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Wednesday, 29 November 1905

Senator HENDERSON (Western Australia) - I have no objection to the proposed recommittal, but so far as the ten guineas for travelling expenses is concerned I shall vote exactly as I did on a previous occasion. My reason for adopting this attitude is this : We have had an indication to-night of the absolute impotency of the Administration. We were told that a certain officer of the Commonwealth purloined a certain sum of money, that several months elapsed before the Government knew whether they could dismiss him, and that it cost £80 to obtain that information. In the event of our voting these ten guineas,' who knows- but that when another twelve months have elapsed1, the Government will feel bound to make provision for a similar sum on the next Estimates, lest the man who might have spent the money should claim compensation ? I certainly think that we should prevent any such provision from ever again being made. At the risk of being regarded as inconsistent, I am prepared to reverse my vote with regard to the reduction of the amount set down for the maintenance of the Government House and grounds in Sydney. I am induced to db this by the promise given by the Minister of Defence that any further arrangement that may be made with the New South Wales Government with regard to the occupation of Government House, Sydney, by the Governor-General, will be embodied in a Bill, and submitted to the Senate for consideration on its merits. It seems to me that, in the first instance, honorable senators did not take the trouble to acquaint themselves with the actual bearings of the situation. They were in ignorance as to whether or not there was any agreement between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales Government with regard to the occupation of Government House. Sydney. I place implicit confidence in the assurance given by the representative of the Government, so far as that particular matter is concerned, and I shall vote accordingly.

Senator CLEMONS(Tasmania). - So far. I have not touched upon the second question proposed for reconsideration. I admit at once that I regard it as the more important of the two, and I regret that we should have to seriously con sider such a proposal at this unreasonable hour. One of the chief advantages enjoyed by this Chamber in comparison with other Upper Houses is that "it possesses the power to make requests for amendments in Bills which appropriate money. But up to the present time we have not made a single request to the other Chamber to amend an Appropriation Bill. Last night this item was discussed very earnestly and exhaustively, and it was decided that a request ought to be made in respect of it. I hold that before taking any backward step we should assert the right of the Senate to deal with the measure in an effective way. ' Upon the merits of this question, I desire to say that I am not animated by jealousy towards New South Wales. Indeed, if there is one State, apart from Tasmania, towards, which I am more friendly than another, it is New South Wales.''

Senator Dobson - Was the honorable senator ever on friendly relations with anybody ?

Senator CLEMONS - I am on very friendly relations with Senator Dobson, though I admit that he imposes a very great strain upon those relations every time that I hear him speak. But, despite his many acrobatic votes, I still endeavour to retain his. friendship. Having once recorded our decision upon this matter, it has been urged that we have done all that is desirable, and that we should now be content to back down.. I claim, however, that if we attach any value to the power which we possess to request that amendments shall be made in Appropriation Bills, we should forward our request to the other Chamber. I now wish to deal with the reasons "which have been offered' by Senator Playford for reversing the vote of last night. He says that the Government have pledged themselves to bring in a Bill-

Senator Playford - I have promised that this item shall not appear upon the Estimates, again, and that if the question is dealt with at all, it 'will be dealt with by means of a Bill. But very likely honorable senators will hear no more about it.

Senator CLEMONS - To me the Minister's statement throws a new light upon the subject. It is practically an undertaking that if this item be retained on the present Estimates, it will not appear upon the Estimates of next year. I accept the Minister's assurance, but I hold that it affords a poor reason why we should waive our undoubted rights in connexion with this matter. I admit that there is not the faintest' chance that a Bill dealing with the matter will ever be submitted for our consideration. That suggestion has been put forward with a view to capturing the votes of some honorable senators. I believe that the very name of "Bill" has been sufficient to catch the votes of Senators Henderson and O'Keefe.

Senator O'Keefe - I accept the assurance of the Government that, owing to the vote of the Senate, they will not embody this item in the Estimates in future. They will not renew any agreement which may exist with New South Wales.

Senator Playford - If the matter is dealt with at all, it will be by means of a Bill which both Houses will have" an opportunity of fully discussing.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Playford says, first of all, that this vote will not appear upon next year's Estimates. That is a verv Door reason for reversing a vote of the .Senate. But he says, in addition, that if the Government touches the matter in any way, it will bring in a Bill.

Senator Playford - The honorable sena. tor is now talking against time.

Senator CLEMONS - I am not, and I resent the imputation. I am talking because I feel very seriously about the position. I give my assurance that I do not desire to waste a moment of time; but I do desire to place my view on record, because I regard this as a most important juncture in the history of the Senate. I do not doubt the assurance that Senator Playford has given. But it is a very poor excuse for reversing a vote of the Senate to say that the objectionable vote will not appear upon next year's Estimates. Does Senator Playford tell me that it is at all likely that his Government, or any other Government, will introduce a Bill dealing with the question of where the Governor-General shall reside'

Senator Playford - Of course, if a satisfactory arrangement can be come to.

Senator CLEMONS - If the Government does introduce such a Bill, they will have to take the responsibility for it. They cannot throw it on the table and let Parliament do what it pleases with it.

Senator Playford - Of course we shall take the responsibility for it. If we lay the Bill on the table it will be part of our policy.

Senator CLEMONS - That is what I assumed would be the case. Such being so, it is very interesting to read what Senator Keating, who is a member of the present Government, said on this subject not long since. He said only last year -

I have given expression to my feelings with regard to the inclusion of this item in the Appropriation Bill, and I have heard what the AttorneyGeneral has said with regard, to it. He has agreed in substance with my criticism, and I feel sure that after the debate that has taken place, the Government will recognise the advisableness of reconsidering the whole division, and of discontinuing the present policy.

But the present Government has not considered the desirableness of discontinuing the present policy.

Senator Playford - This item was on the Estimates before we took office. Besides that, the honorable senator would know-, if he had ever been in a Government, that a Minister has to give way to a majority of the Cabinet.

Senator CLEMONS - It is true that I have not been in a Government, but I was closely connected with a Ministry in, the Senate, and I refused to go with that Ministry on several occasions. Senator Keating proceeded, in the speech from which I am quoting, to say -

I do not agree with Senator Givens, that it is practicable for the House of Representatives to reduce this item now. As pointed out by Senator Trenwith and Senator Turley, it would be extremely awkward and inconvenient to do so. We should be disturbing the arrangement made with New South Wales, which has incurred considerable expense in connexion with the Sydney Government House. I am perfectly satisfied with the views expressed by the Attorney-General, and I am not prepared to do anything which may be impracticable in making a request to the other House, to which effect cannot be given. The House of Representatives will be compelled to recognise that a change in policy cannot be made immediately.

There is no more opportune time than the present for making this change, because the arrangement now in existence will terminate at an early date. Senator Keating concluded as follows: -

I trust that the Government will recognise what the feeling is, and that in future there will be only one Governor-General's residence in the Commonwealth.

Senator O'Keefe - Apparently the other Government did not carry out their promise, but placed this item on the Estimates.

Senator CLEMONS - How can that be said?

Senator Playford - Because we found this item in the Estimates.

Senator CLEMONS - These veiled accusations against the late Government are unfair. It is unfair to assume that the late Government, who went out of office at the end of June, had at that stage finally revised the Estimates.

Senator O'Keefe - Apparently the late Government altered their mind, and did not take the item off the Estimates.

Senator Playford - The Late Government took no steps in the matter, and the item was left.

Senator CLEMONS - I wish to impress on honorable senators the fact that the members of the present Government, when out of office, expressed, in more than one instance, their disapproval of this item.

Senator Playford - How many? Only one.

Senator CLEMONS - There are only two representatives of the Government altogether in this Chamber. As soon, however, as they have an opportunity to give effect to their opinion they refuse to do so. What does Senator Playford propose to do?

Senator Playford - If honorable senators will support me, I propose to go on to a finish.

Senator CLEMONS - If Senator Playford succeeds in getting a reconsideration at this hour, does he intend, straight away, to take the final decision of the Committee on a question of this importance?

Senator Playford - Yes, because, it is important that a decision should be arrived at this morning at the Latest. I. gave deliberate notice to all honorable senators from whom! I might expect opposition that such was my intention.

Senator CLEMONS - Senator Playfordwill give me credit for offering to assist him to secure a meeting of the Senate at 10.30 this morning, and for objecting to the suggestion to close the sitting the other night at ten minutes past 9 o'clock, when the second-reading debate concluded. If Senator Playford has the numbers now, he will have them at 10.30 this morning.

Senator Playford - It is important that the Bill should be passed before that hour.

Senator CLEMONS - There is no Bill which could be of greater importance to the Senate, as affording an opportunity to assert the position which this Chamber ought to hold. There is no party question involved. In the affair of the disbursements by the President, I shall do as I did before, because I do not like to reverse my vote; but, apart from that consideration, I have no strong feeling in the matter. As to the subject immediately under consideration, however, I take a different stand, because we are afforded a good opportunity to assert our strong position in regard to the Appropriation Bill. I have entered my protest, and I think, Mr. Chairman, that if you at this moment occupied a seat elsewhere in the Chamber, you would join with me in objecting to the misuse of the power which the majority may exercise. If the Minister of Defence persists, I say advisedly and calmly that he will be largely responsible for distinctly lowering the position of the Senate, which has fallen low enough in past years. There is nothing to prevent our meeting early in the morning, except the convenience of a few people in the matter of telegrams. That is the only reason Senator Playford can suggest for degrading the Senate. I should be. glad, Mr. Chairman, ifyou were to express your view of the action proposed by the Government for the reconsideration of these items, in order that the Committee may reverse its vote, and failto give public expression to its opinion on these subjects. I am certain that if you did so it would be likely to have some effect upon the Minister.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia). - I have not occupied the time of the Committee at all on this question, and as our trains will not leave for some little time, I may as well say a word or two. Never on any occasion have I altered a vote I have previously given with less compunction than I shall do on this occasion. When I voted for the request for the reduction of the vote for the up-keep of Sydney Government House, I did so, not with the object of inconveniencing the Government, or lending assistance to " stone-walling " in another place, but in order to terminate the practice of keeping up two residences for the Governor-General. I find that I have accomplished my object. The Government now say that if they are responsible for the framing of next year's Estimates - and when I come to consider those who sit opposite, I devoutly hope they will be - they will not bring forward this item in those Estimates. Many honorable senators who are present to-night were members of the first Federal Parliament, and they will recollect that every time an Appropriation Bill has come before the Senate there has been a squabble over this particular item. Its removal from the Estimates will have at least this good effect - it will put an end to that annual squabble. Then the leader of the Government in the Senate, says that if the Ministry has any proposals to make with respect to a second Government House, they will submit them in the form of a Bill. If, when that measure is brought before us, it provides for two Commonwealth' Government Houses, and we think there should be but one, we can amend the Bill, as we shall be masters of the situation. I regard that as satisfactory. I scarcely know on which point Senator Clemons feels most strongly, but for some undefinable reason it would appear that the honorable senator greatly desires that the Committee should adjourn now,- and meet again at 10.30 a.m. That appears to be an object of tremendous importance to the honorable senator.

Senator Clemons - Because I think we should have a better attendance then.

Senator PEARCE - There appears to be some undefinable, and apparently unspeakable reason why the whole difficulty will be unravelled if' we only meet at half-past 10 o'clock.

Senator Playford - That would not alter the result.

Senator PEARCE - Senator Clemons admits that, but still apparently something would be accomplished.

Senator Clemons - The decent conduct of business would be accomplished.

Senator PEARCE - Let us see what else would be accomplished. Suppose Senator Clemons obtained his desire, and that we insisted on our request, what would be the result if another place refused to accept our requests, would Senator Clemons insist on the requests?

Senator Clemons - Undoubtedly, I should not reverse my vote.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator does not follow the question as he ought. In that case, we should be faced with a different situation. We should be asked to climb down as gracefully as we could at the request of another place.

Senator Playford - Senator Clemons says that he does not object to do that.

Senator Clemons - I think it is out df order for Senator Playford to state that I have said that I would climb down. Nothing could be more emphatic than my assertion that I will not climb down.

Senator Playford - I understood the honorable senator to say that if we met at half-past 10 o'clock this morning, and sent the Bill to the House of Representatives with our requests, and the other House refused to agree to them, we could then give way.

Senator Clemons - I did not say anything of the sort. Nothing will induce me to alter my vote under any circumstances.

Senator PEARCE - I ask honorable senators if they are prepared to force a crisis in connexion with the request for the reduction of the President's travelling allowance by £10 10s. ?

Senator Givens - Then why did the honorable senator vote for the request?

Senator PEARCE - As I have pointed out, we have, accomplished what we set ourselves to do. I am prepared to accept the climb-down of the Government, who have accepted our terms.

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