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Thursday, 21 June 1906

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) : - The statement just made comes rather as a " staggerer " to me. I am astonished to learn that we have not power to take over the Meteorological Departments compulsorily. I understood that this was one of the subjects handed over to the Commonwealth by the Constitution.

Senator Keating - One of the subjects, but not one of the Departments.

Senator PEARCE - I thought the Departments could be transferred upon proclamation ?

Senator Keating - The Constitution gives us power to legislate with regard to astronomical and meteorological observations, but there is nothing to prevent the States doing the same work simultaneously.

Senator PEARCE - My object in rising was to say, after listening to the debate, that I think there is something to be said in support of the suggestion of Senator Best. It seems to me that the two Departments, meteorological and astronomical, ought to be taken over by the Federal Government. I will give my reason. As regards meteorology, we desire to widen the area from which observations are taken. We desire to do away with the isolation of the States, which has rendered meteorological work of Less value to the Commonwealth than it was when Mr. Wragge acted practically as the Commonwealth Meteorologist. At that time, he practically gave Australia forecasts for the whole Continent, and he was only stopped from continuing that work by each State refusing to supply him with the necessary data.

Senator FRASER (VICTORIA) - He was always opposed by the States officers.

Senator PEARCE - This Bill will make it necessary to carry on the work over a wider area. But as regards astronomy, it appears to me that the obverse is desirable. Instead of widening the area for astronomical observations, we need to centralize the work. Astronomy is not in the same category with meteorology. While it may be necessary to have observation stations all over Australia for the purpose of meteorological work, it may not be so necessary for the purposes of astronomy. One central observatory fully equipped, instead of halfadozen half equipped, would do for astronomical purposes.

SenatorFraser. - There will be less expense, and the work will be done in a much better manner.

Senator PEARCE - There will be less expense, more centralization, and better results. That seems to me to be a good argument for the two Departments being taken over by the Federal Government. What is the present position in my own State ? The meteorological and astronomical work in Western Australia is conducted in the same building.

Senator Millen - The same is the case in New South Wales, with unfortunate results.

Senator PEARCE - I have been over the Observatory in Perth. The astronomical instruments are side by side with the instruments for taking meteorological observations. It appears to me that if we are going to take over the one Department, and not the other, we shall have the singular state of affairs that in the one building there will be one set of officers using instruments under Federal control, and another set of officers using astronomical instrument under State control.

Senator Keating - They have separate equipment for the two Departments.

Senator PEARCE - I am quite aware that there are different sets of instruments, but the instruments for astronomical purposes are side by side with the instruments for registering the velocity of the wind., rain gauges, thermometers, and other meteorological apparatus. The officers who undertake meteorological work also conduct the astronomical observations. It would be a most higgledy-piggledy arrangement to make a line of demarcation in one building between two sets of officers. Why should we create that confusion when we can save money to the States and promote efficiency in the work by taking over both Departments? By exercising our powers under the Constitution we can obviate the necessity of the States continuing in the haphazard fashion they have followed. I venture to say that if we were to agree to take over both these Departments, the result would be that not only should we have better results from the meteorological point of view, but also better results from the astronomical point of view. We should save money, and we should obtain better scientific results in both Departments. That being the case, why does not the Minister meet the State Premiers in their request? If they are willing to hand over both these Departments, why not accept their offer, not only in the interests of the Departments themselves, but also in the interests of the taxpayers, and for the benefit of Australia ?

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