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Wednesday, 21 August 1912

Senator FRASER (Victoria) .-! have a few words to say in reference to this very large proposed expenditure. The financial prospect in Australia is not very bright, and it, therefore, behoves every Government in this country, including the Federal Government, to be very careful about public expenditure. There should be none that is not absolutely warranted. I should have been very much better pleased if the Government had first of all submitted their policy with regard to railway construction in the Northern Territory, and especially in connexion with the line from Oodnadatta to Pine Creek. I admit that the construction of that line might give a great impetus to settlement, but the Government apparently propose spending £3,000,000 of money in the Territory to fill it with civil servants. What can civil servants be expected to tlo towards the settlement of the Territory without railways to help them? The filling up of the country with civil set- vants will not induce settlement. If we want settlers there we must give them proper facilities. I travelled over a great deal of the country thirty years ago, and I have some interest in some of the country now. I know the difficulties and trials awaiting any one who goes there.

Senator McGregor - We are only proposing to spend £58,000 on works and buildings. The honorable senator said £3,000,000.

Senator FRASER - I was referring to the total expenditure. Even £58,000 is a very large amount to expend to accommodate civil servants.

The PRESIDENT - I point out to the honorable senator that the question is not one concerning the salaries of public servants. The Bill deals with the works and buildings which the Government propose to have constructed in the Northern Territory.

Senator FRASER - The schedule includes amounts for additions to buildings, for artesian bores, and for quarters in which to house Government employes. There is one item of £21,000 for houses for Government employes, and surely I am entitled to refer to the increase of civil servants in the Northern Territory in connexion with that vote?

Senator McGregor - How' many employés does that provide for?

Senator FRASER - If that is the way in which the Vice-President of the Executive Council proposes to view the matter 1 am sorry for him. I say that the Government are putting the cart before the horse in this matter. They should tell the people of Australia what is their policy for the development of the Northern Territory.

Senator McGregor - Honorable senators opposite were discussing it the other day in connexion with a land Ordinance.

Senator FRASER - I. should have some-' thing to say upon that if I were in order in doing so. We cannot develop the Northern Territory unless we afford facilities for transport there. Are people to go out there when they may never come back ? It is useless to propose the building of houses for Government employes when no facilities for transport are provided. It would be an ordeal for a workman to go to the Northern Territory and get back again. 1 say that the proposed expenditure is not warranted at this stage. We should have a definite policy for its development submitted and approved before such expenditure is undertaken. The present Government say to a man when he goes to them for employment, " What are you - black or white? Are you a ' scab,' 01 are you a unionist?" Is there another Government on this earth that has adopted such a policy as that? The Government say to a man, " You are a miserable scab,' " or " You are a black man," or it may be something else, " And yon shall not be allowed to live." Any one who would enunciate such a policy as that is unworthy to be a Minister of the Crown.

Senator Findley - Does the honorable senator object to the White Australia policy ?

Senator FRASER - I am speaking of the Government policy of preference to unionists. When a human being wants work, he should not be asked any questions.

Senator Needham - Why was the man Pollard refused work because he was a unionist ?

Senator FRASER - If a man came to. the honorable senator, or to myself, in search of work, we might give him a job or we might riot, if we knew he was a unionist. But we occupy a very different position from that occupied by the present Government. A private employer may do as he likes in connexion with his own employment; but how can it be said that a Government should do the same as a private individual? A private individual can please himself.

Senator Needham - Is it right that a man should be denied employment because he is a unionist?

Senator FRASER - It certainly is not right. But the difference is that a private employer can please himself as to whether he will employ a black man or a white man.

Senator Needham - Cannot the Government please themselves?

Senator FRASER - No; the Government are not supposed to make any distinction between man and man, or woman and woman. They should not do it. This is a country in which, perhaps, ten or fifteen years hence, a very different policy will be followed.

Senator Findley - T suppose the honorable senator would say that an employer should keep a loafer because he is a man?

Senator FRASER - I do not say anything of the kind. As a railway contractor for thirty years, I know what loafing is. While I am not attacking working men, I know what they are. 1 was one myself sixty years ago, when I first landed in Australia.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator had more sense than to stick to it.

Senator FRASER - I have risen from the ranks. I would not be idle a day or an hour when I landed in Australia, if I could get something to do. I was not very particular as to what I did, either, so long as it was honest work. That is my history, and I am not ashamed of it. It is wrong to say to a man that he shall not be given work because he is independent and has a mind of his own.

Senator Blakey - Who says that?

Senator FRASER - The present Government have said it.

Senator Blakey - They have not; they have said that, other things being equal, they will give preference to unionists.

Senator FRASER - I have been an employer for the better part of my life, and I say without egotism that I know what I am talking about.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator's experience is that unionists are the best workers?

Senator FRASER - I have never yet asked an employ^ of mine whether he was a unionist or a non-unionist. If any of roy workmen quarrelled, I would say to them, " No quarrelling here," and my word was generally law. It is a very foolish policy to carry out public works by means of day labour. I make that statement as a contractor with a lifelong experience, as a builder and as an owner of railways. I may mention that I was one of the few who owned the railway from Echuca to Deniliquin. We sublet the work of constructing that line to men, many of whom, as a. result, made 50, 80, and even 100 per cent, more money than they would have made under the system of day labour.

Senator McGregor - Then the honorable senator must have cut down the wages.

Senator FRASER - No. If one wishes men to make money for him, he must offer them an inducement to do so,' and the best way to do this is by subletting to them at a fair rate. The Government should undertake the construction of public works by means of contract. If they employ thousands of men, they are bound to get a lot of wasters and incapables.

Senator Blakey - And the contractor will lose his profit.

Senator FRASER - The Government will save a lot of money by adopting the contract system. If they employ thousands of men upon any public work, they will want an overseer to every three or four men employed.

Senator Needham - That is an extravagant statement.

Senator FRASER - I know what I am speaking of.

Senator Needham - I have been there.

Senator FRASER - But I am a good deal older than is the honorable senator. If 100 men be employed in a cutting, one inspector will suffice, but if men are distributed over 20, 30, or 50 miles of works, they are like poultry spread over a paddock. If three or four Of their number be employed at a particular spot, they must have a ganger in charge of them. I am not unfriendly to any Government, so long as they do what is right ; but I do say that the result of this expenditure upon day labour will undoubtedly be to show that public works can be carried out very much cheaper under the contract system.

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