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Tuesday, 1 October 1935

Sir LITTLETON GROOM (Darling Downs) . - I support the bill, which, I think, is somewhat belated. When we consider the growth of the administration of the Commonwealth from its inception to the present time, we realize that a very heavy burden has, all along, been placed upon Ministers of State. At first there were seven Ministers only. In 1915, the number was increased to eight, and in 1917 it was increased to nine. To-day, we are being asked to increase the number to ten. I agree that the Prime Minister ought to be free from details of administration, sothat he may concentrate upon matters of major policy, and be able to consult, when necessary, with his Ministers. That is not a new proposal. In 1909 and 1910, when the Honorable Alfred Deakin was Prime Minister, he did not accept any portfolio, but kept himself free to attend to matters of general policy. Since 1909, the problems of the Commonwealth have greatly intensified. People are apt to forget that, when the Commonwealth was inaugurated, the population of Australia was only about 3,773,000; to-day, it exceeds 6,500,000, and the government of the country has become complex to an extraordinary degree. New developments have taken place, and departments have grown to such an extent that some are almost beyond the capacity of one man to administer. The result has been that the Government, instead of appointing an adequate number of Ministers, has had to accept the services of honorary Ministers in order to get the work done. We should pay tribute to those honorary Ministers, who, from a sense of patriotism, have sacrificed their home life, and the interests of their constituencies, to assist the Commonwealth without receiving any compensation for themselves. If we compare the work done by Ministers of State with that done by executives in large business firms, we realize how inadequate, after all, is the financial reward which Ministers receive. It is not right that one man should be asked to fill, at the same time, the positions of Prime Minister and Treasurer. The Treasurer has a great deal of detailed work thrown upon him; he has to keep in touch with every other department, and, in addition, has to preside over meetings of the Loan Council. On the last occasion on which the Loan Council met, it was presided over by an Assistant Minister. Consistent with the dignity of the high office which he is called upon to perform, and in deference to the representatives of the States present at its meetings, the Loan Council should be presided over by a gentleman able to speak with the authority attaching only to a full-time Minister of State. If this bill is passed the chairman of the Loan Council will be vested with full authority as a Minister of State. Though I am satisfied that this measure is, if anything, belated, I am glad that the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) has taken this step. The amendment moved by the honorable member for "West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) I regard as a technical mistake. When appropriating sums of money for the salaries of Ministers of State we should not attempt to allocate a particular sum to a particular Minister. The allocation should be left to the Prime Minister as a matter of executive action.

Mr Beasley - I do not say that the Prime Minister should not be free to make allocations to individual Ministers.

Sir LITTLETON GROOM - But the honorable member says that the appropriation should be devoted to a Minister for unemployment.

Mr Beasley - The Prime Minister promised that in his policy speech.

Sir LITTLETON GROOM - The proper way of assigning duties to a Minister is by the passage of a special act. For instance, we have in the Repatriation Act reference to a' minister in charge of. repatriation. " Minister " is there defined. The method of naming a Minister in a particular act who will have charge of its administration has at times been found to be too inelastic, and acts containing direct references to Ministers have been amended to remove this restriction. If this bill is passed honorable members will find, as they did in 1909, that much benefit will result. The Prime Minister will then be able to give his full time to consultation with individual Ministers. Many important departmental issues are often raised involving such consultations. But one of the main results from the passing of this bill will be to relieve the Prime Minister from the consideration of matters of detail and enable him to handle major problems. Honorable members would therefore be wise to accept the bill as introduced.

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