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Thursday, 2 November 1905

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - I presume that no one will deny the desirableness, and, in fact, the necessity, of having machinery for the collection of Commonwealth statistics. Many years ago statistics were regarded as something to administer to national vanity, but to-day they are an absolute necessity to any civilized nation. Statistics are not only necessary for industrial and commercial purposes, but also for the business of legislation. Statistics, as it were, are the dials which mark the progress of events, and reveal to legislators the effect of past legislation, and, to that extent, they afford some guide as to what ought to be done in the future. While I recognise the extreme desirableness of having machinery for the collection of statistics, I desire to point out, as briefly as I can, the defects which, I think, mark the scheme as provided in the Bill. Before doing so, however, I should like to take notice of an inquiry made yesterday by Senator Dobson, and answered by Senator Keating. The inquiry was as to whether the scheme provided by the Bill would lead to economy, and Senator Keating's answer was " Undoubtedly." I venture to differ from Senator Keating. Whatever scheme we adopt for the collection of Federal statistics, we shall have to- face additional expenditure. It is idle for those who voted for Federation to complain, provided the expense is reasonable, that additional machinery costs money. That is one of the inevitable consequences of establishing an additional Government, and, as we create all the necessary Departments, each will entail some expenditure. I am not putting forward a plea for extravagance, but we should set it down clearly, in view of the contrary public opinion which prevails, thai the machinery of this Government, like that of any other Government, has to be paid for. I remember well that before Federation was accomplished, there was no promise that was thrown so liberally to the electors throughout the Commonwealth as the promise of economy. It was pointed out how, by centralization and by the union of similar Departments in the various States, great savings would be made.

Senator Walker - There is one PostmasterGeneral, instead of six.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Walker was about the most lavish distributer of the promise of economy with which my State was blessed. Does the Post and Telegraph administration throughout Australia cost less than it did? I am not now finding fault, but there is an idea abroad, that, because the Federal Parliament incurs expenditure, it is, therefore, guilty of extravagance. My point is that the expenditure is essential to the proper working of the Federal Government. So long as the Federal authorities are careful not to be extravagant, the only people to blame for the additional expenditure are those - and they include all of us - who. after setting the advantages against the disadvantages, decided that Federation was the better course. As to the Bill, it seems to me that while it is absolutely necessary to have some machinery for .the collection of statistics which are essential to the Commonwealth, the States also may desire to maintain their existing Statistical Departments. There is an obligation on the Commonwealth .to have some machinery for the taking of a census in the first instance, and the collection of Federal statistics afterwards.; and the problem is how to meet the necessities of the Commonwealth on the one hand, and the wishes, or, it may be, the needs of the States on the other, without the danger of duplication, which must mean unnecessary expense. Two courses were open to us. One was for the Commonwealth to take over all the established machinery for the collection of statistics and supply the States with any figures they might require; and the other course was for the States to continue their machinery and supply the Commonwealth with the information.

Senator Stewart - The, latter is the better way.

Senator MILLEN - My efforts will be to show not only that the latter is the inferior way, but that it would be quite inadequate to our purpose. It may appear to be somewhat immaterial which of the two courses we adopt, but there are obligations on the Commonwealth with regard to certain statistics which do not rest on the States. For instance, there is an obligation imposed on us to determine the number of people, in order to meet the requirements of the Constitution with regard to the apportionment of representation.

There is no obligation on the States to take a census of the people - with the States it is optional - and to trust to them in the hope that they will supply us with figures would be totally inadequate to our purpose. There is the broad difference between the absolute necessity which rests on the Commonwealth, and the mere option on the part of the States. Senator Stewart thinks that we ought to, 'leave the matter to the States; but what would happen if the States did not do the work, or did it in a way not sufficient for us? What would become of the requirements of the Constitution? We must remember that at every point we are confronted by the fact that we are under a rigid Constitution ; and that is one objection to leaving this matter with the States. I lay it down as my starting-point that it is absolutely necessary for the Commonwealth to control the machinery for the collection of the statistics which are essential to our purpose. I have no desire to do anything which will create friction between the Commonwealth' and the States. On the contrary, I am animated by a desire to take such a course as will prevent friction. It does not follow, however, that in order to avoid friction, the Commonwealth is necessarily to yield without making any representation to the States as to what our needs are. I think that in this case we have yielded without making a reasonable effort' to come to an understanding with' the States. Further, it does not follow that we can avoid friction by avoiding it today. Under this Bill, while we may avoid even the necessity for negotiating with the States to take over the Departments, it will not be very long before we shall find a considerable amount of friction existing as the result of the dual control which will have to be exercised. It is a saying as old as the Bible that a man cannot serve two masters. In this Bill it is proposed to create a central Department under Federal authority in Melbourne, and to give that Department some measure of authority - I do not know what - over the States Departments. I venture to say that it will not be twelve months before there will be friction between the central and the States Departments. It is within the knowledge of every honorable senator that efforts were made by Sir William Lyne, when Minister of Home Affairs, to carry out the construction of public works through the Public Works Departments of the States, and that the plan had to be abandoned.

Senator Playford - It has not been abandoned in South Australia.

Senator Dobson - It does not follow that because Sir William Lyne abandoned the method, that there was a necessity to abandon it.

Senator MILLEN - It is certain that friction did arise in certain States, for instance, in New South Wales. I am not saying where the fault lay, because I do not know ; I merely point to the fact that there was friction, and both Commonwealth and State were glad to say good-bye, so far as public works . were concerned. The mere fact that South' Australia may have been more reasonable, or that the officers there are differently constituted, in no sense weakens my argument. In the case of statistics, friction with only one State would mean the break-down of the whole machinery.

Senator Playford - We could set up our machinery then.

Senator MILLEN - On the eve of a general election? I shall shift my ground for a minute, and ask honorable senators, who seem to see such disadvantage in the plan I suggest - namely, that the Commonwealth shall be the controlling authority, with power over the machinery, but willing at all times to supply the States with any information required by them - to show what objections can be offered against it. With regard to the census, it is absolutely imperative that the Commonwealth should have control of the collection of the figures necessary for that purpose, and I think that if it did not lead to economy it would, at any rate, prevent increase of expenditure, if the Commonwealth also had control of the machinery for the collection of ordinary statistics. 1 ask honorable senators not to assume that because the Bill proposes one scheme, any alternative scheme is necessarily objectionable.

Senator Stewart - Does the honorable senator propose that all the States Statistical Departments should be taken over?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, just as we have taken over other Departments.

Senator Mulcahy - A very good idea !

Senator MILLEN - That is not the proposal of the Bill, which, leaves all the States Departments as they are, and establishes a Federal Bureau, with which they are to have some sort of loose association. The Central Bureau has to exercise some control, and that control has to be arranged mutually. I venture to say that such a' system must break down. For instance, if the Commonwealth had an imperative call for certain statistical information, and when the request was sent to the State Department it happened that the Premier of the State was employing the officers to collect information from him, what would happen ?

Senator Guthrie - The Commonwealth would have to wait.

Senator MILLEN - That is so. I say again that I am not one to do anything to set up friction, but in matters of this kind the Commonwealth ought not to be asked to take second place. I can conceive of no serious objection to the plan I propose, except the passing difficulty of arranging the basis of transfer from the States to Federation.

Senator Playford - The Commonwealth Government use States officers in electoral matters.

Senator MILLEN - That is so ; but I think I am right when I say that in the report on electoral matters, which has been so frequently alluded to of late, it is stated that much of the trouble in the Sydney Electoral Department arose from the fact that the central office attempted to exercise control, and could not do it effectively. I am not saying that the system proposed by the Bill would give rise to trouble every day. I merely point to the possibility of trouble occurring at a critical' time to the Commonwealth. Who would suffer from the plan I suggest? It would not cost a penny more than the plan proposed in the Bill. Whether we do, or do not, take over the States Departments, we shall have to pay for their up-keep, if not wholly, at any rate in part.

Senator Playford - We should have to pay the whole.

Senator MILLEN - No, because we could levy a .contribution from the States for the information we supplied in exactly the same way that under this Bill it is proposed that they should levy the contribution upon us. The whole question is narrowed down to this : There is to be certain machinery, and the question is who is to control it, whether it shall be under one central dominating administration, or under half-a-dozen different Departments of the various States.

Senator Guthrie - The police in all the States collect statistics.

Senator Playford - They have always done so. We must work with the States in this matter, or incur enormous expense.

Senator MILLEN - I admit at once that the police collect statistics, and that we must work with the States. The only point is whether, in connexion with these various Departments in the different States, we should exercise control over the internal office work. It is not proposed under this Bill that we should do so, and I believe it is desirable that we should. Let me remind honorable senators of the inequality noticeable in the various Statistical Departments of the States. I do not affirm that the Departments in New South Wales and Victoria are more efficiently conducted than are those in the other States, but it may be admitted that they are more complete Departments. Judging from' their published records, their machinery is larger, more complex, and works in a wider area than, for instance, that of the Department in Queensland. It is evident, therefore, that if we are to rely upon the States Departments, we must enlarge the machinery of the smaller offices, in order to bring them up to our requirements, and to secure anything like uniformity in the information collected and the method of its collection. It is quite evident that we must do a great deal of work that is not at present done by the States Departments, and the effect will be, in a variety of ways, to give rise to friction, and to the evils of dual control, which may lead to the absolute disorganization at a critical time of the Departments themselves. I am not attacking this Bill as the Bill of the present Government, because they may have inherited it from their predecessors; but, so far as I know, no particular effort has been made to consult the States, or to ascertain their wishes in this matter. I believe that some correspondence has. been entered into, but has never been made public, and, so far as any information we have is concerned, the States may prefer the course that I am suggesting.

Senator Walker - I think that the States would Le quite willing to transfer the work to the Commonwealth.

Senator MILLEN - I believe they would ; but, so far as I know, no effort has been made to consult them on the point. If they have been consulted the Senate is entirely ignorant as to their wishes in the matter.

Senator Guthrie - Different States would desire to collect different statistics.

Senator MILLEN -That may be so; but the honorable senator will admit that the Commonwealth would cover most of the ground which the States desire to cover. If a particular State desired an extended inquiry in a particular direction, there is no reason why it should not provide for it.

Senator Guthrie - South Australia would not require statistics of the coal output.

Senator MILLEN - That is not material, because, with other things, that would come under the one heading of factories and works. It is very curious that Senator Keating should have relied for support for this Bill upon the report submitted by the conference of Statisticians. I have had a look at that document, and on the face of it, it is shown that it is not at all a reliable guide for us. In the first line of the report it is made clear that the conference was convened to consider matters bearing upon uniformity in the collection of statistics for the Australian States and New Zealand. There is not a single word in the report to show that the question of the control of the statistical machinery for Federal and State purposes was ever thought of. The question dealt with by the conference was merely the desirableness of adopting a uniform method for the collection of statistics. Yet Senator Keating brings this report forward as an argument in support of the Bill. I do not question the ability of the gentlemen who met at the conference in, any way, but they were States Statisticians, and they were never asked to consider, and never did consider, the question of the collection of statistics from the Commonwealth standpoint.

Senator Dobson - I think that Mr. Coghlan might be called- an Australian Statistician.

Senator MILLEN - If the honorable senator means that Mr. Coghlan has collected statistics about the whole of Australia, I concede the point, but so has Mr. Johnston. They have all done so. I should not, therefore, single out Mr. Coghlan, except, perhaps, that it might be admitted that his work has been more detailed and fuller than has been that of some of the other States Statisticians.

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator said that he had considered, not Federal statistics, but only State statistics.

Senator MILLEN - I did not say anything of the kind. What I said was that the States Statisticians have never considered the question of collecting statistics for Commonwealth purposes. Their re port need only be referred to to prove that. Take the census, for instance, and it must be admitted that they never considered" the collection of the census from a constitutional point of view. They were not called upon to do so, and it was not the purpose for which they met. I take a somewhat parallel case in connexion with the question of the_ transferred properties. When that question was under review, the Government did not merely request representatives of each State to meet together to discuss how the properties were to be transferred, but they sent also a Federal representative. The matter was one of mutual concern, and the Government therefore said, " Let a representative of the Federation meet the six representatives of the different States." At this conference of Statisticians there was no officer present to represent the requirements and interests of the Commonwealth in any way. It was a conference of six State officials - each, we may assume, with a tender regard for his own Department - met to consider matters which were not of vital importance to the Commonwealth as the Commonwealth.

Senator Playford - Uniformity of collection is of importance to the Commonwealth.

Senator MILLEN - I am unable to understand the interjection. That uni-, formity is desirable I quite admit. But if that were sufficient, why has this Bill been introduced? The conference decided upon uniformity in the collection of statistics in order that just comparisons might be made as between one State and another. I admit the desirableness of uniformity in the collection of State statistics, but it will not give us what we want. I fall back again upon the census, and I say that we have no assurance that the census will be taken, by the State Statisticians, or that, if taken, it will be taken an each 'State on the same day. Having to assume control - as we must do if we desire to be loyal to the Constitution - of the machinery for the collection of the census, I say that we should do it in a business-like way, and take control of the whole of the machinery for the collection of statistics. With regard to the census, I should like to say that we have no evidence that any serious effort was made to arrive at an understanding with the States by which we could obtain more complete control over the States Departments than is proposed under this Bill. On: the contrary, it is quite evident to me that the moment the States, or some of them, displayed a disinclination to surrender their Departments, the Federal Government yielded at once. This yielding on the part of the Government was carried so far that, as introduced, the Bill absolutely left the question of the census an open one. It did not even determine that the census should be collected, so fearful were the Government of offending the susceptibilities of the States. That was pushing the thing too far altogether, and I welcome the amendment made in the Bill in another place, which, at any rate, in the matter of the census, has enabled us to say clearly and emphatically1 what is meant, and makes it quite clear that we are going to have a census. My only regret is that the Bill does not, with regard to statistics* do what the House of Representatives has caused it to do with regard to the census. Senator Keating used a quotation last night, which he said was from the speech of an American senator, in introducing a Bill to the Congress. It is curious that the Minister should have ventured to use that quotation at all. The honorable and learned senator did not give the name of the American senator from whose speech he quoted, but I have since referred to the Congressional debates, and I find that the speech was made by Senator Queries. I gather from the remarks made during the debate that he was accepted as being to some extent responsible for the Bill, and had evidently been a member of the Committee charged with its drafting and presentation. The history of the Bill, as revealed by the debates and the quotation which Senator Keating, gave ito the Senate, goes to show that we are absolutely on the wrong track. The purpose of the Bill introduced into the American Senate was really to undo the very thing that we are seeking to do here. Its object was to bring under a central administrative and executive head the various Departments that existed throughout America for the collection of statistics. Apparently the practice had grown up there of having statistical bureaux connected with the various branches of the Public Service. It was found that in consequence of this, even although these bureaux were under the one Federal Government, and not under several Governments, friction, jealousy, and trouble were created. In order to avoid that, the

Bill was introduced in the introduction of which the speech was made from which Senator Keating quoted. It' it was necessary there, where all the various statistical bureaux were under one Government, though in different Departments, in order to do away with friction, jealousy, and want of uni? formity, to bring them all under one executive and administrative head, how much more necessary is it for us, where the several statistical bureaux are not under one,, but under several Governments ? I propose to read a quotation to supplement that, given by Senator Keating. It is from a speech by the same American senator, and is as follows : -

I venture to say that if the several statistical bureaux are left attached to the various Departments, you will never be able to consolidate them, because the moment you attack a bureau and undertake to combine it with something else you raise jealousy, suspicion, and dissatisfaction, and' the people interested will come here and oppose the measure.

That is an exact description of what they were trying to remedy in the United States., and it is the position of .affairs that we find repeated here. As Senator Queries pointed out, whenever any alteration is sought to be made, the officials interested make their influence felt in Congress, with a view to preventing any amalgamation. We have had the influence of the StatesStatisticians in evidence here, though unconsciously, as far as they are concerned, I. admit. It is, however, apparent in the fact that their report is taken as the basis of this Bill, a report which discloses a belief on their part that their Departments should continue to be conducted as they are at present. I have no wish to reflect in an\ way upon gentlemen who are deservedly held in the' highest esteem, but I say that it is not safe to be guided by the head of any Department in deciding what the future of that Department shall be. I have never known of a case in dealing with proposals to improve the organization of the Public Service where there were not from within the service protests against any change whatever. The same remark applies here. These gentlemen have spent a life-time in building up their Departments, they are very naturally proud of them and feel a certain amount of jealousy when any. attempt is made to disturb the work which they have been doing. Consequently I cannot regard them as disinterested witnesses. I think that before we agree to adopt the proposals of the Government an effort should be made to confer with the States in order to see whether it is not possible to arrive at the alternative I have suggested - whether instead of leaving the ma - chinery with the States, and leaving them to supply the Commonwealth with information, we could not take the machinery more effectively into our own hands, with the undertaking to supply to the States the information which they require. Before we commit ourselves, I think that a serious effort ought to be made to confer with the States with that object in view. There is no urgency about this Bill. The most important matter involved in it is the census, and that is not required to be taken till five years hence. Surely in the meantime negotiations could 'be opened with the States, in order to see whether we could not arrange to bring all the statistics under one head, instead of having them arranged by separate and independent Departments. That has not yet been done, and that is my objection to the Bill. I am therefore placed in this, position : I do not wish to vote against the second reading of the Bill, because if nothing better could be obtained we should have to accept it, in view of the requirements of the Constitution. But I think there is a prospect of getting something better. The only courses open" to me, therefore, are either to ask the Government to consent to postpone the Bill indefinitely, so as to permit of these negotiations, or to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator can move an amendment in Committee.

Senator MILLEN - No amendment that I could move in Committee would meet my purpose. What I wish to effect is that the States shall give up their individual machinery, and leave one central Commonwealth body to obtain the information. But any amendment which would carry out that object would, I think', be ruled out of order as involving a complete reversal of the scheme of the Bill. On the other hand, I do not wish to do anything which might be regarded as hostile to the Government. It would be foolish if I sought to do anything of the kind, because I have very grave doubts as to whether the view I expressed would be entertained by the Senate.

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator wishes to obtain the opinion of the Committee-

Senator MILLEN - But I wish to do that in the most effective way, and the only course open to me is to accept the Bill as it is, or to move that it be read a second time this day six months. It is the latter course which with reluctance I propose to follow. I repeat that there is no urgency about it, and that it seems to me that negotiations might be opened with the States Governments, to see whether the alternative scheme which I have suggested could not be carried out.

Senator Keating - There have been negotiations with the States, and the correspondence was laid on the table of the Library. I think it is there still.

Senator MILLEN - The Library is almost a trap in respect of the correspondence deposited there ; because no record is kept of official papers left there, and when one asks for information one is told that it is not available. I certainly think that it is highly desirable that the Government should enter into negotiations in order to see if it is not possible to bring the States into agreement.

Senator Dobson - If the honorable senator can induce the Committee to negative clause 6 it will be an indication that the Committee approves of this scheme. We might test the whole matter in that way.

Senator MILLEN - I do not know that it would. It would simply mean that we affirmed the principle of establishing one central bureau in Melbourne. I think the matter can only be tested in the way I have suggested. Therefore, at the end of my observations I shall move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months, but if in the course of the debate arguments are adduced which make it clear that the course proposed by the Government is preferable, I shall withdraw the amendment. Now let me say a word or two with respect to the details of the Bill. My first objection to the scheme is that it may practically be described as an enabling Bill. The amount of " regulation " and "prescription" and "Minister" and "GovernorGeneral " in this measure is wonderful. I have never seen so many provisions of the kind within so small a compass. There are twenty-eight clauses in the Bill. Of those sixteen refer to officers only - that is. give directions to those who are to constitute the Department. The others consist of the title, the interpretation clause, and the clauses- which provide that there shall be a census. Nine clauses consist of directions to the public. We come down to sixteen clauses which provide machinery for giving effect to the Bill, and out of those no less .than fourteen have in them either the word "regulation," or "prescribed," or "the Minister," or "the GovernorGeneral." Thus out of sixteen clauses fourteen ate absolutely left to have effect given to them by regulation. We have previously had discussions in the Senate on the growing tendency to shirk our proper responsibilities by handing them over to the Executive. It has always appeared to me that this is a slovenly way of doing our work. Of course in a Bill of this kind reasonable limits have to be allowed, but a great deal of this measure merely enables things to be done. Indeed, so much is left to discretion that it affords an additional reason for our endeavouring to arrive at some arrangement with the States. If we do not, I say frankly that I do not know where the Commonwealth is going to get its statistics from. It is because we propose to give power to the Governor-General to make arrangements with the States that the remaining clauses of the Bill are necessarily indefinite, inasmuch as we do not know whether such arrangements will be made, or what their character will be. Even if the alternative scheme which I have suggested were not adopted, it would have been better for the Government to have entered into arrangements with the States so that they might have been in a position to put a more definite measure before us. In two matters there is a remarkable contrast between this Bill and the legislation of Victoria, New South Wales, and Great Britain in respect to similar subjects. Indeed the arrogance of some of the clauses is quite startling, A wide extension of power is sought to be obtained. I invite honorable senators to look at clause 19. It gives power to the Statistician or any officer authorized by him to enter any factory or workshop, or any place where persons are employed, and to inspect any part of it, and all plant and machinery used in connexion with it, and to ..make such' inquiries as are prescribed or allowed by the regulations. The . Minister may tell me that it is necessary for the purposes of ,t3his Bill that that power should be given. But if honorable senators compare that clause with corresponding sections in the Acts to which I have referred they will find that this Bill omits the words, " for the purpose of making any inquiries which are necessary for the proper carrying out of this Act." Under this Bill a statistical officer can enter premises where persons are employed for any reason he likes, or noreason whatever. I do not say that a statistical officer is likely to wander round factories for the mere pleasure of doing so ; but when we are giving officers powers of this kind, it should be laid down that they are given for the purposes of the measure, and not for any other purposes. In Committee I intend to move an amendment dealing with that matter. The other point to which I wish to draw attention has relation to the excessive character of the penalties imposed under the Bill. Here, again, the measure is true to the traditions which apparently the Senate is seeking to establish, I find that we have in this Bill £10 penalties where a penalty of ^5 is imposed in New South Wales and in the Imperial Act. Then in other provisions we have a penalty of ^50 as compared with £20 in the New South Wales Act, and £50 as against £5 elsewhere. These excessive penalties are, in my opinion, not only not warranted by the nature of the offences sought to be guarded against, but to my mind they place our legislation in a very unsatisfactory light. I never ie.gard a desire to impose excessive punishment as marking a very high standard of civilization ; and it is a matter of keen regret' to me that the tendency previously displayed by this Parliament to impose high: penalties is being repeated in this measure-. I have now endeavoured to put forward my main objections to the Bill. I shall listen with considerable interest to those who may follow me, and particularly to the Minister, to hear what he may have to say as to the alternative scheme which I have suggested. But I ask honorable senators before they arrive at a conclusion as to the scheme of 'the BilE to remember' that there is no urgency about this matter whatever. No harm will be done by waiting a few months. And I think that it is possible by waiting a little while, and by negotiations with the States that we maybe able to obviate a crop of difficulties and friction between the States and the Commonwealth Government. In accordance with what I have indicated, I beg to move -

That the word " now " be left out, with a view to adding the words " this day six months."

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