8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) intimated that he had received a commission from His Excellency the Governor-General appointing him a Commissioner to swear in such members of the Senate as have not already taken and subscribed the oath of allegiance since their election to the Senate.
Commission read by the Clerk.
The following honorable senators made and subscribed the oath of allegiance: -
The PRESIDENT announced the receipt of a message from the House of Representatives acquainting the Senate, in accordance with the provisions of the Committee of Public Accounts Act, that Mr. Charlton, a member of the House of Representatives, had been appointed an additional member of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate if, in view’ of the decision, contrary to the ‘principles of MagnaCharta, given by Mr. Justice ‘Starke in the Jerger case, the Government will submit to both Houses of the Parliament a resolution for his removal from the High Court Bench?
– I am not aware that anything has been done that is contrary to the principles referred to.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act. - Regulations amended- Statutory Rules 1920, No. 109.
Defence Act. - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1920, Nos. 110, 118.
Defence Act. - Regulations amended.- Statutory Rules 1920, Nos. 104, 105, 108, 116.
Income Tax Assessment Act. - Regulations amended. - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 107.
Increase of Wealth (War). - Report from Select Committee of House of Commons.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at - Midland Junction, Western Australia - For Defence purposes. Seymour, Victoria. -For Defence purposes.
Northern Territory - Correspondence relating to Report of Royal Commissioner.
Papua.- Ordinances -
No. 10 of 1919 - Deputy Judges (Appointment).
No. 4 of 1920 - Supplementary Appropriation, 1918-19.
No. 5 of 1920 - Supplementary Appropriation (No. 1), 1919-1920.
Public Service Act; - Appointments and Promotions -
Prime Minister’s Department. - F. K. Steedman.
Deportment of Trade and Customs - 6. A. Blumer and J. P. Farrell G. A. Murray and C. J. Middleton.
Department of Works and Railways - H. G. Connell.
Public Service Act. - Promotion of F. W. H. Hay, Prime Minister’s Department.
Public Works Committee Act. - Fifth General Report.
War Precautions Act 1914-1918.- Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1920, No. 113.
War Service Homes Act - Land acquired at Chilwell, Geelong, Victoria.
– I ask the Leader of the Governmentin the Senate: Is it a fact that, in the correspondence between the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the ex-Treasurer (Mr. Watt),a statement appears to the effect that unless certain moneys were paid to the British Government, Australia was to be posted as a defaulter? If this is true, what is the reason for secrecy in this matter,and will the Government make the whole of the correspondence available to members of the Senate?
– The Government have already statedthat it is not in the public interest that parts of the correspondence referred to, other than those which have been published, should be made public. The honorable senator is aware that the portions of the correspondence deleted were omitted from the correspondence published with the approval of the Leader of his own party (Mr. Tudor) and the Leader of the Country party (Mr. McWilliams).
– Not with the approval of my party in the Senate. I should like to get an answer as to the particular part of the correspondence to which I have referred, as, if the statement made is incorrect, the rumours that are going about should be stopped.
– I have already answered the honorable senator’s question.
Public Departments : Administration.
– I have received an intimation from Senator Gardiner that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz. - “ The concentration of the administration in Melbourne to the inconvenience and detriment of the business people and others of Sydney and other capital cities.”
.- I move
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until one o’clock on Wednesday.
Four honorable senators having risen in their places in support of the motion,
– I am obliged to the Senate for giving me an opportunity of bringing this matter forward. Although the questions to which I shall refer are trivial, they are urgent and important. I desire to call the attention of the Senate to the necessity of altering the present system of administering Commonwealth Departments under which the most trivial matters have to be referred to Melbourne for decision, and this question is of importance to every honorable senator irrespective of the State he represents. I shall refer to the experiences in my own State, which, no doubt, are common to all the other States with the exception of Victoria. The Departments in Sydney are robbed of absolute authority in the most trivial matters, and questions of trifling importance have in all cases to be referred to Melbourne for decision, in consequence of which extraordinary delays take place. My reason for taking this extreme step is, that during a brief period of two hours, whenI was present at the parliamentary rooms in Sydney, two cases were brought under my notice in which citizens were inconvenienced by the stupid system in force. I shall briefly relate these two cases, as’ in doing so I shall bring under the notice of the Government the actual position. I have not looked for other than unimportant cases, because, if inconvenience is caused under such circumstances, it is easy to imagine that great inconvenience must arise when important issues are involved.
The first case that came under my notice was a simple one. A returned soldier, a young Sydney business man, was leaving by boat for America, and the law permits such persons to depart with fifteen sovereigns in their possession. This gentleman visited the Commonwealth Bank in an endeavour to obtain fifteen sovereigns in exchange for notes; but he could not get them. He came to me, and as the matter was a trivial one, I thought it could easily be adjusted. I, therefore, sent the following telegram to the Acting Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) who was in Melbourne : -
Returned soldier, Mr. Silver, desires fifteen sovereigns from the Treasury in exchange for notes. Leaving for America Wednesday. Passports all correct. Can you arrange?
That was my telegram to the Acting Treasurer, and I must congratulate him for his prompt reply, which read : -
Your telegram to-day, regret sovereigns in exchange for notes can be given only at the Commonwealth Treasury, Melbourne.
I ask honorable senators to try to realize the position, and consider the inconvenience caused to. persons who may be leaving Sydney by boat, when they have to travel to Melbourne to receive gold in exchange for notes. In this case, Mr. N Silver’s passports were in order, and I thought that this Government - particularly as they are supposed to he the friends of returned soldiers - would use some common sense on the matter. I therefore mentioned in my wire that the person concerned was a returned soldier, and I really expected that the Acting Treasurer would instruct the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney to pay over the required gold. I realize the importance of keeping gold in the country, but there is something more than that to be considered, and that is the question of maintaining our own reputation as reasonable business men. Having been unable to obtain gold in exchange for notes in .Sydney, this young man, when he reaches America, will lose some pounds - I am not sure how much, because I am not a financial expert - owing to the difference in exchange. These notes are. a promise to pay-
– In Melbourne. The Commonwealth Bank promises to pay ; but surely when Parliament was passing the Bill no one thought that citizens in one particular part of Australia would, in special circumstances, be inconvenienced in this way.
– The honorable senator assisted in passing that measure.
– Exactly. But when it was passed it was not a difficult matter to obtain gold in exchange for the notes that were then in circulation. There has been a change since then, .and the “ parrot” cry, “ You assisted in passing the law “ should not he repeated. 1 suppose I did assist as much a3 the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) did. When an Australian citizen is leaving for a brief visit to America, is it commonsense and fair play to compel him to take notes out of this country? I realize there is justice and reason in restricting the amount of gold that goes out of the country, as the position at present is serious, hut special consideration should be given in such a case as that I have mentioned. I remind honorable senators that in Melbourne all one has to do is to present the notes as the Acting -Treasurer suggests. But we have to consider the position in which residents in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart, Perth, or Fremantle are situated. This may be considered a trivial matter to bring before the Senate, but it is very important. Quite apart from this similar practices are indulged in in other Commonwealth Departments, and I trust the Government will take an early opportunity of altering the system. I am prepared to leave it at that.
Another case was brought under my notice - that of an Australian-born lady who, many years ago, had married an American, and who lost her rights as a British subject when she became an American citizen. Her husband is now deceased, and she is desirous of visiting England. As an Australian-horn person she applied for her passports, and the officers informed her that she could not receive them without a certificate from the American Consul. She approached the Consul, who gave her a letter saying that she was not an American citizen, and that the American law was to the effect that unless she took out naturalization papers she had to be dealt with as a citizen of the country to which she originally belonged.
– But the Australian law operates in Australia, not the American law.
– I am explaining why the American Consul could not give her a certificate. The lady visited the American Consul, who informed her that he would not issue a certificate because she was not an- American citizen, inasmuch as she had not taken out a certificate of naturalization after the death of her husband. The matter was referred to Melbourne. Can anything more stupid be imagined? Why is a trivial matter of this character not adjusted at the centre in which it arises? Here was an , Australian born woman, who was prevented from visiting Britain because she had married an American who had died some years ago. If trivial matters of this description cannot be adjusted in the State capitals other than Melbourne, surely the time has arrived when the Government should take action to remedy the evil.
– As one of the representatives of New South Wales, the capital of which now possesses a population of 800,000, I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without supporting the general remarks which have been made by Senator Gardiner in regard to the centralization of Commonwealth activities in Melbourne.
– His complaint would apply equally if the Seat of Government were in any other State.
– To some extent, I admit that it would. It was refreshing to me to hear a prominent exponent of Unification complaining of the evils of centralization. I have always contended that a vast continent cannot be efficiently governed from any one centre, and that what we need in the affairs of the Commonwealth is decentralization rather than centralization. I am sure that Senator Gardiner will appreciate the courtesy which was extended to him by those honorable senators who rose to their feet for the purpose of enabling him to submit his motion, seeing that they had been previously given no notice whatever of his intention in that connexion. I do not altogether complain of the difficulties which the Government are placing in the way of persons taking gold out of the Commonwealth. But I do complain that, until recently, any resident of Melbourne who was about to travel abroad could take out of this country up to fifty sovereigns, whilst the citizens of other State capitals did not occupy a similar position. A resident of Melbourne had only to go to the Treasury, present his passport, and get fifty sovereigns in exchange for Commonwealth notes. My complaint is that similar consideration was not extended to the citizens of any other State than Victoria.
– Doe3 the honorable senator suggest that there is a differentiating limit?
– No. What I say is that up till recently anybody presenting a passport at the Commonwealth Treasury in Melbourne could obtain up to fifty sovereigns in exchange for Commonwealth notes. Up to that amount the policy of the Treasury has been not to limit the number of sovereigns which go out of the country, but rather to make it difficult for a person living in any centre other than Melbourne to enjoy the same advantage. I know of one man who, before going abroad, travelled all the way from Sydney to this city in order to get gold in exchange for notes. Of course, it paid him to make the special trip, because at the present time sovereigns are worth 30s. almost everywhere. But this policy differentiates in favour of the residents of one particular city.
It is common knowledge, too, that in the Customs Department even small matters of administration cannot be settled! in Sydney, although the trade and commerce of that city are considerably more than are the trade and commerce of Melbourne.1 I have always held that officials who are fitted to represent the Commonwealth in a large centre such as Sydney should be vested with more discretionary powers in order that the pinpricks from which the public suffer might not be so numerous. The Minister for Repatriation knows that, to some extent, the same complaint can be urged in regard to his Department.
But I wish to specially emphasize the difficulties which exist in connexion with the administration of the Commonwealth Taxation Department. I have yet to learn that the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation in any of the States has taken upon himself the responsibility with which he is charged under the law. As the result of my own experience, I know that altogether too many matters relating to ‘taxation are referred to Melbourne. Probably I shall be told by way of reply that there must he some standard of administration throughout the continent, and. that these frequent references to Melbourne are necessary in order to insure the preservation of that standard. But I happen to know that these evils occur chiefly because the Deputy Commissioners of Taxation in the State capitals are not encouraged to exercise the discretionary powers which are- properly vested in them.
Time after’ time I have complained in this Chamber of the undue centralization of business in Melbourne. I feel sure that the revenues of tha Railway Departments of both. Now South Wales and Victoria ha.ve been very considerably added to by reason of the numerous journeys which business men have been obliged to make in order that they might personally present their cases to the officials at head-quarters.
– That is a good thing for the revenue.
– But it is a bad thing for the citizen. It is particularly obnoxious to the business community of Sydney in connexion with their daily dealings. Let me refer briefly to what occurred only a few weeks ago. His Majesty’s Australian Navy was polluting the waters of beautiful Sydney harbor with oil.
– Send it to Melbourne.
– When complaints were made, it was found that the Sydney Harbor Trust commissioners had no jurisdiction whatever over His Majesty’s ships, and consequently could not .enforce the penal provisions of the Harbor Trust Act with a view to preventing such pollution. But instead of these complaints being settled in Sydney they had to be referred to Melbourne. I do not regard that as a fair thing. Still another illustration came under my notice the other day, when I found that even the stationery which honorable senators use in connexion with the discharge of their parliamentary duties has now to be obtained from Melbourne. Certainly it cannot be secured in Sydney by the representatives of New South Wales.
I stand here not as .a Unificationist, not as one who believes that the whole of the detailed affairs of the Commonwealth can be satisfactorily administered from one centre, but as one who has always been a believer in decentralization. Now that the war is over, and the urgent necessity for centralization has passed, it should be the policy of the Government to decentralize the powers of administration in the various important centres of the States, and prevent so many references to Melbourne, which are often long de-, laved and finally decided wrongly. _
– I do not know whether it is the change of environment or not, but on coming over to this side, I find myself in complete accord with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Gardiner), on the first question that he has brought before the Senate. I refer to the payment of cash to anybody who wants to travel. The law of the country, and it is a very good law, is that the amount of gold that any one make take out of the country shall be limited. Senator Gardiner says that the amount i= £15, and Senator Pratten says it is £50.
– It was £50 until recently.
– Then, I understand, it has now been reduced to £15. Facilities to get that amount of gold ought to be accorded to the people. It is the law of the country, and the people of Sydney, Brisbane, and other cities ought to have exactly the same facilities as the people of Melbourne have. I know it is the case, and has to be the case, that notes on a large scale can be exchanged for gold only in one centre. That was unavoidable. But where the law is that any citizen .travelling to another country may take a certain amount of gold with him, it is only fair that the people in the other capital cities should have the same facilities as those of Melbourne. It would not be hard for the Government to make a provision of that sort by regulation. I think it could te done without the necessity of an amendment of the Act. A trifling matter of that sort should easily be arranged, and it is the small matters that are often’ most irritating. I am sorry that Senator Pratten has found cause to complain of the doings of the Fleet in Sydney Harbor. If he wants a fine bay to float the Fleet on, Port Phillip is always available.
– For the reason, I suppose, that it could not possibly pollute the waters here.
– The waters of Port Phillip are so pure that they would stand any amount of pollution. This is really a lovely harbor, with any amount of room to float the Fleets of the world. Sydney is getting very congested, and I quite appreciate Senator Pratten’s suggestion, that the Fleet might be moved to Melbourne.
– The discussion this afternoon revives the eternal problem of centralization versus decentralization. Everybody in theory, believes in the decentralization of administration, but the trouble always arises when one attempts to carry it out. The instances brought forward to-day to show the foolishness of ‘the present system are most unfortunate from the point of view of the honorable senator who moved this motion. Senator Pratten, who followed, admitted that there must be a standard applicable to all the States. Not one of the cases brought forward to-day could have been determined locally without opening the door to a want of that uniformity.
The first case Senator Gardiner instanced was that of a citizen soldier who sought to convert notes into gold in Sydney. A law was passed here. to which Senator’ Gardiner was a party, by which, for obviously good reasons, if one accepts the principle of the Act, it was provided that Commonwealth notes should not be convertible, except at one spot. If every bank everywhere had been made liable to pay gold upon demand, we could never have hoped to carry on our present system with so small a percentage of gold as we do to-day. I do not think any one denies that it was necessary for the purposes of the Australian Notes Act to have redemption only at one point. It is the accident of circumstances that that one point happened to be Melbourne, and Senator Gardiner’s argument would be equally applicable if the Seat of Government were anywhere else. The inconvenience occasioned by the later law prohibiting the export of gold brings forward’ a fresh set of circumstances of which I willingly admit that we ought to take notice ; but it seems to me that Senator Gardiner’s suggested cure would be worse than the evil. He suggested that we could instruct the banks. We cannot do that. If we did, every bank in Sydney - and there must be thirty or forty of them - would have had to be armed with the £15 in gold’ which the soldier wanted, because no one could know to which bank he would present his notes. It is impossible to give such an instruction, even if we had the legal authority to compel the banks to carry it out, seeing that the banks themselves can only redeem in Melbourne. The incident illustrates the possibility, which is evidently in Senator Fairbairn’s mind, that some arrangement , might reasonably be made by which, when a man obtained his passport, he should be able at some central office in each capital city to get the gold he required within the limit allowed. That might be done under the sanction of a Customs officer, or at the Commonwealth Bank, but clearly it can be done only at one bank. I am going as far as I can when I say that the suggestion commends itself to me. and that I shall place it before my colleagues to see if something cannot be done in that direction.
As to the case of the lady who, without a nationality, sought to obtain a passport, had any officer in Sydney, or in any other city, issued it to her in the circumstances, he would have shown himself unfit to hold his position. There was a point of law involved, and, however hard the case May have been, it is not within the province of any official, outside the Crown Law officers, to determine a matter of that kind. .According to the Australian law, that lady was an American. According to the American law, she is a Britisher. But it is the Australian law, and not the American, that prevails here. That lady was legally an American, and she sought the privileges of a. British subject to which she was not entitled. No officer is entitled to tear up the law. The law may be wrong, but it is not within the competency of any officer to interpret it as he likes, or to ignore it if he thinks it inflicts a hardship on an individual. All he can do in that case is to refer the matter to head-quarters. What would happen if what Senator Gardiner suggested had taken place? ‘Supposing six individuals, circumstanced as this lady was, had presented themselves in the capital cities of each of the six States, and the local officer had decided to act as he thought best; three might have acted in one way, ?.nd three in another. They could not all be right. .This is clearly a case involving a legal point of considerable interest as to what is nationality and what is not, and only the Crown Law officers can determine it. Any officer who had ventured to stretch the Act, no matter how great the hardship, and to become his own lawmaker, would not only be exceeding^ his duty, but would exceed also any fair measure of responsibility that we could ask him to carry. I should not like to say whether that woman can, unless she takes out papers of naturalization, recover her citizenship here. We have just passed a law dealing with that subject. Surely we do not pass laws to have them ignored’ or torn up to suit the convenience of individuals ? The lady will be well advised, in her own interests, to take the steps set out in our law to restore her citizenship.
– Will you tell me the steps she has to take ? I should like her to know them.
– The honorable senator oan hardly expect me to recall the Act, but there are provisions by which - if she is not a British subject, and it seems to me that under our law she is not - she can take the steps which any other person could take to apply for Australian citizenship. I have no doubt that this was one of those hard cases which will occur under the best of laws, but the fact that an occasional case of that kind turns up does not justify us in denouncing the whole system or the law itself.
Senator Pratten said that some time ago people could obtain £50 worth of gold at the Commonwealth Treasury in Melbourne, and seemed to me rather to suggest by implication that Melbourne people were in some way or other favoured as against the people in other States-.
– They had to call personally at the Treasury in Melbourne.
– They were favoured, not by the law, but by the circumstances of their residence. It was a law equally applicable everywhere. It said, ‘ ‘ You can get gold only at one place.” This, of course, is an unavoidable differentiation, and there are no possible means by which it may be overcome.
– Could not the Commonwealth Bank in Sydney be instructed to issue gold ?
– I have already dealt with the possibility of making some arrangement by- means of which the people in each State may be able to get some redress, but it is not possible to overcome the disability of residence. If, for instance, we made an arrangement for the payment of gold in Sydney, residents of, say, Bathurst, might claim that they were handicapped as compared with, the residents of Sydney. Therefore, it is impossible to so arrange this matter as Jo confer absolute equality of privilege upon everybody. Senator Pratten said there was nothing in the law to prevent redress being given, and I point out that it is the accident of location, and not the law, that creates this disability.
– And the administration of the law.
– No, because the law states that the notes can be converted only at one place.
– I would like you to quote that law.
– It is clearly set out on the face of the notes themselves. I do not happen to have a note at the moment, but if any honorable senator will produce one and read it, he will find that it is issued on the express condition that it shall be convertible at one place only.
– That law did not prevent the Government from doing what I have said.
– Perhaps not, nor would it prevent a Government or an official from doing fifty other foolish things. I have already said that I recognise, now the war is over, that some convenience might be provided for citizens in the other States by allowing people in each capital city to obtain gold in exchange for notes up to the limit allowed by the Act.
Let me now deal with the third instance referred to by Senator Pratten, viz., the pollution of Sydney Harbor. I . did not