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Friday, 11 November 1910

Senator CHATAWAY (QUEENSLAND) - It is proposed that a man shall be asked to say what amount of money he holds in notes, gold, silver, and copper at the moment of midnight preceding the census day. On the card which was circulated to honorable senators as a sample of the cards which would be distributed for the collection of the census return, there appears these words - " Notes and coin in circulation - State here amount of money held by you, that is on your person, &c." I direct attention to the absurdity of inviting people to say how much money they hold on their persons at the moment of midnight. A large number of people will have to sit up late that night in order to be able to answer this question, and be sure that they would not make a mistake about it. One might not object so much to these questions if it were not for the fact that a serious penalty will attach to those who neglect to answer them, or answer them incorrectly. In section 14 of the Census and Statistics Act of 1905 it is provided that-

Every person shall, to the best of his knowledge and belief, answer all questions asked him by a collector necessary to obtain any information required to be filled up and supplied in the Householder's Schedule.

Penalty : Ten pounds.

That is a very serious penalty to impose upon people who fail to answer these inquisitorial questions, for which the Government have so far given no justification. A man is to be asked to state what salary or " wages he is getting. I should like to know what position I shall be in in replying to this question. As a member of the Federal Parliament, I am in receipt of an allowance, which is neither a salary nor a wage, and I may derive a certain income from other sources.

Senator Lynch - Is the honorable senator not bound to give the information for the purpose of income tax?

Senator CHATAWAY - I am; but that is the business of the State, and not of the Commonwealth, and the Federal Government cannot compel the State authorities to disclose the contents of my income-tax return. A man is to be asked to state what salary or wages he receives per day, per week, or per month, and the Minister of Defence, speaking on this motion, stated that what is desired is to learn, not what a man earns per day, per week, or per month, but what he earns within the whole year. It is expected that it will be shown that men who receive in wages 10s., 12s., or it may be 14s., a day are often very lucky if they secure nine or ten months' work in a year. But that information cannot be obtained from the answer to this question. The Government will be unable to get the very information they are looking for if the question is to be submitted in this form. It will, of course, be possible for men engaged in certain trades to state the average number of hours they work per day, but I point out that that is regulated by' Wages Boards, and we shall not gain anything by putting to the people ' a question the answer to which is already known. How will Ministers answer this question? Will they be able to put down how many hours per day they work? ' If they answered the question correctly, they would probably say that they are always working, except when they are asleep. I take my average working day to be represented by the difference between twentyfour hours and my average sleeping time at night. If the answers to these questions will not supply us with information that is worth having, it is not worth while including them in the census-papers, especially when the neglect to answer them may involve a person in a penalty of £10. We have no justification for these questions in any reports from Departments, or from any one consulted on the subject. I remind honorable senators that in 1900 there was a Conference of all the Statisticians of the States and of New Zealand in connexion with the census taken in 1901. The recommendations of that Conference may be found in Volume VI. of the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales for 1900. The report of the Conference is signed by Mr. T. A.Coghlan, the present Agent-General of New South Wales, who was president of the Conference; James J. Fenton, J. Hughes, L. H. Sholl, Malcolm A. C. Fraser, R. M. Johnston, and E. J. Von Dadelszen. No honorable senator will question Mr. Coghlan as an authority- on statistical returns. All the members of the Conference were men experienced in such matters, and they drew up a schedule, which honorable senators can see for themselves, for the taking of the census in Australia and New Zealand. The Census and Statistics Act makes provision for a householder's schedule, and the schedule drawn up by the Conference makes provision for obtaining all information asked for in these regulations, with the exception of the personal and absurd questions to which we object. Any one might fill up that' schedule with comparative ease. The Government propose that personal cards shall be filled up by the householder, in addition to the householder's schedule, and, instead of making it as easy as possible for people to give information necessary for statistical purposes, the scheme proposed will make it difficult and inconvenient. So far as I can see, an hotel proprietor may be called upon to fill up 200 or 300 of these bits of paper. If the Government could show that any one who knows anything about the subject has recommended this departure from the householder's schedule recommended by the Conference of Statisticians, well and good ; but I venture to say that they cannot prove that any one with a knowledge of the subject has recommended this proposal. This thing is a fad of a man who, as we all know, is very prone to working off bad and indifferent jokes upon the public. This is an additional joke which he is trying to work off upon them. 1 hope that honorable senators will knock out the faddy part of the regulation if the Government do not see fit to withdraw it altogether, and fall back upon the householder's schedule recommended in 1900 by the statisticians of Australia and New Zealand.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel Sir ALBERTGOULD (New South Wales) [2.43].- I understand that it is proposed that the answers to these questions as to the amount of salary or wages, hours worked, money held, and whether a person is a total abstainer or not, are to be included in the householder's schedule. It has been suggested that these personal particulars will be given under seal ; but if they are to be included in the householder's schedule, it means that he must make an inquiry of all persons on his premises on the night when the census is taken to secure the information, and they will be liable to a serious penalty if they do not give it. How can" there be any secrecy preserved in the circumstances? I assume, for the sake of argument, that there are a dozen people in my house on the night of the census, including the members of the family, persons employed, and, possibly, a visitor. These people will have to give me their answers to all of these questions, in order that I may fill up the householder's schedule. They will have to tell me what salary or wages they are earning, the money they have in hand, and whether they are total abstainers or not. What secrecy will there be in that? I think it has been pointed out that the question which it is proposed to put to householders in reference to salary or wages will apply only to one section of the community. Let me take the case of a member of this Senate. The question at once arises, " Does he receive a salary, or does he not?" Assuming that he does receive a salary of £600 a year, of what value is that information when it has been supplied? He may have money invested in shares, houses, and land, from which he may derive an income. Yet he will not be asked to give information in regard to these matters. But the wage-earner must supply full information, in the first instance to his employer, and afterwards to the Government.

Senator Lynch - Where does the employer come in?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If I am an employer, my employés have to supply me with this information. If I do not furnish it to the Government, I shall be liable to a penalty, just as they will be liable to a penalty if they do not supply it to me. But of what value will the information be when it has been supplied? It may be correct, or it may be otherwise. We know what is the current rate of wages in various trades. We know that one tradesman will receive 12s. per day, and so much per hour overtime, whilst another tradesman will receive 15s. per day. But of what use is it to ascertain that a carpenter is employed 100 days, or 200 days in the year? Of what value is it from a statistical stand-point?

Senator McGregor - It will serve to show the conditions of employment.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - If I earn , £200 a year, and the honorable senator receives£100, of what value will that information be from a statistical point of view? Such particulars will merely enable the Government to strike an average, and to say that men earn so much a year. But are we going to publish to the world information that Australia is a place in which one can, or cannot, obtain good wages ? The real truth is that one man may be a waster, whilst another may be a grafter. To average their earnings in these circumstances will be to absolutely mislead people. Somebody has suggested that domestic servants work fifteen or eighteen hours per day. What is the real position? They have to work hard, probably, for a couple of hours in the morning, and for a similar period in the afternoon, and in the evening. But for the remainder of the time they practically do nothing, if we except an occasional call upon their services. The Honorary Minister has defended these questions merely because they have been framed under a regulation which has been issued by the Minis try. I come now to the question of whether or not a man is a total abstainer from alcoholic beverages. This Parliament is regarded as one of the most abstemious Legislatures in the world. A very small amount indeed is expended in our parliamentary refreshment-room on intoxicants. But, after all, how many honorable senators can say that they are total abstainers? Because they cannot say that, are we to brand them as a body of men who are addicted to drink?

Senator O'Keefe - That is the trouble. Many persons will do that.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Let me assume that a man takes a glass of wine, perhaps, once a month. Can he call himself a total abstainer? Certainly not. I have always understood that a temperance reformer is a man who wishes to make people sober, but who does not really object to persons taking drink in moderation. The evil of which he complains is drinking to excess. Consequently, he says to this individual or that, " Possibly drink does not injuriously affect you, but, for the sake of example to others, you should become a total abstainer." That may be a very good principle to lay down, but it does not appeal to everybody. The replies which will be given to this question will be absolutely valueless, and the information thus obtained is not information which is required under any other Census Act in the world. Our Census and Statistics Act provides -

The particulars to be specified in the householder's schedule shall include the particulars following : -

(a)   The name, sex, age, condition as to, and duration of, marriage, relation to head of the household, profession or occupation, sickness or infirmity, religion, education, and birth-place, and (where the person was born abroad) length of residence in Australia, and nationality of every person abiding in the dwelling during the night of the census day ;

(b)   The material of the dwelling and the number of rooms contained therein;

These are the particulars which the Act requires to be supplied, and, no doubt, they are all capable of being defended. In regard to the question of a person's religion, it is optional whether he furnishes the desired information. Under the section which I have just quoted, the words, " any other prescribed matters " are held to open the door to the supply of the widest information. But my opinion is that they relate to prescribed matters of a like character. There is a maxim of law known as ejusdem generis which applies in matters of this kind. Many persons object even to the provisions of our Census and Statistics Act, on the ground that they are unnecessarily inquisitorial. I hold that to ask a man whether or not he is a total abstainer is an impertinence. Further, any such information is not worth the snap of one's fingers from a statistical point of view. There are many persons who have just as great a detestation of tobacco and narcotics as they have of drink. Drinking and smoking are both habits which grow upon one gradually. Neither tobacco nor drink are necessaries, unless a man has become so habituated to their use that he would experience a period of depression if he attempted to forego them. My idea is that in seeking statistical information we should carefully abstain from inquiring into a man's private avocation and methods of living. Many of the test men in the world would resent such inquiries, although they could answer them with the clearest conscience. We judge of a man's character from our knowledge of him. But we do not blazon it forth to the world that he is a secret drinker, or is addicted to some other secret vice. It is true that we may have an idea that he has such vices, and that that suspicion may influence our treatment of him. But we should never ask questions of a man which cannot be justified from a public stand- point. Under what authority do the Government intend to ask a householder to fill up two schedules? It is true that the Department may put any question to an individual.

Senator Givens - But will he answer it?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD .- Exactly. He may say, "It is like your impertinence," in which case the question will arise as to how the Government can enforce an answer. I should like to know under what authority the Government propose to put a personal schedule before the citizens of the Commonwealth. Our Census and Statistics Act provides -

(1)   For the purpose of taking the census, a form called a householder's schedule shall be prepared and left, in accordance with the regulations, at every dwelling throughout the Commonwealth.

Unquestionably there is the authority for the Government to ask for the information required in the householder's schedule. Then sectionii provides -

Every occupier of a dwelling, with or for whom a householder's schedule has been left, shall, to the best of his knowledge and belief, fill up and supply therein, in accordance with the instructions contained in or accompanying the schedule, all the particulars specified therein, and shall sign his name thereto, and shall deliver the schedule so filled up and signed to the collector authorized to receive it.

Penalty : Ten pounds.

Then section 15 provides -

(1)   The Statistician shall obtain such returns and particulars as are prescribed with respect to persons who, during the night of the census day, were not abiding in any dwelling.

The information has to be given. If a person is in a railway train, I presume that the conductor or guard would have to obtain the information necessary; but if that is not his duty, the traveller would have to give it. I fail to see where the Government are authorized to ask for other information. It may be that I have overlooked some provision, and I shall be very pleased if the Minister will explain how they are justified in asking for double information - from the householder and also from the individual. I do not know that a precedent for it can be found anywhere. I certainly cannot find a justification for it in the Census and Statistics Act. If it can be shown that it is justifiable, I shall be glad to have the authority pointed out to me, but if it is not legal, it will be a serious mistake, I think, for the Government to ask persons for information which they are not bound to give. I hope that the Minister will take the whole of these matters into his consideration. I trust that if he cannot give the Senate an explanation to-day, he will ask the Attorney-General by what authority questions of this sort can be put. I know that very often in a Department there is an idea that certain information can be obtained. While I have due regard for the ability of the officers therein, still I do not look upon them as infallible guides as to what the law is, even with regard to many matters with* which they have to deal.

Senator Givens - Anyhow, we do not employ them to lay down a policy for us.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - No; but once the Government have accepted a recommendation from an officer, and placed it before the Senate, it is their policy, and not an individual's. I do not believe in a Minister saying at any time, " This recommendation is made to us by our officer, and, therefore, we place it before the Senate. The only justification is that it is recommended by an officer. We consider that it is a wise one, and, therefore, we accept the whole responsibility for it." In this case, however, zeal has been allowed to outrun the discretion of the Department for the purpose of giving information to some persons who are very earnest in certain matters which they have taken in hand. No one can do other than recognise the energy and the conscientiousness with which our temperance friends advocate what they believe to be best in the interests of the community at large. But that does not justify the inclusion in the census-paper of a question as to whether a man is a total . abstainer from alcoholic beverages. Again, it may be that, from a particular stand-point, one wants to show to the world how much or how little wages are earned in Australia, or how many or how few hours are worked. But what is the value of the information? We have laws providing that men shall only work for a certain number of hours, and shall receive certain wages. Some persons say that there is too much employment, and others that there is not enough. I believe that many honorable senators on the other side say that in several trades in the cities today there are more men than there are billets offering. On the other hand, I hold that in the great cities, particularly in the building trades, there is employment available for four times as many men as are engaged on the works which are in hand.

Senator Lynch - If that is the case, is there not a necessity for getting authentic information on the point?

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - Authentic information can be supplied by builders in the large cities, who are seeking for men in order to fulfil on their contracts. I can instance works in Sydney which are being carried out at half the rate of speed which would be possible in reasonable circumstances, simply owing to the lack of men.

Senator Givens - That has only very recently been the case.

Senator O'Keefe - That is only because a Labour Government has come into power.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - All the works I referred to were started long before the Labour Government took office, and I think that, instead of the contracts in hand having increased in number since that event, the building trades have received a check.

Senator O'Keefe - They know that there is going to be a prosperous time under our legislation.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD - I hope that it may be so, and I shall congratulate the honorable senator when I see evidence of the prosperity. If there has been a check put to private enterprise of late, it has been because of changes which have taken place during the last few months. I hope that this motion will commend itself to honorable senators, and that it will be recognised by the Government that it is undesirable to make the inquiries to which I have drawn their attention. After all, we have to bear in mind that the motion deals with the subjectmatter of regulations, on which every honorable senator can afford to have his own opinion, whether he be a supporter or an opponent of the Administration under whose authority the regulations were made.

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