5th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Can the Treasurer inform the House when he is likely to deliver the Budget speech?
– I am not able to fix a definite date, but I hope to deliver the speech before the end of the month.
– I wish to know from the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs if he is yet in a position to inform the House when trucks are likely to be available to allow plate-laying to proceed at the Kalgoorlie end of the Transcontinental railway?
– If the honorable member will place the question on the noticepaper, I shall, I hope, be able to give him a definite reply on Tuesday. Trucks are now coming forward, and a sufficient number have been shipped to Port Augusta to enable the plate-laying to bestarted shortly at that end. They are to come forward at the rate of three a week, and if the supply is kept up it should enable us to collect enough waggons within a fortnight or three weeks to start plate- laying at the Kalgoorlie end.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. Last night I attributed a certain statement to the Prime Minister. As I have the Hansard proof of the discussion, I will read exactly what took place.
– I will tell the Treasurer. The Prime Minister has attended different meetings in the country, and has told his hearers that the public accounts have not been properly audited.
– I never said any such thing in my life.
– Then the honorable gentleman must fight the matter out with his organ, the Argus.
– Indeed, I will not. The statement does not appear in the organ either. The honorable member twists everything.
– I have not the statement here-
– And the honorable member cannot find it, either.
Later, the honorable member for Gwydir referred to the same subject. He said, speaking of the Prime Minister -
The honorable gentleman tried to make the honorable member for Kennedy appear to be something other than he really is, and quoted from the report of the Auditor-General, but he did not touch the charge levelled against him, that he has publicly stated that there has been no proper audit of public accounts.
– I have repeatedly denied that I said that, and I ask whether an honorable member must not, under the rules of debate, acceptthe denial, and cease from repeating the statement?
What led me to make my statement was the report in the Melbourne Argus of a speech delivered by the Prime Minister at Seymour on the 3rd May last. It was headed -
MR. COOK AT SEYMOUR.
Reply to Mr. Fisher.
In it the Prime Minister wasmade to say -
Since Mr. Fisher had been in power the AuditorGeneral had complained that he could never obtain the Treasurer’s accounts in time for his audit to be of any real value. That meant that since Mr. Fisher had come into power, there had not been any proper national audit of the national accounts.
I leave it to the Prime Minister to explain that away.
– The quotation has nailed down the charge all right.
– There is no nailing down. I say that my statement was correct; that I have never said that there was no proper audit by the AuditorGeneral. To say that would be to reflect, not on the honorable member for Wide Bay, but on the Auditor-General.
– That is my complaint.
– What I have said I say again now. It is this, that during the last three years the AuditorGeneral’s report has been laid on the table of the House at a time when it has been absolutely valueless for purposes of discussion.
– That has happened on every occasion.
– In view of the grave danger caused by the small-pox epidemic in Sydney andits treatment, I ask the Prime Minister if he will give the honorable member for Gwydir a day on which to discuss his very important motion dealing with the subject ?
– I recognise the great importance of the motion, but the Government at present is unable to afford any honorable member a day for anything at all.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to inform the House when the report on the different sites suggested for the shore necessities of the naval base at Cockburn Sound is likely to be presented to the House? When will the Government be able to say what site will be adopted for shore purposes?
– I do not quite follow the question.
– Nearly all the men engaged on shore work at Cockburn Sound have been dismissed, but some provision must be made on shore for a dockyard. There is at present a dispute as to the site which should be selected. The Prime Minister has stated that he would obtain an expert report on the question. In the meantime, work on the site chosen by the ex-Minister of Defence has been stopped. Is work to be resumed on that site, or is it proposed to choose another site?
– A huge amount of money will have to be spent at Cockburn Sound in the development of the naval base there; I suppose that before we are finished millions will have been spent. This Government is of the opinion that the suggestion of the Naval Board - not the suggestion of the Treasurer as has been most unfairly stated by the exMinister of Defence - is a proper one : that expert opinion should be obtained before the huge outlay is begun. While on my feet, I wish to say that a more unjust and unfair statement than that contained in the telegram sent yesterday to Western Australia by the ex-Minister of Defence has not been made. It introduced party politics with a vengeance into the consideration of defence matters. Honorable gentlemen opposite are always asking that defence matters be kept high above party politics, but every day they try to make party capital out of them.
– Is thisan answer to the question ?
– It is. The Government are acting on the advice of the Naval Board in endeavouring to obtain the best expert opinion; and the moment that expert opinion can be got, we shall avail ourselves of it.
– Why not own up and tell the truth, namely, that there is no money to spend on the work?
– I wish to say to my friends opposite that if this is the treatment I am to receive when I rise to answer questions, I shall not answer any more, good or bad. I am not here to be baited and bullied as honorable members have been baiting and bullying me lately. I say plainly that if honorable members opposite do not behave better they will get no answers from me, good or bad.
Several honorable members interjecting,
– Day after day this sort of thing happens at the beginning of the sitting. I repeatedly call for order, and immediately afterwards a number of honorable members interject. This conduct is not in keeping with the dignity of Parliament. We must maintain the Standing Orders if we are to do any business and keep our proceedings decorous and dignified.
– I should like to know from the Prime Minister whether the work at Western Port naval base is proceeding at the same rate as it was prior to the present Government coming into power; and, if so, when the honorable gentleman anticipates the place will be ready to receive some of the large vessels that are coming here ?
– I am not able to answer a question like that now. If the honorable member will put the question on paper, I shall be glad to get him the information. The bases everywhere are developing as rapidly as possible, consistently with economy and efficiency.
– When the Prime Minister was asked when he was likely to be in possession of this expert information he replied that the Government were acting on the advice of the Naval Board, which was in the direction of obtaining the best expert opinion before proceeding with the work. That is hardly an answer to my question as to whether the Prime Minister can mention an approximate date when the information will be obtained and the work proceeded with.
– I am not able to say. I am sure that the honorable member, on reflection, will see that the question is not a reasonable one. How can we tell ? How could an expert himself tell until he has inquired ?
– Is the expert at work yet?
– He is not here, or he would be at work; we have not got him yet.
– Is it intended to import an expert?
– Yes; that is the intention - the best expert available anywhere.
– Will the Prime Minister ascertain from the Board when they are likely to present the Government with the information ?
– The honorable member cannot have been following me. The expert is not yet appointed. We are endeavouring to find an expert, and the moment we can give the information to honorable members we shall do so. I hope it will be soon.
– At a meeting at Dandenong the other night the Prime Minister said that, owing to the late period at which the resignation of the late Government was handed in, the present Government had been compelled to make certain financial arrangements.
– I did not say any such thing.
– I have not the exact words of the Prime Minister before me, but they had reference to the payment of the wages of the public servants, and he said he would have to introduce an indemnity Bill to cover, I presume, the expenditure then made under that head. I should like to know from the honorable gentleman whether it is necessary to introduce such a Bill, and what is the nature of it?
– If the honorable member will give notice of the question I shall furnish him with an answer.
Telephone Construction - Telephone Mechanics - Telegraph Rates
– Is it a fact that applications for telephone construction in country districts of New South Wales, lodged as far back as twelve or eighteen months ago, have not been complied with, and, if so, what steps does the PostmasterGeneral propose to take to have the installations effected with reasonable expedition? If it is a question of funds, will the Postmaster-General devise some means, in the future, to have such works carried out immediately the applications are made?
– Is the honorable member referring to private applications?
– Some of them are private, hut a great many are for public connexions.
– The Department is proceeding with the private connexions as quickly as possible. In the case of applications for public telephones, inquiries have to be made to ascertain whether the lines will pay, or the people are prepared to give the necessary guarantee.
– Is it not a fact that, in reply to applications through members from their constituents for telephone connexions, the Department is reverting to the old system of stating that there are numerous applications ahead, and that those sent in by members will be taken in turn. This indicates a shortage in the staff, and I should like to know whether the Postmaster-General will enlarge the staff so as to expedite the connexions he now states he is willing to make ?
– I know that there is delay in a number of cases; and I have asked the officers of the Department if it would not be possible, as in the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works in Melbourne in regard to plumbers, to licence outside people to make the connexions. I am informed, however, that this is technical work which can be carried out only by the staff officers. As far as possible, additional men are being engaged.
– How does the Minister account for the effective telephones erected on stations and selections without the aid of the Department?
– I do not know - that beats me !
– Is it not a fact that one reason for the delay is that, apparatus and appliances on order have not come to hand.
– I was not aware that such is the case, but I shall inquire into it.
– I would like to ask the Postmaster-General whether, in eases where the construction of telephones- is undertaken privately, his Department, will supply such materials as wire. insulator.s, and instruments at the cost price to his Department?
– The Department is opposed to this, their answer’ being that it interferes with private enterprise and with local dealers.
– You will not allow private enterprise to deal with it.
– Not in some cases - I agree with the honorable member.
– I was given to understand yesterday that the telephone mechanics who are being brought, out from England are to be paid,’ iri the eastern States, the rates now observed in the case of similar work in Western Australia, where the cost of living ‘ is considerably higher. Am I to take it that the imported mechanics will be paid a higher rate of wages in the eastern States than are the local mechanics there?
– The Public Service Commissioner advised me that he had had no response to the advertisements in Western Australia, and I sent him a memorandum requesting him to issue fresh advertisements, applications- to be returnable on 1st October. These advertisements will extend throughout Australia, and I trust that they will result in sufficient applications to fill the- vacan- c16s
-I would like to ask the Postmaster-General whether, while fresh applications are being called locally for positions as telephone mechanics^ no steps are being taken to import mechanics.
– That is quite correct.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral state whether he proposes to do away with the anomaly in the charges for telegrams and parcel’s’ in- border towns? At a place like Corowa, a telegram of sixteen words can be sent 400 miles north into New South Wales for 9d., but if it has to be sent to a place a few miles south of the Murray the charge is1s.
– I admit it is an anomaly; but it is a question of revenue.
– Charge1s. all round, and do away with the anomaly.
– That would be better. The Department needs all the revenue they can get, because there are great calls on us for increased facilities for the public. I do not think the great mass of the people object to the extra 3d. being charged for maintaining each State within its own boundaries as regards prices. We cannot at present afford to make any reduction, as the revenue of the Department is really not enough to pay expenses.
– Last night the AttorneyGeneral made a statement which does him credit, if he will allow me to say so, that it was possible under clause 3 of the Audit Bill for the Government to establish a Tender Board composed of officers who would, of course, have to be paid. This Board would have to occupy a building, the rent for which will also have to be paid. I wish to ask the Treasurer whether he proposes to insist on the inclusion of that clause in the Audit Bill ?
– In reply to the honorable member, I desire to say that this matter can be better discussed when we are dealing with the Audit Bill in Committee.
– I would like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, a question which vitally affects members on both sides, and concerns a matter to which a lot of the illtemper occasionally displayed may be due. I refer to the vitiated atmosphere of the chamber. The hot weather is coming on, and many honorable members will be on their sick beds through having to endure it, unless some improvement in ventilation is made. I would like to know if you can make any arrangements whereby the chamber can be better ventilated.
– I object to the honorable member saying there has been illtemper displayed.
– The honorable member is expressing his own opinion. I am not prepared to express any opinion on that point. Various sums of money have been expended, and various schemes have been tried in an endeavour to improve the ventilation of the chamber. A few days ago I was called on by a representative of some firm with another process for the further purification of the air, but their scheme did not deal with the matter of ventilation.
– Let us have ice-chests.
– The honorable member is grossly disorderly in interrupting the Speaker when he is addressing the House.
– I am sorry.
– I have referred the matter to the engineers for consideration and report, but I am afraid nothing of a structural character can be done this session, because any alterations necessary must be made when the House is not sitting.
– If the four windows in the chamber were kept open they would create a draught and take all the foul air away.
– I will give instructions for those windows to be opened.
– As I have had to deal with this matter, I may be permitted to utter a few words upon the subject.
– As the honorable member was occupant of the Chair last session, and knows a good deal about this matter, I ask leave of the House for him to make a statement in reference to it.
– To open the windows as suggested by the honorable member for Henty would destroy the scheme of ventilation designed by the engineers. Thousands of pounds have been spent in an endeavour to ventilate the chamber. Altogether six schemes have been tried so far, and that at present in use has proved the best. There is machinery for withdrawing about 3,000 or 4,000 cubic feet of air per minute from the chamber and letting in a similar quantity. But trouble arises in the winter months. When the air is let in members complain about the draught, and go to the Speaker or Clerk to ask that the machine be shut off. The result is that the scheme has failed owing to the action of honorable members themselves in not allowing it to be properly worked. I have been told that if we have the doors and windows open the scheme which we have now at work to ventilate the chamber will be a failure.
That is where the difficulty arises. No doubt the air in the chamber is very bad, but I think it is better now than it has been in the past, though perhaps something additional might be done. Every effort has been made to try and rectify the present conditions.
– I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether, in view of the fact that several thousands of pounds have been spent in trying to ventilate the chamber by some scheme which honorable members do not understand, you will try to ventilate it by the oldfashioned method of throwing open the windows ?
– As I have said already, in answer to another honorable member, I have given instructions that that shall be done.
– In view of the serious trouble that the ventilation of this chamber involves, and the risks to their health that honorable members undergo, and will undergo later on, will you consider the advisableness, Mr. Speaker, of asking the Government to adjourn the House while the present ventilation scheme is being improved? It is better that we should adjourn than that honorable members should lose their lives.
– I have no desire that a series of questions on this subject should be put to me, since I do not wish to repeat myself, but I shall take an early opportunity of referring the whole matter to the House Committee for consideration.
Mr.FENTON. - As an alternative proposal, would it not be possible, Mr. Speaker, since we are nearly being killed by the vitiated atmosphere of this chamber, for honorable members to meet in the Queen’s Hall?
– The honorable member must not indulge in frivolous questions.
– This is not a frivolous question.
– I am the judge of whether or not the question is a frivolous one. The honorable member knows that such a proposal is impracticable.
– I carried out a scheme for ventilating the New South Wales Legislative Assembly chamber, and I offer my services-
– The honorable member is now making a statement. Does he desire to ask a question?
– I shall put a question to you, sir. Will you intimate tothe House Committee that I am prepared, when required, to give it my advice and services? My reason for making the offer is that I have had some experience-
– The honorable member is not in order in making a statement. He may himself submit his offer to the Committee.
– I decline.
Escape of Small-pox Patients.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
In Committee (Consideration resumed from 11th September, vide page 1186) :
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
The authority of the Treasurer under this section shall only be exercised during and in respect of the month of July; ……
– I move -
That after the word “July,” line 4, the following words be inserted : - “ and the expenditure shall be in accordance with the Appropriation Act for the previous year, and the aggregate amount of expenditure shall not exceed the amount expended in the month of June preceding.”
The object of the amendment is to make it more certain that under this clause no attempt will be made to do more than is actually intended shall be done, namely, that during the month of July expenditure may take place on the basis of the Appropriation Act for the previous year.
I think that the Bill, even without this amendment, would cover that point, but by this addition we shall make it doubly sure that the intention of the Government, and, indeed, of all who have at any time advocated the amendment of the Principal Act in this direction, will be carried out.
.- The right honorable gentleman’s explanation was almost unnecessarily brief. I wish that he would give me his attention for a moment.
– I am listening. The honorable member is asking too much.
– The right honorable gentleman comes into this chamber either with his mind made up or not in a state to be made up, with the result that one has to repeat times out of number the point to which one wishes to direct his attention. I desire to ask him to what “ June “ the amendment refers? Is it the June before the month of July immediately succeeding, or the June of twelve months previously?
– The June of the previous year.
– Then we shall have absolutely no guarantee at all.
– Read the amendment. It speaks of the “ previous year.”
– Just a moment.
– It is all very well-
– If the right honorable gentleman resists a bond fide effort to get some explanation of the amendment, I shall have to accuse him of obstruction of the grossest kind. When the Bill was previously under discussion, the honorable member for Adelaide suggested that a guarantee should be given that the amount expended in July to be covered by this provision should not be greater than the expenditure of the previous June twelve months. If the amendment refers tothe June immediately preceding the July to be provided for, we should have no guarantee of the amount of expenditure which would be covered. Parliament has no sort of control over it, because during that June, presumably, it would be in recess.
Mr.HUGHES.- Parliament certainly would be in recess, otherwise there would be no necessity for this Bill.
– It is the appropriation for the preceding June that is referred to.
– I am aware that the Appropriation Act covers the expenditure for the twelve months, but the Treasurer might in the last month of the financial year - though I admit it would not be usual - spend seven-twelfths or eighttwelfths of the total appropriation for the year. We want some assurance that the amount spent in the July to be provided for should not be greater than a normal monthly expenditure. The normal expenditure suggested by the honorable member for Adelaide is that of the month of June of the previous year.
– The honorable gentleman means thirteen months before.
– Certainly. We should know what that was, but Parliament will not know what the expenditure during the June immediately preceding the July to be provided for may be. If the Treasurer had some reason for securing the full advantage which might be derived under the amendment, he could do so by not spending much in May, and spending a great deal in June. He could thus get cover for an expenditure in July very much greater than is intended by this measure. The Treasurer might agree that the expenditure in July should be, for example, not more than one-twelfth of the total appropriation for the previous year, or not more than the previous June twelve months. The right honorable gentleman must see that the expenditure during that month would have been reviewed by Parliament.
– I do not agree with the honorable member’s argument.
– I did not expect that the honorable gentleman would. I have not been here for twelve years to still be under the impression that he would agree with any argument; but what I am putting before him are facts.
– Anything that is rude is laughable, I suppose.
– I am afraid that I shall have to give it up. The Government express a desire to push on with public business, and this is the way in which a man is treated who exhibits an earnest desire to discover what is intended by the amendment before the Committee. The expenditure incurred during the June thirteen months prior to the July to be provided for will have been reviewed by . Parliament, whilst, as Parliament would be in recess, the expenditure of the June immediately preceding could not have been reviewed, and would consequently be entirely at the discretion of the Treasurer. He could during the month spend one-twenty-fourth, onetwelfth, one-third, or one-fourth of the total appropriation for the year. We do not want that.
– What does the honorable gentleman want?
– If the Prime Minister will look at the amendment, he will see that it proposes to give cover for an expenditure equal to that of the June immediately preceding the July to be provided for, and over that expenditure Parliament will have had no control. We shall have no guarantee as to whether that expenditure will be a twelfth, a fourth, or a half of the total expenditure of the year. If the reference is to the June thirteen months previous to the July to be provided for, we should have a guarantee as to the amount, because Parliament will have had an opportunity to review that expenditure.
– We cannot have anything that is absolutely accurate. We want something rough, large, and substantial.
– That is not the point.
– We cannot tell what the expenditure during the month may be until some time has elapsed.
– We must have a real limit to the operation of the amendment.
– The limit is here.
– There is an intention to fix a limit, but I say that the intention is ambiguously expressed in the amendment. Which June is referred to? If the amendment is to be of any value, it should refer to the June thirteen months previous to the July to be provided for, but it does nothing of the kind.
– It is not intended to do so. It is intended to refer to the previous June.
– Then we should have no guarantee at all, because Parliament would be in recess in the previous June, otherwise the measure would be of no value. The Treasurer might spend £500,000 in the June immediately previous to the July to be provided for, and if he did that this amendment would give him cover to spend ^£500,000 in the July.
– If it had been appropriated.
– It does not matter about that. If the amendment be agreed” to as it stands, it will make that a perfectly regular proceeding.
– It must be “in respect of”-
– Surely a Parliament cannot be expected to hand over to a Minister a power of that sort. What we want, and what the Prime Minister put forward as a reason for this Bill, is to obviate the necessity of doing almost illegal things in order to discharge public liabilities. We are perfectly ready to remedy that. One of two things must be done. Either the Bill should refer to the previous June twelve months, or it should provide that the amount spent in July shall not be more than one-twelfth of the expenditure covered by the Appropriation Act. Then we should get a guarantee that the expenditure in July would not be greater than usual.
.- I do not think that the desire of the honorable member for West Sydney would be carried out even if we specified the previous June twelve months. In the month of June, obviously, more money is expended than in any other month of the year, because a large number of accounts are paid in June which are not paid in any other month. The Treasurer sends out an intimation that all the accounts that have to be paid during the financial year must be paid before the end of June. He is naturally anxious that that should be done in order that on the 1st of .July he may be in a position to send all the statements .to the Auditor-General. Consequently, in June more money will be expended than in any other month. If, therefore, we specify that the amount paid in July shall not be greater than the expenditure in the previous June twelve months, we have no more control over the expenditure than to the extent of the expenditure of the month of the year when the largest amount of money is paid out of the Treasury. Suppose, for instance, that we provided in this Bill that this condition should apply to the previous June twelve months. A larger amount of money .could, under that provision, be spent by ‘ the Treasurer than it is the intention of Parliament to grant. Personally, however, I do not think there is much in that point, because I do not think that any Government would be anxious to spend in the month of July more money than is usually spent per month.
– The Bill as it stands would enable a Government to keep Parliament shut for four or five months.
– No; it would only allow a Government to keep Parliament shut during the month of July.
– Not at all. As long as they had supplies they could keep Parliament shut.
– If we could provide in this Bill that only expenditure to the extent of one-twelfth of the amount covered by the previous Appropriation Act could be incurred without Parliamentary sanction, that, I think, would meet the wishes of the honorable member for West Sydney. But we should not accomplish his desire by inserting the provision in regard to the expenditure in July not exceeding that in the previous June twelve months.
– I cannot understand the argument of the honorable member for West Sydney. The Bill is perfectly explicit. It provides that -
If before the close of any financial year no supply has been granted or appropriation made to meet the current expenditure of the Commonwealth for the whole or part of the next financial year - that is to say, if there has been no Supply- the Treasurer may issue from the Commonwealth public account such sums as are necessary to meet such expenditure - but there are certain conditions. The first is that- the authority of the Treasurer under this section shall only be exercised during and in respect of the month of July.
The argument that the Treasurer could spend money for six months ahead is not only inconceivable, but absolutely contrary to the terms of the clause.
– The Treasurer will be entitled to spend .money that does not exceed the expenditure in the month of June.
– We shall only be authorized to spend money in respect of the month of July. If an appropriation is made by Parliament during July the powers of this Bill cease. The expenditure must be in accordance with the Appropriation Act of the previous year. Consequently the. items must be such as have been’-‘ approved of by Parliament.
We also provide that the aggregate amount of the expenditure shall not exceed the amount expended in the month of June preceding.
– What June preceding?
– The June of the preceding financial year. I submit that the words “ in respect of “ bind the Treasurer to the month of July. The words “ in accordance with “ bind the Treasurer to the items of expenditure approved by Parliament in the previous year. The words “ aggregate amount of expenditure “ bind the Treasurer to adhere to the items of the Appropriation Act of the previous year as approved by Parliament, and further bind him not to spend more on such items in July than was expended in the preceding month of June. The provision seems to me to be perfectly clear. What is the object of the clause? It is not to allow the Treasurer to spend money recklessly, but merely to convenience the administration of affairs.
– That is the contention-,, but the possibilities are greater than the contention.
– If one side in politics is willing to trust the other, why should not the other side trust them?.’ But of course we know that these debates’ have to be prolonged. There has to be talking for an object. I am prepared to> limit this Bill to a greater extent than isi necessary. I am prepared to limit expenditure in July to one-twelfth of thewhole appropriation for the previous financial year. I know that if that limitation; is put in, accounts may come due in July which there will be no money to meet. But I am willing to put in the further limitation, even though I know it will lead to some inconvenience and is not necessary. I am willing to insert some such words as -
Provided further that the expenditure for the* month of July shall not exceed one-twelfth of the whole amount appropriated during the previous financial year.
It is absolutely unnecessary.
– It will provide the* Treasurer with a little more money than’ would the ordinary month.
– I do not caro- whether it will give me more or less than would the ordinary month. It is a question of convenience, and as honorable members opposite wish to adopt the-, most inconvenient way, let them have it. .
.- It is a matter for regret that the Treasurer should exhibit so much heat over this matter.
– After the honorable member’s remarks last night he should not say much.
– The Treasurer suggests that, because I spoke yesterday, I ought not to speak again.
– I hope that the honorable memberwill be more polite to-day than he was yesterday.
– I regret that the honorable gentleman should display such unnecessary warmth over the conscientious and logical suggestion which has emanated from this side of the House. I hope that his present demeanour will not be continued throughout the session. Honorable members upon this side of the chamber will have great difficulties in offering a suggestion of any description if he continues to display such heat, and to lose himself in his well worked-up indignation. The first provisions of this Bill are designed only to convenience the Treasury. It has never been suggested, even by the Ministry, that the Treasurer should be given a blank cheque for the month of July in any year. The measure is intended to prevent our public officials in particular from being subjected to inconvenience, and for that reason - if it be inconvenient to call Parliament together during the first week in July - it seeks to empower the Treasury to meet the ordinary current expenditure. There is no desire, I am sure, upon either side of the House that, under this Bill, the Government should be given a blank cheque for the month of July. I do not suggest that the Treasurer wishes to take undue advantage of the power which he will enjoy if the clause be passed in its present form. But we know that the opinions of Treasurers change. Different Governments may occupy the Treasury bench. I have a vivid recollection of the action of certain State Governments a month or two before this Parliament was inaugurated. Those Parliaments, to their everlasting disgrace, did something in a financial direction in the belief that they were imposing penalties on this Parliament, when, as a matter of fact, they were only inflicting injury on themselves. Similarly, we have instances of Governments in their dying moments having been guilty of political immorality of the deepest dye. The question therefore arises as to whether we are justified in giving to any Treasurer - not necessarily to the right honorable gentleman who now fills that office -a blank cheque for the month of July in any year, even though a general election may not have taken place, so that he may spend whatever he pleases. That is what the Bill amounts to. It is also intended to overcome a difficulty which presents itself in the July following a general election. That difficulty arises because our Electoral Act provides that new senators cannot take their seats until the 1st July following their election. In these circumstances, there is no justification for giving a blank cheque.
– It might be advisable to insert the words “ the July succeeding a general election.”
– I am not going to suggest that the clause should be curtailed in that direction.
– That would not be a bad idea.
– Then the Bill would be of no use at all, because this provision is wanted every year.
– If the Treasurer has regained his normal composure, if his little exhibition of irascibility has died away, he must know that the Bill is not required every July unless the Ministry, for purposes of their own, do not desire to call Parliament together during the first two weeks of that month. If they summon Parliament to meet during the first ten days of July they know perfectly well that they can get a Supply Bill passed through this House in a couple of hours at the very most, unless they have been guilty of some flagrant act which justifies special criticism. The necessity for the Bill arises from the fact that Parliament was not called together this year before the 9th July, although it mighthave been called together earlier. The Prime Minister himself practically voiced that opinion when he said that the Government had had to resort to some stratagem to pay the public salaries.
– What is wrong with that statement?
– Simply that the Government did not have to resort to a stratagem. Apparently the fact that the statement is not correct does not present itself to the Prime Minister. No stratagem was resorted to. We had the definite statement from the Treasurer yesterday.
– The honorable member is doing it very well.
– We had from the Treasurer yesterday a statement that neither he nor the Department had resortedto the stratagem that the Prime Minister said they had resorted to. Every day we find Ministers differing diametrically in their statements. The Bill, as it stands, will permit the Treasurer of the day to spend in the month of July an amount equal to that which was spent during the previous June. Now it may happen that the ordinary circumstances of government have justified an excessive expenditure in June. This may arise from the desire of the Ministry to clear up the accounts before the close of the financial year. That, however, is not the practice of the State Governments. They frequently say, in regard to many accounts, “Oh ! let them stand over till next year.” It depends entirely upon the state of their balance-sheet. We may congratulate ourselves that that is not the practice with Commonwealth Governments. They are accustomed to sending out special requests with a view to expediting the payment of all accounts due beforethe close of the financial year. The ordinary circumstances of government justify an excessive expenditure in the month of June. But that is no reason why in July, and without knowledge of Parliament,’ without any supervision and criticism, the Treasurer should be given a blank cheque to do in that month what it was essential and proper to do in June.
– That is included in the amendment as it is now, so that it is of no use for the honorable member to talk about it. The amount is now limited to a twelfth of the aggregate appropriations for the previous year.
– The Treasurer now proposes his amendment as follows: -
And the expenditure shall be in accordance with the Appropriation Act for the prevous year, and the aggregate amount to be expended shall not exceed one-twelfth of the total amount of the appropriations for the previous year.
– That addition to the amendment has not yet been put to the Committee.
– The Treasurer foreshadowed the amendment in this form.
– It ought to be put to the Committee. You have no right to move an amendment.
– There is another feature which presents itself to me as being foreign to the real intention of the Bill. Again it must be emphasized that the real intention is to tide over a temporary difficulty in the early part of July, and to provide in particular that public salaries shall not be in any way interfered with; but under this provision we find that the Treasurer can indulge in expenditure of an aggregate character. The use of the word “ aggregate “ will permit of a manipulation of the expenditure. It will permit, for instance, of the raising of salaries, and that ought not to be permitted without a criticism on the Estimates.
– Is it not compulsory that salaries can only be raised by Parliamentary vote?
– Not here. In ordinary circumstances increases of salaries are detailed in the Estimates, and honorable members know precisely what is going on, but the inclusion of the word “ aggregate “ in the amendment - and it is not proposed at present to cut it out - will mean that inJuly the Treasurer, if he so desired, could increase salaries in various directions, and once they had been increased, it would be a very difficult matter for honorable members to fairly criticise them or to have any check upon what he was doing. The amendment will permit of the transposition of sums from one heading to another heading. Sums might have been voted in the Appropriation Act of the previous year for a specific purpose and not expended for that purpose. The amendment will permit of the Treasurer, in July, when there would be no criticism, of taking asum from under one heading and expending it under another heading quite without the knowledge of Parliament. I donot think - quite apart from party politics - that that is the intention or even the desire. The object of the Bill is to tide over a temporary difficulty which might possibly arise after an election. We ought not in the circumstances to give any Treasurer such a wide power. It might be the good fortune of some honorable member on this side to be occupying the Treasury bench in the course of a year, or two years, or five, years. This measure will be on the statute-book for all time, and whoever is Treasurer may be able to take advantage of this provision.
– How could you provide against it ?
– So far as this point is concerned, by deleting the word “ aggregate.” Although it will not be specific, clearly the intention of the whole amendment will be that the expenditure in July should be strictly in accordance with the appropriations for the previous year under their several headings.
– Suppose that they vary during the twelve months, what then?
-I know that the expenditure varies. Some votes are not expended; other votes are exceeded in various directions. That is permitted regularly; it is an acknowledged thing. But we do not want to specifically give the Treasurer power to do things of that description in July, when we have no control over him. I will give an instance. It might be that a Government was defeated at a general election. The standard of honour in Governments differs. Indeed, the circumstances in their opinion might really justify them in retaining their positions, even though defeated at the polls. Notwithstanding that defeat, under this Bill they would have the power to manipulate - I do not use the word offensively - the expenditure during July. They would have the power to increase salaries quite out of proportion.
– You are against the Bill?
– If not, my provision will meet the case.
– The Treasurer ought not to make these assertions. Because I desire the Bill to be in what I conscientiously believe to be a reasonable form is no justification for him saying that I am against it. There is a difference between giving the Treasurer liberty to do a thing and giving him licence to do a thing. It is possible, I say, that a Government might be defeated at the polls. Ministers might retain their positions, as they would have the power to do, and under this Bill indulge in an increase of salaries, of which perhaps their successors might not approve. They might indulge in a form of expenditure which would not be acceptable to their successors, but which nevertheless they would be committed to by a defeated Government. Let us re tain the measure, as was the original intention. Let us put it in such a form as that any ordinary inconvenience because of the inability to spend one penny in July shall be met, so that the Treasurer, whoever he might be, could tide over the inconvenience. But do not let us, in this apparently simple measure, give a defeated Government the power to expend money. Do not let us give any Government the power to do what they like with the finances of the country for four to six weeks without the slightest control by Parliament, and to do things with which it might subsequently disagree, but which it would have to condone or permit.
– Mr. Chairman-
– Will the honorable member for Hindmarsh permit me to move the amendment I propose to insert, and then he can address the Committee on it?
– I suggest that the Treasurer should ask permission to withdraw his amendment, and then move the amendment as altered by himself.
– He can move the addition of these words after the present amendment has been dealt with.
– Is it the pleasure of the Committee that the amendment, as proposed by the Chair, shall be withdrawn ?
– No, sir. Already we have had one or two amendments, and as the discussion proceeds the Treasurer may want to alter his proposal again. He has now come along with a proposed alteration of his amendment. I object to the amendment being withdrawn just now.
– I suggest that the Treasurer should keep back his amendment until he is sure whether he will not require to move a further amendment.
– That is very generous, after asking me to do it.
– There is a phase of this question which I think is lost sight of by the Committee. I want to make a strong appeal to honorable members on the other side, because the view I am about to put is not a party one. The position, V take it, is that under the amendment any Government would be entitled to tide over the financial requirements of the Commonwealth during July. There is no difference of opinion, I think, on the absolute necessity of an arrangement of this character being made in order to tide over the requirements of the Commonwealth during the month of July following a general election. That, I take it, is the reason why “this Bill is introduced. I suggest the desirability of confining the provision to years in which a general election is held. I hope that the Treasurer will not think that in making this suggestion I reflect on him, or on the Government with which he is associated. I am sure that ho would act as honorably and straightforwardly as any Treasurer that we have had, or are likely to have, and no offence is intended. But what may happen if we allow the provision to apply to every year? Will it not, in effect, mean the deferring of the meeting of Parliament until August? I think it is not desirable to pass a law practically saying that Parliament shall not meet until August. There may be a great deal to be said in favour of the proposal in relation to ordinary circumstances, but we might have in power a Government which should be brought to book as early as possible. Such a Government might advise the Governor-General to prorogue Parliament in November, and if it could put off the calling together of Parliament again until August it would be free of control for eight months. Is that desirable? We should be careful not to fetter our successors. I may be told that a future Parliament could, if it chose, repeal the Act. That is so, but while we have the right to legislate to meet the requirements of the day, we ought not to fetter our successors. I see the need for a provision of this kind, so far as the July following a general election is concerned, but, as to other Julys, any difficulties could be provided for beforehand. For instance, two months’ Supply was granted in advance for the financial year 1911-12, because it was known that Ministers and members would not be able to return from England after the Coronation proceedings until late in the year, and it was thought desirable not to inconvenience the Treasury by the late assembling of Parliament which would be necessary. We hope that it may be many years before another Coronation takes place. Exigencies of State may require the presence of Ministers in London, or other circumstances may make it impossible to call Parliament to gether till late in the year. But these things will be known of in advance, and provision should be made in respect to them. Our present duty is to preserve the absolute freedom of honorable members in the criticism and control of finance, and we should not give up any of our powers. I understand that the Treasurer thinks that the provision would be useless if it were made to apply only to the July following a general election, but I should like to hear his reasons for that opinion. I do not say that the provision would be abused by this Government, and it would not have been abused by the last Government, but it might be abused by some future Government. Party feeling now runs high, and may run yet higher in the future, because parties are so evenly balanced, and the issues between them are of such vital importance. This makes it desirable that we should not give by Statute the power to defer the meeting of Parliament until August in each year. A six months’ recess is, in my opinion, ample, and, in many cases, too much. Parliament is the mouthpiece of the people, or, as Sir George Reid has said, the whispering gallery of the Commonwealth. Here every grievance can be voiced, and Ministers can be challenged on their every act. Possibly Governments do not like that, and the front Opposition bench may not always feel it convenient, but members generally should see that our powers of criticism are not curtailed. I do not think that it is necessary to make provision for the Julys following penal dissolutions and elections.
.- There are one or two aspects of the case to which I should like to draw particular attention. When we on this side offer any opinions about a clause, the Prime Minister charges us with obstruction ; but what is happening now is a proof that the criticism oh this side is of a beneficial character. We have reason to complain of the Prime Minister and other members of the Government going to Dandenong, Kyneton, and throughout the Commonwealth, addressing luncheon parties and assemblies for banquets, and thus wasting valuable time which ought to be given to the consideration of the proposals they submit to this Chamber. The Treasurer, when he introduced this measure the other day said, “ We are not troubled about the matter; there is the Bill, and if you do not care to pass it you need not.” That, if the honorable gentleman will allow me to say so, was a pretence.
– I did not say it.
– Does the honorable gentleman wish me to hunt up Hansard?
– Yes, I do.
– I am sure it will be remembered that the honorable gentleman said, “ Well, there is the Bill, and the Government are not particular about it,” and he wished us to pass it that day without discussion. Because we did not pass it in one day the Prime Minister goes throughout the country talking about obstruction on the part of the Opposition. After the discussion that took place, however, the Government have brought down an amendment. I do not know who is responsible, but that amendment is very badly constructed, and, as the exAttorneyGeneral has said, is not at all clear. We are unable to say whether the words “ June preceding “ mean June in the year when this Act is to be operative, or the previous June mentioned in the first line of the proposed amendment. Although the Treasurer declared the amendment to be perfectly clear, he realized, after hearing speakers on this side, that it was badly drawn. Is that the way in which a Government should do business? Where are the lawyers on the Government side that they cannot come together and draft a simple clause ? I am wondering whether the expressed desire on the part of the Government to have business done has anything in the nature of seriousness about it, or whether the Treasurer has not brought down the Bill in this imperfect form in order to give rise to prolonged discussion.
– The GovernorGeneral is now waiting in the Library to receive the Address-in- Reply, and I suggest that there should be a short adjournment.
– I should like to understand perfectly when we are to meet again.
– In a few minutes - the bells will ring.
– The Prime Minister has interrupted the business, and we have very graciously responded to his request for an adjournment, and we ought to know the precise time when we are to meet again.
Motion (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That the sitting be suspended until 12.20 p.m.
Amendment (by Mr. Higgs) put -
That “ 12.20 “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof “ 2.15.”
Division called for:
– I ask leave to withdraw the call for a division.
– I object.
– I suggest to the House that as the King’s representative is waiting in the Library, it would be an act of grave discourtesy if these proceedings were further prolonged and the GovernorGeneral unduly detained.
– I withdraw my objection, but, at the same time, I must say that we know our duty as representatives without being lectured by Mr. Speaker.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
– I am now about to proceed to the Library to present the AddressinReply to the Governor-General, and I invite such honorable members as desire to do so to accompany me.
Sitting suspended from 12.8 to 12.20 p.m.
– I desire to report to the House that I presented the AddressinReply to His Excellency the Governor- General in the Library, to which His Excellency was pleased to make the following reply -
It is with much pleasure that I receive the Address which has been adopted by the House of Representatives in reply to the Speech delivered by me on the occasion of the opening of the First Session of the Fifth Commonwealth Parliament. I thank you for the expression of loyalty to the Throne and Person of His Majesty the King.
In Committee (Consideration re sumed) :
Clause 2 (Authority to make necessary payments pending appropriation).
.- What is desirable in a clause is clarity, and I suggest to the draftsman that he consults the Queensland Criminal Code, drawn up by Sir Samuel Griffith, a Statute which is a model of concise expression. I do not like the idea of this proposal to give the Treasurer a free run of the Consolidated Revenue for a whole month without consulting the members of this House. Does the Treasurer desire a long recess? If not, I see no reason for this proposal. There is no disadvantage in the existing method of procedure, except that the debate on that important question, the Address-in-Reply, might be interrupted for an hour or two while the Government get a Supply Bill through. The Treasurer tells us he requires the time to ponder over the figures and prepare his Budget Speech. We know that, year after year, when in Opposition, the present Treasurer baited the Treasurer of the day with requests tobe informed when the Budget would be brought down; it was a standing grievance with the right honorable gentleman; but we do not hear much about it now - months are passing by and the right honorable gentleman thinks his Budget will be delivered in a week or two. Probably the object of this amendment is to enable the Government to prorogue the House in November, and continue the recess until the following August. It only shows how necessary it was for the framers of our Constitution to insert the provision making it compulsory to call Parliament together at least once a year.
– I cannot connect the honorable member’s remarks with the amendment.
– It is cogent argument. As things are now, the Government must meet the House in July or get into trouble with the Public Service.
– Do I understand you to say that this is an attempt to get behind the Constitution?
– No; but I can see in it a desire to secure a long recess. I do not think the Treasurer’s idea of gaining time to prepare his Budget Speech for delivery early in the session is sufficient reason for passing such an extraordinary amendment of the Audit Act. The right honorable gentleman has expressed his willingness to amend his amendment by providing that the expenditure in July shall not exceed one-twelfth of the ordinary annual expenditure. He went on to say that this was “ neither here nor there,” but that is what he says about every proposition. As an old politician, he thinks that is the best way of allaying the fears of the Opposition. His remark reminds me of the statement of the Prime Minis ter, “ Oh, anything will do; all that you want is something near it or approaching the mark.” Fancy Statutes being framed on that principle. Notwithstanding all our watchfulness, nearly every Act of Parliament is so framed that, as it is said, “ you can drive a coach and four through it.” When exercising our utmost ingenuity and devoting all our powers of observation and thought to the framing of a clause in the most concise and clear way, are we to accept anything that the Treasurer cares to throw at us? The right honorable gentleman, forgetting his part for the moment, said that we could not have this provision applying only in a year in which a general election took place. Am I right in surmising that he wants more time in which to prepare his Budget speech ? Why does he desire that this provision shall apply to the month of J uly in each year ?
– Wages have to be paid on the second of the month. How can the Treasurer pay them if he has no money at his disposal ?
– That seems to be a good reason, but is there any objection to our meeting in June? We know that the Treasurer is a heaven-born financier, and is not likely to do anything wrong, but that does not relieve us of the responsibility of providing for the day when an awful fate shall fall upon the present Government and a new Administration take office. If honorable members think it wise to permit the Treasurer of the day to expend one-twelfth of the annual appropriation in the month of July of each year, I do not want to raise any unnecessary objection.
– I think that is a fair compromise.
– I have great respect for the honorable member’s opinion, and shall therefore withdraw my opposition, although not without some misgiving.
.-I rise at this stage-
Mr.Joseph Cook. - Let the honorable member get in his turn.
– The Prime Minister remembers when he consistently got in his turn.
– And a good many turns. I rise to state that I support this provision, the need for which has quite recently been exemplified. After the last general election we did not meet until 9th July, and had it not been for the desire of honorable members on this side of the House to expedite business, the debate on the Supply Bill might have been continued until after the 15th or 16th July, when payments were due. Such a thing might happen at any time. I trust, however, that the Treasurer will see fit to strike out of this Bill all reference to a Tender Board. The creation of such a Board should be provided for in a separate Bill. I think the proposal that the appropriation in July shall not exceed one-twelfth of the appropriation for the preceding twelve months is a fair compromise, and I intend to support it.
– I propose to move that the amendment be amended by leaving out the words “ The amount expended in the month of June preceding,” and inserting in lieu thereof the words “ Onetwelfth of the total amount of such appropriation for the whole of the previous year.” I move -
That the amendment be amended by leaving out the words “ the amount expended in the month of June preceding.”
Amendment of the amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That the amendment be further amended by adding the words “ one-twelfth of the total amount of such appropriation for the whole of the previous year.”
. -This proposal means that the Treasurer of the day will be able to handle during the month of July about £1,600,000. If the clause provided that in future this Parliament should meet early in July, there would be no objection to the amendment. Every Government of either party may be trusted to take advantage, as has been done in the past, of any opportunity to call Parliament together as late in the year as possible. When that course is followed, the difficulty which we now experience, and which this Bill is intended to meet, will continue to arise even though this measure should be passed.
– If the honorable member will read the Bill he will find that it anticipates that there will be a Supply Bill.
– That is so, but does the Treasurer not see that under this Bill a Government would be able to carry on until the first or second week in August. Under existing conditions the Government can carry on until the 12th July.
– No; weekly payments have now to be made in many cases.
– Then they can carry on until the 7th July.
– It would depend upon the date at which the week would begin. It might be that they could only carry on until the 2nd July.
– We met this year on the 9th July, and passed a Supply Bill. That could have been held over for two or three days if necessary. I understand that a number of commitments now involve weekly payments, and that being so, Parliament need not be called together until the 9th July, and under this Bill it would not need to be called together until the 9th August. If we could have an assurance that Parliament would be called together in the first week of July the Address-in-Reply could be got out of the way, and financial proposals brought down in August under this measure.
– Even if this Bill were not passed, the Government would feel bound to bring on Supply as early as possible.
– I admit that, but does the Treasurer not see that the difficulty the Bill is intended to meet could only arise immediately after a general election? Ordinarily, it would not advance us a solitary step towards a solution of the difficulty. At the time of a general election half the number of senators go to the country at the same time as the members of the House of Representatives. Suppose the election takes place in May, it would be unreasonable to expect that the meeting of Parliament should take place at a date which would enable the attendance of the retiring senators. After a general election Parliament cannot meet before the 1st July, and that is what makes it necessary to provide for Supply for an extra month. The point I wish to make is that we have no guarantee that after this Bill is passed the Government of the day will call Parliament together earlier than has been the practice in the past. Except in the case of the first meeting of a Parliament after a general election the difficulty might be overcome even without this Bill. if. Parliament were to adjourn in September, and meet about the middle of May. That would allow the debate on the Address-in-Reply to be got out of the way in three weeks, the time usually occupied by the debate in this Parliament, and the Government could bring down Supplies and their financial proposals in accordance with the ordinary procedure. The Treasurer now proposes that the expenditure for July shall be one-twelfth of the total appropriated for the previous financial year.
– I gave way to the Committee on that point.
– It was wise for the right honorable gentleman to do so. In the past it has been a common thing for the Treasury payments to be delayed in order that the Government of the day may appear to show a surplus at the end of the financial year. If a Treasurer has an ample revenue he will require all accounts to be paid up to the 30th June, because he will not know what may happen in the following year; but if he has not sufficient revenue to meet all expenditure he will delay all payments possible in order to make it appear to the country that the Government have closed the financial year with a surplus. If a Government were expecting to go to the country that is certainly what the Treasurer would do.
– The AuditorGeneral would prevent that.
– No, the AuditorGeneral could not do so. No one knows better than does the present Treasurer that the Auditor-General can only audit accounts that have come in for payment.
– I admit that it has been done.
– We all know that it has been done. The point that I wish to have settled, and about which the Treasurer has given no clear explanation, is why this Bill has been brought down at all in its present shape ? The only excuse offered for it is that last session and this year it was found necessary to bring down a Supply Bill during the course of the debate on the Address-in-Reply. There is a general impression that it is not respectable to interrupt the AddressinReply debate with other business. But the Bill, even as amended, will afford the Government of the day an excuse for not calling Parliament together until a month or six weeks after the termination of the financial year. There has been an idea amongst a number of honorable members since the Federal Parliament was established that our sittings have been too long, especially when they lasted from the beginning of June or the 1st July to the end of the year. I know that a number of honorable members opposite are desirous that Parliament should not sit more than four or five months in the year. It appears to me that this Bill is aimed at enabling that to be done.
– There is a trip to England on the cards.
– If this Parliament continues till next year there will probably be a trip to England for some honorable members. But apart from that, there is a desire to shorten the sessions. Of course, a number of us who come from distant parts of the Commonwealth desire to get back amongst our constituents as often as we can. It may, perhaps, be convenient to some to shorten the sessions in that way. It is probably the intention of the Government to get this Bill passed with the object of enabling that tobe done. But we must remember that if the sessions were shortened too much the people would want to know what this Parliament exists for.
– Especially as we are going on now.
– We are certainly sitting too long at present. To sit four days a week is too much, and tends to break up the health of honorable members who devote considerable attention to their political duties. The honorable member for Indi, for instance, will have to burn much midnight oil in studying the Bills that come before us. Indeed, that honorable member has been so much occupied up till the present moment that ha has not had time to express himself upon a single question that has been brought before the House. I think that the Treasurer has taken the right course in providing that power shall not be given to spend in the month of July more than one-twelfth of the appropriation of the previous financial year. That will give us a rough idea of the amount of money we are going to give permission for the Treasurer to spend. As the Billwas originally introduced, Parliament would not have had even a rough conception of the amount that was to be handed over to the Government to spend at discretion. One thing that I should like to know from the Treasurer is this: Has he had any fault to find with the Auditor-General regarding the method of auditing Commonwealthaccounts? Statements have from time to time been made that the accounts have not been properly audited. Can the Treasurer give us some assurance that they will be audited properly under this Bill ? I positively object to reflections being continually made on the AuditorGeneral and other officials regarding matters of this kind. If we do not obtain some such assurance from the right honorable gentleman he can rest assured that more will be said on this particular matter.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– I wish to draw attention to the fact that there is not a quorum present. [Quorum formed.]
Amendment of the amendment agreed to.
Amendment, as amended, agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 3 -
Section seventy-one of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in sub-section (i) thereof, after paragraph (e), the following paragraph : - “ and (f) regulating the purchase, custody, con trol and issue of public stores.”
– I rise to a point of order. Last evening some doubt was expressed as to whether clause 3 does not contain a provision which is beyond the order of leave. Since you, sir, ruled that the clause was in order, a perfectly clear statement has been made by the AttorneyGeneral that, under it, the Government can establish a Supply and Tender Board. In other words, they will be able to bring into existence an entirely new set of officers, who will have to be paid. They will have it in their power to create a new Department. When the AttorneyGeneral was making this statement I observed that, at first, he did not feel called upon to express an opinion, but afterwards he appeared to realize that it was only just to the Committee that he should give us his view of the matter, which was that under this provision the Government can create a Supply and Tender Board.
– The honorable member misunderstood my hesitation. I said it had always been the intention of the Government to use this provision for the purpose of establishing a Supply and Tender Board. My hesitation was caused by a doubt as to whether the use of certain words was sufficient.
– I will not attribute the Attorney-General’s hesitation to any doubt as to the wisdom of concealing his views on this question for party purposes. I must say that he was quite candid. The Prime Minister backed up his statement by saying that he had already mentioned that it was the intention of the Government to appoint a Supply and Tender Board.
– When did he say that?
– Almost immediately after the Attorney-General had stated his opinion. He made the declaration in his usual loud tone of voice. I am sure that honorable members will see the very great necessity for confining a Bill of this character to the order of leave. When the House grants the Treasurer permission to bring in a Bill to amend the Audit Act the measure should be confined to audit matters.
– This is a very long speech.
– Surely I am entitled to show that this is an Audit Bill, and if I think the Ministry are obtuse, the obligation is cast upon me to point out what are the duties of an auditor.
– I think that the honorable member’s remarks are somewhat outside the point of order.
– I propose to prove out of the mouths of Ministers themselves that the Bill goes beyond the order of leave, and that honorable members opposite know it. The Prime Minister must have had some ulterior motive in bringing forward this clause. How can it be urged that the creation of a Supply and Tender Board, the renting of an office in which its members may discharge their duties, and the payment of salaries and expenditure connected with this new Department has anything to do with an Audit Act? The Treasurer, instead of being in that happy frame of mind in which he ought to be after a satisfying luncheon, is angry that I have raised this point. This morning, when I asked him if he intended to proceed with this provision, he requested me to wait for information until we had got into Committee. The standing order upon this point is perfectly clear, and I hope that we shall transact our business in an intelligent manner.
– Order ! The honorable member is now going beyond the point of order.
– Standing order 155 reads-
The title shall agree with the order of leave, and no clause shall be inserted in any such Bill foreign to its title.
– What is its title?
– Its title is “ A Bill to amend the Audit Act.”
– And what is the title of the Audit Act?
– Its title is “ The Audit Act.”
– Oh no! It will be better for the honorable member to look at that Act first.
Mr.JosephCook. - The honorable member would not have occupied half as much time if he had looked at it first.
– And the Bill would not have occupied half the time that its consideration has involved if the Prime Minister had brought it forward in proper form. The title of the Audit Act is -
The Act may be cited as the Audit Act 1901.
– Read the title.
– The honorable gentleman wants me to read the preamble?
– No; the long title. You read the short title.
– The title reads -
An Act to make provision for the collection and payment of the Public Moneys, the Audit of the Public Accounts, and the Protection and Recovery of Public Property and for other purposes.
This is a subterfuge of the Treasurer, backed up by the Attorney-General, because they object to receiving any help from this side. They know it looks bad for them.
– The honorable member is going outside the point of order.
– Well, I will confine myself to the point of order, and if I am overruled we will discuss this proposition later. I submit that the clause is out of order, because it goes beyond the order of leave, and the creation of a new Department - a Supply and Tender Board -has nothing to do with an inspection of accounts, and that is what really comprises the duties of an auditor.
– The honorable member has not said anything which would cause me to depart from the decision I came to last night. There is no doubt this clause to amend is in harmony with the purport of the original measure.
– In the circumstances, sir,. I have no option but to move -
That the ruling of the Chairman, namely, that clause 3 of the Bill is within the order of leave, be dissented from.
– Mr. Chairman, can you put that motion under standing order 287, which reads -
If any objection is taken to the ruling or decision of the Speaker -
I presume that the standing order applies to a decision of the Chairman.
– No; you are quoting: the wrong standing order.
– The standing order reads -
If any objection is taken to the ruling or decision of the Speaker, such objection must be taken at once, and in writing, and motion made, which, if seconded, shall be proposed to the House, and debate thereon forthwith adjourned to the next sitting day.
I ask you, sir, on a point of order, whether the standing order applies to a ruling in Committee as well as in the House.
– An objection to a ruling of the Chairman can be taken straight away.
– I regret, sir, to have to disagree with your ruling. I feel it is about time we started to conduct the business of this Parliament on correct lines. It is the duty of honorable members on this side, not only to see that Ministers submit measures in a manner which will do them credit, and fulfil the objects they have in view, but also to see that the presiding officer conforms to the spirit of the Standing Orders so as to protect the House against having Bills of a duplicating character introduced under an indefinite order of leave. I agree with this Bill in the main. I agree that the provision which is now taken exception to should be enacted, but I contend that this is not a measure in which to empower the Government by regulation to introduce legislation of a very doubtful kind. I have repeatedly heard the Treasurer and the Prime Minister contend that legislation by regulation is repugnant to the best interests of this country.
– Thehonorable member is not discussing the motion before the Chair.
– The ruling practically is that a provision for that purpose is admissible in a Bill of this kind. In my judgment a provision to inaugurate a Supply and Tender Board is foreign to the object of the Bill, and should nob be allowed to pass. If the ruling is upheld by the Committee, I can easily conceive that Ministers will include in every measure a provision for something to be done by regulation which might prove highly injurious to the community. I wish to make a statement for the advantage of the honorable member for Henty, who was trying to instruct the Chairman as tohis duties.
Mr.boyd. - I was asking for information.
– No; the honorable member was endeavouring to enable the Chairman to postpone a matter which should he settled at the moment.
Mr.boyd. -I rise to order. The honorable gentleman is imputing to me a motive which was entirely foreign to my intention. I merely read a standing order applying to the House, and asked if it also applied to a Committee of the Whole. As a new member, I am entitled to gain information.
– I have every sympathy with the honorable member in the amateur position he occupies here. I want to give him what he is looking for, and that is, information.
Ifany objection is taken to a ruling or decision of the Chairman of Committees-
– That is standing order 228.
– You are a bit late with the information. I have found it out.
– Had the honorable member found it out before he rose to order ?
– Will the honorable member discuss the motion before the Chair ?
– The objection to your ruling, sir, is self-evident. Every honorable member on this side has pointed out to the Treasurer the error of his ways in taking power in an Audit Bill to establish a Supply and Tender Board. Had he taken the advice which was tendered from this side, this delay would have been saved, but, through that usual stubbornness which characterizes him, and which he mistakes for tact or diplomacy, we have been driven into the extreme position of having to. move dissent from the ruling of the Chairman. I believe that the Chairman is absolutely wrong, and I hope that the Committee will vote for the motion.
– It seems to me that honorable members, having a poor case, have to resort to the old expedient of blaming the other side. They are asserting that this provision is contrary to the Audit Act. But the Audit Act is more than an Act to provide for auditing. In it a good many more provisions refer to the Treasurer and to the management of the public accounts than to the Auditor-General. The Auditor-General is mentioned only a few times, but almost every second provision says something about what the Treasurer shall or shall not do.
-To facilitate audit.
– We know, of course, that the Auditor-General audits all expenditure, but sections 16, 17, 20, 21, 23, 24, 32, 33, 34, 35 and 36 all refer to the powers of the Treasurer. There is a misconception as to the scope of the Audit Act. In some countries provisions similar to those contained in our Audit Act have been put intoActs given different titles. The New Zealand Act which corresponds to our Audit Act is called the Public Revenues Act, and the English Act is called the Exchequer and Audit Act. Our Audit Act has far more to do with the way in which the Treasurer must manage the finances than with the Auditor-General’s powers. The Auditor-General has the fullest powers in regard to the examination of accounts and the reporting to Parliament on all matters in connexion with expenditure. His powers are large, and his responsibilities great; but there are more provisions in the Act governing Treasury administration and the management of the finances than there are governing the Auditor-General .
– Has the AuditorGeneral in any other country had placed in his hands the purchasing of stores?
– The clause under discussion will not place in the hands of the Auditor-General the purchasing of stores. It will not give him any more nor any less power than he has now.
– A department is to be created under the Auditor-General.
– Nothing of the sort. The honorable gentleman seems to think that we cannot establish Tender Boards under regulation, but if he looks up section 139 of the Victorian Act, No. 1133, he will find therein power to make regular tionsin regard to stores and transport.
That section provides that there shall be a Tender Board ; it says what officers shall constitute the Board, and gives instructions for controlling the ordering and supplying of stores. The only object of the clause under discussion is to give the Treasurer more power by law over the purchase and control of stores than he has at the present time. Every Department is now almost a law to itself in regard to this matter, or it can be. The Treasury may give directions and make requests, but it cannot legally bind the other Departments as to the methods of purchasing stores. The object of the clause is to enable us to frame regulations having the force of law, which will be binding on everybody in the Public Service. This is not a party matter, nor does it concern this Government more than any other. The proposal is made wholly in the public interest, and there is nothing in the clause inconsistent with the Audit Act. The full title of that Act is -
An Act to make provision for the collection and payment of the Public Moneys, the Audit of the Public Accounts, and the Protection and Recovery of Public Property, and for other purposes.
In Victoria, the power we seek is given by the Public Service Act; but I submit that it is. better provided for by a provision in the Audit Act. I understand thoroughly that honorable members opposite find it convenient to prolong the discussion, but I should like to know where the honorable member for Maribyrnong, who is a good friend of mine, gets all the knowledge that he seems to possess on every subject. The Government cannot give much more time to this Bill.
– The honorable member is sure to get it through if he talks in that way.
– If we cannot get it through, the responsibility will lie with the Opposition.
– I appeal to the Treasurer not to shelter himself behind the vague words “ other purposes “ in the title of the Audit Act. He will find the same words in the title of the Immigration Restriction Act and of the Pacific Islands Labourers Act. The last-named Act is an Act - to provide for the regulation, restriction, and prohibition of the introduction of labourers from the Pacific Islands, and for other purposes.
But there are no other purposes set out in the preamble. The Minister’s argument is a subterfuge, and the Government would be well-advised to agree to the suggestion of the Opposition, and make a separate measure of clause 3 of the Bill. We on this side have expressed a desire for the creation of a Tender Board. I think that such a board should have been created years ago.
– You will not let it through.
– We would assist the Government to do it, if they would provide for it by a separate measure. We do not know whether the proposed board is to be a departmental board, or how it is to be created, nor do we know for what purposes it is to be created. We have no information regarding the matter.
– The House would have complete control in dealing with the Estimates.
– But surely the creation of the board should be provided for by a separate Bill instead of by an amendment of the Audit Act. If the Treasurer will introduce a separate Bill for the purpose, I shall give him all the assistance I can to pa3S it.
– Reference has been made to the Tender Board; and it is rather extraordinary that this morning I signed five acceptances of tenders that had been recommended by the Tender Board for the State of Victoria.
– Yes, composed of officer” within the Department.
– We could in each Department have two or three officers appointed to act as a Tender Board, but it would be better to have one Tender Board of trained men for the whole of the Departments.
– There is no objection to that.
– The only objection raised is that such a Tender Board should be provided for by this Bill.
– The PostmasterGeneral is out of order in discussing the clause on the motion before us.
– It is quite true that certain heads in the various Departments including the Postal Department, are constituted a body to examine tenders before they are submitted to the departmental secretary, and, subsequently, to the Minister for approval. In the case of mechanical supplies the examination is made by the Chief Mechanical Engineer, the Chief Electrical Engineer, or the Engineer in the State of Victoria ; but that is not the issue involved in the possibilities of the proposal before the Committee. The question is whether there shall be created under this clause an independent body, such’ as the Inter-State Commission is, with a staff of officers, whose duty it shall be to supervise the tenders for the whole of the Departments.
– The honorable member is not discussing the point of order.
– I am pointing out the discrepancy between what the PostmasterGeneral rightly submits is now within the power of the Postal Department and the proposal in the clause.
– I ruled the PostmasterGeneral out of order.
– With the honorable member for Capricornia, I admit that it would be possible, by some stretch of the imagination, to cram such a provision as is proposed into an Audit Bill, although it is not technically an audit matter. Such a proposal, if submitted, ought to be presented in a separate measure.
– I understand that this new Department will be under the control of the Auditor-General.
– No; under the Treasurer.
– But this proposal is made in an Audit Bill. The AuditorGeneral, I understand, is regarded as supreme over all Departments.
– Perhaps the honorable member will say that the AuditorGeneral is above the Treasurer ?
– Well, he is, seeing that he has to supervise the Treasurer’s actions, and report to Parliament should anything be amiss. That is why the Auditor-General should be kept separate and distinct from every Department.
– So he will; his duties will not be touched at all.
– The AuditorGeneral is above the Treasurer, just as the auditor for a public company is above the directors.
– I disagree with the AttorneyGeneral on his definition of an auditor’s duty. It would be far better, as in the case of Victoria, to have a Tender Board under the Public Service Commissioner instead of under the Auditor-General.
– Ordinary business knowledge and experience show us that it is out of place to create a Tender Board by means of an Audit Bill.
– The Committee is now discussing the ruling of the Chair.
– My desire, Mr. Chairman, is that this provision should be ruled out of order; and I am pointing out that the examination and supervision of tenders has nothing to do with the AuditorGeneral. All that the Auditor-General should have to do is to supervise the accounts.
– That is all he has to do.
– The proposed Tender Board will riot be under the Auditor-General’s Department.
– Then, why do we find this proposal in the Bill before us? With all due respect to the Attorney-General, I think the Tender Board ought to be placed under the control of the Treasurer, who has to pay the bills. If there is any officer who ought to be free from any connexion with commercial transactions, it is the Auditor-General, upon whom Parliament and the people rely for the proper supervision of the accounts.
– We all agree to that.
– But this Bill proposes to put him in a position where he will be connected with the purchase of goods by the Government.
– We are not going to put him in that position.
– Then, what is the use of this Bill? The Treasurer, when he introduced the Bill, did hot understand it, and he does not seem to understand it yet. I do not think, Mr. Chairman, that you will be long in coming to the conclusion that the clause is beyond the order of leave; and, if you do so, you will be displaying an amount of common sense that does not always characterize the decisions: of Chairmen in the Parliaments of the country.
Mr. HUGHES (West Sydney) [2.551.- As there seems to be a conflict of opinion regarding the intentions of the Treasurer, we should be informed as to what use the right honorable gentleman proposes to make of the power conferred by clause 3. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie has-, pointed out that the Treasurer may create an independent Department, with powers, a little less than those of the Inter-State–
Commission. I do nob go as far as to say that, but I can conceive the building up of a Department with great powers and a staff disproportionately large to the functions it will have to perform. We should sanction the creation of some body that will be independent, and ‘have the authority to determine the suitability of supplies and tenders for stores and material required by the Commonwealth, and if the Treasurer will only tell us exactly his intention as to the power he wishes to get, much misunderstanding will disappear.
– The present system of purchase and control of stores is not under regulations having the force of law. The object of obtaining the authority in clause 3 is to make regulations that will have the force of law, so that the Auditor-General’s powers under section 41 of the Audit Act will have full play, which I hesitate in saying they have at present. Purchases are made all over Australia by different Departments under instructions, but these instructions are not as binding as regulations. The practice has been to utilize the Tender Boards in the different States, and I do not think there is need to rush in to appoint other Tender Boards so soon as we get this power, because we can utilize the Boards that exist in the different States and their regulations. We owe a debt of gratitude to the different States for allowing the Commonwealth to use their machinery and regulations. When a State Tender Board calls for tenders at the beginning of the year on a long list of hundreds of items the Commonwealth is included, and we have the option of taking our goods from the contractors at the prices they have submitted to the State Tender Board.
– Will the AuditorGeneral have the power to say what prices should be paid ?
– The AuditorGeneral has nothing to do with the purchases. He comes in afterwards.
– Are the members of these Tender Boards to be necessarily officers of the Auditor-General’s Department?
– No. These Tender Boards cost very little. In Victoria, for instance, the heads of the various Departments compose the Tender Board.
– Will the AuditorGeneral have the right to say whether the purchase is a good or bad one ?
– No, but he can afterwards express his opinion for the information of the House. It is his duty to report whether the finances of the public have been properly husbanded. I do not think there is much limit as to what the Auditor-General may do in criticising public accounts and reporting to Parliament. Sometimes Ministers are at variance with the Auditor- General, but that does not prevent him making his report to Parliament. These regulations, having the force of law, will be binding on the Departments.
– From which Department does the Treasurer contemplate getting the members of the Board?
– I hope we shall nob have Tender Boards for some time. We are now utilizing the Tender Boards of the States, and we can do it for many a day yet, but meanwhile the regulations will have the force of law, and under section 41 of the Audit Act they will come under the purview of the Auditor-General, which is not now the case. This provision is necessary, not in the interests of any Government, but in the interests of economy, and to secure a proper system and legal control over these matters.
– Are you going to appoint a Board ?
– I have no intention of doing so.
– Then, what is the use of this clause?
– The power will be there if we need it. I have no intention of recommending the appointment of a Board, but we need regulations under Statute which will be binding on everybody, and under which the AuditorGeneral will be able to act in making his report to Parliament.
.- At one time during the right honorable gentleman’s explanation I thought we could see the matter clearly, but I am again in trouble, owing to his admission that there is no need for hurrying this measure, seeing that we will not require a Tender Board for some time to .come. In this Bill we have two clauses, one of which cannot be availed of until next July, while the Treasurer hopes the other will not be put into operation for a long while; yet only the other day we were violently accused by the Prime Minister of obstructing necessary legislation. We learn now that there is to be not one Tender Board, but many. I can understand that one Tender Board would be of no service. If something is required in Perth we can conceive the utter inability of a Minister in Melbourne expressing a reasonable and measured opinion concerning it. The right honorable gentleman possibly contemplates boards being appointed in the various States. To that I have no objection, but I ask honorable members to consider for a moment that the door will thus be opened to all sorts of possibilities. Here are boards whose functions are extremely vague, and the sphere of whose operations is obscure and apparently unlimited. What they are to do, and why they are to do it, we are not told, but we are led to understand very clearly that the Treasurer does not want them to do anything at all for quite a long time. In the circumstances I think we might fairly ask him to withdraw this part of the Bill until the need should arise for the creation of a body of this kind. So much for that point. The other point, as to which I am afraid the right honorable gentleman did not permit himself that measure of perspicacious utterance which it certainly requires - the question as to where the persons who are to constitute these Tender Boards are to come from - we should have more information. The Treasurer says that they are not to come from the Auditor-General’s Department. Then from what Department are they to be selected, or are they to be persons now outside the Public Service ? As I said on a previous occasion, I have no objection to the right honorable gentleman constituting .a departmental board when and how he likes. All that we ask is that there shall be some responsible and independent authority to review the actions of these Tender Boards, just as the actions of all other officers are reviewed. That was the point made by the honorable member for East Sydney. The Treasurer knows that if he wishes to create such boards he does not require an Act of Parliament to enable Mm to .do so. I am utterly at a loss to understand why he is taking the power under this Bill to create a Supply and Tender Board, which he admits is not to be recruited from the .staff of the Auditor-General. The AuditorGeneral himself is not to .be the head of this Department, but is to have the power to review its actions. When we ask who are to constitute the board, whether they are to come from the Department of Home Affairs or from some other Department, we are not told.
– We do not know ourselves yet. They will be departmental officers. The selection will be something like that made under the Victorian law, a copy of which I hand to the honorable member.
– This copy which the right honorable member has handed to me shows that the Victorian Supply and Tender Board comprises, amongst others, the Secretary of Public Works, the InspectorGeneral of Public Works, and the InspectorGeneral for the Insane - an officer whose most appropriate appearance in this connexion seems to mark a new era in the debate. There has been hitherto an air of confusion, doubt, and difficulty about it, which is most regrettable, and the reason for which was not quite clear; but we now learn that the Victorian Government, wiser than ourselves, have provided that the Inspector-General for the Insane shall be one of the officers charged with the important duties in connexion with a Supply and Tender Board.
– Look at the last officer named in the list
– The Secretary for Neglected Children ! This is, indeed, a refreshing sight. Politics in these days are essentially very dull, and the prospects before us are not calculated to rouse us to much jubilation. I should welcome with almost a transport of delight the possibilities for opera bouffe and unadulterated humour afforded by a board of this kind in which the InspectorGeneral for the Insane’s vagaries are, so to speak, counterbalanced by the efforts of the Secretary for Neglected Children to see that nothing was done that ought to be done. There are on the Victorian Board a number of other gentlemen, ‘Some of whose functions bear a very sinister appearance. One of these is the InspectorGeneral of Penal Establishments. This is introducing into the discussion a note against which I protest, and the AttorneyGeneral, as the representative of the law, should be called upon to rise in his place, not as a matter of privilege, but by way of personal explanation. After all, returning to the point at issue, I should be perfectly satisfied if the right honorable gentleman would indicate more clearly than he has done exactly how he intends to apply this system to the requirements of the Commonwealth. Unless he does so I must vote against this clause, and I am comforted in my determination to do so by the admission of the Treasurer that the matter is not at all urgent. I join with him in the hope that it never will be.
– I do not understand at all the apprehension of honorable members opposite. In the first place, the Government have power to establish Tender Boards without the authority of an Act of Parliament, and, as a matter of fact, every Government exercises that power.
– The honorable member refers only to departmental boards.
– That is so. No Commonwealth Government has yet established separate departmental Tender Boards, because there happen to be in the -States boards which perform for us the necessary functions, and perform them very well. If it were necessary, however, to appoint Federal Tender Boards in any of the Departments we should not hesitate to do so, and it would not be necessary to ask the authority of Parliament to do so. Honorable members may ask what is the connexion between Tender Boards and the particular power here sought to make regulations. The connexion is that when we have this power to make regulations we can impose an additional safeguard by conferring upon the Tender Boards which now exist, and are used by us, a certain authority. We :may say that the Auditor-General shall not pass accounts in respect of stores unless, first of all, the sanction of the Tender Board for their purchase has been obtained.
– Is it the intention to create a new board ?
– It is not. I was attempting to- explain the legal position. The object is not to create new boards, but to invest decisions of Tender Boards, if they are appointed, with an authority which will bind the AuditorGeneral.
– Is it proposed to give him the power of appointment?
– No. The only control the Auditor-General now has over the purchase of stores is to insist that a purchase, for instance, on behalf of the
Defence Department, is provided for by a vote in the Appropriation Act. If it is he must pass it. The Defence Department may find it very useful and necessary to have a board to control the purchase of stores. I am not quite certain whether at present the Defence Department have a Tender Board of their own.
– They have a special officer to supervise contracts and tenders.
– Just so. The only effect of this provision will be that the Governor-in-Council may, if he thinks fit, make a regulation that no expenditure shall be authorized for the purchase of stores for the Defence Department unless it has first received the sanction of the Defence Tender Board. If such a regulation is made, then the Auditor-General cannot pass the account for such stores until that condition has been complied with.
– I do not object very much to the appointment of a Tender Board. But I think it is not wise to put a Tender Board in the way of a business man. I am surprised that the right honorable member for Swan, whom i knew in the West many years ago, should make such a proposal. In those days he would have regarded a Tender Board as in the way.
– I had a good majority in those days.
– While a Department is waiting upon a Tender Board a necessary purchase of stores may bo delayed. I would much prefer the appointment of a good business man to take charge of all purchases for a Department. I think’ that a Tender Board would be more or less useless to expedite.
.- As we proceed the position becomes more complicated, because of the diametrically opposite opinions expressed by different members of the Government. During the election campaign one or two members of the Government or their followers suggested the appointment of a Supply and Tender Board, inferring at the time that such a board was necessary because something indistinct and indefinable had apparently happened.
– Not “ had happened,” but “ might happen.”
– No; the implication was that something had happened, and that safeguards were necessary. Apparently, because of these references, the
Treasurer submits in this Bill a clause under which it will be possible to establish a Supply and Tender Board. The Prime Minister, in discussing the preliminary stages of the measure, asserted that it was the intention of the Government to establish such a board. The Attorney-General yesterday, when unacquainted with what was in the mind of the Treasurer, also asserted that it was the intention to establish the board. A few moments ago, presumably after consultation with his colleagues, he stated that that is not intended. Before the Attorney-General spoke, the Treasurer informed the Committee that it was not the intention of the Government to establish such a board at present; that he did not want it; and that it was intended to continue the practice at present prevailing. Is it any wonder, in view of these differences of opinion, that honorable members on this side should display a little apprehension as to what really is the intention of the Ministry? Is this clause merely inserted to make good the bogy utterances from election platforms, or in order that the Government may take advantage .of it ? After listening to the Prime Minister, it would appear that the Government propose to take advantage of it; but, after listening to the Treasurer, it is clear that they do not intend to take advantage of it. The Attorney-General merely comes in to explain the legal position, according to the brief he holds at the moment. The whole thing is very characteristic of the “yes-no” attitude of the Government party in politics.
– The honorable member is dragging us all into it now.
– The honorable member for Henty is one of the humble followers of the Ministry.
– Not too humble.
– The honorable member may not be humble when on a Henty platform, but here he is as humble as “Uriah Heep, and has to obey the Whip and come to heel when he hears the orders of the Ministry. We have a right to be apprehensive and to ask for information, in view of the contradictory statements made from the other side. I believe that if the discussion continued for another half-hour the Treasurer would make a further statement contradicting all that he has previously said. We on this side of the House are practically becoming dentists. We are extracting, occasionally and with pain to the person from whom it is extracted, little bits of information. The Treasurer has divulged something of what is in his mind. This afternoon he distinctly contradicted what he said yesterday, and for the third time in forty-eight hours has made a statement diametrically opposed to one made by the Prime Minister on precisely the same subject. I regret very much that the Treasurer has forced into an Audit Bill a subject that is entirely foreign to it. I wish to make it clear that in the first place we have no objection to an ordinary amendment of the Audit Act. We have no objection to the establishment of a Supply and Tender Board to safeguard the public interests. But we do raise an objection to a Tender Board being established under a mere regulation made under an Act entirely foreign to the subject. It was asserted that the title of the Audit Act had relation to the matter under discussion. The title of the principal Act is “ An Act to make provision for the collection and payment of public moneys.” Will any honorable member contend for a moment that the purchase of stores has any relation whatever to the collection and payment of public moneys.
– It has to the payment of money.
– The purchase of stores has nothing to do with the payment of money. My honorable friend may purchase goods, but it may be the misfortune of some other member of his family to have to pay for them.
– It all comes out of the main hatch.
– I think that my honorable friend is on this subject sadly at sea. Instead of being on deck and understanding what has been going on, he has been down in the cabin. Otherwise he would know that the clause under discussion has no real relation to the subject of audit. A section in the principal Act provides for the auditing of public moneys. Has the AuditorGeneral anything to do with the purchase of goods? The Auditor and the purchaser should be entirely separate persons, so that the auditor may be free to investigate and criticise the work of the purchaser. The protection and recovery of public property is also provided for in the principal Act. The clause under discussion relates to the control of public property. I shall not debate the subject any longer. The Treasurer is taking advantage of the fact that the House is about to adjourn to force through a measure containing a clause entirely foreign to the rest of the Bill. He is forcing it through by virtue of his large majority. I remind honorable members opposite that it may happen before much time has elapsed that the two parties in this House will change places. If in the course of a month or two after a dissolution the Treasurer finds himself on this side of the House, what will he say if we take advantage of this clause? Of course, I know that the Prime Minister shrinks from the idea of a dissolution. I do not grudge him the promotion he has secured, but he knows perfectly well what the result of a dissolution will be. If as a consequence of an appeal to the country we change places in this House, and those who are now on this side take advantage of this particular clause to frame a regulation in respect of a Supply and Tender Board, and the purchase of stores, I am satisfied that the Treasurer, to the very utmost of his capacity, will denounce us as he has done in the past, and will say that we are practically making laws by regulation, and doing so when Parliament is not in session.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta- Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs [3.35]. - I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I hope that honorable members will come prepared to put the Electoral Bill through on Tuesday next.
– I want to be quite clear as to the order of business on Tuesday. Does the Prime Minister propose to agree to an adjournment of the debate on the Electoral Bill after the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs has explained its provisions?
– I think he should do so. I have only seen an epitome of the Bill in the press.
– Copies of the Bill have been distributed.
– I did not say that they had not. The Bill bristles with points which will naturally give rise to a good deal of difference of opinion, and I would like to hear and digest the explanation of the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs before we are called upon to proceed with its discussion. I can assure the Government that no time will be Jost by adopting that procedure. There are one or two provisions in the measure which we knew it would contain - for instance, there is the proposal to restore the postal vote. But there are quite a number of new points in it which come upon me as a complete surprise. The proposal to institute a check upon voting seems to me a most reactionary one. Before I discuss the Bill I desire to hear that provision explained. The Honorary Minister may have some data to support it, and, if so, I wish to have an opportunity to digest that data. I am not going to set myself against an amending Electoral Bill, and rush at it madly as does a bull at a gate. Candidly, I am opposed to the postal vote, but not under all circumstances and every circumstance. I am not opposed to electoral reform. It is only fair that the Bill should first be explained by the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs, and that we should then proceed with other business, resuming the consideration of the Bill on Wednesday.
.- When the honorable member for West Sydney sees the Bill I think he will be satisfied that it is very largely a Committee measure. In order to give honorable members opposite an opportunity of digesting it we are having distributed this afternoon copies setting out the amendments proposed in the original Act, together with the Act itself. Thus they will not have to study the amending Bill in conjunction with all the existing Electoral Acts. When they have studied it for two days I am sure they will assist us to get on with the public business.
– Not if the Honorary Minister intends to explain it as he did the other evening.
– I regret that my explanation the other evening was delayed until such a late hour that it was of no use to the Labour Caucus. The Bill is a very simple one. It is essentially a
Committee measure, and I do not think it necessary for honorable members opposite to study my remarks on the second reading.
Several Honorable Members. - Oh, oh!
– Are my honorable friends threatening that because a very ordinary procedure is to be adopted in connexion with this measure, they are going to hold it up?
– There is absolutely no justification for that remark. In view of what I stated just now, I take particular objection to it. We are not going to hold up the Bill.
– Order !
– On a point of order, I take objection to the statement of the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs that we propose to “ hold up “ legislation. We propose to do nothing of the kind. We intend to discuss the Bill, and we will do so.
– I am very happy to withdraw the remark which I made so far as the honorable member is concerned. But he is only one leader of the party opposite. There are two or three leaders. For instance, there is the honorable member for Capricornia, and the honorable member for Cook.
– On a point of order, I object to the suggestion of the Honorary Minister that I am responsible for any delay in the transaction of business. I hope that you, sir, will ask him to withdraw the remark. Nobody is more anxious to expedite business than I am.
– I listened to the Honorary Minister closely, but I do not recollect any special reference by him to the honorable member having deliberately delayed business. Such a remark would not be in order.
– Honorable members opposite have stated that nothing will be gained by the procedure which the Government propose to adopt.
– What about that withdrawal ?
– I withdraw anything that I have said which the honorable member regards as objectionable. Honorable members opposite say that the Government will gain nothing by adopting the procedure proposed. But will we gain anything by adopting another procedure ? If we adjourn the debate after my speech, will they undertake to let us have the second reading of the Bill on Wednesday ?
– Look at the Prime Minister laughing as the Honorary Minister asks that question. I will undertake to give the Government the second reading on a Wednesday.
– I understand that the honorable member will do his best to let us have the second reading of the Bill on a Wednesday. Can I take it that it will be the Wednesday following ?
– The honorable member is not the interpreter of the will of the House.
-He is thinking of Ash Wednesday.
– And you are thinking of Black Wednesday.
– It shouldbe obvious to all honorable members that the measure is one which ought to be passed as early as possible. It is always possible that my honorable friends may call a full gathering on some occasion when the Government are one supporter short, and we may have to go to our masters.
– Why not to-night?
– I think that our honorable friends would disappear through the doors of the chamber rather than that such an awful thing should happen. All I do ask is that they shall treat the measure as non-contentious and non-party.
– How long have you been in Parliament?
– I am very young at the game, I admit. This is essentially a Bill for consideration in Committee. If my honorable friends object to any clauses, and call them controversial, such as the provisions relating tothe postal vote and the liberty of the press, they can contest them just asvalorously in Committee as on the motion for second reading.
– I would refer all disputatious clauses to the Inter-State Commission.
– Why does my honorable friend tap himself on the chest when he talks of the Inter-State Commission?
– Or to the High Court, or to the Senate.
– The Government take the view that we must try to do some public businessin this House. We were sent here for that purpose. After the second reading of the Bill is moved on
Tuesday, we hope that honorable members will have paid sufficient attention to it in the meantime to be able to go straight on.
.- The Honorary Minister has distributed today a reprint of the Electoral Act, showing the proposed amendments in block and erased type, which, of course, is a very commendable proceeding. Regarding the provisions for voting by post, I would like to know from the honorable gentleman, by interjection, or even in his second-reading speech, or from a Minister who has not spoken, whether those provisions vary from the repealed provisions. It is most important, I think, to have that information. I have not had time to compare the clauses in this Bill with the former provisions for postal voting. Eight or a dozen provisions appear to have been taken en bloc from some Act. I want to know whether they arc the same as our original provisions, or whether any alterations in the text have been made. Information on that subject will help honorable members on this side and facilitate discussion.
.- The Honorary Minister has told us that we have nearly four clays in which to digest a subject about which he knows very little. Does he mean to suggest that in the two days we shall be travelling by train we must study this measure? Does he mean to suggest that wo must give up our Sabbath to that work? Are the Government so depraved in their conception of their duty, not only to the people of this country, but to the Higher Power, as to force honorable members to study matters of this kind on the sacred day of the week? The suggestion of the Acting Leader of the Opposition, that the debate should be adjourned after the Minister has concluded his secondreading speech, is one which, I think, the Prime Minister would be very wise in adopting. There are considerations which, if extended to honorable members on this side, will be returned with interest, but if the Honorary Minister, who makes these sneers and jibes, and ridicules men who are old enough to be his father, and more enlightened than probably his father ever was, is to prevail, such conduct will be returned with interest, with a certainty. I advise this young stripling opposite to take a little advice, and not start to dictate and dominate the House, when he rises up in his supercilious and superior way to indicate what should bet done.
– I am glad to hear you castigating him. I can do no good with him.
– I know that my honorable friend cannot, as he will find out as he goes along; he will discover that his colleague belongs to the worst specimens that this country has produced. This morning I received from the Prime Minister a reply to a question regarding the escapees from the quarantine station at Manly. I have to complain about the nature of the reply. It was to the effect that five men had escaped from the quarantine area ; that they were not in a highly contagious condition; in fact, that they were convalescent, and, therefore, there was no danger to the community. All authorities that I know of have laid it down that the most contagious stage of this disease is that of convalescence. For the gentleman who is at the head of a big Department of this kind, and who is responsible for the whole of the business in connexion with the scare in Sydney today, to send such a reply to this House, as though we were a lot of school children, is so much bluff, unworthy of an officer of a Department. Further, if his statement is correct, and these persons were wholly convalescent, they had no right te be in the quarantine area. They should have been discharged if they were what he calls wholly convalescent. On the other hand, the newspapers of Sydney, with scare headings, reported the escape of the men from the quarantine station, and stated that they were mixing with the people of Manly, and had the disease in a contagious form. That is absolutely contrary to the statement of Dr. Cumpston. The newspapers used the incident, as they have been doing from the beginning of the epidemic, to scare people into being vaccinated. It is a scandalous thing that every little point that can be taken with regard to the position of small-pox patients is used by the newspapers of this country to drive people into a worse condition than small-pox itself would bring about. In his reply to a question on a matter of great importance to the people of New South
Wales, Dr. Cumpston does not indicate that he has a comprehension of the responsibilities of his office, or, if that is not so, that he has the knowledge which should be possessed by a man who is administering a Department of that kind sufficiently to win the confidence of the people. I do not wish to further dwell on the matter, because I understand that the Prime Minister is prepared to give me an opportunity, as soon as he can, to discuss it. That being so, I do not want to sacrifice that liberality on his part. He realizes the importance of the matter. It is of primary importance to the people in this country that we should know whether the action of the Government is warranted by the experience of other countries, and by the knowledge of the highest authorities. In my judgment the Government are making a serious blunder, and spreading the disease day by day, as has been done in epidemic after epidemic, by vaccination. By scaring people day by day into being vaccinated the newspapers are doing nothing more or less than continuing the epidemic, which is practically the outcome of vaccination. We had evidence of that through the press when the Health Officer said that the disease was only attacking people in a very mild form, but that it was very probable that in a few days, or a week or two, it would appear in a malignant form. That statement has not been borne out by the course of events. The fact that weeks and weeks have gone by without any very serious cases having been reported, and without any deaths having occurred, only bears outmy statement as to the experience of all other countries during an epidemic, and that is that it is suicidal to introduce wholesale vaccination, because it spreads the very disease it is intended to check. This is going on right along the line, and the Minister in charge of the Department evidently takes no notice of it. Where is he now? What cares he for the loss incurred by the people of to-day! What cares he for the ruin which is staring them in the face, in many cases by reason of the loss of business and the paralyzing of industry! What cares he about the lives which are being sacrificed day by day by vaccination and the effects of it!
– He is in Sydney now.
– Yes, but he has not been in Sydney all the time. To a Minister who is in charge of a Department of State like this, when the lives of the people are at stake, which is the more important? The business interests of the community are also at stake. It is not his place to be away from the scene of action. He should be there, watching closely every move, to see if he can bring relief to these people who have been scared by the action of the Government, which had no warrant or justification, but must be regarded as a calamity such as I hope will never occur again in the administration of the affairs of this country. The newspapers are making capital out of the disease, and are doing more injury by what they publish in the city of Sydney than could be done in any other way. They have done everything to inculcate a haunting fear of small-pox, with a view to driving the people to vaccination. Everything that can be put forward to bring about wholesale vaccination has been published, but nothing to enlighten the people as to the folly of it is given publicity, although the newspapers profess to be the great public educators, and the guides of the people. For the information of these persons, who could sit, I presume, at the side of the grave laughing, in their ghoulish delight, at the tears shed by the relatives of those who have been called away by the effects of vaccination, I shall produce in this Chamber, not’ theory, but practical experience, and the judgment of men in every part of the world of far higher standing than Dr. Cumpston, proving that the action of the Government is suicidal, and destructive of the best interests of Australia, being calculated to spread the disease which it is asserted they are trying to stop. I suggest to the Prime Minister that when I again ask a question in this House, he will intimate to his officers that questions are asked seriously, with a view to getting information, and that members are not to be treated as children. We have no right to be told that a small-pox convalescent is not a contagious subject, because it is well known in connexion with all scrofulous diseases such as measles, scarlet fever, small-pox, and the like, that those who are in the convalescent stage are most likely to spread the disease.
.- I draw the attention of the Minister of Home Affairs to a matter that has already been brought before the House by me once or twice, and upon which I have asked questions, the giving for political purposes of £500 by Mr. Herbert Brookes to the honorable member for Perth. The honorable member for Perth has admitted that he received that money, and that it was received for political purposes; but he said that he did not know exactly the date when it was received. I should be glad if my banking account were in such a state that I could not remember exactly when I had received a sum like £500. However, the honorable member for Bourke stated in this House that it was on the 26th April that the cheque was given. I raise no objection to the giving of the cheque, because I think that persons should be allowed to devote money for political purposes in aid of whatever party they may be associated with. But I bring the matter under the attention of the Minister of Home Affairs because the Electoral Act provides that an account must be given of any money sent for political purposes to any organization. I have asked whether the Home Affairs Department has received an account of how this money was spent, and have been informed that the Department has no information about it. The honorable member for Perth was good enough to say that Mr. Brookes informed him that I could go to his office, and see a statement of how the money was spent, but that is not my business. The matter would have been no concern of mine, but for the fact that section 172 of the Electoral Act says that a statement showing how much money is spent must be sent to the Chief Electoral Officer. As the money left Melbourne on the 26th April, it was money spent in connexion with the elections, and I ask the Prime Minister to ascertain whether steps have been taken to see if the Act has been complied with. When I asked a similar question some time ago, the honorable gentleman said that he was not a detective. I do not ask him to be a detective, but it is his business to see that administration entrusted to him is properly performed. During the electoral campaign, we heard a great deal about the need for pure administration, and about the need for purity of elections. I ask, therefore, whether an attempt will be made by the Chief Electoral Officer to give effect to the provisions of the electoral law in respect to the donation to which I have referred.
.- I ask the Prime Minister to give consideration to our hours of sitting. He expects to get through a programme of legislation, a considerable portion of which means the utter destruction of legislation for which we on this side have been fighting for all our lives. When his measures are introduced, they will meet with the keenest opposition. During this week, we have been kept here every night until nearly midnight, but I submit that, in the interests of the honorable gentleman’s physical condition, as well as for the sake of the health of other honorable members, our proceedings should close by half-past ten. It is not merely the hours that we sit here that have to be taken into account; the time occupied in attending to our voluminous correspondence must also be reckoned in. I have to answer letters from all parts of a constituency which is larger than Victoria. The Prime Minister can do a fair thing to the country and to himself only by setting apart a certain number of hours each day for the discussion of public business. He should not try to wear down his opponents physically. Such attempts only meet with retaliation and reprisals, and that we do not want. We want a fair fight, and should be permitted to get to our homes at a reasonable hour at night. If the honorable gentleman will consult the lists of the first Parliament, he will find that there are about eight of the original senators and about a dozen or fifteen of the original members of the House of Representatives left. We have both had a long time in politics, and, apparently, the people do not wish us to retire. Possibly we would not retire if we were asked to, and there is no reason why our exit should be hurried by asking us to sit here until midnight.
.- In the Age of to-day there is a report of a speech delivered by Mr. Herbert Brookes last night at a social function tendered to the defeated candidate for Bourke. The report is as follows: -
Mr. Herbert Brookes, president of the People’s Liberal party, in the course of a brief address complimenting Mr. Robb on the splendid fight he had put up at the election, said he had a personal statement to make. On three occasion’s during last week it was said in the House of Representatives that he had been responsible for passing on a certain sum of money to a member in another State. He wished to say that this was absolutely true. He was proud of it, and hoped to beable to do it again. He hardly understood why such a disturbance had been raised in the House over the matter, when the secretary of the Political Labour League in Sydney admitted that a straight-out payment was made for political purposes. But how had Mr. Anstey received this information? Apparently the whole of Australia was ridden with a nefarious system of spies. This was not playing the game. At that social gathering a member of the Government, Senator McColl, was present; but I do not know whether or not, as the report of his speech is exceptionally brief, he complimented Mr. Brookes on the financial efforts he had made to assist his Liberal brethren. However that may be, Mr. Brookes made a very definite statement; and, as the honorable member for Barrier has said, the Electoral Act requires all persons and associations to send in returns as to political expenditure at election times. That section of the Act the Government do not propose to amend, and we may take it that they approve of it. The request made by the honorable member for Barrier is a very modest one, and Mr. Brookes practically invites investigation.
– What does the honorable member wish me to do? What sort of investigation has it to be?
– I should say that a statement like that of Mr. Brookes should be investigated.
– To do what?
– To see how the money was spent.
– That is all we are asking. We do not suggest that the Government should go out on a heresy hunt, or, like sleuthhounds, pursue some particular individual, but merely that they carry out an Act of Parliament.
– I see that the honorable member for Gwydir has left the chamber, so that I need not refer to the matter of the small-pox outbreak.
– What about my question as to voting by post?
– My recollection is that the clauses are substantially the same, though I do not bind myself to that statement. As to the honorable member for Capricornia, I do not know whether I shall be accused of bribery and corruption, but I have a very fine motor car, and on Tuesday next I shall be quite willing to send the honorable member away 150 miles, and make him so comfortable that his health need give us no further concern.
– That will not do; I do not desire a holiday, and only complain of the late sittings.
– As to the second reading of the Electoral Bill, I shall see how we shape on Tuesday, and do what is reasonable.
– The request is a very fair one in the case of a big Bill like this.
– It is a mistake to suppose that it is a big Bill.
– It is so big that the press suggest that we are to have a double dissolution in connexion with it.
– What does the honorable member himself think on that point?
– I think there will be no double dissolution on the Bill.
– Then the honorable member destroys his own comment and complaint. As to the action of Mr. Herbert Brookes, what amazes me is the moderation of the amount.
– The Prime Minister is accustomed to dealing in big figures?
– No ; but my honorable friends opposite are accustomed to talking in big figures. If they referred to the £50,000 which is supposed to be floating about, I could understand their making some complaint; but this is a paltry £500.
– It is not the amount; the objection would be the same if it were £10.
– If the honorable member expects me to follow this £500 to Western Australia-
– I expect the Prime Minister to see that the Act of Parliament is carried out.
– If the honorable member expects me to follow this £500 to Western Australia, and deal with it in detail in a return-
– It is provided by Act of Parliament that Mr. Brookes shall do that.
– I do not think it is so provided in the Act.
– Ask the AttorneyGeneral. We shall do so on Tuesday.
– I shall do no such thing. I have drawn attention to it, and we shall see whether the Prime Minister will administer the Act or not.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.15 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 September 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1913/19130912_reps_5_70/>.