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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) - I desire to obtain some information with regard to the item of £8 on page 16 for refunds of fines in Queensland, and the item of £3,271 on page 17, under the head of contingencies, for temporary assistance in Queensland in connexion with the Sugar Bounties Act.

Mr WATSON - Some fines, to the amount of £8, were remitted by the previous Minister of Trade and Customs, Newer circumstances had justified the remission of the fines, and we are bound to vote the money. The Public Service Commissioner has laid it down that the cost of inspection and general administration in connexion with the Sugar Bounties Act must be charged to the vote for temporary assistance, because the work does not continue all the year round. Naturally, it is at its greatest height during the crushing season. I think that his refusal to put these men on the general establishment of the Public Service is a very wise one, as it enables us to deal with emergency cases. As the Act is to operate for only a limited period, so far as Parliament has yet decided, it would not be a wise thing to load up the Public Service with permanent officers. We have had to lump in there an item of £3,271 for services in Queensland, where most of the bounties are paid.

Mr. WILSON(Corangamite).- It has been stated that, under the Sugar Bounties Act, men have been growing sugar with black labour, and drawing money from the Government at. tha same time, and I desire to know if there is any foundation for that statement.

Mr FISHER - I can assure the honorable member that, so far as the investigation has gone, in every instance, the people who made the statements have declined to give any information of a definite character, which would enable us to take action. I have taken every possible step to find out 4e any authoritative statement to which we could pin them down. I have instructed the Collector of Customs in Queensland to re-arrange his staff, so as to enable a fuller inspection to be made, and to prevent the Commonwealth from suffering any monetary loss.

Mr Mcwilliams - Is the bounty paid when black men employ white men to do the work?

Mr FISHER - I do not think it matters what colour the owner is, provided that white labour is employed in the production of sugar cane. I am only saving what I believe to be the law.

Mr. DUGALD THOMSON (North Sydney). - I notice, on page 16, some cases of gratuities to widows, and so on, and on page 15, some cases of compensation for loss of office, I do 'not know which of these are statutory liabilities, nor do I say for one moment that they are items to be objected to. But I do submit that we do not desire a state of affairs to arise that did occur in a State where these gratuities, at the mere will of the Minister, become often very objectionable items. It was subsequently arranged in that State that the Parliament should approve of the items, and that the Minister should only undertake to put them on the Estimates. I do not know if these have been granted on that condition.

Mr Watson - Not on that condition. The circumstances are not the same in these cases. I think T shall be able to explain them satisfactorily to the honorable member.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I only wish to avoid the occurrence in the Commonwealth of what has arisen in a State - of a very large sum in the total being given in this way at the mere will of the Minister, and often under political influence, where often the deserving did not get aid and the undeserving did. There is another question which I do not propose to discuss now, as I believe I can deal with it better with the Minister himself. It is the case of some officers in the Sydney Customs House, who were appointed before the Public Service Act came into operation, and most of whom had, I understand, been State officers, and have never been permanently appointed, although they have been employed for over two years. It is now intimated, I am informed, that they are to be removed, and their places filled, not with officers in the Customs House, but with men transferred from a State service. I shall bring the case, however, before the Minister, as I think it involves a large question.

Mr Fisher - The honorable member has already expressed his opinion.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes; but the facts with which I am now provided do not bear out that opinion.

Mr WATSON - With regard to the temporary hands-

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thinkthat the honorable gentleman had better not reply to my remarks until I submit the facts I now have to the Minister.

Mr WATSON - The honorable member can bring the matter before the "Minister of Trade and Customs, and the Cabinet will then have an opportunity of considering it. With regard to the gratuities, I quite appreciate the danger alluded to by the honorable member. In the Parliament of New South Wales I have seen the most objectionable differentiations between one case and another, and I have had occasion to complain of the haphazard manner in which gratuities and allowances have been granted. In these cases, however, no such possibilities can arise, because the late Government laid down the rule that they would grant no gratuities outside of their statutory obligations, without the consent of the' State Government which would have to find the money. In each of the cases included in the Estimates, the Premier of the State concerned has been asked whether his Government was agreeable, and has signified his acceptance of the suggestion. In each instance provision is made only for the continuance of an existing practice.

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