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Tuesday, 28 November 1905

Senator KEATING - The only Federal Officer who is used in Tasmania fills the position of Deputy Public Works Inspector, Deputy Public Service Inspector, and Electoral Officer for the State.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia.) - With regard, to the proposed vote of£94,921 under thehead of " Works and buildings," I wish to' draw attention to the fact that it includes an item of£769 for the Attorney-General - namely , £243 for rent,£140 for repairs and maintenance, £250 for fittings and furniture, and £136 for rent of telephones. I think that every one must agree as to the undesirability of expanding the items which appear throughout the Estimates under the head of contingencies. It covers a great many things which it is difficult 'to investigate. It leaves to the Department, and to its officers, a discretion which I am perfectly certain they all try to exercise to the best of their ability, but in relation to which it is very difficult to secure proper supervision. Many of the observations which have been directed this afternoon to contingencies apply to this general head of " works and buildings." Each item which appears in the final column, headed' "other," is an addition to the Estimates of the Department to which it relates. These items are very apt to be overlooked when the expenditure in connexion with each Department is being discussed. Last year,, as appears by the Estimates, there! was an appropriation of£1,185 to the Attorney-General's Department under this heading. The expenditure during last year - when, of course, as honorable senators are aware, the late Ministry was responsible for the expenditure of the Department for the greaterpart of the time - was cut down to less than half the appropriation. Whatever credit there maybe for that, belongs, therefore, to the late Government. The saving effected upon the appropriation last year was ,£648. That was a very substantial and useful piece of work as it appears to me. The present estimate, of course, has some relation to last year's expenditure, and is put down at£769. That is a reduction upon last year's appropriation of£416. My belief is - I am not quite certain - that that is the estimate of the late Government, arrived at by relation to the amount of last year's expenditure. I think, in common with all my honorable friends in the Senate, and in agreement with the views which have been expressed several times by Senator Stewart, that it is very important that every possible supervision should be exercised in relation to expenditure, and particularly as to the smaller items which are not so obvious, and to which attention is not so strongly directed when measures of this character happens to be passing through Parliament. It is in relation to small leakages that the most extreme care should be exercised, because the multiplicity of such leakages makes up in the long run a very large, and if wehad it before us in one lump, a very appalling sum. It cannot be out of place, in relation to this subject, for me to read the views of Mr. Gladstone, as narrated in Mr. Morley'sLife. They are exceedingly appropriate, and express the point of view in terms with which I think we can all concur - "The chancellor of the exchequer," he said, " should boldly uphold economy in detail ; and it is the mark of a chicken-hearted chancellor when he shrinks from upholding economy in detail, when because it is a question of only two or three thousand pounds, he says that is no matter. He is ridiculed, no doubt, for what is called candle-ends and cheese-parings, but he is not worth his salt if he is not ready to save what are meant by candle-ends and cheese-parings in the cause of the country." He held it to be his special duty in his office not simply to abolish sinecures, but to watch for every opportunity of cutting down all unnecessary appointments.

He hears that a clerk at the national debt office is at death's door, and on the instant writes to Lord Palmerston that there is no necessity to appoint a successor. " During the last twenty years," he said in 1863, " since I began to deal with these subjects, every financial change beneficial to the country at large has been met with a threat that somebody would be dismissed." All such discouragements he treated with the halfscornful scepticism, without which no administrative reformer, will go far.

He did not think it beneath his dignify to appeal to the foreign office for a retrenchment in fly-leaves, and thick folio sheets, used for docketing only, and the same for mere covering despatches without description.

I recollect that the other day Senator Stewart and others called attention to the quality of the paper supplied for use of honorable senators. I intend a little later on to offer some general observations with regard to other matter of expenditure to which it would not be appropriates for me to refer now. But I shall be able to shorten what I have then to say if I make some remarks now upon these two items. I pre sume that the item, telephones,£136, includes the High Court telephones which came under my notice at the time of my administration of the Department. If that be the case now, of course, is the time for me to deal with them, and to inform the Senate what I found and what I did. I think it is my duty to do so, as probably no one is so familiar with the subject as I am, and the information, which is in print before honorable senators in relation to the Estimates last year, is of course information arising out of my own administration.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator intend to move a request for a reduction ?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I am not quite sure yet, but I will explain what the position is. Two or three matters came under my notice. This was one of them. I am not entitled to credit for the discover. Whatever credit there is, however, the late Government is entitled to for the action which it took upon the inquiry set in motion by the previous Government. At Darlinghurst Court House, each Justice of the High Court had one telephone in his room. The Chief Justice's Associate had one telephone in his room. The other two Associates had one telephone between them. That made five telephones, which cost £44 to instal. Then each Justice - Mr. Justice Barton and Mr. Justice O'Connor - had a telephone at his own private house. For the year ending 31st December, 1904,£5 was charged to the Commonwealth for a telephone for the Chief Justice's private residence in Brisbane, and 15s. 2d. for the period from the 1 st January to the 8th February, when he moved his residence to Sydney. The necessity for those telephones was questioned by the Watson Government early in the month of August, when, I suppose, the financial statement was being made up for the year. Nothing, however, was done. Subsequently the matter was referred by the Treasurer to me. The expenditure was being included in the Home Office Estimates, but that Department refused to pay for the telephones without my authority. I really could not understand why all these telephones were charged to the Commonwealth. The portion of the Court rooms set apart for the High Court must have been something like a bell-ringing establishment. Of course, in a place of business like a counting house, or in an office where many communications are received, a number of telephones may be necessary. But arguments are not heard and judgments are not delivered through the telephone ; and I could not understand why so many instruments should be requisite for the High Court rooms at Darlinghurst. I looked into the matter with the desire to provide ,the fullest possible facilities. But with every desire to do so, I could not conceive why' one telephone was not sufficient. I thereupon directed - after investigation had been made - that one telephone should be provided, and that the private telephones at the Commonwealth expense should be discontinued.

Senator Mulcahy - Quite right.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I think so. I looked at the matter from every possible point of view, and I could not see any justification for charging these private telephones to the Commonwealth. The suggestion afterwards made in a letter by the Judges was that Ministers of the Crown had telephones, and they did not see why they should not have them also. I was not aware that Ministers of the Crown had private telephones provided for them. I never had one myself. I have a telephone at my own house, but that has always been paid for by me. I was not aware of any rule or practice to the contrary. But whatever may be the case in regard to Ministers of the Crown who are liable to be called upon at all hours on public business, I could not understand why the public taxpayer should be charged with these private telephones for the Judges at their private houses. Accordingly I directed- and I should give the same direction again - the discontinuance of the private telephones at the expense of the country. I also directed that for the present, at all events, there should be but one telephone for the use of the High Court Judges at Darlinghurst. At the same time, in order that it might not be supposed that I regarded that direction as final, if it were shown that additional telephones were necessary, I wrote a letter in June - which does not appear in the printed papers - saying that should experience show, when the Court again sat in Sydney after the winter vacation and the August Melbourne sittings, "that one telephone was insufficient for the business of the Court, I should be quite prepared to look into the matter again. That was how the matter of these telephones rested. Honorable senators will recollect that for months - I think I may say advisedly - the learned Judges are not sitting in Sydney, and not occupying cham bers there. Therefore, during those months at all events, there could be no reason for maintaining the numerous telephones at the Court House. But they had to be paid for all the same. It may be said that the cost of these telephones is merely debited to one Department and credited to another. But still, all the appliances are there, and the country was put to expense. It will be seen, from the letter which appears in the printed correspondence, that the present AttorneyGeneral has partly reversed the decision which I arrived at to this extent - he has confirmed the disallowance of the private residence telephones, which, I think, he must have found it impossible to justify, and he has disallowed the telephones in the associates' rooms, which I think was a right thing to do - but he has allowed a telephone in the chambers of each of the Judges. That reduced the annual cost, so far as the Department is concerned, very materially. I do not think those three telephones are necessary, but that one is ample. However, three having been decided upon, T do not wish to move an amendment or do otherwise than acknowledge the action of the present Government in ratifying, to the extent they have, the course which I took. The other item on which I wish to say a word is that of ^250 for fittings and furniture. In regard to this, it is desirable to have some information from the Honorary Minister as to what that expenditure includes and represents. A great deal of difficulty1 has arisen, and much expense has been occasioned, by the system' of :ah itinerating court. We have a principal registry in Melbourne, and, unnecessarily as I think, district registries in every State.; and while I do not propose to deal with that phase of the question at the present moment, I desire to draw attention to an expenditure which astonished me when it first came to my knowledge. I was then making inquiry into the expenditure of .£500 on the furnishing and fitting of the fudges' chambers in Melbourne, which is the principal seat of the Court, and where, of course, such expenditure is appropriate; and I found that a similar amount was expended in the district registry in Sydney. I frankly admit that the whole position is very anomalous;, everyone recognises the anomaly, and the question is how hereafter it may be remedied. The expenditure at the district registry in Sydney is obviously no more appropriate than it would be at any or every other district registry throughout the States. If we were invited to authorise similar expenditure at other district registries, we could not, with the example of the expenditure at the district registry of Sydney before us, logically, or, for the matter of that, justly disapprove. I am particularly desirous to ascertain whether, in the sum of ^250 for furniture, there is included the expenditure on the provision of shelving in the Chief Justice's chambers in Sydney - shelving for books which had lain for more than a year in Brisbane. I desire this information, first of all because this, shelving was the subject of the requisition to me during my term of office as Attorney-General. The objection to the requisition was mainly - as I have already mentioned to honorable senators - that the expenditure was proposed for a district registry, and that the only chambers which should be provided and furnished by the Commonwealth were, as in the case of every Supreme Court throughout the States, the chambers at the principal seat of the Court. When the requisition was sent in instructions appear to have been given by the Chief Justice straight away to the Public Works officers to prepare plans and an estimate of the cost without waiting for any reply, or for Executive approval, of what was submitted for Executive approval. -These instructions were given without my knowledge, and while the application for approval was under consideration in the Department which, so far as administration is concerned, exercises control over High Court expenditure. I became aware of the facts when, several months later, the papers were forwarded to me from the Public Works Department. It certainly is not the regular course, when a requisition is sent in for the approval of a Minister, for the desired approval to be practically anticipated, and the Minister's control sought to be overridden by directions given in the way I have described. Subsequently, early in the month of May, before it had been ascertained whether or not such expenditure was. proper at a district registry, before I was aware of what the probable cost would be, and when the temporary withholding of my approval was being strongly objected to, a communication seems to have been made by the Chief Justice to the Public Works officer. It appears that the Chief Justice, on the 10th May, telephoned to the Public Works director of New South Wales on the subject. The letter of. the Public Works officer is as follows,: -

His Honour the Chief Justice has telephoned me stating that he understands that the shelving round his room at Darlinghurst Court House has been approved, and urges me to press on with the work.

Honorable senators will observe that this telephone message was sent when, according .to the correspondence, the Chief Justice was protesting that the shelving had not been approved and against the delay in the approval.

Senator Fraser - Was the Chief Justice urging the honorable senator as Minister, or the officer of the Department ?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - The Chief Justice was urging the officer.

Senator Fraser - To get the honorable senator's consent?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - No; to . do the work at the very time he was protesting against my not having approved the expenditure.

Senator Guthrie - Do I understand the honorable senator to say that the Chief Justice told the officer that the expenditure had been approved?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - The Chief Justice telephoned to the Public Works officer, and the words in that officer's, letter are: -

His Honour the Chief Justice has telephoned me stating that he understands that the shelving round his room at Darlinghurst Court House has been approved, and urges me to press on with the work.

A few days later, on the 17th May, the Chief Justice wrote a letter, which, I must say, considerably surprised me -

As I understand that it is not now intended to make any proposal for discontinuing the sittings of the Full Court at Sydney, I have the honour to renew the request contained in my letter of and December last, that the furnishing of my chambers at Darlinghurst may be completed by the provision of shelves for the accommodation of my law library.

Whereas, seven days before, according to the letter of the Public Works director, the Chief Justice sent the telephone message I have already read. I do not wish, to comment on, or attempt to reconcile, the two letters; but when these facts were laid before me, I asked for the papers dealing with .the whole matter. I then became aware, for the first time, of the existence of the plans, and of the, at any rate, speculative- or preliminary estimates which had been prepared so long before as the month of December. These- papers came before me very shortly before I left office, and I have only to add that the Attorney-General has since, in rather a lofty fashion, referred to the proposed shelving as a trivial matter, which has now been settled. I do not regard it as a trivial matter in any sense or shape; I do not regard any expenditure, large or small, which comes before a Minister for sanction,, as trivial. Large or small in amount, the money is not the Minister's own, but the money of the taxpayers, for whom he acts as trustee. I might regard a note of my own as of no consequence; but when one is dealing with trust moneys, no sum is trifling. The Attorney-General has no right to describe any expenditure, however small, of money belonging to other people, as trivial, or to sanction it, if otherwise it ought not to be sanctioned, on such ground.

Senator Fraser - If a Minister is extravagant in small matters, he will be extravagant in great matters.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I have stated my view of the matter. It was put about on more than one occasion that this, shelving involved no more expenditure than 25s. or 30s,. I have not the estimate by me, and I shall ask the Minister what was the actual cost; but my recollection is that the anticipated cost was something like £40 or .£45. I understand, however, from the Attorney-General, that the work has been undertaken and completed - we cannot now refuse to pay for it - but we may now be informed of the actual cost. As honorable senators will see from the public correspondence, the subject was never dealt with from the point of view of the cost as a mere question of amount, and if it were trivial, there would have been no great hardship in the Chief Justice paying it out of his own pocket. From the point of view of amount, the matter did seem to me too trivial to be the subject of the number of letters and telegrams addressed to the Department on the subject, particularly when we were hard pressed by the business of Parliament. The facts are as I have mentioned. The course that was pursued, I ventured to think then, and still think, was highly irregular. I have mentioned the facts in regard to instructions given without authority to the Public Works officers in the month of December. Plans were prepared and the Estimates 'then formulated did not come before me until; I think, the month of June, within a week or two of my going out of office.

Senator Fraser - Who gave the instructions ?

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - The instructions, so I was informed, were given by the Chief Justice, and it was asked that the work should be pressed on, at the very time that lie was vehemently protesting to me against my not having given approval. Looked at from a private point of view, ^45 or ^£50 is not a great deal, but looked at from the point of view that it is the taxpayers' money it is a substantial amount, and one that we should be careful in expending. Whether we allow the present arrangements to continue or not, as to which I hope there will be legislation in the direction in which I have already moved, the time will shortly come when all these district registries must end. When the Federal Capital is established, undoubtedly the Court must be there, and therefore we should be circumspect to a degree in relation to this expenditure, because such expenditure on district registries will be expenditure that cannot be recouped. As these two matters are dealt with under this heading, I am relieved from the necessity of making these observations later on, in connexion with other Estimates, when probably it would not be regular for me to do so. In regard to the telephones, the Government have apparently , approved of the views I took, and the course of administration I pursued in relation to everything but that connected with chambers of each Judge. Upon that item therefore I shall not move any request. With regard to the other, I will ask the Honorary Minister to tell us what this ^250 is for. If it includes the amount for the shelving to which I have referred, I 'have made my observations on the matter. But if it includes other things we should know what they are before we vote a sum of ^250 which may be expended in a way which will be entirely futile when the establishment of the Court is placed upon its permanent footing. Until I have heard these particulars, I shall postpone for the moment moving any request in connexion with this line also.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honorary Minister). - With regard to the first item mentioned by the -honorable senator, the provision of £136 for telephones for the current year is for telephones used at the head office, and private office of the Attorney-General, and for the direct lines to other Ministers' private residences, the Crown Solicitor, Secretary of the Department, and telephones to the High Court offices. For the previous year the amount expended under the same heading was ^192. As indicated by Senator Symon, there has been retrenchment in the. matter of telephones, and the amount asked for for the current financial year is only ^136. With regard to the second item, " Fittings and furniture," £250 is asked! for. This vote is for furniture for the office of the Attorney-General in Spring-street, for the office of the Crown Solicitor, which is now fitted up under the same roof as most of the other Commonwealth Departments, and 'for furniture and fittings in connexion with the High Court. The High Court, as every one knows, does not confine its sittings to any centre of the Commonwealth.

Senator Givens - A very good thing, too.

Senator KEATING - As a matter of fact, although, perhaps, its chief seat should be in Melbourne, because Melbourne is for the time being the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth, I understand that the work done by the High Court at Sydney is greater in volume than that done anywhere else. As a consequence, the Justices of the High Court are engaged in that city very much longer than even in Melbourne, and1 the provision for their accommodation there is consequently out of proportion to that required in any other State Capital. Provision has to be made there for furniture and fittings for the High Court, and the chambers used by the Justices and Associates, in the same way as at Melbourne. The cost of shelving, to which Senator Symon has referred, is, I understand, included in this vote, but the actual amount expended was, I am informed, approximately only ,£15. Since Senator Symon mentioned the matter, I have caused inquiries to be made, but owing to the hour at which they are made, there is some little difficul tv in getting the necessary information. If I can get the information with certainty, I shall furnish it to the Committee when we are dealing with the Attorney-General's Estimates. I am unable to state with certainty what the vote of ^250 will cover, because it is the provision made for the current year, which does not come to an end until the 30th of June next. The amount expended during 1904-5 under this head was ^237. Based upon that experience, the Department assumes that .£250 will be an adequate provision to meet the requirements of the different departments of the Attorney-General, the Crown Solicitor, and the High Court, in connexion with furniture and fittings that mav be required during the vear.

Senator Sir JOSIAHSYMON (South Australia). - I shall be very glad if Senator Keating will obtain the information to which he has referred as to the cost of this shelving.

Senator Keating - Senator Symon will understand that the difficulty in securing exact information now is because of the lateness of the hour.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I shall be quite satisfied if the honorable senator assures me that he will obtain the information, and supply it later on, because I should like to have it. My recollection is clear that the plans and estimates I have referred to as having been prepared under the direction of the Chief Justice in December were before me in June, and the amount of the estimate, in accordance with those plans, was something like .£45. I shall be very glad, indeed, to find that there has been retrenchment in connexion with that item, because it struck me that, whether shelves were provided or not, the estimate was an extravagant one, especially in view of the fact that in the Chief Justice's letter of the 2nd December it will be found that they are spoken of as merely temporary and inexpensive. I am not discussing the matter from the point of view of saving £1 here or there, but on the principle that we cannot have it sufficiently impressed' upon our minds that we are dealing with public money. If economy has been practised in this matter, I shall be extremely pleased to hear it.

Senator Keating - My personal recollection was that it was more than but I am informed that that is approximately the amount spent.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I understood that it was to be ,£45 or £50, and I shall congratulate my successor in the Department if, in acordance with the view I took, he has been able to make what is really a substantial reduction of something like two-thirds of the estimate for a very handsome set of shelves in a temporary office. I should have been glad to have had some further information of the other items covered by the vote of ,£250. In my experience there is always a tendency, and it may be a natural tendency, for the officers of the Department to put down a large sum to cover the expenditure during the current year under each heading. The only way in which that can be gauged is not by increasing the sum, but by continually reducing the sum spent in the previous year, and keeping the amounts rather below than above the previous year's expenditure. I shall be glad if Senator Keating, when the Attorney-General's Estimates come on for consideration, will be able to give some further information as to the other expenditure , already incurred and contemplated out of this vote. So far as the AttorneyGeneral's offices are concerned, I may say that they were most, I will not say luxuriously, but comfortably furnished, and really nothing was wanting, so far as I could see, to secure convenience in the transaction of the public business to be done there. I have heard Senator Keating state that the vote of £136 for telephones represents a reduction on last year's expenditure from £192. There are circumstances of which honorable senators are aware, and which I thoroughly appreciate, which they regard as justifying at present a peripatetic or itinerant High Court; but what I wish to say is that we, having regard to the Constitution, should be particularly careful as to the expenditure so brought about, otherwise we shall find that it will grow to such an extent as to appall us. It will not be a matter of £136 we shall be dealing with, but a matter of thousands of pounds, not merely in relation to expenditure such as this, but inrelation to the enlargement of the personnel of the Court, which a continuance of the present system will render imperative. We shall then have to consider whether that enlargement is to take place, or whether what I conceive to be the true position, that of the Court having a fixed seat as an appellate tribunal being accepted is not the true remedy. My honorable friend says, and says quite truly, that Melbourne is the seat of the Court. It is the seat of the Court by virtue of a proclamation under the Judiciary Act. No other place could be the seat of theCourt, and we ought to view this expenditure from the same stand-point in regard to Melbourne, which is the Seat of Government and the seat of the Court, as we should do iftheFederal Capital were established, and the Court were located there. ' I shall be glad if the Minister will supply the information to which he has referred. I do not wish the itemto be postponed until the information is forthcoming, because I accept the assurance of his recollection that the cost of the shelving was not above the estimate of £45 or £50, but that, as far as he knows, it was two-thirds below that sum.

Senator Keating -No. I am just informed that it was approximately £15. My own recollection is that it was a larger amount, about £35 or £40.

Senator Sir JOSIAH SYMON - I think that my honorable friend will find that his recollection is right. It is well to have the information. At any rate, the shelving did not cost the few shillings which could be described in the Attorney-General's letter as "trivial," an expression to which I take strong exception as applicable to any expenditure of public money for which we are trustees for the taxpayers.

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