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Wednesday, 1 August 1906


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - Like the honorable member for Parramatta, I am not going to find fault with the principle of the measure, but I join with him in expressing regret that the Minister has not seen fit to provide in this Bill for the taking over of the Astronomical as well as the Meteorological Department. If there is a reason for taking over the one, there is am equally good reason for the transfer of the other. The Minister seems to have been Influenced more by the views of the Board of Visitors of the Melbourne Observatory, and by those of Mr. Baracchi, the Government Astronomer of Victoria, than by the opinion of the majority of astronomers and observatory officials who took part in the Adelaide Conference. That Conference accepted, even if it did not actually approve, the proposal that the' observatories should be transferred to the Commonwealth. That, at all events, was the opinion of the members of the Conference, with the exception of Mr. Baracchi.


Mr Groom - The Conference did not. make a specific recommendation. They, said, in effect, that if the Meteorological Departments were taken over the existing, institutions should remain.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - With theexception of Mr. Baracchi, they agreed that certain recommendations should bemade, and they took no exception by resolution to the taking over of the Departmentsby the Commonwealth.- Further than that,, the opinion was expressed that the system proposed by the Minister in regard, to meteorology should not" be adopted.. The Conference decided that there should1, be a central institution, and that themeteorological observations should be carried ,out as at present, under that institution. Whether that view be right or wrong,, the Minister has not seen fit to be guided' by it ; he has preferred to adopt the view of the Victorian Government Astronomer. Thequestion of the desirableness of separating, the two branches of meteorology and astronomy is one that we need not consider at present, although I agree that if the twobranches could be carried on distinctly with-, reasonable economy they ought to be kept separate. Even if both Departments were transferred to! the Commonwealth, therecould be a separation of the two - a separation possibly more effective and certainly more economical than that which will follow the transfer of only one Department. Weknow that at present the meteorological work of the States is largely done by observatory officials, and if we transfer one portion of that work to theCommonwealth, and leave the other to be carried out bv the States, we shall cause a division of duties now carried out by the one set of officials. That being so, we are bound to cause additional expense either to the Commonwealth or theStates. So that the immediate result will bean increased expenditure, not necessarily by either State or Commonwealth separately, but certainly by both combined. Honorablemembers should be given an opportunity todecide whether both or only one Department shall be taken over. I fear that, as the measure stands, any amendment providing for the taking over of the Astronomical' Department would be ruled out of order, and therefore I should like the Minister tocreate an opportunity for the taking of atest vote upon the subject.


Mr Groom - How does the honorablemember propose to raise the question ?


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A way could be found to do that; but I do not think that the Bill can be amended to provide for the taking over of the observatories. I suggest that the Minister should consider how best an opportunity can be given for testing the opinion of honorable members in regard to the matter. I strongly favour the transfer of both Departments.


Mr Groom - Even if we took over the Astronomical Departments, we could not (prevent any university from establishing an -observatory of its own.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; and there is no reason why that should be prevented, if the institution can bear the expense. But there are now observatories under Government control in four of the States, and, if their revenue becomes buoyant, the remaining, States may also be tempted to establish observatories.


Mr Groom - Queensland desires to retain the astronomical branch for survey purposes.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is a great deal of astronomical work which can tie done at small cost by States officers unconnected with the observatories. For instance, such matters as time distribution, the standardization of weights and measures, the rectification of chronometers, calculations relating to tides, and other similar work, can be done outside the observatories at small expense, because the instruments required are not costly, and the labour necessary is not large. But the observation of the heavens, the photographing of stars, the taking part in the astronomical work of the world, and other operations for which our existing observatories are equipped, are very costly, and, by providing for the transfer of the Astronomical Departments to the control of the Commonwealth, we should remove from the two States which have not yet established observatories the temptation to do so. By having the observatories under one control, we should bring about economy by preventing the duplication of work. Naturally, every astronomer is anxious that his observations and calculations shall be of an importance which will place him in the lead, or, at least, on a level with his fellows, with the result that each observatory obtains expensive and valuable instruments, and a large staff, to thoroughly equip it for work which might very well be done by any of the others, the local work coming par ticularly within its province being comparatively small in volume, and therefore not costly.


Mr Groom - The officials declare that there is no duplication in astronomical work.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honorable and learned gentleman looks into the matter, I think he will find, as I did, that there is duplication. I admit that, as regards the photographing of the heavens under an international arrangement, duplication has been avoided by allotting to the observatories of Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth different portions of the sky ; but there is duplication in regard to other work, which could be done by one university, and, under Commonwealth control, would be prevented. We should make all the use we can of our observatories, but we should introduce a system which will prevent the duplication of instruments and staffs for the doing of work by several observatories concurrently which could be equally well done by any of them alone. The Astronomical Departments' are only small ones at the present time, but, if they were under Commonwealth control, effective economies could be enforced. The time is now opportune for dealing with the matter. Does the Minister intend never to exercise the power given in the Constitution to take over the control of the Astronomical Departments ?


Mr Groom - I know of no justification for taking them over at this stage.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If there is no justification for taking them over now, when will there be such justification? If the various observatories of the States are allowed to grow, there will be greater difficulties in the way of transfer later on than there are now, because the number1 of those interested in preventing it will increase, while, in the meantime, we shall be debarred from practising economies which are possible under a central administration alone. At the present time there are two important vacancies in connexion with the staffs of the observatories of the States. The Government Astronomer of New South Wales is retiring.


Mr Groom - Does the honorable member think that the Commonwealth should take over the Astronomical Departments and appoint officers to the vacant positions ?


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - T saythat the very opportunity that the Commonwealth should desire would be presented for effecting economies. If vacancies existed in the Departments at the time of transfer, the Commonwealth would be free to effect economies without interfering with highly-paid officers. Vacancies now exist in the South Australian and New South Wales Observatories - at least, the officers who are now performing the duties of Government Astronomer are only acting in that position. The question as to whether these vacancies would require to be filled permanently could be decided after the transfer had taken place. It seems to me that certain important work could be confined) to certain observatories, and that it should not be necessary to employ astronomers of high qualifications in every State. Some astronomical work is done at Hobart, where they have no observatory, and no highly-paid official.


Mr Crouch - There is a small observatory at Ballarat, which is supported by public subscription.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Doubtless private observatories and others of a purely local character would exist, even if the Commonwealth took over the Astronomical Department. I contend that 'we should exercise our functions in these matters to the full extent. We should not take over half of the work performed by the existing States Departments, and leave the other half to be carried on by the States. No sufficient reason has been advanced why the two branches of work - meteorological and astronomical - should be treated differently in the manner now proposed. There is no doubt that the meteorological work could be carried on without our taking over the Departments, but the States are very glad to hand it over to the Commonwealth, because they do not care to incur the expense that would he involved in extending the present system, and making it more complete. With, regard to the astronomical work, however, in connexion with which they now gain some kudos, they are either unfavorable or careless as to the transfer to the Commonwealth. I do not think we ought to hesitate to exercise to the full the power conferred upon us under the Constitution, to take over these two at present closely associated branches of work. If we took over the whole of the work we could make better use of the services of the officials than if a portion nf the work were still left to be carried out bv the States. The arrangement proposed must lead to disruption and extra expense. If we took over the whole of the work, some scientific men, fully qualified to act, should be requested to> ascertain what could best be done at each of the observatories. Where the work wasof a purely local character it would necessarily have to be done in a particular locality ; but if it were of such a description that it could be as well carried out in one State as in another, much of it could be centralized. This would all tend to economy and efficiency. At present, under decentralized control, this1 cannot be done. If we now decide not to exercise the full power given to us by the Constitution,, we shall settle the matter for all time,, because I cannot conceive of any stronger reasons existing in the future than those which now present themselves in favour of making the complete transfer I have indicated. On the other hand, greater obstacles may be presented. If we had! the observatories under our control, we could centralize a great deal of the work,, and perform it much more effectively than at present. While I commend the Minister for having taken up this matter, I am sorry that he did not go further. I have no desire to harass him in any way, but I trust that he will test the feeling of honorable members on the question of taking over the two branches of work.


Mr Fisher - What would be the difference in the cost?


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister has not given us an estimate. At present, it is difficult to ascertain the cost of carrying on the meteorological work now performed by the States, because the officials engaged in it devote part of their time to astronomical observations.


Mr Fisher - If both branches of work were 'taken over by us, what annual outlay would be involved?


Mr Groom - I gave particulars upon that point, but I could not separate the cost of the meteorological and astronomical work.


Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the work of the new department is to be as thorough as the Minister desires, I am afraid that it will prove rather costly. We shall have at the outset to decide how far our circumstances will justify us in going. I agree with the Minister that we should establish the best possible system, but fear that we shall be hampered by considerations of expense. We have a large territory, which is only sparsely peopled, and observations will necessarily have to extend over a very large area. Our action in separating the meteorological from the astronomical work will not tend to. reduce the total expenditure upon work which hitherto has "been interknitted under the States administration, and I trust that honorable members will indorse my view that the Commonwealth should exercise to the full the powers conferred upon it by the Constitution.







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