, were sometimes in the hands of responsible officers of the various Departments before the luncheon adjournment.
– We do not have any luncheon adjournment on Thursday.
– I am speaking of what happened when this Chamber waa sitting three or four days a week.
– But we did not sit in the mornings then.
– When we were dealing with the Tariff we sat from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and from Tuesday to Friday in each week. I am merely pointing out what was done then and what can be done now.
– Take yesterday as an illustration. What could have been donethen?
– I am about to point out what can be done to convenience both Ministers and honorable senators. If copies of all questions upon noticewere immediately circulated amongst the Departments concerned, the replies would be forthcoming the next day. Seeing that that procedure was adopted in 1908, when this Chamber was sitting four and often five days a week, there is all the more reason why it should be followed now when we are meeting only on Thursday and Friday. Before we again assemble probably events will have occurred which will occasion questions being put toMinisters by honorable senators. Many of these will be asked without notice, and’ notice will then be required of them. If we do not meet until Thursday, notice will have to be given, and the time available will not be sufficient to permit of those questions being answered next day. In other words, before replies to them can be obtained, the news to which they relatewill be stale. I am strongly of opinion that by co-operation between honorablemembers and Ministers something might be done to facilitate the answering of questions upon notice. If necessary, an honorable senator might be required, when giving notice of a question, to supply a copy of it, which could be at oncetransmitted to the Department concerned. During my tenure of office as a Minister, as soon as the rough proof of the businesspaper for the following day was received, and long before it was corrected, thequestions upon notice were cut out by a clerk or messenger, and pasted on strips of paper, which were already addressed 211 blank to the Secretary of the Department affected, and which contained a request that a reply should be furnished immediately. By that means we were able to insure answers on Friday to questions of which notice had been given on Thursday - questions which involved a good deal of consideration before replies could be prepared. As far as possible, it is desirable that adequate notice should be given of questions which require time to answer. But when we are meeting only on Thursday and Friday, questions ought to be answered as expeditiously as possible, and without too frequent requests for their postponement. “To-day, replies to quite a number of questions upon notice have had to be deferred, with the result that by the time we meet again probably very little interest will attach to those answers. Indeed, events may transpire in the interim which will render those questions almost unnecessary. I want to guard against a regular recurrence of that sort of thing, and what I am now saying is more by way of suggestion than criticism. If honorable senators and Ministers will co-operate, I feel sure that we can make a better showing than we are making at the present time. A great number of questions of an urgent character are put to Ministers, but when replies to them have to be postponed for a few days their urgency disappears. If our Standing Orders will not permit of any other means of giving notice of these questions, we should cooperate with Ministers in the way I have suggested, with a view to insuring that such questions shall reach the departmental officials as soon as possible. I do not know what is the practice followed in another place in regard to questions upon notice, but I observe from their businesspaper for to-day that an asterisk appears “before quite a number of them - the asterisk indicating that they appear on the business-paper for the first time. I -assume, therefore, that they will be answered to-day.
– I can assure the honorable senator that, as regards the Department over which I preside, they cannot be answered to-day.
– If a similar practice prevails elsewhere to that which obtains in this Chamber, I think that past experience would have convinced honorable members there that questions of which notice was given only yesterday would not be answered to-day. I think that we ought to look into our Standing Orders with a view to facilitating the acquisition of information relating to public matters whenever it is required by honorable senators. I trust the Minister will recognise that my remarks are prompted only by a desire to assist both honorable senators and the Government to secure better results. In another place I think it is competent for honorable members to put questions upon the business-paper even without giving notice of them in the chamber itself. If a similar procedure were adopted here, honorable senators would be very greatly convenienced. I do not know the exact course that is followed in this connexion, but if it can be properly safeguarded against abuse and against unwarrantable surprise to a Minister, it is one which might with advantage’ be imitated here.
– The questions would still come under the scrutiny of the presiding officer.
– Exactly. During the long adjournment from Friday in each week till the following Thursday it often happens that honorable senators would like to put questions upon the businesspaper. If they were able to do so, the necessity for asking such a lot of questions without notice upon the reassembling of the Senate would be obviated. I trust that this matter will receive attention at the hands of Ministers and of our Standing Orders Committee.
– In reply to the remarks of Senator de Largie and Senator Needham, I wish to say that I have perused the article of which they complain in a Western Australian newspaper. I am not in a position to supply detailed information in reference to the question at issue, but I have no hesitation in saying that the article is absolutely misleading and incorrect. The whole of the figures at my disposal show quite a contrary result to that stated by the writer. The charges levelled against the cost of day labour on the transcontinental railway are, I believe, deliberately misleading. The figures before me in that connexion conclusively show either that the writer was sadly misinformed, or that he was determined -to misrepresent the position.
– Has the Assistant Minister any facts in relation to a contractor being relieved of his contract?
– I know that the contracts let by our predecessors in office were much more costly and unsatisfactory than those which have been let by the present Government. Moreover, we actually have men engaged in completing work which was supposed to have been done by contractors under the late Government. . However, I promise to have an inquiry made into the allegations contained in the article with a view to supplying a complete answer to them.
– In regard to the remarks of Senator McDougall, I can only assume, from what I have read of the recent elections in Queensland, that possibly the unpopularity of the Ministerial candidates rendered it necessary that they should have an armed guard. But no application for armed protection was made to the Department by any Ministerial candidate. No such guard was supplied with departmental approval or consent. I can assure Senator McDougall that guards of honour are not allowed. Even the Minister has not the distinguished honour of being received by an armed guard. However, our rifle clubs are subject to very much less restrictions than our military forces, so that the guard may have been supplied without reference to anybody. Probably it was. I am quite sure had the matter been referred to the Commandant he would have said they had no right to provide the guard. With regard to the question raised by Senator Keating, I recognise that his desire is to facilitate the conduct of public business; but I would point out to him that I think he was a little bit unfair, though probably not intentionally so, in drawing an analogy between the time it takes to answer a question now and the time it took when the Senate was sitting all day for several days in the week. It is hardly a fair analogy. Under the present circumstances there will be delay. I would like to draw attention to his own question No. 4, which appears on the notice-paper. Suppose that question had been sent direct to a Department, even then it could not have been answered to-day, for the reasod that it must be sent on to the Railway Department.
– My complaint is not with regard to any specific question.
– The honorable senator knows that many questions cannot be answered on the following day, because owing to their nature it is necessary sometimes to refer to the other States for the information.
– In giving notice of questions I have frequently left the date blank, not knowing when the Senate would sit again.
– As regards the procedure which the honorable senator outlined, I have ascertained that it has not been the custom for some considerable time. Apparently it was dropped when the honorable senator went out of office. The procedure, however, seems to be a good one;, but frequently it happens that questions are asked on the spur of the moment, and honorable senators are then asked to give notice. Only one copy is handed to the Clerk, who has to get the- business-paper for the next day ready as soon as possible. That goes over to the Government Printer, and it seems to me that when the first pull of the proof comes back it might be submitted to the secretary to the Minister, who could then distribute the questions to the Departments concerned.
– That is what was done in the time I refer to.
– But I would point out that even when we assemble at 3 o’clock in the afternoon the questions would not reach many of the Departments until the next day, because, as a rule, they close at 4.30, though I am sorry to say the Defence Department does not close at that time now. Honorable senators will see, therefore, that we would be no further forward under that system than we are at present. The only other course appears to be to provide that two copies be handed in.
– That is the practice in some of the States at the present time.
– But unless it is provided for by our Standing Orders Ministers have no power to require members to do that, although it seems to me to be the best procedure. But even then a question asked on the Thursday frequently could not be answered on the Friday, because we are going through an abnormal time at present. Members know why we are only sitting two days a week, but when normal business is resumed no doubt we shall be sitting three days a week, and many of the difficulties that have arisen of late will then he obviated.
– I desire to allude to the matter which was brought up by Senator Keating as regards asking questions and giving notice. In the Senate the practice always has been to have the notice revised to see that it is in proper form before it goes to the Government Printer, and to get three or four proofs back as soon as possible. These are then made available for the secretaries of the Departments concerned. The difficulty would not be got over by doing as the Minister suggests, namely, that members should hand in notices of questions in duplicate, because our Standing Orders provide that only questions which are put in a certain form are admissible. Those questions have to be revised before they are allowed to go on the notice-paper, and it is only after this has been done that they are passed for the Government Printer. I think the practice of getting proof copies from the Government Printer and having them available for the secretaries will meet all requirements.
Question resolved in the affirmative. Senate adjourned at 11.62 a.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 28 May 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1915/19150528_senate_6_77/>.