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Friday, 26 June 1914

Senator LONG (Tasmania) .- There seems to be an anxiety on the part of some honorable senators to terminate this discussion upon the allocation of some £3,000,000 of public money. We are asked, within a very few minutes, and without any explanation of the various items, to hand over this money holus bolus to the Government in order that we may at once get to the country. I hold that there is nothing inconsistent in honorable senators, who are willing to meet the Fusion party before the electors of Australia, fully criticising this Bill just as they are expected to do by their constituents. By discharging that duty they will not leave themselves open to the miserable charge which is so frequently hurled at them by the Fusion party and its hireling press, that they are seeking to extend the work of this Parliament by another day or two in order that they may draw another week's salary. Personally, I do not care how much that criticism is hurled at me. It will not deter me from doing what I believe to be my duty. But, in conjunction with other honorable senators, I suppose that I shall have to bow to the inevitable and proceed to grant Supply in order that the Government may enter upon the longest holiday that a Conservative Ministry have enjoyed since the inception of Federation. I make the bold prophecy that when the results of the approaching election are known, those honorable gentlemen who have been clamouring for this double dissolution will have got more than they bargained for. In this connexion I am reminded of a story which had its origin in one of the Western States of America. There was in a mining camp a big Yankee who said that he would fight anybody in that camp. Nobody took any notice of him. Then he said, "I will fight anybody in the district." Still nobody noticed him. Finally he said, "I will fight any man in this State." Then a young fellow, who was more jealous of the reputation of his State than he was of that of the camp, accepted the challenge. The boaster, after he had been well thrashed, and when he was able to articulate intelligibly, remarked, as he was leaving the camp in disgrace, " Before I go I want to make an admission. It is that in my last challenge I 'kivered' ' too much territory." In the demand of the present Government for a double dissolution they will discover, when the numbers go up, that they, too, " 'kivered' too much territory." As a parting shot at the Minister of Defence, I wish to say that during the past month he has not acquitted himself too capably. His exhibition last night was, perhaps, worthy of his general demeanour and of the arguments which he usually presents to this Senate. He went to no little trouble to entirely misrepresent the position which led up to the closing down of the works at Cockatoo Island and to its purchase from the Government of New South Wales. The scare attitude which he adopted on that occasion was adopted merely for the purpose of inducing the people of Australia to believe that his predecessor in office was not as careful of the lives and limbs of those employed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard as was this great man, Senator Millen. He immediately gave instructions that the dockyard should be closed down, and that a great number of workmen should be thrown out of employment, on the ground that the boilers used there were dangerous to human life. He has been challenged again and again to support that statement with facts, but he has utterly failed "to do so. Not only has he failed to support it with proof, but in the face of incontrovertible facts he has repeated his charge that the boilers were unsafe, and that their use subjected the employes to no little danger. Now, some of the men, who are most skilled in connexion with the working of boilers, men who have been engaged in that work all their lives, stated in evidence before the Select Committee which inquired into this matter that these boilers were not in any sense dangerous, and that the action of the Minister in closing the works was absolutely unwarranted. In this connexion I propose to read the evidence of a man who is known in the mechanical world from one end of New South Wales to the other, and whose opinion will not for a moment be contested. I refer to Mr. Kidd, who was one of the members of the advisory committee when Cockatoo Island was under the control of the New South Wales Government. He was examined by the Committee as follows : -

By Senator Maughan.- As a professional man of many years' standing, you think that the action taken by the Naval Board was, under the circumstances, somewhat unnecessary? - Yes. Had they apprehended any difficulty, they could have got one boiler taken off at a time, and quietly examined the whole lot.

Do you not think there was any occasion to discharge men, and reduce the working power of the plant?- -Certainly not.

By theChairman. - Do you not think there was danger to life? - No.

By Senator Rae.- You were a member of the committee of management? - Yes, for about eighteen months.

Was that up to the termination of the State ownership? - We handed over control at the end of February last.

Are you aware that the responsible Minister is reported to have said in Parliament that there was only one-sixteenth of an inch between the men and hell, or something of that, sort? - I saw something of that in the newspaper.

Do you think there was any justification forthat? - I do not think there was any justification at all. I have not seen the boilers personally, but to talk about a 1-1 6th of an inch thickness is taking a liberty with truth.

Then you think it was a kind of panicadministration that suddenly closed the works, down? - Certainly; in fact, I cannot understand Mr. Julius making a report on theboilers without a personal examination. Noengineer of experience trusts very seriously totesting a boiler. It may stand a test, and,, after that, meet with an accident. If you: make a personal examination, you can make a calculation, and test it afterwards. It is. usual to test boilers when they have been in, use at 25 or 50 per cent, above the usual pressure.

This evidence shows that the Minister of: Defence, who closed down the works at. a moment's notice, and threw several, hundreds of men out of work, acted upon the report of a gentleman who had never seen one boiler at Cockatoo Island.

Notwithstanding the action of the Minister, the fact remains that 85 per cent, of the machinery then in use on the island is still employed there, and the men for whose safety he showed such solicitude are still exposed to the dangers which he said they were exposed to when he closed down the works to protect them. In order to score again off his predecessor, who had set him a standard in the Department which he must find it very difficult to maintain, the Minister seeks to make out that the purchase of Cockatoo Island by the Commonwealth. Government from the State Government was a very bad transaction indeed for the Commonwealth. The Advisory Committee, in tendering to Mr. Arthur Griffiths, the then Director-General of Works in New South Wales, their report signed by Mr. Keele, Mr. Kidd, Mr. Houghton, Mr. De Burgh, and Mr. A. E. Cutler, who subsequently became manager, said -

With regard to the price to bc paid by the Commonwealth Government for the dockyards, this was, as already stated, determined by mutual agreement. The Committee would point out that the establishment has a high commercial value, not only on account of its situation, but also in view of the fact that' it contains the finest dock in Australia, apart from its value as a naval construction yard; and, so far from considering the price to be paid excessive, the Committee consider that this State made a sacrifice in the interests of the Commonwealth in agreeing to the transfer under the terms arranged.

That was the opinion of the committee of management under whose control the yard had been placed for years, and who were thoroughly conversant with it. Yet the Minister has said again and again that it was a wretched bargain for the Commonwealth, and that the late Government ought not to have entered into it. If the Minister thinks it is a bad bargain, and altogether unnecessary as part of the scheme for the development of the Australian Navy, the Government could, as Senator - Pearce has told them, get the price back at any moment from the State Government. The facts that I have stated are well known to the Minister, but when questioned on the point this morning by Senator Pearce he absolutely declined to give the information which the Senate knows very well has been in his possession ever since he took office. I hope that Senator Pearce will compel the Minister to give that information, and so do him only bare justice, before we allow the business to come to a conclusion. The Minister of Defence ought to be the last to offer criticism .of the character that he frequently levels at. his predecessor, in view of the unholy bungle in connexion with the Naval Board for which he must be held responsible. This mighty administrator, when he came into office, came to the conclusion that the short way to bring about a ' reform of that useless institution - because he has admitted that it is useless - was to dismiss, in a contemptible manner, the most useful member of the Board, in the person of Captain Hughes Onslow. He was satisfied that when that gentleman, whom he termed the stormy petrel, was removed from the Board everything would go on swimmingly, and the other members work together with the greatest harmony, endeavouring, with one accord, to give effect to the policy of this Parliament and the country in respect to its naval establishment. I undertake to say that members of this Parliament have read, with a" great deal of amazement, an article that appeared in the Age of 18th June, giving a fairly full account of the present position of the Board, and the relations of its individual members. After twelve months under the control of this mighty genius, Senator Millen, the Board is just as far from rendering .Australia any useful services as it was when he came into office. Yet he is going to allow this Parliament to close without giving it some assurance that he, as Minister of Defence, will use his authority to compel the members of the Board to do the work which they were appointed to do, or send them about their business, as he sent Captain Onslow, who deserved it less than several members on the Board do at the present time. In view of what has taken place, it is nothing short of impertinence for the Minister to accuse Senator Pearce of not knowing his business when hie was in charge of the Department for three' years. I can hardly understand Senator Pearce tolerating the kind of criticism, in this connexion, that the Minister of Defence is so often in the habit of levelling at him. I do not know whether honorable senators fully realize the condition of the Naval Board, and understand that several of its members are not on speaking terms because one does not part his hair in the middle and the other fellow does not part his hair correctly on the side. There are all kinds of petty disagreements amongst the members of the Board,and the consequence is that none of the Naval business of Australia is attended to'. If we had a statement from the Minister of Defence to-day it would be that the business which was relegated to the Board to deal with is piled up feet high, and it is likely to be so until there is a change in administration. I propose to quote a statement from an article to make honorable senators realize the farcical part which the so-called Naval Board, under this genius of an administrator, occupies at the present time.. It is a disgrace to the. Minister of Defence, as well as to. the people of Australia, that such a condition of things has been tolerated so long, or that it should be tolerated for one moment longer. The article reads -

It has long been known, and was pointed out in the Age many weeks since, that the administration at the' Navy Office has been in asad state -

That is a very mild statement - and that, far from the air being cleared, as the Minister of Defence said it was, by the dismissal of Captain Hughes Onslow, the second naval member, it has still remained in that stifling state that has brought the Department almost to a standstill. Captain Clarkson some months ago, after a futile effort to come to some agreement at a board meeting at the Navy Office, gathered up his papers and left the room with the phrase on his lips, "It's only history repeating itself." Ho referred to the attitude that was beingadopted by Admiral

Creswell and the Naval Secretary, in which matters directly affecting the Department over which Captain Clarkson had control were almost taken out of his hands. One of the strongest stands taken by Captain Hughes Onslow was on this very point.Rear-Admiral Creswell, as first naval member, disagreed with Captain Onslow. They did not " speak " for months. The Board took sides, and when Senator Millen became Minister of Defence he found that the Board was at a deadlock. Only the most urgent matters were being dealt with. In fact, the office was going on automatically.

That is precisely what it is doing today

To cure this state of affairs, the Minister removed Captain Onslow. But instead of relieving the strain, it only revealed how positively unworkable the Board had become. RearAdmiral Creswell had already quarrelled with Captain Clarkson, and up till the present time it is a matter of comment in naval circles that, except when officially called upon to do so, these two officers never address one another. That it is impossible for the Board to carry on in such circumstances is plain. The Minister, after a delay for which he has put forward no legitimate excuse, appointed; as second naval member Captain Gordon Smith. His attitude on the Board has been one of peace at all costs. Meanwhile the secretary, Mr. Manisty, was allowed to depart, and only after many weeks his successor was appointed. The Minister has still to appoint a finance member.So mutters muddle along.

As the Minister of Defence, who is so fond of criticising other people, does not feel disposed to sit here and listen to further remarks of mine on this particular point, I will pass on with the expression of this hope: that when the Labour party returns to power his successor will take the earliest possible opportunity of ending matters as they now exist on the Board, and placing its members in a position where they will render some useful services to the people of Australia. The present Government was going to create a revolution in the system of doing the work immediately under the control of the Commonwealth by. substituting the contract system for the day-labour system, and so save thousands of pounds to Australia.. How far has the contract system been resorted to? With the exception of the fat contract which was given to one of their friends, Mr. Teesdale Smith, no contracts.of any note have been let. The extent to which the Government has relinquished the day-labour system can be easily gauged. When the Labour Government left office the Commonwealth had acquired plant to the value of £65,000. If the present Government was honest in its desire, or active in its determination to end the day-labour system, this plant would be thrown out of use, The difference between the value of the plant acquired and the value of the plant in use will show to what extent the Government has relinquished that system. It will interest honorable senators to know that only £454 worth of this plant is idle to-day. That goes to show to what extent the Government is earnest in its declaration and its faith in the contract system as opposed to the day-labour system. I desire to refer to another matter which, perhaps, Senator McColl will say is a pet complaint with me. I regret that the Government, after dilly-dallying and misleading the people of King Island, is going out of office without having made a single effort to place them in wireless communication with the mainland or Tasmania. Six months ago, when I asked the VicePresident of the Executive Council if he would shake up the Department, he promised to do so. Whether he made an attempt or not I, of course, do not know, but the. fact still remains that nothing has been done, and the people of King Island are just as far off getting that consideration to-day as they were when this question was first brought under the notice of the Government. It is not at all creditable, when we remember the promptness with which wireless was established on Flinders Island, and. without imposing any condition that the people on that island should make a contribution to the cost of the erection and the maintenance of the plant. I ask, in the name of all that is reasonable, why the Government seek to impose such a condition on the people of King Island ? If the Government are not in earnest in their expressed desire to deal fairly in this matter, they ought to have the decency to say so; but we are as far off from any definite information as ever we were. The Government have not the courage to tackle the question and provide the communication so urgently required, nor have they the courage to admit that they do not intend to do so. If the people of King Island were satisfied that no assistance can be expected from the present Government, they, no doubt, would make some effort on their own account to get in closer touch with Tasmania and the mainland. Evidently they must look to a future Government to give them that communication for which they have been pleading for years; and this is certainly a matter that will early occupy the attention of the next Parliament. There are several other matters I should like to touch on, but I refrain, because I know that a number of honorable senators are anxious to catch the Inter-State trains. There is, for instance, the Public Service Commissioner and the Public Service examinations, to whichsome reference ought to be made; but these matters, I suppose, must be left to a future Parliament. Probably I shall not be here when the various items are under consideration; but I hope that my colleagues from Tasmania will not permit the neglect of King Island to pass without protest.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a first time.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee:

Clauses 1, 3 and 4 agreed to.

Clause 2 postponed.

Steamship Service: Port Adelaide and Darwin - Cockatoo Island Dockyard - Gratuity to Brigadier General Gordon - Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway: Alleged Victimization of Union Officials - Electoralrolls: Seamen - Post and Telegraph Department: Linemen's Award.


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