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Saturday, 16 December 1905

Mr CROUCH (Corio) - In connexion with the item relating to the Commandant of the New South Wales Military Forces, I would point out that a few months ago General Gordon made a speech, from which the inference might have been drawn that other defence schemes were not very satisfactory, but that he had one which would save the Commonwealth. It certainly conveyed the inference that neither MajorGeneral Hutton nor the Military Board, nor even the honorable and learned member for Corinella, knew very much about defence matters, but that General Gordon was thoroughly conversant with' them. For about a fortnight after this the people were breathlessly awaiting a statement as to his scheme; but, although the Minister of Defence has been questioned in regard to it, the scheme is not yet forthcoming. Are we to understand that General Gordon is reserving it either for the use of some other country, or in connexion with Mr. Carruthers' secessionist movement in New' South Wales? He is the Commandant, of that State. It is not long since the State Commandant of Victoria said that he looked not to the Commonwealth, but to the State, Government as his employers. Will the Minister promise that General Gordon's scheme will be produced ?

Sir John Forrest - I shall inquire about it.

Mr CROUCH - I desire also to make some observations in regard to the question of false information supplied to this House by officials of the Defence Department. Any one who has had any experience of that Department knows how it attempts to resort to bluffing tactics. The less information it can supply, in answer to questions, to this House the better its officials are pleased. For example, seven out of about ten answers made in reply to a question which I put in regard to the consecration of banners were absolutely false. Some time ago I pointed out that men at Drysdale were working on ah obsolete gun. which would be of no service in time of war, and I was informed that there were four guns at Queenscliff which had been thrown out of use by General Hutton, inasmuch as the Government would not supply him with sufficient cordite. I 'wrote a letter, which is on record, in reply to which it was stated that there were no guns that were not supplied with full ammunition. That letter ig also on record. But, at a meeting held in Geelong, the officer commanding the Garrison Artillery there stated that there were four guns at Queenscliff, which, for the reason I have stated, could not be used. I then put a question to the Minister in regard to the matter, and in my absence yesterday he read a report in which it was stated that there were four guns at Queenscliff for which a sufficient supply of cordite was not forthcoming, and that, therefore, they had been reserved. That reply, given at a time when the Department apparently was taken off its guard, is in striking contrast with the previous statement, and I think that we shall have to endeavour during the recess to have this, matter dealt with.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Divisions 184 to 190 (PostmasterGeneral's Department), £32,432.

Mr. MAHON(Coolgardie). - It appears that in the matter of gratuities, each State is allowed to carry out . its own special view, and that whilst owing to the liberality of the Government of Western Australia, several gratuities have been granted in that State, none are conceded in the others. A couple of years ago, the present Minister of Home Affairs brought under notice a case in which an officer of the Postal Department was killed by the fall of a pole, and pointed out that a proportion of the wages due to him at the time of his death was actually retained by the Department to pay his funeral expenses. In view of such an incident, it seems to me that it is time that the Government determined to lay down a general principle for the Commonwealth.

Sir John Forrest - During the bookkeeping period we must carry out the practice of the States.

Mr Groom - The money retained in respect of funeral expenses has been repaid.

Mr MAHON - But surely it was the refinement of cruelty to refuse compensation to the man's mother.. Whenever a proposal to do justice to some unfortunate individual in the Public Service is brought forward, the bookkeeping section is invariably hurled at us. I do not think that the bookkeeping section of the Constitution places any obstacle in the way of the Government devising a scheme by which all cases, regardless of the State in which they occur, will be treated alike. I find in this proposed vote an item of £200 to the widow of a Western Australian officer who, as a matter of -fact, did not die in the discharge of his duty. On the other hand, the public servant in Queensland to whom I have referred sacrificed his life in the execution of his duty, and nothing was done for his family. I know of another extreme case which occurred in Victoria. A sorter in the General Post Office, who had served in that capacity for about thirty years, and was a very conscientious man, broke down in health, and was retired on a pension of £75 per annum. About nine months after his retirement he died, and instead of the Government granting his widow compensation, computed on the leave to which he would have been entitled at the end of his period of service, they actually cut her down to the few pounds which were due to her husband at the time of his death. The difference was only a matter of £25 or £30. It was an act such as might be expected from a mean private employer. Apparently every advantage is taken of an opportunity to cut down the claims of poor people. When this matter was brought under the notice of the Department, the answer was that, because Mr. Bent would not agree to an arrangement, it could not give the widow an increased amount. I am expected to go down on my hands and knees to Mr. Bent, and ask him to grant this little concession, when the Department belongs to the Commonwealth, and is entirely under the control of Parliament. This is a most extraordinary state of affairs, and it is about time that the Government found out a guiding principle, and followed it in all such cases.

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