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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr CASEY (Corio) (Treasurer) . - by leave - I move -

That the billbe now reada second time.

The chief object of this bill is to obviate a good deal of trouble, time and expense which the Government is at present put to, in the collection of statistics for "factories, mines and productive industries ", on certain forms which have to be prescribed by regulation. Section 16 of the principal act reads -

The Statistician shall, subject to the regulations and the directions of the Minister, collect, annually, statistics in relation to all or any of the following matters:-

Among the matters specified is -

(g)   Factories, mines and productive indus tries generally.

The purpose of clause 3 of the bill is to omit the word " annually " in so far as it relates to that paragraph. Section 17 of the principal act reads -

For the purpose of enabling the statistics referred to in this Part of this act to be collected, all prescribed persons shall, to the best of their knowledge, when required by the Statistician so to do, fill up and supply, in accordance with the instruction contained in or accompanying the prescribed form, the particulars specified in that form.

The Government is seeking to insert after the word " form ", first occurring, the following words : - or in the case of statistics in relation to any matter specified in paragraph (g) of the last preceding section, in accordance with the" instructions contained in or accompanying a form approved by the Minister.

Honorable members are doubtless aware that until a year or two ago the statistics to which I am referring were collected by the State Statisticians. TheCommonwealth Statistician has, however, been making commendable efforts within recent years to improve our statistical knowledge of our secondary industries, particularly as to their variety, and the value and quantity of their products, and I have given him every possible support.

Until quite recently, our information of the actual production flowing from our secondary industries was sketchy. - The Commonwealth Statistician has held many conferences with the State Statisticians in his endeavours to standardize and improve the procedure required to provide uniform information from every State. About 40 different forms have been prepared to facilitate the furnishing of the information desired from those engaged in various industries. These obviously have to suit the diverse circumstances of the industries concerned. Even now, the forms have not been- fixed with any finality. It is necessary, from time to time, to make minor alterations to forms in order to provide for greater clarity, and particularly in order to meet the convenience of the persons who have to supply the information. As the law now stands, it is necessary to make regulations in connexion with the matter and then to publish them in the Statutory Rules. The form in which the Statutory Rules are published, however, is different from that desired for these particular returns ; consequently, a good deal of unnecessary expense occurs if the alteration of even a comma is necessary. The purpose of the amendment provided for in clause 4 of the bill is to give the Treasurer power to approve the forms. I do not think it will be necessary for the Treasurer to exercise this power for more than a few years, for by that time the forms will have reached their final shape.

To recapitulate, clause 3 of the bill provides for the elimination of the word " annually " from section 16 in order that the Commonwealth Statistician may eoi,lect, at more frequent intervals than twelve months, the information he desires to obtain; and clause 4 provides that the Treasurer shall have power to approve the forms to he used in furnishing information in connexion with " factories, mines and productive industries generally."

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) referred, by interjection, to the methods of collecting this information. Under an arrangement with the State governments, relevant forms are issued to the appropriate persons by mem bers of the Police force in the various States. The police take the appropriate form to each manufacturer, who then fills it up and returns it to the Statistician. No difficulty is being experienced in thai connexion, but the machinery which provides for the preparation of the forms in the desired way is somewhat cumbrous, and the object of this bill is to authorize a more direct method*.

Mr Scullin - Is anything being done to prevent overlapping of Commonwealth and State authorities in this connexion?

Mr CASEY - We are seeking, by fre.quent conferences of Commonwealth and State Statisticians, to deal with the difficulty that the right honorable member has mentioned, and I am glad to say that, largely as the result of the exertions of the Commonwealth Statistician over the last few years, the overlapping has been almost eliminated.

Mr Jolly - Is it compulsory for the person concerned to supply the desired information?

Mr CASEY - Yes; the penalty for non-compliance is £10.

Mr Holloway - Will one effect of the passing of this bill be that the public will get a clearer economic picture more f frequently?

Mr CASEY - Yes. I suggest that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports should visit the office of the Commonwealth Statistician, where he will find a battery of machines working at high pressure in order to provide statistical information at frequent periods in regard to customs, excise and production generally. The work of that office is very different to-day from that of a few years ago. Although the Commonwealth Statistician is an officer of my department, I feel that I should give him a word of praise for the improvement he has effected in the compilation of our statistical information in the few years that he has been in this office. I make that remark without disparagement of the gentlemen who preceded him in this office. I commend the bill to the House.

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