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Tuesday, 27 May 1902

The CHAIRMAN - Will the honorable and learned member confine himself to the Estimates for the Department for Home Affairs?

Mr CROUCH - Yes ; but I desire to refer to the financial aspect of the department, and to that extent my references to the responsibility of the Treasurer are strictly relevant. If the Treasurer considers that any of the offices provided for are unnecessary, or that any of the salaries are extravagant, he owes a duty to the Parliament and to the Commonwealth to tell us so. The committee would support him in any such action.

Mr Salmon - We are not likely to have that until we have an elective Ministry.

Mr CROUCH - That will not be adopted for a time. I am glad to see that the Treasurer, by his silence, shows that the Estimateshave his approval. If they have, I fail to see any necessity for discussing the items in detail, we have not sufficient particulars to take the responsibility. My confidence in the Treasurer is sufficient to lead me to support these items if they have his approval.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I cannot allow the extraordinary speech made by the honorable and learned member for Corio to go without notice. I wish him to know that I am in charge of these Estimates ; that I and no one else administer the department for Home Affairs. I am aware of the great confidence which the honorable and learned member reposes in theTreasurer, and I hope that before I have been in the Ministry much longer he will have a little confidence in me and in my department. These Estimates have been prepared for my department, and if there is anything wrong, I am responsible. In reference to Mr Cohen's expenses, 1 have only to say that if I had known as much in the first instance as I know now, there would have been no need to obtain his services ; but I held then, and I still hold, that the Commonwealth should not pay to an officer transferred from a Statedepartment a smaller salary than he was receiving from the State. While Mr. Cohen was in Melbourne, his wife andfamily were residing in Sydney, and his actual expenses were probably nearly as large as his salary.

Mr Page - But the Prime Minister promised that after a certain date no further allowances would be paid.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The Prime Minister's promise referred only to permanent officers. This was an exceptional case. I brought Mr. Cohen from Sydney because I knew him to be a good accountant, and in organizing a new department I wanted some one with whom I was personally acquainted.

Mr Page - The honorable gentleman is asking for a lot of money.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Yes, -but the amount is less than would have been expended by the States under similar circumstances. I have compared these Estimates with the State expenditure of previous years.

Mi-. Page. - Does the Minister guarantee that the next Estimates will not be increased ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - That will depend upon the requirements of the Commonwealth. The honorable member for Gippsland stated that, whereas the amount expended by the State departments was something like £97,000, the amount which would be expended by the Commonwealth department under my control was something like £144.000, but, as a matter of fact, there is a difference of only £13,000, including every department under my control.

Mr. PAGE(Maranoa).- The Minister's explanation in regard to the payment of the allowance to Mr. Cohen justifies the division taken upon the Defence estimates. If a Minister's word cannot be taken, what are Honorable members to do ?


Mr PAGE - We might get in their places a worse lot. I should be very sorry to see the honorable and learned member for Parkes in office. The Prime Minister told us that after a certain date no more allowances would be paid, and yet two officers in the Home Secretary's department continue to receive allowances.

Sir William Lyne - Who is- the other officer to whom the honorable member refers 1

Mr PAGE - The chief electoral officer. According to the papers put before us by the Treasurer, he has been receiving £1 a day-

Sir William Lyne - The information that the ' honorable member has is not correct. The allowance which the officer to whom he refers was receiving was only 10s. a day, and it was stopped immediately the promise of the Prime Minister was given. .

Mr PAGE - The Minister tells us. that these Estimates are lower than the State Estimates. That is probably because some of the sub-departments have come into existence only a month or two before- the end of the financial year. ' I should like to know, in connexion with the Public Service

Commissioner's department, if a secretary, a clerk and shorthand writer, and a messenger, are to make up his whole staff.

Sir William Lyne - Yes, so far as I know.

Mr PAGE - I hope that that will be so, but I am afraid that each of these subdepartments will require as large a staff as the administrative staff. The State departments have been growing year by year. The honorable member for Wentworth told us that when he was in office he had to tell the public servants of New South Wales that if things went on as they were going they would have to face a .Black Wednesday, and something of that kind will happen in connexion with the Commonwealth service if a tight rein is not kept upon the public expenditure. Has the Inspector-General of Works been appointed yet ?

Sir William Lyne - No. I do not think I have appointed any officer in that department.

Sir William McMillan - Any appointment made in the future must be made through the Public Service Commissioner.

Sir William Lyne - I am not sure that that applies to the Inspector-General of Works, but the Public Service Commissioner must be consulted.

Mr PAGE - The honorable member for North Sydney has raised the complaint that the Minister is making the head of each of these sub-departments a secretary instead of a chief clerk.

Sir William Lyne - I am quite pre- ' pared to call them all chief clerks, if that does not affect their position -under the Public Service Act.

Mr PAGE - If they are made chief clerks, we shall know what they are. My experience of secretaries is that they are as unapproachable as Ministers. With regard to the carrying out of Commonwealth public works, I think that we should be masters of the situation. I know that the Queensland Public Works department is not quite what I should like to see it. The honorable member for South Australia,. Mr. Poynton, says that we are creating two Public Works departments ; but if we take into the Commonwealth service officers from the State service; there will be no increase of expenditure, ' and I am confident that, all things being equal, officers of the States service will have the preference when appointments are being made. The principle of the minimum wage to which the honorable and learned member for Parkes has taken so much objection has already been recognised in our legislation, because a provision was inserted in the Post and Telegraph Act that all persons employed in carrying out contracts under the Postal department should be paid the minimum wage. The honorable and learned member says that he is in favour of the contract system, but we know that for many years past contractors have been growing fat upon somebody - either the workers or the Government, or perhaps both. The honorable and learned member also said that the wages paid by the Government for day labour were 50 per cent, higher than those paid by contractors.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What I said was that one method of working cost 50 per cent, more than the other.

Mr PAGE - In reply to that statement I would point out that only a week or so ago the Minister for Lands in New South Wales called for tenders for the- construe-' tion of baths at Coogee, and the lowest contract price was £800. This was considered to be too much, and it was decided to carry out the work by day labour, the estimated cost being £350; foi" which they are quite satisfied that they will be able to complete the structure. I know what contracting is, and I have made a fine thing out of the Queensland Government under the contract system. They, however, have closed down on all that sort of thing in the northern State, and are building their railways by day labour.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I suppose the honorable member took it out of the men,

Mr PAGE - I took it out of anybody I could. I looked out for a good solid contract, and my object was to make money. If I could put in a bad piece of' timber, and the inspector would let it go, I took care to utilize it. The minimum wage principle, as now adopted by most of the State Governments, is one of the greatest blessings in Australia. I can quite understand the honorable member 'for Parkes being opposed to it, because he is the only hard-crusted conservative I have met in Australia. The Minister for Works in New South Wales is opposed to him in his fiscal ideas, and also in his notions of political economy.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He is also opposed to the honorable member in his fiscal ideas. 36 s 2

Mr PAGE - That does not matter to me. What I desire is to bring about good social conditions for the worker, and my present impression is that free-trade will best contribute to that end. Perhaps I may be convinced later on that protection will accomplish my object. I have been a worker, and I have been an employer, and I know the evils of the contracting system from every point of view. I worked at one time for Mr. McSharry, who was once represented by .the honorable and learned member for Parkes.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is quite wrong; I appeared for theGovernment on that occasion.

Mr PAGE - That makes it worse still, because the case was a smellful one from beginning to end. Recently the secretary " of the Victorian Employers' Federation was travelling through the country, asking why the employers should be called upon to pay their men wages such as would enable them to get married, to go to the theatre, or towear suits of black clothes. It is ideas such as these which find support from the honorable and learned member for Parkes. Why should the worker be sturdy, well-fed, wellclothed, and enjoy himself 1 Why should he take unto himself a wife 1 Do the employers wish to fill the Commonwealth with illegitimate children % It is very easy to be virtuous on £10,000 a year, but when any law is passed for the benefit of the worker, the honorable and learned member for Parkes says that it is against all sound economical principles, and that the workman should go into the open market, and sell his labour in free competition. That is free-trade, according to the ideas of the honorable and learned- member, but not as I understand it.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why would the honorable member admit foreign made cheap goods'?

Mr PAGE - Because I want to get them as cheaply as I can.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The cheapest goods do not come from the countries where the lowest wages are paid.

Mr PAGE - No; the cheapest goods come from the countries where they pay the highest wages. So far as the Commonwealth Public Works department is concerned, I will stand by the Ministry.

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