8th Parliament · 1st Session
Thepresident (Senator theHon.T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m.,and read prayers. paper.
The following paper was presented : -
Defence.-Commonwealth Government Factories -
Reports for year ended30thJune,1920.
SenatorCOX asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice-
– The answers are -
Bill received from the House of Representatives, and (on motion by Senator Russell) read a first time.
Debate resumed from 21st July (vide page 10415), on motion by Senator E. D: millen–
That this Bill be now read a second time.
– I joinwith two or three previous speakers in protesting against what has apparently become a custom in the Senate, of having a Supply Bill brought here from another place and of asking honorable senators to pass votes amounting to nearly £5,000,000 in the twinkling of an eye.
– There is time for the honorable senator to say all that he has to say.
– This Bill was received in the Senate only last evening, and it is quite unreasonable to expect that it shall be put through to-day if fair discussion is to be allowed of the various matters with which it deals. I may be somewhat slow in grasping matters of such magnitude, but I object to being asked to consent to the voting of nearly £5,000,000 in so short a time. During the war we learned many lessons which should be of great advantage to us; but, because of it, I am afraid that we have got into a number of very bad habits in dealing with public expenditure. It is quite time that the Senate gave reasonable consideration to the de tails of public expenditure. If honorable senators had been given an opportunity to thoroughly discuss the details of expenditure in the past a great deal of money that has been wasted might have been saved to the community. Last night I was informed that this was merely a machinery Bill, and that it was not necessary to discuss its details as most of the matters with which it is concerned have alreadybeenconsidered.Iremindhonorable senatorsthat the Bill covers the expenditure of nearly £5,000,000, and though the items may have been previously considered in different circumstances, that is no reason why they should not be subjected to close criticism now.
-Can the honorable senator point to any special vote which might have been saved with more mature consideration by the Senate?
SenatorWILSON. - I am astonished that Senator Earle should ask. such a question, in view of the information placed beforeus last night, and the discoveries about which we, as public men, were previously informed.
– Does the honorable senator think that, with more mature consideration of items of Supply, money might have been saved in connexion with the administration of the War Service Homes Department?
– My honorable friend will have an. opportunity to deal with the Bill, and he will excuse me if I continue to present my own ideas concerning it to the Senate.
Thisis virtually a wages Bill, and in this connexion we might give some consideration to the appointments which have been made within the Public Service within the last twelve months. Honorable senators are aware that some little time ago I asked for details ofappointments made in the Commonwealth Public Service during the last twelve months. Those details were supplied, and I am sure that every member of the Senate was as astonished as I was myself at the enormous additional expenditure involved in the appointment of officers to higher positions than those which they previously held. Some of these increases of salary given to officers passing from one Department to another, run into hundreds of pounds. I do not intend to be personal in my references to this matter, as honorable senators have been supplied with a list of the appointments to which I refer.
– The honorable senator might recognise, as the return to which he refers shows, that a large majority of the appointments were civil appointments, to take the place of military appointments in the mandated Territories.
– The Minister is right as to some of the appointments included in the return, but not as to others.
– The honorable senator’s reply neither affirms nor denies my statement ; but the return itself will proveit.
– It proves that many officers were transferred from one Department to another, in some cases with increases of salary running up to £500 per year.I have said thatI do not care to be personal in my references to these appointments; but as my objection has been challenged, I take the case of Mr. Shepherd, who was formerly Secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department, and was transferred to London, and his salary increased to £2,000 a year. This is at a time when we are talking about economy.
– The new salary is only equal to what the previous salary was before the war.
– It has been increased by 100 per cent., and while apparently those increases can be given to the more highly paid officials, they are not given to the lower-paid officers of the Public Service.
– Yes. The basic wage has been applied to the Public Service.
– That does not represent a 100 per cent. increase in salaries.
– It does, on pre-war rates.
– I think that we should give serious consideration to the growth of public expenditure in this countrywith its small population. Honorable senators listened to the disclosures made last night by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen). It is regrettable that the Commonwealth should have been involved in so many un fortunate undertakings. The results should teach us that it is quite time that the Government confined themselves absolutely to the functions of Government. The attempts that have been made to engage in trade and commerce have been quite outside the scope of the proper duties of an Administration. On every occasion upon which a Government has invaded this field of operations we have had eye-openers at the finish.
The methods adopted in the handling of public moneys by the various Departments require considerable tightening up. The practice is to issue Treasury warrants to the different Departments. These warrants are issued for lump sums from time to time, and I am of opinion that the sooner the Commonwealth Treasurer controls details of the expenditure of public moneys, the better it will be for this country. I might, as an illustration, mention a Department that has the spending of a great deal of money. The manager has certain duties to perform, and is answerable to a Board, the Board to the Minister, the Minister to the Treasurer, and the Treasurer to the Cabinet. That was our experience of a spending Department in connexion with an inquiry recently held. It was almost impossible to hold any particular officer responsible for excess expenditure. In view of the disclosures in connexion with the administration of the War Service Homes Department, it is evident that there has been considerable leakage there, and a real necessity for the tightening up of the system in order to prevent any one individual being in a position to enter into contracts involving huge expenditure without being answerable to some one at an early date. If the Treasury had been fully protected, thatkind of thing could never have continued in the War Service HomesDepartment as long as it did. Are honorable senators aware that, in respect of the examination of the accounts of some Departments of the Commonwealth Public Service, the Auditor-General is from eighteen months to two years behind with his work ? How could any ordinary business be carried on on such lines? How could a business man expect to carry on his business successfully if, for eighteen months or two years, he did no auditing of his accounts to discover where he was? If a private concern were carried on on those lines, and the owner of the business was found to be insolvent at the close of such a term, he would probably have to “ do time “ under the laws of his country.
– Some know from month to month how they stand.
– A business man, carrying on his affairs on up-to-date commercial lines, knows how he stands, at least, once a quarter. How is it possible to hold a Minister responsible for a Department if there has been no audit of its accounts for eighteen months or two years ?
SenatorRowell. - We must increase the staff of the Auditor-General.
– If that is necessary it is the duty of the Auditor-General to see that he is given an increased staff. We cannot hold Ministers responsible in this connexion. I understand that the powers of the AuditorGeneral are supreme, and if he requires more assistanceto carry out the work of his Department there is nothing to prevent him getting it. A continuous audit of public accounts would prevent the occurrence of such transactions as have been recently disclosed.
In a statement which he made in another place the day before yesterday, Sir Joseph Cook admitted that hehad not seen a balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers for two years. Canthis sort of thing go on? It is absurd that the Line should have its head office in London. The proper place for the head office, and for those who govern the shippingof this country, is here, at the Seat of Government, so that the whole business may be under control, and we may be able to obtain areply at any moment to any question we desire to put. Instead of that, all that the Treasurer can assure us is that he has been sending Treasury warrants to carry on, and the system has grown, through the war, into such a condition of laxity that the sooner we tighten the whole business up toprevent the wicked waste that is occurring in connexion with our public administration, the better it will be for all concerned. I sympathize with any Minister who has to try to carry on and do his best in the public interest under conditions of this sort.
Senator Pearce.ItwasnottheTreasurer who made the statement about the Commonwealth Line of Steamers, but Mr. Gregory.
– The record shows that Mr. Gregory asked, “Is it a fact, as stated in this morning’s papers, that no balance-sheet has been presented for two years?” To which the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook replied, “ The accounts are kept in London.” Then Mr. Gregory said, “ Surely we can get a balance-sheet,” and the Treasurer replied, “I am going to try.”
– I have seen them all within three days, except the last one, but we have had the facts of that one cabled to us from London, which is our head office for shipping.
– When the Treasurer says that he is going to “ try “ to get a balance-sheet, there is something wrong.
– The Treasurer may not have seen it personally, but he is not the Minister controlling shipping. That is Senator’s Russell’s work.
– I am stillof opinion that theTreasurer, who has the absolute control of the finances, should see. all balance-sheets.
– You said there was no balance-sheet available.
– I did think that that was so.
– Then it is not so.
– I am pleased to have that assurance, but I am still of opinion that the head office of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers should be at the Seat of Government, and that the Minister,to whom alone Parliamentcan look to protect the funds of this country, should be right on the spot at the head office.
Recently we had the experience of Sir Joseph Cook being the final referee in regard to a long routine of public expenditure, passing from the general manager of a big concern in Sydney, through different Boards, and through another Minister, until it reached him, -and he took a definite stand.He said the amount of his warrant had been exceeded, and stopped further expenditure. I am very pleased that we have men like Sir Joseph Cook in office who are prepared to accept the responsibility, on occasions of that sort, of taking what may be a very unpopular, but at the same time a very justifiable stanch, and one which it was his duty to take, on behalf of the taxpayers. A great deal of opposition hasbeen expressed to the action of the Treasurer in that matter, but where shall we find ourselves unless there is absolute and complete authority at the head of our affairs ? Those who are answerable directly to Parliament must know the whole of the: facts regarding the. expenditure of all public money.
To me a Bill of this sort coming before Parliament opens up whatis the foundationofresponsible economic, and successful government. We must put the peg in with our public expenditure, but, at all times, with due regard to efficiency. I am not an economist gone mad. I am an economist who says that the public are entitled to20s. worth of value for every £1 of their money. All the laxity that has grown up must end, and so must the ambition that exists in many Government Departments to make them larger. I tell the men in those Departments frankly that if I were thereI would do thesame astheydo. If a Department is started, the natural ambition of the man placed in chargeofitis to build it up into a huge concern to make his own position bigger and better. It would be mine, at any rate.
– Who is to blame?
– Parliament isto blame for allowingittogoon.
– It is the public that are to blame. They want these public utilities.
-The taxpayers elect us; to. act as a. brake in: these- masters. It is a: responsibility which’, wet owe to the. taxpayers; to go« fully into the- details of public: undertakings! 1 do “not. wish to shirk my duty in that regard*, air though L admit, that in many circumatances: the public; are- most: unfair and unreasonable, but that is perhaps, due to> the fact that, they have’ not the information that we-, enjoy.
– I’ assure’ the* honor* able- senator that in the- case of Government factories, of which I’ control the majority; the- greatest- pressure I get- from Parliament is to extend” tlienr.
– The- fact that the Minister is asked to- extend the output of ai, factory on proper economic and- conrciereiasl fines- is; no. argument in- favour of building up: Departments’ and adding- to the number of. persons employed in them.
– We cannot extend afactory without increasing’ the staff.
– Surely the Minister does not compare an ordinary administrative Department, with a- manufacturing Department? I have already said that if the Auditor-General wants extra men, and. has work for them to do,, ha must be allowed to get. them. The public cannot have the protection of the Auditor-General’s office unless . the Auditor-General is allowed to appoint capable men and pay them properly.
– Would not the honorable senator, find it difficult to- justify to the South Australian, people economy in any Commonwealth activity in. South Australia ?
– I regret that the honorable senator’s recent visit to South Australia did” not reveal to him the fact, that that State is one of the best and most economically governed, in. theCommonwealth.
Senator-Reid. - I meant from a Fede-
EaL point of. view.
– Whilst I am a member of the Senate, I am not. going: to taker the parochial attitude of saying that my own State must have privileges which other States do not get. I am always prepared on general lines- to lay down the principle of efficiency, coupled with economy for the whole Commonweal thj and not for any individual State:
SenatorReid. - But you, know the diSfccul’ty of- economizing in one’s own- States
– I am in favour of” economy, State and Federal, in my
– Then, point out one item that you can. economize on in. South Australia,.-and I will support you..
– The- honorable senator asked me on genera! principles if I believed in economy, and I said “ Yes:” Peshaps the- Minister for Defence can poin* out some’ general/ way im which we can- study economy in. South Australia.
– I can- mention one item- which is being’ strongly pressed on tnc Government- by the Taxpayers-‘ League. They asre urging us’ not’ to go on with the’ north-south railway.
– I do not mind the Taxpayers’ League. That -Tail-way is the “ stalking . horse “ of . one of my iionorable friends, who is always battling to ipnsb. on to >an intelligent public a bush ‘capital which is not wanted. I am prepared ‘tD support a railway to the . Northern Territory when I . am satisfied -as ; to the iroate it should ‘take , and the ..country it should develop. ^Australian public men must realize that we must- either develop . the Northern Territory . or lose it. . JFive million people cannot hold . a Territory of that . sort . on the dog-in-the-manger policy when just . across . the . water rthere jaase nations whose people are starving far country : to develop. . The responsibility rests ouithe Commonwealth –of developing ihe . Northern Territory . or of saying to those people “ Oome and /help yourselves.-“ To play , off the . question of thernorfih-isouth railway against the question of -the Capital at Canberra is mere ‘bartering. I am sure the Senate will decide each public question on its sown merits. We are not going to iargain -with New South Wales or Victoria =as to whether we shall advocate -what we “believe to be in the -best imterests of the Common-wealth.
– And true economy.
– And true economy, although the honorable senator says it sneeringly. I am not going to take the -responsibility of ‘saying whether the time is ripe to build the north-south railway with the present high cost of labour and enormous cost of material. A Committee bas been . sent through the country to make the f ullest inquiries about the best route, and when its report comes before the Senate I hope honorable senators . will be big and bold enough to treat the question on its merits as one of developmental ipolicy for <the whole Commonwealth, and not get down to the petty, bickering idea of “You give us Canberra, and we will -give you the north-south railway.” To me that system of settling public questions is most objectionable.
– Who ever said that to . you ?
– I notice that my -honorable friend . seldom speaks about Canberra without retorting about the north-south railway.’
– And when the north-south railway is mentioned ‘to you, you retort -with Canberra.
– Not at all. So long as I am ‘here T intend to treat every case on its merits.
I (hope that in the future we shall hawe (greater time for the icansideration’of Supply Bills. A. JBiM of ithis description Should be in four . hands at ‘least’ ‘three «r four (days . before we are asked to ‘discuss it, so tha’t we «an make ourselves «onversaitt with «very ‘detail of ‘the ‘exneniiture -proposed.
SenatorE.D.Millen. - If tne ‘honorable senator only wants “the Bill in his hands tnree -or -four -days, before -he is -asked ‘to discuss : it, I may Ml him that it was placed in lis hands when it “was introduced in another place.
-I . give that statement an absolute denial.
SenatorEarle. - I have had -theBill all the- week.
– Perhaps the honiorable senator isprivileged. I , am . not. The Supply Bill was . not in mybox.
– The ; ncnor able senator . must ihave ‘.known that the imeasuze was before another place.
SenatorWILSON . -I -did .
– If the honorable senator was as keenly anxious . concerning the deta’ils of the Bill . as he . is concerning economy, ‘he could have obtained a copy.
– I did not know that it was part and parcel of my duty as . an honorable senator to search around another place to obtain . a copy of a Bill which should be . supplied -to me here.
SenatorE. D. Millen. - The honorable senator could have obtained a -copy from the messenger.
-Iunderstoodthat Bills were supposed to be placed at the disposal of honorable senators without making such an application.
-I shall seethat the honora’ble senator is furnished to-morrow with every document which is now current relating to finance.
– I thank honorable senators for the ‘consideration extended to me, and I trust that, on the next occasion when a Supply Bill is submitted to this Chamber, we shall have sufficient time to discuss the items in the schedule, because there -is every justification for a tightening up of the present ‘system in an endeavour to effect economy wherever possible. I do not wish to leave an impression in the minds of honorable senators that I have been criticising the administration of individual Ministers. My remarks have been directed mainly towards the; administration generally, because we appear to have been following a very loose system. The Auditor-General’s report is eighteen months behind, and I nave been making these comments in an endeavour to assist the Government.
– The paper I laid on the table shows that that is not true as a general statement, because I submitted the Auditor-General’s report on the work of certain factories.
– I was referring only to certain Departments, and stated what had been given in sworn, evidence.
– I have always considered it somewhat futile to discuss a partial financial statement such as - is embodied in a Supply Bill. I understand that the Estimates for the present financial year are to be submitted some time in September, and any comments I may offer will be in an endeavour to assist the Government in framing the Estimates, and making them as palatable to the electors as we possibly can, because there is every probability of the Government having a very rough passage when they are submitted. As a member of the National party, and a supporter of the Government, it is my wish to make the task of Ministers as easy as possible, -and I am endeavouring to do that by asking them to frame the Estimates in accordance with what they know to be the wishes of the people.
I desire in the first place to refer to comments made by Senator Wilson concerning the publication of the balancesheets of our great ship-building enterprise. I understood the Minister (Senator Bussell) to say that the balance-sheets are. in his possession.
– All of them with the exception of last year’s, which are being, held up pending the receipt of certain cabled particulars.
– Have they been published ?
– Yes, from time to time.
– Not in the press. . ,
– Not m full; but certain extracts have been made available.
– The money expended in this and other directions has been contributed by the taxpayers, and the balance-sheets should be published as is the case in connexion with private business concerns. The Government are merely managers for the people, and I trust that the Minister will give ‘consideration to my request, so that the taxpayers who have to shoulder these liabilities may-have some knowledge of how th’e money is being disbursed.
I felt very much discouraged after the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) had made his statement concerning the administration of the War Service Homes Department. I have always felt that Governments were quite incap- able of undertaking huge enterprises of this character, and the disclosures of the Minister last night proved my assumption to be correct. If the Minister for Repatriation, whom I look upon as an able politician and business man, cannot successfully administer such a huge public undertaking, nobody can. What did the Minister do when he started this great Department? Soldiers were returning from abroad in very large numbers, .and the feeling amongst the community was that everything should be done to assist them in being repatriated, and established in comfortable homes. Parliament directed the Minister for. Repatriation to build houses for these men, and at the outset he had to construct offices. He then had to select a Commissioner, who was to receive a comparatively small salary, to handle a very large sum of money.
– Approximately £14,000.000.
– Yes,- and the salary allowed, was only £1,500 a year. The Minister for Repatriation was further handicapped because the head of the Department had to be a returned soldier, and it was difficult to secure from a number of comparatively young men one who had sufficient commercial and adminis- trative experience to successfully control the work. Notwithstanding this difficulty, the Minister had to delegate important powers to the officer selected. Apparently, the Minister had everything against him, because many of his officers appeared to be working in opposition to him, and even deceiving him in every possible way. There is no doubt that in those days we did not, and we do not now, desire to apply hard business principles to returned- soldiers who have done so much for us, -but to treat them in a humanitarian way. But in endeavouring to help them, perhaps, some injustice has -been inflicted, and, personally, I would rather have been. an umpire at a football match than have undertaken such a difficult task. I do not think the Minister for Repatriation will say, on looking back, that he has always been right, because we all make mistakes. Buthe has made less than most men would have made. The Minister has numerous duties to perform, and he has also the responsibility of leading the Senate, which, in itself, should be sufficient for one man.
– In spite of its good manners.
– Yes. It is a most strenuous task. It is time the Government realized that much of the work that has been undertaken by Governments should be left to private enterprise. When I heard the Minister’s statement I naturally asked what the Treasury could have been doing, because the Minister said that in passing the Estimates we had allowed £160,000 for the purchase of houses, and nearly £3,000,000 for the building of new residences.
– Provision was made for a trust account, from which the Commissioner could replenish his funds by draft lump sums from the Treasury.
– That gave Lieut. -Colonel Walker an opportunity to “ get at” the whole account.
– I would not say that, but it permitted the expenditure of money for one purpose which, according to the Estimates, was intended for another purpose.
-I do not know what expression could be strong enough to convey one’s opinion concerning some of the disclosures made yesterday, and I trust that the delinquents who have brought us into this position are not to be allowed to go free, because they should be compelledto bear their share of the responsibility. If such acts had been committed in the employ of private enterprise, dismissal would not have been the end of it, because they have been diverting funds and usingthem under false pretences. The instructions of the Minister have been ignored, and money wrongly spent. Some of the officers are responsible for criminal acts, and I trust the Minister for Repatriation will secure legal ad viceto see if definite charges cannot be laid: against those who have ignored his instructions in this- regard.
– The honorable senator must remember that great pressure was brought to bear upon that particular Department. Houses that were available were offered, and men were prepared to go into them.
– I do not care what happened, the officers were not justified in acting as they did. The head of the Department could have approached the Treasurer, who should have been informed as to the money available. The true position would then have been before the Government, and they would have had an opportunity of amending their policy if they so desired.
– The responsibility would then have been the Minister’s, and not the Commissioner’s.
– Yes, and that would have been the proper course to adopt.
The Bill provides for the expenditure of £630 in connexion with the Bureau of Commerce and Industry. We have a number of these Departments growing up around us, including the Bureau of Science and Industry, which. I opposed when it was established. I- trust that before the Estimates are dealt with the Government will endeavour to amalgamate some of these Departments. Mr. Knibbs. who has done magnificent work, and is known the world over as one of the finest statisticians, has been taken away from his Department and placed in charge of a. scientific branch of the Government’s activities. I do not know that the appointment can be regarded as a good one, because, although Mr. Rnibbs may be a splendid organizer, I do not think he can be termed a scientist. Then there is the Bureau of Commerce and Industry. I shouldlike to see balancesheets of all these Government activities published every year.
– At present we do not know what we are spending.
– The public should know, and if balance-sheets were published regularly we should be in a position to say whether they are justified or. not. I doubt if any honorable senator can say how much money has been spent in connexion with the Bureau of Commerce and Industry.
– Or what it is doing.
– We have had reports from time to time; but I do not thank they have made any reference to the financial position of this institution. Ihave heard it said that it is costing £7,000 a year. In ray opinion, it might very well be amalgamated with the Board of Trade, the functions of which are similar. I hopethe Minister will take a note of the suggestion, because if we could show that some of thesebig Departments are being amalgamated, and if proper balancesheets were published annually, we would be able to assure the public, perhaps, that their money was being wisely employed. A little while ago the Bureau ofCommerce and Industry attempted to launch an ambitious woollen-manufacturing scheme, but without success. A number of private companies have been established of late, and I doubt very much whether such a scheme as that suggested by the Bureau is now required at all. The Minister might inform us of its activities, and say whether, in his opinion, it could be amalgamated with the other Department to which I have referred. The head of any Government Department, if he is energetic at all, is always endeavouring to enlarge it, so if, by amalgamation of some of these Departments, we could deal with only one instead of four or five heads, there would be a much better prospect of effecting economy. The natural instinct, even of members of Parliament, is to induce the Government to spend public money; but I think I can say that I am one of the least offenders in. that respect. I do not recollect ever having asked the Government to spend public money in this State, and so I am a true economist.
– There is no necessity to make that request, because the money is being spent in Victoria.
SenatorFAIRBAIRN.- I think the Federal Government are spending very little money in this State.
I cannot indorse Senator Wilson’s advocacy of the North-South railway, although he put the case very well. He drew attention to the fact that there were teeming millions of people to the north, just a little way off, and used that as an argument for the construction of the line; but these teeming millions have been there for thousands of years. If they had wanted to occupy the Northern Territory they could have done so thousands of years ago. The Javanese have come down several times, I believe, but they have never stayed there.
– The railway would bring them south.
– I have heard the construction of the line advocated from a defence point of view; but I think that to construct it for that purpose would be the worst thing in the world to do, because if any enemies landed in the Northern Territory, the railway would enable them to come south. This argument reminds me of the story of. a woman, who, frightened of burglars, got her husband’s golf stick and placed it alongside the bed at night, hut. her husband advised her to “Put it away, because a burglar would probably hit them with it.” The same may be said of this railway. If it is built, and if any prospective enemy is foolish enough to land in the Northern Territory, he will use the line to enable himto come south.
– I think the military authorities were dead against the railway for that reason.
– From a defence point of view, to build that line would be the worst thing we could do. I know, of course, that honorable senators from South Australia have to push their barrow a little bit, and, therefore, we need to treat this matter seriously for the next: twenty years, anyway. Some day, no doubt, the agreement with South Australia with regard to the railway may have to be carried out. I was a member of another place when the Northern Territory was taken over from South Australia, and did my level best to prevent the. Commonwealth from completing the agreement, because I felt that South Aus tralia was managing the Territory quite as well as the Commonwealth was likely to do; but the reply always was - “We want to spend money up there, in order that the Territory may be developed properly.” Ifthe Commonwealth had not taken over the Territory, it is highly probable that the agreement then being negotiated with a large English company for the construction of a line and the development of the Territory, on the lines of the Canadian-Pacific Railway Company, would have been completed, and the railway constructed years ago.
– You think, then, that it would have paid a private company to build the line, but not the Government ? They could not float the company in London.
– The Territory was taken over because of the desire that the Government should do all this pioneering work, but history teaches us that in all pioneering enterprises the pioneer goes down and the next man succeeds. The proposal that the Government should launch out into this huge expenditure on pioneering work in the Northern Territory was insanity.
I do not wish to detain the Senate, because I know another place expects the return of the Bill this afternoon. I hope that, before we get on to the main Estimates, the. Government will be able to state that definite action has been taken to amalgamate some of the existing Departments, so that the people may be assured that economy and efficiency are being aimed at, and that the administrative control of the various Departments is not being conducted in a haphazard way.
Senator E. D. MILLEN (New South
Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [11.50]. - I should like to inform Senator Fairbairn that a balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers has been published, and, indeed, laid on the table of the Senate. Naturally, the document was not available as promptly as we would have liked it to be, because the head office is in London. The balance-sheet for the year, to the 30th June last, is not here yet.
– Is it necessary to have the head office in London?
– The honorable senator is now raising another point, upon which I am not qualified to speak; but I assume that Mr. Larkin, the manager of the line, thinks it advisable . to ‘ have his head office at the centre of the world’s shipping. I am only answering the honorable senator’s complaint that the balance-sheet has not been published. It is not so early as we would like, of course, because of the time required to get London information which has to be audited before it is sent out. Senator Russell has already informed the Senate that the cabled particulars are to hand, but cannot be presented as an official balancesheet until confirmed by the documents. May I say, in the most kindly way possible, that I think those honorable senators who make complaints are under some little obligation first to find out whether they themselves are to blame, or whether the Government have been remiss.
– I will get the Minister to show me that balance-sheet.
– Here is the paper.
– I should like to see it in the public press.
– The Government cannot take any responsibility for what appears, or does not appear, in the press. AllthattheGovernmentcando, and all that the Government is required to do, is to make the information available to members of the Parliament. But I exonerate myself, and other honorable senators, from any lapse of knowledge concerning these documents. They come in so rapidly and accumulate in such numbers that it is beyond the capacity of any member to make himself familiar with the contents of all.
– That is a reason why we should limit Government activities.
– We might, of course, abolish the shipping line, and thereby cut out one activity.But that is not the point upon which’ I desired to speak. All I am saying is that the request which the honorable senator made is being complied with.
I comenow to the question raised by Senator Senior in relation to the retirement of certain postal officials in South
Australia. An important legal point is involved in that issue, in spite of the decision of the Court, andas I told the honorable senator the other day, the Government is bringing the matter under the notice of the Crown Law Officers. With the relief shortly to be expected through the adjournment of another place the Government hope to be able to arrive at a final decision, at an early date, and I shall then be in a position to give the honorable senator a definite answer.
Senator Wilson referred to the question of the tightening of the Treasury system in relation to warrants. As he himself pointed out, he’ has been anticipated by the action of the Treasurer. Sir Joseph Cook has taken action to introduce the practice of a continuous audit which Senator Wilson alludes to, and which, I suppose, most people with any business knowledge approve.
I only want now to deal with a matter which I find is uppermost in the minds of all honorable senators, and that is the insistent demand for economy, and in this connexion I venture to say that deeds speak louderthan words. The Government also have said that it believes in economy, and has done something to show that its belief is not a mere fictitious one. ‘ When moving the second reading of this Bill I pointed out that the Government had effected a reduction in the Estimates of £4,250,000 on last year’s expenditure, notwithstanding that the Estimates had previously been pruned severely by the Treasury.
– Does that mean that some portion of that £4,250,000 was more than the Departments required?
– When Senator Thomas makes that suggestion he very much underrates the capacity of a Department to spend money. Any Department I know of that is worthy of the name can, I think, spend all the money we care to give it. The fact that there has been a saving of £4,250,000 on Estimates that had been previously pruned indicates, I submit, a sincere desire on the part of the Government to cut down public expenditure.
– Does it not indicatethat the estimates had been too high?
– It does not. If Senator Guthrie’s statement were correct there would be no credit in effecting a saving anywhere. It would simply mean that the Estimates were inflated, and that cutting down was no economy.
– Then the Departments must have sent in estimates amounting to £8,000,000 more than was actually spent?
– Many Departments submit estimates in which provision is made for various projects which are afterwards deleted. Senator Thomas, as an ex-Minister, must be familiar with the natural desire of Departments to meet all their possible needs. It is the duty of the Treasurer to check that tendency, and I submit that he has done so. Whether he has done it to the extent which some persons who are not charged with responsibility consider that it should have been done is another matter. But the substantial saving which has been effected during the year that has just closed may be accepted as an indication of the policy which the Treasurer will pursue in the future.
– The Minister does not mind us indorsing that policy?
– Not at all. But I would have appreciated the honorable senator’s remarks much more had he said, “We commend the Government for following that policy, and we shall give it our support in the future.” Instead I heard the honorable senator pleading for economy, as if economy had not already been effected.
– In what Departments have the £4,000,000 to which the Minister has referred, been saved?
– There was a saving upon the Estimates of £1,440,000 in connexion with the Australian Expeditionary Force, interest upon loans represented £668,000, and there was a saving of £717,000 upon the ordinary departmental services.
– The saving upon defence was £300,000.
– I am afraid that I have not in my possession the other particulars necessary to enable me to definitely answer the question put by Senator Thomas.
– Nothing could have been saved in the Postal Department, because the cry was that it was unable to do all that was demanded of it.
– I regret that I have not with me the complete figures necessary to enable me to answer the honorable senator’s question. We do not object to the exercise of economy, especially in a time of financial stress like that through which Ave are now passing. But I ask honorable senators to recognise that the Government have taken early steps to meet the need which is being pressed upon us in all directions. Having set out upon the good course-
– “Started” is a better word.
– To make a start is the most difficult thing of all. The honorable senator said something the other day in regard to a temptation. He knows that it is the most difficult thing in the world to resist that temptation.
SenatorGuthrie. - Are not the Departments inclined to be overstaffed?
– That is a very old cry indeed. Speaking generally, I do not think that they are overstaffed under the system upon which they are being worked. Senator Wilson has been pleading for more officers in the AuditorGeneral’s Department.
– The AuditorGeneral has given evidence upon oath that he has not sufficient men.
– It is frequently stated that our Departments are overstaffed; but inquiry has always -elicited the fact that they are really understaffed. Whether it would be possible, by means of the introduction of another system, to reduce the existing staff, is quite another matter. But it is not possible to liken a Department to an outside business.
– Our Departments need to get as nearly like an outside business as possible.
– That “ nearly like “ would be a long way off. Whether the Government have achieved the impossible by satisfying everybody I cannot say; but they have at least given evidence of a genuine desire to reduce ex penditure, as far as is compatible with efficiency. We shall continue to do that; but we will not starve a Department merely for the purpose of saying that we have effected a savingin the public expenditure of this country.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Limit of period of expenditure).
– I should like to know from the Minister who is in charge of the Bill upon what date, approximately, it will be necessary to obtain a further grant of Supply ?
– This Bill will carryustothe30thSeptember,sothat it will be necessary to get a further grant of Supply in September to enable us to meet the payments which will fall due early in October.
Clause agreed to.
The Parliament, proposed vote, £7,799, agreed to.
Prime Minister’s Department.
Proposed vote, £33,104.
– I should like to knowwhat custom obtains in connexion with the auditing of the accounts of our Commonwealth Departments. So far as I have been able to peruse the official reports from the Auditor-General, my impression is that he is behind with various audits ; in some cases, to the extent of a year or eighteen months. In view of the report of that officer himself, and of the disclosures which have recently been made in connexion with the activities of other Departments, I think that the Auditor-General’s Department should be strengthened - irrespective of the cost that may be involved - to such an extent as will enable him to carry out continuous audits of the accounts of Departments which are responsible forheavy expenditure. It is not in the interests of true economy thatwe should stintthe AuditorGeneral of any expenditure that may be necessary to provide him with the assistance that be requires.
.- It is not the rule, but the exception, for the work of the Auditor-General to be in arrears. He has been behind only in isolated cases. The most notorious case, of course, was in connexion with the Cockatoo Island Dockyard.
– I would remind the Minister that the Auditor-General himself, in at least one report two or three years ago, brought this matter under the notice of Parliament.
– I am coming to that. It is a fact that two years ago the Auditor-General stated that he was handicapped by reason of an’ insufficient staff, and complained that his requests for assistance had not been complied with. But that complaint has since been met. His staff has been increased. The Government are also meeting the complaint in another way. In the Public Service Bill which is now before the Senate, provision is made that the Auditor-General shall become a permanent departmental head, and he will, therefore, have control of staff matters himself. Consequently, the Government have recognised the wisdom of the course which has been advocated by Senator Pratten. They have provided the Auditor-General with an increased staff, and they propose to vest in him the powerto appoint and control his own staff.
– The honorable gentleman recognises the advantages which the adoption of that course will confer upon Ministers themselves?
– Precisely. The report of the Auditor-General, which I laid upon the table of the Senate to-day in connexion with the Commonwealth factories is for the year ended 30th June, 19.20, and it may, at first glance, seem as if that fact is indicative of’ delay. But the Auditor-General, it must be remembered, cannot commence his audit of the accounts of any Department until the financial year has closed. Consequently, his report cannot be presented to Parliament until some months later. The increase which has been made in his staff, and the granting tohim of the power to control that staff, for which provision is. made in the Public Service Bill, will bring about a more desirable state of affairs.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Treasury.
Proposed vote, £101,820.
– It seems to me that the expense involved in the conduct of the Maternity Allowance Office is very heavy. It is equivalent to £12,000 a year, and, compared with the expenditure incurred in the conduct of other offices under the control of the Treasury, it seems to be somewhat excessive. I am gratified to know that last year a larger sum was paid in maternity allowances than was spent during the previous year. The expenditure under this heading for the financial year which has just closed was £70,000 excess of the estimate. ?
– The Australian baby is our best asset.
– I am gratified to know that the estimated expenditure of the Treasurer was exceeded. I am of opinion that this particular branch of the Treasury Department should be carried on satisfactorily at less expense than is indicated by the vote appearing in this schedule, which represents the expenditure for only two months’ working.
– Covering a total expenditure of how much?
– I do not, at the moment, remember the total amount of” expenditure involved.
– It is up to £630,000 a year.
SenatorPAYNE. - I am anxious to seethe expenditure curtailed to a great extent in the near future. I have entered my protest time after time, since I have been a member of the Senate, against the continuance of the maternity allowance under existing conditions. It is not fair that persons in the community, who find it difficult to meet existing taxation, . should have to contribute to a maternity allowance for people whose financial position is such that they are in no need of it. This matter should be considered at the earliest possible moment, with a view to curtailing, as far as possible, the expenditure involved in. the payment of the maternity allowance under existing conditions.
– I do not think that the particular vote to which the honorable senator has. referred can be cavilled at. It covers contingencies, as well as salaries, and represents an average annual payment of £11,400. A great deal of work has to be done in connexion with this particular branch of the Department of the Treasury. Money orders have to be sent throughout Australia, and amounts checked. The staff is administering a total expenditure of £630,000 annually, and thevote for salaries and contingencies represents an office expenditure of only13/4percent. That cannot be regarded as a high percentage for administration of a scheme which operates throughout the Commonwealth.
– I think it is remarkably low.
– The branch is really economically worked. This does not affect the way in which the money is spent. That is not a matter for which the officers of the branch are responsible. This Parliament is responsible for that, and Senator Payne probably knows that I think the money could be spent to better advantage than it is at present. The Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) has announced that, at the first opportunity, the Government will take into consideration the question of how this money can be expended to better advantage.
– Reading between the lines, a statement made by the Acting Prime Minister would indicate that he believes it to be necessary to spend more money on the Taxation Office. Such a suggestion has my support.For some years the Taxation Office has been faced with the difficulty that it has been losing many of its best officers owing to the miserable salaries that can be offered by the Commissioner for Taxation.
– And the temporary nature of the employment of many officers.
– Exactly. Any step taken by the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook)inthedirectionreferredtowould be regarded by me as tending to greater efficiency, and greater efficiency, in my view,, represents greater economy.
I do not propose, in discussing this schedule, to deal with the general principles on which the finances of the Commonwealth should be administered. But I do wish to refer to another matter of administration connected with the Taxation Office, and, to some extent, with the Crown Solicitor’s Department. I refer to the indefinite position at present existing with regard to the attempted taxation of bonus shares. I have gone into this question, because it is agitating the whole; of the commercial community of Australia. I am referring to the matter now in order that my remarks may be recorded in Hansard, for the consideration of the Treasurer at his convenience. The position, so far as I can ascertain, is that the Commissioner for Taxation thinks that under the present law theaction he is proposing, is mandatory. If the action proposed by the Commissioner for Taxation is carried to the conclusion to which he suggests it should be carried, I am afraid that tragic injustice will be inflicted upon thousands of shareholders in New South Wales. A period of inflation has been followed by the present period of deflation. So far as I can see, the commercial community, as a whole, will scarcely be able to retain, and, in fact, will lose, during the present period of deflation the profits, if any, which they made during the period of inflation. As an illustration- of the unfair and unjust effect of the taxation of bonus shares, if carried out as proposed, I may refer to some shares in which I am indirectly interested as a. trustee. I think that a year or two ago about one share in ten was given in the capitalization of reserve profits that had already paid a flat rate of taxation. The whole of the shares in the company, the one in ten given, -and those paid for at. par, are now valued on the market at 3s. per share, andI am doubtful whether they will ever bring any more.
Senatorcrawford.- Are they £1 shares?
– Yes. I givethis as an illustration of the injustice that is goingto be done if we are not very careful. Idonotdesirethat theCommissionerofTaxationorthe
Crown Law authorities should lead the Government into a position where the High Court may have to intervene, and where, if it does not intervene, complexities and complications will arise which, so far as administration is concerned, will be worse than those which arose in connexion with the administration of the war-time profits tax.I do not expect the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce), who is in charge of the Senate, to give a direct reply to my remarks, which are merely intended to initiate a serious consideration of the wholequestion involved .
I find that, under the heading of “ Miscellaneous,” there is a vote included for the maintenance of persons admitted into charitable institutions and hospitals. I have promised the inmates of hospitals in my own State to do my very best to secure for them an extra allowance where with to purchase sweets, tobacco, or papers. The matter has been referred to on more than one occasion by more than one member of the Senate. It would not cost very much to do what is suggested, and it would add to the alleviation of the conditions of life of elderly people who, in accordance with nature’s laws, have not very much longer to live. I feel sure that if these remarks are passed on to the Treasurer he will, in view of the large surplus that has resulted from the. year’s transactions, be in a frame of mind to consent to earmark the few hundreds of pounds required to comply with the suggestion I have made.
– No one can read the annual report of the Commissioner of Taxation without- realizing the force of what Senator Pratten has had tosay about his staff. I take it that one of the matters to which the Public Service Board will have to give its attention is that raised in the, in some respects, rather alarming report of the Taxation Commissioner. The Commissioner has been losing some of the most experienced officers of his staff, and he rightly complains that a very large number of temporary officers in his branch are dealing with highly confidential matters. The Government believe that the PublicService Board will realize the seriousness of the position, and will be able to suggest alterations which will lead to improvement.
I would remind honorable senators that in the Public Service Bill we are proposing that the Commissioner of Taxation shall be given the power of a permanent head in order that he may be able to deal more directly with his own staff.
In regard to the taxation of bonus shares, Senator Pratten has said that he does not expect me to do any more than refer his remarks to the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook). That I will do. I know that the matter to which the honorable senator has referred is at the present moment the subject of consideration between the Commissioner of Taxation and our legal authorities.
With regard to the item under the heading of “Miscellaneous,” to which reference has been made, the vote covers payments to the institutions and not to the inmates of those institutions. The matters raised by the honorable senator are receiving the attention of the Treasurer, and his remarks will be brought under that right honorable gentleman’s notice.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Attorney- General’s Department, proposed vote, £13,415, agreed to.
Home and Territories Department.
Proposed vote, £87,503.
.- Under “ Miscellaneous “ appears an item of £3,400 for “ Administration of the Electoral Act.” What is that for, and why is it separated from the heading, “ Electoral Office,” for which £12,310 is to be voted? Surely, if there is any unforeseen expenditure in the administration of the Electoral Act, it should appear as “ Contingencies,” under the Electoral Office.
– I admit that Senator Senior has placed his finger on “one of those things that no fellow can understand” There is no reason, so far as I can learn, why the item should not appear under the Electoral Office. Apparently, they have had these two separate divisions from time immemorial. I do not know why this item should not’ be included as “ Contingencies “ under the Electoral Office, but there it is.
.-As one of the representatives of a State which is likely to gain through the completion of any redistribution of seats following the recent census, may I ask the Government when the population figures will be finalized, and how soon afterwards the Electoral Commission is likely to be constituted ?
– Is the honorable senator after another seat?
– Naturally, we in New South Wales are all interested in the’ matter. If the Minister cannot give me an immediate answer, perhaps he will endeavour to supply the information at no distant date.
.- The provision in the Constitution for the re-distribution of seats according to the census figuresoperates automatically, but I believe we suspended its operations during the war, although the population figures had altered, because so manyof our men were away. The census has since been taken; but although various statements have appeared in the press as to the population figures, the Electoral Department cannot act until it receives figures which are officially certified to be correct. The initial preparations are now being made, but the Department cannot act, because it has not received the figures officially certified by the head of the Census Branch.Immediately the Department is ready, arrangements will be made for the appointment of Commissioners to re-allot the seats according to the proportional figures under- the Electoral Act. We aim at equal electorates; but there is always a margin allowed on each side, in order to enable the Commissioners to consider what is known as community of interest.
– Is that likely to be completed before the election ?
– Yes. It is compulsory under the Constitution, and no undue delay will take place. I cannot fix the date, but if the honorable senator will ask a question a little later, I shall endeavour to obtain full information for him.
– Is it the intention of the Government to go right on?
– Yes. I do not think the Government have any option.
.- I should like a little light on the item of £800 for the development of oil-fields in Papua. Nothing appears to be provided under Papua for salaries, and I am at a loss to know how the development of the oil-fields is being carried out. I read the last report on the subject carefully, and the only impression I could gather was that the whole of the management might almost be termed illusory. It is impossible to pin things down, or to know what is being done. There . is no doubt that there are prospects of oil in Papua, but the method of development that has -been adopted seems to call for careful examination. I am not satisfied whether this item is to be charged to a separate account, or to go under “ Contingencies “ in the expenditure on Papua. If £800 will be sufficient for the operations for over two months, I cannot believe that they are really in earnest in their search for oil in Papua.
– £100 a week should provide for a fair search.
– They put down eight or nine bores in Papua in a comparatively short space of time. I admit that the depth is not great, but if the work is continued on that scale, £100 per week will not cover it. I do not think it is sufficient to provide for satisfactory exploration. If it is intended only to conduct a scratch search, we should be told so. This money may be intended for the survey, or for trial bores, or for officers’ salaries, or for the repairing of machinery ; but no definite information is given in the Bill.
.- The item represents the payment for the boring which is now going on. Some time ago the Government was conducting the boring operations in Papua, but later it was decided to change the system and get the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, in which the Commonwealth is a shareholder, to do the boring with its experts. The Company is doing that work, but not for itself. Any oil which it strikes will belong, not to it, but to the Commonwealth Government. This money is to pay for two months of that work.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £245,100.
– A number of matters have been brought under my attention by rifle clubs and associations, but I prefer to place them privately before the Minister for his consideration. In the circumstances, that perhaps will be the better way; but it would be well forthe Minister, at. his convenience, to make a general statement, for the information of the people of Australia, about what the Department is doing in the direction, of building up manufacturing activities so as to make our home defence self-contained. On several occasions the Minister has stated, by interjection, that the Department is doing that ; and I. think that there is a growing f eeling among members of Parliament in the direction of making Australia selfsupporting so far as concerns munitions, explosives, rifles,’ munition parts, and so on.
.- The course suggested by SenatorPratten. is not only desirable, but it represents a. duty which, the Minister, owes to Parliament. The honorable senator, however, will recognise the difficulty in. which I. find myself. At present, the policy- is. embodied in. a proposal which is before: the Treasurer, and. until I know the fate, which it will meet at the hands, of the Treasurer (Sir Joseph. Cook), and the, Cabinet, it: is impossible, for. me to say what is going to. be. done in. the ensuing twelve months. I made a statement the other day to the Senate on the important; question, of munitions, supply, and produced a sample of what the Department had initiatedin the way of shell fuses. It will. be. sufficient to say at this juncture that, for. the last year, of which I can speak;, one-third of our total expenditure was on. the munitions, supply branch. In that way we are endeavouring to establish factories to supply our requirements. It is’ the intention of the Government, to, establish works such as they have in Great Britain - of course, not to the same extent - so that, in- the event of war, wewould have a nerve centre and factories’ that could be turned over for war production. It would be most uneconomical to build factories and have idle plants and staffs on our hands. The policy adopted during the war was to convert factories into establishments for producing war material, and we are. laying our plans in that direction. The. munitions supply branch will be the nerve centre, and, during times of. peace, stock will be taken of existing factories, and their possible production of war material. Where necessary, plants will be-, installed for peace purposes,, which can be utilized for the manufacture of war material should the occasion arise. Briefly, these are the lines on which we are acting. It is economical, and the experience of : war shows that it can be done. In Great Britain, even gramophone factories were converted into establishments for the production of war material, and when the Estimates are submitted in September; a statement will be submitted to Parliament indicating the steps we propose taking during the ensuing year.
.- Will theMinister for Defence (Senator Pearce) give the Committee. some information concerning the pay of permanent officers’? Does the amount in the schedule cover- the Head-quarters, and District staffs, including the’ Divisional staff?
– Permanent divisional officers are included.
– Does, it include commanders?
-. - Where they are included, the amount cavers their salary.
’. - Recently information has appeared in the press- concerning- the staff at the Duntroon Military College.
-. - That, information was given in Parliament.
– To the effect that there were two or three officers to each, student.
– The statement in the press was incorrect.
– Perhaps the Minister will state the true, position, so that honorable senators may have an. opportunity of discussing it.
– I am glad that Senator- Wilson has raised this, question, as it gives me an opportunity of explaining, the apparent disparity between the number of officers - not merely, at the Military College, but also at the Naval College - and the number’ . of cadets undergoing training. This, information was asked for in Parliament,, and -a return was laid on the table of the Senate. At this, juncture the position . appears much worse than it would in any other year, because last year there was a falling off in the number of cadets. The number at present attending that institution is between thirty and forty, which is below the average ; but it has to be remembered that both these Colleges are isolated from any town, and consequently we have to provide certain conveniences which civilized people require. If honorable- senators will refer to page 10000 of Hansard, they will find a return giving details concerning the staff at the Military College. It has been stated that there is a staff of 170, but, as a matter of fact, the actual staff of instructional officers at the Military College numbers 31. There are, however, 107 others, making a . total of 138, who are paid ‘by the ‘Government. But there are thirty-two who are not paid by the Government, although their names appear on the staff of the institution.
– Who pays them?
– The cadets and officers at the College. There is a chief steward and thirteen other employees in the . cadets’ mess, and their salaries are paid by the cadets, and not by the Government. Those employed in the laundry are . also paid by the various messes. If the Colleges were situated in a city, we would not have to provide a hospital ; but I am sure honorable senators would be the first to censure the Defence Department if, when cases of sickness occurred, a hospital was not available. We have . to provide a medical officer and two nurses, and these, of course, have to be included in the personnel. Houses also have to be provided for the staff. Those honorable -senators who have had the opportunity of visiting Duntroon will realize that there are a large number of buildings to be maintained, and to keep the buildings and grounds in order, tradesmen and labourers have to be employed, and naturally they appear as on the staff. No private ‘business establishments are allowed at Duntroon , or at Canberra, and, in consequence, the Government have established a canteen, from which the residents can. purchase stores. The canteen is in charge of the quarterm asters, who are members of the College Staff. All the employees in the different Departments have to be under our control and that is why the list appears some what long.
– What is the number of cadets to each officer ?
– There are 85 or 86 cadets, and 31 officers on the staff.
– There is one officer to every three cadets ?
– Is not that a bit “ hot “?
– Has the honorable senator visited the College ?
– When operations have been in full swing ? If the honorable senator has not, I invite him to do so.
– In large schools and colleges in Australia there is one master to every fifty students.
– Comparison should be instituted with the universities and not the public . schools.
– I shall give the Minister some interesting figures, perhaps, next week.
– I have always insisted that the staff shall be kept at the lowest possible level. Those in charge of the instructional duties have assured me that all the members of the staff are fully and necessarily employed, and I must accept their statement The College is inspected by the Inspector-General, and by others, who are making investigation in an endeavour to effect economy. The committee at present making investigations will in time visit the Military College to see if the services of any of the staff can be dispensed with. The committee appointed to inquire into the administration of Government Departments also visited the College, and made inquiries concerning the number employed and the duties they were performing, and as it did not recommend any reduction, I must assume that the work there compares favorably with that of the Naval College, particularly as the annual cost is £10,000 less.
-When is the number of cadets likely to-increase ?
– In December of this year. After thetermination of the war Canada had a similar experience, as the usual number of military students were not forthcoming.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of the Navy, proposed vote, £329,166, agreed to.
Department of Navy and Defence (Air Services).
Proposed vote, £55,000.
– I . shall be glad if the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) will supply the Committee with some information concerning the development of the Civil Aviation Branch. An amount of £25,000 is to be applied to this purpose–
– It will suit my convenience if the honorable senator will give me the opportunity of making a short statement on this matter before the luncheon adjournment.
– I am quite willing to do that.
– I am indebted to Senator Duncan for allowing me to make a statement on this matter at this juncture. The Government do not believe that the subsidizing of “ joy-riding “ is in the interests of civil aviation, and although considerable pressure has been brought on the Government to subsidize aviators flying for ordinary purposes, we have said that it cannot be done. We believe that- if civil aviation is to be of any use to the country the subsidizing of those who merely fly round our big cities, and from capital to capital, will not have the desired result. No advantage would be gained by subsidizing those who fly between points where there is already speedy means of communication, and the Government believe that if the aeroplane is to be of any value it ought to be used for the development of the out-back country, particularly in the direction of. rendering speedy medical service in remote centres of population. Tenders will be due on the 30th July for conducting services between Gerald ton, in Western Australia, and Derby, and Sydney, and Adelaide. Although the last-mentioned are capital cities, the intervening country is sparsely populated, and an air service would assist in its development.
– The Defence Department will not bear the whole of the cost. I presume the Postal Department will contribute its share.
– It is all to be taken from the Air Services vote. Tenders have also been called for a service between Sydney and Brisbane, and particulars for one between Toowoomba, Charleville, and Longreach, linking up with the interior country of Queensland, are being obtained. That is the best type of service we can render to Australia, and it is our intention to proceed along those lines. We are co-operating with the Western Australian Government in an endeavour to be of assistance, particularly to women in the out-back districts who are living long distances from any medical officers. The Western Australian Government have undertaken to arrange for medical officers to attend at certain points on the route, and to bear the cost incurred.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.
Department of Trade and Customs.
Proposed vote, £108,551.
– I had prepared myself for some extended discussion in connexion with this Department, but, as time will not permit at this stage, I shall content myself by saying that I am in hearty agreement with the remark’s made by Senator Thomas. It is necessary, I understand, to pass the Bill by, at the very latest, half-past 3 to-day, in order to meet the convenience of members in another place. Although I think the temper of the Senate is to meet the wishes, of members’ in another place this time, in future I hope we shall suit our own convenience. .
– That is said in regard to every Supply Bill.
– I agree with the honorable senator. I had proposed to discuss three or four matters, including the question of exchange in foreign countries, about which I made remarks that stand to-day, and are contained in Hansard of 12th May, 1920, pages 1979 and 1980. Another question I proposed to deal with, but which can conveniently be raised on the Tariff Bill, is the administration of the Excise Department in relation to both home-made and imported spirits. The increase in the cost and number of employees in the Quarantine Department is a further matter that may be discussed on another occasion. The fourth question, upon which I had intended to speak was the incidence of the Navigation Act in relation to ferry steamers in Sydney Harbor.
– The steamers donot come under the Navigation Act.
– My honorable friend is not informed. of the circumstances now prevailing in connexion with the Sydney Ferries Company. They have had to register their steamers under the Navigation Act, and at present they do not know where they stand, but an effort will be made before the Act is enforced next November to exempt ferry steamers, and I hope it will be successful.
– I wish to direct attention to the item £630 for Bureau of Commerce and Industry. This matter was discussed yesterday in connexion with another Bill, and I can easily understand that the Minister (Senator Russell) representing the Minister for this Department is not fully acquainted with all the details. For instance, Senator Russell said yesterday that , the functions of the Bureau of Commerce and Industry were not in any way comparable with those of the proposed Tariff Board. But both Departments will be administered by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), and if honorable senators will examine the functions assigned to them they will sec that they are. similar in many respects. The amount provided in this Bill represents two months’ expenditure, or a total of about £4,000 a year. I understand that the chairman receives £1,500 a year, and, as the Bureau does not meet very often, it is comparatively expensive. The Minister, I think, would be well advised to give attention to the desire of the Senate and” see if these two Departments cannot be amalgamated.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Works and Railways.
Proposed vote, £125,810.
– I do not see any item providing for expenditure in connexion with the Murray waters scheme. Can the Minister give the Committee any information?
– I am assured that that comes under the heading of loan expenditure.
– I wish to direct attention to the lax administration of the Department in connexion with the realization- of- used machinery and material required for the construction of the East- West railway. Recently I was in Port Augusta, and saw, standing ‘in the open, immense stacks of implements and machinery, which, of course, deteriorates very quickly.
– Is that, construction plant?
– Yes. A gentleman I met wanted to buy some of the Government tip trucks for the salt company in South Australia, but he became so disgusted with the delay in the negotiations that he bought elsewhere, although the Commonwealth trucks would have suited him much better, and he was prepared to pay market rates for them. I do not know what value the departmental officials place upon these tip trucks, but I sold some myself recently at £20 apiece. Without exaggeration, I can say that I saw hundreds of picks exposed to the weather. All this material should have been sold upon the completion of the railway, because a few years ago there was a great shortage of all such ‘requirements throughout Australia, and fair prices would have been realized. I even came across a number of railway motor tricycles still exposed to the weather.
– They are to be seen lying at several sidings along the whole length of the line.
– That ‘ only emphasizes what I say. Of course, we do not expect the Minister to bo riding about the country in order to get acquainted with all such details of administration, but they have their officials, and should be informed. Senators, also, have their responsibilities. It is their duty to bring these matters directly under the notice of the Government, so. that the position may be remedied. There is a ready sale for this material to-day. I hope the Minister will directthe attention of the Minister for Works and Railways to the matter.
. - As soon as the Hansard proof of the honorable senator’s remarks is available, I shall see that it is brought under the notice of my colleague who controls that Department.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £1,060,730.
– I have one matter to mention under this Department. It is an old grievance, one that has been raised before, but without any great amount . of satisfaction, either to the Department concerned or to thefirms who are continually complaining. I refer to the registration of telephone calls. In this connexion I have been supplied with certain information by the Australian Mutual Provident Society, of Sydney, whose complaint is supported by a great number of leading firms in Sydney today. The Society protests against what it considers is undue laxity on the part of the Department in this matter, as a result of which it is being mulct in the payment of certain moneys not owing by it to the Department. The Sydney office of the Australian Mutual Provident Society has kept a careful record of its telephone calls from 1st November, 1913, to 30th April, 1921. During that time, according to the record, the calls numbered 9,247, whereas the departmental charge is for 13,668 calls, representing an overcharge of about 50 per cent. In a communication to me, the Society states -
As a result of a protest, in the half-year ended October, 1910, the line was “observed” by the Postal Department, and the result for that and the succeeding half-year suggests that our protest had some effect. -Before, and subsequently, however, there has been a considerable overcharge. Our record is carefully kept, but, while it may not be absolutely accurate, I am loath to believe that there can be so many mistakes as the comparison of calls recorded and charged would suggest. You will notice that this record has been kept for a period of over seven years. I may also add that since the end of 1918 the telephone switchboard is locked up during non-business hours.
It will be seen that it is not possible for any one to get at the Society’s switchboard outside of actual business hours. In a subsequent letter the society points out that the record of the calls made upon the ordinary department telephones is not so complete as is that of the calls made upon the industrial department telephone, but the figures for the last three half-years are as follow: - For the half-year December, 1919, to May, 1920, the society was charged £28 17s. 4d, whereas by its record it should have been charged only £238s. 5d. For the half-year June, 1920, to November, 1920, the society was charged £33 18s. 3d.; whereas by its record it should have been charged only £25 12s. 6d. For the half-year December, 1920, to May, 1921, the society was charged £38 9s. 2d.., whereas by its record it should have been charged only £266s. 7d. The manager . of the company goes on to say -
If when a line was placed under observation a list of the numbers called were made and at once supplied to the subscriber, with the date, there would be some . sort of a check on the subscriber’s list; but simply to say that the line has been under observation and that everything has been found in order, is most unconvincing and most unsatisfactory. It is not suggested that there is any wilful fault or neglect on the part of the officials, but that the system under which they work might easily be made to conform a little more closely to the requirements of the subscribers, and probably, would be made to do so -if those requirements were better known tothe responsible officials.
If thecomplaint of the Australian Mutual Provident Society can , be established - and it seems to me that upon the facts it does establish a pretty fair case - it is extremely probable that quite a number of other subscribers are resentful of what they believe to be imposition on the part of the Postal Department. It is not in the best interests of the Commonwealth that such a feeling should exist. There should be some means of keeping an official record of the calls actually made-
– There is. But the honorable senator is not satisfied with that record.
– There should be some method of keeping anofficial record of the calls made which would be satisfactory alike to the telephone subscriber and to the Department. In this connexion, the Australian Mutual Provident Society makes a suggestion which the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) may well convey to the PostmasterGeneral. It suggests that some method might be adopted whereby the society could, be immediately made aware of the calls being registered against it, so that it might have some better check upon those calls than it has at present.
– Is any period suggested ?
– No. The manager of the society writes -
If - when a line was placed under observation a list of the numbers called were madeand at once supplied to the subscriber, with the date, there would be some sort of a check: on the subscriber’s list.
He would then know in what respecthis own. list differed - f rom the record kept by the Department. I have brought this’ matter- under the notice of the Minister in the hope that he will refer it to the Postmaster-General, with a view to meeting the very reasonable, requests which are being- made by big business firms in Sydney, who feel that they are- suffering an injustice.
– I shall have pleasure in acceding to the honorable senator’s request, and if he will let -me have a. copy of the letter from which he has quoted, I shall be thankful.
. - When the toll telephone was introduced quite a number of subscribers entertained the idea that they were being charged by the Department considerably more than they ought to have been charged. Where complaints were made,, we placed the line of the aggrieved subscriber under observation, and we- almost invariably found that the record kept by the Department was an accurate one. In. all such cases we were in a position to. tell subscribers the day upon which certain calls were made, who made them,, and who did not. I recolfect that, amongst the complainants were the International Harvester people. We- were able to demonstrateto them that the departmental, record, of their calls, was correct, and they actually thanked us for doing so,, because our action led to the discovery that the clerks and others employed in their offices were- using the telephone for other than business purposes.’ Thereupon I made an offer that the line of any aggrieved subscriber would be placed under observation conditionally that he undertook to gay for the cost thus- incurred, if his list of calls, proved to be wrong, whilst the Department would defray, the cost if its tiym record turned out to be inaccurate. I take it that that- practice still holds good. If it does riot,, it certainly ought tb.
SenatorRowell. - Does the exchange register ineffective calls?
– That ‘ can be discovered. For the purpose of recording the calls which are actually made, the Department has installed, in the Melbourne office alone; machinery to the value of £10,000. That’ machinery keeps a; register of the call’s made, more effectively than can any slip-shod tally such as may be kept at other places.
– How does the honorable senator know that?
– Because we proved it again and again.
.- We have heard a good- deal lately about the need which exists for- the exercise of economy. I have a proposal to put before the Committee which I think will lead to that result. I am very sorry that there are no Victorian senators present with the exception of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) . I notice that’ in the PostmastersGeneral’s Department the amount setdown for “ Contingencies “ in Victoria is- £71,000,. whereas in the great State- of Queensland the amount provided is only £22,000. Similarly, for the large Stateof Western Australia it is proposed toappropriate under this’ heading only £21,000: I do not know exactly what the item “ Contingencies” covers; but as an example of economy, and knowing that I’ shall’ be backed by the Australian Legion and the Taxpayers Association- of Victoria, which is trying to- convert NewSouth Wales- to the same theory; I’move -
That the House of Bepresentatives be requested’ to reduce the item “Contingencies” (Victoria), £71,000,” by £5,000;
-. - How. can any honorable senator back- up the honorable senator without having a schedule before him?
– I have no desire to instruct the- Department as to= how it. shall conduct its business. All I say is that under the heading of “ Contingencies,” Victoria ought to receive £5,000 less than it is- proposed to appropriate for that purpose. It is a compact little State, and the- people of the- other States are not yelling for economy in the same way as are the people of Victoria. We have not an Australian Legion in Queensland whose members are running round the country trying to cony.ert the heathen. In Victoria, these young men are anxious to instruct’ this Parliament in the matter of how it shall ruu the country. Pro: bably we shall have a deputation from tliem to the Senate to thank, us’ for our action in this connexion. I trust that Victorian senators, who are absent’ from the chamber, will be sent for, so that they may give me their support.
– I ask Senator Reid to withdraw the request, first assuring him that, in common with the Australian. Legion and other useful institutions of Victoria, I am entirely with him in the demand for economy. This proposal, however, is going at it in a rather blindfold fashion. The honorable senator admits that he does not know what is covered by “ Contingencies.” If he did, I should say that he was the only man who had that knowledge. When he draws a comparison, between the amounts of contingencies for the various States, he overlooks the important fact that the amount allowed for contingencies in each State bears, roughly, the same proportion to the total for that State, and obviously mu3t do so. The amount for contingencies ranges between one-third and one-fourth of the . total amount for each State. The honorable senator will have a full opportunity, when the Estimates come up, to go more fully into this question, because, with the Estimates, the Budget-papers will be presented, and he will find all the details set out. In view of the understanding arrived at for the early passage of this Bill, I ask the honorable senator, as he has made his point quite clear, and it has the universal indorsement of the Senate, to withdraw his motion.
.- I withdraw the request. I trust that, in the interim, the Australian Legion, the Melbourne newspapers, and the Taxpayers Association of Victoria, will- send up a series of items so that we may be able to reduce the expenditure on Victoria when the Budget is presented to Parliament.
Request, by leave, withdrawn. .
Proposed vote agreed to.
War Services, proposed vote, £1,885,881; Refunds of Revenue, proposed vote, . £100,000; and Advance to the Treasurer, proposed vote, £750,000, agreed to.
Preamble and title agreed to.
Bill reported without request; report adopted.
Motion (by Senator E. D. Millen) proposed -
That this Bill be now read a third time.
– I should like a little more information regarding the “ savings “ referred to by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) in his speech in reply on tha second reading, as having been made for the last financial year. We are all anxious for economy, and I understood the Minister to say that economies had been- effected. He said that, when the Estimates were presented to the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), they were cut down by at least £4,000,000. Was that economy, or a reflection on his fellow Ministers? I take it that the Treasurer cut down Estimates which had been approved, notonly by the heads of Departments, but also by Ministers in charge of Departments, and which, therefore, went to the Treasurer with the imprimatur of his own colleagues. The Minister for Repatriation tells us that, not only- did the Treasurer do that, but that the Government discovered, at the end of the financial year, that another £4,000,000 had been saved, or, in other words, that the moneyprovided in the Estimates had not all been spent by £4,000,000. Is that economy, or does that sum represent unexpended balances 1 Does it indicate that the Departments asked for more money than they could reasonably expect to spend? It has been said, with a certain amount of truth that, in times past, Departments always asked for more money than they expected to get, because, no matter what Estimates they submitted to the Treasurer, the Treasurer always cut them clown. I should like to know whether, instead of these “ savings “ representing real economy, Departments did not ask for £8,000,000 more than they expected to get, and whether the Treasurer gave them £4,000,000 more than they had anticipated obtaining from him? How much of the second £4,000,000 has been saved by means of economies, and what proportion of it represents unexpended balances?For instance, the exPostmasterGeneral, Mr. Webster, complained with a certain amount of justification that, at a certain time he did not get all the money that he asked for. As it was wartime, I do not blame the Treasurer for diverting all the money possible to defence purposes, but it is not always the truest economy in certain circumstances to refuse to grant money that is required. I should be glad of further information about the £4,000,000 which the Government now tell us has been saved, because it is quite possible that the Treasurer might, in certain circumstances, refuse to grant money, and find, in the long run, that he had not been exercising true economy.
– Sometimes the Treasurer has no option.
– That is so. The Treasurer’s position is very different from that of other Ministers. They are not responsible for raising the. money. They do not tax the people. The Treasurer has to find the money, and it is much easier to spend it than to find it.Does the following case of a “ saving “ represent real economy? Money’ was placed on the Estimates for the Postal Department to spend, for instance, in purchasing telephones. The amount was ear-marked for that purpose. The telephones were ordered from England, but they bad not arrived by the 30th June, and, therefore, that money could not be spent, and we wore told that it could not be diverted to the purchase of other telephones, because at any moment those which had been ordered might arrive. Is that what the Government call an “economy”? The Minister for Repatriation says the Government are anxious for economy, and that the fact that £4,000,000 less than was voted has been spent is an evidence of economy.
– May not there bo unforeseen expenditures to balance instances such as you have quoted?
– That is. what I should be glad to know. Can the Minister tell us whether in any Department it has been discovered that work could be done or material purchased for less than the amount of money voted by Parliament for the purpose, while securing the same efficiency? If so, that would represent real economy. I have asked a number of questions which the Minister possibly would be able to answer much more easily if he were allowed ‘ a ‘ little more time. That reminds me that it is unfair to rush Supply Bills through in this way. Honorable’ senators want a certain amount of information, and if a Supply Bill was. submitted for its first reading’ on one day, its second reading on the next day, and the final stages on the third day, they could ask questions and get the information they wanted. Is this Supply Bill for two months based upon the Estimates that were submitted last year, or on the Estimates lees the £4,000,000 saved?
– With the Supply Billpreviously passed, the Government, if this Bill is passed, will have obtained £1,417,000 less than the amount voted for the corresponding quarterly period of last year.
– Then we are not voting the same amount of money as last year?
– We are voting at the rate of £5,600,000 a year less.
– That is satisfactory.
– I am afraid that the somewhat awkward questions put by Senator Thomas arise from my presumption . in giving the Senate more information than was actually required on this Bill. The opportunity which Senator Thomas desires to ascertain whether the economies are . real or not will be provided on the Estimates, but . there was no obligation on me to give as full information as I did give regarding the finances on a Supply Bill which is merely to pay the ordinary running expenses of the Government.
– When a Minister has a majority at his back, I recognise that he has no obligations.
– In this Chamber it is always difficult to know whether one has a majority or not. It is a case of” save me from my friends.” It appears that Senator Thomas’ line of argument is that if the Government spend all the money voted on the Estimates they are to be accused of not endeavouring to economize.
– I did not mean that.
– If that is the case, we are accused of putting forward ill-considered Estimates.
– How did you save £4,000,000?
-I have already given the’ honorable senator some particulars. Whether the saving was a general one or postponed expenditure, the one item I have given will ‘ answer the question.Asum of£713,000 was actually saved inthe working of the Department, apart from the question of the purchase of telephones. That cannotbe deferr ed expenditurebut generalexpenditure. Regarding the other item inwhichasaving is expected, I amunableto givethe honorableSenator the information he desires; but onthe presentation of the Estimates I shall come, as Ioughtto, properly armed with all the details.
– It wouldbe inter esting to know how the amountwas saved.
– Itwillall be interesting.
-When the Estimates arebefore usIshallaskfor thatinformation, and Inowgivethe Minister notice.
– I canassure thehonorablesenatorthatnotice isunnecessary.
Question resolved intheaffirmative. Bill reada third time.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 22 July 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1921/19210722_senate_8_96/>.