Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 11 October 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) .- The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) has taken a wise course in view of the fact that Supply Bills are usually delayed in another place, and only reach us in time for us to pass them but not to discuss them. I congratulate the honorable gentleman on giving us this opportunity to deal with matters which we may think of sufficient importance to bring before the Senate and the public. I shall take advantage of the motion to make some remarks first about the appointment of Senator Pearce to represent Australia at the Washington Disarmament Conference. I suppose that, according to all the " rules of the game," I should follow the lead taken by my colleagues in another place and re-echo what they said there, or, probably, owing to the advantage I have of closer personal knowledge of Senator Pearce, add a little more. I am not going to do that. This appointment is one of the most important that has ever been made in this country; and, realizing that, I feel that whoever goes to the Conference must be viewed, not through party spectacles, but in the light of his capacity to worthily represent this great country. Looking at Senator Pearce's record of service and achievements, I know of no man in the public life of the Commonwealth who could perform the responsible duties of delegate to such a Conference with more satisfaction. His is a long record of faithful service, and it is one that any man in public life would be pleased to possess. I suppose the viciousness of party spirit enters as much into my nature as into that of any one else; but we have to remember that the Minister for Defence has on five occasions been returned as the representative of a great State, the democracy of which will stand the test of a comparison with that of any other State. As a representative of the_ people he has not only carried out his parliamentary duties, which in themselves are almost sufficient for most of us, but he has served on Select Committees and Royal Commissions, and in a Ministerial capacity, for about ten of the twenty years he has been in public life. In a man with that public record behind him Australia will have a very worthy representative - one whose ability, capacity, character and attainments cannot be questioned - at the Washington Disarmament Conference. Holding these private views concerning the Minister. I feel it my duty to declare them publicly. Of course, there is a feeling in another place that a representative of the Commonwealth should have been selected from that Chamber; but I am not going to argue in that direction. It is simply an attempt to reverse that axiom of Euclid which says that the whole is greater than the part. Honorable members in another place have endeavoured to prove that' the part is greater than the whole; but when one remembers that an honorable senator represents the whole of a State, whereas an honorable member in another place represents only one twenty-seventh, surely the representative of one twenty-seventh is » not of more importance or entitled to more consideration than one who represents the whole. That is a perfectly sound proposition to submit concerning the difference between the two Houses. Viewing the matter from that stand-point, I cannot support the claim that the Chamber which is probably more popular - it dan not, claim to be more democratic - should have representation and this Chamber should not. When it is a question of representation in other countries, we have only to consider the ability and capacity of the gentleman selected to carry out the important work. Viewing the long record of the Minister for Defence as shown by the Parliamentary Handbook, and realizing that our delegate has been five" times returned by the electors of Western 'Australia, and has carried out his parliamentary and Ministerial duties with such marked success, the selection is one with which we should be satisfied. There are two possible representatives who could have been selected from another place. I know comparisons aire invidious, but they cannot always be avoided. I suppose the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) would be the first choice. No such phrases as " America slamming the door in our face " are likely to be uttered by the selected representative. Another delegate mentioned was the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr.. Massy Greene). Apart from other considerations, the selected representative is one of Australia's sons. Honorable senators may not agree with narrow sentiments; but to me it is a pleasure to think that on this occasion it is an Australian born who is to represent Australia.

Senator Bakhap - That will carry a great deal of weight with a large number of Australians

Senator GARDINER - I believe it will. At any rate, it appeals to me. I know that many Australians 'by adoption can show as good a record as many Australians by birth; but I am glad to think that the Commonwealth is to be represented by an Australian-born Minister. I shall now allow the matter to pass. I do not know ito what extent I have gone; but, at any rate, honorable senators will realize my attitude in this matter.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator has gone in the right direction.

Senator GARDINER - I have endeavoured to look at this question in the right way, and to lift the criticism of a public man to a proper level, free from party spirit and party sentiment. I wish the Minister for Defence the best of good health on his forthcoming trip, and every success in the very important business which he is to transact on behalf of the great Commonwealth.

I desire to say a few words in connexion with the Budget-papers, with which the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) says he cannot imagine any fault can be found. Those may not be bis exact words; but he left the impression that criticism could not very justly' be levelled against the Government. I was going to say " Neither can I " ; but, unfortunately, sarcasm cannot be recorded in Hansard.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Neither can a feeble attempt at humour.

Senator GARDINER - The matters calling for criticismare so numerous that one does not know where to begin. It is now nearly three years since the Armistice was signed, and most of us believed that when the war, with its awful cost and consequent burden of taxation, was over, the Government would have endeavoured to see how money could be saved in the interests of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth. But what do we find ?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The signing of the Armistice did not relieve us of the obligations created by the war.

Senator GARDINER - I realize that; but surely it ushered in a time when, freed from the expenditure incurred in consequence of the warand the general responsibilities it entailed, the Government should have turned their energies in the direction of tackling the question of lessening the burden resting upon the shoulders of the taxpayers.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Have not they done that ?

Senator GARDINER - If they have I am unaware of it.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is for the honorable senator to indicate where it can be done with safety.

Senator GARDINER - I do not know whether the present Government will be in office the week after next, but if they are not it will be a delightful opportunity for me to show how it can be done. Economy can be effected by men of capacity, energy, and ability by courageously facing a serious situation, and not go on from day to day or from month to month, simply waiting for something to turn up, as the present Government are doing. Now that the war is over, the Government should seriously face the position, and consider the direction in which we are drifting. The financial position is most serious. The Minister for Repatriation has said that a saving has been effected because certain money was not expended; but that is not proof of any actual attempt at economy. During the closing months of the financial year the Government dispensed with the services of1,000 men who were employed on the cruiser Adelaide, and kept them out of employment until after the end of the financial year, and then re-employed them to complete the work. Was that economy ? Was it saving money to discharge 400 or 500 men who were employed at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory and still retain the highlypaid staff and the immense overhead charges of the Defence Department in full operation? The Minister may claim that the Government have economized because during the concluding months of the last financial year they threw into idleness 1,000 men who were doing useful work, and also machinery that represents a large amount of capital, and then after an interval during which the expenditure was discontinued, they recommenced operations. By that means they may claim to have saved so much money. They may say that they did not build as many War Service Homes as they intended to build, that the estimated expenditure in that directionwas not reached, and that, the houses not having been constructed and the expenditure not having been incurred, they, therefore, have effected a saving. That is no saving.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There was no saving on War Service Homes expenditure.

Senator GARDINER - Unfortunately there was not; there have been gross and serious losses in connexion with that Department. Senator E. D. Millen quoted the estimated cost of government last year, and then, with an air of satisfaction, pointed to the fact that the Government spent many millions less than the estimate. This year the estimated expenditure is £64,000,000, and the estimated revenue about £61,000,000. I am not bothering about the odd thousands, because to the present Government £l,000,000 is neither here nor there. On many occasions Ihave pointed out in this chamber how savings could be effected, and I say again that the first place to exercise the pruning knife is in the Navy and Defence Departments. I do not suggest that we should make the defences of the country weaker - that we must never do - butwe should cut down those costly overhead charges which are no strength to the country in time of war. It is not any saving to spend more money this year on military services than was spent in other years, and while employing fewer men at Lithgow in preparing defence material, employ two officers at head-quarters doing in time of peace the work that one officer did in time of war. I know it would be acting harshly to say to those "very distinguished" men, "We have. to treat you as we treat the workers at Lithgow and Cockatoo Island; on account of the need for economy we give you a moment's notice that your services are no longer required." My opponents will reply to me that those officers never "go slow"; that they go full speed ahead all the time, and, therefore, there is no occasion to punish them.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They create work.

Senator GARDINER - Yes ; there is so much for them to do!

This Budget is unsatisfactory to the whole of the people of this country. I know that the Minister for Repatriation will agree with me that we in Parliament, viewing matters at close quarters, and Ministers in their Departments, viewing them even closer, very often go our own way until we suddenly find that we have lost touch with the people for whom we are governing and legislating; too late we realize that the paths of the people and their legislators are diverging. I warn the Government that we are walking right away from the sense and thought of the community, and that from one end of the country to the other there is a strong feeling that it is time somebody faced the financial problem seriously and earnestly, and honestly sought to curtail the cost of government.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -Brookman. - Is not the first step to call a halt, and has not that been done?

Senator GARDINER - I fail to see where it has been done. My hearing may be defective; but I should imagine that the note sounded by the Government in regard to expenditure is " charge " rather than " halt." I see no sign of a halt in the Estimates of Expenditure for the current year.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - Can you see any increased expenditure, generally speaking?

Senator GARDINER - There are increases in almost every Department, and Ministers excuse that fact by saying that they are due to' the increased cost of materials and. everything else.

Senator Crawford - What about increased expenditure due to Arbitration Court awards?

Senator GARDINER - They are very necessary increases.

Senator Wilson - Justifiable, are they not?

Senator GARDINER - Whether or not they are justifiable, if Parliament makes the cost of living so high that men cannot live on their former wages, and if the Government, by means of a Tariff, makes clothing and boots 40 per cent, dearer than their natural price, the community must' pay the penalty by submitting to the increased wages awarded by Arbitration Courts. I realize that the increased and increasing cost of living

Senator Wilson - The cost of living is coming down.

Senator GARDINER - That talk is all nonsense. Purchase commodities in the shops, and then say if prices are coming down.

Senator Wilson - Mutton can be bought for 2½d. per lb. Does the honorable senator want it given to him?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did not Judge Beeby reduce the price of milk in New South Wales by a farthing a gallon?

Senator GARDINER - Yes ; but the cost of delivery may have been increased a halfpenny a gallon, so that there will bo- no benefit to the consumer. I do not say that there are not some articles which are a little cheaper than they were when prices had reached their peak, but in regard to the articles daily used and consumed no one can honestly say that the cost of living is cheaper.

Senator Wilson - I take the liberty of saying that those articles are cheaper.

Senator GARDINER - The honorable senator may, but the liberty he takes with the truth may be allowed to pass unnoticed. In no unfriendly way, I am pointing out that through lack of management in public affairs the desired reduction in the cost of government is not being made. Drastic methods must be resorted to if a reduction worth mentioning is to be brought about. One of the best methods of decreasing the cost of government is by amending the Constitution, to abolish to a great extent the sovereign rights of the State Parliaments, and bring into existence one Australian Parliament, with provincial councils to manage affairs that can best be controlled locally. Five millions of people continue to maintain six separate Governments, with sovereign powers for borrowing and taxing, and all the overhead expenses incidental to six distinct governmental systems.

Senator Wilson - And duplication everywhere.

Senator GARDINER - Yes, duplication of costs and expenses everywhere. I know that the proposal to have one sovereign authority in Australia will not be acceptable to those people who clamour loudest for economy. They will turn it down as being too large an order for their consideration.

Senator Crawford - Thereby showing their wisdom.

Senator GARDINER - Yes, if it is wisdom to continue having six separate Parliaments all exercising sovereign powers of borrowing money.

Senator Drake-Brockman - If the honorable senator represented one of the small States he would not express these ideas.

Senator GARDINER - I quite realize that the fear of the larger States may be some justification for the opposition of the smaller States to real economy, but has Tasmania, South Australia, or Western Australia any complaint to make against the manner in which they have been treated by the representatives of the more populous States?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Unless it is proposed to abolish State Parliaments and concentrate all legislative work in the Commonwealth Parliament expenses will not be reduced, whether the powers of the State Parliaments are sovereign or delegated.

Senator GARDINER - The State Parliaments would be replaced by small governing provincial bodies, perhaps a little more important than municipalor shire councils, but certainly of much less importance than the existing legislative bodies, which require sets of highly-paid officials. There is no need in Australia for six. separate representatives of His Majesty the King in addition to the GovernorGeneral. Surely one representative of His Majesty is sufficient for this country at any time. Surely we could with advantage and economy dispense with the six others. But the States which claim sovereign rights and special importance would not dream of lessening their status by consenting to the removal of these high and dignified offices.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are also six Australian Agents-General.

Senator GARDINER - Real economy must begin in looking seriously at the question of cutting off the higher overhead charges and not in dispensing with the services of men who are at work producing something of use to the country. Senator Thomas has mentioned that, in addition to the six representatives of His Majesty in Australia, the States pay for the services of six Agents- General in London, and probably they will soon be hitting out and sending representatives to other countries. Some of the children now alive will possibly live to see Australia, not only in numbers, but also in greatness, more important than Great Britain is to-day; but we cannot become a great nation unless we face the problem of living within our means. Our ideas may be great, but at present our numbers are small.

Senator Crawford - Our population is now 2,000,000 more than it was twenty years ago.

Senator GARDINER - I know that our numbers are growing rapidly, but our ideas are growing more rapidly. Any attempt to live up to an importance which is not warranted by numbers is a serious burden on the taxpayers. It is no use whining and saying, " We will cut off 3d. here or 2½d. somewhere else." That is no remedy; it is of no value either to the States or to the Commonwealth, and is simply a cause of irritation and annoyance. . Any move in the direction of effecting economy must be well considered, and should lead to a substantial reduction in the cost of governing the country, and in the amount of taxation burdening the people. Twopence ha'penny economies are of no use to any one. Dispensing with public servants today, and trying to make one man do the work of two is false economy. Real economy is effected by retaining that which is really essential to the good government of the country, and dispensing with everything that is unnecessary. The intentions of Ministers are all right. The trouble is that they cannot make up their minds to carry them into effect. I do not know whether this is due to the fact that they have got out of form. I will not say that Ministers are growing too old for their work. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they cannot make up their minds to carry out their intentions. Take the case of the representation of Australia in London. The cost of our London Office is proceeding all the time, less the salary of the head of the establishment.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have Mr. Shepherd there.

Senator GARDINER - Yes. We sent him there, and increased his salary by £1,000. I read a good deal of press comment at the time the salaries of members of Parliament were increased to £1,000; but I do not think I read one comment on the fact that Mr. Shepherd's salary had been increased. However, I do not wish to discuss a public servant who is not here to speak for himself. We have a costly office in London, and everything necessary to enable Australia to be represented there; but we have a Government here which, for nine months past, has not been able to make up its mind to fill the position of High Commissioner. Out of 5,000,000 people in Australia there is not one man it can choose for the post. Its inaction in this respect is indicative of the manner in which it is dealing with the finances. Ministers' intentions are all right, and I believe they will eventually make a good appointment in London.

Senator Wilson - Do you not think that they have known all the time who was to be High Commissioner?

Senator GARDINER - Possibly ; but there is many a sliptwixt the cup and the lip, and if I am any judge of the trend of events, Ministers may miss their opportunity next week. No saving is effected by withholding the appointment. The officials are there, and the establishment has to be maintained all the time. Everything is there except the man who is to fill the position of High Commissioner.

Senator Crawford - While there is no High Commissioner we are saving £5,000 a year.

Senator GARDINER - I realize that we are not paying any salary, but I recall reading something about the conditions which Mr. Hughes found prevailing in the High Commissioner's office, 'and how he spoke about those who were in charge. Possibly Australia would be effecting a direct saving by having a High Commissioner in London. Mr. Hughes paid an unexpected visit to the office, and commented strongly upon the lack of knowledge of Australia displayed in the Intelligence Branch.

Senator Crawford - That was before Mr. Shepherd's appointment.

Senator GARDINER - I thought from my perusal of Mr. Hughes' remarks that it was after Mr. Shepherd's appointment. At any rate, Mr. Hughes found that the officer in charge of the Intelligence Branch knew absolutely nothing about the Commonwealth; I am simply calling attention to the indecision of the present Government. One cannot depend on men who cannot make up their minds to do anything but keep putting things off until another time. A Government which is to manage the finances of a country effectively and successfully must display some courage, energy, and determination in dealing with the financial situation.

Senator Wilson - Why should the honorable senator delay getting on to the Treasury bench. By his own argument he ought to be there now.

Senator GARDINER - Anxious as I am to get on the Treasury bench, the votes of the people of Australia prevent it. I emphasize the gravity of the mistake made at the last elections. Until the people remedy their error there is no prospect of the practice of economy and efficiency in the management of the affairs of the country.

Senator Crawford - What about the administration of the New South Wales Labour Government ?

Senator GARDINER - That State affords an example of real efficiency and economic administration. The New South Wales Government are facing big problems, and are handling them ably and effectively. Each of the State enterprises which, under the former Nationalist Government, was being worked at a loss, is now showing a profit. During the last year of Nationalist administration, the State trawling industry showed a loss of £60,000. In the first year of Labour administration a handsome profit was shown.

Senator Wilson - Were the books kept in the same way?

Senator GARDINER - I repeat that the business was handled efficiently. The same may be said of the State brick works, which have practically paid for themselves and are working at a handsome profit from year to year.

Senator Crawford - And what about the State railways?

Senator GARDINER - They are such a huge concern and they require so much material, the cost of which has gone up enormously, that it is inevitable that the railways should occasionally show a deficit.

In almostevery branch of activity controlled by Labour there is now efficiency, compared with the inefficiency of the Nationalist regime. The Nationalist Government of New South Wales carried on at a loss; the Labour Administration is showing a profit.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If Labour management has been so successful, why should the fact have been disguised ?

Senator GARDINER - Who said it has been disguised?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It has certainly not been apparent.

Senator Benny - And what about the Queensland railways?

Senator GARDINER - They are the longest of all the State railways. The Queensland population is small, and production is not yet sufficiently large to make them profitable.

Senator Benny - But they were profitable before Labour took a hand.

Senator GARDINER - The contrast was due to the fact that Labour refused to increase fares and freights.

Senator Crawford - But they did so, in respect of both.

Senator GARDINER - State Labour administration is efficient. Labour control pays. The Commonwealth Government appear to be unaware that they are out of touch with the whole community.They do not seem to realize that the country is crying out for more careful and more efficient' administration, and that there is a general demand for economy where there is no economy. Expenditures in all directions are growing. The attempts to reduce these costs are not real and earnest.

Senator Bakhap - The needs and demands of the people seem to increase every year.

Senator GARDINER - Quite so; but while the Government and the country are being impoverished, the possessions of wealthy individuals are enormously increasing. We are now indebted as a nation to the extent of about £250,000,000. Those who have lent the money are getting huge returns by way of interest. The Commonwealth's war debt - an immense feature of cost of government- while it is a burden to the community as a whole is a wonderfully good investment in the hands of a comparatively few rich people.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator cannot call the national war debt a cost of government.

Senator GARDINER - I do call it a cost of government. The Government are not realizing their responsibilities. I know the particulars, and have mentioned -them before, concerning ; an Australian who fought at the war, and who has returned, and has been receiving a pension of £1 per week. He is in the last stages of consumption. The Pensions Board takes the view that the man had contracted the disease prior to his leaving Australia for the war. There is, however, an admission of a certain degree of governmental responsibility. The pension is being continued, but has been reduced from £1 to 10s. per week. That is the kind of economy practised by this Government.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a matter of carrying out the Act. The honorable senator should recognise that, and not blame the Commissioners or the Department.

Senator GARDINER - The fact remains that this returned man is unable to work to-day because of the ravages of the disease from which he is suffering ; yet his pension has been reduced in the name of economy--

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not in the name of economy! It has been reduced because the Act states that pensions shall be reduced in certain circumstances.

Senator GARDINER - A Minister who will make such an admission should have the grace to hurriedly move the suspension of the Standing Orders to-day to enable him to introduce amending legislation. This man was fit when he left for the war.

Senator Duncan - The Government doctors must have given him a clean bill of health, or he could never have been accepted for active service.

Senator GARDINER - That is so, of course.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Our men were required to give to the examining medical officers certain information which they alone could have provided. Many refrained from doing so.

Senator GARDINER - A Government, even though so callous as to deal with returned soldiers in the way I have indicated should, at any rate, show sufficient courage to tell people who have become wealthy out of the war that they must pay their share. If we have an enormous debt in Australia, for which the people are responsible, we also have here an enormous number of bondholders who have made really good money out of the war, and on that account there is a growing dissatisfaction with the management of the country's affairs. There is a widespread feeling among the people that the Government are not facing the position with sufficient earnestness. The Government should deal as drastically with men in high positions as they do with those at the bottom rung of the ladder. I shall not ask the Government to treat the high officers in the Defence Department in the way the men at Lithgow and Cockatoo Island were dealt with, or even the returned soldiers, whose pensionsare on a scale that is an absolute discreditto the country. Advantage is taken of any technical reason for which a shillingcan be deducted from the amount of a pension. The Minister states that the law provides the rate to be paid. If it is true that the law prevents returned soldiers from getting sufficient to maintain them in their closing years - and it is acknowledged by the Department in the case mentioned that the illness, ifnot contracted, was aggravated by war service - this or some other Government must face the larger problem of putting the finances of Australia on a much safer basis than at present. I see no advantage in reducing the cost of government by 3d. or 6d., but I do see a great advantage in the early consideration of a comprehensive scheme by which we may secure economy and good government at a much cheaper rate. Bearing on the case to which I have just referred, I have received the following reply from the chairman of the Repatriation Commission : -

Dear Sir.- William I. Kent, ex-No. 3567, Private, 41st Battalion. - With reference to your representations to the honorable the Minister for Defence regarding the case of the above-named ex-member of the Forces, I have to inform you that the Commission recently considered this case, and in view of the medical evidence decided that payment of more than one-half of the maximum rate of pension is not warranted. According to Mr. Kent's statements and his medical history, his disability pre-existed his enlistment, and it is very doubtful if his condition was in any way aggravated by his military service. The Commission, however, decided to admit the responsibility of active service for a certain amount of aggravation, and it feels that this aggravation is fully compensated for by the rate of pension now being paid.

If that is the best treatment the Defence Department can give the returned soldiers, all I can say is that we need bigger men to do the country's work, men with a more generous attitude and a more comprehensive view of our financial affairs. I realize that it is useless to expect that from this Government, which appears to be putting off its responsibilities from day to day instead of facing them. As I understand honorable senators wish to say farewell to the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) 1 shall not continue the debate at this stage.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - May I suggest that this will be a convenient time to suspend the sitting?

Suggest corrections