Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 13 December 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - It would be useless to protest against the action of the Government in refraining from divulging their policy even up to this late hour of the session. We have repeatedly protested, as. honorable senators on the other side have done when they were in Opposition, to the late period of the session at which the Estimates are submitted. This session they will probably be later than ever. We have over £20,000,000 of expenditure to deal with, and as so far one half of the money has been expended, we shall have practically no opportunity to discuss the financial proposals of the Government. As the Minister representing the Postmaster-General is in his place, I wish to ask what steps it is necessary for an honorable senator to take in order to secure a reply to a question which can be relied upon. On Thursday, 16th November, I asked the following questions upon notice -

1.   What steps have the Government taken in respect to wireless telegraphy in Queensland?

2.   What steps have been taken to select sites in Queensland ?

3.   Names of sites selected, if any?

To these questions, I got the following reply from the Honorary Minister, Senator Findley -

1.   A scheme of wireless telegraphy for the Commonwealth prepared by the Engineer for Radio-Telegraphy, which is now under consideration, makes provision for stations in Queensland.

2.   No steps have yet been taken to select the actual sites in Queensland.

3.   See answer to No. 2.

The Minister, in his reply, said that he expected that he would be able to make an announcement upon the subject within about a week. Since then, I have regularly asked the same question every week. I asked it on Friday last, and received the reply that the Minister had no more information. I asked the same question yesterday when the Senate met, and the reply I got was that there was no more information. About half-past 4 yesterday afternoon, I saw' from a statement appearing in the evening paper that the answer for which I was seeking was given in another place to a question asked by an honorable member, without notice. The question was asked there in the morning some hours before I asked the question of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General in this Senate. When I got his reply I was astounded. I went to see him on the matter, and he told me that he Had no other information. I have seen the PostmasterGeneral, and he distinctly states thathe never received any request. He told me that to-day. Are we in the Senate to put questions of great importance to our States and to have them shuffled over for three weeks, when an honorable member in another place can get up and ask the same question without notice, and receive a reply?

Senator Millen - How long is it since the honorable senator asked the question first?

Senator SAYERS - I asked it three weeks ago, on the 16th November. Every week since, I have repeated it. Yesterday, the answer for which I had been seeking was given to a similar question put in another place, without notice. I do not think that the members of the Senate should be treated by Ministers in that fashion. What the Minister of Defence told me yesterday the Postmaster-General distinctly denies today.

Senator Pearce - No, he does not.

Senator SAYERS - He did. I am prepared to go with the honorable senator to him, and I do not think he will back down before me.

Senator Story - Whom does the honorable senator suspect?

Senator SAYERS - It is between the Ministers concerned. Senator Pearce told me distinctly yesterday morning, in answer to my question, that he had no more information to give. The Postmaster-General told me that he had the information on last Friday.

Senator Pearce - Who had the information?

Senator SAYERS - The PostmasterGeneral had it.

Senator Pearce - I did not have it.

Senator SAYERS - The PostmasterGeneral said that he would have given the information on Friday in another place. He said he had had no request from the Senate - only on account of the House sitting continuously, he was not in a position to give it, and that he gave it on Tuesday as soon as he possibly could.

Senator St Ledger - We Had a halfholiday on Friday.

Senator SAYERS - I asked the question on Friday morning, and I asked it again this week as soon as the Senate met. I was met with the same reply, and, under our Standing Orders, honorable senators must accept the reply given by Ministers, and whether it is good, bad, or indifferent, we can make no comment upon it.

Senator Barker - It must have been indifferent this time.

Senator SAYERS - It was very indifferent, and it shows some neglect of duty somewhere. It is, I take it, the duty of the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral in the Senate, to answer properly questions respectfully put with respect to the work of that Department. I do not think that any one could cavil at the way in which I asked my question. I have asked very few questions during this session, not more, I think, than six. This is a question I was urged to ask, and there was no other way of getting the information, except through the representative of the Postmaster-General in the Senate. I have told the person who asked me to make the inquiry the answers I received, and what will now be my position?. It will be held that I did not ask the question properly, or that the Minister refused to give me an answer. To put myself on sure ground, I went to see the PostmasterGeneral this morning, and he distinctly told me that he did not know anything at all about the matter. Yet I was assured by the Minister of Defence that he had absolutely forwarded my question to the PostmasterGeneral.

Senator Pearce - That statement was absolutely correct, too.

Senator SAYERS - Then there must be a mistake somewhere. In future, when honorable senators ask questions of Ministers in a respectful way, I trust that they will not be put off for two or three weeks-

Senator Millen - Who asked the question elsewhere?

Senator SAYERS - Mr. Finlayson,, who had been absent in Brisbane for a fortnight. I suppose that while he was there he learned that I was being asked to obtain information upon this particular matter. Upon his return to this city he was able to walk into the other branch of the Legislature and obtain in a moment the information for which I had asked in vain.

Senator Millen - The Ministry give information to a political supporter which they deny to a political opponent.

Senator SAYERS - At what other conclusion can I arrive.

Senator Pearce - Did the PostmasterGeneral say he was not aware that the honorable senator had asked a question upon this matter three weeks ago?

Senator SAYERS - I do not know that' he said that. He could not look up the files.

Senator Pearce - As a matter of fact, the honorable senator knows that that could not be so, because the PostmasterGeneral supplied him with the answer to his previous question.

Senator SAYERS - The reply that was given to me yesterday was that no further information was available.

Senator Pearce - And it was absolutely correct, so far as I am concerned.

Senator SAYERS - Then who is to blame? This is a matter which interests every honorable senator, irrespective of the side of the Chamber upon which* he may sit. When honorable members seek information in reply- to a question placed upon the business-paper, that information should be forthcoming here before it is given elsewhere in answer to a question asked without notice. The Minister representing the Postmaster-General refused to give me information

Senator Pearce - That is not correct. I told the honorable senator that I had no information.

Senator SAYERS - But the information I desired had already been given in another place.

Senator Pearce - I was not aware of it.

Senator SAYERS -If the Minister had not the information he should have obtained it.

Senator Keating - As soon as it was available in the Department, it should have been forwarded to the Minister to supply to the honorable senator.

Senator SAYERS - According to the statement pf the Postmaster-General, it was available on Friday last, and if the Department had discharged its duty, I should not have been complaining to-day. I hope that in future, when questions are asked upon notice, some little attention will be paid to them.

Suggest corrections