5th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– Last year, several inventors sent into the Department of the Postmaster-General models of pillar- boxes arranged for the prevention of pilfering of letters, one patentee providing for electrical connexions between the pillar-boxes and thenearest exchanges. Seeing that there have recently been robberies of pillar-boxes in Adelaide, will the Postmaster-General ask the mechanicians, and gentlemen in high positions in the Department, if they have done anything to prevent interference with pillar-boxes?
-I ask the Post master-General how long he intends to continue to print that particular design of stamp which so effectively advertises the emptiness of Australia?
– I should like to have had the new stamp issued long ago, but the printing of stamps is a matter within the Department of the Treasurer.
– Cannot the honorable member go back to an old design?
– I think that all the old dies have been destroyed.
– In view of the nearness of Burnie to Melbourne, and of the importance of that city as a centre of distribution, will the PostmasterGeneral insist on the steamers of the shipping companies, with which he is now making a contract for the conveyance of mails, entering the port three times a week, as they enter Launceston?
– I shall inquire into the matter; but I do not think it will be possible for the steamers to go to Burnie three times a week.
– Will the Postmaster-
General endeavour to arrange for penny postage with America ? We now have penny postage with all other Englishspeaking parts of the world. The Fisher Administration attempted to arrange for penny postage with America, but failed to get the United States Government to agree to their proposals.
– I shall be very pleased to try to do this.
– Does the PostmasterGeneral intend to lay on the table this session the annual report of his Department ?
– Certainly; if it is ready in time.
– I promised yesterday that I would obtain a report concerning the removal to the quarantine station at North Head of the unfortunate woman who subsequently died there. That report has now come to me from the Secretary to the Department of Public Health, . and I shall lay all the papers on the table of the Library. The doctor who visited the patient writes -
On being told that shewassuffering from small-pox, she urged that the should be removed without delay to the quarantine station, as she expected to be confined within a day or two. Her husband also requested that she should go to the quarantine station, as he considered that she would there be certain of proper medical supervision andskilful nursing during her impending confinement. The patient was able to walk about, and stated that she felt better since the rash had appeared on the previous day. . . .
It was both her own and her husband’s wish that she should not remain where she was, but be transferred to the quarantine station. According to usual routine, my report was made to the Department, with the result that she was removed to the quarantine depot on the same day by motor ambulance, in charge of a skilled nurse, and there handed over to the Federal authorities for transport to the quarantine station at North Head.
– I ask the Minister of Home Affairs if his attention has been called to the statement attributed by today’s Age to Mr. Wunderlich, that no Australian architect competed for the designing of plans for the Federal Capital, and, if so, I ask him is that statement correct? Mr. Beale is also reported in the Age to have been unwise enough, either from lack of knowledge or unkindness, to allude to Mr. Griffin as a tenthrate architect. I ask the Minister whether, since Mr. Griffin won the Commonwealth prize against the whole world, and enjoys the high opinions of various architects in New South Wales and Victoria, the honorable gentleman considers that Mr. Beale was justified in what he said ?
– One Australian design was purchased by the Government for £400, and some forty designs were received from persons giving Australian addresses, amongst whom were engineers, surveyors, and architects. The competition was duly advertised in Australia, and it was open to any Australian to compete. It is regrettable that a gentleman who is making such a sacrifice for Australia as Mr. Griffin is making, should be considered a fit targetfor the remark to which the honorable member calls attention. Mr. Griffin enjoys a very wide reputation, not only in America, but alsoelsewhere, as one of the best town planners anywhere.
– Will the Honorary Minister be good enough to supply the House with a memorandum of the qualifications of Mr. Griffin for the work which has been committed to him?
– I shall be only too happy to give honorable members the fullest information.
– Is not the fact that Mr. Griffin won the first prize against all the world, the only certificate that ought to be asked in this House of his ability?
– That fact would, I think, be sufficient for honorable members generally, combined with the fact that the prize design by Mr. Griffin has been very favorably commented upon by scientific people in other parts of the world.
-The citizens of Sydney are making arrangements to receive our esteemed and worthy High Commissioner; and, to prevent trafficking in tickets, are allowing only a certain number to be allotted. Could the Minister of External Affairs see that the money thus obtained is not devoted to political purposes ?
-I am afraid that this matter does not fall within my province. It is a public reception by the citizens of Sydney.
-Some five weeks ago I put some questions on the notice paper relating to Castles Excavator, and the Honorary Minister promised that he would lay a return on the table. Is that return ready yet?
-I saw the return three or four days ago. It had really slipped my memory, but I shall see that it is laid on the table to-day or to-morrow.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral given any consideration to granting a Saturday half -holiday to the lettercarriers in Sydney and suburbs ?
– I am inclined to think they already have that holiday, but I shall look into the matter.
– Can the PostmasterGeneral give us some idea when his annual report will be available?
-I shall inquire, and let honorable members know.
– Is the Honorary Minister aware that posters are being displayed at railway stations in Victoria and other places containingmisleading statements about the Defence Act - that such posters declare that we are under the operation of martial law, and so forth? Will the Honorary Minister see what can be done to prevent these mispresentations ?
– Are these the posters of the Freedom League ?
– I think so, and I ask what can be done to prevent those misrepresentations, and the consequent discontent with the defence scheme?
– I will bring this question under the notice of the Minister of Defence, and see what can be done.
– When may we expect to have the balance-sheets, up to June, 1913, for the Harness Factory and the Clothing Factory established by the Government? The last balance-sheets were up to June, 1912.
– I hope that the balance-sheets will be ready for honorable members when the Estimates are under consideration.
– I desire to call the attention of the Prime Minister to a paragraph which appeared in the Age of this morning, relating to the treatment of a cadet who is the sole support of his widowed mother. Knowing the big heart of the Prime Minister, I have only to ask him to bring this case before the Minister of Defence, in order to see whether some relief can be given, not only to this lad, but to others similarly circumstanced ?
-The trouble seems to be that we cannot get perfect administration, even perfectly sympathetic administration. Such cases as the honorable member mentions are provided for in Lord Kitchener’s report, which specially points out that there is no need of compelling boys like these to undergo training. If I remember rightly, Lord Kitchener specifically lays it down that any boy who is the sole support of his mother should be exempt; and there is a whole series of exemptions which might very well be taken out of the roll if only the officers administering thescheme would go to the trouble to do so. Only a little more than half of the men who are eligible for training are required to complete the armies of various countries; and we know that cost determines such establishments all the world over. In Germany, if I remember rightly, only about half of those eligible are taken, because the country cannot afford to train the whole, and does not need the whole. Under the circumstances, it appears that all that is required is sympathetic and sane administration. I shall be very glad to call the attention of the authorities to the case.
– Is the Honorary Minister aware that the senior cadets of Bendigo are required to assemble at Wellsford, 4 miles away, and that no means are provided for their conveyance, although they have to be on the spot at 2.30, while they do not leave work till 1 o’clock ? Also, is he aware that the cadets at Chewton are required to walk 6 or 7 miles in order to drill at Castleniaine, and will he consider what can be done to obviate this inconvenience which is causing much discontent with the defence scheme ?
– I shall certainly bring the matters referred to under the notice of the Minister of Defence to-day, and communicate further with the honorable gentleman.
– Seeing that cadets are being trained for the protection of the States, will the Prime Minister take steps to ascertain whether the State Governments will place their railways at the service of the trainees ?
– Yes, I shall be very glad to do so. I do not think it would hurt the States at all if they showed a little more sympathy towards this training, which is costing the State and Federal taxpayers an enormous amount of money.
– Has the new manager of Fitzroy Dock been appointed, and, if so, when will he take up his duties?
– I think the new manager was appointed by the late Minister of Defence.
-I know the matter was under his consideration; but if the honorable member for South Sydney will give notice I shall give him an answer.
– How does it happen that a sum of£2,000 is provided in the Estimates for the salary of the general manager if the Government do not know who is to have the position, and what his abilities are?
– The late Minister of Defence authorized this position, and, after due consideration, decided that £2,000 was the salary which ought to attach to this very important and responsible office. So far, apparently, the office has not been filled, but it will have to be filled this year, and it is for that reason the money is required.
-It is very irregular for honorable members to rise to ask questions without notice, after the business of the day has been called on. I think it is twice this has occurred today.
-I wish to ask you a question, Mr. Speaker. I notice that the two honorable members who were unfortunately suspended yesterday are not in the Chamber. Is there any barrier preventing them being present to-day?
-None whatever. Their suspension was only for the remainder of the sitting, and if they are absent to-day it is at their own option.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice-
-In reply to the honorable member’s questions, I have to state that an abstract of the proposed expenditure of£5,746,853 on Defence is given on page 69 of the Estimates. The amount of £64,114 for rent, repairs, is arrived at by deducting£26,000 Defence proportion of estimated savings of £75,000 shown on page 183 from £90,114 shown on page 182. Under New Works the amount of £550,930 was arrived at by deducting from the amount of£649,930 shown on page 247 the amount of£99,000 the Defence proportion of£205,000 shown as savings on page 258. The remaining items under New Works are shown on pages 263 to 265.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
With reference to a leading article in a recent issue of the London Times contrasting Australia’s participation in the proposed Panama Exhibition with the action of the Mother Country -
Is the Commonwealth actually committed to this participation, and what will be the cost?
Will he inform the House of the position in which the Government stands in relation to the question ?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is - 1 and 2. No; but the Government is prepared to contribute £20,000 towards the cost of representation.
asked the Prime Minister, upon, notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
-The answers to the honorable member’s questions are-
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether any further steps have been taken in relationto the proposed reciprocal trade arrangements between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Dominions of Canada and New Zealand ?
-No, not yet; but the matter is receiving the attention of the Government.
Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon no tice -
– It has been decided to retain certain national battalions of a limited number, under conditions which are now under consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– Replies have been received, and will be laid on the table.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister of
External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
-I wonder if I can appeal to the House to allow the Works and Buildings Estimates to go through the final stage before proceeding with the business of the day. I merely ask for the third reading of the Appropriation Bill to be passed. We have been more than a fortnight discussing these Estimates, and I do not see that any good can accrue from further discussion. I would like to get the Bill through so that it can be sent to the Senate at the earliest possible moment.
-I am afraid we cannot accede to the Prime Minister’s request. On account of some remarks made yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition, who is not present, is very anxious to speak on the third reading of the Bill.
.- I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, the Government should take into consideration the advisableness of establishing the decimal system in respect to coinage and weights and measures.
On more than one occasion, honorable members in this Parliament have tabled motions similar to this, and it is not the first time I have put the matter forward, not in a public way, as a member of Parliament, but in a semi-public way, verbally and by literary means. It is more than twenty years ago since I first brought it under the consideration of the people of South Australia, at which time so far as Australia was concerned, I believe that mine was but a voice crying in the wilderness. No one had advanced the matter in any serious way, and in South Australia my proposal was considered an abstract one, and merelyone for academic debate, but the time has now gone by for us to look upon this important question in that light. It is stated in this morning’s newspapers that the combined Chambers of Manufactures throughout Australia have unanimously passed a resolution in favour of the decimal system of coinage and the metric system of weights and measures, showing that people from whom we might, perhaps, have expected some opposition, are anxious to have brought about this change in our industrial life. A little while ago, when glancing through the Acts of Parliament of the Dominion of New Zealand, I was agreeably surprised to find that, as far back at 1908, that Legislature passed an Act making it possible by proclamation at any time, to initiate the metric system of weights and measures. Section 25 of that Act, which is No. 206 of 1908, provides -
It shall be lawful for the Governor at any time by proclamation to declare that from and after a date named in the proclamation, the metric system, as described in the third schedule hereto, shall be the only system of weights and measures recognised for use in New Zealand, and thereafter it shall not be lawful to use any weights and measures other than those described in the said third schedule.
Five years ago, therefore, the people of New Zealand recognised the vast importance of this subject. It will be observed that I have not submitted a motion couched in hard and fast terms directing that the Government ‘ ‘ shall ‘ ‘ bring in -legislation dealing with this matter.
– The honorable member has submitted a motion, elastic in its terms.
– Elastic, but not ambiguous. I have done so because, in the first place, 1 do not wish to embarrass the Government in regard to this matter, whilst, secondly, I recognise that even the passing of an iron-bound motion would not compel the Government to bring in, at any particular period, legislation dealing with the subject. It is just as well, perhaps, that the matter should be left to the good sense of the Government, and the terms of my motion show that I am prepared to trust them to give effect to it in the event of its being carried. Another point of which we should not lose sight is that, having regard to the state of parties in this Parliament, my proposal would give the Government an opportunity to bring forward a purely non-party measure, the passing of which, I am convinced, would prove of great benefit to the people of this vast continent, and to generations as yet unborn. I desire to say, with all humility, that I possess, not only a full knowledge pf the theoretical side of the decimal system of coinage and weights and measures, but a practical acquaintance with the working of the system. In my youthful days - in the first three years of my school life - we still had in existence on the Continent of Europe the old system, but iti 1868 notice was given that within three-and-a-half years a change to the decimal system would take place. There was a transitory period during which I was attending school, and, as my father was interested in business, I had an opportunity at the same time to see the practical working of the system which was initiated in the course of my scholastic studies. Leaving that part of the world I had an opportunity once more to test the almost antiquated system still in vogue in Australia with the result that I came to the conclusion that the system which I now urge should be adopted was vastly superior to that at present in operation almost throughout the British Empire. There are some objections of a more or less trivial character to the change which I propose. There are also a few weighty ones, and perhaps some very weighty reasons, which may be urged against it. With these I shall deal later on. As honorable members are aware, the decimal system is by no means new. It was started during the turbulent times of the first French Revolution - a revolution that brought about many changes, one of which did harm to thousands, while others bestowed benefits on untold millions. During that time of great commotion, the French Legislature of the day deputed certain French savants to evolve a different system of coinage and weights and measures, and they wisely chose one that was different from any other in existence at that period. They were probably influenced by the consideration which weighs with our friends, the Esperantos, who have produced an entirely new or artificial language in order not to stir up international jealousies. It speaks volumes for the system itself, and it is an everlasting monument to the ability of the great Frenchmen who evolved it that it has not been altered - even in any minute particular, so far as I know - from the day that it left their brains, now 120 years ago. It has been adopted by 500,000,000 of the human race. Practically every civilized country has adopted, or is about to adopt, it, and I feel certain that the day is not far distant when it will be in operation throughout the length and breadth of the great British Empire. Before dealing with the decimal system, let us glance for a moment at what I may describe as the present-day quartoduodecimal conglomeration. It is not quite as bad in relation to coinage as it is in respect to weights and measures. Under it, we have the sovereign of twenty shillings, and the half-sovereign, but we have the shilling divided into twelve pence, and it is there, in my opinion, that it is at fault. There may not be so much objection to our present system of coinage, and, therefore, it seems to me to be easier to bring about a change in regard to it than it is to make a change in respect of weights and measures. I am aware that in the United Kingdom the opposite “opinion appears to be entertained. Men and women there, who have given serious thought to this subject of decimalization, apparently hold the view that the metric system, as applied to weights and measures, should be the first to be taken in hand, leaving for a later .period the change with respect to coinage. They seem to think that the transition from the present inadequate system of weights and measures to the metric system would be the more easily accomplished.
– It has already been adopted in a scientific way.
– Quite so. It has, for instance, been adopted in connexion with all electrical work, and generally, I believe, in all branches of science. Even granting that, however, I fail to see that it should be easier to make the change from the present system of weights and measures to the metric system than it would be to introduce decimal coinage. Chambers of Commerce and Chambers of Manufactures in Australia advocate, as a first instalment, the introduction of decimal coinage, leaving to a future date the introduction of a metric system of weights and measures. The English system of weights and measures is one that has simply grown up with the course of time ; it is not the result of the combined wisdom of great thinkers, as the decimal system is. In the olden days, they took the yard measure from the length of the King’s arm, and the inch measure from the length of the King’s thumb; and the whole system might very well be called the ruleofthumb system. We have the mile measuring 1,760 yards, the yard measuring 36 inches, and the foot measuring 12 inches; there being no easily-recognised ratio of one to another. Our systems of measurement are absolutely inadequate in these days, and stand in the way of commercial development. Our system of weights is even worse than our system of measures. When a ton is spoken of, we do not know whether a ton of 2,000 lbs. or one of 2,240 lbs. is meant. When we speak of a hundredweight, we refer, not to a cental, but to 112 lbs. Then we have the stone weighing 14 lbs. A bushel of wheat weighs so much, a bushel of oats something else, and other bushels have other weights. The learning of the various weights and measures taxes the brains of the growing community unduly. We have three measures of weight - apothecary’s weight, troy weight, and avoirdupois weight. Liquid measurement, is just as involved. Every person of common sense in Australia, let alone every educated person, must realize that, by theretention of our present system, we arestanding in our own light. In my opinion, the British Empire is making a mistake in clinging to this system,, which has been thrown over by civilized nations. Honorable members, no doubt, understand the decimal system. There is noneed to sing its praises, because it recommends itself. Like a good article, it doesnot need advertising. But the question arises, How are we to alter our present system of coinage to the decimal system ? It would not be necessary to change many of our coins. I would propose the adoption .of the florin as the unit. That would allow of the retention of the sovereign, the half-sovereign, the shilling, and the sixpence. AustriaHungary has a two-shilling piece for the unit of its coinage, coupled with the decimal system, and has found it very satisfactory. The florin, or twoshilling piece, could be divided into 100 cents., its value being 96 farthings. A 2 cent, piece - about d. in value - would be the smallest coin that we should need in Australia. In adopting this system, we should do well to get rid of the unwieldy bronze coins that we now use. To carry any large number of pennies or halfpennies now requires very strong pockets. For bronze coins we might well substitute nickel coins, as they have done in America and other countries, these being lighter and less bulky, and having a neater appearance. If I desired, I could read to the House great slabs of literary matter to support what I have said; but I would sooner state the case as it presents itself to my mind, and allow those who desire to consult literature on the subject to do so for themselves. I am sure that no honorable member wishesme to read out to the House what he can read for himself. The adoption of the metric system would, perhaps, haveconsequences reaching further than those of the adoption of the decimal system. The metric system is a uniform one. The metre, or stick, as it is called in some countries, has a length equal to the fortymillionth part of the circumference of the globe, measured through the poles, and is the unit of the system. In the ascending scale, we have the decametre, or ten metres; the hectometre, or 100 metres; and the kilometre, or 1,000 metres. In countries where the metric system is used, kilometres are employed for reckoning distances, much as we use miles. On the descending scale, we have the decimetre, which is one-tenth of a metre; the centimetre, which is one-hundredth of a metre; and the millimetre, which is onethousandth of a metre. This is a very simple system of lineal measurement. For liquid measurement, the litre is the unit. A litre contains about one and threequarter pints, or about 2 lbs. of water of a certain density; and it ascends and descends in multiples of ten, similarly to the metre. For the measurement of surfaces, the are is the unit, it being equal to 100 square metres. One hundred ares make one hectare, which contains about 2£ acres of our measurement, and is the term generally used in speaking of large areas. Before proceeding to deal with the objections to the changes that I propose, let me point out some of the advantages that would accrue from it. They are manifold, but I shall speak of only a few. In the first place, the adoption of the decimal and metric systems would make arithmetic a much easier thing for our children, and would save fully .twelve months’ tuition in the primary schools. If an article cost 56 cents., it is easy, to reckon by the decimal system what 100 articles of the same kind would cost. You merely add two noughts, and place a dot before them, and you get the result - 56 florins; but, with the English system, a rather difficult computation would have to be made. I know that my children have much more difficulty with their arithmetic lessons than I. used to have with arithmetic in Germany under the decimal system. If the decimal system of coinage and the metric system were adopted by the British Empire, and by the people of the United States of America, who now have the former only, it would mean uniformity in these matters throughout the civilized world. That would certainly be of great advantage ; and, further, I believe it would tend to bring nearer that day of universal peace for which we all long. The nomenclature of the system is the same in all countries where it is adopted, and a common way of reckoning throughout the world is bound to have the effect of bringing the peoples of the world more closely together. I could enlarge on the manifold advantages which this system would confer on the commercial life of Australia, but I intend to devote the time at my disposal to some of the objections we hear, or have heard, from time to time. As soon as anything new is proposed a large number of people are always found to oppose it, owing to that conservative strain which runs throughout’ human nature. I know that some of my friends, who are radical, or even absolutely socialistic, or anarchical, in their political ideas, and would repudiate any idea of conservatism, are in their private life the most conservative of all. When it was proposed to replace the old horse trams in Adelaide with electric traction many people were heard to declare that they would not care if the old system remained for ever, and this was simply because of some little arrangements as to alighting, and so forth, to which they had become accustomed in the course of years; but now, of course, no one would dream of suggesting that we should go back to the old state of things. On another occasion an acquaintance of my own bitterly opposed the introduction of the deep drainage into Adelaide, considering that it would do more harm than good, but as time went on, and the system was established, this gentleman became the chairman of an important Board of Health in the metropolitan area, and sang quite a different tune. This strain of conservatism, as I say, we find running throughout the human kind; and it is only natural when a system, which, after all, is not so very different from that it seeks to replace, is suggested that a vast number of people should make objections, particularly before and during its developmental stages. I was a boy of ten or twelve, on the Continent, when this system was introduced there, and I remember that a great number of people found fault with it, but they very soon got over any annoyance they may have felt. The great mass of the workers very readily adopted it, as has been proved in other countries over and over again. If they are given proper wages and good living conditions they do not care whether they have to reckon in pennies or in cents. The other day a gentleman in South Australia, in talking over this matter, said that the workingmen’s wives would not like to go into a shop and ask for a kilogramme of butter, but I may say that, even at the present time, in Germany, the people still ask for their butter, and other commodities, in pounds, the only difference being that for a pound they get half a kilo, or a difference of a few ounces. Then it is said that the introduction of this system would mean that the business people would have to alter their methods, but this was not found to be the case in other countries, where the people very readily fell in with the new method. An objection is sometimes raised that this system would necessitate the alteration of old, or the installation of new, machinery. True, this had to be done in other parts of the world, but, apparently, it did not amount to very much. Besides, the system would not be introduced straight away, but a period of possibly three to five years would elapse, allowing plenty of time for the people to absorb the new idea. It is said the system would necessitate the storekeeper providing new scales, but so far as the ordinary balance scales are concerned, they could be just as readily used as at present. Doubtless some of the weighing machines would have to be discarded in course of time. There is, however, another fairly weighty argument. If we initiated the system here, and it were not adopted in the United Kingdom at the same time, it is said it would mean a dislocation of business - that there might be a tendency of the trade of Australia and the other self-governing colonies drifting to those countries where the decimal system is in operation. I freely admit there may be something in that apprehension, because I know that countries, where there is a decimal system, are more inclined to deal with countries similarly circumstanced. However, if a law were passed in Australia initiating the metric and decimal system, we should again show a beacon light to other parts of the Empire, as we have done on many other occasions. It would, to a degree, at any rate, force the hands of the authorities at Home, especially if they feared to lose some of their trade.
– It would have to be an Imperial matter.
– Canada has altered her coinage.
– We could, at any rate, initiate a decimal system of coinage as a first step towards bringing about the entire reform. I regard this as a very important matter for all the people of Australia, and I hope that the day will come when the whole of the British Empire will adopt a system which would be of the greatest advantage from a commercial point of view. If nothing comes of this motion beyond once more drawing the attention of the people of Australia to the subject, it will be something to the good. I am certain that the great commercial interests of Australia are awakening to the fact that, by postponing this reform, they are standing in their own light.
.- The honorable member for Boothby is to be commended for submitting this motion. His earnest appeal strikes me as a comment of some considerable force on the difficulty there is in bringing public opinion to appreciate a reform which, to any one who gives it the slightest attention, is absolutely necessary and almost inevitable. This is a matter which has before engaged the attention of the Federal Parliament. In 1902, a Select Committee was appointed to go into the whole question of decimal coinage, and it brought down what I am justified in calling a very interesting and instructive report. As a member of that Committee, I am very glad to say that the work was done with much enthusiasm, and we had the benefit of the special knowledge and study brought to bear on the subject by the late Mr. G. B. Edwards, whose tragic death we all deplore. The Committee’s recommendation was unanimous; and while I do not desire to traverse the ground covered by the honorable member for Boothby, I may remind honorable members that the difficulties he mentions were brought before us and dealt with in a way that I think shows that they can be overcome. We can take as a basis for the reform the present sovereign, and we can make a decimal coinage on that basis with very little alteration. The Select Committee recommended that we should have the sovereign and silver coins of the present value of 2s., ls., and 6d., and that the bronze coinage should represent decimal fractions of the sovereign, and be known as 4 cents, 2 cents, and 1 cent respectively. Thus the alteration would only apply to the present bronze coinage, and, in view of the undoubted advantage of the simplification of brain work in all calculations in money matters, and of the other advantages to be derived, the wonder is that we have not been able to persuade others in the Empire that the change should be adopted. But that is exactly where the difficulty arises in following up the report of the Select Committee. In June, 1904, a resolution was carried in this House in the following terms -
That, in the opinion of this House, the necessary legislation should be introduced to give effect to the recommendations contained in the report of a Select Committee on Commonwealth Coinage and Currency, adopted by the House on the 19th June, ig.03.
That resolution was carried unanimously, but, in spite of that, we are still working on the old unscientific basis. The difficulty undoubtedly has been to persuade the Imperial authorities to adopt the change in Great Britain. We are in a somewhat different position from that of Canada, which has adopted a decimal system almost identical with that of the United States. On account of her proximity to the United States, and because of the amount of trade between the two countries, it was only natural that the monetary system of those two countries should be identical. In Australia, We do the bulk of our business with the Mother Land, and it was repeatedly Urged before the Select Committee, by business men and others, that great trouble would arise in regard to business relationships between Australia and the Mother Land if ‘Australia adopted a coinage of her own. I think the difficulties have been somewhat exaggerated. The calculation necessary to adjust matters would be very simple; and just as Australia has shown the lead to the Mother Land in regard to legislation in many other ways, she might easily take this step and give the Old Country the lead in the matter of decimal coinage. There is in Great Britain a large amount of inert public opinion, and an indifference to this reform, which it will take man, years for the enthusiasts in favour oi monetary ‘reform to overcome; but 1 know these enthusiasts are working hard, and if we in Australia, following the recommendations of the Select Committee, and the terms of the resolution carried in this House, introduce the proposed legislation, it will not only give Australia a reform that will be of considerable advantage, but it will also strengthen the hands of those endeavouring to secure the change in Great Britain, and undoubtedly lead to the adoption of the same principle throughout the Empire.
.- The honorable member for Boothby is to be commended for bringing forward this motion, so that the matter may be considered by the House once more. I remember the very fine speech made in the House upon the subject by the late Mr. G. B. Edwards. I understand that, on that occasion, a motion similar to that moved to-day was agreed to almost unanimously. Of course, this is a question requiring special study, which, I suppose, the honorable member for Boothby has given to it; but, in one aspect of it- the decimal coinage aspect - it would appear that the reform suggested could be brought about with very little inconvenience. Certainly, if arrangements cannot be made with the Imperial Government to adopt the system, it would be quite safe for Australia to adopt it. Mr. Knibbs, the Commonwealth Statistician, and an authority on this question, indicates that the confusion that would follow our adoption of the proposed system would be very slight. The matter has been debated in this Parliament ever since the commencement of Federation, and I know that it received the favorable indorsement of the Prime Minister in 1904, while we have also a resolution carried almost unanimously in 1910. As indicated by the honorable member for Perth, Mr. Knibbs takes the sovereign as the basis, and, in a special paragraph dealing with coinage, he makes the following remarks -
Considered apart from the cognate subject of decimal weights and measures, the introduction of a decimal coinage would present no great difficulties. Of the various systems that have been advocated from time to time, the one that appears to meet with most favour and presents the maximum advantage, would retain the sovereign as the unit, but would divide it into a thousands parts instead of the present 960 farthings.
Then he points out the different denominations our coinage should take, and proceeds to say -
As only the subdivisions of the present shilling would be altered, such a system could be introduced with less disturbing- effects on the arrangements of trade than other proposals, e.g., one which would make the present farthing its unit.
The subject of the decimal system has been dealt with in the House of Commons, but it is a regrettable matter that it has not taken a more prominent place in the discussions at the various Imperial Conferences that have been held. 1 think the decimal coinage and the metric system should be subjects for fruitful discussion at an Imperial Conference, and I hope that if the motion submitted to-day does not have the effect of causing the decimal system to be adopted in Australia, it will at least stimulate whatever Government ma.y be in power to have this question prominently brought before the Imperial Conference at the first opportunity in order that it may be discussed. Though there are many difficulties connected with the adoption of the metric system, the sooner the change is brought about the less will be the expense of bringing the Empire into line with other nations. The metric system is particularly one that should be settled at an Imperial Conference, but the decimal coinage system is one our Government could take in hand for the approval of Parliament, and at once open up negotiations with the Imperial Parliament to see whether it would not be advisable for Australia to do the same as Canada has done.
– What is to prevent Australia adopting the decimal coinage ?
– There is nothing to prevent it. Canada has her own system. We know that decimal coinage could be adopted in Australia with probably a minimum of friction, but as an integral part of the Empire we should endeavour to bring about uniformity in our coinage and weights and measures through an Imperial Conference. At any rate, it would be well to first exhaust those means before introducing the system in Australia. I can see no great difficulty in adopting the decimal system of coinage. As Mr. Knibbs points out, the only substantial alteration that will be required will be in the parts of the shilling.
– And it will bring two large sections of the Empire into line straight away.
– Yes. There was formerly a good deal of difference respecting the coinage of our own silver, but now we find it a great advantage. We shall soon be in a position, I hope, to do away with the cumbersome bronze coins we are using, and to adopt the nickel coin. I understand the Government are now considering this point. Coining our own silver has had the effect of creating another industry in Australia.
– And we are making £200,000 a year by doing it.
– It was anticipated that we would make a profit of £60,000 a year when we started coining our own silver, but we find now that the profit will probably be three or four times that amount. This is not a party question, and it is one that may well be considered by the Government. It should simplify business in Australia.
– We have made one step in the direction by doing away with the half-crown.
– Yes, and we are seriously contemplating the abolition of the copper coinage, and the adoption of the suggestion of the honorable member for Balaclava, that we should have a nickel coin. Both the metric system and the decimal system have been commented on by leading statesmen in Great Britain. A Select Committee of the House of Commons reported in 1895 in favour of both systems, and a year or two later a motion, tabled in the House of Commons, to adopt the decimal system was only defeated by a narrow majority, showing, not only that the feeling in favour of adopting the decimal system is unanimous in Australia, but that it is growing, and continuing to grow, in Great Britain. I hope that, as the result of the passing of this motion, the Government will make the question a live one. I hope that they will see fit to adopt it as part of their policy, and to provide for a system of decimal coinage, even if it is not prepared at this stage to introduce a metrical system of weights and measures. I trust that the Government will open up negotiations with the British Government, even before the next Conference, with a view to the simultaneous adoption of one, if not both, systems here and in the Old Country, and that, even if the Imperial authorities cannot see their way to make such a change, the Government will be prepared to bring about in Australia the adoption of, at least, the system of decimal coinage.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Groom) adjourned.
– I move -
That, owing to the increased cost of living, an increase should be made in the payments to old-age and invalid pensioners.
I offer no apology for bringing this proposal before the House. As a matter of fact, I submit it with a feeling of genuine pleasure, because it seems to me that in increasing these payments we shall simply do an act of justice to the aged and invalid poor of this country. I look back with much satisfaction to my association with the introduction of this beneficent system. I was a member of the first Select Committee appointed in New South Wales, many years ago, to inquire into it, and it was as the result of our report that legislation was introduced in New South Wales providing for the treatment of our aged and invalid poor in a way very different from that to which they had previously been subjected. I also remember with satisfaction having moved in this House for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the question of a Federal system of old-age pensions. The honorable member for Darwin was, I think, the first to mention the matter, but I secured the appointment of a Commission to investigate it. At that time honorable members viewed with alarm the proposal for a Federal system, because of the expenditure which it would involve, and I dare say some will view with a good deal of misgiving the present proposition to increase the payments.
– It was only the Governments of those days that felt any alarm.
– I think that a good many honorable members viewed my proposal with alarm, but I would urge upon those who may be inclined to take fright at this proposal to increase the pension payments, that it is our duty to look after the aged poor and the invalids of the Commonwealth in the best possible way. Why should we not provide, in a reasonable way, what is necessary for their subsistence? The Royal Commission of which I was chairman visited every State in the Union, and we held something like sixty-two or sixty-three meetings, at every one of whichI had the pleasure of presiding. As the result of our inquiries, we recommended that a pension of 10s. per week should be granted to the aged and invalid poor of the Commonwealth, and I had the satisfaction of being a member of the Government which gave effect to that recommendation. In .the circumstances, therefore, having been closely associated with the introduction of the system, I have some right to bring it under review, and in doing so I ask honorable members to recall to mind the reasons that actuated us in fixing the payments at 10s. per week. It will be remembered that the Commonwealth was not so prosperous in those days as it is now, that we had to return three-fourths of our . Customs and Excise revenue to the States, and that we had to ask ourselves what was the most we could afford to pay, and what was the lowest amount that would provide a living for these people. After consideration we determined upon a payment of 10s-. per week. I find that the average pension amounts to between 9s. and 10s. per week, certain deductions being made in the case of those who have other sources of income. The figures supplied by the Treasurer show that the maximum pension is about 9s. 7d. per week, so that honorable members will see that a very large number of our pensioners must be subjected to deductions. At the time we believed that 10s. per week would be sufficient to enable the recipients to provide themselves with the necessaries of life, but I do not think any one will deny that seven years ago 10s. would purchase as much as 12s. 6d. will purchase to-day. We ought to.be prepared to pay such a sum as will give thesepeople as good a living to-day as they could secure by the expenditure of 10s. per week when we first passed this legislation.
– Has the honorablemember totalled up the cost ?
– No matter what it costs, my contention is that Australia is rich enough- to be able topay a reasonable amount.
– What increase does the honorable member propose?’
-I am not tied to any particular amount. The Oldage Pensions Act was assented to on 10th June, 1908, and was proclaimed on 15th April, 1909, but the first payments were not made until 1st July, 1909. I am satisfied that at the time that the Act was assented to 10s. would buy as much as 12s. 6d. would buy to-day, and, that being so, we should be justified in raising the payments from 10s. to 12s. 6d. per week. I am not, however, tied to that increase.
– The honorable member would not object to the Treasurer increasing the payments to 15s. per week?
– Not at all. If the Treasurer thinks the increase I have mentioned is not sufficient I shall be prepared to accept an advance. I realize that we shall have to find the money to provide for this alteration, but, at the same time, I cannot forget that plenty of money is being found for undertakings which do not commend themselves to me as much as this does. The qualifying age for women was reduced to sixty years by proclamation dated 18th November, 1910, but the first payments were made as from 15th December, 1910. That part of the Act which relates to invalid pensions was brought into operation on the same date, and payments were also made as from 15th December, 1910. The number of old-age pensioners in the Commonwealth on 30th June, 1913, was as follows- New South Wales, 30,869; Victoria, 25,434; Queensland, 11,221; South Australia, 7,752; Western Australia, 3.484; Tasmania, 4,183; total, 82,943. The estimated cost of increasing the maximum pension from 10s. to 12s. 6d. per week during the current year is £640,000 per annum. I agree with the Treasurer that we must carefully consider the whole question before we call upon the people of Australia to bear this additional impost, but can we continue to claim that we are paying old-age pensions equal to those paid when the system was first introduced, if it can be shown that, owing to the increased cost of living, the payments to-day are not sufficient to keep body and soul together?
– A great many pensioners have a little money of their own.
– No doubt that is so. I think that we might well have some alterations made in the ad ministration of the Act itself. I have taken serious exception to the opinion which seems to prevail in the minds of some people that these pensions are in the nature of a charity. The honorable member for Darwin, and others, who sat with me on the Royal Commission, . will remember that our very first recommendation was that they should be granted, not as a charity, but as a matter of right. The old pioneers, who blazed the track and made the country suitable for us to live in, are as much entitled to a pension as is a Judge, and deserve just as well of the people of this country. It would be a case of Heaven help many of us, if we had not had these enterprising pioneers to clear the way for us. I therefore press this proposal upon the favorable attention of the Treasurer. The poor are always with us, and we should see that they are not neglected, even if it becomes necessary to impose extra taxation in order to provide for them. There are plenty of sources of revenue as yet untouched. Some members of the Commission suggested, for instance, that there should be a tax on sport; that every person who enters a race-course, a theatre, or a stadium, should be called upon to pay a small tax for this purpose
– I am in favour of a tax on those who attend race meetings.
– Sportsmen are the most generous men in the country. Then, again, any one entering a ballroom - and I suppose the honorable member is amongst those who do so - would willingly pay an additional penny on his ticket to assist in the maintenance of the sick and the aged poor.
– Could we impose such a form of taxation?
– Yes, we have the power, but I have always set myself against special taxation for this purpose. One matter of administration which is capable of improvement relates to the delay which takes place in granting applications for pensions. Sometimes a delay of two or three months occurs and that is altogether unreasonable. We know that the Treasurer has a warm and generous heart, and I ask him to give special attention to this matter, and to see that there is no delay. It is all very well to tell me, as the officials do, that a pension, when granted, is paid as from the date of application, with the result that the applicant gets his back payments in a lump sum, but meantime be may have been starving for weeks. I ask the Treasurer to exercise his power, and to see that this delay does not take place.
– The system is controlled by a Commissioner.
– But the right honorable gentleman controls him.
– Then, if I were in the Treasurer’s position, I would quickly send out a “chaser.” I hope that the idea that the pension is paid as a matter of charity will be exploded, and that we shall divest this question of any party complexion. We all realize the responsibility of our position. The sum of £640,000 would mean a large increase to our annual expenditure, but we must look after the army of distressed sick and aged. There are many sources of revenue which might be relied on to provide funds for the increase which I suggest, and it could also be provided for by stopping extravagance. There are many items in the Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill on which savings could be effected for the benefit of our invalid and aged. It must be remembered that the money given to these people is spent in the country. I make no excuse for having brought forward the motion, which, I am sure, will commend itself to the good sense of honorable members generally. I appeal to the Treasurer not to allow his official feelings to get the better of his sound sense, and ask him not to condemn the proposal merely because he feels that he cannot afford it. Australia is the richest country on God’s earth, where every commodity can be produced. Let our aged poor share in our prosperity; let them feel that, in the time of plenty, we are prepared to give them consideration. There are financial difficulties in the way of what I propose, but they can be overcome. If the Treasurer will tell the House that he will give the generous consideration for which I ask, his financial genius will enable him to find the means for doing so. I should like a vote on the motion this afternoon, because I feel certain that, if four-fifths of the members of the House support my proposal, the Treasurer’s political sagacity will cause him to take notice of the fact. Believing that I am proposing what is right, I leave the motion in the hands of the House. I do not insist on a pension of 12s. 6d., but, after careful consideration, that has seemed to me to be a fair amount. However, I shall be ready to listen to argument, and to agree to any reasonable arrangement whereby our sick and aged poor may share in the pros- perity of the country.
.-I feel sure that the Prime Minister will agree to the motion, because it is part of the policy of the country to make sufficient provision for the aged, and they cannot live on the allowance that they now get. There has been a general increase in the price of commodities all over Australia, and in many instances the pensions that are paid are wholly absorbed in the payment of rents. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro has told us that, in his experience, the pensions are not sufficient to keep those to whom they are paid in a position of comfort, and honorable members will agree that that is so, and that it is absolutely necessary that the pensions shall be increased.
-Rents have gone up all over the place.
– I did not hear the honorablemember for Eden-Monaro speak of the rise in rents, but it is one of the main reasons for increasing these pensions. I have several pensioners in my division, and know that they cannot live on their present pensions. The Government are very generous to those whom they employ, as can be shown by an analysis of the Estimates, and they should show generosity to the old-age pensioners as well. The law requires amending in other respects besides the rate of pensions. I think that too much value is placed on the property owned by pensioners, which results in the allowances given to them being quite insufficient.
– We changed that.
– The law has not been sufficiently liberalized. In my electorate there are two old people who own a couple of houses, in one of which they live, but the rent from the other is not sufficient to keep them, though the value of their property prevents them from drawing pensions. Something should be done for persons in that position, and I think that an amendment of the Act is necessary to that end. When old persons have property like this, which they are not inclined to sell, they should be given a sufficient allowance to enable them to live in comfort. The small increase that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro suggests will be hardly sufficient to cover the advance in the prices of commodities of late years. No doubt the hon.orable member will have sufficient influence with the Treasurer to secure the serious consideration of his proposal. I feel sure that when an amending Bill is introduced, the increase which he advocates will be provided for. Australia owes its present position to the early efforts of its old people. They developed the country, and have done the hard work of pioneering. Many of them struggled hard to save money for their declining days, but were overtaken by misfortune, and found themselves unable to accumulate sufficient to keep them in comfort in their old age. They draw pensions, not because they are desirous of living on the charity of the country, but because they are entitled to anything the country can give them in return for the good work that they did in the early -days. The Government should seriously bear that in mind. I hope that, having dealt so liberally with the Public Service, the Government will deal liberally with the old-age and invalid pensioners. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro did not, I think, refer to the position of the blind. They, in my opinion, need more consideration than they receive, and I hope that when the law is amended they will be better provided for. Every blind person in Australia should be entitled to a pension, whether in an institution, and doing work, or not. A blind person may be able to earn a little money, but he cannot earn sufficient to give him the comfort and happiness that we desire for him. There can be no greater affliction than blindness. The number of blind persons in Australia is not very large, but that is a greater reason for giving their case generous consideration. I hope that the amending Bill will provide for them an allowance which will enable them to live in greater comfort than they can at present enjoy. There are two blind institutions in my division, which I have visited on many occasions. The blind are highly intelligent, and able to discuss almost any question that is brought forward. They spend their nights in being read to, and seem to be able to grasp ideas more quickly than persons whose visual faculties are unim- paired. I am very desirous of having them better provided for, and I am sure that the honorable member for EdenMonaro will assist me in getting what I want. Our aged people are very dear to me, and I feel sure that not only members on this side, but also honorable members opposite, will support the proposal to deal with them and with our blind friends more liberally. I hope that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro will not allow his motion to be lost sight of, but will press it to a division, and will use his influence with the Government to secure the introduction of a measure, even this session, which will grant the relief that he has asked for.
.- I am very glad that the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has brought forward this motion, and I advise the Treasurer to make a statement to the House of the Government’s intention in regard to it. This is a question which should be above party politics. No doubt we are all imbued with the highest humane ideals. There are in our midst persons who, in their declining days, find themselves in poor circumstances through no fault of their own. When the pension system was inaugurated in New South Wales thirteen or fourteen years ago, 10s. had as much purchasing power as 15s. has now, the prices of commodities and rents having increased so much. This Parliament has acted very generously towards the highly-paid public servants in increasing their salaries, and it has increased the wages paid to all Commonwealth workmen. The increase of wages brings about an increase in the prices of commodities, and our unfortunate invalid aud old-age pensioners have to battle against high rents and high prices, making it very difficult for them to support existence at all. This is a subject on which we should have short speeches, and come to a division very quickly. Honorable members on both sides are, I believe, agreeable that every consideration should be given to our old and invalid people. Money spent in this direction is money well spent, and it would be better to devote more to this object than to the very expensive naval and military system which we have initiated. The Government show no desire to cut down the defence expenditure, and they should certainly take into consideration those people who have made it possible for us to have a Navy at all. We have a splendid asset in our country, the wealth and revenue of which are increasing by leaps and bounds. The late Government left a surplus of £2,600,000, and I do not see a better way of spending that than in increasing the payments to our aged and invalid citizens. If the Government devoted £600,000 to increasing invalid and old-age pensions, they would still have £2,000,000 left of the Fisher surplus, and I am sure that their action would be indorsed by the people of the country. When the late Government proposed the maternity allowance, they were asked where the money was to come from; but they faced the position, and the public do not complain of the expenditure of £600,000 per annum which that allowance involves. I believe the allowance is approved by the country, and the present Government would doubtless obtain much political kudos, and strengthen their position, if they adopted the suggestion contained in the motion. I know that, personally, I should not attempt to make any political capital out of such a humanitarian act. The honorable member for Wimmera has a reputation as a generous citizen, and I have no doubt he will support the motion.
-Is it proposed to pay the extra amount out of borrowed money?
– Certainly not.
– All the revenue is hypothecated.
– I do not believe that half the money we are voting on the Works Estimates will be spent this financial year. The only idea of the Government in submitting such large votes is to have a surplus.
– Will the honorable member help me by suggesting what reductions we could make in the Estimates?
– The Speaker would rule me out of order if I were to attempt to deal with that matter. Our population is increasing every year, and also, of course, our revenue and commerce. The three years of the Fisher Government showed an increasing revenue, and we may anticipate the same under the present Government. If a referendum were taken, I firmly believe this proposal would be adopted by a majority of two to one. People are clamouring for more money on account of the high cost of living, and we know that on this ground the salaries of members of Parliament, and of the public servants, have been increased. This affords an argument, and a strong argument, for favorable consideration of the motion, for which, I am sure, we feel indebted to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. It is not a party question, and I hope we shall have an early division, so as to show that this House at any rate contains members who have some humanitarian feeling in their breasts.
. -I should be glad if honorable members would agree to postpone this motion for further consideration, because it is not one to be dealt with in a moment. I move -
That the debate be now adjourned.
Motion agreed to; debate adjourned.
Mr. SINCLAIR (Moreton) [4.32). -I move -
That a Royal Commission consisting of five members of this House should be appointed to inquire into and report upon -
the conduct of the Federal elections, 1913;
a better method of purifying the electoral rolls;
the prevention of plural voting or per sonation at elections;
a more perfect system of conducting. elections.
The time has arrived, I think, when the people of Australia demand an up-to-date Electoral Act. My object in submitting this motion is not so much to go into the past as to endeavour to formulate a scheme suitable to the electors of Australia ; past history will be appealed to by me only in order to find a way of avoiding mistakes in the future. It will be admitted by both parties that the party machine is grinding fairly hard at the present time, and that it is impossible to consider any large and important questions on their merits, with the result that they have to be set aside. Candidates are in many instances selected by a small junta, or selection committee, and they having received the stamp of approval of the party, the great bulk of the electors must either vote the party ticket or be defeated at. the polls. Some system could surely be adopted whereby the electors can give expression to their opinions without fear of their party being defeated. As to preferential voting, I have an open mind. I have never yet been able to bring myself to think that preferential voting is faultless, or even that it is the best system. It may, of course, be the best, but, at any rate, some system should, and no doubt could, be devised whereby a true reflex of the minds of the people of Australia could be shown in this House. There are many considerations that are, perhaps, as important, if not more important, than those of party. There is, for instance, the question of the Tariff, which has the effect of splitting up parties. Both sides of the House are trying to console themselves with the idea that the fiscal issue has been sunk.
– If it would, I should be pleased to have the proposal considered.
-Would the honorable member be prepared to support it?
-I do not say that I would. . I am not prepared at the present time to support preferential voting, but I am prepared to give every consideration to the evidence of experts of experience, to see whether they can substantiate their claims in support of that method or in support of the referendum and recall. As to . the fiscal issue, we parliamentarians may sink it, but I question whether the people of Australia are prepared to do so. Indeed, I do not see any reason why they should be asked to sink the issue, if some machinery can be devised to enable them, not only to vote on party lines, but also to vote on that issue and other large questions which come up from time to time. Many a man is put up as a candidate who is notpopular, but his party feel that they cannot jeopardize the seat by splitting the vote, much as they would like to have some one else to represent them. I have had some experience of preferential voting, and it has not made me enamoured of it, while I have also seen the exhaustive ballot tried under similar conditions, and fail. Then there is the question of allowing every elector who can enrol to exercise the franchise. Provision is made to some extent in the Electoral Bill now before the House to effect this purpose by restoring the postal vote, and, I believe, that if that vote can be properly safe guarded, honorable members on both sides will be prepared to agree to its restoration.
– No one on this side will agree to it.
– I have heard honorable members on the Opposition side say that they would agree to the restoration of the postal vote if properly safeguarded, and I regret that the honorable member should speak as he has done. It shows narrow-mindedness for any honorable member to say that he will not extend to the people of Australia the right to vote, and properly safeguard it. According to the Honorary Minister, there were at the last elections 77,000 people who were disfranchised through the abolition of the postal vote, owing to their being ill, or infirm, or too far removed from polling booths to vote personally. I have no desire to discuss the Electoral Bill, but I feel quite satisfied that even the honorable member for Oxley would not object to an inquiry into the matter to see if some safeguard cannot be established, so that the sick and infirm, and out-back settlers can have the postal vote restored to them.
– Do you not think that the Electoral Bill should be postponed until such inquiry is made?
– There is a good deal of argument in favour of what the honorable member suggests. The question of enrolment also needs some consideration. Means should be provided whereby all electors entitled to be enrolled should get their names on the roll with the least possible trouble and friction, and electors should be made to feel reasonably secure that when their names are enrolled they will not be erased for any trivial cause. There should be no stuffing of rolls. I cannot accept the statement made by the honorable member for Wide Bay, that there must necessarily be inflated rolls. There is room for improvement with regard to the removal of names. I think persons’ names should be kept on the rolls for more than a month after they leave a particular district, that is, until they are satisfied where their new residences are to be permanently fixed, and it seems to me a very unfair thing on our part to adopt the provision that any person who leaves a district for over a month- must have his name erased.
– And then we prosecute them for not being on the roll.
– While we make every provision for enrolment, I think we should also make every provision to see that the rolls are kept pure, and that there is no duplication. I regretted very much to read the remarks of Senator Barnes, a few weeks ago, at Prahran. He said it would be - necessary for the supporters of the Labour cause to watch the rolls and see that names were not struck off without proper cause.
I have no objection to that. It is the right of every one, even political organizations, to watch the rolls. But I take exception to these remarks -
It would be quite easy for a registrar to write out a card and lose it, and the person objected to would thus know nothing about it.
I believe that we have, in our Electoral Department, men who are anxious to carry out their duties in a fair way, and I have no desire to cast any reflection on the officers of the Department. In fact, I think, generally speaking, the people of Australia, in their calm moments, are ready for a fair deal in regard to electoral matters. I admit that at election time people get excited and, perhaps, do things and say things which, upon calm reflection, they will not do or say.I do not think that any Electoral Registrar in the Commonwealth would make out a card for the purpose of losing it. Under the Act passed in 1911, an elector can have his name enrolled a number of times if he wishes. Though this may not be responsible for the inflated state of the rolls, it appears to be beyond all doubt that they are inflated. There is abundant evidence that they contain a number of names that should not appear on them. The adult population of Queensland, on 31st March last, could not possibly exceed 323,000, yet there were 363,057 names on the Commonwealth rolls on 23rd April. I have worked out these figures myself. They do not quite agree with some of those worked out by others with regard to the inflation of the rolls, but I venture to say they are not far from being correct. I have not gone into the deductions that should be made for lunatics, prisoners, and so on; but, calculating on the adult population of 52 per cent., we should have 323,000 electors for Queensland. On the same basis, the adult population of Victoria would be 729,890, but the enrol ment was 830,286, an excess of 100,396. Again, the Commonwealth adult population should be 2,492,512, but the enrolment was 2,758,394, or an excess of 265,872.
– Your figures do not agree with the figures given by Mr. Knibbs.
– It is my own calculation, based on the last census taken in 1911, and brought up to date by the Commonwealth Statistician. I know that he estimates the inflation at 175,000. Let me now read an extract from a speech made by Mr. J. G. Appel, Home Secretary for Queensland. The speech was delivered in the Queensland Parliament. Time will not permit me to give the whole of the speech. I shall read just one extract with regard to the Commonwealth Electoral Division of Oxley. I may say that Mr. Appel had the assistance of Mr. Thornhill Weedon, the State Statistician, in making his calculation. The extract reads -
Or 24.27 per cent. increase.
The excess is one-third of the increase of population for the whole State, according to the Government Statistician. . . . The most remarkable thing in that connexion is that, taking the State roils, which I venture to say are nearly as perfect as it is possible for them to be-
Opposition Members. - No !
The HOME SECRETARY. - As nearly perfect as it is possible to make them, and the number of electors on the State roll for Oxley is 30,550.
I do not wish to delay the House, but I would urge that every effort should be made to prevent double voting. The recent scrutiny of the rolls was of very little help to candidates in finding out whether there was double voting. When the scrutiny was authorized, I asked the Electoral Officer to allow candidates’ scrutineers to mark the roll to see who had voted. I fought strenuously for this, but, in common with every candidate throughout
Australia, was refused the right to see the marked roll. I cannot see what possible harm would be done by allowing candidates to ascertain who had voted. It certainly would not involve any violation of the secrecy of the ballot. Hundreds of residents in my division were away in the Old Country, and did not vote at all.
– The honorable member cannot say that they would have voted for him had they been here.
– That is immaterial; but what I could have told, if I had seen a marked roll, was whether or not others had voted in their names. The Electoral Act of 1911 made it quite easy for persons to vote more than once. I desire now to call attention to a circular headed “ Confidential circular, for information of presiding officers,” which was sent out by the Department on 4th January, 1911, just prior to the referenda. I have a decided objection to the reading of confidential circulars, but I think that that which I am about to quote has already been laid on the table of the House and embodied in our records. The circular reads -
Advice has been obtained that an elector does not lose bis right to vote because some one personating him has voted in his name, and therefore an elector who, not having already voted at the elections or referendum, claims to vote, and answers satisfactorily the questions put to him by the presiding officer, is entitled to vote, notwithstanding that some one else has voted in his name, and his name has been marked off on the list of voters. Presiding officers should act upon this advice should occasion arise, but it is not necessary or desirable that it be promulgated for public information.
That being the law of the land, every elector had, in my opinion, a right to know it. A similar circular was sent out just prior to the last general elections. Honorable members will recollect that, when the amending Bill was before us in 1911, the honorable member for Maribyrnong expressed great indignation because some one had issued a paper showing the electors how to vote.
– It was supposed to be a facsimile of the ballot-paper.
– It was not a facsimile, and the objection was that it was misleading.
– It contained the statement, “If you do not vote in this way, your vote will be informal.”
– That is so. To prevent such papers being issued in the future, the principal Act was so amended as to provide that - .
In addition to bribery and undue influence, the following shall be illegal practices : -
There is a proviso that candidates may issue printed cards showing electors how to vote, this permission being given, I understand, because it was thought that there would be no likelihood of a card being mistaken for a. ballot-paper. As the Labour party were responsible for this so-called reform, they should have been the first to observe it, but, as a matter of fact, they did not. I have here the “ How to vote papers, which were issued by the Labour party in Queensland.
– They were very useful, too.
– They were, from the point of view of the honorable member’s party. The papers showing how to vote on the referenda questions were almost facsimiles of the ballot-papers. They were the same in colour, and almost the same in wording as the ballot-papers. I received a set of these papers, and on21st May I wrote to the Electoral Officer as follows -
Dear Sir, - I enclose herewith copy of “ How to Vote” papers being issued by the Labour candidates in the Oxley Federal Division. These appear to me to be contrary to the provisions of the Electoral Act, especially the referenda one. I would be pleased to know if they are in order, as my committee are anxious to distribute similar papers, but haverefrained doing so on my advice.
Thanking you in anticipation of a prompt reply,
The Electoral Officer in Queensland sent these papers to the Chief Electoral Officer, who, in turn, forwarded them to the Crown Law Officer for advice. The Crown Law Officer gave a decision, which has not yet been made public, and sent on the papers to the Attorney- General for action or advice. The AttorneyGeneral of that day - the honorable member for West Sydney - has not yet given his opinion to the Department, but he did give an opinion to his party in Queensland, which caused them to withdraw the first issue of these papers, and to substitute another which was almost the same. I think I had just as much right to receive the Attorney-General’s advice as the Labour party in Queensland had.
– Was any action taken?
– No action has yet been taken. I invite honorable members to examine these papers for themselves, and to say whether they are not dangerously near to, if not an absolute infringement of, the Act. The effect of their use, in one instance at least, was to disfranchise a lady who, it was thought, intended to vote for me. It is difficult to point to specific cases, but this is one. The lady in question went to vote at Silkstone, and was handed a set of these papers by workers for the Labour party. She was told that all she had to do in order to record her vote was to put them in the ballot-box, and that is all she did. Hearing of what had happened, I had my scrutineer on the watch for the papers, and here is a paper which represents the vote cast for me by this lady at the last general elections.
– How did the honorable member get it?
– My scrutineer got it out of the ballot-box.
– That is a serious statement - that the honorable member’s scrutineer stole papers out of the ballot-box.
– That is not so. The incident proves the necessity of having a scrutineer. My scrutineer not only got this paper, but several others.
– Who is this wholesale thief of ballot-papers?
– If the honorable member will assist me to obtain this inquiry, I shall be able to give him a lot of information.
– We want an inquiry as to how the honorable member’s scrutineer was able to steal ballot-papers.
– It was not a ballotpaper, but a “ How to vote “ paper issued by the Labour party, and used to deceive one of my supporters.
– The presiding officer had no right to give the honorable member’s scrutineer that paper.
– Everything in the ballot-box which was not a ballot-paper was discarded by the Divisional Returning
Officer, and my scrutineer, acting under my instructions, kept his eyes open and picked up this paper as soon as it was thrown on the floor. I think I have made it sufficiently clear that the Act has been infringed; that the Labour party which amended the law two years ago with a view of preventing the use of electioneering papers likely to mislead, were the first to use them, and that they used them in a wholesale way reflecting discredit upon them. Other irregularities due to the hurried nature of the elections also occurred. To these I do not take any great exception, but I would point out that it is within the power of the House to remove the cause. The public are under the impression that honorable members receive £600 per annum, whereas from the date of the dissolution of Parliament until our re-election we are not paid anything. The ex-Minister of Home Affairs had in view the very laudable object of seeing, as he told me, that the ‘ Christians should not be too long without their money,” and he therefore hurried on the general election. I am not. willing to sacrifice efficiency, even for my own benefit, but it would be a fair thing to amend the Parliamentary Allowance Act to allow the sitting member to draw his allowance until his successor is elected. If that amendment of the law were made, we could have an interval of three months, if necessary, between the dissolution of Parliament and the election, which would give the officers of the Electoral Department time to make their arrangements perfect. They had hardly sufficient time on the last occasion.
– If what the honorable member suggests were done, a sitting member would be fighting his opponent with the nation’s money.
– I do not think so. The sitting member must perform the duties of his position until his successor has been elected, and during an election campaign has more work to do than falls to his share at any other time, because he comes into contact with so many persons, and is thus asked to attend to many things which would otherwise not be brought under his notice. At the last election, for some unexplained reason, the ballot-boxes used in Queensland were made in Victoria. They arrived in Brisbane by steamer on the 5th May, but, that being a holiday on which the wharf labourers were not working, were taken up the north coast, and did not get back until the 16th May. As it takes three weeks, and even more, to reach some parts of the Kennedy division, the House can imagine the bustle that there was to get the boxes distributed throughout the State in time for the election. It is surprising that there were so few irregularities and mistakes, but there were some. The absent voting provision was responsible for a good deal of trouble. In my opinion, absent voting is a good thing, and should be retained. Rut the electoral officers, and not the general public, as happened .in some cases, should have charge of the polling booths. Quite a number of persons were unable to vote because of the shortage of ballot-papers. At Mount Crosby an elector told me that he found it impossible to get into the polling booth in the morning, and therefore could not record his vote. As to what happened at Oxley, which is on the border of the Oxley and Moreton divisions, a great part being in one, and the balance in the other, I have had this letter from a friend. He says -
I got out of bed yesterday, and went to Oxley to vote, at about 2 p.m., only to find that the presiding officer there had only been supplied with five absentee declaration forms. The presiding officer applied to his superior at Sherwood, and that official is supposed to have forwarded an application to Brisbane for forms. David Hunter also visited Oxley in a motor, and took away an application for forms. Attempts were also made to get forms at other booths, but all were short. We were all satisfied the authorities would send the forms, but they did not arrive - at least they had not arrived when I left, at £ p.m. Finally, I had to drive to Cooper’s Plains in the cold westerly wind at considerable personal risk. I managed to get about a dozen voters to the Plains, but you lost at least twenty more around here. Oxley residents are very indignant over the matter. . . . There is a lot of sickness about here, and old folks, who would have gone the few yards to Oxley, would not face the 3 miles or more to the Plains.
– -Coorinda is the polling place nearest to Oxley. Over 100 absent voting papers were returned from that booth on Monday morning.
– Coorinda is not in the Moreton division. My correspondent refers to the afternoon between 2 and 5 p.m. There was a shortage of ballotpapers also at Blenheim. The presiding officer there sent to Laidley for 100 voting papers, which were taken out to him, but in the afternoon they were short at
Laidley, and had to send to Forest Hill, and consequently for three hours could do nothing. A gentleman named Hunter went to the presiding officer at Kangaroo Point, or to some other place in the Oxley division, and got 100 ballotpapers without being required to sign any acknowledgment. They were simply handed to him, and he took them to the officer for whom they were intended. That was a loose way of doing business. A great many irregularities occurred, of some of which there is definite proof, while others can be supported only by hearsay evidence, with which I do not wish to deal. I think that I have made out a case for investigation, and do not wish to labour the matter further. It may not be usual to nominate the members of a Commission, but I would suggest the appointment of the honorable members for Denison, Melbourne, Wakefield, and Hume, together with the mover.
.- I support the motion, because, if ever there was a time when an inquiry was needed it is now. There have been wholesale charges of irregularity, though no evidence in support of them. An example of that has been given this afternoon. The honorable member for Moreton exhibited a dummy ballot-paper, which he says his scrutineer picked up on the floor of a polling booth. He alleged that the party to which I belong informed a lady that all she had to do was to go to the polling booth and drop this paper in the ballot-box. The honorable member told his scrutineer to be on the look-out for it, and by some mysterious means it came into his possession. What evidence is that to bring before the House? What proof is there that the scrutineer did not mark this imitation ballot-paper himself, and hand it to the honorable member, saying, “ This is what the dreadful Labour party have done.” The story is so palpably thin that I am astonished that it was introduced as evidence of an irregularity.
– Does the honorable member uphold the infringement of the law?
– I would not uphold any infringement of the law, but the story would not be accepted as evidence in any” Court.
– I can produce the lady.
– That would not prove anything. I should like the motion to be amended by the addition of the following paragraph -
Statements have been made to that effect by honorable members opposite, but we have had no evidence in support of them. We have heard nothing from the Chief Electoral Officer to show that they are true. I should like also to add this paragraph -
There has been only one electoral Select Committee since the Commonwealth was established, and it was on the recommendations of that Committee, of which I was a member, that the first Electoral Act was framed. It is absolutely essential that an inquiry should be undertaken forthwith. If the Government are sincere in their desire for legitimate reform, why should they burke an inquiry of this character ? If they have any evidence, they have not given the House the advantage of it in regard to the alleged irregularities at the recent election. There have been charges galore, but the inquiries instituted by the Liberal party themselves disclosed nothing, and the Chief Electoral Officer, in his report, practically disposes of the allegations that were made. In that report it is pointed out that the errors probably do not amount to more than three in 1,000, and that apparent duplicate voting was accounted for by the ^act of different persons of exactly similar names being on the rolls and wrongly ticked off - that the facts pointed more to clerical errors than wilful acts. In the interests of the electors, who have been maligned in every part of the Continent, there should be a most drastic and searching inquiry. If there are irregularities, let us put an end to them, but do not condemn the whole body of electors upon the mere gossip of irresponsible persons, especially in the face of the testimony of the Chief Electoral Officer that he knows of none. In my opinion, the Government ought to postpone the further consideration of the Electoral Bill until such evidence as could be elicited by an inquiry enables them to bring down an up-to-date measure. I suppose, however, that the honorable member for Moreton has no assurance from the Government to that effect. The first Select Committee, to which I have referred, consisted of seven members, and, as they were not paid for their services, the cost to the country was only that incurred by a visit to Sydney. The report was produced in reasonable time, and on that report the present Minister of Trade and Customs, as the then Minister of Home Affairs, framed the Electoral Act on which the second election was held. We have had the broad statement that 77,000 odd persons, who were ill and incapacitated, were disfranchised by the abolition of the postal vote. As to that number being ill and incapacitated, the statement is absolutely incorrect, and yet it has been made over and over again. If a reasonable proposal to restore the postal vote, with proper safeguards for the secrecy of the ballot, is made, I shall support it, but I cannot consent to that privilege being accorded on broad, indefinite statements, such as we have had in this House and in the newspapers time and again. Every inquiry made, so far, has cleared the character of the people, and not one scintilla of evidence can the AttorneyGeneral produce that there were any irregularities or anything but that which might be expected at election time. It is unfair to the electors to charge them with all these political crimes, in the absence of any evidence.
– The honorable member does not connect me with those accusations ?
– No, I do not.
– I asked the question because you mentioned me.
– The AttorneyGeneral asked for certain returns in connexion with the matter, and on every occasion he has clearly said that he makes no charge.
– Senator McColl is making charges to-day.
– It was Senator McColl who saidthe dead were taken out of the grave to vote. I look on the ballotbox as too sacred a thing to be interfered with in the way alleged; but, on the other hand, the honour of the electors ought not to be impugned on irresponsible gossip. I feel confident that if a Royal Commission be appointed the character of the electors will be thoroughly vindi- cated, because- I do not believe that one irregularity could be proved. There were charges of duplication made in my own district, but they were proved groundless. One lady was supposed to have voted at Hergott Springs, and to have also voted, at another place over 100 miles away, although there was no railway or other quick means of communication. The explanation was that another person of exactly the same name, who did not vote at all, was ticked off as having voted. In another case a highly respectable farmer voted as an absent voter in Adelaide, and was also supposed to have voted at Tumby Bay, although the ocean lay between, with no steam service at the time; in fact, it was impossible for him to have done so. The explanation in this case was that his nephew, of the same name, John Calderwood, had voted at Tumby Bay in person. In every case I found that the supposed duplication was an error on the part of the clerk. I have filled the position of scrutineer many times, and I defy any man to go through the whole of the day’s work without making some mistake. As we know, the Chief Electoral Officer admits that three errors in every 1,000 votes are not unreasonable under the pressure, especially when, as on the last occasion, something like 80 per cent, of the people polled. I shall support the motion.
– I support the motion because so much has been said that we ought to clear the atmosphere. I disagree with the conclusion of the honorable member for Grey, who contends that, because the inquiries that have been made are not very conclusive or clear, therefore there were no informalities or irregularities. Everybody knows that the rolls were in a rotten state.
– That has to be proved.
– I have had a little experience of rolls, and I can say that those of New South Wales were very bad. Of course, I am not taking any exception to what happened, because we were all elected. I should like this inquiry to cover the appointment of those who are placed in charge of the various districts. The present system is to appoint the postmaster as the Returning Officer, though he may be only a temporary or relieving man, with no experience of the duties. Why should we not’ have permanent men, so that the experience of one election will prove profitable at the next?
– Some of the postmasters are very good men.
– Quite so ; I am casting no reflection upon them. All I can say is that the experience of the honorable member, and others, are a revelation to me; we are infants compared to them. I should not like to put up for a constituency in South Australia or Queensland after what I have heard. One Queensland honorable member has charged another with “ working the oracle,” and yet the former has managed to secure something out of the ballot-box. Those honorable members know so much that if they will start a kindergarten, I shall be glad to attend.
– And so shall II
– I hope that if this Commission is appointed it will be above party suspicion, and composed .of men in this House in whom we have confidence. Charges have been flung around, and we are all agreed that some inquiry is necessary. There were some very curious things- at the last election; and I could tell some stories if I felt inclined. There were some duplications in my district, but, as they were the names of ladies and gentlemen who supported me, I went no further; besides, I knew they were above suspicion . I rose to support the motion for the appointment of this committee or commission. I hope it will be a body that will give satisfaction. I hope it will be one that we can have confidence in, and one without party bias. We are not so much concerned with the last election. What we wish the committee to demonstrate is what should be done in regard to the next election, which is probably not far off. Perhaps it would be well if this committee could recommend that Parliament be elected for five years, because in the present circumstances no sooner are we through one election than we are faced with another.
.- I support the motion to appoint a commission to inquire into elections, because it is absolutely necessary to have some inquiry, and if the Government have any consideration for the people of Australia and any regard to the slanderous statements made by many of their supporters, it. is only fair that they should grant the request of the honorable member. No honorable member was- subjected to as much criticism as was directed towards me. The honorable member for Moreton knows that all the statements appearing in the press were absolutely untrue. That is borne out by the recent scrutiny of the rolls in my electorate. On account of the Oxley seat having been held by a Liberal from the inception of Federation, and because I secured a majority of 3,000, the press had to say something, and one of the statements made was that after the rolls were scrutinized it would be found that about 1 votes was recorded for every elector on the roll. As a matter of fact, there were 38,238 names on the roll for the Oxley division, and the number of votes recorded at the election was 31,372 - a percentage of 82. The honorable member for Moreton has referred to a statement made in the Queens-, land Parliament by Mr. Appel, but Mr. Appel’s statement was made in ignorance of what was likely to happen. It was made on the Tuesday following the election, and Mr. Appel could not be in the position then to make a proper statement concerning the election. However, that is only characteristic of many statements Mr. Appel makes, and I do not think much notice need be taken of it. I am sorry the honorable member for Moreton attached any importance to’ it. He must know that it was afterwards found to be absolutely untrue.
– You are unfair to Mr. Appel; he based his statement on the information supplied by Mr. Weedon, the State Statistician.
– It was unfair to me, because the charge was practically against my election. It made out that there was something dishonest in the votes recorded for me. If Mr. Weedon supplied the figures, as the honorable member for Moreton says, then I maintain that he was not in a position to supply them. They were Federal figures in connexion with a Federal office, and he was not in a position to supply them to Mr. Appel. However, that is merely by the way. I wish to refer to the postal vote that the honorable member for Moreton seeks to have restored. I think every member ot the Opposition is agreeable to the appointment of a committee as suggested by the honorable member, and, seeing the many statements made in reference to the late election, the Government should not hesitate to assist the honorable member in bringing about what he desires, but when consideration is given to the pro- posal to restore the postal vote, I hope it will be bumped out. I agree with the honorable member for Moreton that the absent vote was of great service at the last election, and that it is of as much value as the postal vote. In fact, I consider it is of more value, and that it will give more satisfaction.
– Do you not think that the sick are. entitled to vote ?
– I am prepared to give the sick people a vote, but they are the only people whom I would allow to vote by post. I am agreeable to the introduction of a system that will allow the sick people to vote by post, but only on the certificates of doctors or nurses. I have seen the postal vote used in so many ways that I cannot agree to its restoration. People are enabled to do so many things by means of the postal vote, things which they can do only by means of it, that I do not consider it would be’ wise to adopt the system again.
– It is the rich man’s Moses.
– It is the man who has the most money that can get votes by aid of the postal vote, and I hope the clause in the Electoral Bill seeking to restore it will not be passed by this Chamber.
– The honorable member must not discuss the Electoral Bill.
– The honorable member is slandering the people of Australia by saying that they are susceptible to money.
– It is no greater slander than has been cast on the people of Australia by members of the honorable member’s party. We have had an experience of the postal vote in Queensland. It is the man who has the most money who gets most of these votes’. However, I merely wished to refer to the postal vote because the honorable member for Moreton has done so, and I thought I had the same privilege.
– Honorable members can make passing references to the Electoral Bill, but must not discuss its merits or provisions. In this case the honorable member specifically referred to a clause in the Electoral Bill.
– The honorable member for Moreton also referred to enrolments. The rolls, at the last election, were not as perfect as I would have liked to see them, because there were not sufficient officers to have many of the names that were wrongly on the rolls removed. There was not time for the officers to purify the rolls before they were sent along to the printer. But I do not think that mattered very much, so far as the last election was concerned, judging by the result of the scrutiny. That scrutiny proved that people of Australia are decidedly honest in electoral matters. I claim th’at there was not a single duplication during the whole of the election. The records, furnished as the result of the scrutiny, are those of mistakes in every case. I think the highest number of alleged duplications in any division was 140. The -result of the inquiry was a great tribute to the honesty of the people of Australia. I would be prepared, after the closing of the rolls, to put on additional clerks for the purpose of clearing them up, and thus removing some of the criticism that came about after the late election. That is the only thing that need be done in connexion with the rolls. I do not think the Act needs amending to any great extent, except to give the sick and invalid people the opportunity of voting. Further than that, the Act does not require any considerable amendment. I have nothing further to say, except to tell the honorable member for Moreton that he has my whole-hearted support in bringing about this inquiry.
– I quite agree with the honorable member for Moreton. I am glad he has brought on. this motion, because I think the comments on the recent election were a great reflection on me, as the Minister then in control of the Electoral Department. In fact, it was made to appear that I did nothing but scheme and plan to corrupt the whole of the voters of Australia.
– I did not make that charge.
– Nobody has said it. To blacken a woman’s character you do not need to charge her directly with crime. You have only to throw out your insinuations, and the neighbours will do the rest. If ever a man tried to make a perfect roll I did when I was Minister; if ever a man tried to get the Department up-to-date, and put it on a business scale, I did; but I at once confess that when a man goes into that De partment ha has to take things as he finds them. To get a Returning Officer, we must secure the services of a magistrate or a postmaster, who usually has all the work he can possibly do. Then the postmaster has to get another man, and that other man can devote only a little time at nights to electoral matters. He is too busy otherwise. These people have to make their living. I at once saw the weakness of this system. But another weakness is that the Minister cannot get the money he requires for the Department. It is all a question of finance. If the Minister goes to the Treasurer, he finds that the Treasurer wants a surplus. Every Treasurer believes that he must make his reputation by having a surplus, so certain sections, certain districts, and certain activities are starved in order to gain that end. I am glad this motion has been brought on, apart from this nonsense about corruption, because I believe that we have to deal with a number of partisan’s. When I was stumping the country many people who said they could not read or write told me that they went to certain polling booths to vote in favour of the referenda questions, yet at those -polling places not a vote Was given in favour of the referenda. Those people told me that they could not read or write, but I am not going to say that the men in charge, because they were partisans, took care not to let these men and women vote for the referenda. These are the sort of stories - the “ flyers “ - one hears. Some one gives a ‘ flyer “ a start, and it keeps on flying and gathering force, like a snowball rolling down the “ Rockies “ ; which, by the time it reaches the bottom, is so big that you would want the whole nation to shovel it away. That is precisely the position in regard to many of these electioneering stories. I claim that the Royal Commission, if appointed, would bring up a report which must have a beneficial influence upon our electoral system. It would go into the whole question, apart from the consideration of stories and slanders, and would recommend a system that must prove of benefit to the people. I take the view that we should have a permanent Returning Officer in each division, and that we should do away with the printed rolls. My three years’ experience as a Minister teaches me that the £12,000 to £15,000 spent on printing the rolls is an absolute waste of money, because they are really antiquated before they leave the printing machine. I should be prepared to give evidence before the Commission in favour of the appointment of a permanent Returning Officer at a salary of £200 or £250 a year, in each division. These permanent officers would cost less than -we pay at present to print what are really useless rolls. We should substitute for the printed rolls index cards such as are used in some of the States of America.
– They might suit the purposes of the Electoral Office, but what about those outside who desire to know who are qualified to vote?
– “Under such a system, every person seeking enrolment would sign two cards instead of one, as at present. One of these cards would be retained in the Central Office, while the other would be sent to the Returning Officer of the division in respect of which the person claimed the right to vote. The relation of the Divisional Returning Officer to the Chief Electoral Officer would be very like that of principal and agent. When I represented certain corporations, I had agents in different districts. I required them to live there, and to become acquainted with the people, so that they could introduce me to them, and it was my business to secure the fellow whom they could not secure. Why should we not be able to run the Electoral Department on the same lines ? In this way alone shall we be able to secure a satisfactory system. Mr. Oldham is a splendid officer, and is absolutely impartial. There is no politics in him. If he has any leaning at all, it is to the other side, but as to that I have nothing to say. I am satisfied that his one desire is to do the right thing, but he also is hampered by want of money. Under my scheme, he would visit each division, and interview the permanent Returning Officer, whose headquarters would be the post-office in the principal town of the electorate. Steps would be taken to see that the name of every person over twentyone years of age was recorded. The Department at present is costing us £30,000 or £40,000 a year. I believe that we are paying from £25,000 to £28,000 a year to our Registrars. Are we doing this merely for fun ? If we are, then we ought to abolish the system, and let it disappear once and for all. With perma nent Returning Officers in each division, we should have a system of exchanges. When a man changed his place of residence, and sought to have his name placed on the records, the Returning Officer for the division from which he had shifted would take his card out of the index box, and send it on to the Returning Officer for the division to which he had removed.
– Suppose the man who had shifted did not’ apply for enrolment in respect of his new division ?
– Then he would be prosecuted. Is it not strange that, although we have society, wealth, luxury, and prejudice helping to keep people off the rolls, we have a law declaring that those who are not enrolled shall be liable to prosecution and punishment? Just as a man, before he puts his money into an investment, examines the proposition from every side, so should we examine our electoral system. Under my scheme, the Returning Officer in each division’ would make a tour of inspection from time to time, would interview his officers, and would also avail himself of the assistance of the police in seeing that all the people entitled to vote were enrolled. I would provide for compulsory voting as well as for compulsory enrolment, and I also think that the Commonwealth Government should provide vehicles to convey to the poll those who are living in country districts, and who are some distance from the nearest polling place. The Commonwealth should also pay for scrutineers. I would make a regular business of the whole thing. Election day is the greatest in the year. Is it not the day on which the people create the machine that has to carry on the whole system of government ?
– Hear, hear ! It is the foundation of the system.
– It is the foundation of the nation’s prosperity, integrity, and progress. The name of every man and woman entitled to vote in respect of a division would be indexed aider the card system, and the cards would be kept in boxes and sent out by the Returning Officer to the various polling places to which they related. I would have separate boxes for those who came forward and said that, although they were over twenty-one years of age, their names were not on the list. If a man made an affidavit to that effect, I would require him to place his signature on an index-card, which would be put in a separate box, and later on, if necessary, the position in regard to such persons could be investigated. The permanent Returning Officers should be strictly nonpartisan. We must not forget that an honest ballot is the life’s blood of a pure community. If ever people on either side tried to corrupt the ballot, or to secure their return by votes that ought not to be cast, the hopes of this nation would be quickly destroyed, and it would not be long before we had a name like that which Tammany Hall has made for itself in New York. I can remember that, in the case of one election there were 12,000 people on the roll, and 28,000 voted. We cannot beat that in this country. I told my constituents that if it could be shown that 300 votes had been improperly cast for me I would resign. I am glad that this motion has been brought forward by the honorable member for More ton. I hope that the Government will accept it, and that the further consideration of the Electoral Bill will be postponed until we have the report of this Commission. After all, the Electoral Bill is only a spite Bill. It has a lot of spitfire in it, but no real essence. Honorable members on both sides should come together, with the object of passing such an Electoral Bill as will be for all time a benefit and a blessing to Australia. I recognise that we can never get a perfect electoral system, because perfection cannot come out of imperfection. In this matter we have to deal with human beings, and whether they are born in Australia, America, or anywhere else, they have all passed through the same mould. I heard the honorable memberfor Robertson speaking the other day on the question of nationality. He said that he was born in Australia, and I was glad to hear it. Then he said he was a self-made man, and I was very glad to hear that, too, because it relieved the Almighty of a tremendous responsibility. It is a matter of no importance where a man is born. . Human nature is the same all the world over. Let the Committee make suggestions. I do not say that my scheme is perfect. If a man wishes to vote, saying that his name is John Williams, and he has apparently been personated, the Returning Officer should ask him for his signature, and at once compare it with that on the claim card, allowing him to vote if the two appear alike. I hope that the Government will put aside the Electoral Bill until we can get a report from the Committee, and that then both sides will come together, so that we can provide for clean elections, and not have chargesmade by defeated parties after each campaign. I know that when a man is defeated he feels bad. At one time, in South Australia, I was defeated by fourteen votes, although we polled 98 per cent, of the names on the roll, emptying the cradles and the graves. I felt bad on that occasion, but I made no charges. I told them that within two years I would be either in this House or in the House of Commons, and I came here.
– It seems to be the general desire of honorable members opposite that electoral matters shall be inquired into, and there is an equally ardent desire on this side, both parties appearing to be of one mind on this, occasion. The honorable member for Darwin spoke of the Electoral Bill as “ a spite Bill,” but may I remind him that it provides for the very machinery he suggests, though it does not go quite so far. It provides for the appointment of quite a number of electoral inspectors to go through the country, as he suggests, seeing that the electoral machinery is kept efficient. That is one of the main proposals of the Bill.
-Would the honorable member put an inspector into each division ?
– All these matters are governed by considerations of finance. The electoral machinery could be made so expensive as to almost bankrupt the country. One has to be very careful as to the statements one makes, if only for financial reasons. But the electoral machinery must be put into a better state. The fundamental trouble now is that at each election we have to rely on a lot of scratch appointments. The men appointed are not experts, and in many cases do not know much about the electoral law. If there were a number of inspectors, devoting their whole time to instructing these persons in their duties, and disseminating information about electoral matters in every nook and corner, at the same time investigating the rolls and the whole machinery operating iu each electoral office, we should accomplish pretty well all that the honorable member for Darwin has suggested. We ^should have better business methods and more responsible control. No doubt, the postmasters do their very best, and give service far beyond what they are paid for. One cannot say a word to men like these, knowing the small sums which they receive and the tremendous responsibilities which they assume! It is the same with those who collect the rolls. But, speaking by and large, as a rule, in this world, you get what you pay for, what you buy in the market; that is, so far as the ordinary run of services is concerned. It applies to the service obtained from the man at the bottom, who works for a daily wage, right up the scale, to the man at the top, who receives a large salary.
– We do not pay the Chief Electoral Officer too much.
– I quite agree with the honorable member. We must make up our minds to spend a good deal more upon our electoral machinery before we can hope for smooth and efficient working. I doubt if it will ever be perfect, seeing that it has to be worked on election day by many hundreds of persons who for three years at a stretch have no connexion with it.
– I thought that the honorable member was going to exercise economy when he got into office?
– Extravagance In this matter is economy.
– Wise expenditure with a view to securing efficient service is the essence of economy. As both sides desire this inquiry, I shall not stand in the way of it. I am far from satisfied with things as they are. The Minister, worried with all the various cares and duties incidental to the control of a big Department, cannot properly undertake this investigation, and, therefore, _if the motion be carried - I shall offer no objection to it - the Government will try to make the Commission, or whatever body is appointed, fairly representative of the whole House, and as far removed as possible from a party composition. Some inquiry must be made to put an end to the trouble that occurs after each election, and to give the public a guarantee that the best business ability that can be pressed into this service is obtained by the Government. We shall make every effort to obtain as fair an inquiry as possible.
.- The promise of the Prime Minister to appoint a Royal Commission removes the necessity for continuing the debate. I wish to express my approval of the honorable gentleman’s suggestion that the Commission must be thoroughly representative. The somewhat innocent suggestion of the honorable member for Moreton that certain members whom he named, taking three from one side and two from the other, should make the inquiry, is a strange one, in view of the fact that there are thirty-seven members on each side of the House.
– He could not take two and a half members from each side.
– No; but it would be possible to take three members from each side. My idea is that the Prime Minister will understand that the Commission is not to be strictly confined in its scope by the wording of the motion; its investigation will have to be wider than is proposed by the honorable member for Moreton if it is to do what, honorable members on both sides desire. The inquiry must be one. at which none can cavil. All matters relating to the election and referenda of 1913 must be investigated. The Commissioners must inquire into, not merely the purification of the roll, but also the means of obtaining a perfect roll, and must ascertain, not only how names should be taken off the roll, but also what is the best system for putting them on the roll. I thank the Prime Minister for promising that the Commission shall be fairly representative of both sides. I see no reason why we should follow the old practice of having an unequal number of members. Seeing that political parties in this House and in the country are equally divided, it would give more satisfaction and result in a more acceptable report to have an even number of members, half representing each political party.
– Matters of this sort must rest with the Government.
– I recognise that, but the motion provides for a Commission of five; I do not think that the Government should feel compelled to appoint a Commission of five.
– The honorable member for Moreton does not insist on that.
– I suggest that the Government, in framing the Commission, should not consider itself strictly bound by the wording of the motion, but should provide for a full and complete investigation by a Commission thoroughly representative of this Chamber. The selection of the members of the Commission, and the determination of their duties, must be left to the Government.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate without request.
Bill returned from the Senate without amendment.
Sitting suspended from 6.28 to 7.45 p.m.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a third time.
It is very important that this Bill should be sent to the Senate as early as possible; and I do not say that for the sake of saying it, but because I believe it to be urgent and imperative. The works of the country, since the beginning ofJ uly, have been paid for out of Treasurer’s Advance - that is, works in hand; and new works have not yet been begun, or, at any rate, to a very small extent. The Treasurer’s Advance is exhausted, and a temporary Supply Bill will have to be on the table on Tuesday next, and I do not wish to ask for more Treasurer’s Advance funds for public works. It is very inconvenient that we should not have an appropriation for works and buildings. For some reason or other, a great deal of time has been taken over this Bill.
– It is the Treasurer’s own fault, for not giving information.
– I do not think that is the reason for the delay; certainly it was not the reason why we were kept here for hours last night by two members of the Opposition. It seems to me that the parliamentary machine requires alteration when two honorable members cans detain the whole House for hours in that way. However, I now merely desire to impress on honorable members that it is very necessary this appropriation should be agreed to; and I hope the third reading will be passed as soon as possible.
.- The third reading of thisBill cannot be permitted until some comment has been offered on what transpired in the previous stages, so that different statements made by honorable members may be cleared up as far as possible. I assure the Treasurer that the Opposition have absolutely no desire to delay the passage of the Bill, and there does not appear on record any indication of such a desire. The mere fact that honorable members have exercised their undoubted right to criticise the items of expenditure, and to deal generally with the provisions of the Bill, is no indication of any wish to even temporarily harass the Government. Surely the Treasurer does not suggest that we should quietly grant his permission to embark on an expenditure of some £3,260,000 without seeking for information - though certainly we were not able to obtain any - or without criticism, if the direction in which it is proposed to expend the money does not meet with unanimous approval ? As it happens, there is not that unanimous approval, and, consequently, some criticism has been offered. I regret to say that we sought in vain for information. Even one or two members opposite were unable to obtain that information they desired, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro was moved, in his disappointment and wrath, to refer to a portion of the Estimates of the Government he supports as amounting to a “public scandal.” These are exceptionally strong words from a supporter, and, in the circumstances, we are justified in the action we have taken. On the second reading, it was the duty of the Leader of the Opposition to call attention to the proposed increases in the staff at Garden Island and in the staff at Cockatoo Island. The right honorable member pointed out that, on the 30th June last, the establishment at Cockatoo Island was twenty-one, and the annual expenditure £6,416, while the Estimates before us provide for an establishment of forty-five, and an expenditure of £14,006. At
Garden Island, on the 30th June, the establishment was forty, with an annual expenditure of £12,911, while the establishment now proposed is seventyone, with an annual expenditure of £15,311. The Leader of the Opposition asked for information regarding the proposed increase, but no satisfactory explanation was vouchsafed. The Prime Minister, when he spoke, said, in effect, that the Government were committed to these increases because the previous Minister of Defence had .either actually made or approved them. That was a very clear and emphatic statement, and I honestly believe that the Prime Minister was under the impression he was speaking correctly. His information, I gathered, had been obtained from the present Minister of Defence, and I took it that a mistake was being made through no fault of his own. However, the assistance of the Honorary Minister was called in, and he actually quoted from certain official papers with a view of, not merely emphasizing, but actually proving, the statements that the increases had been approved by the ex Minister. One of three positions is inevitable : Either the Honorary Minister did not understand those papers, or he did not fully quote them, or - which I should regret to believe - he did not quote them correctly. From a statement by the previous Minister of Defence, it is as clear as possible that he did not approve of those increases, and that the present Government were in no way committed to them. Today, I am pleased to say, when Senator Millen was confronted with the situation in another place, and when he was called upon to fully quote the same papers, it transpired that, as stated by the Leader of the Opposition, the late Government were in no way responsible - that Senator Pearce had not given approval, and that those increases, so far as the managerial staff, overseers, and foremen are concerned, are solely the work of the present Minister. I am not here to say whether these increases are necessary or not, or whether they should be made.
– Does the honorable member say that there was no arrangement made with the State Government to take over the staff on Cockatoo Island ?
– There was an arrangement in regard to seven experts, in addition to their staff. Those seven had been practically arranged for by the State Government.
– Was there no arrangement similarly in regard to Garden Island ?
– No. In connexion with Cockatoo Island there were seven experts on the Estimates of the New South Wales Government, and it was essential to take them over in the terms of the agreement, but, so far as Garden Island was concerned, the thing was taken over as a going concern, with the liabilities attaching thereto, but with no approval whatever for an increase in the staff. The staff has subsequently been increased. For the moment I am not prepared to debate whether it is essential that there should be an increase, or whether it is a good or a bad move, but I am here to take exception to the assertion of the Ministry that they are committed to these increases. I am anxious to emphasize the point, because I know that every honorable member on the Ministerial side, when discussing these matters during the next twelve months, will, without hesitation, shield himself, or attempt to do so, behind the word “ commitment “ when the subject of finance crops up. Honorable members on the Ministerial side have to explain why they propose to spend, during this year, over £4,000,000 more than was spent last year. They may be able to explain it, but no doubt it is a serious matter to them, more particularly when one considers that they won their position in the House by declaiming against the alleged extravagance of the Fisher Administration. In the first place, they declaimed against that alleged extravagance; they called it by all manner of names - a “ carnival,” a “ debauch,” “ torrential expenditure,” and so forth - and created in the public mind the impression that there was something wrong by referring in general terms to the millions spent by the Fisher Administration, and when they come into office with full and complete control, when they can do absolutely what they wish in connexion with this expenditure except in so far as they are statutorily committed, we find their Estimates amounting to over £4,000,000 more than was spent last year.
– That includes the loan expenditure on the transcontinental railway, and other railways.
– They will be called on in certain directions to make an explanation to the public. Their one and only explanation up to the presnt time is that they are committed to the expenditure, and that they cannot help themselves. We have this striking instance in which they actually go the length of pretending to quote from official documents to prove that they are committed in a certain direction. But so far as these additions to the staff at Cockatoo Island and Garden Island are concerned, I say that they are not committed to them, and that Senator Pearce, the late Minister of Defence, did not make approvals of this description. When, in addition to making an ordinary allegation, a Minister will actually pretend to quote from official documents in proof of the allegation, though the full and complete quotation from these documents would show conclusively that he is wrong, and that Senator Pearce is correct in his rebutting allegations, it seems to me to be taking a stand that is highly regrettable and deplorable.
-Surely that is not correct?
– The statement of Senator Pearce is quite clear and definite.
– You are quite right. It is very clear, and I shall quote it in a minute.
– In the Senate today, Senator Millen, the Minister of Defence, was asked to produce the papers and quote from them, and his first statement was, “ It is a long document ; I do not propose to quote fully.” But there was an imperative demand that he should do so, and accordingly the papers were fully quoted. The documents showed conclusively that Senator Pearce had not approved. They showed that he had specifically refused to make these additional appointments on the recommendations of his officers.
– Do you really say that?
– Yes, I do.
– I am amazed at you.
– What about the figures the Honorary Minister gave us last night?
– One of three positions is inseparable from this : either that the Minister did not quote correctly, or that he refrained from fully quoting, or that he did not understand the papers from which he was quoting. The documents read in the Senate to-day show, first of all, that Senator Pearce specifically declined to make these additional appointments except in regard to two or three clerks; and, secondly, that wherever the dock or managerial staff were referred to, Senator Pearce declined to make any appointment, saying that it would be unfair to the new manager to do so. He refused point blank to tie the hands of the new manager; but, towards the end of his term of office, as the work was increasing, he did approve of the appointment of two or three additional clerks. So far as I can see from the Estimates, there are only eight clerks on the island altogether; there must have been some at the time the island was taken over. The position seems to me to be so acute that I feel justified in putting on record here a brief statement given to me by Senator Pearce. He says, in reference to Garden Island -
This was an Imperial Establishment, which was to be transferred to the Commonwealth. Captain Rolleston was the officer in charge. His. term expired before the transfer took place. It was obviously undesirable for the Imperial Government to appoint his successor, as we were taking it over, and so the late Government appointed Captain Henderson practically to fill Rolleston’s place.
As regards other positions proposed to be filled for which recommendations were made, approval was given by Senator Pearce for draft Estimates.
– In accordance with his arrangement with the Imperial authorities and the State authorities. Would you repudiate that?
-I say again that the honorable member is incorrect. There was no approval given by Senator Pearce.
– And I say there was.
– Then there is a distinct difference of opinion. And before this Bill is finally let go we must have the official document in this Chamber, from the Senate, and have it fully quoted, so that the matter can be cleared up. It is an important matter. We had the Prime Minister on the one side yesterday making what I honestly believe was a mistake-
– You admit that Senator Pearce signed the draft Estimates, in which all these items were appearing ?
– The honorable member is again incorrect. The honorable member should not interpolate his opinion in the middle of a sentence. The matter is too important. “We have the Prime Minister on the one side, holding the highest responsible position in the country, and we have on the other side Senator Pearce, who for three years occupied the position of Minister of Defence, who has the reputation throughout Australia of being an honorable man. I am convinced that he would not knowingly say an incorrect .thing. Whatever we may do in the heat of debate, whatever statements we may make occasionally, I am confident that neither the Prime Minister nor Senator Pearce would knowingly make an incorrect statement on so important a matter. I shall read on from this statement, supplied to me by Senator Pearce -
As regards other positions proposed to be filled for which recommendations were made, approval was given by Senator Pearce for. draft Estimates.
– Hear, hear !
– The cheers of the Prime Minister call for some explanation. Draft Estimates are merely the proposals of officers from sub-Departments.
– I am speaking of what is at the back of the draft Estimates - the agreement with the State.
– The honorable member is shifting his ground now.
– I do not wish to deal with that aspect of the case at present. I hope the Prime Minister will not force me to do so. Draft Estimates are merely the first proposal which the officers from various sub-Departments submit to the central Department. They do not commit the Minister at the moment, and they do not commit anybody other than the officers, who are not responsible to the Parliament, as a Minister is. Senator Pearce says -
No final Estimates in regard to Garden Island were approved, as it was intended to consider the whole question of the possible duplication’ of the- staff between Garden Island and Cockatoo Island when the final Estimates were being dealt with. That stage was not reached because of -the late Government going out of office-.
It could not be clearer. The final Estimates were not approved. No commitment was made; no appointments were made; and if, subsequently, appointments were made, and provision, is made on the present Estimates for them, it must be either that the present Minister of Defence has knowingly made them or he has allowed them to be made unknowingly. I do not know which situation he prefers.
– So far as actual commitments are concerned, there are none now. There will be none until these Estimates are through, in that sense.
– I hope the Prime Minister will not attempt to side-track or shift his ground. His emphatic statement on the assertion of the present Minister of Defence was yesterday that the present Government are committed to these increases.
– I shall make it again, even more emphatically.
– The Prime Minister is at liberty to do so, but I say that there is a distinct difference of opinion, and there is no justification for the honorable gentleman making the statement. He should not make it. There is nothing to prove that Senator Pearce by any word, act, or deed, committed the present Government to this Increase. The statement supplied by Senator Pearce goes on to say -
Under the Imperial Establishment there were marines in the Royal Navy. There are no marines in the Royal Australian Navy. It is understood that marines were used for guard and watch duties on Garden Island, and it became necessary, therefore, to appoint police to take their places. These appointments were, therefore, approved. But the proposal to retain ten officers and too petty officers and men (see page 100, Estimates), was not approved by the late Minister.
And yet we find them in the Estimates.
– Do you wish to strike them out?
– I am not prepared to say so, because we were unable to obtain information. The Treasurer does not know why these men are to be retained. The Minister representing the Minister of Defence does not know why they are to be retained.
– But you do say there is extravagance;
– I have not said so in this connexion.
– The honorable member’s leader said it very emphatically last night.
– You must not commit me to what some one else is alleged to have said. I have not said it. Can any honorable member say why ten officers and a hundred petty officers and men are to be retained on Garden Island? It must not be forgotten that these are seagoing men, who ought to be on their ships, and not retained on Garden Island. To do what? No member of the Ministry knows why they are to be retained there; but, apparently, for some reason unknown to Parliament, and even to responsible Ministers, 110 officers, petty officers, and men are to be retained on this Island. Speaking with some slight experience of both sea and army, I do not know why sea-going men should be retained there. I cannot understand it. It has been suggested that they are to be in a sense the servants - the term is known in the Navy - of certain officers. I hope such is not the case. But we are justified in asking why this additional personnel is retained on the island. Senator Pearce goes on to say that, so far as he knows, no reason can be given for the retention of these men -
As regards Darling Harbor (Victualling Dep6t) and Spectacle Island (Ordnance Depot) the officers appointed there were officers previously in the employ of the Imperial Government, and were appointed with some minor readjustments of salary; but no new appointments,’ other than these, were made in regard to these establishments, and certainly not the overseers and foremen, &c, provided on these Estimates.
Here, again, we have a very emphatic statement.
– Whose statement is it?
– It was made by Senator Pearce, and it is of such importance that I feel justified in placing it on record, because of the difference of opinion that prevails, but mainly because honorable members opposite, when questioned in regard to additional expenditure, invariably allege that they are committed to it. Here we have a specific instance of additional expenditure to which the present Government were not committed. I come now to Cockatoo Island -
Cockatoo Island Dockyard, it was arranged, was to be taken over from the New South Wales Government. There was a staff employed there, who were borne on the list of permanent offi cials of the State Government. During the transition period it was arranged that thisstaff should continue to manage the affairs of the dockyard, being lent to the Commonwealth by the State Government for the purpose. With respect to two of these officers - the Secretary and the Accountant - it was subsequently arranged that they should go back into the State Service, and their positions were filled by Commonwealth appointments. The late Government, had decided to obtain a general manager for the dockyard, and to seek his advice in regard to the staff necessary for the efficient working of the yard. To that end, they had advertised throughout the world; had received applications. They had fixed no salary. They had appointed a committee in Great Britain to go through the applications received. That committee had made recommendations on the eve of the Government, going out of office, and in consequence no appointment was made by the out-going Government. Senator Pearce refused to make appointments on the staff other than those indicated, and some minor appointments to the clerical staff, rendered necessary by increase of work. He refused to do so on the ground that such action would tie the hands of the incoming manager.
He refused to do this, on the ground that such action would tie the hands of the incoming manager. This is not a verbal, but a written statement, made with a full knowledge of all the facts. Notwithstanding it, however, the Government,, with a desire to shelter themselves behind their predecessors, allege that they are committed to this additional expenditure. This statement is too important to pass by. Then we have the further statement -
Proposals submitted by the Naval Board were certainly approved for draft Estimates following the usual practice of the Minister, which was, upon receiving Estimates of subDepartments, to approve of them for draft Estimates, and when all sub-Departments’ Estimates were in, to then go through them as a whole, and prepare his final Estimates for submission to the Treasurer. The latter stage was never reached, and in consequence no final approval of estimates for these establishments was given by Senator Pearce. The approval given was merely a temporary approval for them to be submitted at a, later date on final Estimates.
This left the situation entirely free. Nothing could be more honorable, upright, or courageous.
– But is there not a temporary approval mentioned there ?
– There was approval of the draft Estimates, but the honorable member, as one who has held office, willnot say that mere draft Estimates committed either the Minister of that day or his successor.
– Does not the honorable member know that these men were put on the draft Estimates because Senator Pearce had arranged with the State to take them over? This is a complete misrepresentation .
– It is not. The agreement was to take over the staffs as they then existed, and they were taken over. But those staffs are not covered by the increase to which exception has been taken by the Leader of the Opposition. ‘
– Surely, if these men were placed on the draft Estimates, that amounted to a commitment?
– And Senator Pearce does not deny it.
– This statement by Senator Pearce is fairly emphatic. I would point out to the honorable member for Eden-Monaro that we took over practically two islands, with their separate staffs. It was intended to work the two together, and that a general manager of undoubted ability and experience should be appointed. Applications for the position were called for, but Senator Pearce, as Minister of Defence, refused to make any appointment until the general manager was there to advise him.
– Did he suggest the salary ?
– There was a suggestion with respect to the salary to be paid, but no salary was fixed.
– How could the exMinister invite applications for a position if he could not tell applicants what was the salary attaching to it?
– It would be quite possible to call for applications to fill a newly-created position without mentioning the salary. Would the right honorable gentleman fix the salary for an office without knowing anything in regard to it ? After all, he is sufficient of an autocrat, no doubt, to fix salaries for the whole world. We had our limitations, and we were not prepared to decide what was a fair salary to attach to a position of such magnitude as this. I desire, however, to come back to the interjection made by the honorable member for EdenMonaro. The Naval Department, for instance, knowing that there was to be an increase in its work and that certain alterations were to be carried out, made its recommendations on draft Estimates to the then Minister of
Defence, who merely said, “ These draftEstimates can come up to me later on for approval or otherwise when it becomes my duty to consider the final Estimates.” That was the only stage reached. There was no commitment of any description.
– That is the usual course.
– Certainly, it is.
– The honorable member for, Adelaide evidently does not know much about the framing of Estimates. Why are these draft ‘ Estimates initialed or signed ? Does not the honorable member know that they are signed to be sent on to the Treasury ?
– That is what is done.
– My honorable friends, because they happen to have been members of Cabinets of different character, are seeking to confuse the issue by suggesting that the mere appearance of the initials of the Minister on draft Estimates submitted by sub-Departments commits that Minister, or any one else, to the expenditure for which they provide. They suggest, also, that a sub-Department’s draft Estimates are sent on to the Treasurer before they have been finally approved by the Department or the Minister controlling it. How utterly absurd is the suggestion. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro is fairer in this matter, since, speaking with Ministerial experience, he points out that it is not correct to suggest that draft Estimates from sub-Departments are sent on to the Treasury. Such Estimates do not, and cannot, commit the Minister.
– But if they were based on an agreement there would be a commitment.
– But they were not based on an agreement. The agreement was to take over the staffs as they existed under the State, and we took them over. Since then, however,, the staffs on both islands have been materially increased, and it is in regard to that increase that this difference of opinion exists. For instance, we took over the Cockatoo Island dockyard staff of twenty-one persons, with an additional seven who were then under agreement with the State of New South Wales. But these Estimates make provision for a staff of no less than fortyfive, and it is this increase to which exception has been taken.
-Were not the fortyfive employed by the New South Wales Government on Cockatoo Island ?
-I think that the honorable member will find that they were; that they were temporarily employed.
– Temporary employes are not under the agreement.
-As a matter of fact, the present Minister has made only one appointment.
-That may be. That, however, is not the point. We have on these Estimates provision for an increase in the staff that we took over from the New South Wales Government - an increase from twenty-eight to forty-five.
– If the present Minister of Defence has not knowingly made more than one appointment, there has apparently been an increase without his knowledge, or, in other words, he is making provision on his Estimates for an increase.
-Not at all.
-It is a pity that the honorable member does not know more about the matter.
-I am sorry that the right honorable member should continue to grumble; but, after all, the remark he makes is merely that of an irritable gentleman.
– The honorable member is wrong in his statement about this matter.
– If I am, then I am merely reading a statement made by Senator Pearce. I shall read the paragraph in question once more, so that there may be no misunderstanding -
Proposals submitted by the Naval Board were certainly approved for draft Estimates, following the usual practice of the Minister, which was, upon receiving Estimates of subDepartments, to approve of them for draft Estimates, and when all sub-Departments’ Estimates were in, to then go through them as a whole, and prepare his final Estimates for submission to the Treasurer. The latter stage was never reached, and in consequence no final approval of estimates for these establishments was given by Senator Pearce. The approval given was merely a temporary approval for them to be submitted at a later date on final Estimates.
Surely this clearly shows that there was no commitment.
– It is incorrect so far as the practice is concerned.
– The practice followed by the honorable member when a Minister is not necessarily the practice followed by others.
-I think it is.
– If the honorable member’s practice was wrong, it is not to be said that others would follow it.
-In the Postal Department I have had to pay considerable sums in respect of accounts initialed by my predecessor or his deputy.
-There is nothing wrong with that.
– Who was the deputy to whom the honorable member refers ?
– Senator Findley.
– There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A Minister may initial accounts for payment.
– What is wrong with this? Come to the point.
– The point is that when this increase in the Estimates was challenged, the honorable gentleman, acting on the statement of his Minister of Defence, alleged that the increases were commitments, and that his Government had no option in the matter. He may be able to explain why these increases should be made. They may be perfectly proper; but we must take exception to this continual excuse on the part of the present Government - to their constant attempt to get behind the late Administration when challenged with regard to any expenditure, and to their declaration that they were committed to it. Here we have a specific case in which they were not committed.
– Does the honorable member say that there is no commitment unless a Minister actually provides for it on the Estimates?
– A Minister is not committed unless he finally approves of the Estimates and submits them to the Treasurer. Even then his Government is not finally committed if the Treasurer refuses to adopt, and cuts down, the Estimates.
– As he generally does.
– As he generally does, and I believe that the Treasurer cut them down pretty severely on this occasion. Even until then the Ministry are not committed. . Until they make the Estimates public, they are not committed..
The Estimates had not been finally approvedeven by the Ministers in their Departments, and had not been sent on to the Treasurer.
– Is not the main point at issue whether the men are required ?
– No ; whether they were taken over from the States or not.
– The main point, so far as I am concerned, is this: that the proposed expenditure for the current year exceeds last year’s expenditure by over £4,000,000, and that this large increase is excused by honorable gentlemen opposite, and particularly by Ministers, on the ground that they are committed to it by the action of their predecessors. That statement will be scattered broadcast. The party newspapers are publishing it, and honorable members will repeat it from every platform, at every social, and at every little gathering of men,women, and children. They will allege, when asked, “ Why did you gentlemen, who were elected to put the finances on a sound and proper basis, spend £4,000,000 more than your predecessors, about whose extravagance you complained so bitterly?” - when that is asked, as it will be very often, they will make this puerile excuse, that they could not help themselves, because the previous Ministry had committed them to it.
-That is very largely true.
– That will be the one and only excuse that the honorable member will allege. Neither he nor any other member of the party will stand up boldly and say, “ This policy is my policy, and consequently I approve of the expenditure on it. “ They will shield themselves behind the allegation that they were committed by their predecessors and cannot help themselves. Do they object to this expenditure on the Navy and military? They allege that the defence policy is their policy. If it is their policy, they must provide the money for it.
– The honorable member’s leader was objecting to it last night.
– The only expenditure to which they take exception is that on the maternity allowance, to which they are committed, and from which they cannot at present escape. So far as the expenditure on the Post Office, old-age pensions, the Navy and Army, and all other Departments of the Public Service is concerned, they claim that it is in furtherance of their policy. If so, why do they not stand up like men, and acknowledge that the expenditure is their expenditure? They should not creep behind their predecessors for shelter. I do not wish to repeat the statement too often, but during the recent elections many serious, alarming, and unwarrantable references were made to finance. Honorable members opposite then spoke in millions. They frightened the electors; they made the public timid. Large numbers of persons actually believed that some frightful wrong was being perpetrated; that the country was being rushed into a very maelstrom of extravagant expenditure. We asked for the items to which they took exception, and then they became as dumb as it was possible for men to be. Now they have complete control of the finances, and can do as they like, except where statutory commitments are concerned, they are increasing the expenditure by over £4,000,000. They have a perfect right to do so, and I do not complain of that; but they should stand by their proposals. They should acknowledge that the expenditure is in furtherance of their policy, and that they approve of it. They should not seek shelter behind their predecessors. This is another paragraph of Senator Pearce’s memorandum -
Further, the Government, if it makes appointments under these Estimates, is practically tying the hands of the future manager, who may find himself with unnecessary officers in some cases, and without the necessary ones in others.
That shows that Senator Pearce took a definite and, I think, a proper stand. He was instituting what for all practical purposes was a new Department. He was providing for the building of ships, and particularly of naval ships. He called for applications from men competent to take the responsible position of manager of a huge ship-building yard, and to control the expenditure of many hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. He said., in effect, that, not being expert in these matters, he preferred to receive the advice of whatever expert might be appointed as to the staff that would be required, so that the Garden Island and Cockatoo Island establishments could be worked in conjunction, and as economically as possible. Senator Pearce, therefore, refrained from making these additional appointments. They may be necessary; I do not say that they are not.
But it may be advisable to refrain from making them until the manager has had an opportunity to view the position for himself , and to communicate to the Government what staffs he will require for this important work. There is one other matter to which I desire to draw attention; it is the peculiar situation in which we find ourselves in regard to the Cockburn Sound Naval Base. I should not have troubled the House this evening with any reference to the matter if it had not been for the regrettable illness of the honorable member for Fremantle, a young man who, whatever may be our political differences, we welcome to this Chamber as giving indications of useful service to the country in this National Parliament. I hope that his illness will be of the shortest possible duration, and that we shall soon be able to welcome him back to the place that he honours. The Ministry have informed us that they have invited an engineer of great ability to advise them in respect to the Naval Bases. Until his advice is obtained, they say, the work must be stopped. We find that the work at Cockburn Sound has been stopped. The Naval Base there is within an electorate that rejected a supporter of the present Ministry, and elected an Oppositionist. The work at Westernport, the site of another naval base within an electorate represented by a Government supporter, has not been stopped. Work was commenced at these two places on the recommendation of the Australian Navy Board. Apparently the present Ministry do not think that the Board is competent to give advice about this work. They say, “We must have the advice of an expert from England.” I think that, under these circumstances, I am justified iu asking why they have not stopped all the naval works. If the Australian Navy Board is competent to advise in respect to the work of the Westernport Naval Base, it should be competent to advise in respect to the work at the Cockburn Sound Naval Base. But I have been given to understand that the work at the Westernport Naval Base has not been stopped, although that at the Cockburn Sound Naval Base has been stopped.
– What is the inference ?
– I do not know.
– Then why make the statement?
– To the best of my knowledge and belief, the statement is correct.
– The Cockburn Sound Naval Base happens to be in an electorate represented by an Oppositionist, and the Westernport Naval Base is in the electorate of a member of the present Ministry.
– That statement is equivalent to a charge of corruption against the Government. i
– Yet honorable members opposite say that defence matters are not a party question !
– The Government, have said that they do not intend to go on with the work at the Naval Bases until they have had the advice of an expert from England. Work was proceeding at these bases on the advice of the local Navy Board, and is still proceeding on that advice at the Westernport Naval Base, but at the Cockburn Sound Naval Base it has been stopped.
– Also on the advice of the Australian Navy Board. Why does not the honorable member state that fact?
– I do not know that.
– The honorable member does know it.
– If, in the first instance, when Senator Pearce had charge, the Board recommended the Government to go on, and now that Senator Millen has charge it recommends the Government not to go on, I may reasonably ask of what manner of men is it constituted?
– It is time to get rid of the whole lot of them.
– It is time for an inquiry, if the Board could recommend the Fisher Administration to go on and expend money, and the Cook Administration to stop spending money. The interjection of the Prime Minister would lead one to believe that the Board is too pliable. Ministers are justified, if they so desire, in bringing out this expert, but, unfortunately for them, there already have been reports in respect to Cockburn Sound, not from Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, but from a senior to him in the same firm. Looking up the records, I find that, in 1887, Sir John Coode, the head of the firm to which Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice belongs, personally inspected Cockburn Sound. The Western Australian Government, of which the present
Treasurer was Premier, desired to make a harbor at Fremantle for ocean-going steamers. Sir John Coode furnished a report in response to the wish of the Western Australian Government. ‘ He stated that he had put borings down in the Success and Parmelia banks - which obstruct the entrance to Jervoise Bay, and are the cause of the Cook Government delaying the works - towards the end of 1886, and had found that those banks were composed almost entirely of sand, and that it was not improbable that a channel might be selected across either one of the banks, to afford depth for ocean-going steamers, without encountering rocks. The only doubt was the composition of the sand-banks, which proved satisfactory later. He reported, also, that if the proposal were adopted, he would need some further bores to finally determine the matter. Such bores were put down by the Fisher Government, and proved entirely satisfactory. Sir John Coode added that there was little change in the actual configuration of the banks in a period of thirty-three years which he had under review. He said that a channel through Parmelia bank would be sufficiently sheltered from the sea. for navigation by large steamers in all weathers. The Western Australian Government, however, preferred, for reasons best known to the present Treasurer, a site known as Owen’s Anchorage, and wished the channel dredged through the Success bank. Sir John Coode, whilst agreeing to do this, at the same time unmistakably favoured Jervoise Bay. He urged that a channel should be cut through Parmelia bank in any circumstances, as being less exposed in rough weather. He considered that perfect shelter would be attained in Jervoise Bay, about 6 miles south of Fremantle, whence a railway might be easily run to connect with the line at Fremantle. Even ths Agent-General, in sending the report on to the Treasurer, said -
The anchorage suggested in Jervoise Bay seems to be the very best in all respects, and, in fact, the only practicable shelter.
The Government, however, stuck to its preference of Owen’s Anchorage, and Sir John Coode, while agreeable to furnish advice, reiterated on 21st October, 1891, his opinion that Owen’s Anchorage was inferior in’ all respects to Jervoise Bay. Captain Archdeacon, of Holyhead, an eminent navigator, of the Royal Navy, who had been engaged in survey work at Cockburn Sound, reported on 22nd August, 1891 -
Jervoise Bay … is the natural site for the shipping port if Cockburn Sound is opened.
Sir John Coode is perfectly correct in his belief that the channel could be navigated with safety in all weathers and under all conditions.
Sir John Coode, on 2nd October, 1891, had reported that he had carefully examined samples of sand from Success and Parmelia banks, and had no hesitation in saying that such sand was capable of being readily dealt with by a pump dredge. This cleared up any doubt whatever as to the practicability of cutting a channel. The Treasurer, notwithstanding the experts’ views, prevented the harbor from being placed at Jervoise Bay, and he now prevents a Naval Base from being placed at the best favoured spot, advancing as an argument that Mangles
Bay- never referred to in the report quoted, but a bay to the south of Jervoise Bay, and with a difficult and rocky passage - is superior. Sir John Coode, as we have seen, pinned his faith to Jervoise Bay. Admiral Henderson, furnished with Sir John Coode’s reports, prior to inspecting the site, also recommended Jervoise Bay. The Commonwealth Government then decided to further test the matter. In conjunction with the Western Australian Government, it, in 1912, put down bores in the banks named to a depth of 40 feet, and demonstrated that there was nothing which could not be easily removed by a dredge. Tests were also carried out, which proved that there had been no movement in the sand-banks for forty years.
– Who is the author of all this?
– The figures and dates are from the official records of the Western Australian Government, but, so far as the assertions are concerned, they are mine. We have the peculiar situation that, years ago, despite the advice of experts, the Western Australian Government, of which the Treasurer was Premier, refused to go on with the works so far as Jervoise Bay is concerned. It is reasonable to suppose that if the experts had advised in the direction he personally desired he would have gone on with the work. Recently, the Naval Board advised the Fisher Administration to practically accept the advice of Sir John Coode and Admiral Henderson, and open
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 October 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1913/19131023_reps_5_71/>.