5th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m. and read prayers.
– I ask the Prime Minis ter, in the absence of the AttorneyGeneral, whether he proposes to provide for the punishment of persons committing a breach of the provisions of the Government Preference Prohibition Bill. I might explain that I had not an opportunity to get this matter dealt with when the Bill was in Committee.
– I remind the honorable member that the measure about which he asks has now gone from the purview of the House. However, the Government will consider the matter.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether the Naval Board has given up control of the movements of the Australian Fleet, and whether it is true that eligible Australians have been passed over and British naval and military men appointed to posts that Australians could well fill?
– My belief is that there has been no change whatever in the conduct of affairs by the Naval Board.
– I ask the Honorary Minister if attempts have been made to issue to members bound copies of the Defence regulations, with which we are so much concerned. I notice that many questions arise regarding these regulations, and it seems to me that bound copies of them are necessary to the House. Has the Minister of Defence taken steps to have the regulations bound, and issued to members?
– I direct the honorable members’s attention to an answer given about ten days ago to, I think, the honorable member for Batman. That answer will afford him the information which he desires.
– It is stated in the newspapers that the introduction of wireless telegraphy on land makes it possible that there will be a shortage of competent operators for the service of the Postal Department. I ask the PostmasterGeneral, therefore, whether he does not consider that it would be in the best interests of Australia to give every facility to experimenting wireless operators, so that there may. be qualified operators available when the demand for more arises?
– There isnot likely to be a shortage of operators, because any one who canuse the Morse instruments can receive wireless messages. There are a large number of amateurs already licensed to experiment with wireless telegraphy.
– The other day the honorable member for Dalley asked a question concerning the Fitzroy Dock, ‘ and yesterday he wished to know whether anything had been done in regard to it. An . urgent report was asked for by the Minister on the 17th instant, and an urgent reminder has since been sent, but the report had hot been received at lunch-time to-day. I. hope however, to give my honorable friend information later on.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister of Defence what steps are being taken to erect drill halls in the various suburbs, seeing that the money needed for their erection has been voted by Parliament?
– I understand that the passing of the Loan Bill is vital in this matter. When it is passed we shall be ready to go ahead. But we are already pushing on with the work of erecting drill halls where we have the sites and that is possible.
– I wish to know from the Prime Minister if the Government has lifted the quarantine embargo on Sydney ?
– The Government is still awaiting the report of the Health Officers who are sitting in conference.
– I am credibly informed that correspondence has passed between the Minister of Trade and Customs and the members of the Conference, and that the quarantine embargo has been virtually lifted. I ask if that is so?
– I have not yet received officially the report of the Conference, but I understand that it is being signed, and that I am likely to receive it to-day.
– Is the Minister aware that small-pox is spreading in the country districts of New South Wales, cases having occurred in my electorate? Will he take steps to safeguard country towns?
– I have no knowledge concerning the cases to which the honorable member refers, but the Commonwealth regulation does not apply to persons whose movements are confined to New South Wales.
– In view of the occurrence of small-pox in Tumut, Cootamundra, and Albury, in the Hume electorate, will the Minister see that, before the Government acts on the recommendation to remove the quarantine that has been placed on Sydney, the Government of New South Wales promises to safeguard the country districts of the State from the epidemic?
– Cases of small-pox have occurred’ in.the country districts of New South Wales, but the Commonwealth regulations which were recently framed deal only with persons moving between Sydney and States other than New South Wales; our regulations do not affect the movements of persons between Sydney and the country districts of New South Wales. The obligation of protecting the country districts of New South Wales from infection from the metroplitan area was left, and still remains, with the State Executive.
– During the endeavour of the Federal Government to prevent the spread of small-pox it was necessary for certain State servants to work considerable overtime. Does the Minister of Trade and Customs not think that those men ought to be paid for that overtime?
– The Commonwealth Government do not interfere between the State Ministers and their public servants. The matter is purely one for arrangement between the State Governments and their employes.
– Have the Government taken any action on the resolution passed by the House that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into electoral matters; and, ifnot, can the Prime Minister inform us when the Commission is likely to be appointed?
– Shortly, I hope.
asked the Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Will he inform the House as to - (a) (The number of boys who have had fines recorded against them for failing to comply with the compulsory sections of the Defence Act ;. (b) the number who have paid the fines; (c) the number who were sent to prison for failing to pay the fines;(d) the number who were sent to barracks for military detention; (e) the number who have had to undergo solitary confinement ; and (f) the number who were placed on a bread-amd-water diet during such imprisonment?
– The answer to the. honorable member’s question is -
Steps are being taken to obtain the information, desired, but as it will involve communication with all Area officers and Commanding Officers throughout the’ Commonwealth, . it will necessarily be some time beforeit can be supplied.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
MINISTERS laid on the table the fol lowing papers: -
Department of the Treasury -
Lady Bowen Hospital and Maternity Allow ances - Correspondence re.
Department of Trade and Customs- Regulations -
Seamen’s Compensation Act - Statutory Rules 1913, No. 279.
Wood Pulp and Rock Phosphate Bounties Act - Statutory Rules 1913, No. 278.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This Bill does not appoint or give authority to the Government to appoint a Committee of Public Accounts; that is left to this House, which will have complete control over the appointment, and will provide for the duties of the Committee. The House will be called on to frame Standing Orders, and can thus give the Committee such duties as may be desired. It is necessary that the proposed Committee shall have power to sit during the recess, and that the work done by it may be followed up by a new Committee, so that there may be continuity. It will, therefore, be seen that the powers and duties of the Committee are to be regulated by Standing Orders. This is not a party question ,in any waywhatever.All parties and every member are interested in having a cereful scrutiny of the public expenditure.
– Does the Treasurer infer that there has not been careful scrutiny in the past?
– I think that in globo the House exercises supervision, but there is no such minute scrutiny that the Committee will be capable of. For instance, if a subject came up, and there was an expression of opinion that the expenditure had been excessive or not very wise, the proposed Committee could investigate the question at once. The House will direct the Committee as to any matter which it is deemed necessary to investigate, and the Committee itself will have power to take action without special direction from the House. I do not wish to say for a moment that there has not been fair scrutiny in the past.
– The honorable member would not say that £3,000,000 had been spent for which there was no account?
– I think that the provisions of the Audit Act have been carried out, as, indeed, they must be so long as we have an Auditor-General. The duties of the Committee will be both judicial and inquisitorial; and, perhaps, the only complaint - although I do not know that there will be any - will be from the Departments whose affairs are investigated, because, no doubt, there will sometimes be trouble in satisfying the Committee. This Committee, as I say, will have no powers that this House does not give it by Standing Orders. The Committee will hold office during the session, and be re-appointed at the beginning of each session.
– How will the appointments be made?
– By the House.
– By vote, or how?
– I should hope that the Committee will be representative of both sides of the House.
– The right honorable member does not think that for a moment.
– I think the Committee ought to be representative of both sides of the House.
– It will be a novelty!
– I think it ought to be representative of bothsides of the House, for if it is not, it will not be satisfactory. Clause 2 is as follows: -
Every Committee of Public Accounts appointed by the House of Representatives shall hold office as such committee, and may exercise all the powers conferred upon it by any standing orders or Act or otherwise, for the session during which it is appointed and thence until -
the day before the commencement of the next session, or
the expiry of the House of Representa tives by effluxion of time, or
the dissolution of the House of Repre sentatives, whichever first happens.
I hope that the Committee, when appointed, will consist of honorable members who will be able to attend to the duties. As the representative of a fardistant State, I say that it would be no use appointing a member from that State if he were not going to remain in Melbourne; and we shall have to be very careful in appointing members who not only possess the necessary qualifications for making such investigations, but who will be able to adequately attend to the duties. Of course, though I regret to say it, the appointments to this Committee will be honorary, because the Constitution forbids any payment being made to members of Parliament. However, outofpocket expenses will be allowed in the ordinary way.
– What will they be?
– Travelling expenses, or any other expenses necessitated. I would like to show the scope of the Standing Orders usual in the case of these Committees, and I shall read an extract from those of the Victorian Legislative Assembly, which seem to be very good. They were approved on the 29th January, 1895; and I shall read standing order 169a, which says -
At the commencement of every Session of Parliament the Legislative Assembly, according to the practice of Parliament with reference to the appointment of Select Committees, shall appoint a Select Committee of seven members, to be called the Committee of Public Accounts, with power to send for persons, papers, and records.
The duties of the Committee of Public Accounts shall be as follow : -
To examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the colony, and to bring under the notice of the Legislative Assembly any items in those accounts, or any circumstances connected with : them, to which it may consider the attention of the Legislative. Assembly should be directed.
To report to the House any alteration which may appear to the Committee desirable to be introduced in the form of or method of keeping the Public Accounts, or in the mode of receipt, control, issue, or payment of the public money.
To inquire into and report upon any questions which may have arisen in connexion with the Public Accounts.
To inquire into and report to the Legis lative Assembly upon the investment of and dealings with the funds of Commissioners of Savings Bank.
To deal with any special references that may be made to them by the Legis lative Assembly.
Upon motion in the usual manner made by any member of the Legislative Assembly any matter of public account, or any question of finance, may be referred to the Committee. The Committee, as soon as conveniently practicable, shall deal with the matter so referred to them, and report to the Legislative Assembly the result of their inquiries.
I take it these Standing Orders should prove a guide to us when framing our Standing Orders for this proposed Committee. In the British House of Commons it is the practice to appoint a Committee of Public Accounts, and a great amount of work is done by it. There can be no doubt its reports have greatly assisted in the understanding of the public finances, as well as in bringing about economies. For example, I shall quote an extract from their report in 1904 on Naval Works Acts Accounts -
Your Committee examined closely into the question of estimates for work proceeding under these Acts, and whilst they acknowledge the difficulty referred to by the Director . of Works of giving an accurate estimate of expenditure on the initial years of a new work, there ought to be no such difficulty in fairly estimating the annual expenditure on works in progress. They are also of opinion that Parliament should not be asked on a token vote of a few thousand pounds to commit itself to the construction of a new work, of which the total cost may run into millions, and of which not even on approximate estimate is submitted.
My right honorable friend will know from experience that it is not an uncommon experience in our own case.
– It is inseparable from Commonwealth development.
– Sometimes a very small amount is asked for at first for a work the ultimate cost of which runs into an immense amount of money which was not anticipated by the House at the time of agreeing to the first outlay.
– I always put a marginal note to explain that.
-It is quite rightto do so. I always . insist on that course being adopted. At the same time, from a small beginning great things result, and if we embark on a project Ministers ought to be able to tell the House where the expenditure is leading them. Those who embark on these projects can generally see far enough to ascertain, to some extent, what will be the ultimate result. The report of the House of Commons Committee, in 1907, in regard to the payment of commissions to stewards by certain contractors, says -
A case of payment of secret commission to certain stewards in one of the Naval Depots accidentally brought to light grave irregularities, which were very properly made the subject of severe disciplinary measures, upon which your Committee offer no criticism ; but they recommend that by the display of notices or other means more care shall be taken to impress upon all employes of the Admiralty, as well as upon contractors, the illegality and danger of accepting or offering any kind of commission.
Then, again, in regard to contract work, the same Committee reported in 1907 -
An unusual procedure was followed in connexion with the contracts for H.M.S. Invincible, Inflexible, and Indomitable, for which (without Treasury sanction) no competitive tenders were invited. In explanation it was stated that the Board of Admiralty particularly desired to keep the designs of this class of vessel secret as long as possible. They therefore invited only three firms of proved merit to tender. The Admiralty compared the tenders with the estimates which they themselves had prepared, and finding them to be “practically identical” they accepted them. Your Committee give due weight to the importance of keeping the design of those vessels as secret as possible, but they desire to point out that when any such departure from the usual practice is proposed the sanction of the Treasury should at once be sought. If the arguments urged in favour of the proceeding are not good enough to influence the Treasury at the time they can be of little value when offered as excuses after the event.
Again, in regard to exchange of information, the Committee in 1907 reported -
Attention having been drawn to a case in which the Admiralty purchased goods from a firm which was supplying the War Office with similar articles on more advantageous terms, arrangements have been made and rules drawn up to ensure a mutual exchange of information on such matters. Your Committee are of opinion that this should lead to economy, and suggest, for the consideration of the Treasury, that it may be advantageous to extend the system to other Departments which have to buy large quantities of stores.
In our own case Tender Boards, when they are established by law, will, I hope, help this being done, and insure economy. I am not sure that it is not done to some extent now, though there is no statutory power. But when De partments order goods separately, sometimes one Department is paying more than another; also, it very often happens that the contract price is lower than the price one Department may pay buying somewhere else, instead of going to the contractor. The Committee of the House of Commons in the same year (1907) reported as follows: -
Unauthorized Sale of Government Ammunition.
A general dealer at Portsmouth was discovered to have in his stock 39,500 cartridges for use with the Morris tube, and of this amount 22,400 were marked Government property. It appears probable that this ammunition was sold to him in small lots by men who had pilfered it at the ranges, and steps have now been taken to safeguard the ammunition issued for practice. Your Committee would suggest that the legality of selling Government stores in this way should be tested by a case in the Courts, and that if a conviction is secured steps should be taken, by advertisement or otherwise, to warn all persona from engaging in such traffic.
Here is another specimen of the Committee’s work in 1907 -
Salaries, Etc., War Office.
In the third report for last year, your Committee called attention to the increased cost of the Headquarters Staff, and to the fact that the reduction in the cost of the District Staffs, foreshadowed by the Esher Committee, had not taken place. The question has since been the subject of correspondence between the Treasury and the War Office, and before next year a comparative statement will be laid before the Committee, supplying full information. Your Committee must, therefore, with some reluctance, again postpone consideration of this matter.
Again, in 1907, there is a report, which shows that the Committee was dealing with a matter which is interesting to ourselves -
Army Ordnance Factories - Comparison of Trade and Factory Prices.
The Comptroller and Auditor-General states that at his request the War Office have agreed to furnish him with the documents by which a comparison can be made between trade and factory prices, which he believes will be useful. Hitherto the objection has been raised that such a return would tend to disclose secret matters, but the Comptroller and Auditor-General will use it confidentially.
Another report made in 1907 deals with Military Works, Loan Account; purchase of lands taken, and the estimated value and ultimate cost. It states -
A statement is furnished in pursuance of a recommendation of your Committee showing details of expenditure incurred in connexion with the purchase of land under the Military Works Loan.
This table does not reveal the difference between the valuation and the cost of the land, but your Committee accept the answer of the accounting officer that this matter will be considered with a view to the amplification of the return next year.
In regard to the Bankruptcy Department of the Board of Trade, the Committee reported in the same year -
A revised form of estimate approved by the Treasury was submitted to your Committee in which it was proposed that the Bankruptcy Vote should be divided and the companies part of it placed under the Board of Trade Estimate. Your Committee agree that the suggested form of estimate be adopted.
Then, again, in 1907 the House of Commons Committee, dealing with ordnance factories’ manufacturing accounts, and a comparison of trade and factory prices, reported -
At present there are various considerations which tend to interfere with a direct comparison of factory and trade prices, and it would appear that the recommendations of a Committee on Government Factories and Workshops, presided over by Sir G. H. Murray (which are accepted in the main by the Army Council), will make the comparison -still more difficult.
The Committee recommends that the normal establishment of the Arsenal shall be fixed at the minimum, which will enable the output to be increased on emergency to the greatest possible extent in the shortest possible time. This policy is clearly incompatible with the most economical method of production, as it entails the upkeep of unused buildings and machinery maintained with a view to expansion, the cost of which tends to swell the price of the Ordnance Factory productions. Your Committee are of opinion that it is of the utmost importance that the real cost should be shown of articles produced in Government factories.
As I have already stated, the scope of the Committee’s work is left for the consideration of the House when framing the Standing Orders. From the particulars given it will be seen that the Public Accounts Committee will obtain an insight into the financial operations of the several Departments, and that there will be a number of members who will have inside information and be qualified to give information in regard to financial . matters before the House. The value of this assistance will be more readily appreciated when it is remembered that such assistance will be given by members who are free to criticise as well as to explain. The Government think that the strongest light should be Brought to bear on the public finances, and that the House should be placed in the best possible position in dealing with them. The appointment of the Committee will, it is hoped, assist in this direction. However we view this matter, we must come to the conclusion that the appointment ‘of a Public Accounts Committee will be advantageous to the country. We desire the fiercest light of publicity to shine upon our public expenditure. There should be no secrets regarding it. This House has the right to investigate any matter of public expenditure, but owing to the exigencies of public life, and want of time, Parliament is often unable to look closely into many matters which it would like to investigate. This Committee will be always at work. It will be a body representative of both sides of the House, and will have power to inquire into, not only matters concerning which the House directs an inquiry, but any question that, of its own motion, it thinks should be investigated. No doubt from the departmental point of view, it will involve a good deal of trouble.
– Why should it?
– I mean that the investigations will probably take up a good deal of time. But the more we investigate and the closer we examine our public accounts the better, not only for the Commonwealth, but for the Government itself.
.- I ask for the adjournment of the .debate.
– I am ready to speak at once.
– If the right honorable member seriously desires the debate to be adjourned, I shall agree to his request, but it seems to me that this is only a little Bill, and that it should not be necessary to adjourn the debate upon it.
– Let the honorable member for Parkes speak now, at all events.
– Very well; if the right honorable member for Wide Bay desires it the debate can then be adjourned until to-morrow.
-I am not taking obligements offered in that way.
– Is it the right honorable member’s practice to ask for the adjournment of the debate on every Bill?
– The same as the Prime Minister did when he ‘was the Leader of the Opposition.
– But we never got it
– The request for’ the- adjournment of a debate was always granted.
– I do not remember an instance in which the honorable member’s request for the adjournment of such a debate was not granted to him when he was the Leader of the Opposition.
– I can recall to mind one occasion, and that was when the second reading of the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was moved.
– The honorable gentleman was not refused the adjournment. The honorable gentleman refuses to agree to the adjournment of the debate?
– I am prepared to speak.
– Very well; and the Leader of the Opposition can have the
Adjournment later on if he desires it.
– If the Leader of the Opposition sits down now he will lose his opportunity to speak.
– I do not intend to abrogate my right. The Treasurer, although he has supplied considerable information, has certainly not given us full particulars with regard to this Bill. He stated that there were certain reasons for its introduction, but he did not give us any illustrations. He quoted from the Standing Orders of the Victorian Parliament in regard to the State Public Accounts Committee, but he made no reference to the position occupied in this respect by New South Wales. Then, again, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, to which he has referred extensively, occupies quite a different position from that which a Commonwealth Committee would occupy, although it has been shown that a Committee of Public Accounts is of some value in elucidating the details of certain expenditure, and in checking what might be certain abuses. With all due respect, I say that the Victorian Committee of Public Accounts is practically useless, except to report to Parliament. I have not investigated the matter carefully, because I did not know the lines on which the Treasurer proposed to proceed ; but I understand that the Victorian Committee of Public Accounts reports to Parliament, and that upon its report action may or may not he taken.
– Hear, hear !
– In the case of the last two reports furnished by it, no action has been taken. If the Government intend to establish this Committe on such lines, I venture to predict that its work will be in vain, so far as the protection of the public accounts is concerned.
– The Treasurer cannot give up his responsibilities.
– And I hope that no Parliament will ever ask the Treasurer or the Government of the day to shirk responsibility. If the desire of the Government in establishing this Committee of Public Accounts is to transfer to it some share of its responsibility, I shall be against this proposal altogether.
– Not at all. The Committee will report for the information of the House.
– Quite so. The AttorneyGeneral has interjected that a Committee of this kind cannot take over the entire responsibility for the public accounts, which rests primarily with the Treasurer, and then with the whole Government. But it may, and will, in my opinion, prove advantageous in removing misunderings on the part of honest people. It will also prevent humbugs and frauds from disseminating false information, to the disadvantage of the Government of the day or ofhonorable members. This is becoming all too common in these times. Even the present Ministers, when in a position of greater freedom, did not hesitate to do it, and have not had the manliness to withdraw statements that they must know to be absolutely misleading and wrong. These are the advantages to be expected from the appointment of a Committee of Public Accounts. There are also disadvantages. In a new country it is necessary that works that are proposed shall be proceeded with as speedily as possible. That may not be always necessary in an old country. If the Committee is to be effective, it should have the power to recommend the House that no further action be taken in a certain matter until it reports. It would be a bold and brave Government that would proceed in the face of such a recommendation. But in a young country like this, a delay in connexion with urgent public works might mean a loss ten times as great as any saving that the Committee could suggest. We always assume that our proposals are wise, although sometimes they may not be so. A substantial number of honorable members believed that an enterprising policy of public works was a mistake, and they would have been glad to put a stop to it: In my opinion, there would have been a financial loss to the Commonwealth if this policy had not been followed. I do not say that the men appointed to the Committee will be less capable than the average capacity of the House. Far from it. One of the main points that the Treasurer tried to make was that in the Estimates small sums are sometimes proposed for particular works, and that that is wrong and dangerous.
– In cases in which it is not clearly stated that the ultimate cost of the works will be very much larger.
-In all the Estimates with which I have had anything to do, when a small sum appeared in connexion with a work which would require further expenditure, there was a marginal note to inform the reader that the proposed vote would only cover a portion of the total expenditure.
– But sometimes the Treasury Department does not know this.
– When in the Queensland Parliament, I urged that in the preparation of the Estimates a separate column should be used for* the statement of the estimated total cost of proposed works. That would get over the difficulty; but it is not easy to bring about changes of this kind. On one occasion a change was made in the preparation of our Estimates, but the old system has since been reverted to. Parliament should be fully informed as to the obligations to which it commits itself in sanctioning any proposed expenditure. The Estimates should contain statements giving the probable total cost of proposed works.
– How could that be done in regard to the Federal Capital expenditure ?
– There would be no difficulty about it. We have complete information regarding the probable expenditure at the Federal Capital for a period of three or four years in advance. We have Estimates covering the cost of land, the cost of particular works, the cost of a railway, and the cost of certain public buildings. No Committee could obtain better information than the departmental officers have on matters of this kind. It is rather in what I might call minor matters that the Committee’s work would be valuable. It should be exceedingly valuable in regard to the presentation of accounts. I ask the Treasurer why he prefers a Committee on the Victorian model instead of one on the New South Wales model ?
– I do not. I spoke of the Victorian system by way of example. I could not deal with all.
– The Victorian and New South Wales Committees differ entirely in constitution. The Treasurer has given us no lead as to what he proposes, though one might expect from a Government so strong as this claims to be a definite statement of intention in the matter. Has the Bill been laid on the table with a view to the House making recommendations for the Government to accept?
– We shall have to submit Standing Orders for the approval of the House.
– The Treasurer did not give a single concrete instance warranting the introduction of the Bill.
– I thought that every one was fully seized of the fact.
– The New South WalesCommittee was established under the Audit Act of 1902. Its business is to inquire into, and report upon, any question which may have arisen in connexion with* the public accounts, and which may have been referred to it, either by a Minister of the Crown or by the AuditorGeneral, or by resolution of the Legislative Assembly. It must also inquire intoand report to the Legislative Assembly on all expenditure by a Minister made without authority of Parliament or appropriation. The Committee consists of five members of the Legislative Assembly, of whom none is a Minister of the Crown, and there is no remuneration, which I think is proper. The Committee possesses the same powers as the Committee of Elections and Qualifications in requiring the attendance of witnesses, and th& production of papers, documents, &c. It must present an annual report on all matters referred to it, and this report must be submitted to the Assembly, appended to the Auditor-General’s Report on Public: Accounts. The Committee is elected by the Assembly on the nomination of a Minister, and is appointed for the ParliamentThe Treasurer did not tell us why he prefers a Committee which is elected annually.
– The members of the Committee could always be re-elected.
– The annual election of the Committee would allow of a change of its personnel when a change of Government occurred, but were the Committee elected for the Parliament, its action would be more continuous, and the value of its reports would be greater. There is much to be said for the democratic principle of triennial election. The value of the Committee would depend upon the capacity of its members, but if itspersonnel were changed every session it could do very little good.
– The Committee should be appointed for the lifetime of the Parliament.
– I desired the adjournment of this discussion so that honorable members might have an opportunity to look into these matters. But this Parliament has become absolutely demoralized.
– We have just had three years of demoralization. During the whole time that the honorable member was in office, the Opposition was never listened to.
– On one occasion we listened to the Opposition for over forty hours, and never once applied the closure. The proposal of the Treasurer is to have the Committee elected annually.
– That is a mistake.
– I think so. In my opinion, the Committee should be elected for the Parliament. I do not wish that particular members should have a monopoly of the work of the Committee, but if we can get good men I think that the Committee’s personnel should not be changed loo frequently. It would be extremely undesirable to have any change made at short intervals; and I hope the Committee, however it may be constituted, will be appointed for the period of a Parliament.
– Otherwise it would be a party Committee.
– Well, supposing it was a party Committee. Some honorable members, apparently, have got it into their minds that party is a bad thing. That, however, is not my opinion, because a member may have the strongest party leanings, and yet be a man all the time. A sentiment has arisen amongst some honorable members that to mention party in connexion with a person is to degrade that person; but, as a fact, a member of Parliament who has not strong party convictions cannot be a successful public man at all. He may hold the strongest party convictions, and yet be fair and steadfast in every principle that makes a man a man. However, my own opinion is that if this Committee were composed of members all of one party, it would be useless. It would be of no help to the Government, though it would be an advantage to the Opposition, inasmuch as it would entitle them to say that the Government wished to screen all their financial defects behind a party committee.
– Such a Committee is not suggested.
– I do not assume that it is suggested, and even if it were, I am sure that it would not be accepted in this Parliament. The matters dealt with by the Committee of the House of Commons, as cited by the Treasurer, are all comparatively small, beyond the construction of the Inflexible and the Indomitable, and one other matter relating to secret commissions paid to public officers. This latter is very important. I heard it suggested, from time to time, during my term of office, that there were public officers and others who gained a benefit altogether apart from their salaries. However, I could never get one scrapof evidence to bear out that allegation. In my opinion, there could be no more disgraceful conduct in any public servant or other person than accepting secret commissions on purchases. I know that this is a common practice in business, and is regarded, as the honorable member for Parkes might say, as a trade usage, conveying no reflection on a man’s honour. To my mind, however, it is the gravest reflection that could rest on any public officer.
– Is the honorable member not confusing discounts or rebates with secret commissions?
– I am not. If a public officer, or any one with influence, by making recommendations, gets a secret payment for what he does
– It is bribery.
– Although it passes under the euphonious description of commission for services rendered.
– Such a man ought not to remain in the Public Service.
– The Treasurer is not to be complimented, inasmuch as he ought to have given us some outline of the proposed Standing Orders, so that we might know the views of the Government on the matter.
– He did indicate them.
– In the most general terms. I have just pointed out the difference between what is approved by the Treasurer and the Government, who incline to the practice in Victoria and the system adopted in New South Wales.
– I do not see much difference.
– I say that there is a good deal of difference, because in New South Wales the powers are much greater. I have no reason to object to the principle of the Bill. I do not believe that it will work any revolution in the public accounts ; and I am entirely against those who hope by this method to delay the constitutional works of the Commonwealth. It would have been impossible for any Committee of Public Accounts to investigate all the expenditure during the last three or four years; and now that the Government have time to look into matters, I hope that, if they discover that anything was amiss during that period, they will state it plainly to the House and the country. There was remarkable difficulty in creating new staffs in connexion with the expenditure of £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 on public works; and that this was done without serious blunder is a great compliment to the permanent officials, and no discredit to the late Government. Although. I approve of the principle of the Bill, I do not agree with the Treasurer as to the great advantages that will arise from it. Undoubtedly the measure will steady the public mind a great deal, and minimize the influence of people who are ever ready to suggest that the Government are abusing their trust in the conduct of affairs and the expenditure of public money. I offer no opposition to the second reading of the Bill.
– I should like to preface my few remarks with the statement that my mind is in an absolutely open condition. I am perfectly prepared to listen to all the observations that can be made on the Ministerial side insupport of the Bill, and equally ready to listen to the observations from honorable members opposite. Although this Bill may have been postedto me, I never saw it until half-an-hour ago ; and this disposes of any idea on the part of honorable members opposite that this question has been fully discussed in party meeting, or that we on this side are committed to any particular opinion with regard to the details. We ought at this stage to lay it down as an axiom that this is no party question. It is an attempt to improve our method of dealing with public business by delegating certain questions connected with public accounts to a Committee of the House. We have had a great many things said by honorable members opposite about the “ gag”as if the closure were an entirely new idea here. Honorable members opposite seem to forget that during the last three years
– Shall we all be allowed to discuss this matter?
– I must ask the honorable member for Parkes not to pursue that line of argument.
– I was merely going to say that during that time we had a sort of juggernaut, and all debate was put an end to on every measure put before us. I compliment the Government on being able to distinguish between mere obstruction, in which case they apply the closure, and discussion
– I ask the honorable member not to pursue that line.
– I have no intention to do so. I wish to compliment the Government on the distinction made between a measure like this, which is capable of discussion, and measures which we know honorable members opposite do not wish to discuss at all. On the present occasion, as I say, I am prepared to hear arguments from some of the most rabid members opposite; and I know there is a tendency to approach this question in the spirit of opposition, because it is introduced by the Treasurer. I am not at all satisfied that the way in which this question is dealt with in the Bill is the way which is likely to be most useful to the House. The Bill seems to me to be a. mere skeleton; it proposes no more than that there shall be a Committee of Public Accounts. We have no information whatever as to the extent to which the Committee shall be empowered to act, to which the Treasurer will hold himself bound by its findings, or to which the House will respect its recommendations.
– That will all be in the Standing Orders.
– But at present there are no Standing Orders bearing on the Bill. The Treasurer has quoted a good deal about the Committee of the House of Commons, and also about a similar Committee which sits in Victoria; but from what I know of the House of Commons, there is practically no parallel between the way in which it conducts its business and the way in which business is conducted in this House. I have looked up the Victorian Standing Orders on the question, and I find them to be very short, and principally concerned with the appearance and calling of witnesses. There is nothing whatever to show how far the Committee is going to be empowered to deal with questions with any degree of finality.
– There is no finality.
– My first criticism is that this Bill is in the direction of a tendency we observe in all Parliaments. Affairs are becoming so complex in all Anglo-Saxon Parliaments, at all events, that it has been found necessary to delegate many powers to subordinate bodies, which, as the term implies, are intended to investigate certain problems, and submit recommendations to Parliament. We have already embarked on some sort of movement in this direction by proposing to establish a Public Works Committee. This is evidently intended to delegate to certain members of the House the right to investigate proposals for public works, and report, as is done in all the States. It is also proposed, I believe, to establish a Tender Board such as we find now in the case of the State Governments. These are found to relieve the central Government of a great deal of laborious work, and to relieve Parliament from matters of detail, the Board being authorized to inquire into all matters relating to tenders for public supplies, and report. We have also established an Inter-State Commission which is to relieve the Parliament of some of its duties, primarily those in connexion with the Tariff, making recommendations which it is for the House to adopt or reject.
– Would the honorable member define in the Statute the whole of the powers of the Committee ?
– No, not all, but at present I am only thinkingaloud ; for
I am prepared to hear the discussion on both sides; and I shall be glad to hear what the honorable member has to say in favour of his view that the Standing Orders method of making the necessary provision is the better one.. My own view is that as this proposal is not a party question, and as the desire is that the House should take the whole responsibility of fathering this Committee, and giving it existence, I should like to see the House take part in framing, for the conduct of the Committee, the rules or regulations which are now in Victoria embodied under the title of Standing Orders. I do not see why the House should not deal with this matter, and lay down for itself, as a body consisting of two parties, what the Committee should do and should not do, and how it should do anything it does do. That is my first thought.
– Do you propose that these regulations should be included in the Bill?
– I am not proposing anything at present. I have heard some arguments on both sides, and I should like to hear further argument. I can assure honorable members that I appreciate the attitude of keeping one’s mind open on such a question, especially when it is not a party question, and I shall be glad to hear other speeches one way or another; but my present inclination is that if we wish the House to regard this Committee as a body of its own creation, Parliament itself should be invited to take a hand in framing the rules and regulations by which the conduct of this Committee is to be ordered.
– The Standing Orders will be submitted for the approval of the House.
– The right honorable gentleman must recognise that there is a great distinction between what I am suggesting and what the honorable member proposes. Standing Orders are certainly brought to the House for approval ; but that is quite a different thing. We know they are not gone into in detail. They are simply laid on the table and approved of or disapproved of. They are not submitted to the Committee stage of microscopic examination to which a Bill is submitted, when members are invited to criticise the proposal verbally, and make alterations as required from time to time. That is my feeling about it, and it will be for the House to determine by-and-by whether what are called Standing Orders in the case of the State of Victoria should not be embodied in the Bill, so that the House itself will have some say in them as part of the Bill. The Treasurer has announced that the office is to be an honorary one. I have no objection to that.
– I said it had to be an honorary one.
– It is an unconscionable proposal to hand over to a Committee of the House an amount of financial supervision work which very few men can undertake.
– The Constitution will not allow payment to be made. It cannot be done unless you change the Constitution.
– The Treasurer has not been satisfied to say that there should be a Committee to investigate the expenditure on the Capital site, or on the Northern Territory, or on public works, or on Naval expenditure, or on Military expenditure; but he is proposing that a Committee, appointed without any remuneration, shall have thrown upon it an obligation to investigate the whole of the expenditure of this great Commonwealth, amounting to something like £25,000,000 a year. If I were asked to go on such a Committee under such conditions I should say at once that I could not afford the time. Parliament is sitting four days of the week, for six months in the year, when those who have visible means of support have no chance to look after their businesses; and, therefore, to ask those men to be prepared, during the succeeding six months, to investigate the whole of the £25,000,000 expenditure of the Commonwealth voluntarily, and without remuneration of any kind, and perhaps travel to many parts of the continent in order to carry out their work conscientiously, is to ask them to undertake an impossible task.
– And expect them to sit on the doorsteps of Ministers at the same time.
– That is a very fine figure of speech, but it is not necessary to go so far in one’s imagination to realize how impossible a proposal it is. It would be different if the Treasurer pro posed to have a number of Committees, one dealing with expenditure on the Capital site, one dealing with expenditure on public works, one dealing with the Northern Territory, another dealing with Naval expenditure, and still another dealing with Military expenditure. It would be within the province of any man, who has an occupation to look after, to say that he would be perfectly prepared to accept office on any one of these Committees, as the work would only take him, in the aggregate, about a month out of the six months. If we ask honorable members to accept office on any of these Committees, and give the House the benefit of their advice, I believe they will be prepared to do so. The position here is not the same as in England, where men go into the House of Commons, the bulk of them, after they have settled the bread-and-butter question for life, and have all their time to themselves. They are in London, and they are willing to sit on these big Committees in. order to win political promotion at some future time. We have an altogether different state of things here. We are busy men, and have to give up our occupations for many months of the year to come to Parliament, and when we are asked to investigate, and go all over the work that the Treasurer and his officers are going over to-day, I venture to say it is impracticable.
– The Committee would have our assistance.
– I know it would, but it would take the Committee the greater part of the six months to carry out that task, and I do not know any honorable member who would be prepared off-hand to say that he would go on to such a Committee, especially when a member of the Committee would not even get board fees or anything of the kind. I am not pleading for the establishment of the payment of Committees - I think that would be a dangerous precedent - but I do plead, so far as I can see the matter, the unwisdom of so comprehensive a proposal, and the impracticability of asking one Committee to go into the whole of these matters.
– Not the whole of them, I hope.
– The information the Treasurer has given us is. of very little use. I knowthe Treasurer has taken a great deal of trouble to enumerate instances in Great Britain in which similar Committees have operated, and no doubt from an English point of view, the information he has given is very interesting, but we should be very careful about arguing from analogy. I am rather afraid of analogy, but I maintain that the House of Commons conditions find no parallel in this matter. We are all busy men; all of us have some occupation - if it is not a regular one, it is an irregular one; and we have our families to look after. It takes a member of the House nearly a week or longer to come here from Queensland or Western Australia, and it takes him the same time to return. Consequently, he has to make his home in Melbourne for six months in the year. In England, however, a member of the House of Commons can run down from Scotland or Wales, or run up from Cornwall, in the night. Certainly, he can go to the House of Commons just as easily as an honorable member of this House can come here from Sydney. But, even in coming from Sydney, the whole week is gone if an honorable’ member attends to the business of the House. He leaves Sydney on Monday night, and gets back to Sydney on Saturday morning. What opportunity has a man to look after his own business in the half of Saturday, and the little bit of Monday that he has in Sydney? In the case of Queensland and Western Australian members, they have to leave their homes in their own States for six months.
– For the whole year.
– Yet we are asked to induce some of these men to form a Committee to investigate the whole of the finances of the Commonwealth. Is it practicable ? I do not think it is. Therefore, my opinion is that we should have, not one Committee, but several Committees. I quite recognise the general tendency in all Parliaments to delegate the work of the House to Committees, not necessarily to bind the House, but to make a thorough investigation of the problems involved, and give the House the benefit of their detailed examination, so that the House, being guided, of course, by the personnel and calibre of the Committees, may take or leave the advice of a Committee as it thinks fit.
– It will rob Parliament of the position of a debating chamber.
– I do not think it is going to rob Parliament of anything.
I do think it is going to save Parliament a lot of trouble. It is an advantage to us that the details of the Tariff are referred to the Inter-State Commission, because the Commission will be able to take evidence, which we cannot do in the House. Every honorable member knows that when we have a Tariff question before Parliament we are inundated with literature of all kinds from manufacturers and from importers, and I do not know sometimes which is the less free from exaggeration, that which comes from the importers or that which comes from the manufacturers. The advantage of the Inter-State Commission is that it is enabled to go into the evidence for itself, and the Inter-State Commission is one of the bodies to which I have referred.
– Do you not think a Public Accounts Committee and a Public Works Committee will overlap?
– I think they will, to some extent. If the Public Accounts Committee follows the lines adopted in New South Wales, it will not only look into the merits of the public works proposals, but it will go into the question of estimates in order to see whether they are a fair representation of what the works are likely to cost. However, I take it the Committee proposed in this Bill will not so much bear on the merits of a public works proposal as upon the amount which it is likely to cost. If we are going to adopt this principle, my present thought is - and I am open to conviction on the subject - that we will need to establish a number of Committees. I think an inquiry, for example, on the Federal Capital expenditure would be sufficient to occupy the attention of a Committee. I think the Northern Territory question is one which of itself is quite sufficient to occupy the attention of a Committee. I think that the Naval expenditure is quite enough to occupy the time of a Committee, and the same with Military expenditure. With all due deference to military experts, their great object is to produce what they consider a perfect system of military defence. I do not say that they are not conscious of the difficulties of providing- the money, but that point does not trouble them so. much as the perfection of their schemes. A Committee might well be employed by and-by in investigating the proposed expenditure on all these branches. The Bill is only a skeleton measure, and really gives no information as to the operations of the proposed Committee; and I would like the Treasurer, between now and the next time the Bill comes before the House - because there will be a good deal of discussion on it-
– No; let us pass the second reading at once, and get into the Committee stage.
– It is all very well for the honorable member to say that.
– Will you “gag” the Bill?
– If you want the Bill, say so; if you do not want it, Jet us know.
– I do not think that is a desirable attitude for the Treasurer to take up. It is scarcely right for a Minister to bring forward a proposal which has some merit in it, and to say to honorable members, “ If you do not like to take it as it is you had better negative it.”
– That is what was done in connexion with the Loan Bill.
– There is a very great distinction between the two things. I should be one of the first to resent any attempt to force a Loan Bill through this House if I thought there was a bond fide desire to discuss it with a view to getting light upon it. There is another feature of this Bill which I think has scarcely received mature consideration. I refer to the proposal to appoint a Committee of this character for one session only. If a Committee be appointed to investigate the whole of the finances of the Commonwealth at least a session will be required to enable its members to become acquainted with the different channels through which they can obtain useful information. Obviously it would be unwise at the end of a session, just when they had familiarized themselves’ with these matters, to say to them, “Your time is up, and new men must come on the scene.”
– Not necessarily.
– The chances are that new men would be appointed. In my opinion it is highly desirable, when such a Committee is appointed, that its members should be allowed to familiarize themselves with all the departmental heads and subordinates, in order that they may discover through which channels they are most likely to obtain useful in formation for their guidance. My doubts, then, are as to whether one Committee to undertake all this work is not an impracticable proposition, and as to whether Committees, when they are appointed, should not be appointed for the term of the Parliament. If a big Committee is appointed - although I have no ambition to serve upon it - to discharge such mammoth duties - and we must recollect that its inquiries will embrace all departments of our Public Service - I think that those honorable members who go to the trouble of serving upon it ought to receive some remuneration, just as Under Secretaries in the House of Commons receive remuneration for the great responsibilities which they undertake.
– We should require to alter the Constitution to permit of that being done.
– They could be paid in the same way as Committees are paid at present.
– I experienced a great deal of pain this afternoon when listening to the remarks of the honorable member for Parkes. He seldom speaks now, except to indulge in carping criticism of the Treasurer, and I wish to know the reason for this.
– Having been refused office, he has become independent, and a’ patriot.
– I do not know that the honorable member has been refused office. Of course, if he has, that is a reason why-
– No, no. He was not refused office.
– I will not pursue that subject further.
– It is very silly.
-Let me deal with the honorable member’s speech this afternoon. He approached this Bill first as an Individualist of the old school, who believes that all that is necessary for the Government to do is to employ the police to keep a fair field, and to show no favour. As for anything in the nature of Government interference with trade and industry, that was out of the question. So he said in effect, “ I deplore the disposition on the part of this Parliament to sanction the appointment of Committees.” The honorable member need not endeavour to make it up with the- Treasurer, whom he insulted in a very gross way-
– The honorable member has many qualifications for the circus. I would not like to name the particular character in which he would shine.
– The honorable member should not get angry.
– It would require a better man than the honorable member to make me angry.
– Anything that I say to the honorable member is said more in sorrow than in anger. He approached this question as an Individualist, and said, “ I deplore the tendency of modern Governments to go in for the appointment of Committees and Royal Commissions.” He said that the Inter-State Commission was an example.
– I did not say so. I said that it was a tendency of the time which I thoroughly approved. Either the honorable member was not present when I made the statement or he had his ears wadded .
– Just imagine the statement that I had my ears ‘ ‘ wadded ‘ ‘ coming from the honorable member, whom we look upon as the glass of fashion and the mould of form, and whom we have always regarded as a man of high literary attainments. Why, he ought to go with the Prime Minister. I understood the honorable member to object to the tendency of modern times to appoint Com-‘ missions and Committees to take upon themselves responsibilities which formerly rested upon the shoulders of Ministers. He did not appear to like the idea of constituting a Public Accounts Committee at all. Yet, after telling us that, he suggested that, instead of only one Committee being appointed, we should constitute many Committees. He said that he was thinking on his feet, and that brilliant idea struck him while he was on his feet. Fancy appointing a Committee for the Northern Territory, another for Papua, another for the Federal Territory, still another for the Defence Department, and yet another for the Postal Department. The whole of the seventy-five members of this House would be split up into Committees to investigate’ items of expenditure. That is the brilliant idea which emanated from the powerful brain of the honorable member for Parkes.
– He said that his mind was open.
– It must be as open as a barren paddock, seeing that that is all we can get from his so-called fertile brain. I do not wonder that the Treasurer smiles, because he was criticised in a most objectionable way by the honorable member for Parkes.
– I do not agree with the honorable member at all.
– Considering the Bill, the criticism was remarkably mild.
– The Treasurer submitted the< Bill, and made a speech upon it, but we had no opportunity of hearing it. His speech was delivered amidst a continual hum of conversation amongst honorablemembers opposite. Indeed, he himself had to appeal to them for silence. Consequently we did not hear him to advantage. But we did gather from him that the Committee is to consist of seven members, who are to be clothed with certain powers conferred upon them by this House, and which are to be outlined in Standing Orders. My honorable and brilliant friend, from Parkes objects to that proposal. He argues that the Houseought to consider and frame those Standing Orders. Of course, one can appreciate his desire to make a few observations. He has been muzzled so long that he thinks if we can only discuss a nonparty question like this he will get am opportunity of speaking.
– He helped to put the muzzle on us.
– He wishes to discuss the proposed Standing Orders, and to get home some time before Christmas. We will appoint him to the Committee which is to draw up those Standing Orders, if he will serve upon it. That would save us the awful infliction of having to listen to a dreary discussion as to what ought to be the powers of the Committee. I deplore that it is necessary for me, a mem-, ber of the Opposition, to rise in my place to defend the Treasurer from an attack b an honorable member sitting upon his own side of the Chamber. I do not wonder that the Treasurer said to him, in effect, “ Do not stand there wasting the time of the House by making observations which have nothing whatever to do with the Bill.”
-The Treasurer had no right to say that.
– Considering that he is baited whenever the honorable memberfor Parkes gets an opportunity, I think he had a perfect right to say what he did. This is not the first exhibition of the kind that I have witnessed in this Chamber. I think it is due to professional jealousy. The honorable member for Herbert has made a suggestion which is well worthy of attention. He has pointed -out that the proposed Public Works Committee and the Public Accounts Committee may possibly overlap each other, because the former body - if its members are going to consider the construction of public works - must also consider the proposed items of expenditure. However, I appreciate the remarks of the Treasurer, if he meant them - and I believe that he -did, because he is not the type of gentleman who likes to surrender responsibility. He says he thinks that we ought to have a Committee to examine the proposals of the Government, and to bring up a report to the House if it believes that the Go- vernment are proposing extravagant expenditure. That statement sounds strangely, coming, as it does, from a gentleman of such a tyrannical disposition - a gentleman who has had his own way for so long, and who will not tolerate any interference. I am sure that if the Committee regarded his proposed expenditure upon the transcontinental railway as extravagant, he would become rather restive. It seem”* strange, therefore, to find him proposing the appointment of a Committee of Public Accounts. I think that the Bill is all right, and I merely rose to express my great objection to the honorable member for Parkes ventilating his personal grievances in this Chamber.
.- Whilst this Bill is fairly satisfactory, I am of opinion that there is something in the criticism of the honorable member for Parkes to the effect that it would be a huge task for a Committee to make the fullest investigation into the whole of the accounts of the Commonwealth. At the same time, I realize that it would be very difficult to appoint more than one Committee. We have to recollect that its work will be largely a matter of departmental investigation. The whole of the accounts will have to be inquired into, and, probably, light will have to be thrown upon certain operations of the Government by the calling of evidence - the Committee- being vested with power to swear and examine witnesses in the ordinary way. I do not quite. follow the hon orable member for Parkes in His desire to have embodied in the Bill the whole of the powers that will belong to the Committee. The more, we define those powers the more we shall probably limit them.
– That is quite right. That is .what we said in respect to the referenda.
– I am not dealing with the referenda. This Committee, if it is to do effective work, will require to be clothed with the very fullest powers of investigation. If the Committees’ investigations are not of the most searching character, its reports will be of little use. The Committee should, therefore, be at liberty to make investigations respecting expenditure in the Departments, and to recommend what improvements it thinks necessary. In establishing our Committee, we have two models to guide us, those of New South Wales and Victoria, not one of the other States having a Committee of Public Accounts. The Victorian Committee is provided for by an Act - its powers being defined by Standing Orders; but, not only is the New South Wales Committee established by an Act, but its powers also are defined by Statute. Consequently, the powers of the Victorian Committee are wider than those of the New South Wales Committee. The investigations of the latter are limited to matters submitted by the Minister, the Auditor-General, or the Assembly by resolution; whereas the Victorian Committee can, on its own initiative, make the fullest investigation into the financial transactions of the State. The New South Wales Committee, unless it is acting on a resolution of the Assembly, limits its investigations to expenditure made by a Minister without appropriation or authority. An advantage that is gained by providing for the powers of the Committee by Standing Orders is that it is more easy to make necessary alterations under that arrangement, because Standing Orders are more easily amended than are the provisions of an Act of Parliament. But, before this Bill was brought forward for discussion, there should have been a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee, and a series of Standing Orders should have been drafted for the consideration of the House, in conjunction with its consideration of the provisions of the Bill. Had that been done, we should know exactly the intentions of the Government, and what powers the [19 November, 1913°.]
Committee is to have. If there is to be any restriction on the Committee’s investigation of accounts, . the usefulness of the Committee will be largely impaired. As has been pointed out by the honorable member for Parkes, the expenditure of the Commonwealth is increasing rapidly, being now about £27,000,000 per annum; but the hasty manner in which Estimates are dealt with in this Chamber prevents honorable members from obtaining the full information necessary to enable them to judge whether money is being properly expended.
– Is the Committee to have power to make investigations other than those which it is instructed to make ?
– It will have power to make the fullest investigation into the expenditure of the Commonwealth, and to report thereupon.
– The Bill does not say so.
– It has been explained that the powers of the Committee are to be defined by Standing Orders, and I have already stated that I think that the proposed Standing Orders should have been drafted and presented to the House for consideration simultaneously with the Bill. I agree with the honorable member for Parkes that the members of the Committee should be appointed for the term of a Parliament ; to limit their term of office to one session would be to make their work valueless. In one session, the members of the Committee would hardly obtain an insight into the finances of the Commonwealth, and next session, were an election necessary, there might be an entirely new Committee, or, at any rate, a Committee several of whose members were new to the work.
– In Victoria, the members of the Committee are nearly always re-appointed.
– -Yes; but it is better to appoint them for the term of a Parliament, as in New South Wales. Of course, when a member of the Committee ceases to be a member of the House, he ceases also to be a member of the Committee. There must be continuity in the work of the Committee, and the term of its members should therefore be the full three years for which a Parliament is elected. I hope , 1,nar, the Treasurer will take note of the suggestions made by honorable …. members. . for the. improvement of the measure, and that he will1 give us some indication of the intentions of the Government regarding the powers of the Committee, and the scope of its inquiries.
– The measure, like several others that have been introduced by this Government, means nothing taken by itself. If we are going to provide for a Committee of Public Accounts by new Standing Orders, the Bill is not needed. It is time that we had a Committee of Public Accounts, especially in view of the rapid increase of our expenditure. Ministers have not told us what the scope of the Committee’s inquiries is to he, or what work it will do, nor have we been told whether the Committee will have power to sit when Parliament is not in session. When Par”liament is in session, the labour entailed on the members of the Committee will be so great as to interfere with the performance of their ordinary parliamentary duties. No one could understand our finances unless he devoted a considerable time to their study. The members of the Committee will not be able to understand them, unless they are prepared to sacrifice a large portion of their time to the work of investigation. From the Treasurer down to the youngest member of the House there is no one at present who has a clear understanding of thefinancial position of the country. Toobtain that is almost impossible. Wehave not been told how many memberswill comprise the Committee. If there is to be a Committee consisting of a dozen members, it will be too large to do anything; we shall get things done only byhaving a small Committee.
– There are to be sevenmembers.
– No number hasbeen authoritatively mentioned. Even seven men would find it an almost hopeless task to unravel the finances of thecountry. The suggestion of the honorable member for Parkes is the properone. He would have a number of Committees, each dealing with some particularquestion of importance. As he pointed out, there is the administration of theNorthern Territory,, of the Federal Capital, and of the Defence . Department to be considered financially by .separateCommittees. Our naval expenditure,- particularly, needs investigation. We should be informed how it is intended that the proposed Committee shall acquire its information. Will it get it by holding meetings here in Melbourne, or will it have to travel from one State to another? That may be necessary for the thorough investigation of the public accounts of the Commonwealth. It would be a waste of time for the Committee to make an investigation which was not thorough, and such investigations will require of the members of the Committee considerable labour and time. As the House will be guided largely by the Committee’s reports, the information submitted by the Committee must be reliable. Under these circumstances, it is absurd to imagine that any one Committee could obtain a proper grasp of all the public accounts. I know that it is often difficult to obtain a quorum of the Library Committee. Mr. Speaker has found that impossible on several occasions this session when he has desired that the Committee should meet.
– But the proposed Committee will be paid.
– The Treasurer has pointed out that under the Constitution it cannot be paid, though I do not think that he is right.
– He said that the members of the Committee cannot be paid directly without coming within the constitutional prohibition, but they could be given expenses.
– Yes; they could get travelling expenses, or the thing could be done in some other way. We are agreed that the investigation and proper presentation of the public accounts is necessary, and the Government should come down with a concrete proposal, which would enable us to understand exactly what Ministers wish to do. I do not think that any member of this House can take any exception to the appointment of a Public Accounts Committee. Such a Committee ought certainly to be established, but the Bill now before the House proposes absolutely nothing. If we desire to establish a Public Accounts Committee we can do so under the Standing Orders without this Bill, and if, on the other hand, we think that the Public Accounts Committee should be established by Statute, the Government should bring forward a Bill for the purpose, and inform the House of exactly what they want, so that the measure presented may be discussed, and, if necessary, amended, and made as perfect as possible. In the House of Commons the national finances are dealt with by various Committees which are formed at the beginning of the session.
– There is a Special Committee of Public Accounts.
– That is so. The House of Commons is guided very largely by the reports of these various Committees. Honorable members can well understand that investigations by such Committees are very necessary in dealing with the Navy and Army Estimates in the Old Country. The matter is becoming of very great importance here. Our Estimates cover some hundreds of pages, and while items of local and minor importance are brought forward and discussed from time to time, when we are considering the Estimates, I do not hesitate to say that the bulk of the votes involving the expenditure of millions of pounds every year are passed without any discussion at all. This difficulty would be, to some extent, minimized if we had looking into the Estimates Finance Committees on whose reports we could ‘ rely. Under existing conditions, no matter what Government may be in power, a whole night may be spent in considering the expenditure proposed upon a comparatively unimportant telephone line, whilst the rest of the Estimates are allowed to go almost without discussion. Our position is different from that of the State Parliaments; and honorable members are no doubt aware that in Victoria and New South Wales there are Public Accounts Committees reporting upon public expenditure. We have undertaken the expenditure this year of £27,000,000. That is an enormous sum. I am not finding fault with the amount proposed to be spent. This is a young country, and if we intend to develop it as fully and as rapidly as we can we must expect to have to spend in the course of a few’ years, not only £27,000,000, but probably £37,000,000a year. No matter what Government may be in power, a considerable increase in our annual expenditure is inevitable. For these reasons we need to watch very carefully how public money is expended, and to look very carefully into the public accounts. I venture to say that even the most gifted financial member of this House cannot claim to fully understand the whole of the public’ accounts of the Commonwealth. While I am strongly in favour of the establishment of a Committee of Public Accounts, I say that this Bill is useless for the purpose. First of all, because, if the Committee is established under the Standing Orders, the Bill is unnecessary, and if it is to be established by Statute, the Government should introduce a measure for the purpose which will set out exactly what they require.
.- It is very desirable that we should establish some such Committee as is proposed, in order to assist the House in maintaining a proper control over expenditure, and in order that it may make suggestions from time to time which may be of use to the House and the country in connexion with the regulation of the public finances. In the State of Victoria the duties now performed by a Committee of Public Accounts, under statutory authority, were performed for many years by a Committee appointed under the Standing Orders of the State Parliament, a method which, as indicated by the honorable member for Kennedy, is quite possible of adoption here. I notice that the Bill now before honorable members is almost an exact copy of the Public Accounts Act of Victoria, No. 1877, which was introduced in the year 1903. Curiously enough, I find, on looking up the matter in the Victorian Hansard, that there was very little debate on that measure.
– Who introduced it?
- Mr. W. H. Irvine, .the present Attorney-General of the Commonwealth. He introduced the Bill in a brief speech of a few sentences, and, beyond a short speech by Mr. Watt, the measure was passed through all its stages in the Legislative Assembly, and was sent on to the Council, in one sitting. No reasons were given for the departure from the previous practice. Prior to 1903, the consideration of matters relating to the public accounts in Victoria was dealt with by a Committee of seven members, who were appointed under a standing order passed on the 28th January, 1895. It was a Sessional Committee, whose duties were denned by the Standing Orders. Amongst other things, the Committee were expected to examine receipts and expenditure, to report to the House, to inquire into any matters which might have arisen in connexion with the public accounts, to deal with the funds of the Commissioners of Savings Banks, and make any reports that might be necessary thereon, and to deal with any matters specially referred to the Committee. It was provided in the standing order that any matter of finance might be referred to the Committee. A number of reports have been presented to the Victorian Legislature by the Public Accounts Committee appointed under the Statute to which I have referred. These were of far-reaching importance, and I feel sure they must have been invaluable to the Treasurer for the time being, as well as to Parliament, in connexion with the financial administration. In New South Wales, so far as I can gather, there is no Statute dealing with the matter.
– Yes, there is a portion of the Audit Act of 1902.
– I was told that there was no Statute dealing with the matter, but the honorable member for Adelaide has been good enough to direct my attention to the fact that the Audit Act of 1902 covers the appointment of the Committee of Public Accounts in New South Wales. In the House of Commons, under standing order 75 of that House, a Committee of Public Accounts is appointed. It is a Standing Committee of eleven members, and, as in Victoria, the Committee is appointed at. the commencement of every session, and not for the life of a Parliament. We can easily understand that in Great Britain an enormous amount of work devolves upon the Committee of Public Accounts. I notice that, during ten weeks’ of one period of the year, there were thirteen sittings of that Committee, and, amongst other work, they examined a large number of witnesses - as many as twelve or fifteen at some sittings - in connexion with various important financial matters. The reports of the Committee upon the administration of the national finances are far-reaching. I agree with the honorable member for Parkes when he says that if the .work is to be carried out effectively by any Committee, very great responsibility, will devolve upon the members of it. They must necessarily give close attention to the work, and-become thoroughly acquainted with all matters of finance, if the Committee’s reports are to be of any value. In the Commonwealth, even more than in Great Britain, and certainly .to a far greater extent than in any of the States, the work will require close consideration, and probably special attention in’ various States, in the capital cities, and in the Territories under the control of the Com-, mon wealth. If the work of the Committee is to be done effectively, and if it is to be the only Committee dealing with public acounts, and there are not to be, as suggested, special Committees dealing with the expenditure in the Federal Capital, in the Territories of the Commonwealth, and so on, the amount of work that will devolve upon the members must necessarily take up the greater part of their time. Whilst Parliament is sitting, the members of the Committee will be able to devote very little time to its special work, because their ordinary legislative duties will require their attention. The bulk of the work of the Committee must be done whilst Parliament is in recess. The Treasurer indicated that he anticipated that only those members would be appointed to the Committee who are prepared to give attention to the work, and will “practically be on the spot. The right honorable gentleman has apparently in mind a Committee constituted chiefly of honorable members who reside in or near the Seat of Government for the time being. I think that would be very unsatisfactory. The Committee should not be appointed under such terms or conditions as will bring to its counsels only those members of this Parliament who may happen to reside in or near the Seat of Government. The Committee should be thoroughly representative of both parties, and of every State and interest in the Commonwealth. In addition to the ordinary expenditure involved by the public works, I take it that the great industrial undertakings which have, come under the control of the Commonwealth must necessarily be brought within the purview of the Committee. All that may be embraced by what is commonly termed State Socialism - all those great business undertakings - must be considered by this body; and this will extend the scope of the work and call for ‘the most careful inquiry. I do not see any very serious objection to the detailed powers of the Committee being denned by the Standing Orders, because, whether the powers be set forth in the Bill itself or elsewhere, they must necessarily come before this House for review. Perhaps there is an . advantage in . not including them in .the. Bill,- because, as
Standing Orders, they may be more easily reviewed, revised, and extended as necessity arises. I strongly urge on the Treasurer that the Committee should not be appointed for one session only. Although that is the practice in the House of Commons, I feel sure that if the members of the Committee are appointed for the life of the Parliament, they will be more likely to devote close attention to their work, and to make themselves more thoroughly acquainted with the details and business methods of the various Departments. This Bill, whatever form it may finally assume, will, I feel sure, prove of great value to honorable members individually, to the House generally, and to the country. There is room for much improvement in connexion with, the preparation and submission of the Budget and the Estimates, and, in this connexion, such a Committee as is now proposed might prove of great assistance to this Chamber and to the Treasurer, in so far as much discussion that now takes place would be rendered unneces-sary, and the time of Parliament saved. In view of the great importance of thework, and the very onerous duties thatwill devolve on the members of the Committee, I think they ought hot to be asked to undertake the duties unlessthey receive some remuneration, at least, for the loss of time they must suffer.
– Otherwise, I do not know who is going to “ take it on.”
– I agree with the honorable member. I do not think that any one would care to devote, perhaps, thegreater portion of the recess, which hewould like to have to himself forthe purposes of his private business,, or for political purposes outsidethe actual work of Parliament, unless some remuneration were given’ for the loss which must necessarilybe incurred. I think that, without any breach of the Constitution, some provision might be made for reasonable recompense. I have no desire to see fat’, billets created for honorable members, but they should certainly be remunerated! for the work they do. No matter what people outside may say, it is, I think,, the experience of us all that honorable-: members do a great deal of- work for the payment they now receive, and if they are to . be called upon
.- This Bill, I think, is one of the after effects of the last election. We were then told upon some public platforms that at least £3,000,000 had been spent by the late Administration, and that of this money no account had been given. I am very glad to hear the Treasurer this afternoon say that that statement is absolutely without foundation.
– Where was the statement made?
– In Victoria several times; and it appeared in a series of articles under the heading, “A Financial Carnival,” published in the Sydney Mail by the Hon. Joseph Cook, member for Parramatta and the present Prime Minister-.
– That £3,000,000 had been spent without its being accounted for?
– Yes, or words to that effect; and the statement was repeated on platforms right throughout Australia.
– I read those articles, and I remember no such statement.
– The articles were reprinted in pamphlet form, and I should be glad if the honorable member for Wimmera would allow me to see his copy, if he has it, in the absence of my own.
– I think the honorable member ought to substantiate the statement he has made.
– If the honorable member will lend me his copy of the pamphlet I shall be pleased to refer him to the allegation. This Bill is another electioneering placard.
– The Leader of the Opposition believes in the Bill.
– If the honorable member for Calare were on the Opposition side of the House, he would have to keep quiet, or he would be put out.
– I think that remark is hardly fair to the Chair, and’ I ask the honorable member to withdraw it.
– I withdraw the remark and apologize, but honorable members on the Opposition side, when they interject, are noticed more readily. I shall put it that” way.-
-I do not think that the honorable member has improved the position. So far as I am concerned, I endeavour to keep the peace on both sides; and it is an unenviable job sometimes.
– I withdraw the words and apologize, but I ask you to protect me from the interjections of honorable members opposite. During one speech I made here recently, there were 117 interjections, all of them practically from the other side - forty of them from members of the Ministry, and the Prime Minister waa the worst offender.
– The same perky little man !
– I must ask that the honorable member for Yarra be heard without interruption.
– I suppose that the Prime Minister cannot move that he himself be put out. I should like to undertake the duty for him.
– Does the honorable member wish me to interject again ?
– Will the honorable member for Yarra proceed?
– I must ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to protect me from those invitations to interject.
– I was about to say that this Bill is the first of three electioneering placards of the Government with which I happen to have any sympathy. This particular Ministry will, I think, go down to posterity, not as the “bill-posting,” but as the “ bill-sticking “ Ministry - they are professional “bill-stickers.” There are two of their placards which were recently passed that I should not be in order in referring to, but of the one before us I may say that, if they had attached much importance to it, it would have been closured through before now. Are the members of this Committee to be paid ?
– No ;. the Constitution does not allow that.
– I should like to have it definitely decided, if payment of any kind is to be made, whether it is to be direct, or in the form of travelling expenses. This should be done before the members of the Committee are appointed ; or otherwise we shall have certain honorable members rising in their plaices and denouncing men who are conscientiously doing their duty. The members of such a body will have to travel from State to State, and the more they travel, the more- they will be out of pocket. I do not know whether the Constitution will allow of travelling expenses being paid to honorable members.
– They will be paid out-of-pocket expenses.
– If that is so, ought not this Bill to have been preceded by a message, seeing that expenditure will be incurred ? It will place members of the Committee in a difficult position if, after they are appointed-
– They are not to be inspectors-general of works !
– I am well aware of that.
– Their duty will be to inspect accounts. -
– But some honorable members have gone further, and suggested that the Committee will inquire into what works shall be proceeded with, and whether those works are justified or not. Some honorable members spoke in that direction.
– The Committee will deal with the accounts.
– After the money is expended ?
– Or concerning money to be expended.
– The right honorable gentleman referred to the system of putting a footnote at the bottom of the page of an Estimate. For instance, on page 247 of the Estimates, I see this line - “ Item No. 2, subdivision No. 14, erection of ordnance stores, towards cost, £1,000.” We are asked to vote £1,000, and the estimated cost of the stores is stated at £100,000. Practically we are asked to vote 1 per cent, of the total amount, but by so doing we incur a liability of £100,000. I take it that after the Estimates are passed the Public Accounts Committee will be empowered to act.
– What will be done will be done before the Estimates are framed.
– No Government will submit their Estimates to a Public Accounts Committee. The Treasurer will admit that, I think.
– The Committee can only recommend better methods of presenting the accounts to the House.
– We find another example of the working of that system in the erection of the large store at the corner of Bourke-street and Spencer- street, Melbourne, and still another example in the erection of the Perth Postoffice. In each case, by starting with a very small expenditure, we incurred a very large ‘liability. But there is no better example of the system, I think, than the one I quoted from the present Estimates. I believe that very often honorable members do not take much notice of the footnotes to various items.
– Will the Public Accounts Committee have the right to inquire into the relative cost of piece-work and day work ?
– That will be a question for the Public Works Committee to consider.
– I do not know where we are with regard to that proposal. If we are to have a Supply and Tender Board, a Public Works Committee, and a Public Accounts Committee, Parliament will be delegating a lot of its power. I believe that some of the proposals for expenditure contained in the Estimates should be looked into. I agree with the honorable member for Indi that we should not fix the membership of the Public Accounts Committee as the Treasurer suggested. If I remember aright, he said that he would be in Western Australia during recess, and that he would not be eligible to sit on the Committee.
– It would not be suitable. I meant there must be some one who can do the work.
– I do not think, that that is right at all. The Committee, if it is to be appointed, should be, as far as possible, representative of the States, because works are going on everywhere, and some of the expenditure is incurred, not . only in connexion with the State capitals, but outside of them,
– You are thinking of the Public Works Committee.
– No, I am thinking of the accounts. The measure will apply to our Territories. We are incurring a very large expenditure in the Northern Territory in connexion with railways, and for its development. If the ‘Committee is to consider the accounts before they are presented to’ Parliament in the shape of the Estimates, which is impracticable
– They cannot.
– I grant that it cannot be done. I am afraid that instead of acting as an inquiring body, the Committee will only be a clog, not a brake to prevent expenditure. I do not think that it will prove as beneficial as many honorable members imagine.
– There is the Auditor-General besides.
– I admit that, and that is why I wish to hear from the Treasurer. He told the House what had happened in Great Britain. I believe that twothirds of his speech referred to reports from Committees in Great Britain in connexion with tendering and alleged scandals regarding some tenders. I have never heard of any case here where public officers have been denounced, or where it has been thought that public officers have profited by any of the tenders accepted by their Departments. I sincerely hope that our public officers will always remain above suspicion, as I believe every member of this Parliament is. It cannot be said that any of the members or the officials have profited by any of the tenders which have been accepted’. As the Treasurer says that the matter I have referred to will be more for the Public Works Committee than’ for the Public Accounts Committee to deal with, I want to know where we shall land ourselves if we accept this measure. If we are to have a Supply and. Tender Board, not only to consider the tenders, but practically to decide which is the best tender in each case, a Public Works Committee, and a Public Accounts Committee, I would point out that the work is being done at present by the Auditor-General, and I believe effectively done. If the work of the Public Accounts Committee can, as the Treasurer affirms, be transacted at the Seat of Government-
– I think it can.
– Why not?
– I think that, instead of having a Committee to consider the public accounts only, it would be far better to have a Committee to consider the public works entirely.
– You want that in addition.
– This Committee will see the accounts.
– I cannot see that the Public Accounts Committee will fulfil any useful purpose other than what the AuditorGeneral is fulfilling to-day.
– Parliament will have its own Committee of Inquiry.
– I admit that. If the Committee is to do nothing but examine the accounts as they come in, it will not be able to advise on any public works; for instance, as to whether money is to be rightly or wrongly spent. I do not agree with the honorable member for Indi, who said that the Committee will be able to consider the operations of the various factories started by the Commonwealth. I do not know that it can do any more than the Auditor- General is now doing in connexion with those factories. All that it can do will be to examine the accounts. If the idea of the Government is to have a Committee to do that work, and also the other work which is being done by the AuditorGeneral, I believe that it is appointing a Committee merely to duplicate work which is already done effectively. It would be far better to appoint a Committee which will not only examine the accounts, but consider public works, and advise whether it is necessary to erect a post-office at Perth, for example, at a cost of £250,000, or one at Melbourne at a cost of £100,000.
.- The honorable member for Yarra seems to think that there is hardly room for a Public Accounts Committee if we have a Supply and Tender Board, and a Public Works Committee. Surely the members of the Supply and Tender Board ought to be more or less experts, if their report is to be of any value to the Government ! They will need to have a technical knowledge of the subject-matter of each tender which is called for. Otherwise, what will be the value of a report from them as a guide to the Government? I can see that, when the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee get into working order, their duties will more or less overlap. Let me point out an advantage to the ‘Government in having a Public Works Committee. It will have to go into the cost of various things, and move from State to State very often to inspect the works on which its members are called upon to express an opinion. It seems to me that most of the work which the Public Accounts Committee will be called upon to do - looking into the accounts in the various Departments - can be done at the Seat of Government. I do not see what is to prevent that from taking place. It will only be at very infrequent periods,
I think, that the Committee may have to go very far from the Seat of Government ho carry out its work.
– It will mean that honorable members from other States will have to come here.
– Certainly, if the work is to be done out of session, honorable members from other States will have to come to Melbourne, and therefore some provision ought to be made for reimbursing the members of the Committee their out-of-pocket expenses. I think that it can be done without infringing the Constitution. I do not wish special fees to be provided for the performance of the work, but I certainly do think that when any honorable members are called upon to surrender the only time which they practically have for attending to their private affairs - the recess - they should be reimbursed their expenses. Some honorable members have objected to the form of the Bill, complaining that it is too much like a skeleton. I am not, as a rule, in favour of skeleton legislation, but 1 do not think that this measure can be seriously objected to on that score. ‘Clause 2 provides that the Committee may exercise all the powers conferred upon it by any Standing Orders, or Act, or otherwise. The honorable member for Indi has said that if the powers of the Committee are conferred by Standing Orders that will be an improvement upon a specific provision in the Bill, because if the House should wish to alter the powers quickly it can act more expeditiously in the case of a Standing Order than it could do in the case of a Bill. I quite agree with that view, so long as it is clearly stated in the Bill where the powers of the- Committee are to be found properly defined. It does not matter, so far as I can see, whether they are set out’ in the measure or in another document. But in this case I think it -is an advantage to set out the powers in a Standing Order rather than to incorporate them in the text of the measure. I understand that many -of the States have a Public Accounts Committee, and that the Committees are supposed to have done good work, and to have been a distinct advantage on many occasions. Having regard to the very wide range of the Commonwealth accounts year by year, we ought to make a beginning in a similar direction. If a Committee can effect im provements in the way in which the accounts are presented to Parliament it will have done good work. Any one who has looked through the Budget figures year by year must admit that there is a good deal of confusion. Unless one has some inside knowledge, or gets some information from those who are responsible for framing the Estimates, he really cannot form a conclusion as to what some of the items are really intended for, or what is- their connexion with other items. That is a fact patent here every session, and if this proposed Committee can provide a better means of presenting to the House Estimates and public accounts generally, it will do good service. It will not be an expensive body. Whatever remuneration is allowed, it will not amount to much. On the whole, I think the time is ripe when we might follow the lead which seems to have been of advantage to all. the States that have adopted Public Accounts Committees. I think the members of the Committee should represent all shades of political thought. This is not a party question. It is a matter of plain business, and it will be to the best advantage of all political parties to have the public accounts put forward in the clearest and best manner possible. I hope, therefore, that both parties in the House, and, if possible, all the States in the Commonwealth, will be represented on the Committee. I think it would be- wiser to appoint the members of the Committee for the whole of the life of a Parliament. A session is altogether too short a time to ask a man to serve. Some who will be appointed to the Committee will require the whole of a session in order to thoroughly grasp all that will come within the purview of such a body, and to make a member of the Committee efficient, and put him in a position to give his best services to the Commonwealth, it would be better to appoint him for the term of a Parliament. ‘ The honorable member for Parkes seems to think that it would prove impracticable to have only one Committee of Public Accounts, but it has not proved so in the States, and I do not see why it should prove so here.
– We can have special Committees as well.
– I think we shall be making a. very good start if. we commence with a Committee such as- the Government) propose, and we shall be- in a better position later on, when we have the reports of this Committee, to see what other bodies are really required. Parliament can then, if necessary, proceed to appoint them. Because it might be better for the Defence Department to have a separate Committee of Accounts, I do not see why we should not start as the Government have suggested, allowing time and circumstances to guide us in the direction of creating similar bodies as they are required. In my opinion, the proposed Committee could give the House very valuable information, and I think the Government are taking the first step in a right direction. The Bill is practically a copy of the Victorian Statute, and as Victoria has received great advantage from its Public Accounts Committee, I have much pleasure in supporting the Government on this occasion.
– In Victoria they still appoint special Committees as may be necessary.
– I think the Bill goes as far as one can expect at the present time. If, after seme time, it is found that a Department needs a special Committee of Accounts, surely Parliament, in its wisdom, will appoint one.
.- I congratulate the Treasurer on introducing this Bill. It is high time we had such a proposal. When the Estimates were brought down, I felt very much like a good Presbyterian attending service in the Church of England for the first time, and not knowing exactly where to find the collects or the psalms. I was absolutely at sea when confronted with 266 pages, covering an expenditure of £27,000,000, and 8,000 items, the average, amount of each being £3,375. As a new member I felt that I was not doing my duty to my electors if I did not get at the bottom of the Estimates. If I had to give an account of my stewardship, and in the event of my electors asking for details as to what took place at the passing of the Estimates, I felt that I would not be able to give them the information. With the appointment of the Committee proposed I should feel very much safer. I am sure that the electors would feel that we were doing our duty honorably by appointing a Committee of experts in finance, and delegating to them the duty of examining the Estimates. We would certainly get more satisfaction than at present. I was very much aston- ished when the .honorable member for Yarra described the Bill as a pure political placard. Previously I had been delighted to hear the splendid speech of the honorable member for Kennedy, in which many reasons for the appointment of a Committee of Public Accounts were advanced, and the honorable member was supported by the Leader of the Opposition and by the honorable member for Capricornia, so that I cannot understand the honorable member for Yarra saying that the measure is a political placard. Is the Leader of the Opposition supporting the Bill so that the Liberals may go to the country with a political placard? The argument of the honorable member for Yarra is most unreasonable. Of all the. measures that have come before this Parliament, surely this is one on which we can be in accord. The honorable member for Kennedy supports the Bill, but he says that it will be practically useless, as the powers of the Committee are to be governed by Standing Orders. It is .now optional for a Government to use powers given under Standing Orders, but if this Bill is passed,’ the Minister will be obliged to let all accounts filter through a Public Accounts Committee.
– The Committee will have no standing or power until the Standing Orders are established. We can also take away their power by Standing Orders.
– If we pass the Bill, no matter what Government are in power, they will be compelled to let all these accounts filter through a Public Accounts Committee. I think the suggestion that we should include the Standing Orders in the Bill is a very good one.
– It is not necessary.
– I consider that the Committee should be appointed for the whole term of a Parliament. The Leader of the Opposition made a very excellent suggestion in regard to this. It will take a member of the Committee a session to get into his stride, and just as he is becoming useful to the House he may be supplanted. There is no reason why we should not follow the example of New South Wales in this regard. I understand that in New South Wales there is a Public Works Committee, and that there is an Act which prevents a Minister of the Crown spending more than £20,000 without the leave of Parliament, whereas in the case of the Commonwealth a Minister can spend as much as he likes without the leave of Parliament. He can spend a million, and there is no check upon him.
– He can only spend tothe limit of the Treasurer’s Advance.
– If the Minister makes a bargain Parliament must honour it.
– Without the authority of Parliament a Commonwealth Minister can commit Parliament to an expenditure of a million pounds, but in New South Wales a Minister cannot spend more than £20,000 without parliamentary authority.
– Not in one instalment.
– I am thoroughly in accord with the principles of this Bill. I do not know how we can carry out the suggestion of the honorable member for Parkes to have a Committee for the Northern Territory, a Committee for railways, a Committee for the Federal Capital, and a Committee for Public Works generally. But if we appoint a fairly large Committee, its members can divide themselves into sub-committees, and by that means the objection urged by the honorable member for Parkes can be overcome.
– Honorable members upon both sides of the House have been somewhat eloquent in holding up the States to us as an example which we might well follow. In some instances it is true that we might with advantage follow their example, but in others we might wisely avoid it. The crux of this question is: How are the public accounts kept, and how are they presented to this House and the people outside? I should say that a reforming Treasurer could simplify the manner of the presentation’ of the public accounts of the Commonwealth to such an extent that “ he who runs may read.” The people outside have a right to know exactly how the money which they contribute is being expended.
– They have never known that yet.
– I agree with the honorable member. I join in the chorus of complaints which have been made, both in this and in previous Parliaments, as to the complicated manner in which our public accounts are presented to the House. So complicated are they - and in saying this I am not making any offensive reference to the Treasurer - that the position would never be tolerated by a private firm in the conduct of its own business. One may visit any of the big private firms of this city to-day, and open up a ledger in which he may read exactly how their accounts stand from month to month.
– Where is there a private firm which is run on the same lines as the Commonwealth ?
– That is all the more reason why the public accounts should be kept in the clearest manner possible. Are we so lacking in business capacity that we cannot devise a scheme which will effect this desirable result?. Possibly, if we appoint a good Committee to supervise our public accounts, it may be able to bring about this very necessary reform. That is the only virtue which I can see in the appointment of the proposed Committee. To my mind, however, we are putting the cart before the horse. The first Committee which should be appointed by this Parliament is a Public Works Committee. It is the most important Committee that we can appoint. If that Committee were appointed, and its duties set out, we should then know whether it is absolutely essential to create a Public Accounts Committee. If we are going to accept the suggestions which emanate from both sides of the House, practically the whole of the members of this Chamber will be engaged on Committees.
– That would not be a bad thing.
– I do not know that it would not. No honorable’ member seems inclined to serve on these Committees unless he receives some remuneration for so doing. I think that is a perfectly justifiable claim to make. At any rate, honorable members should be recouped their out-of-pocket expenses. I presume that a scale of expenses will be drawn up. But we ought first, I submit, to appoint a Public Works Committee. It is unfair for the Government to ask us to pass a Bill - which has been fairly described by the honorable member for Parkes as a “ skeleton “ - authorizing the appointment of a Committee to overhaul our public accounts, and, later on, to submit a Bill for the appointment of a Public Works Committee.
– Does the honorable member know anything about the public works which are being carried on by this Government ?
– I would like to know what the duties of the Public Works Committee are to be. I repeat that that Committee ought to be the first body appointed by this House. We could then more reasonably discuss a Bill of this character, and decide whether or not the two Committees are absolutely essential. It is rather unreasonable for the Treasurer to persist in passing this measure through all its stages without first distinctly outlining the Standing Orders under which the Committee is to work.
– I did give an outline of the Victorian Standing Orders which, I think, are a very good guide to us.
– The Standing Orders ought to set out the duties of the Committee.
– They will be submitted to the House before they are adopted.
– But this Bill authorizes the creation of a Public Accounts Committee. Some of us were able to grasp a little of what the Treasurer read in regard to a similar Committee which was appointed by the Victorian Parliament. But before we assent to this Bill, we should know the character of the Standing Orders under which the Committee is to work.
– The honorable member will have them before him later on.
– Although the Treasurer has made a certain statement, to my mind that is not sufficient. He ought not to push this Bill through the House before we have had an opportunity of perusing his speech upon it.
– We are not slavishly committed to the Victorian Standing Orders.
– But they are the only Standing Orders to which the Treasurer has referred.
– He referred to them only by way of illustration.
– That statement strengthens my argument. If we are not to be bound slavishly to the Victorian precedent, some new Standing Orders will have to be brought forward.
– Which the House will consider.
– Exactly. I think that the request which I have preferred is a fair one.
– This Bill provides only the machinery. The Standing Orders will provide the substance.
– Why should we not have the substance here? By his interjection the Treasurer admits that the criticism of the honorable member for Parkes was justified.
– Does the honorable member want the Bill or not? I do not think that he does.
– That is a very unfair suggestion for the Treasurer to make. Honorable members opposite have themselves declared that the scope of the Standing Orders should be outlined to the House.
– This is the very measure which is operative in Victoria, and upon which the Parliament of this State has acted for many years.
– That does not say that it is right. If the right honorable gentleman consulted the Victorian Treasury officials, and asked them whether the Public Accounts Committee of this State has proved a blessing to them, I doubt whether they would reply in the affirmative’. In the Under-Treasurers of this State and of the Commonwealth, we ought to have very competent officers. If we are going to multiply the number of Committees, where is the necessity for these expert officers? It appears to me that we shall be perpetrating something in the nature of duplication. I would favour the appointment of this Committee straight away if I thought it would devise a scheme which would lead to the presentation of our public accounts in a clearer way than they are now presented. But surely the Treasurer and theUnderTreasurer are possessed of a little initiative. Clause 2 provides -
Every committee of’ public accounts appointed by the House or Representatives shall hold office as such Committee, and may exercise all the powers conferred upon it by any Standing Orders or Act, or otherwise.
In that clause there are set out three ways in which the scope of the duties of the Committee may be widened. Its members may operate under the Standing Orders, under an Act, “ or otherwise.”-
What do the words “or otherwise” mean ?
– Suppose that a motion were carried referring to some specific matter ?
– I think that the most important Committee we can appoint at the present juncture is a Public Works Committee. If we do that, and define its duties, we shall then be able to see whether a Public Accounts Committee is required or not. I do not know whether we are going to follow the example of the States in everything. In Victoria we thought we were out of the wood in connexion with our irrigation schemes when we appointed a Water Commission. But instead of that Commission making matters better for the Victorian people and the Victorian Government, it has made many mistakes indeed. If we are going to multiply Committees, I say that between Committees and Commissions this House will be altogether overborne. I wish to know exactly the scope of the duties of the proposed Committee, and I think that the Treasurer ought to submit a set of Standing Orders for our consideration.
– I will do so after we get the Bill.
– After the Treasurer has got the Bill, he may bring forward Standing Orders, and say, “ You must accept these.”
– This is not a party matter. The honorable member speaks as if we were a lot of wild animals.
– My feeling towards the Treasurer is of the most kindly description, and I believe that that feeling is reciprocal. Why, then, should I be charged with looking on him as a wild animal ?
– I thought everybody wanted this Bill.
– The Treasurer has presented us with the bones - the skeleton - of the proposed Committee, but what about the flesh that he intends to put upon it?
– I think it is good enough.
– The Treasurer ought to be content to get the Bill through its second reading to-day. Then to-morrow he ought to be able to present to us the Standing Orders by which this Public Accounts Committee is to be governed.
– He has done so.
– No. He hasmerely said, by interjection, that we are not going to slavishly follow the Standing Orders in force in Victoria.
– I said that they would be a guide for us.
– The Treasurer could not anticipate the decision of the House in regard to the Standing Orders, except in the vaguest way.
– According to the argument of the Attorney-General, we should pass any Bill that is put before us, and await further developments.
– Of course.
– Ministers wish to govern by regulation; but I have always objected to government by regulation.
– We have too much of it.
– Yes. I have objected to it ever since I entered Parliament. We should know what Standing Orders are proposed to define the powers of the Committee; and, until we do, we should not pass the Bill through its final stages. The Treasurer himself admits that the Standing Orders are to provide the flesh which is to clothe the skeleton that we have in the Bill. I am afraid, however, that the tendency in the Commonwealth, as in the States, is to remit everything to a Committee or Board. Does the Treasurer think that the annual balance-sheet of the Commonwealth, showing how the public accounts stand, will be rendered plainer by the proposed Committee ?
– I think I put the financial position of the Commonwealth plainly in my Budget speech.
– With all respect to the right honorable gentleman, I say that the speech was not so clear that the people can read it easily. A reform that is needed is in the method of presenting the public accounts. A Committee may be able to recommend better methods for the disclosure of the public accounts, and that is one of the main reasons why I favour the proposal before us. I am against having any further complication of the accounts. We should be careful not. to remit to Committees and Commissions work which should be performed by honorable members or by public officers.
– The responsibility in any case rests with the Parliament.
– That is so; but, if we multiply Committees needlessly, we increase expenditure without justification.
– If the Committee prevented one blunder in ten years, it would pay for itself.
– It is from the investigation of a Public Works Committee that saving is to be expected. The cart is being put before the horse. We should have considered first the appointment of a Public Works Committee.
– The Prime Minister has told us that he will introduce this session a Bill for the appointment of a Public Works Committee.
– That is so. If we knew what the duties of the proposed Public Works Committee were to be, we should be in a better position to determine whether a Committee of Public Accounts is needed as well. I hope that we shall not follow the example of the States, and appoint innumerable Committees, at great expense, and with little advantage to the taxpayers. Ministers are paid a salary to perform certain duties, and should not remit those duties to others, not even to Committees of the House.
.- I am afraid, judging from the speeches that have been delivered, that too much is expected from the proposed Committee of Public Accounts. The honorable member for Calare anticipates that it will remodel the Estimates; but I do not think that that has been done in the States that have such Committees. The proposed Committee will be, apparently, a check on the Audit Department. It will merely examine vouchers
– And recommend improvements in the method of keeping or presenting accounts.
– What improvements have been made elsewhere?
– I do not think that the Victorian and New South Wales Committees have been too energetic.
– I have yet to learn that they have done anything. These Committees are a second guarantee that money has been expended in accordance with the appropriations of Parliament but nothing more. The establishment of a Tender Board would save a lot of money.
– The Senate refused to sanction the appointment of a Tender Board.
– It was right in doing so, because it was proposed to provide in the Audit Act for the establishment of a Tender Board.
– Still, the Tender Board is very much needed.
– Yes. Those who know how things have been going for some time past know that a Tender Board would make a great difference. A Public Works Committee would have greater powers than the proposed Committee of Public Accounts.
– A Works Committee would have saved the Commonwealth a great deal of money.
– I agree with the honorable member. A Tender Board and a Works’ Committee would save money by preliminary investigations; the proposed Committee of Public Accounts will deal only withvouchers for expenditure that has been incurred, and will do little more than ascertain the correctness of the accounts. Complaints about the manner in which the Estimates are prepared are hot few. I have heard them for the last twenty years. New members think that they will revolutionize matters; but our experience, and the experience of the States, is that nothing is ever changed. If a Committee of Public Accounts is established, its members should be elected, not for a session, but for the Parliament.
– I do not object to that.
– There is nothing to prevent the powers of the Committee being defined by the Bill, and that would enable us to know what we are doing.
– We do not wish to submit our Standing Orders for the approval of another place.
– At any rate, it would be more satisfactory to know what powers the Committee is to have, and what it is to do. It has been rightly said that the Bill itself creates merely a skeleton. If the members of the Committee are to devote their time to its work during the recess, they must be remunerated for their services.
– That cannot be done. Members Would forfeit their seats here if they accepted remuneration.
– They could be treated as members of Royal Commissions are treated, and be given travelling expenses. I have never heard of a member of a Select Committee even being challenged for having accepted travelling expenses when the work of the Committee had taken him away from the place where he resided.
– Does the honorable member think that positions on the proposed Committee would be rushed if there were no remuneration?
– I am not considering that aspect of the question. Those who do the work which will be required of the members of the proposed Committee should be remunerated for it. I hope that a Bill to provide for a Public Works Committee will be introduced this session, and that a short measure will be introduced to provide also for the appointment of a Tender Board. He would find that such measures would go through both Houses without the slightest trouble.
– Why did not the Senate pass the Tender Board proposal when they had it? What does it matter whether it is in one Bill or another?
– The Treasurer should not get nasty about it.
– All the officials of the Treasury contend that the proposal was submitted in the right place.
– I do not intend to occupy any further time. I shall support the second reading of this Bill; but I should have preferred to see some clothing on it. We have been told that this is the shadow, and that the substance will follow later. I hope that the substance will follow very quickly, if it is to follow at all.
– I do not intend to take up the time of the House at any length, but I wish to say that, in my opinion, the honorable member who has just resumed his seat has mistaken the probable effect of this Bill. In the first place, he has told us that, in our different Parliaments, the Estimates have been presented in practically the same form for the last twenty years, and suggests that we must accept that as the regulation style. But that is no reason why they should continue to be presented in their present form.
– What I said was that where Public Accounts Committees already exist, the Estimates continue to be presented in the same way.
– I take it that we are capable of considering an improvement upon old methods.
– There have been material alterations in the method of presenting the Estimates in Victoria.
– The method of presenting our Estimates will stand a good deal of improvement. I took exception, some little time ago, to the way in which they are presented. The Treasurer was good enough to look over my remarks, and send them on to the Treasury officials. They sent back a report which made the matter no clearer than it was before.
– Perhaps the honorable member was somewhat dense.
– No; the officials reported that, whilst they appreciated my difficulty, any attempt to present the Estimates more clearly would lead to worse confusion than exists at the present time. They admitted that there is confusion at present, but they see no way out of it. I think it is time that we did find a way out of the confusion. What is the use of employing financial experts unless they are able to present our accounts in such a way that not only members of this Parliament, but the people generally, may be. able to understand them?
– What does the honorable member suggest?
– I do not pretend to have had enough to do with the Estimates to be able to suggest a way out of the difficulty. But our financial experts should certainly be able to discover a way through the maze. A good deal has been’ sa id in the course of this debate about the Public Works Committee of New South Wales. We have been told that the proposed Public Accounts Committee is to be an honorary Committee, but the Public Works Committee of New South Wales is by no means an honorary Committee. The members of it are very highly paid indeed. I might add that, in recent years, that Committee, in my opinion, has done more harm than good. I could mention a case in which the existing Public Works Committee of New South Wales, in dealing with two rival railway routes, have recommended the adoption of a route which will result in an enormous loss to the country. As a practical man who lived in the district affected, and knows it well, I say that the route selected by the Public Works Committee cannot be compared to the route which the Committee rejected. The Railways Commissioners of New South Wales wanted one route, and the Public Works Committee recommended another.
– Does the honorable member live close to the route which was rejected ?
– I was living near it for two years, but I am not living there now, and have no interest in it at all other than that of a public-spirited citizen of the State. The proposed Public Accounts Committee may be no better than the Public Works Committee of New South Wales. The argument that because we appoint a Committee the members of it will do good work carries no weight with me. We shall want to know the men who will constitute the Committee. If they are capable of dealing with financial matters, no exception can be taken to their appointment. I rose particularly to emphasize the fact that because the Estimates have been brought down in the same form in our Parliaments for the last twenty years that is no reason why we should go on accepting that form. It is time that a Public Accounts Committee or :Some other body took in Hand the work of submitting our Estimates and financial accounts in a business-like way. There is no reason that I, or any other business man, can see why the affairs of the country cannot be stated as clearly and straightforwardly as the affairs of any big business corporation. No business corporation in Australia, or anywhere else, would put up with their accounts being submitted in the way in which our Estimates are submitted here.
– No business corporation submits accounts which give so much information as do our Treasury accounts.
– All the people are shareholders in the business of the Commonwealth, and they require to know what the directors are doing with their money. If the Treasurer can assure us that a Public Accounts Committee will help to put our accounts on a business basis, I shall only be too happy to give my support to the appointment’ of such a Committee.
.- I rise to point out that the introduction of this Bill is due to the uncalled for and unjustifiable statements made during the last Federal elections by the members of the present Government and their supportersThey made an attempt to mislead the people as to the conduct of the Commonwealth finances by the late Government, and said that one of the first measures which they would submit would be one to provide for the appointment of a Public Accounts Committee. They were seeking a placard to put before the public, but they could not point to a single item in the Estimates submitted by the late Government which they would alter. Some honorable members opposite endeavoured to induce the public to believe that the proposed Public Accounts Committee will be able to deal with the Estimates. We know very well that no Government would allow a Public Accounts Committee, or any one else, to deal with their Estimates before they are placed on the table after the Budget statement. The reason is that the Government are answerable for the Estimates, and it is clear that the proposed Public Accounts Committee can have no voice whatever in their preparation. As the Committee will nob be permitted to interfere with them after they have been laid on the table in this House, I should like to know what they are going to do. The Treasurer has not told us anything about their duties. Are they to go through the columns of the Estimates to see that the amounts have been added correctly? Are they to search the Estimates for mistakes in the figures presented? We know that they will not need to do that, since all the figures in the Estimates are verified by officers of the Treasury Department. We know that a Government virtually stake their position on the accuracy of their Estimates. The honorable member for Robertson has said that he does not understand the Estimates. That is easily accounted for, and I am not surprised to hear it. But I can tell the honorable member that I understand the Estimates. As soon as I get them I go through every item.
– Can the honorable member understand them?
– The honorable member knows that my intelligence is equal to that.
– I have considered our Estimates for thirteen years, and they are a puzzle to me.
– Honorable members taking up the Estimates without previous consideration cannot reasonably expect to know what they contain; but those who devote sufficient time to their considera-tion should be able to understand them. I do not think that Estimates submitted in any of the State Parliaments supply as much information as do the Estimates presented to this Parliament. If any honorable member does not understand a particular item, the officers of the Treasury are only too pleased to give all the information necessary about it. I do not know why honorable members admit that they are so dense as to be unable to understand our Estimates. If we take, for instance, the Defence Department, and the statement in the Estimates that the expenditure in connexion with the visit of the Inspector-General of Oversea Forces will amount to a certain sum, there should be no difficulty about understanding that item. In ‘the same way there should be no difficulty about understanding other votes. What would the proposed Public Accounts Committee do with the Estimates ? Would they dispute their correctness? The Auditor-General and his staff are appointed for the purpose of seeing that all the Commonwealth accounts are properly kept, and I have never heard any honorable member speak of the Audit Department except in terms of the highest praise. The complaint has sometimes been made that we cannot get the report of the Auditor-General in time to consider it when we are discussing the Estimates. But honorable members should bear in mind that goods are delivered to Government Departments up to the 30th June, and it is often impossible to have all the accounts for such goods sent” in until July or August. Every account must be in hand before the Auditor-General can carry out his work, and it is therefore unreasonable to expect ‘that his report should be in hand as early as some honorable members seem to expect. I cannot see how the proposed Committee of Public Accounts could do any good. They could not interfere with the Estimates before or after they had been laid on the table in this House. As a rule the Government can be trusted to take good care of that. Governments are very sensitive about their proposals for expenditure, and it is quite right that they should be. They should not submit to Parliament any expenditure unless it can be justified. During the last three years, so far as I know, there was not a single item in the Estimates presented by the late Government that was interfered with. This session, it is true,, one of the votes on the Estimates was reduced by £2,000. That was because thepresent Government had not the courage or backbone to stand by the Estimates they had submitted. No other Govern ment would have allowed such a thing to occur. The present Government have sub*mitted to the humiliation of allowing, their Estimates to be reduced by £2,000, but the late Governmentwould certainly not have permitted any reduction to be made in their Estimates. Honorable members., I fancy, are confusing a Public Works Committee with the kind of Committee contemplated in this Bill; but, as a matter of fact, the twobodies are absolutely different. A publicWorks Committee has power to call evidence, and make recommendations on that evidence; and in New South Wales a Committee of the kind has done some remarkably good work. I remember that on one occasion the Government Architect of the State prepared plans and specifications for a building of brick and cement, or, as I should say, brick and mud, but the Committee satisfied themselves that the proper material was stoneThen, again, the Public Works Committee of New South Wales recommend positions for railway stations, and makeproposals as to railway routes and deviations; and their ideas are almost invariably adopted. I shall not vote against the Bill, which will, doubtless, satisfy honorable members opposite, and beheld to justify the numerous silly things they said to country peopleduring the elections - will be held to justify some of the outrageous, idiotic,, and unreasonable statements with which they tried to delude the public. It will’ enable them to point to the great work they have done in the National Parliament, and, on the platform, to indulge in thunder and bluster. As a matter of fact, however, it is the Government, and not any Committee, who are responsible to the House and the country. I ask what item in the Estimates could such a Committee interfere with?
– I have heard some very funny things said by honorable members opposite, but that is about the funniest. Even the members of the Government themselves cannot tell us what these contingencies are; the word itself shows that what is meant are accounts which cannot be foreseen, and for which the Government must have credit. If we are to appoint a Committee, let us appoint one for -some specific and useful object. It is idle to appoint a Committee with no power to do anything; and, so far as obtaining information is concerned, the best source is the Government themselves. There is no member in the House who is such a stickler for Ministerial responsibility, and who is so averse to delegating that responsibility to any other body, as is the Prime Minister. What guarantee have we that this power will be delegated to any but supporters of the Government? As for the honorable member for Parkes, had the Labour party been in power, we should have had a lively five minutes at his hands; but it is rather awkward for him to speak against his own. party, and, therefore, his remarks were lenient. As a matter of fact, I do not think that that honorable member has any use for the Bill at all, because he declared that he would not be a member of the Committee. When the Estimates have been passed, and the session has closed, what can such a Committee have to do until the next Estimates axe laid on the table? When once we have passed the Estimates there are no public accounts with which the Committee can deal. The Estimates are the last thing to be laid on the table, for the reason that, once they are passed, and the Government get the Appropriation Bill through, they may, in the event of the Opposition becoming obstreperous, immediately prorogue Parliament by proclamation. This has been done repeatedly in the case of the State Parliaments1; when the Estimates and the Appropriation Bill are through, the Government can tell the Opposition to go home, or to a warm place that I shall not mention. This Bill is neither more nor less than a placard for the window during the recess, to induce the people to believe that the present Government are great legislators, although, as I have already pointed out, this Committee will have no power or authority. The Government should be made answerable for every item in the Estimates, which are prepared by the servants of the Commonwealth, of whose honesty I do not believe there is any doubt. Has the Treasurer any doubt as to the correctness of the Estimates?
– They are quite correct.
– Has the right honorable gentleman any doubt that the Estimates are honestly prepared by the officers in the best interests of the people ?
– I hope so.
– Then what is the good’ of this proposed Committee of Public Accounts? Each Department furnishes Estimates to the Treasurer, and I suppose that each Estimate is liberally bluepencilled, because the money desired is not available. Many Departments have their Estimates returned for revision as often as five or six times before they are satisfactory to the Treasurer for presentation to the House; and I am informed that the last Estimates for the Defence Department were much larger than those finally decided upon by the Treasurer. When the Labour Government were in power there were certain amounts that I caused to be placed on the Estimates, but I was subsequently informed that’ these had been cut down; and we know that the Treasurer cannot go beyond his revenue. Very few new members are aware of the close scrutiny that- takes place before the Estimates are finally laid on the table. As I have said, this Committee, if appointed, will afford some satisfaction to the other side.. They will be able to wave their arms and create great excitement about the wonderful progress which* has taken place. They will produce this bit of paper, creating a Public Accounts Committee with absolutely no power, and making only a laughing-stock of themselves. When the Government come to the House they can do nothing. I do not care whether the Committee is to get its powers under Standing Orders or not. Of course, if it derived its powers under the Bill, it would have a higher status than it is likely to have when its authority is derived from what I was going to call ‘ ‘ sitting orders.” Apparently, Standing Orders are to be passed to enable the Committee to do a number of great things. If some persons only had an opportunity to come to a certain Parliament House in Australia, they would laugh heartily when they observed how easily some honorable gentlemen are gulled and led away. I wonder what they would think of the great men they saw on the Treasury bench. A squatter in New South Wales came to me once, and said, “ West,
I used to get a Sydney Morning Herald and read columns of members’ speeches, and think of what great men there must be in your Parliament.” But after he had been there a fortnight, he said that there were more scoundrels to the foot there than in any place he had ever been in. He remarked that the members went about with a load of stones in their pocket trying to float a gold mine. “ I never came,” he said, “ amongst a more unscrupulous lot of fellows in my life. If it had not been for the assistance of the press, some of those gentlemen would not have got back to their seats again.”
– Joking apart, sir, I think some honorable members on the opposite side would, like myself, prefer to be considering something better than this bit of paper. The cream of the intelligence of Australia is supposed to occupy the Treasury bench, and yet Ministers bring in a puny thing like this Bill, and call themselves statesmen. A politician is a man looking after the next election. There are a lot of politicians associated with this Bill who are looking after the next election. The statesman is a man who looks ahead. I asked once what an alderman was, and I was told that he was a man who knew more about menu cards than he did about anything else. I suppose that this bit of paper is one of what Ministers call their non-contentious measures.
– That is right.
– If that is so, then save us from the others. The sooner we go home the better; because in Sydney I could do more useful work, such as in assisting a hospital committee, or doing something of that kind, than I can possibly do by staying here. This is, presumably, one of those non-contentious measures which are going to do so much for Australia. If my friend George Reid were here, would he not have a bit of fun ? Would he not enjoy himself with this non-contentious measure? He would adjust his eye-glass and say, “Ah !” Then he would look at the plain side of the sheet and say, “ There is more sense in that than there is in the printed matter on the other side.” It would be enjoyable to hear his comments on the measure. We should get a lot of information. I am very sorry that I have not his assistance just now.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7.45 p.m.
– The remarks I was making prior to the adjournment for dinner seemed to afford a lot of pleasure to honorable members. I am not at all sorry for what I said then, because I feel more satisfied than ever I was that the Bill is simply a placard to enable Ministers in recess to go about this great continent and tell the people what fine legislators they were, and how they endeavoured to earn their salaries, and to guard the public accounts - as though previous Ministers were the greatest scoundrels that could be found on the face of the earth. Prior to the advent of a Labour Government in New South Wales, we used to have some Heaven-born geniuses as financiers. They tried to make the people believe that they were monuments of ability and had all those fine qualities which make good citizens and parliamentarians; hut they had a very peculiar way of keeping the public accounts. They had a masterful way of making a surplus. Did such a state of things exist in the Commonwealth, there would be some justification for the Attorney-General to exercise his abilities and realize the keen conceptions of the public wants which he is supposed to have in his “ noddle.” In New South Wales a surplus was made up in a peculiar way. The Treasurer would bring down his statement of income and expenditure; on the income side he would put down land valued at £2,000,000; on the opposite side he would put down his expenditure; he would then subtract the expenditure from the revenue, and bring out a surplus. In other words, the vacant land was the surplus. That method of showing a surplus was exposed at the time by a Committee which was appointed to conduct an inquiry. As an onlooker from the gallery, I felt that there was some justification for what was done; but to-day the Treasurer has put forward no justification for this little Bill. He has declared that, when he is framing his Estimates, the Public Accounts Committee will not be allowed to interfere; that he will take no notice of that body. The Government alone are responsible for the Estimates. The Treasurer treats with scorn any suggestion of interference with the Estimates. The House should, however, always take good care that the Governmentare held answerable for them. I shall be loath at any time to transfer the control of the purse strings from responsible Ministers to any Committee which may be appointed by the House, because we could not have that control over a Committee which we have over Ministers. It must be remembered, too, that, behind the statements made by Ministers, are the public officials, in whom I have every confidence ; indeed, I think that we ought to be proud of the servants employed by the Commonwealth. I cannot understand any opposition to the Bill, other than a desire, if possible, to stop Ministers from going about the country in recess, or at the next election, and saying to the people, ‘ ‘ What great statesmen we are ! What brilliant ideas we had 1 We brought forward a Bill, and it is called the Public Accounts Bill.” In my opinion, the measure can be of no use in safeguarding the public finances. I wish to be regarded as serious in this matter. I want to know why honorable members seek to confer on a Committee of the House the right of scrutinizing the items on the Estimates. That is a privilege which no representative of the people ought to part with. One of the greatest functions which he can exercise in the House is that of scrutinizing the Estimates. I hope that the Government do not intend to do the same with this Bill as they did with the Loan Bill, and “ gag “ honorable members. I hope that the Government will reserve to honorable members full power to criticise every item on the Estimates, and that they will not shelter themselves under such a subterfuge as this Bill, and say, “The Public Accounts Committee have gone through the accounts, and we are satisfied with their inspection.” I do not intend to give up my rights, privileges, and responsibilities in regard to scrutinizing the Estimates. I ask honorable members to pause before they empower a Committee to exercise any power or judgment over their acts in that relation. I have tried to point out the difference between a Public Works. Committee and a Public Accounts Committee. A Public Works Committee composed of honorable members would be of some use, because it could go through every item, and make suggestions, pointing out whether any proposed expenditure was of such a character as to deserve our approval, and also indicating what the future expenditure was likely to be.
There is another matter which has cropped up during this debate, and which is of more importance than honorable members appear to recognise. It has been stated that the Estimates, include many an item against which not a large amount is put down, but that the probability is the passing of that small amount may lead to a very large expenditure in the future. I agree with that statement. I watched the proceedings in the State House for a number of years, and I know that there have been put on the Estimates items which ultimately involved the country in the expenditure of millions of money. In the first instance, of course, only a small amount was set down for a work. In the case of the Sydney water supply scheme some years ago, Sir Henry Parkes placed on the Estimates a sum of £750,000. At the time there was a strong contention as to whether a low pressure or a high pressure scheme should be adopted. Knowing the value of a high-pressure scheme for a city, and how it could be utilized in industries, I favoured it, and with a few friends waited on Sir Henry Parkes, and pointed out that such a scheme would involve an expenditure of nearer £3,000,000.’ I said to Sir Henry Parkes, “ How can you justify this vote; you have only £750,000 down on the Estimates?” Sir Henry Parkes replied, “ West, if I were to tell the people of New South Wales what a water supply for Sydney could cost, I would have the whole of the country members against me for putting down the item at all.” It will be the same in the Commonwealth. There are items of expenditure, small at first, which it is necessary to pass, and they will lead to greater works costing larger sums. The items are only small at first -because the whole of the works cannot be carried out during the year covered by the Estimates. A Public Works Committee would not alter that, but they would show the necessity for passing the smaller amounts to prepare for the larger works in future years. This is illustrated by the expenditure on the Capital site. Though the amount expended this year may be £200,000, and may be justified, in twentyfive years’ time possibly considerably more than £250,000 will be a justifiable expenditure at Canberra. For the benefit of the honorable member for Robertson, a new member, whose boots seem to pinch him so much tha’t he must keep moving, has interjected something about country members. I may tell him that country districts benefit by the money spent in the Capital. The North Shore bridge at Sydney, which is essential for the traffic in Sydney, and should have been constructed years ago, has not been commenced, because, through the work of the New South Wales Public Works Committee, the people knew the actual cost of that project. Without that Committee they would not have known it, and possibly the work would have already been taken in hand ; but a Public Accounts Committee can give us no aid in that direction. I have yet to learn from the Treasurer where this Committee will save a shilling, or help to elucidate any item on the Estimates. It is the duty of honorable members to make themselves acquainted with the expenditure set out in the annual Estimates, and to see whether it is justified. They have no right to delegate their power to any body or Committee. The responsibility rests on every honorable member, and every honorable member should share it. As for the Bill, I pick it up and see that it is a piece of paper printed on one side and blank on the other, and in trying to judge which is the best side I reason that as one side costs money, seeing that there is print upon it, and the other side costs nothing, seeing that it is blank, I am justified in plumping for the blank side. I know the Bill can do nothing towards reducing expenditure. In fact, it will create expenditure. It cannot aid the revenue or enlighten honorable members one whit. In my opinion, it is simply a placard for the next election. The honorable member for Wentworth will be able to say to the electors in his district, “ Look at the great work Parliament has - done ; and I, as Assistant Minister, took charge of the Home Affairs Department, and was able to assist the Government in bringing this great measure before the House.” Will they not think him a genius? Looking at this matter seriously, I think the House should be occupying its time in a much better way. If the Government had been really in earnest they would have put through a Bill for a Public Works Committee, which could be of some assistance. I am sure the honorable member for Wentworth will admit that a Public Works Committee would do his Department no harm if he had it assisting him.
Instead of such a non-contentious measure, we have before us this marvellous production, and neither side of the House pretends to care whether it is passed or not. After my few remarks the Treasurer might seriously consider whether there is any necessity for the Bill. As he seems very anxious to have his name put to something, I would rather see it attached to some better measure than this trumpery thing, which is simply put forward because at election time some honorable gentlemen made silly statements, and told the people what great things they were going to do. I hope of all the great things they are going to do this is not one of them, but that they will justify their position on the Government benches by something better. I do not care much whether I exercise my vote on the second reading, and shall not worry about it.
– Surely after this speech you will move an amendment of some kind.
– No. All I have to say is that there is no necessity for the Bill, and that I feel it will be a mistake for honorable members to delegate any of their, power to criticise the Estimates. If any honorable member says that he does not understand the Estimates, I am quite prepared to go into one of the rooms and point out how Estimates are made up, and honorable members’ responsibility in regard to them. I am always prepared to give them information in regard to any item. I take home a copy of the Estimates-, and if I feel a little bit down-hearted I get my wife to read out a few chapters. But if honorable members say they do not understand the Estimates, they cannot have been taught any book-keeping, because the man who keeps the ordinary accounts of a little grocer’s shop could understand the Estimates - they are so simple. When I came to the Federal Parliament I was actually surprised to see how simple they were. I hope honorable members will make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the’ Estimates, and will not give up their control, over them. The Bill might just as well be thrown under the table for all it is worth.
.- It will be freely admitted by every honorable member that nothing more important than the finances of the country can claim the attention of any Parliament, and if this Bill is to be of any value it will only be so in so far as it will affect the financial administration of the ‘Commonwealth. Governments stand or fall, and are estimated in the public mind by their financial administration. I have studied this Bill, and have listened to the speeches in vain to discover what possible hope this proposed Committee will have of enabling us to better understand or manage the finances. We have now an Auditor-General, with a staff of officials, whose only duty it is to see that the finances are run on proper lines. The Auditor-General is presumed to be an expert; he is paid the salary of an expert, and he is supposed to have under him officials trained in accountancy and finance. If the Bill is to accomplish anything, it will relieve the Auditor-General and his staff of the responsibility they now have placed upon them in connexion with the finances, at any rate, so far as the checking of receipts and accounts is concerned, and to divide that responsibility in a most general fashion. I can conceive of nothing more dangerous to successful financial administration than the distribution of financial responsibility. I have listened in vain for any hint as to ‘the necessity for this alteration.
– Whom does the Bill relieve of responsibility?
– I can conceive of only one reason for placing this Bill before us. During the last election campaign the question of finance occupied a very prominent position. We upon this side of the House claimed that the three years’ regime of the Fisher Government had shown, if it had shown nothing else, unexampled ability in the matter of finance. The present Government and their supporters urged just as strenuously that we had been extravagant, that we had been careless, that we had exhibited utter incapacity in handling the financial affairs of the Commonwealth, and, for these reasons, we should be put out of office. We were put out of office, and the present Government, instead of coming down to Parliament with any reasonable proposals on the lines of their criticism of their predecessors - particularly in regard to economy in financial administration - submitted for our consideration a Loan Bill, together with increased expenditure, and have now brought forward a measure in which they propose to divest themselves of responsibility, and to thrust it upon a Public Accounts Committee. Personally, I have always a suspicion of Boards - these buffer Boards, which come between Parliament and the responsible heads of Departments and Ministers. It had been well said that all Boards are wooden, and, in many cases, the Boards appointed by Parliament are merely buffer Boards, which serve no good purpose other than to shield the responsible heads of Departments and Ministers from the consequences of their administration. Iii the first place, I say that this Bill will relieve the Auditor-General and his officials of a good deal of responsibility.
– I will tell the honorable member. So far as we know, this Bill may mean anything, or it may mean nothing. It is a “ cart-before-the-horse “ proposal. We are asked to appoint a Committee of Public Accounts, and, after we have done that, we are to be told what its duties are to be. The only thing we have to guide us is what has been done in similar cases. We have the experience of the Victorian Legislature, for example. The Bill provides that the proposed Committee ‘ ‘ shall exercise all the powers conferred upon it by any standing order, or Act, or otherwise, for the session during which it is appointed.” I have here the Standing Orders of the Victorian Legislature, in which the duties of the Committee of Public Accounts of this State are defined as follows: -
To examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the Colony and to bring under the notice of the Legislative Assembly any items in those accounts, or any circumstance connected with them to which it may consider the attention of the Legislative Assembly should be directed.
If that means anything, it means that the Committee which we are asked to appoint - if it is to be a responsible body - must be held accountable for anythingthat happens in regard to the keeping of the accounts of the Commonwealth. If a mistake occurs, we shall be told that the Committee has passed the accounts.
– The honorable member is such an authority on everything that he must express an opinion on this matter.
– The honorable member says that the Auditor-General will not be responsible.
– At present the Auditor-General is responsible for the correctness of the public accounts, and my complaint is that if this Committee is to examine those accounts with a view of seeing that they are properly kept, it must necessarily reduce the responsibility of the officer who is now charged with these very specific and important duties. Accountancy is an expert business. I question if there are half-a-dozen honorable members in this House who are able either to understand or to check a balance-sheet of a complicated character. One honorable member said to-day that we ought to be able to understand the accounts of the Commonwealth as easily as one can understand the balance-sheet of a company. As a matter of fact, there is nothing more difficult to understand than is the balancesheet of an ordinary company, and the more diverse are the operations of that company the more difficult it is to understand its balance-sheet. It is a common saying that figures can lie, and it is much more true that liars can figure. There are very few honorable members who are sufficiently acquainted with accounts and with balance-sheets, with the methods of calculating and of checking them, to be able effectively and intelligently to criticise them. If that be true of the ordinary balance-sheet of an ordinary trading company, how much truer is it that honorable members are unable to criticise the various items of the Commonwealth accounts? There are very few of us like the honorable member for East Sydney who are prepared to claim that we understand the Estimates and the public accounts from one end to the other. The honorable member may be able to teach us, but I am inclined to think that many of us would prove dull scholars, because the business is a most intricate one. Personally, I am quite content to leave the public accounts of the Commonwealth to experts, to demand from them the very best service they can render, and to hold them responsible for the efficient discharge of their duties. If the proposed Committee is going to examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure, and the books relating to the financial position of the Commonwealth, it must certainly relieve the Auditor-General of responsibility. It will be the easiest thing in the world for that officer and his staff to shelter themselves behind this Committee. They will be able to say, “ The Public Accounts Committee has examined the accounts, and is satisfied with them. How, then, can we be held responsible for them?” According to the Standing Orders of the Victorian Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee in this State has - 1T0 report to the ‘House any alteration which may appear to the Committee desirable to be introduced in the form of or method of keeping the public accounts, or in the mode of receipt, control, issue, or payment of the public money.
That brings me to the question of-: the distribution of responsibility. I begin now to wonder why the Treasurer has brought forward this Bill. Honorable members upon this side of the House have been charged with wasting time by talking hour after hour, while the Government were anxious to get on with important business. Here is the noticepaper detailing the different measures which are regarded by the Ministry as important. This is one Bill for which they consider the country is dying - one of the measures which they have been unable to get on with because we will insist on blocking business. While there are undoubtedly many measures which are necessary for the good government of the Commonwealth - measures which are already many sessions belated - the Government coolly propose to waste time by submitting a Bill of this character which will serve no purpose exceptthat of protecting the Treasurer from responsibility for his Estimates.
– If it is useless, why did the Victorian Government adopt it?
– I have been making some inquiry in regard to the Public Accounts Committee in Victoria, and I have not yet learned that it has had the slightest effect in altering the system of keeping accounts which was previously in vogue, or that it has helped Parliament to a better understanding of the Estimates, or, in short, that it has been able to justify its existence. The Treasurer proposes to appoint a similar Committee, and in view of the fact that he refuses to give ns any information as to the work which it is to do, I can only imagine - seeing that he has charged this party with having been extravagant, wasteful, and incapable in their financial administration, whilst he himself has come down to Parliament with proposals for increased expenditure - that he is anxious to protect his retreat in some way or other. He is eager to cover up and square his statements of some months ago with his conduct now. He proposes to do this by dividing his responsibility, and by placing a Public Accounts Committee between himself and the House. I do not know whether he intends to submit his Estimates to the Committee before presenting them to Parliament, but I do not think (hat he does. I am of opinion that no Treasurer worthy of the name would allow any party or any Committee, other than the Cabinet, to come between himself and his Estimates. The first time that his Estimates become public - outside of the Cabinet - is when they are laid on the table of the House. If the right honorable gentleman is not going to present his Estimates to this Committee, of what use will the Committee- be ? How can its members call attention to any questionable item in them ? How can they point to any matter upon which they think honorable members may require enlightenment? According to the Victorian Standing Orders, the Public Accounts Committee in this State has -
To report to the House any alteration which may appear to the Committee desirable to be introduced in the form of or method of keeping the public accounts, or in the mode of receipt, control, issue, or payment of the public money.
I am quite prepared to admit that the Estimates require a good deal of consideration and investigation before we can arrive at a reasonable conclusion. If the proposed Committee is to take charge of the Estimates, what are its members going to do with them? Will they go through them with a view to discovering errors? If the Treasurer will look at the Estimates for the current year for the Department of Home Affairs he will find an error of £600,000.
– That is a mere trifle with this Government.
– That circumstance may be regarded as an argument in favour of the appointment of a Committee of Public Accounts. It shows that there has been carelessness in checking the figures. It is a mere clerical error, but it makes the figures appear £600,000 worse than they really are. If the proposed Committee is to consist of seven members, and it is to be charged with the duty of discovering merely clerical errors, the end will not justify the expenditure. On the other hand, if it cannot deal with the Estimates until after they have been passed by Parliament, of what value will it be? The only possible hope there can be of effective work being done by this body lies in its members being permitted to go through the Estimates with a view to suggesting a new method of presenting them to the House. But that immediately opens up the possibility of continual change in the method of keeping our public accounts. Anybody who knows anything about business knows that there is nothing more disturbing in business, and nothing more likely to lead to trouble, than the continual altering of the method of keeping accounts. When once we have adopted a good ‘ system of bookkeeping we should stick to it. Unless there is something very faulty and wrong in the method of presenting the Commonwealth accounts, the interference of a pettifogging Committee of Public Accounts will only make confusion worse confounded. I cannot imagine that the Treasurer wishes to dodge his responsibility. Yet, 1 quite fail to understand why he should bring forward this Bill at the present stage of the session. The third instruction to the Committee of Public Accounts in Victoria is -
To inquire into and report upon any questions which may have arisen in connexion with the public accounts.
If the adoption of that instruction will not transfer responsibility from the departmental officers to the proposed Committee by making the latter responsible for the methods adopted, I do not know what will. I have just pointed out a clerical error of £600,000 in our own Estimates. Would that matter be referred to the Committee of Public Accounts? The thing is ridiculous. All that is necessary in a case of that sort is to call the attention of the AuditorGeneral and his staff to it, and the error will be rectified. If we adopt the Victorian standing order relating to this matter the proposed Committee will have power, to report upon any questions which may arise in connexion with our public accounts. Suppose that we discuss the matter of expenditure upon the Yass-Canberra Capital Site. That question will always arise in an acute form when the Estimates are under review. Is it proposed to refer them back to this Committee 1 Every item in the Estimates is part pf the policy of the Government which presents them. How, then, could a Government transfer its responsibility regarding them to a Committee of Public Accounts ? Any report that the Committee might present, no matter how capable, would be ruthlessly swept aside if a charge of maladministration were to be made, .because the man who would have to answer the charge would be the Treasurer of the day, and the House would not let him shelter behind the Committee. No report of the Committee would prevent the criticism of the country’s finances by tlie House. The Victorian Committee is empowered, next, to inquire into and report to the Legislative Assembly upon the investment and condition of the funds of the Commissioners of Savings Banks. I cannot imagine that the proposed Commonwealth Committee is intended to have a similar power.
– It would be a good thing if it did.
– I have been pained, during the last month or so, to read the questions that have been regularly addressed to the Treasurer regarding the business of the Commonwealth Bank. Such questions can have only one effect, namely, to destroy public confidence in that Bank.
– The honorable member is not now in order.
– If the Committee of Public Accounts had, as is suggested, authority to inquire into the operations of the Commonwealth Bank, so far as either its general or its Savings Bank business was concerned, it would be disastrous for the credit of the Commonwealth, and the sooner the Bank was closed the better. This Parliament most judiciously placed the Bank beyond interference.
– I ask the honorable member not to. discuss that subject.
– I should not have referred to it but for the interjection of the honorable member for Calare. The Victorian Committee is empowered, also, to deal with any special references that may be made to it by the Assembly; and by motion made in the usual manner by any member of the Assembly, any matter of public accounts, or any question of finance, may be referred to it.
The Victorian Committee has thus a very wide range of power. But, having made inquiry, I cannot find that it has dared to interfere with the existing methods of the Departments, or to suggest to the Treasurer any alteration or delegation of responsibility.
– Does it present regularreports ?
– No one seems to know. The best information- I can get is that nothing it has done has had any influence. Yet we are wasting time over a measure for the appointment of a Commonwealth Committee that no one wants. The Treasurer says that he does not care whether we provide for the’ Committee or not; the country has not demanded thecreation of the Committee, and the Public Service has not asked for it. There is no charge of incapacity against the Auditor-General, and no similar Committee has been of any practical benefit to the State that has established it. In Victoria, a member can move a motion dealing with the finances of the country,, and have the matter referred to the Committee for report. But all representative Parliaments have jealously guarded the right to control finance. About nothinghas the House of Commons been moretouchy and nervous than about its right to control money Bills; and there is= nothing that this House has been morecareful about. Perhaps the honorable member for East Sydney is right in saying that the Bill is merely a placard intended to deceive the electors. A Committee of Public Accounts could be given authority and power only by taking responsibility from the Treasurer and his expert advisers. He is surrounded by men who have been trained in finance, and are paid high salaries because of their special knowledge.. They understand accountancy, and it is their business to present the public accounts to us in the most understandable form. Yet it is now proposed that a Committee, to consist of seven members of this House, who may or may not have had financial training, shall be empowered to enter the Treasury, to examine books that its members do not understand, to investigate methods that they cannot comprehend, and to make suggestions which will be of no value. If the Committee is not going to deal with the accounts until Parliament has passed’ the Estimates, who will listen to its reports, and who will curtail our right to criticise because of them? If the Committee is merely to visit public Departments during the recess, “ to look through books, to examine receipts, to sign forms, and to report to Parliament that, having examined the documents presented by the Treasury officials and the Auditor-General, it finds them correct and in good order, the proposal is ridiculous. Financial matters are too important and too intricate to be dealt with in this way. Clause 2 provides that the Committee shall exercise powers that are to be conferred on it bv Standing Orders, by ‘ an Act,, or otherwise. The honorable member for Maribyrnong has called attention to the words “ or otherwise.” We are continually told that Acts of Parliament are so framed that a coachandfour can be driven through them; but the words “ or otherwise “ provide an opening through which two such turnouts could be driven abreast. We are asked to sanction the appointment of a Committee of whose powers we know nothing, of whose duties we are only vaguely informed, and at whose responsibilities we are left to guess. The Treasurer tells us, in effect, that, “after we have agreed to purchase the horse, he will tell us its age, whether it is .sound in wind and limb, how far it can travel, and what it is worth. Had the Bill provided that the duties, of the Committee of Public Ac-1 counts “shall be as. follows,” which was done in the case of the Inter-State Commission, we should know where we are. The honorable member for East Sydney ridiculed the Bill, and riddled it with his criticisms, showing it to be useless and unreasonable; and yet he said that he would not oppose it.
– To pass it would make the Government appear ridiculous.
– Any proposal affecting finance is too serious to be treated lightly; and the proposed Committee, if created, will remain during the tenure of office, not only of the present Administration, but of that of all other Governments. I am very suspicious of any meddling, interfering, or pettifogging with the finances of the country. There are some members of this House who- are competent and. patriotic enough to act upon a Committee of Public Accounts, and give proper1 attention to. its’ duties, and who might present intelligent and. useful reports. But, speaking generally, a Committee of this House is not competent to investigate the finances of the country, and its report when presented would be looked upon by honorable members as so much waste paper. It is proposed that the Committee shall be given certain powers, which are to be set out in Standing Orders which have yet to be introduced. Possibly we shall have an opportunity to discuss those powers when the Standing Orders are submitted. We may not have that opportunity, because we never know now what opportunity will be afforded to discuss matters put before this House. We are allowed to discuss proposals of considerable importance for a certain time only, and then the discussion is’ ruthlessly stopped.
– Order ! The honorable member will -not be in order in referring to that matter.
– It is possible that a Bill may be brought in to deal with the proposed Committee, and we may or may not have an opportunity to discuss it. It is impossible to foretell what the powers of the Committee will be. That is the dangerous feature of this Bill, and I consider it of so much importance that, until I have some definite information on the subject,. I am not prepared to accept this measure. I should have no objection in a general way to the establishment of a Committee of Public Accounts if I could’ be satisfied that such a Committee would accomplish any useful purpose. We have not so far been informed as to the duties which the proposed Committee will be called upon to perform. There have been no complaints about the financial administration of the Commonwealth other than the usual complaints, which we know are made for party political purposes. It is not suggested that the finances of the country are not being properly managed, that the AuditorGeneral and his staff are incompetent, that there is need for a special inquiry into our finances, or that ordinarily our Estimates are not understandable. Then why the appointment of this Committee ? Under this Bill the Treasurer can refuse to give the Committee’ any powers. He can refuse to bring in any Bill, and by the use of the words “ or otherwise,” the right honorable gentleman may give the proposed Committee as much or as little power as he chooses. It may be’ said, without any reflection upon honorable members generally, that the ordinary member of Parliament looks at the Estimates at first from a general point of view. He sees that the revenue is estimated at £20,000,000, and the expenditure at £24,000,000. Every honorable member understands that that means £4,000,000 on the wrong side. That is the general point of view. Then each honorable member considers particularly such detailed items appearing in the Estimates as affect his own constituency. Outside these points, one wide ind general, and the other purely local and parochial, honorable members are not interested in the details of the Estimates. Is there a man amongst us who goes through the Estimates item by item ? We know there is not, and the reason is that we hold the Government responsible for the Estimates in bulk, and charge them with faulty or efficient administration according as the Estimates are viewed in a general way, and not in a detailed and particular way. . If that be so, how much further forward or better informed shall we be, and how much more effective will our criticism of financial administration be, if a Committee of Public Accounts presents us with a report upon the Estimates twelve months after they have been passed by this House? The more I look into and consider this Bill the more feeble, miserable, and paltry it appears to be. One wonders that the Government, if they are at all serious in their professed desire to get on with important business, should waste the time of the House in the con- .sideration of such a measure. There are certain Parliaments in the world that necessarily carry on their business very largely through Committees. It will .be admitted that the House of Commons could not hope to get through a tithe of its business were it not for the work of various Committees to whom the consideration of certain subjects is delegated. We may come to that yet. Probably in the development of Australia it will become necessary to relieve this Parliament of a lot of detail work by delegating its consideration to such Committees. But that time has not yet come. This Parliament, with all its loquacity and verbosity, is still competent to deal with the affairs of the country without referring them to an irresponsible and delegated authority such as a Public Accounts Committee. Until it becomes necessary for the Treasurer and the Government to delegate their responsibility or shelter the Departments of the Treasurer and the Auditor-General behind a Committee of members of this House, there is no reason why we should make “experiments in finance. There is no Department of public affairs in connexion with which we should be more careful about introducing experiments. There is no Department in connexion with which we are more likely to do harm, even though we may intend to do good, than the Department of Finance. There are various Committees which might be established in connexion with the conduct of the affairs of this country, such, for instance, as a Public Works Committee and a Tender Board, which have been referred to, which might perform useful duties and accomplish satisfactory results. But so far as the Commonwealth finances are concerned, I hope we shall hold the Treasurer and his Department to their responsibility, and will not allow that responsibility to be delegated to any Committee whatever, having the right to report, suggest, ‘or amend. The importance of finance is the first consideration of government. The responsibility of finance is the one bugbear of Governments. Every Govern merit who have any sense of honour or responsibility will accept honestly, openly, and cheerfully the duty of the financial administration of the affairs of the country, and go on with their business, accepting their responsibility, and not trying to shelter themselves behind an irresponsible Committee who can do no good, and cannot help the Treasurer, or relieve the Government of any blame should anything go wrong with the finances of the country.
.- The most astounding statements made during this debate came, I think, from the honorable member for Calare. Practically, the honorable member’s opening remarks were to the effect that he once found himself in a church, and as the service proceeded he found himself “ all at sea.” We can well understand from his conduct in this House that the honorable member would be “at sea “ where the principles and tenets of tlie Christian faith are being expounded. However, that is a matter for the honorable member himself to consider. In future, I hope sincerely . that he will go more often to these places, and will learn to treat honorable members on this side in a more Christian spirit than he has so far done during the present session. The honorable member’s second statement was that he found himself in difficulty about giving an account of his stewardship to his constituents after the session is over. That is the most astounding statement that could possibly fall from any honorable member on the Government side. If he will permit me, I shall suggest to him how easy it will be for him or any of his colleagues to give an account of their stewardship during this session at any rate. All that they will have to do will be to say, “ Ladies and gentlemen - Whenever we, on the Government side, found ourselves in a difficulty, we just gagged the Opposition and went on with the next subject. Whenever we found criticism becoming a little too warm we gagged the Opposition. Whenever we objected to criticism or to the exposure of our conduct we simply gagged the Opposition and went merrily on our way. We robbed the Opposition of all right of free speech, and did just as we liked without knowing why we liked to do it. That is a true and faithful account of our stewardship.” If any honorable member onthe other side stands before his electors and says that, it will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In the third place the honorable member for Calare deplored his own want of knowledge in respect to the finances. We have only to remind the honorable member that when honorable members on this side desired to the best of our ability to criticise the expenditure of £3,080,000, with other honorable members on the opposite side, the honorable member deliberately applied the closure, so that he should not receive the information the lack of which he now so seriously deplores. Could we have anything more shockingly inconsistent than the utterances of the honorable member in the circumstances? He has deplored his lack of knowledge, and yet when thirtyseven members of this House desired to supply him with the information, which he undoubtedly required, he point-blank refused to allow them to do so.
– It is only his modesty as an ex-bank manager.
-Though that suggestion may be made, honorable members on this side, possessed of verykeen vision, are unable to discern modesty on the Government side. I do not envy the modesty of an honorable member who deplores his lack of information, while he refuses to allow himself to be informed. We have to take the Bill before us as an indication of the Fusion mind. The Treasurer certainly read a speech to us this afternoon.
– Read it?
– I am taking no exception. We could have taken exception at the time, but we do not take exception to the Treasurer reading his speeches.
– I read a number of quotations.
– We took no exception. The privilege is freely granted to the right honorable gentleman. He read a carefully-prepared speech in which he gave us as little information as it was possible for him to give, and yet speak for half-an-hour. We were not accorded the ordinary courtesy of an adjournment in order that we might assimilate what the right honorable gentleman read, but were forced to continue the debate. Under the circumstances, we have to rely on our memory of his words, and on the bare statements in the Bill itself. If this Bill is an indication of the Ministerial mind, it proves that that mind may be as vacant as ever it was - devoid of anything substantial or tangible as it is possible for any mentality to be. The Bill accomplishes nothing beyond giving nominal effect to election cries. When the Bill is passed, until something else is done in the way of passing Standing Orders, it may remain on the statute-book for ever and a day without accomplishing anything; there may be no powers given, and the Committee will not be delegated to do anything good, bad, or indifferent.
– It is the intention to do something at once.
– What we complain of is that the Ministry always intend to “ do something,” but seldom accomplishes anything beyond refusing the right of free speech, and at that they are experts. We here, and the public, have a right to know what the Government intend to do if this Bill be passed; but, so far as the explanation of the Treasurer is concerned, we are none the wiser. No honorable member opposite has vouchsafed any information respecting the work of similar Committees established under the State Governments. In this Bill the Government could have defined the powers of the Committee, rather than have sought some other occasion to alter the Standing Orders of the House so as to set forth those powers. The very fact that the powers of the Committee are to be left to Standing Orders indicates that there is a desire on the part of the Government and their supporters to quarrel with the Senate. It has suggested by interjection, though certainly not in any speech, that it is proposed to give the powers under Standing Orders, because this House alone will control those Standing Orders. Notwithstanding that the Senate is equally interested with ourselves in the public accounts, the powers of tlie Committee are to be left entirely to the House of Representatives. This, I repeat, seems to show a desire to quarrel with the Senate, which, I contend, has a right to a voice in the delegation of the powers to the Committee. There is nothing in the Constitution which says that we alone shall be able to appoint a Committee dealing with the public accounts, and shall hold the right or power to say how far the Committee shall or shall not go. It is only feasible, in the circumstances, that the Senate should assert its unquestionable constitutional right to a voice in the granting of the powers. It is not that I fear,, or suppose for a moment, that the Committee will ever be of any real use to the Commonwealth; that is a matter for the future. At any rate, the Senate has a right to say that, so far as the powers of the Committee are concerned, they ought to be given the opportunity to consider them on an equality with the House of Representatives. However, the bare skeleton of a Bill is submitted, and the time of the House is taken up in debate, with the prospect, next week or the week after, of further time being occupied in discussing the Standing Orders. The Ministry complain, without reason, that the time of the House is being unduly occupied, and yet they present a Bill in such a form as to cause a double debate when one would have sufficed.
– I did not think this Bill would have occupied five minutes.
– Possibly the right honorable member did not think so ; but I remember one line of ‘the Estimates last year, which the late Government thought would not occupy five minutes, but which occupied fifty-four hours. Therein lies the difference between Government thoughts and Opposition thoughts. As a matter of fact, on that one line of the Estimates Parliament was unanimous, and yet that length- of time was occupied in discussing it. In the present case, it might have been seen that a debate waB inevitable on an entirely new proposal. The Bill, however, accomplishes nothing practicable; it simply means, as I said, that in the future the time of the House must be occupied in discussing the Standing Order denning the powers of the Committee. We might reasonably ask the Treasurer on what he proposes to base those powers-. Will it be on the New South Wales Act, or on the Victorian Act ?
– They are both the same.
-.- No;, the right honorable gentleman cannot have looked at the Acts. In New South Wales, the powers of the. Committee, which are limited, are defined in the Statute itself, namely, the Audit Act, No. 26, of 1902, section 16, paragraphs a and b. Under that Act the Committee’ are empowered only to inquire into and report to the Legislative Assembly on any question, which may have arisen in connexion with the public accounts, and be referred to the Committee either by the Minister or the AuditorGeneral, or by resolution of. the Assembly, and to inquire and report on all expenditure by a Minister, without parliamentary sanction or appropriation. The Bill that we have submitted for our consideration is word for word a copy of the Victorian Act ; and the powers- of the Victorian Committee are defined in Standing Orders. I think that, under the circumstances, I am justified in asking the Treasurer whether he is going to copy the Standing Orders of Victoria, or the Statute of New South Wales ?
– They are both all right, though one is more limited’ than the other.
– We are now told that the Treasurer has not decided what powers he proposes to give the Committee. He says in effect, “ Let me have the Committee,” and, apparently, he will not be happy till he gets it. The right honorable gentleman is not quite sure whether he will copy the Victorian or New South Wales legislation, or the House of Commons regulations, or make a fusion of the three, as I suppose it will be, seeing that honorable members opposite love a fusion. We have a right to ask, before sanctioning this legislation, for a reasonable statement as to what powers it is proposed to give this Committee. For all we know, the Ministry may, during the last hours of the session, come down with a new set of Standing Orders, and, before two minutes have elapsed, apply the closure, thus denying honorable members any opportunity for discussion. “Under such circumstances, it is only reasonable to suppose that the other Chamber - which will be asked to pass this skeleton Bill, while having no control over the powers of the Committee - will ask what those powers are to be.
– I wish the honorable member would suggest a Bill that he deems non-contentious. I have tried to give the Opposition one Bill of the kind.
-One non-contentious measure is the Bureau of Agriculture Bill. If, instead pf being placed last on the list, that Bill had been placed first, it would have been the law of the land today. As I was saying, it is only reasonable to suppose that the other branch of the Legislature will ask the pertinent question : “What powers are to be granted to this Committee before its establishment is agreed to ? “ If that question be asked, the result will be a cry from the other side, and in the newspapers which support them, that the Senate is blocking business, and refuses to allow the Government to have this important measure.
– See what the Senate has done to-day !
– I am not responsible for what the Senate does. It would almost seem as if this Bill had been formulated for the specific purpose of creating public feeling against the Senate. This purpose is apparent in every move; and the Senate would be justified in the course I have indicated, though I know that their1 action would be misrepresented by honorable members opposite. One may either oppose the Bill as utterly absurd, or let it pass as valueless. The real contention will arise when the Standing Orders are proposed to clothe the Committee with some power, and show really what it has to do. Whether the Victorian Statute will be followed I do nob know ; but when the Treasurer submitted the Bill, he ought to have given us some information as to what the Committee will do if established, and what similar Committees have done during the past decade or so. For instance, what work has the New South
Wales Committee done to justify its existence? When I was in New South Wales during the election, I remember that, instead of having to answer Federal questions, I had invariably to reply on State matters, showing that the Federal election, on the Fusion or the Liberal side, was being fought largely on allegations made against the State Ministry. Federal subjects were in many cases obscured, and one of the charges repeatedly levelled was that the finances of New South Wales were in a condition of chaos too appalling to contemplate. Yet, since 1902, there has been a Public Accounts Committee in New South Wales.
– With only very limited powers.
– At any rate, for those ten years or so, there has been a Committee; and, in New South Wales, according to the sponsors of this Bill, the finances are chaotic.
– See who has had the handling of the finances !
– The honorable member speaks in a party spirit. There has been a Public Accounts Committee in New South Wales for all that length of time - ten or eleven years - whereas the present Government have been in power for only three years, thus showing that for the eight previous years the party with which the honorable member is connected had. control .
– The finances were sound then.
– I am sorry that the: honorable member has given the matter a. party aspect, but there it is. For eight out of eleven years his party were in power, yet during the whole of that period they told the electors on his side that the finances had been so appalling as to defy description. What has that Committee done? The Treasurer should have given, the House an explanation of what good, it has accomplished, and if it has suggested or recommended anything of value, we, without the establishment of a Committee, could copy that thing of valueand make use of it. I will leave the Public Accounts Committee of New South Wales, and come to Victoria, where thePublic Accounts Committee has greater - powers, defined in standing order 169a, approved on 29th January, 1895. Victoria, therefore, has had a Public Accounts Committee for a considerableperiod. What has the Committee done? that has justified its existence? Is the financial position in Victoria any better than it is in the Commonwealth ? Are the Victorian Estimates submitted with any greater care or lucidity, or with more explanation, than is the case in the Commonwealth Parliament? If they are, then, without the establishment of the Committee, which must, of necessity, mean expense, we could adopt the recommendations. Is there anything during the last sixteen years that the Committee has recommended which we could not adopt without the appointment of a similar body?
– I think that I saw in both newspapers statements warmly commending some piece of work which the Committee here did only recently.
– That is quite possible, and I do not dispute the statement for a moment.
– The Committee has rendered very valuable service during the whole of the time.
– It is quite possible that it may have done so. Certainly in the presentation of a Bill of this description the Ministerial side might have taken notice of those things, and given us an idea of what the Victorian Committee has recommended, and, if its recommendations do exist in the records, why cannot we adopt them, if they are an improvement on our present methods ? As a matter of fact, they are not. The Victorian Estimates are not presented in any better form than are those of the Commonwealth. No more information is furnished ; no greater explanation is given. In that direction, it is reasonable to suppose that a Committee will be of very little, if of any, better use to the Commonwealth than it has been to the Victorian Parliament. There is no certainty, however, that we shall follow on their particular lines. First of all, the Committee will not be permitted to interfere with the Estimates. No Government would degrade themselves to that extent. No Government would give up their responsibility and their authority to the extent of permitting any Committee to interfere with the Estimates. In so far as the Estimates are concerned, all that a Committee can do is, after they are presented to the House and accepted, to go through them in detail, and suggest some recommendations for the following year, which Parliament may, or may not, ap- . prove ot.
– It may deal with the expenditure.
– The Committee may overlook the expenditure after it has been incurred, and there will be no saving in that direction, although it is possible that its recommendation may have the effect of preventing expenditure in a similar way in the future. However, generally speaking, the Committee will deal with accounts. If we take notice of what was said during the last elections by the Fusion side, at any rate, there is some justification for them bringing in this Bill, for, nominally, it will give effect to their election cries. The lie that was circulated by those gentlemen during election time was that this side of the House had been guilty of extravagance. That was assiduously circulated throughout the whole of the campaign, and, necessarily, honorable members opposite must do something to make the people believe that there was some justification for the inaccuracy. This measure, apparently, is to have that effect. So far as this year is concerned, it will be inoperative. One year will have gone by, just as it has done in respect of Tariff matters. A Committee can only be appointed a few days before Parliament is prorogued, and, if the Bill is left in its present form, the Committee will expire on the day that Parliament meets, in July, or whenever it may please the Ministry to call it together again. Therefore, the Bill will not have accomplished anything this year; but honorable members on the other side will be able to say to their electors, “ We have appointed a Public Accounts Committee to look into the accounts.” I have been looking into some statements that were made by the Honorable Joseph Cook. He contributed to a Sydney newspaper some articles which were subsequently distributed in a little pamphlet under the title of “ The Financial Carnival,” and in that - the chickens are coming home to roost - he indulged in as much misrepresentation and misleading of the electors as it was possible for any human being to do in a like space. Perhaps the Public Accounts Committee, if appointed, will take notice of these remarks on pages 4 and 5 -
We are financing to-day on a basis of abnormal prosperity, and with it all we do not make ends meet at the close of the year. If our revenues should decline - as it is confidently predicted by competent judges they must - what are we to do with these huge expenditures? Cut them down, says some “ tyro.” The reply is that this most interesting operation is not so easy as it looks.
– Hear, hear !
– I am glad of that cheer. The honorable gentleman was very free in his criticism of us; he was very free in his allegations of extravagance and large expenditure; but now that he has control he is sympathetic, for he knows that you cannot cut down the expenditure in the way in which he suggested so- insidiously to the electors it should be cut down.
– On the contrary, I suggested that it was most difficult.
– My honorable friend suggested that it was very difficult, but he suggested, nevertheless, that a change in administration would mean a cutting down, and the electors were misled to that extent. Now that he is in office he finds that expenditure cannot be cut down when he has full control ; so that his suggestions to the electors fall utterly to the ground. They were baseless, unjustifiable, and ought never to have been made by an honorable gentleman with so much parliamentary experience, both in and out of Ministries, as he has had. Let me proceed -
In its very nature expenditure tends always to become permanent. It has a way of entrenching itself and making itself very quickly into a vested interest which is exceedingly difficult to uproot. Hence it is a wise thing for a Treasurer to base his outgoings on a good average rather than on the basis of a full, flowing tide of prosperity.
Honorable gentlemen on the other side do not cheer too vociferously that last sentence, for, with the honorable gentleman having complete control, none can say him nay. Neither branch of the Legislature can say a thing to him.
– I think we have struck the ebb tide.
– The honorable gentleman, instead of basing his outgoings on a good average when there is even an ebb tide, bases his outgoings as though there was no limit to the revenue; in other words, he shows conclusively that he has based his outgoings as though the tide were at its flood, and ever to remain there; with an utter disregard of all that he said at election time; with an utter disregard of all that appears in this little pamphlet; with an utter disregard of the bluff that was so successfully practised on an innocent people.
– All that has happened since is a confirmation of that.
– I suppose that the Public Accounts Committee will investigate this sentence.
When our income is abnormal and extraordinary it is extravagance to spend it all and make no provision for bad times.
If it be extravagance to expend everything when the revenue is abnormal, how much more so does the word “ extravagance “ apply when there is a tendency to decline in the revenue, as there is now? Notwithstanding that tendency, the honorable gentleman, his Ministry, and his supporters, are freely indulging in a proposed expenditure of over £4,000,000 more than was spent during the past financial year. And then, all that lamentable incapacity, that deplorable financial ineptitude, is being shown under cover of “ We are meeting the liabilities of others.” Had they not “ gagged “ us on the Loan Bill we would have shown conclusively why there was no necessity to spend some of the money which it is proposed to spend under it. But they feared this information going out to the people, and, in craven fear of that just criticism, they applied the r’ gag.”
– Order ! I ask the honorable member not to go into the details of that matter.
– I am not going into the details, sir, but the Public Accounts Committee will, I take it, look into the accounts, and the statements in this pamphlet are references to the accounts of last year; in fact, references to our accounts generally, which, I submit for your consideration, are proper in the circumstances.
– The honorable member will be in order in making a general reference, but not in going into details.
– I am not going into much detail, but I hope that 1 will not be prevented from quoting some passages, because this Bill deals with a financial subject. On page 6 I find another statement
– What has that to do with this Bill?
– This indicates, perhaps, the reason why the honorable gentleman is. anxious for a Public Accounts Committee to look ‘ into these things, because it is clear, from the Estimates put in front of honorable members on this occasion, that there has been no consideration given to the important points mentioned in this pamphlet. I ask honorable members to listen to a passage on “How the Post Office does notpay “ The honorable gentleman goes oh to show that last year there was, in the finances of the Post Office, a deficiency of £440,265. I do not intend to touch the details, but the statement is clothed in such language as to indicate that that deficiency ought not to have existed, that it was something extraordinary, that the very fact of its being there necessitated a change of Administration. Honorable members would scarcely believe that, while the deficit last year was £440,265, the deficit this year is £602,025, or £162,000 more, according to the honorable gentleman’s own estimate, than was the actual deficit last year. Perhaps a Public Accounts Committee will look into the deficit of £440,265, deplored in extraordinary terms last year, and the deficit of £602,025 this year, glossed over with a lightness that is amazing.
– The honorable member for Gippsland took his information from that book.
– The honorable member for Gippsland repeated these statemeats word for word, and deluded the electors in a similar manner. The honorable gentleman also says, in this book -
To this deficit must be added new works and (buildings, which means another£1,152,275, so that the total estimated deficit for the year (all of it chargeable to the revenue) is no less than
Honorable members will scarcely believe it, but, in the hands of these financial geniuses, these gentlemen of colossal power, these great business men who jeer at us on this side and say that we are accustomed to deal with hundreds while they deal with thousands, the total estimated deficit this year is £2,547,148, as against £1,592,540 last year. In the hand’s of these competents who jeer at us and allege that we knew nothing about finance, who said that we were extravagant and spent money regardless of consequences, the total deficit on one Department alone, that of the Post Office, is £1,000,000 more than it was last year. A Public Accounts Committee will possibly look into this, and no doubt will get a. copy of The Financial Carnival for its first food. I pass over details in deference to Mr. Speaker’s Wish, and come to one or two general statements. I find on page 28 this paragraph -
Why we should go and do likewise. What do names mean?
Is it necessary to overhaul our machinery in regard to such-like questions? I am firmly of that opinion. Take, as an instance of its necessity, the huge increases in items such as “ Contingencies,”
The word is in quotation marks to emphasize it - which in the Post Office alone has risen from £450,000 ten years ago to £1,090,000 to-day.
That is the criticism against the past Administration, alleging that contingencies, about which the honorable member for Gippsland so completely deluded a large number of electors, amounted to £1,090,000, and had risen at the rate of £64,000 per year for the past ten years. Listen to this: - Contingencies this year amount to £1,248,617 in the Post Office alone.
-And£3,300,000 all through the Estimates.
– Last year the contingencies amounted to £1,090,000; and, because of that, it was said there should be a change of Ministry ; yet, in the same Department this year, we have an estimated expenditure of £1,248,617 on contingencies, or an increase for the year of no less than £158,617. Whereas the average increase for the last ten years was only £64,000 a year, the increase directly these financial giants come into power is £168,000; and, if an increase of £64,000 was sufficient to put one Ministry out of office, an increase of £168,000 should put about two and a-half Ministries out. We can start with the present Government. Just one other general statement and then I have finished, for the moment, with this very precious document.
– Do not lose it.
– No. It will be very useful when we go before our constituents as showing the utter insincerity, the sham, and hollowness of the statements sent broadcast through the electorates a month or two ago, all of which are coming home to roost, and all of which would be burning in the minds of the electors, did the daily press give us one half of the consideration that they give to the other aide. Here is another statement, on page 21 of The Financial Carnival -
Now, what of our expenditure? As we have seen already, this has increased during the past three years to an average of about 14 per cent. If the same average increase is maintained next year it means an additional expenditure of over £3,000,000. And the inquiry immediately starts, Where is the money to come from ? On these figures the prospect next year is that of an expenditure of some £25,000,000, with an income of about £21,000,000 with which to meet it.
– That is pretty prophetic, is it not?
– No. In other words, the honorable gentleman estimated that if the Fisher Government were left in office the expenditure this year would be about £25,000,000, and that there would be an income of about £21,000,000. In round figures, that is what the income will be; but when he has complete power, when he can do as he likes, when he has everything in his hands and can say “Yea, “ or “ Nay,” and can stop expenditure, increase it or decrease it, his actual proposals this year amount to £2,200,000 more than he estimated the expenditure would be had the Fisher Government remained in office. I do hope the Committee of Public Accounts will inquire into this, and let us see what financial ability there happens to be on the Government side of the chamber. Perhaps, after all, we can let this Committee be appointed. But, so far as the Bill is concerned, we can scarcely see if it will be useful or otherwise. If it will have the effect of preventing such glaringly misleading things as have deluded the electors, it will not be without value. If it exposes what has been done by certain people to secure election, if it enables the country to get a better and clearer understanding of what the finances are, and how they are handled, and whether this or that party has been true to its platform pledges, and whether the expenditure is justifiable, the Committee will not be without some use to the country. But I think the Treasurer, in submitting the Bill, should have told us what power he proposes to give to this Committee. I think he is wrong in suggesting that itshould die at the end of each session. It will be preferable for the Committee to be elected for the whole of a Parliament, and it is absurd for the Treasurer to suppose that attention can be given to these matters in the way it should be” given, if the Commit tee be once established., unless there is some remuneration, at any rate, for outofpocket expenses.
– I said that outofpocket expenses would be paid.
– If established, the Committee will have to be reasonably representative of the whole of the States. In other words, one man will have to come from Western Australia, and one man from Queensland, New South Wales, or South Australia, as the case may be. I presume that will be the case. I do not know what Ministers will do, as they have given exhibitions of being able to do many things that are appalling ; but at the present moment it is fair to assume that the Committee will be representative. It is impossible to suppose that any honorable member will, during the recess, come from a far State, or any other State butVictoria - for practically all the work will be done in Victoria - unless there is some reimbursement of the expense to which he is put. It will entail very heavy labour indeed for this Committee to do its work thoroughly, and unless it is don© thoroughly it were better that it were not done at all. It will mean months of work when honorable members generally are in recess, when they are giving some attention to their own businesses, and when they are relieved from the heavy and continuous duties that fall upon them in the House. It will be impossible for the Committee to do very much work when the House is sitting. The House sits on four days a week, and some honorable members have to travel 1,000 miles each week to attend here, and, as a rule, they . have very little time available even to thoroughly understand the Bills and proposals submitted. Therefore, the work of this proposed Committee must be done during the recess; and I know that professional men and business men will not go upon the Committee unless they are reimbursed their out-of-pocket expenses. I shall not go into details, but we find, on page 27 of The Financial Carnival, an indication of what is in the mind of the Prime Minister. Under the heading of “ How the thing is done elsewhere,” the honorable member says -
A Committee of Accounts, such as is here suggested, has long been a part of the Victorian administrative machine, and has proved its great value to the State beyond all question or cavil.
Then, on page 30, he elaborates what it is proposed this Committee should do. It the Committee do a tenth of what is suggested by tlie Prime Minister, they will be kept busy for at least six months of the year and during the recess. Of course, it is not supposed that it will do all that this little book suggests for the consumption of innocent electors, though I am sorry to say that a number of them consumed it to their own hurt. The Bill itself nominally gives effect to platform cries. Whether it will have any effect on the finances - and we have not seen it, either in Victoria or New South Wales to any extent worthy of a moment’s consideration - remains to be seen. At any rate, it will permit honorable members to say in the future, if anything goes wrong with the finances, “ Well, there is the Public Accounts Committee. Why have not they reported upon it? We are not to blame.”
– I am sorry the discussion on the second reading has taken so long. I thought the Bill would be generally acceptable to all honorable members; that there was a very strong opinion, if not a unanimous one, that a Committee of Accounts was very desirable, and, therefore, I cannot say that I took much trouble in preparing my notes for the second reading. I thought it was generally agreed that the Bill was very necessary. It certainly is a great advantage to have a Committee always at work investigating the public accounts, without having to appoint special Committees. This will be a standing power, which will be very useful from the point of view of the House. As far as the Treasury and the Departments generally are concerned, they do not require the appointment of such a Committee. They do not want any investigation more than that which obtains at the present time. As Treasurer, I do not desire any Committee of Public Accounts to investigate the actions of the Treasury. If I had my way as Treasurer, I would say, “ Oh, no. We have good officers, and we do everything as it ought to be done. We do not require anything more.” But that is not the view that is entertained by Parliament. It is not the view that I would take if I were not Treasurer.
– The honorable member has to do it because he made it an election cry.
– I did not personally mention it during the election campaign.
– But the honorable member’s leader did.
– I do not know that he did.
– Then the Treasurer did not read his Financial Carnival.
– The honorable member did not read it to us until to-day. If it is such good stuff it ought to have been of some value to him previously. It is not in the interests of the Treasury, or of the Departments, or of the Executive Government that this Bill has been introduced. It has been submitted solely in the public interest. We think that Parliament should have power to easily investigate anything connected with the public accounts. The Auditor-General has been mentioned during the course of this discussion. That officer has his own functions, which he will continue to discharge. His duties are to investigate every item of expenditure, to see that it has been voted by Parliament, to assure himself that there is a proper acquittance for it, and that it has been duly authorized by the Minister. When he has satisfied himself upon all these points he allows it to pass.’ He does not go delving to see whether a particular vote was good policy on. the part of Parliament. That is not his business. It is not his province to scrutinize the action of Parliament.
– The Treasurer is referring to the Auditor- General ?
– Is it possible to spend a single pound without him certifying to it?
– No. For every expenditure there must be an account. That account has to be authorized by the Parliament. The powers conferred by this Bill will not be used in any way to usurp the functions of the Government of the day or to influence the amount of the Estimates submitted to this House. The Committee will be a Committee of Public Accounts, and its duty will be to scrutinize expenditure, and to report to this House. It will have no power to act itself. The responsibility of the Government and of this House .will not be affected in any way. It has been ‘said that it would be better to define its duties in an Act of Parliament. In my opinion it is preferable that they should be set out in our Standing Orders. This House will then have control over the Committee, whereas an Act of Parliament would require the assent of another place. Further, in matters of finance this House has primary control. Consequently, I think it is better to have the powers of the Committee set out in our Standing Orders rather than in a Statute. I have just looked into the powers which are conferred by law on the Public Accounts Committee of New South Wales. In that State the Committee “ may lay before the Legislative Assembly any suggestion arising out of any matters submitted for its inquiry which may appear desirable for the better conduct of the public business or of keeping the public accounts.” I may say that if the Bill be passed we shall at once prepare Standing Orders, which will be submitted for the approval of honorable members. It seems to me that- the Victorian Standing Orders are sufficient, and that they are very wide in their scope. If the House thinks that it is not desirable to give the Committee such wide powers, it can say so when we submit the Standing Orders for its approval. But in my opinion - seeing that the powers of the Committee are merely advisory to this House - we shall not err if we give it very wide powers. I have been asked of what use will be the Committee ? 1 think it will be a convenience, looking at the matter from the point of view of honorable members. Suppose that we have an institution which, is costing the Commonwealth a lot of money, such as the Woollen Mills, the Small Arms Factory, or the Federal Capital. The Committee which we propose to establish can investigate the matter.. If we adopt the Victorian Standing Orders it can investigate it of its own motion. It will have to investigate it if the House directs it to do so. Thus its existence will tend towards economy. We often hear a great deal about wasteful expenditure. In such circumstances the attention of the Committee would be directed to the charges, and they would make an investigation. They would do so without any very great flourish of trumpets, and would report to the House either that everything was perfectly satisfactory or otherwise. The Auditor-
General does not occupy a similar position. His duty is to audit the accounts. He may express an opinion, but he is not called upon to express an opinion as to the policy that is being pursued, although he has large powers - if he chooses to exercise them - even in the matter of making suggestions. Honorable members are familiar with the Standing Orders relating to the Public Accounts Committee in Victoria. I do not think that they are other than good. That body has to examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of this State.
– Is there an AuditorGeneral in Victoria doing the same work as is done by our own Auditor-General?
– Yes. Every State has its Auditor-General. But that officer does not occupy the same position as would be occupied by a Committee of this House. I will not read the Victorian Standing Orders again.
– Does the Treasurer intend to copy the Victorian standing order which relates to inquiry into and reporting upon the operations of the Savings Banks?
– I do not. We could not do that without altering the Commonwealth Bank Act. Apparently, honorable members are of opinion that the Committee should hold office for the Parliament instead of for the session; and I am willing to agree to that. The Victorian Committee is elected every session, and I thought that that arrangement would be acceptable to honorable members ; but I am willing to agree to an amendment which will meet the generally expressed view. As to the suggestion that the Committee should have power, to appoint sub-committees, I think that all Committees have the power to appoint sub-committees to conduct particular investigations, and to report the result of their inquiries to the main body; but I shall consult the law officers on the point, and if it be found necessary to endow this Committee with the power to appoint subcommittees, I shall provide for that being done.
– The right honorable gentleman stated that he thinks that a position on the Committee should be honorary.
– Section 45 of the Constitution provides that -
If a senator or member of the House of Representatives - directly or indirectly takesor agrees to take any fee or honorarium for services rendered to the Commonwealth, or for services rendered in the Parliament to any person or State, his place shall thereupon become vacant.
I have not provided for the payment of fees to the members of the Committee, because I did not want to jeopardize the seat of any honorable member. The members of the New South Wales Committee are not paid, and I think that the members of the Victorian Committee are not paid, except, of course, out-of-pocket expenses.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 -
Every Committee of Public Accounts appointed by the House of Representatives shall hold office as such Committee, and may exercise all the powers conferred upon it by any standing orders or Act or otherwise, for the session during which it is appointed and thence until -
the day before the commencement of the next session, or
the expiry of the House of Representa tives by effluxion of time, or
the dissolution of the House of Repre sentatives, whichever first happens.
.- It seems to be the general opinion that the Committee should hold office for the Parliament instead of for the session. That was suggested by the honorable member for Parkes, and supported by me and by other speakers during the secondreading debate.
– It was the honorable member for Wide Bay who first suggested it.
– I do not claim credit for the suggestion. The New South Wales Committee is elected for the term of the Parliament ; and, although the Victorian Committee is elected each session, this is regarded as a mere matter of form, members being re-appointed each session, unless there is some special reason for making a change. To appoint the Committee for the Parliament would give it greater stability, and the continuity of its work would make its reports more valuable.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (ParramattaPrime Minister and Minister of Home for re-appointing the Committee each session. For instance, a financial controversy might arise in the House, having as its consequence a change of Government, and the new Government might not wish to reappoint a Committee which, in its judgment, had not given satisfaction to the House, and which fact was made clear by the vote taken. I think that there should be an opportunity for the House to review the work of the Committee, just as it reviews the work of the Government. The Committee is not necessarily in the nature of a standing Committee; it is a Committee, rather, to do what the authorities of the day, the administrators of the day, through the House, ask it to do. It is not a Committee to go about keeping the Departments under review; but, if it is required to investigate anything that is special, and outside the purview of the Ministry for the time being, it will be given a special duty to perform.
– Does the Prime Minister say that the Committee is to act only at the request of a Minister, or by resolution of the House; that it will have no power of initiative?
– No; I did not say that. I’ am talking about the general attitude of the Committee to the House under normal circumstances. If the House sets up a standing censor on the Ministry, it may find that it has set up a body which is hard to shift, and hard to do anything with, and which may bring about trouble instead of being an important adjunct to the efficiency of the Departments. It is to be the ears and eyes of the responsible Ministers for the time being, and, of course of the House, to see that the votes reach their proper destinations.
– Surely the AuditorGeneral does that!
– He does not, and cannot do that. In the nature of things, it is impossible for him to do it. He can only see what is presented to him, and judge accordingly. He is not able to follow expenditure to the ends of the earth, or even through the ramifications of the Departments. That is not his function. It is the function of the Ministry, and will be the function of the House, through the Committee, when it has been set up. We might appoint the Committee as a trial first from session to session .
.- After the remarks of the Prime Minister, I doubt whether we should appoint the
Committee for the Parliament. . His remarks, if they convey anything, convey the intention that the Government in power shall appoint a Committee which shall be in touch with the Administration of the day. If that is the object of the Bill, I am opposed to it. The Prime Minister said that it would be advisable to appoint the Committee from session to session, instead of for the Parliament, because there might be a change of Government, and the existing Committee might not be satisfactory to the incoming Administration. The honorable gentleman urged that, for that reason, the Committee should be appointed for the session only.
– I did not suggest anything of the kind.
– That is the inference that I drew from the honorable gentleman’s remarks, and I do not know what other inference could be drawn from them.
.- What I had in my mind was this : It is easy to conceive that there might arise a conflict between the Committee and the “House, and the House might want to change the personnel of the Committee. The Committee might become recalcitrant or unworkable.
– Did not the honorable gentleman say that there might be a change of Government during the lifetime of the Parliament?
– Yes; and that change of Government would necessarily synchronize with a change of view on the part of the House, and the Committee and its recommendations might then be open to serious review. The personnel of the Committee might conceivably want changing owing to its utter unworkableness.
– The Committee is not to be established merely to give satisfaction to the House.
– I take it that the Committee will be there to give satisfaction to the House. I do not see what the Committee is to be there for if not to do that. Certainly, it must satisfy the House. There is no other reason for its existence. The House sends it to do its work, to make inquiries. The Committee must be entirely independent, so far as its work is concerned; but, the moment that it does not satisfy the House, does not do its work as the House thinks it should, it should be susceptible of change.
.- The Prime Minister has, I think, modified his former utterance. When referring to the matter on a previous occasion, the honorable gentleman seemed to suggest that an alteration of the Committee might be required by a change of Government. . I take it that, whatever Government may be in power, in the appointment of the proposed Committee each side of the House will be represented equally.
– Suppose the Committee proves unworkable?
– I quite admit that there should be some power vested in the House to deal with the Committee in such a case. I am not very particular as to whether the Committee is appointed for a session or for a Parliament, but I gathered from the Prime Minister’s previous remark that the object in providing that it should be appointed for a session only was because there might be a change of Government.
– If a Committee is to be appointed to deal with the finances it should be representative of both sides of the House.
– Hear, hear!
– If that is understood I have no objection to the appointment of such a Committee.In New South Wales the Committee is appointed for a Parliament, and is representative of both sides. It carries out the work allotted to it, and reports to the House from time to time.
Amendment (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to -
That the words “ or otherwise.” line 5, be left out.
– In speaking on the second reading of the Bill, I pointed out that I considered that the analogy which the Treasurer had drawn between the circumstances of Great Britain and those of one of the States of the Commonwealth had scarcely any bearing on the Commonwealth as a whole, because in many cases it might be. necessary for the proposed Committee to visit different parts of the Commonwealth in order to test the desirability of expending moneys voted or intended to be voted. I suggested that there should either be a number of Committees to deal with different parts of the expenditure of the Commonwealth, or there should be some method provided by the Standing Orders by which the Committee could resolve itself into a number of sub-committees, leaving it to a subcommittee to visit different places from time to time. I understood the Treasurer to say that there was no objection, when drawing up the Standing Orders, to enabling a sub-committee to do work of which the Committee as a whole would afterwards approve.
– I said at the time that I did not think it was necessary to make such provision, but that I would consult the law officers on the subject.
– I suggested that instead of appointing the proposed Committee for a session it should be appointed for a whole Parliament. I pointed out that it would be some time after the opening of a session before the Committee would be sufficiently familiar with the channels of inquiry to carry out its work expeditiously and successfully. I think the Treasurer now takes the view that the course pursued in New South Wales of appointing such a Committee for the whole of a Parliament is better than to appoint it for a session only. I think, with the honorable member for Hunter, that we must assume that the proposed Committee will consist of an equal number of members from both sides of the House.
– I do not think the number should be equal, but nearly equal.
– I am satisfied, so long as it is understood that it will not be a one-sided Committee, but will be so constituted as to secure the impartial consideration of all matters brought under its notice.
– How are we to insure that if a change of Government comes about 1
– If a Committee is appointed of an equal, or nearly equal, number of members from both sides of the House, we can assume that they will not make a party matter of their work.
– Will they not?
– I am going to credit our opponents with the same desire to deal fairly as members of a Committee of this sort as I should claim for ourselves. The Committee will have to deal, not with party questions, but with pro posals of expenditure, and I think it is better that we should begin by crediting one another with a desire to do what is fair.
– There is no trouble on that account with the Committee in New South Wales.
– Until the proposed Committee misconducts itself in the way suggested, I shall be prepared to assume that it will deal fairly. I propose to move the substitution of the word “Parliament,” or the words “term of Parliament,” for the word “ session.”
– As the word “session “ is deemed sufficient, I think the word “Parliament” should be sufficient.
– I shall leave that to the Treasurer. I am not hypercritical as to the phraseology, so long as the Treasurer agrees that the Committee should be appointed for the Parliament, and not for a session only. I accept the honorable gentleman’s assurance that in framing the Standing Orders power will be given to the Committee to divide itself into such sub-committees as may be found necessary. I move -
That the word “ session,” line 5, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ term of the Parliament.”
.- The Treasurer in his speech in introducing the Bill this afternoon seemed to give a party colour to the measure. I interjected to that effect, and I am very pleased now to hear from the right honorable gentleman and the Prime Minister that that is not the intention of the Government. The remarks made by the Prime Minister have raised a somewhat serious position. If the Committee were appointed only for a session, and upon its reappointment there was a change of only one member made in the personnel, it occurs to me that that would be regarded as a very serious reflection upon the member who was rejected. I think it would be a very great mistake to adopt the Prime Minister’s suggestion and appoint the proposed Committee for a session only. I suggest that if the word “ session “ be omitted, paragraph a of clause 2 might then be left out, and that would accomplish all that is required. Some provision should be made to meet the suggestion of the Prime Minister that the House should be in a position to rid itself of the services of a Committee that had proved to he unsatisfactory.
– That could be provided for in the Standing Orders.
– 1 quite see the danger if the Committee were appointed for the full term of the Parliament, we might find ourselves with no control over- -
– We need not act on their advice.
– Just so; but some provision should be made for the services of the Committee being dispensed with, if it should prove unsatisfactory.
.- I suggest that paragraphs a, b, and c, down to the word “ happens,” in line 15, be left out, and the following proviso inserted instead : -
Provided that such Committee, or any member thereof, may be removed at any time by resolution of the House.
I take it that it is the wish of honorable members that, if a change were desired, it should be possible to make it, and if the Committee, or any member, was not giving satisfaction, why should not there be the power of removal?
– It would require an Act, seeing that the Committee are likely to be appointed for the whole of the Parliament.
– The proviso I suggest would enable us to discuss the whole question without passing an Act, and thus involving the delay of an appeal to another Chamber. The House ought to have control over its own Committees, and without some such proviso there would not be that control. I take it that honorable members favour an appointment for the life of the Parliament, and my suggestion would enable the wishes of all parties to be carried out without delay.
– I think it would carry out what I understand to be the general wish of the Committee if we amended the clause by striking out the word “ session,” and inserting the words “term of the Parliament,” and, further, by striking out all the words after “ appointed.” We must remember that the Committee will be composed of honorable members from both sides, and that we, seeing that they are part of .ourselves, will have to live with them. I do not think we ought to anticipate difficulties, and I should advise honorable members to let the clause go when amended as I have suggested. We should, of course, be very careful in appointing the Committee; and, if we took such drastic measures, or even thought of doing so, only harm would, I feel sure, result.
.- The Treasurer, I take it, is proposing this measure for the benefit of the House, and not for the benefit of any Government; and it is possible that, against the wishes of the Government, the House might desire the Committee to exercise a keen supervision of the expenditure. I do not know whether the Committee will prove to be of much use or otherwise; but I regard the suggestion of the honorable member for Indi as a dangerous one. The Committee, if they are to investigate and report, will be critics of the expenditure of public money, or they will be of no value. The best member of the Committee might be one who was pretty strong in his criticism, and he would be the member whom the majority of the House, for the time being, might wish to get rid of. The Committee ought to be put in some position of independence. The only reason for a change would be neglect of duty; but I think that we can trust members of the House in that regard. If members do not tak, interest in the work of the Committee, they will not accept the position, or remain in it. I strongly urge that, first of all, we make the appointment for the life of the Parliament, for it must be remembered that, even if the appointment were only for the session, the members, if satisfactory, would be re-appointed.
.- I should like to ask the Treasurer a question in regard to the appointment of the Committee, and the proposal to provide some means of getting rid of the Committee, or any member thereof, if so desired. Under the New South Wales Act the members of the Committee are elected by the Legislative Assembly. The basis of election is apparently quite different from that which is proposed in this measure. There the Government nominate the members of the Committee, and when necessary they can revise the appointments.
– That will be so in this case.
– If the amendment is carried the appointment will, I take it, last for the full term of the Parliament.
– I can see that there is something in the point raised by the Prime Minister, that a position may arise from a change of Government.
– The Committee, because of the relations of its members with each other, might become unworkable.
– If a change of Government* should take place, we might have a majority of the members of the Committee sitting in Opposition. Suppose, for instance, that the Committee was -constituted by four members from the Government side and- three members from the Opposition side, and that a change of Government occurred, the Committee would then include three members sitting on the Government side, and four members fitting in Opposition? The Committee might present a report which would be hostile to the Government in respect of its conduct of the finances. At the present moment we are in an acute party condition.
– That situation might not last for ever.
– It might last long enough to cause considerable complications to arise. It would be much better-, I think, if we could find a way to get over that objection, and at the same time to give stability to the Committee. In my opinion, an appointment for the session is altogether too short, because the members of the Committee will hardly get the most superficial knowledge of the condition of the finances before they will be in danger of having their appointment terminated. Again, with a short appointment I do not think that we shall get the members of 1 tie Committee to take an intense interest in its work, and to give their time and ability to making a searching investigation into the finances, drawing up reports, and making recommendations ‘to the House. At the same time I can see that an improvement might be made. I do not know whether I could suggest an improvement. As. regards the Prime Minister’s suggestion that a difficulty may arise through a change of Government, my opinion is that such a situation is not likely to occur.
– I cannot think of a better way than that which is proposed in the Bill.
– Unless the appointment is to be made for the term of the
Parliament, we will not get honorable members to take a keen, intense interest in the finances, and spend their time in making investigations and recommendations. After all, this does not involve any serious Executive responsibility, because the members of the Committee will be chosen from both sides of the House.
– All the Committees of the House are appointed for the term of the Parliament.
– I am not discussing the matter from the stand-point put forward by the Prime Minister. The Committee will make investigations and suggest an improved method of handling the finances. It may, for instance, recommend the presentation of the Budget in another form. It may make very important recommendations in connexion with other Departments after it has called expert evidence, but after it has done all that, its report will become the property of the House, and help to inform honorable members in dealing with the finances. The Committee will not in any sense involve the Government. It cannot involve the Government or the Opposition. All that it can do is to criticise, and, perhaps, sometimes to criticise adversely, the way in which the finances are handled. I do not think that a change of Government is likely to bring about the danger of serious complications such as the Prime Minister anticipates.
– I am not thinking so much of the danger arising from a change of Government as of the danger from having an unworkable Committee.
– If the Committee is found not to be doing its duty, the Government can always bring down a proposal to terminate its existence. The amendment of the honorable member for Indi would afford that opportunity. I can see no danger in appointing a Committee of this kind, but I am quite satisfied that, unless there is some permanence about the appointment, it is not likely to perform any valuable or useful service to the House.
– It seemed to me most strange to hear a suggestion that the Committee should be removable with the Government. If it is to be of any value it can only be respected by the House, and its reports receive any consideration worthy of the case, if we command the Committee to give an unbiased, unprejudiced report. I can conceive of nothing which would so destroy the work of the Committee as to interfere with the personnel during its operations. The honorable member for Wimmera will, I think, on consideration see that, if the life of the Committee were limited to one session, it would frustrate the very thing that he wishes to secure, and that is to get its members to take an intense interest in the work and give us something tangible.
– I only mentioned those points to show that they were worthy of consideration. We should try to get the best Bill possible.
– It has been suggested that the Committee will probably consist of four members from the Government side and three members from the Opposition side. Suppose the Committee was constituted in that way, and that a change of Government took place. The value of a recommendation would lie in the fact that a majority of the Coinmittee was against the Government who were handling the finances. That, I think, would be a most commendable thing. It might, however, be awkward for the Government. It might submit their financial administration to a searching and critical review, but so far as the House is concerned, such a recommendation would have additional value by reason of that very fact. What I believe honorable members on each side wish to obtain through the appointment of the Committee is an honest administration of the finances, irrespective of what Government may be in power. From that point of view, therefore, I think that the suggestion of the Treasurer fits the case exactly.
– I am not going to press my view on this matter, as I understand the Treasurer has already agreed to the amendment; but. I think the provisions of the Bill as at present drawn will ‘prove better in the working out than the amendment will. The a’ssumption all through is that this Committee is going to do this work in the greatest harmony and with the greatest good-will. I hope it may. It will be a change.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Sir John Forrest) agreed to -
That all the words after the word “appointed,” line 6, be left out.
Amendment (by Sir John Forrest) proposed -
That the following words be added to the clause: - “.If any member of such Committee should for any cause cease to be a member of the Committee, the House of Representatives may appoint another member in his place.”
.- The amendment suggested does not give the House of Representatives any controlover the constitution of the Committee once the Committee is appointed during the* life of a Parliament.
– It is evidently the intention not to give that power.
– I think the House should have control over this Committee.
– Parliament can do what it likes.
– But not in regard to this Committee once it is appointed for the life of a Parliament. It can only do so by repealing the Act or by passing another Bill.
– It may reject the report of the Committee.
– Even if the report of the Committee be rejected it will still lie with the members of the Committee to continue as a Committee or not. Of course, if they resign it will terminate the difficulty. But they may not resign. They may continue as members of the Committee for the life of a Parliament, though the House as a whole may be in total disagreement with the Committee. On the other hand, the members of the Committee might not be doing their work. Yet Parliament would have no control over them. They might refuse to attend meetings, and carry out the duties assigned to them. Yet they could not be removed and others appointed in their places. The amendment I suggest cannot be regarded as a slur on the members of any such Committee, and should not debar honorable members from becoming members of the Committee if they are desirous of doing their duty. I propose to move that the following words be added to the clause: -
Provided that such Committee, or any member thereof, may be removed at any time by resolution of the House.
This will avoid the necessity of passing a special Act to remove the Committer or any member of the Committee.
– The honorable member has really exaggerated the difficulty. This is intended to be an informative Committee, and to bring to the knowledge of both sides of the House of Representatives essential matters which in its opinion are of importance in connexion with the accounts, but not having any effect on the Government or the House.
– Suppose that it omits to inform the House?
– It does not
Teally matter. If it fails to perform its duties it fails. All you can then say is, “ It does not do much harm.” We hope it will not fail. But we are inviting honorable members to serve upon the Committee without any reward, and it would be rather a dangerous experiment to tell them that, if at any time a majority of t he House disagreed with their views, they might be removed from the Committee.
– It is an insidious invitation to attack them.
-I would ask the honorable member for Indi not to press his amendment. The Bill, in its original form, is a replica of the Act which has been operative in Victoria for many years. Differences of opinion have been es pressed as to the value of the Committee of Public Accounts in this State. My own opinion is that it has done good work, and that it has been of very great assistance, not only to the Government, but to the Opposition,in seeping a considerable section of its members thoroughly posted in the outlines of finance
– Had not its chief value been in the information which has been given to honorable members generally ?
– Quite so.
– Has any incon venience been caused by the shortness of the tenure of its members ?
– No. I quite agree with the Prime Minister on that point, but a majority of the Committee hold a different view.
– I suggest that the honorable member for Indi should not proceed with his amendment in the interests of the peace of the party opposite.
Mr.W. H. IRVINE.- I gather that the honorable member has uttered something facetious which I did not catch.
The amendment of the Treasurer is necessary, because, either by resignation or by death, a vacancy may occur on the Committee, which the House should have an opportunity of filling.
.- Is this Committee to be wholly confined to members of this House?
– Does the Treasurer expect the Bill to be passed by another Chamber?
– The Senate will not interferewith our arrangements.
– Has not the other branch of the Legislature some control over the finances of the Commonwealth?
– They cannot initiate legislation in regard to financial matters.
– Why should we not make provision for the representation of the Senate on this Committee?
– The Senate can appoint a Committee of its own.
– What the honorable member for South Sydney suggests has not been done in Victoria or New. South Wales.
– The Senate is elected by the whole of the people of the Commonwealth, and it has a right to representation on any Committee which is appointed to deal with the finances of the country.
-It can appoint itsown Committee.
– The Government ought not to ignore the other Chamber.
– It ignores us.
– It does not. I ask the Treasurer to consider this aspect of the matter.
– We have considered it.
– And the Government are satisfied that the Senate will pass the Bill, notwithstanding that it will have no representation upon the Committee?
– We have to initiate legislation in regard to financial matters.
– This Committee will have no power to initiate expenditure, but. only power to reportupon it.
-Does the honorable member think that the Senate ought to have coordinate financial powers with this House ?
– It has a right to be represented on the proposed Committee.
– Does the honorable member belong to the party ‘which slates the Upper Houses of the States ?
– The Senate is a States House. At the present time it is the most Democratic Chamber in Australia. Even at this late hour I would suggest that a senator from either side of the other branch of the Legislature should be appointed to this Committee.
– This is a Bill which is intended to apply only to the House of Representatives.
– Is the honorable member’s view largely held by honorable members opposite?
– I cannot say. I know that the Senate does its duty when it iB called upon to do it. I understand that it is the object of the Treasurer to constitute a Committee which will thoroughly investigate our public accounts and report to Parliament.
– Report to this House.
– This House is only one branch of the Parliament. Let us make the Committee as complete as possible. If the Government are prepared -to send up to the Senate a Bill which is an insult to it, they must accept responsibility for their action.
.- The confusion existing amongst honorable members opposite is a very serious matter. I understand that the Bill is a Government measure, and yet the Ministry and their followers cannot agree upon it. I think they would be wise if they showed the country that there is some unanimity amongst them. To my mind, the honorable member for Indi made a very valuable suggestion, and I am surprised that, in the face of it, the Treasurer should persist in his present course of action. I would suggest either that the Government should withdraw the Bill, or that progress should be reported.
– I hope that the honorable member for Indi will not proceed with his amendment. He is not aware, ‘perhaps, that we have quite a number of Standing Committees in this Parliament, and that there has never arisen any occasion for the removal of any of their members. He has expressed a fear that some persons who may accept seats on the Committee will not attend to their duties. He may rest assured that the Opposition will take fine care that its representatives discharge their duties. ‘ We naturally desire an opportunity of acquiring all the knowledge that we can in regard to the finances of the country. If any member of the Committee proves to be negligent he will be promptly stirred up by. the members of his own party.
Amendment agreed to.
– In deference to the views of honorable members, I shall not proceed with my amendment.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 3 and 4, and title, agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
Standing Orders suspended, and Bill passed through its remaining stages.
Mr. GROOM laid upon the table the following paper: -
Quarantine. - Report of Conference between Commonwealth and State authorities, 1913.
Ordered to be printed.
House adjourned at 10.57 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 November 1913, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1913/19131119_reps_5_72/>.