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Wednesday, 23 November 1938

Mr BLAIN (Northern Territory) (5:15 AM) . - After listening to the scathing remarks of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Fairbairn) in regard to the manner in which this debate has been conducted, I feel that he has done a service in presenting a surface on which the shame of the Government might be reflected. An old Greek philosopher, Aristophanes, described shame in another way when he said that it was actually the " apprehension of a vision reflected from the surface of the opinion of the public". It appears to me that all honorable members have a fellow feeling with the honorable member for Flinders in this regard. I rose, however, to make a brief protest against the continual use of two words that seem to have emanated from the remarks of the Attorney-General (Mr. Menzies). Those words are " uniformity " and " unification ". I do not believe in either one or the other.

Mr Menzies - Those words did not emerge from my speech.

Mr BLAIN - It may seem paradoxical for me to say that I do not believe in unification, although I am in favour of tho abolition of State parliaments. I do not think that the speech of the Attorney-General, presented with no lack of logic, will convince the people of Australia of the need for clothing the Commonwealth Parliament with additional powers. The present system is so essentially top heavy that it will break its props. Nothing is any stronger than the props on which it stands. Therefore, it will take much more than the brilliant speech of the honorable gentleman to persuade the people of Australia to give to the Commonwealth Parliament willynilly such wide powers as have been suggested by him, and so eagerly seized upon by the Opposition. What I am surprised at is that ministerial members should seize on the speech of the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr Scullin) as indicating that he favours unification, because as is well-known he does not. In a speech made in this House last year - and he of all honorable members in this House knows the precise meaning of words - he advocated not unification:, but the establishment of provinces to take the place of the existing. States.

Mr Ward - He wanted complete legislative powers for this Parliament.

Mr BLAIN - As the AttorneyGeneral said yesterday, after the Constitution convention had concluded in 1900, a bargain was struck, and only by the striking of a more modern bargain with the people of Australia can the Con stitution be altered to any great degree. What will this Parliament do in regard to it? The Commonwealth is to-day more and more a grasping bureaucracy in the guise of a democracy. Before any appeal to the people for. an alteration of the Constitution can attain any measure of success, the Commonwealth Government will have to come out into the open and tell the people of Australia candidly not what extended powers should be granted to the Commonwealth but what powers the Commonwealth is prepared to cede to districts or economic regions. Unless the ' Government has the guts to do that, I shall stump the country in opposition to any enlargement of federal authority. Anxious as I may be to increase the powers of the Commonwealth Parliament, I would be willing to support any request for additional powers only if the request were accompanied by an attempt by a body composed of technical persons to sectionalize the continent and re-draw the map of Australia in the name of sanity and science.

Mr Menzies - What the honorable member wants is a sort of geological survey.

Mr BLAIN - The Attorney-General gave us what I might term a trigonometrical speech in which he strided the whole of the Commonwealth as though by doing so he could convince the people of Australia that they should give to this Parliament more internal power. I believe in a survey from the centre. After first having taken the people into our confidence, let us start at the centre and go outwards by adding our regions together in order to make a complete whole. When that proposition is put to the people it will have my wholehearted support. We have heard constant reiteration of the terms " planning " and " scientific procedure ". They are used every day by honorable members on both sides of the House, mostly by those who do not know the meaning of either. Last week both the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), an eminent lawyer, and the newly appointed Assistant Minister (Mr. Harrison) referred to the need for "planning ". The honorable member for Warringah also referred to the "lamentable lack of leadership ". He urged the appointment of experts to carry out the " planning " which he suggested, but he was not willing to give those experts any status or authority. I would not give experts administrative authority but purely advisory authority. Real truth in itself is compelling logic, and they would establish their real authority by telling the truth. This Parliament is crying out for a more highly trained personnel. We have not sufficient technical men in this Parliament to convince the people of Australia of the full facts of many matters with which they should be made familiar, and the people can "smell possum ". Therefore a national planning authority must be set up, the representation on which will be a true cross section of the people. The members of that authority must also be given appropriate status, though in my opinion they will very largely win that status for themselves because, as I have said, compelling logic will portray the truth to this Parliament. I believe that a national planning authority would be eminently able to assess the assets of this country for the Parliament. It must be a fact-finding body, and naturally it must have, as one of its members, a civil engineer. Perhaps I may claim the indulgence of honorable members while I read a portion of the report of an address delivered by the chairman of the Institute of Engineers of Australia, Mr. A. E. Axon, M.E., M.I.E., Aust., before the Brisbane Division of the institution in 1937. Mr. Axon said -

I cannot help feeling that engineers as a trained body have not been called upon to the extent that education and training would appear to have justified in dealing with the dislocations in the social order which have been experienced during the last decade and this may be due, in part, to the fact that their particular training and experience have rendered them less fit to administer than to give practical effect to broad matters of policy. Although this is not so much an aspect of service to members, the effect of the employment of engineers to take their proper part in securing the readjustment of social values, which the impact of science upon society has rendered necessary, would develop that recognition of the engineer's services to mankind which is so desirable at the present time.

If that paragraph could be printed in gold the expense would bejustified, particularly at a time when honorable mem bers of this Parliament are constantly referring to the need for "planning" and " scientific methods ". Mr. Axon continued -

I do not see how we can be satisfied to read in the advertising columns of our metropolitan press, advertisements calling for applications from scientifically trained men at salaries less than those required to be paid under industrial awards to artisans and mechanics ....

This has an important bearing now because I think that a lot of the trouble which confronts us can be attributed to the fact that we offer but paltry salaries to technical officers of the Civil Aviation Department and the Defence Department, compared with those paid to officers occupying similar positions in other countries. The result of this has been that we have lost many of our expert technical men who, have gone to New Guinea, the United States of America, and other countries which are prepared to pay them salaries more commensurate with the value of the work they are called upon to perform. If these Commonwealth departments are to receive recognition throughout the civilized world the Government must attract the most highly competent officials by offering more appropriate salaries. Mr. Axon, in referring to an advertisement by the Civil Aviation Department, continued -

A practical knowledge of civil engineering as regards earth works and drainage, and also of surveying and draftsmanship, to say nothing of an unspecified " etcetera", is required and it is stated that " a university degree in engineering would be an advantage". For these qualifications the munificent salary ot £222 - £306 is offered, these emoluments being reduced to £192 - under cost of living adjustment.

While an optimistic outlook on the part of a Government department is generally commendable it should surely be possible to display such without, at the same time, offering a gratuitous insult to the civil engineering profession.

These men should not , be offered such paltry salaries for their services. In the discussions that will take place in this Parliament next year, we shall require the assistance of scientific men. The people are supposed to have the benefit of democratic government, but it is disgraceful that honorable members of this House are kept in ignorance of the actions of the Ministry. The sooner the present Government is supplanted by one that does not adopt bureaucratic methods the better it will be for Australia. I shall not discuss the defence plans, because the Government is dying, and knows it.

In the light of recent happenings at the United Australia party convention in Sydney, I feel somewhat diffident about what I now intend to say. However, I amin such an advantageous position, as the independent member for the Northern Territory, that I regard it as safe for me to do so. Although I have not the good fortune to be a member of the Wentworth family, I can do some things which the illustrious scions of that noble house may not do in the matter of criticising the Government's policy, a practice which, I believe, has become the subject of police intervention. I am unlikely to be bundled out of this chamber by a constable. As the only independent left in this House, the others having been absorbed by various organizations, nobody could discipline me but my constituents, and they are not likely to do that. I had intended, during this debate, to discuss certain matters relating to the Northern Territory, but in the present circumstances it is hardly worth while. Even if the Government were to agree to be influenced by anything which I might have to say, there would probably be no result of a practical kind. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) has visited the Northern Territory, but he has presented no report to the House. Probably he is waiting until the last few moments of the session, so that no honorable member will have an opportunity to reply to his statements. He did not visit the Lands Department in Darwin, so I am wondering how he expects to be able to devise a useful policy for the development of the territory. I intend to reserve my further remarks until there is more stability and more democracy about this place.

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