13th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
The PRESIDENT reported the receipt of a letter from Mrs. S. Earle, asking him to convey to members of the Senate her sincere thanks for copies of the resolution passed in the Senate concerning her late husband.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Defence Act - Royal Military College of Australia- Report for period 1st January 1931, to 31st December, 1931.
Lighthouses Act- Regulations amendedStatutory Rules 1932, No. 35.
Financial Agreements Enforcement ActRegulations amended,&c. - Statutory Rules 1932, No. 34- No. 40.
The following bills were brought up by
Acts Interpretation Bill.
– I have previously asked for an inquiry into the possibility of securing a cheaper supply of fertilizers for the Commonwealth, and I should like to know if the Leader of the Government in the Senate has any information to impart relative to the progress that has been made in conducting that investigation.
-I know that the investigation is being held by the Department of the Prime Minister, but I am not aware of the progress that has been made. I shall have inquiries made.
– In November last I asked a question relative to the strength of whiskies in bond throughout Australia. I know that it is a difficult subject, but I have not yet had an answer to my question, and I should like to know if it is practicable to get one.
– I shall have inquiries made, and let the honorable senator know.
Debate resumed from the 29th April (vide page 126), on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce -
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- At the first glance, this would appear to be an innocent measure: but a closer study of its provisions convinces me that it could easily become a dangerous weapon in the hands of a vindictive government or public service board when dealing with public servants with whose avowed political opinions they might differ. I do not suggest that either the present Government or the existing Public Service Board would so use the powers given in this bill, but neither will last for ever. We concede that both are absolutely honest in their desire to do the best in the interests of the Public .Service and the country; but we can easily visualize a public servant being placed in an unfortunate position as a result of a decision of a government that was not quite as just as this Government possibly is.
– Will the honorable senator cite a case in which an injustice could be done ?
– ¥c have often heard of “ Spoils to the victors “. While such a term cannot be used in respect to Australian governments or institutions we all know that such a system operates in other countries with serious consequences to certain public officers when a change of government occurs. We should take every precaution to avoid the possibility of such a thing in the Commonwealth. Under sub-clauses 1 and 2 of clause 3, action which may have a very detrimental effect upon certain public servants, can be taken by the board. The Commonwealth Works Department and the Department of Transport have been abolished and their activities are to be undertaken by another department. Certain highly-paid public officers in the departments that have been abolished may be declared redundant officers, and under this clause may be transferred to other departments where they will displace permanent officers of lower rank who are doing their work conscientiously and efficiently. The officers thus displaced are to be regarded as excess officers, and may be cast upon a cold world without any position at all. I do not think that is fair. The highly-paid officers who in the first place are’ declared to be redundant have been in a much bettor position to accumulate sufficient to provide for themselves and their families than the unfortunate lower-pa.id officers whom they are to succeed. The pro-‘ posal is unjust. I trust. that the Government will adhere to the existing act, which seems fair and reasonable. Under that act an officer who has been declared redundant cannot displace another public servant who has rendered satisfactory service.
– Is it not better to do that than dispense with the services of the senior officers?
– The point is that under this measure the Government seeks to protect the man who has had an opportunity to make some provision for himself and his family and to penalize the man who has had no such opportunity.
– I do not read the bill in that way.
– Sub-clause 1 of clause 3 reads -
– That, provides that a senior officer shall take the place of ad officer of lower status.
– That is what I object to. Why should a public servant who has not had the same opportunities to provide for himself and his family as has a senior officer be sent adrift to join the ranks of the unemployed ? Those who will be required to retire will probably be quite as efficient as those who are to take their place, and probably more 30, because they have a thoroughknowledge of the work of their offices. Senator Lynch. - What remedy would the honorable senator apply in the case of redundant officers? .
– There is only one method that should be adopted: If there is nothing for them to do, they should he put off. I suppose most of us have had that experience at some time or other. A man cannot expect to be continued in a highly-paid -position if there is nothing for him to do.
– Would it not be fairer to retain the services of the older officer?
– The honorable senator does not seem to wake up to the fact that neither youth nor age affects the question. It may be a young man who displaces an older man in another department.
– For the guidance of honorable senators, I point out that these details may be more appropriately discussed wn.cn the bill is in committee.
– I agree with you, sir.
The bill also makes possible the victimization of an officer who, holding strong opinions, does not hesitate to express them, even though they may be distasteful to his superior officers, or even to the Government. Such an officer becomes a marked nian, and under the provisions of the bill may be displaced for any reason, or even for no reason, the governing principle being the conscientiousness of the board and its readiness to administer the act in the manner intended.
– The honorable senator surely does not suggest that the board would show political bias!
– I suggest nothing against the present Commissioner. But I do say that the door will be left open for succeeding commissioners or governments to abuse the power that is to be conferred. It is not possible for us to know how future commissioners or governments are likely to conduct themselves. We are making it possible for maladministration to be practised; and the person victimized will have no redress.
Section 76 of the principal act is to be amended, by providing for holiday payment on the basis of a quarter, instead of a half-day’s pay. The existing provision, I consider, is the more considerate towards the public servant. I admit that, in many instances those who are asked to work on holidays can complete their duties in much less than a quarter of a day; but the inconvenience to which they arc put, and the loss of pleasure which they sustain, surely entitle them to even generous compensation ! For that reason, I am in favour of retaining the. .existing rate of pay.
I hope that these few remarks of mine will have a softening effect on the hard heart of the Government.
.- I regret that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) did not adopt a different tone towards this measure, particularly as he has frequently announced in this chamber his adherence to the policy of economy in administration.
In my opinion, this measure has been brought forward with the One object of achieving economy without loss of efficiency. It is apparent to every one that the cost of government must be reduced, and that any unwarranted extraneous payments must be cut out. It is all very well for the honorable senator to pose as the champion of the Public Service. The real champions of the Service are those ‘who believe in maintaining the highest efficiency possible, while exercising the greatest measure of economy in the interests of the people of Australia, who have te provide the wherewithal to enable the Public Service to be carried on, and who to-day are sorely put to it to make ends meet. When the honorable senator suggests that it would be more equitable to pay for half a day when only half an hour’s work is done, he can have no interest in the welfare of the people of Australia. I say without hesitation that no government would be worthy of the name if it did not take every step possible to reduce the expenditure upon administration, bearing in mind, of course, the necessity for maintaining the highest possible efficiency.
A consideration of the provisions of this measure during the week-end has satisfied me that the Government, has no intention of inflicting any avoidable hardship on any member of the Public Service, but that on the contrary it desires, wherever possible, to relieve the burden that the taxpayers are being called upon to bear without endangering the efficiency of the administration.
I regret, the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that this law may be administered in a purely political fashion, and that grudges which may be held against certain officers can be worked off under it. I do not believe that any body of commissioners would allow themselves to be controlled in that way. I firmly believe that, in the interests, not of the Government, but of the people of Australia, fair play will be meted out to every public servant, and that there will be kept constantly in view the necessity for reducing expenditure as much as possible.
– Despite its apparent simplicity, I arn with the Leader of the Opposition in ray dislike of this measure. Superficially, it. may appear to bc all right, but when one digs beneath the surface, one is astonished at the motive that underlies it. An immense amount of harm will be done by it, and the effects will not be confined to those who are in the Public Services of Australia. I disagree entirely with Senator Payne. In my opinion, every public servant to-day is absolutely efficient. Proof of that efficiency is furnished by the fact that they succeeded in passing a very severe examination prior to entering the Service. Under this bill that class of public servant may he dismissed and the tendency will be to impair the efficiency of the Service, because unless there is a reasonable prospect of continued employment, young men will not be encouraged to study for examinations and qualify for admission to the Service. No public servant will be safe if this bill becomes law. It is merely an attempt to camouflage the intention- of the Government to make a further cut in wages. Public servants in the higher positions may have their status and salary reduced from time to time.
– Is not that better than dismissal?
– The better course would be to ration the whole of the Public Service, and thus avoid dismissals.
– The effect of rationing would he to reduce wages.
– Nevertheless, the rate of pay would remain unaltered.
– But what about the average wage? That is what counts.
– The man who may be dismissed will not be much concerned about the average wage paid, because he will have no income at all. This measure may operate very unfairly in the case of a young married man who is purchasing his home. Naturally, he would feel aggrieved if, for reasons of economy, he is dismissed, while high-salaried officials, some of whom may have only a year or two to go, are retained, though possibly at reduced rates of pay. I do not like the bill, because for one reason, it places far too great a power in the hands of the Commissioner, who may, in fact, become an absolute dictator. ‘ Being entirely free from ministerial control, he may allow personal feelings to affect his decisions. No man should be given that power. I shall oppose the bill, o
– The Government is to be commended for this attempt to effect savings in expenditure where such economies can properly be made. It is satisfactory to learn, from the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) that considerable savings have already been made, through the proper authorities, in a number of extraneous payments, details of which the right honorable gentleman supplied on Friday last. There are two or three points to which I should like to direct attention at this stage rather than waiting until the bill is in committee, because they are in the nature of suggestions which the Leader of the Senate may be inclined to consider. The first relates to clause 2, which deals with holiday pay. I am not quite clear whether it includes Sunday duty pay.
– It does not.
– I understood the Leader of the Senate to 3ay that, without an amendment of the act, it would be impossible to make any reduction in the rates of pay for duty on Sundays or holidays; hut there appears to be no provision in the bill with regard to Sunday pay. It enacts that, if a public servant is called upon to work for, say, only half an hour or an hour on a public holiday, he shall be entitled to one-quarter day’s pay instead of, as hitherto, a half-day’s pay. I should think that even the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) could not cavil at that provision on the score of actual justice. It appears to me. in the present economic situation, and the fact that it will mean the saving of some thousands of pounds, a very reasonable and proper thing to do. When looking through the 1922 act, I could find no provision in it giving public servants who were called upon to work during holidays, time off on subsequent days; but, eventually, I’ found, in the 1924 act, a section which really duplicates the payments made to public servants, so that under the acts as they stand, a public servant is entitled not only to at least half u day’s pay when he is required to work on a holiday, but also to a halfday’s holiday as well.
– That is so.
– Section 20 of the Public Service Act enacts that an officer who works on a public holiday shall be granted a holiday off duty in lieu of the holiday or halfholiday which he has missed, provided that no period off duty in respect of work performed on any holiday shall be less than half a day. No one wishes to bring officers back unnecessarily on a holiday when others are enjoying themselves. For that reason, an officer brought back for half an hour or an hour on a holiday has hitherto been entitled to half a day’s pay and, in addition, half a day’s holiday. That appears to me to bc excessive. If it is sound to reduce the half-day’s pay to a quarter-day’s pay, in such circumstances, it should also be right to reduce the half-day’s holiday in lieu of the period worked to a quarter of a day. If that were done, a man who worked on a holiday for, say, half an hour or an hour, would receive in respect of that work a quarter-day’s pay and a quarter-day’s holiday - the equivalent of half a day’s holiday for possibly an hour’s work. If the one alteration is sound, then I submit the other alteration is equally sound. That the forms of compensation are on the same lines is shown clearly by section 20 of Act No. 46 of 1924, wherein it is laid down that, regulations may prescribe that the payment of any amount, or the granting of tiny period off duty, in consequence of the attendance and service of an officer during a holiday or half-holiday, shall bo subject to the approval of the board, if the salary of the officer concerned exceeds an amount to be prescribed. It is obvious that the granting of time off in lieu of time worked on a holiday results in the officer concerned not being in his place to do his work, and entails expense to the Government. In my opinion, the clause should be altered in both respects at the same time.
The only other clause concerning which. I desire to say a few words is the main clause of the bill - clause o, which relates to the regression generally. This clause might conceivably affect the principle of preference to returned soldiers. I do not say that that is the intention of the Government; but, obviously, the majority of the returned soldiers in the Public Service are not heads of departments, or iti the higher positions; most of them are either midway in thu departments, or in the lower ranks. In that case, the gradual pushing down by the senior officers who might be no more competent than they are, but attained seniority perhaps because they did not go to the war, might react to the disadvantage of the soldiers. I realize that it is impossible to make detailed provision in legislation to meet every individual ease which might arise, but I take it that all honorable senators accept the general principle of preference to returned soldiers, other things being equal - that is, provided the returned soldier is competent. Honorable senators must also reject any suggestion that an incompetent soldier - I do not use the word offensively - should have preference in the government service over a competent officer who, for some reason, did not happen to be at the war. In order to make the matter quite clear, and so that there shall he no question about sub-clause 1 interfering with the accepted principle of preference to returned soldiers which is laid down in the 1922 act, I suggest to the Leader of the Government (Senator Pearce) the inclusion of certain word;.
– The honorable senator is already going rather too much into detail for a second-reading speech.
– I put these suggestions forward solely with the idea of giving the Minister an opportunity of considering them before the bill reaches the committee stage.
– It would be convenient to have the suggestions now, so that the Government may have time to consider them.
– The honorable gentleman may proceed; I merely mention that it is usual to put proposed amendments on the notice-paper.
– If the words “ but subject to the principle of preference to returned soldiers “ were added after the word “ Act,” second occurring, sub-clause 1, it would be made clear that there is not any intention to override that preference, as one reading the clause now might imagine to be the case. It would then be a matter for the Public Service Board to put the general law into force in such a way that the returned soldier really got the preference to which he was entitled.
– I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) regarding the attitude that the Public Service Board is likely to adopt towards this legislation. I have no doubt that the present Commissioner would deal fairly with the position; but there is no guarantee that he will continue to hold office in his present capacity. I realize the need for economy in public administration. When there is a falling off in the revenue of the Commonwealth, economy becomes imperative, and some form of retrenchment must take place. But I submit that there are other ways of overcoming the difficulties than those which have been suggested. I appreciate the difficulty facing the Government in connexion with the abolition of certain Commonwealth departments, which overlap State departments. In Western Australia and South Australia, the Commonwealth has directors of works and other officers who, because of the transfer of the control of public works to State departments, might be thrown out of employment. The Government realizes the value of these men, and the difficulty which it might experience in replacing them in the future, and consequently the bill aims at placing them in positions in the Service carrying lower salaries than those which they are now receiving, and bringing about a gradual stepping down until the lowest-paid servant is reached. I agree with Senator Hoare that there is no one in the Public Service who is not competent to do the work required of him. Each member of the Service has passed the necessary examination to qualify him for employment, and some have passed other examinations to fit them to hold higher positions. Many parents have made sacrifices to train their children for entrance to the Commonwealth service fully believing that their positions would be permanent. If they could have foreseen what is happening to-day they might have sent them into the commercial world to get the highest wages offering while the going was good.
I can see no alternative to retrenchment because I realize that the revenue of the Commonwealth is insufficient to maintain the full Public Service staff, but it must be borne in mind that the purpose of our Public Service is not to make a profit. If the aim had been to make a profit the Service would not have become as efficient as it is to-day. For example, the delivery of mails into some of the outlying parts of the Commonwealth must be maintained in order to give the people in those parts an opportunity to keep in touch with the times and with the happenings in the more populated centres. Very often the revenue derived from a service is not sufficient to pay for the axle grease used in providing it, but no government would contemplate cutting it out. Bearing these things in mind, particularly the need for rendering an efficient service to the people, I suggest that the Government should make the blow fall as lightly as possible upon the public servants affected. It should realize that these officers have studied hard to pass examinations to fit them fortheir positions, and should not put them out into the cold world at a time when there is absolutely no hope of a young man securing other employment. It should grant them twelve months leave of absence without pay, and if at the end of that time there are still no vacancies in the Public Service, they should be given an extension of their leave. If in the meantime a man could find another job he could retire and draw his superannuation money; but if he could not find another job and was anxious to get back into the Public Service when a vacancy occurred he still could do so. He would thus be better off than if he were thrown out of the Service altogether without any redress whatsoever.
With regard to the half day’s pay for work done on holidays, I take it that the Public Service Arbitrator, who granted this concession to the worker, did so for very sound reasons. If ona Monday which is a holiday a man is obliged to work for two hours he breaks into three days. For one thing if he has been away visiting relations he must return from his holiday on the Sunday. He is deprived of the right which a man in private employment enjoys, that of bargaining with his employer to secure his full holiday. If the granting of a half-day’s pay on holidays is regarded by the Government as too much of a burden on the community, why does it not remit the question to the Public Service Arbitrator for decision? That would allow the employees to state their views on the matter, and the point could be decided on the merits of the arguments advanced by both sides. On a previous occasion the Leader of the Government in the Senate told us that linesmen were building homes out of the overtime they were receiving. He was speaking of half a dozen isolated cases. Is the advice he has received on this occasion also based on isolated cases ? If the present proposal is that the man who works on a holiday for a couple of hours is to receive pay for a quarter of a day instead of half a day no great damage will be done, but the whole thing may be extended to holiday pay in the direction referred to by Senator DuncanHughes. It would be dangerous to follow the course suggested by the honorable senator. At present, if a man works on a holiday he is allowed a day off in lieu. Honorable senators are mistaken in thinking that he also gets a day’s pay. I can see no reason why this question of reducing the holiday rate should not be submitted for the consideration of the Public Service Arbitrator. As the bill stands I intend to oppose it.
. - This bill is to deal with the effects of the times through which we are passing. The Government, it appears, has had to wait until now to hit on a plan to meet a situation which private employers have had to face long ago. The bill affects those officers who, on account of a falling off in government activities are really superfluous. The work that formerly occupied them is no longer there. If they are to be continued in their present status, and in the enjoyment of their salaries, it means that we shall be simply keeping an office going for the sake of employing men who have no work to do. We are faced with the alternative of discharging them, or, as Senator Barnes put it, turning them adrift in the cold world. The alternative suggested in the bill is about the best we could adopt at the present time. It is certainly in accord with the long-standing practice of “ the last on, the first off.” If we cannot find the money to pay all those whom we could formerly employ, we have either to discharge them without any further consideration or shift them into less responsible positions. I should say that the latter course is infinitely superior to the former. The essential justice and fairness of this practice has never been challenged even by employees, and there can be no quarrel with it on that score. Of course I am aware that under the shelter of this bill it may be possible for officers in the Public Service to regard their positions as rather insecure, but there is a semblance of insecurity in almost every walk of life. There is nothing that we can depend upon as an absolute certainty. To give a member of the Public Service a guarantee to his position through thick and thin, and through every form of good fortune or adversity, is to bestow upon him more than is possessed by an ordinary member of the community. We cannot put the public servant of this country in such a favorable position compared with others. Public servants cannot stand alone. They must encounter the rough and tumble, the trials and vicissitudes of life, as other sections of the community are compelled to do, and in the long run it will be the most salutary thing for them for “sweet are the uses of adversity.” This measure provides that officers declared redundant may be appointed to positions of a lower or other status with a reduced salary, which would mean displacing others.
I regret that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) has imparted some political colour into this proposal. He has suggested that the measure, if carried, may, to use his own words, have a dangerous effect upon certain public servants. I am sure the honorable senator will agree that the party from which this Government is recruited has no intention of doing what he has in mind. This party has shown a good deal of genuine sympathy towards the Commonwealth public servants in this country. It has provided them with a superannuation fund, child endowment and arbitration court, as well as other benefits. Notwithstanding all that this party has done for the Public Service, it has openly and consistently opposed it at election time. If public servants think they can milk each party dry for their own exclusive benefit they will not think so indefinitely. But it would be unfortunate if those called to the service of this country felt that they did not possess a proper degree of security in the matter of employment. The youth of this country areattracted to government positions because of the opportunities they afford; but, owing to the way in which one government is acting, employment in its service is anything but desirable. The extent to which the youth of Australia are attracted to the Public Service shows that, generally speaking, governments are regarded as good employers.
Although not relevant to this bill, I should like to refer to the attitude that some public servants adopt towards governments. I can recall a conference convened in Western Australia, at which a demand was made, even by men holding important positions, for a 30-hour week. Commonwealth public servants should remember that the party now in office has been a good friendto them, and that there has been no justification for many of the demands they have made, the cost of which have to be met by persons many of whom are in an infinitely worse position than those seeking the advantage. There should not be any attempt to pit one political party against another in order to obtain a maximum of benefit. We should consider those who have to foot the bill. In this instance, the Government is making an honest attempt to adjust the position, and to provide employment, in some cases at a lower salary, to men who have devoted practically the whole of their life to the Public Service. The men who will be displaced will be in a similar position to other citizens who, in times of adversity, lose their employment. I do not see that any great hardship will be inflicted, although I regret that the financial and economic position should be such that the services of any person has to be dispensed with at all. The bill merely provides that those most recently appointed to the Service shall be the first to be retrenched.
– Every honorable senator appreciates the difficulties confronting the Government. It is necessary to effect savings wherever possible. The principles involved in this measure are not new; they are those to which effect has already been given by private employers. I ask the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Dooley), if as private employers, they would not adopt a similar policy. During times of financial stress and trade depression, private employers prefer to reduce the salaries and status of their highly paid officers, rather than discharge them. Those holding less responsible positions are dismissed. In this instance, it would appear that the Government has done its best to meet an exceedingly difficult situation. I am sure that the average public servant is fairminded and is prepared to make a sacrifice equal to that which must be made by those holding similar positions in a private capacity.
The suggestion made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that those who may be retrenched should be given leave, without pay, is worthy of consideration. The adoption of such a policy would mean that when the financial position improved, and the staffs had to be increased, those officers who had been retrenched could return to the Public Service without undergoing a further examination. I do not pledge myself to support an amendment in that direction; but I should like the Minister in charge of the bill to say what objections there are to such a proposal.
– My mind goes back towards the end of 1929, when a bill to amend the Commonwealth Public Service Act was before the Senate. The measure which we are now dismissing is simple and short, and I congratulate the Government upon its introduction. It shows common-sense. In the good old days, as we might have called them a few years ago, when I first came into the Seriate, we were all making what one might call a “ welter “ of it. Governments and private individuals had plenty of money and were spending it freely. Commonwealth and State public servants received many privileges, and it was then the policy to increase these privileges in one way or another. Now that lean years have come upon us and we have to effect economies, and at the same time obtain efficient service in running the country’s business, we should set an. example to private enterprise. A start has to be made somewhere. I have some knowledge of this subject, having been State Immigration Officer in Tasmania for a period of three and a half years. Consequently, I can view the matter not only through the eyes of the public servants, but also from the angle of the taxpayers and the Government. A lot of nonsense is talked about the Public Service, and the press particularly are sometimes prone to exaggeration, possibly with a view to providing something sensational when other topics have only a passing interest. At the opposite end, of course, there are persons who go to the other extreme, possibly because of their recognition of what a powerful and well-organized body the Public Service is. There was a time when I thought it was easier to sack a bishop than to get rid of the permanent head of a department, particularly some of those who have come within my experience. Since pre-war days, all sorts of privileges have been granted, and extraneous payments - as the Leader of the Government termed them - made. I remember well the figures that the right honorable gentleman placed before us two years ago, during the debate on a measure to amend the Commonwealth Public Service Act. Some of them were appalling, particularly those which related to the payments for waiting time, higher duty, and overtime. The expenditure in those directions has since been very considerably reduced. In this year’s Estimates, however, there is one item that I cannot understand. A sum of something like£9,450 has been pro vided for the purpose of making an extra clay’s pay on account of Leap year. I had always held the belief that the majority of Commonwealth public servants were paid a certain amount per annum, and this extra provision astonished me greatly.
I have been unable to follow the arguments adduced by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) and other honorable senators opposite. If public business has shrunk, and, in some departments, particularly in trading concerns, like the post office, there are employees who are redundant, hard though it may be, the practice adopted in any other enterprise must be followed; that is, to retire them. It seems to me that the policy of regression, which is what it amounts to, is the only sound one that, in the circumstances, we can adopt. I do not think there is any question that there have been times when the Public Services of the States as well as of the Commonwealth have been grossly overmanned. That is the case at the present time, and the matter has to be tackled.
This is a simple amendment of the act. I can see no snags in it. In my opinion it is just and reasonable. I cannot understand any opposition being offered to it. It has my support.
[4.26]. - There is one misapprehension which I wish to remove. I understand that, in my introductory speech, I bracketed holiday and Sunday pay. Sunday pay is not involved in the alteration that is being made; it refers only to holiday pay..
In reply to the statement of Senator Barnes, that the regression provision might be used to victimize public servants, I invite the honorable senator to read the opening words of the clause, which are as follow: -
Where, by reason of any re -arrangement of or decrease in the work of the Public Service, the number of officers in any department of the Public Service is, in the opinion of the board of commissioners appointed in pursuance of the principal act, in excess of the requirements, the board may . . .
The board, and not the government of the day, will operate the provision; and it will be quite independent of the Government, thus ensuring that no political favoritism can be shown.
The honorable senator appeared to think that hardship might be imposed upon some officers. Admittedly it is a hardship for anybody to lose his employment. It may be either a hardship or a blessing when a member of Parliament loses his seat. It is clear, however, that if there is a surplus in any department, some officer has to go. I put it to the honorable senator: which involves the least hardship, the dismissal of a senior officer of unquestioned efficiency who may have been twenty years in the Service, during which time he has become accustomed to that particular line of occupation, making it extremely difficult for him to start afresh outside, or the retirement of a comparative junior, who has been in the Service only a few years, and is more adaptable to other employment; especially if, in the former case, the superannuation payment is not sufficient to enable the officer to live in idleness. Hardship is caused in either case, but I submit that it is very much le.ss in the case of the junior officer. Take the position in the Health Department to which I referred when introducing the bill. It is obvious that a medical officer who has been in a government department for the greater part’ of his life is out of touch with private practice. Retirement in his case would mean depriving him of his only means of making a living, because the work of a general practitioner, which is the only avenue open to him, is altogether different from that of an officer of the Health Department, and it is practically impossible for him, after years in the Service, to adapt himself to it. But a junior health officer who has been in the department only a year or two can quite easily adapt himself to the different conditions. The reason that the Government fia8 wot made efficiency the test is, not that the junior officer is in any way less efficient, but, that less hardship is involved.
I shall deal now with the points that were raised by Senator Duncan-Hughes. In the first place, let me say that there arc two classes of holiday pay. in one of which there are nine days and in the other four days. Payment must be made for the nine days; but under a recent decision of the Public Service Arbitrator, time off may be given in the case of the four days. Those four days are not the same in every State. In New South Wales, for example, there are only two holidays in the Commonwealth Public Service with respect to which time off may be given. Therefore, . under this measure we are concerned only with the nine days for which payment has to be made. No alteration is being made in the provision relating to the four days, because payment by the department or the Government is not involved, and there is no duplication.
– Not in either case?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Not in either case when time off applies. But in the case of the nine days for which payment has to be made, if an officer is on duty for only half an hour lie is entitled to half a day’s day. That is the case which is dealt with by this bill. Sunday pay is governed by awards of the Arbitrator, not by the Public Service Act.
Senator Duncan-Hughes also submitted for consideration the suggestion that the principle of preference to returned soldiers might be attached to that of regression. This opens up a very considerable difficulty. At present the principle of preference to returned soldiers applies only to appointments to the Public Service, and does not extend to the subsequent relations of the Public Service Commissioners or the department with the appointee. A calm examination of the matter will disclose the the very great difficulty that would arise if the principle were applied throughout the ramifications of the Public Service. Take, for example, the question of transfers. Let us suppose that it is proposed to transfer an officer from Sydney to Cobar. The adoption of the honorable senator’s suggestion, which must involve the application of the principle in such a case, would mean that if such a transfer were regarded as a hardship by a returned soldier a nonreturned soldier would have to be transferred in his stead. I cannot believe that even the returned soldiers themselves, if they really understood the ramifications of the Public Service and all that was involved in this suggestion, would press foi1 it. It does not seem to me to be necessary.
During the debate I have glanced through the report of the Public Service Commissioners. I find that, at the end of 1931, out of a total of 28,333 Commonwealth public servants, there were ever 5,000 returned soldiers, and I venture to say that, if an investigation were, made of the number appointed since 3916, it would be found that the great majority were returned soldiers. I am further informed that, during the last ten. years, the appointments in the Srd or clerical division of qualified candidates have included 924 returned soldiers as against 48 non-returned soldiers ; while in the 4th, or general division, 2,765 returned soldiers have been appointed, compared with 501 non-returned soldiers. These figures indicate that, during the period mentioned, the bulk of the appointments have been made from the ranks of returned soldiers.
Senator Dooley raised an interesting point. He seems to be of the opinion that, the bill will override or set aside decisions of the Public Service Arbitrator. That is not so. The pay for public holidays is dealt with in the act which is being amended ; so the bill does, not, in any way, interfere with awards of the Public Service Arbitrator. If honorable senators will turn to page 15 of the last report “of the Public Service Commission, they will find that the question of time-off was dealt with by the Arbitrator, because that has always been provided in awards. Senator Dooley also suggested, in connexion with the principle of regression, that officers concerned might be given leave without pay. That can be done now. I am informed by the Public Service Commissioner that the board will have no objection whatever to granting, up to twelve months’ leave without pay to any officer who may be declared redundant, and that the question of his dismissal from the Service will remain in abeyance until the expiration of that period. Senator Sampson referred to additional pay in leap year. That is due to the fact that, while salaries are fixed on a. yearly basis, the pay is fortnightly, and in leap year provision has to he made for an extra day’s pay.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title.)
.- I think I may be permitted, at this stage, to enlarge upon the statement made by Senator Sampson, during the secondreading debate, with regard to the additional pay in leap year.
– The honorable senator is out of order.
– If I am out of order, I shall reserve what I have to say for the third-reading stage of the bill.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Debate resumed from the 29th April (vide page 127), on motion by Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE -
That the hill be now read a. second time
.- I agree, in the main, with the remarks of the . right honorable the Leader of the Senate (Sena-tor Pearce) when moving the second reading of this measure. Certainly I believe, with him, that Ave have enough troubles of our own without bothering over much with the difficulties that confront other countries, and I am bound to say that for the successful working of this measure, and, indeed, many other parliamentary enactments, we must rely on wise administration. The bill makes very drastic alterations of the existing law. Possibly, the Minister, in committee, will be able to justify the tightening up of the act. Prom its nature the bill is one essentially for consideration in committee, but I should like to direct attention, at this stage, to the very wide powers which it proposes to place in the hands of the Minister, even to the extent of empowering him to interfere with a person’s liberty, a thing so sacred that any attempt to restrict it requires the most serious consideration. It. is proposed to abolish the dictation test under which it has been possible for the administration to do almost anything it wished to keep out undesirable aliens. I know of no case in which it proved to be ineffective. The extension of the period during which an immigrant may be deported is extended from three to five years. That drastic alteration of the law will require some justification, because we may assume that, if an immigrant conducts himself properly for a period of three years from the date of his arrival in this country, he should be entitled to citizenship rights.
– The period has been extended to bring it into line with the probationary period before a certificate of naturalization is issued to a foreigner.
– The bill also enacts that any officer of the Crown may, without warrant, arrest anyperson reasonably supposed to be, in the opinion of the Minister, undesirable, and the Minister may order his deportation. I hope that in committee we shall have a fuller explanation of these provisions.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Definition).
[4.51]. - This clause is consequential on the alteration of the name of the department from “Home and Territories Department “ to “ Department of the Interior.”
Clause agreed to.
Clause 3 (Prohibited immigrants).
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for Defence) [4.52]. - Section 3 of the principal act, which this clause seeks to amend, provides that the immigration of -
Any person whohas been convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for one year or more, unless five years have elapsed since the termination of the imprisonment; is prohibited. The amendment takes from the section the words, “ unless five years have elapsed since the termination of the imprisonment.” If an alien is convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for one year or more, the Government does not wish any limitation to be placed on its power to deport him, if subsequently he proves to be undesirable. Accordingly, provision to that end is made in subclause a. Sub-clause b omits paragraph ge of section 3 of the principal act, which reads -
For the period of five years after the commencement of this paragraph and thereafter until the Governor-General by proclamation otherwise determines, any person who in the opinion of an officer is of German, AustroGerman, Bulgarian or Hungarian parentage or nationality or is a Turk of Ottoman race, is a prohibited immigrant. That provision, which is a survival of the war, is obviously now obsolete. It is, therefore, proposed to omit it, and insert in its stead the following paragraph: -
Any alien who, on demand by an officer, fails to satisfy the officer thathe is the holder of a landing permit or that his admission into Australia has been authorized by or on behalf of the Minister.
The proposed new paragraph is designed to strengthen the hands of the department in controlling alien immigration. It will permit of the department refusing to admit an alien who is not eligible to land without recourse to the application of the dictation test, which is somewhat undesirable.
.- I should like to know the reason for the omission of the words “ unless five years have elapsed since the termination of the imprisonment,” in sub-clause a. Apparently, it will now be possible to prevent the entry into Australia of any person even twenty years after the termination of his imprisonment.
– If he behaves himself, the clause will not operate.
– A person who might conduct himself satisfactorily in the opinion of his neighbours, but is undesirable in the eyes of the Minister, would, under the Government’s proposal, be in grave danger, notwithstanding that he had conducted himself properly for twenty years.
– All honorable senators will agree that it is desirable that persons of the races specified in paragraph ge of the principal act should no longer be referred to as orohibited aliens.
The dictation test has never been an entirely satisfactory means of controlling immigration. Provision for such a test was made at the suggestion of the British Government in order to avoid the danger of hurting the feelings of the people of certain countries against whom action was proposed to be taken. From time to time, absurdities have arisen in connexion with the dictation test. One of these I desire to mention, because it shows how far the law can be stretched to meet circumstances. In H. G. Turner’s The First Decade of the Australian Commonwealth the following appears : -
In November, 1903, the second mate of a German sailing’ ship, who had been punished for smuggling in New South Wales, was called upon to undergo the language test. He had received a university education in Germany and spoke English, German and French. But in view ofhisconviction the Customs House officer considered him an undesirable immigrant and gave him the test in Greek. Failing in this he was charged with being a prohibited immigrant found within the Commonwealth and sentenced to six months imprisonment.
The action taken was no doubt legal; but it is undesirable that any European, who can pass a test which most honorable senators could not pass, should be excluded from Australia, if there is one European language in which he fails to pass a dictation test. In the case mentioned it is possible that a special examiner was necessary. I am glad that the permit system is to be strengthened as against applying the dictation test. I should like to know, however, whether a permit has to be issued to a person before he leaves for Australia. If such is not thecase, what would happen if his entry to the Commonwealth was refused ? The shipping company which brought him, and, perhaps, his family also, to Australia, would not be pleased if it had to take them back again without payment, merely because he did not possess a permit. I expect that the Minister has a complete answer to my question ; but the bill does not make it clear whether the issue of a permit has to be antecedent to his leaving for Australia.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for Defence) [5.2]. - The paragraph to which Senator Barnes referred applies to persons coming into this country; it refers, not to an alien who has been convicted in Australia and served a year’s imprisonment here for his offence, but to an alien who has served a term of imprisonment overseas. The law at present permits the authorities to refuse him entry at any time within five years of the termination of his imprisonment. That restriction is now to be removed. It is not a case of a Minister deporting from the Commonwealth an alien to whom he personally objects.
Ref erring now to the point raised by Senator Duncan-Hughes, I mention that there are several ways in which people may enter the Commonwealth. In the case of an alien who desires to settle permanently in Australia, the shipping companies are well aware of the existence of a quota system ; and before giving such a person a passage in any of their vessels they satisfy themselves that the man either has a permit or is of a class which will entitle him to admission. Should it be found on arrival at an Australian port that his entry is objected to, the company must take him back to the country from which he came. Knowing that that liability exists, the steamship companies are careful not to give passages to persons whom they fear may not, be allowed to enter Australia.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 4 (Immigrants evading officers or found within the Commonwealth).
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for Defence) [5.4] . - This clause provides, first, for an increase from three to five years of the period within which any immigrant after arrival in Australia may be subjected to the dictation test with a view to deportation, if circumstances justify that course; and secondly, it overcomes a technical difficulty by substituting the word “Australia “ for “ Commonwealth.” A recent case against a coloured person who, there was good reason to believe, had entered the Commonwealth illegally, was lost on appeal to the High Court on account of the use of the word “ Commonwealth “. The intention of the sub-section is to require a person who is charged with being a prohibited immigrant to show when and by what vessel he entered Australia.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.
Clause 7 (Dependants of deportee).
– The purpose of this clause is to insert the following new section : -
Where an order has been made under this act for the deportation of any person, the wife and dependent children of that person may be included in the order for deportation, and thereupon the provisions of this act relating to deportation shall apply to the wife and the dependent children.
Some years ago I took part in an attempt to alter the rights of married women under the law which deprives women of their rights in the country if they marry aliens. The attitude I took up was that where women in these days have similar political rights to men, it is hard that a woman should lose her national rights through marriage. I, therefore, do not care very much for a provision which declares that if a man is deported, his wife can also be deported. It may not be her fault that the husband is deported. On the other hand, if she does not go, she and her family may be a charge on the nation. That would be undesirable, and in that respect the proposed section is probably desirable.
– It gives the Minister an option.
– I was just about to say that I presume this provision will be exercised leniently and not drastically against a wife who may be glad to get rid of a husband who is subject to deportation, or at any rate may not desire to follow him or take her children with her to his native land.
Clause agreed to.
Clause8 agreed to.
Clause 9 (Arrest of persons liable to deportation).
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for Defence) [5.8 ]. - The clause proposes to insert the following new section : -
Every officer may, without warrant, arrest any person reasonably supposed to be a person whose deportation has been ordered by the Minister in pursuance of this act, and no person shall resist or prevent such arrest.
The necessity for a provision of this kind recently arose in a case where a man, after serving a sentence imposed by the Criminal Court, and in respect of whom a deportation order had been issued, was released from prison before the order could be put into effect. The police authorities are unwilling to take such a person in charge again without a warrant, unless statutory authority can be shown to exist. This is the point raised by Senator Barnes. The police may see a man whom they know to be a prohibited immigrant, but by the time they can secure a warrant signed by a magistrate, they may have to make another search to find him. It is absolutely essential that they should have the right to arrest such a person without a warrant. Of course, if they abuse their power and wrongfully arrest an individual they are liable to an action for damages. I am under the impression that it was during the term of office of the late Government that this man was released from gaol, and the Commonwealth officers did not get their hands on him in time. The power given by this new section is very necessary and is not likely to be abused.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Debate resumed from the 29th April (vide page 128), on motion by Senator Greene -
That the billbe now read a second time.
– I am not such a connoisseur of whisky that I can say when it should be regarded as having properly matured, but I believe that there is good reason for fixing the period at three years. I understand that a shorter term would be very convenient to illicit distillers. I have no intention of opposing the measure.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time and committed pro forma.
Debate resumed from the 29th April (vide page 130). on motion by Senator Greene -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– As the Minister who moved the second reading explained, this is a. bill which was agreed to practically unanimously in another place in October last, and would have been passed, but for the dissolution. It is really a machinery bill to facilitate the work of the Customs Department, and I have no intention of opposing its passage.
.- This bill omits to make provision to rectify an anomaly which has existed for many years, and has brought about a great deal of feeling among business people in various States of the Commonwealth, especially those at whose ports overseas vessels make their last call. Ever since the passing of the Customs Act, the practice has been to levy duties upon each portion of a cargo when landed at the rates then existing. Frequently, extra rates of duty have been imposed while a vessel has been proceeding from its first port of call in Australia to its second port. Cargo landed at the second port lias thus had to pay higher rates of duty than similar cargo landed at the first port, and the merchants at the second port have suffered an unjust handicap by having to pay more for their goods than the importer of similar goods at the first port. On the adjournment on Friday, the Assistant Minister (Senator Greene) was courteous enough to give a full reply to representations I had already made upon litis point, and, as well as I could, I transmitted them in a lengthy telegram to the Chamber of Commerce in Tasmania. Thc. reply I have received to-day indicates that, notwithstanding what the Minister said, the chamber is as keen as ever in requesting an amendment of the act in the direction I have indicated. It is not a new question. Many years ago, the associated chambers of commerce discussed this matter very fully, and practically unanimously passed a resolution that it was essential in the interests of fair trade between the States that there should be uniform duties imposed.
– They have been putting up that request every year.
– I know that Queensland has felt the injustice of the practice as much as has Tasmania. I cannot understand why the Government should raise any objection to an -amendment of the Customs Act to ensure that all cargo of the same nature in one ship shall bear duty at the rate prevailing when the ship reports at the Customs at the first Australian port of call. The Constitution definitely provides that uniform duties shall be imposed throughout the Commonwealth. In the statement made by the Assistant Minister (Senator Greene) a few days ago, he stressed the fact that the customs duties imposed must be uniform. I, too, say that they must be uniform, but the practice in the past has been to make them dissimilar. Another section of the Constitution provides that there shall be no discrimination as between the States in the matter of taxation or in any other way. The customs duties imposed have to be met by the people. Under the existing practice it is obvious that when an importer of certain goods in one State pays 25 per cent., 30 per cent., or 35 per cent, more, by way of duty, on goods of the same nature arriving in the same ship’s bottom than do importers in other States there is discrimination. This matter has been discussed at great length by those directly concerned. I remind the Assistant Minister that a definite promise was given by a previous Prime Minister that the amendment I suggest would be made to the Customs Act. The associated chambers of commerce have been agitating in this direction since 1925. Resolutions urging such an amendment were passed at the annual conferences of the associated chambers of commerce m 192-5, 1926, and 1927. At the suggestion of the Minister the chambers of commerce nought legal, advice. They referred the matter to Mr. T. S. O’Halloran, of Adelaide, whose opinion was that there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent section 132 of the Customs Act being amended in the direction suggested. On the 30th August, 1928, the then Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) in answer to a question on the subject, said that the matter had received the consideration of the Government. He further said that an amendment of the Customs Act had been drafted to give effect to the request of the associated chambers of commerce, and that the Government intended to introduce it as soon as practicable. A definite promise was given after full consideration of the advice tendered by the Minister. Later, the
Minister for Trade and Customs gave an assurance that a bill was being drafted to give effect to the desires of the chambers of commerce. Only a short time agc a shipment of goods arrived in Australia in which the merchants in Sydney, Melbourne, and Hobart were especially interested; they had similar consignments in the. same vessel. Portions of the cargo were landed in Sydney and Melbourne; but b” the time the Tasmanian cargo was landed the duties had been increased by 10 per cent, or 15 per cent. The Tas,manian merchants who wove operating in direct competition with the merchants in New South Wales, and in Victoria, had’ to pay 10 or 15 per cent, more than the mainland importers. I can recall another extraordinary case. An overseas vessel after discharging a portion of her cargo at Melbourne and Sydney called at Hobart. The Hobart portion was landed and while the vessel was proceeding to Launceston a primage duty was imposed. The Launceston merchants had to pay a primage duty, which was not imposed on the portion of the cargo landed in Hobart. That is not in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, which provides that there shall bc no discrimination in the matter of taxation as between the States or parts of States. Surely, it is obvious that that section of the Constitution has been violated.
– What would be the position in the event of a reduction in duties ?
Senator.PAYNE. - The same principle should apply. I want fair play. Effect should be given to the letter and spirit of the Constitution, irrespective of whether duties are increased or decreased. If the act is allowed to remain in its present form this difficulty will always arise, and some importers will be unduly penalized. When the measure is in committee it is my intention to move a new clause to read - 10 (a.) Section 132 of the principal act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following proviso: - provided that goods imported on any vessel shall, upon entry for home consumption at any port after the first port of call in Australia, be dutiable at all ports at the rates of duty in force on the date the vessel carrying the goods first reported at an Australian port of call.
– As the amendment which the honorable senator proposes to move when the measure is in committee is not yet embodied in the bill, only the principle, and not the details of it, can be discussed at this stage.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [5.28] - The principle of the matter referred to by Senator Payne was brought under the notice of the roya commission appointed to inquire into the working of the Commonwealth Constitution. That commission came to the conclusion that no amendment of the Constitution was necessary to comply with the desire expressed by the associated chambers of commerce. Having come to that conclusion, the commission did not concern itself further in the matter; but in the course of its investigations certain facts were brought to its notice which suggested that a great deal of difficulty might be experienced if the suggested amendment were made. For instance it may be suggested that too much emphasis is placed on the words “ the same ship.” Supposing, for the sake of argument, that two ships leave London at the same time, carrying the same class of goods. One calls at Fremantle on the way to Sydney and the other goes direct to Sydney. After the arrival of the vessel at Fremantle the duties on the goods are increased. When they reach Sydney, as the act stands to-day, the goods they are carrying are dutiable at the same rate. If the act should be amended as suggested, the goods on the ship which happened to touch at Fremantle, although arriving in Sydney on the same day as those on the other vessel, would, in the circumstances mentioned, be admitted at the lower rates. Such a position would constitute a practical and serious difficulty. Another situation which is more likely to arise would be that of one ship coining from Great. Britain and another from America. The two ships might arrive in Sydney Harbour with similar goods on the same day; but because the ship from England had touched at Fremantle before the duties were increased, the goods comprising her cargo would be admitted at the lower rate of duty. It is inevitable that the people would have to pay the higher duty on both consignments mid an unfair advantage would thus be given to the importer. A still more serious difficulty might arise in the event of a reduction iu duty. I suppose it is nob altogether beyond the possibility of contemplation that some day we shall have a reduction in duties. If there were a reduction the goods on the ship touching at Fremantle would have to pay the old, high duty, while those on the ship coming from America, which did not touch any other Australian port, would pay the lower duty. I am not taking sides in this matter; I am merely pointing out the difficulty. I am quite prepared to support the amendment of which the honorable senator has given notice if it is at all practicable. It was pointed out to us that the question of .” the same ship “ is not of any importance; but the landing of the same goods at the same port on the same day is of importance.
My purpose in rising, however, was to discuss what I think is the most important principle embodied in the bill. . It is covered by clauses 4, 9, and one or two other clauses, which make consequential amendments. The principle in those provisions is the deletion of the word “ proclamation “ from the section relating to the prohibition of imports and exports and the substitution of the word “ regulation.” I congratulate the Government very heartily on submitting this amendment. I introduced a private bill last session for the same purpose. It is to my mind monstrous - I do not hesitate to use such an extreme word - that a government can, by the issue of a proclamation, prohibit the importation or exportation of goods, and that that prohibition can never be reviewed by Parliament. - It may continue year after year, generation after generation, without review by this Parliament. It is subject to review by the House of Representatives on the principle that the House of Representatives can, if it thinks fit, throw the Ministry out; but, so far as the Parliament as a whole is concerned, prohibitions imposed by proclamation cannot be reviewed at all. There are in existence prohibitions that have been in operation for years, which have never had the approval or sanction of the representatives of the people.
– It is possible for Parliament to deal with prohibitions by a substantive motion.
– 1 do not think that the Assistant Minister can say that that is an effective way for Parliament to deal with prohibitions. If the Senate carried a motion objecting to a prohibition it would have no effect. We could enter a protest, but we could not do anything further. Three things must be done before the amendment provided in this measure with respect to prohibitions will be effective. The first is with regard to the regulations themselves. “We know by our own experience of the last two or three years and by the decisions of the High Court that the power of the Senate in regard to regulations is purely illusory. We have no power whatever. If Ave disallow a regulation it can at once be re-enacted. I have seen a copy of the bill, the first reading of which, I think, has been passed, to amend the Acts Interpretation Act. So far as I can see, that measure, if enacted, will make effective the alteration in principle. The Senate will then have effective control over regulations. Therefore, any prohibition of either imports or exports imposed by regulation, will be subject to approval or disallowance by this Senate.
That leaves two things that will have to be done. The first of those is to make tariffs subject to the review of Parliament; because it is obviously futile to prevent the issuing of a prohibition, if, at the same time, the Government has given to it the authority to impose a tariff which may, because of its severity, have exactly the same effect. I know that there was a time when it was thought that tariffs could be imposed without the consent of Parliament only for the duration of a session. Then, however, it was found that, by the mis-use of the term “ session “, a tariff could be effective without review throughout an entire Parliament. Now, we have gone a step further and have discovered a method by which tariffs can be made continuous in their operation without being sanctioned by Parliament. Honorable senators will remember that when the dissolution occurred towards the end of last year, a resolution was passed making effective, until a certain date, the tariff resolutions that had been tabled in the House of Representatives during the term of that Parliament. “We had to pass that resolution, otherwise the whole of the machinery of the ‘Country would have been in confusion. Before the arrival of that specified date, the succeeding Government tabled further resolutions, and so kept the matter alive for the period covered by what it may be pleased to regard as a session. So there is nothing to prevent those tariffs from being collected until there is another dissolution, when a further resolution will keep them effective until a specified date. Therefore, before this provision, which purports to give Parliament power in regard to prohibitions, will be of any effect, there must be an amendment of section 226 of the Customs Act, under which it is incompetent for any person to initiate a prosecution against a customs officer for any act done in protection of the revenue in relation to any tariff or tariff alteration proposed in Parliament, until the end of the session. In the short measure that I submitted to the Senate last year, the provision was made that those revenues could be collected without the consent of Parliament, either until the end of a session or until the expiration of three months after the tabling of the resolutions, whichever period might be the shorter. It may be considered that three months is too short, and that six months may be adequate. I would go further and say that, in present circumstances, an even longer period may be possible. I hope that the Minister will favorably consider an amendment of section 226 of the act, which will make it no longer possible for governments to impose tariffs by tabling a resolution and withholding it from Parliament indefinitely. I go still further and say that, unless that amendment’ is made, this provision will be entirely worthless and ineffective; it will be merely a gesture to satisfy the public.
The third amendment that is necessary should be made to the closing paragraph of this measure. If we admit the principle that it is wrong for prohibitions of imports to be imposed without the representatives of the people having any say in regard to them, surely we cannot get
Senator Sir Hal Colebatch. away from the principle that prohibitions which have been imposed in the past without the representatives of the people having any say in regard to them should come before Parliament at some time for review. I trust that the Minister will agree to an amendment to the final clause that will have the effect of making it compulsory for the Government, if it wishes to continue in operation any existing prohibition, to re-impose that prohibition by regulation in whatever time is thought reasonable.
When regulations are in fact - -they are now purely in name - subject to disallowance by both Houses of Parliament; when it is compulsory for the Government to pass its tariff through Parliament within some reasonable period of the tabling of the resolutions; and when it is compulsory for prohibitions that already exist to be re-imposed by regulation within a certain period, and in their turn to be subject to review by either House of Parliament, the amendment that is here suggested will be effective. Until those things are done, I have no hesitation in saying that it will be entirely worthless.
– The point to which Senator Colebatch has just directed the attention of the Senate was raised by him in this chamber previously. I then thought it my duty, and I do now, to point out that although the issuing of a regulation, instead of a proclamation may appear on the surface to be the better method to adopt, it has its shortcomings, notably, it would enable this chamber, which might not be fresh from the people, but which might have a majority that was at variance with the majority in the popular House, so-called, to defy a government that was fresh from the country. That, in my opinion, would not be right. Last Parliament, this Senate disallowed regulation after regulation that was issued by a government which was fresh from the people.
– It was subsequently proved that it was too “ fresh “.
– That is beside the question. Let us suppose the existence in another chamber of a Nationalist government, fresh from the people, and in this chamber of a Labour majority not fresh from the people, yet thwarting the will of the Government.
– The other House could always force a double dissolution.
– I expected the honorable senator to make that suggestion. I am merely pointing out the palpable weakness of the proposed expedient. Let us suppose that Mr. Latham, and not Mr. Scullin, was triumphantly returned at the elections that were held in 1929, and that this chamber, instead of having an overwhelming majority of Nationalists, had an overwhelming majority of Labour men. Mr. Latham’s new Government couldbe held at defiance under the proposal of Senator Colebatch. How would such a Nationalist government regardto flinging out by this chamber of regulations that it had issued just as we have flung out Labour’s regulations? This proposal has to be inquired into from every angle. On the surface, it may appear to he very seductive; but its weaknesses would quickly be exposed by political exigencies and developments. History has nothing more constant or characteristic stamped upon its face than its power of recurrence. In the past this Senate has asserted its supremacy and flung defiance at a Labour government by disallowing its waterside workers’ regulations. Under the operation of this expedient it could act exactly similarly towards a Nationalist government. Senator Colebatch says that a double dissolution would remedy such a position. I do not know whether he would regard the disallowance of waterside workers’ regulations as a sufficient reason for such action. It would have to be a mighty big issue that would warrant a double dissolution. By the use of this expedient, which it is argued will make Parliament the supreme and final arbiter, the Senate can become the obstructer of public business.
-Would the honorable senator take from the Senate the power to disallow regulations ?
-I would not; neither would I permit the latest choice of the people to be flouted ; I would leave the matter where it stands at present, in the hope that the power of proclamation would not be abused in future. Of course, existing circumstances may suit the temporary adoption of the proposed expedient. But let us reverse the positions. How, then, would Senator Colebatch feel? Would he, as a member of a government that was fresh from the people, welcome the disallowance of its regulations by a hostile, out-of-date Labour Senate? There is no other alternative.
– I am not proposing this for personal or party ends.
– Those are not my motives, either. I am merely drawing attention to the weakness of the expedient, and of the honorable senator’s argument in favour of it, by relating circumstances that have arisen in the past in this chamber. If we deny to the Government the power which the electors, by an overwhelming majority, have spontaneously placed in its hands, we shall tread upon very dangerous ground. I agree that the Senate should insist upon co-equal rights with the other chamber; but that cannot be done to the extent of flinging defiance at a government which is fresh from the people.
– Would the honorable senator allow the rights of the Senate to be abortive, as they were previously ?
– I would not any more than I would render abortive the freshly-expressed wish of the people. But I say that this would not be the superior course in a certain set of circumstances. It all depends upon whether you are on the winning or the losing side. Senator McLachlan, as the member of a government, would consider that the Senate had acted harshly if it refused to allow his government’s regulations.
– But the honorable senator must take it both ways.
-That is what I am doing. I am endeavouring to show that the method of substituting a regulation for a proclamation has blots upon it, that it has not those superior virtues that we are asked to say it possesses ; far from it, because it has the inherent and lurking defect of making one chamber that is not fresh from the people superior to another that is.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 10 agreed to.
.- On behalf of Senator Payne, who is acting as Temporary Chairman of Committees, I move -
That the following new clause be inserted : - “ 10a. Section 132 of the principal act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following proviso: -‘Provided that goods imported on any vessel shall, upon entry for home consumption at any port after the first port of call in Australia, be dutiable at all ports at the rates of duty in force on the date the vessel carrying the goods first reported at an Australian port of call.’ “
This is a matter of vital moment to importers in Tasmania. For many years they have been pressing for an amend ment of the Customs Act to allow of their passing entries at rates of duty applying on the date when the vessels carrying their goods called at the first port in Australia. This matter has been discussed on various occasions by the Associated Chambers of Commerce, which is in agreement with the principle contained in the amendment. At the 26th annual meeting of the associated chambers held in Adelaide in 1930, the following motion was agreed to almost unanimously: -
That the Customs Act be amended so as to provide that the duty leviable on the cargo of aship on the date on which it is reported at the Customs Department at its first port of entry in the Commonwealth, shall be the legal race for the whole of such cargo.
A similar resolution was adopted at the Melbourne conference held in March of last year. The commercial community of Australia considers this amendment of the act fair and reasonable. On many occasions deputations have waited upon successive Ministers for Trade and Customs to press for this alteration of the law, and although they have always been favorably received, apparently the officials of the Customs Department have persuaded the Ministers that the proposal is impracticable. I see no difficulties in the way. Senator Thompson, at the 1930 conference of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, is quoted as saying -
I think there is a prospect of getting this long-delayed matter rectified by the present Acting Minister for Customs (Mr. Forde). He is a Queenslander, and appreciates the position. He has promised he will go very carefully into the question with a view to having the necessary legislation passed. Mr. Bruce was going to bring a bill forward. I think there is a distinct possibility of the anomaly now being rectified.
I understand that a bill’ was really drafted, but for some reason nothing has been done in the matter. Tasmanian merchants are always prejudiced by the present arrangement. On some occasions new and higher duties have been brought in while vessels were in transit from mainland to Tasmanian ports, with the result that mainland importers have been able to undersell Tasmanian merchants, merely because their goods have been entered at lower rates of duty. Sometimes, also, duties have been raised while a vessel has been proceeding from Hobart to Launceston, and Launceston merchants have thus been placed at a disadvantage in their trading competition with Hobart merchants. The present arrangement is grossly unfair to Tasmanian importers. It might be argued that this is an inopportune time to amend the act in the direction indicated, because of the probable introduction of new schedules imposing lower rates of duty. We are prepared to put up even with that because we are fighting for a principle. This morning, I received from the Chamber of Commerce in Hobart, a letter stating that its members unhesitatingly supported this proposal, notwithstanding the possibility of lower duties being imposed, because they were out to get justice. I hope that the amendment will be carried. Progress reported.
[6.4]. - I move -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
This afternoon I promised Senator Lynch that I would have inquiries made with regard to the price of fertilizers. I am informed that the Director of Development is expediting the preparation of the report. When it is received, I shall furnish the information asked for by the honorable senator.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at6.5 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 3 May 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1932/19320503_senate_13_134/>.