6th Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Assent to the following Bills reported : -
Unlawful Associations Bill.
Entertainments Tax Assessment Bill.
Daylight Saving Bill.
Income Tax Assessment Bill (No. 4).
Entertainments Tax Bill.
Income Tax Bill (No. 8).
– I wish, sir, to draw attention to an alteration of the practice of the Senate in the presentation of messages from His Excellency the Governor-General as to assent to Bills. I do not know whether it was done by your instruction, but the usual procedure Baa been that such messages should be handed to you by the Minister leading the Senate. I ask whether the procedure to-day was an alteration of the practice, or whether it arose from Mr.Duffy, who is now filling the position of Clerk, following the procedure adopted in another place ?
– Hear, hear ! They must come through a Minister.
– I take it, sir, that it has been done inadvertently, and that it does not constitute an alteration of our practice.
-The only thing that Iknow about messages from the GovernorGeneral is that they are presented to Parliament as notifications that His Excellency has given his assent to certain Bills. Mr. Duffy informs me that it was merely an inadvertence that these messages did not happen to be handed to me by the Leader of the Senate. Personally, I do not think that there is much importance in the matter. The important point is that these messages should be received and read to the Senate. However, as it was only an inadvertence this time, the practice which has hitherto been carried on in the Senate will be maintained in the future.
– I do not wish to occupy the time of the Senate, but I do think distinctly that any message from the Governor-General to the Senate should came through somebody who is responsible to the Senate, responsible to the country, and responsible to the people. It has been the invariable practice that any communication from the GovernorGeneral, as representing the Crown, should come to the Senate through a Minister responsible to the Senate and to the country. I certainly hope that the practice which has been adopted this afternoon, and which I myself noted with some regret, will not be construed into a precedent.
– These messages, I understand, are always forwarded by the official secretary to the GovernorGeneral to the Clerk of the Senate. Hitherto it has been the practice for the Clerk to hand the messages to the Leader of the Senate for presentation to Parliament. Therefore, it does not seem to me to be important
– It is very important.
– It is.
– Tweedledum and tweedledee.
– Order! Honorable senators are entitled to say what their views on this matter are. I am entitled to say what my view is, and it is that the whole importance lies in the fact that the messages should be communicated to the Senate by His Excelleney the GovernorGeneral in some way. When they are sent to the Clerk, it is a very moot point to me whether it is the duty of the Clerk to hand them to the Leader of the Senate or to the President for presentation to the Senate, because it has been contended, and rightly so, that there should be somebody responsible for the thing.Will honorable senators say that the Presiding Officer of the Senate is not equally responsible as a Minister of the Crown - is not an equally fit channel through whom the messages should be presented to the Senate? The matter does not seem to me to be worth a debate, because the import: ant condition, and it is a condition which has been complied with, is that the messages should be presented to the Senate through a proper and official channel.
– I thinkthat the explanation has been sufficient.
– I do not wish to say any more about the matter. Seeing that the really important provision has been complied with, I do not see that there is anything particular to cavil at.
– If I mistake not, sir, our practice used to be, at any rate at the close of the session, for the GovernorGeneral himself to signify his assent to Bills. I understand that Mr. Speaker, withregard to Bills originating in the other House, and the President with regard to Bills originating in the’ Senate, is the proper person to present them to the Governor-General for the Royal assent, and, technically, the assent should be given there and then, and handed to the officer who presented the documents to His Excellency. But when a measure has been introduced into the other House and presented by the Speaker, I think that the practice invariably has been that the message should come to the Senate through a responsible Minister.
– Any communication from the Crown must come through a responsible Minister.
– Not necessarily.
– If the President or Mr. Speaker presents a Bill to the GovernorGeneral, and it is assented to there and then, it is returned to him with His Excellency’s assent, and I think that the message then would be properly presented by the President or the Speaker, as the case might be, without the intervention of a Minister; but where the Bill originates in the other House I think that the invariable practice has been for the message to be presented through a responsible Minister of the Crown.
– I am not sure to whom my question should be addressed, but I ask the Minister for Works and Railways: -
Canberra city railway has been commenced?
– In reply to the honorable senator, I have to say that the work concerned is, for the present, under the general control of the Minister for Home and Territories, and myself. That decision has been arrived at pending the report of a Commission that is now sitting and inquiring into certain works in the Federal Territory. With respect to the particular work concerning which the honorable senator has inquired, the position is that the construction of the railway is proposed, but for the present no work is being carried out on it, nor is it intended to continue it until the matter is further considered. In other words, with respect to the railway referred to, things are at a standstill.
Mr. W. B. GRIFFIN.
– I ask the Minister for Works and Railways: -
– The answer to the honorable senator is that a claim has been made by the Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction for the sum of, I think, £192, for plans in connexion with the work mentioned by Senator Story. The claim has not yet been paid, and a request has gone forward from myself asking that I be supplied with the plans before payment is made.
– I ask the Minister for Works and Railways whether he can give the Senate any idea as to how long the Royal Commission that is sitting in a certain room in this building is to continue its work ? Can he say for what period of time Mr. Webster, the present Postmaster-General, will be engaged in the cross-examination of the various witnesses appearing before that tribunal? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether the Chairman of the Royal Commission, Mr. Blackett, K.C., is still getting £17 17s. per day during the cross-examination of the witnesses by Mr. Webster?
SenatorKEATING. - Before the question is answered, I wish to say that I have just handed in notice of a question to be put upon the paper for tomorrow, covering almost everything involved in the inquiry made by Senator Findley.
– The honorable senator did not read his question.
– That is so.
– Then the honorable senator cannot blame Senator Findley.
– I am not blaming the honorable senator.
– Order! There is no question on the business-paper.
– Notice of the question has been handed in, and it is in writing.
– Order ! The honorable senator must not discuss the matter now.
-I might have done as other honorable senators have done, but refrained from doing so. I might have read the question, and put it without notice, when I knew that it could not be answered to-day. I gave notice of it, and it is already on record.
– Order ! Senator Findley is perfectly entitled to ask his question. No such question as that indicatedby Senator Keating appears on the notice-paper.
– It will appear tomorrow.
– Senator Findley could have had no idea of Senator Keating ‘s intention to ask the question, or of the purport of it. I rule that he was perfectly in order in asking the question.
– I would not have asked it if I had known that it was covered by the question of which notice was given by Senator Keating.
– May I ask the honorable senator to give notice of his question ?
Australian Imperial Force : Supplementary Rolls
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories -
– In reply to the first portion of the honorable senator’s question, I desire to say that a careful record is kept of every soldier departing from Australia during the period of the war. Of course, difficulties are sometimes experienced in discovering the correct addresses of soldiers, and the names of some 10 or 15 per cent. consequently get off the rolls in spite of the vigilance exercised by officers. In regard to the other questions put by the honorable senator, I must ask’ him to give notice of them.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs whether, in view of the certainty of an early election for this Chamber, the Government will see that the electoral rolls are kept up to date, and that no obstacle is placed in the way ofany citizen having his name inserted upon the supplementary rolls?
– In view of an election taking place at any time, itwill be the endeavour of the Government to have every citizen enrolled, subject to the limitations imposed by Parliament.
– I ask the Minister for Works and Railways -
– During the recess the Commonwealth Government have not been in communication with the State of Western Australia on this subject, but they had been previously. To-day I am sending acommunication to the Western State with a view to ascertaining the views of the Government there on the possibility of connecting our railway system at Kalgoorlie with Fremantle. During the recess no communication has passed between either authority.
– I ask the Min ister for Defence whether, during the recent visit of certain members of this Parliament to the United Kingdom, on the invitation of the Empire Parliamentary Association, representations were made to the Government through the High Commissioner regarding the undesirableness of allowing women and children to travel overseas unless it is absolutely necessary for them to do so, and if any steps have been taken to restrict the travelling of women and children who are not obliged to go abroad, and thus incur the risk of submarining ?
– I do not know that any official representations were made on this matter through the High Commissioner. They may have been. But I do know that individual members of this Parliament wrote to me making certain representations. No action was taken then, other than the publication of a general statement in the press to the effect that unnecessary sea travelling by women and children was undesirable. Recently, however, action was taken to prevent them passing through any danger area except for specially urgent purposes, and all passports which had been issued were withdrawn. No fresh passports will be granted unless specially urgent circumstances for their issue can be demonstrated.
– Anticipating that a Supply Bill for one month will be introduced into another place to-day, I ask the Leader of the Government whether he will consider the advisableness of moving the adjournment of the Senate until next -week instead of calling it together again to-morrow?
– Can we get the Bill through by the 14th instant?
– I think so.
– As honorable senators are aware Supply will become exhausted on the 14th instant. T wish to meet the convenience of honorable sena-. tors, and if I understand it is the general desire that the course indicated by Senator Gardiner shall be followed, and that we can get the Supply Bill passed through this Chamber by the 14th instant, I am quite prepared at the proper time to move that the Senate adjourn till Tuesday next.
– Will the Supply Bill reach us to-day?
– We anticipate that it will be dealt with by another place to- . day. If I understand that the Senate is prepared to pass the Bill by the 14th instant, by giving it consideration . on Tuesday and Wednesday next, I have no objection to the course outlined by Senator Gardiner.
– Do not make the meeting of the Senate Tuesday next. Make it Wednesday. Let us pass the Bill this week, but do not call us back on Tuesday.
– I do not think it would be a fair thing to ask the Senate to dispose of the Supply Bill in one day.
– There is no certainty as to when it will reach here.
– We do not know when it will reach this Chamber, but we anticipate that we will have it to-morrow.
– There was nothing to prevent the Government calling Parliament together earlier if they wanted Supply granted by the 14th instant.
– Why not take it to-morrow ?
– I understand that there is a desire on the part of a number of honorable senators that the discussion on the Bill shall take place next week, and I wish to meet them. On the understanding that the Supply Bill will be passed by the Senate before the 14th instant, I shall be prepared to move that the adjournment of this Chamber shall be till Tuesday next instead of to-morrow.
– I desire now to amend the statement which I made in regard to the business of the Senate. I understand there is now a probability of the Supply Bill passing another place today. In .that case, it will be available for the Senate to-morrow; and as I believe some honorable senators who previously wished that the debate should be postponed until next week, are now indifferent on the matter, I propose to ask the Senate to meet to-morrow.
– I ask the Minister for Defence whether he is aware that the concerted action on the part of the Commonwealth Government, several State Governments, and quite a number of public bodies in shutting down public works has caused a great deal of unemployment, and what steps the Government intend to take to deal with the unemployment question ?
– I give a denial to -the suggestion in the honorable senator’s question that there has been concerted action on the part of the Commonwealth and State Governments and public bodies to bring about unemployment, or to take any steps with that end in view. As regards any unemployment that may exist, anything the Government can do to lessen it will be done willingly, consistent with the financial obligations and position of the country.
– If what I said can be taken to mean that the concerted action I referred to was to bring about unemployment, I wish to withdraw any such suggestion. What I wanted to convey was that there seemed to be simultaneous action on the part of these public bodies in closing down public works. I do not know whether they were working in concert or not, but I notice that works controlled by the Harbor Trust, municipal councils, and State and Federal Governments were all closed down at the same time.
Defalcations - Deferred , Pay of Deceased Soldiers’ - Soldiers’ Allotment Money
– In view of the published statement that very large defalcations have taken place in the Defence Department, will the Minister state whether any steps have been taken to discover what officers were responsible for not detecting what was going on within a reasonable time, and what explanation they have to give?
– In order to carry out the inquiries mentioned by the honorable senator, and further inquiries as to whether there are any loopholes in the system adopted in the Pay Office, and in the requisitioning of stores, a Board has been constituted under the War Precautions Act, which empowers the impounding of documents, and the taking of evidence on oath, with heavy penalties for infringement in the way of perjury. The Board consists of Major Ling, an officer of the Auditor-General’s Department; and Mr. Barton, a public accountant of Sydney, New South Wales. These gentlemen are at present engaged in that inquiry.
– Will the Minister for Defence inform the Senate why it takes so long, after a man has been reported killed at . the front, for the Department here to deal with his deferred pay ?
– This question has been exercising my mind very considerably of late. There is no doubt extraordinary delay, but I have made inquiries, and find that it does not take place here. A soldier, on going away, takes with him his pay-book. Sometimes deductions for fines, or for amounts drawn, have to be made, and the accounts are, kept oversea. We cannot pay the deferred pay here until we ascertain from the other side what amount is actually due to the man. There have been delays of months in sending those accounts to us from overseas. This is very aggravating, particularly to the relatives of the deceased man, and we have made very strong representations to the people overseas as to the irritation, and in some cases suffering, caused here. We have also insisted that an inquiry be held there to find out the cause, and have the matter rectified. I realize that what the honorable senator points out is a bad feature in connexion with the pay question, and anything I can do to rectify things will be done.
– Can the Minister for Defence say if, in the event of a soldier leaving for the front without having made an allotment of his pay to his aged mother, who may be dependent upon him, his mother can legally claim any sustenance? In other words, if a soldier allots his pay to a stranger, and leaves his mother unprovided for, can she obtain a portion of the pay ?
– It Has to be remembered that a soldier’s money is his own, and he can dispose of it in any way he thinks fit. There is, however, a limitation, and, as the result af legislation passed by this Parliament, the Minister is empowered to take certain action upon good cause being shown that a soldier has made no provision for relatives who may be dependent upon him. In such circumstances, the Minister may allot portion of the pay to dependants without the consent of the soldier, but representation should be made to the Minister so that he may judge as to whether action is warranted.
– In the event of an unworthy person being in receipt of the separation ‘ allowance, may an aged mother, dependent upon such soldier, have portion of it transferred to her account ?
– The honorable senator is referring now to the separation allowance, and not to the allotment money. A separation allowance is not payable to the mother of a soldier unless he has been living with his mother and helping to maintain the home. In the circumstances mentioned the mother should make application to the Department setting out the particulars of her case, together with her claim upon her son, and also the manner in which the son has disposed of his pay.
– Will the Government consider the advisability of appointing a farmers’ representative on the Wheat Board ?
– The Australian Wheat Board can from time to time consider the question of making additional appointments, but the proposal mentioned by the honorable senator has already been considered by it and : rejected. The Board consists of the Commonwealth representative, and the Ministers for Agriculture of each State represented. I understand that the matter may probably come up again at the next meeting.
– Has the Minister taken into consideration Tasmanian conditions with regard to the supply of wheat? Has anything been done since the question was asked at our last meeting to meet the conditions experienced in Tasmania with regard to the ordinary supply of wheat for milling purposes?
– The position of Tasmania with regard to the supply of wheat from Australia has been under consideration for. some time, and the conditions have been modified to some extent. There recently appeared in the press a statement that a Conference had been held between the Tasmanian Government and the millers of the State to devise means to meet the difficulty. It was reported that communications had been sent to the Prime Minister’s Department. Those have not yet arrived. On their arrival consideration will be given to the matter at the earliest (possible moment,
– Has anything been done to give effect to the decisions arrived at by the Conference of electoral representatives of the Commonwealth and States held in Sydney on the 5th, 10th, 12th, and 15th July, 1915, when it was agreed that there were no difficulties whatever in the way of creating and maintaining a uniform electoral roll for Commonwealth and States, ‘ eliminating the cost of dual Electoral Registrars, and all the other unnecessary expenses of dual rolls? Why has so much delay taken place in giving effect to these decisions, and who is responsible?
– It is true that the Conference met and arrived at a practically unanimous agreement as to the conditions for a uniform roll, and that this has been again indorsed by the recent Premiers’ Conference. All that is being waited for is a favorable opportunity for the respective Parliaments to bring a uniform law into operation.
The following papers were pre sented: -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1911 -
Order dated 20th December, 1916, further varying Award made by Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration on plaint submitted by Australian Postal
Electrician’s Union; together with Statement re Laws and Regulations, Copy of Reasons for Judgment, Opinion of AttorneyGeneral, and Memorandum by Acting Public Service Commissioner.
Order dated 21st December, 1916, further varying Award made by Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration on plaint submitted by Australian Letter Carriers’ Association; together with Statement re Laws and Regulations, Copy of Reasons ‘for Judgment, Opinion of Attorney-General, and Memorandum by Acting Public Service Commissioner.
Commonwealth Bank Act 1911-1914- Regulations Amended - Statutory Rules 1917, No. 10.
Customs Act 1901-1916-
Notification by Minister for Trade and Customs, dated 11th January, 1917, relative to exportation of goods to China and Siam.
Notification by Minister for Trade and Customs, dated 16th January, 1917, relative to exportation of goods to Liberia.
Regulations Amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1916, Nos. 313, 315; 1917, No. 9.
Defence Act 1903-1915 - Regulations Amended, &c. -
Statutory Rules 1916, Nos. 318, 319, 320. Public Service Act 1902-1916-
Postmaster-General’s Department -
J. L. Mullen.
Regulations Amended, &c. - Statutory Rules 1916, Nos. 306, 307, 308, 309; 1917, No. 8.
Entertainments Tax Assessment Act 1916 - Regulations- Statutory Rules 1916, No. 329.
Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908-1916 - Statement re Pensions for the twelve months ended 30th June, 1916.
Lands Acquisition Act -
Land acquired under, at -
Blackwood, South Australia - For Postal purposes.
Cockburn Sound, Western Australia - For Defence purposes.
Hamilton, New South Wales - For Defence purposes.
Mildura, Victoria - For Defence purposes.
Pialligo and Goorooyaroo, New South Wales - For Federal Capital purposes only.
Port Augusta, South Australia - For Railway purposes.
Sydney, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.
Norfolk Island - Report of the Administrator for the year ended 30th, June, 1916.
Northern Territory- Ordinances of 1917 -
No. 1. - Crown Lands.
No. 2. - Darwin Town Council.
Post and Telegraph Act 1901-1916 - Regulations Amended, &c. -
Statutory Rules 1916, Nos. 291, 310, 330, 331, 332; 1917, Nos. 1, 4.
Seat of Government - Careless Use of Fire Ordinance 1916 - Regulations.
Belgium - Declaration by Allies regarding present condition.(Statement issued from Foreign Office.)
Civilians interned in the British and German Empires - Further correspondence respecting proposed release. (Paper presented to British Parliament.)
War Census : Further Progress Return showing the Number and Unimproved Value of Freehold Estates in the Commonwealth on 30th June, 1915.
War Precautions Act 1914-1916 - Regulations Amended, &c. -
Statutory Rules 1916, Nos. 300, 311, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326; 1917, Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 13.
Clerk of the Senate - The President’s
Call.: Senator Gardiner and Senator Millen - Position of the Government : Absence of Ministerial Statement - Proposed Imperial. Conference : Australian Representation - A.I.F. Mail Services - Compulsory Military Service Referendum : Soldiers’ Vote - Military Offences Abroad: Review of Sentences - Dental Service.
.- I move-
That the Senate do now adjourn.
The carrying of this motion will mean that the Senate will meet at 11 o’clock to-morrow, when the first business to be taken will be the Supply Bill.
– In putting this motion to the Senate, I desire to make an announcement. At the close of the last meeting of the Senate I had occasion to refer regretfully to the fact that arrangements were being made with regard to the retirement, owing to failing health, of Mr. Boydell, who had been so long and so honorably connected with the Senate in his official capacity as Clerk of this Chamber. Honorable senators will remember that towards the close of the sitting most of the senators had to leave to catch their trains, and, therefore, they did not have an opportunity to express their feelings. I only bring the matter forward again in order to announce to the Senate the action taken consequent on Mr. Boydell’s retirement. Mr. Boydell had a long and honorable career in the Public Service. He. was in the Public Service for a period of forty-three years. Some years ago he was laid up with a very severe illness - so severe that most senators were labouring under the apprehensionthat he would be unable to resume his post. Fortunately an extended rest enabled Mr. Boydell to come back and fulfil his duties very creditably for a considerable time longer. Quite recently he had a recrudescence of that old complaint, which absolutely necessitated a complete rest; and, ‘as he had reached the retiring age, he decided to retire. I was reluctantly compelled to make the necessary arrangements to enable him to retire, and on my recommendation the Governor-General granted him six months’ leave of absence on full pay. Following his retirement there were several applications forthe position of Clerk, and, after full and mature consideration, I recommended that the position should be given to Mr. C. Gavan Duffy, C.M.G., who, honorable senators are aware, has had a long and honorable career as Clerk in another place. He was the senior officer of Parliament, and undoubtedly he possessed the necessary experience and qualifications. I believe that, much as honorable senators will miss Mr. Boydell, his retirement will be fully made up for by the appointment of Mr. Duffy. I hope that the arrangement I have made will meet with the concurrence of honorable senators. While all honorable senators will regret parting with Mr. Boydell, who, I think, had the friendship, goodwill, and esteem of every member of the Chamber, I hope that the new appointment will meet with their approval, and that the services of Mr. Duffy will give them the same satisfaction as they derived from the services of Mir. Boydell. I have nothing to add beyond expressing the hope that Mr. Boydell’s retirement will enable him to recover his health to a considerable extent, and that he will live for many years to enjoy the pension which he has so justly earned, and is entitled to.
– You, sir, made a reference to the circumstances under which the Senate found itself placed when we terminated our business prior to Christmas. I think I shall meet the wishes of the Senate if I intimate that, though like other honorable senators I was then pushed for time, and therefore was not in a position to place on record, as I think the Senate would like to do, its sense of the services which Mr. Boydell has rendered, that I shall take the earliest opportunity of inviting the Senate to give, by means of a definite motion, an expression of its opinion regarding the services of this retiring officer. And, -with regard to the new occupant of the office, I feel certain that every member of the. Senate, who has had an ample opportunity of watching, even from a distance, the very fine service which Mr. Duffy rendered elsewhere, will feel every confidence that he brings to the performance of his new duties a full capacity and a ripe experience. We can with every confidence, therefore, assume that we shall receive from, him assistance on those very many occasions on which honorable senators are bound to look for guidance and advice to the officers of the Senate.
– I rose to address the Senate, sir, and you intervened, and when I rose again -another honorable senator was called. I do not know whether it was an intended slight - and I am not thin-skinned - but I do not allow what I consider slights to pass without open speaking. On the question of adjournment - -
– Order ! I take it from the remark of the honorable senator that he insinuates that I cast a slight upon him. Nothing of the kind occurred. What did occur was that the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Millen, and the Leader of the Official Labour party, Senator Gardiner, rose at the same time.
– I was up before you, sir, and you intervened.
– You were out of order, because there was no question before the Senate.
– Immediately the motion was moved I took the opportunity, in putting the motion - and a right which I- undoubtedly have - to make the reference which I thought necessary to the official business of this Chamber. Beyond that I -did not go, and when I had finished two honorable senators rose simultaneously. Senator Millen, for the time being at any rate, is the Leader of the Opposition in this Chamber, and since the inception of this Parliament he has been so recognised. Apart from every other consideration,, the practice of the Senate is to give the Leader of the Senate priority when he rises, and next to him to give priority to the Leader of the Opposition. .Therefore, in calling on Senator Millen, I followed the practice, I may add that it is the privilege of the presid ing officer for the time being to say which honorable senator he thinks lias a prior right to speak, and’ the exercise of his privilege in that respect should not be questioned or cavilled at by any honorable senator! While I remain in the chair that will be my position, and if any honorable senators are dissatisfied they, have an easy remedy. I will not allow any honorable senator to criticise my fairness in this- matter, or to say or insinuate that I intended to put a slight on any honorable senator, because I never intended to do so, and I have not done so. What I have done has been to follow the practice and to call on the Leader of the Opposition, and if any honorable senators are dissatisfied with that course of action on my part a remedy lies in their own hands.
– I remind .you, sir, that I rose to speak, that at your request I resumed my seat to permit you to make some remarks, and that when I rose again, after having been requested by you to resume ray seat, another honorable senator was called.
– No. You were not asked to resume your seat.
– I am asking for. no privileges here, I am simply asking for my rights, not as the leader of a party, but as a member of the Senate. On those rights I will always, insist, and if you, sir, or any one else should trespass upon them, I will, without fear or hesitation, complain. Speaking now to the adjournment, I am surprised that the Leader of the Government here has not made a statement to the Senate. One of the functions of Parliament, I take it, is to keep the public informed of what the Government are doing. I venture to say that since the ad journment, which commenced at Christmas time, the most momentous questions have been discussed by the Government. Attempts at the formation of fusions or coalitions to conduct the business of this country have been made. The Government have called the Houses together, and evidently intend to adjourn the Senate without imparting any information. I hope that the Leader of the Government here will not allow the Senate to adjourn without letting honorable senators and the public know one word of the secret negotiations, or the actual negotiations, which have taken place. Surely the Senate and the country are entitled to know whether what appeared in the press this morning has any foundation. I venture to say, although honorable senators supporting the Government may smile, that there was never a time in thai history of this country when the public were more entitled to be taken into the confidence of the Government than they are to-day. Never before was there an occasion when it was more essential in the interests of the good government of this country for Ministers to come down at the first opportunity and let the public know, not a part, but the whole truth, of what has happened during the last six weeks. It appears to me that a representative of a newspaper can get more information as to what is going on than can a representative of the people.
– If you folks wanted to know anything about the business you would take a hand in it.
– The lying report in the Argus of this morning is the most incorrect report I have read. It is because the reports in the press cannot bo relied upon; it is because for the past month certain negotiations have been going on between the Government and the Liberal party, with the view to forming a new Ministry, that I venture to say this Parliament and this country are entitled to. know what has taken place. I thank the Prime Minister for bringing into use the phrase “ secret junta.” Here sit a secret junta, whose members have worn a path between their offices and those of the Leader of the Opposition. The messengers passing to and fro have actually worn a beaten track. Yet the Government meet the Senate to-day, and say not one word about these serious negotiations, which should be the property of the people of this country.
– You have been hoist on your own petard on this occasion.
– I venture to say that the people of this country are entitled to know how the business is being conducted, and what are the intentions of the Government.
– Did you make the proceedings of your party meeting public?
– I am not speaking of your party meetings, and do not want to know of your parly negotiations, but I contend that as regards the formation of a new Government, step by step, as this Parliament meets, it should be informed. This is no “ secret junta.” If all these reports of advances by one party, of refusals by another party, of coalitions almost formed, and then disappearing, are unfounded, let the people know the exact position of affairs. This is not a country run in the interests of any party. “We have heard lately a great deal about a “ Win-the-War party.’ A party should put national government before party interests. So far as our party is concerned, there have been no secret negotiations with the Government. Our. answers to their questions have been definite’ and clear, and the public are aware of our position. I hope that, in his reply, the Minister will put the Senate and the country in possession of the information which he possesses.
– If you will give us your minute-book and correspondence, we will.
– If our minutebook and correspondence had any bearing on public questions you would be perfectly entitled to them, and we would have no hesitation in laying them on the table of the Senate. There have been statements to the effect that the Prime Minister has been invited to an Imperial Conference in Great Britain. Is not that a matter of sufficient importance to be communicated to the Senate? I venture to say that this is the first time that an important invitation of that character has not been placed before Parliament.
– In the press there was a statement that the Political Labour Council is to have a representative at the Caucus in future ; is not that in the public interest?
– I think that it should be the duty of the Government to confirm or contradict such a statement.
– We do not know. I think that you should know.
– As regards an invitation to the Prime Minister to visit England as a representative of Australia, is not that statement of sufficient importance for the Australian Parliament to know whether it is true or not. Are we always to depend on newspaper reports? I am not speaking now in the interests of party, butin the interests of this Parliament, which, I contend, is entitled to know all the business that can be fairly placed before it. Has an invitation been given to the Prime Minister to visit England, and, if so, by whom? Will the Minister lay a copy of the invitation on the table?
– Will you tell us about the proposal to send Mr. Oatts to represent Australia at the Imperial Conference?
– I am not at all surprised at the interjection from the Minister for Works. It is quite in keeping with the conduct of this Government. They cannot appreciate the seriousness of the question I am dealing with.
– I referred to a public statement.
– The absence of Mr. Catts is due to the condition of his health, and no gentleman would refer in an insinuating way to the absence of a member of Parliament who has found it necessary to make a trip abroad because of a break-down due to hard work done inthe interests of the country. During the time Parliament has not been sitting, some of the most important events in our history have occurred. I do not think we should permit this sitting to close without some information being furnished as to those events. I left any reference to the matter until the Leader of the Government moved the adjournment of the Senate, because £ was in hopes that he would follow the usual practice and inform this Chamber as to the position of the Government and their intentions. It is now evident that the honorable senator does not propose to do so, and I enter my protest against a, Government such as the present continuing in office without disclosing its intentions to Parliament and the country. It must be remembered that the Government have not a quorum in either House of this Parliament. They have not a majority in the House or in the country. We have never had such a Government in this country before. I am speaking, not of the individual members of the Government, but of the position which they occupy from a constitutional point of view. I repeat that we have never had such a Government before, and I hope that we shall never.again have such a Government in Australia. They represent a partywhich is not sufficiently strong in either House of this Parliament to form a Government.
– Why does not the honorable senator and his supporters turn the Government out if they are so weak?
– We took advantage of an opportunity afforded in another place to try to turn them out. One element of seriousness in connexion with the negotiations which have recently been going on is that the bait of office has been dangled before members of the Liberal party. It is not right that the government of this country should be carried on. by a Ministry depending for support upon members of Parliament whose assistance can only be secured by the prospect of portfolios. We took steps in another place to turn ‘ the Government out, and they were saved only by the votes of the Liberal party. I appeal to the Leader of the Senate, in the interests of the proper conduct of business, to realize that, apart altogether from party views, this Parliament is entitled to know the intentions of the Government and how the business of the country is to be conducted. We should be able to secure the information from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and I feel sure that I have the support of the Senate and of the country in demanding it.
Senator BAKHAP (Tasmania) I am not in the habit of delaying the decision upon the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, but I crave the attention of honorable senators to bring under their notice a matter of widereaching importance. I hope that I am not in the habit at any time of making statements about serious errors of administration unless I am fairly sure of my facts. In this case I am, humanly speaking, certain of my facts. I am certain that they disclose a condition of things which honorable senators, irrespective of party, will, without exception, condemn. A most important phase of the matter to which I desire to direct attention is that it is likely to seriously check the recruiting movement which members of all parties in the Senate hope will be productive of good results. The errors or acts of mismanagement to which I intend to refer are indicative of a grave condition of things in connexion with our war administration. I am not attacking the Australian Defence Department, or the Australian Postal Department, because I am not sure for the moment at whose door these improper acts should properly be laid. It may be that they are due to the fault or neglect of a branch of the Imperial War Administration, but I none the less reprobate the condition of things to which I am about to direct attention. The matter which I shall place before honorable senators indicates utter incompetence, or utter wilful and wicked neglect in connexion with the sending and delivering of soldiers’ letters and letters from their relatives to them. We all know how the relatives of our soldiers, and particularly their female relatives, wait with longing for the receipt of communications from them. Many a woman in Australia is waiting for a letter which may perhaps express the last wish of some loved one to whom her soul belongs. I received the following communication from Scottsdale, in the north-eastern division of Tasmania. It is from a gentleman who is a member of the magistracy, and is widely known and respected in north-eastern Tasmania.
– The honorable senator should get a vote from him.
– I do not know that it would be wrong for him to give me a vote; but I will let thatpass, as the matter is too serious for personal considerations. The letter is as follows: -
I am taking the liberty of writing to you to ask you if you would lay this matter before the Minister for Defence, so that this careless- ness might be stopped, as it causes a lot of pain to those related to our soldiers at the front. The enclosed was sent me by the Sunday Times PublishingCo. Ltd., of Western Australia, and explains itself. We have two sons, one in the Military Hospital badly wounded in the arm in one of the battles in France, the other one, who wrote the letter referred to, is in the firing line in France, and his mother was very anxious because she did not hear from him. Those in authority might be able to mitigate this evil. Thanking you in anticipation, knowing your kindness,
I remain, yours faithfully,
I might briefly explain that a letter of one of the two sons of Mr. Gofton serving at the front had been picked up by another soldier, and sent to the Sunday Times Publishing Company, in the hope that they would be instrumental in sending it on to Mrs. Gofton. This is the communication from the Sunday Times Publishing Company, of Perth, Western Australia, -
The enclosed letter, bearing your address, has been forwarded to us from France. It was picked up at the front, with a number of other letters, by one of our readers, who asked us to post it on to you. This we have much pleasure in doing, and we trust it will reach you safely and bring you some good news.
The newspaper company, referring to the statement of the soldier who picked up Private Gofton’s letter, states further-
Our correspondent writes as follows: - .
Having noticed in your paper at different times complaints re soldiers’ mail, I thought I would forward you a few letters I picked from two large heaps of letters in an old camp near the front. Half of them seem to be undelivered letters from Australia,, and the other half from the soldiers’ to their people in Australia’. The heap of letters would have filled a cornsack. This is the fifth occasion during the last few months of the same carelessness that has come before my notice. I do not know who is to blame for these bags being lost. You can send these on to their destinations, and the people arc lucky to get them, for’ the others are probably trampled into the mud by now. These few will prove that there is reason for complaint.
There is then the following comment by the manager of the newspaper company : -
These remarks disclose a serious state of affairs, and we are taking the matter up strongly with the Defence Department’, in the hope that some improvements may be effected.
The soldier sending Gofton’s letter on states that this was not an isolated case, but that he had observed five similar instances. If this condition of affairs is indicative of the kind of administration that is going on at the Western front, it discloses avery serious neglect. Whoever is responsible, be the department Australian or British, I say that such mismanagement and neglect as are here disclosed are equally reprehensible.
– I do not think there has been any allegation that the British Army has been compelled to indulge in any sauve qui peut kind of action. It would appear that these neglected heaps of letters were some distance from the firing line, and not at the immediate front. The disclosure of such a -condition of things is calculated to have a depressing effect upon the recruiting movement. I venture to say that if this sort of thing took place under the supervision of the German Military postal officials, some one would be summarily punished, and perhaps mercilessly shot.
– It never could take place’, for the simple reason that the Germans do not deliver soldiers’ letters.
– I cannot follow the honorable senator’s remark.
– The Germans do not deliver letters from soldiers to relatives at all.
– Then how is it that we have quotations from German letters written in the trenches and about ±o be forwarded to relatives of the soldiers appearing in our newspapers.
– They are not delivered. The honorable senator need make no mistake about that. Australia is about the only country that takes any responsibility for the delivery of these letters.
– We have often seen in the press quotations from the letters of Germans found in dugouts. We know that Australian soldiers, for news of -whom Australian relatives are waiting, write letters to those relatives. It would appear from this correspondence that they are absolutely unheeded. I cannot believe that they were thrown away for the reason suggested by Senator Guthrie, that some military operation by the Germans necessitated the abandonment of certain positions. That does not appear to me to be a satisfactory explanation of the matter. Without condemning the Defence administration or the Military Postal administration of the Commonwealth for negligence, and without charging the Imperial administration at the front with neglect in this matter, I ask the Minister for Defence to go into it seriously, and if he finds evidence of neglect on the part of Australian officials, civil or military, I trust he will -visit that neglect with summary and condign punishment. There is one other matter which I should like briefly to refer to. In the closing hours of the sittings of this Parliament, which took place before Christmas, the Prime Minister, in another place, said that the results -of the recent referendum in connexion with the votes of the soldiers at the front disclosed a sub stantial affirmative majority. With many others I had all along hoped that that would be the case. But before that statement was made it was alleged that the result’ of the voting at the front was the other way about. I want to have the facts. I ask the Minister for Defence to request the Prime Minister, if necessary, to urge upon the Imperial Government, in his turn, the advisability of relaxing their prohibition against the publication of the actual results of the voting at the front. I really believe that the situation is that, while the affirmative majority was not as great as those who like myself advocated conscription hoped that it would be, it showed that a fairly substantial majority of the soldiers at the front desired that conscription should be brought into force in Australia. The very word referendum involves the ‘most meticulous publicity, so that the whole people may know the results of the appeal to them without any “ hugger mugger.” I do not blame Ministers - I do not blame the Prim© ‘ Minister. But the Imperial authorities are not always perspicacious, and I venture to say that no good purpose is being served 1 by withholding the details of the result® of the referendum, so far as the soldiers’ vote is concerned.
– No details were published in Australia after the first few days.
– That is not the proper way to treat the results of an important referendum. I know that very early it was stated that there was an Imperial prohibition against the publication of tho results of the soldiers’ vote. But the Prime Minister has since been able to ascertain that amongst our oversea Forces there was a substantial majority in favour of conscription. By all means let us have the details of the soldiers’ vote, and if the Imperial Government still entertains an objection to those details being published, I venture to say that it is not a very sound objection, and that ari application on the part of the Prime Minister will remove it, and thus enable us to see the referendum results in the ordinary sensible light of political day.
Senator Lt.-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (New South Wales) [4.22].- I desire to say a few words in reference to the late Clerk of. the Senate. It was my privilege to be closely associated with him during the time that I occupied the position of President of this Chamber, and I wish to place on record my sense of the great assistance which Mr. Boydell rendered to me in the discharge of my duties, as well as to all honorable senators in the discharge of their duties. With you, sir, I deplore that, in consequence of ill-health, he has been obliged to retire from the position which he has occupied for so many years, and I hope he will long be spared to enjoy the pension which he has so worthily earned. When a motion is submitted by Senator Millen - as I understand it will next week - dealing with this matter, it will afford me great pleasure to support it. I now wish to extend a hearty welcome to the gentleman who has succeeded him. He is not altogether a stranger in this chamber. He was here in the early days of the Commonwealth, and then quitted it for another place. I am satisfied that he is possessed of very great ability, and that he will render valuable service, not only to the occupant of the chair, but to all other members of this Chamber. In regard to the matter alluded to by Senator Bakhap, we all realize the difficulty of approaching the Imperial authorities upon Imperial matters. I believe, however, it is desirable that we should have a record of the way in which the soldiers voted at the recent referendum. We have a right to know the way in which their vote was cast. Whether there was a majority in favour of conscription, or whether there was a majority against it, is quite beside the question. The real question is whether the voting of any portion of the community should be suppressed. I say that it should not be. Senator Gardiner spoke so strongly of the sins of omission and commission on the part of the present Government that one might really imagine that he was in earnest.
– Who are in the new Ministry ?
-Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD. - If there be a new Ministry, I certainly agree with Senator Gardiner that we ought to know all about it, and about its policy. But until such a Ministry has been formed, there is nothing to communicate to honorable senators. If, in, this chamber, we were to traverse the opinions expressed in the Labour Caucus, or in the meetings of the Ministerial or Liberal parties, I do not think that we would have much time for other work.
I have no doubt that the Leader of the Government in this chamber will make his report to the Senate upon any changes which take place in the Ministry as soon as he has anything to report ; but until then Senator Gardiner must possess his soul in patience.
. - Apropos of the remarks made by Senator Bakhap concerning the soldiers’ vote at the recent referendum, I have a distinct recollection of a published statement to the effect that Mr. Walter Long, Secretary of State for the Colonies, was reported in the BritishHansard to have declared in the House of Commons that the Imperial Government had no objection whatever to the details being published of the soldiers’ vote on the 28th October last. But prior to that statement being made, our own Prime Minister had affirmed that he could not make that vote public because the Commonwealth authorities were under instructions from the Imperial Government not to divulge the information, lest it might be of some use to (the enemy.
– How did the honorable senator learn how the vote went?
– I do not know how it went.
– It has been declared, time and again, by honorable senators opposite that the soldiers’ vote was cast in favour of “ No.”
– I do not know how it was cast. Like Senator Bakhap, I am anxious to ascertain whether there was an affirmative or a negative majority.
– I received the cable from Mr. R. McC. Anderson, , the electoral officer, and drew up regulations under instructions from the Imperial authorities. There is no mystery about it.
– The Prime Minister has endeavoured to shelter himself behind the plea that publicity could not be given to the soldiers’ vote because of a request made by the Imperial authorities.
– Of what value would the information be to the country?
– That is not the question. Why it is not known passes my comprehension. Mr. Hughes stated that he could not divulge the details of the soldiers’ vote because of a request from the Imperial authorities. Either the statement of Mr. Walter Long was wrong or Mr. Hughes’ statement was wrong.
– Or the honorablesenator may be wrong in his quotation of Mr. Long’s statement.
– I do not think that I am. I quite indorse the contention of Senator Bakhap that the public are entitled to know the whole of the details of the soldiers’ vote.
– I thought that there was no doubt in the honorable senator’s mind.
– I wish to know by what majority the vote was decided, either one way or the other.
– The publication of that information will not make the difference of a single cartridge or a solitary gun.
– That being so, why hide it from the people? Why not give the fullest publicity to the soldiers’ vote?
-. - Some months ago I brought before the Senate a request that the sentences of some twenty-seven men who were serving long terms of imprisonment for offences committed abroad should be reviewed, and later I dealt with the matter in some detail. So far, however, no information has reached me that my request has been complied with. But I have learned from other sources that at least, nine of these men have been released, and that they are due to leave for the front in the course of a few days. I have also been informed that a further number has been released, but nothing of an official character has reached me. I would like to know from the Minister exactly what has been done in this matter. I* wish also to protest against the arbitrary action of the Defence Department in omitting to supply these men, whilst they were undergoing detention, with the dental service to which they were entitled. One of their number had been struck by a piece of shrapnel, which had passed through his upper lip, destroying some 6f his teeth, and lodging in his gums. He received no attention during the period of his incarceration, and since his release has been informed that it is not possible for the dental experts in the employ of the Department to provide him with the necessary new teeth. This appears to be absolutely unfair, and is calculated to have a very prejudicial effect upon recruiting. Injustices, of this character are bound to become public sooner or later. I urge the Minister to go into the complaints of the men, and see that justice is meted out to them. They enlisted voluntarily, and were prepared to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, for their country. If they committed some offence for which they were punished, that is no reason why the additional cruelty of refusing to give them the dental attention to which they are entitled should be inflicted on them. I hope also we shall be given the information to which we are entitled as to what has taken place regarding the release of the men on whose behalf I have complained.
– The present situation of the public affairs of the Commonwealth is exceedingly unsatisfactory. We are engaged, in alliance with Great Britain and other . countries^ in a war against Germany and Austria, and have been told in the newspapers that a communication has been received by the Government asking that a representative of Australia be sent to the Old Country to attend a Conference regarding the problems of the war, and events likely to happen on its conclusion. It was the duty of the Government to tell Parliament distinctly and definitely whether any communication of that kind had been received. We have had no intimation from them on that point.
– You do not doubt it, do you?
– It does not matter whether I doubt it or not. We are an assembly elected by the people of the Commonwealth to manage the affairs .of the Commonwealth. The Government of the country is merely ‘ a committee of Parliament. It is not the Government, but Parliament, which is responsible to the , country. “Whatever questions are to be considered at the Conference, if there is to be one, the Government ought to get clear and definite instructions from Parliament as to the attitude to be taken up by the Australian representative there, if one is to be sent.
– Has that ever been done before?
– It does not matter two straws whether it has been done before or not. I can remember the time when Senator de Largie scoffed at precedent. He has now, I suppose, become a slave to it. Fortunately for myself, I have not yet arrived at that condition, whatever may be in store for me in the future. We have a distinct right to be informed by the Government whether an invitation has been received, and what its terms are. The invitation, or a copy of it, ought to be laid on the table of both Houses, because it is an invitation, not to the Government, or any particular member of it, but to the people of Australia, through their representative, to take part in a particular conference. In withholding the information from Parliament the Government is flouting Parliament, and flouting the people of the Commonwealth. If the Senate did its duty it would refuse to go a single step further with any business until the Government made it clear whether any such communication had been received, and laid it on the table of both Houses. The terms of the invitation ought to be public property, yet the Government meet Parliament, and are “ mum.” I have heard a great deal about juntas during the last few months, but here is a cabal of men who have control for the present of the destinies of Australia, and do everything in secret. We are her© to transact public business. The public business of Australia will not be conducted in a cellar, if I know anything about it. We want everything to be done fairly and aboveboard. We must have everything clear and distinct and evident. Has an invitation been received? If it has, it ought to be here. If the invitation has been received, and if there is to be a Conference, no doubt the subjects to be discussed are mentioned in the invitation. That information should be the property of the people. Any number of questions of great consequence, probably affecting the future welfare of the people of Australia, will be discussed there, and are we to know nothing about them? Are we to send a man Home with a blank cheque, and let him do what he pleases, and come to any arrangement he thinks fit or desirable in the interests of the Australian people? I say no. That kind of thing-has been done too often in the past, and will not be done again in the future if I can stop it. We read about the evils of secret diplomacy, which I believe is responsible for a great deal of the trouble that has arisen all over the world. Confidential arrangements are made in private by individuals, responsible individuals no doubt, placed in position by the people of various countries, without consulting the people of those countries at all. All our efforts here ought to be directed towards breaking down such a system. I can suggest several questions of vital importance to Australia which will inevitably be discussed at the Conference, if there is to be one. On those questions the people of this country ought to be called upon to give instructions to their representative, whoever he may be. Take, for example, the .question of a White Australia. Attempts will assuredly be made . to break down that policy. The Indians are fighting side. by side with the Australians in France, and on that account a claim will doubtless be made on their behalf for free entry to Australia. Are the people of Australia prepared to let the Indians come here? If they are, or if they ‘are not, they should be given an opportunity of instructing their representative accordingly. I am not going to say now whether we should agree or disagree with that idea. The matter will come up for decision, I hope, before any representative is sent to the Old Country. Another matter is the Tariff. If the ideas mooted at the Paris Conference are carried out, the people of Australia may bid farewell to any / prospect of having a protective Tariff.
– Australia would never agree to such terms.
– In any case, Australia, if she sends a representative at all, should be given an opportunity instructing him on that point. Australia’s policy is Protection, for the purpose of developing her own resources, training her people in industries, and giving her young folks the best opportunity of carving out careers for themselves. But if the policy of the Allies with regard to trade is to be that indicated at the Paris Convention, Australia may well abandon all prospect of carrying out her Protectionist ideas. A number of other equally important questions will inevitably .be discussed at the Conference, when it takes place, and the people of this country should have an opportunity of telling their representative what course he is to take when he gets there. But apparently the intention of the Government is to keep, not only Parliament, but the people, in complete ignorance on the subject until the representative is, not only appointed, but well on his way to Great Britain. Conduct of that character is treason against the Commonwealth, and men who do that kind of thing ought not to be trusted with power for an instant. I emphatically protest against it. The Senate has a distinct duty before it. Senator Gardiner, the Leader of the Labour party, has referred to the matter already this afternoon, but the Senate ought to take some definite action. It should refuse Supply until it has a definite statement from the Government as to whether an invitation has been received, and of its exact terms.
– I would like to join with you, Mr. President, and other honorable senators in expressing appreciation of the services of Mr. Boydell, who, during his long association with us, was undoubtedly our guide, counsellor, and friend in matters of parliamentary procedure and Standing Orders. We shall miss him very much. I also desire to join in extending a welcome to Mr. Duffy, who, I feel sure, from his wide experience and knowledge in connexion with Parliament, will be equally valuable to the Senate. I trust that his work here may be mutually pleasant. Coming now to the various statements that have been made during the course of the debate, I want to remind Senator Stewart - taking the last speaker first- that if he would calmly consider the subjects that are likely to be discussed at the Imperial Conference, he will see how impossible it is to have a public debate on hypothetical questions which may or may not arise.
– Mr. Hughes says that he has been informed of the questions that are to be discussed, while Senator Stewart has not that information.
– It is quite probable that Mr. Hughes may have such information.
– That is a reason why Parliament should have it.
– Is it? Is that any reason why our enemies should get information, because if Parliament had it it would certainly be published to the world ? Has Germany given any indication of the feeling in that country on the question of peace terms? Of course she has not. Senator Ferricks will surely not say that the Allies should commence a public discussion on peace terms, and reveal to our enemies our differences of opinion and any quarrelling on this subject.
– That is a very serious insinuation against Australia.
– I am not reflecting in any way upon Australia when I say these differences of opinion may arise. What I do say is that these differences of opinion will be reconciled, and that when we approach the enemy we must be absolutely united as an Empire with our Allies.
– Does not the Minister think the fact of Australia’s participation in that Conference should have been made known to the Senate?
– And so it will be at the proper time. The fact that an invitation has been received is nothing. That has already been announced to the people of Australia, and senators are only humbugging themselves when they say they do not know anything about it. They do know that an invitation has been received, and what action the Government propose to take in regard to it. Senator Stewart knows that certain proposals, which may or may not have an important effect on the question which he raised, are being discussed, and that until they have been dealt with the other question cannot be cleared up. Parliament and the country will want to know what are the results, and not the means by which the results are obtained, and when these have been formulated, Parliament will be informed; but nothing that will benefit our enemies will be made public. No nation would rejoice more than Germany if at this stage we entered upon a public discussion of our attitude towards peace. Have the Germans done this ? Of course they have not. We have not had one syllable of the discussion upon the speech made by the German Chancellor at the secret session of the Reichstag. That being the case, are all our cards to be laid on the table? I am sure Senator Stewart does not mean that. The Government must have time to formulate their plans, and decide as to representation, before Parliament and the country are informed. I trust that other honorable senators who referred to this matter will take my remarks as a reply to their statements. I come now to the question of the suggested publication of details of the soldiers’ vote at the front. The statement has been made by the Prime Minister that the vote gave a majority for conscription. The Prime Minister also said that at the request of the Imperial military authorities the details of that vote could not be made public for miltary reasons.
– Quite so.
– That statement stands unqualified to-day.
– Is the position still so acute that it is absolutely necessary for the decision to standi
– Yes; the military reasons that existed then exist to-day, and, so far as I can see, will exist till the end of the war. If honorable senators will only think what those military reasons are they will agree as to the wisdom of this course. Let them remember that our soldiers are fighting alongside the conscript soldiers of France. Let them, remember, also, that, owing to the secrecy of the ballot, our soldiers themselves do not know how their comrades voted.
– Is there any objection to the publication of the aggregate negative military vote and the , aggregate affirmative military vote?
– Yes, there are military objections to the publication of that information.
– Then I venture to say they are very trivial, and not very much to the point.
– To my mind*, there are very serious military objections.
– Were these objections taken by the Imperial military authorities or by the Australian military authorities ?
– They were taken by the Imperial military authorities, and those objections have not yet been withdrawn.
– But if an Australian soldier fighting alongside a French conscript soldier voted in the negative he would, tell how he voted.
– I think it is pretty obvious what would be the effect upon the French conscript soldier if details were published of the Australian military’ vote in connexion with the referendum.
– But the Government have control of the cables; and would it not be possible to publish the details in Australia while still keeping the knowledge from the enemy ?
– We have control of the cables, it is true; but there is such a thing as smuggling letters out of Australia, and correspondence need not ec very far before it reaches neutral countries over which we have no control.
– There seems to be a tremendous leakage in cable news sometimes.
– I want now to say a few words to Senator Grant - and to say them in all charity - concerning the treatment of imprisoned soldiers serving sentences in Australia. I believe Senator Grant sincerely desires not to say anything, or do anything, that would interfere with voluntary recruiting.
– That is quite right.
– But I tell Senator Grant that, when he spoke in the Senate some time ago on that subject, he made ex parte statements on information which had been supplied to him either by the prisoners themselves or by somebody in their interests. As I had no knowledge then of the circumstances, I was unable to reply to them; and those statements, unfortunately, have done a considerable amount of damage to the recruiting movement. I have since had an opportunity of examining them, and I find that they are very far from the truth.
– In how many cases have the sentences been reduced ?
– That is quite another question. Since I have had an op,portunity of examining the statements - which I believe Senator Grant made in all good faith - I have found that there was gross exaggeration both as to the cause of punishments and the circumstances under which those punishments^ were inflicted.
– Apart from the statements made in the Senate, those charges injured the cause of recruiting, because the people had some knowledge concerning the cases referred to.
– But Senator Grant’s statements were being used in various parts of the Commonweallth, and were regarded as an absolutely correct statement of facts, whereas they were not. The information concerning the circumstances under which the men were convicted did not arrive in Australia until some time after Senator Grant’s utterances, and too late altogether to enable me to correct the misapprehension which had been created by the honorable senator’s speech in this chamber. I feel sure that .Senator Grant did not speak with the idea of militating against the recruiting movement, but, unfortunately, his speech had that effect, because it created an impression that the men referred to had been unjustly punished.
– Is it not a fact that, in a large number of cases, as the result of the review of the sentences by a special Committee, my contention that they were excessively punished was sustained,, because, in many cases, sentences were substantially reduced?
– In some cases that was done, but I am bound to say that a civil tribunal, far away from the scene of war, would probably take a different view from a military tribunal on the battlefield and in face of the enemy. In the latter circumstances, the enormity of an offence would undoubtedly appear greater than to a civil’ tribunal reviewing lie sentence at a later date, and in the calm arena of peace. It must be remembered 0that, in many instances, these men were actually engaged at the front; that their offences were committed in the face of the enemy, and their sentences imposed by a tribunal at the time. Long before the papers arrived in Australia, I had appointed a Committee consisting of a police magistrate, with a large military experience, and a returned officer, to go through them as they came to hand, and decide whether, in view of all the circumstances, and the fact that the men had been returned to Australia, any remission of sentences could be made. Those cases which Senator Grant and other senators dealt with were referred to that Committee, and, in some cases, a remission of sentences was ordered, while in others it was recommended that the sentences should stand. I mention this to show honorable senators that some care should be exercised before accepting ex parte statements on such matters, and I want to assure Senator Grant that, as the Commonwealth possesses no gaols, prisoners are handed over to the State prison authorities to be confined under the State regulations. Therefore, any criticism concerning their treatment in gaol must be directed against the administration of the State prison authorities. One ‘of the boasts of New South Wales, I understand is that prison administration has been reformed to a greater extent than in any other .State, and I believe that it is a correct claim. I think that New South Wales has the most up-to-date penal system in Australia, and, therefore, I suggest to Senator Grant that if he thinks * that the State prison administration is not yet perfect, he should indicate any alterations which could be made. At any rate, these men have been in New South Wales prisons under what is said to be the most humanitarian system in Australia. .Senator Gardiner told me that he had to leave the chamber owing to some cause over which he had no control. I do not consider that a Government is under any obligation to make a statement to Parliament in respect to any political negotiation, as regards either its structure or its party organization, which may be going on outside. I have not heard of a Government coming down and intimating beforehand political enterprises which it might be embarking upon, or political changes which might be taking place in its organization.
– No intimation was made beforehand of Mr. Hughes being substituted for Mr. Fisher in the Prime Ministership.
– No. Undoubtedly it has always been the practice when changes have been agreed upon to communicate those changes to Parliament. I suggest to Senator Gardiner, and those who think with him, that they themselves are not blameless in this regard if they consider that it is blameworthy.
– Do you not think that a statement made by the Leader of the Government in one House ought to be duplicated by the Leader in the other House ?
– Certainly, if it has any relation to changes in the Government.
– Has not the Leader of the Government in the other House made a statement there to-day?
– I am not aware that he has.
– He has.
– I have not been so informed. I wish to intimate to the honorable senator that there is before the other House a Supply Bill which offers unlimited scope for discussion, and it is quite possible that something has inspired the Prime Minister to make a statement, but that inspiration is yet missing in this chamber.
– That is a very nice way to get out of it.
– Senator Gardiner judges the Government by statements which have appeared in the press. We have had some most interesting statements as regards certain changes and developments which have occurred in the Official Labour party since we left.
– No, the Australian Labour party.
– Do I understand now that we have had another development, and that is a change of name ? We are getting information.
– There “is only one Labour party, and that is the Australian Labour party which you left.
– I understand that we can now quite clearly designate the honorable gentlemen with whom we recently severed our political partnership as the Official Labour party. There was some honorable gentleman here so kind as to suggest that there was a letter missing in the word “ official,” but I leave my honorable friends to consider whether the name could not be still further altered in order to more correctly designate the party. Anyhow, Senator Gardiner is the official mouthpiece of the party in this Chamber. He made a statement of a most interesting character to the public in Western Australia. He told them that the’ Official Labour party was going to hold up the business of this country until certain political changes had occurred. He was here to-day ; the question of passing a Supply Bill was discussed, and certain arrangements were suggested for dealing with that measure, but he did not take us- into his confidence and tell us what was in his mind when he informed the people of Australia that the Official Labour party, were going to refuse Supply until a certain change had taken place in the Government of this country. I am not complaining of the honorable senator -not taking us into his confidence to-day, but I am pointing out that he is living in a glass house when he throws stones at us because we did not tell the people of this country today about certain negotiations which he says are proceeding.
– Is not a change taking place 1
– Senator Gardiner’s statement was more than a reference to negotiations. It was a public announcement of policy, but to-day he did not take the public or the Parliament into his confidence. For all he knows to the contrary, that statement has only reached the little audience that he addressed in Western Australia. Here to-day he had the people of Australia waiting with bated breath for an official announcement, but he has not taken us into his confidence. There has been another important announcement through the medium of the press, and that is the statement of Mr.Anstey. Surely that is a statement which is worthy of an explanation to the country, if we are to adopt the procedure suggested by Senator Gardiner. Mr. Anstey has publicly told the people of this country that unless the Official Labour party join in a National Government they are going to destruction.
– The answer to that statement appeared, in this morning’s newspapers.
– I know that Mr. Anstey is very largely the creature of en0vironment. Whilst he was in Victoria he did not talk of political destruction or extinction. He talked of, bringing certain recalcitrant men to their knees, and of what he would do with them, but afterwards he went into a different environment. He went as a missionary to Western Australia to bring its people back to the true fold, and after he had spent a couple of weeks in that rare atmosphere of political intelligence he came back to Victoria and said to the people of Australia, “ Look here, if you do not go into this National Government, there is another Sedan in front of you. Political destruction is in front of you.” To-day, however, we had his leader standing up in the’ Senate and saying that the people of this country have a right to know the political developments which are occurring - know everything which has occurred between Mr. Cook and Mr. Hughes- but he was absolutely silent as to what occurred between Mr. Anstey and the Official Labour party within the last two or three days.
– There is no analogy between the Prime Minister of Australia and the Leader of the Official Opposition holding up the government of Australia for four weeks in time of war.
– Are we to understand from Senator Ferricks that what the Official Labour party says or does does not count ?
– What he says does not affect the Official Labour party or any other party.
– I find myself, for once, in agreement with Senator Ferricks. The only thing I am surprised at is to find myself agreeing with him, or to find him agreeing with me.
– Your Government got the answer, not from Mr. Anstey, but from the party through its leader yesterday.
– I am trying to tell Senator O’Keefe that he will get his answer as to what the Government propose to do through the Government, and not through the newspapers; but his leader does not agree with him that that is a proper channel. I suggest . to the honorable senator that he should bring the matter up at the next Caucus, and thresh it out with Senator Gardiner, because the latter says, “ You must take notice of statements. Not only the statements of individual members must you take notice of, but the statements made by newspaper reporters - irresponsible individuals.”
– I think -that the Minister will find that the people of Australia are pretty tired of the immense dilly-dallying which has gone on between Mr. Cook and Mr. Hughes.
– The honorable senator may find that the people of Queensland are very tired of him when they get an opportunity to express their view. I am sure that Senator Gardiner was not serious when he suggested that because newspapers made certain statements they must necessarily follow from statements made by the Government.
– What is the Minister going to do about the military postal matter?
– I am sorry to say that,’ owing to the jumbled nature of my notes, I overlooked one of the very important matters raised by the honorable senator, and that is the question of the non-delivery of letters to’ soldiers at the front.
– Non-delivery to the soldiers and non-delivery to their relatives.
– I would point out that the evidence given to the Senate by the honorable senator showed that, so fax as Australia was concerned, the Postal Department had forwarded the letters, and that the letters -had reached the front in France. Therefore, the skirts of the Australian Postal Department are clean.
– Have they any official interest in the delivery of the letters ? ,
– No. Once the letters are handed to the military authorities the postal control ceases. ‘ The military authorities at the front are the British military authorities, under whom all our Forces at the front are placed. The organization of those Forces is, of course, under the Australian Government. I presume that the best people to deal with postal matters are trained men. The men who are dealing with our postal matters at the front are men who were trained in our Postal Department. We have done everything possible, We have represented the individual’ cases which have occurred from time to time. We have communicated a number of complaints which have been made.
– The Minister will remember that this soldier says that in a few months he had noticed five similar heaps of letters.
– He does; and the fault seems to me to be due to the abnormal circumstances’ existing at the front. Everybody knows that abnormal circumstances do exist there. When we read the accounts of visits to the front trenches, especially in the winter months; when we read of the difficulties encountered in getting through to the trenches; when we realize that the letters are sent into the trenches and there passed from hand to hand; when we remember that, a man may have been wounded and sent to a clearing hospital, or elsewhere, and that a letter has to follow him from place to place, we must recognise the possibility of letters going astray. This matter was represented some time ago, in very strong terms, to General Anderson, who is our representative at the War Office, and in a recent despatch he dealt with the matter. Through the medium of the press, I gave his reply to the public. There is no army in the world that has the same number of letters to deal with as has the Australian Army. Thanks to our very fine educational system, the Australian is the greatest letter-writer in the world. The figures given by General Anderson of the number of letters and postal articles handled and safely delivered were simply stupendous. When we reflect that that huge mass of material has to be delivered, sorted and then given out under actual service conditions on the battlefield,’ it is a marvel that more letters do not go astray. Time after time, and continuously, we have impressed on our own officers, on the War Office, and on persons in charge of the Postal Corps, how essential it is that every care should be taken to insure proper and regular delivery of letters addressed to soldiers and sent by them to their friends. I shall heartily welcome any suggestions that can be made which will tend to improve the condition of things.
– I hope the Minister will again consult the postal authorities.
– I believe that these cases are due to the conditions to which I have referred, and not to the negligence of those who are responsible for the delivery of the letters. I believe that they are very frequently -due to conditions over which they have no control. I can only say that I will bring the representations of Senator Bakhap under the notice of those at the front, and see whether the cause of the complaints can be discovered.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 5.22 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 8 February 1917, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1917/19170208_senate_6_81/>.