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Thursday, 21 July 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister for Defence) . - I urge the Committee, in the interests of Parliament itself, to be very careful in making the proposed departure in the machinery of government, because that is what it comes to. One of the charges made against the system of parliamentary or party government - and I have heard it made at other times and on other occasions by some of those very members who have- been speaking to-day in support of the amendment - relates to the power of patronage of a Government amongst its supporters. There is a certain amount of force in the charge that, the more we multiply the paid positions in Parliament to which a Government or a dominant party may nominate its supporters the more we sap the independence of Parliament. I take it that we are all interested in maintaining parliamentary government, and we ought not to do anything which is calculated to give to its enemies - and God knows they are plentiful enough - rocks that they can throw at us with some effect.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - There is no suggestion to pay members of Parliament for this work, js there ?

Senator PEARCE - Do not let' us throw dust in our own eyes. No one who knows- what happened in connexion with the Committee of Public Accounts will listen- to that suggestion. At the outset the Committee was an honorary body,, but its- members were not satisfied; to let things remain at that. There wasa continual, agitation until- they were paid in- the same way as the members of the Public Works Committee, as they had a perfect right to be.

Senator Keating - The most serious charge against parliamentary government to-day is that Parliament is losing control of everything, and handing it over to Boards.

Senator PEARCE - That charge is made, but the other charge to which I have referred is made also. They may be mutually destructive, but they are made. I have heard in this and another Chamber the various paid offices and the numbers of Ministers pointed out as an indication of the way in which Governments and parties retain political power. That is an argument which is continually being used. Assuming that the amendment is carried, there can be only one member appointed to the Board from each House. Do honorable senators think that Parliament is going to be satisfied to stop there ? If it is, then the dominant party for the time being will appoint one of its own members in each House. Are the other parties going to be .satisfied with that? If they are, it will be with the reservation that- as soon as a change of Government takes place the personnel of the Board will change at once.

Senator Benny - So does every Prime Minister and every Minister.

Senator PEARCE - If Senator Benny agrees with that, where is he going to stop? Is it desirable to introduce into this country the American principle by which, with every change of Government, there is a change in the Public Service? Remember that the members of' this Board, although not exactly public servants, will be just on the border line. They will be doing administrative detailed work.

Senator Benny - No, they will be simply an advisory Board.

Senator PEARCE - I can still hear the echoes of the speeches made here yesterday, in which several of the honorable senators who interjected just now pointed out that the Bill was unnecessary, as the Minister could have got his officers to do the work. It is perfectly true that the Minister could have appointed his officers to do the work, but the Minister and the Government thought it necessary and advisable to go beyond that and give the proposed Board statutory authority and functions. That is not in conflict with my statement that this is an administrative Board. Honorable senators who support the amendment are going to initiate in Australia the iniquitous American principle that with a change of Government there must be a change of the officers of the administration. This is the commencement of that principle, and, if the amendment is carried, this will be the first Australian Act of Parliament in which it has been embodied. I appeal to the Committee not, for the sake of making two more paid positions, for that is what it amounts to, to put that pernicious- and iniquitous American principle into one of our Statutes. That is what it will mean, because no Government representing the dominant party is going to have at the Customs Department, advising its Minister of Customs, two members of the opposite party. Honorable senators know it quite well; and if they carry the amendment they do it with their eyes open to that fatal fact. No Minister of Customs of the official Labour party, or of the Country party, if they come into power, will continue his administration advised by two Nationalist members, assuming the Nationalists to compose the Opposition.

Senator Benny - But you have provided for the limitation of the terms of the appointments.

Senator PEARCE - That has nothing to do with the point. What I have said is the essential thing which honorable senators know they are going to do if they put party representatives into these administrative positions. I appeal, to the Committee, for the sake of our parliamentary institutions, not to do that. It is a fact that members of Parliament will not have the time to do the work which is called for, if the work is to be efficiently done. It is all very well for Senator Wilson to say that" members have their mornings free. I am surprised that he should say it, because he knows it is not a fact.

Senator Wilson - You do not mind my being honest, do you ?

Senator PEARCE - I say it is not honest. J do not mean that Senator Wilson does not say it honestly as regards himself, but if members of Parliament do their duty as members they find quite enough to occupy their time when the Senate- is not sitting. If a member does his duty as he should, he can find quite enough to do in attending to his correspondence and departmental work. This is the first time that I have heard a member say that he has spare time. I never found any spare time as a private member. Bearing on that point, what has recently happened in connexion with the Public Works Committee? A most important inquiry is proceeding, which Parliament asked the Committee to carry out. How many members of the Committee could be found to carry it out? Why could not they be found to carry it out? It was because their political duties necessitated their attendance here. Those members who are carrying it out are taking a certain amount of political risk in being away from their political duties here. It is not a fact that the members of the Senate or of another place are elected to perform the duties set out in the Bill. They are elected for quite other purposes. Their duty is to make the laws of this country, and to act as the watchdogs of the Administration of the country. If honorable senators are going to pub into the hands of the dominant party all these paid positions, because that is what it comes to, they are going to sap the independence of Parliament, and lessen the numbers of those who can take up an independent position in criticising the administration of the Department. These two men will be linked up with and tied up to the administration. They will be practically officers of the Department. I am not making this appeal to the Committee from any desire to triumph over a member who has moved an amendment. Something more inspires me to speak in this matter. I appeal to the Committee again to consider what position they will place these members in, and the position in which they will place the chairman of the Board. He will be a public servant, and his salary will have to be voted by Parliament. Honorable senators are putting him in a position of superiority, as the chairman of the Board, over two members of this Parliament. Is that a wise or fair thing to do? I take it that we want to get from the chairman his ripe and independent judgment, to the best of his ability. He will meet these members of Parliament, who, in a sense are his masters and employers, on the Board, and may have occasion to differ from them. The questions on which he differs from them, and on which, possibly, the Minister will act on the advice of the members, may subsequently be discussed in Parliament. Are honorable senators going to close the mouths of those members in Parliament, and prevent them from discussing such questions? If not, those members will be in a position to come here and criticise the chairman, and give their point of view, while the chairman, who is the principal officer of the Board, is to be dumb. He will have no voice except through his printed report that comes before Parliament subsequently In my judgment we shall have an unworkable Board. Every now and then an election or some other political stunt takes place. During the five years of the war we had three elections and two referenda. In an election every senator, in the bigger States at any rate, has to be away about three months, nob only from Melbourne, bub even from the capital city of his State. In these circumstances, what possible chance has a member during that period of giving attention to his duties as a member of the Board? What is going to happen in the interim? These cases, which are continually arising, cannot be delayed. There are cases arising out of the interpretation of departmental bylaws. There may 'be an application regarding certain tools of trade which in some circumstances are free and in others are dutiable. Applications of that sort the Board has to determine.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - How is it done now ?

Senator PEARCE - By the Minister on the advice of his departmental officers, and the Government propose to transfer that inquiry and advice from the departmental officers to the Board, which will advise the Minister. It is practically an administrative matter. These questions will have to be held up during an election, or during the absence of the mem.bers of Parliament, until they return to Melbourne. There will be a period of suspense. No duties will be collected on the goods, and they will have to be kept in bond.

Senator Wilson - In such conditions as the honorable senator refers to, two would be a good quorum for a. Board of three.

Senator PEARCE - Two members of the Board might not be available to form a quorum, as the two political members might be away from Melbourne in connexion with an election. Though I may not be a candidate, I am sometimes supposed to take part in an election. Senator Wilson may perhaps be able to sit back, but the rest of us are expected to go on the stump at election time. This may he a minor objection to the amendment, but it should be given some weight. I say in all seriousness that the amendment proposes the introduction of a most pernicious American system, and 1 appeal to Senator Benny not to press it.

Senator Elliott - The honorable senator forgot to apply that principle in considering the Defence Bill.

Senator PEARCE - I do not know that I did.

Senator Elliott - The principle of not permitting a member of Parliament to bold an executive command in the army.

Senator PEARCE - I know of no instance of the kind. If the honorable senator does, it is his duty to inform Parliament and the country.

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