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Wednesday, 16 June 1915

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN (Eden) (Monaro) . - I was prevented this afternoon by the " strike " of Ministers from putting a question; and I now wish to know whether the Minister of Home Affairs has made any arrangements to appoint a permanent Secretary to his Department. I think the honorable gentleman ought to take the Committee into his confidence. I know that he is not responsible for the old slip-shod methods.

Mr Archibald - The Prime Minister has given an assurance that the matter will be looked into.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The Minister ought not to " spread his net in sight of the old bird " - I have sometimes given that sort of answer myself. Does the Minister think that his Department is being properly administered by a Secretary who resides 500 miles from head-quarters?

Mr Archibald - He is not the Secretary; the Acting Secretary is the Secretary.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Is it fair, then, that the Acting Secretary should not receive the Secretary's salary ?

Mr Archibald - I do not think it is right at all.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Is the Minister prepared to pay the Acting Secretary the full salary, and give him full responsibility ?

Mr Archibald - The Government have promised to look into the matter, and it will be fairly considered.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Will the. Minister insist on the Prime Minister doing the right thing? Is the Minister going to put the present Secretary in his proper position at Canberra ? Is he going to make him Administrator, or will he tell him he is not wanted ?

Mr Sharpe - How long has he been in this position?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - About three years. It seems to me there is a tendency to play with the subject of the Federal Capital. I ask the Minister if it is a fact that he is bringing the clerks and draughtsmen away from Canberra two by two, and not in a body, reducing the staff there in that way, so that the work of administration may be dealt with from Melbourne ?

Mr Archibald - No; there is an efficient staff there - all that the Administrator wants.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Does the Minister propose tn administer Canberra from Melbourne or from Canberra?

Mr Archibald - It is being administered from Canberra now, subject to my approval, ami has been ever since I have been Minister.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Then 1 ask the Minister this question : Is he prepared to go on with the railway from Yass to Canberra ?

Mr Archibald - I think my honorable friend had better give notice of that question.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Honorable members opposite may think that this is a joke, but it is no joke to hundreds of men who are travelling round the country looking for work, or people directly interested in obtaining railway facilities. When honorable members get on the hustings, they will not make a laughing matter of it. The Public Works Committee are inquiring into this work, and I would like to know if they are prepared to indorse the attitude of the Minister should he say that it is not to be gone on with when it has been definitely promised, and so many men are out of employment? Is not this a good time to find employment on this railway?

Mr Archibald - It is a question whether they might not be better employed on another job.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - There is no other job for them. Am I to understand the Minister does not propose to go on with the railway?

Mr Archibald - I did not say that.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The Minister is non-committal; he will not say anything; but I am going to have an answer, or else I am going to keep him here a little while. I ask the Minister this: Does he propose to have a Land Act for the Capital Territory, or is he going on in the old slip-shod way? Does he know that there are denominations asking for sites for churches - that in one case a church has been promised near Williamsdale to the Rev. E. Robinson, and yet the people cannot get any title to the land from the Minister?

Mr Finlayson - Is the church to be built on the avenue?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member may be an authority on cold water, but not on churches.

Mr Finlayson - I am serious in regard to this matter.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Does the honorable member think that it is right not to give the people a title to their church ?

Mr Finlayson - I do not say that.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Here is a crowd of people who have been promised a church by some public-spirited resident. They have asked the Minister if he will give them the title to a piece of land right away from the city site upon which to build, and he can give them no definite reply. I am not blaming the Minister, because there is no Land Act.

Mr Burns - Is the honorable member aware that the honorable member for Echuca wanted to stop the Federal. Capital the other day ?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am aware that, by his interjection, the honorable member intimates to me that he does not believe that these people should have their title.

Mr Burns - I believe they should have it.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member takes up one attitude here, but he will sing a different song when he gets on the platform. I ask the Minister to give me a definite reply to my question. I insist upon having one. Does he propose to give these people a title to this land?

Mr Archibald - Yes, as soon as possible.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Unless the Minister is prepared to treat these people honestly, fairly, and in a commonsense way, I am prepared to block the business of this House until he does. Honorable members opposite may laugh and scoff as they like. They may have the force of numbers behind them, but there is such a thing as parliamentary procedure, and I am prepared to use the forms of this House to force an answer to my query. The matter is not one which concerns my own electorate. These men have no votes. I suppose that is why honorable members laugh at their complaints.

Mr Archibald - They shall have justice and fair play; you know that as well as I know it.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The Minister says he will give them fair play, but he knows he is tied up at present without any Act to administer. I- ask him again, Is he prepared to give these people a title to the land?

Mr Archibald - It is a matter for the Government to deal with.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - A matter for the Government! Fancy a Minister sheltering himself behind that. Surely the Minister can exercise his own authority, and say whether these people will be given a title. They have written to me stating that the gentleman who offered the church will withdraw his offer unless he can get some title, and I think the Minister should tell me that he will exercise the power he has to give some title to this church. Why cannot he say to them, "Go on; I will see you through?"

Mr Archibald - Why did not they write to me, and tell me that he would withdraw the offer?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I have sent the letter on to the honorable member.

Mr Archibald - I have not seen it.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - That is ' what I am complaining at. You have a Secretary 500 miles away, who has no authority, no real power, while we go through this farce of discussing questions of land which the Administrator ought to be responsible for, and find that there is nobody the Minister can call to answer.

Mr Archibald - He is doing good work up there.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am not saying anything about that. I have a very good opinion of Colonel Miller, and some knowledge of his capacity and ability; but this Department is like the fifth leg of a stool, trying to do its work with the Secretary hundreds of miles away.

Mr Archibald - He is not the Secretary of the Department at all.


Mr Archibald - The Acting Secretary.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Then, why do you not pay the Acting Secretary a decent salary, and call him Secretary?

Mr Archibald - And why don't you talk a bit of sense?

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am trying to talk something the honorable member can understand. If I talked sense, he would not understand it. It is easy for the honorable member to laugh like a baboon, and say, " Talk sense," but he must realize that, although he has got a blind voting majority behind him, that sort of argument will not go down. I shall use my rights to insist upon fair and reasonable treatment for these people. Why are poor men being driven into the High Court of this country, and compelled to fight for what they are really entitled to for their land? What do you mean when you tell a poor man that you will settle the question in the High. Court? It means that you are going to ruin him. What is needed is a Land Act or some system of arbitration, and I ask the Minister to have a little courage, a little backbone, in matters of this description, and not to content himself with saying, " We will leave it to the Government," or "We will do it as soon as possible." What I say is that he should do something in order to give the people for whom I speak some relief. He should appoint this Acting Secretary as Secretary, and appoint Colonel Miller as Administrator. At present the man in charge of the Federal Capital Territory has no real power, has to do very responsible work under great difficulty, and does not know what to do. I warn the Minister that his telling me to talk sense will not have any effect. I have been too long here to stand that sort of thing, and I warn him that unless he gives reasonable consideration to these things I shall use the forms of the House to teach him a lesson in politics. The majority must rule, but still the minority has some rights. Honorable members cannot sit in corners laughing and jeering at questions of this kind, because the men concerned are poor men and have no votes.

Mr Burns - Nobody laughed.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member tried to sidetrack this.

Mr Burns - No, I did not.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - What did you ask that question for?

Mr Burns - For information.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Well, I will give the honorable member some information; but I do not know whether he will understand it.

Mr Burns - I think I agree with the honorable member's attitude.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - The honorable member says he agrees with me, and yet he is ' prepared to sit like a dummy voting machine, and back up the Minister when he says, "Talk sense." If the Minister will tell me that he will give a title as good as he can give to these people at Canberra, I am prepared to resume my seat, and let the Estimates go through. I ask whether he does not think it a reasonable proposition that he should favorably consider the request I make on behalf of this clerical gentleman, the Rev. Ernest S. Robinson, who is highly esteemed and of good repute, and who asks for a title to the land for his church ? If the Minister will not answer, I give him warning that to-morrow I will use the forms of this House and insist upon getting some definite reply from him. The arrangement in connexion with the Department of Home Affairs is a public scandal. Here we have the Secretary of the Department at Canberra for four years, as I am reminded by the Government Whip, and we have in Melbourne an Acting Secretary, who is supposed to be doing his work; but if you write to the Secretary of the Home Affairs Department concerning any matter at Canberra, it has to be referred down there. This business of circumlocution goes on all the time. It is monstrous, and I again appeal to the Minister to display some backbone, and say that he is going to make a change. I ask him again to appoint some court of arbitration to settle these land questions. It is easy for the Minister to sit there and do nothing, simply because he has the numbers behind him, but I appeal to him for fair play. If the appeal were made fromhis own side, he would afford some information, and I urge that the members on this side are entitled to the same consideration. He gives no answer with regard to the railway about which I questioned him. The Minister knows there are hundreds of men walking about this country looking for work; but we can get no information about this railway, although the' work has to be carried out. I do not want to block the Estimates.

This is the first occasion on which I have taken up any time upon them. As I have already pointed out, I am not appealing for my own constituents, because the people there have no votes at all.

Mr Burns - More's the pity they have not.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I ask the Minister the question: Are those people not going to have representation 1 "Why does not the Minister take advantage of his power to bring in a Bill to give them representation?. The Minister, I notice, does not seem to be disposed to answer any questions to-night.

Mr Archibald - I answered enough for you, and I only got insulted for my pains.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - I am sorry if the Minister has felt insulted by anything I have said under great provocation. If I have insulted him, I am sorry. I am only asking him simple questions, and I expect simple answers. Is he prepared to treat these people fairly ?

Mr Archibald - As far as I can, I will give them every consideration; but I am only one of the Government.

Mr AUSTIN CHAPMAN - Now I am satisfied with the answer of the Minister, and I will sit down.

Proposed vote agreed to.

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