Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 21 June 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I am extremely pleased to see that the Government have redeemed the promise given twelve or fifteen months ago in this matter, and that at last we have the pros pect of a federalization of the meteorological work of the Commonwealth. I also welcome the indication afforded by the Bill of a decision to separate meteorology from astronomy. I cannot speak from the happenings in other States, but I know that in New South Wales the meteorological work Has always been hampered by its association with astronomical research. We have had there at the head of the Sydney Observatory one or two very eminent gentlemen, whose training and inclination, unfortunately, have led them in the direction of astronomy rather than meteorology. I do not wish to in any way underestimate or decry the benefits which must result from pursuing astronomy as a science. But it does appear to me that in a country circumstanced as Australia is, and in its pioneering stages, more practical and immediate advantage is likely to result from meteorological work than from astronomical work. For that reason, I have always regretted the association of the two branches, as it has been to the prejudice of meteorology. This . is, as the Minister pointed out, an enabling Bill. I propose to invite attention to what appears to me to be its defects. Its value seems to me to depend entirely upon which of the two ways the power which the measure will convey is exercised. In the first place, we could have a federalization of meteorological work in absolute fact, or we could have the establishment of a Federal Meteorological Department, which would be subordinate to and dependent entirely upon similar institutions in the States. I wish to suggest to the Minister the grave danger which I think we should incur if we adopted the second of those courses. I listened with a great deal of interest and advantage to the extremely valuable speech of the Minister, whom, if he will permit me, I wish to compliment. But it was quite evident, whatever the decision may be as to the way in which it is proposed to administer the Bill, he has taken the very wise course of consulting both States Governments and States officials. Itwas in consulting them that he has evidently met with the first difficulty - the difficulty represented by the attitude of States Governments and States officials. But while I am quite prepared, as we all must be, to pay due regard to the opinions of States Governments and States officials, I think that there is a very great danger if, when the interests of Australia require it, we hesitate to override them.

Let me take the attitude of the States. It is a little contradictory, and, perhaps, not as conclusive as either the Minister or the Senate would have desired. I cannot help thinking that of late there has Seen a tendency to accept the decisions of States Governments as unduly binding upon the Federal Parliament. I am extremely desirous that in our legislative efforts we should, as far as possible, pursue lines agreeable to the States. But it does seem to me that we shall be sowing the seeds of future trouble if, when we can see a course clearly marked out as best in the national interest, we are persuaded from taking that course by undue regard to the wishes of those who control the States Governments. In this question an undue desire to follow the line of least resistance is manifest once more. I should like to make clear my object in suggesting' what I regard as a weakness in this Bill. I wish to point out that wherever we have had joint action there has been more or less friction. I may refer to the efforts made in the earlier days of Federation to utilize State officers for the erection of public buildings. Friction arose there. We have another case now in reference to the Customs House, Sydney - a building utilized, as its name indicates, by the Customs Department, bub also utilized bv the State Department of Land and Income Tax. The Minister probably knows more about it than I do, but I am aware of the fact that a considerable amount of friction has arisen between the State and Federal authorities as to whether that building, used by both, is to be regarded as one of the properties to be transferred to the Commonwealth or not. We have also the matter of the deportation of the kanakas. There is some little trouble brewing there as to which Government shall do certain things. I only mention these instances to show that wherever we have points of contact there is always the possibility of friction arising. What I suggest, not only in regard to this Bill, but to all legislation, is that we should secure, as far as is practicable, as complete a separation of Federal and State functions as the circumstances will admit.

Senator Fraser - We should increase the expense enormously bv following that policy.

Senator MILLEN - Not; necessarily. True economy is to be observed bv absolutely transferring the meteorological work of Australia to a Federal Department.

There may be cases - I can quite understand that there are many cases - in which economy may be promoted by joint action; and I am not at all advocating the appointment of two officers where one -will do. But my point is that where we are undertaking new functions - as in the case of the recentlycreated Statistician's Department, and in the case of the Meteorological Department which we propose to create - one of two courses are open to us. We can either create the Federal Department as dominant, the States obtaining information and service from it, or we can leave the States Departments as practically dominant, and appoint Federal officers who will have to obtain all the information they want from the States Departments. It seems to me that to leave the States Departments, as this Bill proposes, exactly as they are, and to appoint one central meteorological observer, is to increase the expense without increasing the efficiency of the present service. I wish to avoid that. I have referred to the tendency, as it seems to me, on the part of the Federation to give way whenever there is a protest from a State against anything that is toeing done. Whilst there is that tendency on the part of the Federation,^ the same time there is a tendency on the part of the States to keep control as far as possible of the services, to throw the cost on the Federation, and then to blame the Federation because, naturally, the expenditure steadily mounts up.

Senator Fraser - That would not matter if the State expenditure were reduced, but what is rightly complained of is that new Federal expenditure is created, and that State expenditure is not reduced.

Senator MILLEN - That is so; but I am not speaking of complaints from the electors, but of the complaints voiced by States Governments, who are the great offenders in the matter of extravagance, and are the very people against whose criticism I am now protesting. It is a fact that, although the States been relieved of many of their services, they are to-day carrying on their business at greater cost than before Federation ; and no State is a greater offender than my own in that regard. I was dealing with the attitude of the States Premiers : and. as showing that the declarations made bv the Premiers are not to be taken as conclusive, the Minister has furnished me with a verv happy in stance. He quoted Tasmania, his own State, where we had the Premier making a declaration in favour of a certain course being taken, whilst a short time afterwards, when the Government in question had been displaced, and another one had succeeded, an entirely different conclusion was arrived "at. Neither in the first case nor in the second, however, was there any public expression of approval or disapproval, so far as I know. The sudden change of declaration on the part of the Government of Tasmania shows that we are not to accept as absolutely final and conclusive the declaration of any Premier. I cannot help thinking, that if there is anything in the elective principle at all, this Senate is better qualified to speak as to the opinion of the States, than is any State Premier, especially when dealing with matters of this kind, which really have never been before the electors; and' nobody can say that they have been consulted on such a Bill as this. Therefore, we should not hamper ourselves unduly in regard to anything that appears to us to be wise and expedient, by the mere fact that the Premiers have arrived at a certain decision. I do not say that we should ignore their view altogether, because that is a term which might be misunderstood ; but we certainly should consider the question apart from their decision. As to the opinion of the officers, I quite recognise that thev are very able men, well qualified and equipped for their work. ; but I think we should be wanting in our duty if we accepted their decision in this matter, at any rate without a little inquiry as to the circumstances in which thev arrived" at if. These gentlemen at the present time are the peers of each other. Thev are the heads of independent Departments. Some of them have spent many, years in building up their Departments and they naturally take a pride - an understandable pride - in the results of their work. We can quite understand, therefore, that when they came to consider the question whether they should practically recommend that their Departments, at present independent, should become subordinate, they were affected bv some unconscious bias in the decision they arrived at. It was human nature that they should be. I am not saying this .as a reflection upon these gentlemen, but ann merely pointingout that the decision they arrived at is not one that ought to weigh with the Senate. Further than that, their decision indicates a narrowness of view which, I think, should preclude the idea of our accepting them as safe guides. I refer to the decision in which thev declared that no Government meteorologist ought to issue forecasts for conditions outside the borders of his own State. It seems to me to be little short of criminal, that any meteorological observer in this country, knowing of the approach of a storm which not only might mean damage to property, but, in the case of seafaring citizens, loss of life, should hold his tongue, and say nothing about it, merely to subscribe to the principle that he should not issue forecasts affecting conditions outside his own State. These considerations seem to me to justify the Senate in ignoring altogether the report of the meteorologists in conference. We may safely turn to the examples of America, India, Canada, and a large portion of Europe. We may assume that the meteorologists in those countries are free- from provincial feeling in a matter of this sort. They have had years of experience of meteorological observations made over a wide area, and that experience has proved that such observations are more serviceable, economical, and reliable than are observations cut out into .small areas. It is curious that, though our officials hesitated to affirm the desirableness of federalizing their work, they still showed the necessity for that federalization, because they recommended a certain course of joint action, which really was federalization in certain particulars. Apart from their recommendations, the very fact that they were at variance as to what ought to be done shows the necessity of some central control, and joint action. Therefore, although these gentlemen have met together and arrived at a decision adverse to the establishment of a Federal Meteorological Department, it seems to me that their report confirms the wisdom, of this measure. There is another point which supports the Bill, and that is the evidence of a belief on the part of the heads of meteorological science in the necessity for international action and interchange of international data. The Minister stated last night that the Government had had communications from India asking for an interchange of cables furnishing data for the purposes of weather forecasts. The same has happened between; America and Canada, and happens extensively in Europe. This shows the desirableness of the area of observation being made as wide as possible; and we can only come to the conclusion that a wide area of observation adequately equipped and efficiently managed involves placing meteorological observation under Federal control.

Senator Staniforth Smith - If we were to obtain meteorological information from India it would cost us 2s. 6d. a word.

Senator Keating - The Indian Government is prepared to pay the cost of cabling meteorological information from this country.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Smith probably knows more about the cable business than I do, but I understand that there are such things as codes; and where you are dealing, as you would in this case, with certain well-known conditions, and have a constant repetition of certain phrases, the amount of information that could be conveyed by one code word would surely be considerable. The expense of cabling ought not to be great. Certainly I do not think it would be prohibitive. At any rate, I believe it would be one of the finest investments we could make. Speaking of India - although I wish the Senate to understand that I am not pretending to any meteorological knowledge - there is one matter that seems to me to be important from our point of view. It is well known that our monsoonal rains come from the north-west, and cross South Australia into Queensland, and sometimes into New South Wales and the southern States. At the present time, when the data upon which forecasts are founded is. obtained, it is wired, I suppose, to Perth, Adelaide, Sydney. Melbourne, and the capitals of the other States. The result is that we have a multiplicity of telegrams giving the same facts, and we have different officers working out the forecasts from the same data. These forecasts are published in the same newspapers for the same people. If honorable senators turn to the daily newspapers they will see forecasts, not only for the State in which the information is published, but for the other States. For instance, the Melbourne papers this morning contain forecasts relating to South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria. Queensland, I think, is not issuing them at the present time. All this is an unnecessary duplication. By a true federalization of this work, great economy would be secured. It would put a stop to the endless duplication of the telegrams to which I have referred. There is another reason why we should take over this Department. I want honorable senators to understand that when I say that we should take over this Department, I mean, not the proposal in this Bill, but the absolute taking over of the whole of the meteorological work of the Continent.

Senator Fraser - That is proposed.

Senator MILLEN - I think not.

Senator Best - I think so.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister said that this is an enabling Bill, and I shall point out what it will enable us to do. I shall welcome a declaration from the Minister - and it is to secure a declaration from him that I am speaking - that it is intended, not merely to follow the course adopted with regard to the Government Statistician, but to do something more. The Bill suggests that it is simply proposed to appoint one officer as a Federal Meteorologist, and to allow him to be dependent upon the several States institutions for his information. That is not the federalization of this work to which I am looking. I desire to see an absolute transfer to the Commonwealth of the several States' Departments. I invite Senator Best's attention to clause 3, which provides that

The Governor-General may -

(a)   establish observatories ; and

(b)   appoint an officer called the Common wealth Meteorologist. . . .

That is the first clause in the Bill which suggests to me that the intention is to follow the course we have adopted with regard to the appointment of a Government Statistician. It suggests to me that we are to appoint one officer, leaving him absolutely dependent upon Such information as the States officers may more or less grudgingly forward to him. That view is confirmed by Clause 5, which provides that the GovernorGeneral may arrange for -

(a)   The transfer to the Commonwealth, on such terms as are agreed upon, of any observatory and the instruments, books, registers, records, and documents used or kept in connexion therewith ;

That is perfectly right. It is extremely desirable that such a provision should be found in the Bill. But the clause continues -

(b)   The taking and recording of meteorological observations by State officers ;

Senator Best - That refers to work done in outlying parts by States officials, such as railway officers.

Senator Keating - Some States railway officers do a lot of work for the Department.

Senator MILLEN - That is' so. But there are two alternatives. We might, on the one hand, merely appoint one officer, to be called the Commonwealth Meteorologist, as provided for in clause 3, and leave him entirely dependent upon the existing States observatories for his information ; or we might allow him to .get independent information, with the result that, whilst various observers throughout the States were wiring to him for Federal purposes, in order that he might issue a forecast for the whole of Australia, they would also be wiring to the States Meteorologists information to assist them in issuing State forecasts. Neither economy nor efficiency would thus be gained. I want the Government, in diplomatic terms, to say, in effect, to the Governments of the States, " We have passed a Bill creating a Meteorological Department. We wish to take over your Departments and your officers, and we shall be glad if we can arrange satisfactory terms with you." If the States Governments agree to the transfer, well and good. If they do not, the course open to us will be to appoint our> own officers. It may be said that this would lead to duplication. I do not think it would. As soon as it was known that the Federal Government intended to have its own observers and its own officers, the States would willingly fall in with the arrangement. Here, again, the interjection made by Senator Walker that " human nature plays its part " comes in. The States are just a little bit jealous of being, as they think, shorn of any of their functions'.

Senator Fraser - This is not one of their functions.

Senator MILLEN - The Constitution leaves the States Governments with power to carry on independent astronomical and meteorological observatories if they wish it.

Senator Fraser - But the work is within our scope.

Senator MILLEN - Certainly it is. If it were not, this Bill would not have been introduced. I wish to see a federalization in fact, and not the mere appointment of one officer, who will be, to all intents and purposes, subordinate to the States observatories. I wish the Federal Government to take over the whole business. In that way alone shall we be able to secure an effective service. I would prefer to see no Commonwealth Department of Meteorology rather than that we should have one that was not truly Federal and effectives I have pointed out the trouble likely to accrue if we followed the course which this Bill would permit - if we simply appointed an officer who would become merely a recorder of the work already carried out in the various States observatories. I can see no use in appointing such an officer, unless, at the same time, we secure that the States officers shall become part of the whole machinery. If they were to carry on independently the work of issuing forecasts for the several States, there would be little use in appointing an additional officer, who would simply duplicate their work. The only justification for the appointment of a Federal officer would be the formation of the States observatories into one Department, where we should have uniformity of action and a central control. By such centralization very considerable economy would be secured in respect to the cost at present incurred in obtaining the necessary telegraphic information. I shall be very glad to hear the Minister give some indication of his views on the two alternatives which this Bill leaves open to the Government. Of course, the Minister would not care to say exactly what the Government are disposed to do, but it would be some comfort to me, and probably to other honorable senators, to know that they were favorable to the federalization of the Meteorological Departments of the States in fact as well as in name. I am sure we are all anxious to know whether they desire to secure a truly Federal' control, or merely to appoint one officer to be called the Federal Meteorologist.

Suggest corrections