2nd Parliament · 3rd Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m.. and read prayers.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s, questions are as follow: -
During these two years the State printing machineries were utilized for Commonwealth work for 29,379 hours.
– I desire to call the attention of the Minister of Defence to the statement of the Treasurer (the Right Honorable Sir John Forrest) at the Royal Show, that “ on land he was a protectionist, but on the sea he was a free-trader “ - and to ask -
If it is consistent with the avowed policy of the Government to have a hybrid protectionist as a member of the Government?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows: -
The expression employed by the Treasurer indicated his special interest in the development of our export trade, but in no way expressed any change of fiscal principle.
– I desire to call the attention of the Senate to the answer which has been given to my question by the Minister of Defence.
-The honorable senator cannot do that unless he moves a motion.
– I intend to move that the Senate, at its rising, adjourn until to-morrow at an unusual’ hour.
– According to standing order 60, the honorable senator ought to give to the President, before the sitting begins, a statement that he intends to move the adjournment of the Senate, to discuss a matter of urgency.
– Then I shall do that to-morrow.
– I move -
That during the remainder of the present session, unless otherwise ordered, the time of meeting of the Senate on Wednesday and Thursday in each week be half-past ten a.m., and that Government business take precedence of all other business on the notice-paper except questions and formal motions.
I am taking this course because the Government desire to close the session by the end of the month. To do so, I think I may safely say that we shall require a longer time at our disposal than we otherwise should have.
– Or throw overboard some of the Bills?
– That is a matter for the Government to consider. I dare say it would please certain honorable senators if we dropped a large proportion of our measures. At the present time the notice-paper of the Senate contains eight Government orders of the day, while the notice-paper of the other House contains eleven Government orders of the day, including two Bills which have passed the Senate, thus leaving nine orders of the day which will have to be passed and sent to us, or. otherwise disposed of. I think I am fairlyentitled to ask the Senate to give me the extra time for which I ask, so that honorable senators may have a fair opportunity to discuss, not only the measures on the notice-paper for to-day, but the measures which will come up from another place, including the Appropriation Bill, which of course will have to be passed. My attention has been called to the fact that, by my motion, I am proposing to take away the whole of the time allotted to private business. The private business on the notice-paper comprises notices of motion and orders of the day. A motion, if passed, could produce no special result unless the Government took action or the honorable senator interested brought in -a Bill to deal with its subject-matter, but that would be practically impossible this session. Two honorable senators have, however, embodied their views in Bills. Senator Stewart has brought forward a Bill to amend the Papua Act in regard to the election of Legislative Councillors, whilst Senator Pearce has brought forward a Bill for the purpose of taking a referendum of the people on a question upon which he feels very strongly, J think it is only fair to those two honorable .senators that they, should have an opportunity of testing the feeling of the Senate, and therefore I ask leave, to add to my motion the following words: - and except that private members’ Bills already on the notice-paper take precedence of all other business on Thursdays after the tea adjournment.
Leave granted ; motion amended accordingly.
– With one statement which fell from the lips of the Minister of Defence, I do not suppose that there will be any dissent, and that is the expression of his desire that the work of the session should end on the 30th September. He will recognise that he used the argument as a lever to induce the Senate to agree to the motion.’ I admit at once that if it is properly so used, it may have a material effect upon the way’ in which I intend to vote. But I would draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that wittingly or unwittingly the Minister did not commit himself to anything more than a pious hope that we should suspend our work on the 30th September.
– But the honorable senator could hardly expect the Minister to outline the business which he proposed to ask the Senate to put through during the remainder of the session.
– That was done in the other House, and why cannot it be done here ?
– If the Minister of Defence can give the Senate an assurance that it is the intention of the Government to terminate the session on the 30th September, I believe that it will go a long way to induce every honorable senator, no matter where he sits, to vote with him. If, on the other hand, he is merely saying, in so many words, “ I hope that by adopting this course we shall be able to finish the business on the 30th September,” his argument is not so convincing to those honorable senators who still have on the notice-paper business which they would like to submit to the Senate. Perhaps, before I go any further, the Minister will intimate whether he can give a definite undertaking on that point?
– I cannot absolutely promise that the session shall close on any -particular day, or at any particular hour, because that will depend entirely upon the despatch of business. We have on the notice-paper of each House certain measures which we intend to proceed with, and I certainly cannot bind myself to saythat we shall not proceed with business after a certain day. We might be “ stonewalled “ up to a certain time in order to prevent legislation from being passed.
– So faras I am concerned, I should like to assure Senator Playford at once that I not only have no desire, but that nothing will induce me to stone-wall any measure, however atrocious it may be from my point of view, which the Government may bring forward this session. I hope, however, that the Senate will not have to indulge in any -of those all-night sittings which we have had on previous occasions in order to get our work done. Certainly I shall be no party to anything of the kind. But two exceptions have been made in regard to -private business. I have no objection - in fact I rather welcome the statement - to the two Bills fathered respectively by Senator Pearce and Senator Stewart being proceeded with this session. I hope they will be. But eventhough an opportunity be given to the Senate to discuss those measures there is no certainty that the debates will not be fruitless, inasmuch as divisions may not take place upon them. If we could have such an assurance from Senator Playford, I should say at once that we might very fairly meet the convenience of the honorable senators concerned.
– I cannot give an assurance. The matter is in the hands of the Senate.
– I will assist to accomplish that object.
– Seeing that neither Senator Playford nor any one else can give such an assurance, it does not seem reasonable that valuable time, which is required for the consideration of important public business, should be occupied upon those measures. But there is upon the notice-paper another item of private business which Senator Playford has put in a different category. I allude to a motion moved by Senator O’Keefe. I admit at once that it differs from the private business instanced by Senator Playford, inasmuch as it is not in the form of a Bill. But I myself have been most anxious, not merely to speak - I would even forego the right of speech - but to secure a division upon that motion. As a matter of fact, I waited on four successive Thursdays in the hope of furthering it. Now it is important to me - and I venture to suggest that it is equally important to my honorable friend Senator O’Keefe - that we should if possible secure a division upon that motion before the end of the session. I hope, therefore, that he will join with me in objecting to the removal of it from the notice-paper unless we have some assurance that the two Bills referred” to will proceed at any rate to a division on their second reading. Senator O’Keefe may justly feel himself aggrieved by being deprived of the opportunity of hearing an expression of views from other speakers with regard to it, while an exception is made in favour of two other items of private business. The question with which his motion is concerned is one of vital importance not only to the Commonwealth as a whole, but to every State, and it should not be shelved without further discussion, and without an opportunity being given to secure an expression of the view of the Senate-
– The Government which the honorable senator supported abolished private business a month before the close of the session.
– I am not objecting to the time for the discussion of private business being taken away now that the period of the session has arrived when the Government is anxious to press forward its own measures. But what I complain of is that it is proposed to differentiate between the private business.
– Does not the honorable senator see that there is a difference between a motion and a Bill? A motion cannot result in anything but an expression of opinion, but a Bill may result in legislation.
– In this case there is not the slightest difference practically between the two, because every one knows that there is no possibility of the two Bills being passed this session.
– We never can tell.
– Any member of the Senate who spends much time here can tell at once. I shall not object to Senator Playford’s motion, without the amendment which he has indicated, but I urge him to reconsider his proposal with regard to the two Bills. /f he does not, I shall have to vote against the motion. I do not think that the exception made is fair to Senator O’ Keefe as the originator of the motion to which I have called attention, nor is it fair to other senators who take a considerable interest in a very large question. If Senator Playford cannot see his way to reconsider the announcement which he has made, I shall have to vote against his amendment upon the motion at any rate.
– I had intended to ask the Minister of Defence if he could see his way to amend his motion further by excepting the order of the day set down under private business, and headed “ Commonwealth Revenue and Expenditure : Sharing of on basis of population.” It may be said that other honorable senators who have motions on the business paper have an equal right to be considered. In a general way I grant that contention; but I think that, if honorable senators look at the question fairly and squarely, they will come to the conclusion that, however important several other motions may be, the motion introduced tow me, and which ‘has been debated on a couple of Thursday afternoons, transcends in importance any other matter of private business which has been before the Senate. I say that because the question with which it deals goes to the root of our present financial system, which operates greatly to the inconvenience of two of the States. Without touching on the merits of the motion, I hope that the Minister of Defence will see his way clear to include it also in the exceptions mentioned in his amended motion. There is some validity in Senator Playford’s ‘contention that the. two matters of private business which he has agreed shall be dealt with again are Bills which, if carried to a division; and passed through all stages in the Senate, might also be carried through the other branch of the Legislature; whereas a notice of motion, even if supported by a majority on a division, would have no practical effect. But I was: hoping that, if my motion were agreed to> by a majority, the Government might afford am opportunity for it to be introduced in the other House. Even if that were not done, it would be an important step to have obtained the opinion of this branch of the Legislature upon the question. If: Parliament had met a couple of months; earlier, it would not have been necessary for the Government to cut off private members’ time before matters of importances have been dealt with. I also call attento the fact that, if there had been sufficient time for the discussion of my motion,, and it had been passed, there would havebeen an opportunity to bring in a Bill to> give effect to it. We might as well amend1 the Standing Orders, and abolish the time for private business altogether, if an opportunity is not to be afforded to push important matters to a. conclusion. As to thetwo Bills introduced by Senator Stewart and Senator Pearce, I concur in what has; been said by Senator Clemons - that thereseems to be no possible chance of their being pushed to a conclusion in both branches of the Legislature this session. The lack of time is entirely due to the fact that Parliament met- so late in the vear, and that we have to adjourn within) threeor four weeks, owing to the coming elections. I submit, however, that my motion* stands in a different category from other motions on the paper, because it is of vastly more importance to all the States. I really do not know how honorable senators propose to vote; but I should like to have an expression of opinion given upon the present system of distributing revenue and expenditure. I am aware that the question may be discussed upon the Appropriation Bill, but we shall then not be able to obtain a vote, and our time will also be very limited. If Senator Playford will agree to deal with my motion as he proposes to deal with the two Bills in question, I feel certain that other honorable senators who have private business on the paper will not object to that course. Several have already, intimated to me that they are willing to forego their opportunity to have their business discussed in order that my motion may be dealt with. So far, my motion has been spoken to by four members of the Senate, including the Minister, but several other honorable senators desire to speak to it. Whatever the fate of the motion might be, I should like to have an expression of the opinion of the Senate upon it. I hope that the Minister will see his way to accept my suggestion, otherwise I shall be inclined to move that my motion be added to the private members’ business, to which time will yet be given.
– On the general aspect of the motion before the Senate, I think the Minister has made a very great mistake. The honorable senator is naturally anxious to placate his followers, and, in order to do so, he has attempted to make a distinction between a Bill and a motion submitted in the name of a private member. I repeat the question which I asked by interjection, and to which I received no answer : Are the Government in favour of the Bills introduced by Senators Pearce and Stewart?
– The Government will express their opinions on those Bills at the proper time.
– Then I propose to make use of my knowledge, and express their opinions on the subject for them. We know that Ministers are opposed to the nationalization of the tobacco industry, and have not the faintest intention of carrying such a proposal into effect. We know. also, that thev have not the remotest notion of what it would cost to buy up the industry in Australia.
– The honorable senator will not be in order in discussing the merits df the two Bills referred to.
– I am merely illustrating my point by showing that Ministers have consented to two Bills in the names of private members of the Senate being proceeded with when they have not the slightest intention of supporting those measures. The Bill introduced by Senator Stewart amounts absolutely to a vote of want of confidence in the Government.
– Does the honorable senator think that he is in order ? The motion before the Senate will merely en able those Bills to be further considered.
– The motion is moved to set aside private members’ business, but the Minister has amended it in order to make an exception in favour of two Bills which the Government. do not approve of. The Bill introduced by Senator Stewart is equivalent to a vote of want of confidence in the Government, who embodied their own ideas as to the government of Papua in a Bill passed last session, while Senator Stewart’s idea is something very different. I do not believe that the Government propose to change their views on the subject because a member of the Labour Party has introduced a Bill. I think that Ministers are insincere in this proposal to allow the Bills referred to to be proceeded with. The motion which I have on the paper with regard to compulsory insurance opens up a very big question, and I am prepared to let it stand over. In one way, I think that to do so will suit me best, because I understand that next session an attempt will be made to legislate on the question of old-age pensions, and I shall then be able to move my motion with greater advantage. I remind! Senator Playford that I have another motion on the paper, which has been partly discussed. I was prevented from obtaining” a division on a similar motion last year, and I ask the honorable senator to give me an opportunity to secure a division on the motion .this year. Some honorable senators desire to speak to it. and I should like to be given ten or fifteen minutes in which to reply, when a division could be taken. It is, I think, important that the opinion’ of the Senate should be expressed on the system suggested for the military training of boys and youths, and if he had that expresion of opinion the Minister of Defence would be in a better position to frame a national policy of defence. As I was unable to secure a division on a similar motion last session, I hope the leader of the Senate will be prepared to meet me in the way I have indicated.
– I should have been prepared to heartily support the motion if it had not been amended in the way it has been by the Minister of Defence. Surely the Ministry do not propose, even in this indirect way, to favour the nationalization of monopolies or industries ?
– We propose merely to give honorable senators who have taken the pains to submit their views in the form of Bills an opportunity to secure an expression of the opinion of the Senate.
– Surely we are not going to ride rough-shod over States rights in the way proposed with the consent of the Government? We shall have only a few more sittings of the Senate, and we should confine ourselves to the consideration of business which must be dealt with. Unless we do that, we may have to set aside some matters which should be dealt with.
I ask whether the Government have taken into consideration the difficulty of getting the debates reported. If we are to sit from 10.30 a.m. on two days in the week, not including Friday, and the House of Representatives from the same hour on three days in the week, how do Ministers suppose that the reports of the debates are to be produced in time for honorable senators to peruse them?
– I think the reporters will be found equal to the occasion.
– If the Senate meets at 10.30 abm., and sits until 10.30 p.m., we shall be sitting practically for twelve hours. If both Houses adopt the same course, an enormous mass of matter will have to be reported, and I ask whether the Government have considered how it is to be produced in time to enable members to read the reports? In any case, I do not see how the work is to be done unless the Hansard staff is strengthened.
– We can secure assistance if that is found to be necessary.
– If the Government have made arrangements of that sort, they mav be able to cope with the difficulty ; but it is one which should be considered. It looks a very simple matter to propose to shorten the session by asking both Houses to sit from 10.30 a>.m. ; but I have often found that, while that leads to a great deal more talk, it does not assist Parliament to get ‘through its work any sooner. If the business is brought forward in the regular manner, and the speaking is to the point, a great deal can be done during the hours of sitting at present adopted. I am very doubtful of the wisdom of asking the Senate to sit from 10.30 a.m. on two days in the week, in addition to Friday.
– We can all help by curtailing our remarks.
– Quite so. Honorable senators who reside in Melbourne might just as well meet at 10.30 a.m. as at any other time, but there are certain physical difficulties to be overcome, and I am afraid we shall not reap any particular advantage by meeting in the morning instead of at the usual hour.
– It is only “ unless otherwise ordered,” and if we can get through the business fairly quickly, I shall not have to ask honorable senators to meet in the morning.
– If we make provision for meeting at 10.30 a.m., we might just as well meet at that time. But I do not think that we should meet at that time unless the statement is made that the Government, having fully considered the matter, believe that it is not possible in any other way to finish the business of the session by the end of the. present month.
– I think that the motion is one which should not be cavilled at. In my opinion, the proposal of the leader of the Senate to discriminate between a Bill and a motion in the name of a private member is a very reasonable one. Since I have been a member of the Senate it has been the practice, at this stage of the session, for the Government to take as much of the time for their business as possible. Senator O’Keefe considers that the motion which is om the paper in his name is of very much greater importance than are motions on the paper in the names of other honorable senators. I hold a different opinion. No doubt, from the stand-point of an honorable senator from Tasmania, Senator O’ Keefe’ s motion is of very great importance ; but, in my opinion!, the motion in the name of Senator Stewart, which goes to the root of the question of taxation, is of much greater importance. Again, Senator Dobson’s motion with re- spect to old-age pensions is of very great importance.
– The difference between Senator Stewart’s motion and mine is that mine has been partly discussed, whilst Senator Stewart’s motion has not been discussed.
– I was dealing with the relative importance of the two motions.
– The honorable senator will admit that there is a better chance of a division on my motion, seeing that some honorable senators have alreadyspoken to it, than there is on the motion in the name of Senator Stewart.
– I can understand Senator O’Keefe being anxious to know the opinion of the Senate on his motion ; but it seems to me that a division upon it would be of less importance than the discussion of the motion. There are other motions on the paper in the names of private members that are at least as important as that in the nameof Senator O’Keefe, and I repeat that, in my opinion, the leader of the Senate has adopted a reasonable course in making the distinction he has made between a Bill and a motion in the name of a private member.
– I have some little difficulty in determining how I shall cast my vote, should a division on the motion be called for. I have always held that private members’ business is largelya waste of time, and the sooner we abolish the present practice with regard to it the better. I have expressed that view in the Senate before, but I have still some difficulty in agreeing to the present proposal to reduce the time devoted to the consideration of private members’ business, because there is one matter in the name of a private member of the Senate on which I have expressed myself somewhat strongly. If I were to vote now in such a way as to terminate the debate on that question, it might not unreasonably be said that I was helping to close the opportunity for a reply to the debate which has taken place. To that extent I am doubtful as to how I should vote on this motion.
-The honorable senator has not finished his speech on the question to which he refers.
– I should be willing to sacrifice myself in that respect. I am not in favour of unduly limiting speech, and in this matter what appeals to me is that I think opportunity should be given to those who might wish to reply to a debate which has already taken place on the business which they have submitted. We are now confronted with an entirely different position, because the Minister comes forward with a motion which does not propose either to continue or to abolish the opportunity afforded for the discussion of private members’ business. The honorable senator makes a distinction which I think is entirely invidious. He proposes that we should throw overboard motions in the names of private members on the ground that they will lead to nothing. If that is to be the basis of our judgment in this matter, I should like to ask what debate will lead us to in connexion with all these matters in the names of private members? We cannot hope to get a division on the second reading of the Bills mentioned.
– Not if the honorable senator keeps talking for a month.
– If I did not say another word, there are honorable senators who, I feel convinced, would desire to deal with the important principle involved in Senator Pearce’s Bill. The latter measure stands as an order of the day for the 20th of this month, and Senator Playford expresses the hope that he will be able to close the session at the end of the month. That, under ordinary circumstances, means the 29th, and that leaves only two other Thursdays on which to deal with private members’ business. And assuming that full advantage be taken of both opportunities, J venture to say that it is beyond the bounds of possibility that any final decision can be arrived at. At any rate, the idea that the discussion can lead to anything practical must be discarded as an idle effort of the imagination. ‘ If Senator Playford bases his motion on the grounds of practical expediency, and he believes that the Bills can. lead to something and the motions to nothing, he ought to show what chance there is of the Bills being successfully proceeded with.
– Why not finish and have a division on the first Thursday ?
– Even, so; doesthe honorable gentleman think that Senator Pearce’s Bill could be passed into law in time to be referred to the people at the coming election ?
– There is a thousand to one against that.
– : The honorable senator is stating the odds too mildly, because not even a miracle could give practical effect to that Bill. With regard to the other matter, I can quite understand the difficulty of the Government. No doubt it was felt that the Bill of one private member could notbe selected without also including the Bill of the other private member; and that accounts for the fact that Senator Stewart is bracketted with Senator Pearce.
– Who is the “ whitehaired boy “ ?
– Certainly not the honorable senator who asks the question. I am not now discussing the merits of Senator Stewart’s Bill ; but does any one suppose that there is the slightest chance of it passing into law ? It appears to me that the contention of the Minister that he is making this distinction on the ground that certain measures are practical and possible, while others are impracticable ana impossible, altogether falls to the ground. I think I have made it clear that all that can occur in regard to the Bills is further debate; and the same may be said in regard to the motions. As to the merits of the various proposals, we may reasonably say that the motion of Senator O’Keefe is equally important with the Bill of Senator Pearce. The motion of Senator O’Keefe opens up the whole financial question, which is of urgent importance to every State of the Commonwealth, as well as to the Commonwealth itself. We are shortly to be asked to deal with a Bill to amend the Constitution in its financial provisions ; and, therefore, nothing could be more important than a close examination of the financial position of the Commonwealth. Such a motion may end in debate, but so may the proposed Bill of Senator Pearce; and, therefore, I see no such difference as to justify the discrimination suggested by the Government. All debate presumably has an object; and the object of Senator Pearce’s remarks was to direct attention to an important matter, and, as far as possible, expedite Government action. The motion in reference to defence matters is important, and all the more practical in view of the fact that the Minister has not yet unfolded his long-promised defence scheme. Am I to be told that we are wasting time in discussing the question of defence in the absence of a Ministerial scheme, any more than that we are wasting time in discussing the nationalization! of industries, in the absence of any Government pronouncement? The whole thing must stand together; there can be no practical legislation this session, but all. discussion tends to widen knowledge, and, probably, hasten our steps towards some clearly defined objective, or to enable us to determine what the objective should be. For that reason, I am unable to discriminate, as suggested by the Government ; and, therefore, I shall vote against the motion. At the same time, had the Government submitted the motion as originally framed, I should have felt inclined to support it, in order that we might not close the mouths of those who desire to reply to the speech I delivered.
– It is a great pity that, towards the close of each session, we are brought face to face with this difficulty.
– It is a great pity the session ever closes !
– It is a great pity that Parliaments and the leaders of Parliament never seem to learn anything by experience. At the ‘end of every session there is a regular rush of business. We find private members’ business thrown overboard, and Government business introduced at the rate of half-a-dozen Bills at a time. No opportuuity for legitimate or exhaustive discussion is given; and I take this occasion to impress on the Government, on the Opposition, and on the Labour Party the suggestion that, if this Senate is to do any useful work, our methods must be different in the future. In the first place, the Government are the responsible power, . and yet they permit the business of the Senate, during’ the first month of the session, to move along in the most dawdling, fashion. When Bills are submitted, honorable senators on the Opposition side reiterate each other’s arguments by the hour on the second reading, and regularlyj at half-past ten o’clock at night, the representative of the Government consents to an adjournment. All this is really playing into the hands of the Opposition, the members of which do not wish to see any business whatever to the credit of the Government. If the Senate is to do any useful work, we must sit earlier in the year, and sit longer.
– And we ought all to be here.
– That is a jibe which is very often thrown at me because I do not happen to attend earlier in the session, being usually very much more profitably employed, both to myself and the country. Very shortly after the beginning of the present session the Senate adjourned for three weeks. The present arrangements are very easy for honorable senators who are able to leave for their homes every week-end ; but the case is different with senators, like myself, who reside in outlying portions of the Commonwealth, and have to remain in Melbourne until the end of the session. We cannot, like other honorable senators, rush to Sydney on the one hand, or Adelaide on the other, every week, and thus compel other honorable senators to suit our convenience. Now, at the end of the session, when it is found that there is more business that can be carried through, the Government propose to jettison a number of private members’ motions, some of which I believe to be much more important than any measure introduced by the Government this session. I realize that it is impossible to discuss beneficially all those motions at this late period of the session. With regard to the Bills about which Senator Millen is so much concerned-
– Why close the session at’ this particular stage. There is plenty of time.
– The honorable senator ought to know perfectly well that there is not plenty of time. There will be a general election some time in November, and if the honorable senator is not going on an electioneering campaign, other honorable senators are, and they desire to present themselves to their constituencies as early as possible. With the desire of those honor- ‘ able senators I sympathise ; because there are probably many things to be explained away, and honorable senators ought to have every opportunity to place themselves in a favourable light before the people.
– Is the honorable senator referring to the Anti- Socialist party?
– I suppose that members of all parties have more or less to answer to their constituencies. In any case, the session must end within a month, and every member of this Chamber and another place is anxious to .get to his constituency. Indeed, to put the matter much more strongly, I think that members have made up their minds that Parliament must rise on the 30th September, or very early in October j we may take that as settled.
In regard to the Bills introduced by Senator Pearce and myself, if Senator Millen, who delighted us with, his three or four hours’ speech the other day, would curb his loquacity, and would persuade the other members of his party, who, I believe - at least I have heard a whisper - intend to talk the measure out-
– The honorable senator has heard more than I have.
– If honorable senators will only cease talking and permit the Bill to go through this, and, possibly, the other Chamber, and then do their talking in the face of the public, they will perform a patriotic duty. Apparently, however, Senator Millen has no confidence in his own case, because, rather than submit the matter to the public, he would block the Bill. I now invite Senator Millen to transfer the discussion of the question from Parliament to the hustings, when he will find what is the real opinion of the people of Australia. In regard to the Papua Bill, which I have been guilty of introducing, it could be decided in five minutes. In my opinion, every honorable senator knows how he is going to vote; and I have no other desire than to get a decision. I should be veryglad to see the measure carried, but - - .
– That is the desire of every man who has spoken.
– Surely there cannot be any great discussion on the proposal to give the white people, of Papua some voice in the Government of the Territory in which they live. In any case, I intend to support the motion as it has been amended. I am extremely sorry, however, that such a number of excellent motions have to be thrown overboard.
– As long as the honorable senator gets an opportunity to deal with his little motion, he does not care.
– I am not quite so selfish as that. Even, if my motion had been thrown overboard, recognising the position as it exists, I think it is very probable that I would have voted for the motion of the Minister. But I do hope that in the future the Government will call Parliament together earlier in the year, that the Senate will sit oftener and longer, and that private senators will have that opportunity to bring forward business which they ought to have. The business of the Senate ought not to be entirely a monopoly of the Committee, which we call the Government, but. every private senator ought to have as ample an opportunity as is possible to bring forward any measure which he may desire to submit.
– I think that the Minister is on safe ground in differentiating between private Bills and private motions. Notwithstanding that, 1 recognise that there are one or two motions which are entitled to a little consideration, and while I am not prepared to move an amendment-, I would ask the Minister to allow an opportunity for the discussion of them, especially the motion which deals with the distribution of revenue, and which I know holds a somewhat high place as a matter of importance in the minds of a number of honorable senators.
– Would not the honorable senator like to have an opportunity to say a few words on the motion of Senator Stewart relating to the modification or abolition of Customs duties?
– That is of no immediate consequence, but as regards the other motion, there ought to be a further opportunity afforded for an expression of opinion. Even if it were limited to one or two hours the Minister ought to try to meet the convenience of honorable senators.
– In reply to the request of Senator Pulsford, I desire to say that if Government business should be dealt with in a highly satisfactory manner, I should be only too pleased to allow time for all the motions in the name of private senators to be discussed. Honorable senators will have to trust to me to say whether time will be available. I shall consult with them on the subject, and if I can afford an opportunity for the discussion of any or all of the notices of motion, I shall be onlv too happy to do so.
Question put. The Senate divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That so much of standing order No. 271 as refers to a period of twenty-one days be suspended for the remainder of the session for the purpose of expediting the passing through its remaining stages of the Constitution Alteration (Senate Elections) Bill.
In view of the fact that a proposal which was intended to effect a similar object wasrather fully discussed here on Friday, I do not purpose to again relate all the circumstances which have led up to the moving of this motion. Honorable senators, I believe, all realize that it is desirable that the session should close at the end of this month. And, in view of the fact that the Standing Orders necessitate a call of the Senate for the third reading of a Bill to alter the Constitution, they also recognise that it would seriously imperil the prospect of the session ending as soon as is desired if we had to comply most strictly with standing order 271, which fixes the notice for a call at not less than twenty-one days. If it would not imperil the prospect of an early termination of the session it might, on the other hand, imperil the prospect of an early appeal to the country. I am sure honorable senators will acquit me of any intention to scamp discussion when I say that I feel satisfied that the circumstances, as detailed by me on Friday last, are so fresh in their minds that they will see that their is no necessity to expend unnecessary time in discussing this matter.”
– How many days notice of the call does the Minister propose to give?
– If the motion be carried, I propose to have a call of the Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday next. I think that by this time not only those who are here, but all who could possibly attend during the session, are well aware of the fact that this Bill to alter the Constitution has been dealt with in its early stages, and that its third reading must fake place before the Parliament is prorogued. I do not propose to discuss the merits of the proposed alteration, because they were dealt with very fully in connexion with the Bill. But I would point out that the object of suspending the standing order is to enable the Bill to be presented for indorsement or rejection by the electors at the forthcoming general election.
– I shall endeavour to imitate for once the excellent example of the Minister by being as brief as I can. I have frequently voiced here a strong objection to tampering with the Standing Orders. It is necessary to consider ‘for what purpose they have been adopted. They have not been adopted merely to suit any passing expediency or for any party purpose. They are, I fake it, the result of many years experience of parliamentary government. They have been adopted, not merely to secure the proper expedition of public business, but also to safeguard the rights of minorities and the interests of the electors we represent. In proportion as we suspend the Standing Orders, or, as I say, tamper with them, we undo some of those safeguards. In this particular case these general objections are intensified by the fact that the object of standing order 271 is to secure that due deliberation shall be given to measures affecting the Constitution. If there is any reason for a standing order to prevent the slipping through of an ordinary Bill, surely there must be greater reason for a standing order to prevent the rapid passage of a Bill to amend the Constitution. The difficulty with which the Government are trying to grapple is due to their own neglect. There was no reason why thev should have allowed this question to stand over until this stage of the session. For reasons best known to themselves, they have done so. The question as to when the elections should take place has been in the minds of the public and the Government for months. I could, if I wished to detain the Senate, quote from speeches in which Ministers have given countenance to the suggestion when originally made.
– There is such a thing as overlooking the twenty-one days’ notice oF a call required bv standing order 271.
– T must say that I absolutely overlooked the standing order.
– There is no such standing order in the other House.
– The other House has nothing to do with us. Ministers now admit that they did not make themselves acquainted with the Standing Orders under which they had to work.
– Many other honorable senators had also failed to do so, I think.
– I do not think that many members of the Opposition did. My honorable friend begins to recognise, probably, that the Opposition has more than a passing acquaintance with the Standing Orders. I suggest that . the Government should also give attention to them.
– I only point that out as a reason why Ministers in the other House were not likely to know.
– The business of Ministers in the Senate is to conform to the Standing Orders under which we work. Instead of that, however, they blunder along, get into difficulty, and then come forward and ask for the suspension of the Standing Orders in order to help them out of it. I protest against this practice. It is becoming rather too frequent. There is hardly a Supply’ Bill that comes before the Senate as to which Ministers do not move to suspend the Standing Orders. If a particular standing order appears to stand in the way of the business they have in hand, they move for its suspension. Surely it would be simpler if they moved for the suspension of the whole of our Standing Orders, and adopted the principle that any honorable senator could come along at any time with any motion that he liked to submit. We should then know that our only safeguard was to be here at all times; there would be no rules for our guidance, and we should drift into that happy position indicated by an honorable senator as a “ goasyouplease.” But while that method of procedure may have its merits in the domain of sport, I have yet to learn that a system of the kind has any advantages over the system which has been adopted under the form of government that we are trying to work out, namely, parliamentary government. It may be urged that no grave danger can arise from what is proposed, because every member of the Senate will get notice of what it is proposed to do. But that is not a sufficient answer. In the first place, the Minister cannot guarantee that every senator will receive notice; ‘but even if he could, what will happen with regard to the other Bills which it is proposed to introduce for the purpose of amending the Constitution? While the Government may give honorable senators notice in this instance, if we suspend with very fully in connexion with the Bill. But I would point out that the object of suspending the standing order is to enable the Bill to be presented for indorsement or rejection by the electors at the forthcoming general election.
– I shall endeavour to imitate for once the excellent example of the Minister by being as brief as I can. I have frequently voiced here a strong objection to tampering with the Standing Orders. It is necessary to consider ‘for what purpose they have been adopted. They have not been adopted merely to suit any passing expediency or for any party purpose. They are, I take it, the result of many years experience of parliamentary government. They have been adopted, not merely to secure the proper expedition of public business, but also to safeguard the rights of minorities and the interests of the electors we represent. In proportion as we suspend the Standing Orders, or, as I say, tamper with them, we undo some of those safeguards. In this particular case these general objections are intensified by the fact that the object of standing order 271 is to secure that due deliberation shall be given to measures affecting the Constitution. If there is any reason for a standing order to prevent the slipping through of an ordinary Bill, surely there must be greater reason for a standing order to prevent the rapid passage of a Bill to amend the Constitution. The difficulty with which the Government are trying to grapple is due to their own neglect. There was no reason why thev should have allowed this question to stand over until this stage of the session. For reasons best known to themselves, they have done so. The question as to when the elections should take place has been in the minds of the public and the Government for months. I could, if I wished to detain the Senate, quote from speeches in which Ministers have given countenance to the suggestion when originally made.
– There is such a thing as overlooking the twenty-one days’ notice of a call required bv standing order 271-
– T must say that I absolutely overlooked the standing order.
– There is no such standing order in the other House.
– The other House has nothing to do with us. Ministers now admit that they did not make themselves acquainted with the Standing Orders under which they had to work.
– Many other honorable senators had also failed to do so, I think.
– I do not think that many members of the Opposition did. My honorable friend begins to recognise, probably, that the Opposition has more than a passing acquaintance with the Standing Orders. I suggest that : the Government should also give attention to them.
– I only point that out as a reason why Ministers in the other House were not likely to know.
– The business of Ministers in the Senate is to conform to the Standing Orders under which we, work. Instead of that, however, they blunder along, get into difficulty, and then come forward and ask for the suspension of the Standing Orders in order to help them out of it. I protest against this practice. It is ‘becoming rather too frequent. There is hardly a Supply’ Bill that comes before the Senate as to which Ministers do not move to suspend the Standing Orders. If a particular standing order appears to stand in the way of the business they have in hand, they move for its suspension. Surely it would be simpler if they moved for the suspension of the whole of our Standing Orders, and adopted ‘the principle that any honorable senator could come along at any time with any motion that he liked to submit. We should then know that our only safeguard was to be here at all times; there would be no rules for our guidance, and we should drift into that happy position indicated by an honorable senator as a “ goasyouplease.” But while that method of procedure may have its merits in the domain of sport, I have yet to learn that a system of the kind has any advantages over the system which has been adopted under the form of government that we are trying to work out, namely, parliamentary government. Tt may be urged that no grave danger can arise from what is proposed, because every member of the Senate will get notice of what it is proposed to do. But that is not a. sufficient answer. In the first place, the Minister cannot guarantee that every senator will receive notice; but even if he could, what will happen with regard to the other Bills which it is proposed to introduce for the purpose of amending the Constitution ? While the Government may give honorable senators notice in this instance, if we suspend ing on this proposal. The fact that it is necessary to have the general election some time in November or early in December, and that it may be convenient to take a referendum at the same time, does not appear to me to be a sufficient ground for dispensing with the safeguards. Instead of looking at an amendment of the Constitution as being so important that it should not be attempted without the utmost deliberation, we are apparently adopting the principle that, in this early stage of the Commonwealth, when an election is coming on, we should, so to speak, send round a bellman to ask if there is any one who would like an amendment of the Constitution made. If one section says, “ We should like this amendment,” and another section says “We should like that,” opportunities are to be given to them to test their little fads. These proposals are to be rushed through in a hurry at the close of the session, in order that the proposed amendments of the Constitution shall be voted upon by the electors at a general election. Such a method of amending the Constitution was never intended bv the framers of. it. It was never contemplated that every time an election took place, an endeavour should be made to find out the views of those who would like to see the Constitution altered, and that proposals to that effect should be rushed through in the closing days of a Parliament, when its members were tired, and both Houses were more or less demoralized. Again, it is not desirable to amend the Constitution in the way proposed, because I do not think that we shall obtain the well considered judgment of tha people when a whole group of proposed amendments are thrust upon them during a general election. There should be a period given to Parliament, and to the people, to become thoroughly seized of the probable effects of the amendments. It certainly is not desirable to thrust forward a number of proposed amendments at a time when the people are engaged in selecting members to represent them. At the last Federal elections in New South Wales, the people of the State were asked to answer a simple question with regard to the State Parliament. They were asked to decide whether the number of members should be reduced, and, if so, to what extent. I can assure honorable senators that there was a great deal of confusion in the minds of the electors. The subjects of State politics and of Federal politics were “ boxed up “ together in their minds, and the issues were never fairly presented to them. It is not fair to the electors to expect them to answer a number of questions at the ballot-box. I do not think that a general election is an appropriate time at which to submit to the people important questions involving amendments of the Constitution. At the forthcoming elections, if the proposals of the Government are carried out, the electors will be asked to vote upon as many as four proposed amendments of the Constitution at the same time. This is likely to lead to a great deal of confusion, and certainly will not secure the very best judgment of the people upon what is proposed. Our Standing Orders were passed expressly to provide that proper consideration should be given to proposed amendments of the Constitution. When they were passed, they were regarded always from a non-party stand-point. But, whenever a proposal to suspend standing - orders is made, it is regarded more or less from the standpoint of one party which happens to have a majority. Thereby a majority deliberately - for party purposes sometimes - suspends standing orders which were agreed to at a time when no party considerations whatever were involved in framing them. The particular standing order with which we are now concerned was solemnly adopted for the reason that when it was proposed to submit to the electors a question involving an amendment of the Constitution, ample time should be given for reflection and consideration before the Senate agreed that the proposed amendment should be submitted to the electors, and that there should also be ample time for the electorsto consider the proposal. Now it is proposed to sweep aside that safeguard. There never was a time, however, when it was more necessary than on the present occasion. We are proposing to amend the Constitution for the first time. Probably in the future, whenever amendments of the Constitution are proposed, they will be amendments on far more difficult matters than the one now under consideration, and matters that have been considered for years, because we know that public opinion with regard to important questions gains strength from reflection, and afterwards comes to a focus. That has been. so in the United States, and we mayassume that hereafter no amendment of the Constitution willbe proposed there except as the outcome of consideration and discussion extending over years. Now we are proposing to amend our Constitution merely in deference to a cry that has been raised by a. very few persons, and in connexion with a question that is. not known and understood outside. It will be almost impossible for candidates at the coming elections, no matter what efforts they may put forth, to acquaint the electors with the exact meaning of the amendment. I, for one, do not believe that the cry for this amendment has emanated from the section of the people to whom it is attributed I do not say so disrespectfully, but I think” that it has originated with politicians who have been hard driven to account for certain results at elections. They have indicated this, that, and the other as the cause of those results. Some have said that it was because the farmers growing wheat in one particular State found it inconvenient to record their votes at a particular time of the year, and they, therefore, desired that the date for holding the elections should be altered. This request has enlisted sympathy, the proposal to alter the ‘date of the elections has been taken up by the Government, and they now propose solemnly to amend the Constitution in order that the elections may be held at a different time of the year, in order to accommodate the wheat-growers in one State. If the proposed amendment is carried, and if the Constitution is altered as proposed, we shall probably find that another class in the community, quite as numerous as the wheat-growers, will find the altered date inconvenient, and politicians who may consider that they have lost some votes in consequence of the elections being held at that time, may come forward at the end of another three years with another proposal to amend the Constitution in order that the elections may take place at some other time. I say that it is all verypaltry and very small. It is most unfortunate that oroposals for the amendment of the Constitution should be brought forward so hastily that it should be necessary to ask the Senate to suspend the Standing Orders in order that the safeguards solemnly and” carefully provided should be removed. I shall vote against the motion.
-35!- - I should be very sorry if the motion were put without having expressed my view upon it. Much that I should like to have said has already been said by Senators Millen and Drake, but I feel constrained to urge other considerations upon the Senate. We have made provision under our Standing Orders for a call of the Senate in only one set of circumstances, and that is when a Bill is before us to amend the Constitution. It must therefore be obvious that a very important additional reason againstthe suspension of our Standing Orders is supplied when we are asked to suspend them 011 an occasion of this sort. It will be a poor thing if it must subsequently be admitted that when the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia first sought to amend the Constitution it began by breaking its own Standing Orders. I have very rarely agreed to the suspension of the Standing Orders in any circumstances whatever, and, as a general rule, it is a course which should be religiously avoided. In this case, we have been frankly told bySenator Keating that we are being asked to suspend this standing order because he has overlooked it. I welcome the frank admission, but I submit that the offence is not minimized because of it. It is just as bad for us to break the Standing Ordersin these circumstances as it would have been to break them wittingly and knowingly. The argument really is that the standing orders relating to a call of the Senate are all right so long as no ordinary or extraordinary impediment arises against their use. That is to say, that so long as the business of the Senate can be conducted smoothly and without very much difficulty in due conformity with the Standing Orders, they have been properly drawn and should be observed, but when an occasion arises, no matter what the circumstances, when it becomes desirable or convenient that the Standing Orders should be set aside, there is no reason at all why that course should not be taken. I cannot agree with that reasoning. My view is that the Standing Orders have been carefully and properly drawn with a definite intention of providing against what is at present proposed, in order that the Senate should not be carried away by a desire to do something in an unusual way, or at any unusual time. The Standing Orders are a safeguard’ of the interests of the minority. I do not wish to discuss whether the Government have a majority prepared to suspend this standing order in this instance, but it has been framed, amongst other reasons, in order to protect the interests of the minority, and I should find it extremely difficult to justify the action or any Government that would propose to suspend a standing order merely because they had a majority prepared to support them in doing so. The onus of justification for the suspension of a standing, order on this, as on every other occasion, must rest with the majority. I do not wish to deal with the intrinsic merits of the Bill, to facilitate the passing of which it is proposed to suspend standing order 271, but I direct the attention of honorable senators to what is likely to happen. First of all, I think that the motion should be condemned as it stands, but after Senator Playford’s explanation, we must recognise that this is likely to be only the first of a series of such motions. I refer to the fact that the honorable senator has given contingent notice of similar’ motions for the suspension of this standing order, to enable other measures of this class to be passed during the present session. That does not make the offence in this instance any less, but if we agree to this motion now in order to allow the particular Bill to which it refers to go through, it will be idle and perhaps unjustifiable for us to oppose the suspension of. the standing order, in order to allow some other Bills, which have yet to be submitted to us, to go through. I shall oppose the motion in every succeeding instance, as I do now. The proposal, in my opinion, is absolutely wrong on its merits, quite irrespective - of the Bill proposed to be dealt with. Senator Drake very properly directed the attention of the Minister to the fact that it is questionable whether we should have a referendum at the same time as a general election. Assuming that the other Bills at which Senator Playford has hinted will also be passed, it will be necessary for the Government to prepare for the consideration of the electors a long series of necessarily complicated questions. At the coming election the electors will be asked to vote in one way for members of the House of Representatives and in another way for members of the Senate. They will be asked to express an opinion with respect to the alteration of the Constitution proposed in the Bill with which we are now dealing, and I imagine that it will be impossible to frame the question dealing with the matter in a very simple form. They will also be asked to give answers to questions affecting perhaps three or four more Bills.
– And they ought to know all about them.
– That is quite true. They will have to answer all these questions, and probably the only time they will have for consideration as to what their answer should be will be the interval between the time they enter the polling booth to vote and the time they come out of it. If the Government believe that at the coming election, in addition to their other duties, the duty should be superimposed upon candidates of explaining to the electors how they should vote on the various proposals submitted to them for the amendment of the Constitution, they will be imposing upon candidates far too great a task. If it is assumed that candidates for election will have to instruct the electors in their duties with respect to these different matters, my attitude will be that which I think will be adopted by many others - I shall decline to take the responsibility of telling the electors whether they should vote for this or that proposed amendment of the Constitution. I shall have quite as much as I can manage to induce the electors to agree with my views’ on general questions. If it is unfair, as I think it is, to ask the electors to answer these questions, we should stop at this stage, and should go no further. If we are to suggest an alteration of the Constitution, and in order to bring it about we must suspend one of our standing orders, we should have some practicable end in view. In my opinion the proposed referendum will be a failure. I believe that whatever the result of the voting may be, only the votes of a ridiculously small minority of the electors will be recorded on these questions. I should at once justify the attitude of any elector who would say, “ I decline at present to give an answer to these important questions. The matters they involve have been before the Commonwealth for so short a time that I have had no opportunity to investigate them, or to receive advice and instruction upon them.” It is too much to ask them to come to a decision on so important a matter as an alteration of the Constitution without giving them time to ascertain the merits of the proposal, or to be instructed upon it. We are at present being asked to suspend the most important of our Standing Orders to secure an expression of opinion which, I venture to say, will be by no means decisive. With regard to the question of notice we have provided that a call of the Senate shall not take’ place at a shorter interval than twenty-one days from the date of making the order for it. I am not at all sure that the period of twenty-one days was provided for merely to suit the convenience of members of the Senate. I think that it was provided for with some other object. It would be just as difficult to say that an honorable senator would be here twenty-one days hence as it would be to say that he would be here fourteen or four days hence. The period of twenty-one days was probably inserted in order that sufficient time might be given, to every honorable senator to seriously consider the question under discussion. If that be so, it is an additional reason, although we have discussed the Bill, for refusing to say that; despite the Standing Orders, honorable senators shall, within a few days, decide on a very important question. I do not think I am wrong in so interpreting the Standing Orders, though I admit there is a doubt. But if the question of convenience is the only one we have, to consider, there is not much convenience in being given three weeks’ notice; and, on the other hand, if we are going to intrust to the Ministry the power to break the Standing Orders, they may. unwittingly and unintentionally, give honorable senators insufficient notice. For instance, I heard Senator Keating say just now that if the motion be carried, his idea is to have a call of the Senate on Tuesday or Wednesday next. I say, again, that it is not right, in view of our Standing Orders, to allow any MinistryI am not referring to this Ministry particularly - to say that honorable senators must attend two or three .days hence. ‘ Without having any particular senators in my mind, I may say that next Tuesday or Wednesday may not suit all. For those reasons, and for many others - and especially because I hate the idea of surrounding the first alteration of the Constitution with such conditions - I feel impelled to vote against the suspension of the Standing Orders. It seems to me more than a pity that the reason for the alteration of the Constitution should not be a great, grave, and important one, or, at any rate, that our method of bringing about an alteration should involve such conditions. Assuming that it is most desirable to alter the date of the Senate elections, it is still deplorable that we should bring the change about by break- ing the Standing Orders. If the proposed alteration of the Constitution is important, this ought to be just the occasion to jealously and carefully obey every provision that was thoughtfully made, not only bv the framers of our Standing Orders, but by the framers of the Constitution. I doubt the merits of the Bill, and I allude again to the fact that on this, the first, occasion on which we have to provide for a call of the Senate in connexion with a proposal to amend the Constitution, we are asked to break the Standing Orders. For the reasons I have given I must oppose the motion.
– I do not propose to occupy the time of the Senate many minutes. The proposal of the Government is objected to on the ground that if is one to ‘break the Standing Orders which have been instituted as a safeguard. But this is not a proposal to break the Standing Orders ; it is a proposal to suspend a standing order. I think it is reasonable to assume that the power to suspend any of the Standing Orders - the power contained in the Standing Orders themselves - is also a safeguard. I take it that this power would not be there if it were not, as has been frequently discovered, that the Standing Orders, which are excellent in themselves, might sometimes render it impossible for Parliament, after sufficient deliberation. to give effect to its will. Therefore this povision has been made in order to meet such a contingency. I can quite understand that this particular standing order was instituted because it was recognised that a number of members of the Senate might be at a considerable distance from the Senate, and that it would be impossible to make a call unless some considerable period were provided. But I understand it is competent - our present knowledge assures us that it is competent - to make a call of the Senate completely effective so far as giving everybody notice within the time required is concerned. It has been contended that the Government are to blame - that they have been remiss in not being aware of the existence of this standing order. I take the liberty to urge that there is a great deal of excuse for the Government having overlooked the standing order, which is unusual, so far as I have any knowledge. It is not a standing order of any’ State Parliament that I know of; and j, and most other members of the Commonwealth Parliament, have obtained the greater part of our experience and knowledge from the Standing Orders of the States Parliaments. I am not aware that there is such a standing order in the House of Commons; but, in my opinion, it is altogether a novel, but very wise provision in connexion with an alteration of our Constitution. It does not, however, follow that because it is wise that the standing order should be there, certain contingencies may not arise under which, it may be desirable to suspend it. I respectfully submit that the present is such a contingency, when, without injun’, the standing order may be suspended so as to enable Parliament to give expression to its will. I speak of Parliament, of course, as represented -by the Senate, because, so far as the Senate is concerned, the Bill has been declared a desirable one to be submitted to the people. It is possible, in conformity with the proposed amendment, to give honorable senators notice that they will be expected to be here to vote on the third reading, and thereby give the measure the constitutional force it requires. I intend to vote for the suspension of the standing order. It has been urged by Senator Drake that we are frivolously, and with too little consideration, proposing to alter the Constitution. Parliament, of course, might without sufficient consideration propose to alter the Constitution ; but there are safeguards against any injudicious or ill-considered alteration, inasmuch as there must be approval by an absolute majority. There are, however, other and greater safeguards outside Parliament. It is provided that amy alteration of the Constitution must be carried by a majority of the people, and by a majority of the States ; so that there is no danger whatever of any frivolous or ill-considered amendment. I have no hesitation in saying that the framers of our Constitution took pains to facilitate an amendment to a greater degree than was taken in the case of the American Constitution - and they took pains because of the difficulties which have arisen in the case of the American Constitution. While I agree with all that has been said about the necessity of amending the Constitution only with care, and after thought and deliberation, I venture to say that its framers foresaw - indeed, all sensible men did - that we could only know in the working of the Constitution, from time to time, how best to adapt it to our requirements. We have learned from experience that it is desirable to hold the elections at a more convenient time, and, in order to achieve that, it is necessary to alter the Constitution. If it is an alteration which would give greater convenience to the electors. I do not agree with those who hold the view that it should not be made because it is only a slight alteration.
.- If I, by any means, am induced to vote for the proposal it certainly will be under protest. I feel that the principle involved in the proposal is bad, and that its adoption would be warranted only by extraordinary exigencies. I am disposed to take the view that the period of twenty-one days was provided in order to afford time for reflection and deliberation, and not merely for the purpose of securing an absolute majority. It is quite true that the Constitution itself provides for many safeguards. But the Senate, in the framing of our Standing Orders, thought it was desirable, in so serious a matter as that of the alteration of the Constitution, to insert a special provision in order that nobody might be taken by surprise. But the difficulty I am placed in is that I believe the Bill to be a desirable one, while, on the other hand, we are assured by the Government that the desirable object cannot be achieved under present circumstances, because it will be impossible to keep Parliament together after the 30th of this month.
– It is impossible to keep a quorum now.
– We are told that it will be impossible to achieve the desirable object of the Bill unless some extraordinary step such as that now proposed is taken. It is true that a special referendum might be taken, but that would be a serious matter, involving a cost of, perhaps, £30,000 to ,£50,000.
– I think there ought to be a quorum present to discuss this important question. [Quorum formed.]
– What we have to determine is whether under the exigencies which have arisen we are justified in curtailing the twenty-one days’ notice required by the standing order. There are two reasons which weigh with me very much. The first is that the attendance of all honorable senators, except one who has leave of absence, can be secured within seven days. All honorable senators, except Senator
Matheson, are either in New South Wales or Victoria.
– It is necessary to get an absolute majority.
– I have urged that there was a double object in view. The first was I believe to secure reflection and deliberation, and the second to secure a majority. The question is whether that reflection and deliberation can be secured within seven, days, and also whether a majority, can be secured. The fact that a majority can be secured does weigh with me. If any honorable senators were in Western Australia, I should be very much disposed to hesitate, and warn the Government against the course which they are taking. But the fact remains that all honorable senators, except one, can be in attendance to give a thoughtful consideration to the measure. That is a very important aspect of the matter, and certainly does tend to sway me.
– That would apply toall motions of a similar character.
– Each motion will have to be considered on its merits. There is an amendment of the Constitution in which I feel keenly interested, and- in which the whole community takes a very great interest, and that is one to enable a transfer of the States debts to be made to the Commonwealth. I am prepared to go a long way in order to secure that object. If I were to vote in accordance with my instincts against the measure before the Senate, it might be urged against me that I would not be justified in sanctioning a departure in the case of the other measure. In these circumstances. I feel myself placed on the horns of a dilemma. I solemnly protest against the extraordinary course which is being taken. But in view of the fact that the measure to which I have just referred is of .such urgent importance that I would vote for a suspension of the standing order in that case, I have to submit gracefully to what I knowto be wrong on the present occasion.
– I voted in favour of the Bill in respect of which a call of the Senate is required ; but I do not see how I can vote for the motion. The arguments of honorable senators on> this side have convinced me that the first time we are asked to amend the Constitution is a verv important occasion indeed. It appears to me that we shall have at least “three such Bills to deal with, and that in respect of each Bill a similar step will need to be taken. If there is any measure in respect of which we should not agree to suspend the Standing Orders it is one to alter the Constitution. I had the honour of being one of the framers of the Constitution in a humble way, and I do not wish it to go down to posterity that, when it was proposed to amend the Constitution in three particulars, I voted to suspend the Standing Orders, and wipe away the safeguards which its framers had laid down.
– The framers of the Constitution did not make the Standing Orders of the Senate.
– The Senate framed these safeguards, and now it is asked to wipe them away. Frequently honorable senators object to suspend the Standing Orders to facilitate the passage of most ordinary measures, for instance, to enable the report on an amended Bill to be adopted or the third reading of a Bill to be taken at once. In my opinion the Senate would do well to lay it down as a rule that the Standing Orders shall not be suspended in the case of a Bill to amend the Constitution. If during this session we suspend the Standing Orders in order to pass three Bills to amend the Constitution, that precedent will be quoted for centuries to come as indicating the proper procedure in amending the Constitution.
– Why should it not?
– The legislators of the Commonwealth would have the precedent thrown in their teeth for all time to come. I would rather have my name associated with those who objected to a suspension of the Standing Orders for that purpose. It has been said, I believe with a very great deal of truth, that not one-half of the men who will go to the poll will understand the questions on which they are asked to vote. In support of that view, I may mention that I was discussing politics with some friends on Sunday night. One of the most active officers of the Women’s National League, who for eighteen months has worked harder than any other woman in Melbourne to get persons enrolled, who has told her fellow women that they would have to vote, and take an interest in politics, and who probably knows more about politics than ninety-nine out of a hundred of her sex, said To me, “ Mr. Dobson, I shall not vote.” I asked, “ What is the matter?” She replied, “I have a smattering of politics. I know something of the Constitution but what do I know about these several amendments of the Constitution 7” Apart from that illustration, commonsense tells us that, in the attempt to get into the heads of persons half-a-dozen complicated subjects, as well as the policies of the Ins and the Outs, and the important question of whom they are to vote for, the utmost confusion will prevail. It will require thought, time, the help of the press, and an infinite amount of pains to make the ordinary man in the street understand the questions on which he will have to vote, and what ‘the proposed amendments of the Constitution mean. We all recognise that an amendment of the Constitution to enable all the debts of the States to be taken over by the Commonwealth, is a very important matter. But it is more important that we should take care not to create a precedent which would be quoted against us for centuries to come. This question is of so serious a nature that I ventured to call attention to the state of the Senate just now. But, apparently, honorable senators do not seem to take much interest in the discussion. They appear to take it for granted that the Constitution is to be amended, and pay no heed to the Standing Orders, which were framed to prevent the Constitution from being altered with undue haste. No future proposal to amend the Constitution could surpass in importance the three alterations which are now suggested. I believe that to agree to this motion would be to establish a precedent from which the Parliament of the Commonwealth would not hereafter be able to escape.
– I have listened with considerable interest to the criticism which has been levelled at the motion. It seems to me that some honorable senators, notwithstanding their asservations to the contrary, are quite prepared almost to place the Standing Orders of the Senate on exactly the same plane as the provisions of the Constitution. Senator Dobson has evidently mixed up the two things in his mind because, in his opening remarks, he could not help referring to the standing orders relating to a call of the Senate as checks imposed upon an amendment of the Constitution by its framers. I take an entirely different view from that which has been offered by certain honorable senators as to the twenty-one days’ notice of a call. I cannot think that it was required in order, as is said, to give to honorable senators an opportunity for reflection and deliberation before they agreed to the third reading of a Bill to amend the Constitution. I would draw their attention to the fact that the standing order which necessitates a call of the Senate to be made prior to the third reading of such a Bill is No. 233, which is isolated, so to speak, among our 435 Standing Orders, and included in the chapter headed “Public Bills.” Later on we come to chapter xx. - Committees of the Whole Senate - which embraces standing orders 247 to 270. Chapter xxi. - Call of the Senate - embraces standing orders 271 to 276 inclusive. They deal with the procedure in relation to a call of the Senate - not necessarily relating solely to a call in connexion with a Bill of this character. Standing order 271 provides that-
An order for a call of the Senate shall be made for any day not earlier than twenty-one days from the day on which such order shall have been made.
Senator demons has pointed out that so far as he is aware, there is no provision in the Standing Orders for a call of the Senate being obligatory, other than that in standing order 233 in connexion with a Bill of this character. But it is quite possible for a call of the Senate to be made for any purpose that the Senate might deem desirable. Standing orders 271 to 276 make provision for any call of the Senate which the Senate may deem it desirable to order. When it was provided in standing order 233 that there should be a call in connexion with a Bill to amend the Constitution, it was not provided specifically what period should be fixed. As I said just now, I differ from the opinion expressed by Senator Clemons that the object of the period fixed in standing order 271 - twenty-one days - is to give time for deliberation. In my opinion, the object is to insure the consideration of a Bill of this character on its third reading - its crucial stage - by such a number of senators that its adoption or rejection will be carried by an absolute majority of the Senate.
– That is, to insure the presence of nineteen senators?
– If the nineteen were unanimous, certainly, and if nineteen senators were wedded to provisions of this character, all the Standing Orders could have no effect against them. This particular standing order, so far from being for the protection of the minority is, in my opinion, for guarding the rights of the majority ; and to insure that honorable senators are given every reasonable notice to enable them to be in attendance upon the occasion when an absolute majority is required by the Constitution to pass the Bill.
– If the only intention is to insure that there shall be an absolute majority, that would be insured if there were nineteen senators present. There must be another reason behind it.
– I submit that the underlying principle of this standing order is to secure that the absolute majority shall have an opportunity to vote one way or the other. Another point that has been discussed at some length by Senator Drake, Senator Clemons, and Senator Dobson, is whether a general election affords the most convenient time for taking a referendum in reference to an alteration of the Constitution. I was asked by Senator Clemons to address myself to this point. I reply that the holding of a referendum at an election time must necessarily be attended by a great many conveniences. The Government, at any rate, is of opinion that the advantages far outweigh any disadvantages. In the first place, iT the referendum takes place at the same time as the House of Representatives and ‘half the members of the Senate -have to be elected, you have two distinct forces operating in one direction, inducing a large number of electors to go to the poll. Again, you give to the electors the opportunity to get into direct communication with the candidates, many of whom would be ex-members of Parliament, and to ascertain from them the nature and scope of the amendment upon which they are asked to vote. But there is another very considerable convenience, and that is the question of economy. As I. pointed out some days ago in connexion with another matter, a Commonwealth general election involves an expenditure of, roughly, .£40,000. That expenditure would be incurred if the election were for the House of Representatives only, or if it were for the House of Representatives and half the Senate.
– The honorable senator does not mean that a referendum would cost so much?
– I think that it would cost a considerable amount if taken separately from a general election, though I do not suggest that it would cost £40,000. But it must be seen that, by taking the referendum simultaneously with the general election, we save a considerable sum. I point out, in conclusion, that what we are asking the Senate to df. is to suspend a standing order for a particular purpose.
– To rectify a blunder made bv the Ministry.
– I have told tho Senate frankly and honestly that I overlooked the particular standing order. I do not offer any excuse, though I may say that I have given to this mattei, as I have given to every matter of which I have had charge in the Senate, the fullest measure of my attenton. In this case such an accident has occurred as might happen to any one. Whether I sat on this side of the Chamber or on the other, I should always recognise that such accidents might occur. This is our first experience of the kind, and it is not unreasonable to expect that a standing order of this character should escape observation. The standing order in question deals in general terms with any call of the Senate, whether for this or any other purpose. The Standing Orders themselves provide that the Senate mav order their suspension in any emergency, and we are not to pick out one particular standing order and invest it with’ such sanctity as to say that we will not on any occasion suspend it.
– The Government creates the emergency, and then asks us to suspend the Standing Orders.
– We have not wittingy created that emergency
– The Government in doing it with regard to other Bills; they are not being hurried forward.
– We are taking every step possible to hasten progress with those Bills, and I think that honorable senators will have them in hand at the earliest possible moment. They will then be able to give to the measures their serious attention. We are asking for the suspension of the standing order; in question, recognising that the Standing Orders themselves contain provisions for their suspension in cases of emergency.
– Does that apply to amendments of the Constitution?
– It applies to any occasion. My honorable friend seems to be still mixing up in his mind the checks imposed by the Constitution on its own amendment, and the provisions in our Standing Orders.
– An amendment of the Constitution ought to be treated exceptionally.
– If a Bill dealing with an amendment of the Constitution ought to form an exception to any suspensive power over our own Standing Orders, we should have an express standing order to that effect. My honorable friend should give notice of such a standing order, which could be considered by the Standing Orders Committee. But that is not a matter to be discussed now. Honorable senators will realize that if the motion is carried, we shall conserve in a general way the object intended by the standing order, which was meant to apply not particularly to Bills of this character, but to any purpose for which the Senate might direct a call.
Question put. The Senate divided.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– In regard to the motion of which I have given notice, I should like to say, as was intimated in discussing the previous motion to-day, and a similar motion on Friday last, that I propose that the call of the Senate to deal with this Bill shall take place on Tuesday or Wednesday next.
– The Minister must fix a date.
– I propose to alter the date from Friday, 28th day of September, to Tuesday, the 18th day of September.
– The Minister should make it Wednesday.
– Very well, Wednesday will do. I move -
That there be a call of the Senate on Wednesday, the 19th day of September, 1906.
It seems to me that the motion is in conformity with the wording of the standing order. Whether it is necessary to state what the call is for, I must confess I am not in a position to say, because the standing order simply reads -
Before the third reading of any Bill by which an alteration of the Constitution is proposed, there shall be a call of the Senate.
If we were to read the standing order very literally, it would be hard to say that it expressly provides that the call shall be for the date on which the third reading is to take place.
– It obviously means a call for the third reading.
– Then standing order 271 provides that -
An order for the call of the Senate shall be made for any day not earlier than twenty-one days from the day on which such order shall have been made.
So far as I can see, nothing is said in standing orders 271 to 276 dealing with the procedure regulating calls, as to setting out in the notice of a call, the object of the call, or what shall be the terms of the notice. Standing order 272 simply provides that-
A notice of the order for a call of the Senate, signed by the Clerk, shall be forwarded by post to each Senator.
The next standing order provides that the call shall be the first order of the day, and the next for calling over the names. Then there is a provision for honorable senators who are not present when the names are called over, but subsequently attend, and then a provision for senators who do not attend on the day fixed for the call. I mention this matter at this stage because I understand that in one of the States’ Parliaments there has been some provision for making calls of this character. I was not aware of the fact until this afternoon, and I do not know what particular procedure is followed in the Parliament referred to. I submit that the motion I have moved is strictly in conformity with the standing order, but if honorable senators think it desirable that there should be some specific reference to this particular Bill, either in connexion with the motion, with the notice of the call, or with both, I shall be very glad, if possible, to meet their wishes. This is the first time we have adopted any procedure under these standing orders, and I should like to have the assistance of honorable senators in dealing with the matter, in order that we may lay down a course of procedure in connexion with calls which will be applicable to any circumstances that might arise.
– I may say, in reference to these calls, that I have had no previous experience in the matter. But there was a call made of the House of Assembly in South Australia a very long time ago. and there they have similar Standing Orders to ours. Most Parliaments make provision that any alteration of the Constitution must be approved by an absolute majority. There was, as I say, at one time a call of the House of Assembly in South Australia, and it was made simply a call df the House, and not for any particular purpose. On the date fixed the names of honorable members were called over, and they voted or not as they thought fit.
– I should like, sir, to ask your ruling as to whether this motion can be made at this particular stage? Standing order 233 reads -
Before the third reading of any Bill by which an alteration of the Constitution is proposed there shall be a call of the Senate.
I admit that if that standing order is interpreted literally as it stands, it means that a call of the Senate can be made at any time whatever before the third reading of a Bill - that it can be made at any stage, even at the first reading.
– Why not?
– I am not proposing to say why not at the present time. I am asking you, sir, to give a ruling, and 1 admit that if you interpret the standing order in that wide way it will be quite in order to make the call at any stage whatever. But I submit for your consideration that another interpretation might possibly be put upon the standing order.
– That is so.
– Without .indicating my own views, I ask your ruling as to whether the words “ Before the third reading of any Bill “ might not be held to indi cate a stage at which all stages preceding the third reading had been completed, and after the consideration of the Bill as reported from Committee.
– Otherwise honorable senators might be brought here, and there might be no Bill’ for them to consider.
– Whilst the narrower reading I suggest might have much to support it, many difficulties might arise if it were decided that a call could be made at any stage of a measure, such as the first reading, or when it first comes before the Senate. I submit that if you rule the present motion in order, it will necessarily follow that it will be in order to make a call of the Senate at any stage of the passage of a Bill. If you decide to give to the words, “ Before the third reading of any Bill.” the narrower construction I have indicated, it will mean that the time must be a time when every other step has been completed, and the next to be taken is the third reading of the measure. Unless you rule in that way, it will be open to the widest application of the general words of the standing order. I am not raising any factious opposition to the motion, but I am submitting considerations as to the precedent it will create.
– The honorable and learned senator indicated these views the other day.
– Yes. I join with Senator Keating in recognising the fact that we are dealing with new procedure, and that the ruling which you, .sir, will give will be for our guidance in the future. For that reason, and for no other, I submit that it would have been better if the motion had stated that the call of the Senate on Wednesday, 19th September, would be for the purpose of the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (Senate Elections) Bill. I submit, also, that it would be better, in giving the notice of the call, to state the object of the call.
– It appears from the standing order that honorable senators, when thev attend, need not remain for the third reading of the Bill.
– I was just going to point that out. We know what we desire the call for. We require the call for a specific purpose, in order that a sufficient number of the members of the Senate may be present when the third reading is discussed, and, possibly, a division is taken to carry it bv an absolute majority. For these reasons,
I think that the motion should be more narrowly drawn, and should indicate definitely and clearly that the call of the Senate on the particular date referred to is to be for the particular purpose in the minds of us all. namely, the third reading of the Bill. I have not risen to in any way, at this stage, embarrass the passage of the Bill, but I ask you, sir, to rule on the points which I have submitted, because I think they ought to be decided as we go along, so that we may settle our own procedure.
– I should like to draw attention to some evidence which may be extracted from the standing order itself in support of the view suggested by Senator Clemons. That view is that the call must take place after the report on the Bill has been adopted, and prior to the third reading. I submit that that view is supported bv the later portion of the standing order. Standing order 233 provides -
Before the third reading of any Bill by which an alteration of the Constitution is proposed there shall be a call of the Senate.
Now if it were not intended that the call should take place immediately prior to the third reading, surely the balance of the standing order would be embodied in a separate rule. It reads -
If the third reading of any such Bill shall not have been carried by an absolute majority of the Senate, the Bill shall be forthwith laid aside without question put, and shall not be revived during the same session.
These two directions form part of the one standing order, and it seems to me, reading them together, that the clear intention is that the call shall take place immediately prior to the third reading, and that then, if, as a result, a certain majority is not obtained, the standing order tells us what will happen. If the call could take place at any time it would not be necessary to have the latter portion of the standing order. Further, let me point out, that if the call is not to take place immediately between the adoption of the report and the third reading, it will be possible, on the motion which Senator Keating is now submitting, to make the call apply to Bills not before the Senate, but which are now before another branch of the Legislature. Supposing that such other Bills reached this Chamber in the meantime, we should know nothing of them ; and when they reached the report stage, the Minister might point out that there was a call of the Senate for the 19th, and that that call was equally applicable to those Bills as to the specific Bill in connexion with which the call was originally moved. For those reasons I submit that the standing order clearly intends that the call shall take place between the stage of the report and the third reading.
– I think Senator Clemons indicated his point a few days ago when the order of the day for the consideration of the report was called upon. If standing order 233 is, as I urged in connexion with the previous matter, designed for the protection of the majority, it seems to me that the word “before” could, and should be construed to mean at any time before the third reading.
– Before the Bill is framed ?
– At any time before the Bill is dealt with finally by the Senate. That is, if the object of standing order 233 is to simply make provision for the attendance of honorable senators on a particular date in such large numbers as to enable the third reading to be passed or defeated by an absolute majority-
– How could notice be given of the third reading for a specific date when the Bill might not have passed through- Committee?
– If notice could hot be given to honorable senators, the Government would not fix a date.
– The Government might do so.
– They might, but they would not be so foolish.
– I do not know.
– There would be much more certainty if my suggestion were adopted.
– I shall point out the difficulty of that suggestion directly. If the notice is simply to insure the largest possible attendance, I think the word “ before “ could reasonably be read to mean at any time when the Government, or those responsible for moving for a call, could see their way to fix a particular date for the third reading of the measure. Of course, the Government would not move for an order of this character if they had not some reasonable certainty of bringing on the third reading on the date of the call. In reference to the interpretation suggested by Senator Clemons that “ before “ is to be taker to mean the stage immediately before the third reading - that is after the adoption of the. report - I point out that there is some difficulty. For a little time in connexion -with, this Bill 1 thought that perhaps, the course suggested by Senator Clemons would have been the proper nr-e to follow. But I recognised on the particular occasion when I refrained from moving the adoption of the report to which I have just referred, that if the report were adopted then and there, I should, according to the usual practice of the Senate, be called upon to name a date for the third reading. If I had named, say, the 28th or 29th September, and had afterwards to take action such as I have taken this afternoon to shorten the period of the call, I might have found myself somewhat in a difficulty. I could have set the third reading down for the next day, or some day during the week, but there would have been the difficulty that I should have been putting the third reading of the Bill on the notice-paper for a day when it could not be brought on in conformity with the Standing Orders. I should have been, practically, so far as the notice-paper was concerned, setting forth that the third reading would take place, say, on the 12th, when as a matter of fact, it could not have been taken until some other day. Had I adopted that course, I should have had to take action calculated, possibly, to mislead some honorable senators. Supposing we had adoped the report on Thursday or Friday last trie President would naturally have asked me to fix a day for the third reading. I know I could have set down the third reading for to-day, and. awaited the result of my motion for the call and for the suspension of the standing order. I should then have had to alter the date to, say, the 19th September. If, on the other hand, we had adhered rigidly to the standing order, and have fixed the 28th, I do not know what procedure I should have had to follow in order to bring on the third reading earlier. That is one of the strong reasons which influenced me in coming to the conclusion that “ before “ was not to be read as meaning immediately before the third reading, because, if that were the interpretation, the procedure would be very embarrassing. In other words, whether we carried out the Standing Orders in their entirety, or the Standing Orders as suspended, there would have to be a day fixed for the call before we could safely fix a day for the third reading. I use the word “ safely “ in the sense that honorable senators otherwise might be misled. I think that, having fixed the date by a motion of this character for a call, it is competent for us to set down the third reading for a particular day. That course would be more in consonance with our practice, and if you, sir, are of that opinion, you will, I submit, rule that the word “ before “ could not be very conveniently read as meaning immediately before the third reading, after the report stage.
– The difficulty of the Minister arises simply from the fact that he is taking an abnormal course.
– The difficulty would arise in any case.
– No.: in an ordinary case there would be no more difficulty in fixing a date for the third reading than there would be in regard to a motion for a call. The Minister is evidently afraid that, if he had fixed the third reading far ahead, say, on the 28th, and asked the Senate to suspend the standing order so as to make a call on an earlier date, he would have lost control over the third reading so far as an earlier date is concerned. A Minister can suggest a subsequent date, because the Bill would, on the day fixed, be called upon.
– If a third reading were fixed, and there was afterwards a motion for a call, the dates might differ.
– If the Minister succeeded in getting an earlier date, the date of the call would be before the third reading, and he could not bring the third reading on earlier, because the Bill would not be called on. This difficulty arises from the Minister proposing a suspension of the standing order.
– It arose before the suspension was contemplated.
– The Minister contemplated dealing with the Bill at an earlier date than that now proposed ; but that should not be taken into consideration in dealing with the interpretation of the standing order under ordinary conditions. According to standing order 206, a date must be fixed for the third reading of a Bill on motion ; and the Minister, under ordinary circumstances, would fix the date for the third reading sufficiently far ahead in order to insure that the date for the call would coincide.
– But he might not get a call fixed for that date.
– Both are motions to be passed by the Senate. It would be just as easy for the Minister to fix a date for his third reading, and get the Senate to fix the same date for the call, as to pass any other motion.
– Most assuredly; the Minister might anticipate opposition just as much to one motion as to the other.
– The honorable senator thinks the Minister fixes both dates, whereas he only gives notice of the date for the third reading.
– The Minister fixes the date for the third reading on motion.
– The Minister gives notice of the day on which he will take the third reading.
– The third reading is fixed by motion which may be defeated, just as the motion for the date of the call may be. There are two motions, and they ought to fix the same date, and the Minister is surely wrong when he anticipates more difficulty in one case than the other. Standing order 206 states the stage at which a date may be fixed for the third reading, and I think Senator Clemons is right in his contention. Standing order 233 shows clearly that the call is to’ be fixed for a date already fixed for the third reading ; and both dates must be determined by motion.
– I feel a great deal of difficulty in coming to a conclusion as to what is the correct interpretation of the standing order in reference to the point raised. I am afraid that I shall have to give to it an arbitrary meaning, to the best of my ability. First of all, speaking generally, it is quite clear that a call must be not earlier than twentyone days from the date on which the order for the call is made. That refers to all calls, because we may have calls, not only for the particular class of Bill under discussion, but for other Bills. So far as I can gather from standing order 233, it is clear that the third reading of the Bill must be put down for the date of the call. The standing order does not say so, but that is clearly what is meant.
– The dates must coincide.
– The dates must coincide. Then the next question is - how many days ought to elapse between the report stage and the third reading?
It will be observed that the call has to be made twenty-one days afterwards, but not earlier; so that the call might be made twenty-six or thirty days afterwards. Under standing order 271, I think there ought to be an interval of twenty-one days between the report stage and the third reading; but in this respect the standing order has been suspended, and, therefore, it is not necessary that any number of days should elapse between the adoption of the report and the third reading. The onlyquestion which, as it seems to me, remains is - ought we to first fix the day for the third reading, or first fix the day of the call, and trust the Senate to make the dates coincide ?
– May I suggest to you, sir, that, as we have not suspended the standing order which provides for a call of the Senate, your argument is based on the supposition that the standing order requiring twenty-one days’ notice is equally applicable to the present position, in which it is proposed to give only seven days’ notice.
– What I mean to say is that, standing order 271 having been suspended, there is no number of days now necessary in reference to this Bill between the adoption of the report and the date for the third reading.
– There must be some time, because the call will still be in existence.
– If the call is to be made next Wednesday-
– It may be halfanhour, but still there is a limit of time.
– There must be a limit, but there is no particular time fixed. Twenty-one days’ notice is not necessary. I think that the proper course to adopt is first to fix the date for the call, and then to put down the third reading of the Bill for that date. I arrive at that conclusion because of standing order 206. If we do not adopt that procedure, then the honorable senator in charge of the (Bill will not know the date for which to set down its third reading.
– But the Bill is not ripe for third reading yet.
– Why not?
– Because it has not passed the “ report “ stage.
– Of course, I know that. If the standing order had not been suspended, there, would have had to be twenty-one days between the adoption of the report and the third reading stage.
– But we have not suspended standing order 233, which prescribes that before the third reading of such a Bill there shall be a call ‘of the . Senate.
– What I have been trying to make clear to the Senate is that, at some time before the third reading of the Bill, an order has to be made for a call, and whether the call should be ordered before the date fixed for the third reading, or whether the date for the third reading should be first fixed, and then a date for a call should be named, is the question I have to decide. I think that the order for the call ought to be made first, because, otherwise, the Minister or private senator in charge of the Bill would not know for what date to set down the third reading. The whole question is at large, and I am only stating what I consider to be the real meaning of these standing orders. After all, if the order for the third reading of a Bill, and the order for a call coincide, it does not .matter much which order is made first.
– May I remind you, sir, that I suggested that you might rule as to the meaning of the expression “ Before the third reading of any Bill,” in standing order 233 ; and also as to whether the motion ought not to include a specific pui pose.
– I have had no experience about that. The only experience I have had - and my recollection is confirmedby the Clerk - was of a case in which the motion did not include any specific purpose. Here is a case which happened in Victoria in 1881-
Call of the House. - Mr. Berry moved, pursuant to amended notice, That on Thursday, 3rd March, the House be called.
Question - put, and resolved in the affirmative.
The same thing happened in South Australia.
.- In order to test the question, I move -
That the following words be added : - “ for the purpose of considering the third reading of the Constitution Alteration (Senate Elections) Bill.”
– I doubt very much whether that is a wise amendment to move ; but I am not prepared to rule it out of order. It has not been the practice, so far as I know, in any Parliament in. Australia, to state a specific purpose.
– I understand you, sir, to say that you doubt the wisdom of the amendment.
– Yes; but I have not had time to consider it.
– You have told the Senate that you have only discovered two cases where the provision for a call has been put into operation. I think you will admit that that is not a very wide area from which to gather the material to form a decision which in its turn might be held to bind the Senate in the future. I would ask honorable senators, who, on occasion, are easily disposed to disregard what has been done in the past, to balance those two cases against the obvious advantage of adopting the amendment. I can conceive of no objection to stating in the notice to honorable senators the particular reason why their presence is ‘so urgently required that the Senate has deemed it necessary to put standing order 233 in motion. In the case of all organizations - social, sporting, political, and otherwise - of which I have any knowledge, it is the practice, when notice of a meeting is sent out, to state the business for which the attendance is required. The only argument, if it can be so termed, which is advanced against my view is that drawn from the fact that on two previous occasions no business was set out in the notice of the call. I’ ask. honorable senators to allow the commonsense view of the matter to prevail and to agree to the amendment. I ask the Minister, unless there is a reason which. I cannot detect, to agree to the amendment, because there appears to be no objection to telling honorable senators why their presence is wanted. On the other hand, there must be a distinct advantage in informing honorable senators of the particular business which the Senate has deemed so urgent as to justify it in ordering a call of its members.
– I should like to point out to you, sir, and to the Minister, a reason why the amendment ought to be adopted.
– Perhaps I ought not to have said anything. I can see no reason why it should not be adopted, although such a reason may exist.
– I think I can point out an additional reason why the amendment should be adopted. It has just been resolved, on the motion of Senator Keating -
That so much of standing order No. 271 as refers to a period of twenty-one days be suspended for the remainder of the session, for the purpose of expediting the passing through its remaining stages of the Constitution Alteration (Senate Elections) Bill.
The motion now before the Senate has been moved in its amended form because of that resolution, which indicated the clear reason that Senator Keating had in moving for a call of the Senate. Surely in giving notice of the call it is desirable to state the specific reason why it has been ordered, and as the remaining stage of the Bill will be its third reading, I can imagine no phraseology more suitable to be used in the notice of the call than that which I have just quoted. It would be in conformity with that which governs the proceedings of other bodies. When, for instance, an extraordinary meeting of a company has to be called to consider a question, it is the invariable rule to specify that question in the notice, but a general meeting may be called in ordinary terms.
– And in the case of a special meeting it represents that a particular business is to be dealt with.
– But the honor able senator does not want that to apply here.
– The call is made for a specific purpose, and directly the Bill has passed through its remaining stage the reason for the call will have disappeared.
– And, therefore, the Senate will have to adjourn.
– Certainly not. The amendments in strict acordance with the method which is adopted by business men and companies. I can see no reason for not stating the purpose of the call in the notice. It would give pointed effect to the call, and, in spite of the precedents which have been quoted, it is desirable, if it is an innovation, to make it.
.- Do I understand that you, sir, have ruled that we can fix the date for the call before we have adopted the report of the Committee on the Bill ?
– Yes. There is another question before the Chair now, and that is an amendment by Senator Drake.
– When the adoption of the report is moved, an honorable senator may propose that the Bill be recommitted, and his amendment may be carried. Does not that possibility show that it is altogether wrong to fix the date for the call before we have got to the third-reading stage of the Bill ?
– No. It does not show anything of the sort, because if we had not suspended the Standing Orders the call would not be operative.
– So far as giving notice to honorable senators, I see no objection ; iri fact, it seems to .me that in that respect the Standing Orders are defective. I drew the motion in its present form, believing that it was in conformity with them. I was not then aware of the two precedents which have been cited. But it would seem that if, in South Australia and “Victoria, the Standing Orders are anything like ours, the motion conforms to the usual practice. I could not see anything in our Standing Orders which would enable the Senate to make a call for a specific purpose.
– There is nothing to forbid it.
– If we are going to do more than is required by the Standing Orders, we shall not know where we may land ourselves. An interjection bv Senator Henderson has led me to think that there may be a reason for making the call in general terms. You, sir. have stated that when a call of the Legislative Assembly of South Australia was made, no specific purpose was disclosed, and that when a call of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria was made in connexion with a Constitution Bill no specific purpose was disclosed. Mr. E. C. Nowell, who is a- great authority on parliamentary procedure and Clerk of the Legislative Council of Tasmania, states in his Parliamentary Handbook, at page 10 -
The form of Order for a Call is simply, “ That the House be called over on ,” without reference to any matter to be then considered. “ The Order is always accompanied by a resolution that such members as shall not then attend, be sent for, in custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms.” . No Call of the House of Commons has been enforced since 1836.
I think, therefore, that, although perhaps unwittingly, I have drawn the motion in accordance with the usual ‘form. The question is whether we could not carry the motion as it is, and let it be an instruction to the Clerk that, in sending out the notice provided for in standing order 272, he should indicate, by a heading or other means, that the third reading of the Bill is to come on then.
– If he is fearful that, by specifying the particular amendment in the notice of call, the Senate would be limited to doing that business, the Minister could propose to add the words ‘“and other business.”
– I think it would be safer to follow the practice that has been established. Not only has it been found convenient, but there is nothing in our Standing Orders that would require us, or empower us, to describe specifically the object of the call.
– The standing order says the call is to be with regard to the alteration of the Constitution. Why not put that into the notice ?
– The only reason is that the standing order does not require it, and apparently does not empower us to call honorable senators together for that purpose only. The assumption is that all senators are in attendance constantly. When we call them for a specific purpose, that implies that they would not attend except for that purpose, or that they would attend in obedience to the call, and, having fulfilled the particular purpose of it, might then absent themselves.
– They can do that now.
– Does not calling for a specific purpose imply that without the call honorable senators would not give attention to that subject, and that, having given attention to it, they need not give attention to other subjects? But make the call a general one for attendance on a particular day, anti no point can hereafter be raised that having been called for that purpose, and their functions being discharged, they are relieved from attendance. The acknowledged authority on parliamentary procedure whom I have quoted - Nowell - says that no call of the House of Commons has been enforced since 1836. I presume that, before he committed himself to the earlier statement as to the form of a call, he gave consideration, not only to colonial, but to British precedents.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Keating) proposed -
That the report be adopted.
.- Since the Committee dealt with this Bill, a motion has been carried by the Senate practically fixing the day for the third reading. I suppose that the Government is. sure of its majority, and that it will see that the third reading is carried. But it is just as well that I should point out what may occur. A call of the Senate has been ordered for the consideration of the third reading of the Bill, though that purpose was not stated in the motion. Wednesday, the 19th September, has been absolutely fixed for the third reading. But, although that has been done, the responsibility of fixing a date for the third reading of the Bill rests entirely with the Senate. There is nothing to prevent the Senate fixing some other day.
– What an absurd position we should be in if we fixed another day than the 19th September, although the motion which has been carried say’s that the Bill is to be read a third time on that day.
– I rise to order. Has not the question which Senator Drake is discussing been disposed of? Are we not dealing with the report on the Bill ?
- Senator .Drake is endeavouring to find out, as I understand, what will happen if the Bill is recommitted, and if the recommittal occupies so much time that the third reading cannot be taken on the 19th September.
– As soon as the report is adopted the Minister will move to fix a day for the third reading. The fixing of that day is entirely in the hands of the Senate. ‘ The Senate may desire that the Bill shall be recommitted for the purpose of considering further amendments. If that be done, the third reading may not be reached bv the 19th September. There is nothing to prevent the Senate fixing some other day for the third reading. I point this out to show the inconvenience that results from the course of action that has been taken.
– Would not the same thing occur if we fixed a day for the third reading and some other day for the call?
– But the motion for the call does not involve anything like the amount of consideration that the motion for the third reading does.
– Has the call or the third reading anything to do with the report ?
– Everything to do with it.
– I really think that the motion for the adoption of the report, strictly speaking, has nothing to do with the call of the Senate.
– I think it has in this way : When the adoption of the report is moved, the Senate should be perfectly free to fix a day for the third reading. But our hands have been tied by the motion that has been passed.
-The honorable senator is perfectly free. He is not hampered in any way.
– I know that I can move to recommit the Bill, but if that were done we might have days of discussion.
– Yes. The Senate is not tied. It can do what the majority pleases.
– Within certain limits; but I contend that there should be no limits whatever.
– There is no limit to what the Senate can do in this matter. It can postpone the adoption of the report to this day six months if it likes..
– That would be entirely inconsistent with what we have done, the Senate having agreed to a motion for a call on a certain day for the consideration of the third reading of the Bill.
– If that day is inconvenient for the call, the Senate can fix any other day it chooses.
– Does not that show that we have put the cart before the horse ?
– That would have been a good argument for not putting the cart there ; but it is there now.
– I do not think that the matter is open for argument. Th, question now is the adoption of the report.
– If I move that the Bill be recommitted, it will bring the matter to a head.
– Very well.
– I -move-
That all the words after “ That “ be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ the Bill be recommitted.”
.- I should not have risen, except that we are dealing with the first call which the Senate has ordered.
– We are not dealing with the call at all. We are dealing with the report of the Committee upon this Bill.
– I wish to point out that I think we have been wrong in what we have done.
– The honorable senator cannot go back upon what the Senate has done. He cannot reflect on a vote of the Senate.
– I do not wish to reflect on a vote of the Senate. But we are laying down a precedent. I think that the adoption of the report should have been agreed to before the motion for the call of the Senate was made.
– I wish to point out briefly some reasons why I object to the Bill as it stands.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7-4$ f.m.
– Prior to the adjournment for dinner I “intimated that it was my intention to point out the chief reason why I objected to the passage of this Bill.
– I call attention to the state of the Senate. [Quorum formed.]
– The chief reason why I think that it is undesirable that this Bill should be placed on the statute-book of the Commonwealth is that, under its provisions, and in consequence of them, it would be possible, if an election took place at the time contemplated by the Bill, namely, some time in March or April, that senators who might have been rejected would be taking their place in this Chamber and assisting to pass legislation. I may be met by the statement that that is quite possible - under the Constitution as it now stands. Whilst it is technically possible, the practice that at present prevails, and which is likely to continue, renders it highly improbable. At present the elections take place some time in November. It seems to me quite outside the range of probability that the new Parliament would be called together prior to the rst of January. The Christmas holidays would intervene, and unless some national crisis were to arise, there would be no necessity for calling Parliament together before the 1st of January, by which time the newlyelected senators would be entitled to take their seats. Under this Bill the elections would take place in March or April, and, as the financial year commences on the ist July, it seems to me not only possible, but almost a foregone conclusion, that the new Parliament will be called together some time in June. If that were so, honorable senators who had been rejected at the elections would be entitled to come here and take part in the work of legislation. In the alternative, they might absent themselves on the ground that, coming from fardistant States, the short time during which they would be entitled to attend would hardly warrant them in making the journey, and in that event their States would be left with a diminished representation. To my mind, either of these alternatives is highly objectionable. To make this Bill provide for a useful alteration of the Constitution, provision should have been made to reduce the extended term proposed for senators elected in 1903, and those to be elected at the forthcoming elections. Their term of office should be fixed to begin, not on the ist of July, but at some earlier date. For instance, the extended term, instead of being six months, might be four or five months, and the senatorial term of office should be fixed to commence on the ist of June, or in the middle of May. That would prevent, or reduce to a minimum, the possibility of the difficulty to which I have referred arising. For these reasons, whilst I admit that the Bill offers some advantage, inasmuch as it provides for the elections taking place at a more convenient time of the year, I consider that the disadvantage I have pointed out outweighs the advantage. Even at this late stage, I suggest that the Government should consider whether if is not possible to recommit the Bill, in order that it may be so altered as to fix the commencement of a senator’s term of office on the ist of June, or earlier, instead of the ist of July, and to correspondingly shorten the extension of the term proposed.
Question resolved iri the affirmative.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a second time.
This is a Bill of some fifteen clauses, intended to amend the existing Audit Act. Honorable senators will remember that the existing Act was passed in 1901, the first year of this Parliament, and in the first session. Its object was to make provision for the auditing of the public accounts of the Commonwealth. At the time the Parliament and the Government of the day gave consideration to the question of making proper legislative provision for the auditing of our accounts we had not very long taken over the different Departments of the States which were transferred to the Commonwealth by the operation of the Constitution. It was only natural to expect to find in connexion with the working of the public accounts of those several Departments the same variety of practice and method in the different States that characterized their practice and method in dealing otherwise with those Departments. As time has since shown, the provisions then made by Parliment were not as complete as the occasion required. It is only after some four or five years’ experience of the operation of the existing Act that its defects and imperfections have been revealed. In some of the States it has been customary in connexion with certain accounts to proceed in a w.ay apparently absolutely unknown in the corresponding Departments in other States. For the sake of convenience, as well as for other reasons, which will naturally, suggest themselves to honorable senators, it was found necessary in many instances to continue for a time, at any rate, the particular practice or method of a particular State. It has since been found that, although there might be no legislative warrant’ for the existence or continuance of such a particular .practice or method, it has commended itself to those who have had the charge of overlooking the public accounts. It has also been found that the provisions made in our law were probably based on the experience of the smaller areas which had to be dealt with by the several States, and were not equally applicable to the larger territorial dimensions of the Commonwealth. It is to overcome some of the difficulties which have arisen as a consequence of our want of regard to that aspect of the altered conditions that we have had to submit amended provisions in this Bill. The measure does not make any radical alteration in the existing practice. It is one which will to some extent give legislative sanction to the practice and procedure at present adopted and followed for some time past, but which might reasonably, on a strict interpretation of the law, be held to rest upon no real legislative foundation. I may perhaps briefly refer to the provisions of the Bill in so far as it amends the existing law. It has been found that in connexion with some of the States’ accounts there were in existence a number of trust accounts. They have been maintained and continued, subsequently to the passing of our Audit Art, for reasons of convenience, and other reasons to which I have already referred. It was, however, discovered that it is doubtful whether there is any legislative authority for the continuance of these trust accounts. The Treasurer of the day, Sir George Turner, anticipated legislative sanction being given to the maintenance of these accounts, and it is now proposed in this Bill to indorse the action in the past in maintaining them.
– Is that the only act for which the Bill provides an indemnity?
– Certainly not. I do not think that I have said anything which should lead any honorable senator to think so.
– That is one of the most important matters.
– It is, and I mention it now because it is dealt with in the earlier portion of the Bill. These trust accounts were legacies passed on from certain of the States to the Commonwealth. They have been found to provide a convenient method of keeping certain public accounts. By this Bill it is desired, not only to sanction their maintenance heretofore, but their continuance in the future. Although there has been no legislative authority for their maintenance under the Commonwealth, we have impliedly recognised them in our dealing with public moneys in connexion with certain items that appear annually on the Estimates submitted to and passed by Parliament. We provide also in this Bill for a definition of “guarantee fund.”
– Is not the honorable and learned senator now going back ? The trust accounts are dealt with in clause 13.
-No, clause 2 deals with the application of the Bill to past transactions. Clause 3 deals with what is more or less a verbal amendment in providing for the alteration of the designation of a particular officer. Certain persons, instead of being called “ public accountants,” are to be called “ accounting officers.” The reason for that is that the term “ public accountant “ has received what might be described as a technical signification. I understand that the Incorporated Institute of Accountants recognises the term “ public accountant “ as carrying with it certain qualifications.
– Something in the nature of a diploma or degree.
– That is so. As the term is used in our existing Audit Act, a junior or very subordinate clerk might be termed a “ public accountant,” and it is deemed advisable to recognise the ordinary signification of the term, . and to give our officers a more appropriate title. We provide in clause 4 that the definition of “ guarantee fund “ shall be added to the definitions under the existing Act. As honorable senators are aware, we made provision in the Public Service Act for officers of the Commonwealth to be under a guarantee. The provisions of the Act do not extend to every officer of the Commonwealth. There are officers outside the Act, such as officers of the Defence Department, and we desire to extend the principle of the Public Service Act with respect to the guarantee fund to all our officers.
– The Commonwealth does not guarantee its public officers under the Public Service Act.
– No; but we make provision for a guarantee to indemnify the Commonwealth against any loss which might be occasioned by the unfaithfulness of officers of the Public Service.
– But a different principle is involved in clause 4.
– Honorable senators will see that provision is made to apply the same conditions to all officers, whether or not they come directly under the Public Service Act. At present, however, I am generally indicating the objects of the Bill.
– I do not desire to interrupt, but does the Commonwealth do all its own fidelity insurance under the Public Service Act?
– Then we are only carrying out that principle in this Bill?
– We are extending . the principle to all officers. There is really no underlying principle which should separate our officers in this regard into two classes.Subsequently, the Bill makes provision to enable the accounts of the Commonwealth to be operated upon in a less rigid manner than at present. Money order accounts, for instance, . may, under the Bill, be dealt with directly, and by this means, we enable moneys, which belong to those accounts, . to be used directly for salaries and such purposes, without the necessity of forwarding the sums to head-quarters from every little centre. By making provision of that character, we shall save much time, and a considerable amount in exchange; and there will be no risk or danger, because there will be periodical adjustments with head-quarters. Then we make provision for the payment of accounts before accounts are certified. It has been found in actual experience that the necessity for waiting in every instance for a certificate before payment, results in a good deal of delay and hardship to persons interested. In reference to the militia particularly, the Bill enables the men to be paid, as honorable senators will see from clause 7 after the close of a financial year, for services which may have been rendered before the close of that year, the money to be charged to the Appropriation for that year. At present, it may happen that, although there are moneys in hand at the end of the year, these moneys have to be sent to head-quarters, and considerable time elapses, and much of what honorable senators call “ red-tapeism “ has to be gone through before the money is made available for payment to the men. Honorable senators will see that very important provisions are made in regard to the Treasurer’s Advance. These provisions are to enable money voted by Parliament for the Treasurer’s Advance to be operated upon with greater advantage and convenience. Senator Drake. - The Bill goes further than that, I think.
– Every provision, in this respect, is one which experience in the working of the finances of the Commonwealth has shown to be necessary and advantageous.
– The experience of officials, I amafraid.
– The provisions will enable the Treasurer’s Advance to be kept intact by crediting to the Advance repayments that may be made on account of expenditure for which it has been made temporarily responsible. We find, in actual experience, that sometimes money has to be paid by the Commonwealth on behalf, it may be, of some other authority. For instance, a payment may have to be made on account of the Imperial Government. A sum of , £200,000 may be voted for the Treasurer’s Advance Account, and it may be necessary to temporarily pay £10,000 or £12,000 on behalf of the Imperial Government. Under the present procedure, that money, when paid back, is put into revenue, and of course, fictitiously swells the revenue to that amount, while at the same time it depletes the Treasurer’s Advance Account. Under the Bill, money so paid back will be credited to the Treasurer’s Advance, which will thus be kept intact, and, of course, the money will be available for use in a similar way, a second, and, perhaps, a third time. Then such payments may be made on behalf of authorities other than the Imperial Government; and that is what I meant when I said that the Bill will enable the advance to be operated with a great deal more advantage and convenience than at present.
– Then the Government could do with a smaller vote for the Treasurer’s Advance?
– That is a matter for Parliament to determine. The position at present is that practically the whole of the Treasurer’s Advance may be exhausted.
– But not exceeded.
– As I say, the Treasurer’s Advance might be practically exhausted, although much may have been repaid during the currency of the financial year. The object of the provision in this respect is to enable such repayments to be paid to the credit of the Treasurer’s Advance, and’ so, to some extent, help to keep that advance intact. The provision will enable us at once, without going through a series of operations, to debit to a particular head expenditure which primarily falls on the Treasurer’s Advance. Under existing circumstances, there is a considerable amount of rigidity in connexion with the payment, and charging of salaries of officers who may be loaned by one branch of the Public Service to another; and it is sought to overcome that difficulty by enabling, in proposed new section 36B, the money to be available in any branch, the salaries of which are provided in the same sub-division. At present there is much difficulty in con- nexion with this matter. When an officer is transferred from one branch to another, it may be for only one month or three months, the Auditor-General, in accordance with the law, requires an alteration to be made in the Supplementary Estimates setting out the provision for the salary of that officer. All this would lead one to suppose that the Estimates were being swollen, whereas, in fact, the amounts are not Supplementary Estimates, but what might properly be called Substituted Estimates. Cases in which the salary of an officer is charged in a particular subdivision, in respect to the office which he is temporarily filling, are also provided for, the Bill enabling the salary to be paid without going through the formality to which I have referred. Somewhat similar provision is made with regard to credits which may be taken in reduction of expenditure in a subsequent year. This is set forth in the proposed new section 36c, and the object is to prevent a similar apparent increase - what I might call a fictitious increase in the expenditure. One of the best illustrations of this is found when one Department pays another for services rendered. The Department of External Affairs, for instance, might have to pay the Customs Department certain sums for immigration supervision. If a steamer were leaving Victoria for Tasmania or New Zealand; and poundage had to be paid on mail matter carried, Victoria would pav the whole, but would debit the other States with their proportion, as ascertained by the actual mail matter carried for each State.
– Has one State power to debit another?
– It is the practice.
– I should have thought that the Commonwealth would make the adjustment.
– I am simply using the States names as an illustration, because, as a matter of fact, it is the Commonwealth which makes the adjustment. But Victoria, as a State, would be entitled under such circumstances to be paid a certain amount by the other States. At present, if such an amount were received after the close of the year, it would be credited to the revenue for that year in the particular State Obviously that is misleading, because the revenue is thereby fictitiously increased. The proper procedure would be not to credit to the revenue for that year of the receiving States, but to credit it to the vote for the current year. Other, provisions of the Bill deal with matters more closely related to the methods and systems of auditing. For instance, honorable senators will find an extension of time for making surcharges, the Bill extending that time from three months to six months. There are other provisions, the object of which is to give some little elasticity to the existing rule of periodically auditing and inspecting accounts. At present there has to be an annual auditing of accounts; and practice has shown that in some parts of the Commonwealth the moneys in hand are so small as to be utterly disproportionate to the cost of the audit. Of course, it is not desirable to make any loose provision that in certain cases an annual audit shall not be necessary. It is desirable in every instance that moneys, no matter how small the amount, shall be subject to the review of the Auditor-General. But without making any hard-and-fast rule that in every instance there shall be an audit at least once every year, the Bill, in the extraordinary case’s to which I have referred, provides that the audit shall be at such intervals as may be sanctioned bv the Treasurer, with a proviso - and this is verv important - that a list of all such cases shall be published in the Auditor-General’s report each year.
– Has any State a provision of that kind in its Audit Act ?
– I am not in a position to say at the present moment, but I shall make inquiry, and inform the honorable senator when we get into Committee. One can recognise that in such a large territory as the Commonwealth - where settlement is in many instances very remote from large centres of population, and where it is necessary to retain such services as our Post and Telegraph service - it is quite possible that there may be small accounts where an annual audit by an officer of the Auditor-General would be utterly unwarranted when viewed as to cost in comparison with the amount involved. But it is not intended to make a provision that those accounts shall not be audited. It is proposed that wherever there shall be a relaxation of the hard-and-fast rule for an annual audit, the departure in each instance shall be sanctioned by the Treasurer, and the cause shall be listed in the Auditor-General’s report. A somewhat similar provision is made in regard to detailed audits. For this provision to dispense with the details of certain audits we have a parallel in the case of NewSouth Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia, as well as in the case of the United Kingdom. The object of the. provision is to conduce to economy, because in many cases the detailed audit can be dispensed with without incurring any financial risk. Another departure from the existing practice- is provided for in clause 12, and that is with regard to the publication of the quarterly statement of accounts. At the present time, it is published in the Gazette, but it only contains the figures for the quarter under review. We propose to make it obligatory not merely to do that, but also, in the case of every quarter except the first, to give the figures for the financial, year up to that time.
– In order to ascertain the expenditure in any given quarter, it will be necessary for an honorable senator to keep his copies of the Gazette?
– That is the position at the present time. We are presented with the figures for each quarter, but without relation to another quarter. In clause 13, it is proposed to make specific provision for the trust accounts to which I referred in the early part of my remarks. We make provision for moneys which may be paid into the trust accounts other than those which are specifically appropriated by law for that purpose -
All monies received from the sale to any person or Commonwealth Department of any articles purchased or produced, or for work paid for, with monies standing to the credit of a trust account.
We make provision for the expenditure of moneys paid to a trust account for the investment and the disposal of any interest on any of the moneys of a trust account. In a schedule, honorable senators will find a .list of the particular trust accounts to which the Bill specifically refers. A number of them may be regarded in the light of trading accounts ; for instance, the Commonwealth Ammunition Material Account ; the Small Arms Ammunition Account; the Defence Clothing Material Account; and the Small Arms Account. These accounts are all operated at present on principles similar to those which are contained in clause 13. For example, the moneys which are realized by the sale of ammunition are paid into the Commonwealth Ammunition Material Account, and not into the Consolidated Revenue, and when the account needs to be put in funds, it is done by express appropriation. The Government Printer Account is principally a suspense account. The wages and the cost of materials are paid from the account, and when the work is completed transfer entries are made in the books charging the votes of the various Departments, thus relieving the account.
– Would a subsequent expenditure from a trust fund so replenished have to come before Parliament for approval ?
– So that the Government might do what they liked with the proceeds of a sale?
– That is the present method. The other accounts are all of the same description.
– Is it necessary to have a separate account for the Queensland defence stores?
– I may say that that account, together with the Deferred Pay Account, and the Ocean Mails Account are included in the schedule mainly to validate transactions since they were taken over by the Commonwealth; but it is intended to close them almost immediately. It will be seen that the intention is to operate all these accounts in the manner set forth in the several paragraphs of clause 13. What I have said will indicate the scope of the measure. Experience in the working of the accounts has revealed its necessity. It was only natural to expect that when the accounts of the different Departments were transferred to the Commonwealth no one could be expected, in so short a space of time as intervened between that event, and the passing of the Audit Act, to grasp so completely the methods of the different States as to enable him to pass judgment on their comparative merits or disadvantages’. The experience of the last five years has shown the necessity for some modifications. In some instances the methods in use at the time of transfer were continued. Sir George Turner found it convenient to carry on the existing systems in connexion with some of the transferred accounts, but he relied upon getting legislative sanction. But in connexion with the trust accounts there have been other defects or imperfections in the existing law which’ the Bill seeks to remedy. The provisions of this Bill have been submitted to the scrutinizing inspection of the AuditorGeneral, and he approves of them.
– The Minister has outlined the principal amendments which by the Bill it is sought to effect. I have experienced a little disappointment at the scanty character of the information which he afforded in reply to my interjection, and that was as to the acts for which an indemnity is asked. There is growing experience to show that the course of our legislation is pretty uniform. A Bill is brought in which a Minister assures us is the result of the most careful thought and the closest scrutiny on the part of the most experienced officers in the Department. Suggestions for its amendment or improvement are received here with indifference or with irritation, but, unfortunately, very little heed is paid to them. Very soon after the Bill has become law the Minister comes down with a stereotyped announcement that experience has shown that there are defects in the Act.
– That is the case with nearly all Governments, I think.
– I am pointing out that, at least, this Government is no better than the Governments to which Senator Givens refers. There is a way of getting knowledge, and that is by experience, but it generally is a most expensive and unpleasant way. With all our legislation, it seems to me that it is necessary to pass a Bill, and wait until time and experience have demonstrated its defects, and then seek to provide for that with which a little more care in the first instance would have guarded against. I trust that, in view of the frequency with which we are called upon to deal with amending Bills honorable senators will feel disposed to subject the details of original measures to a little closer scrutiny than they have been doing. Clause 2 of this Bill appears to grant a general indemnity for acts which clearly have been done in contravention of the provisions of the Audit Act. I asked the Minister, by interjection, when he was dealing with one of them, if that was the only act for which an indemnity was required. He said that it was not the only one, but he did not indicate any other administrative acts which have been committed, and for which the principal Act makes no provision. I should like to know what they are.
– I do not know of any other acts.
– Clause 2 is very general in its terms. It says -
Anything done before the commencement of this Act which would have been valid if done in pursuance of the Principal Act as amended by this Act, shall be as valid and effectual as if done in pursuance of the Principal Act as so amended.
If there is only the one administrative act for which an indemnity is required the Minister has informed us of that act, but I should like to know definitely whether there are others, and, if so, what they are? Another matter to which the Minister referred, but very much as though it were in the nature of an amendment of the Act, is the proposal to establish a Federal Guarantee Fund. I believe that there is a provision in one of our Acts which enables that to be done. But in this Bill there is a specific provision; so that I assume that the Government proposes to create such a guarantee fund. If honorable senators will turn from clause 4 to clause 14, they will find all the machinery by which such a fund is to be established and worked. That clause empowers the making of regulations requiring officers, holding, positions which in the opinion of the Treasurer ought to be guaranteed, to contribute to the fund, and provides for its control and management. I am not, at the present moment, prepared to say whether or not it is advisable for the Commonwealth Government to establish its own guarantee fund, or whether it would be better, as at present, that our officers should be guaranteed by means of existing offices of repute. But I should have liked the Minister to give us the reasons why the Government proposes this departure. He merely stated that it is intended, but he gave no reasons why it is proposed to do so rather than to continue the practice which has hitherto prevailed in the Commonwealth, and has been general throughout the States, of relying upon insurance companies for the necessary guarantees. The next clause to which I wish to refer is one to which, so far as I can remember, the Minister did not allude. It seems to me to be an important one. At present, under section 26 of the Audit Act, all moneys received by postmasters on account of postoffice orders and money orders have to be paid into the public account during the month of receipt. This Bill proposes that such moneys received by post-offices for the purpose I have indicated may be used by the Treasurer for the payment of any public moneys. There may be some reason for this proposal, but I should like to hear it justified.
– I dealt with it.
– I failed to extract from the Minister’s remarks anything in the nature of an explanation. He may have alluded to it, but he gave no reasons. It seems to me that a wide departure from the principal Act is contemplated.
– It is proposed, in order to save exchange and prevent delay.
– That may be a good reason, but the proposal seems to me to be open to serious question. It may be possible for the Treasurer to use moneys which ought to belong to the Post Office, and ought to be kept in a separate account, from which they should never be diverted without parliamentary approval, for purposes to which they ought not to be applied. It appears to me to be a wrong principle that moneys received by the Post Office on account of postal notes and postoffice orders should be made available for the payment of any public moneys, and thus practically become as much at the disposal of the Treasurer as if they were paid into his advance account. Clause 6 is also a departure from what I regard as a very essential safeguard. Under it accounts may be paid without being certified by responsible officers. Under section 34 of the principal Act, before accounts can be paid, some officer in the Department concerned must certify that they are correct and entitled to be paid. It is now proposed to dispense with that procedure, and that the Treasurer may order the payment of any accounts he likes without waiting for the necessary certificate. If that procedure is not necessary in large commercial concerns, it should not be necessary in Government Departments ; and if it be necessary, I am not aware that the Minister has made its necessity clear.
– It may be proposed to prevent undue delay.
– Why should there be more undue delay in connexion with a public Department than in a private concern? It is an admission that our Public Departments are not carried on without the same amount of circumlocution as appears to have surrounded Public Departments from the time of their institution. If a Department makes the admission that it cannot deal with its creditors except after undue delay, and therefore wants power to avoid the very necessary checks which the principal Act imposes, of course it is an admission of weakness on its part; and that is a matter that will have to be taken into account. For my own part, I think it is highly objectionable that we should give authority to the Treasurer to pay any accounts until the evidence is before the paving authorities that they have been submitted to proper examination and inspection, and have been certified as due for payment, as would be the case in any private concern, and as has hitherto been the case in Commonwealth Departments. As regards the provision concerning the postponement of audits, I have listened carefully to the Minister who has given reasons which appear to me to be entitled to consideration. The principal reason I take to be, that where the amounts involved are small, and the places where the accounts are kept are so distant from some central point that the expense of auditing them would be very serious, the audit may be dispensed with. But it is one thing to say that the annual audit need not be carried out, and quite another thing to say that there shall be no audit whatever. I think there ought to be an audit within a limited time. Some provision should be made for a periodical audit - not necessarily annual ; it might be once every two or three years. But no accounts should be allowed to run on for an indefinite period without some examination. We know that in very many cases where frauds have been committed in connexion with public moneys, they have arisen from the fact that there has been no proper provision for auditing, and that some officer has been trusted to an undue extent. It is incumbent upon us in ‘dealing with this measure to see that no loophole that human ingenuity can guard against shall be left open. With regard to the proposal to alter the nature of the statements of accounts published by the Treasurer, I think that in trying to avoid one little difficulty the Bill goes to another extreme. Hitherto it has been the practice to publish statements showing the accounts quarterly. Now it is proposed to publish for the first three months of the year one quarter’s accounts and at the end of six months the six months’ accounts not showing the quarter’s accounts separately. I, however, think that it is highly desirable to issue them quarterly, and to give the particulars for the previous quarter with them. I think some means should be afforded to let the public know what the business of the Departments has amounted to during each quarter. I have dealt generally with various portions of the Bill, but I shall have an, opportunity of dealing with the points to which I have alluded more fully in Committee. Ordinarily speaking, one deals with the principles of a measure on its second reading, but there are no principles in this Bill. It deals with machinery only. It is for that reason that I have hastily run over the clauses which appear to me to invite criticism. There is one other remark which I will make before sitting down, and that is with regard to the practice which exists to-day, and which this Bill proposes to continue, of allowing the receipts of any Department to be made available for the purposes of expenditure by that Department. That is a practice which seems to me to be entirely objectionable. “ For instance, in the case of the accumulated ammunition and material account of the Defence Department, it is possible for a considerable portion of the ammunition and other material under its control to be sold, and to utilize the receipts for the purpose of making other purchases. I contend that all moneys of that kind should pass out of the control of the Department, and that if it requires money for the purpose of making other purchases, it should obtain parliamentary sanction for it. Otherwise it is evident that a great deal of material might be purchased without the sanction of Parliament. “We have such things as obsolete rifles. They may be sold and the Department may utilize the money so obtained for purchasing other rifles without parliamentary sanction. All moneys received by Departments should be paid into the Consolidated Revenue, and when a Department requires to spend money, it should come to Parliament for sanction, and for the necessary vote to enable it to apply the money for the purpose for which it is deemed necessary.
.- I am not surprised that experience should have dictated the desirableness of making some amendments in the Act passed by this Parliament m 1901. At that time, we were commencing a new state of things, and I anticipated that amendments in the Act would become necessary. Still, at the same time, I think that it is only right in a Bill of this nature that we should look carefully info its provisions and ask for information about anything which appears to be doubtful. The first note which I have made upon the Bill is with regard to clause 8, which seems to be designed to facilitate transfers of expenditure. I notice that the marginal note describes the clause as -
Debiting of expenditure charged to Treasurer’s Advance.
But the amending clause commences -
Expenditure in excess of specific appropriation or not specifically provided for by appropriation may be charged to such heads as the Treasures may direct, and there is no reference to the Treasurer’s Advance until we come to the end of the clause, which says that the amount - shall not exceed the amount appropriated for that year under the head “ Advance to the Treasurer.”
Is it intended that that provision shall apply only to sums that have been voted by way of advance to the Treasurer? It would appear from the first part of the clause that it had a wider scope, and dealt with expenditure in excess of specific appropriations. I should also like to know the meaning of the proposed new section 36B, which will be found in clause 8 -
The amount included in any sub-division in a schedule to an Appropriation Act for the salary in respect of an office or position occupied by an officer shall be available for payment of the officer’s salary in any branch the salaries for which are provided in the same sub-division.
Would that mean that if an officer’s salary were voted for some particular kind of work and he was afterwards transferred, and did different work, the salary would still be paid to him ? I suppose that is the meaning. I suppose that that is the intention, but I do not know that it will be found to work very well. We vote money for the performance of certain duties, and I think it should be understood that the officer is going to perform those duties for the salary ‘voted. The next clause seems to .me to facilitate the old practice of satisfying charges between one Department and another by means of a book entry - a practice which, I think, is undesirable. When we were passing the Post and Telegraph Act a verv strong feeling was expressed in favour of insisting that every other Department should pay for the services rendered it by the Post and Telegraph Department. I do not know to what extent that is now being carried out, but I am afraid that there is a tendency, as there has been in our experience of States Departments, to get out of that by a bookkeeping entry balancing the credits in one Department by the credits in another. The Bill makes provision for expenditure incurred on behalf of another Department being met by services performed in a subsequent year, and that is carrying the practice to which I have referred a little further than I think it has been carried in the past. To take an extreme case, we might imagine the officers of the Attorney-General’s Department insisting on making a charge against other Departments for the drafting of Bills. They might say, “ The Post and Telegraph Department makes a charge of so and so against us, and we will draft some Bills for that Department next year and make the account square.” I know that there is a tendency in each of the Departments to escape the obligation of paying for services rendered by another. If that is allowed free scope, it will entirely defeat the effort made by Parliament to insure that, so far as possible, the Post and Telegraph Department shall be carried on on business lines, and its services paid for by every one who makes use of them.
– Our Postal Department used to ask the Attorney-General for advice, get it free, and charge him postage for sending it.
– Under this Bill the Attorney-General will be able to reply by sending in an account of his own. He will be able to say, “ I owe you that account, but I will give you some advice next year to pay for it.”
– He is paid his Ministerial salary to give his advice free.
– It was suggested at one time that the Attorney-General should charge for his advice, and make the charge a set-off against postal charges incurred by his Department.
– He used to have to pay to give it sometimes, when it was sent bv post.
– I am not sure whether any such payments are made now. I think book entries are made, but whether they are ever settled up or not I do not know. If my contention is correct, this Bill makes provision) for carrying on credits into the next year, and it would not be necessary to have a clearing up of accounts at the end of the financial year. I certainly think that even if the Departments do not pay for their postage there should at least be a settlement of accounts every year. I come now to the provisions with regard to audit. I do not know whether 1 am right, but I think that it is probable that the failure to audit accounts within the year might be one of the matters of omission intended to be covered by clause 2. I have no doubt that especially in outoftheway parts of the Commonwealth, it will sometimes be found difficult to conduct audits regularly. I think the Auditor-General might be assisted by some provision which would permit the yearly audit to be dispensed with on sufficient grounds stated in- his report, and submitted to Parliament, but I do not think that it should be on the ground that the cost involved in the audit would be disproportionate to the amount of the account. That is a ground which might be stated at all times to relieve the Auditor-General of the necessity of conducting an audit in outoftheway parts of the Commonwealth’, where perhaps an audit is most necessary. We can hardly provide for a lesser interval than a year, and unless in case of unavoidable accident it ought not to be impossible to conduct an audit in every part of the Commonwealth during the course of a year.
– In the case of a small post-office at a place like Wyndham, is it necessary to send an auditor every vear to audit the accounts of such a post-office ?
– An auditor must go to the place some. time or other, unless there is never to be an audit of such accounts. We have some out-of-the-way places in Queensland, like Boulia and Windorah, to which it is difficult to send auditors.
– The post-office at Broken River collected an annual revenue last year of only £1
– I admit that there is a great deal of difficulty in the settlement of the matter, but I think that the principle of an audit of all public accounts at least once in each year is a good om:. In such a case as that mentioned by the Minister, the reason that the cost of the audit would be entirely disproportionate to the amount involved would be a good reason for dispensing with it, but at present I do not like the idea that that should be the only reason which must necessarily be given. That might be put forward as a sufficient reason for dispensing with the audit of accounts in some places for a number of years. There is a matter con- nected with trusts accounts which I do not think is exactly met by the provisions of the Bill. A difficulty has arisen more than once in the Post and Telegraph Department in connexion with sums paid in respect of cable messages. For one reason or another persons who have paid certain amounts are entitled to refunds. In some cases they pay for an answer to a cable, and no answer is sent. Again, a message may be incorrectly sent, and it is right that the money paid for it should ‘be refunded. In such cases there has been great difficulty in refunding money, because it has been paid at once into the Consolidated Revenue, and can only be got back by a roundabout process. This was brought under my notice at one time, when a comparison was being made between the facilities offered by the Eastern Extension Company and those offered by the Post and Telegraph Department. It was pointed out that if a man desired to obtain a refund of £2 or£3 from the Post and Telegraph Department it was impossible for him to get his money back except by adopting a circuitous process, because it had been paid into the Consolidated Revenue. On the other hand, it was stated that a man doing business with the Eastern Extension Company had simply to call at one of the offices of the company, and his money would be refunded at once. These sums might be placed to a trust account but I do not think that they are provided for in the Bill. Sub-clause 5 of clause 13 provides that moneys may be paid to the credit of the trust account to which they relate, but the clause does not appear to me to deal with the cases I have mentioned.
– The amounts to which the honorable and learned senator refers are now paid out of the refunds of revenue vote.
– Then another account has to be drawn upon ?
– There is an appropriation, for refunds of revenue from which the amounts in question can be paid.
– Then the money can be obtained without difficulty now?
– I thought that I should refer to the matter, in order that the Minister might take it into consideration if it had not been provided for. There is nothing else that suggests itself to me at the present moment, and I hope that the Bill will receive every attention when it gets into Committee.
– It appears to me that there are only a few of the clauses of this Bill which will give us any trouble. One is clause 6, to which Senator Millen has already directed attention. Power is given under that clause to pay without certification. I hope that that provision will not be agreed to, especially when it is taken in conjunction with paragraph b of the same clause, which enables payments made on an uncertified account to be made without a receipt being taken. That seems to me to be a very remarkable feature of the clause.
– I think that that only refers to the amount being stated in words.
– I have not read it so. If amended, as proposed, sub-section 6 of section 34 of the existing Act will read -
Except as hereafter provided, at the time of paying any account, every Accounting Officer shall obtain a receipt under the hand of the person to whom the same is payable, or under the hand of some person or banker authorised in writing by such first-mentioned person, for the amount so paid, which shall always be set out in words at full length, unless otherwise directed by the Treasurer.
Surely the Minister cannot limit the operation of the words proposed to be added to the sub-section to the few words immediately preceding them. If that be the object, it can easily be set right in Committee. The payment of moneys without some proper authorization would be very objectionable, and ought not to be agreed to.
– We have heard from Senator Keating that this Bill has had the close and careful scrutiny of the Auditor- General, and we may therefore assume that there is not much in it which would justify the criticism of an ordinary senator. But there is one departure from our usual practice proposed, about which I have some doubt, and that is contained in clause 4- So far as I know, we are in this Bill asked to institute a new system, whereby the Commonwealth is to guarantee its own funds against losses due to want of fidelity on the part of public officers. I am not at all sure that I approve of it. As most honorable senators are aware, the ordinary method adopted by business houses of compelling their servants to provide, a fidelity guarantee, carries with it the additional precaution that the guaranteeing house usually makes rigid inquiries as to the character of the applicant, and gets some direct testimonial from one or more, and usually from two accredited persons, as to the applicant’s character. The result of that must be that in addition to having a guarantee against loss, we have some trustworthy guarantee as to the risk we are likely to run. That is to say, an insurance company takes such precautions as it thinks fit to ascertain the risk it is going to run in reference to a particular servant, and to see that that risk is as little as possible. I take it that, if a Commonwealth Guarantee Fund is established, nothing more ‘will happen than that a public servant will simply say, “ I am paying my quota into the fund, and so you are indemnified against any loss.” I do not suppose that the Commonwealth itself will inquire into the risk, if there be any, which is to be incurred in taking a particular person into its employ, having regard to the character of that person. I point out, however, that all the information we are likely to get on this subject will have to be derived from some regulations which are to be tabled later. I did think that I should have been able to congratulate the Government on legislating without the interposition of what so many of us object to, namely, subsequent regulations. I see, however, that, by clause 14, it is proposed to add to the present power to frame regulations the further power to so provide for the amount of the contributions of officers to the fund, and for the general control and management. It would be much better if. either now or in Committee, we had from the Minister some particulars as to the conditions of the proposed fund. I do not like the clause as .it stands, and I still further object to having the whole question of the guarantee shelved by a provision for regulations. That may be the most convenient way of settling the question, but it is most unsatisfactory to any honorable senator, when entering on a new departure, to find that the whole affair has to’ be controlled bv regulations subsequently to be framed.
– I think the Senate ought to have a direct voice in the framing of regulations.
– I think so, too. This, as I say, is a new departure, because, so far “as I know, there is not a guarantee fund in connexion with any public sendee in the Commonwealth. Senator Keating has referred me to the Public Service Act, but in that Act there is merely provision for regulations to cover such a fund.
– There is a guarantee fund in existence under the Public Service Act.
– I hope Senator Keating has seen the conditions under which that fund is managed, because I have not, nor do I think has any other honorable senator. I should much prefer that, in these matters, the Senate legislated directly. As to clause 12, I entirely disagree with Senator Millen, because I regard that clause as a decided improvement on the section in the original Act. Clause 8, however, is a distinct recognition of the practice of transfers between Departments. I admit that the clause deals with the transfer of credits from one year to another ; but, -at the same time, it is a recognition of a practice which I regard as dangerous and undesirable. I believe that there has grown up a practice of transferring expenditure from one Common wealth Department to another. I presume that, when one Department has exhausted its vote, it applies to some other Department, which may .have a surplus, for the extra money required.
– That certainly does not occur in connexion with the Defence Department.
– Of course, I may possibly be wrong. At any rate, not during the life of the present Government, but when another Government was in power, I had suspicion that such a practice as I have indicated was carried on ; and it certainly suggests the possibility of danger. As this Bill has the approval of. and probably has been largely constructed by, the Auditor-General, I have no doubt it contains many eminently desirable clauses ; and, so far as I am concerned, I shall do my best to expedite its passage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (New definition).
– T. think the Minister might throw some light on the procedure which it is proposed to adopt under the Bill, and read to us, at any rate, some extracts from the present regulations. 1 am presuming that, inasmuch as clause 14 gives power to frame regulations, they will be practically on allfours with the regulations under the present Act.
– The only copy I have of the regulations is that contained in Statutory . Rules No. 19, which were issued on the 14th February of this year. I am informed that these particular regulations have been in operation since soon after the passing of the Public Service Act. There was, however, some misconception as to the operation of these particular regulations, and, after an opinion had been obtained from the Attorney-General, they were re-stated in the Statutory Rules. I mention this so that honorable senators may know that these rules do not now see the’ light for the first time, although they appear under the date of February last.
– Are the regulations under the Public Service Act?
– No; these are incorporated with the Treasury Regulations. As I have already indicated, there was some doubt as to their effect when originally drawn from those under the Public Service Act, and. in view of some technical objection, the AttorneyGeneral advised that there might be some doubt as to their operative effect, and it was decided to issue them in connexion with the Treasury Regulations. These regulations appear as regulations 137, and they run alphabetically from a to t.
– Has the fund been started ?
– Since when?
– Since immediately after the passing of the Public Service Act.
– Will the officers, under the Bill, not have to pay the same contributions as are paid by officers under the Act?
– What Senator Clemons asked for were the regulations in regard to the fidelity fund, and he desired to know whether they would be operative in connexion with any other fund established.
– Will they be operative under the Bill?
– Yes. The regulations set out that there shall be a guarantee fund, and that it shall consist of premiums paid by officers holding guaranteed offices.
– What is the premium ?
– Regulationh sets forth that every officer shall contribute a premium of2s. 6d. per cent, per annum on the amount in respect of which such officer is guaranteed, and that the premium shall be payable in July of each year. There is a provision that the Treasurer mayalter the rate of premium, but that any such alteration shall not take effect until the following July. Regulation i provides that all moneys collected shall be paid to a trust fund to the credit of the Guarantee Fund Account, while Regulation m provides that the permanent heads shall from time to time furnish the Treasurer with the names of any officers who should be added to the list.
– Do the premiums pay for the whole guarantee, or does the Commonwealth contribute?
– The officers’ premiums cover the whole.
– I am sorry to have to say so in connexion with a Bill which I do not wish to delay, but the position as now disclosed by Senator Keating is rather unsatisfactory. How could any honorable senator have ex pected to obtain information regarding this guarantee fund in Treasury Regulations? Regulations of the kind ought to be under the Public Service Act.
– Of course, they contain a lot more than that.
– I will admit that; but that makes the difficulty all the greater. I suppose that the paper was laid upon the table of the Senate.
– How was it described?
– As Statutory Rules, No. 10.
– We all know the risk we run of allowing most important conditions to be fixed without our knowledge. If any one had wanted to find out about the Fidelity Guarantee Fund under the Public Service Act he would not have dreamed of referring to Treasury Regulations. It does seem to me a strange thing that Treasury Regulations should applyto all the officers under the Public Service Act. Perhaps I had better not discuss that question until we reach clause 14, when I intend to move an amendment with the object of securing that regulations made under this measure or the principal Act shall, when laid upon the table of the Senate, be referred to as “Regulations made under the Audit Act.”
Perhaps Senator Keating can tell me whether there is anything to prevent a Minister from laying unwittingly certain regulations upon the table under the head of the Treasurer’s Department which really refer to another Department. Suppose, for instance, that any regulations were made pursuant to the power asked for in this Bill. Is it likely that the regulations could be laid upon the table here under a title which would entirely disguise their object and purport?
– I do not think so.
– However, since we. have a Fidelity Guarantee Fund, I do not intend to go any further with clause 4, but I would suggest to the Government the propriety of postponing clause 14.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 -
Section thirty-four of the Principal Act is amended -
by inserting, at the end of sub-sectionI, and as part of that sub-section, the words “ Provided that the Treasurer may permit the payment of any account before it has been certified if he is satisfied that undue delay in the payment of the account would be caused if it had to be certified before payment “ ; and
by inserting at the end of sub-section 6, and as part of that sub-section, the words “ unless otherwise directed by the Treasurer.”
– I should be glad if the Minister would give his attention to paragraph a of this clause, and explain to us a little more clearly the circumstances that make it necessary to propose a change of so undesirable a character. To pay every penny of ‘an account before it has been certified by the certifying officer seems to me very objectionable. It might be businesslike when there was any difficulty about an account to have power to advance up to three-fourths, and to pay the balance when the account had been certified.
– This amendment of section 34 of the Audit Act is proposed in order to meet a difficulty which has more than once arisen, and that is the difficulty of making prompt payment of certain accounts in remote parts of the Commonwealth. Very often accounts which are in themselves small are incurred by the Commonwealth in remote centres. When it is necessary to wait until the account has been properly certified by the certifying officer, and sent through the various channels to head-quarters, although the delay may be nothing for the Commonwealth, still the creditor may be embarrassed by the want of promptness in the payment of the amount. The object of the clause therefore is to insure something like a speedy settlement of the accounts of the Commonwealth in its remoter parts. It is comparatively easy of course for a man who is in Melbourne to obtain payment of an account amounting to £10 or £100. But a creditor who lives in the back parts of Queensland or the Northern Territory is considerably handicapped in that respect. It is proposed in such instances as would involve considerable delay in waiting for the ceitificate of the officer to make payment. At the same time, the account, before being paid, will be properly examined and checked by a competent officer. It is proposed that for the purpose of proper record a certificate shall be obtained from the certifying officer in due course, it may be after the payment of the account.
– The Minister must see that he is taking power not only to pay a trifling account in some remote part of the Commonwealth, but also to pay a man, it may be, £10,000 in Melbourne or Sydney. The clause is of a complete and drastic character. It does not refer to small amounts or to remote places. It gives authority for the payment of very large sums without any certificate having been given. It ought not to be passed in its present form.
– The object is to prevent undue delay.
– If the Minister would limit the action of the clause to special cases, I believe that the Committee would be with him. But we ought not to grant a wide power which, if abused, would certainly bring the Parliament into discredit.
– I do not like the provision. No doubt there are portions of the Commonwealth where delay in getting accounts certified takes place. But the persons who contract to do work for the Commonwealth there know perfectly the disabilities under which they will labour, and are prepared for them. This provision could be applied not only to remote parts of the Common- wealth, but also to populous centres. It is not safe to permit the payment of an account until it has been certified in the ordinary way. Such a departure from ordinary principles as is proposed might open the door to any amount of looseness in dealing with the public accounts. For that reason, I feel inclined to vote against the provision.
– I do not think the clause ought to be passed as printed. Surely it would be quite easy for the Minister to frame a slight amendment in the direction of a safeguard. The clause is worded as widely as it could possibly be. It throws upon the Treasurer the onus of passing an account without a certificate. As a matter of practice, I presume, he would be informed by an officer that he could pass the account. He would insensibly pass on the responsibility to that officer, and so, per.hans. the evil might spread. I do not think that there is any real safeguard except in requiring a certificate before an account is passed. If the clause were passed in its present form, and the fullest opportunity were taken of its wide language, a fearful wrong might be done to the Commonwealth. I do not think that the Minister or the Auditor-General wants a provision so wide in its terms as this is. No doubt certain elasticity is desired to meet a class of cases where the amount involved has been small, and the inconvenience which the creditor has suffered by reason of delay has been out of proportion to the amount. For instance, it may have taken two or three months to get a certificate for the payment of an account amounting to But because some elasticity is required to cover a case of that kind, it is not necessary to enact this comprehensive provision. It cannot be gainsaid that, under the clause, the Treasurer, if satisfied by an officer, might permit the payment of an account for any amount without a certificate from the certifying officer. It is not necessary to give such latitude. Unless the clause be amended, I shall vote against it. I suggest to the Minister that he might postpone the consideration of the clause with the view to an amendment being drafted. It is better that an amendment should be prepared in the ordinary way ; and it is still more preferable that the clause should be amended rather than rejected. But I cannot understand any honorable senator voting for it as it stands.
– I will make a suggestion which will, I think, meet the difficulty. It is that after the word “ account “ we insert a sum of money. We might say “not exceeding twenty pounds,’-‘ or fifty pounds, if the Minister would prefer the larger amount.
– I cannot accept the suggestion against the advice of the officers who are intrusted with the work under this Bill. I have previously pointed out that in all cases the accounts will be checked by a responsible officer before payment, and will be certified in due course. They would be certified before going on to the Auditor-General. I am informed that what is now proposed has been the practice in Victoria and elsewhere ; and it is simply because that practice has been queried that it is sought to provide that it shall be unquestionable in future. As a matter of fact, I have already asked for information from those who are better acquainted with this subject than I am as to the advisableness of inserting a limit to the amount that may be dealt with in this manner, and I am informed that that is not desirable. If the practice that has been followed were not permitted, the delays that would be occasioned in the settlement of accounts would be very extensive indeed. I am also informed that there is no reason to anticipate any danger to public moneys from what is proposed.
– Then the AuditorGeneral sanctions this practice because he finds it in existence?
– He has queried the regularity of it, but, as a matter of practice, it has existed : and to insist upon a rigid rule requiring the certification of all accounts before payment would, as I have said, lead to considerable delay in the settlement of accounts in places that are a good distance from Melbourne. Honorable senators will realize that if I oppose amendments of the description suggested, it is not that I arn personally averse to them. There is no personal issue. I must be guided in any action that I take up by the advice and assistance of those who have had considerable experience, and to whom this or any Government must look for guidance.
– While I quite appreciate the Minister’s position, I point out that he has failed to make any reply to the very obvious comments upon this proposal. It enables very large payments to be made in some centres - perhaps in Melbourne or Sydney - it may be in connexion with a large contract for public works - without certificate. The amount involved may be £20,000 or £40,000. The position has become a little more serious after the Minister’s explanation. He has told us that payments are frequently made without certificate. I think it desirable that that system should be limited. I admit that for the credit of the Commonwealth it is advisible that there should be speedy payment of ordinary accounts. I have suggested that we should insert the words “not exceeding twenty pounds.” The amount might be raised to £100 i’f the Minister prefers that. But the Committee ought not to pass a clause under which £20,000 or more mght be paid without proper authorization.
– I should be glad if the Minister would inform me what would happen if the Treasurer paid an account, and it afterwards turned out that the wrong man had received the money ? The amount might be verylarge. It might be payment for land acquired by the Commonwealth.
– I think, first of all, that the payee could be sued. The amount would be recoverable at law. We should also have to ascertain how it was paid’, and if a mistake occurred through the laches of any officer, he would be liable to make good the amount.
– Suppose £1,000 were paid to a contractor, and it was afterwards discovered that a mistake had been made. Would the amount be recoverable?
– We should be no better off if a certificate had been given.
– I am not talking about whether the payment was certified or not. I want to know what would happen if the wrong man was paid? Would the vote have to come before Parliament again ?
– I presume that it would. I presume that the new account would have to be dealt with separately.
– We are amending an existing Act, and are incorporating new clauses with it. The authorities quoted in the margin to section 34 of the existing Act are Acts of Parliament of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. No authority is given in the margin to this amending clause. We are told that the practice which it is proposed to sanction has no legislative approval in any State, though it may be in accordance with the practice that has grown up. The existing section reads -
No public accountant shall pay any account unless he shall have been authorized so to do by some person appointed by the GovernorGeneral for that purpose, and unless such account shall have been duly certified as correct by some person appointed by the GovernorGeneral for that purpose.
The section goes on to say that -
Unless such person shall authorize the payment of any account until he shall have ascertained that the payment thereof in addition to any accounts already certified will not exceed the amount of the appropriation made for that purpose.
We may be told that we shall run no more risk if we pass this clause than we should do if the payment had to be certified. There is a complete and ready answer to that; and I say at once that, if we are going to pass this clause, we might as well agree to the payment of any amount without certificate. If we are going to abolish the use of proper certificates, let us say so. First of all, however, it is not necessary to give the Treasurer such a power, because all cases of difficulty can be met by means of another clause. Consequently, what is proposed is not desirable. I go even further, and say that, under any circumstances, what is proposed is dangerous, if we admit the value and desirableness of the certificates which the Audit Act requires. Unless the clause is amended, I shall vote against it.
– Senator Keating has again failed to make any reply to the criticisms that have been urged against the clause. His silence admits the possibility of huge payments without certificates, il do not think that there is any honorable senator who would justify such a course. I hope that the Minister will not refuse to accept an amendment. Otherwise, he will be placing very wide powers in the hands of the Department. I move -
That after the word “ account,” line 7, the words “ not exceeding one hundred pounds “ be inserted.
– I am no more in love with the amendment than with the clause. I do not think we should permit any departure from the principle laid down in the Audit Act that, before any payment is made, there shall be a certificate. That is the only safe rule, and I think we ought to adhere to it.
– There is another aspect of the case to which reference has not been made, and that is that at present there are certifying officers in each of the States capitals, and if every account in every part of Australia, no matter how remote, is to be certified by a certifying officer before it can be paid, it will be necessary to very largely augment the staff of certifying officers throughout the Commonwealth. At present, where we rigidly follow the existing procedure under the Act, considerable delay is involved in the payment of accounts in the various States, and the Commonwealth bears all the obloquy. Reference has been made to the fact that this particular clause has been drawn from a corresponding clause in the States Audit Acts, but, so far as the States Governments are concerned, the distance from the Seat o? Government to its outlying parts is not nearly so great as in the case of the Commonwealth.
– They can all be reached by telegraph in less than an hour.
– We could not certify by telegraph.
– No, but we could get information.
– Compliance with the provisions of the existing law has led to considerable delay in the payment of accounts, and all blame for this is laid against the Commonwealth. We might attempt to overcome that delay by the appointment of a small army of certifying officers throughout the Commonwealth.
– And then we would not do it.
– Then we would not do it, but we would pile up expenses. Although the Auditor-General questions the legality of the practice, in the absence of any statutory provision for it, he has seen that it has worked no harm. In the circumstances I ask honorable senators not to insist on a limitation of this character. If there must be some check let it not be a limit as to the amount, the locality, or the distance, but let the limit that is placed on the exercise of this otherwise discretionary power be one which will tend to secure some check in substitution for the ordinary certificate.
– Is the Minister prepared to draft some amendment of the clause ?
– I ask the Committee to pass the clause as it stands, and when we have considered other clauses I may be able to suggest some amendment of the clause which will meet the views of honorable senators.
– There can be no objection if we have the Minister’s promise to recommit the clause. Do I understand that the Minister agrees to recommit the clause ?
– I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
– I wish to propose an amendment in paragraph b. As it reads at present the words “ unless otherwise directed by the Treasurer “ clearly apply to the whole of the original sub-section 6 of section 34, whilst the object of the paragraph is to apply those words merely to the provision that amounts for which receipts are given shall “ always be set out in words at full length.” I therefore move -
That the words “ at the end of,” line 12, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ after the word ‘ always ‘ in.”
The latter portion of sub-section 6 of section 34 would then read - “ the amount so paid, which shall always, unless otherwise directed by the Treasurer, be set out in words at full length.”
– I see no objection to the amendment. The original provision of sub-section 6 of section 34 reads -
Except as hereafter provided at the time of paying any accounts every public accountant shall obtain a receipt under the hand of the person to whom the same is payable, or under the hand of some person or banker authorized in writing by such first-mentioned person, for the amount so paid, which shall always be set out in words at full length.
We desire to make provision that in cases where the Treasurer otherwise directs, it shall not be necessary to set out the words at full length. Honorable senators are doubtless familiar with the common method of taking receipts for the payment of salaries where a salary abstract is used to set out the names of the recipients, and the amounts to be received in colunms of figures. The pay-sheets of mines and large business houses are drawn up in a similar form, and very often the salaries paid in larger Commonwealth offices are receipted on sheets setting out the salaries in figures, It will be admitted’ that it would be exceedingly inconvenient if it were necessary in these cases to set out in words at full length the amount of the salaries to be paid.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 7 agreed to.
After section thirty-six of the Principal Act the following sections are inserted : - “ 36A. Expenditure in excess of specific appro priation or not specifically provided for by appropriation may be charged to such heads as the Treasurer may direct provided that the total expenditure so charged in any financial year, after deduction of amounts of repayments and transfers to heads for which specific appropriation exists, shall not exceed the amount appropriated for that year under the head Advance to the Treasurer.’ “
– Perhaps the Minister will give some little explanation of the first of the proposed new sections. “ Specific appropriation “ as used in 36A would appear to refer to something outside the Treasurer’s Advance.
– The term “specific appropriation “ is meant here to cover appropriations for specific purposes. The Treasurer’s Advance is an appropriation of money applied by the Treasurer to purposes that in the Appropriation measure are unspecified.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 9 agreed to.
Clause 10 -
Sub-section 2 of section forty-five of the Principal Act is amended by inserting in paragraph a, immediately after the words “ Once at least in every year,” the words “ or in those cases in which the cost of audit would be disproportionate to the amount involved at such intervals as may be sanctioned by the Treasurer (provided that a list of all such* cases shall be published in the Auditor-General’s Report each year “).
– Although this clause may be dangerous, I suppose that on the recommendation of the Auditor-General it is desirable that we should pass it. I do not intend to oppose it, but I should like to be told the reason for the words in brackets - provided that a list of all such cases shall be published in the Auditor-General’s report each year.
– That attention may be drawn to them, and if in any particular instance in the opinion of Parliament an audit should take place annually, there may be an expression of opinion to that effect.
– Senator Keating will admit that that is not an important part of the clause; the real object of which is to allow the audit to be dispensed with in cases of infinitesimal importance. I believe that this list, if published, will amount to a black-list. It will show that such-and-such persons at certain places have not had their accounts audited for a year or more. I may be told that if the list is published, any member of Parliament may be able to direct attention to the fact that the accounts of a certain officer have not been audited for a year, but I do not think that it is desirable that any member of Parliament should be allowed to do that.
– Would not the list afford some guide as to the extent to which the provision is availed of?
– I think that in this matter we should trust the AuditorGeneral, and should permit him to dispense with an auunal audit, for reasons which will be indicated, when he deems it unnecessary. The publication of the list would serve no useful purpose. It is not necessary as a reminder to the AuditorGeneral. It is proposed, for no useful purpose, to give publicity to the fact that certain persons have not had their accounts audited for more than a year, and I think that this will be found to be dangerous rather than desirable. I ask that these words should be struck out. I am prepared to pass the clause giving the AuditorGeneral at his own discretion the power to dispense with an annua] audit of certain accounts, and I think the publication of the proposed list would be most inadvisable.
– - Senator Clemons takes a somewhat strange view when he suggests that the publication of the list would cast any reflection on the officers included in it, seeing that the reasons for dispensing with the audit will be stated. I can mention an instance in which the existence of some such provision would have been of advantage in Western Australia. We have a State Auditor-General and Audit Act. as has every other State, but honorable senators will remember that a report of two Commonwealth officers laid before Parliament on the condition of affairs existing in the Post and Telegraph Department of Western Australia disclosed the fact that for a number of years in some branches of that Department no regular audit had taken place. I am sure Senator Clemons does not hold the view that any State Parliament would be aware of any such state of affairs. If there were a similar provision in the Western Australian Audit Act - and I am sure there is not - the attention of Parliament would have been called to the fact that the accounts of a very large number of officers in the metropolitan post-office had’ not been audited. No reflection is cast on the officials by such a provision, because the purpose of the fist is known. It is to indicate those officials whose reports have not been audited because of the costly character of the audit. The list would inform Parliament as to the extent to which this practice of dispensing with audits was being availed of by the AuditorGeneral ; and that is information which Parliament has a right to have.
– I now see good reasons for the clause^ because the sanction of the Treasurer has to be obtained.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 11 -
After section forty-five of the Principal Act the following section is inserted : - “45A. The Auditor-General may, with the consent of the Treasurer, dispense with all or any part of any detailed audit of any accounts, but not with any appropriation audit of those accounts. The consent of the Treasurer shall be given only in cases in which he considers that there are circumstances which render a detailed audit under this Act unnecessary. “ Provided that a list of all such cases shall be published in the Auditor-General’s Report each year.”
– It appears to me that an audit, to be of any value, must be a detailed audit; and, therefore, I feel inclined to vote against the clause unless some satisfactory explanation is given by the Minister for its insertion.
– I am informed that a detailed audit involves the checking of all calculations of officers, no matter how small the amounts may be. There may be, for instance, a small sum used for petty cash or some similar purpose.
– It is just those kinds of accounts that require auditing closely.
– If such accounts had to be investigated in all their details, it would often involve an amount of time and money not warranted under the circumstances. It will be seen from a perusal of the clause that it is not proposed to dispense altogether with detailed audits. There must be a combination of circumstances before the power can be exercised. First of all, the Auditor-General must believe that in the particular case, a detailed audit can be dispensed with without risk, and then there must be the concurrence of the Treasurer, followed by the sanction of the latter, who has the duty cast upon him of deciding that the circumstances are such as to render such an audit unnecessary. Then, of course, there must be a list of all such cases published each year, and the Minister may be called upon to justify his action in Parliament. The clause is not for the purpose of introducing any laxity in the existing practice, but merely to meet the peculiar circumstances to which I have already referred.
– The principal reason for adopting this clause is that it will save expense. It has been the experience of many public companies and institutions that the saving of a few pounds in the way of auditing has very often led to disastrous results. Even with the comparatively complete system of auditing we now have, there are many cases of defalcations. The Commonwealth loses a round sum in this way every year, and if a loose system of audit is recognised, the danger, not only of financial loss, but of breeding careless habits amongst Commonwealth employes, will become very serious. I do not think that this clause ought to be passed, but that we ought to insist’ on audits being carried out in the old way, so as to make our finances as safe as possible.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 12 to 15 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
That clause 6 be reconsidered.
Clause 6 -
Section thirty-four of the Principal Act is amended -
by inserting at the end of sub-section 1, and as part of that sub-section, the words “ Provided that the Treasurer mav permit the payment of any account before it has been certified if he is satisfied that undue delay in the payment of the account would be caused if it had to be certified before payment “ ; and
Amendment (by Senator Keating) proposed -
That after the word “ certified,” line 7, the following words be inserted : - “ if the same has been checked by a responsible officer and “.
– This may be a very ingenious way of getting over the difficulty, but it is quite obvious that the course proposed is precisely that which the Treasurer would adopt in any case. The amendment does not give one iota of additional guarantee, and I do not suppose that Senator Keating imagines that the Treasurer would do anything but what the proposal provides.
– -One criticism levelled at the clause was that it empowered the Treasurer to do too much.
– But there is no doubt that the Treasurer would consult some permanent official ; and I am not sure that in speaking previously on this clause I did not myself use the word “check.’1 There is no doubt that the Treasurer would ask some responsible officer whether certain accounts should be passed without a certificate ; and the amendment does not satisfy me. Any amount might be passed without a certificate, simply because some official said he had checked the account, and that it was all right.Indeed,I suppose that some officer would check the account on every occasion, even prior to a certificate being issued. My chief objection is that there is no limit to the latitude given ; and if we dispense with the certificate in such cases we might as well dispense with the certificate altogether. I do not know what Senator Pulsford thinks of this clause, but it is one for which I cannot vote. The amendment may be ingenious, but to my mind it is entirely evasive.
– I also feel that the proposed addition to the clause does not give that security which we have a right to expect. The amendment does give a little securitv, I admit, but it is so infinitesimal as to ‘be entirelv unsatisfactory to us, who are the guardians of States interests. I appeal to the Minister to try to ‘put the clause in a form which would be satisfactory to us all. If, in addition to his amendment, a limitation as to the amount were made, as I suggested, the Committee might be willing to accept the provision.
– I hope that the honorable senator will see his way to accept the amendment. It would make it obligatory in every instance before a payment of this kind was made to have the amount checked. It would obviate the necessity for having certifying officers appointed throughout the Commonwealth at a large expense, and thus enable the Commonwealth to deal expeditiously with its creditors. Having regard to the fact that the practice has not been attended with any evil results in the past, and that those who are familiar with the practice have nojreason to apprehend any evil results arising from its continuance, I think that the Committee will be well minded if they will pass the clause with this additional safeguard. It will make absolute provision that the amount must be checked by a responsible officer, and in every instance the certificate of the certifying officer will be obtained before the account goes on to the Auditor-General. What was the original object in providing for the issue of that certificate? It was simply to insure that the account was correct. If that can be done by another responsible officer, similarly appointed, shall we not achieve the same result ?
– Suppose that the Commonwealth had entered into a contract with a man to complete a work in a far-distant place, and that, upon its completion, the contractor wanted to be paid at once. In a case of that kind, what would be the value of this check by an officer in the Treasury ?
– The account would not bepaid simply on his check.
– Under the clause it would be possible.
– Yes; but the account would not be paid simply on his check.
– Surely we ought not to give such wide latitude to the Government. Suppose that a man had contracted in a remote district to do certain work for the Commonwealth for the sum of £100, and that upon its completion he wanted his money at once. The Treasurer could say, “ If some official in my Department will check the account, I shall pay it straight away,” and the contractor would get his money, although the contract might have been very badly performed.
– No; he must First obtain a certificate from an officer that the contract had been properly performed.
– That is what is being dispensed with” under the clause.
– No. ‘There must always be a person on the spot to see that the contract is being properly carried out.
– The clause says that the Treasurer may permit the payment of any account before it has been certified, but it is proposed by the amendment to enable him to pay the amount if it has been checked by a- responsible officer. That is no certificate, but merely a checking of the additions by_ a Treasury officer. The object of the provision is to allow ‘payment to be made without a. certificate from the certifying officer, but it would enable the payment of ,£50,000 to be made if the contractor said that he wanted his money in a hurry.
– In the case of a £50,000 contract, the contractor would not get his money paid in a lump sum, but he would get paid by instalments as the work proceeded.
– Take the case of a small man who wanted his money as soon as he had completed his contract for the Commonwealth. Does not Senator Playford know that there is no Government contractor who practically cannot get credit where he lives? How is that man disadvantaged ?
– He has to pay interest.
– Not at all. Take the case of an ordinary small contractor who is known to have a Government contract. Will not every storekeeper in the vicinity trust him because of that fact? At any rate, that has been my experience. I think that a great deal too much has been made of the hardship df the small man, but I am perfectly willing to allow the clause to be amended if a proper check is provided- With the addition of the words proposed by Senator Keating there would not be a check as to the value of the work done or as to the amount owing.
– In the case of a contract for the Department of Home Affairs, surely there will be a check as to the quality of the work done.
– No doubt j but surely the honorable senator must agree with me that there must be many cases of the kind I have suggested.
– Senator Clemons is laboring under a misapprehen sion. He put the case of a contractor in the country who, having finished his contract, wanted payment at once, and urged that the account would be paid without a certificate. In the country there would be an officer to certify to the proper performance of the contract, and the contractor would get no payment unless that certificate were sent in. The certificate referred to in the clause is the certificate of the Treasury officer who has to add up the amounts and certify to the correctness of small details. No contractor for the Commonwealth would get paid under any circumstances unless the superintending officer had certified that he had carried out the contract according to plans and specifications. The object of the clause is merely to prevent the delay which has very frequently occurred in the Treasury because of a rush of work having come in. It is the duty of the Treasury officers to add up the items and check all the computations, and the delay which this task involves has often been the means of keeping a contractor out of his money unnecessarily. Bv this clause it is proposed,, in certain circumstances, to dispense with the certificate of the Treasury officer, but, of course, not with the certificate of the superintending officer that the contract has been properly performed.
.- I should think that the Minister of Defence has been drawing upon his imagination.
– No; he has been drawing on section 34 df the Audit Act.
– I propose to - quote that section in order to show that the certificate referred to in the clause is a certificate of a person appointed bv the GovernorGeneral. It says -
No Public Accountant shall pav any account unless he shall have been authorized so to do bv some person appointed bv the . GovernorGeneral for that purpose, and unless such account shall have been duly certificated as correct by some person appointed by the GovernorGeneral for that purpose.
– That is a Treasury officer.
– The duty of the Public Works officer is not to certify as to the account, but as to the manner in which the contract has been carried out.
– We were told that there was a certifying officer all over the country.
– Yes; in each capital city. .
– Is he not the officer who certifies that the work has been done?
– No; we depend upon an officer in the Public Works Department of the State for that certificate.
– What work does the certifying officer referred to in section 34 perform ?
– Treasury work. He is a Commonwealth officer.
– I presume that the certifying officer would get bis information from an officer in the Public Works Department.
– That certainly puts a different construction on the provision.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Motion (by Senator Playford) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I should be glad if the Minister of Defence would intimate what business will be proceeded with to-morrow?
– We shall deal first with the report of the Committee on the Audit Bill. I promised that on Wednesday the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway Survey Bill would be dealt with.
– I trust that the Minister will adhere to the determination at which I understand he has arrived, to go through with the Survey Bill when once we commence to deal with it.
– I intend, if possible, to obtain a decision on the matter. Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.33 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 11 September 1906, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1906/19060911_senate_2_34/>.