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Thursday, 9 October 1902

Sir WILLIAM LYNE (Hume) (Minister for Home Affairs) . - As I believe the Acting Prime Minister has explained, I was obliged to leave the chamber for a short time when the honorable and learned member for Indi was speaking ; my absence was not an intentional discourtesy to the honorable and learned gentleman. With reference to the matter that has been so liberally discussed, I think that, although the press have tried their utmost to make it appear obnoxious in the eyes of the people, the proposal is a very reasonable one. It is not proposed that any gigantic tour shall be made, or that we should, as some one has suggested, charter the Orient or the Ophir in order to take honorable members round' the continent. The motive underlying the whole project is the desire to give honorable members an opportunity of becoming thor.oughly acquainted with the country for which they have to legislate. I think I know as much about Australia as do most honorable members. Many years ago I travelled from Brisbane across to the Gulf of Carpentaria; I have been over a good deal of South Australia, and all over New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania ; and yet I feel that I am not sufficiently acquainted with the Commonwealth to enable me to conduct my administrative work in the way I should like. In the interests of the States as well as of the Commonwealth, it is desirable that honorable members should know something of the country whose affairs they have to administer, and regarding which they have to pass 'legislation. Personally, I know nothing about Western Australia. The honorable member for Wannon asked what good object would be served by honorable members visiting Kalgoorlie, or Coolgardie, or Fremantle, in Western Australia, in connexion with the proposal to connect Western Australia with the eastern States by railway. My answer is that nothing will tend to give honorable members a better idea of the necessity for making the railway connexion than a visit to the country, during which they can obtain information regarding' its prospects and possibilities for future development. Another honorable member has asked when we were going to deal with the defences of Fremantle, and I would ask what do honorable members generally know about that subject 1 Will it not be a good thing for honorable members to gain some knowledge regarding the necessities of that port 1 The whole proposal is practical and business-like, and it will afford an inexpensive means of obtaining knowledge of the utmost value. At present the Western Australian Government have parties out boring for water along the route suggested for the transcontinental railway. They are thoroughly in earnest in their endeavour to induce the Federal Parliament to deal with this question, and we should ascertain for ourselves what kind of territory we are to connect with the eastern States by carrying out this work. The representatives of South Australia and the Government of that State are asking us to take over the Northern Territory, but I would ask who, excepting, perhaps, the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. V. L. Solomon, who has been there, knows anything about that part of the Commonwealth ? I know very little about it, and I think that it would be to the interest of the State of South Australia, and of this Parliament, if honorable members were to obtain for themselves a little more information than they possess at present. In the first instance, the representatives of Western Australia asked that I should give every facility to honorable members to visit that State, and whatever may be said with regard to the proposed tour, no one will gainsay the desirability of enabling honorable members to understand the subjects upon which they have to legislate. That is the consideration which has influenced me, and I believe that, notwithstanding the antagonism to the proposal shown by some representatives of Victoria, the people of that State desire that this Parliament shall extend its knowledge of the other States.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - They do not approve of the expenditure.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The people of Victoria will not be mean enough to disapprove of the expenditure of a paltry few pounds if it is designed to enable us to deal effectively with the matters which come before us. We are required to deal with vast interests, and no question of a bit of beef or mutton, or a piece of bread and cheese for honorable members, should be of any consideration. I have already said that there is to be no champagne picnic. There should be reason in all things. At present, no doubt, the people of Victoria have been worked up to a high pitch of excitement in consequence of the financial straits of that State.

Mr Isaacs - The South Australians agree with us.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - They are asking us to take over the Northern Territory, and the honorable and learned member wishes us to suppose that they do not desire us to look at it.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Does the Minister propose to travel through the Northern Territory?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - No. But the railway penetrates from Port Darwin for a distance of 120 miles inland, and we should probably travel over that length of line. There is a proposal to construct a railway on the land-grant principle to meet that line. I am absolutely opposed to any such idea, and rather than see that done I hope that the Commonwealth will take over the Northern Territory.

Mr Poynton - How can the Commonwealth take over the Northern Territory without the permission of South Australia ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE -South Australia has given her consent.

Mr Poynton - She has now withdrawn it.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I did not know that. I should have thought that South Australia would be very glad to hand over the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth.

Mr Poynton - That idea is not borne out by the resolution which was recently passed by the State Legislature.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I have not seen the resolution to which the honorable member is referring. The people of South Australia must change their minds very quickly.

Mr Poynton - Is the Minister putting forward the probability of our being asked to take over the Northern Territory as an excuse for organizing the proposed tour ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I am making no excuses. When I believe a proposal to be right I shall carry it out in spite of every one. If I did not think the present proposal was a proper one to make I should not put it forward. I make no excuses, because I think it is inherently right that the members of this Parliament should have an opportunity of seeing the country for which they have to legislate. A great deal has been said regarding the expense that would be involved in chartering a steamer to convey honorable members on this trip round the coast. I am having estimates made at the present moment, and I venture to think that if we hire a steamer we shall be able to arrange matters more cheaply than if honorable members are left to travel by rail or steamer in the ordinary way.

Honorable members may go by train to all the States excepting to Western Australia or Tasmania. They can even cover a considerable distance in Northern Queensland by rail, but if they do so it will cost more than if they travel there by steamer, as has been suggested. I know some honorable members in this House who are not in a position financially to go through the country and obtain information in the way that is desired unless we assist them in some way or other, and I only wish to do what is reasonable, without incurring undue expense. At present we are, to a large extent, groping in the dark. It is all very well for the honorable member for Wannon to say that we can obtain reports and have plans prepared, and all that kind of thing.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - That course would have' common sense to recommend it.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - Perhaps so ; but we should gain very little instruction by following it. I have seen reports regarding country through which I have travelled, and could not recognise the country by the descriptions given. That has been my experience in nine cases out of ten, and I venture to say that if the honorable member for Gippsland travelled through the country between Kalgoorlie and Port Augusta, he would not be able to recognise it from the reports which have been furnished.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Then the reports cannot have been furnished by the right men.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - It would be very difficult to get men to so report as to suit every one. If honorable members are enabled to personally inspect the country they can use their own eyesight and their own common sense. A great deal has been said in the press regarding the proposed tour, and the proposal has been exaggerated in every possible way. The people of Victoria enjoy very good representation in this Parliament, owing to the seat of Government being situated within their State. The other States do not possess anything like the same advantage. On one occasion when I was fighting in New South Wales for a principle which is strongly supported by the honorable member for Gippsland, namely, a larger proportional representation for the country than for the metropolitan districts, Mr. Copeland, the present Agent-General of New South Wales said, that if Sydney had no representatives in the State Legislature, the fact that the Parliament was sitting in that city would enable it to exercise more influence than the country districts. If Victoria sent no representatives into this Chamber she would be in a better position, so far as the consideration of her interests is concerned, than would other States, regarding which comparatively little is known. I hope the representatives of Victoria will consider the conditions which prevail in the other States, and that, after calm consideration, they will see that, without incurring any extravagant expenditure, we can confer much advantage upon the States themselves, and upon the Commonwealth, by affording honorable members every opportunity to pay the proposed visits. I have been accused of extravagance in this and in other matters, and I have been the subject of much misrepresentation in the press. Why do not the newspapers show that where I have been able to obtain a grip of certain furniture, fittings, and works in Victoria I have reduced the cost by 50 per cent.? I am only mentioning facts which I am prepared to prove. When I am in a position to appoint my own officers in the other States, I shall reduce the cost of works there in the same way that I have done in Victoria. All our works will then be carried out in proper time, and without such delay as has hitherto occurred. I am referring to this matter because I have been attacked in a variety of ways for extravagance. In the few cases in which I have been able to render myself independent of the reports of others, and I have been able to thoroughly grasp the position, I have proved my desire for economy, and my earnestness in the administration of my department, by effecting a reduction of at least one-half in the cost of certain furniture, fittings, and works. I hope that when everything is brought into working order, and the people of the Commonwealth are able to see what has been done, they will recognise that, instead of the departments of the Commonwealth being extravagantly administered, they are being conducted with rigid economy. It is not practicable at the inauguration of the Commonwealth to keep everything down to bedrock, but I am sure I shall be able to satisfy every one before very long that we are administering our departments in an economical spirit, and that we are doing everything we can to promote the interests of the States, and to return to them as much money as possible. I hope honorable members will take my assurance that no undue expense will be incurred in connexion with the proposed tour. But I decline to be bound hand and foot. It is not fair that in the administration of my department I should be called upon to give a guarantee that a certain project will not involve more than £50 or £60 or £70. It is often impossible to accurately gauge the expense which will be incurred.

Sir Malcolm McEacharn - How much does the Minister expect the proposed trip will cost ?

Mr Isaacs - It is not a question of the amount involved, but one of principle.

SirWILLIAM LYNE.- The only principle I recognise is that involved in the question whether honorable members shall have an opportunity of gaining information regarding the country over which they have to exercise legislative powers. My impression is that if honorable members wish to visit Western Australia it will be cheaper for the Commonwealth to provide a Government steamer than to pay their expense of travelling in the ordinary way. If we voyage along the Queensland coast, I think it would be most desirable that honorable members should be afforded an opportunity of paying a visit to the centres of that State by means of the railway system.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Would the Minister provide another junketing for members of the next Parliament?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - If any important matter is to be dealt with I should say that money expended in the direction proposed would be well spent. At the same time the personnel of Parliaments does not vary very much. I have been through Queensland, but I do not think that honorable members generally recognise the possible developments of that State. Queensland is three times as large as New South Wales, and nine times as large as Victoria. It possesses land equal to that in any part of Australia - land which will produce anything. Yet it contains only a sparsely settled population. I am satisfied that if many people were aware of the natural advantages which are offered in the eastern part of Queensland, they would be quite prepared to settle there.

Mr Isaacs - How long will the proposed tour occupy ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I cannot answer that question. The honorable and learned member can make his own calculation.

Sir John Quick - How many members are necessary to make up theparty ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The honorable and learned member must understand that the proposal is as yet only in an embryonic stage. I do not know how many honorable members would care to go, and, unless a sufficient number offered to do so, of course I should not dream of carrying out my proposal. At the same time I am satisfied that if the Victorian representatives could undertake the trip they wouldcome back with a vast store of added knowledge. I am quite prepared to bear the brunt of any press attacks, because I am accustomed to that experience, but in this instance it does appear to me that the cost of the proposed undertaking has been unnecessarily magnified.

Mr. ISAACS(Indi) In reply.-If the Minister for Home Affairs had been present when the Acting Prime Minister spoke, I do not think he would have displayed so much antagonism to what his leader has said. The Acting Prime Minister practically gave the House an assurance that no such parliamentary party as has been suggested should be organized.

Mr Deakin - I said that no picnic would take place.

Mr ISAACS - The Minister for Home Affairs has given honorable members the impression that he still adheres to his picnic views.

Sir William Lyne - I always said that the undertaking would be no picnic. It is only the newspapers who call it a "picnic."

Mr ISAACS - I thought that the leader of the Government had given the House an indirect assurance that no parliamentary party should be organized in this connexion.

Mr Deakin - I stated that no picnic would take place.

Mr ISAACS -I am sorry that the matter is to be left in that indefinite state. Of course, nobody can doubt the motive prompting the action of the Minister for Home Affairs, who desires that honorable members shall receive enlightenment. But I am utterly opposed to gaining that enlightenment by the expenditure of public money. Does the Minister anticipate that much good will be accomplished . by a hurried visit on the part of honorable members to various portions of Australia during the life of the present Parliament?

Sir William Lyne - Just as much good as was accomplished by the parliamentary visits of inspection to the eligible capital sites.

Mr ISAACS - That may not represent very much. I repeat that very little good can come out of the Minister's proposal at this late stage of our parliamentary life. Does the Minister for Home Affairs believe that a hurried visit to the various ports will give honorable members any idea of the condition of the interior of Queensland? It is impossible. We shall thus be spending money without deriving any practical benefit from that expenditure. This question is not one which merely involves the expenditure of ?50 or ?500. It is a matter of principle. As far as I am individually concerned, I do not sanction the proposed excursion, and I shall not be prepared to indorse it if it takes place. The Acting Prime Minister was very fair in his statement to the House, and, although very naturally, from a spirit of loyalty to his colleague, he did not say so in direct terms, I thought he intended to convey that the projected trip would not take place, but that honorable members would be afforded an opportunity of visiting various parts of Australia in the ordinary way. If the Minister for Home Affairs intends to carry out his project of chartering a special steamer-

Sir William Lyne -N oone said a word about chartering a steamer ; and I can give the honorable and learned member my assurance that, if that course is adopted, nothing will be paid for the steamer.

Mr ISAACS - I sincerely hope that the excursion to which I so much object will not take place.

Question resolved in the negative.

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