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Tuesday, 28 November 1905

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - I wish to point out that communications are proceeding between the Commonwealth Government and the State of New South Wales, and there may be legal proceedings. There may also be expenses in connexion with the Capital Site in other directions. It may be necessary to make a survey of ax* actual locality within the area that has ' been selected. It may be necessary also for inspectors or officers to go there and do certain work. The vote in question is intended to cover, and will amply cover in the opinion of the officers, all expenditure that is likely to be incurred during the financial year. Not more than £20 has been expended in this direction since the commencement of the present financial year., The money has no reference to further visits on the part of members of this Parliament, nor has it any reference to any other site than that which has been chosen. The object is to give effect to the policy that has been adopted by this Parliament by an Act which stands upon, the Commonwealth statute-book.

Senator Clemons - Does not the Minister think that the item with regard to the Capital Site ought- to be marked "unalterable"?

Senator KEATING - I do not think that is necessary.

Senator Clemons - The money may be spent in any of the other directions mentioned in the subdivision.

Senator KEATING - A good margin is allowed; and, as far as I know, there has been no expenditure transferred from one item to another.

Senator Best - It could not legitimately be done. " Senator. KEATING. - Under the Audit Act it is possible for it to be done. I shall now deal with item 3 - the expenses in connexion with the valuation of properties taken over from the States. I may say that certain properties came to the Commonwealth in connexion with the transferred Departments. These consisted of buildings of the Post and Telegraph Department and of the Department of Trade and Customs; and. in addition, there was very valuable material in the shape of apparatus, telephone lines, and so forth. According to a memorandum I have here, in January, 1901, the first month of the Commonwealth, each State was asked to supply a list of the transferred properties and this finally resulted in claims being received from New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and Tasmania. But no definite action was taken with regard to the valuation until the Conference between the Commonwealth and State Ministers at Hobart in 1905. At that Conference, as honorable senators will find on referring to the report, it was resolved : -

1.   That there should be an early settlement by the Commonwealth Government in respect of transferred property.

2.   That the basis of compensation should be the value of the land, plus the value of buildings or other property at the time of transfer, taking into consideration the purpose for which they were used.

3.   That each State and the Commonwealth should each appoint a public officer as valuer, and their valuation should be accepted as final. Provided, that in cases of difference, the dispute shall be referred to a Judge in the State, who, after hearing the valuers, shall decide the amount at which the disputed valuation should stand ; and his decision shall be final.

4.   That the amount due to each State shall be a credit to it, and a debit to the Commonwealth in the accounts* between the Commonwealth and the State, and until paid shall bear interest at the rate of 3% per cent, per annum; such interest to be Federal expenditure.

Although that resolution was agreed to, a note was added, expressing the dissent of

Mr. Carruthers,on behalf of New South Wales : -

Note.- Mr. Carruthers intimated that New South Wales dissented from these resolutions, and would not be bound by them. Subsequently it was decided to make the first step for the Ministers to agree without appointing any one, and in the event of their failing to agree within a certain time, say three months, the other procedure to come into force.

Pursuant to the resolution, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Reid, in April last, addressed a communication to the Premier of Queensland, suggesting that Mr. Brady, the Under-Secretary of Public Works and Government Architect of that State, should come to Melbourne to confer respecting the information which might 'be considered necessary for the guidance of officers in valuing the transferred properties, as it was considered that such a conference would be of considerable value to both State and Commonwealth officers intrusted with the duty of carrying out the principles contained in the resolutions. Mr. Brady arrived in Melbourne early in May, and discussed with the Secretary of Home Affairs and the Inspector-General of Commonwealth Works the mode of procedure which it . was desirable to adopt. Subsequently the Prime Minister suggested to the Government of New South Wales that Mr. Davis, the UnderSecretary for Public Works of that State, should come to Melbourne to confer. That gentleman did so; and subsequently Mr. Owen Smyth, the Superintendent of Public Buildings of South Australia, also came, and had a similar conference. Communications are still pending with the other States. The memorandum proceeds to state that the immediate outcome of the Conference is -

1.   That the Department of Defence has been asked to suggest principles which that Department would propose to determine the prime cost of and the rate of depreciation which should be applied to all transferred property, peculiar to the Defence Department, exclusive of land, buildings, and works. This it is proposed to submit to the States with a view to adoption ; after then the resultant values will be arrived at under the adopted principles by the expert officers of the Defence Department.

Also with respect to the technical stores and equipment, including telegraph and telephone lines, &c, as transferred property, Department of the Postmaster-General, a request has been . made to the Postmaster-General for information which will enable ruling principles to be submitted to the States for consideration, which if adopted will enable the expert officers of the Department referred to, to arrive at the values, of these properties as at the date of transfer.

By the adoption of this course, it is held that the only matters which will demand the immediate attention of the valuers will be the land, buildings, and works -

Honorable senators will see that if these ruling principles can be adopted - principles suggested in the first instance by the Conference, and submitted for the consideration of the States - so far as all the other property, land, buildings, and works are concerned, there will be a definite plan on which to work in order to ascertain the amount to which each State is entitled - and the Department of Home Affairs is now engaged upon the work of establishing a system by which this section of the valuations will be dealt with uniformly, and upon the basis adopted by the Premiers in conference.

These extracts will show the purpose for which this £600 is asked in connexion with the valuation of properties.

Senator Mulcahy - If anything is to be done, that is a very small sum.

Senator KEATING - I was going to say that if effect can be given to the procedure indicated for £600, I think the work will have been carried out very economically. It is only a small sum, and the Department will have an opportunity to show the readiness, willingness, and ability of the Commonwealth to give effect to what was agreed to at the Hobart Conference.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - If there is really to be a valuation, it is more likely to cost £6,000.

Senator KEATING - This £600 is only for the preliminary matters arranged by Mr. Reid. Then, with regard to item 6, which is a sum of £21,000 provided for expenses in connexion with the administration of the Electoral Act, Senator Turley, earlier to-day, referred to it in anticipation. The Commonwealth, in administering the Electoral Act, as I pointed out then, utilizes as far as convenient the services of officers engaged permanently in other Departments of the Public Service, such as officers of the Post and Telegraph Department, and of the Department of Trade and 'Customs. The services of these officers are utilized when that can be done without any sacrifice of their efficiency in the work in which they are ordinarily engaged, and when, of course, there is no sacrifice of efficiency in the discharge of the duty devolving on them under the Electoral Act. In many instances, persons outside the Public Service altogether, or others engaged in the service of the States, have to be employed ; and there is a fixed rate of remuneration paid, that for divisional returning officers being £26 per annum. The work of the divisional returning officer is only that which may be done as an addition to that of an ordinary position, whether the officer be a public servant or in private employment.

Senator Best - Why was the item £34,000 last year, while it is only £21,000 this year.

Senator Pearce - The new rolls.

Senator KEATING - Yes. In addition there are electoral registrars, who are remunerated at the rate of 2s. 6d. for every hundred names on the register, or portion of a hundred, where there is excess over a certain number of hundreds. When all this expenditure is put together it bulks very largely.

Senator Stewart - What is paid to the police ?

Senator KEATING - I am not in a position to say, but I understand that at present the police are not employed.

Senator Best - This £21,000 includes, of course, the salaries of all the Electoral officers ?

Senator KEATING - It does not include the salaries of the officers of the administrative branch.

Senator Best - But the item is for expenses connected with the " administration" of the Electoral Act.

Senator KEATING - But these are only the miscellaneous expenses. We have already dealt with the administrative staff.

Senator Mulcahy - Why is this item associated with the administrative branch?

Senator KEATING - Because these are the miscellaneous expenses; they are not ordinary salaries, but allowances made to different individuals. Any week, in. the Government Gazette, it may be noticed that some half-dozen postmasters, postmistresses, or other officials, have ceased to occupy the position of electoral registrars or divisional returning officers, and that others have been appointed. The number of such officers is constantly increasing or diminishing in different localities.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - Does the item not also include a proportion of the expenses of the coming election - expenses which are distributed overthree years ?

Senator KEATING - That is so.

Senator Sir Josiah Symon - That must mean at least £15,000.

Senator KEATING - The great bulk of this item, I understand, consists of the payments to which I have referred - payments to divisional returning officer and electoral registrars. "Very adequate facilities are provided for the electors by the appointment of these officers in all populous locali- ties, and some remuneration has to be paid to them, which, in the aggregate, makes up the largest part of the item. As to the Statistical Bureau, we have already dealt in this Chamber with the Census and Statistics Bill. When, that measure was under discussion, I pointed out that the cost of compiling the statistics of the several States at present amounts to something like £17,000, while as to uniformity, there seems to be none. There is great diversity in the system and great disparity in efficiency ; some of the Statistical Departments . are very efficient, and some are not nearly so. In a memorandum I- have here it is 'set out that the States officers are of various degrees of efficiency; that several of them, unfortunately, are poorly equipped, and that a Federal service, equal to the most efficient office, could not be obtained at less than, the present expenditure by the States, the estimate for that service, excluding printing and postage, being £17,500. At present a number of the officers in the Customs Department are engaged in compiling statistics, particularly those relating to trade, commerce, shipping, and internal communications ; and the expenditure involved in the collection of these statistics under the present system is about £11,000 a year. Largely, "each of the States gets the advantage and benefit of this work done by the Commonwealth Customs officers.

Senator Guthrie - Two months afterwards.

Senator KEATING - I am not speaking of when the States get the information; and to the extent to which they get the advantage, the cost of their Statistical Departments is materially diminished. The Census and Statistics Bill provides for the appointment of Commonwealth statistical officers, but it is not proposed to launch out into any extravagant expenditure in connexion with the administration of the measure. It would be hardly possible to organize a Federal Bureau of Statistics able to undertake the collection of all the statistics, and immediately supersede the various State offices. The transfer of the powers would have to be made gradually, so that there should be no interruption of the work, and in SUCH a manner as to enable the Federal Bureau to perfect its organization step by step, as opportunityoffered, and as funds for the extension of the work became available.. If a bureau is established in the Commonwealth, and the Census and Statistics tBilL is administered, it will be necessary to have, in the first place, a chief statistical officer appointed for the Commonwealth, some central staff, and offices, so that we shall be able to get immediately and directly the full benefit of the services of those officers of the Trade and Customs Department throughout the Commonwealth who do statistical work. We should also, under the policy and provisions of that measure, get the benefit of any arrangement with the States to avail ourselves of much of the work done b~y the States Statistical Departments, and we should establish a system which would be uniform throughout the States. But nothing of that kind can be done without a statistical officer, a central staff, and the necessary equipment. It is considered that the sum of £5,000 asked for will cover the provision required to be made for the salary of the*, chief statistical officer, the staff he would require, and the rent and equipment of the necessary offices.

Senator Mulcahy - Do the Government propose to create a Department with this £5,000 without consulting : Parliament as to what thev shall pay the ch'ef statistical officer or the members of his staff?

Senator KEATING - We should have to do that. There is no provision made in the Census and Statistics Bill for the salary to be paid to the chief statistical officer. Except in- the case of Judges and of the Auditor-General, it is not usual to provide for a fixed salary by law.

Senator Best - But when we are voting money, should we not be told how it is going to be spent ?

Senator KEATING - The fact of the matter is that 'the Census and Statistics Bill has not yet been passed, and therefore the exact method to be adopted in administering it cannot be indicated. But it is estimated that £5,000 will cover the salary of the chief statistical officer, the central staff, and equipment and rent of offices.

Senator Guthrie - That means that a permanent appointment of the chief statistical officer will be made without Parliament being consulted.

Senator KEATING - Parliament has already affirmed its desire that such an official shall be appointed, and the £5,000 is asked for in order that provision shall be made to give effect to the principles contained in the Census and Statistics Bill.

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