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


Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - I should like to say. in answer to some criticisms that have been levelled at the Bill, that honorable senators will be well-advised in supporting it not only on its second reading, but also in Committee. Senator Millen has invited my attention to the question of administration. He has pointed out that there are two courses open to the Government administering this Bill. One is that it should appoint a Chief Meteorologist, and rest satisfied with that. The Chief Meteorologist would be dependent for his information upon officers still in the employ of the States Meteorological Departments. That system, as Senator Millen has pointed out, would not give to Australia the great benefits and advantages that we hope to derive from the federalization of our meteorological service. The other alternative is to establish a complete, separate, and independent Federal meteorological service which may absorb, and should be intended to absorb, the existing States services. I can assure the Senate that the intention of the

Government is to establish a Meteorological Department of the Commonwealth that shall he effective and efficient, and that the transfer shall be as complete as possible. But, as has been pointed out in the course of the debate, it is not within the competence of the Federal Government to take over the existing States Departments by proclamation. The power given to us under the Constitution is to " make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth" with regard to "astronomical and meteorological observations " ; but although that power is given to us, the corresponding power that the States have hitherto enjoyed is not taken away from them. They may continue to exercise the power to the fullest degree.


Senator Givens - But if our legislation is inconsistent with theirs, the Federal legislation would prevail.


Senator KEATING - Our legislationexactly; but there is nothing to prevent us from having a complete meteorological system, and, at the same time, if a single State thinks fit to incur the luxury and expense of having its own system, there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent that.


Senator Givens - We could legislate the State out of it.


Senator KEATING - The honorable senator might, by ingenuity, endeavour to do that, but I' do not see how we could deprive the States of their existing powers. If they should choose to be extravagant, and to maintain their own Meteorological Departments side by side with the Federal Department, that Would be their affair. Having regard to the fact that we cannot take over their establishments by proclamation, we have in this Bill taken power to advantage ourselves of the existing institutions.


Senator Fraser - Are not the States agreeable to hand over their Departments?


Senator KEATING - I thought I dealt with that aspect of the matter fully last night. I showed what had been the opinions of the States Premiers at different times. I also quoted the views of the States meteorologists and of the Board of Visitors to the Melbourne Observatory, whose views are entitled to respect and consideration. I ' do not think it is necessary for me to repeat them.


Senator Trenwith - Could the Premiers do that without legislation?


Senator KEATING - No. I can assure the Senate that the object of this Bill is to have the Meteorological Departments of the States effectively and completely federalized. It is our object to establish the most efficient service that we can get in Australia directly and immediately under Federal control. The necessities' of the case require that we must legislate in the form we propose. We make provision, therefore, for the Governor-General to arrange with the Governor of any State for the transfer to the Commonwealth of any of the equipment of any of the departments in any of the States, for - the transfer to the Commonwealth, on such terms as are agreed upon, of any observatory and the instruments, books, registers, records, and instruments used or kept in connexion therewith.

Senator Millenhas stated that paragraph b of clause 4, gives rise to some doubt in his mind as to whether the Government intend to establish a central bureau, to be dependent upon the States institutions. That pargraph sets forth that the GovernorGeneral may enter into an arrangement with the Governor of any State in respect of- the taking and recording of meteorological observations by State officers.

Let me point out what is the object of this provision. In some of the States there are public servants in other than what may be called, the Meteorological Department, who for the purposes of that Department take such observations as are referred to in this paragraph. Many of these officers have been in the past in the Post and Telegraph Departments of the States, and have been transferred to the Commonwealth. Then, again, Customs officials in certain places may have been appointed to collect this in formation, and to supply it to the central authority.


Senator Trenwith - And railway officials.


Senator KEATING - As my honorable friend points out, we have railway officials in different parts of the Commonwealth, who for the purposes of the Meteorological Department of their State have been appointed to take the necessary " records in outlying centres of population, and to transfer them to the central* office. We have no power directly to require bv our legislation that a State railway officer, say, in, the extreme north of South Australia, or somewhere in the back-blocks of Queensland, shall take the necessary records and transmit them to our officers.


Senator Dobson - I thought we had.


Senator KEATING - If we have, we have not exercised it other than in the way now proposed.


Senator Millen - By express enactment.


Senator KEATING - By making it a matter of arrangement between the Commonwealth and the Government of the States.


Senator Turley - We have postal officials to rely upon, and theyare more widely scattered.


Senator KEATING - Quite so; but in some instances post-offices are under the control of persons who are not in our Public Service, or that of the State. This provision is to enable the Government of the Commonwealth to take advantage of the service of State officers in such centres. I think that Senator Millen will see that the clause should not be an indication to him of an intention on the part of the Government to simply establish a central bureau, which would be absolutely dependent upon the State institutions. I may point out to honorable senators that paragraph d, of clause 5, provides that the Governor-General may enter into an arrangement with the Government of any State in respect of - any matters incidental to any of the matters above specified or desirable or convenient to be arranged or provided for, for the purpose of efficiently and economically carrying out this Act.

That provision has been made as wide as possible, so that in every instance the Government will have power to enter into all arrangements necessary to make its organization as wide, as comprehensive, as complete, and as efficient as the necessities of such a service for such a country as Australia demand.


Senator Best - It is all to be done by mutual arrangement.


Senator KEATING - By mutual arrangement. The Governor-General will have power to establish observatories' and to appoint an officer, called the Commonwealth Meteorologist. So far as the different States are concerned, it seems to me that it need not necessarily follow that because we have had six meteorologists in six States-


Senator Pearce - They are called astronomers.


Senator KEATING - Not all of them; Mr. Wragge is not an astronomer. Although we have had six meteorologists, each having his own particular State as the area with which he was more directly and intimately concerned, and in connexion with which he more closely worked, it does not necessarily follow that that separation or division would be the best division of Australia for Australian purposes. The Chief Meteorologist appointed by the Commonwealth may divide Australia into a larger or smaller number of divisions. These are matters for organization which must remain for the men who are to be put in charge of this work. This is one of the difficulties with which we are confronted in making legislative provision for these matters. Consequently, we make our Bill as wide and as elastic as possible, so that it can be adapted to the exigencies and requirements of the future.


Senator Fraser - But surely one central bureau would be more effective than six separate ones.


Senator KEATING - Certainly ; that is the whole basis of the Bill. I dealt as fully as I could last night with the severance of the meteorological from the astronomical services. I pointed out that we had some very valuable information before us in the correspondence between the Government of the Commonwealth and the Governments of the States ; and that valuable information was supplied by the Board of Visitors to the Melbourne Observatory. It cannot be suggested for one moment that the members of that Board had any axe, personal or political, to grind, or that they were influenced in their report by party or political considerations. But these gentlemen, including, if I remember rightly, Professor Lyle, Professor Kernot, Mr. Ellery, Mr. Theodore Fink, Captain Tickell, and other eminent men, reported most emphatically that the two departments of science were not related, and that the astronomical work at the Melbourne Observatory was suffering by reason of the fact that those who were charged with the carrying out of its work had super-added the duty of meteorology - a science with which astronomy is not necessarily related. I pointed out last night that, although the State Premiers had said that they were prepared to hand over both departments to the Commonwealth, the Premier of Tasmania, only a few weeks before the holding of the Conference at which that decision was arrived at, declared that that State was opposed to the establishment of a Commonwealth Meteorological Department. No dissent from the resolution of the Premiers is recorded, so that I presume the Premier of Tasmania was then agreeable to a proposal which would involve the Commonwealth taking over both the Meteorological and the Astronomical Departments of the States.


Senator Dobson - We have no Astronomical Department in Tasmania.


Senator KEATING - Senator Dobson has said that probably the opposition of the Premier of Tasmania to the establishment of a Commonwealth Department of Meteorology was based on economic reasons. I think not, for if that were so, how could he justify the attitude he took up in assenting to a proposal which would involve Tasmania in still greater expense if both the Meteorological and Astronomical Departments were taken over?


Senator Best - That is very small.


Senator KEATING - Itwas Senator Dobson who suggested that reasons of economy were responsible for the attitude of the Premier of Tasmania.


Senator Best - But we have to be guided by the latest utterance on the subject.


Senator KEATING - The position amounts to this : There is no Astronomical Department in Tasmania, and in Queensland the Astronomical Department is in no way connected with the State Department of Meteorology. It is a branch of the Survey Department of that State. It is a very small Department, and the Surveyor-General of Queensland is atthe head of it. I think it is agreed on all sides that it is essential that we should have, as early as possible, an efficient meteorological service. There is considerable doubt as to whether any advantage to the people of the Commonwealth or to those engaged in scientific investigation in Australia would flow from the immediate federalization of the astronomical work. Whether or not those doubts will soon be resolved I am not in a position to say. But, to my mind, there is this difference between meteorological and astronomical work in Australia : a Meteorological Department has a practical value to every citizen - a practical value which astronomical work has not. To the great bulk of the community astronomical work - the research which is involved, and the results of that research - has nothing but a theoretical value. On the other hand, meterological work has in it for us all something of practical urgency and necessity. That being so, why should we - in the face of the fact that there is a considerable difference of opinion among people in Australia who are competent to judge as to the value of federalizing our astronomical work - imperil or delay the assumption of the Federal control of the more important and practical Department of Meteorology? I ask honorable senators to consider the question from the points of view given, and to assist us in passing the Bill through its remaining stages as early as possible, so that it may be sent without delay to another branch of the Legislature. I have only to add that if arrangements cannot be made with any State to carry out the matters referred to in paragraphs a, b, c of clause 5, it may be possible under the general powers given to the Governor-General by paragraph d to surmount the difficulty that might otherwise arise in relation to our system.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee:

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 -

The Governor-General may -

(a)   establish observatories ; and

(b)   appoint an officer called the Commonwealth Meteorologist.







Suggest corrections