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Wednesday, 13 December 1911

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a first time.

This is one of those Bills which are rendered necessary on account of the delay in the passing of the Estimates. If honorable senators will compare the amount covered by this Bill - £561,826 - with the amount appropriated in any previous Supply Bill, they will see that it only appropriates that which is necessary for carrying out the ordinary services of the Commonwealth. In previous Supply Bills other amounts had to be included, such as an item of from £200,000 to £250,000 for the Treasurer's Advance, and sumswhich were rendered necessary by the taking over of the Northern Territory, the payment of interest, and the reduction of Treasury Bills. This Bill, however, only appropriates what is necessary for paying the salaries and wages of the officers of the Commonwealth, as the last Supply expired on 30th November. The Supply which we now ask for is based on the Estimates for the current year. As we can hardly expect the Estimates to pass before Friday, and the amount included in this measure has to be available before that date, honorable senators will recognise the urgency for its passage, that is if we are to fulfil our obligations* If they will refer to the schedule on page 2 they will find that the Bill appropriates for the Parliament £2,585 ; the Department of Prime Minister ,£3,323 - it creates this new Department for which no provision was made on previous Estimates, but the Estimates for other Departments are reduced in consequence - the Department of the Treasury £10,670 ; the Attorney-General's Department, £3,420 ; the Department of External Affairs, £20,553; the Department of Defence, -£150,190 ; the Department of Trade and Customs, £27,645 ; the Department of Home Affairs, £24,160; and the Postmaster-General's Department, £^309,280; arid for refunds of revenue, £10,000, making a total of £561,826. I do not think there is any necessity for me to make any comparisons in connexion with previous Supply Bills.

Senator Millen - Up to what date will this measure carry the Government, that is, on the ordinary rates?

Senator McGREGOR - It is a Bill to grant Supply to the Government for the month of December. The first Supply Bill for this financial year was passed in the expiring days of last session, and appropriated £1,315*976 for a period of two months ; the second Supply Bill appropriated £1,038,016 for a period of one month, and the third Supply Bill appropriated £1,049,534 for a period of two months. I am provided with a statement showing the proportionate amounts for the different Departments, but I do not think that it is necessary to quote them at this stage. Every honorable senator must recognise, I think, that our obligations to the public servants are of such a character that we have no right to delay the passage of this measure.

Senator MILLEN(New South Wales) {2.54]. - The Senate is invited to assent to the proposition that it should grant six months' Supply for the year, that is, without having a serious opportunity of con sidering the financial position. I have so frequently raised my voice against the procedure which the present Government are not initiating but following, and the effect of which is to deprive the Senate of a reasonable opportunity to consider the finances of the country, that I do not propose to do more than to mention that I, at any rate, had not overlooked the fact. While individual senators admit the necessity for reform, the Senate has always shown a disinclination, probably for party reasons, to insist that it should be afforded a 'fair opportunity to consider the finances. That being so, I think that I need not refer to the matter at greater length. The Bill initiates a departure to which I desire to draw attention, and that is the creation of a new public Department. This is, I think, a step in the right direction, but I want to suggest to the Ministry,, and they probably know it very well, that it is hot intended that this movement should end where it begins. They evidently have in contemplation some more ambitious proposal than this one to create the Department of Prime Minister, because the same member of the Ministry controls both the Prime Minister's Department and the Treasury. It is the same man doing the same, work and exercising the same responsibility, but on the present Estimates the expenditure which is to take place under his control appears under two separate headings. What is the reason for this? The Government ought, I think, to tell us what they contemplate. Bearing in mind what is before us now, and statements which have been made elsewhere, the creation of an additional portfolio seems to be contemplated. If this measure is intended as the first step in a new line of conduct, I think the Minister should tell us fully what they intend to be the ultimate outcome of the departure. I suggest that they might bring before Parliament a Bill dealing with the subject. Ever since Federation, we have had, in addition to the port.folioed Ministers, certain honorary Ministers in connexion with every Government - appointments which have been acquiesced in, but in connexion with which there has always been a little criticism. I venture to think that the .fact that honorary Ministers have been appointed by every Government without an exception indicates the necessity for such appointments. If the present Government do desire to move in this direction, they will find in me a sympathetic critic. My short experience of office brought home to me these facts. I am thoroughly convinced that the Prime Minister ought to be relieved of the responsibility of administering any Department. In my judgment, he has quite .enough to do in discharging the duties attached to the office of Prime Minister, without seeing to the affairs of a Department of State. First of all, he has to be the spokesman for the Ministry in any matters which require Ministerial direction; he has to exercise more or less supervision over all Departments, and, in addition to that, he has to supervise the conduct of parliamentary work. Then, in any public movement with which the Ministry desire to be associated, it is the Prime Minister who is most severely taxed. Any man who conscientiously and fully discharges all the duties to which I have referred, has very little time indeed to give to his own Department. The result is, I venture to say, that in nine cases out of ten it is run outside its policy, not by the Prime Minister,, but merely by the permanent head. I suggest that if the Ministry do contemplate the creation of an additional office, they ought to make such adjustments and present such proposals to Parliament as would enable the Prime Minister to occupy his position unchallenged, without being tied to the administration of any Department of State. I desire now to deal with a few matters of public interest. First, I wish to direct attention to the failure of the Government, after being in. office for eighteen months, to present any policy in connexion with the Northern Territory. Both before and after it was taken over, members of all parties- agreed that it should be taken over because of the necessity of doing something to promote its development. Yet, after having been in office for eighteen months, and having control practically for a year, we are on the eve of terminating the session without any policy for the development of the Territory being presented, for our consideration. Even if the Government did come down at the last moment with some plan of development, it is impossible for the Senate to give anything like serious or adequate consideration to it. Did we take over the Northern Territory merely to relieve South Australia of certain expenditure ? Did we take it over so that it might lie as idle to-day as it has done during the last twenty-five years ? Or did we take it over because we believed that a time had arrived to take developmental steps which would ultimately lead to its ' occupation and settlement by a prosperous people ? The supporters of the Government may view with equanimity this dereliction! of duty, but having regard to the important interests involved, I think that in no instance has a Government been so remiss ashas the present Government in its failureto deal with this highly important subject. I may refer to the few things which theGovernment have done so far. They have sent out a number of gentlemen, more or less qualified, to report upon the Territory.. Their reports will not be without some use,, but I venture to say that nothing they canreport will be of assistance to us in theconsideration of the first problems of development with which we are confronted.. Not only have the Government failed to do anything so far to develop the Territory, and failed to a policy for its development to Parliament, but in their administration they are certainly not helping the people resident there. I have recently received a letter from- a gentleman* who has been living there for very many years, in which he makes the extraordinarystatement that the people of the Territory enjoyed twenty years ago greater postal facilities than they are getting to-day... With regard to one. especially, the Government have, recently made a proposal to> cut down even the scanty facilities at present enjoyed. There was originally a fortnightly mail service from Camooweal to Borroloola. A fortnightly mail in that part of the Commonwealth is regarded asa luxury, though to us as a postal facility it would be considered scanty enough. But even that fortnightly mail service is now being made a monthly service, and this,, in spite of the fact that the stations to which the mail travels have considerably increased1 the number of white employes engaged upon them. A few years ago the work of these stations was done almost exclusively by natives of the Territory. To-day, my informant tells me,, there are six white men employed where there was only one twenty years ago. He goes on to state that originally there was a mail service provided by a subsidized steamer running from Port Darwin to Borroloola. The steamer made a trip once in every three months, and received a subsidy of, I think, £1,2.00 from the Post and Telegraph Department. Notice is now being served of the intention of the Department to discontinue that subsidy. The notice was to expire at the end of December, but as the result of some representations made to the Postal Department by, I believe, the External

Affairs Department, it was decided to continue the subsidy for another six months. 1 direct attention to an especially unsatisfactory feature of the matter. My informant is engaged in the pastoral industry, and points out that he is now ordering from one of the larger cities of Australia the supplies, which he counts upon getting -.six months hence, and he does not know show it will be necessary to have those supplies forwarded because of the uncertainty in regard to this service. It may be urged that the Post and Telegraph Department is not concerned about anything but the conveyance of mails, and I confess that the Postal Department is very unfairly handicapped in being charged with a service of this kind, the cost of which should have been made a charge upon the Consolidated Revenue. It is, I think, unfair to charge the Postal Department with the cost of a service like this, which is clearly necessary for developmental purposes quite outside of the conveyance of mails. What I am directing attention to is that if . the Postal Department thought it desirable to cut down this vote because the service rendered to the community in the carriage of the mails is not worth the money which is paid, the Government should have seen to it, and should have decided that they would not at this particular juncture so seriously handicap settlement by withdrawing a facility enjoyed fpr twenty years, even if it were necessary to charge the cost of maintenance of the service to the External Affairs Department, which is immediately concerned. I ask the Government now to consider the matter, with a view .to making a declaration that this subsidy will not be withdrawn, not merely within six months' time, but for a very much longer period, so that those who are dependent on the quarterly trips of this vessel will be able to proceed uninterruptedly with their work as they have done in the past. One effect of the withdrawal of this steamer from the service referred to will be that 300 miles of road carriage will be added to the journey to be traversed in forwarding supplies to a very large area of pastoral country. Honorable senators who have any knowledge of what 300 miles of road carriage means will admit that it must seriously handicap the people of this Territory which we are so anxious to develop.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Will it mean carriage by camels?

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