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Thursday, 29 May 1902

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I listened very attentively to the remarks made by the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Poynton, in order to hear his reason for opposing the proposed formation of a Commonwealth Public Works department.

Mr Poynton - Does not the honorable member think that the objection to duplication is a good one ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would be a solid reason if it were a necessity of the situation. If the States, after handing over the work of large departments to the Federation, continued to employ the same number of officers as before, there would be duplication, but that would be a wanton, reckless extravagance on their part.

Mr Poynton - I wish to see these State officers taken over by the Commonwealth.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member has had the assurance of the Minister that, as far as possible, he intends to take them over. We all hope that he will do so, and that they will not be turned adrift in the street while he is taking on men from outside. If the Minister followed any policy in opposition to that course I should agree with the honorable member. What I advocate is that we should control our own works, and, whatever may be the case in South Australia, I believe that works can be carried out by our own department quite as cheaply as they are being now carried out in New South Wales. I . have no criticism to offer as to the day-labour system, such as that indulged in by the honorable and learned member for Parkes. On the contrary, I have helped to work the system with some success, and I wish it to be distinctly understood that I am making no attack upon it. But, given day labour in, it will be easy for the Public Works department of the Commonwealth to control its work as effectively and as economically as such work is now being done in any State. I refer particularly to the want of expedition with which our works are being executed. I know of one work, involving an expenditure of £100, which has been referred by the Commonwealth Government to the ' State department of New South Wales. How long it will remain there I do not know. It seems to me that our work is .being put back until that of the State is completed. I distinctly object to such a condition of affairs. Let not the honorable member run awa}' with the idea that the work i& going to be done cheaper by the States.

Mr Poynton - I do not think that the Commonwealth department will carry out our works much more economically, judging by what has been done.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the House allows works to be carried out extravagantly, we shall have only ourselves to blame. I shall do my best to prevent it. I shall certainly join with the honorable member in trying to keep the Minister to ' his promise that he will endeavour to take over the States' officers.

Mr Poynton - What about the head man ?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As long as there is a competent man in the States services he should be selected. We ought to give the States no excuse to criticise our action in creating a Public Works department. I cannot conceive of the Minister filling the service from outside. If he did, it would be diametrically opposed to his own peace of mind and to the welfare of tlie Commonwealth as a whole. If I thought that we were going merely to duplicate the Public Works officers I should oppose this proposal as strongly as does the honorable member for South Australia.

Mr Poynton - That is what I am afraid of.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It will be entirely the fault of the States if officers are retained in their services to do nothing, after we have relieved them of so much work. In view of the fact that we propose next year to construct public works, representing an expenditure of about £250,000, and that there will probably be a steady expansion as the functions of the Commonwealth grow, why should we split up this huge department and hand it over to the tender mercies of the States services ? I do not think that would be a wise or an economical policy. The closer we make our control over our own undertakings the better will it be. I am as anxious as is the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Poynton, that there shall be no undue extravagance in the Commonwealth, and my attitude in this House is evidence of that. But after lift ecn or sixteen months' experience of the present system, I consider that we ought to have directcontrol over the can-ying out of our public works. I desire to sar a word or two in regard to the letter written by Mr. O'sullivan, Minister for Public Works in New South Wales, which has been quoted by the honorable member for Maranoa. I should not have troubled about it but for the fact that it contained a gibe at our Ministry as well as at the honorable and learned member for Parkes. Every one knows that when Mr. O'sullivan takes his pen in his hand he is not responsible for his actions. He hits all round, and although he is always very fond of talking about people who sit behind dirty inkpots in metropolitan newspaper offices, there is no man in New South Wales who slings more dirty ink about than he does. In the letter referred to he went further than he ought to have done in criticising the honorable and learned member for Parkes. I have no sympathy with many of the honorable and learned member's political and social views, and certainly not with 37 a his attitude on the question of day labour; hut I do not .think there is a more honorable, upright, and straightforward man in Australia than he is. I believe that that is the general opinion in the State in which he resides. Therefore Mr. O'Sullivan statement that he purchased Darling Island with Government funds for the benefit of his friends is one which should not be' allowed to pass. Mr. O'sullivan says further that he had to increase the road vote in New South Wales because his predecessors starved it. I was a member of the Reid Government which was in office prior to Mr. O'sullivan coming into power, and the reason why we did not increase our expenditure upon the roads was because New South Wales at the time was passing through a' very trying period, and, like Sir George Turner in Victoria, we cut our coat according to our cloth. The best thing the right honorable member for East Sydney ever did for New South Wales was in holding the purse strings tight during that period. As a matter of fact, it was the Minister for Home Affairs who cut down the New South Wales road vote, as I have been able to prove to him by a reference to the Estimates. It stood at the same figure when the Reid Government left office as it did when we took it over from the Government in which the Home Secretary was Minister for Public Works, which we displaced. I am glad that the proposed Commonwealth Public Works department is to be created, but I hope, that it will be administered upon economical lines and that no more officers will be appointed than are absolutely necessary. If we have no more men than are required to do the necessary work, we cannot be accused of extravagance ; that accusation can only be brought against the State authorities which refuse to retrench their expenditure after having been' relieved of many of their liabilities.

Mr. KENNEDY(Moira).- I feel from the speeches which have been delivered, that I am in a minority, but I intend to stick to my opinion. In reply to what has been said about the delay which has already taken place in the construction of Commonwealth public works by the States officials, I would point out that that delay has taken place, because, pending the passing of the Estimates, they have not been instructed to proceed with these works, and we have had complaints over and over again about money not being forthcoming to pay for the works already completed. I shall vote against the division.

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