8th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Revision of Weather Reports
– I ask the Minister for Home and Territories if he has givenfurther consideration to the matter of the revision of meteorological reports, as outlined in his answer to my question on last Thursday, and, if so, whatis the result of such further consideration ?
– Consideration has been given to this question, and. as announced in the press of to-day’s date, by revising the list of stations, dropping out those which have no economic or meteorological value, we have been able to giveinstructions to restore all stations that have any value for storm warnings, ocean forecasts, river reports, or rainfall reports. A concession has been made by the Postmaster-General’s Department, by which meteorological telegrams received early in the day are to be sent as urgent messages at ordinary rates. We are now able to provide a service practically as full and efficient as that which formerly existed, and yet keep within the vote of £52,000, which Parliament has made available for this purpose. The matter has been adjusted as the result of negotiations between the Postmaster-General’s Department and the Home and Territories Department, and consultations with the Commonwealth Meteorologist as to the stations which have any meteorological or economic value.
Allowance to Disabled Soldiers
– I ask the Minister for Repatriation whether it is the intention of the Government to introduce in the near future a Bill to amend the Repatriation Act, providing for an increased allowance to disabled and otherwise incapacitated returned soldiers?
– The intentions of the Government areset out in the Governor-General’s Opening Speech, in which, speaking from memory, there is an intimation that a Bill will be introduced to deal with the more serious cases of incapacity.
– I ask the Leader of the Senate whether it will be necessary, in the coming month, for a Supply Bill to be passed by the Senate; if ao, by what date, and will the. Bill reach us from another place in time to give honorable senators a full opportunity for discussing it before the measure is passed?
– I think I am correct in saying that it will be necessary to ask for Supply during the coming month, and I shall certainly do my best to see that the Bill comes before the Senate in time to permit of its reasonable discussion.
The following, papers were presented : -
Australian Imperial Force Canteens Funds Act - Second Annual Report by the Trustees, 1st June, 1921, to 30th June, 1928.
Defence: Commonwealth Government Factories - Reports for year ended 30th June, 1921.
High Court Procedure Act - Rule of Court -
Dated 5th July, 1922.
New Guinea - Ordinances of 1922-23 -
No. 1- Supply (No. 1) 1922-23.
No.2- Judiciary 1922 (No. 2).
War Service Homes Act -
Memorandum of Arrangement between the War Service Homes Commissioner and the Commissioners of the State Savings Bank of Victoria relating to the provision of homes for eligible persons in that State.
Memorandum of Arrangement between the War Service Homes Commissioner and the Government of the State of Western Australia relating to the purchase of land, erection of dwelling- houses,&c., in that State.
– As the Minister for Repatriation has just given notice of contingent motions for the suspension of the Standing Orders, I ask if he is. prepared to indicate now the urgency for the passing of motions of that character?
– The honorable senator’s experience will, I am snre, agree with my own. I hope it will not be necessary, at any time, until at least the closing days of the session, to use the contingent motions of which I have just given notice. But it is impossible to say when a contingency may arise and the Senate itself desire to take advantage of the convenience which the passing of such motions would present. So far as I am concerned, I shall endeavour to see that the motions are used as little as possible duriug this session.
– The Minister does not intend to use them this week?
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. T. Givens), announced the receipt of messages intimating that in compliance with the request of the Senate, the House of Representatives had agreed to resume the consideration of the following Bills:-
Public Service Bill:
Bill presented by Senator Pearce, and read a first time.
SenatorDE LARGIE (for Senator Lynch) asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether, in view of the announcement that the Government are about to establish laboratories at Bendigo and Port Pirie forthe investigation and treatment of certain diseases, does the Government Think it advisable to establish a similar laboratory at Kalgoorlie for the study and treatment of miner’s complaint?
– Theestablishment of a similar laboratory at Kalgoorlie has. been approved.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice-
– The answers are : -
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In the event of a decision not being come to by the Commonwealth and the States on the question of standardizing the railway gauges within a reasonable’ time, will the Government think well of going ahead with the work by instalments, e.g., by seeking an agreement with the States of New South Wales and Queensland, whereby the capitals of Sydney and Brisbane may be con. nected by means of the standard line; also, a similar agreement with Western Australia for widening ‘the gauge between Kalgoorlie and Fremantle?
– It is believed that arrangements for thecommencement of the work in several States can be made, and as soon as negotiations now proceeding have been concluded, the Parliament will be asked to discuss the matter with a view to giving the necessary authority to proceed with the work.
Bill presented by Senator Pearce, and read a first time.
SenatorE. D. MILLEN (New South Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [3.11].- I move-
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the second reading of the Bill being proceeded with forthwith.
In submitting this motion, I believe I shall be meeting the convenience and the interests of honorable members of the Senate. It happens that the Government is not prepared to go on with other business on the notice-paper, and, as there is a reasonably large Senate assembled, it appears desirable that we should suspend the Standing Orders to permit the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator Pearce) to explain the Bill. Honor able senators and the electors will then be familiar with its provisions. It is not proposed to proceed any further after the Minister nas made his explanation. The debate will be adjourned, and honorable senators will be able to study the provisions of the Bill side by side with the Minister’s explanation. I make the proposal believing that it will appeal to honorable senators as a reasonable thing to do.
Question resolved in the affirmative. .
.- I move -
That this Billbe now read a second time.
This is very largely a machinery measure. It is designed to remedy certain defeats that have been disclosed in our electoral machinery as a result of the last election, and of several by-elections. Faults have also been made apparent by several cases which have been decided before the High Court. The Bill is intended to enable those who are properly qualified to vote to record their votes effectively, and to prevent those who could, by their votes, violate the intentions of the Act, from doing so. As it is a machinery measure, it can be more properly dealt with in Committee than on the motion for the second reading. Therefore, my remarks will be necessarily of a somewhat technical character, except in regard to the provision made in the Bill for group voting for the Senate.
Let me deal with the technicalities first. At the present time an elector is entitled to vote as an elector of the division in respect of which he is enrolled, even though he haa become entitled to be enrolled as an elector of some other division . We have, in the past, been continually liberalizing the machinery to enable electors, not merely to get upon the roll, but to record their votes, and this practice has been followed to such an extent that we have left a loophole by which voters can exercise a privilege which is really inimical to the real voice of the division being recorded. It is possible for an elector tocast a vote for a candidate for whom he is, according to the spirit of the law, not entitled to vote. This applies particularly to itinerant workers, who may, from time to time, be entitled to be enrolled in several different divisions. A man travelling about may be able to comply with the provisions of our electoral law in several divisions
– When his name is reworded in one division, is it not struck out from the other?
– In time, yes; but ii: may be that the machinery by which he i.i struck out, or should be struck out, has not had time to operate. Therefore he may be perfectly entitled to have his name on more than one roll. It would be possible for a number of these electors to concentrate on one division and thus seriously influence the result of an election therein. The Bill, therefore, proposes to deprive an elector of his “right to vote in respect of the division for which he may be enrolled if he is not bond fide a resident therein, and if since securing enrolment he has become entitled, twenty-one days before the issue of a writ for an election, to be enrolled for same other division. The intention of Parliament is that a man, notwithstanding that by reason of his avocation he may be required to travel, shall not thereby lose his right to vote, but in securing to an elector that privilege we should not leave a loop-hole for the impersonation or duplication of voting, or enable an elector to transfer from one division to another for the purpose - and especially where it is done in numbers - of determining an election in a division in which he has no intention subsequently of residing. This will not-, however, apply to those electors who may be temporarily absent from their division and intend to return for the purpose of continuing their residence therein. Other provisions in the Bill will permit a man temporarily absent from his own division on polling day to exercise the postal or absent vote.
A further amendment provides that a presiding officer shall put to the voter certain questions additional to those now provided for under the Electoral Act, namely, is he a bond fide resident in the division, is he only temporarily absent from his own division, and intends to return to his place of residence and continue to reside there, or if not temporarily absent that he was not within the prescribed period, entitled to enrolment in any other division. All of these questions have been framed with the object of tightening up that particular part of our electoral machinery. If a person’s claim, to vote is rejected, through his failure to answer, satisfactorily, any of the above questions, or other questions, as provided in section 115 of the Act, there is provision in the Bill, if an elector considers his claim to have been wrongfully rejected, for. him to make a statutory declaration in the prescribed form and his ballot-paper will be dealt with in the same manner as a ballot-paper issued under section 121. We do not want these sections of the Act to operate to the detriment of any of those electors who may be bond fide entitled to vote, and in order to ensure that in the working of these provisions, a returning officer shall not prevent those who are properly entitled to vote from voting, if a person presses his claim, his vote may be recorded, but it will not be lodged in the general ballot-box with the other papers until the question as to hi? bond fide right to vote ‘has been determined.
The Bill introduces a proposal that was before the Senate on a previous occasion, but was not proceeded with, and which is new so far as our legislation is concerned, namely, the opportunity for candidates to have their names grouped on the ballot-papers. This principle is not new in other countries. In United States of America, for instance, it is already operative in connexion with both State and Federal elections.
– It is also operative in Belgium.
– I believe that is so. The grouping of candidates for the Senate on the ballot-paper will not mean that an elector will be compelled to give a group vote. He will still be able to exercise his right of selection in the distribution of his vote, in any manner that he thinks fit.
– But you will admit that it will be an incentive to group voting.
– It will give an elector who desires to do so an opportunity to record a group vote.
– That is to say, the names will be removed from the alphabetical list on the ballot-paper.
– Yes, to the extent that under the grouping system the names will not appear in arbitrary alphabetical order. It will give an opportunity for party candidates to be grouped together.
– And it will bring party politics into the country. That is what we shall get.
– The honorable senator, will have full opportunity to discuss the principles of the measure in due course.
– I know, but I cannot resist the temptation to point to its defects now.
– The honorable senator will have ample’ opportunity to deal with all the possibilities of the Bill at a later stage. Those who have been associated with Senate elections, and moat of us have had experience extending over many years, know that at the close of every election there is a very large number of informal ballot-papers in the Senate counts. In some elections these informalities have been so serious as to almost represent a number equal to the difference between the votes polled by a successful and a defeated candidate. Therefore, it is in the interests of parliamentary government that when a man or woman goes to the trouble of exercising the franchise there shall be an effective vote recorded. Seeing that we already have three recognised parties in Parliament, and that, in addition, at nearly every election, some people come forward as independent candidates, it is possible that on some occasions we shall have fifteen or sixteen names on the Senate ballot-paper.
– We had thirty on one celebrated occasion in my State.
– New South Wales is always setting us horrible examples, and my colleague has just mentioned one.
– Judging by the choice made, I should not think there was anything wrong with the old system.
– I did not mean to suggest that the results of the election referred to furnished a horrible example. I meant really the large number of candidates, which no doubt created some difficulty for’’ the electors. In the larger States, such as Queensland, Western Australia, New South Wales, and South Australia, a man may be very well known in one. division and yet be an absolute stranger to electors in other parts of the State. Take my own State. Men who are well known in the coastal divisions are comparatively unknown on the gold-fields, and vice versa. A candidate may be a very prominent person at Broken Hill, and yet be an absolutely unfamiliar figure in Sydney. The candidates are selected by their respective parties, and, obviously, the electors have very great difficulty. The electors meet the representatives of their organization, who tell them that such? and such men are the candidates for their party. The electors desire to vote for that party, but when they go to the ballotbox they have no assistance. They may have only a passing acquaintance with the men for whom they wish to vote, and yet they may have to pick out three names from a list of fifteen. If we have some system whereby the elector, who wants to vote for a party, is helped in making a choice, it will lessen the number of informal votes. It is very often the elector who has to go through a long list of candidates who votes wrongly, whereas, if the names of the men he wished to vote for were grouped, . the chances are that his vote would be a formal one.
– If ten or twelve candidates were grouped, and there were only three seats to be filled, do you think your proposal would lead to informality?
– I prefer not to be cross-examined at present, as I am endeavouring to put the case. This division of candidates’ names would enable an elector to record an intelligent and formal vote.
– How do you arrive at the candidates to be placed in the top group on the ticket?
– I am coming to that.
It is proposed that, in grouping candidates on the ballot-paper, the group shall be indicated by a letter of the alphabet. In some systems in operation elsewhere, a group is indicated by the name of a political party, but there are objections to that course, because, in the first place, there would have to be some authority to say who was entitled to the name, and it might be necessary to call on the electoral officer, or some other such person, to decide a very difficult question of party discipline, from which Government officers should be kept aloof. A letter of the alphabet should be sufficient, because if a group was to be identified by the letter “A,” the fact would be known shortly after the day of nomination, and the political party whose candidates were in that group could be trusted to let the electors know that the names of their candidates would be found under that particular letter. The question as to who is to constitute the group must he arrived at by agreement amongst the persons included in that group, that is to say, that no person could have his name attached to the group unless by the common consent and agreement of all the others.
– Another avenue for political rigging!
– The position of a candidate on the ballot-paper is to be determined by the alphabetical order of the first letter in the surnames of the candidates. Then, by adopting the numeral of that surname, according to its position in the alphabetical list, the sum is made up, and those having the lowest, number in the quotient would receive the highest position on the ballot list; so those whose alphabetical letter gave them the lowest quotient would get the < letter “A” as the letter indicating their particular group. This would not lead to any favoritism, and would be as fair to one party as the other. The group having been ascertained, and the electoral officer having been notified accordingly, the latter would work out this little sum and indicate to that group the position its names would occupy on the ballot-paper, and the letter that would indicate the group. The; candidates could make the fact known to their party organization, and those electors who wished to vote for that group would be well able to pick out by that letter its position on the ballot-paper, and give an effective vote. If an elector wished to vote for one candidate in one group and another in a second group, and, perhaps, an independent candidate as well he would have a free hand to do so.
– Would it be easier to do so than with the present ballotpaper?
– Yes; it would be easier for electors to pick out the men for whom they wished to vote. Surely it is not desired that we should have representatives entering Parliament by accident, or on account of similarity between their names and those of other, candidates. We want their election to represent the deliberate and free choice of the electors.
Under the new preferential system of voting for Senate candidates, which was brought into operation for the first time at the last elections, an unsuccessful candidate loses his deposit ‘ if he fails to secure, as first preference votes, at least’ one-tenth of the average number of first preference votes polled by the successful candidates (section 76). This is a fair system provided the votes are cast under no preconcerted plan.
– We did not make that after much deliberation.
– That may be the opinion of some honorable senators. In certain cases, however, political organizations instructed their adherents . to vote in a definite order, viz., No. 1 preference to candidate A, No. 2 preference to candidate B, and so on. The result was that some unsuccessful candidates thus failed to receive the number’ of first preference votes which under normal conditions’ they would have received. Under the grouping system, the deposit will only be forfeited if the average number of first preference votes polled in favour of the candidates included in the group is not more than one-tenth of the average number of first preference votes polled by the successful candidates. It is also expected that the adoption of the grouping system will facilitate voting, reduce the number of informal ballot-papers, and avoid confusion as to the .identity of candidates. The order of arrangement of groups and of . names in groups is, provided for in clauses 10 and 28.
I now come to the machinery clauses in the Bill. Under the existing provisions of the Act relating to postal voting, applications for postal ballot-papers may be lodged with the Divisional Returning Officer up to and including polling day. In some cases applications would thus be received too late to enable postal ballot- papers to be posted to the applicants and returned before the close of the poll. As the Divisional Returning Officer is also charged under the Act with the duty of issuing postal ballot-papers, he is now called on to perform on polling day functions from which he should, on that day, be free. . It is proposed, therefore, to provide in clauses 5 and 7 that applications for postal ballot-papers must reach the Divisional Returning Officer by 6 p.m. on the day preceding polling day, and that no postal ballot-paper shall be issued in respect of any application received after that time. It has happened that electors have been deprived of votes through their names on the roll having been marked as persons to whom postal ballot-papers have been issued, or as persons who have already voted as ordinary voters. The marking of the rolls may occur through mistake on the part of the presiding officer or through misunderstanding as to the identity of the voter. It is proposed to enable an elector, who claims to vote, ‘but whose name has been so marked, to vote on making a declaration in the prescribed form, and the ballot-paper is then to be. dealt with as prescribed. No such ballot-paper will, however, be scrutinized unless the Divisional Returning Officer is satisfied that the elector is entitled to vote at the election, or that he is entitled so to vote and that a postal ballot-paper has not been issued to him, as the case may be. In order to prevent abuse of the postal voting system,, it is proposed in clause 8 to make provision for the imposition of heavy penalties for unlawfully marking or opening postal ballot-papers. It is proposed to institute a system of numbering ordinary ballot-papers, such as is in force in Great Britain and Queensland. Postal ballot-papers, absent voters’ ballot-papers, and ballot-papers issued under section 121 are now numbered in pursuance of the regulations. Under the proposed system, the ballotpapers will die serially numbered, commencing with number 1, and attached to butts. When a ballot-paper is issued, the roll number of the elector will be noted on the butt, and to maintain secrecy the number on the ballot-paper will be concealed by a wafer or in some other prescribed manner. The butts will be pealed -up and retained for reference, if necessary, by the Court of Disputed Return?, to enable the Court to exclude a ballotpaper which it is proved has been marked by a person who was not entitled to vote at the election. If the proposed provisions as to disfranchising persons who are wrongly enrolled are to have proper effect, some means of identifying the ballotpapers of these persons must be provided. Consequent on the numbering of ballotpapers, special provision is inserted in clause 21 for the maintenance of secrecy by scrutineers and officers.
Section 113 of the Act appears to give electors the right to vote as absent voters. This appears to have been the construction placed on the section by Mr. Justice Isaacs in the election case of Keon v. Kerby (27 C.L.R. 449, at page 457). It is desirable, however, ; that absent voting should be clearly regarded as ‘a privilege, and a slight amendment to section 113 is, therefore, proposed to meet the position. Mr. Justice Isaacs, in the case of Kean y. Kerby (27 C.L.R. 449, at page 464) referred to difficulties and misunderstandings likely to arise from the permissible use of a cross in voting for a House of Representatives’ election when only two candidates are contesting the seat. In order, therefore, to obviate, as far as possible, the casting of informal votes through the wrongful use of a cross, it is proposed, under clause 18, to repeal the provision permitting the use of a cross in the circumstances mentioned. For the information of honorable senators who were not members pf the Senate when this provision was inserted, I may explain that in the early elections of the Commonwealth a vote was recorded by making a cross. Later, when the system of numbering was introduced, marking of ballotpapers was also permissible; but. .as electors should now be familiar with the numeral system, it is proposed to dispense entirely with the marking of a ballotpaper with a cross. In some of the States the numeral system is still used, but it is altogether foreign to the Commonwealth electoral system.
– Some of the States still continue to use a cross.
– I presume some of the backward States, such as South Australia, may still follow that system. In the case of Hedges v. Burchell (17 C.L.R. 327), the petitioner applied to the Court of Disputed Returns for an order to inspect and take extracts from the rolls used by the Returning Officer and the proceedings filed at the election held on the’ 31st May, 1913, for a member of the House of Representatives for the Fremantle Division, including all rolls used subsequently to that date in connexion with the re-checking of the count of the election. Barton, A.CJ., drew attention to the fact that the Court was, in that case, asked to order discovery, and he held that, as the order was requested against a third party - the Chief Electoral Officer - the Court had no jurisdiction to grant the order. The learned Judge concluded his judgment with these words (page 334) : -
It may be’ that such a power is highly necessary, and that the ends of justice are frustrated by its absence. It seems strange that in a proceeding which involves the question of the proper conduct of an election, when information is sought which exists only in the rolls and other documents in the custody of public officers, a petitioner is not entitled to the discovery that is here sought. But the remedy is in the hands of the Legislature, not those of the Court.
The evidence in the case of Kean v. Kerby (27 C.L.R. 449, page 457) showed that several electors were prevented from voting by reason of there being no absentee ballot-papers available for them, or through the errors of officials. The learned Judge allowed these persons to give evidence as to the manner in which they had voted. His reason for doing this was the construction placed on section 1 94 of the Act. That section at present provides, inter alia, that no election shall be avoided on account of the error of any officer which shall not be proved to have affected the result of an election. In cases, therefore, where electors are prevented from voting by the error of an officer, it is necessary, in order to prove whether or not the error did affect the election, to call evidence on the manner in which the votes would have been cast. The Commonwealth law differs in this respect from the English law. In England, an election may not be declared invalid if it appears to the tribunal that the mistake did not affect the result of the election - “ In other words, if the matter is left so that the mistake may have affected the result, the election may be declared invalid.”
That was the decision of Mr. Justice Isaacs. It is proposed, therefore, by clause 24 of the Bill to amend section 194 so as to bring it into line with the English law, and to prevent evidence being called as to the way in which an elector intended to vote at an election.
Further, aa under the Bill an election may be avoided if evidence is given that certain electors were refused votes, it is necessary to tighten up the Act as regards the admission of such evidence. The new section 194a proposed to be inserted by clause 25 of the Bill will do this. Under that section, the elector must satisfy the Judge that he was entitled to a vote, and made a claim to vote, and complied with all the requirements of the Act and regulations relating to voting in so far as he was permitted to do so.
The Commonwealth Electoral (WarTime) Act 1917-19 has been repealed, and with it has gone the provision prohibiting the holding of a State referendum on a day appointed for the Commonwealth elections. Clause 27 of the Bill proposes to re-enact this provision.
I have now given honorable senators a summary of the main provisions of the Bill.
– What about the scrutiny and the counting of first, second, and third preferences 1
– We are not interfering with the provisions of the existing law as regards scrutiny. The present system will be continued under the Bill.
– It ought to be simplified.
– That is a matter which can be discussed. Honorable senators will agree that this is very largely a machinery measure, and one for discussion in Committee.
Debate (on motion by Senator MacDonald) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator E. D. Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Before we adjourn, I should like to refer to the remarks made this afternoon by the Right Honorable the Minister for Home and Territories (Senator! Pearce) with regard to the proposed rearrangement for the supply of meteorological information, I have followed the honorable senator’s answers to my questions on this’ subject with great interest, because the matter is one which seriously affects the primary producer and the shipping industry in New South Wales. I must confess that I am not satisfied with the Minister’s statement. He has told us that the proposed re-arrangement is being made with the advice of Mr. Hunt, the head of the Meteorological Branch of his Department. As a consequence, we have this position presented to us: Within the last ten days the previously existing service has been discontinued to the extent of 50 per cent., on the advice of the very same officer who is called upon now to assist the Department in re-arranging the provision made for weather telegrams and ocean forecasts.
I have here a map of New South Wales, from which I can point out many mistakes which, in my opinion, have been made up to the present time in the proposed re-arrangement. If the advice of responsible officers in New South Wales had been sought they would have been in a position to say which services in that State might be discontinued with safety; ‘but stations have been left out entirely at the instance of the meteorological officer in Melbourne. Taking New South Wales coastal stations, the following important places have been cut out: -.Ballina, Byron Bay, Murrumbimba and Tweed Heads, to say nothing of Murwillumbah. The mistake made in cutting out reports from such important stations has been brought home to us in New South Wales within the last few days. We have experienced a tremendous cyclone, which unroofed houses, caused snipping to take shelter immediately, and did a very great deal of damage. The fact that the Government Meteorologist in Sydney was able to warn shipping of the approach of that cyclone was not because he received wires from these various stations which are situated on a part of the coast of New South Wales that is most open to cyclonic disturbances, ‘but to the simple fluke that this particular disturbance made itself felt in the first instance near Brisbane. With the stations to which I have referred and other, important stations included in the re-arrangement cut out, we shall in New South Wales be absolutely unprotected from the effects of cyclonic disturbances, the first indications of which are often -noted at these strategic positions on the coast. The determination to cut out reports from these places in the - interests of what can only be regarded as fictitious economy, must seriously impair the efficiency of the service. So far as I have been able to gather from the Minister’s replies to my questions, and the replies I have received to questions I have submitted to the Government Meteorologist, the only say ing to be effected by the proposed rearrangement will be a saving in the cost of telegrams.
– What is the estimated saving?
– The estimated saving is the same as the amount by which the revenue of the Post and Telegraph Department will be reduced, say, between £25,000 and £28,000. The expenditure means merely taking money out of one pocket and putting it into another. The alleged saving reminds one of the man who, finding when he went to bed that his blanket was not long enough to cover his feet, cut a strip off the top of it and sewed it on to the bottom. That is what the economy in this case amounts to.
This matter is one of very great importance to country centres. Along the River Murray at the present time large works are in progress, involving the expenditure of hundreds of thousands, and eventually of millions, of pounds, and yet I find that the economist at the head of the Meteorological Branch has actually proposed to cut out reports from stations at the heads of the Murray waters, from which it is essential that information as to the height of the rivers and any movement likely to follow on heavy raina should be at once sent to stations further down the stream. My criticism is applicable also to the wheat-growing districts, and it is unquestionable that the inefficiency of the re-arranged service will not be balanced by the amount of the proposed fictitious savings.
Let us consider the position with regard to ocean forecasts. The rearrangement has been made on the advice of the head of the Meteorological Branch in Victoria, and under, it to-day no ocean forecasts are sent out from Sydney. I ‘do not know on what information the
Meteorologist is going to rely in the future for his ocean forecasts, or how coastal ports will fare.
– On telegrams as to the state of the River Darling.
– I shall deal with that in a minute; but I am talking now of ocean forecasts. To-day they are apparently to be supplied to the metropolitan city pres3 only, and if people at Newcastle want to know what the ocean forecast is, they will be entirely dependent on private advices from Sydney.
– When weather reports were received from all sorts of places they were considered of no use, but as soon as an attempt is made to reduce the number of places from which reports are received people realize their wonderful value.
– If the honorable senator had been in Sydney within the last few days he would have realized the value of forewarnings of conditions on the seaboard.
Senators Keating. - I do realize their value; but until they were cut out every one criticised them as being unreliable.
– The Meteorological Branch has cut down by 50 per cent, a service that was considered insufficient before. As a matter of fact, the officer in charge of the Branch at Sydney, during the last few months., cut out what he regarded as comparatively unimportant stations. Surely the position is so serious that the Minister, if he is determined On economizing in this way, will carefully consider the advice of officers of the Meteorological Branch in Sydney, who should know more of the position in New South Wales than an official in Melbourne.
I noticed in reading to-day’s newspapers that the Minister referred to what he regarded as the absurdity of Albury being furnished with rainfall records from Sydney, as though Albury received daily a telegram from Sydney giving Sydney rainfall records only. I have here a. bunch of telegrams sent from Sydney .to important country centres, giving weather and wind reports, and Albury, as a very important centre, is given information in regard to all main centres in New South Wales, and not with regard to small places. It is necessary that an important grazing, agricultural, and fruit district, such as Albury, should be made acquainted with all weather data from important places in New South Wales. It is most important to the man depending on the land- for. his living that he should have a wide survey, of ‘.the weather conditions ruling in the State, and should not be supplied merely with information from places 15 or 20 miles away. I urge upon the Minister that he should again take into consideration the restoration of the service to what it was before these instructions to reduce the weather reports were given, and should endeavour to restore the service to its former, efficiency. I ask him to consider whether in his. desire to bring about an economy of a more or less fictitious character he is not shutting his eyes to the .far greater importance to the State of’ New South Wales of the completeness of the meteorological information supplied. I would urge that the Commonwealth, having taken over the Meteorological Branch from, the States, is bound to give to the States the same efficiency as existed previously. I have ascertained that the system in vogue in New South Wales today is merely the same as existed when the Department was. taken over by the Commonwealth. I do not propose to take up the time of ,the Chamber any longer, but I feel it my duty,, as a representative of New. South Wales, and as one who is particularly interested in, the welfare of the primary, producer, to bring these, facts under the notice of the Minister and to urge him to give the matter further consideration. . ‘ .’ ,
– The recent development in connexion with the reduction of meteorological telegrams referred to by Senator Garling .is very interesting in many of its aspects. At the outset it was announced publicly that the object of reducing the telegrams was economy. I am not prepared to say here and now whether any economy was effected, or whether it was only a seeming economy. The public, or at any rate that large section of it which has been calling for economy in every direction, immediately began to protest, when there was this one illustration of professed economy, because it affected them. They denounced the Government for reducing the meteorological telegrams. I think there is something to answer in what has been said by the last speaker. The Government should state whether there is, or would be, actual or only seeming economy in the reduction that has been made. The illustration which he has given of a blanket which was too short appears to be applicable to the economy aspect of this reduction in telegrams.
The present Meteorologist, although he is located in Melbourne, i3 in my opinion quite as competent as any other man to appreciate the importance of every meteorological station in New South Wales. I speak with some interest upon this subject, because I happened to be the Minister in authority when the Meteorological Branch of the Commonwealth was established and the State services were taken over. It was my pleasure and privilege to take part in the appointment of the present Commonwealth Meteorologist. Up to that time he held office in the State of New South Wales., and I may say, for the benefit of those honorable senators who were not here then, that there was a very strong move-, ment in Sydney in favour of placing the head office of the Commonwealth Meteorologist at the Sydney Observatory. It was announced that the Meteorologist himself strongly advocated Sydney Observatory as the centre for meteorological observations for the Commonwealth. Mr. Hunt took the position in Melbourne with, I will not say a bad grace, but a feeling that Melbourne was not the best place. Whether Melbourne was the beet place or not, h& has made the best of it, and he is as intimate with the conditions in New South Wales as any man in his calling could possibly be. The gentleman who replaced him in New South Wales was Mr. Cook, at that time Meteorologist in Western Australia. Some people who had observed Mr. Cook’s work in Western Australia considered that he had some claims to appointment as Commonwealth Meteorologist. Whether he had or not, it was considered that Mr. Hunt’s claims were superior. Mr. Hunt became Commonwealth Meteorologist, and some time afterwards Mr.’ Cook became Meteorologist in New South Wales. In these circumstances, . I think the Government are acting, wisely when they accept the advice, in this- matter, of Mr. Hunt. His long association with New South Wales and his expressed desire when he took office under the Commonwealth that he should carry on operations at the Observatory with which he had been so long associated, tend to show that he is not likely to be neglectful of the interests of New South -Wales in this regard.
– Not if he cuts cut reports from the head waters of a river like the Murray ?
– I have no doubt that if he had an opportunity of explaining why he did so he would be able to give reasons which would at least appeal to us, even if they did not convince us. On the meagre information and scant particulars) available at the present time, I am not prepared to criticise the Minister if he has followed the advice of the permanent head of th Branch. I have watched the operations of the Branch since it was established. I have often (heard people refer, somewhat jocularly perhaps, to the fact that, the * Meteorologist has forecast fine weather for the week-end, and that, therefore, it was bound to be wet, and vice versâ One hears a lot of this kind of criticism, and ridicule is sought to be heaped upon the Branch, but the moment the Government commences to shorten the (Branch’s activities the public begins to clamour. Even if the Minister has erred in this matter, there has been one good result - it has awakened the public to a sense of the importance of the Branch and hh© value of its forecasts.
– I am glad that Senator Garling has raised this question to-day, because his action gives me an opportunity to speak at greater length, and with more freedom, than I could do in reply to a question. Senator Garling assumes that the position has not been altered within the last few days. It has been entirely altered. The stations to which he has referred are in operation to-day as they were before. It is necessary to refer back to the genesis of this question, because it has some bearing on practical economy. There was a time when the Post Office did not make a charge to the various Commonwealth Departments for services rendered. It was called upon, for instance, to carry the correspondence of Parliament without getting any recompense. That was altered as the result of deliberate thought and inquiry. It was found that the practice led to extravagance because, obviously, if. there was no charge to a Department for telegrams or other services rendered by another Department, there was a temptation to be prodigal. Before Federation no charge was made to< the Meteorological
Branch for services rendered by the Postal Department. It is interesting to look over fane list of things that were done, for a study of them shows that it was not very often the Meteorologist who determined that certain telegrams should be sent. A country postmaster could decide that it would be very interesting for him to get certain information for his township, and accordingly it was provided, at no cost to the Meteorological Branch. There was not even a book entry of the charge. Thus useless telegrams - useless from a meteorological or economic point of view - things of interest but of no value, were sent over the wires in New South Wales, and nearly always at “ urgent “ rates. The time camewhen the Post Office said, “ This is not fair to us. It does not disclose our real position to the public. We are rendering services to the Meteorological and other Departments for which we are receiving no revenue.” Long ago the practice was initiated of the Post Office charging for its services, but the Meteorological Branch was exempted, and for some years continued to have a privilege that was not given to any other Commonwealth Branch or Department.
– Was that not done by Act of Parliament?
– No. About three years ago the Postmaster-General of the time determined that he would raise this question, and as a result of conferences between the Treasurer, the Minister for Home and Territories, and the PostmasterGeneral, it was decided that the Post Office was entitled to charge for services rendered. At that time the vote for the Meteorological Branch was £52,000 per annum. The Commonwealth Meteorologist and all his staff knew that that was the amount which Parliament had said should be spent on these services. I take it that Senator Garling is not one of those who would say that, when Parliament has decided that a certain amount shall be spent, a Department has a right to say, “ We do not care a hang what you have said; we are going to spend so much more.”
– Did that sum of £52,000 include postage, stationery, and other things besides telegrams ?
– It was for telegrams only. Notwithstanding that an agreement was arrived at, and was placed on record in the Department, the Meteorological Branch continued to send telegrams on the previous scale, and from that time until the Government recently took action no attempt was ever made to bring the expenditure within the amount voted by Parliament. At the end of the financial year, I found that whilst Parliament had voted £52,000, the Department had expended no less than £26,000 more than that amount. Had that excess expenditure come before Parliament, I can imagine how the Taxpayers’ Association, and various other bodies, would have pointed to it at once, and said, “ There is another instance of Common - wealth extravagance. Parliament votes £52,000, and you spend £80,000.” Senator Garling would not, I am sure, justify a Department in doing that. When that position was revealed, I asked the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) what he proposed that we should1 do. As the position stood, it would have meant that this yearthe Government would have to come to Parliament and ask for over £70,000 for the current year, and £26,000 arrears for last year, for a purpose for which Parliament had set down £52,000. The Estimates would thus have shown an increase of expenditure in this Branch of nearly 100 per cent. in one year. What a tit-bit for the Taxpayers Association! How the newspapers, particularly the A ge, would have rolled it round their tongues - an increase of 100 per cent. without any additional service having been given ! It was agreed by the PostmasterGeneral that he would not insist on the £26,000 being paid, but would allow it as a loss of revenue to his Department, on the understanding, as laid down by the Treasurer and himself, and accepted by me, that the MeteorologicalBranch would, in future, keep within the amount voted by Parliament, namely, £52,000. Upon receiving that decision I at once notified the Commonwealth Meteorologist that he must so rearrange his telegraphic service as to keep within the parliamentary vote. Apparently, he assumed that this question was open to argument, aud submitted to me reasons why the Postal Department should carry weather telegrams at press rates. But I have no means of compelling the PostmasterGeneral to do for this Department what he is not asked to do for any other Department, and to break away from the system established by custom with regard to all Departments. In my instructions to the Meteorologist I asked him to cut out weather telegrams that had no economic or meteorological value, but lie was in this position : He had’ commenced the new financial year on an expenditure basis of £80,000, not having effected a reduction to a basis of £52,000 at the time the agreement was arrived at, although, as I have said, he was notified of it. Therefore, in order to make sure that his expenditure would be within the parliamentary allowance, he cut out stations of all kinds wholesale, including ocean and coastal forecasts, river readings, rainfall records, and so on, to give him time, having found that the Government were determined to keep within the vote, to re-examine his list and eliminate those which, from a meteorological, or economic point of view, were useless. As quickly as possible he submitted to me his revised proposals, showing what was actually being done. When Senator Garling has time, I should like him to look at .that list. I am sure that in it he will find many things that he will be hard put to to justify. Mr. Hunt does not attempt to justify some of the reports at all. He inherited them. Let me give a few examples. In quite a number of cases rainfall reports and other meteorological data received or compiled at the Meteorological Department in Sydney are sent to quite a number of country stations, including Albury. Can Senator Garling point to the economic or meteorological value of these telegrams to Albury ?
– Will you give me time to answer that question t -
– I will give the honorable senator as much time as he likes. I have taken the trouble to examine the ‘list, and I can Bee no economic or meteorological value at’ all in some of the reports. If there were a meteorologist at Albury, preparing data as to the rainfall of the State, I could’ understand the reason for despatching the telegrams to that town, but the Meteorologist is in Sydney. He gets the returns and compiles the information. But Albury is not an isolated instance. Daily rainfall telegrams and weather reports are sent from Sydney to quite a number of towns in New South Wales. Can any honorable senator suggest why this information should be despatched from Sydney to Gabo Island, on the coast of Victoria?
– Telegrams of wind reports, certainly.
– But Gabo gets that information in addition. If the man at Gabo Island were a meteorologist capable of reading these telegrams and issuing a forecast, I could understand the reason b . for their being sent to him ; but he is not. He did nothing with them. They were simply being sent, and nobody knew why.
– I do not urge the continuance of telegrams to Gabo Island. I do not say that some of the weather telegrams could not be ait out.
– An examination of the list showed that quite a large number could safely be dispensed with. Take my own State as another illustration. There is, or was, a town known as Kanowna. At one time it waB a flourishing mining centre, and, apparently, because it was the custom to send daily forecasts and rainfall reports to’ the more important towns in the State, Kanowna, though entirely a mining town, was included. Nobody. there waa ever interested in agriculture, and although the ‘town , has declined to such an extent ‘that the State Government contemplate taking up the railway and using the rails elsewhere, these weather reports were being sent, to Kanowna up to two weeks ago. Then we all know the fate of Cobar. Yet, meteorologically speaking, till this list, was revised, Cobar apparently was regarded as one of the most important country centres in the Commonwealth, and wa. receiving all sorts of weather reports.
– The -Minister is quoting extreme examples.
– And it ib only extreme examples pf useless telegrams’ that have been cut out.
– I doubt that.
– But I tell the honorable senator it is so. Telegrams .of importance and . value that were eliminated when the first ruthless cut was made have all been restored. . .
– Not all, .up till 20 minutes past 1 o’clock to-day.
– Well, the instructions to restore them were issued yesterday.
– I am very glad, to have that assurance from the Minister.
– All meteorological telegrams of any value whatever have been restored, and only those telegrams which represent useless and wasteful expenditure have been dispensed with.
I want to relieve Mr. Hunt of any charge of negligence or want of ability in this matter. He had to make that cut in order to give him time to revise his list, and make sure that his expenditure would be brought within the amount authorized.
– That is to say, to out out the services first and inquire afterwards.
– The list should have been revised long ago, when the Ministers who attended that Conference decided that the Postal Department should charge for meteorological telegrams. I inherited the trouble when I took over the Department. When the matter came before me, I saw. at once that action would have to be taken immediately if we were to avoid asking Parliament for an additional allowance, and gave instructions accordingly. Something has been said about this being a false, and not a real, economy, seeing that it is a bookkeeping debit to my Department. But if I came, to Parliament and asked for an increase of £20,000, urging as a reason that the extra £20,000 was only in the nature of pay for another Department, my explanation certainly would not be accepted.
– You might as well ask for another £250,000.
– That is so. Any such excuse would not he accepted by the financial or newspaper critics of the Government. New South Wales is blessed with a splendid river system, which, while it is of great value to the State, is at times a source of great danger also to those engaged in the pastoral industry. It is necessary, therefore, that regular reports as to the condition of the various rivers shouldbe sent to all localities that are likely to be affected.But we found on examination of the list that these telegrams were sent, not only to such places, but also to towns which by no stretch of imagination could be said to be affected by the condition of the rivers. Obviously, this represented a serious waste in expenditure. Let me indicate what these reports mean. Assuming that the ordinary telegram ‘costs ls., the parliamentary vote of £52,000 represents over 1,000,000 telegrams per year, 86,000 per month, 21,000 per week, or 3,500 telegrams per day, allowing six days to the meteorological week. Vast and wide as the continent is, we should be able to get a fairly effective service with 3,500 weather telegrams per day. I can assure honorable senators that I am quite in agreement with them as to the value of these meteorological telegrams, and I can assure them that all reports of an economic or meteorological value have been restored. The Postal Department has agreed that telegrams sent in the earlier part of the day will be despatched at ordinary rates, and take precedence, so the system should he thoroughly effective. Only those reports that will not stand the test of usefulness or . economic value have been dispensed with.
– Then the service will be absolutely efficient?
– Quite efficient, and, moreover, we shall be able to effect a saving sufficient to bring the expenditure within the parliamentary vote for this financial year.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 4.35 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 July 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1922/19220726_senate_8_99/>.