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Wednesday, 10 September 1902

Sir JOHN QUICK (Bendigo) - I must apologize for not being in my place when this report was presented to the House for its consideration. I may remind honorable members that the report is the work of a joint committee of both Houses - a committee upon which both sides of this Chamber and of the Senate were fairly represented. The committee did not represent any particular view or party. Both branches of the Legislature were interested in the inquiry, and every shade of political opinion was represented in the committee. I would further remind honorable members that the committee have reported upon the cost of work for which the House itself, and the Senate were responsible, and not merely upon expenditure authorized by the Executive Government. Our mission was to investigate the whole cost of printing, including that which was ordered by both the Senate and the House of Representatives - printing for which the mouthpiece of the House, in the person of the Speaker, and the mouth-piece of the Senate, in the person of the President, were responsible. Consequently our report is not intended to be a criticism of what has been done either by the Executive Government or by any department, but of the printing of the Commonwealth as a whole. The reason why a joint committee was instructed to investigate and report upon this matter was that some time last year very exaggerated statements were circulated in the press regarding the cost of federal printing, and concerning certain extraordinary expenditure connected therewith, which, it was alleged, was caused by our new federal system. Some of those statements were of a very startling and extraordinary character, one being to the effect that federation had caused a new expenditure upon printing which amounted to upwards of £40,500 for the first year. Another report went further, and declared that the federal printing bill would amount to £78,000 per annum. These statements were calculated to damage not only the Federal Government, and this Parliament, but the whole federal system. Consequently, all who were interested in maintaining the good name of our federal institutions felt anxious that the statements contained in these reports should be investigated, so that, if they proved to be true, we might ascertain how far such expenditure was justified. Of course our work has been a very important one, and I may say that the committee devoted a considerable amount of attention to it - as is disclosed by the evidence which has been collected and printed. We also made numerous . private inquiries, which have resulted in the best recommendations at which we could see our way clear to arrive. We did not desire to launch into a very wide or expensive inquiry, extending over numerous and long sittings. Neither did we wish to examine outsiders, if we were satisfied that the expense which was being incurred^ upon our printing was reasonable. Had we felt doubtful whether that expense was justifiable, or whether the wages being paid to our employes were unduly high, we should have consulted outsiders in regard to the matter. But after examining the Government Printer, and other Commonwealth officers, and exercising our own knowledge of the world, we concluded that it was not necessary to take the opinion of outsiders either in regard to the wages paid, or the nature of our federal printing. We availed ourselves of our own knowledge, .and submitted our report. I do not see that we could have arrived at any conclusions other than those set out in the report if we had examined witnesses from Sydney, Melbourne, or any other part of Australia. I am pleased to be able to say that our inquiries, and a scrutiny of the returns submitted to us, show that the alleged expenditure in connexion with federal printing was extremely exaggerated, and that there was no justification whatever for the reports that the printing bill would be either £40,000 or £78,000 per annum. The report shows that for the first fifteen months of the Federation the expenditure was £24,647, being at the rate of £1,643 per month, or only £19,716 per annum. That, of course, is an absolute and unqualified refutation of the fairy tales which were being industriously circulated by those who were either not properly informed or who made statements without a due sense of their responsibility. It is a matter for general congratulation in this House, and in the Parliament, that our investigations were able to establish that fact. I would further point out that the £19,716 expended for printing is not confined to what may be generally described as "new" departments, consequent upon the inauguration of our federal system. As shown in a letter from the Government Printer, which appears in the appendix, it includes the cost of printing Bills connected with the Customs, Post and Telegraph, and Defence departments, during the whole of that period. As a matter of justice, as well as of reason, the federal system ought not to incur either censure or praise, because of any extra expenditure in connexion with these old departments. It is certain that the Customs department must have incurred expenditure for printing long before its transfer to the Commonwealth, and the same remark applies equally to the Defence, and Post and Telegraph departments. As a matter of course, the revenue of these departments was taken over by the Federal Government together with the expenditure, so that the latter cannot reasonably be charged to the federal system. But the return which was presented to this House includes the cost of printing all the very elaborate and expensive Bills connected with the transferred departments, namely, the Post and Telegraph Bill, Defence Bill. Customs

Bill, and the whole of the other measures which have been dealt with by this Parliament during the present session. The case for the federal system as a whole is, therefore, much better than it appears at first sight. I was under the impression that the sum of £19,716 included merely the expenditure connected with new and original departments. The result of our investigations, however, shows that it includes, not merely the expenditure incurred by new departments, but that incurred by the transferred departments to which I have already referred. That fact alone justifies 'the appointment of the committee. But the result of our inquiry went much further than that. It swept away the false rumours in circulation, and showed that the expense was not so alarming as to render necessary any very drastic reform such as was suggested by the last speaker. As a' matter of fact, we were satisfied that no unnecessary expenditure had been incurred in the printing-office, and that there was no necessity to examine printers outside of the Commonwealth departments as to the way in which they conducted their own businesses. We further concluded that, considering the long delays which they have to suffer in waiting for copy, and the long hours which they are on duty, the small extra remuneration of 3d. per thousand to the compositors employed by the Commonwealth is well earned.

Mr Watson - The increased pay is more apparent than real.

Mr Fowler - That matter is dealt with in paragraph 6, on page 5.

Sir JOHN QUICK - We were quite satisfied that it was not necessary to ascertain how much per page was .involved in the printing of Hansard. In its present form the report is elaborate enough. Sufficient particulars have been supplied to the House to enable the committee to feel that they have fairly discharged their duty. Complaint is being made that we have not submitted any vast scheme for retrenchment. We did not see our way to do so. We did, however, investigate a number of points which were brought under our notice, and in regard to which we thought important savings might be effected. We cannot afford to despise retrenchment in small matters.

Mr Wilks - I wish that the Senate would hurry up.

Sir JOHN QUICK - I am not anxious to speak - I am merely acting as the mouthpiece of the committee. I am in a very thankless position if, having been asked to sit upon this committee, I am refused an opportunity of explaining the results of our inquiries. I was calling attention to the fact that the recommendations of the committee refer to matters of detail, but even in reference to these we thought that economies might be effected in various quarters. In making our recommendations, we intended no reflection upon any department, or any particular officer or officers. It was merely thought that in the beginning of our federal system the practice of the various States in regard to many matters might be improved, and that if savings could be effected, they should be made. One of the joint recommendations alone, if carried out, will result in a considerable saving, though on its face, it is apparently a small matter. The committee recommend - (1.) That the practice of printing questions and answers in the Senate journals be discontinued.

Of course we sat as a joint committee, and that is why the paragraph which I have quoted appeal's in the report. We represented both Houses, and senators agreed to recommendation No. 2 just as the representatives of this House upon the committee acquiesced in recommendation No. 1. Of course we could not give effect to that recommendation. We have no desire to pass resolutions dictating to the Senate any more than we expect that Chamber to adopt resolutions dictating to us. It may be that paragraph 1 might with advantage be omitted, leaving the Senate to deal with it in any manner that it thinks fit. Paragraph 2 recommends -

That the practice of printing weekly reports of divisions in committee of the House of Representatives be discontinued.

That practice is founded upon Standing Order 307, and if our recommendation is adopted it cannot be given effect to until the standing order in question is modified, as no doubt it will be in due course. Paragraph 3 is intended to operate as a sort of brake on any tendency in the direction of expense in printing amendments or new clauses in block or erased type. It is thought that the House ought to have supreme direction in a matter of this kind. At the present time, a Minister or the Speaker may order amendments to be so printed, but in the opinion of the Printing Committee, a Minister who desires that course to be taken ought to ask the consent of the House. Paragraph 4 is intended to be a check on wholesale motions for the printing of documents.

Mr McDonald - Why confine the privilege to Ministers?

Sir JOHN QUICK - At the present time any honorable member may, under Standing Order 316, move that a document be printed.

Mr Mahon - There has never been such a motion in this House.

Sir JOHN QUICK - It has been found that sometimes even a Minister is liable to move that documents be printed, and afterwards, on reflection, to find that such a step was unnecessary.

Mr Deakin - Can a standing order be altered by a report?

Sir JOHN QUICK - No ; and this paragraph in the Printing Committee's report simply amounts to a recommendation for a subsequent amendment of the standing orders. In one case a document was printed on the recommendation of a Minister, and it was afterwards found by the clerk that an almost precisely similar document had been prepared for one of the States Governments, and could, with a little alteration and small expense, be made available for the Commonwealth Parliament. On the matter being brought under the notice of the Speaker, the suggestion of the clerk was acted upon, and there was thereby saved an expenditure of over £200. It is thought by the Printing Committee that even a responsible Minister should move the printing of any report - such as that, for instance, recently presented on the pearl fisheries, and give reasons to the House.

Mr Mahon - I cannot understand why private members are not allowed the same privilege.

Sir JOHN QUICK - A Minister is in a responsible position, and has opportunities of perusing the report, and forming an opinion before presenting it to the House.

Mr McDonald - Supposing the House desires a document printed, and a Minister refuses to submit a motion to that effect?

Sir JOHN QUICK - Then an appeal may be made to the Printing Committee, who can order the document to be printed. Only last week a request was made by an honorable member for a document to be printed, and the committee after holding a special meeting granted the request. The reason for restricting such motions to

Ministers is that very often, out of pure good fellowship, private members' motions for documents to be printed are passed undebated and unconsidered. If we are to keep expenses within reasonable limits, the House will have to submit to the selfdenyordinance suggested.

Mr McDonald - It is a curtailment of our privileges.

Sir JOHN QUICK - If an honorable member desired a report or other document printed, there should be no difficulty in approaching the Printing Committee and asking their consent. At any rate, it is for the House to decide whether this recommendation of the committee introduces an undue restriction. And all I can say is, that the recommendation is submitted in the interests of the House, and that all honorable members are on the same footing.

Mr Watson - In New South Wales documents first go before the committee, and if they fail to recommend, any honorable member may move that it be printed.

Sir JOHN QUICK - At any rate, the recommendations represent the unanimous opinion of the Printing Committee. We have done our best, and we now leave the report to the House. One result of the inquiry is extremely satisfactory, and that' is, the refutation of statements which were put in circulation as to the cost of federal printing, and which were seriously calculated to damage the federal system of Government.

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