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Friday, 13 October 1911

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I have no desire to refer again to the matter we were discussing a few minutes ago on the motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders, except to reply to two statements made by Senator Pearce, who followed me in that discussion. lt is greatly to be regretted that the honorable senator should have used as a reason for the delay in the introduction of this Bill the sad event in connexion with which the Senate recently passed a resolution. To my mind, it was little short of contemptible for the Government to shield their neglect under that unfortunate occurrence. There was no reason why this Bill should not have been introduced in the House of Representatives on Wednesday last, and that would have enabled us to have dealt with the Bill yesterday. The attempt to shield themselves behind the unfortunate event, for which we all feel regret, was little short of contemptible, and was quite unworthy of the Minister of Defence. The statement was flatly contradicted by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who asked us to permit the Bill to go through because it is intended to meet the ordinary current services. If that is what it is for, there is no reason why it should not have been drafted a month ago. Senator Pearce declared his surprise that I should have raised the objection ' I did, in view of the fact that I had some Ministerial experience. But it is because I have had that experience that I feel there is upon roe the obligation to say that what I saw of the attitude of the officials of the Treasury justifies me in making the statement that there is, df set purpose, a deliberate attempt to hold back these Bills_ to the last possible moment. I did what I could then, and I am doing what I can now to combat that.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The statement is unworthy of the honorable senator.

Senator MILLEN - Is it unworthy of me when I see an evil to speak .about it? I wonder what frame of mind the honorable senator can have got into if, when he sees what he regards as an evil, he will not speak about it for fear of ruffling the susceptibilities of the Ministry he so slavishly supports. I am sure that the honorable senator would himself be the first to protest against anything of the kind. Any one who sees what he regards as an incorrect way of doing public business has imposed upon him the responsibility of speaking about it, if he is to be worthy of the position he occupies as a member of this Parliament.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable senator did not practise what he preaches.

Senator MILLEN - I certainly did ; and I remind Senator W. Russell that in the early days of the present Government the Minister of Defence was candid enough to admit that the predecessors of the present Government had done much in the direction we all desired of affording the Senate an opportunity to discuss finance. That admission can be found in Hansard. I asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council for information in connexion with the items of this Bill, some of which Senator Pearce said could not have been determined upon until the last possible moment. I venture to say that the answer I received will not carry conviction to the mind of any one. He told us that the PostmasterGeneral could not determine exactly what amount would be required for the ordinary current services. There is no reason why he should not have known months before, or at any time after the ist July last.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator should remember that the services of the Post and Telegraph Department have been increasing every month since the end of the last financial year.

Senator MILLEN - They have not increased much during the last week, and this Bill could have been introduced a week ago, because there is that extremely elastic vote - the Treasurer's Advance - which is intended to meet cases of that kind. And here let me draw attention to another evil which is growing, and it is decidedly an evil from the stand-point of those who believe that Parliament ought to exercise a real, and not an imaginary control, over the finances of the country. When we started Federation, the first Treasurer's Advance amounted to £25,000. For a long time it hovered in the region of £40,000 ; but it has been gradually growing, until to-day it has reached no less a figure than £250,000 on this one Supply Bill. The amount on the last Supply Bill was £200,000. That is to say, during three months we have given blank cheques to the Treasurer to the amount of £450,000. That enormous sum having been advanced in so short a period, it means, if that rate continues, that little short of £2,000,000 a year is passed by Parliament without the Senate or another place having the slightest knowledge as to how the money is going to be spent. It is perfectly true that later on Parliament must be informed ; but we must not lose sight of the fact that we are only informed as to the expenditure of the money when it has actually been spent. I admit at once that there must be a Treasurer's Advance Fund, but do not honorable senators think that the fund is growing to a dangerous extent, when we find £1, 800,000 a year, at the present rate - assuming that it does not continue to grow - being expended without Parliament knowing anything about the direction of the expenditure? Is it not dangerous that this Advance Fund should continue to be augmented at this enormous rate without Parliament exercising any check over the channels down which the money flows? I cannot regard as financially satisfactory a system which declares that something like a sixth or a seventh of the total revenue may be spent without Parliament being informed as to how it is to be spent. I consider that a more careful scrutiny on the part of the Government, and of the Treasury officials, might obviate the necessity for making these big demands - for asking for these blank cheques. Fuller information ought to be given to us as to "the purpose for which the money is required, and as to why the Treasurer's Advance has been allowed to mount up from a few thousands until we are within reach of a couple of million pounds, concerning which we are not told a single thing. I wish to take advantage of the opportunity - which is furnished by our Standing Orders - when we are dealing with Bills of this kind, to refer to a few other matters. One to which I wish to direct attention is an extremely unfortunate occurrence, which will, I am sure, command the sympathetic attention of the members of the Senate. I refer to the recent fatality to a line repairer in . this city. Every one who has read the newspaper reports to-day concerning this event must come to the conclusion that there is somebody upon whose shoulders the weight of blame rests, and it is a very heavy one. The facts reported cannot be lightly passed over. The evidence is not of an ex parte character, because the Post and Telegraph Department was represented officially at the Coroner's inquiry. We cannot assume that the gentlemen who were there representing the Department would allow an unjust imputation to rest upon the service. The facts show that the unfortunate linesman, in the course of his duty, was required to climb a pole which was so rotten that it collapsed under his weight, resulting in his death. The remarkable circumstance is that the pole was known to be rotten months ago. That information was dis closed on the evidence of the- .Department's own officers.' I will make first a quotation from the remarks of the 'Coroner. He said -

The post was certainly rotten J there seemed to be definite evidence on that point. But the question seems to be how long 'a post, should be allowed to stand after it is condemned. I think it should not be allowed to stand at all. How it stood so long I am at. a loss -to conceive.

That was the. coroner's summing up after listening to the evidence" of the departmental officers. Further . evidence showed that the unfortunate linesman was required to climb a post which WaS known to bo rotten months ago. Here is the evidence of Mr. J. E. Braddock. lines foreman. He said that -

He had examined the post in. July, when he. saw a cross on the pole.

Other evidence intimated that when a pole* was condemned it was the practice to place a cross on it.

Senator Rae - That is the usual practice.

Senator MILLEN - It is the usual practice. The witness went on -

It then looked all right. He tested it with a tomahawk, and it appeared fairly sound. He condemned the next post. On an inspection on 9th September, he "shoved" the post, and appeared to be all right. He would examine about sixty-six posts in a day. The condemned posts should be renewed in a reasonable time.

Mr. Durcks,electrical engineer, also gave evidence. He was asked by the coroner- -

Co you allow posts to stand until something serious happens, or leave them until you can get the contractor to remove them?

The answer was -

Until we can get material to renew them.

That answer discloses a state of impotency and stupidity little short of criminal. When a post is condemned the only. standard which the Department has for determining whether it shall be removed is when the officials can get material to renew it. If the material is not at hand the rotten post is not removed. I venture to say that if a private employer had spoken as did this official of the Post and Telegraph. Depart; ment concerning a fatal accident to a workman, there would have been: - and rightly so - an outcry of indignation from one end' of Australia to the other. Further, thewitness said -

In some cases, a life of two years- is allowedafter the pole had been "condemned.". On .account of cost in some districts, it is customary to renew a number of posts at a time', and not singly. After inspection in July, steps were being taken-

And we know how long a Department can be " taking steps " -

Co procure material to renew these posts. The cross is a signal to men to be careful.

I direct attention to the fact that the Department, according to this evidence, knew that the post was condemned in July last. It then proceeded to "take steps" to get material to renew it. Does it not occur to honorable senators that a Department which is in constant process of requiring material for renewals ought to have plenty of that material on hand, and not wait until a post is so rotten that it is ready to fall down before being prepared to effect a renewal? Surely it would have been an ordinary business-like proceeding to have stores and material ready for use. Further, the witness said -

The pole in question was in a very bad condition. It should have been renewed some time ago. Wc had a report that the pole was condemned in July.

The coroner remarked -

But it was condemned before that?

The witness replied -

Yes; but I do not know where the previous report is.

This matter would be a subject for Gilbert and Sullivan but for the unfortunate tragedy connected with it ; and I can only say again that, to my mind, the facts revealed at the coroner's inquest indicate an amount of stupidity which is little short of criminal. If such conduct were exhibited by private employers in the management of their business, and such an occurrence resulted as was the case here, it would, in my judgment, justify a charge of manslaughter being launched against some one.

While on this subject, may I express an opinion which I have previously enunciated in the Senate. It is that the time has arrived when we should introduce in connexion with our Public Service a provision - call it what you will - tantamount to the obligation which is imposed upon every private employer whose business requires the lives of his workmen to be risked in the performance of their duty. There should be a system by which compensation should be paid to those dependent upon a workman whose life is taken under such circumstances as these. If we call upon a private employer to make compensation, why should the Government escape? As we call upon private industry to carry this obligation, why should not the same responsibility attach to a Government Department? I hope, before long, that steps will be taken to insure that all employes of the Public Service who may be injured in the course of their duties shall receive compensation in the same way as do persons in private employment.

While I am dealing with the Post and Telegraph Department, I should like, to draw attention to another reform which is greatly wanted there. Of course, there are many reforms which are required in connexion with the Department, and I am not going to detain the Senate, and tie up this Bill, by dealing with all of them. But there is one in particular that I had hoped the Government would have seen fit to deal with. It is this : So far, we are still without satisfactory accounts to show the financial workings of the Department. We have none of that knowledge which an ordinary business man would consider that it was his first duty to require concerning his business operations. We are told in the report which has been issued by the Postmaster-General that the revenue of the Department for the year amounted to £3,901,000, and that the expenditure amounted to £4,122,000. But there is no proper system of accountancy by which we may be able to see which particular branch is responsible for the leakage, and which particular branch is profitable. I do say that we can never regard this Department as being worked on a satisfactory footing until accounts are presented to Parliament in such a way that we may know exactly how each branch stands. We are told that quite a new system of keeping accounts has been introduced. It may be new. I do not doubt it. It may be regarded by the officials as a vast improvement upon any previous system. But, so far, it does not enable Parliament and the country to understand the business side of this great business undertaking, and therefore from our point of view the new system is not one whit better than the old one. Also, dealing with the same Department, I should like to ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General whether the Department has yet received any communication from the meeting of telegraphists held in Sydney yesterday, at which four " demands " were formulated. The first was -

That this meeting demand that no alteration in staffs take place until after consideration of the Royal Commission's report, and that all voting in favour sign the resolution.

The second " demand " was -

That this meeting strongly resents the Commissioner's action in repudiating his ruling, as laid down in his classification scheme, that six hours be a day's duty for telegraphists in the Head Office, and seven hours in country offices.

The third " demand " was -

That the executive telegraph to the Prime Minister, asking him to have the introduction of broken shifts and hours of duty lengthened beyond their statutory limit in the Sydney Head Office postponed until our delegates interview the Postmaster-General in Melbourne on Tuesday.

The fourth " demand " was -

That if the demand of this meeting on the Prime Minister for postponement is not complied with, Head Office telegraphists ignore broken shifts, and sign on their usual staffs on Monday.

I should like to know whether a communication conveying these resolutions has been received bv the Postmaster-General, and whether ii is the intention of the Government to comply with the " demands " ? It will be interesting, both 1:0 the general public and to these telegraphists, to know at once whether these " demands " upon the Government are to be met in the same way as they have been submitted.

Passing from the Post and Telegraph Department, I have to express a regret, which I believe will be shared by all members of the Senate, that, so far, the Government have given no indication of having developed, or even considered, a policy in relation to the Northern Territory. Whatever differences of opinion may have existed with regard to the terms upon which the Commonwealth should take over that vast area, there can be none, and will be none, as to the fact that it is one of the big tasks awaiting Australia to open up and develop that country. It was, however, idle for us to take over the Northern Territory if we are to leave it there. We might just as well have left it to South Australia as have it remaining idle under our control. It was a public pronouncement that we accepted the responsibility of opening up and developing the Territory.

Senator Findley - Did you expect us to have developed it already?

Senator MILLEN - I did not expect the Government to develop the Territory, nor do I ever expect them to do so. But I did expect that within eighteen or twenty months they would have brought down some proposals, or at least have given us an indication of their intentions. If they had merely said that they were preparing a scheme which they hoped to submit to Parliament the position would be different, but so far as the Senate is aware we are not one whit further ahead to-day than we were when we signed the agreement wilh South Australia.

Senator Chataway - They have reversed the policy of South Australia about subsidizing prospecting parties.

Senator MILLEN - All that the Government appears to have done has been to pass Ordinances regarding licences and the control of aborigines, but they have not done anything which has taken us one step further towards the development of the Territory. Are we to allow it to remain a dead loss as it is, or are we going to vigorously approach the solution of this problem? I am convinced that the one great problem which confronts Australia to-day, which is going to tax all our resources, financial and otherwise, and which is making the heaviest demand on the capacity of Parliament, and I believe on the capacity of people outside, is the opening up and satisfactory development and settlement of this great Territory. It presents problems from which other portions of Australia are entirely free. We all know the capacity of any Ministry to find excuses and apologies for failure to act, but I cannot help thinking that, quite apart from party politics, honorable senators recognise that the Northern . Territory represents a great responsibility and a great danger. I believe that every honorable senator regrets with me, even if he does not make the statement publicly, that we have not made more progress towards the satisfactory solution of this great problem.

I desire to refer now to a matter which I admit at once is on a very much lower level, so far as importance is concerned, and that is the trouble which appears likely to arise from the action of the Home Affairs Department in regard to the procedure for the adjudication on the designs for the Capital. Seeing that Parliament has decided on a course of action, we are entitled, I think, to seek the best assistance and advice which the civilized world can offer to us. When we find that the Minister, for what appears to be a quite insufficient reason, has decided that he will only proceed in one way, and that the members of the great unions which are concerned in the matter will proceed only according to union rules-

Senator Givens - Are you advocating unionism now?

Senator MILLEN - I always advocate unionism, particularly when I am in the union, but that does not put me in the position of those who, whilst standing by their unions, denounce every one else.

Senator Rae - Who does?

Senator MILLEN - Ask Senator Givens.

Senator Givens - cannot supply the information.

Senator MILLEN - This is the first time that the honorable senator has not pretended to be able to do so. In connexion with the designs for the Capital we certainly want the best ideas which the world can offer us. Irrespective of our differences as to the location of the Capital, we agree that we want to build up a city of which Australia can be justly proud for all time. That means that we have a right to ask for the assistance of the most experienced men in the world. But the procedure adopted by the Department, which might, at first, have appeared to be right and proper, is now shown to be of such a character that it will exclude from the competition all those who have made names for themselves in the world as the designers of cities.

Senator Givens - Architects are not the only designers of cities.

Senator MILLEN - It is not the architects alone who are concerned. What is the difficulty in the way except it is the unfortunate frame of mind into which the Department has allowed itself to drift - that, because it has said that it will do something, it is going to do it. There is no virtue in the particular composition of any Board. The Minister has said that he intends to appoint a certain Board. Those whose assistance we seek would like to know its composition before they make a start. It is only fair that they should know who are to adjudicate on the designs. If I were a competitor, I should like to know something about the men who were to judge my work ; and if the information sought is not given, men of outstanding ability may, after going to great trouble and expense, find that their work has been turned down because of the incompetence or inexperience of the judges.

Senator St Ledger - But the Minister of Home Affairs says that he could carry out any work on earth.

Senator MILLEN - I am not questioning that statement for a moment. The intending competitors are not asking the Minister to appoint a partial or incompetent Board. All that they want is a Board composed of men whose standing will afford a guarantee that they will be competent judges. Is that an unfair request? Yet, because the Department has said that' it will proceed in its own way, it will not even make an intimation as to the composition of the Board later.

Senator Rae - Is it possible to get any adjudicators as competent to judge as those who are expected to take part in the competition ?

Senator MILLEN - If that is so, the correct course for the Government would be to ask one of the men who have decided to stand out to become an adjudicator. Every competitor wants to feel" assured that his plans will be submitted to competent judges. On more than one occasion, when a Government has required the services of a professional man, it has asked the association representing the profession to make a nomination. That course has been taken on more than one occasion in New South Wales, and, if I recollect aright, a Commonwealth Government - I think it was the previous Government - asked the Association of Accountants to nominate a man for a certain purpose. That course might be taken in this instance, or, if the Minister should think that it would whittle away his dignity too much, let him select three competent men, whose names will be a guarantee to the competitors that their plans will be adjudicated on by a Board whose composition and integrity no one can challenge. It will be little short of a disaster if, because of the difficulty which has arisen, we receive plans from only those who, however great their ability, may hardly possess the experience which older members of the profession can rightly claim.

Senator Givens - Marconi had no experience when he invented wireless telegraphy.

Senator MILLEN - He had had a great deal of experience as an electrician.

Senator Givens - No, because he was a very young man.

Senator MILLEN - According to the honorable senator, the men who ought to be placed on this Board are budding schoolboys from a bush township, who, although they have had no experience, may become great architects and engineers. I know my honorable friend's tendency to humour, but I ask him not to stretch it too far on an occasion of this kind.

Senator Givens - Any of these villages might possess a great genius, like the "mute inglorious Milton" of the country churchyard.

Senator MILLEN - That is right, but the mute Miltons do not appear in this Chamber.

Senator Givens - Certainly not in the guise of the Millens in the Chamber.

Senator MILLEN - Some time ago a Bill was passed by the Senate authorizing the use of a franking machine, and if I recollect aright, it became law.

Senator McGregor - No; it was not passed by the other House.

Senator MILLEN - Is it intended to revive this measure? When it was first brought before the Senate I expressed very grave doubts as to whether it would not be possible to tamper with the mechanism; but at a later period, after having had an opportunity to examine the construction of the machine, to see it at work, and to ascertain the experience of New Zealand, I came to believe, that it would be labour saving as well as economical to the Department, and a very great convenience to the public. I remember the Bill passing through the Senate. It is a simple little measure which might with advantage be revived. If there is still any doubt in the mind of any one as to whether the franking machine could be tampered with, the best course for the Commonwealth to take when the Bill was passed, would be to install the machine in telegraph and stamp offices, and not to allow it first to pass into the hands of private firms. At present when a man wishes to send a telegram he hands over the money and receives a stamp, which he is required to attach to the telegraph form. If this franking machine were introduced into telegraph offices the clerks at the counter would receive a telegram and the money, and the machine would make an impress on the stamp at the same time as it registered the amount received. That would be a very great advantage indeed.

Senator Givens - There is always a possibility of these machines being faked.

Senator MILLEN - I entered into the discussion of the measure with that belief, but I have since come to the conclusion that with ordinary precautions the machine would be as safe as any other machine which is being utilized.

Senator Givens - The genius who invents a machine can always fake it.

Senator MILLEN - T am not doubting my friend's capacity to tamper with any machine - political or otherwise. Take, for instance, the cash register. Whether my honorable friend can give me his personal assurance that the cash register can be tampered with or not, it does not affect the question that it is being used more largely every day of our lives. Why? Because it is a convenience. If that is a convenience to private firms, surely this franking machine - which is at once a cash register and a stamping machine - would be a still greater convenience - a convenience both to the Department and to the public. I trust that the Government will take an opportunity to revive the Bill to which I refer. Apparently it has not very much business to submit when it allows members of its own party to spend two or three days in discussing whether or not a man should be allowed to give a medal to somebody else. Surely it can find time to again introduce the useful measure I have mentioned?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Assisted by the Leader of the Opposition.

Senator MILLEN - Yesterday, time was so scandalously monopolized by one or two honorable senators, that I never had an opportunity of expressing my views on a matter which, at one time, seemed to me to be leading up to a national crisis.

Senator Givens - It is not the first time you have found yourself in that predicament.

Senator MILLEN - No; I have known the Senate to come to a decision on a big question when the honorable senator, and myself, never had an opportunity of saying what we thought.

Senator Barker - It was a unique experience, I expect.

Senator MILLEN - It was, as far as Senator Givens is concerned. Passing away from this banter, I wish to say a few words on another question which, to my mind, is an all-important one. That is the question of immigration. Curiously enough, we seem to have drifted into this position : that whilst the Government profess a desire to assist immigration they are not doing very much to -stimulate it. I have no wish to raise a discussion upon the general question of immigration to the settled States, but I do suggest that, if the Government can screw their courage to the sticking point in the matter of formulating a policy for the Northern Territory, they might simultaneously address themselves much more strenuously than they they have done to the question of immigration. Whatever difference of opinion may exist upon other points, there ought not to be any difference in our minds as to what we should do with the Northern Territory. It does appear to me that any scheme to develop that Territory must have closely associated with it a policy of immigration.

Senator Rae - We must have a big policy of State enterprise to induce immigrants to go there.

Senator MILLEN - That may be so. The task which we have taken in hand there will call for a very much more vigorous display of what Senator Rae euphemistically calls "State enterprise" than has been displayed in the older States. The conditions are so different from those which obtain in the older States, and what is more, the element of time enters so seriously into the consideration of the question of the settlement of that Territory.

Senator Rae - Some of the earlier settlers of Australia came out here for very serious reasons.

Senator MILLEN - I do not think that the honorable senator ought to load up our debates with any family reminiscences. But, speaking seriously, events of worldwide import, with which we are all familiar, must bring home to us the fact that, to-day, time is the biggest element in the contract of settling the Northern Territory. We must act, and act promptly. We cannot allow that Territory to be settled by the procedure which obtained in the older States - that is, by the slow method of ordinary pastoral development, followed by early farming settlements, and later by the establishment of towns, &c. In my judgment, we must make an effort to equip a community in the Northern Territory almost from the start. That means that we require not only any surplus people that there may be in the rest of Australia, but that we must attract a population to that Territory from abroad. This result can only be accomplished side by side with a vigorous immigration policy.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Surely New South Wales is doing well enough.

Senator MILLEN - I have endeavoured to omit all debatable elements connected with this proposition. I wish only to centre thought upon the necessity for promptly establishing settlement in the Northern Territory. We cannot hope adequately to develop that portion of Australia unless we adopt in connexion with it a very vigorous immigration policy.

Senator Rae - It must be under the fostering care of a State.

Senator MILLEN - I do not wish to anticipate difficulties. I admit that they are present. But differ as we mayupon the question of immigration in regard to the settled States, there ought to be absolute unanimity on the point that in the NorthernTerritory there is room for all the immigrants whom we can attract. If we wish to people that country, we must look abroad for our settlers. Of course, the terms and conditions upon which they may be brought out from other lands is a matter for consideration at a later stage. On the main point, however, there ought to be a. pleasing unanimity.

There are other matters which I should like to discuss, but I recognise the necessity for passing this Bill to-day. In submitting this motion, the Vice-President of the Executive Council expressed the hope that before the Supply which is now asked has been exhausted, the Treasurer will have submitted his Budget. I hope that in making that statement the honorable gentleman was unduly pessimistic If we are to wait two months for the presentation of the Budget, five months of the current financial year will have elapsed. I do not know of any occasion upon which a Budget has been presented so late in the year. It has not occurred previously in the history of the Federation.

Senator Long - Surely the reason is obvious.

Senator MILLEN - I admit that it is obvious. But what is the reason which Senator Long has in his mind?

Senator Long - Has the Parliament ever met so late in the year before?

Senator McGregor - Who said that the Budget would be delayed for two months?

Senator MILLEN - I have already said that I hoped the Vice-President of the Executive Council was unduly pessimistic in the statement which he made today. He merely expressed the hope that before the Supply which we are now asked to grant becomes exhausted the Budget will have been presented. I should have liked an absolute assurance that it will be submitted at an early date, instead of the pious expression of a hope. We all know how Ministerial hopes are often disappointed.

Senator Findley - The Prime Minister announced yesterday that the Budget will be delivered within a fortnight.

Senator MILLEN - But I am not a member of the other branch of the Legislature. No doubt it is a misfortune to it that I am not. The Vice-President of the

Executive Council should have given us the same assurance in respect of the Budget that has been given elsewhere. With Sena

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