Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 10 November 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I was rather amused at Senator Wilson's statement that no information concerning Australia can be obtained at Australia House in London, seeing that it is a fact that in the Australian Senate no information regarding Australia House is obtainable. I am confronted by a couple of responsible Ministers, and I wish to know when the Government are going to appoint a. High Commissioner, who is to be appointed to the position, and whether the appointment is to be made this year, next year, or never? What is the use of complaining of a lack of information in London when the people of Australia, and the members of the Australian Parliament, who are in touch with the Government, are kept in ignorance? If I drew a little on my imagination, I would say that the members of the Government party are in the dark on: this question. I might go even further and say that' the members of the Cabinet can get no information, on the matter from the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). The High

Commissionership has been vacant since 1st April.

Senator de Largie - Keeping so many of us anxious !

Senator GARDINER - There are a great many people who are anxious. We should be desirous of seeing the position either well filled or abolished. I do not believe in any half measures, especially at a time like the present, when there is urgent need for economy. If we can. do without a High Commissioner in London from April of this year up to the present time, why not abolish the office altogether, and save the cost ? I would much rather have no HighCommissioner at all if the office is not filled by a responsible head. The Government appear to treat this matter as if it were one concerning themselves alone, and one in which, the people of Australia had no interest. This is a most discreditable attitude on their part, and it is no credit to the Parliament that it should continue a day longer. I hope the Government will*, without further delay, take the public into their confidence.

Senator Wilson - But has not this always been the practice concerning- such appointments!?

Senator GARDINER - It is a most pernicious practice. Never before has there been so much secrecy about the filling of such a responsible position.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Who, do you think, ought to get the appointment?

Senator GARDINER - I have no objection to offer to the suggested appointment of Sir Joseph Cook, whose name has been so often mentioned. I take a very serious view of the Government's remissness in this matter. If they intend to appoint Sir Joseph Cook, they should do so at once. If, on the other hand, they do not intend to appoint him., then they have done him a grievous wrong, because for months he has been held up before the people of Australia as the gentleman who has been selected to- fill the position. What need is there for this secrecy,, which has given rise to all sorts of rumours ?

Senator Senior - The Government cannot very well prevent the circulation of rumours.

Senator GARDINER - Of course they can. All doubts can: be set at rest by a plain statement from- the- head of the Government giving the name of the- gentleman who is to receive the appointment, together with any reasons there may be for having withheld it for so long. It has been suggested, I know, that their position in the otherHouse is such that they cannot dispense with Sir Joseph Cook's services at the present time. But that is all nonsense. If Mr. Burchell and Mr. Bruce could go to London, without affecting the position of the Government in another place, then Sir Joseph Cook also could leave Australia to fill the position of High Commissioner in London. The delay and secrecy concerning the whole business are working an injury to the people of Australia, and to the gentleman whose name has been so frequently mentioned in connexion with the appointment. No one can accuse Sir Joseph Cook of having given occasion for the circulation of any of these rumours about his projected appointment. The Government should take the people into their confidence. If Sir Joseph Cook is not to receive the appointment, there should be a Ministerial statement at once to that effect in justice to the gentleman mentioned. Is it possible the Government are fishing for some other candiate? Is the position up for sale to the highest bidder ?

Senator Senior - Do you intend to lodge an application for it?

Senator GARDINER - I would not mind going to £3,000 a year for it. I am discussing this proposal from the point off view of the impoirtance of the office. It should either be filled at once or abolished altogether. I do not know what Australia House costs, but, speaking from memory, I should say that it involves the Commonwealth in an expenditure of about £40,000 a year. If we can do without an official head for so long, then it is reasonable to assume that it could be done away with altogether. It might be said, of course, that we are represented by an Acting High Commissioner. That is quite true. That gentleman was appointed for six or eight months at an increase of £1,000 a year on his previous salary, and I presume that, pending the appointment of a new High Commissioner, the Government will be saving the official salary, but there should be none of this secrecy. It is possible, of course, that the Government are dangling the appointment as a bait to their followers - as an inducement to them to continue their support. Who knows how many people have been offered this post?

Senator Wilson - Have you never dangled the carrot?

Senator GARDINER - Yes. The dangling of the carrot before gentlemen like my friend Senator Wilson is quite a legitimate practice for any Government.

Senator Senior - It is quite refreshing to hear that you are willing to fill the position.

Senator GARDINER - I am willing either to fill it or abolish it. The latter course, as . 1 have shown, would effect a considerable saving to the Commonwealth.

Senator Wilson - But that would result in the closing of Australia House altogether.

Senator GARDINER - No. The premises could be leased, and additional revenue obtained.

Senator Wilson - Would you support that policy?

Senator GARDINER - Certainly I would, at all events, until such time as our war debt is paid. Probably this is one of the means I would adopt to effect economy. Certainly it would be justified in view of the delay by this Government in appointing an official head.

Senator Crawford - But the honorable senator knows that Australia must be properly represented in London.

Senator GARDINER - I do. Apparently, the Government think otherwise, or they would have taken steps long ago to fill the position that has been vacant since last April.

Senator Wilson - Would you be agreeable to the Prime Minister taking the position ?

Senator GARDINER - I would not support any one taking the position. It is my business to oppose. My especial duty is to show good reasons why, in my opinion, the Government have made a mistake. My position in this Senate carries with it that responsibility, and in this matter I am endeavouring to show that the Government, by omitting to make this appointment, have committed one of the most grievous mistakes ever made by any Government - a mistake that will work lasting injury to the gentleman most intimately concerned and to the people of Australia.

Senator Crawford - But he does not seem to be worrying very much.

Senator GARDINER - Whether Sir Joseph 'Cook is worrying or not matters very little to me. I am concerned with the policy of the Government in relation to this position.

Senator Wilson - No doubt he will be very greatly solaced to know that you are worrying.

Senator GARDINER - I have no doubt that. he will, and if Senator Pratten were present this afternoon - I do not like to speak in his absence - I might remind the Senate that this delay on the part of the Government is causing him a good deal of anxiety. Look at all the hope deferred, the prospective position in another sphere of parliamentary usefulness delayed, by the ineptitude of this Government, who say, apparently, "Oh, this High Commissioner business! What has Parliament to do with that? How does it concern the people of Parramatta ?" I find, however, that even the Nationalist party have called for nominations to fill the vacancy in the representation of Parramatta in another place, in the event of Sir Joseph Cook receiving the appointment, and, so far as my own party is concerned, well, on Saturday last we selected our candidate to contest the seat.

Senator Crawford - You must know something, then.

Senator GARDINER - We are always ready for eventualities. In all seriousness, I ask the Minister to bring this question before his colleagues in Cabinet and have it finalized without further delay, or else, in the interests of economy, abolish Australia House as - at present constituted, and lease the premises to the State agencies, or any other tenant that may require them, thus saving Australia at least £40,000 a year. This is a reasonable proposition. There are only two courses open to the Government - either to make an appointment worthy of Australia and worthy of the position, or abolish the office altogether.

Suggest corrections