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Tuesday, 28 November 1905

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) - I may take this opportunity of asking the Minister whether he can tell me how far the system of transferring available funds - not only between the various branches of the same Department, but also between the various Departments of the Commonwealth service - operates? For instance, I know that, it is not an, uncommon practice, if there is some money in one Department that has not been spent, for it to be transferred to some other branch at the request of that branch. If the Senate is going to take its proper place in looking after the funds of the Commonwealth, it is high time that we had information on this subject and considered it seriously. Say, for instance, that the Home Affairs Department towards the end of the year had ,£500 unspent, the Customs Department could say, " Pass it on to us, and we will spend it."

Senator Playford - That never occurs.

Senator CLEMONS - Suppose that the administrative staff of the Home Affairs Department has a sum of £500 unspent towards the end of the year, is it not the practice for, sa.y, the Electoral Office, which is a branch of the Home Affairs Department, or for the Public Service Commissioner's Office, to say - "We have need of extra money and you can transfer it to us?"

Senator Playford - The honorable senator is wrong there. The practice only exists as between me sub-departments of a Department, but not between- branches of a Department.

Senator CLEMONS - Is the Minister quite sure ? Let us take; an instance in connexion with the administrative staff of the Home Affairs Department. There is an item of ^125 for "Office requisites exclusive of writing paper and envelopes." Does the Minister wish us to understand that if that money is not expended towards the end of the year it may be transferred to " other printing " under the same* heading, or to " travelling expenses " ?

Senator Playford - Yes ; those items are all under the same subdivision.

Senator CLEMONS - Does the Minister assure this Committee that the system of transfer merely applies to this limited area, and never goes beyond it?

Senator Playford - I am so informed.

Senator CLEMONS - Does it never go outside the subdivision? Is money never transferred, say. from the Administrative Staff to the Electoral Office?

Senator Playford - No.

Senator CLEMONS - I hope that the Minister is fully .aware of what he is say ing. I am not going to dispute his statement, but with the greatest of respect I doubt whether he is speaking with a true knowledge of the subject.

Senator Playford - I am speaking from the knowledge of the head of the Department.

Senator CLEMONS - Before I sit down*, I would suggest to the Minister that in regard to temporary assistance, he should pick out some item in the schedule a good way ahead, and, before to-day's sitting is concluded, should supply us with particulars in connexion with it, and with the details under the heading of "Contingencies." For instance, take the item, " Incidental and petty cash expenditure." The amount appropriated last year was £400, and the amount expended was £356. I would suggest that the Minister should take some similar item of incidental and petty cash expenditure for whatever Department he likes, and supply us to-3ay with details taken from last year's accounts. I am aware that if I ask him to give us the details of the ^356 spent last year in connexion with the Home Affairs Department, he cannot do it. I do not wish to be unfair, but I do wish to get information. Will he, therefore, take a similar item relative to some other Department, and, before the sitting closes, give us a detailed account of how the money has been spent? I have a suspicion that the frequent entries in reference to petty cash expenditure afford opportunities for great waste of public money.

Senator HENDERSON(Western Australia). In relation to the item " Temporary assistance," I wish to ask the Minister whether it is a fact that persons are employed in the public offices from one year's end to another, whose wages are paid just as are those of permanent public servants, but who, nevertheless, are provided for under the heading of " Temporary assistance " ?

Senator Playford - I think there is a provision in the Public Service Act which does not permit a Department to employ a temporary hand for more than nine months.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Is that rule adhered to?

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honorary Minister). - The answer to Senator Henderson's question is that two men are employed permanently, whose salaries are paid out of the vote designated " Temporary assistance." They are the men to whom I have previously referred, being the clerk and caretaker at the Sydney office.

Senator Henderson - Is the Minister sure that there are no others?

Senator KEATING - I am informed that there are no others. The two officers mentioned are employed temporarily because it is recognised that their services are only required .until the Commonwealth secures its own office in the Sydney Customs House, when they will be dealt with differently, or their services will be dispensed with.

Senator STEWART(Queensland.)- I have not yet succeeded in obtaining information as to the salaries paid to these temporary officers. I hope that the Minister will promise to obtain more information with regard to them. I should also like to have information as to the item .£829 for office cleaners. Is the office cleaning done by contract ? What rates of wages are paid? Are the cleaners men or women, or both?

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honorary Minister). - The Department of Home Affairs provides for the cleaning of offices for all the Commonwealth Departments. I understand that the cleaners are paid a regular rate, and the work is not done by contract. In some instances quarters are also provided. In connexion with the Home Affairs Department there are employed two boys at ,£52 per annum, the women cleaners are paid -Ti a week, and there is also one male caretaker and cleaner at £104.

Senator STEWART(Queensland). - In regard to the vote for the Electoral Office, I may say that I have had an opportunity to look over some of the Queensland rolls, which have recently been made, and I was astonished to find' there the names of dead men and women, and of people who, to my knowledge, have left the country for some time. Indeed, in the limited examination that 1" was able to give these particular rolls, I was obliged to come to the conclusion that they were very carelessly prepared. I should like to know- exactly what system is followed in compiling them. There is a principal electoral officer in Melbourne, who controls, the whole business, but, so far as I can gather, the work is practically done locally by the chief returning officers, who act as the principal electoral officers in each State, and are always Government servants. I do not know whether the

Chief Returning Officer in Queensland receives an allowance for the work, or, if he does, what ft is. It appears to me that some better system ought to be inaugurated, in view of the fact that the rolls are very inaccurate.

Senator Pearce - Have we not jus,t passed an amending Electoral Bill?

Senator STEWART - There is evidently great need for amendment; but I am not sure that that Bill will achieve everything desired. There seems to be too much centralization; too little responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the States officers, and too much on those of the Commonwealth Electoral Officer. In this matter, as in others, we are suffering from the curse of over-centralization - an inherent defect in our system of Federation which will have to be continually fought against, or it will utterly demoralize the administration. The Chief Electoral Officer gets the high salary of £500 for what is practically copyists' work, and, so far as I have been able to gather, that work has been very indifferently done. Then there is the Commonwealth Electoral Officer for the State of Tasmania, who also acts as Public Works Officer and Deputy Public Service Inspector. That officer's salary is £520, and he has a clerk who receives £185 a year.

Senator Keating - The salary of the Tasmanian officer is not severed in any way.

Senator STEWART - Tasmania, although the smallest State, seems to cost much more than does any of the other States, so far as electoral officers are concerned.

Senator Keating - In the other States there are public works officers and deputy public service inspectors, in addition to electoral officers.

Senator STEWART - Why is the whole of his salary debited to the Electoral Office? In any case, we ought to have some explanation as to the mode of compiling the rolls, because the work -is done in such a slipshod fashion as to make it evident that some supervision is necessary.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania - Honorary Minister).- -I agree with Senator Stewart that the work of compiling the electoral rolls has not been completed satisfactorily. In the first instance, resort was had to the State police; but I do not blame the police, because all they had to do waa to go round with certain forms, and leave them with the householders, with a request' that they might be filled in and returned by a certain date. From these returns the rolls were prepared, and exhibited for thirty days before the holding of the Revision Court, in order that anybody interested might have the amplest opportunity' to inspect them and draw attention to errors or omissions. The Revision Court was then held, and the rolls finally prepared. I know of an instance in Tasmania where in a large household - it was a place of accommodation - a lady, who had strong views on the liquor question, found, when she went to record her vote, that she had been described as following the occupation of a barmaid - the one occupation which appealed least favorably to her. In many instances, people filled in the returns with gross inaccuracy, often negligently, and often out of sheer mischief. That only showed the necessity to provide for adequate penalties for such an offence; and provision is made to this end in the Electoral Bill just passed. As to Mr. Oldham, the Commonwealth Electoral Officer in Tasmania, all the work of the three offices mentioned is carried out by him for the one salary, in one office, and with the assistance of one clerk. It is very difficult to please some honorable senators. Earlier in the consideration of the Estimates, objection was raised1 to the salary of the Usher of the Black Rod appearing in one part, and the salary of the same officer as controller of the refreshment rooms in another part, it being pointed out that the total remuneration paid could not be seen at a glance. Indeed, I believe that Senator Stewart was the gentleman who raised that objection. I think honorable senators will agree that the explanation I have given is satisfactory', and that there is no reason for alarm in connexion with these items.

Senator CROFT(Western Australia).I see that there is a sum of ^700 provided here for temporary assistance. I know of one officer, Mr. Brady, who, for £wo years and a half, has been practically carrying out the duties of Chief Electoral Officer of Western Australia, and yet he is amongst the temporary officers.

Senator de Largie - Mr. Brady has carried out the duties very well.

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