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Monday, 11 December 1905


Mr GROOM (Darling Downs) (Minister of Home Affairs) . - Perhaps it may assist matters if I make a short explanation. So far as concerns the amendment of which notice has been given,. I think I can, to a certain extent, meet the honorable member. My own view of the matter is that, in the administration of the Departments generally, each Government ought to be free asto which Minister is given control.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But a special Minister is nearly always mentioned when a Bill is introduced.


Mr GROOM - According to the Acts Interpretation Act - " The Minister " shall mean the Minister for the time being administering the Act or enactment in which or in respect of which the expression is used.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is only for the time being.


Mr GROOM - No; it means the Minister of the Department; so that if from the interpretation clause of the Act we ex- clude the provision that " Minister " means the Minister of Home Affairs, the administration will be left to the Minister who administers the Department.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If no other Minister is mentioned.


Mr GROOM - There is no other Minister mentioned.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There will not be in this case.


Mr GROOM - The matter will be left entirely to the Minister of the day. I do not want to go into any elaborate argument on the point. Personally, I do not agree with the honorable member for North Sydney, at the present stage at any rate,- as to the necessity for the amendment; but I agree as to the desirability of having the provision in such a form as to leave freedom to any Government who may take a different view. If the honorable member will withdraw his amendment, the matter can be left as being governed by the definition of " The Minister " in the Acts Interpretation Act. That, I think, would carry out the effect desired by the honorable member.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As to the verbal effect, yes.


Mr GROOM - I understand that the honorable member does not intend his amendment as a direction?


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No, as an indication.


Mr GROOM - My own opinion is that there is no necessity for transferring this work to the postal officials. The honorable member for North Sydney practically argued that, because most of the electoral business is done by the postal officials, the whole of the administration of the electoral branch should be handed over to the Postmaster-General. My own opinion is that such an amendment would impose an undue burden on the officer administering the Department of the PostmasterGeneral. I agree with the honorable member as to the unwillingness of officers of one Department to do work for another, and as to the desirability of the officers contemplated carrying out these electoral duties; but that object can be accomplished, although the administration rema!ins with the Department of Home Affairs. At the present time arrangements have been made with the Post and Telegraph Department by which, when the Bill is brought into operation, not only postal officials, but public servants generally, wherever they have time within office hours, shall be called upon to give assistance in this electoral work. I think it is reasonable that public servants should be expected to perform Federal duties irrespective of the particular office or Department in which they are employed, provided those duties do not impose undue responsibility on them, under which circumstances, of course, they would be entitled to extra remuneration. I am willing to accept as much as I have indicated of the honorable member's amendment,

Mr. DUGALDTHOMSON (North Sydney). - The Minister's proposal, and the words accompanying it, indicate that he personally is not in favour of my suggestion.


Mr Groom - Hear, hear ; at the present stage.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That fact almost compels me to test the opinion of Parliament. As I have already said, the amendment is not intended as an instruction to the Government, but only as an expression of opinion that they should give the matter serious consideration.


Mr Groom - The matter has received serious consideration.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Personally I am convinced that the change is desirable ; and I may in very few words allude to the statement of the Minister. First of all, the Minister thinks that the amendment will impose undue strain on the Secretary to the Department of the Postmaster-General.


Mr Groom - And also on the Minister administering the Act.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And also on the Minister administering the Act. But that strain could and would be removed, practically entirely, from the Secretary to the Department of the Postmaster-General by the appointment of a Chief Electoral Officer - an appointment which it is intended to make. An undue strain on the Minister would not be so likely to follow when all the officers of a Department were in close touch with the work, but, if necessary, the Minister could be assisted by the member of the Cabinet who has no portfolio. It is quite clear to me that if any Department ite found best suited for a particular work, it is possible to make the requisite arrangements to meet the circumstances. It is very awkward when work has to be performed by two Departments ; there is always a bad joint, and a difficulty in working harmoniously.


Mr Batchelor - All the work of the Department of Home Affairs has to be conducted through two or more Departments.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not all the work.


Mr Batchelor - Practically all the work.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not all the work, and ifc is especially undesirable in the cage under discussion. We know that the Department of Home Affairs, in connexion with public works, is associated with the States Departments, and has 'relations with other Departments of the Commonwealth service. But the Department of Home Affairs has not to borrow from those Departments- officers who, as in regard to electoral work, are thoroughly under its control, and not under the control for that work of their own Department.


Mr Groom - Those officers would then be under the control of the Chief Electoral Officer.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They would be under the control of the Post and Telegraph Department.


Mr Groom - They would be carrying out duties under the Department of Home Affairs.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We know that in the Post and Telegraph Department there are the Money Order Office and the Telegraph Branch,., but the heads of these branches work side by side under the PostmasterGeneral, and, all being one Department, they act in harmony. Then there is the fact that the staff of one Department never takes readily to work which is that of another Department1, and it would not be possible to call upon these officers as readily as it would be if the administration of the measure were placed under the Postmaster-General. If the Minister had stated that he was willing to accept my amendment or the amendment he has suggested, for the reason I have given, it would have been a different matter, but as it is the latter only proposes what I have always contended should be done, namely, that we should leave the Government to decide which Department should administer any particular Bill. That freedom should be given, although we know that almost every Bill that is introduced allots the control to some particular Minister. If the Minister of Home Affairs states that he will give serious consideration to the matter - though he will not! come to a final decision at this stage - I shall be quite willing, being anxious to help rather than retard the passing of the measure, that the amendment should be adopted in the form he has indicated. On the other hand, the Minister has expressed the opinion that that step ought not to be taken.


Mr Groom - So far as I can see, that step should not be taken at this stage.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That places me in such a position as makes it desirable to test the opinion of the Committee.


Mr Groom - Surely a machinery Bill is not the Bill on which to test the question. So far as I can see, it would not be advisable to make the change at the present time.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If we had the States working through the police, and the officers of their Education Departments and the Commonwealth working through the Post and Telegraph Department,, we should not only greatly reduce the cost of working the Act, but should enable both the States electoral laws and our own to be carried out much more efficiently. We should thus create an Electoral Department with a staff unequalled by any staff under any Government. I do not wish to take the opinion of the Committee upon the subject if the Minister will promise to consider the whole question as to whether the electoral work could not be done better through the Post and Telegraph Department.







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