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Thursday, 24 November 1921

Senator WILSON (South Australia) . - Yesterday, the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) in moving the second reading of this measure, assured us that it was one that could better be dealt with in Committee, and the information given to the Senate was not much more than is contained in the measure itself. I frankly admit that since I have been a member of the Senate I have found it extremely difficult to intelligently grasp details contained in Bills of this description.

Senator Russell - I did not say that I had not any information to give the Senate, but that it could better be dealt with in Committee.

Senator WILSON - I do not wish to be unfair; but the Minister must admit that he did not give much detailed information. On this occasion we have to sanction the expenditure of £2,518,411; and, although there may be some public men who could record an intelligent vote on such a. measure without being in possession of all the details of the proposed expenditure, I must confess that I cannot do so. As representatives of the people we shouldbe placed in possession of full particulars when we are asked to authorize the expenditure of large sums of money. In older countries, I understand, it is the practice to appoint Parliamentary Committees, the members of which exhaustively investigate the details of money Bills, and such Committees have the right to call for documents and to make recommendations, which are submitted to Parliament for the guidance of members. Unless something of that description is done, it is impossible for honorable senators to make themselves fully conversant with the actual position. I understand that the vote) in connexion with the Defence Department has been reduced by some hundreds of thousands of pounds, and, on the information submitted to the Senate, am I to be held responsible for assisting in doing something which may be detrimental to the interests of the Australian people? I freely admit that I receive £1,000 a year, but that is really paid more for time given rather than for services rendered, and if the present system were altered I could be of greater service to those whom I represent. I am paid for the time I give to my parliamentary duties; but I do not know whether the country is getting an adequate return for the expenditure involved, because of the lack of facilities afforded. If measures of this description were submitted to a Committee for the closest investigation, the people would place more reliance in our work, and it would also have the effect of creating higher efficiency and greater economy. A good deal has been said concerning the worth of the services rendered by public men, and I believe a majority of honorable senators would be prepared to render greater service, and would be able to do so if given some assistance in delving, into the details of Bills of this description. We are endeavouring to perform the duties for which we are elected, and I trust the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator E. D. Millen) will give some consideration to thesuggestion I have submitted. I am asked to swallow this Bill like a sugar-coated pill.

Senator Payne - The honorable senator has the right to ask for information.

Senator WILSON - After many years of commercial experience I believe that it is simply ridiculous to submit two or three questions on a measure of such importance. Even if we were to ask a hundred questions I do not think the same information would be obtained as could be gathered by a Parliamentary Committee of investigation. It would be better if each State were represented by only one honorable senator who would have the opportunity of becoming closely associated with proposed expenditure.

Senator Foster - The difficulty is that honorable senators representing one State wish to reduce expenditure in another State.

Senator Keating - Expenditure in the State I represent could not be reduced, because it is not intended to incur any.

Senator WILSON - Well, there can be no cutting down if there is nothing to cut. Asking questions upon matters of this kind is not satisfactory, and does not suffice. Departmental heads could supply a Committee of Parliamentarians with details of expenditure to be undertaken; but such particulars cannot be obtained in the Senate by the ordinary methods to-day. The suggestion which I have offered has been put into practice in other countries. I do not wish it to be thought that I am advocating the creation of any more costly Departments. My point is that honorable senators should undertake a task of this character as a public duty-as a service which they should be willing and ready to render in return for the payments they receive. Today, however, they have not the opportunity to render such direct and satisfactory service. Responsibility is placed upon the shoulders of Ministers ; and to them, therefore, my suggestion should be particularly attractive.

Senator Vardon - Final responsibility would rest with members of Parliament, so for as concerns the passage of the Bill.

Senator WILSON - I do not feel inclined to accept responsibility if I cannot secure essential details.

Senator Russell - If the honorable senator were to make inquiries direct to heads of Departments, he would be furnished, very readily and courteously, with every desired item of information.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - But the departmental heads would be worried to death if we alt approached them, individually, after that fashion.

Senator WILSON - Of course! Would not my suggestion tend to create greater efficiency, and, at the same time, relieve Ministerial heads? Members of the Ministry have altogether too many responsibilities. Their burdens should not be added to by Parliament holding them responsible for the detailed working of their Departments. In order to earn their pay, members of Parliament should beready to do more work. There has been some talk of cutting down salaries. I hold that, in the case of many men, they themselves are the best judges of what they are worth, and that there is no one better fitted to make an estimate of their value. Personally, 1 have given up most of my private interests in order faithfully to attend to public duties.

Senator Crawford - And if the honorable senator represented a still more remote State, he would find it necessary to give up every private interest. Victorians in this Parliament, however, need make no such sacrifices.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Hear, hear! That is true.

Senator WILSON - Senator Guthrie frankly admits; that, living, so to speak, on, the spot, heis able to carry on his own affairs while still giving full attention to public business. In that regard Victorian parliamentarians are to be envied. I trust that' honorable senators generally will be given greater opportunities to demonstrate their readiness - their eagerness, in fact - to render public service. For that reason my proposal should carry weight.

Coining down to the details of the Bill, I strongly object to the perpetuation of the day-labour system in Government enterprises. I look to the Government always to seek to secure the best results possible for the people; and, in carrying out public works with that end in view, tenders should be called for in every instance. The Government should be particularly watchful to-day, when many of the workers' organizations are out to secure shorter working hours. The Government should be emphatic in insisting upon the contract system.

Senator Reid - Does the honorable senator talk like that about working conditions after all the nice things he has said concerning Cockatoo Island Dockyard?

Senator WILSON - I thank the honorable senator for his reminder. At Cockatoo Island I discovered that the employees were favoured with the very best working conditions that men could expect. Yet that centre of industry has been costing the Commonwealth a tremendous sum of money. Judged pound for pound, the whole "show" should have been shut- down long ago. But the Government have been anxious to develop the shipbuilding industry in Australia, and they have permitted activities at Cockatoo Island to continue. Now, however, New South Wales unionists are going for a forty-four-hours week. Realizing the financial position of the shipbuilding industry, the Commonwealth should have been strong enough, from the very first moment of the shorter working week being advocated in New South Wales, to call a halt at Cockatoo Island. When a man has to work under the wretched conditions existing at the bottom of a mine, one can sympathize with his desire for a shorter working week.

Senator Lynch - Who promulgated the forty-four hours award in New South Wales ?

Senator WILSON - One of the State authorities - the Board of Trade, I understand.

Senator Lynch - That award interferes with a Commonwealth instrumentality.

Senator WILSON - That is so.

Senator Russell - It was an award of Judge Beeby.

Senator WILSON - What would be the state of affairs in primary industry if the man on the land worked no more than forty-four hours a week? If the shipbuilding industry is to be carried on, there must be co-operation and loyalty on the part of the employees, who should realize that the work is being carried on at a loss to the taxpayers. The Government should insist on a forty-eight-hours week, and if the unions refuse to accept that, the yard should be closed.

Senator Lynch - Would you not advise the Judge, who awarded a fortyfourhours week, to start shipbuilding?

Senator WILSON - It is time men like that left the country. That Judge should be deprived of his job.

Senator Rowell - They are putting him out of his job now.

Senator WILSON - The sooner the better; but I am speaking of the loss to the Commonwealth generally.

Senator Lynch - He belongs to a band of adventurers who live by precept rather than example.

Senator WILSON - At Cockatoo Island the men are favored by good climatic and other condition's, and the Commonwealth is entitled to a reasonable return for the money expended.

Senator Reid - The unions in New South Wales will not work for more than forty-four hours. The Federal Government cannot help themselves.

Senator WILSON - They can help themselves, and they can assist the industries of Australia by telling these men that they can either accept the work with a forty-four-hours week or see the yard closed.

Senator Lynch - Do you expect this Government to make a stand?

Senator WILSON - Yes; I do. We recently spent a considerable sum en an investigation of the work at Cockatoo Island. The manager, the accountant, and every other official who was examined by the Royal Commission, stated that the industry could not becarried on satisfactorily if a forty-four-hours week had to be observed.

Senator Benny - The Commission did not recommend that the yard be closed.

Senator WILSON - No ; nor did it recommend that this economic waste should be permitted to continue.

Senator Payne - Did you recommend that the Arbitration award should be ignored ?

Senator WILSON - No. Our fourteen points gave absolute power to the Board to conduct the work, but the State authorities stepped in and awarded a forty-four-hours week against the wishes of the Board. No reasonable man could complain of a forty-eight-hours week under the conditions obtaining at Cockatoo Island.

Senator Drake-Brockman - What are the hours under the new management?

Senator WILSON - Forty-four. That was the first difficulty the Board had to face.

Senator Reid - It meant a loss of £70,000 a year in New South Wales.

Senator WILSON - I did not quote those figures, because the number of em- . ployees to-day is only 1,200 or 1,500. Previously, there were in the vicinity of 3,000 men engaged. The average person does not realize how great an economic waste is involved by a reduction of the working week from forty-eight to forty-four hours.

Senator Foster - Is the New South Wales basic wage applied to the industry, too?'

Senator WILSON - I think so. The cost of living has decreased by almost 20 per cent. I do not intend to fight for a reduction in wages, but I am going to endeavour to obtain greater efficiency in the Public Service. It is not a question of the amount of money on the Estimates; we should inquire what the public is to receive for the expenditure of the taxpayers' money.

Honorable senators who press for extra expenditure at Canberra will receive no support from me at present. That work can well afford to wait. I am prepared to support expenditure on work of a developmental nature, and I hope the Government will put forth every effort to raise money for such purposes. Wherever the Government can secure cheap money, with the object of spending it wisely in developmental -works, so as to justify the immigration we are desirous of seeing, they can count on my support.

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