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Tuesday, 26 July 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I feel that the psychology of the determined opposition to this Bill is, first of all, to be found in the necessity to bring up the Government with a " round turn," as it were, in connexion with the appointment of Boards which very largely function outside parliamentary control. A further opposition to the Bill has developed on the grounds of economy and of previous experience, which has shown us that the constitution of a Board or a new Department invariably brings in its train somewhat unnecessary expenditure. As an . illustration of what goes on, I have taken the trouble to ascertain some official figures in regard to the Quarantine Department, with which is now incorporated, or which is incorporated in, the new Health Board. It is obvious that the work of the Quarantine Department is somewhat spasmodic, and it cannot be said to be increasing, its work is entirely controlled by the incoming of certain diseases and the examination of all ships. In 1909-10, when this Department was first taken over by the Commonwealth, there was one permanent officer; in 1915- 16 the permanent officers had increased to sixty-nine; and in 1920-21 to 129. These, it must be remembered, constitute the permanent staff, and any extra work is done by calling in temporary assistance from outside.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable senator think that the Commonwealth should not control quarantine?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Certainly not. I am merely pointing out, by way of illustration, how Departments grow, and how this particular Department has grown. In fairness, I ought to say that the growth of the permanent staff of this Department from sixty-nine in 1916 to 129- in 1920-21 is partly accounted for by the activities of the Commonwealth serum laboratories, which were established in 1916. Now, let us take the money side of this illustration. In 1909-10, when the Department was first established, the expenditure was £23,355, and the revenue was £4,724, showing a net expenditure of under £20,000, and I understand that in 1909-10 the Department had to examine every ship and every passenger, apparently, coming to Australia, just as it does now in 1920-21. Now, so as to° get a .fair comparison, let us take the period 1915-16, when the Commonwealth serum laboratories were established.

Senator JOHN D MILLEN (TASMANIA) - You are not against the serum laboratories?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - No ; I am merely showing how the Department has grown, and I am taking these .periods so as to give a fair comparison. Li 1915-16 the expenditure by the Department was £103,112, and the revenue £19,242, showing a net expenditure of over £80,000, as compared with under £20,000 six years before. Now, take this year, when the necessity for economy is very much more vital, serious, and urgent than it was in either of the other periods. The estimated expenditure is £155,971, and the estimated revenue £35,000, showing an excess expenditure of £120,000.

Senator Reid - Was that not due to the influenza outbreak?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My honorable friend will remember that the States were burdened with most of the expenditure on that account. In any case, the Quarantine Department, outside the laboratories, had the same work to do ten years ago as it has this year ; and yet there is nearly six' times the excess expenditure. That illustrates the point to which I am coming. Whenever Boards or new Departments are created, expenditure goes on, and cannot be controlledby this Parliament, because- very often the money is spent before it is voted. We are told the Bureau of Commerce and Industry costs about £10,000 a year. I do not know what the Institute of Science and Industry will cost, though, perhaps, Senator Fairbairn may give us some idea of what we are committed to in that regard.

Senator Fairbairn - It is impossible to estimate.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that some control should be placed on the expenditure of this proposed new Board, if we are to have one, and I admit that there is something to be said with regard to the desirability of it, at least for a time. I am glad to hear, for the first time, from the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) that the Government are now prepared to impose a time limit on the- operations of the Board. I believe it is as a result of the debates in this chamber last week that the Government now see the obvious, which is to consolidate all the varied activities under one strong Board of Trade, or, if honorable senators choose, one Trade and Tariff Board, and thus remove all those little "pin-pricks" now inflicted on the commercial community. Who knows, for instance, what is going on in connexion with the Coal Board? What money is expended on it? Who knows whether or not it is offering one section of coal consumers an advantage and placing a handicap on another? I confess I do not. I do see that some restriction should be placed on the expenditure of the proposed Board; andI shall support the amendment of Senator Wilson. But, so far as the arguments of the Minister for Repatriation are concerned, I see that there is something in the proposal for a little higher limitation; but some limitation, there should be.

As to the chairman of the Board, he ought to be adequately remunerated. I do not think I am telling tales out of (school - for it is common knowledgewhen I say that the gentleman whom the Government propose to appoint is Major Oakley.

Senator Fairbairn - He is a good man !

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Major Oakleyis deeply versed in all Tariff intricacies, and his experience during the last two years in connexion with the pros and cons of the present Tariff is absolutely unique in Australia. I agree with Senator Fairbairn that Major Oakley is a good man, and I like to see a good man properly remunerated. That is my reason for desiring the salary to be at least £1,500 a year. In the past, some of the high officials in the Commonwealth Service have been inadequately paid; their salaries have been miserable compared with tha responsibilities of their positions. Surely to Heaven, this is just as important a position as that of Mr. Stirling Taylor!

Senator JOHN D MILLEN (TASMANIA) - And a great deal more important than that of the chairman of the Basic Wage Board.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Quite so, and Mr. Atlee Hunt is paid £2,000 a year.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - The honorable senator may use these facts illustratively, but he must not indulge in extensive discussion regarding other officials.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely I may be allowed to compare the salaries- paid at present in the Public Service with the salary proposed in this clause. I may, in this connexion, mention the Administrator of New Guinea, also . Mr. Percy Hunter-

The CHAIRMAN - I point put that the remuneration of the chairman of the Board has been already fixed by the Committee within certain limits.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Unless we add an addendum that the salary shall be higher.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We cannot do that without destroying what we- have passed.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We can add a special clause if we wish to add another £100 or £200 to the salary. I was speaking of- the Administrator of New Guinea, and going on to speak of Mr. Percy Hunter, Mr. H. S. Gullett, also the chairman of the Phosphate Commission, and the chairman of the Repatriation Commission, who are- all receiving bigger salaries than the salary proposed in the clause. If the amendment is carried, and the'expenditure is limited to £3,000 a year, I should like to see Major Oakley, as chairman, receive half of that amount, for it is certain that he will have to do fully half the work, of which he is quite capable.

As a result of the discussion of this Bill in this Chamber I hope that -I am right when I visualize that two years hence, when the Board will have expired by effluxion of time, the Government will bring down a broad, comprehensive measure to include under one head all the many partial governmental activities, with a strong Board' that will have the confidence of the business community of Australia, and to which the producers and consumers may go if they feel that they are suffering any injustice. Instead of taking, as it were, so many bites out of one problem, the Government ought to take the responsibility of introducing such a measure.

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