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Tuesday, 27 May 1902

Mr BROWN (CANOBOLAS, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If that happens it will be the fault of the committee. It has been suggested that the Commonwealth Parliament should practically abrograte its functions, and hand over its administrative work to the States, the plea being put forward that that would lessen expense and save the duplication of offices. But it has been well said that no man can serve two masters.

Mr Thomson - There is only one master - the people.

Mi-. BROWN. - Unfortunately the public servants do not recognise the people as their master. If we are to maintain efficiency of administration and obtain cheapness, we must not delegate our powers to the States. I believe, from what I have seen, that the State officials are more inclined to recognise the heads of their departments in the States than to recognise the federal authority, with the result that federal work is neglected for State work. No doubt it will be possible to largely use State officials for the carrying on of minor works, but for larger works there must be proper Commonwealth control, and the purpose of the proposed Public Works department is to secure that control.

Mr Poynton - It will create a duplication of offices.

Mr BROWN - I do not agree with the honorable member, but in any case the expenditure will be. less wasteful than where there is an absence of responsibility, as must happen under State, control. The honorable and learned member for Parkes and others have objected to work being carried out by State departments, upon the score that the methods adopted in New South Wales, at any rate, are such as should not be sanctioned by any well regulated Government. I do not agree with them. In New South Wales, when the contract system was the only system under which public works were carried out, the Government were compelled to fix minimum rates of wage, not only in justice to the workmen employed, but as a protection to themselves. Prior to the adoption of that system, contracts were cut down to such an extent that decent wages could not be paid, with the result that the work done was very inferior, and the wages of the men were ground down to the lowest possible rate. The Government were eventually compelled to adopt a minimum wage provision, which was first introduced by Mr. Young, the Minister for Works in the Reid Government. Later on, the day labour system was adopted, and to the honorable member for Parramatta - who was then PostmasterGeneral in the New South Wales Government - the credit is due of first putting that system into practice in connexion with a large work which was being carried out in his department. All the arguments which have been used by the honorable and learned member for Parkes were then employed with the object of discrediting that system, and the Minister for Home Affairs was among its opponents. A committee was appointed by the New South Wales Legislature to report upon the subject, and their decision was in favour of the departure made by the honorable member for Parramatta. It was the report of that committee which convinced . the Minister for Home Affairs that the system was the right one to adopt. Contractors grind their workmen down as much as possible, in order to increase their profits, and immense fortunes have been made by those who are now loudest in their complaints against the day labour system. In some cases that system does not appear in a favorable 'light, but these are few and far between, and they cannot be compared with instances which could be quoted against the contract system. One notable case in New South Wales,- which the honorable member for Parkes may remember, was the McSharry case. That was one of the most putrid cases of a number of the same kind, and it practically killed the system of contract in that State by illustrating the methods by which the

Government and the people were bled. The State is compelled to maintain an efficient staff for the supervision of the work done by contract, and this staff can be utilized with the best effect in carrying out works by day labour. The Government are relieved of all risks of heavy law costs, such as have been incurred under the contract system, and they are in a position to ensure efficient work, and the payment of good wages to the workmen. "Despite the charges brought against the Works department of New South Wales by the honorable and learned member for Parkes, the authorities in that -State are prepared to place day labour methods in competition with those of the contract system, and abide by the result. Recently the State Minister of Works invited such a comparison in connexion with the erection of two new wings at the Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. It was proposed that one wing should be erected by day labour, whilst the other was carried out by -contract, so that a comparison might be made between the respective systems, but advocates of the contract system were not prepared to face the result. In another case the Minister of Works in New South Wales called for tenders for a small work, and a contract was let for £1 20. The contractor, however, finding that there was not a sufficient margin of pr ,tit, threw up the work, and the Minister had it earned out by day labour at a cost, not of £120, but of £80. This is only one of many instances that could .be adduced to show that works can be carried out economically with day labour, provided the management is efficient. The day labour system has on the whole given much greater satisfaction than has the contract system in New South Wales. When we come to the consideration of the items under this department, I hope the Minister will, consent to postpone Division 16, which relates to the electoral office. The leader of the labour party desires to make a few remarks with regard to this most important department, and I am sure that the Minister is desirous that every opportunity should be afforded for full discussion.

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