2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Acting PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers tothe honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable and learned member’s questions tire as follow: -
Mr. GROOM laid upon the table the following paper: -
Provisional regulations under the Electoral Acts, Statutory Rules 1906, No. 42.
Motion (by Mr. Chanter) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for an Act to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Acts of T902 and 1905 as regards the Court of Disputed Returns.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
.- I do not think that I need make any apology for the motion which I am about to move, because it affects matters of extreme importance. I wish, however, to depart to a slight extent from the terms of the notice appearing on the business paper. That notice reads as follows: -
That this House instruct the Ministry to so arrange the business for this session that the general elections can be held on a date not later than the 15th day of November next.
As exception may be taken to the terms of a motion so worded, and I have no desire to be considered peremptory and offensive, I wish to move in .substitution -
That, in the opinion of this House, the Ministry should so arrange the business for this session that the general elections can be held on a date not later than the 15th day of November next.
– Is it the pleasure of the House that the honorable member have leave to amend his motion?
– The matter with which I now propose to deal was referred to at the close of last session ; but the scope then proposed to be given was too long. No doubt tine position of the honorable member for Coolgardie, that under the law the general elections cannot take place in October next, is the correct one ; but, if the date which I have set down is fixed upon, a fortnight more than is actually required will be given. ‘No action was taken in this matter last session, because no motion dealing with it was. pressed : but the Minister of Home Affairs expressed sympathy with the object of those who supported the views which i am about to repeat. I am afraid that his sympathy has now dwindled away, because he seems not to be at all anxious to hold the elections earlier in the year than thev were held in 1903. The statement that the rolls cannot be got ready in time for an earlier election is puerile. Four or five months must elapse between the present date and that which I propose, and if the staff of the Department is not large enough 1:0 get the rolls ready in .that time, it can be increased to the number necessary to do the work. We have been given to understand that preparations for the holding of the elections have been going on for some time past in anticipation of the approval of Parliament to the Commissioners’ redistributions of divisions ; and, as those redistributions have been approved of without alteration, there can he no excuse for delay on their account. I intend to take the sense of the House on this question, because it is too serious to be trifled with. As honorable members know, a farmer might, by a day or two’s neglect in the month of December, lose the results of his year’s labour, because a dry wind might come, and if his wheat was not garnered, half of it might fall to the ground. For this reason the fanners cannot be expected to attend at the polling- booths as they should if the day for the holding of the general elections is chosen in so unseasonable a month of the year as December. It must be remembered that the next elections will be of immense importance. For several years past the political position, so far as Commonwealth affairs are concerned, has been very unsatisfactory. Old parties have been broken up, and new parties have been formed ; but there has been no proper following of party leaders, and no cohesion, and honorable members have not known where they were. I do not propose to say who, in my opinion, is responsible for this state of affairs ; but I regard it as having retarded Federal development, while it has bitterly* disappointed the public of Australia, and has caused embarrassment, and, in some cases, perhaps, humiliation, to honorable members. Business has been conducted here almost on go-as-you-please principles, but, throughout, one party has been pushing steadily, ruthlessly, and persistently ahead, and has lost no chance of improving its position. In saying that, I cast no reflection upon the party to which I refer, because, if I were a member of it, I should be glad to see it working om those lines. Its object hitherto has been, by holding the balance of power, to control the conduct of government, and in that it has largely succeeded, although its members have had to cast their fiscal opinions aside to achieve that end.
– These remarks are very gratifying to the Labour Party, but what have they to do with the question before the Chair?
– They have a great deal’ to do with it, as the honorable member will presently discover. Having hitherto controlled to a great extent the administration of affairs, the Labour Party will make at the next elections a determined attempt to capture the reins of government. For that I shall not blame them; but it will make the next elections of the utmost importance, and will require an expression of opinion from the whole of the people of Australia. If they had a majority of the electors behind them, they should take charge of ‘the affairs of the country. I do not know that in such a case the conditions would be much worse than they are now. .1. am quite willing that the Labour Party shall control the administration if they have the support of the majority of the electors, but [ am not content that they shall exercise such a large influence as th?y do over the affairs of State whilst they represent a minority of the electors. The object of the party has been fairly and clearly setout by t,heir leader as being the nationalization of all the means of production, distribution, and exchange.
– I did not say that. Donot misrepresent me.
– Of course, the honorable member for Bland stated that the present intention was merely to nationalize monopolies, but the honorable and learned! member for Corinella demonstrated that the objective of the Socialist Party was Collectivism.
– I should like your ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether the honorable member is in order in discussing; Socialism upon a motion of this kind.
– In his last remarks,, the honorable member has certainly travelled beyond the scope of the motion. The question of Socialism cannot be discussed at the present stage.
– I thought that in discussing the question as to the date upon which the next elections should be held, I was in order in referring to the policies of the various parties that will be appealing to the country at that time. However, I shall not transgress any further, except to say that the Labour Party, although it has not a majority in this House, plays its cards remarkably well. No one takes exception to the leader, to whose tact and general characteristics the success of the party has been mainly due. That honorable member, however, is merely a chip on the stream, and when the tide begins to run a little more strongly, he may be swept aside, and landed on the bank. We know very well that his views do not coincide with those held by certain extreme members of his party, and the date is not far distant when he will have to part company either with his position or his conscience. The Labour Party propose to run candidates in all the divisions of the Commonwealth, and they are even setting up opposition to the candidature of Mr. Speaker. In my view, that is a. most unworthy thing to do. It is never done in Great Britain. Last year a friend of mine entered upon a contest for the Carlisle seat against Mr. Lowther. He had been working for many months, and had spent considerable sums, of money, when the retirement of Mr. Gully from the Speakership of the House of Commons led to the appointment of Mr. Lowther. My friend immediately abandoned his campaign, because it is always recognised in Great Britain that the Speaker is above party, and ought not to meet with party opposition. Therefore, he is always returned unopposed.
– Would it not be a good thing if we could all be temporarily appointed to the position of Speaker, and be returned unopposed?
– I was in error when I stated the Labour Party were putting forward candidates in all the divisions. It appears that there is a movement on foot with a view to rendering certain honorable members immune. Whether or not, that matter is finally settled, I do not know.
– I should like to know how far the honorable member is in order in following his present line of discussion. It will not make much difference, if other “honorable members will be at liberty to adopt the same course, but it will be useful to ascertain how far remarks of the kind apply to the proposal that the elections should be held upon a certain date.
– I must say that I think, the remarks of the honorable member are extending over a very wide range. There appears to be ample room for the discussion of the question whether the elections shall be held upon a certain date without introducing issues such as the honorable member is raising. I hope, therefore, that he will confine his remarks to the subject of the motion.
– I am sorry that the’ members of the Labour Party do not like to hear the truth. It seems that I am touching them on the raw. I do not think that it is creditable for politicians of high standing to enter into an arrangement that will render them immune from the opposition of any party. At present we will call them immunists, who are on the road to becoming communists. If the next elections are held at the same period of the year as that at which the last elections took place, the primary producers of .the Commonwealth - and more especially of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia - will be placed at a great disadvantage. No other section of the population is situated in quite the same way. Every other class will have an opportunity of voting, because, if men happen to be away from home, they can arrange to record their votes by post. The farmer, however, cannot afford, during the harvest, to lose the time that would be occupied in going to the poll-. This matter rests entirely with the Government, and I do not think that any exception can be taken to an expression of opinion on the part of the House.
– I take exception to the proposal of the honorable member. It is equivalent to a vote of censure.
– The Minister must not drag that red herring across the track. The language of the motion is respectful and courteous, and no censure is implied. The Government, as I have said, has this matter in their full control, and there is no valid reason - departmental or otherwise - why the elections should not be held before the date I have named. No plea of want of time will be of any avail. Of course, I am quite aware that some Ministers are in a very peculiar position. Their seats depend upon the action of the party to whom the criticisms of some of their number have been directed. It is possible, therefore, that there will be a division in the Cabinet with regard to this matter. If there is, I hope that the Prime Minister will put his foot down and do justice. If he does, he will merit the thanks of the farming community.
.- I do not propose to follow the example of the honorable member for Echuca in discussing this very important question, by entering upon a general disquisition upon the atrocious policy, or want of policy, that characterizes honorable members on the Opposition benches. I think that that may be very well left out of the discussion of a matter of this kind. I share the anxiety exhibited by the honorable member to have the election held at a time that will suit every one in the community. I think that all parties should join in an endeavour to so arrange the election that the least possible number of persons will be inconvenienced. I should like to point out that there is no grave reason why this anxiety for an early election should be confined to the members of the party with which the honorable member for Echuca happens to be associated, because for every farmer who is disfranchised owing to the election taking place at harvest time, a much greater number of farm labourers are prevented from voting. Labour candidates desire that the election shall be held at an early date quite as strongly as does the honorable member.
– Of course, the honorable member and his party have a monopoly of the votes of the farm labourers.
– No ; but in New South Wales the Labour candidates poll more heavily in the agricultural districts than in the metropolitan areas.
– The honorable member is insinuating that Labour candidates are returned by a class vote.
– No, I am not. The honorable member for Echuca has spoken especially on behalf of the farmers as the class who are likely to support him. and I am pointing out that as large a proportion of farmers support Labour candidates as vote against them.
– The honorable member is a marked exception.
– Not at all. In my district last year a considerable number of persons refrained from going to the poll because of the inconvenience and possible loss that would have been involved if they had left their homesteads at that time. A. few months later, when the harvest was over, and a general election was held in New South Wales, the Labour candidate in my constituency polled 5,000 more votes than were recorded in my favour in the previous December. It seems to me that there is not much comfort for the honorable member for Echuca in these facts. ‘ ‘ For a considerable time past, it has seemed to me that it is altogether undesirable to hold the elections at any time during the latter half of the year. No matter what periodyou fix between June and December, you will disfranchise some large section of the community. At any rate, if you do not dis- f ranchisethem, you will cause them serious inconvenience. In Queensland, the sugar harvest has commenced’, and men are engaged in cutting cane, or are otherwise busily occupied in work just as urgent as. that which hasto be done when Che wheat crops are ripe. From what I can understand, sugar cane cannot be allowed to stand for any considerable time after it is ripe, and, therefore, the work of cutting it is a matter of urgency. In the pastoral” districts of Queensland, shearing is now proceeding, and a little later, the shearers will be moving down to New South Wales, and still later to Victoria. So that during the latter half of the year, the harvest is being gathered in some part of Australia, and a large section of the electors would be seriously inconvenienced if they had to attend the poll. I trust that the honorable member who tabled the motion’ will be disposed to give some consideratioin to classes other than those who are most numerously represented in his own constituency.
– How would the postal vote suit the shearers?
– In some cases they cannot use the postal vote, and in other cases the postal service is so infrequent that it is a matter of extreme difficulty to adopt the method provided for in the Act. In many cases, witnesses cannot be obtained” near the shearing sheds to enable the essential preliminaries to be gone through to safeguard the secrecy of the ballot, and to prevent impersonation. Therefore, there are difficulties in the way of the shearers as well as in the way of the farmers.
– Are not many of the shearers also settlers?
– Undoubtedly, a very large proportion of the shearers in New South Wales are also small farmers, and they would, of course, be inconvenienced as shearers just, as the farmers here would be.
– There are the Q forms and regulation forms.
– If the men can attend a polling place, the Q form does away with the necessity for a. postal vote; but .in some cases the polling places are so far removed from the shearing sheds that the shearers cannot take advantage of any of the methods prescribed under the Act. Long before the honorable member began to agitate upon this question, long before the Argus commenced to publish its diatribes about the attitude of the Labour Party in this connexion, I suggested in the House that there was one way in which the inconvenience at present experienced could be prevented so far as the election ensuing after the next is concerned.
– The honorable member merely spoke upon the motion submitted by the honorable member for Echuca.
– I was not aware of that. I was under the impression that I spoke earlier. I have no desire to detract from any credit which is due to the honor- & able member. Before the newspapers had attributed to the Labour Party a wish to delay the forthcoming elections until December, I advocated that an effort should’ be made to amend the Constitution so as to give to honorable members of both Houses, of the next Parliament an additional tenure of three months, thus allowing the genera] election to be projected into March, when practically everybody would be able to exercise the franchise.
– That would be right in the middle of our wet season in Queensland1.
– At any rate, the’ halfyear between January and June is, to my mind, the least inconvenient period at which to hold the general elections, having regard to the Commonwealth as a whole. I am sure that practically none of the electors would object to a short extension of office being granted to members of the two Houses for a purpose of that sort.
– None of the members would object.
– An extension of the term of office of honorable members for three or four months upon one occasion only would not be of very great importance in the eyes of the electors.
– Why not extend the term of office of members of this Parliament?
– We have not the power ‘to do that, however desirable it might be. It has been urged that the adoption of the plan suggested would not insure the holding of all subsequent elections at the same period of the year. But we could at least insure that, unless there were a penal dissolution of both Houses, under the deadlock provisions of the Constitution, the elections for the Senate would be held at a much more convenient time than they are at present. So far as this House is concerned, penal dissolutions are always possible, but we are at present under just as great a liability to have the elections of the two Houses separated as we would be then. To insure that in future the inconvenience to which allusion has been made shall be minimized as much as possible, the effort, I think, is worth making. So far as the present position is concerned, I quite agree with the honorable member for Echuca, that the Ministry and the Department of Home Affairs should be expected to use every means in their power to put the electoral machinery in order at the earliest possible moment. At the same time, I am inclined to think that the honorable member his overlooked the immense distances which exist in Australia. The Department has to deal, not merely with the electors of New South Wales or Victoria, but with those of the Northern Territory, the northwest corner of Western Australia, and the far north of Queensland with which places communication is not frequent. Though an earl v election might not inconvenience the voters resident in’ these remote portions, of the Continent, their distance from the centres of population increases the difficulties of the Department in getting the electoral machinery to work. That machinery is more difficult to work in respect of the places I have mentioned than it is in respect of places like Echuca or Wagga. I think that the Government should strain every nerve to enable the forthcoming elections to be held at the earliest possible moment. I Quite agree with the honorable member for Echuca that if it can be done it is’ desirable that the next general election should take place earlier than did the election of three years ago. I believe that a few weeks can be saved in that way, and I hope that the Government - without any instructions from the House - will use every possible effort to permit of the elections being held at such a time as will minimize the inconvenience that must inevitably attach to their conduct, no matter at what period of the year they may be held.
– I do not know that I can subscribe to the eulogiums which have been passed upon the leader of the Labour Party by the honorable member for Echuca.
– That does not concern the question under consideration.
– I am aware that it does not. At the same time it concerns certain statements that have been made by the honorable member for Echuca, who, I fear, has not enjoyed an intimate acquaintance with the leader of the Labour Party so long as I have. My experience of the honorable member for Bland is that he is indeed a most useful man to his party, because, while believing in as extreme and ultimate a form of Socialism as any member of that party - as his own statements clearly show - he yet has such a smooth and amiable way of putting his doctrines before the country as to produce in the minds of the people an impression similar to that which is entertained by the honorable member for Echuca. For instance, only yesterday I was quoting a statement which the leader of the Labour Party made-
– Irise to a point of order. Is’ the honorable member in order in buttering up the leader of the Labour Party in this way, just prior to a general election ? I donot think that his utterances are at all relevant to the motion that is before the House.
– I regret to say that I did not hear the last few remarks of the honorable member for Parramatta. There are such constant conversations proceeding in all parts of the Chamber that I frequently experience difficulty in following the utterances of honorable members. I must, therefore, ask them to cease their conversations, or else to conduct them in a much lower tone of voice.
– I suppose that I shall be in order in replying to certain statements which have been made, and which were not ruled out of order. If honorable members* desire a specimen of the very ‘cute and clever attitude which is adopted by my honorable friend, the leader of the Labour Party, they have merely to recollect his statements of a few moments ago. With that suave exterior of his, he laid a quiet claim to a purely class vote, andaccusedthe honorable member for Echuca of seeking merely to study the interests of that section of the laboring class known as the farmers. He declared that the honorable member spoke in the interests of the farmers, and he added that the Labour Party would secure the farm labourers’ vote. He quoted figures to show that this was so. For instance, he said that 5,000 more votes were cast in the agricultural constituency which he represents at the last State elections than were recorded in his own favour at the general elections for this Parliament. It may be that that is the reason why he is leaving that district for a city constituency. If he feels so sure that all the farm labourers’ votes will be cast in favour of his party, why is he leaving them and seeking a purely city constituency?
– The Commissioner has cut my electorate to pieces.
– The people are still there.
– As soon as he noted that the honorable member for Bland intended to contest a certain metropolitan, constituency, the honorable member for South Sydney bolted from it.
– If there is one thing which is more disconcerting to a speaker than another it is constant interjections and cross-firing between honorable members who are not addressing the Chair. I ask honorable members to desist from that practice.
– Another quiet bit of unction which the honorable member for Bland laid to his soul was that he had preceded the honorable member for Echuca in his agitation for an alteration in the date of holding the general elections. As a matter of Tact, when the leader of the Labour Party spoke last year upon this question, it was upon the motion of the honorable member for Echuca. He was not ahead of the honorable member for Echuca in any way. The leader of the Labour Party, under that mild and pleasant exterior which he successfully presents to most members of the Chamber, made this quiet claim for labour, which the more out spoken members of his party would never have dreamed of doing. I know quite too much of the method of propagandism adopted by him to subscribe to the great eulogies that have been heaped upon him from time to time by members of my own party. However, that may pass.
– It is altogether outside the scope of the motion, but it is as near to it as the honorable member usually gets.
– I do not forget the honorable member’s attitude the other night when he gave me the lie direct whilst I was making a quotation from his speeches.
– I did not do that.
– I believe that the Government ought to facilitate the holding of the elections at the earliest possible moment, and so permit those who ordinarily vote with great inconvenience to vote as little under those natural disadvantages, which are inseparable from distance and other considerations as is possible. I am not quite clear in my own mind that the Government are treating this matter as they ought to do. The other day, in response to a request by a member of the Labour Party, the Minister of Home Affairs quoted a certificate which had been issued to him by the Electoral Office, and in which it was pointed out that the elections could not be held in October.
– The statement was made in reply to a question by the honorable member for Wimmera.
– All that was contained in the circular in question was of a negative character. An estimate of the difficulties which had to be faced in the Electoral Office had evidently been made to allow even of a negative certificate being furnished as to the earliest period at which the elections could be held!. Yet. when I asked the Minister whether his officers had made an estimate as to the probable earliest date at which they could take place, he declined to say anything except that he would institute inquiries into the matter. I submit that by this time the Minister ought to have a reliable estimate in his Department of the earliest date at which the elections can be held. If what the honorable gentleman has told us represents the whole of the facts of the case, it does not redound to the credit of the Department that, within a few months of the time when this Parliament must expire, it has no idea of what its electoral arrangements are.
– The Department made a bungle of the elections upon the last occasion.
– There is a good man at the head of the Department now.
– That is all the more reason why it should be able to forecast the earliest date at which the elections can be held. The same muddle occurred at the last elections. Everything was in confusion, and thousands of electors were disfranchised. Certainly that was so in my own constituency, and I venture to say it was the common experience of honorable members. Since then three years have elapsed, but though we are within a few months of a general appeal to the people, we are told by the Minister that he cannot say when the necessary machinery for the conduct of the elections will be in readiness. That is a condition of things that ought not to exist, and the sooner it is remedied the better it will be for all concerned. Let us suppose that something occurred which necessitated an immediate appeal to the country. What would be the position? Would the Government say, “We cannot settle these issues”? Let us suppose that upon some vital question - going, it may be, to the very existence of our national life - a dissolution tookplace, would the Government come to the House, and exclaim. “I do not know when we shall be ready to make this appeal to the country”? All this is a confession of Ministerial weakness, and of departmental inefficiency. Certainly it is a confession of departmental unpreparedness. After five or six years of our Commonwealth life our electoral machinery ought to be in such a state of efficiency as to be ready for use almost at a month’s notice. Instead of that, the Minister told us that the Department will not be ready in October, the month spoken of as the one in which the elections should take place. We know, also, that there has been a protest against the holding of the elections in October on the part of the honorable member for Darling. I presume that that hastened thesupply of the circular. It was a notification to the Government that they had better look out for October.
– That is incorrect.
– So we got a circular from the Minister that the elections could not be carried out in October. Presumably the honorable member for Darling is satisfied for the moment, but I should’ like to know why we cannot be satisfied in the same way. By this time our Electoral Department should have reached such a state of efficiency as to be able to fix the probable date on which the electoral machinery can be used. Instead of that, the Minister does not know when it can be used ; he will make inquiries, but he has not the remotest idea. There is a careful estimate and an accurate conclusion as to October, and everything else is vague and in the air.
– Suppose there were a penal dissolution.
– That is precisely the case I am putting - some grave emergency arising requiring an immediate appeal to the people on some matter affecting their interests. According to the dictum of the Minister, a period of six months must elapse before the electoral machinery can be ready. All this is neither more nor less than a reflection upon the condition of things which obtains in the Department in regard to matters most vitally affecting this Parliament and the interests of the people. My own impression is the same as that of the honorable member for Bland, and I ‘believe of honorable members generally, that the December date fixed for the Senate is the most inconvenient that could possibly be fixed. I urge upon .the Government the advisability of submitting a simple constitutional amendment fixing the date of the termination of a Senate term earlier or later than that now provided for. In all the circumstances it would seem that a later date is preferable to an earlier one - that is to sa.v. that a date in February. March, or April, would best suit almost the whole of the people of Australia. It is impossible to fix a date which will suit the interests of all the people, but we mav have a fair idea of what will suit the great majority, and in all these questions, which are matters of expediency and administration, it is the interests of the great majority that we ought to consult I am not quite sure whether what I have suggested should not be done at the forthcoming elections. Certain it is that until it is done we shall have to continue the holding of elections at a time when a great proportion of the people - for whom, in view of the natural disabilities under which thev labour, the electoral machinery should be stretched if* possible - will be unable to record their votes. Thev are under natural disabilities in this regard, arising from their remoteness from the polling booths and centres of population, and from the general conditions under which they live, and we should endeavour to modify and remedy those disabilities as far as possible bv means of our electoral machinery. Every one knows that some of our farmers must go from 10 to 20 miles to record their votes.
– And even further.
– If, in addition to such a disability, we make it necessary for them to secrifice their crops and to suffer all kinds of inconvenience, we are imposing what is equivalent to a monetary penalty upon them, and the effect is, in many cases, just the same as if we had no equal franchise at all. A geographical hindrance does not materially differ in its effect from a legislative hindrance, and we might just as well disfranchise these people or give electors in towns two votes to- their one, unless they are given some facilities for recording their votes in the easiest, earliest and quickest way. Considered in all its ramifications, the matter is a very important one. It is said that an ounce of fact is worth a ton of theory, and I remember that at the last election I went to address a meeting of farmers in my own electorate. ; When I reached the place of meeting, although the meeting had been advertised, I found that there were only two assembled to listen to my eloquence. The explanation of that is-
– It does not need any explanation.
– The explanation is that there had been four or five wet days, and the day on which I was to address the electors was a fine day. Many of them told me on the way to the place” of meeting that thev would not be present, as they could not afford to lose the day; it meant so much to them.
– Did the honorable member make a great impression on the meeting ?
– I did not hold a meeting, but I will tell honorable gentlemen the sequel of the visit. When the polling-day came I got all the votes in the neighbourhood but two. It is difficult in their busy_ seasons to get farmers to give attention _to political matters, and I suppose it is the more difficult where thev have confidence in their representative. One of the men who attended the meeting to which I have referred told me that the small attendance was a vote of confidence in me rather than otherwise, and so it turned out on the polling-day. I have mentioned this matter to show that natural difficulties are always dogging the farmer’s life, subject as he is to seasons and climatic conditions. It is not fair that, in addition to natural disabilities, we should impose disabilities upon country voters arising from defects of our legislative machinery. It is just the same as if we imposed legislative disabilities upon them. Under the Constitution as it stands, a legislative restriction is necessarily imposed upon these electors, and the sooner we can remove or modify it the better for the country as a whole. There is, I think, a consensus of opinion at the present time that the sooner an appeal to the people is made the better. We have the authority of the Prime Minister for saying, that this House, as at present constituted, cannot do useful work.
– -Why ?
– Because the Prime Minister has not the material with which to work. I should have thought that that had been made clear to the honorable member last night. The Prime Minister is quite impotent to do anything except by the grace and favour of men who do not believe in him, and who are prepared to put him to the sword at the earliest possible moment. That is the condition of affairs to-day. In other words, there is no such thins as responsible government set up. The Prime Minister says that there are three parties in the House, and that we cannot have responsible government with three parties. “ Two is company and three is none,” is the waypracticallly in which the honorable and learned gentleman describes the present state of parties in this House.
– Are the honorable member’s remarks connected with the motion?
– I should think that the working of this. House is vitally connected with the matter of elections. I can conceive of ;no more vital consideration than the conditions existing in this House, and the possibility of remedying them by constitutional and legislative means. T say that the Prime Minister has himself furnished the best of all reasons why there should be an early appeal to the people, but no matter how great the urgency, we are told that we cannot do it, because the electoral machinery is not read. That condition of affairs should be remedied, and the electoral machinery should be .ready whenever we wish to use it - within reason, of course, because we cannot expect the necessary adjustments to be made in a moment. I suggest that between now and October or November is a reasonable time within which to make the necessary arrangements. If the compilation of the rolls is in question, seeing that there are now no revision courts to trouble us, that should be merely a matter of the employment of labour for the purpose. The delimitation of the boundaries, and the fixing of polling- places are again merely matters of the employment of labour, and I submit that they should! not stand in the way of getting the electoral machinery ready at the earliest possible moment, in order that we may have those great issues settled which both sides of the House are professedly so anxious to have settled, and none more than honorable members opposite, who have declared this House to be an unworkable House, and who seek to dissolve existing parties into two, so that responsible government may be carried on, andi good and useful work, such as will lead to the building up and prosperity and stability^ of Australia may take the place of our present inefficient and unsatisfactory methods’.
– The honorable member who moved this motion stated that he desired to introduce it in an inoffensive form, that he desired to obtain an expression of the opinion of the House, and not in any way to take up the attitude of dictating to the Government the exercise of His Majesty’s prerogative. After all is said and done, what is aimed at is an early dissolution of the House, involving the exercise of the* Royal prerogative, which, as a rule, is exercised on the advice of His Majesty’s Ministers. On the face of it the motion is certainly inoffensive, and should not necessarily introduce party politics; but under cover of it the honorable member has made a few remarks which seem to indicate that it has been introduced from his own political stand-point. He suggested, for instance, that if the elections were not held at the time he desired certain persons in the community would not have an opportunity to express their opinions on important questions, anil that, as a result, the judgment of the electors might be different.
– That is a pure fabrica-tion.
– If I have misunderstood the honorable member I withdraw the statement ; but I understood1’ him to say that the country will be called upon to decide serious issues, and that if the elections are held in the month of December, certain electors being unable to express their opinions, a certain other section of the community will have better chances. Under cover of this innocent motion the honorable member also indicated that the Government were not expressing their opinions upon the absolute facts before them, but were under the control of a certain political party in this House. I think that that statement was made clearly enough, and I can inform the honorable member that no single member on this side has approached me as Minister of Home Affairs with any suggestion as to the date on which the elections shall be held. When the Electoral Bill was being considered last year, I made the statementand I think that the Prime Minister made a similar one - in reference to a motion brought before the House bv the honorable member for Echuca - that all that could be done would be done to expedite the holding of the general elections at the earliest date practicable. That promise has been kept in view ever since. It is the desire of the Government that the general elections shall take place at the earliest date practicable, and the fixing of the polling day will not be determined by political considerations of any kind.
– This will be the first Ministry in the world which has acted in such a way.
– Then we shall be setting an example for the honorable and learned member, perhaps, to follow. It must not be forgotten that, in making preparations for a general election, we were faced with the difficult problem of how to put the representation! of New South Wales and Victoria on a proper, definite, legal basis. We brought in the Representation Bill, and it was passed by this House.
– It was not necessary.
– I think that it was. Our action was acquiesced in and supported by even the members of the Opposition-
– Of course ; but the Bill was not necessary.
– It was absolutely necessary. It laid down certain conditions.
– When a previous redistribution was proposed, Ministers did not think such a measure necessary.
– - Because the figures did not show absolutely the need for an alteration in the representation.
– That is not so.
– It is a fact. Of course, the honorable member is entitled to his ‘ opinions ; but we considered the measure necessary to remove all doubts, and to put matters on a clear, definite, legal basis. Our object was to give to each State the representation to which it is entitled, and, while the honorable member may disagree with me as to the need for the measure, I am sure that he is of opinion that its object was a good one. The Act was assented to on the 23rd November, 1.905 ; but before that we had taken steps to bring its provisions into operation, and, on the nth December, proclaimed the date for an enumeration. Immediately that had been done, copies of the Act were sent to the States Premiers, inviting their cooperation, and, on the 23rd December, letters had been forwarded to the Statisticians of the States, asking them to get in readiness all necessary figures and information. The enumeration of all the States was completed .in time to allow of the issue of the necessary certificates on the 12th January of the present year.
– These things should make it easy to expedite the holding of the general elections.
– I refer to them to show that I have done all that I could to expedite matters.
– Why was the reorganization of the office left so late?
– That is another matter, with, which I shall deal later. When we knew what the representation of each State should be, we communicated with the Commissioners whom it was proposed to appointto make the necessary redistributions, got their consent to act, and supplied! them with all necessary data, so that, before the end of February, their commissions had been issued, and they were at work. We received the report from Western Australia on the 1 8th, and that from Queensland on the 20th April, white the New South, Wales report was received on the 3rd, and the Victorian report on the 16th May. In the meantime, acting on the assumption that Parliament would accept the redistributions without- alteration. we had communicated with the Governments of the States, asking for the services of the police in connexion with the readjustment of the rolls by the assignment of electors to the new polling places. It has been said that the electoral distributions went through this House because of a collapse ; but it was not due to a collapse that we put them through the Senate in the same week.
– Have any of the rolls been printed?
– No; because we have not yet received from the police the information that must be obtained before any printing can be done. In Victoria, the report was made only quite recently, in fact a couple of months or so ago.
– The services of the police are required, I suppose, to arrange the electors according to the polling places ?
– Yes. Of course, a number of alterations hare had to be made in Victoria because of the reduction of the number of divisions from twenty-three to twenty-two. The police are engaged in assigning electors to the most suitable polling places in the new divisions. Some of the old polling places have been absolutely cut in two.
– A border lini: has divided them.
– Yes. This is not work which could be clone in a day or two, and it is impossible to say, when so many contingencies have to be taken into account, on what date, three or four months ahead, the elections can be held. We have about 5,000 registrars throughout Australia, some of them acting in the suburbs of Melbourne and the adjacent country, and others as far away as the northern parts of Queensland, Port Darwin, and the remote places in Western Australia. In the Grey division of South Australia, the chief centre is Petersburg, and if the divisional returning officer wishes to correspond with the registrars in the Northern Territory, which forms part of that division, his letters have to be sent half way round the Continent by sea, and the replies returned over the same enormous distance. Maranoa is an immense division of which the boundaries have been changed, and the police are now in its outlving districts in search of information. Even where divisional boundaries have not been altered, we are irvine to get the most up-to-date information before reprinting the rolls.
– When is it proposed to begin the printing of the rolls ?
– The registrars have been asked to send in, as soon as possible, all information available; but the Chief Electoral Officer cannot yet say when the registrars of a State like Western Australia will be able to comply with that instruction. After this information has been sent to the Commonwealth electoral officers of each State, true copies of the rolls will have to be prepared, and these will be sent to the various Government printing offices. Thus it will be seen that the preparation of the rolls cannot be materially hastened bv the employment of extra assistance, though instructions have been given to employ additional hands wherever that may be necessary to secure expedition. When once the copies of the rolls are in the hands of the various Government Printers, it will be possible to make an estimate of the time which will be required to print them, though experience shows that these estimates will not be accurate to within a week.
– The printing will take seven or eight weeks.
– In one State it will take ten weeks.
– It should not take so long.
– In Victoria the Government Printing Office has to cope with a, the work entailed bv the printing and publication of the records of this and the State Parliament, and the printing of She electoral rolls will be a very heavy additional burden.
– The police have not yet started to work in Victoria.
– They started some time ago.
– Are they going round New South Wales, too?
– Yes. Instructions were issued some time ago, and they are now collecting information.
– Are they collecting fresh names?
– Thev make their usual annual canvass on the 1st July. We have asked them, whilst they are making their annual canvass, to make a comparison with our rolls, and to send us such additional information as will enable us to bring our rolls up to date.
– Is that being done in Victoria?
– No. In Victoria they have not an annual collection, as in New South Wales. We are merely taking advantage of the electoral machinery that they have in that State.
– Will not the Victorian Electoral Department work with the Commonwealth Department ?
– Yes, and we intend to utilize the State electoral machinery as much as possible.
– Will the New South Wales Electoral Department work with the Commonwealth ?
– Yes, and all the necessary instructions have been given. In Queensland a collection has recently been made, and we find that many additional names can be placed upon our rolls. We find that in Tasmania there are many additional names on the State rolls, and we have asked the assistance of the -police in the compilation of our rolls, in order that they may be rendered as complete as possible. In every State we are endeavouring to make the rolls as perfect as possible. All this is causing a very heavy strain on the Department, and extra work beyond anything that was contemplated. We hope that when we arrive at electoral uniformity, and the State and Commonwealth authorities are able to co-operate, there will be an annual collection throughout the Commonwealth, as is now the case in New South Wales. I am merely mentioning these facts to enable honorable members to realize the enormous difficulties in the compilation of the rolls, and in the readjustment due to the desire on the part of the Government to give each State the representation to which it is entitled. The officers of the Department have had to work extremely hard, and the Acting Chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Bingie, who has been doing the electoral work, in addition to discharging his duties as chief clerk, has laboured so assiduously that he has injured his health. I think that it is only due to that officer, who has been working admirably, and w.hose reputation may be affected if the Electoral Department has not accomplished all that has been expected of it, to mention what has been done. I have only, so far, reached the stage of printing the rolls. After the rolls have been printed they will have to be distributed throughout the length and breadth of Australia.
– It is understood that the printing of the rolls will take about ten weeks ?
– Yes, I understand that the work will occupy that time in Victoria i.
– Ten weeks seems to be a ridiculously long time.
– The Victorian printing office has three rolls to print, and if I can arrange to have the work done in less than ten weeks, I shall do so. All the State printing offices have clone their best to print the rolls expeditiously. They have been working up to their full capacity.
– They are working up to ten and eleven o’clock at night in the Victorian office.
– In connexion with the publication pf the reports of the Electoral Commissioners, I gave instructions that wherever the Commissioners required assistance it was to be at once granted to them. Therefore, there was no excuse for unnecessary delay in that direction. When the rolls are printed, thev will have to be distributed all over Australia. If, for instance, we printed the Western Australian rolls here, thev would” have to be despatched to that State, and some of them would have to be sent along the northern coast as far as Wyndham. Sir John Forrest.- Why should they be printed here?
– Because it was found last year that it was not practicable to have them printed in Western Australia. It is my desire to have the rolls printed in Western Australia, and, if satisfactory arrangements can be made, I shall see’ that the work is done there.
– All that the Minister is saying shows that there is an impossible centralized control.
– Nothing of the kind. My predecessor authorized the printing of the rolls in Melbourne, and I think that be acted quite properly under the circumstances. The printing could not be done in Western Australia. I am merely relating a few facts which are inconsistent with the statements made bv the honorable member. The distribution of the rolls will occupy a considerable time; but if the elections can be held on or about the date mentioned in the motion - the question as to whether it is practicable will, of course, have to be decided by the Governor in Council - every effort will be made in that direction. I have here a complete table showing exactly what has been done. The Commonwealth electoral officers have been working day and night, including Saturday nights, in order to push on with the work.
– -Why was not the office reorganized at an earlier date?
– I do not know. I think that the permanent appointments should have taken place before I took office. When I assumed control, I found that all the most important offices were filled by gentlemen who had been temporarily appointed. In Queensland we had an excellent official, who was borrowed from the Postal Department. He was carrying out the work efficiently, but he was unable to continue to do so without interfering seriously with his ordinary duties. It was, therefore, necessary to appoint a man who could’ devote the whole of his time to the work. I found it necessary to have a Chief Electoral Officer, and to appoint in three of the States Commonwealth permanent electoral officers. These appointments would have been necessary even if the Electoral Office had been administered through the Postal Department. We still hope that the States Governments will come into line with us, and do away with the necessity for two sets of officers to perform practically the same work. We have been in communication with the States Governments, and a Conference of the States and Commonwealth electoral officials has been held, with a view to ascertaining if we cannot harmonise our arrangements ;and save a large sum of money. If we succeed in this direction, we shall have a more efficient system of registration, and better rolls, and also effect considerable economies. I mention these facts in order to show honorable members the difficulties which would beset the Chief Electoral Officer if he were told that the election must take place by a certain date.
– The Minister has not mentioned that all the arrangements have been upset owing to his having declined to take notice of what another Government had done.
– That is not so. I had such a regard for the State represented bv the honorable member that, when I found that its representation rested on an unconstitutional basis, I preferred to place it on a legal basis that could not be questioned. .
– The Prime Minister is responsible for that, owing to the mistake that was made in connexion with the distribution.
– No, he was not. All that happened was that certain statistics were published that did not reveal the necessity for a distribution.
– But the Government went through the process of redistribution.
– That was done on the assumption that the action was constitutional, but doubts were subsequently raised. I think that the representatives of Victoria fully appreciate the value of the opinion given bv no less a person than Mr. Irvine, who advised that the then proceeding was unconstitutional.
– He advised that it would be unconstitutional under any circumstances to give New South Wales an extra representative, whilst taking one away from Victoria.
– I do not think so; he questions the unconstitutionality of acting upon the figures that were published. Since then the necessary legal basis has been sup- . plied. Last year the honorable member for Echuca asked that we should arrange to hold the election at the earliest possible date. I promised the honorable member that I would endeavour to do so, and I think that I have given sufficient evidence to show that that promise has been kept, and that it will be honoured. As we move forward we shall endeavour to arrange for the holding of the election at the earliest possible date. In fixing the date, we shall1 have to look at the matter from an Australian stand-point, and must not be unduly influenced by consideration for Victoria, for New South Wales, or for any other State. If it is found that owing to the harvest in Victoria it ,is impossible for the farmers to go to the poll upon the date of election, it will be a matter for consideration whether some system should not be devised to enable them to record their votes by the machinery of the ballot. The honorable member for Echuca is not the only champion of the farmers. There are honorable members on this side of the House who are direct representatives of the farming section of the community, and who have studied their interests perhaps even more closely than the honorable member has done. It would be well for the honorable member to consider whether his present course of political action is likely to conduce to the interests of those whom he is desirous to serve. We have always borne in mind the interests of the farmers, and will continue to do so, because we recognise that they form one of the most deserving sections of the community. We have, however, to consider the interests of the whole of the electors, and have to fix a date that will be best for all concerned. That matter is now receiving consideration. If honorable members express the opinion that the election should be held at the earliest possible date, thev will merely be declaring themselves in favour of that which has already been done, and is still being carried out bv the officials administering the Department, both at the head office and at every branch throughout the Commonwealth.
.- I was very pleased to hear that the Governmnent were in favour of holding the elections at the earliest possible date. The Minister indicated the progress which is being made with the work of preparation for the elections, but he did not show that it would .not be possible to hold the el ec.tions before the date mentioned in the motion.
– I did not mention any particular date. It may be possible to hold the elections on the date suggested. I indicated that, and I hope that the elections may be held then. But1 I stated that it was impossible to bind /the ‘Chief Electoral Officer down to any particular date.
– I think that he might be bound down to a certain limit.
– In giving instructions to the officers. I indicated that, if possible, arrangements should be made to enable the elections to be held not later than the middle of November.
– - I am very glad to hear that, because every honorable member who has had any experience must know that it is quite practicable to hold the elections within that time. We are all familiar with the formal matters to which the Minister has referred, and we know that they can be attended to simultaneously in all the States, and that the great distances to which reference has been made do not impose insuperable barriers to reasonable expedition. When I was at the head of the Customs Department, I used to receive telegrams, from the most remote parts of the Continent, and I must confess that I never experienced the slightest difficulty in replying, to them by wire upon the same day. Surely the same expedition can be observed in giving instructions - by wire or otherwise - to officers in different parts of the Commonwealth. If the Government desire to hold the general elections before the middle of November, we all know that it is quite possible for them to do so, and I think the necessity for doing so has been pretty well emphasized already. I have given a good deal of consideration to this matter. I am not one who would advocate the granting of facilities to farmers which are denied to any other section of the community. I merely wish, as far as it is practicable, to place the farmers upon an equality with other sections of the community. We know that in spite of anything that we may do we cannot place them upon exactly the same footing. Thev have to contend with many difficulties which are not experienced by any other class. A good deal has been said in reference to the shearers-. I am as much interested in extending to the shearers facilities to vote as I am in granting them to the farmers. But the obstacles in their case are of an altogether different character. If a shearer leaves his own State, and goes to another to pursue his avocation, there is no practical difficulty in the way of him availing himself either of the “Q” form or of the postal vote.
– He cannot; vote outside his own State upon a “ Q “ form.
– He can use the postal vote.
– But he never knows for a week ahead where he will be upon a certain day.
– He is at liberty to take out the necessary form any time after the issue of the writs.
– Cannot the farmer do the same?
– No. The farmer may be within five miles of a polling booth and vet be unable to discontinue his operations in order to exercise the franchise. There is no great loss involved in the discontinuance of shearing for half a day.
– The trouble is that if a man stops operations without She consent of his employer, which is not always obtainable, he has no employment to return to after he has recorded his vote.
– I have had a good deal of experience in connexion with these matters, and I have never known a. single instance of an employer . preventing; a man whose services could be spared, from recording his vote. The difficulty with the farmer is that when his grain is ripe, he cannot incur the risk of leaving it, in order to attend the polling booth. The loss of time that would be thus occasioned is a mere trifle. His chief difficulty is the loss that he might incur by reason of the grain falling out of the ears of his crop. As a practical farmer, the honorable member for Moira knows that. He knows that the loss to which the farmer is liable is infinitely greater than that to which any other section of the community is exposed.
– There is another factor, too, which always weighs with him where employes are concerned. When they go to the polling booth, they sometimes do not return to their work.
– It is to be presumed that they do return. I hope that the honorable member is not. arguing against the interests of the farmer.
– Oh, no.
– I quite agree with the honorable member for Echuca that at the next election there may be the gravest issues involved - issues affecting the interests of the farmer in particular. For instance, if I may be permitted toreferto it, one question which is almost sure to be a prominent feature in the campaign, and one which affects the interests of the farmers vitally, is the proposal to impose an additional land tax. It appears to me that very few honorable members realize the present condition of taxation as between country and city. I will give a very simple illustration of my meaning, and one which will serve to convey to honorable members an accurate idea of what exists at the present time in Victoria. Let us assume that two brothers start life, each being worth£10,000. Let us further suppose that one embarks upon a business in the city, and that the other purchases 1 0,000 acres of land at £1 an acre. The outside rental value of that land, at 5 per cent., is £500 annually, but it would probably be much nearer 4 per cent. Assuming that the brother in the city earned £500 gross from his business, he would be called upon to pay an income tax of £5. That is the rate ruling in Victoria. But what would the country man have to pay? Out of his 10,000 acres, which are worth£1 an acre, there would be 2,500 acres exempt from taxation. The balance of 7,500 acres would bear a tax of 3d. in the£1, or 3d. per acre, which would amount to £93 15s. The local rate for making roads, not exclusively for his own use, but for that of the general public - I am taking the lowest rate prevailing in Victoria - would be , £25. His income tax on a rental of £500 would be just double that levied upon the business man in the city. In other words, it would be £10. He would thus have to pay a total of £128 15s. in taxation, as against his brother’s £5. Yet, what are the questions which are likely to be submitted for decision at the next election? From all that we can judge at the present time, one of the proposals will be more land taxation for the country yokel and more protection for the city man. I have always been an advocate of protection, but I believe in a little modicum of justice. We have been told by the Minister that there are a number of farmers’ representatives upon the other side of the House. I do not doubt his statement for a moment, and I do not doubt that they will vote for this motion. I am not particular whether the motion be carried or not, so long as the Government will agree to hold the elections at the earliest possible moment. They can do it, as we all know, and I sincerely hope that they will.
– Does the honorable member say that land which is worth £1 per acre pays 3d. in the £1 taxation?
– Yes. I go further and say that there is a good deal of land in Victoria which is classified at 10s. and 5s. per acre, and which, also bears the same rate of taxation. One pound per acre for taxation purposes is the minimum, and lands which are classified at 15s, 10s., and 5s. per acre contribute at the same rate.
– The taxation is based, not upon the cash value of the land, but upon its sheep-carrying capacity.
– The only person who obtains any advantage under the present system is the individual who holds highclass land which is worth more than£4 per acre.
– Land valued at £1 per acre is not classified at £1 per acre, but according to its sheep-carrying capacity.
– If it is not worth2s. 6d. an acre, it is valued at £1 for taxation purposes.
– Is this an electioneering address ?
– I am advancing reasons why the farmer ought to be allowed to record his vote. One of those reasons is that. his own vital interests will be at stake at the next election.
– Who will prevent him from recording his vote?
– Those who oppose the holding of the elections at a time when he would be afforded reasonable facilities to exercise the franchise.
– Who does’ the honorable member imagine will do that?
– I do not know that any one will. The speech of the Minister of Home Affairs encourages the belief that the Government intend that the elections shall be held at the earliest possible date. A1J I wish to emphasize is the necessity for that step being taken. I wish also to emphasize that there are no practical obstacles to prevent that being done. If the Minister will give peremptory instructions that the elections must not be held later than the middle of November, I am perfectly satisfied that his officers will carry them out.
– In Victoria, a section of the press1 has been declaring that the elections should be held in October.
– I should very much like to see them held1 in October; but I am. afraid that there are some constitutional difficulties which prevent that. But certainly they should be held before the middle of November. If thev take place at any later period, harvesting operations will be in full swing, and a very large proportion of the farming community, including their employes, who are equally entitled to consideration, will be disfranchised1. Where it is manifest to the workers that thev cannot leave their emplover’s crop without involving him in serious loss, my experience is that they refuse to inflict that loss upon him.
– I move–
That all the words after the word “ House “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “the general election should be held as soon as practicable.”
I do not know why honorable members should laugh at my proposal. If they do not desire to embarrass the Government, and to make this question a party one, they will accept the amendment. It is quite impossible to fix a date for the holding of the forthcoming elections, and my only regret is that in discussing a question of this kind, upon which there should be no party feeling, references to Socialism and. land taxation have been dragged in. All parties! agree that it is desirable that the elections should be held at the time which is most suitable to the largest number of voters. I am sure that the Government are just as anxious that the elections should be held at .as early a date as possible, as any honorable member of the Opposition can be. It is within my own knowledge that officers of the Electoral Department are working night after night till 10 o’clock at the present time, and it will be necessary to subject them to even greater pressure. I trust that the amendment will be carried’.
– Is the amendment seconded ?
– I desire to second it.
– - Mr. Speaker-
– Am I not entitled to speak to the amendment?
– The honorable member for North Sydney has .risen two or three times, and I am bound to see him next. I asked if there was a seconder for the amendment, and the honorable member for Corio, having seconded it, I put the amendment to the House. I must now call the honorable member for North Sydney.
– On a point of order, while I have no objection to the honorable member for North Sydney being given precedence of me, I desire to speak to the amendment, and I submit that it is not necessary that, in seconding it, I should do so formally. I understand that, desiring to second an amendment, I am at liberty to make a speech, and conclude by doing so.
– That is so, undoubtedly, but I took it that the honorable member rose to formally second the amendment. Honorable members are aware that I waited for some moments to see if the amendment would be seconded, and when, as I understood, the honorable member formally seconded the amendment, I called, on the honorable member for North Sydney. The honorable member for Corio will be able to speak later, if he so desires.
– I should not have the least objection to give way to the honorable member for Corio, but for the fact that I must catch the express, and I shall lose my opportunity if I do not speak now. I should not have spoken were it not for a remark made by the Minister. The honorable gentleman said that, in his opinion, the re-organization of the Electoral Department should have been taken in hand before his entry into office. The reorganization that is spoken of is not a very serious matter. The honorable gentleman has appointed an officer as Chief Electoral Officer, and otherwise, I believe, he has practically the same staff as comprised the Department before his acceptance pf office.
– Commonwealth, officers have been appointed in the States, and other matters have been attended to.
– A Chief Electoral Officer has been appointed, but, speaking generally, the same staff is conducting the operations of the Electoral Department which conducted them in the past. I informed the House, when I had an opportunity of speaking on the proposals submitted by the Minister in connexion with the Electoral Bill - which proposals were largely amendments which I had previously adopted - that I was satisfied that no reorganization on the present lines will achieve what is necessary, in the case of an electorate so large as all Australia, to secure the efficient, speedy, and successful carrying out of elections. I was then convinced, and I am still more convinced by what we know to-day, and bv the remarks of the Minister, that when we have to reach the remote confines of Australia with our electoral administration, and must control such an enormous area from one centre, the Department operating over all that area must be handling the electoral administration, not merely at the time of an election, or suddenly when the rush of an’ election comes on, but day by day and hour by hour during the whole period between elections. That can only be accomplished by a staff so large and so permanent in character as that represented by the staff of the Commonwealth Post Office Department, assisted - and that could be arranged - by the States police forces and bv States school teachers in remote districts. With a reorganization of the Electoral Department on those lines, we should have the strongest electoral staff in the world. In conducting the business, on the lines at present adopted, there will always be weaknesses, because we are depending upon men in remote districts who are not permanent officers of the Commonwealth.
They are men in receipt of small salaries, and liable to be removed from time to time. They constitute weak links in the chain; some of them give way and then the whole system breaks down.
– One State officer received a voucher for 10½d. for his services during a year.
– I do not know what that individual could have had to do.
– He was a registrar.
– The fact shows either that there was no work for him to do, and that he should not have been appointed, ors if there ‘was work for him to do, that he did not do it, and should not have received the 10½d
– He did the work, but he returned the 10½d
– These officers form a number of weak links in what ought to be a very strong chain extending throughout he Commonwealth’. I had come to the conclusion, in which I have been confirmed by the remarks of the Minister to-day, that if the work of the Electoral Department is to be done thoroughly, it must be in hand all the time. Honorable members will see that if a returning officer is removed from his position, there is an electoral chaos in his district for a time, because his successor will know nothing of the work. If it were the work practically of a permanent Department, every boy and youth in it would come in contact with that work day by day, just as they do with the money order business of the Post Office Department at the present time, and in the event of vacancies arising there would be an enormous staff of persons competent to undertake the conduct of the business, from which they could be filled. I repeat that there is no reorganization attempted now. There has been merely the placing of one officer, who in his position in Tasmania was a very good officer, and who, I hope, will prove to be a good officer in the position to which he has now been appointed. In the coming elections other officers in the Department will naturally, from their previous connexion with the work, be more useful for the time being. I have no desire to unduly criticise the Department or the Minister. I am aware that the officers in the Department work their very hardest, and, indeed, overwork themselves in their endeavours to carry on the necessary electoral work. I have every sympathy with them. I know that the Minister will also have to overwork himself in connexion with the coming elections. But I do say that there has not been that anticipation of difficulties which might be expected. For instance, I may refer to the measure which created a difficulty in the first instance, and to which the Minister has alluded. It fixed the occasions for the redistribution o’f State representation. The result attained1 by that measure was just the same as that -which would .have been obtained by the process which the previous Ministry desired to adopt, and which was ‘ the very process which had already been adopted by the Barton Government, of which the present Prime Minister was the Attorney-General. It seemed to me that that measure was brought in by the present Government to save its face, or to save the face of some of its members. Some of them having said in the press, before they became Ministers, that the process proposed by the late Government was not right, they had to do something, or it would have been an admission that they had been incorrect in their statements. That delayed matters ; but we have passed that, and have come now to the position after the last redistribution. I quite agree that an enormous amount of work had to be clone after that. In some cases the whole of the voters in certain polling areas had to be transferred from the old electorate into a new electorate. That is not a very difficult task where there is no division of a polling area by the alteration of a border line.
– Some of them have been cut in two.
– That is so. Some of the polling areas have been bisected.
– Verv few. I think.
– There must be a great many throughout the Common wealth.
– That is quite true. There are many in Victoria, alone.
– The honorable member for Echuca might not knowit, but in the Department it is known thatit is difficult to judge from the maps where polling places get their voters from, as electors have their names put down for polling places at some considerable distance from the place at which they reside.
– But I presume that transfers are made from the various centres to other large centres?
– The transfer is a matter which must take some time. The officers must go round and collect all the names, ascertain which division they are in, and which polling place the electors are to be enrollled for.
– The difficulty applies more to the country than to the town electorates.
– The matter is, of course, much more difficult in country electorates. One of the causes of delay, of course, arises in connexion with the printing. I am not aware whether the Minister has already adopted the course, but I would suggest that the printing should go on immediately after the receipt of the Commissioner’s report.
– We do not wait until all the materials are complete, and the officers of the Department, have instructions to proceed as soon as possible with the printing.
– What I had decided was that immediately the reports of the Commissioners were in, all the registrars should be communicated with to send down the latest information.
– They are at work upon’ that now.
– If that course had been adopted, the information from the bulk of the electorates should be in the hands of the Department now.
– I think there should be a great deal of it in.
– Even the police returns are not in yet. The honorable gentleman will remember that the report; of the Commissioner for Victoria was fairly late in coning in.
– The honorable gentleman refers to the police returns in the case of border polling areas ?
– I think there was no necessity to have waited for them. The information might have been obtained from the central polling places, comprising the bulk of the electors. If the registrars were asked to send in the latest information as soon as the Commissioners’ reports were received, that information should be in now for many of the city and suburban electorates, and for the nearer country districts. If they have sent that information in, the necessary alterations can be made, and all the rolls except those for the border line polling areas for- warded to the printing offices. A great deal of time is always taken in printing the rolls, and a hitch of some kind or other may happen at any time; but if a great many of the rolls are dealt with now, there will be .an opportunity to rush the others through later on. I am in sympathy with the object of the honorable member for Echuca, though, knowing the difficulties with which the Department has to contend, I think, after what the Minister has said, that the officers will have great trouble in getting everything ready for elections even so late ais the 31st December. It will be only by adopting the best methods that the elections can be held at an earlier date, though in saying that I am. not criticising the Minister, or questioning his sincerity. Every week by which the time between now and the date fixed for the elections is diminished will serve to prove the increased) activity of the officers of the Department, who are now, I know, working very hard. We have not yet faced the problem of organizing a Commonwealth electoral staff, but I feel that at some future time Parliament will be compelled! to do so. I hope that when that is’ done means will be taken to keep the rolls complete from day to day by the assistance of the letter-carriers throughout the various States, instead of, as now, getting them as complete as possible for an election - they are often even then very incomplete; - and then allowing them to fall back until they can be got ready again. for a new election, not in a month or two, but after a frantic rush during five or six months. I agree with the honorable member for Echuca that, in fixing the date for a general election, the convenience of the electors should be studied, and that, whenever possible, loss should not be entailed upon them, by requiring them to record their votes at a busy period of the year. But we have no right to consider how one political party or another will benefit by the fixing of the date of the elections in a particular month. The honorable member for Echuca may have suggested that it would be to the disadvantage of the Labour Party to hold the elections on the date he proposes, while the leader of that party may have said that it would be io its advantage to hold them then, because it would give the employes of the farmers an opportunity to vote. The real, question, is, what is the best date to fix to prevent interference with the occupations and avocations of the electors. I trust that the Govern-. ment will expedite the holding of the coming elections. The later in the year that the elections are held, the greater will be the number of persons penalized. I agree with the honorable member for Bland that it might be a good thing to hold the elections in the first half of the year, but the forthcoming elections must, of course, be held before the end of this year, and as soon as possible. If, by extra exertion - and a great deal of extra exertion will be needed - the elections can be held on the date named by the honorable member for Echuca, that date should be fixed.
.- Although I seconded the amendment, I did so chiefly to secure an opportunity to speak at once, because it seems to me to matter little whether the motion be carried as it stands, or as it is proposed to amend it. In any case, the elections will be held as soon as practicable, because on the 15th November Parliament will be in recess, and possibly this! House will have been dissolved, so that the Government will then have a free hand, and will, of course, do only what is practicable in the matter. I regret, however, that a tendency has been shown by some members of the Opposition to make political capital out of the motion. With the exception of one or two representatives! of metropolitan divisions, practically all of us represent rural as well as urban voters. Even the Melbourne Ports division is big enough to contain a certain number of farmers.
– I represent fifty-four.
– I regret, therefore, that the honorable member for Gippsland suggested that the question is that of’ town versus country. We have had a good many indications of the fact that at the next general elections the Opposition ‘intend to raise the flag of anti-Socialism, but there have been a good many false issues raised, and it was interesting to hear the honorable member compare the difficulties under which the farming population labour with the position of the manufacturing population of the towns. According to him. the issue at the next elections will be whether, to use his own words, the country vokel should be taxed to give more protection to the manufacturing population in the towns. We may take it that that branch of the Opposition which consists of so many in”gredients, and now. places itself under the leadership of the honorable member for Gippsland, who repudiates for the time that of the right honorable member for East Sydney, is going to tight against further protection to the manufacturers of Victoria.
– The honorable and learned member is not now discussing the question before the Chair.
– I regret that this matter has been brought in, and the issue of town versus country raised ; but, as the honorable member for Gippsland has raised it, I felt it necessary to refer to it. The Minister has told us that delay must occur, because the police in Queensland and New South Wales have not yet sent in complete lists. I think it a very great pity that the collection and’ revision of the rolls is not conducted on a uniform system throughout the States, and that the police are not similarly employed in Victoria. It is unfortunate that the Commonwealth depends for the correctness of its rolls upon States machinery.
– We have a collection of our own every three years. Mr. CROUCH, - Yes ; but it seems to me unfair that, because the States machinery is better in Queensland and New South Wales than it is in Victoria, the candidates for election in those States should be able to go to the country on more uptodate rolls than are obtainable in Victoria.
– We are trying to arrange with the States for an annual collection.
– I do not think that we should depend’ on the machinery of the States. It is an unfortunate thing that we have not a uniform Commonwealth method. There has been a special effort made by members of the Opposition to place in the wrong the representatives of farming constituencies who sit on the Ministerial side of the Chamber. As in my division there are 16,000 rural electors, and only 12,000 urban electors, I am naturally desirous of doing all that I can for the protection of the farmers, and therefore resent the attempts which have been made ito show that we on this side are not their friends.
– The honorable and’ learned member need make no explanations if he votes properly.
– The honorable member for Gippsland wishes to have the 15th November fixed upon as the date of the next general election ; but I prefer to have the election take place as soon as practicable, which may mean that it will take place before that date.
– That explanation will not be accepted bv the farmers.
– If it does not, I, and not the honorable member, will take the consequences. . At any rate, the farmers will not be deceived by the protestations of those who say that they are anxious that the general elections shall be held on the 15th November, when, possibly, they could be held a month earlier. I do not wish to deal with the constitutional point which has been raised’. It may be, if the members of the Senate are required to attend in their places within thirty days of the general elections, that senators will be summoned to attend a meeting of a Parliament in which they may ha.ve only a few days to sit, and, possibly, if the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives are to be held on the one day, it will be necessary under the Constitution to hold them on some day in December. Of course, if that is so, we must bow to the Constitution.
– I fully expected that when the question as to the date upon which the elections should be held was raised, consideration would be given to the interests of all classes of electors. Instead of that, it appears that a certain number of farmers in Victoria - a small percentage of them - desire that a date shall be fixed that will be suitable to them, without paying consideration to any other class. I wish to enter my emphatic protest against this attempt to show favour to one class over another. We are here to represent, not any particular section of the community, but the whole of the humanity of Australia. We represent the electors, not as they are associated with the possession of property of one kind or another, but merely as men and women, and every elector is entitled to equal consideration. The first suggestion that the elections should be held in October, to meet the convenience of the farmers, was made bv the Farmers and Property Owners’ Defence League. In the interests of a much more numerous class, whom I thought were entitled to equal consideration. I addressed a letter to the Prime Minister objecting to the elections being held in October.
– The Minister stated that no attempt had been made to influence the Government in regard to the date of the election.
– Honorable members are too fond of insinuating that the Go- vernment are liable to be influenced by members of the Labour Party. I merely wrote a letter containing a statement of fact, namely, that October would be the most unsuitable month that could be selected so far as the shearers were concerned.
– What about class representation now ?
– The principal sinner in that respect is the leader of the Opposition, who has expressed his approval of trie attitude assumed bv the Property Owners’ Defence League. Now we find the honorable member for Echuca, the deputy leader of the Opposition, and the honorable member for Gippsland, taking up a similar attitude. The honorable member for Gippsland’ had a good deal to say about the imposition of a tax upon the farmers. I do not know who is going to make such a proposal.
– The honorable member’s leader has announced his intention to do so.
– No, he has not. He has announced that he is in favour of taxing the big estates.
– And he has, at the same time, indicated that the States Parliaments will look after the taxation of the smaller men.
– Nothing has been said by any member of our party in advocacy of a tax upon farmers. In dealing with this question, we should consider what date will prove most suitable for all parties. Unfortunately, any date in the latter half of the year is unsuitable for a certain proportion of the electors. I believe March would be the best month to select. I have no objection to the fixing of a date that would be convenient for the farmers, but I claim that the interests of other classes must also be considered. If the_elections were held at harvest time, many more farm labourers than farmers would be disfranchised, and, if in October or November, many thousands of shearers who could not take advantage of the postal vote, would be unable to go to the poll. The farmer, who has a home, and a postal address, is in a much better position to avail himself of the facilities for voting by post than is the nomadic shearer or shed hand, who does not know when he will have to change his address. A shearer cannot tell definitely when the shed! in which he is engaged will cut out, or the shed to which he will next proceed, so that there are practical difficulties in the way of shearers availing themselves of the postal vote. In New South Wales shearing begins in July or August, and is in progress in some parts of that State at the end of the year. The great bulk of the shearing, however, is done in September and October, whilst shearing in Victoria practically begins in October. In New South Wales and Queensland the shearing sheds are great distances apart, and in many cases three weeks are occupied1 before a reply can be obtained to a letter despatched from one of the shearing sheds to the metropolis. We find that there is something behind this movement ostensibly in> the interests of the farmer. What is now being proposed is merely a means to an end. The honorable member for Echuca began his address by referring to the influence exercised by the Labour Party, and to the desirability of bringing about a radical change in this Parliament. I should like to know why this reference should be made to party politics in connexion with the subject now under discussion. It is apparent to me that an effort is being made to fix such a date that a large number of those who vote for labour representatives will be disfranchised. It seems to me that it would be disgraceful if such a result were brought about.
– Hear, hear.
– The honorable member for Parramatta, who cheers my statement, was one of those who were responsible for the introduction of party politics into this discussion.
– I merely replied to the remarks made by the honorable member for Bland.
– The idea underlying this movement for the holding of the elections at an earlier date than previously is to, if possible, weaken the Labour Party, and I strongly protest against any assistance being lent to those who desire to bring about that result. I do not wish to see the supporters of any party disfranchised. I think that equal opportunities should be given to all classes. The farmer may be put to some slight inconvenience in proceeding to the poll at harvest time ; but, unless the weather conditions are quite exceptional, he runs very little risk of loss. The farm labourer, who has to stop work in order to record his vote, loses his pay, and that is an important matter to him. In these days of improved machinery the farmer runs little or no risk. Then, again, we know very well that a comparatively small number of crops ripen simultaneously, and therefore only a small percentage of farmers would be harvesting on election day. In fact, if the Government could arrange for the election to take place on a wet day, the farmers would have no right to complain. The Government, in dealing with this matter, must consider the whole of the Commonwealth, and not take into account the conditions which prevail in any particular district. The harvesting season varies in different parts of the Commonwealth, and a date that would be convenient for the Victorian farmers might be extremely unsuitable for those located in other places. If the elections are held at an early date, as has been suggested, thousands of shearers - there are 16,000 shearers in the New South Wales union alone; - will be disfranchised.
– The honorable member must know that there are far more farmers than there are shearers.
– There are not. The honorable member knows that what I say is perfectly correct. There is, a percentage of farmers only who are interested in the holding of the elections at a certain period of the year. I need scarcely point out that all the shearing sheds do not start operations upon the same d’are, neither do all the farmers commence reaping their crops simultaneously. I maintain that the agriculturists who engage in harvesting at a particular period of the year comprise but a limited number of the farming class. The latter need not lose a single vote if they choose to exercise it. Upon more than one occasion we have heard the leader of the Opposition use strong language in speaking of those who were careless, and apathetic enough not to record their votes. It ‘is quite a new thing to learn that the farmers were prevented from voting at the last election.
– I know hundreds qf farmers who were prevented from exercising the franchise.
– Hitherto the complaint has been that they were too careless to vote. Have honorable members forgotten the evidence which was taken by the Electoral Commission? Have they forgotten the statement made by various witnesses that members of the capitalistic class would not take the trouble to cross the street in order to vote, unless they were paid for sio doing ?
In my own electorate there is a very large number of shearers. These men are not apathetic. They would drive 50,’ 60, or even 100 miles to exercise the franchise. They are live men and intelligent citizens of the Commonwealth. The farmers have buggies and horses, and every facility to enable them to attend the polling-booth, and I repeat that the percentage of those whose operations would prevent them from recording their votes! in November or December is verv small. I was rather suspicious when I learned that the leader of the Opposition was eagerly jumping at the chance of holding the elections in October. But this afternoon, the honorable member for Echuca has given the show away. He has told us that the object of the move is to strike a blow at the Labour Party, with a view to restoring the two-party system in this House. Is not that practically a confirmation of my statement that if the elections are held in October or November a large body of men who .are notoriously labour supporters will be disfranchised?
– Did not the honorable member for Bland say the other day that we were working for the restoration of the two-party system?
– -I do not mind if the Labour Party sweeps the polls and becomes the dominant party in this Parliament. But what has that to do with the date of holding the next general elections? I say that no party considerations should be allowed to obtrude themselves in the discussion of a motion of this character. I never anticipated that ideas of that character would find expression in the National Legislature. Whilst we must consider the occupations of the people to the extent of seeing that the general elections are fieldi at the time which is suitable to the majority, we should go no further. I am quite prepared to leave the fixing of the date of the elections in the hands of the Government.
– Which, of course, means leaving it in the hands of the Labour Party.
– That is merely one of those platform cries which members of the Opposition so frequently use to gull the electors. The same honorable relations exist between the Labour Party ‘ and _ the present Government as existed in New South Wales between that party, and the Government of which the honorable member was a Minister. I challenge him to say that there was anything dishonorable in the relations between those two parties.
– I have heard such things suggested, and promptly repudiated.
– The honorable member is sometimes very suspicious without good cause. I maintain that any time between July and the end of the year is an inconvenient one at which to hold the elections, because it is at that period that the industrial activities of country residents are the greatest. Of the classes that are inconvenienced under the existing arrangement, the farmers have the greatest opportunity of taking advantage of the electoral provisions for voting by post. For that reason the later in the year that the elections are held the better. I have no doubt that the Minister will procure information from various farming districts of the Commonwealth.
– With due regard to the honorable member’s letter.
Mr.SPENCE.-The honorable member for Gippsland seems to entertain the idea that somebody else is always anxious to secure concessions for a particular class. I am sorry that I should be called upon to act: as a missionary in any endeavours to enlighten him. T. say that if the elections are held in October, more persons will be disfranchised than if they are held later in the year. I have not heard that any large number of farmers were prevented from voting at the last election, although I am aware that some of them were very apathetic about the exercise of the franchise. I trust that the motion will be rejected. The honorable member who brought it forward should be content with having had the matter ventilated. I quite admit that the most suitable period for all parties at which to hold the elections would be about March. Taking the Commonwealth as a whole, it will be found that a considerable number of electors will be disfranchised, no matter when the elections are held. I hope that this matter will be left entirely in the hands of the Government. Assuming that the motion be carried, what effect can it have? It seems to me that, having ventilated the ‘matter, the honorable member for Echuca might well withdraw his proposal. He must know that the Government will select the most suitable date upon which to hold the elections. The brunt of the attack made by members of the Opposition this afternoon has been directed, not against the Ministry, but against the Labour Party. If the Opposition wish to see only two parties in this House, why do they not join the Labour Party and wipe out the Government? We have heard of such things having been done in connexion with the States Parliaments in the past, but I hope that in the higher and purer atmosphere of Federal politics, of which we heard so much in preFederation days, no such suggestion will be made. Hence my protest against these references to party views. We should, I think, make ready for some change in the Constitution,fixing the election at an earlier period. I shall not go info that matter, which involves very much more than the mere alteration of the date of the election. Honorable members will agree that it would be necessary to alter the time when a senator should be assumed to have taken his seat. It would be manifestly unfair that a senator elected in March should be unable totake his seat until the following January and that in the meantime, the State concerned should be represented by a man who might have been rejected by the electors. There are bigger questions involved than the mere date of election, but the matter is one which we must face, if we do not desire that the elections shall continue to be held at a most unsuitable time. Honorable members know that at one time we gave up nearly six months of our legitimate term of office, and it is now agreed that we were rather foolish to do so. The elections were first of all held in March, and that practice should have been continued. We took the course we did in order to save the money of the people of the Commonwealth, but we have never had any thanks for doing so. On the contrary, complaints are frequently made that our expenditure is extravagant. It would be wise, I think, for us to revert to the previous position, and the necessity for some alteration should not be lost sight of by the Government. I have suggested what I believe would be a remedy for a condition of things which is admittedly unsatisfactory, and which would enable the elections to be held at a time which would be convenient for the majority of the electors.
– I regret that advantage should have been taken of an apparently harmless motion to endeavour to make political capital for one political party. It would appear, fromthe speeches made by some honorable members, that they alone are the persons who take a particular interest in the welfare of the farmer, and are the only members of the House who give any attention to his wants. I absolutely disagree that those honorable members are the only persons who look after the interests of the farmers, and I also repudiate the suggestion that in the past the farmer has not received a fair share of consideration. Looking, over the figures supplied in connexion with the last Federal elections, I find that in Corangamite, the first country division on the list, a higher percentage of votes was polled than in any other electorate in Victoria.
– Will the honorable member quote the South Australia figures?
– I am quoting the Victorian figures, because I regard this motion as a Victorian move in the interests of one political party.
– The high percentage of votes was cast in the towns of the country electorates, but in the farming, portions of those electorates, there was a very low percentage of votes polled.
– The constituencies which are held to be farming constituencies, and are represented by men who claim to be farmers’ representatives, show a very high percentage of votes recorded. The percentage of votes recorded in Corangamite, was 60.58, the highest recorded in any Victorian division. In the country division of Corio, the percentage recorded was 57-99 In the division of Wannon,, represented by that typical farmers’ representative, Mr. Robinson, the percentage of votes recorded was 53.97.
– And in the farming centres the votes polled’ did not number more than 30 per cent, of those on the roll.
– I shall combat the honorable and learned member’s argument by quoting some of the percentages from town electorates when I have dealt with the country electorates. In the Wimmera electorate, which is almost a purely farming and pastoral division, the percentage of votes recorded was 51. 11. I now come to some of the city electorates of Victoria, and I find that in Southern Melbourne the percentage of votes recorded was 53.59, or the same as the percentage recorded in the Wannon electorate. Iri Northern Melbourne, 48.16 per cent, of the votes on the rolls was recorded. In the Ballarat electorate, represented’ by the Prime Minister, and a purely city constituency, the percent age of votes recorded was 46.92, a lower percentage than that recorded’ in any of the country constituencies to which I have referred. Still honorable members claim that the farmer is the only person who does not get an opportunity to record his vote. The returns show that in the country divisions a greater number of electors go to the poll than in the city divisions.
– The honorable member is mistaken.
– Then the figures presented by the Department of Home Affairs are wrong, and the honorable and learned member is right.
– There was a high percentage of votes recorded’ in the towns in country electorates, but in the farming centres of those electorates not more than 30 per cent, of the electors recorded their votes. *
– Assuming that the honorable and learned member’s statement will stand investigation, I ask how it is that so many more votes were recorded in towns outside the metropolitan area than, in electorates within the metropolitan area? In the Grampians division, the percentage of votes recorded was 49.67, which, judging by a rough glance at the figures, is well up to, if not beyond, the average. I have every consideration for the farmer. I believe that, in common with other people, he should be able to have his opinions voiced in this Chamber, and impressed upon the legislation that is passed ; but the choice of representatives by the farming constituencies is scarcely consistent with the arguments we have heard this afternoon. We are told that the farmer clamours for certain consideration, and’ when he is given the opportunity he selects a city lawyer as his representative. I have not the slightest objection to that. If the farmers of Wannon prefer the present hon- ~orable and learned member for that constituency to a practical farmer, that is their look out. I notice from the Age that it is proposed in Flinders now to displace the present purely farming representative of that electorate by another city lawyer in the person of Mr. Irvine.
– Wharf labourers do the same thing.
– If they select as their representative a man who is thoroughly conversant with their particular interests, I have nothing to say, but it is a marvellous thine that we should have the iniquitous conditions from which the farmer suffers voiced by men who seldom get outside of Collins-street and the law courts of Melbourne. In the interests of a section of the community composed of men who are doing as much for the advancement of the country as are the farmers, I object to this motion. I refer to the people who go into the interior of Australia in search of mineral deposits. The low percentage of voters on the rolls who cast their votes at the last Federal elections in Western Australia is notorious. In many of the outposts of Western Australia a few. people were gathered together, but, as in such places, men do not remain for any very considerable time, very many electors were disfranchised at the last elections. Instead of being able to record a vote of over 60 per cent, of the electors on the rolls, as was done in the Corangamite division of Victoria, the number of voters recording their votes at the elections in Western Australia was not more than 26 per cent, of the number on the rolls. This shows that the farmer has received twice the consideration in the matter of representation that has been received by the gold-mining section of the community.
– Are not the gold miners moving about for the greater part of the year ?
– A rush may take place which may attract hundreds of men to a particular district ; thev may remain for a few weeks, and should the find turn out to be a “ duffer,” thev get back into the cities again for another few weeks.
– We could not fix a time for the elections which would suit those people.
– I admit that it would be difficult to do so, but I object to the fixing of an arbitrary date at this time without any consideration for the people of the outposts of Australia. In my electorate which, I may casually mention, is as big as the State of Victoria, I may inform honorable members that there is mail communication with Eucla bv subsidized steamer only once every three months. The people there get their supplies under the same conditions. That is from the Western Australian side, and their means of communication from the South Australian side is no better. If we fix an arbtrary date for the elections at the present time, should a steam-boat leave for Eucla in the near future, it is just possible that there would not be another leaving for that place before the elections took place. The right honorable member for Swan will be able to bear me out when I say that it may taka months for the Electoral Department to get into communication with places like Derby and Onslow. The fixing of a definite date . for the next Federal elections, whilst it might assist a few farmers, might do serious injustice to other sections of the community. The height of summer, when the farmer is gathering his grain, is not the most convenient time at which to hold the Federal elections, but, whilst I have no desire to do anything which would1 be unfair to the farmer, or which might prevent him from recording his vote, I repudiate what I consider an attempt by a certain political party to make capital out of this proposal, and I desire to see consideration given to the interests of people in the more remote portions of the Commonwealth.
.- I shall not occupy many minutes of the time of the House, because, in my opinion, the disabilities under which the farmers labour when they have to record their votes in the last month of the year have already been well pointed out by a number of honorable members. I do not agree with the honorable member for Darling that it would make much difference to the shearers if the elections were held on the 15th instead of the end of November. The Minister, I understand, has promised that the next elections shall be held with the least possible delay, and probably before the 15th November.
– I said that I have given instructions to keep in view a date in the middle of November.
– When were those instructions issued? «
– Some weeks ago.
– Then why were we not told of them the other day?
– I was asked to state definitely when the elections would be held.
– The honorable member for Bland and the honorable member for Darling both dwelt on the advisableness of holding the elections in March or April, and, although it had not occurred! to me before, it seems to me now that, we have ourselves to blame to a great extent for having changed the time of the holding of the elections from the earlier to the later months of the year. There has been a good deal of talk on this point this afternoon, and I hope that it will not be without a good practical result. I feel that it would be a very simple matter, after the expression of opinion which we have had, to secure an- alteration of the Constitution which would bring about what is desired. But the matter should be taken in hand1 at once, because such an alteration requires, not only that majorities in the two Chambers of the Legislature shall vote for it, but that it shall be before the electors for at least two months before they are called upon to express their opinion in regard to it. If the people are not asked to express their opinion on this matter at the next general elections, they cannot, unless a special referendum is taken, be asked to do so before 1909, so that it wiLl be impossible to effect before 1912 the change which we wish to bring about. The honorable member for Darling somewhat overstated the case when he said that some shearers have more difficulties to face in going to the poll than have the farmers. It is easy to say that the farmers may vote by post, but that can be done only when electors live seven miles away from a polling-place, and, if a farmer requires all his time for the harvesting of a valuable crop, he will not go to a pollingplace which is only three or four miles away. I remember that, during the last elections, I heard of, not one, but several, electors who would! not take the trouble to vote, although they were within sight of a polling-place. However, as I said at the commencement, the disabilities of the farmers have been fully placed before the House, and I rose only to ask the Minister to consider seriously whether steps cannot be taken at once to provide for the alteration of the Constitution which has been suggested.
.- I wish to point out, in connexion with, the suggestions of the honorable members for Bland and Darling, that, although there seems to be an unanimous opinion that the latter months are more unsuitable than the earlier months of the year for an election, the worst month of all is December. Our experience in 1903 showed that to be the case. It is impossible, of course, to fix a date for the holding of the elections which will inconvenience no elector ; but it is our business, so far as we can, to ascertain, and to fix that date which will be least inconvenient to the majority. So far as those engaged in agriculture, whether they be employers or employes, are concerned, the nearer the date of the general election to the end of the year the more marked will be the inconvenience to which they will be put if they wish to vote, because at that time climatic conditions are often unfavorable, and there is consequent risk of great loss from the cessation of work for even a few hours. Although a certain number of electors would be inconvenienced by the holding of the elections in November, most of them are electors who could vote by post. The cases in which three weeks would be taken for electors to send and get an answer to letters are, of course, abnormal, and by the middle of November the shearing iti the more northern parts of the Commonwealth has been finished, and those who have been engaged in it are back in their homes, or living again within comparatively easy reach of postal facilities. When the choice is between those who can, with nothing more than a little inconvenience, record1 their votes through the post-office, and those who cannot record it at all without risk of material financial loss, the latter should Le considered first. To hold, the elections not later than the middle of November would inconvenience fewer persons than to hold them in December, when, in some cases, electors would be altogether prevented from voting. This is an instance in which, as we cannot find a course of action altogether free from inconvenience, it is our business to choose that which is least open- to criticism. The experience of 1903 shows that December is the worst month for the holding of an election, because at that time of the year many electors are prevented from voting, not by reason of their negligence, carelessness, or indifference, but because of the risk to their financial well-being in ceasing from work to go to the poll. I am very glad that the Minister has instructed! his officials to have in mind the middle of November as the date for the holding of the elections. It is not merely the farmers, but their employes as well, who have to be considered. Every adult elector should, if possible, be afforded an opportunity to vote, and no elector should be prevented, by the risk of loss, from recording his vote. In view of the statement of the Minister, I cannot understand why the Government will not accept the motion, because all it declares is that, in the opinion of the House, the general elections should be held not later than the 15th November, and. if possible, earlier. Of course, if it is impossible to hold them earlier, it is useless: to discuss the matter. After what the Minister has said, I see no reason why the arrangements for the holding of the elections should not be completed1 by the date mentioned. The motion is couched in language to which no exception can be taken on the ground that it is an attack upon or a challenge to the Government, and as both the Ministry and the Labour Party have expressed concurrence with the proposal that the elections should, if possible, be held at the date fixed, I shall not hesitate to vote for the motion if it is pressed to a division.
.- I was astonished to hear the honorable member for Darling assert that there was no considerable disfranchisement of farmers at the last general elections. If he had studied the returns of the voting, he would know that that statement was far from correct. The percentages given by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, in order to reenforce the argument of the honorable member for Darling, although, no doubt, put forward in perfectly good faith, cannot
De accepted as a reliable criterion. No percentages have been given of the votes cast at the different polling booths, the percentages applying only to the voting in the divisions, and1 it must be remembered that in many of the farming districts there are towns where the great bulk of the votes were recorded.
– Is it to be presumed that the electors in the country towns voted in greater numbers proportionately than did the electors of the large centres ?
– Not necessarily, but, given equal conditions, there is a strong probability that that happened. The honorable member for Darling sought to show that the farmers were not deprived of the opportunity to vote, and that they were too apathetic to go to the polls. No doubt the charge of apathy as applied to some fanners is to some extent, perhaps to a large extent, true, just as it is true as applied to many other electors, but we know that there were other reasons why such an enormous number of those who were on the rolls failed at the last general elections to exercise the franchise. It is, I think, the duty of those responsible for our electoral administration to see that every facility for voting is given to electors, irrespective of their occupations. It is hardly fair to charge the farmers with apathy, when we fix a date upon which it is practically impossible for them to leave their homesteads. A farmer may, by going to the poll a long distance away, in harvesting time, risk the loss of his crop, and, however strong his political views may be, he cannot afford to take that chance. I do not think that there is a tittle of evidence to support the view put forward by the honorable member for Darling that the motion has been brought forward with a view of disfranchising another section of voters. I have not heard the slightest suggestion of any such desire on the part of members of the Opposition., nor do I believe that such an idea was ever entertained. I can honestly say for myself that my, sole object is to enable as many electors as possible to record their votes, and that I am not swayed. in any way by the political views they hold. I desire to remove the slur which now rests upon the electors of being so apathetic that they will not take the trouble to record their votes. At present we are placing obstacles in the way of a large section of the electors, and are then charging them with indifference. No such charge can be fully sustained until we have afforded the electors the fullest facilities, and have fixed a date upon which they can vote .without serious inconvenience or risk of loss. I was gratified to learn of the measures which are being taken by the Minister and his officers to expedite the work of the Electoral Department, with a view to holding the elections as early as possible. All that the Minister said! as to the completeness of the organization of the Department furnished an argument in favour of the motion. I hope that the arrangements will be pushed forward so that the elections mav be held, if not prior to the date mentioned in the motion, before the harvest is at its height. The honorable members for Kalgoorlie and Darling charged members of the Opposition with seeking to have the elections held at an earlier date than usual, with a view to placing the Labour Party at a disadvantage. I think they made it verv clear that their own desire to have the elections postponed until a later date was due to their impression that the purposes of their own party would be better served at the expense of the farming community
– - The discussion that has taken place indicates that the honorable member for Echuca was fully warranted in bringing forward his motion. It appears to be generally desired th’at the elections shall take place as soon as possible. A most unworthy charge has been levelled at members of the Opposition By the honorable member for Darling, who has stated that it is desired to fix the elections at an earlier date than usual, so that a large number of shearers may be prevented from voting. The honorable member prefaced his remarks by stating that the shearers always voted for Labour candidates. I am not prepared to admit the truth of that statement, because a large proportion of the shearers are small farmers, who vote for democrats belonging to the party of which I am a member. The honorable member for Echuca made it clear tEat he desires that the elections should be held at a time when every elector would be in a position to record his vote. The honorable member referred to the large percentage of men and women who fail to record their votes, and I think that if we continue to hold our elections at an inconvenient time of the year, it will be impossible to poll a satisfactory percentage of votes. The Minister promised that he would do his utmost to arrange for the holding of the election at the earliest possible ‘date, and according to his statement, it should not be held” later than the 15th November. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports apparently moved his amendment at the instance of the Government.
– The amendment will toe carried.
– That is not the question. All that is desired is that full expression shall be given to the undoubted opinion of honorable members that the elections shall be held at the earliest possible moment. The honorable member for Hume tried to whip the Labour Party into order by suggesting that this was a no-confidence motion. The Labour Party responded by coming to his assistance, and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has also stepped into the breach. Notwithstanding all that has been said, iti is clear that the election must be held at the earliest practicable date. No reference has been made to the difficult position in which many of our farmers are placed during harvest time. In the western parts of New South Wales and in South Australia there is constant dread on the part of the farmers that their ripening crops will be swept away by bush fires. It is quite a common thing, upon visiting a township, during the month of December, to find that all the men are absent fire-fighting. The farmers are afraid to leave their holdings when there is so much at stake, and I think it is incumbent on our part to make more convenient arrangements than those which have been previously carried out. If it were practicable to allow the election to stand over until 31st December, I should feel it my duty to support such a proposal. Honorable members are elected for three years, and that period is short enough, especially if an honorable member has to travel through an electorate with an area of 20,000 square miles in order to address his constituents. I trust that if the Constitution is altered, the period will be extended to five years. I have no desire to cross swords with honorable members of the Labour Party, because I think that they must desire that as many electors as possible shall go to the poll. If they do .not represent the people they cannot wish to occupy the seats that should foe filled by members of the party to which I belong. We know that only a small percentage of the electors in New South Wales, and in fact throughout Australia, now support the Labour Party as a, party. A number of influences operate to bring about the return of honorable members to this House. For instance, I have no doubt that the honorable member for Grey would be elected, no m’atter how he described himself. I think that the honorable member for Echuca was fully warranted’ in bringing forward his motion, and I hope that, after having secured a full and satisfactory discussion, he will withdraw it.
.- I can hardly understand why such a small percentage of votes is recorded in the Victorian electorates. I represent a division which has an area three times as large as that of the State of Victoria. Some of nw constituents have to travel 50, 60. and even 100 miles to a polling place, and vet 57 per cent, of those on the roll recorded their votes at the last election. It is quite inexplicable to me that a larger percentage of votes is not recorded in divisions^ where the electors are, except in rare instances, within ha.]fanhour’s walk of a palling place. I do not think that the poor results are entirely due to the fact that the elections are held at an inconvenient time, because the smallest percentage of votes has been recorded, not in the country districts, but in the towns. It has been suggested by the honorable member for Bland, and several other speakers, that the early part of - the year - about March, for example - would !be a most suitable period at which to hold the general elections. I most strenuously object to any such arrangement, but I have nothing to urge against the polling-day being fixed for some time in May. I need scarcely point out that in Queensland the wet season extends from January to Mardi, and, during those months it, is almost impossible for one to get over the country at all. In the northwest and portions of the south-west of Queensland, at that particular time of the year, I have seen the water stretching across the country for thirty or forty miles. The rivers are flooded in all directions: Under such circumstances, the great bulk of the voters, would be disfranchised if the elections were held at that particular period. As a matter of fact, whilst I was engaged in electioneering, I had an experience of being kept four days in one place, without being able to obtain anything to eat. At the first general election for this Parliament, my opponent, in following me round my constituency, got stuck up between two rivers, and was unable to ‘get back to the big centres of population before polling day. I understand that he delivered his final address to the coachman who was driving him, o.ni the banks of the Flinders River. In my opinion, either April or May would be the most suitable period of the year at which to hold the elections.
– A good deal of talk has already been indulged in upon this motion. So far as South Australia is concerned, I do not think that it makes any difference to the voters when the elections are held. The honorable member for Dalley has asked a question in reference to the percentage of votes polled in that State at the last general election. I admit that, so far as the elections for the Senate were concerned, the percentage’ of votes recorded was bad, for the simple reason that most: of the South Australian representatives were ieturned unopposed, as I believe they will be in future. But I would’ point out that at the elections for the State Parliament, despite the fact that some of the constituencies are very compact, we have never secured a better average than 50 per cent., and I find that in several constituencies at: the last elections in Victoria more than 50 per cent, of the electors recorded their votes. In the divisions of Corangamite and Wannon, the percentage was very high indeed. Whatever date may be fixed for the holding of the elec tions will not make very much difference to South Australia. At the same time, if bv altering that date we can induce more electors to record their votes, I am thoroughly in sympathy with the alteration. The honorable member for Kennedy has suggested that if any change be made, the elections should be held in May. What does that mean? It means that if in Queensland, March is too wet to permit of the elections taking place then, May is certainly too wet in South Australia. In the latter State, many voters have to travel long distances to exercise the franchise. In the electorate of Grey, for example, many voters have to travel twenty or thirty miles to the polling, booth. If the elections were held in wet weather, these persons would be disfranchised. However, there seems to be a consensus of opinion that iti is inadvisable to hold the elections in December, and I am quite prepared to fall in with the wish of the majority that) they shall take place in November. I am quite prepared to give the people every opportunity to record their votes. Indeed, I should like to see every elector exercising the franchise. This desirable result can be brought about. I am sorry that the right honorable member for Adelaide is not now able to take the active part in our legislation that he did in State politics, or I am sure he would have moved in this direction. The way to bring about the desired result is to impose a small penalty on those who will not take the trouble to record their votes. I hope that the time is close at hand when we shall take some step of that character. I have no fear of ever being asked to represent a minority, but I should not like to do so, and I am confident that no other honorable member would. If the matter were taken in hand by the Government, we could soon insure that no honorable member would be returned bv a minority vote.
.- Like the last speaker, I desire to see a date fixed for the holding of the general elections which will meet the convenience of a large majority of the voters. The debate which has taken place this afternoon demonstrates that whatever date is fixed some in convenience will be experienced. But we have to regard this matter, not from, the stand-point of a State, but from that of the Commonwealth. There is a good deal in the contention of the honorable member for Bland that from the present time till the end of the year isi a very unsuitable period for the conduct of a general election. In the first instance, we should inconvenience those who are engaged in the sugarproducing industry ; in the next, we should affect those who follow the avocation of shearers, and finally, we should interfere with those who will be taking part in harvesting operations, towards the end of the year. I think that Parliament would be well advised if it made some alteration in the direction indicated by the honorable member for Bland, and determined that in future the general elections should take place at the beginning of the year. So far as New South Wales is concerned, I think that March or April would be a very suitable period at which to appeal to the country. There would be difficulties in giving effect to his suggestion, but these would not be nearly so insurmountable as are those which are experienced at the present time. Undoubtedly the last elections were delayed till the very worst period of the year, so far as the farming interests were concerned. In my own electorate the fact that there wa’s not a contest for a seat in this House helped to minimize the vote which was cast on that occasion. The farmers’ were in the very midst of their harvesting operations, and the period was one at which the greatest amount of damage could be done to the crops by windstorms. About a day or two Prior to the pollingday a severe windstorm passed over a portion of my own constituency, with the result that the standing crops were practically threshed out. The storm did not cover an extensive area, but the country which it affected was severely injured in the matter of its wheat return. This alarmed the farmers in the district who were not touched by the disturbance. They worked all hours in order to get their crops harvested. The result was that a large number of them did not trouble to record their votes, notwithstanding that some of them were working within sight of the polling booth. Upon the other hand, it has been suggested by farmers’ representatives in Victoria, supported by the leader of the Opposition;, that the general elections should be held in October. So far as New South Wales is concerned, difficulties would be experienced in October, only in another direction. In December the farming community is, to a large extent, disfranchised, but in October the shearers and those engaged in the pastoral industry would share the same fate. Early in October shearing operations are in full swing, and towards the end of that month the grass seeds begin to ripen, so that one day’s! seeding may mean a very, heavy loss in a man’s wool returns. Consequently it is the great desire of the pastoralist to get his wool off the sheep’s back within that period. What we should aim at is a mean between the period of the completion of the shearing and the heavy time of the harvesting - between, say, the 15th November and the first week of December. After the first week in December the difficulties in connexion with harvesting are accentuated every day till the end of the year. It has been suggested that the Labour Party desire the elections to be held as late in the year as possible, because they fear the farmer’s vote. Personally I do not fear that vote. I am a farmer myself, and I have done something to make the farming movement in New South Wales a substantial success. I do not think that the party to which I belong has any cause to fear the farmers’ vote. I hold that the elections should be held at a period of the year when the largest number of voters will be able to exercise the franchise, and consequently I urge the Government to fix a date between’ the 15th November and the first week in December. Otherwise the difficulties experienced at the last election will be repeated.
.- I do not think that any attempt to fix upon any party the responsibility for the holding of the forthcoming elections at the latter end of the year will succeed. A similar attempt was made in the last Parliament. Owing to the provisions of the Constitution, and notwithstanding that honorable members sacrificed three or four months of their full tenure of office, an attempt w.as made in some of the States to thrust the responsibility for holding the elections at the wrong time of the year upon the Labour Party. But honorable members are aware that thev had no more to do with it than had the members of the Opposition. No party and no Government in this Parliament, has had anything to do with it, because, as a matter of fact, the difficulty could not, under the terms of the Constitution, have been avoided. Any attempt to fix the responsibility upon a particular party on this occasion must fail for the same reason. I am sure that every member of the House desires that as full a vote of the electors as possible shall be recorded. The only question is which is the best time of the year to secure it. If an attempt were made to alter the Constitution so that the Federal elections could be held in March, I think that it would be successful, and I have no doubt it would be a desirable course. I intend to vote for the motion, and I have been somewhat surprised that any honorable member should oppose it. I quite expected that the Government would accept it. Its terms are not mandatory. It would be absurd to fix a definite date, and say that the elections shall be held before that date, because circumstances might arise which would render that impossible. But the carrying of this motion would be merely an expression of opinion bv the House that the next elections should be held not later than the 15th November. I believe that the members of the Government and of the Opposition, of the Country Party, and of the Labour Party, are alike anxious that, if possible, the next elections should be held not later than that date. That is not by any means an ideal time of the year for the purpose, but, in the circumstances, it seems about the best we can do. So far as South Australia is concerned, any time from October up to January would be about equally inconvenient for the farmers. From the beginning of November to the end of December would be the most inconvenient time for the fruitgrowers. So that the latter end of the year is inconvenient for horticulturists as well as for agriculturists, as the harvesting of the fruit crops, as well as of the grain crops, takes place at that time. I suggest to Ministers that thev should accept the motion. Personally, I can see no possible objection to it. The main consideration is that we should endeavour to secure an alteration of the Constitution, so that such a state of things should not happen again.
Mr. KING O’MALLEY (Darwin) £6.20]. - I hope that the Government will not accept this motion. To me, it looks too much like Victoria dictating to the rest of the Commonwealth. It is all nonsense to talk about the difficulty of getting a vote in country districts. I ask the Victorian representatives to look at the vote which the farmers of Darwin put up. If it is found that people will not vote in
Victorian constituencies, it is because they have lost confidence in their representatives. It is a proof that the electors say “ We have had these men long enough ; it is time to dispense with them, and it is not worth while to go to the polls to vote for them.”
– What percentage of votes was recorded in Darwin ?
– An immense percentage. If the votes recorded in Darwin be not considered, it will be found that there was not a vote of 25 per cent, recorded in the rest of the State of Tasmania. Although the Darwin electorate was the smallest in point of population, I am the senior member of the State of Tasmania.
– What was the honorable member’s majority?
– It does not matter what my majority was - I got there. This only shows that if the electors find that proper candidates are seeking election, they will be out to vote. If the representatives of Victorian constituencies who come here complaining, hooting, howling, and screeching like wood-chucks in a bush, went out and talked intellectually to the people, they would interest them as we do in Tasmania, and there would’ be no necessity for them to come howling, screeching, and hooting here in an endeavour to make the whole of the Commonwealth submit to the dictation of Victoria.
– The percentage of votes recorded at the Darwin election was 58-
– That is so; and some of the farmers in that electorate had to travel 20 miles to vote. Here in Victoria, where you could almost expectorate over any of the electorates, the electors will not turn out to vote because they have no confidence in the candidates. My electorate in Tasmania is a long electorate, and I have to travel in it over 100 miles. An honorable member whose electorate has been annihilated may wish to run against another. That is his own business ; but as senior member for the State of Tasmania I shall not submit to Victoria dictating to the whole population of the Commonwealth. ,
– It is only an election cry.
– It is. It is purely a Tammany Hall dodge by a Victorian dodger.
– The honorable member’s leader supports the motion.
– I have nothing to do with my leader on this question, which is a non-party question. My leader is my leader when I am told he is by the action of the whole of the people.
– By the caucus.
– Yes, by the caucus. We very often hear honorable members talking about the caucus.
– Is the honorable member discussing the question?
– I agree that this is a diversion, but the discussion has been upon everything but the question before the House. The electors of Franklin did not put up a very big vote, because there was no excitement on. There was no excitement in the electorate of Wilmot, and the electors there did not put up a big vote, though I wrote a letter which put the present member in. There was no excitement in the electorate of Bass, and therefore a big vote was not put up there. There was excitement in the electorate of Denison, because the present honorable member for Wilmot went down to fight the honorable member for Denison, and if I had not gone to Hobart after him he would have defeated the honorable member who now occupies that seat.
– The honorable member is not discussing the question.
– I quite agree. Why should we force the Ministry, who desire as much as does any member of the House to have the elections right away, because they are sure of a majority ? Honorable members of the Opposition, who are forcing on this motion, are the last people who desire to face the electors, and to go before the high tribunal of public opinion. The honorable member for Boothby, who approves of the motion, represents a city constituency, and can see the whole of his electors by looking out of the door of his house. Then the honorable member for Hindmarsh finds the whole of his electors within a stone’s throw of his residence. Here in Victoria the honorable member for Wannon put up a big vote, as did the honorable member for Corangamite.
– Is the honorable member going to talk the motion out?
– Certainly not. But I propose to exercise my right to put in their proper place the honorable members who have jumped into the arena with the courage of a prize-fighter who is defeated before he gets into the ring.
– The honorable member must discuss the motion.
– December may be the harvest month in Victoria, but it is not the month in which the harvest is gathered in Tasmania.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
.- I wish to make a personal explanation in regard to the following paragraph, which appeared in this morning’s Age : -
Brisbane, Wednesday. A telegram was received from Mr. Culpin, M.P., stating, with reference to the proposed reciprocal tariff between the Commonwealth and New Zealand, that the Prime Minister had intimated that some concession would be granted to Queensland rum as to all other Australian spirits.
I sent a telegram to a firm in Brisbane, who had written to me inquiring about this matter, but my statement to them was that the Prime Minister had said that if a reduction were made it would apply equally to all Australian spirits.
.- I, too, wish to make a personal explanation. The Minister of Home Affairs was in error in stating this afternoon that I had said that the Government are under the domination of the Labour Party. My opinions about the conduct of certain Ministers is my own, but I have no quarrel with the Government, and made no such remark as that attributed to me. What I said was that possibly the honorable member, in view of the peculiar circumstances existing in his constituency, may be under the domination of the Labour Party, but I did not say that the Government are. I have not said a word against the Government, either inside or outside the House, and I am continually endeavouring, as I go through the country, to refute what I consider tobe aspersions on the character of the Prime Minister. I am here as an independent member, desirous of helping the Government to push through what I consider to be good legislation.
Appointments by Ministers : Sweating of Postal Officials : Federal Capital Site : Vice-President of the Executive Council: Commonwealth Postage Stamp Issue : Commonwealth Mail Contract : Pensions, Defence Department : Military Display in Sydney: Defence Administration : Military Board : Telephone Services : InspectorGeneral: Increments of Postal Officials : Compulsory Grading of Butter : Postal Officials, Western Australia: Treasurer’s Visit to England : Commerce Act Regulations : Labour Party and the Prime Minister: Papua Constitution: High Court Bench.
Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of a message from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral, recommending that an appropriation be made from the Consolidated Revenue for the purposes of this Bill.
In Committee of Supply:
– I move -
That a sum not exceeding£459,064 be granted to His Majesty for or towards defraying the services of the year ending 30th June, 1907.
Honorable members are aware that it is not necessary for the Government to ask for Supply at this particular juncture; but we do so to meet the views of those in another place, and I cannot conceive that any one can have any great objection to doing* now what will have to be done in a fortnight’s time.
– Urgent public business is being set aside to give the members of the other Chamber a holiday.
– We are asking for Supply now to meet the wishes of the members of another place.
– Is only one month’s Supply asked for?
– Yes. It may, of course, be truly said that we do not require Supply until the beginning of next month : but there seems to be no good reason why we should not meet the wishes of the Senate in this matter.
– When is the right honorable gentleman likely to make his Budget speech?
– I wish to make it as soon as possible; but it is difficult to make much progress before the financial year has ended; and while the Estimates may be ready within a fortnight or three weeks after the commencement of the new year, the Treasury officials will require at least another ten days in order to have the Budget papers prepared and printed in readiness for presentation with the Estimates to honorable members. I hope to be able to present the Estimates about the end of July or early in August, though I cannot give the exact date when I shall be able to do so. There are very few items in the Bill which I am about to introduce to which I need draw attention. Of these the first is an amount of £30,000, which is being asked for to cover the loss on the working of the Pacific cable. The exact sum required is not known, but, as the money must be paid in London, we wish to have it voted at the earliest moment possible, in order to make the best arrangements possible for exchange. £30,000 is also asked for as an instalment of the subsidy payable to the Orient Royal Mail Company on the 30th October next for the conveyance of mails between England and Australia. That money has to be remitted to London, and the longer the time we have in which to make arrangements the better the terms we can make for exchange. Then £6,660 is required to pay for the conveyance of Mem bers of Parliament, and £12,000 is required for refunds to the Pacific and Eastern Extension Telegraph companies in connexion with the cable services.
– Is there any item relating to the expense of the right honorable gentleman’s trip to London ?
– No. That trip did not entail any extraordinary expense on the Commonwealth. The sum of £80,000 is asked for as an advance to the Treasurer to enable him to pay wages, and other incidental expenses, and also payments in connexion with works authorized by Parliament last year, and now in progress. If there is any other item in regard to which honorable members desire information, I shall be only too glad to give it; but I can assure the Committee that the Bill provides only for expenditure similar to that which was approved of by Parliament last session.
– It may be that the Bill contains no item of an objectionable character, but it appears to me that the procedure which we are now asked to sanction is a very strange way of transacting the business of the country. Ministers had a long recess in which to prepare Bills for submission to the two Houses, and the Governor-General’s speech announced that an immense number of measures were ready to be dealt with. Yet we fmd the Senate now without business to go on with, and are asked to pass a Supply Bill to enable senators to get back to their homes, and take a holiday.
– Is this the honorable and learned member’s Address-in-Reply speech?
– I am replying to the speech of the Treasurer. Having come to Melbourne to do business, and not to talk, I was very glad when the debate on that motion concluded. I shall, however, take advantage of this opportunity, seeing that the regulations under the Commerce Act are to be gazetted within a few days, to draw attention to the manner in which a very large and important industry will be affected thereby. When that Bill was before the House the Minister of Trade and Customs made certain statements from time to time which indicated that he had no intention of introducing a system of grading in connexion with butter. For the information of honorable members, I should like to quote one or two passages from the speech of the Minister to show that those interested in the dairying industry were quite justified in forming the impression that no Federal compulsory grading would be introduced. At page 631 of Hansard, vol. xxv., the Minister stated -
The object is to compel persons who are exporting goods to bring their products up to a prescribed standard.
The honorable andi learned member for Parkes interjected that, in order to carry out such a system a whole army of inspectors would be required. There is no doubt that if a system such as is indicated by the regulations published in the press a short time ago is to be carried out, it will be necessary to employ an army of inspectors, not only in Svdney and Melbourne, but also at Byron Bay and other butterexporting centres. The Minister said, further -
The exportation of articles which are properly described will not be interfered with, unless they are unfit for human consumption.
On Friday last I asked the Minister of Trade and Customs whether he had any information to the effect that the butter Droduced at any of the factories in New South Wales was unfit for human consumption, and what justification he had for proposing to bring into operation a system of butter grading. The Minister knows that not one butter factory in New South Wales is turning out an article unfit for consumption. On the contrary, he is fully awarethat the product of the New South. Wales factories is fit to occupy the highest place in the markets! of the world. If Government supervision were to be exercised only in regard to products unfit for human consumption, no exception could be taken to the attitude of the Minister. The Minister further remarked in the course of the speech to which I have referred -
Honorable members opposite may call it what they like. They have been trying to make out that the object of this Hill is to apply to goods such terms as grade No. i, grade No. 2, grade No. 3, grade No. 4, and so on. They know perfectly well that there is no intention to do anything of the kind at present.
These statements naturally led those inter’ested in the dairying industry to believe that the Minister had no intention of bringing into operation a s-stem of grading as applied to butter. The Minister stated, further, in the course of his second-reading speech -
It is absolutely necessary to prevent the practice of adulterating food for consumption by, children and adults.
No one could disagree with any regulations that were brought into operation with a view to preventing the adulteration of food, either for home consumption, or for export. It is important that our own people, and particularly our children, should! have pure food, and it would be a serious matter for our producing industries if adulterated goods were to find their way into the markets of the world under such conditions as. would injure our reputation. The Minister went on to say -
In regard to exports, we desire to obtain some control over goods of short weight and impure foods, which are probably sent away to other countries. Honorable members, no doubt, are familiar with the statements made before the. Royal Commission, which is at present investigating the condition of the supplies which were forwarded to the troops in South Africa during the recent war. It is necessary that we should be able to check anything of that kind.
No one could cavil at such a statement, but the supervision indicated by theMinister in that case would be entirely different from that contemplated in connexion’ with the butter industry. Apparently it is proposed to appoint Government officials to exercise supervision over the butter fac-‘ tories, at which butter is being produced under the strictest supervision, and under the management of the best men obtainable. The Minister called a Conference in Sydney, to which he invited representatives of the dairying, fruit, and meat industries of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania. The Minister made a very lengthy speech in opening the Conference, and explained that his object in calling the delegates together was to seek their assistance in arriving at means by which he could administer the Commerce Act with as little friction as possible. He could have had no more laudable object than he then indicated. He also pointed out that if butter were graded, and marked under regulations as first class, a guarantee would be afforded to buyers which thev could accept with full confidence. I need only refer to the evidence which was given before the Victorian Butter Commission to show that, so far as butter is concerned, the Victorian Government brand affords no guarantee as to the quality of the product. Mr. Sinclair, the Victorian Government expert, told the Commission that, so far, the Victorian Government brand had proved absolutely useless in the London market. Most honorable members who represent constituencies in which dairying is carried on, have received similar information from gentlemen who have visited the old country. The buyers in the London market have their own experts, and pay for the butter according to their judgment as to its quality. It is only natural that this should be so. It is well known that after transit from the Commonwealth to London, which extends over a period of seven or eight weeks, butter branded as second class frequently brings a higher price than that marked first class. This is due to chemical changes which take place during the voyage. The Minister also referred to the fact that butter branded as first class in one State would probably not be equal in quality to butter branded as” first class in another State. Take Queensland and Victoria - two States in which the climatic conditions are very different. The quotations in London indicate plainly that the Queensland butter is not entitled to be placed in the same class as the Victorian product. This difference in quality between the products of the various States will lead to great difficulties in the application of any uniform system of grading. It would be unjust to Queensland to pre judice her products bv marking them as inferior to those of New South Wales.
– Does the honorable and learned member think that grading can be enforced ?
– I am not able to express any opinion upon that matter. Perhaps tha Minister of Trade and Customs will be able to inform us upon the point. The Minister further stated that he failed to understand the arguments of those who were opposed to the grading of butter. He quoted largely from a report upon the New Zealand dairying industry, and also from a report of a Conference which was held at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. He also read a letter that he had received from the Albury Co-operative Butter Company. That company does not occupy a very prominent position in connexion with the butter industry in New South Wales, and one of the delegates at the Conference interjected that the Albury factory did not turn out more than one ton of butter per week. Yet the Minister quoted a letter from that company as representing the views of a large body of farmers, in favour of grading. The whole of the great cooperative butter companies of New South Wales are entirely against a system of compulsory grading. After several questions had been asked by delegates, the Minister said -
It was necessary to have certain brands to separate the first from the second quality, and the suggestion of one of the delegates,, he thought, was a good one; that was, to recognise the 1 and Ai qualities. Thus, Queensland butter would be classed as i, and Victorian best, recognised to be of superior quality, would be branded Al. These, however, were only suggestions.
But the point I wish “to make is that; these suggestions constituted a distinct departure from the statement which was made by the Minister upon the floor of this House. When the honorable gentleman left *he Conference, an attempt was made by the representatives of the Co-operative Company of New South Wales, to discuss the question of grading,, but the acting chairman, Mr. Campbell, at once said, “ Oh, this grading business is as dead as a door nail, and cannot be debated.”
– That is what the Minister said, too.
– I am not’ aware that the Minister made that statement, but certainly the acting chairman of the
Conference did. Thus the delegates were absolutely debarred from discussing this most important question, in connexion with the industry.
– That is not a fact. What the delegates desired to do was to discuss the whole of the Commerce Act, and to upset it if they could.
– I know perfectly well that they had no intention of that sort. They merely desired to protest against the compulsory grading of the product in which they are so vitally interested. They were denied an opporunity of doing so. What was the result ? The representatives of the butter industry withdrew from the Conference. The next day they forwarded their protest, a copy of which is before me. These gentlemen are the chief representatives of the butter industry in New South Wales. With them was Mr. Sinclair, the representative of the Queensland Butter Manufacturing Association. These gentlemen forwarded the following protest : -
That, in common with the delegates of the meat industry, we, the undersigned representatives of the dairying industry, respectfully decline to enter into the conference convened for the purpose of suggesting regulations under the Federal Commerce Act, and hereunder give some reasons for so doing : -
Because the insistence of Sir William Lyne to enforce compulsory grading of butter by regulation under the Commerce Act is opposed to all the first principles of commerce, and inimical to and an undue interference with the best interests of the producer.
We consider the prejudging of a perishable commodity like butter (which is continually undergoing chemical changes) eight weeks before it is marketed in London is misleading and valueless to producers and consumers.
This assertion is based upon our practical experience of the commodity, and upon the fact flint the commercial representatives of the several co-operative distributing organizations in Victoria and New South Wales (sent during the last two seasons to supervise sales, and report on the handling of our products in Great Britain), are unanimous in their opinion that the “ grade “ stamping on packages by the Government officials of New Zealand, Victoria, and Queensland, is useless and farcical in its results, and that the great majority of retailers absolutely ignore it, when purchasing, owing to its unavoidable irregularity and inconsistency. This view was also publicly indorsed during a visit to London of a director of the largest factory in Australasia.
With the object of popularizing compulsory grading, the practice is to include under “ first grade “ a heavy percentage of factories.
That is exactly what has taken place in New Zealand, where it has been shown time after time that large quantities of this article are passed as being of the first grade, when they are not entitled to that grade. The protest continues -
This, instead of raising the standard of the industry, has a strong levelling down tendency.
That the argument used by Sir William Lyne and others “ that under grade stamping forward purchases are effected in New Zealand for the whole season’s output by London speculators “ is useless to the producers on this side, for the reason that climatic conditions, rainfall, &c, are not analogous, and for the still more important consideration that purchasing on this basis on a constantly changing market is mere gambling, and not commerce.
In passing, I may say that the two large co-operative companies in New South Wales have taken the products of the farmer out of the hands of speculative buyers, thus allowing the profits upon them to find their way into the pockets of the producer. The document continues -
On the contrary, we consider that it should be the mission of all those who seek to legitimately assist producers to establish more direct communication with the consumers of Great Britain, over the heads of these large speculative buyers, whose interests and intermediary profits are naturally detrimental to the best interests of producers.
The great bulk of the wool produced in the Commonwealth passes direct to the woollen manufacturers, and the butter producers of Denmark have by co-operati>Te organization, achieved the same result.
Our -people are following in the footsteps of the people of Denmark, where this system has produced abnormal development. The delegates proceed -
We consider too much theoretical importance is given to the mere branding of packages.
The Minister desires that these brands shall be placed upon the various packages in order that consumers in other parts of the world may be afforded some guarantee of their quality. But the men who have built up this business in New South Wales, without any Government interference, and in the absence of any protective dutv. dpsire to be left alone. They do not wish to be hampered in their efforts to develop the industry. Ever since its inception, the aim of this Parliament has been to interfere with the men who are settled upon the land. In the course of a few days, a series of regulations will, no doubt, be issued, which will have a disastrous effect upon the handling of these products. I hold in mv hand the opinion of Mr. Sinclair, the Queensland delegate, who was one of those who indignantly withdrew from the Conference, on account of the action of the Minister. He says -
As the representative of the Butter Manufacturers Association in Queensland, I desire to endorse the above - that is, the protest which I have just read– and give additional reasons why the Federal Government should not thus interfere with Statu rights, and the trade liberties of producers.
His individual protest was as follows :-
Without wishing to be discourteous, I, on behalf of the Butter Manufacturers Association of Queensland, beg to withdraw from the conference. My primary reason for doing so is that I had a misapprehension concerning the objects for which we were’ called together. Sir William Lyne assured the public, on the second reading of the Commerce Bill, that it was not a grading Act, but a Trades Description Act.
The Vice-President of the Executive Council made the same statement. Mr. Sinclair continues -
He now states definitely that he intends to administer it as a grading Act, even to the extent of indicating on the packages the “ grade quality,”’ that it will apply principally to dairy produce, and that not only will the produce be graded, but the States as well.
I invite the attention of the Queensland representatives to this fact. Under the Commerce Act, the farmers of Darling Downs will not have their butter graded by Federal officials, but the Queensland butter will be graded second-class to that of Victoria. That is a point which the Minister of Home Affairs might well consider. The letter proceeds :
T feel confident that the Queensland producers will regard this as a serious interference with State rights, and also with the liberties of the producers themselves. I therefore protest against the proceedings by declining to assist in framing regulations under the Act, which appears to me to be ultra vires.
I sent a protest to the Minister in connexion with this matter on behalf of the whole of the factories in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven districts. I have since observed that the Jelligong factory in the Illawarra district passed a resolution in favour of grading.
– The honorable and learned member is referring to regulations for grading?
– There are not any yet.
– I understand that the Minister of Trade and Customs proposes to issue them in a few days, and I wish the honorable gentleman, before doing so, to give the people interested in the industry, who have not been consulted in any way. an opportunity to express their opinions on the matter. It is only fair that they should be consulted, and that I and other representatives of dairying districts should put their position before the House and the country. As the Vice-President of the Executive Council has made this little interruption, I should like to draw his attention to the fact thai a large meeting to consider the matter was held in Lismore, which is in the constituency so well and honorably represented by himself. At that meeting there were present representatives from Alstonville, Ballina, Kyogle, Brooklet, Coraki, Lismore, Tweed, the North Coast Co-operative Butter Companies, and Foley Bros. The VicePresident of the Executive Council will agree that the meeting fairly represented the dairying industry in that part of New South Wales. A resolution was passed unanimously approving of the .action of the butter delegates as a protest against the introduction of compulsory grading and branding. The following resolution was also unanimously passed: -
We, as delegates appointed by and representing co-operative butter factories in the Richmond River district, hereby protest against the compulsory grading and branding of butter proposed’ to be carried out under the Commerce Act, as an undue interference with an important and growing industry, which has been built up by the producers themselves. It has been proved beyond question that any Government grade mark is useless on the London market, and that the grading of the cream at the factory is the only menus of maintaining and designating the quality and standard of butter. Such legislation has never been asked for by producers of the State, and it will entail a heavy additional expenditure, without any corresponding advantage to the industry.
It was further resolved that the resolutions agreed to should be forwarded to the Minister of Trade and Customs by the honorable member for the district, and I have .no doubt that the honorable gentle man has acceeded to the wishes of his constituents. Further, I may say that the Queensland Government have taken action in this matter, and instructed Mr. Scriventhe Under-Secretary of the Stock and Agriculture Department, and one of the Queensland delegates to the Conference, to write a letter to the Comptroller-General of Customs in Svdney, objecting to what had been done. A request was made that the letter should be placed before the Minister, and I. have no doubt, that that request has been complied with. In view of the protests made by representatives of this great industry in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, and their request for a full and fair opportunity to be heard in connexion with this matter, I respectfully ask the Minister of Trade and Customs even now to consider the protests of these people, and to refrain from imperiously dictating to the men engaged in this industry what they are to do. If it were suggested that the persons engaged in this industry were manufacturing for local consumption or for export, an article unfit for human consumption, I would agree to interference by the Government. However, nothing of the sort is suggested, and it would appear to be the intention merely to place a host of officials upon the backs of the producers of Australia. The honorable and learned member for Darling Downs and the honorable member for Richmond, as members of the Ministry representing constituencies deeply interested, should get the Minister of Trade and Customs to give the representatives of the great dairying industry of Australia an opportunity of being heard in so important a matter. It is said that a system of compulsory grading is to be carried out, because it will be of advantage to the industry. There is to be no such thing as voluntary grading, which has, so far, been carried out in Victoria and South Australia. Some time ago I remember that the honorable member for Boothby, who had considerable experience in South Australia, told the House that voluntary grading in that State had worked very well, and that it had been found to be an advantage to the industry that producers should have the right to export their products without inspection, because that had kept the Government grading officials up to the mark. On behalf of the producers of South Australia, the honorable member strongly resented interference by the Federal Government in the matter.
– Voluntary grading worked well in America until a little time ago.
– I am not conversant with what was done in America, but certainly the inspection of meat carried out by Government officials in the United States has been of a very unsatisfactory character. Officials were appointed by the United States Government to inspect meat intended for local consumption and for export, and yet shameful frauds and iniquitous practices have prevailed in connexion with the meat business there. That experi ence does not make us hopeful of the labours of Government officials in the grading and inspection of produce in the Commonwealth. The Lord knows what sort of officials we shall get, and they will be brought into direct opposition with the responsible men connected with the dairies throughout the country. Any one who is cognizant of the history of the dairying industry in New South Wales must be aware that since the co-operative companies came into existence their one object has been to secure the production of a good article. Where the product of any factory, when placed on the market, is found to be not up to the mark, a representative is sent to the factory to find out what is the matter. The result of the system df inspection by the co-operative companies is that in New South Wales to-day, in the dairying industry, we are producing an article which is second to none, and we need not fear the competition of any other country. Another point is that, if we are to have this system of compulsory grading, it is likely that the business will have to be carried on in future in accordance with the Government stroke. We have had enough of the Government stroke in the political history of the States in years gone by, and it is very inadvisable to attempt to introduce it into our Federal system. The old saying that “ distant hills are green “ applies particularly in this connexion, because every one who desires to support the system of compulsory grading at once quotes New Zealand as an example. It is forgotten that New Zealand is peculiarly situated for the production of this article. With a good climate, a magnificent rainfall, and fresh grasses, those engaged in the dairying industry in New Zealand are able to produce an article of first-class quality, and a comparison of a country like New Zealand with Queensland, for instance, with her dry climate, is unworthy of attention. The success of the industry in New Zealand has been due, not to the adoption of a system of compulsory grading, but to the fact that the New Zealand Government, while favouring protective duties, impose no such duties upon implements and articles required by the man on the land. The farmers are able to get the agricultural implements, and everything else they require, at the cheapest possible rate, and with the additional advantage of their climate and rainfall those engaged in the dairying industry have been successful.
Any one who has had any experience of the London market for dairy produce must know that experts take no notice of the New Zealand grading of butter, and that it is on the quality of the article that buyers make their purchases. We are told that the New Zealand butter which is graded brings the highest prices in the English market. That is quite true, but butter which is not graded brings just as high a price. I had the pleasure recently of inspecting the Grassmere factory, in the Warrnambool district, which is one of the finest butter factories I have ever seen, and I am aware that the product of that factory, and of other factories in Victoria, has brought as high prices in the London market as has the best New Zealand butter. It is, therefore, perfectly ridiculous to contend that the high prices received for New Zealand butter in the London market are due to the adoption of the system of compulsory grading, when we know that it is the quality of the article, and not the grading marks on it, which is of interest to the buyer.
– The New Zealand farmers were strongly opposed to grading until it was tried.
– I am perfectly aware of that.
– They are now unanimously in its favour.
– I should like to know whether the New Zealand farmers have expressed such an opinion. I know that those who desire compulsory grading to be brought into operation in the Commonwealth quote the New Zealand farmers as being unanimously in its favour, but I know of no occasion on which the opinion of the New Zealand farmers on the matter has been tested.
– I say still further that those interested in the industry in Victoria are also unanimous on the subject of grading.
– I remember that when the Commerce Bill was before us, the honorable gentleman informed us that grading was not intended. I have already pointed out the absurdity of grading an article which is carried over many thousand miles of ocean, and eight weeks before it is placed on the market. I have no wish to labour the Question. My sole desire is that those engaged in the industry should be given a reasonable opportunity to express their views on the subject. I speak in this matter on behalf of the industry in New South Wales, which was represented at the Conference, and whose representatives unanimously protested against compulsory grading.
– There is no Federal system.
– The honorable member is trying to get in some of his fine work ; but he knows as well as I do that, although the regulations are not in force, they are to be gazetted within a few days, and this in spite of the fact thatboth he and the Minister of Trade and Customs stated on the floor of the House, when the ‘Commerce Bill was being considered, that it did not provide for compulsory grading. The Minister has received the protests which were sent through me. I do not know whether other protests have been sent to him from other parts of Australia; but I would point out to him that the representations made through me are worthy of consideration, as embodying the experience of men who have been connected with the industry for years, not only in Australia, but also in London, and in other parts of the world. Representatives were sent home to ascertain the exact position of affairs in the London market, and they reported that the existing systems of grading are valueless. Therefore those engaged in the industry protest against a meddlesome interference with their business, which has been built up by their efforts, without Government help in any shape or form. All they ask is to be left alone.
.- The honorable and learned member forIllawarra has referred to a matter affecting the administration of the Customs Department; I wish to refer to one connected with the Postal Department, which during the absence of the Postmaster-General, is being administered by the Vice-President of the Executive Council. Many experiments have been tried in connexion with the postal service of Western Australia, and though they may have rewarded the Department with the maximum amount of information and knowledge, they have often been accompanied with the minimum amount of convenience to the public using the telegraphs and telephones of that State. I wish however, to refer particularly to a matter which was brought under the attention of the PostmasterGeneral in Melbourne some months ago. He was informed that the state of the Postal Department in Western Australia was not what it should foe, and I think the representatives of that State are agreed that such was the case. As a result, a Board of three members, two of whom were officers in the New South Wales branch of the Postal Department, were appointed to make inquiries. I do not say that these officers are not thoroughly competent! and trustworthy. All I know is that, as the result of their report, the head’s of the Postal, Telegraph, and Telephone Departments in Western Australia were removed from their positions, two ofthem permanently, the Deputy Postmaster-General being given six months’ leave of absence. So far everything may have been satisfactory. The investigation may have demonstrated beyond doubt the unfitness of these officers for the positions which they held. The point which I wish to make is that the Chairman of the Board on whose report they were removed, Mr. Young, and a member of the Board, Mr. Dirks were chosen to fill two of the vacancies thus created.
– A most improper thing.
– I think it is one of the worst things which have been done since the postal service came under the control of the Commonwealth Government.
– The honorable member takes exception to the fact that these officers were appointed to vacancies which they themselves had created?
– Certainly. I believe that a report hostile to any man in the service could be obtained if it were possible that the officer reporting on his competency, and recommending his removal, would be promoted to his office.
– No candidate for a position should be asked to report upon the competency of the occupant of an office.
– I agree with the honorable member. The Government have done an injustice to Western Australia and to the Service by the action which they have taken1. I do not know whether Mr. Young is to be retained in Western Australia as permanent head of the Department.
– No. Mr. Hardman is to come back.
– I am sorry to hear it. If the condition of the Department in Western Australia is such that the central authority deemed it advisable to remove Mr. Hardmam temporarily from his position, and to appoint another to re-organize matters, I do not think that he should be brought back.
– The matter requires close investigation.
– In my opinion, the case has not been properly considered, and proper regard was not paid to the representations of the Western Australian members, who knew the exact position of affairs, and suggested that the heads of the Departments in Western Australia should be transferred to similar positions in the other States. I myself suggested to the PostmasterGeneral that it would be wise to make Mr. Hardman Deputy PostmasterGeneral of Queensland, South Australia, or Tasmania. These changes might involve slight alterations of salary ; but I think that in all the branches of the Service it is advisable to occasionally transfer both heads of Departments and officers from one State to another - to divorce them from their old associations.
– It is only in that way that many officers can obtain preferment.
– Yes ; and I think that such changes must result in improving the service given to the public. It is notorious that in every walk of life men are affected by their environment, and when men who have spent thirty or thirtyfive years in one branch of the Public Service, as Messrs. Hardman, Snooks, and Stevens have done, their associations with others make it impossible for them to exercise the same free and independent judgment in the discharge of their duties as they would otherwise exercise. I am not able to say whether Mr. Hardman should have been temporarily removed.
– He was only given six months’leave of absence.
– In any case, it would have been better to transfer him to another State. In my opinion, it will be a mistake to reinstate him in Western Australia to continue the work of the man who reported that the condition of affairs in the Postal Department there was not satisfactory. I hope that the Acting PostmasterGeneral will give the matter his serious consideration, and will see that, in future, officers of the Public Service are not appointed to vacancies which they themselves have virtually created.
– I ask the Committee and the honorable mem- ber for Kalgoorlie to remember that this is a case with which the Government have had very little more to do than has any private member.
– Has the Public Service Commissioner ever refused to recognise the recommendation of a Ministerial departmental head ?
– Parliament, in its wisdom, gave the Public Service Commissioner certain powers, and if. in dealing with an officer, he is within the law, no Minister can interfere. The right honorable member for Swan brought the cases of Snooks and Stevens before the Department several times, and within the last two days I have sent them back to the Public Service Commissioner to secure the consideration of the questions which, he has raised as to the legality of the action taken, and as to its wisdom and humanity.
– The honorable gentleman promised to let me have the papers in this case, but I have not received them.
– The statement of the honorable member for Kalgoorlie will also be placed before the Public Service Commissioner, and I shall be ready to inform honorable members at any time exactly what has been done.
– I do not wish it to be supposed for a moment that I desire that Snooks and Stevens shall be re-instated. All that I ask is that their positions shall be filled in the ordinary manner by calling for applications.
– I do not wish to enter into a discussion with regard to the powers of the Public Service Commissioner ; but one cannot help being struck by the aspect of the case that has been put by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. He asks whether men who have sat in judgment upon certain officers should subsequently be appointed to their positions. That is a serious matter, but can no doubt be fully explained. Probably I shall be in a position to make a further statement at a later stage. Honorable members must, however, remember thai the Public Service Commissioner is placed in a certain position by law, and that, unless the law be altered, it is not competent for the Minister, or for the House, to interfere with him.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) [8.47]. - The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has mentioned circumstances which certainly require investigation. If an officer has been removed from the service on the ground of incompetency, andis about to be re-instated-
– He was not removed ; he was granted six months’ leave of absence.
– That is a different matter. I know something of the two officers who were sent over to Western Australia, and they are both competent men, of the highest integrity. I have heard that they undertook the inquiry very reluctantly, and only at the urgent request of the authorities. With regard to the Bill before us, I would only remark that the Treasurer is taking an unusual course in pushing a Supply Bill through the House so early in the month. I understand that he is anxious to accommodate honorable senators, who have not very much to do, and want to go away for a short holiday. So far as I can see there is nothing in the Bill to which exception need be taken, and I am perfectly willing to accept the assurance of the Treasurer that nothing beyond the ordinary current expenses of the month are provided for. I asked the Treasurer during his speech whether there was any item in the Bill to cover his expenses to London. Scarcely had the House gone into recess after a long and strenuous session than it was announced that the Minister of Trade and Customs - I mean the Treasurer - was off to London.
– I wish I had been off to London.
– So do I. Then the Minister would have let our exporters and producers alone, instead of ceaselessly worrying them as he has done during the whole of the recess.
– They are all so friendly to me that I think I must be doing wrong.
– No one knows better than the Minister how to be friendly when he finds himself in a tight corner. It was predicted that the Minister would not be able to administer the Commerce Act, and that forecast has proved to be a perfectly accurate one. The Minister has had to set aside the Act as unworkable, and has occupied the whole of the recess in framing a set of regulations applying to one article of export.
– The honorable member will be singing a different tune in about a week or ten days.
– I shall be very glad to sing a paean of praise if the regulations issued by the Minister are as moderate as I hops they will be. All I ask the Minister to do is to carry out his promise to the House.
– I intend todo that.
– Do I understand that the Minister does not intend to introduce compulsory branding, so far as butter is concerned ? He told us, when the Commerce Bill was under discussion, that there would be no grading of butter into first, second, and third classes. That is recorded in Hansard..
– But the conference of experts said that it should be done.
– Does the Minister permit a board of experts to induce him to break the solemn promise on the strength of which the CommerceAct was passed ?
– Does the Act permit of grading ?
– When the Bill was going through, the Minister said that it did not, but since then he has said that it does.
– But does it?
– Order ! I would remind honorable members that we are now in Committee, and that every one is free to speak as often as he chooses.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- I do not mind a few interjections from the dumb member from Gwydir. He never ceased talking when he sat on this side of the House and has never been able to open his mouth since he has been sitting on the Government side. Therefore, we must make every allowance for him. He must have been bursting at times, as he has sat silent. As I said before, the Minister told us that the Commerce Bill did not provide for grading, but the moment it was passed into law, he stated that it’ was intended to grade butter. That is what I complain of. The Act was passed by the employment of political trickery and chicanery.
– The honorable member was talking about it for six weeks.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.-Is that sufficient tojustify the Minister in deliberately breaking his word to the people of Australia ?
– I never did that.
– The Minister has done it. It is recorded in Hansard, that the Minister, in answer to a question by the honorable member for North Sydney, said that no such thing as grading butter into first, second or third qualities was intended.
– I do not think the word “ grading ‘ ‘ appears in the regulations.
– Does the word “ stamping,” or “ branding” appear in the regulations ? It is not so much the grading, as the branding of the boxes, that is objected to.
– They are going to be branded somehow.
Mr.JOSEPH COOK.- No doubt. That is just on a par with the Minister’s conduct in relation to all his measures. He will say anything in order to get them passed, but the moment they become law, he assumes the attitude of a czar, and says, “ There is the law, and it must be carried’ out to the fullest degree.”
– So it should be.
-Very well, then. Ministers should tell the truth when Bills are before the House. If they mean that the law is to be carried out in its. entirety, they should let honorable members know it. Honorable members did not know, when the Commerce Bill was before us, that the Minister intended to grade butter into a series of qualities. He said the contrary.
– The word “ grade “ is not used in the regulations.
– If the Minister will say that he does not intend to depart from his promise, I shall have no more to say. He has, however, departed from it. He told the Conference of representatives of the dairying industry that the grading provision was in the Bill, and* that he would not permit them to discuss anything but the best manner in which to carry it out.
– I did not tell the Conference that grading was provided for in the Bill.
– I think it will be found that the Minister told the delegates that he had called them together to settle what grades they should have, and what system of classification should be adopted. When the delegates asked if they coulddiscuss the whole Question, and express an opinion as to whether there should be grading and branding, the Minister brought them up with a round turn, and told them that he had not called them together for anything of the kind.
– I said that they were not there to interfere with the Commerce Act, but to help me to carry it out.
– Exactly. The Minister told the delegates that branding and grading were provided for in the Act, and that he desired them to make certain arrangements which would help him to make regulations for the description of the goods.
– Trade description.
– Of course. Those are made up by the officers of the Department. When you describe what is to be in the goods, and examine them as to whether they attain a certain standard, and mark the boxes accordingly, what is that but grading and branding? No one would object to the Government certifying that articles were of good quality, but we say that the Government are not competent to certify as to the quality of the butter eight weeks before it is placed on the market. It is well known that the character of butter undergoes a change during the voyage. Very often it is improved in quality owing to the elimination of certain flavours.
– And it very often becomes worse.
-Quite so. Hence the absurdity of attempting to indicate the precise quality of the butter before it is shipped! to London.
– A good deal of the agitation on the subject is interested agitation.
– Of course it is. What else could it be? Has a man whose business is at stake, no right to agitate? Is it not a great pity that a man who has his whole capital and livelihood at stake should be permitted to make a complaint with regard to something that is interfering vitally with his business? It is probably a good thing that we have a socialistic Minister who believes so much in private liberty that he resents agitations of any kind. Of course, these people are interested. They have a right to be interested Their interests, as thev say, are vitally affected.
– They are getting as much out of the producer as they can.
– I do not know that. All mv knowledge goes to show that the producers in New South Wales are opposed to this Bill, as well as the interested persons to whom the Minister alludes.
– They are not opposed to it.
– I think the Minister will’ find that they are. I admit that the honorable gentleman is doing his best to smooth away the difficulties to which it has given rise.
– Then, why does the honorable member abuse me?
– I am finding fault with the Minister for breaking his word to the House. A whole recess has passed away, and he has not yet been able to frame the regulations under this precious Bill. When he came to administer it, he found that it was impossible to administer it in the form in which it was put through this Parliament. Consequently, his whole recess has been spent in endeavouring to make it a workable measure.
– How could I interfere with the Act?
– The Minister has great discretionary powers vested in him under the Act, so that, while he cannot interfere with the Statute itself, he can make the greatest possible variation in its administration. The honorable gentleman believes thoroughly in taking unto himself all the power that he possibly can. More than any of his colleagues, he is a kind of administrative Czar, who would support the passing of a Bill, consisting of one clause, which would confer upon him absolute power to do whatever he chose in all the ramifications of trade and commerce, and which would leave its administration to Ministerial regulations. I hope that his statement that grading is not provided for in the regulations-
– I said the word “ grading.”
– Then the Minister does make a distinction between the two things. Does he intend to grade under the regulations without having the courage to say so? Will the Minister say that he does not propose to grade under the regulations?
– The honorable member will see what the regulations themselves say.
– Of course I shall. In the meantime, I suppose that I must be content. I am not in the Minister’s secrets, and if members of the Opposition wish to obtain the information for which I have asked, thev must employ as their agents some of the honorable members opposite, who could secure it in two minutes if they desired to do so. I do not intend to deal with this matter at any further length. It has been discussed exhaustively by the honorable and learned member for Illawarra, who has really made most of the points that I intended to make. He has covered them with an intimate knowledge of the question. I was remarking, when I was led off into this line of argument, that the Treasurer, when he hurriedly left upon a mysterious mission to London, was careful to explain that he was going at his own expense. His last words wafted over the waters from Western Australia were - “ I am going upon semi-public business, but at my own expense. “
– I did not placard the fact. It was the Prime Minister who made the statement.
– The Minister made the statement in an interview with the press representatives.
– Does the honorable member wish to pay him?
– No; but at the same time I do not believe in that sort of thing. If a Minister goes to London upon public business, it is right that the public should pay his expenses.
– I said that I was going upon private business, but that I intended to do a lot of public work whilst I was in London.
– However, I have no desire to labour this matter. I watched the doings of the right honorable gentleman whilst he was absent with a very great deal of interest, and the point which struck me most forcibly about his mission was that the further he was from our shores the more Imperialistic he became. It seemed to me that the nearer he got to our shores upon his return the less of that sort of thing was apparent.
– Why, the ex-Premier of South Australia said that he was away on a spree.
– Everybody knows that the Treasurer! is a thoroughly loyal subject of the Empire, and I was glad to see him holding up the end of Australia upon the other side of the world. I was pleased to see with what ability and pertinacity he did it, and I shall be glad to hear some mote similar utterances from him here. They would not do him any harm. At the same time, I hope that nothing will come to my honorable friend in the shape of any further progress to London. I trust that he will stay in Australia for some time - at any rate until after the next general elections. I hope that he will remain with the Prime Minister till after the great appeal has been made to the country, because of his recent utterances upon the land tax proposals of the supporter’s of the Government.
– He will have to climb down before then.
– I do not think it is likely that he will climb down, and it is just possible that he may yet stiffen the back of the Prime Minister. It is quite certain that the latter requires a little stiffening in the backbone. I say that advisedly, in view of his recent utterances upon this very important question. He cannot be induced to say in the same frank and fearless fashion as his Treasurer that he does not believe direct taxation is necessary under existing circumstances’, and that we can provide for an old-age pension scheme without it. In view of the statements of the Treasurer, and of the publicity given’ to the Labour Party’s proposal by the Minister of Trade and Customs, we have a right to know where the Prime Minister is between these two strongminded men, who have great courage so far as their own opinions are concerned. We have a right to learn where the Prime Minister is between these two strong personalties. He has one Minister tugging at him in one way and another pulling at him in a contrary direction. I trust that he will not be injured in the tug-of-war. But it is really time that the Prime Minister told this country what he is going to do in connexion with the land tax proposals of the Labour Party.
– What is the honorable member going to do?
– What I told the electors I should do. In making these observations, I am simply following the example of the Labour Party. I think that the honorable member for Bland was perfectly justified in asking for a statement from the Prime Minister upon this great question of prime policy. I notice that a verv persevering effort is being made by the leader of the Labour Party and his colleagues to smooth the way for the Prime Minister and for his direct followers. Only the other day the honorable member for Bland told us that already he had the rest of the States regimented behind the Government for the next election. He said that he was already certain that the other States would offer no objection to the return of Ministers and members who entered into such an alliance.
– The honorable member would like to get them to oppose me.
– I do not wish them to oppose the Minister.
– The honorable member’s chief has been again trying ,.0 bring about that result, but has failed..
– I am not aware of that. Moreover, I do not believe the statement.
– It is true. He made the statement in public.
– I do not think that the Minister is intentionally saying what is not true, but I should require some proof before I believed such a statement.
– He made the statement upon the public platform. He said practically the same thing at Albury.
– I will be very candid, and say that I do not think the. Labour Party ought to oppose the return of the Minister. He has declared that he believes in their Socialism, in their programme, and in the land tax. Why on earth they should oppose him I do not know.
– I have never said anything of the kind.
– The Minister most certain] y did. He defended the Socialism of the Labour Party throughout the length and breadth of New South Wales, in the course of a tour which he recently made in following the leader of the Opposition.
– I defended their action.
– Exactly ; that is what I am saying. The Minister made it quite clear that he was in entire sympathy with the objects of the party which now supports the Government.
– I am not in sympathy with the leader of the Opposition.
– When the Minister dies. I predict that he will die of apoplexy brought about by the right honorable member for East Sydney.
– I think that he will die first.
– I do not think so. At any rate, I have very grave fears for the: Minister in that respect.
– Politically and physically too. I say, fearlessly, that the Labour Party ought not to oppose the return of the Minister of Trade and Customs since he has declared, in such a straight-out fashion, that he is with them right up to the hilt.
– He ought to sign the Labour pledge.
– The honorable member for Parramatta knows that he is making a misstatement.
– I should be very unwilling to make a misstatement on that matter. Will the honorable gentleman say that he has not expressed the opinion that the big estates should be burst up by Federal action?
– They should be burst up in some way.
– The honorable gentleman admits that he has expressed such an opinion. That is precisely the attitude of the honorable member for Bland, and the Minister was therefore wrong in saying that I had made a misstatement. I say that if the honorable gentleman believes in all that the Labour Party is doing he might as well sign their pledge. The same thing applies1 to him as applies to the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne.
– If I did sign their pledge I should not go back on it, as the honorable member did.
– No member of the Committee knows better than does the Minister of Trade and Customs that I never signed any pledge, and, therefore, never went back on any. My trouble was that I would not sign the pledge.
– Did not the honorable member sign a pledge as’ a member of the party ?
– I have no recollection of having signed any pledge. At any rate, let me tell honorable members that I was never asked by my constituents to sign any pledge. I never’ did sign any pledge to them, and therefore never broke one. I am replying now to one of the statements of the party opposite that is industriously circulated throughout Australia, and in which there is not a tittle of truth.
– Did the honorable member sign a pledge to the Labour Party as a party ?
– Not that I recollect. If the honorable member for Gwydir will tell me what he means particularly I shall endeavour to tax my memory in order to reply to him. I am speaking of a pledge which, is exacted from the outsiders. Of course, fifteen years ago we went in very green, and what was done then I do not quite remember.
– The honorable member went in “ green “ then, and he is coming in “ yellow “ presently.
– I am afraid that the honorable member for Gwydir is now raising the sectarian question. I was not speaking of that kind of “ green” at all. I desire to say emphatically that the statement of the Minister of Trade and Customs is an incorrect statement, for which there is not a tittle of justification. I say. further, that if I were in accord, as the honorable gentleman is, with the Labour Party, and were going about the country advocating and defending their aims and objects upon all platforms, I would sign their pledge and join the party
– Suppose the honorable member were not asked to do so?
– I say that the honorable and learned member for, Northern Melbourne should also sign the pledge. I do not wonder that people outside are asking the honorable and learned gentleman to take himself off to another constituency, and not to try to represent a labour constituency unless he is prepared to subscribe to the discipline, platform, and pledges of the Labour Party.
– How can the honorable member advise that when he would not sign the pledge himself?
– I do not go about with the Labour Party as the Minister of Trade and Customs and the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne have done.
Mb. Hutchison. - The honorable member was inside the party.
– Might I remind the honorable member for Hindmarsh that when I declined to sign the pledge the honorable member for Bland and six others came up to my constituency and spent a fortnight there trying to chase me out of political life. Thev do not do that in the case of the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, because he will not sign the pledge to-day
– The honorable and learned member has never been inside the party
– Nor have I ever been inside the pledged caucus party as it exists to-day. I never owed it allegiance.
– The honorable member led the party, and he says that he never owed it allegiance.
– I say once and for all that I never belonged to the organized Labour Party as it exists to-day. I never signed their pledge, I was never asked to sign, a pledge by my constituents, and the moment I was asked to sign the pledge by Watson and Company in Sydney I declined to do so.
– We have never been asked by our constituents to sign any pledge.
– Honorable members1 are asked to do so by an outside body, and that is twenty times worse.
– It is a purely voluntary act. o
– Exactly, but honorable members cannot run for Parliament as, members of the Labour Party unless they do sign the pledge.
– They have no wish to do so.
– I am not quarreling with honorable members of (the Labour Party, because they have their own ideas of discipline. I merely say that I would not subscribe to them, and I never have been a member of their pledged caucus, party, and therefore never left them, as some honorable members are so fond of saying.
– The honorable member knows what his position in. the party was.
– The honorable member for Gwydir should be the last person to talk to me about my position. He endeavoured to get into Parliament without the Labour Party, and it was only when he found that he could not do so that he signed the pledge, and got in with the party.
– The honorable member went all round the political compass, and joined the Labour Party only when he found that he could not get into Parliament without them.
– That is the old gag.
– Andit is true.
– It is not.
– I happen to live in the same town as the honorable member, and I know a little about the matter. I am stating facts when I say that he tried his best to get into Parliament; unattached to the Labour Party, and it was only when he found he could not succeed in doing so that he came in under the wing of the Labour Party.
– The honorable member’s scurrilous attacks are not worth replying to. He is capable of nothing but Billingsgate abuse, and if the Minister of Trade and Customs were not present he would have no speech to make at all.
– This is very strange, after the brutal attack made upon me by the Minister, and the brutal interjections to which I have been subjected from the Labour corner. However, I should like to be allowed to proceed. I was about to say that the honorable member for Bland had made these insistent demands of the Prime Minister upon public platforms. He has recently been demanding of the Prime Ministerthat before there can be any talk of alliance the honorable and learned gentleman should make some definite statement. Here is what the honorable member for Bland said at Crow’s Nest in the North Sydney electorate: -
He took Mr. Deakin’s remarks at Adelaideto suggest something in the way of a definite alliance with the Labour Party. He, as a member of that party, would be willing to continue to work with Mr. Deakin, but before he so agreed he wanted to know what were Mr. Deakin’s programme and proposals.
That was a very fair request to make, but it is a request with which the Prime Minister declines to comply. Mr. Watson further said -
Mr. Deakin’s programme at present was in a state of transition, if, indeed, it existed at all. That being so, the Labour Party had a right to be informed as to Mr. Deakin’s intentions before it entered into any agreement. The party had had no clear statement on this matter from Mr. Deakin. Mr. Deakin had declared that the question of Socialism was one for the States, and that before the Federal Parliament could deal with it there would have to be an alteration in the Constitution. Under those circumstances it was fair to ask Mr. Deakin whether he would alter the Constitution in order to make it possible to nationalize one or more existing monopolies.
There is a straightforward demand on the part of the Labour leader that the Prime
Minister of Australia should make a declaration about the progressive land tax, and also on the question of the alteration of the Constitution for socialistic purposes. No demand could be more clear or more insistent. The honorable member for Bland’ went on to say -
There was one concrete question that the Labour Party had put to Mr. Deakin, and that was as to his intentions as to the progressive land tax to burst up the big estates. The party had a right to know what the other two parties meant in this connexion. . He had said that intricate financial problems were involved, but he (Mr. Watson) denied that was the case. It was only an excuse, and did not justify the refusal of Mr. Deakin to give the public an idea of his intentions.
Since Parliament met, and the honorable member for Bland’ came over to Victoria, he seems to have stopped that kind of talk, and we now learn that he is working heaven and earth in a private way to call off all opposition to the Prime Minister.
– In a private way? The honorable member ought not to say that. Everything is being done publicly. There has been no private work at all.
– I mean that he isdoing it in an unofficial way. The party in this House is doing its’ best to prevent opposition to its allies here, and to persuade the Victorian officials to support it.
– Nothing is being done privately.
– By privately I mean unofficially. It is not being done through the ordinary channels.
– Is not the honorable member making a mistake in including the Prime Minister?
– He has never been mentioned.
– What have these remarks to do with the Supply Bill ?
– These interjections are highly disorderly.
– I do not mind the interjections, but I hope that the Minister of Trade and Customs, after taking up so much time to-night, will not rise in his wrath to-morrow, and demand that the debate on the Anti-Trust Bill be shortened in consequence.
– There are only two more members to speak on that Bill.
– I know of more than two. This statement contains the answer to the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne. On several occasions he has been trying to emphasize the point that we have no constitutional power to nationalize industries. Well, here is a demand from the Labour leader to the Prime Minister for an alteration of the Constitution which will make it possible to begin this nationalizing process.
– This House cannot alter the Constitution. No such alteration could be made without the consent of the people.
– I am perfectly aware of that. The Prime Minister has declined to1 make any .reply to the demand of the honorable member for Bland. He told us the other day that, neither personally nor on behalf of the Government, would he commit himself to any such course. But a great change has come over the scene since those words were uttered. The leader of the Labour Party is now doing his best to perfect his alliance with the Prime Minister, although the latter will not make any public declaration in regard to the proposed Federal land tax for the bursting up of large estates. The question may, therefore, be asked, “ Has the Prime Minister given the honorable member for Bland private assurances in the matter?” That seems to me a most probable explanation.
– Evil be to him who evil thinks.
– Is it evil to suggest that they mav have been discussing matters privately ? I am afraid that it is the honorable member who is thinking evil.
– It is improper to suggest that the Prime Minister has told the honorable member for Bland something pr/.vately which differs from what he has said in public.
– It mav be improper, but it is a common sort of impropriety on the part of Governments, particularly in regard to alliances.
– It might be common to the Government which the honorable member supported. 1
– We shall be glad to know what is the exact position of matters. Perhaps the honorable member will put us right, and so save all this bother and blundering. Let him tell us why there has been this tremendous change in his tone and attitude towards the Prime Minister.
– Why should we explain our affairs to the honorable member?
– Then why does the honorable member object to my action in trying to find out something for myself ?
– The honorable member is making a fishing inquiry.
– No ; I am merely pointing out the difference between the attitude of the labour leader at North Sydney a few weeks ago, and his present attitude of complaisance towards the Prime Minister. He seems now to be ready to accept the Prime Minister, land tax or no land tax, and nationalization of monopolies or no nationalization of monopolies. He is doing his best to assist the Prime Minister through the coming elections.
– That is what the honorable member is sorry about.
– I am not sorry about it j but the members of the Labour Party are sorry that they cannot get the officials outside to take the view which they take. Their leader’s appeal the other day was an almost piteous one. He said that he hoped that Victoria would honour the bargain as the other States had done, and not leave them in the lurch. The honorable member has stated the conditions of the bond, but the public have a right to say that they will not accept the Prime Minister until he has made a public declaration concerning his opinions on the Federal land tax and the nationalization of industries. No one has made it half so clear as the Prime Minister has made it that we have no constitutional power to nationalize industries. A couple of years ago, when he was Attorney-General in the Barton Government, he was asked a question on the subject, and he replied that this Parliament has no power to nationalize industries. Senator Drake, who succeeded him as Attorney-General, gave a similar opinion. Yet, when Parliament had gone into recess last year, he appointed Royal Commissions to inquire into the feasibility of nationalizing the shipping and tobacco industries, and the members of those Commissions have travelled’ throughout Australia, spending public money in the effort to discover whether a case could be made out for nationalization. If the Prime Minister thinks that we have no power to nationalize industries, he should not authorize the expenditure of public money on fruitless inquiries.
– Did he appoint the Tobacco Commission ?
– Yes. He converted a Select Committee of the House into a Royal Commission. The Chairman of the Shipping Commission told us, when he asked for the appointment of a Select Committee, that he would have nothing to do with the matter if he were not bent upon Socialism, and the whole object of this inquiry was to ascertain if the nationalization of the shipping industry of Australia was feasible. Of course, the power to nationalize could be obtained by an amendment of the Constitution, and the leader of the Labour Party has challenged the Prime Minister to propose such an amendment. But, apparently, these challenges are merely so much platform rhetoric. As soon as he comes near the Prime Minister, he becomes a consistent, faithful, and complaisant ally. The . honorable member for Bland on the political rampage is a different dan from the honorable member for Bland whom we know in this Chamber as the ally of the Prime Minister, so that there’ almost seem to be two personalities. However, the matter is one for the Labour League of Victoria and the public to decide. It seems to me that the Victorian Labour Leagues have a right to take up the attitude that they have assumed in requiring pledges from the Prime Minister before undertaking to enter into an alliance with him.
– I would suggest that the honorable member should address them on the subject.
– I have addressed them on several occasions during the past fortnight or three weeks, and have had a really good time. I find the Socialists outside more frank in their admissions than are those in this Chamber.
– At Castlemaine did they not call the honorable member a Judas?
– The Labour organ called the Prime Minister a Judas.
– If honorable members continue to interrupt, I shall have to mention them by name.
– For every foul epithet applied to me, ten have been hurled at the Prime Minister, but, although he has been called by adherents of the Labour Party a “ bally “ rat, a Judas, and other unpleasant names, he swallows the insults, and does their work. That is how we differ. I wish to say one or two words with regard to another matter.
There seems to be a disposition to spend a little more public money in making additional appointments before the Government goes to the country. I see that one of the members of the Labour Party has a motion on the business-paper which indicates an anxiety on his part to have a LieutenantGovernor appointed for Papua. I do not quite understand this, except it is desired to create another appointment for Papua. It is very strange that, after all the great haste that was displayed in passing the Papua Bill through this Chamber, the Government should not have brought the new constitution into operation. We were told last session that it was necessary to pass the Bill in order to provide a system of government for Papua. It was reported that all sorts of clangers were menacing the community there, and on _that ground the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, and the honorable member for Cowper, and others who held’ very strong opinions with regard to a certain matter, were induced to give way in order that provision might be made for a constitution without further delay. Seven month’s have been allowed to pass without any action having been taken to give Papua the constitution for which provision is made bv Statute, and we have a right to some explanation. I venture to say that the Act would not have been passed in its present form had it not been for the appeal made by the Prime Minister upon the ground of urgency. Now, it appears that the Government do not want the constitution for Papua. I should like to know why. There is a vague statement in the Governor-General’s speech with reference to the matter, and that is all that we know about it. Now, a private member suggests, even before the constitution is set up, that a Lieutenant-Governor should be appointed. How does that honorable member know that the Government have not already provided “for a LieutenantGovernor ?
– He wants to know.
– Not at all. Pie has taken independent action. He intends to invite the House to express the opinion that a Lieutenant-Governor, in close and recent touch with the aspirations of the Commonwealth and of the Territory, should be appointed.
– Does the honorable member object to the appointment of an Australian ?
– Not at all.
– Then what is the honorable member making such a fuss about ?
– The Minister will know if he waits for two minutes. It is stated that the Judiciary Act is to be amended, with a view to the appointment of more Judges to the High Court Bench. In my opinion, these appointments have waited so long that thev might well be delaved until after the general election. The Government has already been described by the Prime Minister as consisting of twenty-four blackbirds out of the i j i. members in both Houses, and, under these circumstances, I think “that they should have some constitutional warrant behind them before they exercise their executive power in relation to high appointments of this kind.
– How many honorable members are on that side of the House ?
– We are not running Australia.
– No; that is the trouble.
– I venture to say that it is Australia’s trouble at the present time. The Vice-President of the Executive Council need not laugh so inordinately. No one has recognised the present constitutional anomaly more than he has done, and he, of all persons, should sit quiet when matters relating to the alliance of the Government with the Labour Party are referred to. It is not so long since that he described the policy of the Labour Party as made up of 15 per cent, of practical politics arid 75 per cent, of bird-lime. Now, within a short twelve months, he and twenty-three other blackbirds are sitting there with their feathers covered with socialistic bird-lime.
– Those with whom the honorable member’s party is allied, want to run away at the eleventh hour.
– I am very glad that the honorable member has brought to my mind an observation which I may make in reply to his. It may be that the Prime Minister declines to express himself clearly with regard to the imposition of a Federal land tax and other socialistic proposals, in order that, before the election, he may be able to bolt away from the party with which he is at present allied.
– The wish is father to the thought.
– It is not a matter of my wish, or of my thought. Judging by past performances, the Ministerial bolters can be backed against those in the Opposition corner every time.
– The members in the Opposition corner are verv “ crook.”
– They are retaining their seats. They have not been dragged in by means of socialistic birdlime like honorable members on the Government benches, whose feathers are covered with it. The Vice-President of the Executive Council described the Socialistic Party as having two faces, one, the mild reasonable face of the honorable member for Bland, and the other, the face of an anarchist. This is the man who laughs now at the slightest criticism from this side of the chamber. One wonders which of the two parties to the Government alliance has the more capacious swallow - the Prime Minister, who has been denounced as perhaps no other man in Australia has been, bv the Labour Party outside, or the Labour Party inside, which has been criticised in such merciless and scathing terms by the Prime Minister. As I have said, the Government might very well allow these high constitutional appointments to stand over until they obtain a constitutional warrant from the electors. Such appointments ought to be made by a Ministry with a strong party, and the authority of the Commonwealth behind it.
– Would not a resolution of the House be the best authority they could have?
– I do not think so. That is begging the whole question. Already, this House has shaped up the is sues for the next election’, and until those issues are decided and the Government represents the people, and has their mandate, it should not make high appointments such as those indicated.
– Did not the electors know the period for which they were electing us ; do we not still hold their mandate?
– Yes ; but many things have changed since the last election.
– Yes, the honorable member has changed.
– No, I have not. I have stuck to my party. I have no quarrel with those who stick to their party.
Those who have left their party are smiling just now, because they have made something out of the change. I had intended to refer to the question of the Federal Capital Site, but as it is now growing late, I shall defer my remarks. I should like to direct the attention of the PostmasterGeneral to the sweating; that appears to be going on in the Post Office at Sydney. I think it is time that this matter was inquired into. I find that recently an instruction was issued by the central administration, that men who remain at work in the Post Office until half-past six must no longer be paid tea money. If a man works for two hours beyond the usual time, half-past four o’clock, he is not to get any tea money.
– Does he get paid overtime?
– No. Then a further direction has been issued which I regard as involving a little bit of prime sweating. The instruction is that where work frequently necessitates an official’s attendance after the .regulation hours, he shall be required to work till 9 or 10 p.m. in order to be entitled to tea money.
– Who is responsible for that instruction?
- Mr. Robert T. Scott, Secretary to the Department.
– What is the date of it?
– lb is dated 8th February, 1906.
– Was it issued! at the instance of the present Government ?
– I do not think that the Government know ‘anything about it. These are matters of internal administration, and I do not suspect that the Minister has any knowledge of it. I submit that that direction ought to be withdrawn at the earliest possible moment. If the officials of the State work overtime they have a right to be paid for it. Of course, one does not expect that they shall be paid overtime if they are required to stay five minutes after the ordinary hour, but when they are compelled’ to work at night they are perfectly entitled to be paid overtime. I am sure that the Minister will look into this matter, with a view to ascertaining if a remedy cannot be applied. Although I am constantly accused of favouring sweaters, I do not believe in that kind of sweating. I am just as much opposed to sweating as is any member of this Chamber, ‘and I think that a direction of that kind is neither more awr less than an intimation to the high officials in Sydney to sweat their subordinates. This House does not expect anything of that kind, and I trust that it will see that the evil is speedily remedied.
– If the deputy leader of the Opposition will band me the memorandum from which he quoted, I will cause inquiries to be made into the matter which he has mentioned. We all entertain the highest opinion of the Secretary of the Postal Department, and we all know that the Public Service Commissioner does his work as well as it can be done. This evening I have been scolded in almost every language and by people of every description. The honorable member for Parramatta has again scolded me. Perhaps it would be just as well if I gave one or two reminiscences, with a view to showing how consistent the honorable member himself has been to every party and to every cause. As to my past utterances respecting Continental Socialism, I still maintain my views with regard to those principles, and have nothing whatever to withdraw. But I still hold that when a number of men, concerning whose character and truthfulness there can exist no doubt, inform us that the end which they have in view is not corruption and infamy and degradation - when they declare time after time that these are not their objective - it ceases to be politics, but becomes a personal affront to make such charges against them. When honorable members affirm that there is a misapprehension in regard to their position, their statement in an assembly of gentlemen. I use the term in its highest sense, should be accepted as a fact, and the accusations levelled against them should not be repeated. I have heard honorable members upon the other side of the Chamber make charges against men concerning whose personal honesty there lias never existed any doubt. The accuracy of these charges has been denied, but, nevertheless, they have beer* repeated. Under these circumstances, I say that their repetition becomes nothing but a personal affront in which I refuse to participate.
– How the Minister has changed his opinions.
– The honorable member talks about me having changed my opinions. Anybody who believes in electrobiology, who knows the effect of brain upon brain, must know that if, in the past, T erred a little, I did so Because it was not possible for me to remain respectable in the company in which I found myself. If I needed any excuse for what I have done, I should state that I felt then like a lotus in the mud of the Nile. Why, if honorable members socialised me, thev would gee more than could be extracted from the whole front bench of the Opposition. Some persons who talk so wildly about Socialism could afford to regard Australia merely as a boardinghouse. They could walk out of it to-morrow, and leave nothing behind them but a dirty shirt. I was a member of the coalition party and I did the best that I could’ for it. I was loyal to it, and did as much for it as any honorable member opposite. But when I found myselfabandoned. I retained my principles and my electoral obligations. I have heard the leader of the Opposition repeatedly ask the question, “ How can I have been unfair ? You see that 1 am out of office.” Need I remind honorable members that they have seen many a man reach for the bridle and fall off over the horse’s crupper. When I was a member of the alliance, two Conservative members of the present Opposition came to me - the honorable member for Kooyong and the honorable member for Grampians will know who they were - and said1, “Look at Mr. Reid and Mr. Cook. They are now aristocrats - they are leading the Conservatives. Cannot you rub the dandy brush over the honorable member for. Parramatta and take a few of the labour burrs off him ?” Both the present leader of the Opposition and his deputy were covered with burr and straw and cobweb from head to heel - burr and cobweb which had been accumulated in passing along the sinuous and sombre passages that form the back-stairs entrance to the Labour room. Everything which they could offer to the members of the Labour Party to secure their support was offered bv them. Failing to secure an alliance with that Party, they approached the Protectionist Party. The honorable member for Kooyong and the honorable member for Grampians will know .who asked me if I could not put the currycomb over the honorable member for Parramatta, and’ make him look a bit conservative. I said that I would do my best if thev would deal with the right honorable member for East Sydney. I do not know what happened to the present leader of the Opposition^ but I saw the honorable member for Grampians and the honorable member for Kooyong walking out on to the lawn taking with them a hay rake and a harvester. I do not know what they wanted with those implements, but I saw them a little later on with a chaffcutterI wish to show how consistent, how genuine, and how honorable is the deputyleader of the Opposition in his political views, and how trustworthy he is. I am not speaking personally. These political debates should have no individual aspect. I said that I would do my best with him, but did not take anything with me but a piece of chamois and a corn-cob. I found that he shed bts coat very easily. This occurred upon a Sunday. I saw him upon the following morning. He was looking like a Vermont ram - all wrinkles. I took him down to the basement again, and took a skin off him - a fiscal sinker’s skin. On Tuesday morning I saw that he still presented a wrinkled appearance, so I set to work upon him, and took a free-trade skin off him. I could! smell the opium on it. Upon Wednesday he was again wrinkled, and accordingly I set to work and got a labour skin off him. I knew that it was a labour skin, because he said he objected specially to it, and the honorable member asked me to take it away quickly.
– My leader has never called me a “ rat.”
– Honorable members opposite have charged me with every political offence, ‘ and now they cannot stand an honest, truthful statement. Upon Thursday the honorable member for Parramatta was still wrinkled, and I got a protectionist skin off him.- On Friday he shed a single-tax skin, and on the Saturday, as he was still wrinkled, I took a Socialist’s skin off him. Although. I tell this to honorable members in an allegorical way, my statement is theoretically true. I have known the honorable member as a fiscal sinker, as a free-trader, as a labour member, as a protectionist, as a single taxer, and as a, Socialist, all within a few years. After I had finished with him on the Sunday morning he looked about as amiable as a snake does in spring time. All this only proves the honorable member’s powers of adaptability, and shows that he is able to feed out of any nose-bag. When honorable members opposite unjustly and unfairly tell the House that members of the
Government have altered their opinion, I want to make it perfectly clear to the country that now and again those who find fault with us are not quite so consistent as they would have others believe.
.- The honorable gentleman who has just resumed his seat is about as unfitted as is any honorable member to make the speech to which we have just listened. We can all admire his humour.
– - Can the honorable member understand it ?
– We can all understand his humour, but honorable members on this side of the House do not accept the VicePresident of the Executive Council as a model of consistency. He has informed us now of his “ abandonment” by the leader whom he deserted without a moment’s warning to land himself in the honorary and honorable position in which he now finds himself. It is a most pitiable thing that a Minister of the Crown should get up in his place in this Chamber and make statements of that kind, knowing, as he must, what proof we have in the public prints of the falsity of his statements. The honorable gentleman held a meeting in his own constituency only a few weeks before the betrayal which has landed him in his present position, and that meeting was held in conjunction with the leader by whom he has been so curiously “abandoned.” At that time, the honorable gentleman said that the fiscal question was sunk, and he hoped for ever, and further that the only menace the country had to fear were the honorable members who have just cheered him to the echo. At that meeting at Lismore, the then Prime Minister, and leader of the party to which I have the honour to belong, said -
He personally considered it to be an honour to be allied with such men as Sir George Turner and Mr. Alfred Deakin ; they had agreed to a truce, and in politics as in private life the keeping of a promise was a matter of personal honour
And then, as if in echo to that statement, the honorable gentleman who has just addressed the House, said -
When Mr. Reid proposed a fiscal truce, he knew that he would faithfully and honorably carry it out, and he was confident that he would not use it as an opportunity to tomahawk the Protectionist Party.
Yet the honorable gentleman has just tried to make us believe that the only thing which drove him into his present lucrative posi tion, was the fear that his great leader, at that time, was going to try to tomahawk the Protectionist Party ! The honorable gentleman went on to express a hope that the Federal political alliance would last, and he said -
The fiscal question ought never to have divided up the parties, and he hoped it would never again do so; and separate him from men of the intellectuality, ability, integrity, and high personal character of their guest of that evening.
When the honorable gentleman gets up in his place here and says such things as those to which we have just listened, about people whom only a year ago he described as possessed of all the virtues, I should say we have about reached the dregs of political controversy. I have just been reminded that this same honorable gentleman presented my honorable leader with his portrait in oils.
– The honorable gentleman was specially selected to make the presentation in the Town Hall, Sydney.
– This is the first I have heard of it. Was it my portrait or Mr. Reid’s portrait?
– The honorable gentleman presented Mr. Reid with his own portrait in the Town Hall, Sydney.
– To show honorable members that the press of his own constituency, that had all his life supported the honorable gentleman, did not lose sight of the iniquity of his conduct in betraying his late leader, I may say that the Northern Star writes of the Vice-President of the Executive Council in the following terms : -
Mr. Thomas Thompson Ewing deserves a paragraph all to himself because, like his leader, Mr. Deakin, he threw over Mr. Reid and his antisocialistic principles without an instant’s warning when the time appeared most ripe.
– The right honorable member for East Sydney, without an instant’s warning, threw over the people with whom he was in alliance.
– If the Prime Minister desires an impartial opinion of his conduct I shall quote the labour press upon his actions.
– I am glad to hear that the honorable members thinks that an impartial opinion.
– Those impartial judges have given expression to statements concerning the honorable and learned gentleman of a. kind which justify the assertion that there has never been such an indictment of a public man uttered in the Commonwealth.
– Except by honorable members opposite; I think they are very good rivals in respect of violent abuse.
– Not at all; we have never said anything nearly so strong as the labour press has said about the Prime Minister’s action in wrecking the late coalition.
– Yours may not weigh as much, but were meant to be as strong.
– The Northern Star further said of the Vice-President of the Executive Council -
There are many who expected better things from the member for the Richmond. Less than a month ago Mr. Ewing joined the Council of the Anti-Socialistic League; less than a fortnight age he was busy forming branches of the league in the northern rivers. Now he has taken office in a minority Ministry, which can only exist by, and with the co-operation of, the very party he pledged himself a few weeks since to strive to exterminate.
That is the Vice-President of the Executive Council, to whose diatribe we have just listened ! It is somewhat difficult nowadays to get any answer from members of the Ministry, but I have to-night only a few questions to ask The deputy-leader of the Opposition referred to the trip made by the Treasurer to England, and I ‘desire to express my sense of gratification at the right honorable gentleman’s action. He was able to go to England for a considerable period, and it reflects great credit upon the officers of his Department that his absence should not have been felt. The right honorable gentleman proceeded to England to gain information in connexion with the consolidation of the States debts. Although the ground may to some extent have been cut from under his feet by the report prepared by Mr. Coghlan on the subject, I still think he did much good while in England in advertising Australia, and in correcting many of the false impressions of the Commonwealth that were prevalent there. He had not bee.i a month in the mother country before every one knew that somewhere in these Southern Seas there was a land flowing with milk and honey, and the works of the right honorable gentleman. In advertising Australia the right honorable gentleman did signal service during the recess. Two things which he did in England reflect verv great credit upon him. In the first place the right honorable gentleman delivered an outspoken address against the Commonwealth policy of borrowing. No one has spoken in England so openly ora that subject as did the Treasurer.
– I said that we were not extravagant, and it was a proof that we were a careful people, because we had not borrowed anything yet; I did not say that we were not going to borrow.
– The right honorable gentleman took credit for the fact that the Commonwealth had never borrowed anything.
– I said’ that the Commonwealth had been in existence for five years, and the fact that in that time we had never borrowed anything showed that Ave were not a reckless people.
– The right honorable gentleman’s remarks in this connexion evoked greater cheering than anything else he said, and I hope now that he has got away from that cheering he will put into operation his great principles, and will recognise that the Commonwealth should not borrow money, even for the construction of a railway which will cost many millions.
– I advocated the construction of the railway in the very same speech.
– I do not think that the right honorable gentleman explained that its construction would involve an expenditure which could only be met by the borrowing of ^3,000,000 or ,£4,000,000. Another matter upon which I must congratulate the right honorable gentleman- was his steadfast advocacy of the principle underlying the Naval Agreement. A considerable amount of intriguing was going on for the purpose of representing the whole of the Commonwealth of Australia as being anxious to create an Australian NavyThe right honorable gentleman, who was known to every one in England as Treasurer of the Commonwealth, and one of our leading public men, threw himself into the fray in a most courageous spirit, and did such work that the Navy League elected him a vice-president. Addresses were presented to the , right honorable gentleman in which his actions were highly commended, and I am aware from mv own
knowledge that his action in this regard did more than anything else to counteract the intrigues in favour of an Australian
Navy then going on in London. For this the right honorable gentleman deserves the thanks of the House. I believe that the
Treasurer will admit the necessity for the presentation of some report on the question of the consolidation of States ‘debts, and will give us an opportunity of discussing the question as one which is likely to be of importance at the next election. With, this slight token of my appreciation, I pass from the Treasurer to the Postal Department. Although Federation has been in existence for six years, verv little indeed has been done to co-ordinate the various postal services of the States. We still have in each of the States different stamps and a different system of postage in every way. In addition to that, the postages are not uniform. There are different denominations of stamps in different States. I suggest to the Department that all its efforts should be directed towards co-ordinating these State services and arranging for uniform denominations of stamps so that wherever one goes in Australia one may be able to obtain the stamps that one requires.
– Does the honorable member believe in a uniform penny postage system ?
– I do not think that that is practicable at present. But a Commonwealth issue of stamps, with uniform denominations, is not an impossibility. Let me give an instance of the present lack of method. Honorable members are well aware that a 1½d. stamp is in some States extensively used. But in other States of Australia there is no id. stamp. In New South Wales we have denominations which Victoria has not, and Victoria has denominations which we have not. I think that the same denominations of stamps should be obtainable in all the States. I must refer to one other point in connexion with the Post Office. We learn from this evening’s newspaper that a combination of shipping companies has tendered for the Commonwealth mail contract. I understand that that contract is to be laid on the table of the House at an early date. But a combination of any kind’ is penalized under the Anti-Trust Act.
– Not a combination of any kind. A combination per se is not penalized.
– My honorable friend gives quite a different reading to the Australian Industries Preservation Bill from that which a number’ of people in Australia, who are fortified by legal opinions, give to it. .They believe that the Bill, as framed, penalizes every combination, good or bad, and for whatever purpose it is formed, providing that it is con cerned with trade and’ commerce. I wish to deal with one or two other matters concerning which I hope to have the support of the honorable member for Corio, and of the Minister representing the Defence Department Owing to the action of Parliament in regard to pensions in the Defence service, a number of hardships have arisen. I will give an example. Here is the case of a driver who was seriously injured whilst in the exercise of his duty. This driver is a young man, who will never foe fit for work again. In my opinion he ought to obtain adequate monetary compensation.
– Was he injured whilst on duty?
– Yes; during manoeuvres in the National Park, Sydney. The utmost which that man can get under the regulations is the paltry sum of ./”270 odd. How long would that sum suffice to keep a young man who is crippled for life?
– Can he do nothing at all?
– Absolutely nothing. I have written to the Department about the case, and have received a letter which I will read.
– It is an act of meanness.
– It/ is an act which reflects the greatest discredit upon this Parliament, or whoever is responsible for the regulations. The following is the letter which I have received in reference to the case: -
With reference to your enquiry in re ex-Driver Fay, I beg to inform you that the Medical Board have reported further on his case, and the Minister has now approved of payment being made to him of ,£185 16s. 2d., which, with the £q2 18s. id. already paid, makes up all that he can receive under the Regulations.
The Department has paid to him the maximum sum under the regulations, so admitting the truth of what I am saying.
– Has the honorable member asked the Department to make a special, grant?
– I asked the Minister only yesterday.
– When I asked that these regulations should be considered by the House, the honorable member for Wentworth was one of the principal opponents of the motion.
– No one knows better than the honorable member that that is not so.
– But it is so.
– I was discussing this question with the Minister only yesterday.
– The regulations were brought under the notice of the House last session.
– I beg to differ from the honorable member with regard to that. My views are in the pages of Hansard, and every honorable member who is interested can read them.
– It does not matter what reasons ‘the honorable member gave; he opposed the consideration of the regulations.
– My reading of the motion then submitted, and what it was intended to do, are all on the pages of Hansard, so that he who runs may read. They are open to consideration by my constituents, as well as to any one else who cares to look at them. When I ‘discussed the case of this cripple with the Minister yesterday, he suggested that when the money paid to him had run out the Department should again be approached, when he hoped that something would be done. The Minister was willing to stretch a point as far as he could. But the view which I put to honorable members is that here is an injured man who is practically eating up day by day his life’s substance. He knows that when the sum of money granted to him is exhausted he must starve. No one who has served a public department well deserves such treatment as that. I suggest that an alteration; of the regulations is necessary to meet exceptional cases of this kind.
– There was an injured man who was offered 30s. by the Department twelve months ago - a week’s* wages ; and he has not got it yet.
– It is a disgraceful state of things. Here is a poor man, without any one to help him, and he cannot get adequate recognition from the Department. But if a retired soldier happens to be a colonel, instead of a man from the ranks, this Government takes a great interest - in his welfare. I am referring to the case of Colonel Price. I say without the slightest fear of contradiction, that, as shown in that case, a colonel can manage to get a Government to introduce a Bill for his special benefit.
– Colonel Price got nothing.
– But the Government took up his case, and brought in a special measure to meet it. I do not want a special Act of Parliament to deal with individual cases of this kind. What I ask is that there shall not be charity doles, but that there shall be a right for a man who has been injured whilst engaged in public service to receive proper compensation. I ask for that on behalf of alt grades of the service. I have to mention another case, that is not on all fours with the one that I have just dealt with. There are several men in the same position as this latter. I have before me the case of a man who has served 33 years and 275 d’ays. He is in the possession of exemplary discharges, a meritorious medal, and every recommendation a man could have, and yet, after having served his State, nearly thirty-four years, he is now, in the evening of his life, turned out to starve.
– What was his rank?
– He was a barrack sergeant. As a gunner, he served 169 days ; as a bombardier, 310 days; as corporal, 1 year and 305 days; as sergeant, 10 years and 37 days; as sergeant-major, 12 years and 198 days; and as barrack sergeant, 7 years and 351 days. He is Sergeant Walsh, and I believe his age is about 60.
– Where does he come from ?
– He will, under the redistribution, be no longer a constituent of mine ; he comes from Sydnev.
– I knew a Sergeant-major Walsh.
– That is the man; and there are several other similar instances. All this points to the necessity for some sort of pension scheme in the service, whether it be a scheme absolutely maintained by Parliament, or a scheme started by Parliament, and automatically carried on by the Department.
– I do not believe in pensions.
– Pass an old-age pension scheme, and let them all have old-age pensions.
– This and other similar ‘ cases deserve attention. This man has given as honorable service as it is possible to give, and it reflects gravely on the Commonwealth that much a man should be turned out to starve in the evening of his life-.
– He received £5 per week as sergeant-major.
– Yes, but I think, though I am not sure, that under the State law, such men. - and I do not say they are altogether not to blame - looked vaguely forward to some sort of retiring allowance.
– He received £5 per week as sergeant-major for over fifteen years.
– He received a fair salary, and gave good service for it. This case is on a different footing to that of Driver Fay.
– Fay ought to have a pension.
– There is no doubt about that. It is my strong conviction that we should, as far as possible, arrange for an automatic system of pensions, if Parliament will not grant a. pension on the ordinary Imperial scale. There are one or two further points I propose to deal with in reference to the Defence Department - matters of administration solely, for I would not, of course, touch now on questions of policy. During recess, I understand that one of the days which should have been occupied in training by the field artillery, was occupied in giving a sort of display at a show in Sydney ; and I do not think that is right. Artillery work is a highly technical art ; and it is our laudable ambition to train up a citizen soldiery to be an absolutely serviceable field artillery. Every day of service should be used in service, and not in mere display. I merely ask the Minister to see that this sort of thing does not occur again, because it is not right, and will undermine the efficiency of the service if it is allowed to go on. I make these suggestions in all friendliness, because - I do not care which Government is in power - I am sure our only desire is to see the Department properly managed; and we hope that this, at any rate, will be one Department free from party influences. Every one who has studied the question knows that, for some reason or other, there is the gravest lack of confidence right through every rank. Everywhere we see a spirit of unrest among officers and men alike. We have seen officers resigning and giving up the sword for the ploughshare.
– A very laudable object.
– Perhaps if we had more ploughshares we should not need so many swords. At the same time, one of the best officers we ever hadin the service has given it up in disgust. He may be wrong or he may be right.
– It is only the best men who will resign.
– This matter is well worth the serious attention of the Department, and the state of affairs ought to be remedied. I suggest that the best way is for. the Department to act absolutely loyally in regard to the regulations. Make liberal regulations, if you like, but let officers and men know that the administration will be as loyally carried on under those regulations as is the civil service under its regulations. Having made the regulations, let the Department administer them in spirit as well as in letter. There are only two other matters to which I wish to refer. Quite recently a number of “ kites “ have been flown, especially in the Melbourne press, in reference to a change in the Defence administration. I hope these are only “kites,” as I believe them to be. One newspaper, at any rate, hasbeen pretty confidently stating that it is proposed, in appointing a new InspectorGeneral, to give him a seat on the Board.
– That appeared in the Sydney Daily Telegraph.
– If it did, it also appeared in the Melbourne Age.
– The newspapers are about right.
– If the statement is right, the change will undermine the very principle of the Defence Act, which is that the Inspector-General shall be an independent man reporting to other independent men. If the Inspector-General is going to report to himself, what chance have we of knowing that his inspection has been honestly made, seeing that we have no means to check him? I sincerely hope that no such action will be taken as that which is foreshadowed in certain quarters. I regret that the gentleman who so brilliantly entertained us a few moments ago is not in his place ; but I should like to know from the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, why it is that we have not had reports, as it was intended’ we should, from the members of the Military Board?
– Members received the report during recess.
– There is a report signed by Senator Pl ay ford as President of the Board; but there is no report from the military members of the Board. The honorable member for Corio will see the point at which I am driving when I remind him that the Naval Director, who is in an equivalent position to that of the Military Board - he is the Naval Board - has signed his report to this House, whereas the military members of the Military Board have not signed their report.
– The reportis signed by the President in his corporate capacity.
– Then why did the Minister not sign the report of the Naval Board ?
– I suppose he did not choose to do so.
– Both Boards are on exactly the same footing. Has the Minister written his own report, or has he merely signed the report of the officers? That is a very pertinent and fair question. The Minister should take this matter into consideration, and even if he does not think the reports of the Military Board are worth printing, he might well allow them to be placed on the table of the library in the near future. I do not wish to take further advantage of the opportunity to discuss these questions this evening. I regret that I have had to occupy the attention of the Committee for some time in bringing them forward, but feel sure that those who take an intelligent interest in them will recognise that there is considerable force in the points I have raised.
.- I should not have attempted to detain the Committee at this stage, but for certain statements made by the deputy leader of the Opposition as to the possibility of Australia going, so to speak, to perdition under the present Administration. The honorable member took up some time in explaining the differences between himself and the Labour Party, and treated the Committee to an electioneering address. His speech was permeated with the fear of the Opposition that there is a possibility of a straight-out fight taking place between them and the supporters of the Government at the next general election. It is all very well for the deputy leader of the Opposition to endeavour to arouse jealousy and friction, but I shall not attempt to read ancient history, nor to indulge in recrimination. The honorable gentleman made accusations against Ministers, and asserted that they had done that for which they had no warrant from the country. He declared that they were not in a position to remain in possession of the Treasury benches. We may well ask ourselves whether the Opposition would allow the Government to remain in office another day if they had the numbers necessary to oust them; It was only yesterday that a former colleague of the leader of the Opposition publicly denied that he was under his leadership, and that being so, it ill becomes the deputy leader to accuse the Government of having two parties behind them. It is evident that honorable members opposite fear that at the next general election we shall have a straight-out fight between the Government and the Opposition, instead’ of a triangular duel such as we have witnessed in the past.
– Is there only one party sitting behind the Government?
– The honorable member will know all about that in due time. The honorable member for Parramatta condemned the Government for having failed to announce their policy for the next Parliament. It is only a few days since the leader of the Opposition complained that the programme announced by the Ministry was altogether too elaborate, and I should like honorable members to say whether we could have had a plainer statement of the intentions of the Ministry than was made by the Prime Minister on the motion for the adoption of the Address-in-Reply. The deputy leader of the Opposition was clamouring
– It was the honorable member for Bland who was clamouring ; I merely quoted him.
– The leader of the Opposition and those sitting behind him are always seeking to start a fresh hare. In view of the fact that they have told us repeatedly that the trade and commerce of Australia are going to perdition, I should like to point to a return published yesterday by the Customs Department, in relation to the State of Victoria. Unfortunately I have been unable to secure the statistics for the other States in time to quote them this evening, but it is interesting to learn that the exports of Victoria, during the first five months of this year, show an increase, as compared with those for the corresponding period of 1905, of no less than £3,700,000. Does that suggest that we are going to ruin. It has also been urged by the Opposition that the Commerce Act will have a serious effect upon our trade.
– What about the mangled industries of Victoria?
– Let us deal with one question at a time. Complaint has been made that the Prime Minister neglected to announce the intentions of the Government with respect to the imposition of a land tax.
– Have we not a right to know something about their intentions in that regard?
– Certainly, and no doubt the Opposition will have a full statement of the intentions of the Ministry at the approaching general election. We know, however, that the Prime Minister has no intention of introducing land tax proposals during the present session. We have been told that it is impossible to administer the Commerce Act - that it will seriously damage the trade of Australia- and reference has been made on more than one occasion to the likelihood of its having a very damaging effect upon the butter industry. During the last ten days I have been attending a conference of the Cooperative Dairymen’s Society of Victoria, which exports a considerable quantity of butter. We have a State law relating to the conditions under which butter may be exported from Victoria, and the conference to which I refer was called to discuss the draft regulations under the Commerce Act, and to interview the Minister. I think that the honorable member for Echuca will bear out my statement that the discussion showed that there was very little difference between the representatives of the butter industry of Victoria and the Minister. In Victoria we have made an attempt to market our butter on cooperative principles, and I hope that that system will soon prevail throughout Australia. Producers’ are marketing their butter without the intervention of middle men.
– The Australian Industries Preservation Bill will apply to them.
– lt will not affect them. It is idle for the honorable member to attempt to scare me. I am in the business, and have no fear in that regard. A Victorian Act compels the inspection of butter before it can be put on board ship for export, and under that Act butter is graded in two classes.
– Do I understand that the honorable member is discussing the Australian Industries Preservation Bill ?
– No. It has been stated that there is a possibility of the Customs Department taking certain action, under the Commerce Act, and, as the Bill makes provision for the administration of that Department, I hold that I am entitled to discuss the matter. It has been said by some that it is undesirable to place a grade stamp on butter exported from Australia. But, strangely enough, although there has been no compulsory branding under the Victorian Act, during the past year a grade stamp has been placed on 90 per cent, of the butter exported from the State, and no complaint has arisen therefrom. At the same time, it is only fair to those engaged in the trade to say that the consent to use the grade stamp was obtained under a misunderstanding. Apparently, the Customs Department do not ask that any mark be placed on the butter-boxes other than that required to be placed there by the laws of the State, though it requires to be informed of the quality of the butter proposed to be exported.
– Is not the branding of the butter a farce? Are not the brands removed when the butter gets to the old country ?
– That .is an evil which can . be remedied. The honorable member, no doubt, is aware that legislation is now being passed in Great Britain to regulate the importation of food stuffs, and especially of butter. As I understood the reply of the Minister to those engaged in this business, all *he requires is that a stamp shall be placed on their produce, showing what it is; and he’ is prepared to allow a certificate, testifying to the quality of the butter, to be supplied to the Department, and to be available for inspection if asked for where the butter is sold. I feel sure that the Minister has had too much experience to neglect the representations made to him, and that he will not do anything to damage this industry. It has been continually stated in this Chamber that the legislation of this Parliament has been directed towards the injury of the trade and commerce of Australia ; but we have actual proof that such is not the case, and I trust that those statements will not be repeated. In mv opinion, if the Acts placed on the statute-book are administered reasonably, and according to the dictates of common sense, the producers of Australia will have nothing to fear from them. ,
.- When last year’s Estimates were under discussion, I pointed out that the amount set down for the payment of increments to certain postal officials in Victoria would be insufficient to meet the whole of the claims, and I have been informed since that less than one-half of those entitled to increments have received them. These increments were for officers receiving over £160 a year, the greatest percentage of those who have not been paid being in the fourth class. I have risen to ask the Treasurer to see that, in regard to future payments, all officers will be treated alike, so that none may be called upon to suffer any particular injustice, and no anomalies shall be treated
– In my opinion, the administration of the Defence Department should be looked into. If, as rumour has it, Colonel Hoad is to be made Inspector-General of the Forces of the Commonwealth, I shall proclaim the appointment to be nothing more nor less than a scandal. F’or a position like that, we should obtain the services of the most capable man available.
– Wherever he can be got.
– Yes. Militarism is a progressive science. As I have mentioned before, I spent fifteen months at Shoeburyness, twenty-two or twenty-three years ago, in going through a course “of gunnery instruction, and’, although, my education cost the British Government something like £1:60, I found, on visiting the forts at Queenscliff recently, that I knew as little about the manning of the guns’ there as the rawest recruit. The honorable member for Wentworth pointed out to-night that the artillery arm is the scientific branch of the service, and I suggest that, in exchanging officers with other parts of the British Dominions, we should insist upon getting artillery and engineer officers. The Australian cavalryman is second to none in the British Dominions. I make that statement on the strength of some notes of a Conference of cavalry officers held in Great Britain, which were lent to me by the InspectorGeneral. Those officers declared that our cavalryman is perfect, and that they are sorry that the Imperial cavalryman is not equally effective and satisfactory. Then, with regard to the infantry, their evolutions and mode of attack are easily learned in books, or from special service officers. It is, however, useless to appropriate only £600 a year for the training of our officers abroad. However anxious an officer might be to learn, it would be impossible for him to obtain, in the course of a few months, any knowledge likely to be of service to Australia. In place of voting £600, I would vote £6,000 to secure the efficiency of our officers, because therein lies the secret of the successful organization of our forces. As regards the appointment of an InspectorGeneral, there is no one who values an Australian officer more than I do. I believe in having Australian officers for the Australian Army, because they possess the Australian sentiment; but I am not going to allow that feeling to run away with’ my good sense. If we are going to have a Defence Force, we should have the best man possible as Commanding Officer, and pay him a good salary. There is no man in the Commonwealth today occupying a high position in the service who is fit to command the Australian Army. If it were to be called out, we should have to import an Imperial officer from either the old country or India. What officers in high positions here to-day have had the benefit of the experience which Imperial officers have had in India? I would point out to the Minister of Defence that it is of no use to pitch a feather-bed soldier into a position, where we want a man, to whom
Ave can look up, and of whom Ave can say, “ Well, if the time ever does come, there is the man who can command our Army.” We do not Avant a man who has used drawing room influence to attain his position. We do not Avant frill’ and finery, but a capable soldier.
– We cannot use the cry of Australia for the Australians, then, either?
– No; it is too thin. When the day comes to put our Army in the field, we should have a man fit to command. Let me give an instance. In Queensland, two ot three months ago, they had the Forces out to give them general service conditions. There were about 2,000 men, and although they were only a few miles from Brisbane, they were not fit to organize the commissariat. During one-half of the time the men were without food and blankets. Is that a satisfactory state of affairs ? Our defence vote amounts to £700,000 or £800,000 a year, but in a sham affair, only a few miles from Brisbane, they not only had’ to borrow the grocer’s cart to bring in provisions, but to commandeer his store. And this in peace time !
– Who is the State Commandant? He is responsible, surely.
– I do not wish to say anything about the State Commandant. I raised a point about that man, and the Minister of Defence got a report from MajorGeneral Finn, who said that he is a competent officer. If the General Officer Commanding makes that statement, it is not for me to cavil at it. The Minister acted upon that recommendation, and I, as a good soldier, will obey the superior officer.
– Was he in charge at the time of this lack in the commissariat?
– Of course he was. It goes to show that we are not getting the best service. If the Forces had’ to be put into the field, the first department which would break down would be the commissariat. How can we expect men to fight if we do not feed them? I earnestly hope that the Ministry will not be led into a cul-de-sac by appointing a mere figure-head as the InspectorGeneral. If he is to be a member of the Board, it means that he will go there to decide upon his own work.
– What does the honorable member think of that system?
– I thought that we were going to get some good out of the system when it was introduced’ bv the honorable member for Corinella, but the more I see and know of it the more rotten I think it is. It casts authority from one person to another, and it is almost impossible, in some cases, to fix responsibility. If we have made a mistake what is the best means of remedying it? My advice is to abolish the Board and make the Commanding Officers responsible, getting, of course, the very best man we can possibly get.
– We want less appeal to Parliament and more discipline.
– I do not believe in bringing before Parliament every grievance that a man has, because I know that it interferes with discipline. In many instances I have refrained from ventilating personal grievances here, and in each case the Minister has remedied the trouble. On the other hand, if a grievance cannot be remedied in that quarter, Parliament is the proper body to appeal to as the last resort. In the interests of good order and discipline, however, we should keep these grievances out of Parliament as much as possible. I have no more to say about the Defence Force to-night- But I wish to sound this warning note to the Government - that, unless they are careful in the selection of their Inspector-General, they will find that they have raised a house of cards which will fall down, with possibly disas trous results. I wish to say a few wordswith regard to the pensioning of the gunner or driver mentioned by the honorable member for Wentworth. It is the essence of meanness on the part of the Government if a man is, in the course of duty, disabled for life that they do not look after him. The British Government would not so act to the worst men or the lowest-paid men in the service. If a man gets injured iti the Imperial service, whether in peace time or active service, he gets a pension according to schedule. I believe that there should be drawn up a schedule of pensions to be paid to officers and men in the service who have been maimed or injured. Every one would then know what he was going to get if injured. The idea of turning out a young man with £272 to the mercy nf the world is preposterous. Sixteen years ago, when I was a sub-contractor, one of my men was hurt, and to-day I am keeping him, simply because he got injured in my service. Should not the Government do the same as a private employer is willing to do? I think it should. If no provision is made for this gunner to be pensioned, the regulations should be altered so that a pension may be granted to him. I wish now to speak on the question of trunk telephones, and I hope to have the support of every country member. We heard a great deal the other night about this Government, and I interjected that it was the only Government in Australia which had given the country the square deal that the towns and suburbs got. I am now going to put it to a practical test. In western Queensland many stations are connected with the telephone exchange in the town by some hundreds of miles of telephone. When the regulations were drawn out I had no idea that a line was going to cost the sum which the engineers computed, that is to say, a copper line for telephone use, with return metallic circuit. I have no doubt that the charges are all right. But what I want the Postmaster-General to do is to give the lines which are worked by the condenser system a chance of yielding a fair return. Take, for instance, the line from Gympie to Brisbane. The trunk rates were computed on the assumption that it would cost ^£4,000. Instead of the line costing £4,000, the expenditure amounted to only about £200 or £300. Yet the charges have been based upon the estimate of higher cost. I think that that is unfair. My constituents do not ask to be let off altogether, but they ask for a reduction of the rates. They do not ask that the charges should be reduced on the direct line, but that they should be relieved to an extent corresponding with the low cost of the service. I shall be satisfied if the Minister will give his consideration to this matter, and make some announcement in regard’ to it when the Estimates are under consideration. Many of my constituents have written to me, and I have been in communication with the Department for several months on the subject. I should like the Prime Minister to furnish an answer to the question I asked on Friday last in regard to that memorable speech that was made by Colonel Riccardo, in December last.
– What about the leader in the Argus?
– If the gentleman who wrote that leader only knew it, he has done me a great service. I bought 100 copies of the Argus and sent them to various persons in mv electorate. I do not care what they say about me, so long, as it is the truth. The Age does not tell the truth, but misrepresents the facts. One has only lo read what appears in that newspaper this morning with reference to the Chairman, and the suggestion that his salary, as Chairman, will go to swell the funds of ‘the Labour caucus.
– Have not the party started to divide it already?
– We are not going to tell the Age what we intend to do. Nothing that the Age or Argus can say will influence a single vote in my electorate.
– Why did the honorable member send copies of the Argus to some of his constituents?
– To let them see that theirepresentative was doing his duty.
– I can furnish an answer to the question of the honorable member with reference to the statement alleged to have been made byColonel Riccardo, the District Commandant for Victoria, to the effect that he was first of all the servant of the State, and, secondly, the servant of the Commonwealth. The Minister of Defence informs me that having seen the report of Colonel Riccardo’s remarks, he asked for an explanation. Colonel Riccardo stated in general terms that he never intended to say anything of the kind, and that he must have been misunderstood. The Minister was not satisfield with this, and asked Colonel Riccardo to definitely state whether or not he made the statements attributed to him. He then received from Coloned Riccardo a definite denial that he had made the statements.
– Several gentlemen told me that he did make the remarks attributed to him.
– I am only indicating what the papers disclose.
– What about an inquiry?
– I trust that the honorable member will not suggest anything of the kind.
– I wish to direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister of Defence to the difficulty which is experienced in obtaining rifle ranges in my electorate. I can get no satisfaction out of the Department.
– Will the honorable member send! me a note upon the subject?
– It is of no use writing to the Department.
– Then write to me.
– It is of no use writing to the Minister. It is about time that Parliament paid some attention to the wants of rifle clubs. In various places there are men who desire to band themselves together as members of rifle clubs, in order to practice rifle shooting, but no effort is made to provide them with a range. In two or three places in my electorate the riflemen cannot obtain a range, because the Department will do nothing in the matter. An inspector was sent round the country, and sites were pointed out to him, but nothing further was done. I should like to read a letter which bears on the subject. It reads as follows : -
I am directed to inform you that in all cases where it is desired to form rifle clubs, and no’ rifle range exists in the neighbourhood, it is necessary for the persons who wish to form the club to make all the requisite arrangements for the range, and then, if the site is approved of, a grant of ^20 will be made.
In the case to which I refer, at Rylstone, the riflemen are unable to make any arrangement for a range, because the land will first have to be purchased. If it is desired to encourage rifle clubs, and to train riflemen, some effort should be made to provide ranges.
– Hear, hear.
– If the Prime Minister will endeavour to see that these men are provided with a range, I shall be satisfied. I might refer to two or three other cases which are not quite so bad as the one I have mentioned. A rifle range is also required at Hill End.
– What would be the cost of providing a rifle range?
– I do not think that any money would be required if some energy were used by the Department. If they sent an officer to the district they might be able to procure the land for nothing, whereas the local residents would have to pav for it.
.- I should like to say a few words with regard to a matter that was referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth, namely, the necessity for providing some system of compensation or pensions for men who axe injured whilst serving in the Defence Forces - a s stem that would apply to men in all grades of the service. In this connexion I should again like to mention the case of Colonel Price. I desire to know whether the Prime Minister has any intention of proposing, during the current session, that any compensation shall be granted to that officer?
– I may inform the honorable member that that question is one which I had hoped would have been reached at the Cabinet meeting to-day. It will be reached at an early Cabinet meeting.
– There is just one matter that I should like to emphasize. It has reference to the overtime worked by officials in the General Post Office, Sydney.” I hope that the instruction which has recently been issued, to the effect that they shall not be allowed tea money unless they work until 10 p.m., will be withdrawn. Another question to which I wish to direct attention relates to the payment of increments to officers in that Department Upon the Estimates of last year a certain sum was provided for this purpose. That sum has been distributed, but its distribution has caused considerable dissatisfaction. It has practically been allocated to the highly-paid officers.
– We are rectifying that now.
– I contend that a great injustice has consequently been done to the lower-paid officers of the Department. I also understand that some trouble is being experienced iti connexion with the payment of gratuities. I have been informed that the difficulty has been occasioned by certain objections which have been urged by a State Government. I hope, that this matter will receive early consideration, and’ that the gratuities, so far as any proper claims are concerned, will be promptly paid. I regret that the lateness of the hour prevents the question from being adequately discussed, but I trust that the causes of the complaints to which I have referred will be speedily removed.
– I” reply to the honorable member for Yarra, I find that the Public Service Commissioner has recommended that the sum of £550 shall be provided for the payment of increments to postal officials in Victoria, and ^170 in Tasmania. There, has been a difficulty in satisfying these claims, and I am afraid that I have been the chief obstacle to their settlement, inasmuch as I have refused to use the Treasurer’s advance for the payment of salaries. In other words, I have declined to acknowledge the Public Service Act as an Appropriation Act. The provision relating to the minimum wage which was inserted in that measure I regard as one to which the Parliament has specially agreed, and have therefore made the necessary payments on the Commissioner’s recommendation, from Treasurer’s advance. I refuse, however, to use that fund generally for any other increments under the Commonwealth Public Service. Section 78 of the Public Service Act provides -
Nothing in this Act shall authorize the expenditure of any greater sum out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, by way of payment of ‘ any salary, than is from time to time appropriated by the Parliament for the purpose.
It is perfectly clear that it was never intended that that -Act should be an Appropriation Act. In the case referred to bythe honorable member for Yarra, I have, however, been able to overcome the difficulty. The Commissioner has informed me that he was under a misapprehension, owing to something that the previous Treasurer had told him. I have agreed to the recommendation of the Commissioner, and, upon his assurance that the increments were unintentionally omitted from the Estimates of last year, I have agreed to pay the money at once. In regard to the other matters to which reference has been made, I think that the best plan for me to follow in dealing with them is to obtain a copy of Hansard and send it to the different Departments concerned.
.- There are one or two matters which I wish to bring under the notice-
An Honorable Member. - Why not bring them forward upon anotheroccasion ? We want to put this Bill through, so that it may be dealt with by the Senate to-morrow.
– I have no desire to put any obstacle in the way of that being done, although in exercising that degree of mercy I shall have to deprive myself of my right to bring forward a number of matters which ought to be ventilated. However, there may possibly be another opportunity to deal with them, and consequently I shall not press them now.
– The honorable member for Maranoahas brought under notice a matter relating to our telephone system. The whole trouble seems to be that the Department seeksto apply hard-and-fast regulations, without the slightest consideration for the varying circumstances of different localities. There does seem to have been in the framing of these regulations, an utter want of commonsense and business knowledge. In my own electorate, as the result of the operation of the regulations, an application made for a telephone exchange in terms which would have given the Department 30 per cent, profit in advance, could not be accepted. The Acting Postmaster- General has kindly consented to go through the papers with me, and I hope that it will be possible to carry out the arrangement. Any attempt to apply to outlying districts a hardandfast regulation applicable to cities, must fail absolutely, and a regulation which prevents the Government accepting a proposal from which they would derive a profit of 30 per cent, in advance, should be rescinded.
– Idesire to refer to the absence of a riflerange at Parramatta. The town has over 10,000 inhabitants, there are several companies of militia and lancers there, besides rifle clubs, and they are’ obliged to go eight miles for their rifle practice. I take leave to say that that is a disgraceful state of things, and I hope that action will be taken to remedy it.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported and adopted.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to-
That the Standing Orders be suspended in order to enable all steps to be taken to obtain Supply and to pass a Supply Bill through all its stages without delay.
Resolution of Ways and Means, covering resolution of Supply, adopted.
That Mr. Deakin and Sir John Forrest do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented and passed through all its stages.
.- I request that the usual courtesy be extended to the motion I had on for discussion today, and that I be permitted to move that the resumption of the debate be an order of the day for this day week. The dinner hour intervening in the discussion, it was impossible to make the necessary arrangements. I move -
That the resumption of the debate on this question (interrupted this day by Government business being called on) be made an order of the day for Thursday next, and that Mr. O’Malley have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.49p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 June 1906, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1906/19060621_reps_2_31/>.