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Friday, 1 May 1942

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- In view of the remarks of the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Ashley), I think it is proper that I should say that I was not asked, or prompted, by any body to move my amendment. I did so because of my own reactions to the sub-clause as it stands. The speech of the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) was even more irrelevant than most of his speeches in this chamber. It was based solely on the argument that Commonwealth departments should be housed in the national capital. With that argument I have no dispute whatever. Such departments should be transferred to Canberra; but this is not a Commonwealth department. It is a commission created for the purpose of performing a most important public function.

Senator Fraser - For the Government?

Senator SPICER - Yes ; but everything done for the Government must not be done from Canberra. As I said in moving my amendment, I have no objection to the head-quarters of the commission being situated at Canberra, or at any other city ; but I am concerned to see that the place where it is to be situated is determined not by some prejudice in favour of the National Capital, but by reference to the realities of the situation by men who understand the real needs of the commission. That forces one to the view that the proper body to determine where the head office of the commission shall be is the commission itself. That is all I am asking.

Senator Collings - The creature greater than the creator?

Senator SPICER - Not at all. When a commision of this kind is appointed, it is proper to trust it to perform honestly and to the best of its ability the duties that are assigned to it. I have heard practically nothing in this debate to lead me to the conclusion that Canberra is the proper place for its head-quarters. I put this important point to honorable senators. The commission is carrying on functions of a character in respect of which it is important that it should be constantly aware of public reactions. It is most essential that members of the commission and its general manager and officers at the head office should be constantly aware of public reactions to the activities of the commission. I know of no place in Australia where it is more difficult to determine public reactions to anything than the city of Canberra.

Senator Collings - We get newspapers here occasionally.

Senator SPICER - Yes, but one does not get reactions of public opinion from newspapers.

Senator Collings - No?

Senator SPICER - I can understand the Leader of the Senate having so poor a knowledge of public opinion if that is the source upon which he relies. All honorable senators know that the real reactions of public opinions are to be obtained in talking with our fellow citizens over the lunch table in the large capital cities.

Senator Collings - We have lunch here occasionally.

Senator SPICER - Yes, the honorable senator has lunch here, probably, with the same people day after day. The * head-quarters of the commission should be in a centre which will enable it to feel the pulse of the public in relation to its activities. I am not concerned which city is selected by the commission. At present its head office is at Sydney, and I shall be quite happy if it be allowed to remain there.

Senator Collings - Why not make it Brisbane ?

Senator SPICER - -That is ridiculous. The members of the original commission, for reasons of their own, decided at the outset, apparently, that Sydney was the most convenient place. Why should we now insert a direction in this measure to the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) that he shall at some time transfer the head office of the commission to Canberra? The PostmasterGeneral has told us that he does not intend to effect the transfer at present; that he cannot do it now. If the transfer is not to be made until after the war, even if we believe that it should be made, why put this direction in the bill to-day? We can amend the measure accordingly after the war. We can then decide to insert a positive provision that the head office of the commission be transferred to Canberra; that is the right time to judge the matter. We are now being asked to give a direction to the Postmaster-General that, at some time in the future, in circumstances which we cannot now envisage, he shall direct that the head office of the commission be transferred to Canberra. I cannot imagine anything more nonsensical. It has been suggested that my amendment is a reflection upon my colleague, Senator Gibson, who was chairman of the joint committee. That argument is based on the claim that we should accept every line of the committee's report, and that none of it should be subjected to criticism. All I have to say on that matter is that, had I been chairman of that committee, I should have thought that there was something wrong with the report if it did not contain anything with which a member of this chamber could find fault. I am sure that that is Senator Gibson's reaction to that argument. This recommendation is one of the weakest of the committee's recommendations. It contains all the elements of a recommendation which has been agreed upon as a matter of compromise between the members of the committee for the purpose of returning a unanimous report. I have acted on joint committees, and I know what is done when a committee desires to return a unanimous report. In fact, committees of which I have been chairman have returned one or two unanimous reports. You do not put down the exact thing which you, or another member of the committee, might desire. If you can, you chose a form of words acceptable to every body, having regard to the circumstances. I have no doubt that that is what happened in this case. Close examination of this recommendation will show that it is unwise. Having regard to existing circumstances, we cannot do better than leave the matter, as we have left many others, to the discretion of the members of the body concerned.

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