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Tuesday, 27 May 1902

Mr THOMSON (North Sydney) - I think the expenditure in this department must disappoint those who anticipated that under federation we should be able to effect a saving rather than increase the expense of administration. The department, as it at present exists, is not, in my opinion, justified. An amount of £5,395 is provided for the payment of an administrative staff, whichhas some relationship, and I presume is in some senses superior, to the other bodies that are growing up under the same department. The cost of this administrative staff is simply a duplication of State expenditure. We have an Electoral-office, though the necessity for a separate department of the kind must depend largely on how we deal with the Electoral Bill.

Sir Edward Braddon - There ought never to have been an Electoral-office.

Mr THOMSON - That is a question far consideration when the Electoral Bill is before us. This separate department will, if the provisions of the Bill be carried into effect, become large and expensive ; and this is a duplication to a considerable extent of the State Electoral-offices. Then we have the expenditure of the Public Service Commissioner, whose salary, I notice, dates previously to his appointment.

Sir William Lyne - These Estimates were prepared before the appointment, and there are other similar cases.

Mr THOMSON - The office of the Public Service Commissioner is, to a certain extent, a duplication of similar offices in the States. I quite agree that there should be a Commonwealth Commissioner, but we ought to be careful not to incur unnecessarily heavy administrative expenditure in addition' to the cost of his staff. Then there is the. matter of the Interstate Commission.

Sir George Turner - These Estimates were prepared last September, and expenditure on an Inter-State Commission will not be necessary.

Mr THOMSON - Were this to be ail the work of the department, the subdepartments I have mentioned could very easily be attached to existing departments.

Sir William Lyne - Which existing departments?

Mr THOMSON - The Electoral-office could be administered by the Post-office officials, who could collect the necessary information more effectively than could the officers of any other department.

Mr Macdonald-Paterson - Except the police.

Mr THOMSON - The assistance of the police might, of course, be obtained; but, as I say, the Post-office officials could, through their far-spreading branches, collect the necessary information much more effectively than the officials of any other department.

Mr Ewing - More officers would still be wanted.

Mr THOMSON - But not to the same extent as if we establish an entirely new department. The work of an Electoraloffice is not continuous ; it is much heavier at certain times than at others.

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - The revision of the rolls continues during the year.

Mr THOMSON - It is proposed that the revision shall be done by district courts. The department of the Public Service Commissioner could be administered by either the Treasurer or the Attorney-General.

Mr Brown - The honorable member is arguing against the necessity for a department of Home Affairs.

Mr THOMSON - I say that the department has not justified its existence. There may be transferred services later on which will prove a justification for the existence of the department, which at present is only running up expenses by creating subdepartments. Every year the Estimates will grow, until the expenditure amounts to a very large sum in addition to the expenditure by the States. Of course, some of the expenditure has been taken over from the States ; but I am now. speaking of a new department for which, as regards the subdepartments named, there is really no justification. The Public Service Commissioner and his staff have their work, and they simply require a political head for consultation and instruction in the carrying out of the provisions of the Act.

Sir George Turner -The Public Service Commissioner, under any Minister, must have the same staff.

Mr THOMSON - But we are creating another staff, for which, in my opinion, there as things are is no justification. If the Inter-State Commission comes into existence it can be placed under the Attorney-General. The Public Works department necessitates another administrative staff which will also grow. We may employ some professional men in connexion with public buildings ; but, as a rule, the work can be better dealt with by the departments which occupy the buildings - by the Post-office and Customs departments. The work would probably then be more efficiently done at less cost, and certainly there would be no necessity for a separate clerical staff.

Sir Edward Braddon - A great many public buildings are in the joint occupation of the Commonwealth and the States.

Mr THOMSON - Use is being made to some extent,, and properly so, of State officers ; but, in addition, at this early stage of the Home department, £4,066 is to be spent in salaries in connexion with alterations and repairs to public buildings. Then, again, £5,000 is to be paid by the Commonwealth to States officers in Commonwealth employ.

Sir William Lyne - That is merely an estimate.

Sir George Turner - The money will be paid to the States.

Mr THOMSON - I admit that that £5,000 is not new expenditure ; but there remains the £4,066. We must seek to keep down expenditure on new departments and sub-departments. If we multiply our staffs, it must result in increased expenditure. At present I see no sign of any interchange of officers between departments for temporary purposes, the tendency still being to add more men when there is a rush of work, and to continue to employ them when the rush is over. I am very much afraid this department is going to spend large amounts of money. We should wait until a sub-department is proved necessary before we establish it ; and in the duplication to which I have alluded there is a great danger to the finances of the Commonwealth.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member for North Sydney, if he has done anything, has madean all-round and wholesale attack on the department for Home Affairs, which in his opinion ought to be swept away. I am afraid that the suggestion to split up in a dozen different channels the construction and repair of works would necessitate the appointment of a much larger number of officers than that to which the honorable member has taken exception. The honorable member, if he would only consider the matter, must see that his suggestion would prove even more expensive than the present plan.

Mr Page - There would not be a dozen secretaries.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I do not know what Minister has a dozen secretaries.

Mr Page - There is one in every department.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - What nonsense ! The salaries paid are very low compared with the salaries in some of the States. A separate electoral office is absolutely necessary. In New South Wales before the Federal elections, a Commonwealth electoral office had practically to be created in order to prepare the rolls. The electoral officers have first of all to prepare the rolls which are altogether different from those of the States.

Mr McDonald - No departure has been made from the State rolls of Queensland.

Mr Batchelor - Nor from those of South Australia.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The rolls which are now being prepared for South Australia are different from the State rolls, and the same remark applies to the Commonwealth rolls for Queensland.

Mr Batchelor - Can I obtain a copy of the new rolls'?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I do not know whether a copy can be furnished now, but the honorable member can obtain any information from the department. A continuous investigation has been going on for months, and will have to be continued, while still greater alterations will have to be made when we pass the Electoral Bill providing for one general franchise throughout the Commonwealth. That is one of the reasons why there must be an electoral office for the Commonwealth. If we allow the States to carry out the work of collecting the information for, and preparing the rolls, what control will the Commonwealth have?

Mr Thomson - I did not propose that.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The work can only be done by means of a Commonwealth electoral office. I thought that the only objection which might be made would be that the electoral office was too small, consisting as it does of only four officers.

Information will have to be collected in every State, and dealt with at the head office, and the total cost is £950 a year. As a matter of fact all the offices provided for are not yet filled, and there is one officer who is not receiving the £450 a year which appears upon the Estimates, so that the actual expenditure at the present time is less than £950 per annum. The remarks made by the honorable member for North Sydney in regard to the Public Service Commissioner seemed to me to indicate that he considered that our public service should be governed by the State Acts, or, in some other way, through the Governments of the respective States. How is it possible for the service to be conducted without a commissioner ?

Mr Thomson - I did not raise any objection to the commissioner. I said it was unnecessary that the public service should be under the control of the department for Home Affairs.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I do not know whether the honorable member is aware that there are between 12,000 and 15,000 public servants in the employ of the Commonwealth.

Mr Thomson - We provide a staff to deal with them.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member wishes to destroy the department for Home Affairs. These matters must be discussed with a certain amount of reason. Let me tell the honorable member of the work done by my staff. During last month, I think, there were 8,000 communciations dealt with, 5,500 separate letters and minutes written, and 6,000 accounts, representing over £100,000, received and dealt with, in addition to a great deal of incidental work in relation to returns and other matters. The honorable member will see, therefore, that a good deal of work is being carried on by some half-dozen men in my department. All the offices are not filled up, and will not be filled until required. Only seven appointments in the head office have been made, and I should point out that, with one or two exceptions, the caretakers and messengers in the service are all included in the department for Home Affairs. In my department there are seven members of the administrative staff, two temporary clerks, and three messengers and cleaners.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is a messenger provided for in the Estimates relating to the Treasury and also to the Audit-office.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I am not quite sure, but I believethey have been transferred to my department. I think. I have five temporary messengers and cleaners. There are three officers employed in the electoral branch, and so far as the Government public service is concerned the commissioner is the only officer who has been appointed. At. the head office of the Commonwealth Public Works department there are seven men employed, including Mr. Blackbourn, the superintendent.

Mr Henry Willis - A salary of £80 a year for a messenger is a poor one.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - That relates to the salary of a messenger in my departmentwho was very young, and only recently entered the service. The same remark applies to the caretaker, for whom a wage of £65 a year is provided in these Estimates. There is no extravagance in connexion with the department. I should like to know how the Commonwealth is going to carry on its public works? Works representing an expenditure of £165,000 out of revenue have to be proceeded with at once. We shall also have various undertakings provided for out, of loan moneys. If the committee is going to talk of the States dealing with these matters, we might as well sweep away the whole of this department. , If the State departments are to deal with these works the honorable member for North Sydney will have the privilege of taking my place, or of gettingsome one else- to fill it, because as long as I have charge of the public works of the Commonwealth; and as long as I am responsible for them to this House, I shall see for myself how they are carried out. I have tried to carry out our works as economically as possible, but I cannot make any arrangements with the States in regard to the question of payments. That is why a sum of £5,000 has been placed on the Estimates to repay the States for servicesrendered by them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Our trouble is that we cannot get works done even when they are authorized.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The Commonwealth public works are subordinate to those of the States at the present time. In regard to the question of when any of our works shall be undertaken, I am absolutely in the hands of the State Ministers and their officers.

Mr Henry, Willis - Does that remark, apply to the Postal department ?


Mr Henry Willis - Is the Government spending any money on the Post-office in Newcastle ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - That work was commenced before the establishment of the Commonwealth, and it is being carried on by the New South Wales Minister for Public Works on behalf of my department. I think that the cost is £26,000 or £28,000. In Hobart, another public building is also being erected by the State, which expects us to take it over. I have to make the best kind of arrangement I can with the States at present, and I have no power to expedite public works. When complaints of delay are made, I can only write to the State Minister and urge greater expedition. Other State works engage the attention of the State, departments, and I think honorable members will see that what I am proposing is after all a very limited Public Works department for the Commonwealth. . I desire to have an officer in. eachState. The suggestion has been made by South Australia and Tasmania that one officer should be employed in each of those States, and paid jointly by the State and the Commonwealth Governments. I am prepared to fall in with that arrangement, but I insist that the officer shall be under the control of the Commonwealth. I propose to have an officer in each of the larger States. We have taken over Mr. Blackbourn from the Victorian Government and he, with his staff, deals with Commonwealth work here. Mr. Blackbourn cannot attend to all the work, but he communicates with officers of the Public Works department, and sees that our work is carried out as reasonably as possible. If he considers that any work is not done as well as it might be, he reports to me, and I direct that the matter shall be investigated. I want, such an officer in New South Wales,. Queensland, and probably also in Western Australia.

Mr Batchelor - What provision has the Minister made ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable member will find provision made for a public works superintendent. In connexion with the Public Works department, I shall have a representative officer in the larger States, because most work will be carried on there, and, ifpossible, I shall make some arrangement with the smaller States ; but where an officer does duty in more than one State he must be a Commonwealth officer. The Commonwealth has taken over the control of a very large number of buildings, especially in connexion with the Postal and Defence departments ; and if the States raise any objection to the appointment of Common-: wealth officers to look after the construction, maintenance, and repairs of such buildings, I think it might reasonably be suggested to them that it would be better for them to curtail their own public works expenditure, though, of course, the matter is one for them alone to deal with. It is my experience, and I am sure that this statement will be borne out by honorable members representing country constituencies, . that I have practically no control over the carrying out of Commonwealth public works in places far removed from the State capitals. Although- 1 may authorize them, and the money may be ready, it depends entirely upon the State Minister as to when works will be carried out. I want an officer whose duty it will be to supervise the construction of Commonwealth works, and to report exactly how- they are being carried out ; and if the States do not carry them out as we should like we must invite ten- ders. That is the only alternative if the Commonwealth is not to be at the mercy of the States. Most of the State Ministers have met me as far as they could, but they naturally look after their own works first. I have not been able to come to a deter- mination as to what payment should be made for the supervision of public' works. I have suggested that a percentage should be given upon the total amount expended, but that has not been agreed to. The suggestion has been made by one or two of the States that an officer's services should be charged for according to the work done, and that where he is sent 200 or 300 miles into the country, the Commonwealth should pay all .expenses-; but I do not think that that would be a satisfactory arrangement.

Mr Poynton - It would cost less than the keeping up of a Commonwealth staff.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I think that it would be more costly. If the. Commonwealth had to pay the expenses of-, officers who were being, sent from- one end to another of States like New- South Wales and Queensland the amount would be very large.

Mr Poynton - Would not the expenses of a Commonwealth officer be as large asthe expenses of a State officer ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - A Commonwealth officer would visit a number of works on the same trip.

Mr Poynton - Could not a State officer do that 1

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Yes, if he were instructed to do so ; but he might at the whim of his superior be sent from Sydney to Bourke merely to inspect one postoffice, and I decline to pay the travelling expenses of. officers unless I know what work, they have been doing. The amount I ask for in order to provide, not a Works- department, but a supervising department, is not very large. I do not want to suddenly create a larger department. If, as time goes on, it. is necessary to enlarge the department, I shall have to come to Parliament for a larger vote. It is necessary that we should have some control over the works' that are being, carried out for us- by the States, and are being paid for out of. revenue and loan moneys. When defence works come to be undertaken, no doubt the expenditure will, be largely increased, and possibly in. the near future we may have to undertake such, works as the building, of the federal capital and the construction of the western railway.

Sir WILLIAMMCMILLAN (Wentworth). - I appreciate the difficulties of the Government in creating an organization, for their executive purposes ; but there can be no doubt that they should' accept the- assistance of the States where possible, though the whole matter mustbe dealt with in a tentative fashion at first. I fear-- that in the past every Minister has been going, too much upon his own lines, and I hope that, now the Public Service Commissioner has been appointed, he will: be asked; with the corporate advice of the Cabinet, to consider the arrangement of the departments, and what officers are necessary in a department like that now under consideration. The Works department is a spending department which, will have to be carefully watched. No doubt it is necessary that the Commonwealth should carry out many of its public works itself, or should, know exactly how they are being, carried out. One of the officers for- whose salary we are- asked to make provision - the Inspector - General of Works - will occupy a most important post, and I hope that the approval of the House will be obtained to his appointment. He will be practically the Commonwealth architect, and will probably be the man who will call for designs for the building of the federal capital, and will have to superintend the carrying out of that great work. I hope, therefore, that the Executive will be very careful in making this appointment. The person appointed will have an enormous responsibility, and an enormous amount of patronage ; and he must be a very able man, in the prime of life, and one beyond reproach. In my opinion, a mistake has been made in these Estimates in calling too many officers " secretaries." Why should not the chief officer under the Public Service Commissioner be termed the " chief clerk," instead of the " secretary " ; and why should there not be a " chief clerk " instead of a " secretary " as the principal officer of the Inter-State Commission? When I was in office in New South Wales, I saw that whenever a man was made head of a department, he required his own room, with its costly carpet and furniture, his accountant, his staff, and his messengers, and I warned the public servants that if they went on in that way they would eventually have to face a Black Wednesday ; and a day of reckoning did come there.

Mr Poynton - We shall have to face it here if we do not mind.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN - No doubt, at the present time, the Federal Ministers have to take the best rooms they can get ; but I hope that when we come to have our own public buildings the system of giving every officer a separate room will be discontinued, and that the banking-chamber style of construction, in which every man in a department is at work in view of his chief, will be largely adopted. I wish to know from the Treasurer if he intends to put into the Appropriation Bill the total amount provided for in these Estimates, notwithstanding the fact that a great many of the votes will lapse on 30th J une, and, if required afterwards, must be revoted?

Sir George Turner - Any amount that is not likely to be required, such as the vote for the Inter-State Commission, will be dropped out.

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