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Thursday, 14 May 1914

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) . - I have, in ordinary circumstances, religiously refused to. take part in the debate on the AddressinReply, believing that it has often proved a great waste of time, and has seldom had any enlightening influence upon either the affairs of the country or the state of the House. My only excuse for rising in this instance is that I consider this one of the most extraordinary occasions, and one of the most extraordinary Addresses, that have been presented to us, particularly when the surrounding circumstances are taken into account. In the Speech the Governor-General is made to say that he has been practically compelled to call us together earlier than usual because it was thoughtunadvisable to have a long recess, owing to the Government having in view the expediting of the country's business. But when we read the Speech, apart from the business indicated in paragraph 2, we find really nothing in it that has any bearing on the expediting of the business of Parliament. Most of the Speech is devoted to something that has taken place between representatives of the Federal Government and representatives of the States; but we have been left in blissful ignorance, up to the present, of what that something really is. Later on the Government may be prepared to reveal to honorable senators what they intended to indicate by the paragraphs in the Speech referring to the Conference which has been held. When they have done so we shall be in a position to say whether the matter referred to in those paragraphs warranted the calling of Parliament together on the date on which it met. If there is any business for which the country is hungering and any particularly important legislation which the Government propose to submit, it is strange that it does not appear in the Governor-General's Speech.

Senator Blakey - The Government will announcetheir policy by-and-by.

Senator HENDERSON - They may; but I am very doubtful whether they have yet been able to agree to a policy. Possibly it is their inability to agree to a policy that has made the document presented to us from the GovernorGeneral on this occasion a very poor one indeed. .

Senator Guthrie - How can Senators Millen and McColl agree?

Senator HENDERSON - I do not know. They sit very closely together.

Senator Long - They are on borrowing terms now.

Senator HENDERSON - It is evident that they can agree upon one thing, at least, and that is to sit comfortably side by side so long as they enjoy their Ministerial position. Whether their agreement will carry them beyond that I am not prepared to say.

Senator Guthrie - One is a rabid Protectionist and the other a rabid Free Trader.

Senator Millen - Is Senator Guthrie referring to Senators Henderson and Pearce ?

Senator HENDERSON - I wish to refer to one or two matters that have arisen in the course of the debate. My main reason for taking part in the debate is that I desire to refer to the action of the Government in reversing all the arrangements made by the previous Government for the construction of the transcontinental railway. I wish, among other things, to refer to their substitution of the contract system for the day-labo.ur system in the construction of public works. I direct attention to the position indicated by an interjection I made when the Minister of Defence was replying to Senator Gardiner on the subject of the Teesdale Smith contract. Senator Gardiner, after having traversed the whole length of the section on which Mr. Teesdale. Smith has been carrying out this contract, made a very strong speech on the subject;

Senator Guthrie - Senator Gardiner went over the section on foot.

Senator HENDERSON - That is so. The Minister of Defence, in his reply to Senator Gardiner, endeavoured to cast some doubt upon the veracity of the statements made by the honorable senator in regard ito the nature of the country in which the contract is being carried out. For the information which he has submitted Senator Gardiner has earned the gratitude of honorable senators who have not had a similar opportunity to traverse the country. We have had reports submitted from time to time, and we know that this contract was let to Mr. Teesdale Smith under conditions such as I venture ito say have never before been associated with any contract let iri Australia. No body of sane men would let a contract under such conditions. The Minister of Defence said that Senator Gardiner inspected the section only after a certain amount of work had been completed, and he personally preferred the opinion of two of his officers as to the character of the country to that of Senator Gardiner. It is quite right that a Minister should be prepared to depend upon the opinion of his responsible officers, but as a hard-headed, practical man Senator Millen must admit that these officers made the greatest blunder that could be made in advising the Government to enter into a contract with a private contractor on a purely speculative basis. I say that it was upon a speculative basis, because members of' the Government and also their officers have confessed that they were absolutely ignorant of the nature of the country through .which the line was to go. That can be proved by reference to a- report received from Mr. Hobler after the con- tract had been let, and from which Senator Millen quoted in contradiction of the statement made by Senator Gardiner. After work under this contract had been commenced Mr. Hobler paid a visit ito the scene of operations, and he says that on the top at a certain place there was soft sand, but that underneath there was hard sandstone - disjointed, he calls it. I had an opportunity to inspect some of it today, and I am prepared to say that it is not at all disjointed. It is just about the finest-jointed stuff that I have seen in my life. It is so jointed that I question whether very much would require to be blasted at all. Most of it is in such a condition that it would be easy to pick it out even if one could not pick it out with his toe nails.

Senator Needham - Are not the arguments of the Ministry disjointed ?

Senator HENDERSON - They are more disjointed than is the country through which Mr. Teesdale Smith had to pass.

Senator Keating - Does the honorable senator say that he saw some of that country to-day?

Senator HENDERSON - Yes.

Senator Keating - How much of it? Did the honorable senator see sufficient of it to enable him to speak of the country ' generally ?

Senator HENDERSON - I am speaking of what I saw, and, as a practical man, I say that if that is the nature of the country covered by the Teesdale Smith contract it is a disgrace that the contract should have been let under such conditions.

Senator Keating - The question is, Did the honorable senator say just now that he had seen the country to which he refers as being disjointed, or did he see only a specimen of it ?

Senator HENDERSON - I saw a specimen of it, and I made that point quite clear. The honorable senator knew per.cisely what I was driving at, because he happened to be in very close proximity to me 'when I was looking at the specimen. I do not say that' Mr. Teesdale Smith's contract price was too high. That is a matter of total indifference to me. If he as a contractor could get £40,000 or £50;000 as the result of the blindness and imbecility of the Government and their officers more power to him. That would merely serve to show that he is much smarter than are the Government or their officials. I make no complaint in that respect. But I do complain that the Government should depend on the reports of their officers, who have done absolutely nothing to prove the nature of the country which Mr. Teesdale Smith had to traverse. There is no private individual in Australia or elsewhere who would have adopted the course of action which has been pursued by the Government. Having said so much in regard to the contract, I wish to add that, in my opinion, the Ministry in changing the policy which has been hitherto adopted in connexion with railway construction made a mistake. Certainly there is strong evidence in that direction, as was shown by Senator Needham last night. He proved conclusively that work of this character has always been carried out by day labour. Such undertakings have not only proved to be cheaper in the first instance, but they have undoubtedly been proved to be cheaper from the standpoint of maintenance. I remember when the present Prime Minister was advocating the system of day labour in connexion with all Government contracts.

Senator Guthrie - Never.

Senator HENDERSON - Never? Why he was one of the strongest advocates of day labour in connexion with Government works that ever stood on an Australian platform.

Senator Russell - Can the honorable senator tell us what he has not advocated ?

Senator HENDERSON - I cannot, because there is nothing in the political arena that he has not advocated at one time or another. He was a very staunch champion of the principle of day labour on Government works, and it must be said to his credit that he gave practical effect to that policy on the very first opportunity that presented itself to him after he became Postmaster-General in New South Wales.

Senator de Largie - That is a long time ago.

Senator HENDERSON - It is; but it lives in history. He knew that for almost twenty years prior to his occupancy of that position, the New South Wales Government had been paying about £3 10s. per foot for every foot of tunnelling done for them.

Senator Guthrie - And they were being beaten by the contractors.

Senator HENDERSON - Yes; but the moment Mr. Joseph Cook assumed the office of Postmaster-General he cut out the whole of the contracts and ordered that Government works should be carried out under the day-labour system. The result of this was that during the few years that he remained in the position of PostmasterGeneral he effected a saving of nearly £1 per foot in the matter of tunnelling for the Government of New South Wales. This is the Prime Minister who is now discarding the day-labour principle entirely. Having proved to his own satisfaction and to that of everybody concerned that the Government of that State were being robbed under the contract system, and that the work could be done more cheaply and show greater durability under the day-labour system; he now turns round and declares that he will go back to the old boodling system of contract, regardless of what may be the consequences. We now have a Government consisting of men determined to adopt a principle that has been proved reckless and bad ; and we have every cause to regard their acts with the greatest suspicion.

Senator Lynch - Did Mr. Cook abolish contracting entirely when PostmasterGeneral ?

Senator HENDERSON -He did; and he appointed as his superintendent under the day-labour system, a man whom I know very well, but whose name has escaped my memory.

Senator de Largie - Was that not about the time when Mr. Cook wished to abolish the position that Queen Victoria held ?

Senator HENDERSON - I think it was slightly later; while he was PostmasterGeneral he did not, so far as I know, say anything about abolishing the crowned head. The superintendent appointed by Mr. Cook came from Lithgow, and was regarded as a good man in connexion with municipal works; hence, I suppose, his selection. However, what I wish to deal with is the Teesdale Smith contract. At every step in the construction of the transcontinental railway cause is given for suspicion; and it is almost worth while suggesting that Parliament should meet from day to day near the work, so that we might be able to see for ourselves what is going on. Of course, Senator Millen declares that Mr. Deane was appointed by the Labour Govern- merit; and, thereby, he practically seeks to shirk the position. The Labour Government might have been responsible for that appointment.

Senator de Largie - That is not so ; Mr. Deane was Consulting EngineerinChief in 1908.

Senator Millen - He was appointed Engineer-in-Chief by the Labour Government.

Senator HENDERSON - I have a vivid recollection of the fact that the Fisher Government, when they came into power,found Mr. Deane as the advising, or consulting, engineer for the Federal Government.

Senator Millen - The Labour Government gave Mr. Deane his permanent appointment.

Senator HENDERSON - Probably the only thing that the Labour Government did, so far as Mr. Deane was concerned, was to ratify an appointment made some time before.

Senator Millen - The Labour Government gave Mr. Deane another appointment.

Senator HENDERSON - Mr. Deane was worth a permanent position or worth nothing at all; and, from my experience, I think the latter was the case. We are told that Mr. Deane has not been " sacked ", and that may be so, for the only men sacked by the present Government are those with brains, and capable of doing a good, honest day's -work; it is those who are not "worth their salt" who are called upon to resign.

Senator Russell - Is it a fact that the Government are going to "sack" "little Willie"?

Senator HENDERSON - Poor " little Willie " ! Probably the Government will ' sack ' ' him when they are done with him. I now desire to say a word or two as to the Government business that has been placed before us. That business, according to His Excellency's Speech, consists mainly of two Bills, one to prohibit preference, or favoritism, in Government employment; and the other to restore the electoral provisions for voting by post. Does it come well from a Government of Tories - so-called Liberals - this declaration that there shall be prohibition of preference, or favoritism, in Government employment? If we could for a moment dig up the history which those Tories have made and moulded - if we could know the particulars of the appointment of every public servant in every State, and in the Commonwealth, many of whom occupy high and honorable positions, and trace their relationships and connexions - what a horrid mess there would be in Australia! People would stand aghast at the revelation. Yet we and the people are asked to believe that the Government have acquired such a keen sense of fairness, and of their public duty, that, in order to relieve their conscience, it is necessary to pass a measure providing that there shall be ho preference to unionists in Government employment. I remember the time when the present Prime Minister and myself used to take the platform side by side to advocate preference to unionists. I am still fighting for the principle.

Senator Needham - What is the honorable senator's old comrade doing now ?

Senator HENDERSON - He is fighting for, dear knows what ! - Joseph Cook, I think.

Senator Needham - For preference to contractors.

Senator HENDERSON - Yes. I am very anxious to see this Bill, in order that I may have a kick at it, and vote against it. From early manhood I have been a staunch believer, not only in unionism, but in preference to unionists; because of my knowledge of the history of unions, and because of my knowledge of the times when unionists were very much more persecuted for being unionists, and days were very dark indeed, when men had to fight their way to every bite of bread. When we compare the ten and fourteen hours per day that we used to work for10d. a day, with the hours we have been able to enforce by combination in trade unions, and give unionism due credit for the efforts it has made in the advancement of civilization, for all it has done in the cause of education, and for all it has done to advance men socially and intellectually, and to advance the national welfare as well, we must regard trade unionists as being well worthy of every preference. The nonunionist is a " thing."

Senator Needham - He is a coward.

Senator HENDERSON - He is not only a coward, but he is a sneaking beggar who gets behind men that make life possible to him, and sneaks his way into the good graces of his employers, while reaping every advancement that his organized fellows bring about for his benefit. He is not a man. Therefore, I believe in preference to unionists.

Senator Guthrie - Do you mean the independent unionist?

Senator HENDERSON - The honorable senator is referring to the Packer unions. I do not mean the independent unionist who lives on his fellows; I mean the kind of man who has been stalwart.

Senator Lynch - The genuine article.

Senator HENDERSON - Yes, the genuine article, the man who is prepared, not to stand behind others, but to support his union and do whatever lies within his power to advance the interests of his fellows, and fulfil every obligation on his part towards them. To that kind of man preference should be given; to the man who has made life much easier for his fellow-beings to-day. I shall welcome the appearance of the Bill in this Chamber, for then I shall have pleasure in recording a vote to knock it out. " That is just what we want," the Government say, ' ' for we shall then have a double dissolution." I shall not argue the question of a double or a single dissolution. I simply make this declaration - that I do not care whether it is to be a double dissolution or a single dissolution, I am prepared to meet whatever emergency may arise, believing that when the dissolution, single or double, is past and gone, there will be very few Conservatives left in this Chamber, and probably many less in another place. The Governmentare also going to introduce a Bill to re-establish the postal vote.

Senator Needham - There is no fear of that being carried.

Senator HENDERSON - Not if my vote will prevent it. In connexion with that Bill, I shall take up the negative position that I have adopted in connexion with postal voting on every occasion the matter has arisen. If I can be assured that some system can be arranged which will give sick people a vote without affording the extraordinary opportunities for abuse that were afforded by the postal voting system in force some years ago, I shall be prepared to consider very seriously any such proposition ; but I candidly confess that so far I have not been able to see any method that is likely to prove effective in that regard. The moment I am able to see it, I am prepared to adopt it, but I shall never be a party to adopting a system of voting by post that will lay our electoral law open tosuch tremendous abuses as existed when the system was previously in operation. The Government would have been better advised if they had faced both positions that I have indicated in a manly way, and with a bold fighting front, and had declared that at the instance of one or two men - one, I believe - they were opposed to trade unionism tooth and nail, every vestige of it, not only to preference to unionists, which is a mere get behind, but also to the right of. working men to organize, and that their real object was the impossible task of abolishing the organization of the workers. In that case, they would never have come forward with such a blithering thing as the measure they have submitted to Parliament. Senator Millen, as well as the Prime Minister, has had a very close connexion with trade unionism, but all that is past and gone. I do not think the people of Australia will mistake the real meaning of the present attitude of Ministers. Surely the people will realize that the fight of the Government is not against preference to unionists, but against the right of a unionist to exist at all. The Government do not want unionists; they want men who. as individuals, will be continually at their beck and call, without any organization or power of concentration. Above all things, they want to wreck everything in the nature of organization which is likely to be. effective at the ballot-box. Why do not the Government say straight out, " We want to do away with the Arbitration Courts, and take out of the Act the very provision for which your leaders, and, in fact, the leaders of every party in the House, have fought." Mr. Deakin, Mr. Reid, Mr. Watson, and Mr. Fisher all came to an agreement on the question of preference to unionists, and the insertion of that section in the Act was practically a triumph of the unity of those three parties on that question.

Senator Lynch - Was Mr. Cook in that, too ?

Senator HENDERSON - Yes. The provision was a triumph of the three parties acting in unity at that time. If the Government would be only honest to their own conscience, and to the people who put them where they are, they would tell the people that what they really aim at is the repeal of that provision, and of every good quality that the present

Act possesses. So, too, in regard to the postal voting; why do the Government not come straight out with a proposal to amend the whole Electoral Act? Why not bring forward that Act which they put into the waste-paper basket last session? At the very first sound of adverse criticism, they dropped the Bill like a hot spud, and it has not been seen or heard of since. Now they come along with a little meek sort of a thing called a Bill for the restoration of postal voting. What do they want it for? Only to restore the opportunities for abuse and the possibilities for men and women practising wrong-doing in their electoral operations. That is all that the Government are seeking now, and I hope it will not be long before both of those measures reach us, because I am very anxious to treat them in the same way as I did on a previous occasion.

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