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Friday, 8 May 1914

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member will not be in order in reading the extract.

Mr. TUDOR.Very well, sir. The newspaper paragraph is to the effect that the Federal Ministry have refused to renew bills to the Western Australian Government to the extent of ?200,000. I desire to ask whether that statement is correct; and, if so, whether the fact that the two Ministries concerned happen to be of a different political colour has anything to do with the refusal?

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK. I saw the statement in the newspaper this morning. It is in no sense true that the political colour of the Ministry has anything to do with the decision. The same intimation has been sent to the rest of the States. The whole point is that we want the money for our own requirements. Western Australia is being treated in the same way as is every other State to which we have loaned money.

The point is that the previous Administration, led by Mr. Fisher, found it to be most profitable to the people's bank to lend these moneys to the different State Governments. When the Commonwealth Government lent these moneys to the State Governments private banking institutions in Australia were restricted to that extent in their operations as money-lenders, and were deprived of perquisites in the way of brokerage, and extravagant interest on such transactions, which had formed a considerable portion of their profits every year. These supporters of our friends opposite, being largely interested in these banking institutions, naturally claimed that the present Government should take no action calculated to conflict with their interests. I am not blaming our honorable friends opposite in this matter, because it was a perfectly natural course for them to follow ; but I say that their action in this connexion was calculated to undermine this Commonwealth institution which means so much to the people of Australia, and which, in the course of ten or twelve years, will be found of very great benefit to the Commonwealth.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.80p.m.

Senator LONG - When the sitting was suspended for lunch I was dealing with the attempt of the present Government to render as inefficient as possible the action of the previous Government in establishing the Commonwealth Bank and its note issue, and pointing out that they have sent a general intimation to the State Treasurers that they intend to call in all the moneys lent to them by the Fisher Government, a transaction which resulted in the Commonwealth revenue benefiting to the extent of £340,000 a year. Whether the Prime Minister on that occasion spoke hastily or not I do not know, but no attempt has yet been made by him to correct the statement I quoted a little while ago in answer to a question submitted to him by Mr. Tudor. On the contrary, I have noticed that the Treasurer, speaking at different centres, has in a great measure offered confirmation of the statement of the Prime Minister to Mr. Tudor,, that it was the intention of the Govern ment not to renew the Treasury-bills to the State Governments. If honorable senators will reflect for a moment they will realize that this is a matter of very considerable importance to the State Governments, who found the financial assistance obtained from the Commonwealth Government under Mr. Fisher to be very useful and very valuable, because the sudden withdrawal of these large sums from the various States will cause their Treasurers no little embarrassment. If honorable senators will refer to the table prepared by the late Treasurer, showing the financial policy of the Commonwealth under his administration, and the various investments made from the Notes Trust Fund and the General Trust Fund, they will find that the State Governments were under a very considerable obligation to him for his prompt assistance, and the very inexpensive manner in which the moneys were transferred. A reference to the table will show that from the Australian Notes Fund there was advanced to the various States £5,795,000, from which the Commonwealth is receiving an annual revenue of £207,350, and from the General Trust Fund £3,697,206, which yields an annual interest of £132,751, making a total revenue of £340,101 per annum from Mr. Fisher's investments. It is obvious that that very large sum represents to the people of the Commonwealth this important fact, that under the Fisher Administration the Federal Parliament with all its expensive paraphernalia did not cost the taxpayers a single penny. Again, that large amount of interest goes to prove the further assertion that the Commonwealth Treasury had made incursions into the financial domain that meant very considerably less revenue to the private financiers and the banking institutions of Australia. I suppose it is to be expected that this institution, which has accomplished, and is accomplishing, so much, and which is capable of accomplishing so much more in the interests of the people of Australia, is not going to receive any encouragement at the hands of the present Ministers. Leaving that question, I come to the other questions which the Government and their hired press say are the questions of the moment. In my opinion the two test Bills are to be brought forward to cover up the incapacity and the insincerity of the Government. In this connexion I wish to call public attention to the absolute indecency with which the Ministers and some of their followers, or slaves, whichever you like, use the name of the Governor-General. They talk on the platform as if they had the Governor-General in their pocket; that they have only to make an application on these paltry, trivial measures, in which no national principle is involved, and the Governor-General will grant them a double dissolution. We have all had considerable experience of the tact and the ability of ' the GovernorGeneral who is leaving Australia. We have ample confidence that his common sense and judgment would have dealt in a practical and constitutional way with these Bills, if submitted to him, accompanied by an application for a double dissolution. We know nothing of the gentleman who is succeeding him, beyond the fact that he is a man of very wide parliamentary experience, and is credited with possessing sound common sense. That being so, I have no hesitation in saying that when these Bills are presented, if they are ever presented, to that gentleman, he will apply the only test which, in my opinion, a common-sense man would apply to them, and that is the test of importance. If that test is applied, an application by the present Government for a dissolution of the House which represents the interests of the States will receive a very short shrift indeed. Dealing with the question of preference to unionists, I consider that the attempt contained in the Government's Bill is only in harmony with the general conduct of Ministers in dealing with big questions. From my point of view, there is really no principle involved in the Government Preference Prohibition Bill, because, after all, it can affect only 3,000 temporary employes in the Federal Service. If that is the desire of tlie Government, it can be well accomplished by an Executive act. It is competent for a Minister to say by minute that there shall be no preference shown to unionists in his Department, and that is an end of the matter, no legislation on the subject being needed. We find now the same lack of courage that the Government have always exhibited when approaching this question. They dare not approach the broad prin ciple of preference to unionists throughout Australia. They dare not tackle the organizations that are strong enough to protect themselves, but they simply put forward this prohibition of preference to unionists in the Commonwealth Service in order that the public may say that the Government are intensely anxious to give absolute freedom of employment to every member of the community. Nothing could be further from the truth. I remember seeing in the Bulletin a cartoon which, no doubt, honorable senators remember very well. It portrayed two portly, and apparently wealthy, gentlemen discussing the advent of the Labour Government to power, and reviewing also the constant statements by the Liberal press that the Government were indulging in the policy of spoils to the victors. One gentleman said to the other that such a thing was a travesty upon responsible government, and no civilized community ought to tolerate it. Turning round to his friend, he said, "You know, Charles, it is a good thing we got our boys into the Commonwealth Service before these Labour men got into power." Probably that is the view which the present Ministry will take of employment in the Commonwealth Service so far as the regulations will permit them. I want to show, further, the absolute hypocrisy behind the Government's claim in connexion with this measure of the need for legislative action. We have an Arbitration Court under the jurisdiction of Mr. Justice Higgins, who is, I understand, now going on a very well-earned holiday. During the existence of the Court, numerous questions have come before His Honour for adjudication; and, among them, claims by several organizations for preference to unionists. In the case of probably the two unions best able to force their demands in this connexion, the Judge, in his wisdom, refused to grant preference to unionists.

Senator Oakes - What unions were those ?

Senator LONG - The Seamen's Union and the Australian Workers Union. I point to these unions because they are, without question, the two strongest industrial organizations in Australia. Notwithstanding the fact that, in the case of one union, 98 per cent, of the men employed in the industry were members of that organization, the Judge declined to grant preference to unionists. I ask my honorable friends opposite what greater protection can they desire in regard to preference to unionists than is given by the very wide discretion enjoyed by the President of the Arbitration Court to-day. I want, if they will permit me, to read the dictum of the Judge when replying to the application of the Australian Workers Union -

There is a separate application for preference for members of the claimant organization. In my opinion, I have power to grant such an application, even though preference was not a subject of dispute (sec. 40) ; but in this case I am not satisfied that it is necessary to order preference at present. Circumstances may possibly arise in which such an order may become necessary, and my refusal is without prejudice to any future application.

Can we imagine a more common:sense view of an application of the character made by the Australian Workers Union than which was ascertained by the President of the Court? Coming to the Federated Seamen's Union we find that a similar application for preference to its members was made to Mr. Justice Higgins. In declining to grant that application, Mr. Justice Higgins said -

T am asked, under section 40, to direct that, as between members of the claimant organization and other persons desiring employment at the same time, preference shall be given to such members, other things being equal. There is really no evidence in support of this claim except that about 98 per cent, of the seamen are members of the organization; and that fact seems to be rather a reason for saying that the order is unnecessary than for saying that it is essential. It is urged that without unions there could be no industrial agreements or awards - no means of settling disputes - and this is very true. It is also urged that the unionist bears the expense and worry of arbitration and of negotiations, and that the non-unionist bears no expense, often enables the employer to beat down the unionists, and yet gets the benefit of any advance in wages that the unionists gain. And there is much truth in this also. But it does not follow that an order for preference is a fit remedy. I desire to confine my remarks to the case actually before me; but, to my mind, a claimant ought to make out a very strong case before the Court should fetter the discretion of the employer in selecting his employes. The order should be shown to be clearly necessary in order to secure fair conditions for the men. Much depends on the meaning of " other things being equal." Does this refer merely to sobriety and skill, or does it also include the personal likes and dislikes of the employer (or his manager) ? If the latter, the order would seem to be useless for the protection of the unionists.

In a provisional agreement made on the 31st December last, the employers consented to concede preference until the award should come

Senator Long.into force. The agreement was made to avoid a stoppage of work which was imminent, and on my distinct assurance to the employers that any concession made by them for the time being would not prejudice their position on the discussion of the merits of the claim for arbitration. I have found that the dread lest a provisional concession should be treated as an admission is often an obstacle when I try to get a temporary arrangement to tide over a crisis before arbitration; and yet such arrangements are eminently useful to all parties, because they enable the employer to carry on the business pending the award. I hope that this dread will be no longer entertained now that it is seen that I have not adopted the clause in the provisional agreement for preference, and have considered the subject as if the agreement had not been made. I propose to say that the Court does not see fit to grant any order for preference to members of the organization at this stage; but the refusal is without prejudice to any application that may hereafter be made on other materials; and to preface the words by a statement to which the respondents consent, in pursuance of certain correspondence in February, 1909.

That is the manner in which the President of the Arbitration Court disposed of the claims of two of the most militant industrial organizations in Australia, and his decision provoked nothing but absolute obedience on the part of the unions concerned. In my opinion it is a splendid thing that he should have such discretionary power. What better protection can my honorable friends opposite desire than that the granting of preference to unionists should be in the hands of a Judge- of the Arbitration Court, who is clothed with ample power to grant it or refuse it as the case may be? I know that the unionists throughout Australia pay very little attention to this so-called Government Preference Prohibition Bill. They regard it as something to talk about5 as so much insincerity, and so much sham and fraud. They recognise that there is nothing in it, that nothing is meant by it, and that the Government have not the courage or the capacity to attack the great principle of unionism throughout Australia. At the last general election one of the principal cries of the Liberal party in country electorates was that the rural workers' log was an iniquity, and that, as soon as they were returned to power, their first act on behalf of the producers, of the men on the land, and the bone and sinew of the country, would be to exclude the rural workers from the operation of the Arbitration Act. Have they taken any step in that direction yet? Do they propose to make a move ?

Senator O'Keefe - T - They propose to move later on.

Senator LONG - A Liberal member of this Parliament, in conversation with a Minister the other day, inquiried when the Government were going to bring forward their policy providing for the exclusion of rural workers from the Arbitration Act. The reply of the Minister was, "I cannot say when you will have it, but you will have it, on my word of honour as a poli1tician and a gentleman." "Yes," retorted the member; " that is all right. But when are we going to get that policy?" Thereupon the Minister, who is a bit of a wag, replied, " I told you a moment ago that I was a politician. I am not a prophet." If there is one section of the industrial community which is entitled to protection at the hands of this or of the State Parliaments, it is surely the sweated workers who are engaged in the . rural industries of Australia. I speak with some knowledge and experience of the conditions which obtain in my own State. I am satisfied that, low as wages may be in other industries in that State, they are not half as low as they are in the rural industries. Would honorable senators believe that we have men in Tasmania who have families to support and who are earning the miserable wage of 12/6 per week?

Senator Ready - And who live upon ram-stag mutton and post-and-rail tea !

Senator LONG - Yes, and also black sugar, the use of which would impair the constitution of the most robust rabbit in the district. The rural workers of Australia are the most sweated and defenceless section of the community, and yet this courageous Liberal party has avowed its intention of removing from the Arbitration Act whatever possibility of securing protection they now enjoy.

Senator O'Keefe - T - The honorable senator forgets that if they catch rabbits they have to give the bosses the skins.

Senator LONG - That is fairly well known. I know a big wealthy landowner in the northern part of Tasmania who advertised for a handy man. In response to that advertisement, one man attended whose appearance suited the squire. Having been told that the wages would be 15s. per week, this man inquired, "What shall I be called upon to do?" The reply was, " You will have to do the ploughing, look after the horses, chop the wood, feed the pigs, attend to the cows, go to the post-office, and do all other messages." Then the prospective employe asked, "What is the nature of the soil round here?" " Oh, that is all right, but it has nothing to do with you," replied the employer. Thereupon the man said, " It will have a good deal to do with me if I take this position, because if the soil is of a clayey nature I might be able to make bricks in my spare time." Notwithstanding tlie public declaration of this great Liberal party, which stands for justice to every section of the community, and which, nevertheless, desires to deprive the rural workers of the little protection they enjoy at present, nothing has yet been done to give effect to the promises which it made to the people at the last election.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Government have not had time to do anything yet.

Senator LONG - Possibly, if they remain in office during the next six or seven months, they will make a spasmodic effort to satisfy those who sent them here - who worked hard for them, and subscribed large sums of money for campaigning purposes - that they are in earnest in the matter to which I have just referred.

Senator Senior - They will refer it to> the Inter-State Commission.

Senator LONG - All the credit con- nected with the appointment of that very capable body belongs to their predecessors in office. Those gentlemen who were always asking for a greater measure of protection, and for investigation into the condition of the industries with which they are connected, are now getting more investigation than they thought they were likely to get, before that Commission was appointed. The chances are that if the commercial community to-day were afforded the opportunity, they would vote very solidly for the abolition of the InterState Commission. That body has done good work, and is capable of doing still better.

Senator O'Keefe - T - They would vote to take the Tariff question out of its hands.

Senator LONG - The reference of that question to the Inter-State Commission was one way of passing on the investigation of a very intricate subject to a specially-qualified tribunal.

Senator Findley - Whatever the recommendations of the Inter- State

Commission may be, the question of Tariff reform will still remain in the hands of this Parliament.

Senator LONG - Of course, the recommendations of the Inter-State Commission will be subordinate to any action which this Parliament may take. But all the preliminary investigation is in the hands of the Inter-State Commission. There is one objectionable feature connected with the labours of that body which, to my mind, ought to be remedied. No official report is taken of the evidence given before it. The Commissioners- highly-skilled men though they may be - are bound to rely upon their notes to guide them in coming to a decision in respect of the numerous applications which are made to them.

Senator Guthrie - Why should not an official report of the evidence taken before that body be laid before Parliament ?

Senator LONG - It is most desirable that a verbatim report should be taken of the evidence given before the Commission, and made available to members of both Houses. The other test measure, the Postal Voting Restoration Bill, has been dealt with very exhaustively by members on both sides in another place this session, and by honorable senators on this side last session. The leader of our party has already effectively shown that we are favorable to any system that will be free from corruption, while enabling the sick and infirm to cast their votes at Federal elections. We submitted last session a proposal which we felt would meet all the necessities of the case. If the Government know a better way, let us have it. We undertake to give it the fullest and most careful consideration. It was their own party in Queensland State politics that repealed the postal vote, condemning it year in and year out, but whether the present Ministerial party in this Parliament condemn it or condone it, the fact remains that some provision will have to be made under proper supervision to enable the sick and infirm to record their votes. Senator Pearce, last session, put forward a very comprehensive and complete scheme, but it received very short shrift from the Government in another place. It did not receive the consideration to which it was entitled at the hands of men who claim to be fairminded, and to be anxious to find a solution for this problem, which so vitally affects a great many electors of the Commonwealth. Senator Pearce's scheme was disposed of briefly because it was considered by the Government to be much too cumbersome. They said it would mean the appointment of an army of presiding officers or travelling officials, yet a few weeks before the Acting Minister of Home Affairs had brought in an amending Electoral Bill to provide for the appointment of no fewer than 3,000 assistant presiding officers and poll clerks.

Senator Guthrie - At a cost of ?35,000 !

Senator LONG - No; the honorable senator is confusing that Bill with the present proposal of the Government to appoint seventy Divisional Returning Officers only. To avoid laying myself open to the charge of misquoting, I propose to read the Minister's actual words as recorded in Hansard. On 16th September, 1913, it is reported that, while Mr. Kelly was moving the second reading of the Bill, Mr. Burns asked -

Will the Government make provision for appointing more presiding officers T

Mr. Kelly'sreply was as follows:" ;

Of course we shall. The main trouble and difficulty will be in the administration; but the administrative officers do not shrink from any trouble and difficulty that will give us a secure and pure electoral system.

We indorse that absolutely -

In 4,000 polling places, at present, there are no assistant presiding officers at all. These are the country places, where not many votes are cast, and there will be plenty of time for devoting the little extra trouble which the new system will entail. But we shall require an additional 1,500 assistant presiding officers and 1,500 poll clerks.

That means an addition to the existing staff who are responsible for the conduct of Federal elections -

Those officers oan be provided, and will be provided. It is desirable that they should be provided, in order to obtain the additional security which we shall get if this Bill becomes law.

As a matter of fact, that embodies the very amendment which was submitted by Senator Pearce to the Postal Voting Restoration Bill when it was presented to this Chamber last session. If the Government were sincere in their desire to find a fair, just, and impartial solution of the question, they might well have adopted our proposals in that direction, or, at least, have given them the consideration to which their importance entitled them. At this stage I might be allowed to revert for a moment to a matter affecting the rural workers' log. Mr. Patten, a prominent member of the Liberal party in another place, made a public declaration last session that the workers' log as put forward by the Rural Workers Association was lower than the rates being paid by the rural employers in his district in New South Wales, and in many other places. That statement has quite possibly taken away some of the sting of the charge made by the present Government and their followers that the log makes an exorbitant demand on the producers of this country.

Senator Ready - They are paying ls. 1½d. per hour up at Mildura, and make no complaint about it.

Senator LONG - Hear, hear ! I regret that I forgot to mention this matter in its proper order, but its importance warrants me in quoting, from Hansard of last session, Mr. Patten's actual words, as follow : -

I know there are certain remarks I shall hear. There are gags trotted out from Cape York to the south such as " too well off," or " out for cheap labour," and that sort of thing. But I would draw the attention of the honorable member to the fact that, to-day, in the rural districts of Australia, in a great many instances we are paying more than the claim set out in the log of the Rural Workers Union. And I want further to say that those wages were paid months before that log appeared in print.

A statement of that kind, coming from a candid man like Mr. Patten, who is, no doubt, a fair employer, has taken the sting out of the assertions of the Government regarding the exorbitancy of the demands made by the rural workers. I want to compliment the people of Australia on having so successfully passed through the searching ordeal of investigation regarding electoral irregularities, to which they were recently subjected by the Government by means of inquiries by private detectives and officials; and, in fact, by every method which the Government could command to unearth fraudulent practices and corruption. Unfounded charges against the people of Australia were levelled by Ministers from one end of the continent to the other, and that is why I am complimenting the people on having come through the ordeal with their character as Australian citizens unsullied. It is, perhaps, too much to hope that those who were responsible for the slanders will take the first opportunity to withdraw them publicly, and admit "like men that the statements they made were, if not untrue, certainly unfounded. To make a statement to-day and correct it tomorrow if it is found to be untrue is the act of an honest man, because it is simply to admit that he is wiser to-day than he was yesterday. Honorable senators on this side of the House have accused the "Vice-President of the Executive Council of making these serious charges, and have confronted him with them, and with the disproof of them ; but all they could extract from the Minister was a smile, or more often a sneer.

Senator McColl - I never sneered, and never smiled, and everything I said was absolutely true.

Senator LONG - The honorable senator still sticks to his statements, although the expert testimony of officials of the Electoral and Police Departments has proved that no such thing as duplication, fraud, personation, or corruption was perpetrated throughout the length and breadth of Australia.

Senator McColl - I swore it on oath before the Royal Commission.

Senator LONG - The honorable senator only did so with a good deal of qualification.

Senator McColl - No qualification at all.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - From the day he made his statement, until yesterday, the officials have- been denying it.

Senator LONG - They will continue to do so until the Minister does the proper and correct thing by admitting his error.

Senator McColl - I cannot, when there is no error.

Senator LONG - I am glad to believe that the Minister is quite wrong. I have too much faith and confidence in the electors of Australia to believe that they would stoop to anything in the nature of the practices with which the honorable senator has charged them.

Senator Oakes - You said that corrupt practices had been indulged in by the people under the postal-voting system. What becomes of your faith and confidence in the electors of Australia in that case?

Senator LONG - The first Government in Australia to introduce the postal vote was the Queensland Government, and. the first Government to secure its abolition was the same Government.

Senator Oakes - What was the reason ? Was it not abuses of the system ?

Senator LONG - It was because, as Mr. Kidston said, the system lent itself so readily to corrupt practices.

Senator Oakes - Then what about your faith in the people of Australia in that case?

Senator LONG - That is ancient history, and has nothing to do with Federal elections. I was in New South Wales when the last State elections were being held. I discussed the matter of the elections at a hotel in that State with several girls who were waiting on the table. They asked whether it was a Federal election, and I explained that it was a State election. Then they said, " Oh, we like the Federal elections best." I was bound to inquire why, and they replied, "You can get a postal vote, and you need not bother going to a polling booth; and you know we always get £1 for our vote."

Senator Oakes - The honorable senator should have got that statement on oath.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Is this a fairy tale?

Senator LONG - No ; I give honorable senators my word of honour that that conversation took place in a hotel in Moree, New South Wales. I have to deal now with another matter of considerable importance to Australia, 'and that is the determination of the present Government to invert from the well-established and welltried principle of day labour to that of contract labour in the .construction of public works. I honestly believe that to be a retrograde step. Its only result will be the aggrandizement of a number of contractors throughout the country. It may not surprise honorable senators, because their experience may be similar to mine, when I tell them that every little tin-pot bit of work that requires to be done for the Commonwealth in tlie city of Hobart is now being let by contract. Carpenters, married men with families, have been dismissed from their work; the plant which the Commonwealth Government acquired two or three years ago has been stacked, and the money it represents is earning nothing. Weeks are allowed to elapse while some tin-pot little job is being let to a contractor. -It may have been brought under the notice of other honorable senators that in other capital cities in Australia the contract system is being introduced by the present Government in this quiet and insidious way. For some years we had a Liberal Government in power in Tasmania, but, thank goodness, their career has been terminated, and there is now a Labour Government there. During the last twelve years, since I have taken an active interest in politics, and in the development of the State, railways and all other important public works in Tasmania have been carried out on the day-labour principle. During the time I was a member of the State Parliament, the Tasmanian Government built three railways, and there are two more now in course of construction; and all these lines have been carried out on the day-labour principle. The experience of Queensland in this direction has been brought under the notice of the Government time and again in this chamber and in another place. It has been shown that in railway construction in that State over a period of ten years there has been an aggregate saving to the people of no less than £4,000,000 6y the adoption of the daylabour principle.

Senator McColl - Mr. Bell does not say so.

Senator LONG - I can quote a better authority than Mr. Bell, namely, the Queensland Minister of Works.

Senator McColl - Mr. Bell had charge of the work.

Senator LONG - Mr. Bell, no doubt, is a very capable man, and was for some time associated with the construction of public works in Queensland ; but I may be allowed to remind the Vice-President of the Executive Council that a deputation of contractors and builders waited on the Minister of Works in Queensland, and requested him to revert to the contract system, and he absolutely refused to do so.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The poor starving contractors were turned down.

Senator LONG - It was not a question of turning down the contractors. The Queensland Minister of Works realized that he was, for the time being, the custodian of the people's interests, and that, whether he was in favour of the contract ° system or the day-labour system, that which was most economical should be adopted in the interests of the people. He took the action he did with some little reluctance, I admit, because he told the deputation that he was in strong sympathy with them, but that the facts were against them. Coming to Victoria, it will be found that a similar experience has followed in that State the adoption of the day-labour principle; and, as compared with the construction of public works under the contract system, it has led to the saving of the funds of the people. If there is one act for which the Government are responsible, which, more than another, is calculated to come into conflict with the general interests of the community, it is their reversion from the day-labour principle to the contract system. I come now to a question that is seriously agitating the public mind; I refer to the Teesdale Smith contract. My chief quarrel with the Government in connexion with the matter is this: Officials may make mistakes, and a Minister may make a mistake ; but it is surely their bounden duty, when they have done so, to admit it. When a Minister has approved of a certain system or undertaking, surely, if he is not lost altogether to a sense of self-respect, he should accept responsibility for it.

Senator Needham - He should not hide himself behind his officers.

Senator LONG - In this case we have had the spectacle presented time after time of the Honorary Minister and of the Minister of Home Affairs himself, Mr. Joseph Cook, throwing the whole of the responsibility for this blunder upon officials who have no opportunity to defend themselves either in another place or in this chamber.

Senator Oakes - I do not think the honorable senator is doing the Minister justice. I think that Senator Millen admitted that he took the full responsibility of it.

Senator LONG - I agree that in this Chamber Senator Millen threw himself upon the mercy of honorable senators on this side, and accepted the responsibility on behalf of the Government; but Senator Oakes must be aware that neither the Prime Minister nor the Honorary Minister was so chivalrous in another place.

Senator Oakes - I was under the impression that Mr. Kelly made a perfectly frank admission of his responsibility.

Senator LONG - What was the honorable gentleman's clear and bounden duty if he had done something contrary to the interests of the country? What did Colonel Seely do when his action as a responsible Minister was questioned ? We know that he ceased to be a Minister of the Crown. Eather than throw the responsibility upon officials of his Depart-, ment whose action he approved, the Honorary Minister should have done the same thing; but Colonel Seely's was too high an example for him to follow.

Senator Lt Colonel O'Loghlin - H - He took refuge in the statement that the officials were appointed by the Labour Government.

Senator LONG - Any paltry excuse at all, and any course but the right one, was good enough for Mr. Kelly. The right thing for the honorable gentleman to do was to stand by the officials who advised him all through the piece. Coming to the contract itself, I want to make an offer to the Government, and I wish the member of the Government present to mark down the day and date. I am prepared to give the name of a responsible firm that will be willing and glad to undertake 40 or 50 miles of con- struction on that line,0 in similar country to that in which Mr. Teesdale Smith is working, for 4s. 6d. a cubic yard, and to ask for no payment for embankments made with the spoil from the excavations. If the Government are sincere in the statements they have made, and in the defence which Senator Millen offered last night for this contract, they will accept the offer of this responsible and reputable firm. Our hearts went out to the Minister of Defence last night while we listened to him defending this wretched little contract, which is the rottenest contract the Commonwealth Government has ever been committed to. Although it was a duty cast upon him as a loyal colleague, the honorable senator knew, as we know, that the facts were against him, and that the whole business is reeking with discredit to his colleagues and to the present Government. I am satisfied that Ministers are not looking for cheap work. They would sooner pay 8s. a cubic yard than 4s. 6d. for this work. If they want this work done cheaply and expeditiously, there is a firm waiting to take a contract for 50 miles of the work in similar country to that in which Mr.

Teesdale Smith is carrying out his contract, at 4s. 6d. a cubic yard, without payment for the embankments.

Senator O'Keefe - I - I notice that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has not taken a note of that offer.

Senator McColl - I have, a mental note of it, and will duly convey it to the Minister in charge of the Department concerned.

Senator LONG - I feel that I have detained honorable senators long enough, but there is another matter to which I wish to refer. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, may say that it is a pet subject of mine, and one on which I am continually harping, but I cannot resume my seat without calling attention to the apathy shown by the Government to the repeated requests of the people of King Island for better means of communication with the mainland or Tasmania. For the last twelve months we have been hammering at the doors of the Government, hoping to induce them to favorably consider this request. "We understood that the difficulty was that the cost of the wireless station already erected there was prohibitive, because a sufficiently powerful wireless station might be erected on the island for less than half the sum asked by those who have erected the station already there. But this difficulty has been removed, because, although the existing station cost something like £3,000 to erect, it has been under offer to the Government for some little time for £1,250. All excuses should disappear, all obstacles should be removed, when the people who own this station, which is in good working order, are prepared to let the Government have it for £1,250. Yesterday, the Vice-President of the Executive Council stated in an emphatic manner that it was not their intention to utilize the plant on that station. Why? Will it interest honorable senators to know that Father Shaw, one of Australia's scientists, is concerned in that work? Will it interest honorable senators to know that the Shaw wireless works at Randwick, in New South Wales, that made complete equipments for the Commonwealth under the" Labour Government, have not done six pennyworth of work for the present Government ? Will it interest honorable senators to know that the company which is managed by Father Shaw, has imported special machinery, at great cost, to do this class of work?

Senator McGregor - It is a purely Australian concern.

Senator LONG - It is a purely Australian concern, which employs something like180 young Australians, and halfadozen skilled officials who have been imported from America, England, and elsewhere to supervise. The training in electrical engineering and radio-telegraphy which these 180 young Australians receive at the works, honorable senators must admit, will be absolutely invaluable to this country in time to come. The company has not received six pennyworth of work from the present Government.

Senator Oakes - Can you supply the reason ?

Senator LONG - One moment. The company has £4,000 or £5,000 worth of motors incomplete, and is not able to complete them until it gets some money. The . Commonwealth Government have owed the company £4,000 for nearly six months, and the company cannot get it. Has the boycott of the Government in relation to these works at Randwick anything to do with the purchase of the wireless station at King Island? It appears to me that there is some connexion between the two things. The payment of the £4,000 has been approved, yet this struggling company cannot get it. If the representatives of New South Wales go out to the works at Randwick to-morrow, they will find that the company cannot obtain payment for work and labour done for the Commonwealth, although the money has been owing for nearly six months. It is absolutely disgraceful.

Senator Rae - Are any reasons or excuses given for non-payment, do you know?

Senator LONG - Simply none. Of course there are the big companies operating - I refer to the Australian Company, the Marconi Company, and the Telefunken Company. Some statements have been made to the effect that the Commonwealth Government have been overcharged for certain works.

Senator Oakes - By whom?

Senator LONG - By the Shaw Wireless Company. The answer to that allegation is that the cost of manufacture in Australia is considerably higher than the cost of the imported article, because the company had to import special machinery to fulfil the orders from the Commonwealth. It must be remembered also that this question has been asked: " Bid not the Labour Government let contracts for wireless without calling for tenders?" There was no other company in Australia capable of undertaking the work. The only company that was capable of undertaking this special class of work, was the one which had erected a special plant at great cost at Randwick to carry out Commonwealth work. Therefore, there could be nothing improper in the Labour Government entering into negotiations with the company.

Senator Oakes - Are we right in inferring that the Shaw Wireless Company got work from the Federal Government hecause there was no competition, that it was the only company of the kind, and that now other companies are competing against it?

Senator LONG - There is no other company or firm that can compete. The honorable senator must understand that the works at Randwick have completed, I think, seventeen wireless stations, throughout Australia for the Federal Government.

Senator McColl - Did you say that the company had been kept waiting twelve or six months for £4,000 ?

Senator LONG - The company has been waiting nearly six months for their money, and I shall be glad if the Minister will institute an inquiry. I have had some diffidence in mentioning this matter.

Senator McColl - I do not know why you should.

Senator LONG - Because I have had a. son employed in these works for eighteen mouths, and he is getting a very fine training indeed. "When I go there and notice the great number of young Australians receiving an excellent training, I cannot help but think what a great service they can render by-and-by in this particular science, and what a pity it will be if the works are allowed to go out. I am sure that Senator Rae will not twit me with interfering or poaching on his preserves, or with doing something which I, as a representative of Tasmania, ought not to do. He knows, I am sure, as well as I do, that our party is not regulated by geographical conditions or considerations, and that we are all equally anxious to call public attention to something which we believe to be wrong. I beg of the Minister to go into this question, and let us know whether there is any connexion between the station at King Island and the apparent boycott of the Shaw wireless works at Randwick. I ask him to consider the condition of the residents of King Island, to remove any prejudice he may have in this connexion, and to give those people the communication of which they are so badly in need, and for which they have applied so persistently and so long.

Senator McColl - I can assure the honorable senator that I will.

Senator LONG - I do not suggest that the honorable senator has any personal prejudice, but there is something wrong, and I sincerely hope that he will make an inquiry and get to the bottom of this matter. I remind him that yesterday afternoon he committed himself definitely to the statement that it was not proposed to utilize the station at King Island. I do not know whether he was then aware that the station was under offer to his Government at a very much reduced price. He may not have known that fact at the time, but I am in a position to tell him that the station has been under offer to the Government for some little time at £1,250.

Senator Guthrie - What did the Pennant Hills station cost ?

Senator LONG - Speaking from memory, I think it cost £22,000. I desire now to refer to the mail contract to which the Government have hitched my little State for seven years.

Senator Ready - The great betrayal!

Senator LONG - I think it is a be-' trayal. I consider it is unfair that Tasmania should be tied, so to speak, to the heels of a shipping combine for that long period.

Senator Guthrie - Senator demons said it was a good bargain.

Senator LONG - I do not remember what Senator demons said on the subject, hut, speaking vulgarly, I say it is a rotten bargain for our State. "We have now what is called the winter service. The wretched old Rotomahana has been put on once more. Passengors leave here by - her to-day, and God knows at what time to-morrow they will get to Launceston.

Senator Ready - If the engines.go they get through all right.

Senator LONG - Yea. That is the risk one has always to undergo in travelling on this old boat, which, as honorable senators must know, has been running for forty years.

Senator Guthrie - Hear, hear! A good old vessel.

Senator LONG - She has been, no doubt, a good vessel, and my honorable friend is welcome to her between Melbourne and Adelaide. I would admire her much more in the Adelaide trade than in the Launceston trade.

Senator Lynch - In the good old days she used to be the greyhound.

Senator LONG - Yes, and in the good old times people used to go to war in canoes. I suppose it is only like beating the air to call attention to this matter. It is too late to protest now that the Government have tied Tasmania up for seven years. "We shall have to pay toll, and submit to the exploitation of the shipping combine.

Senator Rae - "Will you tell us a few of the most objectionable features of the contract?

Senator LONG - The most objectionable feature is that the contract has been entered into for seven solid years, and there can be no variation of the terms and conditions until that period has elapsed. In the meantime the shipping companies can put up the fares and the freights, which they have done twice during the last three years.

Senator Rae - "Without limitation?

Senator LONG - Of course there is a limitation, but whatever the limitation is it rests entirely with the companies. We have to travel by the boats of the shipping combine, or swim.

Senator Rae - Have . the Government reserved no right to review the fares and freights?

Senator LONG - There is some little useless condition in that regard - " any- thing unreasonable " ; but who is to be the judge of unreasonableness? The shipping combine?

Senator McGregor - Could we not go by aeroplanes?

Senator LONG - Please God, we will do so very soon. I am not.- satisfied with the contract, and it is not to the credit of Tasmania's representatives in another place that the Government were permitted to perpetuate this injustice on our State.

Senator Ready - One of them could have held it up.

Senator LONG - I am sorry that the Minister of Defence is not in his place, but, of course, he cannot be in two or three places at one time. I regret very much that something in the way of justice has not been done to Captain Onslow, a very capable man, who was abruptly retired from the . position of second member of the NavalBoard, and who is compelled to leave this country almost in a condition of disgrace professionally. I understand that he will leave Australia in the course of a few days, with a good deal of regret, because he still feels that his knowledge and his experience would have been of considerable assistance in developing our naval scheme. He is leaving Australia very much heartbroken because of the treatment he received at the hands of this Government. If it should happen that the whirligig of time should bring a Labour Government into power within the next few months, I sincerely hope that an invitation will be sent to this highly capable officer to return to Australia and accept the position on the Naval Board which he did fill, and is capable of filling, with a great deal of distinction.

Debate (on motion by Senator Lynch) adjourned.

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