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Wednesday, 10 September 1913

The PRESIDENT - I desire to make a statement on a question which concerns the privileges of the Senate. Soon after the appointment of the Select Committee to inquire into the Chinn case, and soon after it had commenced its sittings, the' chairman, Senator de Largie, approached me and pointed out that, in his view, it would be necessary for the Committee to visit Kalgoorlie for the purpose of taking evidence. Following upon that information, I had a consultation with the Clerk of the Senate as to whether the necessary funds, were available, and he informed me that they were not. Then, as Chief Executive Officer of the Senate, I instructed the Clerk to writeto the Treasurer, asking that a sum of £250 might be placed at the disposal of the Department for the purposes of that and other Select Committees. In accordance with that instruction, the Clerk sent the following letter to the Secretary to the Treasurer : -

Commonwealth of Australia.

The Senate,

Melbourne,5th September, 1913. Sir;

I am directed by the President of the Senate to ask that a sum of£250 may be placed at . the disposal of this Department from the Treasurer's

Advance to meet the expenses of a contemplated visit to. Kalgoorlie of the Select Committee appointed by the Senate to inquire and report upon the dismissal of Mr. Henry Chinn, Supervising) Engineer on Transcontinental Railway.

In connexion with this matter, I am requested to point out that the sum provided under Contingencies" for the Senate, even if the whole amount were' available, would be inadequate to meet the expenses of such a visit by a Select Committee.

I would also refer you to the scale of " Payments to Witnesses " authorized under standing order No. 313 of the Senate, by which it will be seen that the expense of bringing any considerable number of wtinesses from Kalgoorlie to give evidence would amount to a very large sum.

The President is, therefore, of opinion, that it will be much less expensive for the Committee to proceed to Western Australia and take evidence there than for the necessary witnesses to be summoned before the Committee in Melbourne.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

C.   B. Boydell,

Clerk of the Senate.

The Secretary,

Commonwealth Treasury, Melbourne.

This morning I received the following reply:

Commonwealth Treasury, Melbourne.

Prime Minister, 9th September, 1913.


Referring to the letter from the Clerk of the Senate, asking that a sum of£250 be placed at the disposal of the Department from the Treasurer's Advance to meet the expenses of the contemplated visit of the Select Committee appointed by the Senate to inquire into and report upon the dismissal of Mr. H. Chinn from the position of Supervising Engineer of the Transcontinental Railway line (Kalgoorlie section), I have to say in reply that, after full consideration of the matter, the Government have decided not to grant the request, as they are unable, to perceive any reason for the expenditure of the money for the purpose stated.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

Joseph Cook.

The Honorable the President,

The Senate, Parliament House, Melbourne.

I have looked into the matter carefully, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, this action on the part of the Government is entirely without precedent. I take a very serious view of it, because, if it were allowed to pass without question, this or any future Government might at any time entirely nullify the power of the Senate to inquire into a particular matter by refusing to provide the necessary funds. I would point out, also, that several Select Committees have paid visits to other States and other places in order to collect necessary evidence, and that their expenses were rneb entirely without question by the Government of the day. A Select Committee on the Tasmanian Mail Service visited Tasmania. There was a Select Committee to inquire into the case of Major Carroll, which went to Sydney and Brisbane; and a Select Committee which was appointed to inquire into the matter of the Press Cable Service, and of which I happened to be a member, visited Sydney, and there was not, so far as I can ascertain, any question raised by the Government of the day in regard to the expenditure. According to the authorities I have looked up, in the House of Commons - the procedure of which is used largely as a guide for the Senate - there has never been any question as to payment of the necessary expenses incurred by a Select Committee to inquire into any matter. I thought it my duty to make this announcement to the Senate, because, as I have said, in my view the position is a very serious one. It will be for the Senate and the leaders of the Senate to take the necessary action, if they consider it proper, to safeguard its rights and not to have its powers abrogated or nullified at the dictation of any Government.

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