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Thursday, 21 June 1906

Senator BEST (Victoria) .- I a.gree with honorable senators in congratulating the Honorary Minister on his lucid speech in introducing this Bill. If I have any exception to take to the measure, it is that it is not sufficiently comprehensive in its terms. We are seeking to acquire jurisdiction in regard to some of the subjects specially committed to our care - to exercise our power to make laws for peace, order, and good government in relation to astronomical and meteorological observations. It is admitted that this is an enabling Bill, tout it only enables us to take over the meteorological branch. In an enabling Bill we should, as far as possible, seek to take over all that we reasonably have an expectation of being able to acquire. Senator Fraser. I think, put the matter a little teo strongly when he said that it was the duty of a strong Government to take over at once the administration of all these mat- ters, quite irrespective of any objection or remonstrance on the part of the States Governments. That is not necessarily the contemplation of the Constitution. We may have abstract power to establish meteorological stations throughout Australia, quite irrespective of the stations which now exist, but I am sure that Senator Fraser would be one of the first to object to anything of the kind.

Senator Fraser - Surely the States Governments would never object?

Senator BEST - That is one of the points with which I intend to deal. If the principle I have indicated is acted upon, the friction created may have a very alarming effect. The time is specially opportune to take over the complete control of both the Astronomical and Meteorological Departments. It will be noticed' that these are associated in section 51 of the Constitution ; and, if I may so say, it is in the contemplation of the Constitution that they shall be taken over and dealt with together. I. do not say that that should necessarily happen ; but when we have an admission at the outset that this is an enabling Bill, coupled with the fact that the Premiers themselves have practically invited! us to take over both branches, now is the opportune moment for us to fulfil the contemplation of the Constitution, and secure complete jurisdiction. Iam not urging for a moment that it is essential that these two Departments should be dealt with together. I am urging that by the Constitution, the responsibility is cast upon the Commonwealth to assume jurisdiction ; and I ask the Ministerand the Senate to take advantage of the present specially opportune condition of affairs, though not by any overriding action on our part, or any autocratic assumption of power, to insist on securing jurisdiction that may be doubtful. Whenwe have an invitation on the part of the Premiers themselves to us to take over these two Departments, it is our duty to fulfil the responsibility cast upon us.

Senator Fraser - Surely they will never object ?

Senator BEST - But they have been objectingall along. Up to the present time the States have spoken with several voices; that is to say. various Governments have come into power from time to time, and we have heard the views of each particular Government. Now, however, we have a unanimous resolution of the Premiers, who are at present in power, and with whom we have to immediately deal. Is there any likelihood of a more opportune time presenting itself for us to fulfil the contemplation of the Constitution ?

Senator Dobson - The honorable senator is forgetting the report of the experts.

Senator BEST - At this particular juncture I do not think it wise to pay too much attention to the reports of the experts ; as Artemus Ward says, "There is a lot of human nature about man." I have the highest regard for those officials, whose representations are entitled to every respect in regard to their scientific knowledge, but in a matter of administration they must, as the Premiers themselves acknowledge, yield to the terms of the Constitution. I am strongly disposed to think that it would be a reflection on ourselves, and entirely our fault if by further organization on our part, and toy a federalizing process, we could not make these Departments more effective than at present. It was thought by the framers of the Constitution that greater efficiency could be secured in this connexion.

Senator Trenwith - That was one of the reasons for Federation.

Senator BEST - Exactly ; and consequently, in a matter of this kind, I prefer to accept the advice of the Premiers of the several States Governments, and to cooperate with them. If that be the proper course, it is the duty of the Senate to invite the Minister to alter his Bill, so as to give the additional enabling power. This would not commit us to anything, but it certainly would enable us to carry out the Constitution. Senator Millen very properly urged1 that in many matters it is advisable we should act alone, and on our own responsibility. But we should somewhat hesitate, and be practically driven by necessity, before we do so. In this case, as I say, we have mutual co-operation, and thus we manage to avoid friction. The Government in the Bill before us. which I welcome most cordially, have adopted the wise policy of, first of all. proposing to appoint a Central Meteorologist. I was going to say that the Government ought to carry out the resolution of the Premiers' Conference, but I am debarred from that, because, if I remember rightly that Conference declared that we must take over both or neither of the Departments. Still the process the Government propose is set forth in clause 5, under which they may make arrangements to take over the several stations as they now exist. That enables the Governor-General to arrange with the Governors of the various States - that, of course, means the States Governments - to take over the stations.

Senator Gray - Would there not be more difficulty after than before?

Senator BEST - But we do not, as a matter of fact, take the stations against the will of the several States.

Senator Millen - Under the Bill the Commonwealth Government may leave the States observatories in the hands of the States ; it is a matter of administration.

Senator BEST - Undoubtedly, but I say that it is desirable to work with the States Governments.

Senator Fraser - Unless those Governments are altogether unreasonable.

Senator BEST - The scheme the Government propose in clause 5 is to make mutual arrangements with the States Governments to take over the! several stations. But there is difficulty in this regard. While it is desirable to do so, the Bill makes the attempt, in the face of the express resolution on the part of the Premiers that they will not deliver up one branch.

Senator Millen - The Premiers have not said that.

Senator BEST - The Premiers have said that we must take both or neither.

Senator Fraser - We should take both undoubtedly.

Senator BEST - That is the point I am making. While I admire the process the Government adopt - a process which to my mind would be complete if it included enabling power to take over both branches - they are courting defeat in simply seeking power to take over one particular branch, in view of the fact that the Premiers have said we must take both or neither.

Senator Millen - That is hardly stating the position correctly ; what the Premiers affirm is that it is desirable we should take over both.

Senator BEST - I speak subject to correction, but I understood the Minister to say that the resolution declared that we should take over both or neither.

Senator Keating - That is practically the effect.

Senator Millen - The Premiers affirm the desirability of our taking over both, but they do not put the matter in the form of a demand.

Senator BEST - I am putting the case as I understood it from the Minister, who now says that the effect of the resolution is that we must take over both or neither. The Government have introduced a Bill to take over one particular branch, and, as the negotiations will necessarily have to be with the Governments at present in power - who have affirmed that we must take over both or neither - clause 5 may prove abortive for many years to come. If thatbe the position of affairs, it is a cogent reason why the more comprehensive measure I have indicated should be passed. As to the necessity for national forecasts, notwithstanding the scientific advice of the officials who have reported in this matter, the opinion of the public, for whom we have to cater has, I think, established beyond all question that such forecasts are essential, and in the best interests of Australia. We know exactly how they were appreciated when, in a very enterprising manner, that eminent meteorologist, Mr. Wragge, by the aid of his Government, gave Australia the benefit of his splendid knowledge. Australia, therefore, looks for the accomplishment of this work at the earliest possible moment. I can quire understand, as Mr. Wragge has urged that if he is furnished with the additional data which he desired, and which certainly is required, his forecasts must necessarily be infinitely more valuable. Ifhe has a wider area to judge from, and better data is secured to him', then I understand from him that he may almost promise that about 95 per cent, of his forecasts will be verified. This is a matter of no small moment to Australia. It may mean thousands, if not millions, of pounds to its people.

Senator Fraser - It means bread and butter.

Senator BEST - It means bread and butter to an enormous number of the population. Consequently, we must not show any niggardliness, but act in a generous manner. If it should be our good fortune to secure the services of so eminent a man as Mr. Wragge, Australia willbe greatly benefited by his experience and scientific knowledge in this direction. Experience dictates at once that these two great branches should be separated.

Senator Fraser - Not necessarily.

Senator BEST - Judging from the experience of other nations, it is desirable that these twogreat branches should be separated, certainly so far as their work is concerned, but that does not mean for one moment that both branches should not be taken over. The Federal Government may, and no doubt would, work them separately if that was the more efficient manner of dealing with them. The Board of Visitors to the Melbourne Observatory have recommended that the astronomical branch should not be taken over, because they feel that the States observatories should maintain their present individuality. It would be rather a serious reflection upon the Federal body, if these institutions were to lose their efficiency or value by reason of having come under Federal control. I do not think for a moment that such a contingency is possible. It is quite true that we are justified in inquiring into the question of expense. Mr. Wragge must have stated the annual expense at a minimum when he estimated it at £10,000. Of course, it referred to meteorological work only, and certainly it would not include the cost of telegrams. But even if it were to cost ^£20,000 or £30,000, that would be a mere bagatelle, having regard to the magnitude and value of the work to be undertaken. In this connexion, it would be desirable for the Minister to supply us with some information, but he may assume that the Senate is not prepared to deal niggardly with the Government in regard to any proposals which thev have to make. One point which must be impressed upon the Government bv this debate is that, first of all, it is their duty to see that there is established, with the least possible delay, an effective meteorological service. If that is the object in view, then the most comprehensive manner in which it can be undertaken should be resorted to at once oy the Government.

Senator Trenwith - The Bill gives ali the power necessary, does it not ?

Senator BEST - My complaint is that it does not, and that unless the Minister is prepared to include the astronomical s well as the meteorological branch, then, in view of existing conditions, and the expression of opinion by the States Premiers, he will most seriously neutralize the value of the Bill. He will start with a very big handicap. He can. of course, appoint his Central Meteorologist, but the States Premiers have said that we must take over both services, or neither of them. The mere appointment of a Central Meteorologist will not satisfy the Senate, nor meet the requirements of Australia. Consequently, if the Minister purposes to go over the heads of the States Governments, and establish separate meteorological stations, that will mean an unnecessary duplication of affairs.

Senator Playford - That will not be our fault.

Senator BEST - It will be the fault of the Government, because they have the answer of the States Governments in advance. If the Government do what I have suggested, the whole efficiency of the service will be at once impaired, and the whole object intended to be secured by the Bill frustrated.

Senator Millen - Surely the Federal Parliament has another function than merely to carry out the wishes of some States Premiers ?

Senator BEST - Undoubtedly. What my honorable friend does not fully realize is that we have an expression of opinion that a mutual arrangement can be made.

Senator Trenwith - That is very tentative,; it mav be changed to-morrow.

Senator BEST - That is a further reason why it should be taken advantage of immediately. It is not likely to be changed for the next six months. The whole of these arrangements and the taking over of both services could be completed within that period. The responsibility is cast upon the Government of immediately taking, over both services while they have the States Premiers, who hitherto have been in discord, in accord.

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