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Wednesday, 21 October 1903

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) - 1 quite agree with the honorable member for Bland. I think that we pay all our officers sufficiently high salaries. The staffs of both Houses are considerably overmanned, and if the taxpayers were made aware of all the circumstances,, they would say that we were unbusiness-like and extravagant.

Mr Deakin - Our outlay is small as compared with that of some of the States Parliaments.

Mr FISHER - The fact that some of the States Parliaments have been extravagant does not justify us in proceeding upon a false basis. The Prime Minister's statement may be perfectly true so far as New South Wales and Victoria are concerned, but in the State Parliament of Queensland we had very few officers, and yet there were no complaints of want of attention. We had no such luxuries as the mace or the Sergeant at Arms. The Clerk Assistant performed the arduous duties discharged in this House by the Sergeant at Arms, and members did not seem to feel the want of a large staff of officers and attendants. The salary of £380 attached to the office of the Clerk of Papers in the Senate has been spoken of as a paltry sum.

Mr Crouch - As the honorable member is so anxious to economize, why does he not propose a reduction in the number of members ?

Mr FISHER - The honorable and learned member should know that the Constitution provides that a certain .number of members should be returned to both Houses, and* that we are not in a position to reduce the representation.

Mr Crouch - The number of members is fixed only until Parliament otherwise provides.

Mr FISHER - No power is given under the Constitution to reduce the number of members ; but they may be increased. In all probability we shall, in future, have much shorter sessions than hitherto, and it cannot be pretended that the officers of Parliament will have any very arduous duties to perform whilst the Houses are not sitting.

Mr Deakin - The Clerk of Papers has to index and classify the papers, and to perform a number of other duties during recess.

Mr FISHER - All such duties were performed in Queensland by the Clerk, the Clerk Assistant, and another clerk, at a salary of about £120. I venture to say that the work was as well done there as in this Parliament. I shall heartily support the amendment.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).Whilst listening to the very interesting remarks of the honorable member for Wide Bay I could not help feeling thai; he was rather late in the day with his suggestions and comparisons. A general debate upon the question of the number of officers on the House staffs, and the salaries attached to their positions, would have been more appropriate when the Estimates-in-Chief were under consideration. I am quite unable to see the bearing of the honorable member's remarks upon the question before us. I agree with the honorable and learned member for South Australia that we should leave the question of the relations between the two Houses out of consideration as long as we possibly can. I do not think that it is our place to look for constitutional issues. We should discuss this matter absolutely on its merits. The President of the Senate receives the same salary as does Mr. Speaker, and the Chairman of Committees in the other Chamber is paid the same amount as is the Chairman of Committees in this House. The Clerk of the Parliaments in the Senate, and the Clerk of the House of Representatives, receive equal salaries. The same remark is applicable to the assistant clerks in each Chamber. If all these highly-paid officers who discharge similar duties in the two Houses receive the same remuneration, I fail to see why officers in the lower grades should not be accorded similar treatment. I take it that the President of the Senate and those associated with him, in fixing the duties of these officers, take care that the latter earn their money. At any rate we might pay ' them the compliment of supposing that they have investigated the work which is performed by them,' and that they see no reason why any distinction should be made in the salaries which are paid. Since the matter has been discussed by the other Chamber, we should, as a matter of courtesy, assume that that is so. Therefore

I cannot vote for the alteration of this salary in the way that is proposed by the honorable member for Bland. If the staffs of the Houses are overmanned - as was stated by the honorable member for Wide Bay - I am sure that honorable members are prepared to listen to any proposal which he may have to make in the direction of reducing them to such reasonable dimensions as are consistent with the maintenance of efficiency. But we ought not to raise that question upon a proposal that officers who are performing similar duties in the two Chambers should receive similar salaries.

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