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Friday, 28 May 1915

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I desire to draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs to two extracts from a leading article in the West Australian of 19th May, 1915, with a view to ascertaining whether or not he, with his colleague, will take action. The first extract reads: -

In Monday's issue of the West Australian was published a report by the Chief Common wealth Railway Engineer on the TransAustralian railway. Mr. Bell's report is a model of brevity. Also, in view of the allegations regarding construction methods on the line, which were recently made in a series of articles that appeared in our columns, the Chief Engineer's statement is remarkable for the things it does not tell us. This is the more surprising in that the charges contained in the West Australian articles were, on at least two occasions, the subject of inquiry by Mr. Needham in the Senate. The Western Australian senator asked the Minister representing the Home Affairs Department if investigation would be, or was being, made, to establish the truth or otherwise of charges published in Western Australia;charges which unmistakably affirmed that the railway-

These are the points to which I desire to draw the attention of the Minister - being built under the day-labour system was costing an enormously excessive sum; that the workmen were practically masters of the situation, and that they did not give the taxpayers a fair return for the excellent wages and living conditions provided for them ; that the rigidity of administration from Melbourne, and the division of local administration between two branches, traffic and construction, did not tend to the economical and efficient working of the railway; that the readiness of certain Labour members from this State to air alleged grievances of the workmen was not conducive to the best results; that, considering the time the railway has been in progress, great delay has occurred - for which no adequate reason, or any reason, for that matter, has been furnished - in making provision for essential water supplies. Senator Russell assured Senator Needham that inquiries would be made " through the officers of the Department" into the matter of the articles.

The second extract is as follows: -

It would be asking too much of the Chief Engineer that he should voluntarily express himself upon questions arising out of the daylabour policy of the Government; and it would be unseemly on the part of the Government to demand of him opinions relative to the labour return given by the workmen on the railway, seeing that the Government has fixed its standard to the day-labour mast. Mr. Bell, with all his officers, is directly under the control of the Minister, who may say to them, " Go," and they go, not to return if Cabinet so decides. This is not to say that the officers, if a report on the working of the day-labour system were demanded of them, would not advise as accurately as their opportunities for judging allowed them. But obviously they should not bc placed in a false position. When the policy governing the administration of a Department is arraigned it is the duty of the permanent heads, as loyal servants of their political chiefs for the time being, to put the best face on that policy. In these circumstances, departmental reports on departmental methods present the officers in the position of judges of their Ministers. For this reason their reports are valueless.

I take this opportunity of pointing out to the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, and to Ministers generally, that a deliberate attack is being made upon the Government, and upon the honesty of the workmen engaged in the construction of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway. The thing may be boiled down into two charges. The first is that the Government are wrong, and that by constructing this line by the day-labour system they are injuring the public of Australia. The second is that the workmen engaged on the line are not giv ing a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. I consider that this charge is a libel on Australian workmen. I do not refer to this matter because it relates to the western end of the line. I would be just as bitterly hostile to it if the reflection were cast on any other workmen in Australia. Without labouring this matter further, I ask the Minister to go into the question before the Senate meets again, and give a detailed reply to the various charges made by this newspaper in order to show to the public of Australia that the day-labour policy is the proper one to adopt, and that the men who are engaged on the western end of this railway are honest workmen, giving an honest day's work for an honest day's pay.

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