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Friday, 11 November 1910

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . -I have listened to a great many arguments for and against, but principally against, the questions in this regulation.

Senator Givens - Did you hear any arguments for them?

Senator SAYERS - From the Minister, I did.

Senator Givens - Do you call them arguments ?

Senator SAYERS - I always treat the Minister in charge of the business before the Senate with a certain amount of deference, because I know that very often he has to bring down a measure in which, perhaps, he does not believe. The Cabinet may have decided on the terms of this regulation. Possibly Senator Findley may disagree with the questions, but, as a member of the Cabinet, he has to come here and put the best face on them he can. I think that the questions are unnecessary. The first question is, I think, inquisitive, because it applies to only a certain class, and that is persons who have to earn their living. If I had had to draft the question, it would have applied to all persons, and it would have taken this form, " The amount of income, salary, or wages per day, or per week, or per month, at the time of the Census." That would have elicited the amount of income of a number of persons who do not do any work. But, "by their question, the Government only seek to ascertain the amount of salary or wages which is earned. I think it would be better to get the amount of income of persons who do not do any work. On that ground, I oppose the question included in the regulation.

Senator Findley - We want to get at what the working classes earn.

Senator SAYERS - The second question ought, I think, to have taken this form, " The total amount during the year ending 31st December preceding the Census." So that if a man had received so much as salary or wages, and so much as income, we should elicit exactly the amount of his earnings and his income respectively, as is done under the Income Tax Act. That would have been a far better form in which to make the inquiry, but I do not think that it is necessary at all. As to question iv., do the Government really think that they are likely to obtain accurate replies ? Hundreds of people in this country will simply say, " This question is impertinent." They will simply empty their pockets, and say, " Nothing in them." The Government may depend upon it that if people take exception to a question they will always find a way of avoiding an answer to it. I really cannot understand why such inquisitive questions should be included in the paper. What has it to do with the Government of the Commonwealth whether I have in my pocket id. or £1 ?

Senator Findley - We want to ascertain the amount of money in circulation.

Senator SAYERS - I have seen a few censuses taken, and hope to see a few more ; and I am convinced that the simpler the questions are, and the closer they adhere to usual lines, the more reliable the information obtained is. If a number of useless questions are included, people treat them with utter contempt, and either refuse to answer or give misleading answers. As to question v., I have not the slightest doubt that the persons who induced the Minister of Home Affairs to include it in the paper did so with the best intentions. But, nevertheless, I am convinced that they will not obtain reliable information in answer to it. I do not blame them, but I am sure they have been misled. Suppose a man has in his house a groom, or a gardener, and three or four female servants. He will have to ask each of them for information to enable him to fill up the census-paper.

Senator Givens - I am not going to ask these questions of anybody in my house.

Senator Findley - The householder will provide the persons in his. house with cards, which they will fill up for themselves.

Senator SAYERS - I take it that the householder will be responsible.

Senator Millen - The Government have no legal authority to question anybody else.

Senator SAYERS - Suppose the householder calls in his gardener and says, " I have to fill in this census-form, and want to know whether you are a total abstainer?"

Senator Findley - He will supply a card to the gardener, who will fill in the information himself.

Senator St Ledger - Where do the Government derive their authority to do that?

Senator Findley - From the Census Act.

Senator SAYERS - That is a very cumbersome method, and I do not think it will work. The householder is the only person who can be held responsible, unless the Government send round a whole army of people to obtain answers. The householder, therefore, will call in John, the gardener, and ask him whether he is a total abstainer. If the master of the house is inclined that way; John will, perhaps, say " Yes." All the maids in the house will do the same. But in reality they may not be total abstainers. What will be the use of information of that kind? I wish it to be understood that I do not object to such information being obtained if it is reliable. The questions are somewhat inquisitorial, but my chief objection is not on that ground. I am perfectly satisfied that the information obtained will be totally unreliable. So many thousands of people declare that they are total abstainers, but they may be nothing of the kind.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator agrees with David, when he said, " All men are liars."

Senator SAYERS - Excepting the honorable senator, I believe David. The Vice-President of the Executive Council never told a lie in his life - and God forgive me for saying so ! I do not believe that the Government want to obtain inaccurate information. They want to get facts which can be depended upon. A man may have been a total abstainer twelve months ago, and may be so again next year, but he may be indulging in a little alcohol at the time the census is taken. There must be tens of thousands of instances of that kind, all of which will go to render the information obtained fallacious.

Senator McGregor - What then is the good of asking a man whether he is married or single? He may be single to-day, and, married next week.

Senator SAYERS - We want to know the total number of married people in the Commonwealth on census-day.

Senator McGregor - In the same way we want to know the number of total abstainers on census-day.

Senator SAYERS - But my point is that we shall not be able to depend upon the information obtained. A man who had no liquor on census-day might truthfully state that he had been an abstainer on that day, but, at the same time, he might be found drunk in the gutter next week. Do the Government really think that they are going to get these questions answered in the way we want them answered ?

Senator Findley - We believe we can.

Senator SAYERS - Then my honorable friend is a little more simple than I took him to be. I do not believe that, in his heart, he believes that the Government will be able to get true replies. Whether they think so or not, I assure them that they will not do so. I have heard this matter discussed by scores of people, all of whom have said, " What has it to do with the Government whether we are total abstainers or not?" Suppose a man said that he was a total abstainer, and was found drunk the day after the Census was taken. What could the Government do to him?

Senator McGregor - Nothing.

Senator SAYERS - There is no punishment for giving an untrue answer to a question of this kind.

Senator Findley - What would a man have to gain by telling a deliberate untruth ?

Senator SAYERS - Human nature is so constituted that people do not like their private affairs to be inquired into by a Government. Already there is an outcry against these questions. Hundreds of people say that they are ridiculous. When public opinion is against a project of this kind, people will find some way of evading the questions. I have known people who objected to stating on the census-paper whether they were members of the Church of England, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, or members of any other religion. I have known people to give the answer, " No religion," simply as a matter of bravado. They cannot be punished for doing so.

Senator McGregor - Does the honorable senator think that there are many people who will deny their religion?

Senator SAYERS - People object to answering these questions, because they think they are inquisitorial.

Senator Givens - It is not the business of the State to inquire what anybody's religion is.

Senator SAYERS - These questions almost invite untrue answers. I am satisfied that thousands of wrong replies will be given. No doubt the people who influenced the Minister of Home Affairs to place on the census-paper the question regarding total abstinence are serious and honest, but I beg leave to tell them that the information which they will obtain willbe totally worthless. I hope, even at this stage, that the Government will see their way to leave these extra questions off the paper.

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