1st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I should like to draw the attention of tho Acting Minister of Defence to the following paragraph, which appears in this morning’s Age : -
Strong pressure is being brought to bear on the Acting Minister pf Defence to import from England a highly-trained English officer, who is to take rank over Australian officers, and fill the position of director of artillery. ‘ General Hutton nas, it is alleged, urgently pressed for an appointment, and has secured, as an ally, Mr. 6. H. Reid, the leaderof the Opposition, who is said to have written to Sir William Lyne, pressing the claims of ‘ a certain candidate. Members are desirous that the Minister should make a statement on the subject before Parliament gets into recess, ho that if Australia has not an officer competent to take the vacant post, and it is really in need’ of a trained expert from England, Parliament should be made aware of the position.
Is there any truth in that statement t Has the Minister been approached on the subject, and ‘ is it his intention to provide the Commonwealth with another military expert in addition to Major-General Hutton ?
– The newspapers get hold of a great deal of information, but most of it is incorrect. A recommendation was made by the General Officer Commanding of the appointment of other officers, one of whom is, I believe, an English artillery officer, but they have not been appointed.
I intend to explain this and a good many other things when tho committee is dealing with tho Defence Estimates, but I do not think that I should make a statement on the subject until then.
– Is it true that the leader of the Opposition has recommended the appointment of an English artillery officer 1
– A great many people recommended the appointment of this particular individual, and I do not want it to appear that a prominent politician, such as the leader of the Opposition, is the only one who has made a recommendation in favour of the appointment.
– Is it the intention of the Government to make the appointment 1
– The appointment has not been made, and I do not think it is likely that it will be made.
– Who is the officer recommended ?
– A Colonel Buckley, I believe.
– Is there any truth in the rumour that the civil authority whom the Minister represents in the Defence department has become merely a recording stamp in the hands of the military authority, Major-General Hutton, and that in the re- . cess, when this House cannot interfere, a military man will be appointed.
– In view of the honorable member’s questions the other day about offensive and defensive military operations, if I were about to appoint a military officer I might think of Kim. The question just’ asked is not a fair one, because the honorable member knows that in this case, as in others, I have resisted the recommendations of the military authorities.
– Is it the intention of the Minister to appoint this officer or is it not 1 I desire’ a straightforward answer.
– I am always glad to give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. So far as I am concerned, he is not likely to be appointed.
– Is it a fact that, while . ordinary tape is admitted free of duty, red tape is classified as cordage, and charged accordingly 1 Is that an indication of the desire of the department to put a stop to the use of red tape ?
-Ordinary tape is a minor article for the manufacture of apparel and attire, and is therefore admitted free of duty, but red tape cannot come under that classification, to whatever base uses my honorable and learned friend may put it. I am aware that it is used to tie up briefs, but, notwithstanding my love of the legal profession, to which we both, belong, I do not think that the imposition of a duty upon red tape is a serious ground of com- ‘ plaint.
– I have here an article of adornment of female head-gear which has been dealt with by the Customs authorities as imitation jewellery. I ask the Minister, as he seems to be an expert on female attire, whether he supports the decision of his officials 1
– I am inclined to think that the article in question is rightly classed as imitation jewellery. It contains mockpearls at the very least.
– I wish to know from . the Treasurer what effect yesterday’s vote upon the question of loan expenditure will have upon the surpluses to be handed back to the States at the end of the year ?
– I hope to lay additional Estimates for works and buildings upon the table this afternoon, and when we come to deal with them I shall be in a position to show what difference the reduced amount will make. In my Budget speech I showed what would be the effect if the full amount were taken ; but I intend to give honorable members the amount by which the surplus will be reduced if the committee vote the smaller sum which I now intend to ask for.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 30th September, vide page 1626S):
Department of Home AFFAIRS
Division 20 (Public Service Commissioner) £10,294
– This is a convenient opportunity to consider the ruling given by the Attorney-General, which has had the effect of depriving federal officers in Western Australia of practically the only benefit conferred upon them by the Public Service Act - of that State. Section 29 of that Act, which was passed in 1900, provides that -
Public’ servants shall be entitled to long service leave as under - (a) For six years continuous service, except during annual leave of absence, three months on full pay and three months on half pay.
I do not deny that this is a very liberal arrangement. It is probably more liberal than any arrangement of the kind existing in other States ; but the conditions of life in the districts in which many of these officers discharge their duties are altogether different from those which prevail in many portions of the eastern States. According to the ruling recently given by the Attorney-General, by which the local authorities in Western Australia are controlled, the Act is not retrospective in its operation, and the public servants will be entitled to long service leave only at the termination of six years after the passing of the Act. Although I am not a lawyer, it seems to me that this ruling can hardly be sustained ; because it amounts to this - that the whole of the public servants in office at the time the Act was passed will, at the end of six years, be entitled simultaneously to six months’ leave of absence. Surely no Parliament in its senses would pass a law which would bring about such a state of affairs. The dislocating effect of such a provision could not have been overlooked by the legal members of the State Legislature, and I cannot believe the intention to be that the whole of the public servants should be entitled simultaneously to six months’ leave. The ruling given by the Attorney-General will operate very harshly in regard to men who are serving the Commonwealth upon the goldfields and in the tropical portions of Western Australia. The Government does not need to be told of the hard conditions of life in these portions of Australia, and it will be generally admitted that officers who have served six years in the tropics, and on themore remote gold-fields, have earned a considerable term of absence. The ruling given practically effaces one of the most important rights of the public servants of “Western Australia who were transferred to the Commonwealth. It was always understood that officers taken over by the Commonwealth were to have preserved to them all their existing and accruing rights ; and it is curious that these interpretations of the Constitution always operate to the disadvantage of poorlypaid men not blessed with friends in high places. I understand the ruling to be that the section of the Act to which I have referred, not being retrospective in its operation, does not confer any right, but merely a privilege ; but it is noteworthy that the Western Australian Government acknowledges that it does confer a right, and that under its provisions they have granted and are continuing to grant leave of absence to the extent prescribed. It should be borne in mind that the public servants in Western Australia who have been taken over by the Commonwealth Government are much worse off than formerly. The Commonwealth Tariff imposes taxation upon nearly every commodity which was previously upon the free list, and as the local Tariff is still in operation, public servants as members of the community have to pay taxes under twoTariffs. The AttorneyGeneral will scarcely deny that if the transferred departments were still under the control of the State, the officers employed therein would receive the leave of absence which they consider they are entitled to under the State Act. The officers express themselves as follows : -
We have just been informed that the Federal Attorney-General has ruled that our Public Service Act is not retrospective, and that officers must therefore serve six years from the date of proclamation before they are entitled to long service leave under clause 29, sub-section (a). This is somewhat remarkable, considering that quite a number of officers in this department, and other Western Australian State departments, have been granted their six months under the Act. There may be some doubt about the Act being retrospective, but it has been applied in that sense all along. Whether it is so or not, does not in our opinion affect clause 29, which states - “For six years continuous service public servants shall be entitled to three months on full pay and three months on half -pay.” The Act does not need to be retrospective in order to give effect to this clause, because it is dealing with a circumstance that continues after the Act was passed. If it had been intended that the six years should date from the passing of the Act, it would have clearly stated it ; but such a clause would have completely disorganized the public service, as every officer would have been entitled to six months’ leave on the same date, a contingency which would have been noticed by every legal gentleman in the House. The other departments of this State are not refusing to grant the long-service leave, but we are informed that every application is being dealt with on its merits. We admit that the privilege is an exceedingly liberal one, but it is certainly the only one of any value in the Act, and now we are being deprived of it.
In view of the harshness with which his ruling will operate, I hope that if the AttorneyGeneral cannot see his way to give a more liberal interpretation to the law, the officers - many of whom have not had any annual leave - will be allowed to take advantage of the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Service Act relating to accumulated annual leave.
– I am quite sure that the honorable member for Coolgardie realizes that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Law officer of the Commonwealth for the time being to take either a liberal or a narrow view of any issue that may be submitted to him. His duty compels him to decide it according to the wellestablished principles of legal and constitutional interpretation. In this case the officers concerned indicate, in one of the paragraphs which the honorable member has just read, that they have failed to apprehend what appears to me - and I think wouldappear to most members of the legal profession - to be the guiding principle of this case. They say that if Parliament had not intended this Act to be retrospective, it would have expressed that intention in clear and unmistakable terms. That, however, is not necessary. The rule observed in the construction of statutes is that no Act is to be read as being retrospective in its operation unless it contains express provision to that effect. In the absence of such a provision, the legal presumption is always against retrospective effect. That has been the governing consideration in the interpretation of the Act referred to. As the honorable member for Coolgardie knows, the late Mr. George Leake, Premier and Attorney-General of Western Australia, expressed an opinion similar to that formed by me, although I was not aware of it until after I had expressed my own view.
– What Mr. Burt said was that it was never intended that the Act should be other than retrospective.
-Mr. Burt’s view, as one of those concerned in “the passing of the Act, of the intentions of Parliament could not affect his or any other lawyer’s opinion as to the legal meaning of the measure.
– It was surely never contemplated that all the officers whoheld positions in the public service at the time the Act was passed should, at the end of six years, become simultaneously entitled to leave of absence.
– That is a point which would have some, but very little weight, as an argument against the need for express provision that the Act was to be retrospective. What we have to look at is the actual phraseology adopted by Parliament at the time. The legal officers of the Government must have known that, whatever the consequential operation of the Act would be, it could, as a matter of legal construction, be read only as speaking from the day it was passed. The determination of this question by the court will settle, once and for all, whether the public servants are entitled to what they claim under the section of the Constitution which preserves to them all their existing and accruing tights. Those rights must be legal rights to be indorsed by the Constitution. There will be nothing to prevent a decision from being obtained upon this point within the next twelve months. Passing from the legal aspect, I may say that I have recently had my attention called to the circumstance, no doubt familiar to most honorable members, that in all those parts of the British Empire in which public officers have to perform their duties in tropical or sub-tropical latitudes, special provisions are made for leave. The provisions in the Western Australian measure are not more liberal than are those contained in the Indian, Straits Settlements, and other Acts operating in hot countries. Whether or not the Public Service Commissioner of the Commonwealth is vested with as wide an authority as the honorable member would wish to see exercised, I cannot say without reference to the Act. I am confident however that, if he is not, this Parliament would readily lend a sympathetic ear to any proposal which would allow of special consideration being extended to public servants resident in the tropical and sub-tropical parts of Australia, and also to those settled in the remote districts of the interior, where, though the climatic conditions are less severe, the circumstances of life are certainly as hard. Irrespective of whether or not the public servants of Western Australia secure, at the hands of the court, allthat they desire in this respect, I am perfectly sure that when the time comes for the consideration of that issue by this Parliament, an attentive ear will be lent to any representations which may be made in. thatconnexion, supported, as they mighteasily be, by illustrations from the practice of the mother country in regard to the treatmentof her public servants in the hotter regions of the world. I am aware that this matter was brought forward when the Public Service Bill was under consideration, and that some provision was made for it. If that provision is not ample enough to permit of full justice being done to public servants, I am sure the House would consent to an extension of it to enable that object to be accomplished.
– I wish to draw attention to the many signs of expansion which are evident in connexion with the department of the Public Service Commissioner. It seems to me that that department threatens to become a very expensive luxury to the Commonwealth, and every effort ought, therefore, to be made to confine it to reasonable limits. I would point out that the special appropriations for the payment of the Commissioner and the inspectors total £4,700 a year, whilst £10,000 odd are absorbed in other directions, thus increasing the total annual expenditure to nearly £15,000. I fail to see why, at this early period of our national career, the department should prove so expensive. I notice that the Estimates provide for the appointment of an examiner at £350 a year from the 1st October next, and an additional £1,000 is set down for the expenses in connexion with the conduct of examinations. I claim that there is no necessity for holding examinations this year.
– The honorable and learned member knows that there will be vacancies in the service, and that they must be filled.
– There will not be a sufficient number of vacancies during the first year to warrant the appointment of a special examiner at £350, and a special appropriation of £1,000 being made by Parliament to cover the cost .of holding examinations.
– The honorable and learned member assisted to pass an Act which he immediately desires to abrogate.
– Where Will the vacancies occur to warrant this tremendous outlay? In the Public Service Act provision is made for taking over from the States officers who have passed the clerical examination in those States, and I desire to know whether effect is to be- given to that legislation or whether the Commonwealth is going in for a wholesale system of new appointments. Surely the claims of officers in the States services who have passed their examinations ought to be remembered. I fail to see why any examination for the clerical division is necessary during the present year.
– Does not the Act provide for them ?
– It provides for the holding of examinations whenever they are necessary, but I do not consider that they are necessary during the present year. Surely we ought not to pay £1,000 for the examination of boys for admission to the clerical division.
– It is for the examination of junior clerks.
– No. I repeat that in the Public Service Act provision is made for the appointment by the Commonwealth of officers at present in the States Services, who have already passed clerical Examinations. By adopting the system of making wholesale appointments we are certainly going the right way to damn our federal institutions. Further we are encouraging the Government to continue to make new appointments which are absolutely unnecessary. I am prepared to join with any honorable member who will assist in blocking this public expenditure.
I see no necessity for appointing an examiner. At any rate for the first year one of the public service inspectors could act as examiner.
– Would he be competent to do so ?
– If he is competent to act as inspector, surely he would be competent to act as examiner. I protest against the new appointments which are being made in every direction. Unless the committee take a firm stand, I am satisfied that this department will continue to grow until it becomes a nuisance and a curse to our federal system.
– The honorable and learned member for Bendigo has been very earnest and demonstrative in his opposition to the appointment of a special examiner at £350 a year, and to the expenditure of £1,000 in the conduct of examinations. Probably he will be surprised to learn that after the payment of the two amounts mentioned the examinations will result in a credit balance of about £700. The Public Service Commissioner has recommended the appointment of a special examiner and the holding of these examinations from motives of economy, and because a saving will thus be made upon the amount which would be expended if they were conducted by the States in the ordinary way.
– What are the fees payable ?
– Each candidate for the clerical division has to pay a fee of 15s., and each candidate for the general division, 7s. 6d. The number of papers with which the examiner will have to deal is estimated at 40,000.
– Ibr how many vacancies?
– Honorable members must know that a very large number of young men will go up for this examination; but, of course, only a very few of them will receive appointments. Nevertheless, they qualify themselves for appointment whenever vacancies occur. I am quite aware that in the Public Service Act the Governor-General in Council is empowered to appoint officers in the States services to the Commonwealth service on the recommendation of the Commissioner. But there is a danger that we should not get the best officers in the States services, but the very dregs of those services. That practice is one to which I am absolutely opposed. My firm belief is that the Commonwealth service should be the blue ribbon of Australian public servants. Is it likely that the States would allow their highest and best officers to be transferred to the Commonwealth service? Moreover, I hold that in the future the officers who will occupy permanent positions in the federal service will be those who start from the bottom rung of the ladder and work upwards. In making these remarks, I wish it to be clearly understood that I am not opposed to the selecting from the State services of capable officers whose qualifications are undoubted. At the same time, I am not going to be placed in the position of being compelled to select all federal officers from the States services, thus denying to officers already in the Commonwealth service all opportunity of promotion. In the Post and Telegraph, Customs, and Defence departments, there are a very large number of Commonwealth officers.
– Altogether there are about 12,000 federal officers, I think.
– There are about 12,000 or 13,000. These men have a right to expect promotion, and it would be grossly unfair if the Commonwealth always went to the States services for officers who are to be promoted over their heads. The practical effect of selecting officers generally from the States services would be that the Commonwealth would receive only the lowest grade of officers. Further, the inevitable result of such a practice would be to lower the Commonwealth service to the level of the wooden system at present in force in some of the States where men are promoted on the ground of seniority instead of merit. Our. Public Service Act gives the Commissioner power to promote to any particular position in the service any officer possessing conspicuous qualifications. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo appears to forget that we are dealing with the Commonwealth, and not with an individual State. We are dealing with a very difficult amalgamation of the services which the Commonwealth has taken over from the States. The question which was asked a few minutes ago of the Acting Prime Minister shows the difficulty in Western Australia, and there have been similar difficulties experienced in some of the other States, the public services of which are not worked on the same principle as those of New South Wales and Victoria. The officers must bekeen, intelligent men, able to deal with conditions which are very harassing at the present time. The object of the appointment of this examiner is to provide a means by which young men may enter the service with salaries commencing at £40 and £60 a year. These young men have, by examination, to show their aptness and ability, which are also taken into consideration when their turn comes for promotion to higher positions. Such an appointment as this has been urged on the Cabinet . and on myself most strenuously by the Public Service Commissioner. At first I suggested that, perhaps, it would be well to follow the example of the States, and employ outside examiners throughout Australia, but I ascertained that the appointment now proposed would result in a saving besides giving the Government more control.
– It will also give a uniform standard.
– That is so. Personally I know but little of the details connected with these matters, feeling, as I do, that if a good man be placed at the head of a department it is well to allow him every reasonable liberty so long as his administration does not result in extravagance. An officer of the kind is, I take it, responsible to me in the same way that I am held responsible to Parliament.
– But surely the Minister will not make any appointment which the examiner may choose to suggest.
– Certainly not, but I should certainly pay great attention to his suggestions. I hold him responsible, and he should bear the blame for any muddle which , may arise from his administration. I am informed by the Public Service Commissioner that the examiner will have to go through the examination papers, and, as that is a task which cannot be accomplished single-handed, one or two assistants have to be appointed. When examinations of this kind are over, the public clamour for the results, and in order that these may be published within a reasonable time, assistance of a clerical nature is absolutely necessary. One advantage of the appointment of a permanent officer to the position of examiner is that the Commonwealth will have the benefit of his services forthe whole year, whereas the services of an outside board would be confined to the actual examinations, the papers being relegated to officers in the public service, who, for this purpose, would have to leave their proper duties. A large number of special examinations must be held throughout the year, and in the absence of a permanent officer, payment would have to be made to boards of examiners. There will be examinations of officers over 21 years of age, who may be entitled to the minimum salary of £110, and also examinations to entitle officers to promotion or transfer from one department to another. There will, further, be special examinations of telegraph operators, switchboard attendants, type-writers and shorthand writers. As I pointed out just now, each candidate will have to pay a fee of 15s. for the examination for the clerical division, and 7s. 6d. for the examination for the general division, and from 35,000 to 40,000 papers will have to be dealt with.
– That will mean 40,000 applications at the least.
– I did not say that there will be 40,000 applications, but that there will be about 40,000 papers, each applicant having to prepare from four to six papers. I imagine that the applications for employment will be more in the general division than in the clerical division, and the fees are estimated to return something over £2,000.
– What vacancies are there to justify this huge system of examination?
– There are vacancies in the post-office and other large departments every day.
– In which class ?
SirWILLIAM LYNE.- In various classes throughout the service, and promotions have also to be provided for.
– Appointments can be made only to the lower class.
– Only first appointments can be made to that class. All officers transferred from the State service must go into the lower class, unless they are taken over under the special provision to which I have referred. In the latter case the transferred officers are promoted over the heads of federal servants, and that is a system which must give rise to great annoyance and complaint.
– These officers expect to enter the lower grade only for the clerical division.
– There are about 60 persons, who, having passed the State examination for employment in the Victorian Post-office, claim that they have a right whether or not the Federal Government approve, to take the lower positions in the federal service. In order to show that there cannot be such a right, I asked what would be their position if it were decided to take officers from the States service to fill the vacancies. I think that demand on the part of those 60 persons has, to a large extent, ceased ; but no doubt at one time it was strongly contended that they had an exclusive right to appointments in the lower grades of this branch of the federal service. I mention these facts to show that the appointment of an examiner will prove the most economical way of dealing with this matter. Throughout the States, at the present time, there is a great clamour for examinations to be’ held.
– Who is clamouring?
– Applicants for situations ; and I can assure honorable members that I have received, perhaps, hundreds of applications from people who are disappointed at the examinations not having been already commenced. The desire is to have the examinations during the Christmas holidays, when the school buildings and, perhaps, the assistance of teachers are available. Under the circumstances, I hope honorable members see that the sum asked for is not extravagant. I admit’ that, when the matter was first mooted to me by the commissioner, I expressed the opinion that the amount was somewhat large. It may be remembered that in the last Estimates, under various headings, provision was made for extra clerical assistance, and, as some of these appointments were not necessary, I utilized the money in order to provide sufficient temporary clerks to enable the Public Service Commissioner to cope with his work. Honorable members will be surprised when they find what work has been necessary in the preparation of Commonwealth regulations to take the place of the separate States regulations. Up to the present we have been compelled to utilize the States regulations, but in the future it is intended - and the work is nearly completed - to have regulations applicable to the whole of Australia. This work has proved most difficult, and the gentleman at the head of the department, who is a most sensitively conscientious man, has been quite upset by a fear that the result of his labours may cause adverse criticism and dissatisfaction. There is another matter to which I should like to refer. Honorable members will notice that the salary of the secretary to the Public Service Commissioner is fixed at £600, and I think I am bound to offer some reason for the increase. The amount voted last year was £500, but the commissioner represented to me that he required the assistance of a man of extensive experience in connexion with public service administration. It was pointed out by the commissioner that the public service of Victoria in its regulations and general conditions was perhaps the most intricate in Australia, and he asked me to appoint Mr. Reddin, who had long experience as an officer in that service. But Mr. Reddin declined to come into the federal service for a salary of £500, and I then, at the instance of the Public Service Commissioner, offered to place £600 on the Estimates. Of course, I could not say that such a salary would be passed by Parliament, but I promised that the Government would do their best to have it accepted by honorable members. On that condition Mr. Reddin took the position, and the commissioner reports that his services and his knowledge of the Victorian service have proved so valuable that to lose him would be unfortunate for the Commonwealth. Honorable members know what a great number of actions at law have been brought against the Victorian Government in connexion with the public service of that State ; and Mr. Reddin appears to be the best man obtainable in order to prevent disaster from pitfalls of the kind. It is true that Mr. Reddin appears to be no great favorite with the members of the service, but that is simply because the performance of his duties may be apt to render him somewhat unpopular with officers. I hope the committee will look at the position from my point of view, and will not by a reduction of the amount proposed cause the . loss of the services of so valuable an officer.
– What are the duties of the registrar at £4=00 a year 3
– I have not the papers just now, but I can obtain them and give the honorable member the details later.
– I feel that there is great weight in what the Minister has said in reference to this salary. After a good deal of experience in connexion with Public Service Acts, my impression is that it is necessary to have a man of very high qualifications in a position of the kind, and, therefore, I shall not vote against the salary proposed. But with the indulgence of the committee I desire to make a personal explanation. I was not present when the House met, but I understand that the honorable member for Maranoa asked a question’ in reference to a statement which had appeared in the Melbourne Age. In this morning’s issue of that journal it is stated that I have allied myself with Major-General Hutton in order to secure the appointment of some officer from England as director of artillery, over the heads of all the other artillery officers. The whole statement is pure fabrication. I was not aware that a director of artillery had to be appointed, or that a person was to be brought out from England in connexion with that branch of the defence forces. Since the Federal Government came into operation, I do not think I have written half-a-dozen letters to Ministers about any human being. But it is singular that when I do happen to write a letter to a public department that letter gets into- the hands of the press. I have heard that there is some indirect influence at work in. the Defence department in connexion with a certain matter, and the circumstance I have mentioned seems to prove the truth of the rumour. I should like to tell the committee the true facts. Some time ago a Victorian, born and bred, went home to England at his own expense, and, entering the Imperial service, qualified himself for submarine mining. This, as we all know, is a very valuable line qf defence, though very few people elect to qualify themselves for such service. This Victorian, having by examination qualified himself for the Imperial service, now desires to serve his native country, Australia. His object in going home was to qualify himself for service in the defence forces of Victoria ; but the defences now being a Commonwealth matter, this young man-, who is at present in Australia, put the facts before me. Then I did what I think any other honorable member would do in the case of a young Australian who had, at his own expense, so qualified himself. I asked the Minister for Defence to take the matter into consideration, but I made not the slightest attempt to name any particular position. I “ had no idea of any particular position ; and I did this, not for a man from my own State, but for a Victorian. The Minister for Defence wrote a perfectly proper reply. The honorable gentleman did not seem to question the merits of the case, but he pointed out that just now there was retrenchment in the department, and that it would be a very awkward matter to make an appointment. That reply I accepted, and I have never since moved another inch in the matter. It is singular how these circumstances seem to get out of the Defence department into the newspapers. I have heard certain statements as to a “set” being made against this young man, and the facts rather give colour to this idea. I have no objection to publicity.
– But why should the press get information of the kind before it is laid before Parliament ?
– It is a singular thing that it is so, and it lends colour to the statement made to me with reference to this very case. It occurred to me that when a young Australian goes home and qualifies himself by passing examinations, and wins a position in the Imperial service, it is highly creditable that he should desire to enter the service of his own native land. Surely a Member of Parliament may write a letter to the Minister asking him to take such a case into his consideration! -That was all I did.
– With regard to the question brought forward by the honorable and learned member for Bendigo in connexion with £1,000 proposed to be voted for holding public service examinations, I should like to point out that the Public Service Act which Parliament has passed insists upon examinations being held not less frequently than once in each year; because it states that no appointments shall be made from the examinees at a particular examination during a period less than nine months after the holding of the examination - which means that if any vacancies occur ten months after the holding of an examination the Commissioner cannot appoint any one, but must wait until the yearly period is up, and another examination is held.
– I had forgotten that ; I am glad the honorable member has mentioned it.
– I believe we made an error in passing the Public Service Act in that shape. In view of the expense of holding these examinations throughout Australia, it would seem to be a necessary thing to allow candidates who were successful in passing a good examination, but were not amongst the top names, if only twenty vacancies occurred, to be called upon perhaps up to a period of two years. Then the examinations would take place probably at two-year intervals instead of yearly. That, to my mind, is the only means of reducing the expense which otherwise the Act entails upon us. I take it that the honorable and learned member for Bendigo is quarrelling with the proposal involved in holding examinations all over the Commonwealth. Does he want this committee to lay down the principle that all examinations are to be held in Melbourne to save expense - that candidates are to come from the extreme portions of Australia to Melbourne to be examined in order that there may be only one examiner 1
– I did not say that.
– That is involved in the honorable and learned member’s contention, or the alternative is to allow the favorites of the Minister of the day to be put into the service to the exclusion of those for whom we have been fighting so hard. The House decided almost unanimously that every person, no matter who he was, should have an opportunity of getting his sons or daughters into the public service by means of a competitive examination. That cannot be carried out unless the examinations are sufficiently numerous to allow of some probability of the candidates getting to local centres. I believe it will be found necessary to amend the Public Service Act in various particulars with a view of minimizing the expense that would otherwise be involved.
– In the meantime we have loaded ourselves with an expensive staff.
– I am not now expressing an opinion upon that, because it is a very difficult thing for one of us outside the office to arrive at a conclusion as to how many officers are needed. I had a talk with the Public Service Commissioner a little while ago about this matter and concerning the working of the Act.
– Does the honorable member say that he has interviewed the commissioner ?
– I had no motive other than that of inquiring into the matter from the public aspect.
– Was not the fact published in the newspapers ?
– Some people might have taken umbrage at it, but I do not mind that. A number of difficulties were pointed out by the commissioner, of whose ability in this connexion every one who knows him is quite satisfied. These difficulties indicated the necessity of some modifications being made in the Act. There is one other aspect of this matter that will require attention at the hands of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. That is, that the clerical branches of the service cannot take advantage of the minimum wage provision until examinations are held.
– The public service inspectors can do that.
– The honorable . and learned member seems to think that all the inspectors have to do is to go round holding examinations. Does he not know that we put into the Act appeal sections which alone are sufficient to occupy the attention of the inspectors for the whole year ? Nearly the whole of their time will be taken up with two sets of appeals - one with reference to grievances and the other with reference to promotions. The honorable and learned member must take his share of the responsibility for placing those sections in the Act. The minimum wage sections affecting the clerical division involve examinations - to which I took exception at the time they were agreed to. But the provision is there, and no benefit can be derived from these sections until examinations have been held throughout’ the Commonwealth with regard to the lower-grade officers. Again, with regard to promotions, examinations are insisted upon in some cases. So that the honorable and learned member can see that the machinery of the Act involves a large expenditure. I am surprised in view of all the difficulties, and of the fact that the centres throughout the States at which examinations must be held are so numerous, that the work can be done for £1,000. If it can be done for such a sum, so much the better. If it can be done for less, so much more the better. But I am convinced that we shall have to alter the detailed provisions of the Act in this regard.
– I rise to ask for some information from the Minister for Home Affairs. The item under discussion gives us the opportunity to inquire as to what is proposed to be done to those officers who have passed State examinations. I understand that there will be a number of junior appointments to be made in connexion with the Commonwealth service.
– That question has already been asked to-day.
– Unfortunately, I was not present when it was answered.
– Are we to have it all over again because the honorable member was not here t Let him read it in Mansard to-morrow.
– Will the seniors have some preference in appointments 1 I believe they are entitled to it under the Act.
– As the honorable member for Bourke was not present when I answered that question, I should like to say that I have pointed out that there is a section providing that the officers in the States who have passed State examinations can be taken into the Commonwealth service on the recommendation of the Commissioner, and appointed by the Executive Council. But that will have to be very carefully dealt with, because we have a Commonwealth public service, and the first promotions must go to our own officers if they are qualified. There is nothing to prevent officers who have been trained in. the States being employed, but most of them will have to come into the service in the lower grades.
– I should like to refer to what has been said by the honorable member for Coolgardie with reference to the matter of leave of absence, about which the Acting Prime Minister has spoken. I was a member of the Parliament of Western Australia at the time the matter was dealt with there, and it was considered to have been dealt with retrospectively, with the exception that those officers who had been in the service for a length of time and had received leave from time to time, according to the local Act, were not to participate to the same extent as those who had been in the service for six years, and were entitled to six months’ leave. It was considered as only just that many of the public servants who had been serving in a tropical climate for six years should have relief from their- duties. I might also mention that, in reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Coolgardie in April last, the Prime Minister made the following answer : -
I trust that the Acting Prime Minister will carry out what was promised then by the Prime Minister, and do what is really just to the officers in Western Australia. In regard to the other matters which have been spoken of, and reductions of salary, my opinion is that, where a man does his duty and is worth anything, he should be paid well. At the commencement of the Commonwealth we should lay a good foundation and set a good example. We should show that, although we have economy in view, we are at the same time determined to pay men according to what they are worth, and to do what is just. I feel sure that the amount set down here for the officers who discharge these various duties is not excessive. I am prepared to support the Government in this item.
Vote agreed to.
Division 21 (Public Works Staff)- £9,767
– I wish to ask the Minister for Home Affairs a question with reference to the Superintendents of Works. There are to be four of these officers. For which States are they to be appointed ? There is not to be one Superintendent for each State, so that evidently two States will have to be worked by one Superintendent. The information given in the Estimates is somewhat indefinite; A sum of £1,950 is to be voted for the four Superintendents, “at salaries not exceeding £600 per annum.” We should know something more definite than that.
– I notice that the four Superintendents of Works are to be paid salaries not exceeding £600 per annum each, whilst the Chief Draughtsman, who is really the architect, is only to get £300. To my mind the draughtsman is more i mportant than the superintendent. A clerk of works is paid only £3 10s. or £4 a week in an ordinary way, but in this case the Government propose to give a superintendent £600 a year, whilst the chief draughtsman will get only £300. The comparison makes the scale of remuneration appear ridiculous.
– When the Minister told us last year that the appointment of these officers would not involve an expenditure of more than about £2,000 a year,I quite expected that hisestimatewould be exceeded. The Estimates under review provide for an expenditure of £4,117 upon the Public Works staff. Roughly speaking, that is £2,000 in excess of the amount which the Minister said would be required.
– Will the honorable member allow me to explain? In regard to his assertion that, in dealing with last year’s Estimates, I said that the total salaries would not exceed £2,000 per annum, I would point out that my statement referred to the appointment of four superintendents. The Estimates provided for a salary not exceeding £600 a year for each of those officers, or for a maximum expenditure of £2,400. I said I did not think the expenditure would be as high as that, as I believed the salaries would average about £500 per annum. That was the reference which I made to the sum of £2,000.
– That does not alter the fact that the expenditure now proposed upon the Public Works staff is £4,117 per annum. The Minister is not satisfied to have an Inspeetor-General of Works at £1,000 per annum, but must have a number of other officers. I think it is becoming a little too stiff. The total sum set apart in connexion with the Public Works staff is £5,267.
– There is also a sum of £4,500 to recoup the States for salaries of professional and clerical officers employed by the Commonwealth.
SirGeorge Turner. - That amount is paid to the States. The States pay it and receive it, so that it is transferred expenditure.
– Yes ; but the cost of providing a Public Works staff for the Commonwealth is £1,000 in excess of that sum. I think the old arrangement would have been better than the present one.
– Why did not the honorable member support the proposal that the
Public Works departments of the States should continue to supervise our works.
– Because I thought it would be better to have our own officers. We are paying £1,000 per annum more than the honorable member suggested would have to be paid under the arrangement by which the States were to receive by way of remuneration for supervision 10 per cent. upon the amounts expended.
– No. If the honorable member will allow me, I will explain the matter.
– I join in the protest against these items. I never heard before of £600 a year being paid to a Superintendent of Works. These superintendents are really only clerks of works. I have had some experience of these matters as a member of the Melbourne City Council, which carries out many public works, but I have never heard of £600 a year being paid to a clerk of works. Such a salary is preposterous. I see that provision is also made for a Chief Draughtsman at £300 a year. That is too low a salary to pay if we desire to obtain the services of a good man. The Minister is actually providing a lower salary for the Chief Draughtsman than is paid to the clerks of works. Any number of superintendents of works could be obtained for £3 or £4 a week, and £5 per week would be regarded as a very high salary.
– I would not have men in the service who were prepared to accept such a salary.
– I have had as much experience of these matters as the Minister has had.
– Not in connexion with the public works of public departments.
– I do not wish to beat down the pay of these men, but I do say that these salaries are too high; and I propose to move that the item relating to the superintendents of works be reduced.
– It would be interesting to know how many professional men, such as marine engineers, the honorable member for Melbourne employs at £250 a year, and, if he does employ any at that remuneration, whether their work is satisfactory.
– I have employed many clerks of works.
– Quite so. When we voted these salaries upon last year’s Estimates I fully explained the position, and it is rather severe upon me that I should be called upon again to go over the whole question. I pointed out when we were dealing with last year’s Estimates that the only claim, made by any of the States for payment in respect of supervision of Commonwealth works was that lodged by the South Australian Government. The South Australian Government demanded 10 per cent. on the amount which had been expended in carrying out works under the supervision of their officers. Speaking from memory, I think that upon the amount provided on last year’s Estimates the payments to the States at the rate named would have been £35,000. I am speaking only from memory. In answer to the honorable member for Oxley, who inquired very fairly what the superintendents of works would be called upon to do, and what would be their standard, I would point out that I explained, when we were dealing with last year’s Estimates, that they would be either high-class architects or engineers.
– What is the Minister going to do with the Inspector-General?
– I shall answer the honorable member presently. I explained that the Commonwealth was absolutely at the mercy of the States in expending money upon public works without any supervision on the part of a Commonwealth officer, and I instanced a case in which a building for the erection of which an appropriation of £18,000 had been agreed to, would cost from £33,000 to £37,000. I had no means of checking that expenditure.
– Does the Minister refer to the Newcastle Post-office?
– Yes. I had no idea that the work would cost so much until just before I spoke, for the reason that I had no federal officer whose duty it was to communicate with the Minister in regard to the way in which works were being carried out.
– That work was entered upon prior to federation, and the honorable member’s Premier of New South Wales, started it.
– I did not. A sum of money was voted for the purpose by the State Parliament. Another very important consideration in regard to the appointment of a Commonwealth public works staff is that the States have their own works to carry out ; and that, as themembers of the States Legislatures do not care to see their own works delayed, our undertakings are usually placed second by the States officials. I do not think that is right. From time to time I have complaints as to delay in carrying out Commonwealth works, but without the officers provided on these Estimates, I have no means of knowing why these works are not carried out within a certain time by the States officials. In answer to the honorable member for Oxley I would explain that it is proposed to appoint one Superintendent of Works possessing high qualifications to look after our work in Queensland, and another for New South Wales. A superintendent has already been appointed for Victoria, and another for Western Australia. The Premier of South Australia proposed to me some time ago that the Commonwealth works in that State should be supervised by an officer paid jointly by the State and the Commonwealth, and a similar proposition was made by Mr. Bird, the State Treasurer of Tasmania. I replied that if the respective States would pay a portion of the salary of each of these officers, the Commonwealth Government would pay the remainder, but upon the condition that the officer should be a federal servant. In both cases that condition was agreed to, and I propose to carry out the arrangement as soon as the necessary funds are voted. Honorable members will understand that as Western Australia is so far removed from the seat of government, we have necessarily to communicate by telegraph with the State officers there, and it seems to me highly desirable that we should have a responsible officer in that State. If the Western Australian Government will make a proposal similar to that made by the South Australian and Tasmanian Governments, I shall be quite willing to adopt it, but I do not feel disposed to depend upon any officer unless he is a federal servant.
-Have the Government ever paid the South Australian Government for the work carried out for the Commonwealth by the State Public Works department ?
– I think not. I have been endeavouring to induce the South Australian Government to accept a little less than the 10 per cent. which they claim.
– The Minister knows that the 10 per cent. is not charged only for supervision of works. It includes the hire of plant, preparation of plans and specifications, and so forth.
– I pointed out to the South Australian Government that some distinction should be drawn between the amount claimed in respect of supervision, and the rent charged for use of plant loaned to the Commonwealth. Once we establish the principle of allowing the States 10 per cent. for supervising Commonwealth works, whether plant is lent or not, that charge will always be made. If the South Australian Government put in a claim showing that the plant loaned to us was worth 5 or 6 per cent. upon the amount expended and that the supervision was worth the remaining 4 or 5 per cent., I should not object to it.
– Treat them generously.
– I have declined to pay 10 per cent. If I were to agree to that charge being made, other States would not undertake the work for less.
– Will it not be necessary to provide for a plant ?
– I hope not.
– Then how is the work to be done?
– In many instances it will be done by contract.
– It would be better to carry out our works by day labour.
– I have always been in favour of that principle.
– If the Minister adopts it a plant will be necessary.
-I shall arrange to carry out works upon that principle, when practicable.
– The honorable member was not always in favour of the day labour system.
– The honorable member converted me to the system, as the result of the construction of the telephone tunnels of New South Wales by day labour. I attacked him vigorously once or twice in regard to that work which he sanctioned, but a committee was appointed and showed that it had been carried out under day labour for 25 per cent. less than the amount for which it could have been executed by contract. There was another committee sitting at the time to consider works at the Government Printing - office and other buildings. The result of their inquiries showed that there was a saving of 25 per cent, gained by substituting day labour for the contract system. It was the result of these inquiries that converted me to the adoption of the day labour system wherever practicable. I do not think that system should be adopted in all cases.
– If it is adopted, the Commonwealth will require a plant.
– We may. If we do, we may be able to hire a plant from the States Governments. If a plant is necessary, I shall be prepared’ to make such an arrangement. If the South Australian Government had said that they required 4 per cent, upon the moneys expended in respect of the plant used I should not have objected to their charge. It is easy to calculate what 10 per cent, upon the total expenditure would represent if all our works were carried out under the supervision of the States officials.
– The South Australian Government made it clear that they did not charge 10 per cent, solely for supervision of Commonwealth works, and why should the Government cavil at the charge ?
– Let them show, how the charge is made up, and if I am satisfied that it is a fair claim, I shall recommend its payment.
– The whole amount in dispute is only £28.
– But there is a principle at stake. Up to the present moment I have not been able to make any arrangement with the Victorian Government, though correspondence has been proceeding within the last month or two to arrange what the Federal Government shall pay the Victorian Government for work done. I thought that 2 per cent, would be a very fair charge, but I find that that will not be listened to. I have not yet been able to arrange with *any of the State Governments as to the amount to be paid, and at the present we are absolutely in the hands of the States in connexion with the expenditure of money upon works, as, except in the case of Victoria, where I have an officer appointed, I have really no control. The Inspector-General of Works is intended for the Commonwealth.
– Is one officer appointed already %
– I am accused of being extravagant, but I can tell honorable members that though money was voted last year it has not been expended, and there are many re-votes in these Estimates for that reason. I have not rushed into extravagance in making appointments. The only appointment in this connexion that I have made is that of a transferred officer in Victoria, who was appointed some time ago.
– Is he getting the same salary that he was getting in Victoria ?
– He is getting £600 a year. I think the salary is the same that he was getting in Victoria.
– It would be very unfair to reduce the salary now if the amount was passed last year.
– It was passed last year, and the honorable mem ber f or Gippsland, the only honorable member who objected, was satisfied with the explanation given at the time.
– The honorable gentleman has a reputation for extravagance.
– I have only got that reputation in Victoria ; but when I am accused of having a mantelpiece erected at a cost of £100, there is no wonder that I should get such a reputation.
– That ought to be explained by the newspaper.
– It has not been explained, and I think it should have been explained this morning. The InspectorGeneral of Works referred to in the estimate will be an officer appointed for the Commonwealth of Australia, and I have in my mind two men, one of whom is in South Australia, as suitable men for the position.
– Does the honorable gentleman propose to give him travelling allowances t
– I suppose he will receive travelling allowance. I have already explained those allowances. I would point out to the honorable member for Melbourne that the salaries proposed in these cases are not for inferior men; and if I can get the class of men I desire to see appointed, honorable members will agree that £500 or £600 a year will be a very reasonable salary for them. I think the honorable member said that he had never heard of a superintendent of works getting £600 a year. I may tell the honorable member that it was proposed at first to give these officers another designation more in keeping with the importance of their office. I discussed the matter with the Cabinet and the Treasurer, and it was determined that they should be called . “ Superintendents of Works,” in order that they might not clash with secretaries, andofficers having other designations under the Public Service Act. It must be remembered that they will be responsible officers of the Federal Government in the large States. And if the expenditure upon any works exceeds the appropriation, upon them will rest the responsibility of saying why they permitted the extra expenditure without consulting the chief officials. The honorable member forMelbournereferred to the Chief Draughtsman at £300 a year.
– I say that the honorable gentleman is paying the Chief Draughtsman too little.
SirWILLIAM LYNE. - This officer is employed in the head office in Melbourne. I do not wonder at honorable members saying that the salary proposed to be paid to him is low, and but for the fact that I have desired to avoid increases in salaries, I should like to pay this officer £400 a year.
– How does the honorable gentleman come to have a Chief Clerk at £500 a year and a Chief Draughtsman at £300? Which is the professional man?
– The Chief Draughtsman is, no doubt, the professional man. I am being blamed because I have not put salaries up high enough, and only just now I was being blamed because I put them up too high. I tell honorable members that if they are prepared to give £400 or £500 a year for a draughtsman of a high class, I do not think that would be too high a salary, but at present I am not prepared to suggest an increase to this officer, who is a transferred officer from the Defence department. I am not asking for an increase in his salary, though I admit that the position warrants the payment of a higher salary than is here provided for. I would impress upon honorable members the fact that these officers will have to carry through a scheme of works for the various States, and we cannot get capable men who can be given this responsibility for a salary of £250 or £300 a year. I may mention that Mr. Owen Smythe, a gentleman who has occupied a somewhat similar position in South Australia, has been recommended to me very highly for the position of Inspector-General of Works, and another officer has also been recommended for the position . I think honorable members will be satisfied with the proposed distribution of the expenditure, and I hope they will not reduce the vote after having passed it last year.
– It is just the distribution of this expenditure which is causing all the trouble. I desire to draw attention to the curious method in which these salaries are arranged. There is a Chief Clerk provided for at £500 a year. It will be admitted that the office of a chief clerk is not a technical one, requiring a highly qualified officer. Then when we come to deal with the Chief Draughtsman who will have the preparation of the plans of all the important buildings constructed for the Commonwealth, involving an expenditure of many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and in some cases of scores of thousands of pounds for a particular building, we find that an officer is expected to do that work at £300 a year. Then we are to have Superintendents of Works at a salary not exceeding £600 a year.
– I admit the anomaly in the case of the Chief Draughtsman, but I am not prepared to recommend an increase this year.
– The anomaly appears to me to be a remarkable one. I put it to the Minister that these Superintendents of Works are merely clerks of works.
– No ; they will all be professional men, though they may act as clerks of works.
– As a matter of fact they will have to look after the construction and erection of buildings in the various States, and it seems to me that, if we are going to pay them £600 a year, we will have superior men who will not act as clerks of works, and we shall have to pay other persons to do that work.
– Are not these officers all to be clerks of works ?
– Does the honorable member desire that we should have officers who shall be architects, engineers, and superintendents rolled into one. We have one great architect for the Commonwealth receiving the magnificent salary of £300 a year ; and, as a man who is paid such a salary as that will have to work very hard for it, there will be no necessity for other architects. These officers will not be architects, but clerks of works.
– No; they will nearly all be architects.
– Do we require an architect in each State.
– We do in the larger States. I hope to make a combination inthe case of two, if not three, of the smaller States.
– I desire that the public works staff should be organized on something like an intelligent scale. It is certainly not an intelligent scale to have a Chief Draughtsman at £300, and a Chief Clerk at £500 a year, and subordinate architects getting twice the salary paid to the chief. I understand from the Minister that the reason why South Australia is not to have a Superintendent of Works-
– I do not know whether she is or not. I think the officer will not be a full superintendent. The officer employed will probably do the work of the Federal Government and of the State Government as well. The honorable member will see that there are four down at £600 a year. I hope to save enough on the vote to pay for more than four officers.
– There will be half the salary paid to some officers who will be largely employed by the State Governments?
– Am I to understand that that proposal came from the Premier of South Australia ?
– Yes, and from Mr. Bird,the Treasurer of Tasmania.
– I should like to ask the honorable gentleman whether in proposing that arrangement the Premier of South Australia was aware that this would be “ new “ expenditure, and that he would save nothing from the revenue of his State by the arrangement ? Was it pointed out that while South Australia indulged in a policy of self-abnegation it would have to contribute to the salary of the Superintendents without having the benefit of their services ? If not it might be as well thatit should be pointed out, and then this anxiety for economy for other States might not be so apparent.
– Last year this question was raised by the honorable member for Gippsland, and the discussion lasted only a quarter of an hour. We have four days in which to complete the work of the session and yet this question has been discussed for two hours, which is a great pity. The answer which was made by the Minister last year was that there was somearrangement with Mr. Blackbourn, who certainly is worth £600 a year.
– But the Minister says there is no appointment made yet.
– No ; I said one had been made.
– The Superintendent of Works in Victoria is a competent architect and engineer, who for years had under his control the local defence works.
– He was Superintendent of Works, and he was taken over with the Defence department.
– If honorable members are prepared to reduce the salary of an officer who was taken over from the State service, they should face the position. But if not, what is the use of discussing an item which was freely discussed last year, and which it is really useless to re-discuss ?
– I was surprised to hear the honorable and learned member for Corio state that because this item was discussed last year it should not be discussed this year. I am prepared to discuss the item every year if it is necessary. We were led to believe that there was no appointment made in this department.
– No. I said that last year.
– The Minister left the distinct impression on my mind this morning that no appointment had been made, and that he would try to get the best officers available to fill the positions. It has turned out, however, that a gentleman has been appointed at a salary of £600. I am prepared to take the responsibility of reducing his salary to £400. There seems to be no end to the growth of this department. The idea of giving the Chief Draughtsman £300, and officers who will act as clerks of works £600, is simply ridiculous. I do not believe that any private firm would do such a thing. It is quite possible to get qualified men to carry out the duties of the position for a much less salary. We have an Inspector-General of Works at a salary of £1,000. He is the architectinchief, and his duty is to see what works are to becarried out, andgenerally to superintend their construction. I do not say that he can go everywhere, but he has subordinate officers at his disposal. A salary of £500 is too much for the work which the Chief Clerk has to do, and it should be reduced to £400. It is of no use for the Minister to say that the salary of a Superintendent is not to exceed £600, and that probably it will be £500 ; because we know very well that if the vote is passed, their salary will be £600. Under the circumstances I hope that the honorable member for Melbourne will move to reduce the salary to £400.
SirWilliam Lyne. - Mr. Blackbourn was getting a salary of £600 a year in the State service.
– I am very pleased that the honorable and learned member for Corio has intervened in the debate, because, after listening to the Minister, I was under the impression that no appointment had been made.
– He qualified that statement afterwards by saying that one appointment had been made.
– That alters my attitude to some extent. If no appointment had been made, I should have joined the honorable member for Melbourne in voting for a reduction of the salaries of the Superintendents of Works. In New South Wales the construction of very many important works is supervised by clerks of works, at not more than £1 per day or at £5 per week.
– In New South Wales four officers doing corresponding duties each receive £800 per year.
– What is the nature of the works to be supervised by this department? The Commonwealth has no need to carry out any elaborate works. We have only the Postal, Customs, and Defence departments under our control, and is it necessary to have a man at a salary of £400 to superintend the erection of small post-offices throughout the Commonwealth? In New South Wales the clerks of works who superintend the construction of post-offices do not receive more than £5 per week. Again, in the Defence department, what is the nature of the public works to be carried out ? I guarantee that good men could be obtained to superintend the erection of drillsheds at a salary of £5 per week.
– But these officers have to deal with all the defence works, also.
– There are many works in connexion with that department, such as putting up drill-sheds and small barracks, which do not require the presence of a highly-paid official. The Minister can get men at £5 per week to do the supervising work. If we have to construct defence works, fortifications, and light-houses, then the presence of a superior man is required. But what is the Inspector-General of Works to do ? Will he not find time to see that important works are properly carried out ? Otherwise what has he to do ? A difficulty has arisen from the appointment of one Superintendent at a salary of £600, but still, in times of economy, we should make an effort to reduce these items. It might meet the case if we combined the offices of Chief Clerk and Chief Draughtsman, at a salary of £500, thereby saving £300 a year. We must keep faith with the Superintendent who has been appointed, but I do not see why the Chief Clerk should get a penny more than the Chief Draughtsman. It is perfectly ridiculous to suggest that these officers should be architects, because all the plans are drawn up in the office ; and for the supervision of nine-tenths of the works only Clerks of Works are required. The Minister may be surprised at a supporter speaking in this manner ; but I got such an object-lesson last night in the fact that Ministers do not expect their supporters to stand by them that I feel that I ought to exercise my right to bring about some economy.
– It is not usual for the honorable member for New England to take the course he has taken. I am quite satisfied that he does not understand what these men are required to do, or what class of men they are. Honorable members do not know thatbefore the Commonwealth took over the Defence departments there were various systems under which these works were carried out. In Victoria the works were done by the State department. In New South Wales there was a huge military staff to do the military works. I have taken all the military clerks from the branch in New South Wales and placed them under this department. The officer who will be appointed for New South Wales will have to deal with all the military works which previously were supervised by Major Owen, with a strong staff under him. Besides, it will not be long before we shall have to deal with the erection of light-houses and other works. These officers cannot be and are not ordinary clerks of works ; perhaps it would have been better if they had been called “ subinspectors.” I did anticipate that honorable members would clearly understand what class of officers was required. I hope that they will not attempt to reduce this amount. A salary of £500 was voted last year for a Chief Clerk, but no appointment has been made. I am quite prepared to take £400 for the Chief Clerk, as there is an anomaly between the salary of the Chief Draughtsman and that of the Chief Clerk. I must try to get a man good enough for the position of Chief Clerk at £400. I am sure that honorable members will see that there has been no extravagance. I economized to a considerable extent by amalgamating the civil and military branches.
– Will these appointments be made by the Public Service Commissioner?
– Not one of these appointments will bemade until the Public Service Act is in force, and then they will be made on the recommendation of the Commissioner.
– Will he have any power to recommend the rates to be paid ?
– Yes. I inserted the words “ not exceeding,” so that I need not pay £600 a year if I do not require to do so. I wished to provide in the Public Service Bill that the Inspectors should receive a salary not exceeding £700 a year; but the words were omitted by the Senate, and the result is that I have been compelled to pay that amount. I believe that in two cases, I could have got an Inspector at £500, but the appropriation of a specific sum for the position prevented me from doing so. I introduced the words “ not exceeding” in this case, so that I need not pay a salary of £600 if it is not necessary. The commissioner will have to recommend the men and the salaries.
– I have listened with care to the explanation of the Minister for Home Affairs, but I feel that in this instance I must vote with honorable members who are on the side of economy. I would not vote for the reduction of the salary of Mr. Blackbourn, in whose case, it seems, we are committed to an expenditure of £600 per annum, but I see no reason why the other Superintendents should not be paid a smaller amount. I fail to understand why the Chief Draughtsman should be given only £300 per annum, and the Superintendents £600 per annum each. Surely they will all be under the control of the InspectorGeneral of Works, in which case men of the attainments referred to by the Minister for Home Affairs are scarcely necessary, and the work of the office could be efficiently performed by officers receiving £400 a year. The committee should be very careful about sanctioning appointments, because just now federation is unpopular enough.
– Yes, in South Australia, because of the appointment of a few additional drill inspectors.
– In other States aswell. If we pile up expense, federation will become still more unpopular. It is my intention to vote for any proposed reduction of the salaries of these Superintendents.
Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN (Mel bourne). - The discussion has rather tended to show that this department is likely to be an extremely expensive one. If these Superintendents are to be more than clerks of works, they will each want clerks of works, draughtsmen, and ordinary clerks to assist them in the performance of their duties. In my opinion, the salary of £600 is altogether too high, and I move -
That the item, “ Superintendents of Works at salaries not exceeding £600 per annum, £1,950,” be amended by the omission of the words ‘ ‘ at Salaries “ with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ one at a salary.”
If that amendment is carried we can provide for a salary of £600 to Mr. Blackbourn, and of £400 for the others.
– Three hundred pounds would be sufficient.
– I think so.
– I shall not appoint any at £300.
– The Minister has shown such a nice spirit throughout the discussion that I am willing to make the salary £400, except in Mr. Blackbourn’s case, and I would let his salary stand at £600.
– Make him InspectorGeneral.
– That would be a good idea.
– Under the honorable member’s proposal would not the other States get Superintendents of inferior ability to that of the Superintendent in Victoria 1
– Of course they would. This is a very selfish proposal. The honorable member wants to give Victoria a Superintendent at £600, and the other States Superintendents at £400.
– The Minister for Home Affairs spoke about distant distribution. What we want is not the mellifluence of distant distribution, but the beneficence of local distribution. It is not often that I can agree with, the honorable member for Melbourne, but I am of opinion that £400 is sufficient for these positions. The Constitution fixes the remuneration of members of this Parliament at £400 a year, and, on general principles, I shall be willing to vote for the reduction of every salary in the service to that amount.
– What salary has the officer already appointed been receiving from the State from which he has been transferred 1
– Six hundred pounds a year.
– That being so, I think it would be unfair for the committee to reduce the amount.
– Make him InspectorGeneral.
– I do not know if he is qualified for that position, though he may be qualified for his present position. I should be inclined to leave that matter to the Minister. ‘ I think, however, that £400 would be sufficient’ f or the other Superintendents. We- should then be paying an average salary of £450 to the staff.
– I am in sympathy with the honorable member for Tasmania, but I do not think the people of the Commonwealth desire to sweat their servants. It is only the Ministry who have shown an inclination to do that. I think that Members of Parliament are being sweated by Ministers. The Minister for Home Affairs has my sympathy on this occasion, because I think that the attitude which he has taken up is a reasonable and proper one. Some honorable members seem to think that the Chief Draughtsman will occupy a more important position than that of the Superintendents, and should, therefore, receive as high a salary, but in my opinion he will occupy a position requiring technical rather than general professional ability. He will have no designing to do, and no responsibility. If it were proposed that the Commonwealth should launch out into the construction of expensive buildings, his position might be a different one, but all that will, have to be done will be to prepare plans and specifications for additions to post-offices and other existing buildings, many of which are merely wooden humpies. Perhaps it might be right to give the Draughtsman £400 a year, but certainly not more than that. Most of us have expressed our belief in the day-labour system, but if that system is to be carried out efficiently Parliament must have thoroughly competent and trustworthy men to superintend the work being done. Such men will hold very responsible positions, and could save more. than the amount of their salaries.
– Some members of the committee may have expressed their belief in the day- labour system, but others have not.
– I was not referring to conservatives, whose views never progress, and who are relics of an almost prehistoric age.
– I agree with the honorable member for Herbert. I think that a discretionary power should be given to the Minister in this matter.
– If I had appointed these officers last year, and spent the money instead of saving it, there would have been none of this discussion.
– Yes. The foreman of a very small workshop who is worthy of his position, receives at least £300 a year, and- the duties of the Superintendents of Works will be analogous to those of foremen, and should be remunerated in accordance with their importance. Efficient Superintendents will be able to prevent scamping and the introduction of inferior materials, and to guard the interests of the Commonwealth in other ways. It must not be forgotten that, although we may be opposed to the erection of costly buildings in the future, very expensive buildings have been transferred to the Commonwealth, and as they have to be maintained, and occasionally to be added to, skilful and trustworthy men will be required to superintend the work. In New South Wales there are more costly buildings than in any of the other States,’ and it would, therefore, be wrong to pay to the New South Wales Superintendent a smaller salary than is paid to the Victorian Superintendent, whose remuneration I do not cavil at. There is always such a demand for the services of efficient clerks of works, that we shall not be able to get good men unless we ai-e willing to pay them current rates of wages. When men can obtain £500 or £600 from private contractors, they will not take £400 from the Commonwealth. If honorable members consider that the Minister is likely to be extravagant, and is unworthy of his position, they should turn him out of office.
– When the ad visibility of creating a works department was being discussed last year, the committee was against me because I foretold what was likely to happen. But honorable members have now a small indication of what the department is likely to cost the Commonwealth in the future. I held then, as I do now, that this department is altogether unnecessary at the present stage. The appointments already made or contemplated are only the forerunners of many others, and we shall have to establish offices in all the States for the accommodation of the staffs which are to work there on our behalf.
– South Australia is driving us to make these appointments by her exorbitant charges for supervision.
– I shall have something to say about that presently. The honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, asked a very pertinent question regarding the arrangement made with the Government of South Australia. I am given to understand that a State officer is to superintend Common wealth works there.
– No, we are taking over an officer from the South Australian Government, and making him a public servant of the Commonwealth, but we intend to allow the State Government to utilize part of his time. The Premier of South Australia made the suggestion, and I have agreed to it.
– Why could not a similar arrangement be made in the other States 1
– Because iri most of the other States the Superintendents of Public Works have more work than they can do already. 46 e -
– It seems to me that South Australia has made a very bad bargain, because the cost of maintaining this department will be charged as new expenditure and debited to the States per capita. With regard to the alleged charge of 10 per cent, by the South Australian Government for the supervision of work for the Commonwealth, the Minister knows very well that that sum includes the cost of preparing the plans and specifications and a charge for the use of plant required in carrying out the works, in addition to the supervision. Therefore, I think it is unfair of the Minister to accuse the South Australian Government of making an exorbitant charge.
– The honorable member cannot make it any other than an exorbitant charge.
– The honorable member does not know what he is talking about. The cost of superintending the construe-‘ tion of Commonwealth works under the arrangement now proposed will be greater than that hitherto involved, because in addition to providing for the salaries of the supervising staff, it will be necessary to arrange for the plant which will have to be employed. Even if this is hired from the States Governments something will have to be paid for it. In view of all these circumstances, I think it is paltry on the part of the Minister for Home Affairs to add insult to injury by reiterating his accusation against the South Australian Government. If the Minister expects that Government to come to him, cap in hand, and ask him. for £28 - the 10 per cent, charge in connexion with a work which cost £280 - he will be disappointed. They would sooner make him a present of the money than supplement their ample explanation. I hope that we have heard the last of the charge against South Australia of trying to obtain money for services which they Iia ve not rendered.
– They did make a charge of 10 per cent, for supervision.
– Does not the Minister know that the 10 per cent, included charges for the use of the plant employed, and for drawing up the plans and specifications, in addition to the actual supervision of the works whilst in course of construction ? Does he not know that railway fares had to be paid in cases where officers were required to travel to outlying places to supervise additions made to post-offices and other buildings 1 All these items were included in the 10 per cent.
– Yes, thev were.
– Then is it “fair to say that 10 per cent, was charged for mere supervision ?
– It was charged for supervision, and 10 per cent. will, always be considered as the charge for supervision unless it is put a stop to now.
– If the Minister desired to have any work carried out by day labour he would have to make some provision for the necessary plant, and he would also have to pay the railway fares of the men employed upon works situated any distance from the centres of population.
– We have had all this before.
Mi-. POYNTON.- And the honorable and learned member will probably have to submit to it again. I consider it my duty to rebut the charge made absolutely without foundation against the South Australian Government.
– It is absolutely true.
– It is not true that the South Australian Government charged 10 per cent, for supervision only, and the Minister knows it. Why is he not man enough to acknowledge it?
– Why is not the honorable member man enough to admit that he is wrong ?
– I think I have cited sufficient facts to show that the Minister is wrong. I shall support a reduction of this item. The officer who is provided for here will be merely an overseer of works, and if we judge by the rates paid by private employers, £300 per annum would be excellent pay for the work he will have to perform. The InspectorGeneral of Works, who receives £1,000 a year, has the most responsible work to do, and it would be absurd to pay an overseer £600 per annum, simply to supervise building operations. I find that the Chief Clerk in the department for Home Affairs receives a salary of £650 a year, and there is no department in the Commonwealth service in which so many billets, with high salaries attached, have been created. The Minister has in many cases selected his officers from outside instead of taking them from the States services, and thus giving the States Governments an opportunity to retrench to an amount equivalent to the salary of the transferred officers. All the extra expense now contemplated will serve to further embarrass the States Governments, and probably compel them to retrench to a still greater degree than at present. The result of the vote given yesterday in regard to the construction of works out of revenue will throw the State finances into confusion, and we have the fullest justification, therefore, for cutting down all expenditure that is not absolutely necessary. The Minister is using the fact that one appointment has been made by him without consulting honorable members as a reason why he should be permitted to make a number of other appointments. But if we are to regard this as a sufficient reason our discussion of the Estimates must resolve itself into a farce. Honorable members should have an opportunity of knowing what appointments are proposed, and of keeping a careful watch over all expenditure, particularly in connexion with appointments to which high salaries are attached. If we approve of the appointment of a large number of highly-paid officials we shall be driven into the same position as that occupied by some of the States Governments, and shall be compelled to make percentage reductions upon the salaries of all the Commonwealth employes. That would plaGe us in a most undignified position. I was accused of having been a party to a large increased expenditure in connexion with the Public Service Act. I am quite prepared to take the responsibility of having fought for an increase of the pay of employes who have been in the service for from nine to eighteen years at a salaries as low as £60 per annum. There is no crime in taking such a step, but the Minister is open to the most serious reproach for having created an absolutely unnecessary department.
– I shall support the reduction proposed for the reasons stated by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Poynton. I agree with him that this department ought not to have been created. No additions have been made to the work formerly carried out in the States, because we have not increased the number of Government buildings except by the purchase of one or two offices in Melbourne. The work of supervision has not grown, and I cannot see why the Minister should not have made an arrangement with all the States to share the payment of the salaries of their Superintendents of Public Works. It may be urged in some of theStates that, inasmuch as the duties of the Superintendents of Works have been curtailed owing to the transfer of several State departments to the Commonwealth, the salaries should also be reduced, but we could stop that cry by contributing a portion of the salaries now paid and maintaining them at the present figures. That would prove a very good arrangement for some years to come, and would certainly obviate the necessity for the creation of a new department. It is simply from a desire to emphasize the objection which has been so well put by my honorable colleague, that I support the reduction. I can assure the honorable member that I did not single him out for censure in regard to the determination of Parliament that a minimum salary of £110 should be paid to all adults who had been in the Commonwealth service for three years. I think that he went so far as to consult me in regard to the wording of that proposal. The Government desired to limit the minimum proposed to new officers, which, of course, would have been grossly unfair. The honorable member’s amendment, however, had the effect of making the Act consistent. 1 repeat that I did not single him out for censure, because throughout his motives have been perfectly disinterested. I do not think that the Minister was quite fair to the honorable member when he spoke of the 10 per cent, commission which South Australia wishes to charge for the supervision of Commonwealth public works. If I remember rightly I think the honorable member said that the 10 per cent, in question, although debited to supervision, included travelling expenses and the use of a plant.
– It was not much of a plant.
-The honorable gentleman should not be so suspicious. At all events the charge is not an exorbitant one when we consider that so many items are included in it.
– I have listened attentively to the suggestions which have been made, principally by Ministerial supporters, and I have come to the conclusion that it is absolutely necessary we should have efficient officers to supervise the carrying out of the public works which have to be undertaken by the Commonwealth. Last night reference was made to the salaries which it is proposed to pay these officers, and it “was pointed out that no amount had been definitely decided upon. They are, however, “ not to exceed “ £600 a year. When the Public Service Act was under discussion, honorable members were very anxious that the control of our public servants should be vested in the commissioner. Of course he is required to make a recommendation, but, in order to avoid the possibility of appointments being made as the result of political influence, Parliament, after an exhaustive debate, decided to rely to a great extent upon his judgment. That being so, it seems to me that the proposal ,of the Ministry is a perfectly fair one. The honorable member who has moved the amendment has entirely given away his case. He states that the officer who has been appointed in Victoria at a salary of £600 a 3’ear should be retained at that rate, but that in the other States a thoroughly competent officer could be secured for considerably less. Seeing that the Government proposal is that the emoluments attached to the office shall not exceed £600 a year, I think that the matter of determining the exact amount might well be left to the discretion of the Public Service Commissioner. From my knowledge of that gentleman I have no hesitation in saying that if he can secure the services of a qualified man for a less sum he will do so. Whilst I am thoroughly desirous that economy should be exercised in the administration of our public affairs, I would remind honorable members that if we attempt to unduly cut down salaries we run the risk of effecting only a false economy. If we wish to secure the services of a thoroughly efficient professional man, upon whom the Government can rely in important matters involving the expenditure of about £300,000 we ought to be careful to give the Public Service Commissioner discretionary power to make the office worth £600, if he thinks it is desirable to do so.
– It seems to me that this matter can be submitted to a very simple test. Either there is extravagance in this department, or there is not. I propose to show that there has been no extravagance up to the present time. Taking the whole of the Estimates in the branch department which is now under review,
I find that the total cost of administration represents £5,267,’ whereas the -works proposed to be constructed this year will involve an outlay of £300,000. Dividing the latter amount by the former, I find that the cost of administration represents less than 2 per cent, on the total amount proposed to be spent. Will any one say that that is an evidence of extravagance ?
– Will that amount be spent every year ?
– I should say that more would be spent. This department must inevitably grow. Up to the present time it has not taken over all the functions which properly belong to it. When it assumes control of light-houses, beacons, &c, there is no doubt that the outlay will be largely increased. Whilst it is the duty of honorable members to keep the expenditure down to the lowest possible limit consistent with efficiency, we must remember that the services have to be maintained. To my mind the questions which we have to determine are - “What does it cost to maintain these works in a state of efficiency?” and - “Can we by exercising control over them ourselves make a better arrangement than if they were carried out under State control?” The facts speak for themselves. The total cost of this department next year will be less than 2 per cent, upon the amount of money expended. That is the result obtained by a simple calculation. On the other hand South Australia wishes to charge 10 per cent, on the sum which has been expended upon Commonwealth public works in that -State. If every other State charged upon the same scale the cost of carrying out the works projected for this year would be £30,000 instead of £5,000 as set down in these Estimates.
– The honorable member is allowing nothing for material. That 10 per cent, includes the use of plant and material.
– I am told that a very small -amount is represented by plant, but if half of the total were so represented the charge would still be excessive. It is of no use endeavouring to make it appear that the charge is a small one. It is a scandalously extortionate one. I cannot generally be accused of a desire to assist the Ministry, but I cannot shut my eyes to the patent facts to which I have called attention. We ought to look at this matter from a purely business stand-point, and when I see that the cost of the administration of this department is moderate in the extreme, I am at a loss to understand the complaints of honorable members who represent a State which proposes to charge the Commonwealth an extortionate rate for the supervision of the public works carried out within its borders. The proposal is a moderate one of less thar 2 per cent., and I do not think that the expenses of management can be much further reduced.
– The amount proposed is not excessive, considering the work there is to do, but, at the same time, I cannot help thinking that the formation of the department is premature. We ought to keep expenses as low as possible, and we must remember that the proposed expenditure is only the beginning. There is only one appointment at £600 at present, the others having yet to be made ; and I had hoped that the inauguration of the Commonwealth would bring about a different system of public works from that which has prevailed in the States. My experience of public works administration in the States is that it becomes hide-bound and most unsatisfactory ; it does not keep in touch with modern improvements, and in almost every case is extremely extravagant. If a department of this kind is to be ruled by two or three men, the whole of the work will flow from the brains of that small number. Why should we not, in the matter of Commonwealth works, have the benefit of the best brains in the community ? Why should we not call for plans and specifications, and let the successful competitor have the supervision of the work ?
– Does the honorable member propose that there should be competition in regard to every little work ?
– Not at all ; for small repairs the services of a small staff might be retained. .But I utterly fail to see the necessity for a large and elaborate staff. In the future such a staff may be necessary, but under presen t conditions, it is premature. I do not agree with the suggestion that the whole of of the work should be done by day labour. In my opinion, we shall get better and cheaper work under the contract system, with a stipulation for the payment of a minimum wage. I do not approve of differentiating between the salaries, and I cannot support the proposal of the honorable member for Melbourne. If one man is worth £600 per annum, the others ought to be worth the same, or the salaries of all should be cut down. It is difficult for honorable members who do not know the whole of the facts to “ pick holes “ in the Estimates, and it is not a wise course to knock a little off here and a little off there. In fact, in my opinion, the committee are not qualified to reduce the Estimates in that way. I should much rather see the whole division withdrawn, and the work carried on under somewhat better arrangement with the States.
– The honorable member for Echuca has said that we ought not to differentiate between the payments of these officers ; but, unfortunately, the sum of £1,950 demands differentiation.
– What I mean is, that though the Minister may be able to differentiate in making the appointments, the committee cannot very well do so.
– But the committee is giving a direction that there must be differentiation. As I understand, the Government are pledged to the appointment of a Victorian officer at £600 per annum. That leaves only £1,350 for the other three officers, an equal division amongst whom will mean an average of £485; therefore, the argument as to differentiation seems to fall to the ground when it is used against the amendment of the honorable member for Melbourne. I am rather inclined to vote for t,he amendment, because, first of all, I have not yet gathered from the Minister what are the duties of these Superintendents. We had what I may venture, without disrespect, to call a cloud of words from the Minister this morning, when the honorable gentleman indulged in a sort of hurricane, and seemed very indignant at the criticism offered. But all he said did not make my mind clear as to whether the Superintendents are to be architects or merely clerks of works. If the work is simply to be that of a clerk of works, then each Superintendent would be well paid at something less than £400 a year ; but if, on the other hand, the duties involve the work of a professional architect, then the payment of £450 is not adequate. If a suggestion made be carried out, and a Superintendent be appointed for New South Wales also at a salary of £600, then only £750 will be left out of the vote with which to meet the requirements of the four other States, and the consequent remuneration for the work of a professional architect means very poor pay. I quite agree that £300 per annum is an utterly absurd salary for a Chief Draughtsman, in view of the fact that the Chief Clerk is to receive £500 and the Superintendents are to be paid the rates indicated. If the Minister will enlighten the committee as to what work the Superintendents are expected to perform, honorable members will have some idea of what they are voting about. At present the committee generally are, I believe, quite in the dark as to what the duties are. If, as % gather so far, the duties are more likely to be those of a clerk of works, I shall vote for the suggested slight reduction.
Mr. HENRY WILLIS (Robertson).Having had some experience in the oversight of contract work, I think that the opportunities for a man receiving “ consideration “ from contractors, are move likely to occur if the ‘ salary is poor than they are if the salary be adequate. In New South Wales, where the works are extensive and involve hundreds of thousands of pounds, nothing less than £600 per annum should be paid for the performance of these duties.
– What are the duties 1
– I take it that the duty of a superintendent is to supervise the construction of the most extensive works throughout the State. Such a man must have the technical knowledge of a civil engineer; he must be able to take out quantities, know what work should cost, and also know when work is done according to specification. A man may be a “good fellow” and highly respected by the Minister, but it does not follow that he is competent to supervise the construction of public works. That a State like New South Wales should accept an officer at a lower salary than is paid to a similar officer in Victoria is a suggestion which I can scarcely believe is serious ; and £600 a year is little enough for the duties to be performed in the former State. I take it that the officers appointed for the other States will not necessarily be paid much less than is paid to the Superintendents in Victoria and New South Wales, seeing that it is likely they will be transferred from one State to another ; for instance, that the Queensland officer will supervise the Northern Territory and possibly Tasmania, while the South Australian Superintendent will do work for Western Australia. I hope, therefore, that provision has been made for adequately paying these Superintendents, who, unless they have the necessary technical knowledge, will not be fit for the position.
Mr. R. EDWARDS (Oxley). - I take it that the reduction suggested is not intended to apply to the officer appointed for Victoria. If that be so, it is very unfair to the other three Superintendents, and I shall not be able to support the amend-, ment. These are positions of considerable responsibility, and ought to be filled by able men. It is not likely that for £400 a year we shall be able to get capable professional men who have had to spend Some 3’ears in qualifying themselves. If they do accept the position at such a salary they will be dissatisfied and render unwilling and unsatisfactory service. It would be better for the committee to pass the vote as it appears in the Estimates, seeing that on the average it does not amount to £500 for each Superintendent.
– I am one who cannot see that the Minister for Home Affairs is -very extravagant in his proposal. If it be necessary to have these officers they should undoubtedly be fairly paid. But .1 rose more particularly to protest against the suggestion that the honorable member for Melbourne wishes to pay the Victorian officer £600 per annum, while cutting down the salaries of the other officers. I understand that the officer at £600 has already been appointed, and my opinion is that as he is paid the higher salary he will not be regarded as a Victorian officer solely, but will be sent to any part of the States, where his services may be required. It is very unfair to suggest that Victorian members are endeavouring to keep up the salaries of officers within their own State, whilst starving other officers of the Commonwealth.
Sir LANGDON BONYTHON (South Australia). - I intended to say what lias substantially been said by the honorable member for Corangamite. I should like to add, however, that the honorable member for Melbourne, when he announced that he would move a reduction, had no knowledge that there was any officer at the present time holding an appointment. I mention this to show that in the mind of the honorable member there was no question of Victoria as against any other State.
– There is one point [ forgot to mention, or I should not have risen again. It is a long time since the subdivision of officers was made, and I did not anticipate the debate this afternoon, thinking that the Estimates last year had decided the matter for the present. What was intended when the subdivision was made was that the Inspector-General of Works should reside in the State where the head office is located, and that there should be no second officer at £600. It was intended that the chief officer should supervise all plans and works at the head office, as well as exercise a general supervision in the other States, and that there should be an officer in Queensland, New South Wales, and Western Australia respectively, at £600 or less, the money originally intended for the second officer being devoted to the supervision of works in Tasmania and South Australia. That is how the - arrangement was made, and the salaries of these officers came on to the Estimates as they are. The recommendation originally was that six officers should be appointed at £600 a year each, but in order to economize, I arranged the matter as I have explained. I should have been perfectly justified in appointing six officers, because the House voted the money last session. But I was able to struggle along with a less number - and it has been a struggle during the past twelve months. I did that for purposes of economy. I hope honorable members will give me credit for having tried to conserve the interests of the Treasury instead of being extravagant. If six appointments had been made the money would have been voted without a word of criticism. The Public Service Commissioner will recommend the salaries to be paid, and I put in the words, “ not exceeding £600,” so that if I could get a satisfactory man for £500 he might be appointed.’ I hardly think, however, that any man qualified for the position would be obtainable in the Commonwealth at £400. It will be entirely a question whether a proper man can be obtained for less than the money here specified, and that will have to be determined by the commissioner.
Question - That the words “ at salaries “ proposed to be omitted stand part of the item - put. The committee divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the item- “ Chief Clerk at £500 per annum From 1st Octorber,1902, £375,” be reduced by £75.
Amendment agreed to.
Reduced vote, £9692, agreed to.
Division 22 (Works and Buildings) - £79,300
– I notice here a very large outlay on rent. Possibly it might be economical in some of the States to pay rent instead of erecting buildings, but the amount appears extraordinarily large. In Western Australia the sum paid as rent is £1,112. I draw attention to the matter because in the year 1898 a Royal Commission appointed by the Western Australian Government recommended a considerable saving in this direction. For instance, at Fremantle the
Government had paid for twenty years £170 a year for three rooms. The Royal commission stated that the rent paid was far more than the cost of permanent buildings would have been. I do not know whether the Commonwealth Government is paying £170 a year for the use of those rooms at Fremantle, but I suggest to the Minister that a more economical arrangement could be made. Of course, I am ignorant as to whether the, recommendations of the Royal commission, the report of which was dated 25th October, 1899, were carried out, but I trust that the Minister will look into the matter, and see if any saving can be effected under this heading.
– I wish to ask for an explanation of the item under the heading, “Victoria,” “Fittings and furniture, Home Affairs, £1,050.” Does the item relate to office furniture ?
– The honorable member will see that there is a sum of £3,407 provided For fittings and furniture required in Victoria. That sum includes £1,500 for the Post and Telegraph department, £485 for the Defence department, £165 for the department of Trade and Customs, £100 for the Treasury, and £1,050 for the department of Home Affairs. A new building has been erected for us by the State at the end of the original Federal Offices, in which the department of Home Affairs is located, while we have taken two adjoining buildings which have since been knocked into one. All these buildings have to be furnished, and the cost of fitting up and furnishing the rooms for the various departments is charged to the department of Home Affairs.
– I desire some further information upon the same point. I notice that provision is made for £200 for fittings and furniture for the department of Home Affairs in New South Wales, and £75 for electric lighting and telephonic communication, while in Victoria provision ismade for £1,050 for fittings and furniture, and £120 for electric lighting and telephonic communication for the same department. Provision is also made for £200 for fittings and furniture, and £10 for electric lighting and telephonic communication for the department in Queensland ; and £200 for fittings and furniture, and £10 for electric lighting and telephone communication for the department in South Australia ; and £200 for fittings and furniture, and £10 for electric lighting and telephonic communication for the department in Western Australia ; and £100 for fittings and furniture, and £10 for electric lighting and telephonic communication for the department in Tasmania. [ desire to know whether this expenditure relates to the club rooms which, according to a statement which appeared in . the press some time ago, the Minister intends to establish in the several States for the benefit of members of this Parliament. Such a provision has never been asked for by us. There is no office in connexion with the department of Home Affairs in South Australia, and I should like to know how the money provided for fittings and furniture for the Department in that State is to be spent.
– The honorable member will see that it is absolutely necessary that the rooms for the public service inspectors and the Superintendents of Public Works, as well as the club-room in each State capital, should be furnished. The amounts named by him mainly represent the cost of fitting up and furnishing rooms for the Inspectors under the Public Service Act, and those zooms will also be used for other purposes. It is . true that there is no office in connexion with the department of Home Affairs in South Australia ; but what I propose to do there, as in the other States, is to make an arrangement to obtain part of a public building or else to rent a private building for the use of the Public Service Inspector and the Superintendent of Works. I hope to visit South Australia shortly in order to make the necessary arrangements. Perhaps a room for the Superintendent of Works will be more necessary in other States than it is in South Australia, but these several amounts represent the cost of furnishing the various offices. Despite the sneers which have been ‘cast at the proposal to provide in each State a meeting place for members of the Federal Parliament, I intend to attach to each of the offices to which I have referred, a room for that purpose. Notwithstanding the criticisms which have been directed against the proposal, .1 think it is essentially necessary. During the recess, honorable members, who may be away from the House, would otherwise have no place in the different States capitals at which to meet, do their writing, obtain their mails, and inspect the parliamentary papers which it is proposed to keep in these rooms. These items include the cost of furnishing such rooms.
Mr. SALMON (Laanecoorie). - The total provision made for fittings and furniture is £11,463. We have taken over certain transferred departments, but it seems that we are now to provide new furniture for them. When we entered into federation we told the people of Australia that the cost of government would be reduced. It seems to me, however, that it will be increased. Why should the customshouses and the various post-offices require new fittings and furniture ? I do not desire to say anything about club rooms for members. If the Minister thinks it is right that, they should be provided, I have nothing to say in regard to them ; but we are entitled to have the fullest information in regard to these items. I put this question simply that I may know how the money is being spent.
– With reference to the item of £1,050 for furniture and fittings for the department of Home Affairs in Victoria, I should explain to the honorable member for Laanecoorie that it includes £750 which it was proposed to vote for the ‘ new installation of electric light at Govern menthouse, required by the city corporation, as well as. under the insurance policy. I have consulted the Cabinet in reference to this matter. The Acting Prime Minister made a statement a short time ago that the items embraced by the motion which he submitted in regard to the GovernorGeneral’s establishment included everything. This expenditure in regard to the electric light at Government-house has been forced upon us since that statement was made. It is not my intention to spend the’ whole of this sum of £750, but to allow the electric light to be cut off in accordance with the notice which we have received intimating that it is to be withdrawn on the 2nd inst. We propose to supply incandescent lights in lieu of the electric light, and that will cost only about £250, instead of £750. That is the decision which has been arrived at, and we propose to carry it out as soon as possible.
– Surely this provision foi” lighting Government-house is under the wrong heading? It should appear under the heading of “ Governor-General’s Establishment.”
– The honorable member must blame the Treasurer for that. In reference to the total provision which the committee is asked to make for fittings and furniture, I would point out that it includes the cost of furniture for new postoffices, for extension of existing post-offices, and for new custom-houses, and extensions wherever required, as well as repairs and the new furniture which may occasionally be required in the existing offices. We cannot make any arrangements with the States to renew the furniture which has been taken over with these departments. We have- to provide for renewals, and also for the furnishing of any, new office or additions in any part of the Commonwealth. Although the item may appear to be large, it must be remembered that it covers the cost of fittings and furniture for the federal offices all over the Commonwealth.
– I notice that the rent payable by the Commonwealth amounts to £21,200. Out of that sum £12,403 is paid in respect of New South Wales. That seems to me to be altogether out of proportion, and I should like the Minister to give us some information, upon the point.
– The item to which the honorable member refers includes £9,500 for rent of postal buildings in New South Wales.
– Why should we have to pay more in New South Wales than in any of the other States ?
– I caused the Postmaster-General to make a special inquiry into the item as affecting New South wales in order to see whether or not any mistake had been made. I thought at first that it represented rent payable to the Railways Commissioners, and fixed by rule of thumb, for railway buildings used also for postal purposes. I find, however, that only a very small proportion of the amount is payable in that way. The bulk of it is payable in respect of rent of post-offices all over New South Wales. The same remark will apply, although not to the same extent, to all the other States. All rents payable in respect of any buildings are brought under the Estimates of the department of Home Affairs. The honorable member will see that the sum of £21,200 represents the cost of buildings rented, not only for my department, but for. all departments.
– With regard to the sum of £200 proposed to be spent upon fittings and furniture for the department in Queensland, I should like to know whether it represents the cost of furnishing a new office or offices or refurnishing. I desire to impress upon the Minister the absolute necessity for economy in this direction, so far as Queensland is concerned. In that State we do not require luxuriously furnished club-rooms, such as now exist in Sydney and Melbourne. We shall be willing to do with something less pretentious in order to avoid expense. I hope the Minister will be able to strike out the item of £200.
– I trust that the honorable member will not ask me to strike it out’. As I have already explained, we shall require rooms for the use of the Public Service Inspectors, the Superintendents of Works, and one or two clerks whom we shall employ in each State. We cannot throw ourselves upon the liberality of the States in a matter of that kind. An expenditure of £200 upon furniture does not go very far. It would be quite impossible to lavishly furnish these rooms for the officers for the amount named. As I stated just now, I intend also to have a room set apart in Brisbane for the use pf honorable members. The room will not be extravagantly, but only comfortably furnished. As some exception has been taken to what has been called the lavish furnishing of the rooms set ‘apart for Ministers, I would point out that in the administration of his department a Minister has to spend most of his time in his office, and might fairly expect to have some consideration paid to his comfort. I have always held that opinion. Some complaints have been made in the Senate, but not to any extent in this House, and I do not think there has been any extravagance. There will be no undue extravagance, but we must have some provision for fittings and furniture, so that we may not be called upon to throw ourselves upon the States.
Mr. POYNTON (South Australia).I do not see any provision made here for caretakers or messengers for these clubs, nor is any provision made for the rent of the establishments. So far as South Australia is concerned, what is proposed is not being asked for, and honorable members representing South Australia are unanimous in the view that we do not” need it, as Parliament House in Adelaide is open to us at any time, and we have the run of the whole establishment. It seems to me that we are erecting an edifice in connexion with this department, which after it is built will come down with such a crash that we shall all be lost in its ruins. When South Australia asks for such an establishment as is here proposed to be provided, it will be time enough to supply it.
– We shall not wait until South Australia asks for it.
– I suppose the honorable gentleman has some idea as to what a new building for the purpose will cost if the intention be to erect one, or what rent will have to be paid if it is not intended to erect a new building. I move -
That the item, ‘* South Australia - Home Affairs, fittings and furniture, J.’200,:’ be omitted.
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).Some remarks have appeared in the newspapers within the last few days about a mantelpiece which is supposed to have cost £100.
– The honorable member will find the explanation in yesterday’s Hansard.
– I think that in that explanation all the information now available was not given. It was certainly not as full an explanation as I should have liked the Minister to give.
– With reference to the motion moved by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Poynton, I find that already arrangements have been made to secure the rooms required at the General Post-office in Adelaide, and in Brisbane arrangements have been made for rooms in the Custom-house. In each case the rooms are unfurnished, and these amounts are put down to provide furniture. As to the statement made with reference to some extravagance said to have been entered into in connexion with a mantelpiece for the federal offices in Sydney, I have had further light thrown upon the matter this afternoon. I find that the mantelpiece to which reference has been made was ordered by a member of the State Government of New South Wales, and has been partly made in Melbourne. This afternoon I was asked to inspect it before it was sent to Sydney.
– What State Minister is referred to 1
– It was ordered foi- the office of the State Attorney-General in Sydney. The matter has nothing to do with the Federal Government, and, as I stated yesterday, I knew nothing whatever about it. An application has come to me this afternoon to inspect a mantelpiece before it is sent to Sydney, and I presume it is the mantlepiece about which so much has been said. I hope the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Poynton, will withdraw his motion, seeing that the amount to which he takes objection is required to furnish rooms which are already provided.
– I did not quite follow the honorable gentleman on the subject of the rents being charged.- Am I to understand that these rents are being paid for portions of railway stations and other buildings in which post-office business is being conducted 1 Do they, for instance, include the rent of post and telegraph offices for which the States have not yet been paid 1
– No; it is for private buildings that are being occupied under arrangements as to rent carried out by the State Governments before the departments were transferred.
– The disproportion in the amount provided for New South Wales as compared with the other States seems to show that the practice to which the honorable gentleman has referred must have been resorted to more frequently in New South Wales than in the other States.
– I have pointed out that, as the result of a special investigation, that has been found to be the case.
– So far, I understand, we are not paying the State Government anything for the use of the ordinary post and telegraph offices and Customhouses.
– No ; but by-and-by we shall have to pay back interest upon the cost of construction.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I desire to say that I agree with the honorable member, Mr. Poynton, that the room which has been referred to, is not required in South Australia, and will not be used by federal members representing that State. I therefore do not intend to support the vote.
– I entirely agree with my colleagues from South Australia upon this matter. I do not think we need any such room, and I am sure that if such a room were provided and elaborately furnished, it would never be used by federal representatives of the State.
– I wish to impress upon honorable members that most of the furniture required will be for rooms in the General Post-office that have been secured for the purposes of public offices.
– We have no objection to that.
Mr. SALMON (Laanecoorie). - I am loath to repeat gossip, but I have heard it said upon good authority that the furniture purchased for the federal offices in Melbourne was paid for at a very extravagant rate.
– And made by Chinese.
– I know by whom it was supplied, but I do not know by whom it was made. I understand that the officer appointed to look after the matter was borrowed from a State department, and that by his action the Federal Government have been rushed into expense which should never have been incurred. I desire to know whether that is correct, and if it is whether the Minister will take steps to have such matters carried out in future by an officer entirely under the control of the Federal Government ?
– I desire to ask the Minister whether, in the purchase of any furniture required in the future by the Federal Government, he will take steps to see that it is not Chinese made, and that business is not done with firms which give a preference to Chinese labour 1 The Government should insist upon having the work of Australian workmen, and they should not deal with firm,s who encourage Chinese labour,
– I desire to emphasize the request of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports. I hope the Minister will insist that in future any furniture contracted for will be made by white workmen on the premises of the contractor. The conditions provided by the department are very stringent, and no one can take exception to them, but I trust that the Minister will see that they are carried out. A case was brought under my notice in which it was shown that a leading firm in this city was violating the conditions of a contract which they themselves signed.
– There is a good deal of truth in the statement referred to by the honorable member for Laanecoorie. We were compelled, in the first instance, to have a great deal of work done by State officers, and furniture was obtained by them. Since the appointment of Mr. Blackbourn I have utilized his services, and we are now getting furniture to our own order, and are paying nearly 50 per cent, less for it than we paid for the furniture supplied to the order of the State officer.
– Then I think the State should pay the difference.
– rf;he honorable member for Yarra directed my attention to a certain case, and I had some trouble in discovering whether, as a matter of fact, the furniture supplied had’ been made in the way described. I found that it had, and the persons who supplied it admitted the fact, with the result that I have fined them and cancelled the contract. There will be no Chinese furniture purchased by the Government. It will all have to be made by European workmen.
Vote agreed to.
Division 22a (Governor-General’s establishment). - £5,500.
Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- I think we should have an explanation of this item.
– This is the vote to which Parliament has already agreed bv the passing of a special motion.
– I was unable to recognise it, because I find such items as “ flags and orderlies,” and “ china and glass “ included in the vote. Is the expenditure upon those items properly a portion of our responsibility ?
– Yes ; the amount is exactly the same. We had included flags, but I found there were some odds and ends, such as gloves, required for the orderlies.
Vote agreed to.
Division 23 (Miscellaneous) - £49,932.
– I desire to have some information upon the item of £35,000 for electoral expenditure. I fail to see the necessity for so large a vote for the compilation of new rolls, as in some of the States, provision is already made for the reprinting of the rolls.
– This matter was debated last night, and I gave a full explanation of it for each State.
– The honorable gentleman explained that it was going to cost £17,000 to compile the rolls for Victoria.
– In New South Wales because of women’s suffrage the
Government have to prepare rolls, whereas in Victoria they have not, and we have to bear half the expense at least.
– A census has recently been taken in all the States, and surely it is not difficult to compile the rolls from the census returns. If it were intended to send out policemen and others to collect the necessary information for the compilation of the new rolls, I could understand a sum of £35,000 being spent. But this is new expenditure, and the amount chargeable to South Australia will be over £3,000, although it will not cost £100 to do the work there.
– The amount is £700 for South Australia.
– For doing that £700 worth of work, the cost to South Australia will be over £3,000. I think that the item can be reduced.
– It cannot be reduced, as I’ explained last night. The original estimate was reduced by £.15,000. Perhaps I have gone too low, but I shall try to get the work done for £35,000.
– I move-
That the item, “Expenses in connexion with the introduction of the Electoral Act …. £35,000,” be reduced by £10,000.
– I am not prepared to support the amendment, but I think that the Minister should take a note of the suggestion that the rolls should be collected from the census returns.
– They will be utilized to the fullest extent.
– If they are utilized to the fullest extent, especially in regard to women, the Minister will be able to have enrolled a great many persons. It is machinery which he can wisely adopt. I desire to know whether he is prepared to give any information in regard to the appointment of permanent officers under the Electoral Act, such as returning officers, or to state what machinery will be used?
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).It seems to me that £700 will not go very far in putting the rolls of South Australia in a correct state. Certainly the best plan is to use the census returns. In South Australia, it was done to some extent, and done very badly. In the district of East Torrens, for instance, some 2,000 names were left off the roll. In that State the electoral rolls are notoriously inaccurate - more inaccurate than they have been for very many years. The old rolls were discarded after the census was taken. Every adult citizen was supposed to make a fresh claim to have his name enrolled when he filled in his census paper. Unfortunately, some census collectors, because they were not definitely told, or sufficiently instructed, declined to collect the “claim” papers. In other cases the electors were told that as their names were already on the rolls they need not make new claims, with the result that the rolls, instead of being up-to-date, were extremely bad. At the last election there were complaints from every district about names having been left off in a wholesale manner, I can assure the Minister that if he takes the present rolls as a basis it will be extremely injudicious and unsatisfactory, but if the census returns are taken as a basis, the rolls will probably be much more accurate than are the present ones.
– I do not see any item on these Estimates for cutting up Tasmania into electoral districts. I wish to know what the Minister means by not providing a sum for that purpose 1 It is of no use to talk about compiling the rolls according to the old methods. What we want is the method I adopted for putting citizens on the roll in Tasmania - to visit every man, and to see that his name was on the roll. That can be done by the police. If the Minister will give me a satisfactory answer to my question I shall not- interfere with this amount, because I think it is little enough ?
– I wish to ask the Minister a question in reference to the item of £1,500 to cover the expenses in connexion with choosing the site of the federal capital? ‘
– The honorable member cannot discuss that item unless the motion is withdrawn.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I wish to know if the Railway Commissioners of New South Wales charged the Commonwealth for the conveyance of honorable members during the visit of inspection ?
– A claim was made by the Railway Commissioners, but it has not been paid. I have had a communication on the subject sent to the State Premier. I believe that the claim was made by the Railway Commissioners in the ordinary business way, and that the
Premier will not have it enforced. I have done all I can to bring about that result, and I think it will be achieved.
– How about the money for cutting up Tasmania into federal districts 1
– The total amount which is now spent in preparing rolls in Australia, excluding Western Australia and Tasmania, is £.42,597. I have had a keen investigation of this expenditure made. I have not the figures for Tasmania or Western Australia, but we believe that we can do the work for all the States for £35,000.
– Does that mean, that Tasmania will be cut up into federal districts 1
– According to the terms of the Electoral Act, and the officers consider that £35,000 will be sufficient to do that for Tasmania and Western Australia as well as the other States.
– If the Minister will give me his assurance that he will look into the condition of the rolls in South Australia, and where necessary make corrections and additions, I shall be prepared to vote the amount he asks for, provided -that he also promises that if a smaller sum will do all that is necessary, the whole amount will not be spent.
– I omitted just now to reply to the remarks of the honor- . able member for South Australia, Mi-. Batchelor. I can well understand that in discarding the old rolls, and compiling new ones, many anomalies have crept in, and the names of many persons have been left off. I have given instructions that the greatest economy is to be practised, and that the State rolls and census returns are to be compared, and that, as far as is possible, the latter are to form the basis of the new rolls.
– Is the department going to do all that for £700 1
– No. Part of the £35,000 which is set down, in the Estimates will be appropriated in remunerating the services of State officials whose knowledge of local conditions will be of use in making the rolls as complete as possible. I hope that they will be more complete than they are now.
– They are not complete now.
– So far as possible, the police will be used to obtain names. I have always held that they are the best agents for work of this kind.
– Will they be paid for it?
– I shall have no objection to paying them if the States desire that they shall be paid.
– Does the Minister intend to appoint an electoral registrar for each electoral division, or will the work of compiling, the rolls be performed by one State officer ?
– Certainly not.
– Then what remuneration will be given to the electoral registrars ?
– It is intended to use State officers so far as possible, and it is anticipated that we shall have to pay them from £50 to £60 each.
Vote agreed to.
Department of The Treasury.
Division 24 (The Treasury) - £6,333.
– I suggest that the committee might pass these Estimates without much comment, because if there is one member of the Ministry in whom we have absolute confidence in the matter of economy, it is the Treasurer.
– I wish to know how much longer the Drayton Grange inquiry is to last. That is where the money goes - in the conduct of Royal commissions. An expenditure would be more justifiable on a Royal Commission to inquire into the pearl-shelling industry, but there does not seem much prospect of that. I suggest that the Treasurer should intimate to the members of the Drayton Grange Commission that he expects to receive a report from them some time before Christmas twelve months.
– We have a very economical man as President of that Commission.
– I. might also suggest to the Treasurer to keep a tight rein upon the expenditure of the departments upon advertising. For instance, whole pages of the Melbourne newspapers have been devoted to the annual advertisement of postal contracts.
– Not since the honorable member last mentioned the matter. All that is done now is to refer intending tenderers to the Gazette advertisements.
– If that is so, the Treasurer has anticipated what I had to say. I consider that it is sufficient to publish advertisements of the kind to which I refer in the Government Gazette, and to put short notices in the daily newspapers, directing attention to them. In that way thousands of pounds can be saved every year, and I am glad to hear that it is to be done.
– I notice that provision is being made in this division for the payment of certain State officers who are doing work for the Commonwealth, and I wish, therefore, to know if the State Governments pay the Commonwealth for the -services of our officers. At the present time the Victorian Government utilizes the services of postmasters and postmistresses in the employment of the Commonwealth for work such as the payment of old-age pensions, and if they charge us for the services rendered by their officers it is only fair that we should send in a corresponding bill to them.
– I wish to know from the Treasurer how the £500 set down for “ Gratuities to officers engaged in excess of office hours “ is to be allotted. I assume that the money is to be paid, not to men who do manual work in the printing-office, but to the heads of departments.
– I should like to add to what the honorable and learned member for Bendigo has said that a number of officers in the Postal department are required to do extra work in connexion with the Savings banks of the States. If the States are charging the Commonwealth for work done for us by their officials, I think that we should put in a counter claim for work done for them by our officials. The Commonwealth is not being generously criticised by men in high official positions in the States, and I think that we should treat them as they treat us.
Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- The matter to which the honorable member for Yarra and the honorable and learned member for Bendigo referred is one to which I drew the attention of the Government many months ago. I pointed out then that the work in connexion with the Savings banks in many of the States is being performed by Commonwealth officers. In Western Australia
Commonwealth officers are also occasionally engaged in the collection of duties imposed by the special State Tariff. I do not consider the charge made by the States for the services of their officers an unfair one, but I think that a corresponding charge should be made by the Commonwealth for the work done for the States by Commonwealth officers. In many instances Commonwealth officers have to work overtime in the- performance of their State duties, without extra remuneration. I brought the matter under the notice of the Minister representing die PostmasterGeneral many months ago, and received from him a conditional promise that something would be paid to these officers, but nothing has been done. At Coolgardie several of the postal officials, owing to the Savings bank business which they have to transact for the State, are kept at work on Saturdays almost continuously from nine a.m. until half-past nine p.m., and two of them work ten hours a week more than the other members of the staff,, chiefly in attending to Savings bank transactions. I think it is right that Commonwealth officers should do this work, but we should insist that they shall be paid for the extra hours which it occupies.
– In regard to the question -asked by the honorable member for Robertson, the Commonwealth has its own printers, bookbinders, and other officials whom we pay direct, but we also utilize the services of State officials, for whom we pay the State. On many occasions, however, these officers have had to work overtime, and I therefore thought it fair that a reasonable sum should be distributed amongst them to remunerate them for the extra work. Five hundred pounds has been provided to do this, and the Government Printer of Victoria makes recommendations to me in regard to its allotment. The sum provided is a small one, and the work is being done very cheaply. The appropriation of £1,385 for allowances to State officers, acting as officers of the Commonwealth sub-treasuries, to which reference has been made, can hardly be called a charge made by the States against the Commonwealth. To have established a sub-treasury in each State would have meant the appointment of three or four highly-paid Commonwealth officials, because of the responsibility of the work, and I therefore made arrangements for obtaining the services in each
State of the Under-Treasurer and two other principal officers. In recognition of their services, I make an annual payment of £225 to each State, of which £100 is intended for one officer, £75 for another, and £50 for another. The States strongly objected to the Commonwealth paying their officials directly, but in some cases the money is given to those who do the work, while in others it goes into the consolidated revenue fund. Under this arrangement we get our Treasury work well and efficiently lone by men in the services of the State Treasuries, who know what moneys are being received and disbursed, and are in a position to give valuable information to their State Treasurers. We are thus kept in touch with the States, friction is presented, and our work is done for one-fifth or one-sixth of what it would cost if we had to appoint Commonwealth officers to do it. In regard to the performance of other services, I think that, as a general principle, the States should pay the Commonwealth for the services performed for them by Commonwealth officers, while the Commonwealth should pay the States for services performed for it by States officials. This work would be done mostly in connexion with the Post-office department, and my colleague thePostmaster-General has been for some time past negotiating with the different States witha view to laying down some basis of payment He has sent the papers to me, but I have not yet had an opportunity of examining them. After the House has prorogued I shall discuss them with my colleagues, and I hope that we shall be able to come to an arrangement under which the States will agree to pay a reasonable amount for services rendered by Commonwealth officers.
– I do not think this vote should be allowed to pass before we take an opportunity of complimenting the Treasurer upon the excellent way in which he has presented the items relating to his department, and upon the economy which he has displayed throughout. If all the departments were similarly administered, we should have very little difficulty in disposing of the Esti mates.
Mr. MAHON (Coolgardie).- Whilst we all desire to compliment the Treasurer upon the way in which his Estimates have been brought forward, we should have reason to compliment him still more if he had given officers from the more distant States a chance to fill positions in the Treasury and Audit offices.
– I have selected officers from all the States.
– I hardly think so. I know that several highly-qualified officers in Western Australia were anxious to send in their applications for positions on the Treasury staff, but they found that the time available would not permit of their doing so. At the time the appointments were made I pointed out that sufficient notice had not been given to permit of applications being received from the distant States.
– Yes ; and on the next occasion I allowed ample time, and I also gave consideration to all the applications received from Western Australia. One officer in my own office comes from that State.
– I have not heard of any one having been appointed, and if the statement of the Minister is correct, the officer to whom he refers should be produced as a rara avis. I feel sure that now that the Treasurer’s attention has been called to this matter, he will give every opportunity to officers in the more distant States to apply for any position which may become vacant in the future.
Vote agreed to.
Division 25 (Audit Office)- £12,7 67 , agreed to.
Division 26 (Government Printer) - £13,416.
– I should like to know whether the allowance of £150 to the Victorian Government Printer is to be given yearly, so long as we have the main portion of our printing carried out at that office?
– I understood that the allowance was made last year because of the exceptionally heavy work entailed ; the original Estimates made no provision for any allowance.
– I could not make any provision in the first instance, because I did not know the amount of work . which the Victorian Government Printer would be called upon to perform for us, or what would be a reasonable sum to give him. We intend to provide thissum annually until we appoint our own Government Printer. Mr. Brain superintends the whole of our work in the office.
– Is it intended that the gratuity to the officers, amounting to £500, shall also be continued?
– I should like to know whether the allowance is made to the Government Printer in consideration of overtime work ?
– Yes ; Mr. Brain has to do all that is required by the State Government, and also to perform an immense amount of work in connexion with the supervision of the Commonwealth printing.
– If the £150 is paid to Mr. Brain for the attention given by him to the Commonwealth work during the time which would otherwise be devoted to his State duties, it should be given to the State Government.
– The State Government raise no objection to its being paid to Mr. Brain.
– The State Government raise no objection, possibly because they have not to find the money. Unless the allowance is paid because Mr. Brain has to work overtime in order to supervise the work of the Commonwealth, it should be paid to the Government.
– Does the Government Printer not use his brains for our benefit ?
– Yes ; but the State is entitled to the use of those brains in consideration of the salary paid by them.
– The Victorian Government Printer does an immense amount of work for us, and has to attend at his office for very long hours.
– I see that £500 is provided for the purchase of type. Will that type be the property of the Commonwealth or of the State ?
– It willbe our property. Everything we buy is kept separate from the State property, so that we may take it with us when we leave.
– Some time ago, the Treasurer appeared doubtful whether my figures with reference to the cost of printing Hansard were correct. The Treasurer has assured us that the printing for the Commonwealth is being done at cost price.
– All the Hansard printing is being done by our own men, and anything that the State does for us is charged at its absolute cost.
– I am speaking now of the work done for us by the Victorian Government Printing-office, and I cannot reconcile the statement of the Treasurer with the figures given in the return furnished to me on 10th October last. I have roughly measured up the pages of Hansard, and I find that the actual cost of type-setting at the rates paid by the Commonwealth should not greatly exceed 5s. per page. The cost of setting up the first twenty numbers of Hansard, which comprise 5,348 pages, was £3, 11 3 17s. 3d. That would bring the actual cost of type-setting to nearly11s. 8d. per page instead of 5s. per page. The cost of proof-reading and revision was £298 19s.11d., and of correcting proofs £1,309 17s. Therefore, I am quite unable to reconcile the assurance given by the Treasurer that the work is being done at cost price with the actual charge made to us.
– That work is being done by our own men, and we use the machinery of the Government Printingoffice and pay nothing for it. We merely pay the wages and the cost of the material.
-If the cost of typesetting is only1s. 3d. per 1,000 ens, why should 5,348 pages cost £3,113 17s. 3d., which works out at11s. 8d. per page.
– My honorable friend must recollect that the men complained bitterly that they were not paid enough.
– Yes, I know that ; and I think they earn all they get, considering the nature of the copy upon which they have to work ; although the rate of pay is a little in excess of that paid by the Victorian Government for similar work.
– If the honorable member submits a statement to me I will send it to the Government Printer, and forward his explanation to the honorable member.
– I am quite satisfied with that assurance.
Vote agreed to.
Division 27 (Miscellaneous) - £28 ; Division 28 (Unforeseen and Accidental Expenditure) £1,000 ; Division 29 (Refunds of revenue) - £50,000 ; Division 30 (Advance to Treasurer)- £200,000, agreed to.
Department of Trade and Customs.
Division 31 (Minister’s Office) - £4,502.
– I wish to avail myself of this opportunity to make some observations and complaints with reference to the administration of the Customs department. Perhaps more intense dissatisfaction has been expressed regarding the working of this department, than in connexion with any other branch of the Commonwealth administration. Some persons regard those who are engaged in trade and commerce as scarcely entitled to the ordinary treatment which is meted out to other members of the community, and certainly the administration of the Customs seems to be based on this idea. Leaving out of consideration any fiscal question, we should remember that the trading community of Australia are really placed in the position of having to pay in advance the taxation imposed on the people. The State decrees that the traders of the community shall raise something like £9,000,000 per annum, and that they shall pay this money in advance in hard cash. It is then left to them to recover the money in the ordinary operations of business. This aspect of the matter is very often overlooked. It is the person who deals in goods who has to act as the gatherer of the State taxation to that enormous amount, and he has to begin by paying it before he gets it from the public. Therefore, if any class of the community renders unpaid service to the State, it is that which acts as an intermediary of exchange in trade and commerce. I desire to eliminate from this discussion a great deal of irrelevant reply. I wish to guard the position which I take up by frankly declaring that I heartily approve of every severity of the law being meted out to persons who attempt to evade the Customs Act. In any reply which the Minister may make to myremarks I ask him to remember that I am entirely with him in adopting the most severe measures for the purpose of stamping out fraud. I have no sympathy with persons who import rotton tea or any other adulterated article.
– That is in cases in which it is rotten.
Mr.REID. - Exactly. I wish to get rid of all irrelevant replies which do not hit the pith of my complaint. When I complain of the administration of the Customs department, I wish to eliminate from the Minister’s reply any sort of oratorical declamation regarding the iniquity of fraud against the authorities, or concerning the wickedness of importing rotten tea or other adulterated goods. I do not complain of the adoption of the most severe measures in matters of that kind. I say this because I do not wish my attitude to be misunderstood, or for any shaft of the Minister’s reply to be aimed at a target that I do not erect. One of the most obvious methods of cloaking a fault is to confuse the issue at stake by assuming that certain attacks have been made - to choose a most convenient form of reply - replying to an attack which has not been made, and assuming that to be a sufficient answer to the real attack. So far as the Customs administration has been fearless in its endeavours to stamp out fraud, or that which appears to be fraud - because it is impossible for any department to be infallible - I heartily applaud any firmness or inflexibility of purpose which has been exhibited either by the Minister or by his officers. Indeed, there is only one matter which I desire to bring under the notice of the committee. I wish really to make an appeal to the Minister rather than to indulge in any political attack, my object being to endeavour to make things assume a more business-like complexion in connexion with this great department. I am quite sure that every wise maxim of Customs administration heartily supports the honest trader as against the swindling trader. The former should be so treated as to induce him to become a sort of ally of the administration as against the latter. We are well aware that in all Customshouses if there are openings for fraud, fraud will prevail. It is particularly inevitable where the department has to administer a comprehensive system of ad valorem duties, and a more or less complex Tariff. To prevent fraud against the Customs under such circumstances is sometimes most difficult. The task is a thankless and difficult one, and in its fearless performance the Minister controlling the department should have the whole community behind him.
– It is no pleasure.
– It is no pleasure. I frankly admit that the position of the Minister is a most difficult one, and I wish him to understand that I have no desire whatever to make capital out of any unpleasantness which may have arisen between the department which he administers and the mercantile community. I have a practical object in view, and one which concerns itself less with the past than with the future, because the Minister will admit that in the attainment of the supreme object which he must always have before him - that of suppressing or preventing fraud upon the revenue - he cannot have too many friends. My strong objection to the administration of the department, which, I admit, is a particu- larly difficult task owing to the nature of the Act - for which, of course, the Minister is specially responsible - is that it has, in my opinion, unnecessarily thrown the whole body of honest traders into the category in which we desire to place only fraudulent persons - into the pillory of the police court. That is not’ business. In the operations of a great department which has to deal with a great business community, and where the latter has to provide millions of pounds sterling in advance, it appears to me that the most cordial relations should exist between the honest traders and the Customs department. By thus making the path of the honest trader easy, and that of the fraudulent trader thorny, we should get an administration which would meet with public satisfaction. But mainly owing to the structure of the Customs Act a different state of affairs has arisen, which has given ground for unavoidable complaints. These complaints have spread to all parts of the Empire in which trading operations are carried on. I have often spoken of what I regard as the harshness with which the Customs Act is drawn. As head of the Customs department in Sydney, I have had some experience of a much simpler and lighter Tariff, and I quite recognise that under any Tariff there are openings for fraud. But I think that the principle which I laid down in connexion with the administration of the New South Wales Tariff becomes more important, the more complex any Tariff is, and the more difficult the task of the Customs authorities is thereby rendered. That principle is that we cannot treat the honest traders too kindly if only as a means of invoking their assistance against those who make the Custom-house an engine of fraud and deception. I wish these people to be treated only as well as I would treat the humblest person in the community - no better. It is essentially foreign to the genius of British administration for any department of public business in dealing with any class of His Majesty’s subjects to make innocent mistakes the ground of police court prosecutions. Right through the web an’d texture of our principles in applying the force of authority and law to the different -classes of His Majesty’s subjects, we have always maintained the great, sound, and humane principle that we should never endeavour in the administration of our statutes to put the honest man and the swindler side by side in police court. It may be said that there is an essential difference between a Customs prosecution for fraud and a prosecution for a mistake. Yet even the form of the information adopted in tho case of a Customs prosecution for a mistake is a very unhappy one. It conveys an imputation of fraud. The words, I think, refer to “ the making of a false entry.” To illustrate the sort of feeling which has sprung up, I may mention that only to-day I received from London a newspaper containing a long account of a prosecution which took place at Brisbane under the Customs Act, in which the precise form of the indictment was set out. In that case the magistrate took the bit between his teeth and discharged the defendant. The description of the goods supplied by the firm in question was a perfectly true one, although technically, perhaps, it did not come within the meaning of the Customs Tariff Act. I do not intend, however, to discuss any particular case. I only allude to the prosecution in question because I wish to say that, in the newspaper which I received to-day, the indictment was fully set out. If any honorable member of this House were engaged in trade, and had necessarily to employ a large number of subordinates - as many of our great commercial houses do - and if through some purely innocent mistake his firm were prosecuted, and, perhaps, fined, for “ making a false entry” in describing certain goods, I ask what imputation such an information would convey to the outside world ? In connexion with a number of prosecutions which have occurred in Victoria, we must also recollect that for many years past a heavy ad valorem Tariff has operated in this State. Moreover, we are warranted in supposing that the former head of the Customs department of Victoria is an efficient officer, otherwise he would scarcely be the Comptroller-General of the Commonwealth Customs department to-day. Why then, I ask, should any firm in this city which has established a high reputation with the Customs authorities by an honest course of dealing extending over many years, which possesses absolutely an unsullied reputation, be brought before the police court upon a charge of being connected with something that is false simply because one of its clerks has made a mistake 1 Under such circumstances the imputation which goes round the world - which, of course, does not understand the complexity of our Customs Tariff - is that the firm has been prosecuted for having made a false entry. That is a suggestion of fraud, of something dishonorable and wrong.
-paterson. - It suggests intentional wrong.
– Precisely. The honorable and learned member for Brisbane has put the matter in a nutshell. Of course, the Minister for Trade and Customs may fairly urge that in Customs administration mistakes sometimes have the same effect as fraud. That is so. I admit freely that an error may cause us to Ipse just as much revenue as would a deliberate fraud. I quite agree with the Minister in taking up that very sensible position. But in administering the Customs department, and in dealing with an absolutely new Tariff, I hold that, at any rate for the first mistake, reputable firms ought not to be dragged before the police court. I wish to reason this matter out with the Minister in the most friendly way, because I appreciate the difficulty of the office which he fills. Irrespective of how well he performs his duties, he is bound to become unpopular in some directions. At the same time, if he would give ear to what I have to say, I believe the result would be of direct advantage to himself, not in the sense of mere ease, bub in the sense that ‘he would administer a great department under better conditions than those which prevail at the present time. No Minister who has to deal, with a large class of people can wish to be upon unfriendly terms with them - can wish to make what ought to be a matter of more or less friendly relation a matter of wrangling, dissatisfaction, and bad blood. I am sure that the Minister for Trade and Customs has no appetite for that sort of thing. A Minister may soon bring about that undesirable state of affairs if he wishes to do so ; but I. assume and believe that the right honorable gentleman at the head of this department has the most upright and patriotic intentions in his administration. Appealing to him in that spirit, I wish to see a very strict line of separation drawn between the inevitable swindle and the inevitable mistake. Mistakes in the beginning of a new Tariff are absolutely certain to happen, as fraud is absolutely certain to be attempted ; but if the whole business community are put into the police court, whether they be guilty of fraud or innocent error, then the business men of Australia are exposed to persecution, which is a disgrace, and foreign to the methods of administration in the British Empire. It is a new way of governing His Majesty’s subjects. If the department finds that a particular firm has a knack of constantly making mistakes in its own favour, I should not blame the Minister if he said - “ Well, I find that this firm, after the lessons it has received, continues to make alleged clerical errors, and I must show it that just as the department cannot allow fraudulent conduct, so such ‘errors’ cannot be allowed.” For a firm which makes mistakes often I have no desire to stand here as an apologist. . My position is a much simpler one. If the Minister were a business man in a large way, employing clerks, I should defy him to conduct that business under a new Tariff of this character without making mistakes. And since it is impossible for firms to be infallible, why should every firm be put into the police court 1 Why should every firm be treated as if it were a guilty offender against the Customs law 1 I cannot speak with certainty, except as to Australia, but, from my general knowledge, I fancy that in the old country, and throughout the Empire, persons who make mistakes of an honest description in the conduct of a large business are not prosecuted by the Customs authorities so far as to be charged in the police court. The mere announcement that one great firm or a. hundred firms have been fined for making false entries, is an advertisement that goes right throughout the commercial communities of the world that this firm or firms indulge in fraud. How should any of us, if we were in business, like to have our names advertised under such circumstances as connected with firms said to have committed frauds on the Customs ? We should consider it an intolerable piece of tyranny on the part of the department to treat respectable, honest firms in such a fashion. I do not want to labour this question. If I spoke for a hundred years I could not put the matter more simply than when I say that an honest firm, with a good reputation built up during a long course of years, should not, for the first or second mistake, be dragged into the police court, and branded with a charge of making false entries. I believe that the Customs Act is so drawn as to make such prosecutions absolutely compulsory.
– I am glad to hear that; but if the Act is not compulsory, the charge I am making becomes all the more direct against the Minister. In either case the effect is the same, because the Actwas drawn under the personal supervision of the Minister, who, during its passage through committee, showed a close knowledge of its provisions. I understand, however, that the Minister is not under any compulsion to take these proceedings. In order to elucidate the position, I want to ask the Minister whether, in any case or cases of a mere mistake in a Customs entry, he has not prosecuted a firm?
– The questions which are put by the Customs authority are- “Are you telling us the true nature of the goods?” and, “Are you telling us their true value?”
– But supposing the Minister is dealing with the case of a firm of high standing, which has been doing business for, say, twenty years with the Customs authorities, and he has no reason to suppose that there was intention to defraud ?
– That the mistake is not wilful?
– Yes ; that the incorrect entry “was not made with any intention to make money.
– Then I certainly would not charge such a firm with fraud.
– That I understand. My complaint is that although there may be no intention to defraud, firms are summoned to the police court. If there be fraud, I am at one with the Minister ;my voice will never, in the House, be heard shielding a fraudulent act. The sympathy of the public must go with the Minister in every case of fraud, however eminent the firm involved may be. But suppose a firm, with a good reputation, passes an entry which does not correctly state the nature of the goods, and, therefore, makes the value less than it would be if the description were correct, is it necessary, in the absence of any suspicion of fraud, to invoke the aid of the police court ?
– There is no obligation to do so.
– Is there any statutory obligation ?
– There is not.
– That being so, may I ask the Minister what is the punishment, if he decides not to send such a case to the police court ?
– I do not see that I could punish at all unless I myself sat as a court.
– I do not want to build up, but rather to dissipate, any charge against the Minister. May I take it that cases in which there has been only honest mistakes are not sent to the police court ?
– If I think there has been carelessness, I send a case on.
– Every mistake may, to some extent, seem to imply carelessness. Even lawyers in construing Acts of Parliament sometimes make ludicrous mistakes, and have to go as far as the Privy Council in order to be corrected- and even the Privy Council may be wrong. It is the business of the class to which I belong to interpret Acts of Parliament, and if we make mistakes how much more easily may a business man make a mistake as to the provision of this most complex Act, known as the Customs Tariff.
– And how many mistakes have the Customs authorities themselves made?
– And yet Customs officers are not sent to the police court, even if they make a thousand mistakes. In the case of a customs error it is possible that there may be forwarded an official expression of regret which a merchant can frame. But my position is that there must be honest mistakes, seeing that an employer cannot personally carry out every part of his business. Just as we do not expect the chief officer of a bank to do all the passbook work, so we do not expect the head of the firm to personally conduct thefirm’s customs business, although, if the latter did so, mistakes would be quite as possible as they are under ordinary circumstances. Even the ablest, most clear-headed men who are in a large way of business, must occasionally make mistakes, and if the maxim of the Customs department is, “ mistake - police court,” it shows an abominable administration of Customs law - an abominable, discreditable administration of a public department. If the Minister, because of a first mistake - which may be that of a clerk - has ever sent to the police court an honest firm such as I have described, it is a most odious and wrong administration. If the Minister himself, or any one of us, was treated in that way in our own business, we could not escape the police court ; the whole community, in their respective occupations, would be entered on the rolls of police jurisdiction.
– Would the Minister approve of a prosecution for a mistake which was caused through negligence?
– I have said that if there is carelessness I prosecute.
– There is a great distinction between the personal mistake of the head of a firm and the mistake of an employe, especially when the firm is of such magnitude that no reasonable man could expect the employer to pass his own entries. We must have some regard to the incidence of business.
– Would the right honorable member have the employe personally charged ?
– No. On the first occasion I would not prosecute. If all first mistakes in business were so seriously regarded, the whole social system would be simply a contrivance for putting people into the police court. If such administration prevailed generally, and applied to us all, whether we were lawyers, farmers, selectors, or squatters, who might be called upon to make returns under a Sheep Act, this House would ring with indignation.
– Is not the right honorable member now, to a certain extent, begging the question ?
– An innocent mistake is different from a negligent mistake.
– lt does not seem very easy to get the ordinary intelligence of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo. I want the honorable and learned member to first conceive of an enormous business - that, I understand, is not a crime in itself - and to ask him whether he considers the head of such a business ought to pass every customs entry ?
– The head of such a firm should employ competent men.
– I am assuming that an employer does his best. I only want to know the company I am keeping. Am I to conclude that honorable members cannot conceive of an honest mistake being made by a firm in a large way of business? Are we members of the Federal Parliament so perfect that we never make mistakes 1 How would the honorable member for Laanecoorie like to be brought before the police court simply because he had made a mistake in a return under the Medical Act ?
– I arn not talking about that.
– But I am.
– The honorable and learned member was talking about the head of a firm being responsible for the acts of his employes.
– I cannot put my honorable friend the member for Laanecoorie in that position, because he is not in a large way of business. I shall put the case of a solicitor, because solicitors sometimes employ 20 or 30 clerks. But a doctor has no clerks ; he has to do his own work.
– That shows that the right honorable member was on the wrong track in that illustration.
– I perceived that as I proceeded with the illustration. First of all* there was the initial difficulty that I do not think my honorable friend could ever admit that he could make a mistake.
– I was not impertinent to the right honorable member.
– Is that an impertinence? Are. we so thin-skinned ?
– I shall not interrupt again ; I shall give my own experience later on.
– I did not mean any impertinence. Such terms need not be used.
– I stand on as good a footing as does the right honorable member.
– A much better footing, no doubt. The honorable member’s manner in this House shows that. But none of us need be so ill-conditioned as to turn the mere casual exchanges of political discussion into a cause of offence. I hope that one who is occasionally Acting Chairman will preserve a proper demeanour and will not interrupt me again. No doubt he is a most superior person. It is absurd to get into a condition of thin-skinned soreness over matters of political discussion. Now I will get away from the honorable member and his profe.»sion. I would rather deal with more robust specimens of humanity. I want to get honorable members to perceive, if possible, the position which I wish to put before the committee ; because I do not want to have a red herring drawn across the trail after the care which I have taken to define my position. My position is this : That, whether a man lias a large business or a small business - I will put the .case more broadly than I did previously - whether he makes his entries personally, with the greatest attempt at care, or whether he employs to do that work some person whom he believes to be competent, and who is specially trained for it, in connexion with a new Tariff like this mistakes are inevitable. Honest mistakes are inevitable. The Customs officers, trained persons as they are, have made mistakes by the thousand in administering this very Act. We have only to look at the Customs decisions emanating from the head of the department to see how they have erred in discharging their duties, and in interpreting the Act.
– And they held goods for months, pending a decision from the Minister.
– That shows care, at any rate.
– That’s it ! In fact,’ it is a policeman-like way of managing a great department; which the people of this country are not accustomed to. AVe have not got accustomed to that method of managing a great , business department. I say let the department employ as many policemen as they like in a case of fraud, or a case hinting at fraud or deceit, or anything of that sort. We are all behind the department, and will back it up to the last degree in any such case. We do not care if the Custom-house keeps the goods of such persons for years. I have no sympathy with them in any shape or form. But, since mistakes are inevitable, when a firm has a good record, and is not conspicuous for making mistakes, it ought not to be dragged to the police court. I admit, as I said before, that if a firm makes mistakes day after day - say that it makes four or five mistakes - and then the Minister begins to inquire, he may very well say - “ Well. these may only be mistakes, but they have the effect of fraud, and I will teach these people to be careful by sending them to the police court.” But where a mistake is made by a firm that has a good character, and has been known for 30 years to the Comptroller-General of Customs, I cannot understand the action of the departmentin charging it with fraud and dragging it into a police court. If we were treated in that way in matters with whichwe are concerned, we should have all been taken to the police court before now. It is an odious task for the importers to have tofind the money for the Customs before they get it from the taxpayer. AVe ought not to forget that. It must be remembered that we are not taxing the importer by means of our Tariff. The importer merely acts for the Custom-house. The method we employ resembles the Eastern system of finance. An Eastern despot says to his Grand Vizier- “I want £-9,000,000 thisyear.” The Grand Vizier replies - “I do not think I can find it for you.” “ Oh, very well,” says the despot, “If you do not get that £9,000,000 for me by the end of the year off goes your head.” So he has to get the £9,000,000. We put Our business community into that position. The Commonwealth wants £9,000,000 from the consumers of goods.
– No; not from the consumers, from’ the foreigners.
– The honorable and learned member should recollect that a large quantity of the goods imported are raw materials for our own Australian industries. Take it as you will - suppose that it is the foreigner who pays the duty.
– Do not get into a Tariff debate.
– I like to pay every respect to the interjections of my honorable and learned friend, because he does bring some really novel matters before us. AVe must not forget, I say, that the importers are really acting as Custom-house agents, and have to pay the money into the Custom-house for all the consumers of Australia before they get it back. Therefore, they should not asa class be treated, I think, in a harsh way, so long as they act honorably and straightforwardly. The effect of all these prosecutions has been to exaggerate the anti-federal feeling right over Australia. Surely apart from any consideration of that sort, it cannot be true that reputable people have been sent to the police court . on account of mistakes that were not supposed to be fraudulent, at the beginning of the working of a new Tariff. Yet I believe there have been such cases. It is almost incredible. If the Minister could tell me that these mistakes have been made following closely one upon the other by certain firms, I should have nothing to say against the action he has taken, because the department must punish carelessness. But my point is that the Minister should not go the length of punishing a mere mistake by prosecution. There is a taint in a prosecution. I contend that you ought not to put a taint on an honest man on account of a mistake which he makes. If he makes a series of mistakes the Minister might take action, but the first mistake of an honest man should never land him in the police court, especially in connexion with the administration of a new Tariff. As I understand the Minister, it is optional with him to institute these prosecutions or not. I was under the impression that it would be necessary to have an alteration of the Customs Act in order to get rid of this intolerable state of things. But I now learn that it does not appear from the Customs Act that it is necessary to have these police court prosecutions. Well, then, it is purely a matter of administration, The Minister need not put these people in the police court. In my attack - which is not intended to be a personal one - I represent really a very strong feeling in the community, not only in the place where I come from, but in all parts of Australia. I want to accomplish a practical purpose and to implore the Minister in the most earnest and friendly way to abandon the course which he has pursued in the past, and not send any reputable firm which has made a mistake to the police court until there is sufficient evidence to show that there is negligence in the management of its business. No reasonable man would say that one mistake in a large business proves such negligence that the firm should be branded with a police court prosecution. If my right honorable friend took up that position, the common sense of the House as well as of the community, would be dead against him. Because who would escape whipping under such administration? I am rather curious to hear what my right honorable friend himself has to say, because I would rather hear from himself the true inwardness of the matter, and - place no reliance upon newspaper statements. I ask him whether there is any reason for the prosecution of reputable firms by reason of series of mistakes made by such firms, or whether on account of what I call first mistakes, firms should be treated in a way which I say is an abominable hardship that should not be permitted in this country ?
– There can be no doubt, as stated by the leader of the Opposition, that considerable complaints have been made both in Victoria and in ‘ other States on account of Customs prosecutions. Those who have suffered from them have made complaints, find there has been a general uproar in certain quarters. Now, the question is whether the Mini- “ ster has been unwarranted in authorizing those prosecutions for which he assumes responsibility. He occupies a position analogous to that of a grand jury. He has to decide whether, in any particular instance, a primd facie case exists to send on for trial. He does not try cases himself, but merely looks at the evidence and considers, in a semi-judicial manner, whether the evidence warrants the case being sent on for trial. I invite honorable members to remember that the Customs Act which this Parliament has passed deals with two classes of offences. One is that of wilfully making a false statement, or false declaration, and the other is that of making a declaration, which in form and substance is false, without the element of wilfulness. That is provided for in section 234. The section provides for prosecutions in cases where statements and declarations are made that are merely proved to be false. The next section provides for prosecutions in cases where wilfully false statements are made. The Federal Legislature has drawn that distinction, which no doubt is a wise and just one. The penalty in the one case may be imprisonment with hard labour, and the offence is indictable ; whilst in the other case the offence is of a summary character, which may be dealt with by the justices, and a fine imposed. In dealing with this new class of legislation, the Minister has no doubt been called upon to decide in many cases, firstly, whether false statements have been made, and secondly, whether those false statements have been wilfully made.
– I have not a word to say in regard to prosecutions in respect of false statements which are wilfully made.
– The right honorable member must remember that there is another section which provides for false statements pure and simple - statements which are not true in fact or in substance. I agree with him that if a statement is- made which is founded merely upon an error of judgment, the Minister ought not to institute a prosecution, and I venture to say that in such a case he would not do so.
– Hear, hear ! Not in regard to a matter of opinion upon which, two men could honestly differ.
– Quite so. I venture to say that in no case has a prosecution been ordered by the Minister, because of a mistake founded upon an error of judgment.
– There was a prosecution in a case in which a man passed an entry in the form advised by the Customs officials.
– That is always the plea ; and for that reason I put Customs decisions in writing.
– What about the man who imported eighteen penny worth of oil ?
– He undoubtedly broke the law.
– I would remind the committee that two Ministers sitting as a grand jury, and dealing with the same set of facts, might arrive at different conclusions. The Minister for Trade and Customs might arrive at one conclusion, and the leader of the Opposition sitting as a Minister might arrive at another. Surely »ny one occupying the position of a grand jury ought not to be attacked by the leader of the Opposition for saying that there is a primd facie case for trial, merely because he may have arrived at a decision which another man might not have arrived at. I have heard a great deal of this outcry against the Minister, but I have arrived at the conclusion that there is no foundation for it. At all events there is no justification for the immense amount of political capital which has been attempted to be made out of it. I do not think that the Minister has in any case instituted a prosecution merely for the sake of harassing any merchant. If I thought so I should be the first to denounce his conduct.
– That is not the point. The point is that the Minister will not stop others from harassing merchants.
– If is the point. The Minister is charged with harassing merchants. He admits that he is responsible for the setting of the law in motion, and I assert that no case can be pointed out’ as warranting the charge that he has been improperly harassing merchants. Another honorable member occupying the same position might have arrived at a different conclusion, but it is no ground for a charge against the present Minister for Trade and Customs, that he, in the exercise of his undoubted statutory right, has decided to set the law in motion. If he had not done so, he might have been charged with neglect of duty.
– The charge is that he makes no discrimination.
– The statute law discriminates only between statements which are false and statements which are wilfully false. I apprehend that the Minister has never ignored that distinction. I agree that the Minister ought to be careful, and not institute a prosecution where there has been merely an error of judgment.
– That is what he is doing.
– Nonsense. I do not think he would intentionally do such a thing. I believe that he has instituted prosecutions only in cases in which he thought the mistakes had been made owing to negligence, perhaps in the employment of inefficient officers.
– On the cheap.
– Surely in dealing with such vast interests as these it is the duty of the Minister ‘to require a very high standard of commercial morality and exactitude 1 Commercial exactitude is necessary because mistakes very often result in an advantage to the man who makes them which is not enjoyed by others who do not commit them. The policy of the law is to prevent anything like negligence resulting in mistakes which may tend to the profit of the man who makes them. That is the very root of this principle. Where a mistake is made from negligence or carelessness or want of proper exactitude on the part of the merchants, I apprehend that the Minister will set the law in motion ; but if the mistake is merely an error of judgment, such as an error in regard to the class of the Tariff to which an article may belong, or whether it is dutiable or not, I apprehend he would not institute a prosecution.
– Prosecutions have been issued in such cases.
– If any such case could be pointed out I should not defend the Minister, but I believe that he has followed a very safe principle. There are only one or two cases in which there has been a failure ; the Minister has maintained his average of success in the great bulk of the prosecutions which have been instituted ?
– Does the honorable and learned member call a prosecution a success when only a nominal fine is imposed ?
– I apprehend that the Minister, in arriving at a decision as to whether he should prosecute in most cases, will be guided, not only by the evidence submitted to him, but by legal advice, or the advice of his officers. I do not believe he would institute a prosecution in the teeth of the opinions of the officers surrounding him. He would have a right to do so ; but I apprehend that he consults his officers and, as it were, checks his own opinions and judgments by their advice.
Mr.Reid. - It is a remarkable thing that the officers in Victoria never did these things prior to federation. Did the honorable and learned member hear what Senator Best had to say in regard to the way in which he dealt with these matters when he was State Minister for Trade and Customs?
– Under the old system, theState Minister for Trade and Customs had authority to deal with these cases incamera - in a secret tribunal. That is not a wise system, and I am sure the leader of the Opposition would not vindicate it. It is far better to have these prosecutions in the full light of day.
Mr.Reid. - Could they not be conducted in the open light of day without a man being taken into the police court? We should not like it ourselves.
– The law does not provide for that. It provides for a judicial decision by judicial officers. There is no doubt that, although in particular individual cases there has been irritation, and people have been annoyed and disappointed and worried at being prosecuted, the results of those prosecutions have been to direct the search-light of public opinion and knowledge upon the new law. That has resulted in a great deal of good. The atmosphere has been cleared, and I believe the result will be that very few prosecutions will be necessary in future. I hope that the Minister, as far as he possibly can, will not institute a prosecution in respect of merely an innocent mistake, but will always consider whether there is associated with the offence some element of neglect resulting in personal advantage or loss to the federal revenue.
– I should like the Minister to give the committee an explanation with regard to an important provision in the Customs Act. I think it is an exceedingly harsh provision, and I do not know that the House quite appreciated what was being done when it was allowed to stand. I allude to section 229, paragraph (a), read in conjunction with section 262. Section 229 provides that among the goods which shall be forfeited to His Majesty are goods - in respect of which any entry, invoice, declaration, answer, statement, or representation which is false, or wilfully misleading in any particular, has been delivered, made, or produced.
That provision is quite satisfactory so far as it affects wilfully misleading statements, but if a conviction followed a prosecution in regard to statements which are merely false, and, therefore, come under section 234, to which the honorable and learned member for Bendigo referred, the goods in question would also be forfeited. The Act provides that they shall be forfeited, although the conviction may have been for a simple mistake. I do not know how the Minister is administering the Act, but it seems to me that if there is no explicit discrimination given to him, the spirit of the Act is that a discrimination should be exercised as to the forfeiture of goods. I have been professionally engaged in one or two Customs prosecutions, and I do not wish to bring forward any particular instance. But if, for example, two invoices were sent out in respect of any goods, and owing to one being delivered before the other, a mistake were made by a clearance on the first - or owing to the fact that two parcels were included in one case - the information would be laid under section 234. The statement would be one which was untrue in a certain particular, although the mistake was not wilfully made ; it would be delivered to a Customs officer, and a conviction would follow on proving the mistake. Then section 262 provides that -
Where the committal of any offence causes a forfeiture of any goods, the conviction of any person for such offence shall have effect asa condemnation of the goods in respect of which the offence is committed.
The result is that an innocent declaration which contains a mistake of fact, but not one wilfully made, may be the subject of an information, and if a conviction follows, the goods involved are forfeited by Act of Parliament. I am sure the House never i intended that anything of the kind should be done, but that I think is the effect of section 234.
– No doubt.
– -I am sure that the honorable and learned member would not support a rigid administration of the Act to the extent of saying that forfeiture of goods should take place where a simple mistake had been made. In some cases this may have the effect of making men more careful, although they cannot do impossibilities.
– Arc confiscations enforced ?
– I desire to hear what the Minister has to say on the subject. I know that goods have been detained, and I do not know whether any have been released up to the present time. I am bringing this matter forward merely for the purpose of obtaining information. The point has only recently occurred to me. It seems to me that where an ordinary mistake has been made a conviction for that mistake results in the forfeiture of the goods involved. That is not what happened under the States law. In some cases the magistrates had a discretion as to forfeiture. In other cases it was necessary to summons the holder of the goods for the purpose of condemnation, and if the circumstances justified it they were forfeited. An opportunity was given to the court to decide whether the facts justified forfeiture of the goods as well as the imposition of the ordinary penalty. I am sure that when the Minister looks into the matter he will prevent- such a harsh procedure as the forfeiture of perhaps £500 or £600 worth of goods in cases in which only the minimum penalty is imposed by the bench.
– There must be a conviction.
– Yes ; but the position is that the magistrates may consider a case one in which they should not do more than impose the minimum penalty. The case might be one in which a simple mistake - perhaps the first mistake on the part of defendant - had been made, but the magistrates would have no discretion. They are bound by their oath and by the law to convict if the evidence shows that a mistake has been made. They have not the smallest discretion as to releasing goods from forfeiture.
– Tho Executive can do so.
– I think it is possible that the Executive can do it, but I hope to have some explanation from the Minister on the point, because it does not seem to me that the power is expressly vested in the Minister by the Act. I am sure there was no desire on the part of honorable members to allow the section to pass in such a form that forfeiture of goods must follow in such cases. As a matter of fact, I think the word “ wilfully “ in an earlier section was inserted by mistake, or at all events that it was inserted in the wrong place. Section 229 refers to “representation which is false or wilfully misleading.” I think that the draftsman must have intended to put the word “ wilfully “ before the .word “false.” There are other sections which deal with wilfully misleading and wilfully untrue statements. This section may involve the forfeiture of goods,’ and I say that the expression used should have been “ representation which is wilfully false or misleading.” That has not been provided for, and the result is that if an information is laid in respect of a false statement made by mistake, goods may be forfeited under a subsequent section.
– Holding, as I do, the idea that we have the power to waive the forfeiture, that would make very little difference.
– I should like to know what is the practice of the department upon this’ point, because up to the present that has not been explained.
– I should like to know if anything has been done in the matter of the complaints which have been made from time to time with regard to the overwork of men engaged on the wharfs in Fremantle. Three new sheds have lately been erected there, and one officer may be told off to look after two of these sheds at night time. I should like to know whether the Minister thinks it is inthe interests of the revenue to ask one officer to attend to two sheds at night time. I believe the matter has already been brought under the honorable gentleman’s notice, but if he has not made inquiries I would ask him to ascertain whether the complaints made are justified
– I shall be very happy to do so.
– It often happens that two or three vessels enter the port at the same time!, and their cargoes may be discharged during the night. The result of having the service undermanned must be a loss of revenue. If overtime is worked, it should be paid for by the masters of vessels, and I should like to know if the Minister has made inquiries as to whether overtime has been paid for according to the regulation?
– I dealt with this matter of Customs prosecutions very fully some six weeks ago, and I have no desire now to enter upon its discussion in the same spirit, though my feelings in connexion with the treatment of merchants and my attitude towards the Minister are exactly the same as they were then. I rise merely to refer to the sections of the Act to which reference has been made. They are certainly of a very arbitrary nature, and give the Minister supreme power. Before the Bill was discussed by this House, the Minister kindly sent a copy of it and of the regulations to the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, and I was one of a deputation from the Chamber who waited upon the Comptroller-General, Dr. Wollaston, and went through various matters with him. He afterwards submitted our representations to the Minister, and many alterations were made. When at the time we pointed out the hardships that would fall upon shipowners and merchants if the Act was literally administered, we were assured that many of the clauses to which we took exception were to be found in existing Acts, and had never been harshly enforced in the past, and that there was no intention whatever that anything but a fair spirit should be adopted in dealing with merchants and ship-owners. As a consequence, those who were vitally interested in certain clauses of the Bill refrained from fighting them, as they might otherwise have done. In his protest the leader of the Opposition has put the matter to the Minister in an extremely fair way. His speech was not an attack upon the Minister, but a request that in cases where fraud is not alleged and where there is palpably only an unintentional error by which no revenue maybe lost, the Minister should be more lenient thanhe has been in the past, notwithstanding what there may be in the Customs Act. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo stated that he was sure the Minister had in no case prosecuted when he felt that only an unintentional error had been committed. The right honorable gentleman has stated here that he did not intend to decide whether cases should go to the court or not. I know that in connexion with some cases in other States, he has left the matter to the Crown Solicitor. I credit him with going into these cases very fully, but I know that he has himself communicated with the head of the Customs in another State, desiring him to act upon the opinion of the Crown Solicitor. I have, in a letter, asked the right honorable gentleman to alter that practice. In cases where it is palpable that no fraud is intended, the Minister should use his judgment, and not send honest and respectable merchants to the police court. As regards these Estimates, I have looked them through, and I give the Minister credit for having kept them as low as possible. Whilst I have a very strong feeling regarding the action of the right honorable gentleman in treating firms as he has done for simple errors, I wish to act fairly towards him, and so far as his Estimates are concerned, they shall have my support.
– It would be a lack of duty on my part if I allowed the discussion which has taken place during the last half-hour to be concluded without making a few observations on the general question of the administration of the Customs department since the initiation of the Commonwealth and the introduction of the Tariff. I have no wish to promote the feeling of discontent and acerbity that has permeated the whole of the Australian cities in which Customhouses exist. On the contrary, I have endeavoured to assuage the feeling in the city I have the honour to represent, and other representatives of Queensland have done the same. I regret very much that private representations made from time to time have not had the effect I expected, and which I think those representations deserved on their merits. I recognise the value of the speech made by the leader of the Opposition, and I compliment the right honorable gentleman upon having dealt with the subject with a suavity, diplomacy, and experience, that will, I trust, bring about a better spirit in the administration of the Customs department throughout Australia.
The right honorable gentleman in his speech has mentioned several of the arguments which I know have been put before the Minister. I was very glad to hear him say determinedly that he would not prosecute where the matter -was one on which there might honestly be a difference of opinion. Customs officers assume a virtue which they have not, and never possibly could have. I have always regarded with disapproval the adoption of legal remedies for the evils alleged, instead of a resort to the common-sense business avenues, by which a settlement of these questions might be arrived at. Even ‘this afternoon two or three technical matters came up which had my disapproval. I was very glad to hear the leader of the Opposition say that he did not approve of resorting to the court foi1 the punishment of simple mistakes which were jumped at as positive attempts to defraud the revenue - as if some of the best firms in the Commonwealth would in such a way besmirch their reputation, not only in Australia, but in the manufacturing and monetary centres of the old world. Some of the paltriest mistakes made by clerks have been made the grounds of prosecutions. I am not blaming the right honorable gentleman at the head of the Customs department for that, but I blame the system by which he is advised, and the officers in the different centres who are, doubtless, in constant communication with him. I am sorry to say that several of them have not had the pluck to telegraph to the head of the department that the persons involved had hitherto been considered honest and reputable men in the great business communities of Australia. As a young man engaged in other business relating to commerce and shipping, I was often amused at the mistakes and errors of judgment made by Customs officers in Brisbane and elsewhere. I desire to say, in the most respectful way, that in their “ Jack-in-office “ position, with a fixed salary of about £600 per year and a free house, sub-collectors of Customs have looked upon themselves, as it is alleged the Minister has looked upon himself, as “little Gods Almighty “ in the community. A. revolution took place in one day when there was a change from the separate administration of the Customs for a population of 1,000,000 in Victoria, of’ 1,125,000 in New South Wales, 500,000 in Queensland, and proportionately less in the other States, to the joint administration of Customs for 4,0.00,000 of people under a new and complex Tariff containing thousands of items that were never heard of before. Hundreds of new interpretations have been given, the Customs officials have been governed by an inflexible cast-iron rule, and have been required to keep their eyes open, so that every scintilla of error may be discovered and punished. They have been prevented from acting in accordance with their previous experience, and, as a consequence, the administration of the department has for the last six or twelve months proved a curse to the mercantile community. It would be impossible to get any one man, or any 50 men, who would be capable of determining exactly the nature of many of the articles which are imported, or of judging correctly of the quality of the texture of many others. In the old country there are experts in cotton, who know all about it and its price from the time it is landed in the bale until it is cleaned, warped, wefted, loomed, dyed, and turned into the finished article ; while others know exactly the value of such delicate material as muslin, and would be able to say whether a certain line of goods should be invoiced at 6d. or 4£d. a yard. But our officials do not possess this expert knowledge; and, under the present administration, they are also wanting in pluck. It is not a wholesome thing that the general belief of Australia should be that they hold their office by the skin of their teeth unless they are able to catch defaulters, instead of rising to the occasion, and exercising kindliness of speech and diplomacy of manner, the department has failed in its duty to the Commonwealth. I have heard it said that there are times when even Ministerial departments should have a blind eye.
– There has been too much of the blind eye about the Customs administration of the past.
– One of the greatest philosophers has said that one must sometimes be blind, even in his own household. It is in that sense that I use the expression. I have not acted after consultation with the honorable member for Oxley, but I am sure that my remarks will be thoroughly concurred in by him, and he and I together represent the greater busi-ness portion of southern Queensland. I have no fault to find with the Minister individually, but if a less technical interpretation had been placed upon the Tariff, and there had been more flexibility in the administration of the department, it would have been better for all concerned. The leader of the Opposition interpreted my views in this respect to a nicety, and I am sure that he has voiced the opinions of the mercantile community from the humblest storekeeper to the largest merchant. I trust that the discord, irritation, and unhappiness which the administration of the Customs has created will now cease, and that peace and contentment may reign throughout the Com mon weal th .
– I have listened to what has been said this afternoon, and have read all that I could of the actions of the Minister since the Customs departments of the States were transferred to the Commonwealth. Undoubtedly there has been, and still is, a certain amount of friction between those who do business with the department, and those who administer it, but I feel that that is owing rather to the lax manner in which the department was administered in some of the States anterior to federation than to undue severity or to tyrannical procedure on the part of the Minister. The leader of the Opposition asked if it was fair that the head of a large importing house should be held responsible for the action of his subordinates. I interjected that he should. Honorable members who were present know what then followed. I do not wish to allude further to the matter, except to say that if a merchant cannot obtain accuracy in the work of those whom he employs, he should avail himself of the services of others who will not make mistakes.
– It is impos_sible to avoid mistakes. The officers of the Customs department sometimes make mistakes.
– I do not say that a clerk’s position should be imperilled for the smallest error, but, speaking generally, if a merchant finds that his clerk cannot perform the duties, allotted to him without making mistakes, he should employ some one else. My experience as a Minister was not a long one, but it was long enough to enable rae to know how often merchants employ incompetent clerks. In many cases important duties are being performed by mere youths, who do not realize the serious nature of their work.
– I was a Custom-house clerk in London when I was seventeen.
– And no doubt a very competent one.
– At any rate I never made mistakes. I began my business career at the age of fourteen.
– In my opinion, sufficient care is often not exercised in the selection of those who are called upon to undertake the responsible duty of passing entries, and doing other Customs work. Numbers of young men find themselves detailed for these duties after an extremely small amount of instruction from those who employ them. In the wretched private investigations which used to be held in Victoria, I have had- lads before me who were prepared to accept almost any penalty rather than have their employer punished, because they feared to lose their situations ; and it was repeatedly’ pointed out to me that the mistakes which had been made were due to inexperience and want of knowledge.
– That excuse was made within the last week.
– I am glad that the Minister has not adopted this system of private investigation. There is no more tyrannical exercise of authority than these secret settlements. The Minister is to behonoured for the stand which he has taken against the strong representations which I am sure have been made to him for the perpetuation of this star-chamber system. I ask honorable members if they think it consistent with the principles of freedomand justice that a Minister should come tosecret determinations and settlements in this way. In Victoria a gentleman whois now a member of the Senate was Commissioner of Customs for over five years,, and only the other day he told us what hisexperience was.
– He alwayspublished his decisions.
– I do not think that thedecisions were always published. The system which was followed, under my direction wasfar more open - although not so open as I should have liked - than the previous one,, and all the decisions were not published. I know that instructions were given that they should be published, but it was not done, owing to influence which was brought to bear upon those who were responsible. The action of the Minister’ will press hardly upon some persons who do not altogether deserve it. The punishment of being- dragged into a police court, and having fines recorded, will be a hardship in some instances. But for the sake of the honest trader, and the man who spares no expense to secure efficiency, I am bound to support the Minister in his attitude. We cannot too strongly inveigh against the system of secret settlements. In France it is “ the custom for a prisoner to be brought up and interrogated. Is that the sort of system to be adopted in the Commonwealth ? In Victoria the Minister was urged by his officers to accomplish secret settlements. Why 1 Because of the great difficulty there was in securing a conviction. The Act was so impotent, inefficient, and unsatisfactory, that the officers were compelled to urge upon the Minister, in order to secure that there should be some punishment, the adoption- of the pernicious practice of considering questions in camera. We have an Act that gives to the Minister and his officers all the power which is necessary to punish those who from neglect or wilfulness infringe its provisions. I earnestly hope that we shall never revert to the old system of leaving it to the Minister to say what punishment shall be meted out to violators of the law. If we once enable the Minister to sit as a court and remit, or refuse to inflict penalties, we shall do an act not consonant with that freedom, liberty, and justice which we hope to make the principal bulwark of our grand Constitution. We have not had cited -a single case to bear out the very unfair and unpatriotic statements which have been made regarding the action of the Minister. We have been told to-day that his action was tyrannical and abominable, and, of course, that no personal reference was intended by those remarks. In my opinion, his action has been that of a high-minded administrator of a most important department, and in that position he is a bright and shining example to those who take upon themselves Ministerial responsibility.
Mr. L. E. GROOM (Darling Downs).in various States, especially Queensland, the Minister has been seriously attacked in connexion with his administration of the -department. But I am glad to see that the condemnation is by no means universal. A much better feeling is beginning to grow up amongst many of his critics in that State, and it is very well reflected in an article in the Brisbane
Telegraph, in which it is. pointed out that he is having fixed upon him the responsibility for all the friction which is the natural result of securing uniformity of administration in the Commonwealth. In the various States there has been a difference in the definition of goods and in the administration. The officers have had different ways of working the department, and upon the Minister is now thrown the onus of securing absolute uniformity of administration, and definition for the whole Commonwealth. The honorable member for Melbourne has given a very good illustration of the difficulty. The Melbourne merchants found fault with the definition of tea, and the Minister pointed out that it was the one which had been adopted in Queensland. When you try to get uniformity of definition you are bound to irritate persons in different States who have been working under another definition, and will not willingly relinquish old methods and practices. I regret that the Minister has had to bear all this odium. There have also been lax methods of administration in the States. The Minister has been charged with the protection of the interests of the taxpayers. He has been asked by the House to collect honestly all the money which the taxpayers are entitled to have deposited in the Treasury. He has also had to bear the trouble of those very provisions which were inserted in the Constitution for the purpose of protecting the smaller States - I allude to the trouble arising under the Inter-State certificates. He is practically carrying out the very provisions which uniformity of legislation renders essential. He has had to bear all the odium of this administration. As regards the reflections upon his action, I think that all persons will agree that it is his duty to collect the revenue, to take proceedings in the courts where it is justified, and to insist that importers shall employ fit and proper persons to do their business. In Queensland there has been some trouble. Tam not going to say that there have not been some grounds for complaint, but 1 do not think that those grounds, when investigated, have justified .any of the charges which have been made against the “V inister. In that State the charges have been that he has assumed a dictatorial attitude, an unsympathetic attitude, and a tyrannical attitude. I think that all these charges are without foundation. Whenever
I have had to put matters before the Minister, he has, on the whole, listened attentively and given fair and impartial decisions. So far as I can see, he has simply taken up the position that he is bound to administer the law impartially and fairly, and, on the whole, I think I can say that he is doing it mercifully. It is assumed that there are no merchants who uphold the position he has taken up. As regards Brisbane, there appeared in the Courier some time ago an article setting out the views of certain merchants upon the methods of administration of the department. That newspaper sent out a representative with the view of ascertaining both sides of the question - the views of those who complained of the methods of administration, and the views of those who seemed to think that those methods had been fair. It is only right that I should quote the views of a few of the merchants who have looked at the question from a different point of view. For instance, the representative of Messrs. T>. and W. Murray said -
They hud no complaint to make against the administration of the department, and they were inclined to think that some strictness in enforcing the Tariff was desirable.
Another firm took up this position -
They had had no difficulties with the department, and whenever any question of interpretation arose, they referred it to Melbourne, and got it settled without serious delay or inconvenience. They were disposed to favour a more systematic and complete supervision of the goods imported into the State with the object of preventing the evasion of duties.
Mr. Bowcher, the representative of Messrs. “W. and A. Macarthur, said he was in accord with them -
He suggested it would be a wise thing if it were recognised that a fixed percentage of the cases were, examined by way of check. From sources the information went to show that much of the trouble now experienced or complained of is due to laxity of administration when the Custom-house was under State control.
So that the merchants in Brisbane were really complaining of the laxity of the administration under State control, and praising the Federal Government for adopting firmer methods of administration. The writer of the article goes on to say -
The determination of the Minister to strictly enforce the Tariff, and to prosecute all who inadvertently or unintentionally appear in the position of evaders has brought things up with a round turn,, and rendered necessary an amount of care and accurracy which previously was not insisted upon. The opinion of the merchants who did not attack the administration was that after 46 g a while the mercantile community will become reconciled to the new era, and will not find it unduly burdensome. One change which will probably be found necessary will be the substitution of careful and experienced Customs clerks for the boys and youths frequently employed to pass entries.
So that there the defence which has been made in the House has been amply verified. Here are Brisbane merchants who say that it was really the fault of the youths and the boys employed on customs work which was responsible for part of the trouble in that city. Another point is raised by the writer of this article in these terms -
A phase of the question which also seems to require investigation, is the practice which is alleged to have grown up in regard to the invoicing of goods. Our representative was informed in one quarter that it is not altogether uncommon for two invoices to be sent to the purchasers of consignments of goods, one showing the actual cost to the buyer and the other, as it is phrased, “the value for Customs purposes. :”
It is further stated in this article -
Another practice is said to be to invoice goods to a number, rather than in the name of the real consignees. How far either of these is carried on it would be difficult to ascertain ; but instances have been known of goods being offered for sale at a much lower rate than they could be sold at if the legitimate duty had been paid upon them. Importers who deal honestly with the Customs naturally find it hard to compete with the rivals who are able to undersell them in that way. This is one of the allegations which can only be proved by the more strict comparison of the goods imported with the description and values given of them in the in voices.
I have quoted this statement to show that, although serious complaints have been made by Brisbane merchants, there are a goodmany traders in that city who are of opinion that the Minister is doing good and patriotic work in enforcing the provisions of the Customs Act. Some complaints seem to have a certain show of reason, but when these are examined it will be found that they ave due to causes which are inevitable. For instance, it is complained that continual references have to be made to the central authorities in Melbourne. In view of the fact, however, that the decisions given in these cases form the basis of a uniform practice which has to extend throughout the Commonwealth, it will be seen that it is necessar)’ to refer complicated questions to headquarters. I hope, however, that the Minister will see his way to expedite the publication of his Tariff guide, so that he may put into the hands of his officers at distant centres the means of avoiding the present trouble.
It would also be reasonable, now that the Tariff has come fairly into operation, to permit the officers in the various outlying centres, to assist importers to pass their goods through the Customs. Where difficulties occur in the interpretation of the Tariff in connexion with the importation of new classes of goods, I think it is the duty of the Customs authorities to assist merchants who are really anxious to comply with the conditions of the Tariff. It is stated that the importers of general merchandise do not experience very much difficulty under the Tariff, but that it is amongst the importers of drapery and soft goods that the most fault is found with the administration. If the Minister can see his way to instruct his officers to assist merchants in cases such as I have referred to, he will render a great service to the mercantile community. It has been made to appear that the Minister is entirely without friends in his administration of the Tariff ; but I would point out that the Launceston Daily Telegraph takes a very sympathetic view of the Minister’s position. In an article published on 11th September, the following statement occurs : -
The completion of the first Australian Tariff has been appropriately taken as an occasion for some complimentary speeches in the Federal Parliament, where members of all shades of political opinion have joined in an acknowledgment of the great work done by Mr. Kingston in framing and conducting the passage of the most difficult piece of legislation of the session, and in the administration of the most troublesome department of the Commonwealth Government.
Honorable members must agree that the Minister has done a great work in getting the Tariff through. When the Tariff was passed there seemed to be a disposition on the part of a good many members to disown it, but I venture to predict that before very long a large number of those who have expressed dissatisfaction will regard the Tariff as a magnificent achievement, and claim the credit of having assisted to frame it.
– I do not think they will, although it is very different from the Tariff which was originally introduced. ,
– I think they will.
– Every one is dissatisfied with it now.
– The article from which I have been quoting continues as follows : -
The row of the first Minister of Trade and Customs, whatever his political colour may be, could not be anything but a hard one to hoe, and no one with less experience, energy, and industry, could have succeeded as well as Mr. Kingston has done in the performance of his titanic task. By -and - by, when things have settled down under the new federal conditions, the benefit of his work in the legislature, and his sturdy administration of the fiscal laws on strictly impartial lines, will be felt throughout the Commonwealth.
That is a Tasmanian opinion, and the Queensland view is very much the same. In an article published in the Brisbane Daily Telegraph after a meeting recently held there, the action of the Minister for Trade and Customs was spoken of in complimentary terms. The writer went on to say -
To be perfectly blunt, the Minister, doubtless, has had ample cause in the interests of all Australia to insist on a rigid observance of every rule and regulation for preventing fraud, otherwise the Federal Treasury might have been fleeced right and left by designing and unprincipled traders, as, in the past, State treasuries certainly suffered.
I have read these statements merely to show that the condemnation of the action of the Minister has not been so universal as some honorable members would have us suppose.
– I could read a large number of statements in the opposite direction.
– I admit that : but surely, in view of the charges made against the Minister by the leader of the Opposition, I am perfectly justified in showing that there is another side to the question.
– No abuse has ever yet been abolished by those who profited by it, and reforms must be brought about through the efforts of those who have to suffer. In this case the Minister for Trade and Customs is the martyr.
– When the Customs Act was under consideration in this Chamber I pointed out that many of its provisions were so stringent that possibly they would earn for the Minister for Trade and Customs the title of “ a manufacturer of criminals.” . I regret’ to say that the manner in which the right honorable gentleman lias administered the Act has caused that title to be bestowed upon him. There is not the slightest doubt that many men who ought not to have been brought before the courts have been haled there and punished for perfectly innocent acts. We are not here to shield men who are really guilty, and the Minister for Trade and Customs is only doing his duty in prosecuting such persons.
The objection has, however, been taken that the Ministerhas not assumedany responsibility. He has not distinguished between what are innocent mistakes and wilful attempts to evade the law, and, as a consequence, many men have been summoned before the courts in cases in which the exercise of a little common sense would have obviated any such proceedings. That is the reason why so many complaints have been made against the Minister. Every mistake, whether wilfully or innocently made, has been treated in exactly the same way, and there has been every justification for the complaints made by merchants. If the Minister had been placed in the same position as the members of the outside public who do business with the Customs, and had been treated in the same way as he has dealt with merchants generally, he would have been the subject of innumerable prosecutions. Every mistake made by him as to whether certain goods were or were not dutiable would have resulted in his appearance at the police court. Once he was taken there it would have been useless for him to say that the mistake was the result of inadvertence, because under the provisions of the Customs Act he would have been convicted and fined. In over 300 different instances he has varied his decision, and therefore, applying to himself the same rule as he has applied to others, he should have been brought before the police court and convicted of 300 separate offences. I have no hesitation in saying that the number of wrong decisions given by the Minister has been even greater than I have stated. For instance, the Minister for a time did not consider that oilmen’s stores were dutiable, and in every case in which he gave a decision in this direction he should have been brought before the police court and fined £5. He considers that that is just treatment when merchants make mistakes. Surely the Minister can take a little authority upon himself, and distinguish between innocent mistakes and attempts to evade the law.
– Is it not too late?
– No ; it is not. I asked the Minister when the Customs Act was under discussion whether he would adopt that course, and he assured me that he would, but, unfortunately, he has not been able to summon up the necessary will or courage to do right, lest some one might turn round and say that he was conniving at evasions of the law. I would not have blamed the Minister for sending all these cases on to the courts if it had been competent for the magistrates to abstain from inflicting a fine in cases where they were satisfied that the mistakes were innocently made. That power, however, was never given to them, and, therefore, the Minister, by acting indiscriminately, has inflicted a double injury upon the community. The right honorable gentleman will not exercise any judgment himself. He cannot be blamed for this if he has no judgment to exercise, but why does he not seek the assistance of one of the officers connected with his department?Why should he fear to do a thing if he believes it to be right? I should be prepared to back up the Minister, so long as he did right, but, unfortunately, we know that in nineteen cases out of twenty he would probably do wrong. It is ridiculous to talk of justice in cases where the Minister refrains from exercising proper discretion, and sends cases on to the courts, irrespective of the nature of the mistakes made. Once the case comes before the court a conviction must follow, and under these circumstances the Minister should recognise that a double responsibility is cast upon him. I need only refer honorable members to the numerous cases which have occurred in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.
– No; there have been no prosecutions at Perth.
– I cannot say that I remember having seen any case reported from Perth, but in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide there have been instances in which the magistrates have distinctly asserted that if it were not for the provisions of the Act, which compelled them to impose a fine, they would have dismissed the cases. In these instances they were convinced that there was no intention to evade the law. In other cases, of course, deliberate attempts have been made to defraud the revenue, and the offenders have been very properly punished. Surely, however, the Minister must admit that it was wrong to prosecute merchants for mistakes which the magistrates declare to have been innocently made ? It appears that whilst the Customhouse officials may make mistakes without suffering any penalty, the merchants who are guilty of error are to be prosecuted and convicted. This is what honorable members on both sides of the Chamber wished to avoid, and that is why we wanted the Minister to show a little courage and take upon himself a certain amount of authority. Where prosecutions take place and the magistrates deliberately declare that no action should have been taken,- the officers concerned in the prosecution should be brought . up and dealt with by the Minister. Surely if one class of the community is tobe fined for making mistakes, the officials in the Customs department should be similarly deal t with . I was extremely sorry to hear that the honorable and learned member for Brisbane suggest that possibly -some of the Customs officials were seeking to curry favour with the Minister by securing convictions.
-paterson. - I never made use of any such expression.
– The honorable and learned member said that many officials appeared to be anxious to institute prosecutions. The - only inference which can possibly be drawn from that statement is that their action was prompted by a desire to bring themselves -under the notice of the Minister. I trust that that is not so. My own opinion is that many of the complaints against Customs administration arise from a reluctance on the part of the Minister to assume certain responsibilities. The result to the trading community has been a very mischievous one. I hold that it was a mistake to embody in the Customs Act such stringent provisions as are there contained. I did not so strongly object to those provisions at the time that measure was under consideration, because the Minister declared that they were necessary to prevent fraud. I did strongly object to the refusal to allow the courts to decide according to the evidence. The . position which I take up is that we ought not to invoke the aid of a court of justice and then muzzle justice, which is precisely what the Minister has done. It is to the interest of the great bulk of the traders in the community that there shall be no evasion of Customs duties, because if any such evasion takes place, they are compelled to compete with their dishonest rivals. Moreover, the importers do not ultimately pay the Customs taxation. Of course they pay it in the first instance, but subsequently it is returned to them with interest added. I trust that the result of this dis-; cussion will be to induce the Minister to exercise the powers with which he is vested in cases where there has been no attempt to evade taxation. I am thoroughly satisfied that if the right honorable gentleman would assume a larger measure of responsibility in administering his department, he would not hear many of the objections which have emanated from this side of the House, and the murmurings of the mercantile community would cease.
– If I did not hear complaints of the character of those which have been made by honorable members opposite, no doubt the occupants of the Treasury benches would be the subjects of adverse criticism of another sort. I am only too glad to know that those complaints are not founded upon fact. I have no fault to find with the general tone of the debate. I thank those honorable members who have testified to the difficulties which have beset me, and who have expressed a good opinion of the mode in which I have attempted to discharge an onerous and somewhat unpleasant task. That the difficulties have been great I frankly acknowledge, but that I have shirked their discharge no one can truthfully declare. In my own conscience, I know that I have done what I could to faithfully perform my duties, and I am satisfied that parliamentary and public opinion support my action. It has been put that I am an enemy of the importer, and would like to do him an injury. All that is idle talk, and honorable members know it. As they are well aware in accepting my present position, I recognised what were my duties, and I have not spared myself in my endeavour to fulfil them. One of those duties is to cultivate the best relations possible with the importers and the mercantile community. My duty is to the community as a whole, and to the majority of the mercantile community who are honest and careful. It is also my duty to enforce the law against those who are either dishonest or negligent where such dishonesty or negligence is to the injury of the community. As regards the revenue, I would point out that to-day we are deriving from moderate duties of Customs an amount which I venture to consider is considerably in excess of all expectations. There are many elements which conduce to that condition of affairs. One of those elements undoubtedly is that the law is now being more strictly enforced than it was formerly. Dishonest traders are being called upon to pay their dues to the exoneration of the people generally from further taxation and to the maintenance in the public departments of those whose services we could not retain if we did not continue to collect our dues as we ought. Let honor-, able members compare the collections of revenue to-day with those which obtained under the old State Tariffs. What do I recollect as regards Queensland - that grand State which has before it as brilliant a future as any in the Union ? The Government had hardly assumed office when complaints were made of a leakage in the Queensland Customs revenue. Accordingly we placed ourselves in communication with, commercial men. As the result of our inquiries, we found that considerable leakages were taking place. We, therefore, decided to send an officer to the northern State to inquire into the matter. The result was a more stringent enforcement of the Customs laws in Queensland, and the punishment of those who did wrong, without any detriment to those who did well. It is difficult indeed to estimate how much we lose by lax Customs administration. Let honorable members look at the figures before them. Even in Queensland, we .got an amount of £120 from one man for “conscience” money. What must have been the character of its administration there when that steal was executed by one individual ? Dishonest persons were under the impression that after the establishment of the Federation they would be able to continue their corrupt practices with immunity from punishment. To-day no such sense of immunity exists. It has been properly abolished, and I look to the House to sustain an administration which insists upon the law being observed, and will not sit silent while the public are defrauded. Ninety per cent, of our traders are, I believe, honest. But there are dishonest traders. Not only has the revenue been robbed, but the mercantile community have been robbed. How can business men be expected to successfully carry on operations against dishonest competitors 1 Of course, an importer may make an error which is unavoidable. Let that fact be established before a court, and the Executive can then deal with it.
– It cannot.
– The Executive can do as it chooses in regard to the cancellation of any fine. It is idle for importers to plead - “ We made a mistake.” It is their duty to avoid mistakes. When they have established the fact that an. error has been innocently made, it is time enough to apply the remedy. But negligence I hold is no excuse, particularly when it is exercised to the advantage of the person who is guilty of it, and to the disadvantage not only of the revenue but of his competitors in business. Time and again I have been assured by particular individuals that formerly they were subjected to dishonest and careless competition from which they they are now free. I do not require importers to be infallible, but I do ask them to be accurate upon two matters of importance. The department says to them - “Tell us the nature of the goods contained in that box which you are importing. You know all about them. If you have any doubt as to its contents open the box, and ascertain exactly what the goods consist of. Tell us their value. When you have done that you will have nothing to fear.” No prosecution has been undertaken consequent upon an error _ of judgment as to whether goods ought to be classed under one particular line of the Tariff or under another. All such proceedings have been founded on facts, which were well within the knowledge of the importer. Not a single case to the contrary has been cited. I came down to the House armed with full particulars relating to the last dozen prosecutions which have taken place in Victoria. I could tell the committee the class and character of each of them. In some cases I might refer to aggravating circumstances. As regards prosecutions in other places the same remark is equally applicable.
– What about the last nine or ten prosecutions in Sydnev 1
– I had intended not to refer to them, but when I am challenged - as I am now - I will deal with the last eight or nine.
– Have they been heard and decided 1
– Yes. Eight of the defendants pleaded guilty, but one, imagining that he had a complete defence to offer, fought the matter out. The facts in connexion with his case were as follow : - He sent to England an order for bottle-wrapping paper, which, under the Tariff, is dutiable at 15 per cent. When the paper arrived what did he do ? Did he enter it as bottle wrapping paper ? Nothing of the sort. He entered it as printing paper, which, as honorable members are aware, is admitted free. What do honorable members think of a matter of that sort ? Did the defendant know when he was ordering the goods what he was getting? Of course he did. Why then did this merchant not say what was the nature of the goods 1 The result was loss to the revenue and advantage to this defendant over his neighbours. Proceedings were taken, and the defendant swore that this paper was properly entered as printing paper. He occupies a respectable and responsible position, and is just the sort of person who, under such arguments as have been advanced, would never have been proceeded against by State Ministers, who were in the habit of settling matters within the secrecy of their own chambers. Experts were called in the case, and they swore that this was not printing paper, but bottle wrapping paper. Might the defendant not, at least, have given the country the benefit of the doubt 1 Did he think that the person from whom he bought the paper had cheated him by sending another sort?
– Is there an item of bottle wrapping paper in the Tariff?
– No ; but the defendant had only to tell us that it was bottle wrapping paper, and it would have come under the n.e.i. The court held that the defendant had not stated thefact when hecalled the pa.per printing paper, and he was fined £5 and costs. I had no wish to refer to these cases, and should not have done so but for the reference made by the honorable member for Parramatta. I can tell honorable members of another case which presents a ludicrous aspect. One gentleman imported some toy bagpipes and some kazoos; and, by the way, some of the latter were used last night to light up the darkness of a political meeting and generally make tilings merry. We can well imagine this defendant consulting the Tariff; and yet I suppose we must blame some poor clerk for making a “ clerical error.” The defendant, on looking at the Tariff, finds amongst the special exemptions, “musical instruments for the orchestra,” and he immediately applies that description to the toy bagpipes, which, as fancy goods, are liable to a duty of 25 per cent. The kazoos were treatedin the same way, and the foolishness went so far as the calling of evidence to prove that this instrument had once been used in a performance managed by Mr. J. C. Williamson. If such articles were used in a performance, I am inclined to think it must have been in the gallery.
– But only nominal fines were inflicted in all these cases.
-I think that these defendants ought to have been fined more heavily. Amongst the defendants in other cases was one who had previously been fined £250 in the secrecy of the Victorian Customs department, and I hope that no sympathy will be extended to a person who has been compelled to contribute that sum to the revenue in consequence of his eccentricities in the valuation. In another case flannelette, which is subject to 15 per cent., was put down as “cotton piece goods,” which are subject to a duty 5 per cent. This, no doubt, was the work of a miscreant clerk, who indulged in the falsity for the advantage of his employer, and to his own everlasting distress. Then, I may mention, as a little incident, the case of a double invoice, sent with the explanation that one invoice, which declared certain finished articles as being in the rough, was furnished “ for Customs purposes.” I have confined myself simply to the last dozen cases in Melbourne, and the last day’s performance in Sydney ; and I feel that if I am to blame it is for not formulating a stronger charge, in some instances, against those who did wrong: But I recognise the seriousness of the charge of fraud. The Act has drawn a broad distinction between fraud and offences in which there is no fraud; and I never care to unnecessarily take the more severe course. I have never suggesteda charge of fraud unless I felt it to be abundantly justified. All that is asked from importers is reasonable information as to the nature of the goods and their value. These particulars can easily be given, and where they are not given either from a desire to defraud or from want of care, it is my duty, as the Minister of the department, to send the case to court. If the court chooses to report any circumstances which justify the exerciseof the Executive prerogative of mercy, the Government can deal with any recommendation made ; but I have not, and will not, deal with cases in the way in which, for one excuse or another, they have been dealt with in the past in Ministerial bureaux, and some of them have been cases involving thousands of pounds, and years of continued fraud. The practice which I have adopted is one which has, at any rate, the merit of throwing the light of publicity on the proceedings. It establishes an example for the benefit of the community; it teaches wrong-doers to do wrong no further; and it declares, above all, that justice cannot be bought and paid for in Australia. Right and justice to their fellow-men, and justice to the revenue requires commercial men to be careful. I hold in ray hand a book, entitled Modem Business Methods : Import and Export Trade, by Frederick Hooper and James Graham. This is one of the best manuals of commerce ; it has been prepared by men whose names command respect ; and it is issued to some extent with the countenance of Chambers of Commerce of the highest class- In this book, on the subject of invoicing, we read -
This is an important matter in connexion with the exportation of goods. Correct invoicing is very necessary, not only to prevent difficulties between the merchant here (England), and his correspondent abroad, but also to prevent friction between the correspondent and the foreign Customs officials. In many cases the invoices have to be submitted to the Customs when the goods are imported, and in case of any discrepancy between the invoice and the goods there is certain -
Mark you - “ certain “ - to be a fine inflicted on the importer, which he, of course, claims from the merchant on this side.
This book was put into my hands by the Collector of Customs of New South Wales. I need not go further into the subject. This has been a very troublesome time to pass through ; but I feel that the storm of censure which broke on my head, and on head of the Government when the present system was initiated, has practically disappeared”. I believe sincerely that the action I have taken is appreciated and’ commended by Australia generally. My only object has been the good of the Commonwealth, and this system has been commenced with the sincere desire that it may be ‘sanctioned by long usage as the law of the land.
– I desire to make only two or three remarks, one of which is that this Chamber to-night has had an exhibition of the judicial temperament which presides over this department.
– The Minister is not, and should not be, a judge.
– I agree that it is better the Minister should not be a judge, particularly after what we have seen tonight.
– Nor should any other * Minister be a judge.
– It would be a calamity to this Commonwealth if such a temperament were found on the judgment seat. The Minister has shown himself to be incapable of exercising that calm, cool judgment which is required in cases of the kind to which reference has been made.
– That is a matter of opinion.
– Of course, and I take it that I have a right to express my opinion. It must not be forgotten that all those “scandalous” cases, were met by nominal fines.
– There may have been sympathy on the part of the magistrates.
– The honorable member for Bland has no right to make a suggestion of that sort unless he has some proof. It is a cheap sort of thing to say, particularly when he does not know.
– I know some of the magistrates.
– At any rate, the magistrates heard both sides of the cases, whereas honorable members have only heard one side. If the cases are as bad as the Minister attempts to make out, the only conclusion is that the magistrates are not fit for their positions. According to the Minister, there ought to have been the severest penalties if the magistrates had done their duty to the Commonwealth. But we must assume that the magistrates did do their duty. At any rate, they had the evidence before them, and did not, as this Chamber apparently does, come to a decision on ex parte statements made by an hysterical Minister. Both the magistrates and the Minister cannot be right, and it would appear that there ought to be some further investigation. We are told by the Minister that magistrates are not doing their duty.
– I did not say anything of the sort.
– It is practically a censure’ on the magistrates for the
Minister to say that the sentences ought to have been more severe.
– I did not say the magistrates were to blame.
– But that is the implication. I prefer to take the arbitrament of men who sit in cool, calm judgment and hear all the evidence.
– I know one magistrate who fined the P. and O. Company £o for the fourteenth offence in regard to deserting lascars.
– Ship-owners cannot prevent desertion.
– They should be compelled to prevent it, if they bring the blackfellows here.
– The honorable member ought to be a ship-owner.
– Are we to infer that the magistrates are wrong 1
– No ; but the honorable member contends that the magistrates are all right.
– Does the honorable member suggest that in these Customs cases there have been more shocking miscarriages of justice?
– No ; I do not.
– -I am not assuming that the merchants are always right, but I say that in nearly all the cases tried up to date only nominal fines have been inflicted.
– The honorable member is wrong there.
– In nearly all the cases tried in Sydney nominal fines were inflicted, and I cannot bring myself to believe that the magistrates were conniving at an improper state of things and letting off the perpetrators of these scandalous offences with nominal fines. It would be actually conniving at injustice.
– The honorable member says, when it suits him, that £5 is not a nominal penalty.
– I shall say no more with regard to the matter, merely repeating that I prefer to take the cases as adjudicated upon by the magistrates, and draw the inference, from the fact that only nominal fines have been inflicted, that the cases were not of the serious character which the Minister has led the committee to -believe. I prefer to believe that the Minister has come down with his cases ready. He has got some shocking cases out of the bundle and presented them as typical, of the whole.
– I brought down the last twelve cases for Victoria and the last day’s cases for New South Wales.
– My reply is that in all those cases in New South Wales only nominal fines have been’ inflicted. The Minister cites only the shocking cases, andthat is not fair.
– The honorable member asked me for particulars of the last cases that were tried.
– Unless the right honorable gentleman gives us the good cases as well as the bad, he has no right to expect us to judge him as. we otherwise should do. I believe that the Minister has very good intentions in this matter. Nohonorable member would accuse him of not doing what he believes to be his duty. I only say that his judgment is mistaken, andthat he ought to exercise some discretion and find out whether the cases are due to mistake or to a clear intention to defraud. Unless in the right honorable gentleman’s judgment it is. shown that there has been an intention to defraud, he ought to make some other investigation, with a view of ascertaining whether it cannot be proved that only mistakes have been made. If the full details show that only mistakes have occurred, it is not right to holdup a reputable trader before the courts of the continent to the extent that the Minister is doing. He may suppose that he is bringing about a more salutary state of things than has hitherto existed. That seems to be his mission. He tells us that he is a reformer, that he is a Customs missionary, and that he is departing from old time methods. I fancy that the sum total of the right honorable gentleman’s missionary efforts in this regard will not ultimately alter the trading practices of the continent verv much. Where he is trying to discover fraud, we can do nothing but applaud him ; but at the same time he must not expect us to applaud him vigorously and heartily when we see reputable traders hauled before the courts with the frequency which has occurred, and only fined nominal amounts, leaving the inference to be drawn that nothing of a serious character has occurred.
– I wish to say something on behalf of those who are clearly innocent traders. We have- heard a great deal of those who are guilty of fraud, and the chief cases brought forward by the Minister are cases of such unmistakable fraud, that in the prosecution of offenders .he will’ undoubtedly have the sympathy of most honorable members. Considering that this extraordinary Tariff has been brought into force in six States that have had different Tariffs in the past, and have pursued different practices, it is wonderful that in ‘the altered state of affairs the Minister cannot produce a greater number of cases, and cases of a more flagrant character, than he is able to produce ; and this shows that there is not anything like the amount of fraud existing in the mercantile community that he would have the committee believe.
– I purposely refrained, and I should not have mentioned any cases unless I had been challenged.
– The Minister has mentioned some cases, and he would not have mentioned them unless they suited his purpose. But I will go outside the cases he has mentioned, and say that the cases t have seen reported in the public press are not more numerous or of greater seriousness than we had reason to expect under the conditions of the altered Tariff, operating upon the whole of this Commonwealth, and under which £9,000,000 of money is being collected. The Minister has not proved that only 90 per cent, of traders are honest on the facts he has given. The number of prosecutions and convictions point to the fact that we have not got in this community the number of dishonest traders that the right honorable gentleman seems to impute to us. The mistake all through has been that the Minister has taken up this absurd stand. He repudiates the suggestion that he has no sympathy for the honest importer, but his own attitude on more than one occasion has led the mercantile community to believe that he is wanting in that sympathy and is only too eager to seize every occasion that arises in order to obtain convictions against them. But it is not the cases of fraud to which I wish to allude, and with regard to which I would pass any strictures upon the Minister. It is the 999 cases of absolute innocence to which I wish to allude. In those cases a great deal of trouble, annoyance, and expense has been inflicted on account of the severe administration of the Customs department, due to the Minister’s quixotic notions of the extraordinary duties demanded from him in order to carry out honestly the Tariff which the Commonmonwealth Parliament has imposed on the. people. Right throughout the whole of these States a very great amount of dissatisfaction does exist - a grave amount of dissatisfaction. It is of no use for the Minister to tell ns that this dissatisfaction has only been caused on the part of dishonest traders. It has been voiced almost unanimously in the various chambers of commerce and meetings of mercantile men throughout the whole-of the States; and I suppose that the Minister will not contend that only 90 out of 100 of the members of these bodies and meetings are honest men ?
– Who put it in that way?
– The Minister himself said that 90 per cent, of the traders were honest men, and that the complaints came from the 10 per cent, of dishonestmen. But the representatives of the mercantile classes in the chambers of commerce must be held to be an honest body of traders. They are just as desirous.. as the Minister himself of seeing anything like nefarious practices put down. They have discussed the various disabilities under which they labour, and the trouble, expense, and annoyance to which they have been put. In some cases they have even been put in the position of paying the duty on imports which they contended were duty free, in order to obtain the goods and carry on their own business, rather than fight the battle out with the Minister. I have known men, with whose position I am thoroughly well acquainted, who have admitted to me that their goods have been detained such a long time owing to some severe interpretation of the sections of the Customs Act, that they have paid the duty rather than be bothered any longer with the disabilities imposed on them. It is this friction, and the irritation to which the great body of traders of the community have had to submit, that has put the administration of the department by the Minister so much out of favour with the whole trading community. We all know, as has been admitted by the honorable member for Parramatta, that the right honorable gentleman is actuated by the very highest motives in this matter. But he does not take a commonsense or reasonable view of things ; he goes on the assumption that honest and perfectly incidental cases of mistake should be punished as though positive fraud had been committed. The Minister seems to impute that there should be no such thing as a mistake. He never seems to understand that the Customs officials themselves have made mistakes. I saw the other day in my own office an entry which had been put through for certain imported invalids’ food. That commodity, as almost every one in this committee knows, is free according to the Tariff. The goods were passed through the Customs, and duty was imposed upon them. The duty was paid by my Customs agent, and it was only when it came before me that I saw that a mistake had been made. This was a mistake made by the department, which punishes mistakes made by honest traders.
– Does the honorable member say that the duty was collected in that case?
– Yes, the duty was paid.
– I suppose the honorable member knows that it is only special preparations of invalid foods that are dutyfree?
– Many of the. so-called cases of fraud that the Minister has referred to have been created by the mistake we made in imposing duties on substances in accordance with the use to which they are put, and not an the substances per se. In the case which the Minister has mentioned in regard to bottle wrappers, an importer brought them in as printing paper, but it was, proved that they were really bottle wrappers, and that duty should have been paid. But I think it extremely probable that the importer may have been intending to have printing done upon those papers.
– That would not have made them printing paper.
– The matter opens up a discussion which we previously had in the committee.
– If a lady gets on to a cart horse, does that make it a lady’s hack ? If you put printing on ordinary brown paper does that make it printing paper ?
– I say that an honest man might import paper intending to use it for bottle-wrappers, and to print upon it in order that his own name, or the name of the substance in the bottles, might be placed on the outside. He might think that as he intended to print upon the paper he could call it printing paper. The point was raised, as I have said, when we were discussing the schedule to the Tariff.
– The honorable member is wrong in regard to invalids’ food. It is only special preparations of invalids’ food that are duty free.
– There again I contend that we made a mistake in framing the Tariff so as to make duty collectable upon any article according to the use to which it wasto be put. The honorable member for North Sydney urged that the duty should be levied on the substance per se. The clear intention of the committee was that invalids’ food was to be duty free, but now the Minister says that only special preparations are to be free. If that is the case it appears that Parliament has made a special regulation in favour of particular kinds of invalids’ food. Thepoint I am making is that the Tariff is of such an extraordinary character, and so different from the Tariffs to which we have been accustomed in many of the States, that these mistakes are extremely likely to occur, and that the Minister, in dealing with them, although actuated by the highest sense of duty, has gone to such extremes as to make the operation of the Tariff much more difficult and much more creative of friction than it otherwise would have been. There is no doubt that the Minister is responsible for the ill-will that has been displayed towards the Commonwealth on. account of the Tariff and its administration. I hope that he has heard sufficient in the discussion which has taken place to teach him a little more reason and common sense, and a little more knowledge of the fact that there arestill many honest merchants in this community, and that it is of no use trying to punish them in order to put down rogues. In clear cases of roguery and of nefarious practices in endeavouring to get in goods whilst escaping the payment of Customs duties, or to enter into unfair competition with other firms, I sympathize with the Minister in his action. But when it comes to little trumpery casesin which mistakes have been made, I think the Minister is wrong in going to such lengths as to prosecute the parties. To cite only one instance, I would point out the case in which a gentleman, who I understand is one of the Minister’s personal friends in South Australia, imported a little bottle of mustard-seed oil. The oil was made in the prisons of Calcutta, but the importer had no knowledge of that fact.
– The bottle was plastered with statements showing that it was a gaol product.
– But it is very probable that the importer did not know that goods made in Indian prisons are contraband. This gentleman imported the bottle of mustard-seed oil quite honestly, and was perfectly willing to pay any duty that might be charged upon it. He was told in effect, however - “ This is contraband. You shall not have it. It shall not be thrown into the sea, as you desire, but you shall be prosecuted.” He was prosecuted, and prosecuted in respect of an act for which, if it had occurred anywhere outside the administration of the Customs, he would have been allowed to go scot-free, because it was such an innocent mistake.
Vote agreed to.
Division 32 (Expenditure in New South Wales) - £66,883; Division 33 (Expenditure in Victoria) - £59,848: Division 34 (Expenditure in Queensland) - £60,799 ; Division 35 (Expenditure in South Australia) - £24,494, agreed to.
Division 36 (Expenditure in Western A ustral.ia)-£S0,290.
– In connexion with this division, I should like to remind the Minister of the matter to which reference has already been made by the honorable member for Fremantle, and which has also been brought under my notice. Three sheds have recently been erected at Fremantle, and by some arrangement it happens that frequently there is one tide waiter in charge of two or more shifts. I understand that the object of the arrangement is to avoid payment for overtime, but I think it will be seen by the Minister that in the case of two or more vessels discharging cargo, especially at night, it is an absolute necessity in the interests of revenue that there should be the requisite staff on the spot.
– I shall look into the matter. I will take this opportunity of saying to the honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, that as regards the question of forfeitures, I think that no doubt there is power to remit by Executive act.
– On several occasions the action of the Minister, in usurping power to tax ships stores on vessels which do not trade within Commonwealth waters has been brought under notice; but we have not yet obtained his decision on the question. There can be no gainsaying the fact that, in the opinion of the majority of honorable members it is not legal to tax ships’ stores on such vessels. It was not the intention of Parliament that they should be taxed ; and, while we give the Minister credit for his vigilance in guarding against frauds upon the Customs, it is high time that the Customs law should be administered as intended by Parliament. As the honorable member for South Sydney has pointed out, the irritation which is caused makes the action of the Minister very irksome to traders. I do not know than it was ever the desire of any one that people who are not represented in this Pais liament should be taxed by us.
– The honorable member refers to vessels which simply call at Australian ports and leave again.
– Yes, they call at our ports and leave again without trading in Commonwealth waters. It was the intention of Parliament that when such vessels commenced to trade along our coasts they should be required to pay duties upon ships’ stores just as have our own coastal vessels, but I do not think the law goes beyond that point. If it does, it is well’ that we should know of it, so that we may effect an amendment. I should like the Minister to give his absolute decision on the point.
Mr. GLYNN (South Australia)’.- I wish to call the attention of the Minister to a matter relating to ships which are not on any Colonial or British register, but which, apart altogether from completing a voyage from a foreign port, trade between Australian ports. There is a provision in the Imperial Customs Act that such ships are to be subjected to the same regulations in every respect as are those on the British register. I do not think there is any provision to that effect in any Australian Act,, but attention has been called to the matter in South Australia, and a motion has been tabled in the Legislative Council requesting the Federal Government to introduce the legislation necessary to assimilate the position here to that under the Imperial Act. I draw the attention of the Minister to the matter so that an examination of the subject may be made by him as early as possible.
– I am obliged to the honorable and learned member for the suggestion. The matter had escaped my notice, but I shall look into it. As to the question raised by the honorable member for Newcastle, I -would point out that, although, perhaps, we should have dealt with the question before there have been so many other engagements that we have not been able to do so. Our intention is to frame regulations at an early date in the direction suggested.
Mr. MAUGER (Melbourne Ports).Last year increments were provided for a number of weighers in the Customs department, and I believe that although cheques were actually drawn in respect of the increases, they were not paid. I wish to know whether any provision is likely to be made for these men, and why, as the department went so far, they did not complete the arrangements ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is that these men were given certain rights, but, according to the law officers of the Commonwealth, they are not entitled to these increments until they pass an examination. Provision will be made for the necessary examination, and, if they pass it, they will of course have a right to their increments.
– I wish to know whether the Minister has made any provision for granting sustenance or living allowances to Commonwealth officers employed in out of the way places, such, for example, as Northern Queensland and certain parts of Western Australia 1 If the Minister has made any provision for granting these allowances in the tropics, how far north will a man have to be stationed in order to be entitled to them?
– As the Minister for Trade and Customs appears to be in the humour to answer questions, I would remind him that the matter of the payment of duty on ships’ paints has frequently been brought under his notice, but that we have not ‘yet received any definite reply. All that I ask, on behalf of hundreds of men who will be thrown out of employment if the duty on ships’ paints is insisted on, is that he shall regard a dock as’ a bond, or grant a drawback in respect of paint used on ships in dock. He has done so in other cases, and why should he not do so in this ?
– I should like the Minister to give the committee some information in respect of the non-payment for overtime worked by the out-door hands in the Customs department. There are a large number of men engaged in each of the States as out-door officers, and on some occasions they have to work all night, and practically without notice, at the behest of the department. Until the control of the Customs was taken over by the Commonwealth, these men in the New South Wales department were paid for overtime, whether they worked at the instance of the Government or a private individual. The Minister, however, has introduced a new regulation by which they obtain nothing by way of payment for overtime, but are given a certain amount of leave if they work an excessive number of hours.
– The leave is almost hour for hour.
– The right honorable gentleman has surely heard something of the conditions applying to employes, whether in Australia or one might say, in any other part of the world, and he knows that it is never conceded by any fair employer that hour for hour is a fair return for overtime. After a man has done a full day’s work he is asked, without notice in some instances, towork overtime, to pay for his tea, although his -wife has already prepared his evening meal at home, and then in his tired condition to carry on for perhaps twelve or fourteen hours at a stretch in addition to his ordinary hours of employment. The Minister seems to be quite overjoyed to think that he has been liberal enough to give something approaching hour for hour for this overtime.
– Overtime should not be encouraged.
– I agree with the honorable member ; but when, men are compelled, to work overtime in these circumstances it is shameful to refuse to pay them anything for it. It is especially unjust when it is recollected that these men are not only at the loss of their own time at an inconvenient period, but are actually out of pocket. Out. of a scanty wage of about 7s. a day, they have to provide tea money, and supper money if they work late, and sometimes they have to pay for their own breakfast if they remain on duty all night. I do not know whether the Minister thinks that is proper, but I regard it as . a most improper thing. There seems to be a willingness always to give every consideration to the clerical staff, but to leave other employés without any chance of obtaining fair treatment. I trust the Minister will see the propriety of making some monetary allowance to these men when the Government insist upon their working overtime. I might say that the Minister does allow payment if the men go back to work at the instance of a private firm. The private firms pay the Government, and the Government in turn hand over the money to the employes; but I am referring particularly to cases in which men are compelled to go back at the instance of the department.
– Does the Government make that distinction?
– Yes. This is an innovation which has come into force since the control of the Customs was taken over by the Commonwealth.
– The honorable member does not expect them to get fair play, does he?
– I do, and I do not think it is yet too late for the Minister to redeem himself in this respect. If he persists in this practice a great number of people who have regarded him as a fair man will arrive at the conclusion that he is something the opposite of that. Surely he cannot reconcile the system with his own idea of what is right. It prevails in no other employ that I am aware of, and it is not right that the Government should initiate such a practice.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).- I hope that the Minister will also inquire into the Customs department generally with a, view to seeing the amount of sweated labour there is there. The right honorable gentleman has some knowledge already of the condition of things obtaining, and I look to him with great confidence to stop this sweating at the earliest moment. There are a number of young men who do not seem to be able to secure any advance in wages. Some of them, who have been in the department for eight, nine and ten years, are getting to-day only £52 a year, whilst others are getting £65, £70 and £80. When men who are handling money all day are being paid such salaries it occurs to me that they are under strong temptation to peculation. I know of one who is a clerk to the cashier, and he is handling money all day long. He has not had an advance in wages for five years.
There is nothing against him ; his reports are all good, but somehow or another he is stuck there. I know of another, one of the best hands in the office, who has been getting a salary of £52 ayear for years past and can get no advance.
– Is he over 21 years of age? If he is the Public Service Act will bring him up a little.
– Yes, it will ; but there are some other cases to which the Act will not apply. Where men who have the handling of money have arrived at years of maturity they should at least receive a sufficient salary to enable them to keep themselves. That is not the case in many of the instances to which I refer, and I confidently appeal to the Minister to rectify this state of things.
– As bearing upon this question I desire to draw the attention of the Minister to the necessity for a few more clerks at the busiest shipping ports of the Commonwealth. So far as the port with which I am connected is concerned it is impossible for shippers to get their entries passed on goods landed after two or three o’clock in the afternoon.
– Nor can they in Sydney.
– I have learned that that is the case also in Sydney. They have to discontinue unloading, or else allow their goods to remain on the wharf to be pilfered, possibly, during the night. It is disgraceful that such a state of affairs should be permitted to exist in order to avoid the employment of an extra clerk or two to enable entries to be passed within the prescribed hours. I do not say that any blame for this attaches to the officers at present employed. It is due to the fact that the offices are undermanned, and that those who are employed are unable to cope with the work they are called upon to do. I urge the Minister to look into the matter with a view to making some improvement in the existing condition of affairs.
– Replying first to the question of the honorable member for Herbert with respect to living allowances in the tropics, the matter is engaging the attention of the Public Service Commissioner, with a view to the adoption of a rule on the subject which will apply generally to the tropics. I hope that it will shortly be settled. It has generally been the practice to make an allowance to officers employed in the tropics, but the honorable member will understand that it is highly desirable, now that the States have federated, that a uniform practice should be adopted, and that will be brought about by the means I have indicated.With regard to what has fallen from the honorable member for Dalley, I must apologize to the honorable member as to the matter of paints. It is a difficult matter to deal with, but I hope to have it dealt with within the shortest possible time, on lines that will be considered satisfactory. On the subject of overtime, I do not know that at this moment overtime is being worked to any great extent. With regard to overtime worked in the past, which has not been remunerated either by payment or by allowance, and in respect of which any claim is made, we shall have it looked into.
– Is it a fair thing to give only an allowance of time to a man who has been put to expense in order to comply with the requirements of the office ?
– If expense is incurred that should be a matter for consideration. The officer should certainly not be subjected to a loss. The honorable member will agree with me that, generally, overtime is to be avoided, but those who have to work overtime should certainly be fully compensated. I hope to see the time when overtime will be avoided entirely, because I believe it to be a mischievous system.
– The question is what are we to do in the meantime?
– It is our intention, as regards the staff at Sydney and elsewhere, to make such provision as will avoid the necessityfor the working of overtime. Here I should like to say to the honorable member for Parramatta that I agree with him that there are a number of very hard cases - I think New South Wales is chiefly conspicuous in this respect - in which officers seem to have become stuck through no faultof their own. They have done good service, but have remained at ridiculously low salaries for the work they are called upon to perform.
– And yet, the Government are sending men across from here to those offices.
-The federal service is one-
– If men are sent from other places to the offices in New South
Wales, there will be little chance of promotion for the men who have been employed there.
– Everything has to be considered, and we cannot permit a man who has been receiving only £60 a year to take a place at £200 or £300 a year, positions which are not so frequent as one might desire. My attention has been called particularly to what I call the hard cases, of men who have been stuck through no fault of their own, and who are receiving salaries which are simply ridiculous, considered as emolument for the services of any one who has attained adult age. I have a list of them, and they would have been made provision for expressly on the Estimates, but it seems that in nine cases out of ten their position will be improved as soon as the section of the Public Service Act comes into operation, providing a certain salary for officers who have served a certain time. Cases which will not be affected by the Act will not be overlooked.
Mr. WATSON (Bland).- I should like to know from the Minister distinctly whether he intends to pay for overtime worked. I would remind the right honorable gentleman that this matter has been under consideration now for months. The right honorable gentleman has the reputation of being a man of decision, but he will lose that reputation if matters under his control are permitted to go on for months and months without any decision, and without those interested being able to get anything definite as to the conditions under which they are to work. It is a shameful state of affairs that the Minister should ask men who are receiving 7s. a day to spend as much as 3s. out of that in order that they may get food to sustain them while they are working overtime, without a penny of compensation being given them. They are merely offered some time off as compensation. That is not a state of affairs which the Commonwealth Parliament should allow to continue.
– Does the honorable member say that tea-money is not allowed ?
– I say that tea-money has not been allowed to these men, and I say, further, that they have had to pay for supper and breakfast as well. It must be remembered that these men have their meals prepared for them at home, but they get notice at the last moment that they must go on duty for the convenience of the Government, and though they receive a paltry wage of 7s. a day they get no compensation for the overtime worked. It is contemptible in the extreme to ask men to work under these conditions. The Minister should give us to understand definitely that the out-door and lower paid officers will be given more consideration in this respect than they have had in the past. I am convinced that if honorable members had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon this matter, apart from other issues, the great majority of them would admit that what I suggest is only fair. I know that the clerical officers of the department have had a hard time in Sydney for some months past, and they have been given tea-money and some time off, though not the full time to which they have been entitled, as compensation for overtime worked. It is to be hoped that, so far as the clerical staff is concerned, the Minister will supplement their numbers to such an extent as to allow of the work being completed within the specified office hours. But their hours are ordinarily much shorter than those worked by the men to whom I have specially referred. The officers in the clerical staff work from nine o’clock in the morning until half-past four in the afternoon, whilst the outdoor men must work eight hours each day before they are entitled to any overtime, and, as they are also lower paid men, their case merits greater consideration than that of the clerical staff. I trust that the Minister will say something on the subject a little more definite than whathe said a few moments ago. The statement the right honorable gentleman has made was merelyto the effect that these men have been allowed time off in the past, and he hoped there would be no necessity for them to work overtime in the future. I say that, without over-manning the outdoor staff, it is impossible to avoid some overtime work. I quite agree that it should be minimized to the greatest possible extent. None of us desire to see men working too long hours, even if they are paid extra for it. But in the case of these men some overtime work is inevitable, and the Minister might revise the regulations previously existing in New South Wales, under which men working overtime, either for the Government or for private individuals, were paid for the overtime worked. I express no opinion as to the rate of payment.
The rate previously paid may have been too high, or it may not, but that there should be some payment for overtime there can be no doubt. I am sure that a majority of honorable members will be prepared to admit that this is a proper plan, and to insist that it shall be observed.
– As regards the question of payment for overtime as overtime, it must be remembered that the arrangements hitherto existing have not been of that character.
– They were in New South Wales.
– But the systems were assimilated as soon as federation took place, and, of course, it would be impossible to justify the adoption of one practice in one State and a different practice in another. I feel that it is quite unfair that a man working overtime should be at any expense whatever in providing meals. As a rule, tea-money only is provided, but the honorable member for Bland suggests that the men may require to have a further meal.
– Men working all night require tea, supper, and breakfast.
– I think it is proper that when men are working overtime they should be allowed payment for their meals, and I shall allow it.
– What about extra clerical assistance where required?
– It will be supplied where required. In the case of Newcastle, recognising the importance of the port, I have arranged to send an officer there of considerable experience and standing, and to provide the clerical assistance which is necessary.
– The right honorable gentleman is sending men from other States there.
– I contemplate appointing to the comptrollership of Newcastle a gentleman from New South Wales who has lately been in my own office, a man much senior to any local officer who might be an applicant for the position.
– What about the two messengers whose case I brought under notice ?
– I think that they are provided for in the Estimates, and if not they will be provided for under the rule, for theirs is a very hard case.
Vote agreed to.
Division 37 (Expenditure in Tasmania) -£9,675.
Mr. BAMFORD (Herbert).- I am sure that the committee, as well as the country generally, is very much interested in the success of our legislation in regard to the growth of sugar with white labour. I take this opportunity of speaking on the subject, because, so far as Queensland is concerned, my speech will obtain a great deal more publicity than if it appeared in any of the newspapers, either local or otherwise. Some time ago there appeared in the Age, a letter on the subject from Mr. 0. C. Chambers, in which he implied that white labour in the cane fields is an utter failure. I desire to put the other side of the case. There are a great many persons who being interested in sugar-growing do not wish to see white labour a success. They have no sympathy with our legislation, and their aim is that it should be a failure. I have in my hand some extracts from northern newspapers, and also letters which I have received from private correspondents. It has taken some time to get a refutation of the statements made by Mr. Chambers in his letter, and consequently I could not raise the question at an earlier period. He said, amongst other things, that the mills could not be kept going with small quantities of cane - that they required a great quantity of cane daily to keep them going, and that it was utterly impossible that they could be supplied by the users of white labour. As a matter of fact, there area number qf mills in the Mackay district, from which he wrote, which are supplied almost entirely by small growers. In that particular locality there are five central mills, which are entirely supplied by small settlers. In fact, the central mills were erected for the express purpose of giving the small grower an outlet for his cane. A mill is supplied by a number of small growers, each grower bringing in a small lot every day. At most of the mills there is a cane inspector, who goes round and judges when the cane is fit for crushing ; and as soon as it is fit for crushing he gives notice to the farmer, and so much as is ready to be cut is then cut and carted to the mill. As regards the cutting of cane by white men, I propose to read a few extracts from local ! newspapers. The Mackay Chronicle wrote on the 20th August as follows : -
There comes from Plane Creek the news that two local young men are getting 3s. per ton for cutting and loading, and are making over £2 per week each, clear. In fact, their last week’s tally was 38 tons, which works out at £2 1 7s. each.
Plane Creek is in the same district as Homebush, from which Mr. Chambers wrote. In his letter he said that he offered 5s., and even as high as 6s., if my memory serves me aright, for cutting ; but that he could not get it done, whereas these men are doing the work at 3s. The Federal, which is published at Townsville, had the following statement in its issue of. 30th August : -
The gang of white cane cutters at Halifax finished their contract early this week. They were eleven in number, and have proved beyond a doubt that the work of cutting and loading cane is congenial to, and can be performed easily by white men. They were receiving 4s. per ton, and averaged from 2 to 2J tons per day, occasionally when in heavy cane doing over 3 tons in a day. There are also excellent reports of the white cane cutters’ working near Ingham.
Halifax and Ingham are on the Herbert river, one of the hottest portions ‘of the cane-growing area. The Trinity Times, published at Cairns, wrote on the 27th August as follows : -
The Hambledon cane gang informs us that they received every assistance from the C.S.R. Company during the performance of their contract. Taking in the time occupied in trashing and putting in the good with the bad patches of cane, the gang made just upon navying wages for the whole time they were occupied, although it was only a 12-ton crop. The men are perfectlysatisfied that among 15 or 20 ton crops they could easily make far higher wages than at any equal work.
In the issue of the Federal for the 23rd August, Mr. A. Humphries, a cane-cutter, gives his personal experience in. these terms -
I never handled a cane-knife before ; but after a few da3’S I was willing to cut cane with any kanaka that ever saw daylight. I consider this six weeks’ cane-cutting as the easiest employment I have had for years. Having been navying bullock-driving, &c, I should be able to give an unbiased opinion.
Mr. Humphries writes from Kalamia on the Lower Burdekin, where his gang were employed by a Mr. G. Campbell, and states that they are looking for other work of. the same sort. “ In that district, I am sorry to say, there were very few growers who registered ; but evidently there were some. Mr. R. M. Shannon, who grows cane in a comparatively large way, has written to me from Mackay in these terms -
I have seventeen white cutters, and my work has gone along with greater despatch than usual.
The Sunnyside correspondent of the Mackay Chronicle writes as follows : -
I have just had a visit from one of the cane cutters in a white gang here telling me to call attention to the rumour in the press that all the white gangs at Homebush had broken up. This he tells me is not true. We have our gang here sticking to it well and making good wages. They are cutting Mr. Dymond’s cane at present.
These extracts are representative of many others which I could quote if it were necessary. I may remark parenthetically that at Port Douglas, the most northern locality at which cane is grown in Queensland, white cutters have been very successfully employed. The distance from Plane Creek to Port Douglas is, I think, over 450 miles. Port Douglas is well up in the tropics. I suppose it lies between 15 degrees and 15£ degrees south. Between those points there are a great many sugar-growing areas, and in each case the experiment has proved successful. Mr. Chambers further states in his letter that after the gangs had left the work he could get no other men to undertake it. I am credibly informed that at the time when he wrote the roads around Mackay were literally alive with men seeking work. It is a very remarkable thing that if others were so fortunate as to get men, he could not. On the 21st August - which is a little later than the time when he said that he could not get gangs, that several gangs had been disbanded, and would not re-form - there were thirteen gangs, aggregating in all 59 men cutting cane by contract, and four gangs, with fifteen men in all, cutting on weekly wages at Homebush. Two gangs only had disbanded up to that date - that of Mr. Chambers, fifteen men, being one, and that of Mr. Winser, five men, being the other. J. can inform the committee that the statement regarding the men working at Homebush at that particular date is absolutely correct. In face of these reports in the press and the opinions of the cane-cutters, the statement made by the Premier of Queensland that men could not make more than 15s. per week at cane-cutting will not establish his reputation for sincerity, because here is proof that men were making £2 ] 7s. each, some of them earning more than that amount. In a letter wl ich Mr. Shannon sent to me, he says : -
Federation and federal legislation are doing a great deal of direct good to the sugar industry. White Australia is all right, keep right ahead with it. 46 ti
Mr. Shannon is a comparatively large sugargrower within a few miles of Homebush, from which Mr. Chambers wrote. It may be remembered that when the legislation in regard to coloured labour was initiated, Mr. Philp wrote to the Prime Minister asking him if we would guarantee the cost of two mills, one on Johnstone River and one on the Russell River.
– He had been asked bv a deputation to do so, and he said - “ Go to the Federal Government.”
– He, as it were, asked the Commonwealth Government to carry the baby, but the request was declined. In 1S96, the Johnstone River selectors had a distinct promise from the present Premier that a mill would be erected in their district and another on the Russell River ; but after the passing of the Pacific Island Labourers Act, he declined to fulfil the promise, on the ground th.it the outlook for the sugar industry was so black that he was not justified in spending any more money upon the erection of mills. The selectors of those districts are again taking steps to induce the Queensland Government to erect mills, and it is a significant fact that a meeting recently held at Cairns with that object was presided over by a Mr. Draper, I believe, the present mayor of the town, and a man who has always strenuously maintained that white labour could not do the work which has to be done in the canefields. At that meeting a resolution was carried, nem. con., of which this is the concluding portion -
We are thoroughly satisfied that under the altered conditions brought about by federation, mills in this district would be highly payable, and their erection would be of immense benefit to this district in particular, as well as to the whole State of Queensland.
– Would the selectors in the district have to pay for the mills they wish the Government to erect ?
– If the mills were erected, they would have to mortgage their land to the Government, and would therefore lose all they had if the investment failed. But, notwithstanding what has been said by the Premier of Queensland and some of his Ministers, these people are quite willing to go on growing sugar under the a! tered conditions brought about by federation.
– Was the meeting to which the honorable member has referred one which any one could attend ?
– Yes, a public meeting held in compliance with an advertisement inviting the whole population to be present. Cairns is 400 miles north of Mackay, and Port Douglas is 50 or 60 miles beyond Cairns. Mr. Shannon, whom I have already quoted, says, in a private letter to me, that men were so plentiful at the time that he could not find work for all who offered themselves, and had to put up a notice to the effect that he was fully supplied. In the face of facts such as these, the allegation that white labour in the cane fields is a conspicuous failure is proved to be an absolute contravention of the truth. I thank the committee for having given me the opportunity of making this statement.
Sir JOHN QUICK (Bendigo). - A few days ago, in an interview published by the Argus, the Premier of Queensland was reported to have said -
The anti-kanaka legislation of the Federal Parliament is inflicting serious injury upon the sugar industry, and what between the drought and ill-considered legislation, Queensland is indeed in a bad way. Some planters at Geraldton have been making a sincere attempt to get their work done by white labour. They notified that 5s. per ton would be paid for treating 1,000 acres of cane ; but they succeeded in getting only 33 acres cut, and the men only made 15s. per week apiece at the work .
The address just delivered by the honorable member for Herbert is a most valuable contribution to this important question, and the facts which he has submitted go a long way to refute the statements of the Premier of Queensland, and to justify the action of this Parliament in passing the legislation which he is denouncing, and because of which he has endeavoured to promote the disruption of the Union. It is to be deplored that a gentleman in the position of a Minister of the Crown should endeavour to damage our federal institutions, when information such as that which has just been placed before the committee by the honorable member for Herbert was at his disposal. I hope that the speech of the honorable member for Herbert will not be suppressed, but will be published far and wide, especially in Queensland, so that the misleading statements made by thePremier of that State in order to damage the Commonwealth Government, if not the Union itself, will be refuted, and the public will be placed in possession of the real facts of the case.
Vote agreed to.
Postmaster General’s Department.
Division 159 (Central Staff)- £4,904, agreed to.
Division 1 60 (Expenditure in New South Wales)- £786,896.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to a fact which I brought under notice when the Estimates were last being considered. In the first place, the Comptroller of Stores in Victoria, whose salary last year was put down at £440 per annum, is being given a salary of £460 per annum, from the 27th December next - an increase of £20. In the second place, the clerk in charge of Stores in New South Wales, who performs exactly similar duties, receives only £320 per annum. It seems to me that it would be only fair if the two officers received at least the same salary, supposing that the stores over which they have control are of about the same value ; but, as a matter of fact, New South Wales being the larger State, requires a much greater quantity of stores than is required in Victoria. I know that the Minister will say he cannot regulate these salaries, but I should like him to make some statement which will serve as a direction to the Public Service Commissioner in. regard to the matter.
– I should like to know why the relatives of deceased officials, for whom gratuities appear upon these Estimates, have not already received the amounts due to them?
– The gratuities are not legal liabilities, and can be paid by the Commonwealth only with the consent of the States.
– Has it taken twelve months to obtain that consent?
– Consent has been obtained for those on these Estimates.
– The gratuities will be paid directly the Estimates are passed.
– I have also something to say in regard to the slowness of the department in connexion with the extension of the telephone system. I have brought under the notice of the Minister several instances in which extensions could be made which would pay from the start, but in each case I have received the reply that no funds are available for the work. It is a shortsighted policy not to construct such lines. They could very well be paid for out of revenue. It may be necessary to raise loans for the construction of very large works, but small connexions between suburbs, or to bring an outlying district into communication with a main centre of population, might very well be paid for out of revenue, especially when it is obvious that they would pay from the start. We had a sufficiently large surplus upon last year’s transactions to carry out these works, if we had kept as much as we were entitled to keep. The present short-sighted policy of the department cannot be allowed to continue much longer. These works will have to be constructed to meet the requirements of the public. The Minister should be prepared to undertake the construction of telegraph and telephone lines where there is a prospect of deriving a profit from the beginning.
– The honorable member for Dalley has supplied the answer to this question by calling attention to the fact that the relative value of the services of the officers to whom he referred will have to be determined by the Public Service Commissioner at an early date. With regard to the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Newcastle, I may mention that there is now being printed a revised list of the public works which are to be constructed out of the revenue for the current year. The honorable member will find that the telegraph and telephone extensions to which he has referred are included in this list of works, and that they will shortly be constructed.
Mr. WILKS (Dalley). - I am quite satisfied with the reply made by the Minister. In connexion with the same division, however, I find that there are 502 employes in the letter-carriers’ department in New South Wales who receive salaries amounting in all to £54,000. In the letter-carriers’ room at the Victorian General Post-office the total number of employes is 245, and the salaries paid aggregate £30,000. There seems to be an inequality in this case, which should be explained.
– And yet the Victorian officers are complaining because they are not placed in the same position as are those in New South Wales. There may be a large number of juniors in the New South Wales service.
– Still there are more than twice as many letter-carriers employed in Sydney as in Melbourne, whilst the expenditure is not nearly so great in proportion. I find, further, that New South Wales is satisfied with one overseer of letter-carriers who receives the princely salary of £160 per annum, whereas in Victoria, with less than half the number of employes to control, they have one supervisor at £336 per annum and an assistant supervisor at £252 per annum. I am not arguing that the Victorian service is overmanned, but I think that this matter should engage the immediate attention of the Public Service Commissioner. It is no wonder that the Public Service of the Commonwealth is disorganized whilst these incongruities exist.
Vote agreed to.
Division 161 (Expenditure in Victoria) - £552,332.
– The charwomen engaged in the Melbourne General Postoffice complain that although they have been in the service for as long as 23 years in some cases, they are still classified as temporary employes. I brought this matter under notice when the last Estimates were before us, but I have not heard that the grievance has been remedied. These women are anxious to be placed on exactly the same footing as officers occupying similar positions in other States. They think that if the employes who are engaged in cleaning post-offices in other States enjoy the status of permanent officers they should be placed in the same position, so that they cannot be turned off at a moment’s notice. In this and other respects it is desirable that uniformity should be brought about in all the States as soon as possible. I understand that the Public Service Commissioner has not yet been able to frame all the regulations necessary, but I hope that the work will be pushed on as quickly as possible. As the Treasurer is aware a case is pending in the Victorian law, courts, which may involve the Commonwealth in an additional expenditure of £30,000 a year for the payment of increments to officers under clause 19, Act 1721. I understand that he has provided for this in the Estimates.
– No. I have not provided for it, but I have promised that the increments shall be paid.
– Eight thousand nine hundred pounds are provided for increments to officers in New South Wales, but I do not see any similar provision in the Victorian Estimates.
– The Victorian increments are added to the individual salaries, but in the New South Wales Estimates the increments are provided for in a lump sum, because there was no time to apportion them.
– I am pleased that the Estimates are presented to us in a much clearer form now than they were last year, and I hope to see a still further improvement. Do I understand from the Treasurer that it will not be necessary to pass further Estimates to provide for the payment of increments in the event of the case now pending being decided against the Government ?
– If it is shown that the officers are entitled to the increments involved in the present action, I shall do the best lean to pay them out of the Treasurer’s advance account. I have asked for a large vote in order to meet these and similar cases.
– I am glad that the Treasurer has provided for the payment out of his advance account of the increments necessary to carry out the minimum wage provisions of the Public Service Act from the 1st July, that is the beginning of the present financial year.
Vote agreed to.
Division 162 (Expenditure in Queensland) £399,818.
– The amount which it is proposed to pay the Queensland Railway Commissioner for %the carriage of mails - £-50,000 - appears to be very large. I have been trying to ascertain the amounts paid to the Railway Commissioners in other States for similar services.
– In Victoria £65,000 is paid, and in New South Wales I think ±”70,000. The amount named is paid to the Railway Commissioner of Queensland under an agreement entered into between the railway and post-office authorities in that State.
– And £10,000 was added to the amount just before federation was accomplished.
– I think that this is a matter which should be prominently brought under the public attention, becau’se the increase of the amount, in the manner mentioned by the honorable member for Maranoa, makes the Post-office department appear worse off to that extent, and places the Railway department in a better light ; whilst the people of Queensland do not benefit to the extent of one penny. There has been a great deal of manipulation of the Queensland finances by the State Government in connexion with this and other transferred departments - as I shall show when the Defence estimates come under discussion - and I think that it is necessary, in view of the complaints regarding the increased cost of the transferred departments, that the whole of the facts should be laid bare. The sum paid to the Queensland Railway Commissioner for the conveyance of mails is altogether out of proportion to the amounts charged for similar services in other States. I am quite aware that Queensland has a large territory with a scattered population, but there must be a difference of more than £20,000 in the cost- of carrying mails in Queensland and in New South Wales, the latter State having a population three times as great as that of Queensland. ‘ It would have been much better for the people of Queensland if that £10,000 surcharge had been spent in providing them with facilities in the way of telegraph and ‘ telephone lines and new mail services.
– It is impossible to get any new services unless the department is guaranteed against loss.
– I am aware of that fact. To ra)’ mind, it is exceedingly unfortunate that whenever people approach the department with a request for increased postal or telegraphic facilities, they are met with the objection that no funds are available for the purpose. I think that we might very well economize in other directions to enable us to provide these facilities, particularly in sparsely populated districts.
– I should like to direct the attention of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General to item No. 18, which reads - “ Allowances to to non-official postmasters, receiving office keepers, <fcc., and to provide for the opening of new non-official post-offices, receiving offices, ttc, £9,300.” I desire to be informed of the pOlicy of the department in respect of these non-official post-offices. Is it intended. with a view to bringing about a uniform system, to reduce to any considerable degree offices in New South Wales which have hitherto been classed as “official” post-offices, and to make them “ non-official “ post-offices. I know that at the present time a proposal to adopt that course in regard to a post-office in my own electorate is occupying the consideration of the Postmaster-General. I refer to Alectown, which was formerly a mining centre, and where for several years a post and telegraph office lias been maintained. Upon the grounds of economy,! understand that it is now proposed to reduce the status of that office from an “ official “ post-office to a “non-official “ one. As soon as this fact became known, certain representations were made to me by the residents. I instituted inquiries at the Postal department, and was led to believe that no further steps would be taken in that direction. Subsequent inquiries, however, revealed that the Sydney Postal department had committed the Government to the complete change of system which is now contemplated. As soon as I informed the people of the Ministerial intention, they held a meeting to consider the position, adopted certain resolutions which were forwarded to the Postmaster-General, together with a petition signed by a large number of the inhabitants. Since then I have learned that the department has entered into arrangements with a local storekeeper to erect new premises; and has appointed him - some time in advance of the termination of the present contract - to the position of nonofficial postmaster. I am informed that this action has been taken with a view of bringing about the adoption of a uniform system. Personally, I think it would be a great mistake to withdraw facilities of this character from the community. I may’ inform honorable members that Alectown does not partake of the “ mushroom “ growth which characterizes many other mining centres. It is surrounded by country which is admirably adapted to agricultural pursuits. Indeed, it is the agricultural population which now maintains it. During the past fifteen years a considerable area of Crown lands in its immediate vicinity has been held under pastoral lease, and has thus been closed against settlement. These leases have now expired, and it is quite open to the Minister for Lands to make them available, for closer settlement. Indeed, it is only the severity of the prevalent drought that has caused him to decline to sanction their withdrawal from pastoral occupation at present. As soon as the drought breaks up, and better conditions obtain, no doubt they will be thrown open for closer settlement. Some fifteen or eighteen months ago a similar proposal to that which is now entertained, was under the consideration of the State Postal department. Indeed, the State Ministry had approved of the reduction of the status of the post-office at Alectown upon the same lines that are now proposed. Subsequently, however, the Commonwealth Attorney-General visited the town in connexion with the federal campaign, and he was so impressed with the possibilities of the district that he communicated with the State Postmaster-General upon the matter, with the result that the arrangements which had been entered into were immediately cancelled, and the post-office was allowed to maintain its former status. The cancellation of those arrangements involved the payment of compensation to the storekeeper who had been appointed as non-official postmaster. Seeing that it was deemed wise to reverse the decision of the State Post and Telegraph department at that time, surely it is rather premature for the Commonwealth to adopt the plan which was originally proposed. People of the district naturally feel indignant at the treatment which has been accorded to them. I should like to know to what extent this reduction on the plea of uniformity is likely to effect the privileges possessed by residents of New South Wales prior to entering federation ?
– The honorable member for Canobolas deserves credit for having drawn attention to this matter, but I certainly do not agree with the conclusion at which he has arrived. I hope the Postmaster-General will persevere with the abolition of official offices where these do not pay expenses, and hand over the business ‘ to storekeepers and others, who can carry it on at a moderate cost, and thus conduce to the economical management of the department. I have never heard anything more preposterous than the suggestion made by the honorable member for Canobolas, who, if I understand him correctly, wants the department to adhere to a course of action taken at the instance of a person who was a candidate for the Federal Parliament, and who was soliciting the votes of the people in the district affected by the change. That has been openly avowed by the honorable member, thus showing that the representations made by the candidate were interested, and that he presumably had sufficient influence with the local Government to induce them to take his view of the situation. This matter of unofficial as against official post-offices is very important to the State of Western Australia, and, in my opinion, the policy pursued by the department is a proper one. It is not pleasant for an unfortunate official to be located at some far-distant inland station, where the receipts maybe only from £50 to £100 a year. He is chained up in a locality where there is no congenial society or recreation, at a loss to the department. It is, therefore, far better to allow the storekeepers to run the post-offices, as is extensively done in Victoria. If this system has worked well in the State which I have just mentioned, why should it not work well also in the State of New South Wales? Honorable members must not overlook the fact that if the postal department is to pay its way, and facilities are to be given in the interior of the continent, the funds must not be loaded down with unpayable offices. We expect the mails to run into the remotest portions of Australia, and that cannot be done if officials are kept at offices at salaries which the revenue earned does not cover. I shall have something to say on this matter when the Estimates of Western Australia come before us. But I cannot help now expressing my disapproval of a suggestion which the honorable member for Canobolas has made, and repudiating his remarks as to the mushroom character of mining townships. What about the mushroom character of some of the townships in the desert portions of Queensland and New South Wales which are dependent upon the squatters, and which are just as liable to fluctuation? A distinct injustice is being done to the mining community by the facilities given in the more settled portions of Western Australia, which enjoy post-offices with highly-salaried officials, when a greater volume of correspondence has to be contended with in mining townships by men paid £10 to £12 a year. Only the other day I referred to a case in which the department had actually offered a man £6 a year at an important mining centre, where, according to the representation made, nearly20,000 letters passed through the post-office annually. If the same volume of correspondence passed through an office on the coast, there would probably be an official with a salary of £100 to £150 per annum. The department did stretch a point, and offered the man in charge at the mining township the magnificent sum of £12 a year to do the work, although all commodities there are at famine prices, even a glass of been costing1s. I hope the committee will not follow the advice of the honorable member for Canobolas, but will approve of the policy of the Postmaster-General in extending the system of unofficial post-offices. I do not say that there may not be some objection to these unofficial offices, but if the whole of the interior of Australia has to enjoy the advantages which we all expect and desire in the matter of postal communication, every effort must be made to keep down expenses, and so maintain the service which at present exists.
– I did not hear the early part of the speech of the honorable member for Canobolas, but I was very glad to hear a portion of his remarks, if only because they afford me an opportunity of expostulating against the opinions he expressed. I may not be able to reply to the honorable member for Canobolas in the happy terms used by the last speaker, who made one of the most practical and common-sense speeches I have yet heard on the question of postal facilities in the interior. I have had a large experience in this matter, and I am quite satisfied that we have men in the Post and Telegraph department who will take care to carry out the reforms which are so necessary. There is no doubt that official buildings and appointments ought to be minimized in many hamlets, and also other places which do not even deserve the latter description. I know of a post-office that was built within the last few years at a cost of £3,000, and fully equipped, though the population within a radius of 10 miles is less that 500. I know of another post-office which cost probably a little more, putting aside the value of the land. There is a fine brick build ing in the Gothic style of architecture, and the architect’s fees, not considering the remuneration of the inspector of works, would be sufficient to.supply a post-office to the village for the next 25 years.But the contract price and other expenses had to be paid, all, as usual, being taken out of loan moneys. As to the carriage of mails,I remember once arranging with Cobb and Co. to cancel a contract which involved some hundreds of pounds. One item was, in round figures, £500, and the total revenue per annum was £5 3s. 6d., crediting every letter from England or Russia. In London I saw a population of 100,000 in one of the best neighbourhoods served, in two grocers’ shops, used as telegraph, telephone, and post-offices by two girls and a man, to whom the British Postal department paid a certain price for providing most excellent facilities. These are a few facts which I wish honorable members to remember. Unless the expenditure is reduced to the most modest dimensions we cannot, as the honorable member for Coolgardie has pointed out, provide necessary conveniences in the backblocks. Money ought not to be squandered on official appointments and buildings in alleged townships which consist mainly of a blacksmith’s shop and probably a lock-up. We should cease to appoint officials who have practically nothing to do and cannot live in comfort at their stations on a reasonable salary. I hope the time is not far distant when the PostmasterGeneral will try to make the department what it is in England and- some other countries, such as America. In Australia we can send for 2s. 6d. a telegram which in America would cost 15s. We have the cheapest telegraph rates in the world, but we must not forget that it may be possible to have them too cheap. I remember quite well that when local postage was reduced from 4d. to 2d. it nearly wrecked the finances of all the colonies. In two of the colonies at least the change was brought about for electioneering purposes. The Post and Telegraph department ought to be worked neither at a loss nor at a great profit in a new country. We know, however, that millions of profit are realized out of the postal service in England, Germany and elsewhere, and surely some attempt should be made to stop the flagrant disbursements to which the last speaker referred in terms which, while courteous, were’ strong, and must bring conviction to those who desire good service for honest payment.
Mr. BROWN (Canobolas).- I spoke before merely in order to elicit from the honorable member representing the PostmasterGeneral what the policy is to be, and to what extent, if any, it will affect existing interests in New South Wales, quoting Alectown as an instance in point. As the outcome of my remarks the honorable member for
Coolgardie made a short address, and caused it to appear as if I had stated that the alteration was improperly brought about for the purpose of securing political advantages.. I made no statement of that character, and’ what the honorable member stated was pure, inference. I am fighting with him to secure advantages for mining centres, and not. only that, but to retain advantages which the Government have seen fit to give to such’ centres. Because population has decreased; in a certain place owing to the falling off in mining, it does not follow that that population has permanently left. A number of mining places in New South Wales have gone through the same experience, and. further discoveries on the same field may lead to an increased population. I would, point oat also that this field is not dependent entirely upon mining resources.-. There is also a splendid agricultural district in the vicinity, and it is quite within the limits of possibility that even if the mining were exhausted the agricultural interests would be great enough to maintain” the town and probably lead to an increased’ population. As it appears that the honor. able member for Coolgardie has misinter preted my meaning, I wish to quote some resolutions which have been sent to” me for transmission to the Postmaster’ General. These resolutions were passed at a meeting held at Alectown on the 13th September, 1902, Mr. John Crawford, J.P.,’ presiding. They are as follow : -
I have also presented a petition to the same effect, signed by a considerable number of people. I do not wish it to be understood that Ia m not thoroughly in sympathy with the policy of the department to make the expenditure and the income balance, but in a case like this, where a privilege has been granted, but where the revenue has temporarily fallen off, and there are reasonable grounds for hoping that in the near future the population will increase, it is a very unwise policy to withdraw existing facilities unless the department is thoroughly satisfied that the district has gone back to such an extent that there is no hope of it regaining its old position. I do not think that the department can contend that that is the case in respect to this district. I merely want to retain for a mining centre the privileges it has hitherto had, and I hoped, in making that fight, that I should have the sympathy of those who, like the honorable member for Coolgardie, know what mining interests are, and what fluctuations mining centres are subject to.
-I hope the committee will not be led away by the remarks of the honorable member for Coolgardie to think ing that postal facilities have been withdrawn from this district. I know the township to which the honorable member referred. It had been found necessary prior to federation, by the State PostmasterGeneral, to recommend that the office there should be reduced from an official to a nonofficial office. The total revenue has lately fallen to £81, and there is nothing to show that the district cannot be as well served by a non-official office as by a permanent officer resident there. It is very certain that under section 21 of the Public Service Act the Postmaster - General will have to ask whether he should continue to pay £110 a year for the services of an official at a place where the revenue only amounts to £81, particularly considering that that revenue a few years ago amounted to £112. The honorable member for Canobolas may rest assured that when the large pastoral areas to which he has referred become agricultural areas - and I hope that will be in the near future - if the revenue increases the Postmaster-General will be happy to restore the official office.
Vote agreed to.
Division 163 (Expenditure in South Australia) £232,473.
Mr. BATCHELOR (South Australia).I have been trying to unravel the South Australian Estimates, but have got into a fog.
– We were asked to keep the figures for the Northern Territory separately from those for South Australia.
– That is a wise plan, and we shall understand it when we get used to it, but I wish the Treasurer had seen his way clear to show the figures both separately and together this time.
– The Estimates are very big as it is.
– I admit that the Treasurer has given us ample estimates, but since the Treasurer of South Australia has been speaking about the great falling off of revenue on account of the South Australian post-office and the tremendous increase of the expenditure, I have been trying to find out how that increase arises. The total set down for 1901-2 was £226,109. The amount has increased to £231,473, a total increase of about £6,000. So far as the number of employes is concerned, comparing the number last year with the number shown in these Estimates for South Australia proper and the Northern Territory, I can find a decrease of only fourteen: That is not a remarkable difference. Probably the saving on the reduced number of employes would be from £1,800 to £2,000. The difficulty is to find out exactly where the increased expenditure has taken place. I believe that the increases are not much more than are rendered necessary by the South Australian Acts and departmental customs.
– There are additional hands employed both in the postal, the telegraphic, and the electrician’s offices.
– The Estimates show the reverse.
– I have taken a note of the matter, and shall inquire into it.
– I hope the Minister will make a note of this apparent discrepancy between his own statement and that which appears in the Estimates. I notice that according to the Estimates the increases in Victoria amount only to about £10,000.
– The men obtained increases last year, and further increases do not fall due until next year. We are fortunate in having to provide only a very small sum for increases this year.
– Even in New South Wales the proportion of the increase is not nearly so great as in South Australia. It may arise from contingencies which may not be recurring. As this year’s estimates for the Northern Territory have been separated, whilst those for last year were bunched together, it is quite impossible to pick out each particular item.
Vote agreed to.
Division 164 (Expenditure in Western Australia)- £261,607.
– I have waited very patiently in the hope that something would be done in the direction of improving the department in Western Australia.
– An inspector has been appointed for Western Australia under the Public Service Act, and he will deal with the whole matter.
– Again and again matters have been brought up which, I am bound to say, have not been dealt with in a very satisfactory way. At first I was inclined to blame the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, but I am bound to say that I now consider the honorable and learned gentleman at the head of this department is in some degree blameworthy for not doing a little more than what has been done to accomplish improvement. It would be very hard, indeed, to statetoo strong a case with regard to the condition of postal affairs in Western Australia. Here is an extract taken from a sub-leader which appeared in a daily newspaper published in Perth, and it is only one of many complaints that are continually being urged -
Scarcely aday passes without the levelling of some serious complaint against the administration of the Postal department of the State. . . It was thought that the transference of the Postal department to Commonwealth control would be one of the most noticeable blessings that the State would receive from federation, the expectation being that our postal system would be at once brought up to the same level as those of the other States. No doubt this will be the’ case ultimately, but up to the present time it would appear that the effect of federation has been to make the postal authorities more careless than ever of the requirements of the public.
This is merely a sample of the general summing up by those who have been watching the affairs of the Postal department in Western Australia. I. shall detain the committee for only a very little while in giving one or two instances of what is yet being done there. I dare say that the Minister at the head of the department is fully aware of the peculiar conditions regarding postal development in Western Australia. It appears to me that the department is being starved in this connexion in view of the estimated increase of our population as made by the Treasurer himself. Around Perth, in particular, new suburbs are growing up, but no adequate attempt is being made to increase the postal facilities in accordance with the increase of population. One of the suburbs - the suburb in which I reside - is Subiaco, which at its centre is somewhere about three miles from the post-office at Perth. In the year 1900 it had a population of 2,000. At the present time it has a population of 4,500, and that, honorable members will admit, shows a very considerable increase for the period named. The municipal authorities of that suburb have written to the PostmasterGeneral, and pointed out that they have appealed time and again for an improvement of the postal facilities there. I wish to emphasize one statement in the letter to the department, which is worthy of the attention of the Government. They say that although the population has increased from 2,000 in 1900 to 4,500 in 1902, “the staff in the post-office remains absolutely the same.” The answer obtained from the postal authorities is that -
To give the residents all the facilities they would wish would mean a large additional expenditure.
That answer is given as if the expenditure would not be fully justified in the circumstances. Then a further statement is made of a most surprising character, namely, that -
The same would be asked for on equally good grounds by a dozen other outlying suburbs of Perth and Fremantle.
Surely if it is admitted that there are good grounds for these requests, the department should make some effort at least to overtake them. A little while ago a doctor commenced to practise his profession in another suburb. The telephone wire passed his door, and he asked to have his house connected. That request was refused. He could not obtain any satisfaction from the deputy Postmaster-General. He was determined to obtain telephonic communication, to which he had a perfect right, but before anything was done the secretary of the Perth Chamber of Commerce, the Premier of Western Australia, and finally I myself, had to take the matter up.
– What was the reason for the failure of the department to do anything?
– I cannot give the reason, but I propose to show how the work was eventually carried out. A reply was made to this effect -
Your telegram re complaint by Dr. Darbyshire. - The Postmaster, Cottesloe, informs me Ins application dated loth inst., and rent paid for six months in advance from 1st June next. As he is a medical man he utilized portion of a dead wire with some old material and had him connected on the 1.9th.
Surely that is not a condition of things that ought to exist in connexion with this large and important department ? Surely it should not have been necessary for the department to obtain portion of a dead wire and some old material before a medical man’s house could be connected with the telephone system which passed his door. Here is another complaint by a gentleman who lives a little over a mile from the Perth Townhall. He has telegrams sent occasionally to his private residence, and in addition to the cost of transmitting a message, he is charged ls. for its delivery. I find that according to the regulations in Melbourne a telegram would be delivered over the same distance at a cost of 3d. There is a good road to this gentleman’s house, and I fail to see that there is evidence of very much effort un the part of the department to obtain uniformity if at this period such a remarkable difference prevails with regard to the rates charged in the large cities of the
Commonwealth. These are simply samples of numerous other cases which have been brought before me as having occurred in my own electorate. The same condition of affairs is prevailing throughout the whole, of Western Australia. I would strongly urge the Government to take some steps tq place the department in Western Australia upon something like a commercial basis, That is all I ask, and I think sufficient patience has been exhibited in regard to these matters to justify an improvement at a very early date. I can assure the honor; able gentleman in charge of the department that I intend to see that something is done in the direction of remedying these legitimate grievances. My patience is now rapidly becoming exhausted, and I think I have shown that very strong reasons exist for a greater effort being made by the department in Western Australia to meet the re;quirements of a permanently increasing community. There are one or two other matters with which I desire to deal, and which go to show the curious anomalies that exist within the department. There is not only an almost unanimous outcry on the part of the public against the management of the department in Western Australia, but there is a condition of seething rebellion within the department itself. There are very few of the different branches in which the employes are even reasonably satisfied. This state of affairs is largely owing to the many inconsistencies and anomalies which have existed up to the present time. I am expecting that under the commissioner and his inspectors these matters will be speedily righted. But- in the meantime it is my duty to call the attention of the gentleman in charge of the depart1 ment and of the commissioner to a few of these anomalies. There seems to be no system, whatever regulating salaries, and particularly the salaries of officials in charge of post-offices. I have taken out some rather significant figures which I desire to lay before the committee. The town of Geraldton, with a population of 2,400, has a postmaster whose salary is £240 a year. The postmaster at Bunbury, with a similar population, receives £270. At Northam, with a population of 2,000, the postmaster receives £190i. At York, with a population of 1,300; the salary paid is £220. At Busselton, with a population of 452, the salary paid is £180. At Newcastle,, with a population of 339, the salary paid is £150. My point is that these are old centres in Western Australia. 1 now quote some of the newer settlements.
– Has the honorable member any record of the money order and other departments connected with these past-offices, because they have an influence in regulating the salaries?
– I have not that information, but I hold that the salary should bear some fair relation to the population. I find that at Subiaco, with a population of 4,500, the postmaster is paid only £165. At Helena Yale, or Midland Junction, with a population of 1,500, the salary paid is £180 ; and at Leederville, where there is a population of 2,500, the salary paid is only £140. To compare two specific cases, the salary paid to the postmaster at Newcastle, with a population of 339, is £150, whilst the postmaster at Leederville, with a population of 2,500, only gets £140. I quote these figures as evidence of anomalies existing in Western Australia, which I trust will soon be remedied by the Commissioner and his inspector. I should have dealt with a number of other matters showing the maladministration of this department in this State ; but as the Government are anxious to get through withtheir Estimates, I shall not labour the subject. I think I am fairly justified in asking that some attention shall be given to the conditions which I have indicated as prevailing in Western Australia, and that some earnest effort shall be made at an early date to bring about some degree of improvement.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of a Message from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, recommending to the consideration of the House of Representatives additional Estimates of expenditure for additions, new works, and buildings for the year ending 30th June, 1903, and recommending appropriationaccordingly.
Resolved (on motion by Mr. Deakin.) -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until halfpast ten o’clock to-morrow.
House adjourned at 11.10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 October 1902, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19021001_reps_1_12/>.