8th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. T. Givens) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
-(By leave).- I regret to say that yesterday I inadvertently misinformed the Senate in connexion with a certain matter. I made the statement that, although a Royal Commission had been appointed in victoria to deal with certain proposed constitutional reforms, and, amongst them, the right of Ministers to speak in either House of the parliament, that reform was not adopted in the amended Constitution of 1915. I find/that I waa mistaken, and that the reform was included in the measure amending the then existing Constitution. The section dealing with the matterreads -
Notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution Act or in this Act, any responsible Minister of the Crown who is a member of the Council or of the Assembly may at any time, with the consent of the House of Parliament of which he is not a member, sit in such House for the purpose only of explaining the provisions of any Bill relating to or connected with any Department administered by him, and may take part in any debate or discussion upon such Bill, but heshall not vote except in the House of which he is an elected member.
It shall not ibe lawful at any one time for more than one responsible Minister under the authority of this section to sit in the House of whichhe is not a member.
– Does the section give power to the Minister to sit in a House of which he is not a member while it is in Committee?
– Yes. I may say that in certain instances the provision I have quoted has been taken advantage of in the Victorian Parliament.
– Very rarely.
– That may be so, but the right conferred has been exercised with very great advantage, especially on one occasion, when Mr. Swinburne, being a Minister of the Crown, with a seat in the Legislative Assembly, went up to the Legislative Council, and very successfully piloted one of his own Bills through that Chamber.
– I ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he ‘has noted a statement, recently published in the press, reporting a speech by the Treasurer (Mr. Watt) in London, to the effect that he is in favour of a Commonwealth Minister being continually in London. I should like to know whether Mr. Watt has in this matter given expression to the policy of the Government, and, if so, whether it is their intention to have a Minister resident in London as well as the High Commissioner, or whether it is intended that the office of High Commissioner shall be filled by a gentleman holding a Ministerial portfolio.
– I think it must be generally known to honorable senators that in the minds, notonly of Ministers, but of many other public men, for some time the necessity of having a closer connexion between the Government of Australia and the authorities at Home has been growing more and more urgent. No definite decision has been arrived at on the matter entitling me to say at this juncture that it is part of the Government policy.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
On what basis of exchange rates is dnty being assessed by the Customs Department in tho case of importations from -
– Thereply furnished by the Minister for Trade and Customs is that the information is being obtained.
Date of Expiration
asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate, upon notice -
Will the War Precautions Act expire three months after the proclamation of peace with Austria, and, if so, has the Government any’ information as to when such proclamation will be issued by the Imperial authorities?
– The War Precautions Act will expire at the expiration of three months after the issue by the Governor-General of the proclamation specified in section 2 of the War Precautions Act 1914-1918, declaring that the war with Germany and AustriaHungary has ceased. The Government has not yet been officially advised of the ratification of the Peace Treaty with Austria. The Peace Treaty with Hungary has not yet been signed.
Senator MILLEN (New South Wales-
Minister for Repatriation) [11.5]. - I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
It is the rule that, in moving the second reading of a Bill, the person in charge of it should deal only with its general principles. This Bill, however, is like the apple of the small boy - it has no principles. It is a mere detail measure coveringmachinery of administration. It is not possible to debate it except by referring to each of the clauses separately, and dealing with them at this stage, as if we were in Committee. I could not otherwise explain the purpose of the Bill, and I, therefore, invite the Senate to pass the second reading in order that I may deal with the various clauses when we come to consider them. I do not propose to ask honorable senators to proceed with the Bill in Committee to-day, but will leave that for next Wednesday. I should like to indicate the character of some of the amendments of the law proposed by the Bill in order to justify my statement that it is a mere machinery measure. For instance clause 3 provides for the location of the gold held by the Treasurer. There is some doubt whether, under the existing law, the Treasurer ought not to place that gold in the custody of a bank. Honorable senators are aware that, as a matter of fact, it is kept in the Treasury Building. An amendment of the law is proposed in this Bill to clear up that matter. Another amendment proposed is to permit the Auditor-General to exercise a certain discretion as to the extent of his audit. In making this provision the Government are following a recommendation of the Royal Commission that inquired into Naval and Defence administration. Several other recommendations of that Commission are given effect in the Bill. I may give another indication of the character of the Bill by saying that clause 8 proposes the repeal of section 45 of the principal Act, wherein the duties of the Auditor-General are laid down. The Royal Commission to which I have referred pointed out that many of the duties imposed upon the AuditorGeneral involve a mere waste of time, and consequently of money. The purpose of the proposed amendment is to give the Auditor-General some discretion as to whether he shall or shall not follow literally the direction of the principal Act in this regard.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Consideration resumed from 6th May (vide page 1830), on motion by Senator Russell -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
– I should like the Minister in charge of the Bill to give the Senate some idea as to when it will be brought into operation. There has been a very great deal of dissatisfaction, particularly amongst seamen, because of the continued delay in bringing into force the Navigation Act as it stands on our statute-book today. The delay in postponing the issue of the proclamation continues, and I direct attention to the fact that this amending measure, if passed, will remain merely a dead letter until it is proclaimed in. force by the GovernorGeneral. If the laws we pass are good they should be brought into operation as soon as possible, otherwise it is a waste of our time to discuss and pass them.
I have been through this Bill and see nothing in it to which exception can be taken. I am, as a matter of fact, prepared to allow the clauses to be passed in globo, but I should like to be assured that when the Bill does become law it will not remain a dead letter, as the existing Navigation Act has been.
– Senator Earle has asked a question to which it is difficult to give a direct answer, because it is not easy to say when our existing troubles will be at an end. Some little delay, however, in bringing the Act into operation will do very little harm, because most of the work required to be done under the Navigation Act has already been accomplished. For instance, the improved accommodation for seamen required by the Act has already been, largely taken in hand by shipowners in anticipation of the Act coming into operation. They have for some two years past been taking action to bring their vessels up to the requirements of the Act. The real difficulty is that, owing to war conditions, more than one-third of our boats Have disappeared, or have been requisitioned by the British Government, and we are to-day, at least, twenty boats short of the number we require to carry on the normal trade on our coast.
– Are there not international difficulties in the way?
– They present no great obstacle at the present time. I may say that the Western Australian Government have some boats, and with the exception of one very small vessel they are not suitable for ordinary trading on the Western Australian coast. Immediately the owners of vessels engaged in the Eastern trade became aware of the provisions of our Navigation Act they intimated that if it were applied to boats trading with the north-western part of Western Australia and other isolated ports, they would be obliged to withdraw the vessels. It must be remembered that ship-owners : in the Eastern trade employ Eastern labour, and it is not likely that they will displace their own people. The Western Australian Government realized what was about to happen, and appealed to the Commonwealth to provide vessels or to replace the Eastern boats that were to be withdrawn. We were not able to make ships available, so that we have to bow to the inevitable and provide exemption for the north-west part of Western Australia and other isolated ports of the Commonwealth. It is hoped, however, that the shipping trade will become normal before very long, and it is the desire of the Government to then proclaim the Act. Nearly all the vessels in the Eastern coastal trade have been brought into line with the provisions of the Navigation Act, and it is not likely that there will be any trouble so far as they are concerned.
– I had intended to offer a few brief remarks on the measure at its secondreading stage, but it was passed while I was temporarily absent from the Chamber. I think, however, that I shall be able to say all I want to, in the debate upon this clause, so long as I do not overstep the bounds observed by the Minister. He spoke of the shipping needs of the north-western part of Australia, and stated it will be necessary to exempt certain vessels trading between Australia and the East. So faT from indulging in criticism of Ministerial action in relation to this matter, we should recognise that it is the right thing, because those ports are dependent to a large extent, and perhaps almost wholly, on the services of the vessels referred to.
– Not only Western Australia, but other ports on our coast as well.
– I referred to the needs of other isolated ports.
– Quite so. The Minister’s remarks were somewhat more comprehensive than would appear from my brief allusion to them. I want to bring under the notice of honorable senators the fact that the Act itself is a comprehensive one of over 400 clauses, and that this Bill, which contains no less than 129 clauses, indicates the difficulties surrounding all navigation questions, especially when we are going in for a policy of what I may term maritime exclusion in regard to our coastal trade. The Hobart Chamber of Commerce - which by no means has taken the initiative, for this question has been discussed for seme years past throughout Tasmania - recently pointed out to me, as well as to other Tasmanian representatives, how the provisions of the main Act, and particularly section 286, would be prejudicial to the interests of Hobart if the Act were operated in its entirety. Of course, I know that the purpose is to secure to Australian shipping companies the coasting trade, to which they think they have a valid claim by reason of the fact that better conditions and. wages, are provided, fiar coastal seamen. Bub we must not forget that Tasmania is an insular State, and if the main Act be unamended and fully enforced it will do a great deal of injury to the commercial interests of that State. That exemption would be extended to British-owned ships touching at Hobart. The fact that these have an opportunity of engaging in the coastal trade may be sufficient inducement to them to continue in the service. The vessels of the Shaw-Albion line, for instance, which called at Hobart and continued the journey to New Zealand, and sometimes thence to South America, did the trade of Hobart an infinite amount of good. I was given to understand by responsible members of the Hobart Chamber of Commerce that the enforcement of the provisions in the main Act against British vessels engaged, in our coastal trade in the circumstances I have mentioned, may vitally militate against the vital shipping facilities of Tasmania. If the Government, in their wisdom, think it advisable to exempt certain lines trading to isolated ports of Australia because of reasons given by the Minister, I make the same claim for similar continuation on behalf of Tasmania. We all remember the extreme difficulties of that State during the maritime strikes. Tasmania, of all the States of the Commonwealth, with the exception, perhaps, of the northern portion of Queensland, suffered the most; and, therefore, I think that, as special consideration is being given to certain other ports of the Commonwealth, the position of Tasmania should likewise continue to receive special notice. I am not very apprehensive that any great danger will accrue to the ship-owners’ or the seamen’s interests if British vessels are permitted to engage in the Australian coastal trade, because there is going to be a very rapid approximation in regard to conditions and wages for white sailors in other parts of the world, and especially those leaving ports of the United Kingdom on British vessels.
– I agree with what the honorable senator has said, and I am in favour of some such discrimination as he has suggested. The object of the main Act is to prevent unfair competition with ships and seamen engaged in our coastal trade ; but, as Senator Bakhap has pointed out, the conditions of seamen in other parts of the world have been revolutionized of late years, and I am doubtful if there is much cheap labour now, judging by some of the rates paid on British ships.
– I want a recognition of the principle, in view of the particular difficulties of Tasmania.
– There is power to exempt vessels trading to Tasmania in the same manner as to any other porta and as long as this Government are in power, the claims of Tasmanian ports, as well as any other Australian ports similarly situated, will receive sympathetic consideration.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 3 and” 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 (Postponement of date of commencement) .
– I should like ‘to know what is the position under this clause, as I fear there is a possibility that it will interfere seriously with those parts of the Act already proclaimed.
– One of the difficulties experienced in connexion with the principal Act was that, after it had been proclaimed by the Governor-General, we had’ no power to suspend that proclamation. Consequently the Act automatically came into operation. Under this clause, however, we shall be empowered, should existing conditions suddenly change, to suspend the proclamation temporarily, so as to prevent any part of the Act becoming operative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 6 to 95 agreed to.
Clause 96 - (Permits to unlicensed ships).
– Needless to say the Tasmanian people are strongly in favour of extend; ing the power of exemption formerly held by the Governor-General, and which applied only to permits for vessels carrying passengers. I understand, now, that the discretion is to be placed entirely in the Minister’s hands and that under certain conditions it can be extended. According to the clause permits can be issued only when no licensed ship is available for the service, or when the service as carried out by the licensed ship or ships is inadequate to the need of such port or ports. I would like the Minister in charge of the Bill to consider whether a slightly more generous provision cannot be provided. It is quite conceivable that the service between such ports as Fremantle, Albany and Hobart, and Adelaide and Hobart, or, in fact, any other port in Tasmania, may be considered adequate, although the trade and commerce between such ports could be considerably increased. I suggest to the Minister that either in this clause, or in some other provision of the Bill the power might be slightly extended, as there is every possibility of occasions arising when it would be of considerable benefit to the trading community. I have not drafted an amendment, but I think a new paragraph c could be inserted to provide that in the event of an increase in trade between different ports the Minister should have the power to grant permits. .
– The Bill is very largely drafted to deal with such cases. If vessels are calling at Hobart every four or six weeks, say, for apples, and other boats are not available, it is not likely that additional vessels will . be forced into the trade. The most isolated ports will always be taken into consideration by the Government while abnormal conditions prevail.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 97 to 129, and title, agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Public Service: Me. McLachlan’s Report.
Motion (by Senator Millen) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Some time ago I asked whether Mr. McLachlan had been directed to report on the Civil Service generally, and if he had reported, when the document would be available to honorable senators. I received a reply to the effect that Mr. McLachlan had. been appointed, and I was astonished to learn that his report was presented eighteen months ago. I was also informed that the report would not be available to honorable senators until an amending Public Service Bill was introduced.
– I think the answer to the honorable senator’s question was that the report would be made available before the Bill was introduced.
– I am rather glad to have that explanation, because I am anxious to know when we are likely to receive the report. I also enquired whether it would be available before the Estimates were dealt with by the Senate, and I now understand that I was informed that it would be presented before the Bill the Government contemplated introducing was submitted for our consideration. Since 1 asked that question a paragraph has appeared in the newspapers relating to the report in which it is stated that -
Mr. McLachlan has expressed concurrence with the view that the machinery for terminating contracts of service between private individuals and the Government should be simplified. Mr. McLachlan, after, a long experience, has formed the opinion that the heads of the Departments, who, because of their lack of authority, are now little more than figureheads, should be charged with the responsibility of making promotions within the branches controlled by them.
If this paragraph is correct, apparently the representatives of the press have had an opportunity of perusing the report.
– Tha!t does not necessarily follow.
– If they have not it is remarkable that they are able to comment on the report in the way they have. If either of these statements - I will not say both - are correct, honorable senators should have an opportunity of perusing the document. I understand that within a week or two we shall have either the Estimates or a Supply Bill before us, and in discussing either we shall have to vote a con- siderable sum for the Civil Service. In view of the statements that have appeared in the press concerning Mr.
McLachlan’s report, it should certainly be available to honorable senators, or some satisfactory reason given for its being withheld. If the heads of the Department are only figureheads, and we are asked to deal with the salaries of our public servants, the Government ought to give us the earliest opportunity to see what Mr. McLachlan said. He was deputed to deal with the whole question, and I know of no one in Australia who could speak on the subject with greater authority and more knowledge than he could. It is strange that a report submitted by him eighteen months ago at the request of the Government has not yet been presented to Parliament. The Senate can please itself what it does, but if, after such a report has been in the hands of the Government for eighteen months, and statements such as I have quoted have appeared in the press, honorable senators are prepared to pass Supply Bills, or the Appropriation Bill, without seeing the contents, they will be simply voting money in the dark.
Will the Minister also state what he wishes honorable senators to do next week ? Does he want us to come back, next week, and will he expect us to pass a Supply Bill or the Appropriation Bill? I take it that we cannot be here the week after next; and I should be glad if the Minister will state on what days he wants us here next week, and what work he wishes us to do.
– Personally, I want honorable senators here always, but the question is what public business demands. It will be necessary to invite honorable senators to attend next week. There are two matters which do not brook delay, and next week the Senate will be invited to consider the Anglo-Persian Oil agreement, and also two Supply Bills, one to cover the balance of the present financial year, and the other to give Supply for some brief period after the 30th June next. The reason why that course is necessary is that, in view of the contemplated adjournment in connexion with the visit of the Prince of Wales, it will not be possible for the Houses to re-assemble to pass Supply prior to the 30th June. If the Senate adjourns in connexion with the Prince’s tour, it is not desirable to ask it to meet again until after the 1st July, on which date the senators-elect will be qualified to take their positions. I do not say that I have mentioned the only two matters that must be dealt with next week, but I have no knowledge at present of any other business which the Senate will be asked to deal with before the adjournment.
I recognise the natural desire of honorable senators to be made acquainted with the contents of Mr. McLachlan’s report. I have not seen the press paragraphs referred to by Senator Thomas, but he is a sufficiently old politician not to take for granted everything that appears in the press, nor will he connect such publication with any action of the Government in making the report available to the press. The press has other opportunities to forecast what is in a report. Sometimes it contents itself with clever guesses, and sometimes the guesses are clumsy. Sometimes it manages to obtain information in a quite illicit way. Not having seen the paragraph, I cannot say whether it is accurate or not. The Government will, as stated previously, make the report available to Parliament in ample time for members to consider it, and also the Government’s own proposals relative to the Public Service. The Government do not think it desirable to make the report public until they have finally defined their own policy on that question. They will, within a few days of the presentation of the report, or, perhaps, simultaneously with it,’ make’ available their own proposals regarding the future management of our great Public Service. I shall bring before my colleagues Senator Thomas’s further expression of opinion, which, I’ take it, is a general indication of the desire of honorable senators to see the report as early as it is possible to lay it on the table.
– It does not affect this financial year.
– As my colleague reminds me, the report cannot possibly affect the Appropriation Bill for the current financial year, to which Senator Thomas refers.
– Still, on the Estimates, members do not deal only with the past; they speak of what ought to be done in the future.
– If the honorable senator means an opportunity for unlimited talk-
– An opportunity for honest criticism.
– The Estimates for this year cannot be affected by anything that may be done in regard to the future control of the Public Service. A full opportunity for discussing the future policy in that regard will arise when the new Public Service Bill is presented for the approval of Parliament.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 12.7 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 14 May 1920, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1920/19200514_senate_8_92/>.