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Thursday, 21 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - As the Minister (Senator Russell) knows, I am opposed to the appointment of a Board; but if one is to be created I do not think it should consist of members of Parliament. If a Board, such as that suggested by Senator Benny, were to be created, who would be willing to act in an honorary capacity? There are 111 members in both Houses, and if one senator was to be selected from the Senate, and he was not to receive outofpocket expenses, I would like to know who would be willing to act.

Senator Wilson - Let the honorable member speak for himself.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking from my knowledge of Parliamentarians. When the Public Works Committee and Public 'Accounts Committee were first appointed, it was ^announced that the members of the latter were not to be paid fees, although the members of the former were to receive payment for their services. There was a rush to fill the positions on one Committee and a difficulty in getting members to act on the other. Senator Benny suggests that members should be paid out-of-pocket expenses and so much per sitting.

Senator Benny - That is so.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then where is economy to be effected ? The Minister, I think, said that the sitting fees would be £5 5s. a day The Government might get a member of Parliament to do the work for £2 10s.

Senator Bolton - Who would do his work in Parliament?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is another point, about which I shall speak before I resume my seat. We have to deal with things as they are. It has been suggested that, if outside business men were appointed they would have meetings in the mornings and afternoons, perennial meetings I think it was suggested, with the object of drawing fees. Well, I have known members- of Parliament, appointed to the Public Works Committee, ready to meet pretty often.

Senator Wilson - Are you implying that they held meetings for the sake of the fees?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator can imply that, if he likes.

Senator Wilson - But do you imply that?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not mind saying that I have known members of Parliament, on the Public Works Committee, very anxious to have meetings. They are just the same as other men. If it is said that outside business men on the Board would hold meetings frequently for the sake, possibly, of drawing the sitting fees, outside men will naturally turn round and say that the members of Parliament would do just the same.

Senator Wilson - I understood you were always in favour of positions on these Boards being filled by members of Parliament.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have-not been in favour of that principle. If I had my way I would abolish altogether the Public Works Committee.

Senator Bolton - What about the Public Accounts Committee?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Concerning that Committee, I may say that the original intention was that its members should receive no payment, and they should not leave Melbourne for the purpose of any inquiry. Their function was to investigate the financial aspect of public undertakings, and to do the ' work in Melbourne. Senator Bolton's interjection about the work of a member of Parliament was a very pertinent one. If members are appointed to positions on these Boards they cannot attend so regularly to their parliamentary duties. At the present time two members of this Parliament are away in the Northern Territory on a special inquiry.

Senator Benny - And they are doing good work, too.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not suggesting that they are not doing good work. All I say is that they cannot be there and here at the same time. This is a very serious matter. When members of Parliament receive these appointments "and are required to leave Melbourne we grant them leave of absence from their parliamentary duties.

Senator Duncan - Some members of Parliament who are not members of Boards are absent, too.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so. I merely point out that if honorable members receive these appointments, it is their duty very often to be absent from Parliament, and, therefore, they cannot do their work here. I am not, of course, reflecting upon those members who are at present away in the Northern Territory.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - They are wasting public money, but it is not their fault.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I. would not say that. I simply say that they are absent from Parliament. Another aspect to be borne in mind is that if a member of Parliament is appointed to this Board, he will, undoubtedly, be influenced by his constituency, because he has been returned for his advocacy of certain views with which he has come to be identified.

Senator Benny - But all he would be required to do would be to inquire and report.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course; but undoubtedly his reports would be influenced by his opinions. Last evening, when we were talking on this subject, I drew attention to the fact that several years ago an inquiry was authorized into Tariff matters. Among those who made the inquiry were Sir John Quick, Sir George Puller, ex-Senator Higgs, and another Protectionist. It is remarkable that, although they all heard the same evidence from the same witnesses, we had differing reports- from them.

Senator Wilson - That does not sound very wicked.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Perhaps not; but it shows clearly that a man is influenced by the political opinions of his constituency. Who is there amongst us that hai not got one eye on the elector? Perhaps I am judging other honorable senators by' my own standard, and possibly it is not very high. If honorable senators do not care about the opinions of their electors, well and good. I do. I am absolutely against the appointment of any Board. The last man I would seek to appoint would be a member of Parliament.

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