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Thursday, 15 July 1915

Mr KELLY (Wentworth) .- I do not propose to say more than a word or two in connexion with the interesting speech to which we have just listened. The honorable member seems to take as the_ keynote of his views the undoubted seriousness of the present position, and to argue, following from that axiom, that it is essential that Parliament shall stay in being, in order that the full intelligence of Australia shall be exemplified in all we do to bring the war to a successful conclusion. .1 am sorry that the honorable member did not go a little further in the elaboration of his argument, and tell us exactly how a Parliament sitting can help, for instance, a Minister who is endeavouring to devote himself to the intricacies and difficulties of a Department overwhelmed, especially at a time like this. The honorable member, I think, hardly realizes what a drag on mere administrative routine a Parliament is, and how essential to the well-oiled and well-conditioned working of a Department is prompt attention to that administrative routine. The mere answering of questions - the mere preparation of .an answer to an argument suddenly sprung on a Minister in Parliamentmeans that somebody has to cast down the work on which he is engaged, and deal with the other until the Minister's difficulties are got over.

Mr J H Catts - That would not be the case under the scheme 1 suggested. The honorable member was not present at the time.

Mr KELLY - I listened attentively to the honorable member's speech from start to finish. While he elaborated his scheme of committees, for which I think there is a great deal to be said, he also forecasted that Parliament should stay constantly in being. Now, whilst Parliament is in being, Parliament is not mute. Ministers may be examined, and they may be called to the bar, and thereby forced to compel their officers to handle these passing questions - perhaps merely to satisfy the curiosity of some honorable member - instead of dealing with the pile of troubles awaiting in his Department.

Mr J H Catts - What about the Imperial Parliament? There is no suggestion to close that?

Mr KELLY - The Imperial Parliament, as my honorable friend knows, has been closed from time to time. There have been continual adjournments over a week or a fortnight.

Mr J H Catts - Would that be. done here?

Mr KELLY - I understand that that is what we are going to do. "

Mr J H Catts - I think not.

Mr KELLY -The honorable member may be in a position to know better than I do myself; but I understand that Parliament is not going to be adjourned to any particular date. I take it that Parliament is merely going to rise in order to enable Ministers to devote themselves, -apart from any trouble of a purely political nature, to their Ministerial responsibilities. .

Mr J H Catts - Who will call Parliament together?

Mr KELLY - A Parliament adjourned can be called together by the same authority that adjourns it.

Mr J EL Catts - That is not so. Parliament adjourns itself, and, once adjourned, it cannot call itself together.

Mr KELLY - I have -known Parliament to adjourn until such time that Mr. Speaker notified that it should meet.

Mr Archibald - 'That was done on the last occasion.

Mr KELLY - I see nd difficulty at all. But while I strongly, hold that the existence of Parliament, under its . ordinary pi'e-war conditions, does not help Ministers, I do think Ministers might get a great deal of help they do not now get from parliamentarians.

Mr LAIRD SMITH (DENISON, TASMANIA) - Do not the UnderSecretaries in England do a great deal that Ministers are asked to do here'?

Mr KELLY - In this country the administration is too much centred in a Minister's hands; and I think the work could be divided in every Department with immense benefit to the State. It would result, I think, in an increase in the rapidity of public business, and, generally speaking, as soon as public servants were trained to take the responsibility, give rise to considerable improvement in the Departments themselves. But we are not acting under these conditions. Every Minister keeps in his own hands as much of the minutiae of the departmental administration as he possibly can; and the result is that' his responsible officers become very loath to share it.

Mr West - A Minister is responsible for his Department.

Mr KELLY - Quite so; but every . man who has occupied a Ministerial position will realize the truth of what I say. It is rather unfortunate that in Australia we should have erred in this direction.

Mr Archibald - It was the principle the Commonwealth started on.

Mr KELLY - Exactly ; and I think it was a great mistake. However, we are not here to argue that point. The inevitable result is that, while Parliament is in being and Ministers are compelled to attend, they cannot keep their departmental business evenly flowing and the activities and agencies in a constant state of useful motion. We have congestion, with papers piled high ; and then people begin to tear their hair, and complaints are made about delays in the handling of business. It means not only delay in any particular business, but a general, all-round slackening down of enthusiasm amongst th« officers; and this is very vital. While I hold that Parliament might well remain in readiness, although adjourned, for any emergency, I think that the Administration has not made, and does not now propose to make, sufficient use of the material which members of Parliament themselves offer for various work in connexion with any Department. Take, for instance, the work of the Defence Department itself. There are numerous matters upon which Ministers might come to members of Parliament, knowing their disinterestedness, and knowing that they are ready to do any work that is placed in their hands, and ask them, as one friend to another, to investigate. I might mention the unrest regarding the non-delivery of letters in Egypt, which has been responsible, not for so much waste of time - that is, perhaps, hardly the correct phrase - but which has caused such a great consumption of the time, both of the PostmasterGeneral's Department and of the Department of Defence. What could be easier for a Minister than to say to any member of this House, " Go to Egypt for me; just have a look into this matter, and tell me what you think of it. Tell me what you think is wrong"? For a request of that kind formal seal is not wanted. Personal communication as between Minister and member should be sufficient to enable work of this character to be undertaken at any time.

Mr Archibald - Do you not think the English Post Office is a bit disorganized?

Mr KELLY - I am afraid both English and Australian offices are disorganized.

Mr Archibald - I have heard complaints that letters cannot be obtained from here, irrespective of the war.

Mr KELLY - That may be so, though I have had no dislocation in my own correspondence.

Mr Archibald - I have in mine.

Mr KELLY - It may be so; but, in regard to this non-delivery of letters to our troops, there is a solid complaint; and the fact that there is complaint means that dissatisfaction and irritation - which may have a serious influence upon the enthu siasm and confidence that is essential if we are to carry this great crisis through - exist.

Mr Archibald - Is your theory that the fault is not so much British as our own ?

Mr KELLY - There is a good deal of fault on both sides, but have we been making an effort to overcome it?

Mr J H Catts - Letters are delivered every day to the British soldiers in the trenches.

Mr KELLY - I dare say there is such a delivery in cases where the trenches have been stationary; but the point I am trying to emphasize is that the Government are not trying to make an earnest effort to utilize the material at hand in honorable members themselves. The appointment of a Committee of, say, a dozen men will not get over the innumerable difficulties that exist. Formal appointments are not required for what I have in mind. What is needed is an atmosphere - a feeling that we are all partners in one great concern, interested only in the defence of Australia, and that all are equally ready to do our share in whatever task we may be called upon to perform without any expectation of remuneration or profit - that we are prepared to do something for the country that sent us here, that in place of serving our parties we are ready to do anything that the State may require of us. I believe every honorable member of the House will be prepared to do anything that the Minister may place in his hands. We have brains in this House; we have enthusiasm; we have patriotism. We do not require red-tape. We do not need formality.

Mr MASSY-GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And we do not want pay.

Mr KELLY - Of course we do not want pay. We simply want the cooperation of all concerned, and I hope the Minister of Defence will realize what a field he has in this House for this sort of co-operation.

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