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Friday, 22 June 1906

Senator McGREGOR (South' Australia) . - I hope that some honorable senators are joking, and that those who are serious will consider the position. We should not be fanatical or ultra-saving in a matter of this kind. If the refreshmentrooms are necessary for the proper and convenient working of Parliament, then Parliament ought to contribute something to their maintenance. I am surprised when I hear honorable senators talking about the extra .6 000 per annum which the refreshmentrooms cost in, addition to what honorable members pay for what they receive. I contend) that members pay quite sufficient for their refreshments ; at any rate, if they had to pay more, I am certain' they would go outside, or, as Senator Henderson has suggested, bring billy-cans. I am credibly informed that the refreshment-rooms in the New South Wales State Parliament cost an extra .£3,000 a year.

Senator Col Neild - About £2,000.

Senator McGREGOR - I have figures in my hand which show that the extra cost in New South Wales is £3,000 a year. I do not know exactly what the extra cost was to the Victorian Parliament, when the State members occupied these buildings. The parliamentary refreshment-rooms in South Australia do not appear to cost anything extra, the reason being that our predecessors in that Legislature were judicious enough to cover up the expenditure. Instead of making the salaries, &c, a charge against the refreshment-rooms, they engaged a caterer-

Senator Playford - At £300 a year.

Senator McGREGOR - At ^£300 a year with quarters, fuel, and light.

Senator Col Neild - That was done in Victoria, with the result that a bailiff was put in.

Senator McGREGOR - But I am speaking of South Australia, where the people are honest - I am speaking of the model State.

Senator Millen - Which, according to the honorable senator, fakes its accounts.

Senator McGREGOR - They granted these perquisites to the caterer, and, in addition, gave him the services of the Parliament House cleaners free of charge. If all these charges were debited against the refreshmentrooms account of the South Australian Legislature, it would show a greater deficit in proportion to the number of members, and the business done, than, is shown by ;h'e Federal parliamentary refreshmentrooms accounts. In view of all these facts, why should it be suggested1 that tenders should be called for the catering? Senator Fraser and Senator Walker are such venerable gentlemen that their judgment should convince them of the unwisdom of bringing here a caterer who might employ fascinating barmaids to lure legislators away from their duties. I would draw special attention to the inconvenient situation, of the dining-rooms and kitchen. The arrangements are so defective that it would be exceedinlgly difficult for any one to make the business pay at a reasonable tariff. Another point is that the gentlemen of the press and of the Hansard staff find' it a great convenience to be able to obtain their meals on the premises, and that it would be a very serious matter, so far as they are concerned, if the tariff were so high as to compel them to obtain their meals elsewhere. As to the closing of the diningrooms during the recess, I would point out that the majority of members of this Parliament do not reside in Victoria, and that consequently during the recess they are seldom here. If this were a State Parliament, members would be here nearly all the year round, and the receipts would thus be much larger. I do not know whether it is wise to close the dining-rooms during the recess. If the House Committee think it necessary to do so because they are not used to any extent, well and good. But I should certainly allow the bar to remain open, not merely that honorable members might indulge in the good spirits to which Senator Gray has referred, but to enable them to obtain a cup of tea or coffee when they come here. With that object in view, a gas or spirit stove should be kept on the premises ; or, as Senator Henderson has suggested, provision made for boiling the billy. I certainly would not close the bar. During last recess, although it was closed, there was an officer constantly in attendance. Would it not be better for that attendant to serve honorable members during recess rather than that he should be drawing his salary and dobie little for it. I hope that the House Committee will take these matters into consideration, and that if we ever reach the Federal Capital care will be taken to provide in the Commonwealth Parliament House every facility for the caterer. If the people of Australia were aware of the difficulties with respect to the refreshment-rooms, and of the difference between' the position of members of this Parliament, and that of members of the States Legislatures. I am sure they would not grumble about this matter. The deficit is of such little consequence that the House Committee would be justified in carrying on the business without inviting tenders. Honorable senators opposite are always ready to speak of what a business man would db in such circumstances. It is only during a few days in the week that there is any business to be done, and I am satisfied that even a business man would find the catering arrangements so inconvenient that if he charged the tariff customary outside he would be in difficulties in less than three montHs. Probably he would be unable to pay his bills, and in this way even greater discredit would be brought upon the Parliament. The discussion that has takeo place to-day will do good; it will disabuse the public mind. I have heard it said repeatedly that Federal members enjoy all these advantages and services free of charge. Some members of the Federal Parliament have themselves made statements with respect to parliamentary perquisites that have led the public to entertain the belief that refreshments are supplied to us free of charge; but this discussion will clear away misapprehensions, and I am pleased that it has taken place.

Senator Col. NEILD(New South Wales) [11.22]. - I regret that this debate should have taken place at the present juncture, because only a day or two ago the House Committee appointed a sub-committee to report to' it upon all matters connected with the refreshment-rooms. That subcommittee sat yesterday for a couple of hours. I do not know that any conclusions have been arrived at, but even if they had it would not be my place, as a member of the subcommittee, to speak of them here. I may, without offence, mention to the Senate the opinions to which I have been driven, and bv which I intend to stand. I quite agree with what has been said by Senator McGregor as to the large amount paid by the Parliament of New South Wales towards the upkeep of its refreshment-rooms.

Senator McGregor - And other Parliaments have done the same.

Senator Col NEILD - Quite so. I speak of the New South Wales Parliament, because, for something like ten years, I was a member of its Refreshment-rooms Committee, and am thoroughly well seized of the facts relating to it. I have confidence in dealing with this question, 'because, in addition to the experience gained as a member of the Refreshment-rooms Committee of the Parliament of New South Wales, I have been for some five years a member of the House Committee of the Federal Parliament. It is impossible for any parliamentary refreshment-rooms, at the tariff customary in the city in which that Parliament meets, to pay its way, as the phrase goes, when the takings at the outside extend over only three and a half days per week, while the salaries qf its officers are paid for the six. The Senate sits One day per week less than does the House of Representatives, and the expenditure by members of either Chamber is very small on Friday . I am, therefore, well within the mark when I say that the business of the refreshment-rooms extends over only three and a half days per week. In the circumstances, it is impossible to' balance the accounts. Coming to the question of whether there is a deficit in the refreshment-rooms accounts, I honestly believe that there is not. That is the conclusion I have come to as a member of the Committee. Whether I shall so report is immaterial, but I account for my opinion in this way : A sum of £720 is charged to the refreshment-rooms in respect of salaries voted bv Parliament. I hold that it is no function of a Refreshment-rooms Committee to recoup or endeavour to recoup the consolidated revenue the salaries that have been so appropriated. It might just as well be said that honorable members who stroll in the Parliamentary Gardens should pay for the privilege of doing so, and that the revenue thus derived should be put against the salaries of the gardeners which are appropriated by Parliament.

Senator de Largie - Logically we ought to be charged for the use of this chamber.

Senator Col NEILD - We' ought to be charged something to make good the salaries of the messengers and cleaners of the parliamentary buildings. We might just as reasonably be asked to do so as to make up the salaries appropriated by Parliament for the refreshment-rooms, which are a necessity. There is no Parliament in the Empire, so far as I am aware, which has not its refreshment-rooms - which has no provision for the supply of food and drink. Whether it be spirits/ or that terrible stuff called tea, with which people destroy their digestive organs, members should be able to get it on the parliamentary premises. Win* is there no complaint about the billiardroom, which is not a necessity.

Senator Fraser - It costs a mere trifle.

Senator Playford - It is not allowed in South Australia.

Senator Col NEILD - A billiard-room is not nearly so necessary as are refreshmentrooms. But we cannot conduct a billiardroom without having some"one to clean it, to take care of the tables, the cues, and the rest of the paraphernalia. If we had not refreshment-rooms, and "the work of the billiard-room 'was not being! carried out by one of the officials whose salary is voted by Parliament in connexion with the refreshment-rooms, we should have to find at least £150 ia- year for the charge of that room. It costs nothing at the present time, because unfortunately the refreshmentrooms bear it all.

Senator Millen - Am I to understand that the salary of the man who looks after the billiard table is charged against the votefor the refreshment- rooms ?

Senator Col NEILD - Yes.

Senator Millen - Is the salary of the man who looks after the bowling green also charged against the vote for the refreshmentrooms ?

Senator Col NEILD - No, I think he is charged against the vote for the garden. It is known that Parliament votes£50 a year as a kind of honorarium to the Usher of the Black Rod for acting as controller over the whole of these premises. He is, so to speak, the permanent head of the department. He has to do the whole of the bookkeeping. All the accounts for light, water, insurance, repairs, and furniture go through his hands. He is very busy most of the day, and very often at night, in dealing with these matters. Even that sum of £50 is charged against the refreshmentrooms. The thing is utterly ridiculous. It has no more right tobe charged against the refreshment-rooms than has the insurance of the building. Why has not the insurance of some part of the building, or the whole of it, been charged against the refreshmentrooms vote? It seems to me that somehow or other these charges against the refreshment-rooms have been inflated in a most needless and unreasonable manner. I may say in passing, without any breach of confidence, that I placed this very matter, in conversation, before a very distinguished member of the Government, and he was entirely in agreement with me that it was no part of the duty of the Refreshmentrooms Committee to recoup the consolidated revenue for the salaries that Parliament votes, and that must be patent to everybody. For argument's sake, we will take the alleged deficit at £870. If we take off that sum the salaries which Parliament appropriates, it leavesa balance of £150. If we do away with the officers whose salaries Parliament votes, and put the business into the hands of a caterer, we shall have to find£150 a year for the billiard-room. These two items - the salaries now voted by Parliament and the salary that would be necessary otherwise in connexion with the billiard-room - make up exactly the amount of the deficit. Therefore, practically there is no deficit - no more than there is in connexion with the gardens, nor the cleaning of the building, because Parliament votes some salaries. There are one or two matters which I think it only fair to mention. I find that when a member of either House takes a drink of whisky, he pays a price which represents a profit of 20 per cent. There cannot be any allegation of cheap drinks under the circumstances. There is a profit of 20 per cent., reckoned upon the spirits which are sold in the bar. In six months, however, the bill for tea has amounted to£30, and the bill for milk to £35.

Senator Keating - The tea which is taken apart from ordinary meals is paid for.

SenatorCol. NEILD.- The takings for afternoon tea do not average 5s. In a six months' session, if we reckon tea, coffee, milk, and loaf sugar, there is not less than £70 worth of these articles given away, while the people who take a little whisky have to pay an advance of 20 per cent, on cost price. I make this statement, because I think it is only fair in the interests of the whole Parliament that I should do so.

Senator McGregor - Be clear on this point, that tea is not given away to any members of the Parliament, unless at their meals.

Senator Col NEILD - Exactly. A Member of Parliament who does not take any spirits pays nothing to the caterer for the tea or coffee which he drinks at his meals, whereas I, to whose digestion tea is very destructive, take whisky, and have to pay. In other word's, one Member of Parliament pays a shilling, and he has something to eat and a cup of tea, while another member pays a shilling for the same quantity- of food, and sixpence extra for his drink. I do not say that the cup or pot of tea costs sixpence - it may cost much less - but there is a distinct difference drawn. My own view is that tea ought not to be given in unless one shilling and sixpence is paid for the meal.

Senator Fraser - A pound of tea costs only 8d. or 9d.

Senator Col NEILD - I am not going into the price of tea, or milk, or sugar, but I am stating the plain fact that in six months lastyear the tea, coffee, milk, and sugar cost

Senator O'Keefe - H - How much did the salt cost?

Senator Walker - And the mustard ?

Senator Col NEILD - I do not think there is any connexion between condiments and a large quantity of tea, sugar, and milk. I make this statement, because I think it is of interest to honorable senators. I found it of interest when I began to put all the figures together. I assure honorable senators that I am not quoting at random. I have got all the details, month by month, in my hand. I hope that honorable senators will see that there really is no reason to raise a cry of deficit in connexion with our refreshment-rooms, and no reason to besmirch the reputation of the Senate or another place by making out or maintaining the proposition that the refreshmentrooms of the Federal Parliament are conducted at a great loss to the community.

Senator Sir RICHARDBAKER (South Australia) [11.40]. - I do not know that any good will result from discussing in the Senate small details concerning the refreshmentrooms, and therefore I do not intend to follow Senator Neild, who, no doubt, is probably correct in everything he stated. I only rose to correct a misapprehension into which Senator McGregor has evidently fallen. The Joint House Committee wished to ascertain whether a greater or lesser expenditure would occur if the refreshment-rooms were carried on here, as in South Australia, by a contractor. With that view, we unanimously decided to call for tenders on the basis that the prices to be charged should be exactly the same as those charged now. If there was to be a difference we could not compare the two systems one with the other. I am not at all sanguine about a tender being accepted ; in fact, I am not at all sanguine that we are not able to carry on this business at as small an expenditure by the present methods as we could by a contractor. As a matter of fact, we have had tentative tenders before us. Although we are now publicly calling for tenders, previously we did so privately. We had one or two tenders, and the expenditure was a great deal more than at present, the prices being much higher than at present. But we vindicate our position that we ought to carry on this department at as low an expenditure as possible by calling for tenders, everything to be on the same bash's as at present. No extra charges would be made, Members of Parliament would not be driven out of the refreshment-rooms, because they would have to pay exactly the same as they do now.I only rose to correct that misapprehension, because I think it is due to the Joint House Committee. We are trying to do our best. All we want is to give as great accommodation as possible to the members of both Houses, as efficiently as we can, andat as little expense as possible.

Senator Col. NEILD(New South Wales) [11.43]. - There is one little matter which I forgot to mention; and that is, the experience which befel the Victorian Parliament when they occupied this building a few years ago. They had a caterer - what his prices were is of no consequence - and he incurred all sorts of debts, and apparently paid no one.

Senator Fraser - Private debts, not debts connected with the refreshment-rooms.

Senator Col NEILD - Pardon me, it was the caterer's own indebtedness.

Senator Fraser - That did not prove that the refreshment-rooms did not pay.

Senator Col NEILD - No. Mr. Upward was then Sergeant-at-Arms, and controller of the refreshment-rooms. One fine morning, at about11 o'clock, just when he was hurrying off to attend a Select Committee, of which he was clerk, he was informed that there was a constable upstairs who had seized everything in the interests of the creditors of the caterer. What became of the latter I do not know. I do not think that he ever returned. The controller had to get together a small staff, and on his own responsibility, provide a midday meal for the Members of the Victorian Parliament.

Senator O'Keefe - W - Would not the privileges of Parliament have protected the caterer from being arrested?

Senator Col NEILD - I do not know. It is very awkward when an irresponsible person is allowed to come into the premises of Parliament and conduct a business there. I am not in favour of a proceeding of that kind. The premises of Parliament should be under the control of Parliament, and not in the hands of irresponsible people. But so satisfactory was the arrangement carried out by the controller at the time, and so great was the saving as compared with the contract system, that the Victorian Parliament afterwards carried on its own catering, just as we have hitherto done, and has never reverted to the contract system. I may mention here that at the initiation of our present system the controller, who was, of course, appointed by the Government before Parliament met, had to make arrangements for honorable members before there were any funds with which to operate. Mr. Upward actually started our refreshment-rooms, and carried them on out of his own pocket. He conducted them for the convenience of Members of Parliament at his own charge for some length of time. We have had evidence that they have been conducted with a great deal of satisfaction. I am satisfied that we shall not do well to place the control of any portion of the parliamentary buildings in the hands of strangers. We shall not find that the arrangements are as satisfactory as they have been in the past-

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