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Wednesday, 21 August 1912

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - Yes. In every State the tendency has been , in that direction. Some years ago it was considered heresy to affirm that the day-labour system was preferable to that of contract. But the construction of one railway was undertaken by a State Government by means of day labour, and ever since then new railways have been built, and lines have been extended, under that system. Instead of allowing private contractors from the different States to make large profits out of the taxpayers, the Government of Tasmania - which was not a Labour Government - some years ago decided that it would be better to adhere to the day-labour system, because the construction of its first railway under that system showed that the line was built more cheaply than were lines which had been constructed under the contract system.

Senator Rae - And that better materials have been used.

Senator O'KEEFE - Yes. I am free to admit, however, that the system of day labour is now on its trial in the Commonwealth. We have not yet gone far enough to warrant us in condemning it as a failure in the way it has been condemned by some honorable senators who have spoken during the course of this debate. Only on Friday last Senator Gould based his contention that the system was a failure on statements contained in a series of articles published in the Argus and known as " The man on the job." During the course of his speech, the honorable senator made some very strong allegations. For instance, he said that there was " a reign of terror " in the Commonwealth, meaning that only a few favoured individuals could obtain a job, or be kept on one, in the employ of the Government. He affirmed that the overseers and inspectors were afraid to do their duty. These are pretty serious statements to come from a gentleman in a responsible position - from one who is able to slander the overseers and inspectors with impunity. He added that certain men have the ear of the Department. Since these articles were published, a departmental reply has been made to them. Papers were tabled in another place in connexion with the charges, and one has merely to take the specific allegations of the Argus and read the categorical answers thereto, in order to discover that there was very little substance, indeed, in the anonymous accusations. Where any definite charge was made against the inspectors 01 overseers, that charge has been fairly replied to.

Senator Blakey - Is the honorable senator aware that the residents of a particular street which was mentioned by the Conservative organ have signed a declaration that the statements of the Argus are incorrect?

Senator O'KEEFE - I am not aware of it.

Senator Blakey - It is so.

Senator O'KEEFE - The writer of the articles in question evidently drew upon . 1 pretty vivid imagination. Apparently he was anxious to kill two birds with the one stone. He desired, to serve up some sensational matter which would tickle the ears of the readers of the newspaper on which he is employed, and he was also anxious to kill a second bird by levelling accusations against the Labour Government. We know that this sort of stuff makes good " copy." But, unfortunately, the men who were maligned by him have no opportunity of replying to his charges. He merely looked out of the windows of a tramcar or of a railway carriage, and then wrote the articles in question - articles in which charges of a general, rather than of a specific character, were made. It is significant that not one man in either House of this Parliament. hai been able, to bring forward and sustain a. specific charge. Senator Vardon failed to do so, and so also did Senator Gould. Not one person has brought forward a tittle of proof of the accusations published in the

Argus.I repeat that apart from one or two more or less specific charges made by that journal - charges which have been fully answered - the other allegations were of a general character, to the effect that a few individuals amongst a body of 400 or 600 men employed in undergrounding our telephone wires, had been found to be undesirable, and had been shunted. 1 ask Senator Fraser, as a fair-minded man, whether it has not always been his experience that there are a few undesirables amongst any large number of men? If honorable senators will approach any railway contractor, any Government supervisoror any mine manager employing 200 or 300 men, they will find that there is always an undesirable element present in such bodies. The position occupied by a mine manager who employs 200 or 300 men, affords me a very fair parallel, because he has to a great extent to rely upon casual men. The casual man has to be taken largely on trust by the supervisor, or mine manager, or private employer. Wherever such a man has a large number of hands employed, running into hundreds, he finds that here and there a few undesirables have crept in. What is done with them? Immediately the discovery is made, the undesirables creep out pretty quickly, by order of the manager or his shift boss, or the ganger or the supervisor. Will any honorable senator dare to say that the supervisors under the Commonwealth Government have failed in their duty to shunt a man immediately he has been found to be an undesirable?

Senator Vardon - Some men have done their duty, and suffered for it.

Senator O'KEEFE - I ask the honorable senator, if he is a fair man, and does not want to shield himself behind parliamentary privilege, to name an inspector who has done his duty and suffered for it ?

Senator Vardon - I can name one.

Senator O'KEEFE - I do not say that it is cowardly, but it falls little short of cowardly, for any man to stand up here, or in another place, and stigmatize an inspector under the Commonwealth Government as a man who is afraid to do his duty. It is time that we got some of these charges nailed down. If there is one inspector in the employment of the Commonwealth who has done his duty and suffered for it, let us have his name.

Senator Vardon - I am not speaking just now of the Commonwealth, but of a State.

Senator O'KEEFE - Did the articles on which the honorable senator relied so much during his speech contain any reference to State works? Did they not refer to "the man on the job " on Commonwealth works?

Senator Blakey - He did not rely upon anything. He was a parrot of the Argus.

Senator O'KEEFE - If the honorable senator did not read the statements in the Argus, he quoted them very largely.

Senator Vardon - I read the whole article.

Senator O'KEEFE - We were led to expect that the honorable senator believed it. I think it is unfair for a member of any party, purely for party purposes, to stand up here and attack an inspectoror overseer who has no redress against him - who is not here to take his own part.

Senator Vardon - I attacked no one.

Senator O'KEEFE - We are asked to vote a large sum of money to be spent upon public works and buildings, and it depends very largely upon how it is spent whether we shall get the reward which we ought to obtain. If there is any truth in the charges which have been, made, those who make the charges ought to be prepared to give us proof of them, because, if they are true, it is time that the Commonwealth abandoned the system of day labour. These critics rely simply on the general charges and leave us unconvinced that we would be wise in reverting to the old system of contract when we have a. large sum to be spent upon the construction of necessary public works. If we are paying to-day, or if we are going to pay in the term covered by this Bill, any inspector or overseer who is afraid to do his duty, or who will put back an undesirable, a waster, or a loafer, whom he has discharged for not earning his money properly, because of the influence of any member of Parliament he may have behind him, we are making a big mistake. But I venture to believe that there is not one inspector who has been guilty of such a thing; and I must refuse to believe that there is when the critics shield themselves behind general charges. It is time that we had the names of these men who make the charges and the names of the members of the Parliament who are said to have wrongly used their influence. Is there anything wrong in a member of Parliament giving a letter of recommendation to a man whom he has known to be an efficient, good-working, underground, miner, and who is looking for employment on the underground telephone system which is being carried out in the State? Surely any member of Parliament is entitled to do that. If a man was discharged by his overseer or inspector because he was found to be not earning his money, and a member of Parliament used his influence to have the man put back, he would deserve to have his name pilloried from one end of Australia to the other. I do not think that these general charges are going to cut very much ice in the minds or the ears of the electors, unless we can get from vague generalities to specific instances. After all what do all these things come to when the very newspaper which stated definitely that hundreds of thousands of pounds which the Commonwealth has spent on' public works have been wasted to a very large extent, and then went on in a general way to stigmatize inspectors and overseers as unworthy of the confidence we have placed in them, came out to-day with this miserable apology -


Inspection of Works.

In consequence of the revelations made re specting the attitude adopted by men employed in the undergrounding work for the Postal Department, inspectors were despatched to various suburbs to watch the progress of work and submit their impressions of it. The Deputy PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Bright) stated yesterday that the work which had been inspected had been favorably commented upon. It was only natural that the exposures which have been made and the certainty for inspection have lent an impetus to work. Had a special inspection been arranged for in a few weeks' time the inspectors would probably have a different tale to tell.

It does not suit the book of the writer of " The man on the job " articles, or the book of those who are using the articles for party purposes, to find that an inspection has been made by properly qualified or competent inspectors sent by the Department, and that the work was found to be satisfactory. They fall back on this miserable excuse -

It was only natural that the exposures which have been made and the certainty for inspection have lent an impetus to work.

I ask any honorable senator who knows anything, whether a real loafer or waster, such as was depicted in these articles, is going to be made a better workman by the exposures, even if they are read by him? The fact is acknowledged in the very newspaper which lent its columns to the making of these general charges that inspections have been made, and, I presume, made without the knowledge of the workmen, and that everything has been found to be satisfactory. Yet, because everything has been found to be satisfactory, apparently the writer of the articles is still dissatisfied. He is not satisfied that things were not just as he had painted them from his imagination in the articles headed " The man on the job." This is a Bill to grant and apply out of the Consolidated Revenue for the current financial year £2,789,092. It is only reasonable to suppose that as the functions of the Commonwealth become enlarged, and its population increases, the annual appropriation for public works in every succeeding year will be larger than that amount. Unless Australia is going to stand still and to be stagnant, we must go ahead. So long as we have the population able to bear the taxes which will have to be imposed to meet the yearly expanding expenditure on public works, it will be a good thing for the community. It is about time, I think, that the huge works and interests . which are now placed under the control of one Department were divided. We are fast being brought face to face with the fact that in the course of another year or two no man, no matter what his brain-power or capacity for work may be, no matter if he is prepared to work fifteen or sixteen hours a day and break down sooner than many of our public men have done, will be able to efficiently control, in the interests of the taxpayers, all the works and interests which are now placed under the Home Affairs Department. It is time that another Minister was appointed. I do not suggest how the work of the Home Affairs Department should be divided, or what the new Department should be called ; but certainly one should be created. The Ministry are in a better position to say what new office should be created, and what duties should be taken from the Home Affairs Department, and any other Department which is overloaded, and placed under the control of the new Minister. Section 65 of the Constitution reads -

Until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Ministers of State shall not exceed seven in number, and shall hold such offices as the Parliament prescribes, or, in the absence of provision, as the Governor-General directs.

I think I am right in saying that Parliament has not yet prescribed how many Ministers there "shall be, or what shall be the exact titles of their Departments. I understand that the first Government distributed the administrative work between a certain number of Departments, and gave certain names to the Departments ; but that has never had legislative sanction. Section 65 of the Constitution says that there shall be seven Ministers of State, and a difficulty has been got over by the appointment of Honorary Ministers. We know that, in addition to seven Ministers with a Department each, there are three Honorary Ministers in the present Government ; and, speaking from memory, I think that there were three Honorary Ministers in the last Government. As the amounts which we shall be called upon to vote yearly for public works increase, and as the vast responsibilities which are under the control of the Home Affairs Department increase, can any one man efficiently carry out the administration of that Department?

Senator Sayers - Can he do it from Melbourne if there are two Departments?

Senator O'KEEFE - Can he do it from anywhere?

Senator Sayers - No one man can do it.

Senator O'KEEFE - In each State the Minister has his deputies, who have a kind of control of public works. It is a question that Parliament ought to take into consideration very soon.

Senator Needham - The present Minister of Home Affairs has done very well.

Senator O'KEEFE - The Minister of Home Affairs has done splendid work for Australia, in spite of his critics.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator should not forget that one of his critics is the present Attorney-General.

Senator O'KEEFE - I trust that the question I have mentioned will receive the serious consideration of the Government, and that another Federal Department will soon be created. It will not involve increased expenditure to the taxpayer, because the Constitution lays it down that only a certain sum shall be appropriated for the salaries of Ministers.

Senator Millen - " Until Parliament otherwise provides." The honorable senator's proposal would mean either appointing another Minister without salary, or paying his salary out of the amount now divided amongst other Ministers.

Senator O'KEEFE - Undoubtedly.

Senator Millen - That does not seem to commend itself to Senator Pearce.

Senator O'KEEFE - If the majority of members of Parliament sitting behind the Government consider that £12,000 a year is not enough to divide amongst Ministers the sum can be increased.

The PRESIDENT -- Order ! The honorable senator is getting away from the subject.

Senator O'KEEFE - The matter will come up for consideration on a future occasion. I am of opinion that it would be better to remove public works from the control of the Home Affairs Department than to continue the present system.

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