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Friday, 24 August 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - There is a small matter which I should like to bring under the attention of the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral. In his absence, perhaps the Minister of Defence will make a note of it. Recently ai new station has been opened in Sydney, and one might have expected, under the circumstances, that a little business consideration would be given to it bv the Post and Telegraph Department. Provision has been made for a post-office at the station, but it is a curious thing that, whilst that post-office is situated on one of the platforms, the place at which one has to post one's letters is 100 yards away. Any one knows that people who use a post-office at a railway station are generally those who are going by train, and have very little time to spare. Yet in this case it is necessary to go to the postoffice 011 one of the platforms to purchase a stamp, and then to go outside the station to post the letter. I ask the Minister to direct the attention of the Postmaster-General to this subject with the object of having a receiving box placed at the post-office, so that (those who address their letters there can immediately drop them into the box, and go away to catch their trains. I have a word or two to say in regard to defence. I do not pose as an authority on the matter, I admit at once that this is one of the subjects to which I have given very little attention. I say that with some regret. But I do wish to impress upon the Minister the fact that, so far as I can' gauge the opinions entertained in my own State and elsewhere, there is a strong feeling that the Defence Forces of the Commonwealth are not in such a condition as they ought to be in. I join with those who have expressed regret that the Minister has not placed before Parliament, and the country, a complete defence scheme. I should like to know how long we have to wait for the long promised plan of the Minister. While I look forward to the appearance of his scheme, I am under the impression that the Minister is not retaining a fairly open mind with which to consider the suggestions of the Imperial Defence Committee. Only the other day, a paragraph appeared in a newspaper, the practical correctness of which the Minister admitted, in which he expressed an opinion adverse to the Imperial Defence Committee's report before he had had reasonable time in which to consider it.

Senator Playford - Yet Senator Pearce complained that I had not made up my mind about it.

Senator MILLEN - There is no inconsistency in the criticism. What I ampointing out is that the Minister, on hisown showing, by admitting the authenticity of the paragraph, and by saying that he had not had time properly to consider the scheme, prejudiced himself by expressingan opinion adverse to it.

Senator Playford - I expressed a personal opinion, but that does not bind the Government.

Senator MILLEN - I am speaking of the Minister in his representative capacity as the head of the Defence Department. I am complaining that he expressed an opinion adverse to the report before he had even had time to digest it.

Senator Playford - It was complained a little while ago that I had had too much time to digest it, and that I had not expressed an opinion about it !

Senator MILLEN - I am not going to clear up any inconsistency between what the Minister said and what Senator Pearce has alleged, but I am showing out of the Minister's own mouth that he stands convicted of expressing an opinion upon the report before he had had time to digest it. That indicates to my mind that the Minister is to some extent pledged. He has not kept an open mind which would enable him to act impartially and judicially in these matters. I am as anxious as any honorable senator to see all appointments to the Public Service and elsewhere given to Australians when there are no reasons to the contrary. But there is a danger before which some of my honorable friends opposite have fallen, that of allowing one's partiality for this principle to warp his sense of justice. If I understand the criticism with regard to affairs in Papua, honorable senators, in order to secure an appointment for an Australian, are prepared to sweep on one side the occupant of the office without inquiring whether justice or injustice would be done to him by that act. It is one thing for an honorable senator to say that he believes that Australians should be appointed to such positions ; but even if we assent to that doctrine, as I do most cordially. it is quite another thing to say that without regard to the claim of the present occupants, they are all to be swept out of their offices. Apparently, that is what mv honorable friends are prepared to do. Without even allowing Captain Barton an opportunity to state his case, if he has one. thev. simply on the ground that he is not an Australian, are prepared to sweep him out of his office.

Senator Croft - Ob, no ! that is not the whole position.

Senator MILLEN - I can only draw that inference from the remarks of my honorable friends. Not only are thev blaming the Government for not pushing

Captain Barton on one side, and immediately making an Australian appointment, but according to the last speaker thev have prejudged the case of that gentleman.

Senator Croft - I regard the Government as weak in not having made an appointment, and in leading us astray by appointing a Royal Commission. Why do they not appoint Captain Barton if they think that he is suitable?

Senator Playford - There was a number of charges made against Captain Barton.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Croftwill not deny that, even this morning, we have heard a statement from which it is quite clear that some honorable senators are prepared to condemn, in fact, have condemned Captain Barton from beginning to end. It is one thing to support the doctrine of making all appointments from our own people, but it is quite another thing to press the doctrine to such a length that the occupant of an office who may not be an Australian should be pushed on one side without the slightest regard to those reasonable, moral requirements which should restrain even a private employer.

Senator Findley - Were not the Government prepared to put him on one side when thev made overtures to Sir William McGregor ?

Senator MILLEN - For a very good reason. I do not suggest for a moment that Captain Barton has any pre-emptive right to the office. If there is one man in the world who stands out as particularly fitted for the position it is Sir William McGregor, and the Government in seeking the services of so experienced an Administrator did what I think was best in the interests of not merely Papua, but also Australia. Because it must be remembered that if any difficulty should arise in the Possession as the result of faulty administration Australia would, to some extent, be affected, and would possibly be called upon to suffer, even if only in a monetary sense. In view of the fact that these charges have been made with considerable frequency, and with, much emphasis and warmth, I think it was not an unreasonable concession to Captain Barton that an inquiry should be granted, in order to ascertain whether they had any foundation. If it be found that there is a foundation for the statements, it seems to me that he can have no cause of complaint if we dispense with his services.

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